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A Masterclass in Brain Development with Dr. Pete Stavinoha
Episode 523rd December 2021 • Brain Beat • National Academy of Neuropsychology Foundation
00:00:00 00:37:41

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r. Pete Stavinoha joins Dr. Heidi Rossetti on today's episode. Dr. Stavinoha is a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and a fellow of the National Academy of Neuropsychology. In addition, he works with children, adolescents, and young adults with a variety of neurologic illnesses and neurodevelopmental disorders. Dr. Stavinoha has authored over 100 peer-reviewed articles and co-authored two books for parents that have been translated into multiple languages, including Stress-Free Discipline: Simple Strategies for Handling Common Behavior Problems and Stress-Free Potty Training: A Commonsense Guide to Finding the Right Approach for Your Child. In this episode, Dr. Stavinoha shares his wealth of pre-birth to adulthood brain development knowledge.

 

Dr. Stavinoha begins by talking about what happens with the brain in gestation. He then details the neural tube, the development and function of the forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain, cell proliferation and migration, and potential complications in premature birth that affect brain development. He talks at length about factors that impact fetal brain development, emphasizes the value of good nutrition in brain development, and discusses other strategies such as exercise, stress management, and music, among others, that parents can employ to optimize brain development in utero. Dr. Stavinoha then converses about what happens in the brain in early childhood, the impact of the environment around the child on brain development, how infant and early childhood behavior reflects what's going on in the developing brain, and addresses common misperceptions parents have about their child's behavior or brain. He also offers some sage advice for parents, and shares what they can expect when their child has a  pediatric neuro-psych assessment as well as where to find someone qualified to do that type of assessment with their child. Filled with a vast amount of quality information and advice from a proven leader in the field, today’s episode is truly a masterclass in brain development that parents and non-parents alike need to hear.

 

Episode Highlights:

 

·   The brain in gestation

 

·   The neural tube and the development and functions of the forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain

 

·   Cell proliferation and migration

 

·   Potential complications in premature birth that affect brain development

 

·   Factors that impact fetal brain development

 

·   The importance of good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle for brain development

 

·   How to optimize brain development in utero

 

·   Synapses and their function in brain development

 

·   The effect of the environment on brain development

 

·   The importance of security, predictability, and protection from toxic stress in early childhood

 

·   Toxic stress: What it is and its impact on brain development

 

·   Tolerable stresses and how they build resilience

 

·   Impact of the COVID pandemic on children

 

·   Sensitive periods and critical periods in childhood

 

·   The need to emphasize reading with your child

 

·   Brain plasticity and how it changes throughout a child's growth.

 

·   How infant and early childhood behavior reflects what's going on in the developing brain

 

·   Common misperceptions that parents have about their child's behavior or brain

 

·   Ignore – the single best solution to a temper tantrum

 

·   Brain function in school-aged children

 

·   Brain function in adolescents

 

·   How parents determine if their child's behavior is outside the normal development

 

·   What to expect from a child pediatric neuro-psych assessment

 

·   How to find a great pediatric neuro-psych assessment professional

 

Quotes:

 

"So we have forebrain, that is going to become the cerebral cortex, the part that most people think of as the brain, like the big, big part. And then, we have the midbrain, which are many important structures that help manage bodily functions, memory functions, and things. And then we have the hindbrain, which is going to really be the most basic structure of the brain, and then the spinal cord is going to develop off of that."

 

"Good nutrition is important because the developing brain needs the proper fuel."

 

"In the developing brain, all these new connections are happening, very active process, but there are certain ones that are going to be really important that they do need to be stabilized. And so the brain has a process for doing that, to make them much less vulnerable."

 

"A feeling of security and predictability, that's an aspect that, if in place, can also promote healthy brain development, and then protection from toxic stress. Those are all aspects of the environment of significant brain development."

 

"And if the child can endure that [tolerable stresses], this actually can go into building their resilience later."

 

"So you want to develop reading, but you're also developing language, planting the seeds for later language comprehension. You're planting the seeds for later inferential thinking, but you're also promoting a positive relationship with your child and closeness. And so you're doing so many things at once with what seems to be such a simple activity."

 

"If we have too many synapses, that creates a possibility of interference. So as we prune these down, what we're really pruning down to are the ones that are most useful to us, the most functional, but also that improves our efficiencies and how we're able to do things in a more efficient manner, meaning both that we're better at it, but also that it uses less energy to do it."

 

"The biggest misconception is that parents will often ascribe adult level responsibility or accountability to the kid’s behavior. So a great example is a temper tantrum. When I'm looking at a temper tantrum, you look at it from the standpoint of the child does not yet have the brain capacity for frustration tolerance."

 

"By paying attention to them, we do not mean to reinforce the tantrum, but that's what we might end up doing. Whereas if we ignore it, we're not feeding, we're not giving that tantrum any fuel at all. So the child then is dependent on themselves to self-regulate, then the tantrum will inevitably wind down."

 

"When parents tell me that ignoring doesn't work, I always ask them the last time their child had a tantrum in an empty room. And their child never has a tantrum in an empty room. It's always when there's a human around."

 

"That's something where if a child really is standing out, then that would be a potential goal for a formal assessment to see if that child really is advanced in certain cognitive areas."

 

"A healthy lifestyle is going to be the foundation for a healthy brain."

 

Links:

 

National Academy of Neuropsychology Foundation website

 

Stress-Free Discipline: Simple Strategies for Handling Common Behavior Problems

 

Stress-Free Potty Training: A Commonsense Guide to Finding the Right Approach for Your Child

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