When Families are Strong, Children Thrive
Children’s brains are born ready to grow and learn. Early experiences really matter. Early positive experiences build strong brain architecture -- the foundation for all the brain skills that come later.
Strong brain architecture is built through positive back and forth interactions – called “Serve and Return” -- between a child right from birth and the adults in their lives who love and care for them. Brain building isn’t something that children do on their own. They need the adults in their lives to build it with them.
Families and caregivers who know what “Serve and Return” is and why it’s important can make sure they practice “Serve and Return” in their everyday interactions with children right from birth.
Strong Families “Serve and Return” videos
Our resources show what “Serve and Return” is and explains why it works. Find out what Serve and Return looks like and how you can do it:
English :30 -
English 1:21 -
Spanish 50 -
Spanish 1:21 -
Get more practical ideas for “Serve and Return” from vroom.org
Learn more about Trauma and Toxic stress
Helping All Children Reach Their Full Potential! Communities can get ahead of problems by investing in support for families right from the start. Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman quantified an annual return of 13% for life for every $1 of investment when children living in poverty participate high quality early childhood education. Learn more at https://heckmanequation.org/
The Impact that Communities Have
Communities play an important role in building strong families. Our infographic explains the importance of early positive experiences, how communities can support families, and what happens when systems that fail families create the conditions of toxic stress for families and children.
Brain building is the development of a child’s brain as they grow.
The process of brain building takes time—it begins at birth and continues into adulthood. Children’s brains develop in several phases, with each stage building on the previous phase. While each stage is important, the early years are vital for creating ‘brain architecture’.
Building healthy brain architecture in a child’s early years helps create a strong foundation for future learning and development in order to be successful in life. With each skill a child learns, the brain becomes stronger, which also affects physical health, emotional health, social skills, and decision-making.
The Science of Brain Building
Building strong brain architecture is like building a house.
When you build a house, you start by laying the foundation. A strong foundation supports the house and helps it withstand potential damage and storms. A weak foundation however may not be able to withstand different kinds of stress and may need major repairs later on.
As a child develops, their brain is also built like a house. From the moment a baby is born, the process of building a foundation for brain architecture begins. This foundation is made up of brain cells, which are like the building blocks of a house. Connections between brain cells are made when a child has different kinds of life experiences, which helps the child learn new skills.
There are two kinds of experiences that have the biggest impact on a brain’s architecture. They can either strengthen or weaken the connections between brain cells.
- Repeated, positive experiences help brain cell connections create a sturdy foundation for children to learn and develop new skills. Parents and caregivers can help children build healthy brains through frequent, positive interactions that follow the child’s lead.
- Brain cell connections can become weaker with stressful and negative experiences, known as toxic stress. These experiences are not helpful to a developing brain.
What We Can Do
Just like building a house, it takes many people with different kinds of roles to help a child build strong brain architecture.
Parents and caregivers have the opportunity to help children learn and practice new skills on a daily basis. This repetition of positive experiences helps the brain grow stronger.
The community surrounding a family is also important to the success of a child’s development. For families to provide the best care for children, they need a community that is shaped by policies, programs, and services that positively impact a family's wellbeing.
A family’s community can include people who fulfill all kinds of roles in a child’s life, such as friends, teachers, librarians, and local government programs and policies.
Brain architecture. Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. (2019, August 20). Retrieved November 22, 2022, from https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/brain-architecture/
Every citizen in Frederick County has the opportunity to play a role in creating a supportive and nurturing society for young children and their families. From engaging with local government to building personal relationships with others, there are opportunities to create lasting change in both the public and private sectors.
By staying up-to-date on policy issues, voting in local elections, promoting family-friendly programs and initiatives, anyone can advocate for the wellbeing of families. When a society helps provide resources and support for families, it creates opportunities for young children to develop foundational skills and strong brain architecture for success in life. The Center for the Study of Social Policy offers research-based findings that show how communities can strengthen and support families, resulting in a positive impact to early childhood development: Strengthening Families Pdf.
To better explain the important science of early brain development, the USC Creative Media & Behavioral Health Center has created The Brain Architecture Game. Watch the video and play the game to understand more about how a child’s brain responds to positive and negative experiences. By sharing this game with civic groups, church groups, people who work with children and families, or citizens who want to help the community reach its full potential, it can help create a systemic change that benefits families and young children.
Supporting young children and their families is both a community effort as well as an individual cause. Building strong brain architecture for developing children begins at home, and is both a mental and physical component of a child’s development. Both the brain and the body need to be given healthy supportive care and nourishment in order to build essential foundational skills for a successful future.
Below is a list of activities that anyone can learn and practice with children, such as parents, caregivers, family members and friends. These activities are also helpful and practical for adults as well. Guiding children with these strategies help them navigate and manage stress to benefit their physical, emotional, and mental health.
- Getting sufficient sleep
- Learn more here
- Having a healthy diet
- Find recommendations here
- Engaging in regular, physical activity
- Spending time in nature
- Finding time and identifying ways to play and be creative
- Learning to have present and mindful experiences
Another way to learn more about how parents, teachers, policymakers, and others can affect life outcomes for both children and their surrounding community is by watching the Brain Hero video from The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (Spanish Translation).