Baby Photograph

Protecting the Brain

No Smoking, PleaseYoung children’s bodies, including their brains, are physically more vulnerable than adults'.  Infants' underdeveloped neck muscles and inability to control head movements also make their brains very vulnerable.  Along with the physical vulnerabilities, a young child does not have the experience and knowledge to recognize and avoid dangers.


Infants and young children are also more susceptible to environmental toxins, that can affect growth and brain development. Some environmental toxins can damage the developing brain cells.  One example of such a toxin is lead.  Lead may be found inpaint applied in buildings before 1978, in dir, or in some toys.  When children put something containing lead in their mouths, the lead can get into the bloodstream and be deposited in the brain and nerves. Lead poisoning can have dramatic negative effects on brain development and learning. 


Until infants can control their neck and shoulder muscles, their heads need to be supported when they are held.  Because the skull bones have not fully joined, and the brain is still developing myelin on the neurons, there is more room in infants' skulls for the brain to move around.


Physical dangers are also a threat to brain development. Because the frontal areas of young children's brains are not fully developed, children do not have the decision-making skills to avoid dangerous situations such as running into the street.


A violent environment also increases chances of injury to the developing brain.  Young children should never be hit or exposed to physical or verbal abuse, because this can slow and alter brain development. Shaking infants is especially dangerous and can result in serious, permanent brain damage (referred to as shaken baby syndrome) or even death.  Normal interaction with a child, like bouncing the baby gently on a knee, will not cause shaken baby syndrome.


Children's developing brain is more vulnerable to injury. The adults in children's lives are responsible for creating a safe physical environment, understanding child growth and development, and having realistic expectations of children's capabilities at each stage of development. With these supports, children have a strong foundation for healthy brain development.