December 16th, 2017

Viva Vitality: The Core Story

By Medicine Hat News on August 4, 2017.

Stress is a normal part of life. For some, having to wake up in the morning can be stressful. For others, it could be the loss of a job. Stress is something that is unavoidable. Being able to address stress is important to increase resilience, and to learn positive coping skills.

The Core Story of Brain Development is a project developed by The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. This initiative focuses on education and prevention, spreading the message that in order to help children build a strong foundation for development, they need stable, responsive relationships with adults in a safe environment.

The initiative focuses on brain architecture, serve-and-return interactions, toxic stress, and executive functioning skills. Building brain architecture is done by exposing a child to positive experiences in their early years. Building a healthy brain leads to better physical, mental, and social well-being across the lifespan.

Building a strong foundation is also done through serve-and-return interactions — communication exchanges that are done between the child and their caregiver, forming a healthy foundation. Much like a tennis ball is served between two players; serve-and-return interactions can be as simple as playing peekaboo with your child.

Stress also shapes brain architecture, with three different types of stress occurring. For example, waking up in the morning is a positive stress. Although it can be hard sometimes, it helps prepare us and get us ready for our day. A tolerable stress is a more stressful event, such as losing a loved one, but can be mitigated by supportive nurturing relationships. Toxic stress is a pervasive type of stress, such as ongoing trauma or abuse. If this type of stress occurs without the support of nurturing caregivers, brain development can be disrupted leading to an increase of a variety of issues such as mental health and addiction problems.

By building strong brain architecture, we support young people to develop an integrated system of cognitive, social, and emotional skills called executive function — which acts like the child’s air traffic control centre. Executive function helps a child regulate information, initiate tasks and manage stress, in order to avoid mental pile-ups and collisions. Children face multiple demands and executive function co-ordinates and prioritizes those demands, followed by appropriate action.

Although these skills can be developed in the later years, it is much easier to build them in early childhood. To build better futures, we need to build better brains! For more information on the Core Story, visit http://www.albertafamilywellness.org.

Justin Boodhoo is a health promotion facilitator with AHS Addiction and Mental Health, and can be reached via email at justin.boodhoo@ahs.ca

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