As parents, we just want to know we are doing everything we can to support our children as they grow. But it really doesn’t need to be complicated. Finding simple, practical tips you can do every day to boost your child’s brainpower will set your little one up with the foundations they need to thrive.
You don’t need to enrol them in piano lessons before they can walk, or sign them up for weekend language courses… but things like reading to them at night, playing blocks with them and, of course, making sure their diet is packed full of the good stuff, like brain-bursting omega 3s, are important.
We asked the experts to share some brain-boosting tips that you can employ to support your little one’s growth and development.
Anna Ritan, Pediatric Dietician
1. Include essential Omega 3’s in your child’s diet
Including enough of the different types of omega 3 in a child’s diet has been shown to support growth, healthy brain development with the accumulation of DHA in the brain, central nervous system, and eye development in infants and children. However, it can often be difficult for children and families to meet their nutrition requirements for omega 3, especially if a child is a fussy eater (like most toddlers), a restrictive eater, has food allergies, limited fish intake and is vegetarian or vegan.
There are 3 main types of essential omega 3 required from our diet as our body cannot make these nutrients; ALA, DHA and EPA. Specifically, it is important that children get a source of pre-formed DHA and EPA regularly; these can be found only in breastmilk and in a variety of fish and seafood, like sardines, salmon and mackerel and fortified products. As a guide, children should eat 2x75g servings of fish per week, and supplementation with a high DHA Omega-3 fish oil can also support a child to meet their requirements.
When looking for fish oil, ideally opt for a high strength product, around 300mg per day and one that is flavoured to mask the classic ‘fish oil taste’.
2. Provide a wholefood carbohydrate at every meal and snack
Carbohydrates provide the main source of energy for a child’s developing brain and its brain functions. Your child’s developing brain has high energy demands and uses over 50% of all the energy available to their body. So, ensuring your child gets a regular intake of a variety of wholefood carbohydrates throughout the day is super important. Serve a whole food carbohydrate at every meal and snack by including a variety of; fruits and starchy vegetables (like sweet potato, potato, corn, legumes), whole grain bread and cereals, like oats, quinoa, rice and pasta.
3. Include nuts and seeds regularly
Packed with protein, essential fatty acids omega 3 and 6, vitamins and minerals, such as zinc and iron; nuts and seeds can provide a variety of nutrients to support your child’s brain development and brain growth. Include a variety of seeds and nuts, such as hemp seeds, chia seeds, flaxseed meal, peanut butter and almond meal.
A great way to add seeds into your child’s diet is to add them into smoothies; try adding 1-2 teaspoons of chia or hemp seeds into your child’s favourite smoothie recipe to boost brain loving nutrients.
Jaimie Bloch, Child Psychologist and founder of MindMovers Psychology
4. Practice and help train your child’s brain
You can help to improve concentration through activities such as puzzles, chess, memory games, crosswords and colouring in. Research into concentration has found that practising for 15 minutes a day for 5 days can improve concentration.
5. Improve your child’s sleep
Sleep deprivation dramatically impacts concentration and many other cognitive functions. Try to turn off electronics 1 hour before bed. Keep your child’s room at a comfortable temperature. Make time for wind-down/calm downtime before bed (at least 1 hour). Have the same bedtime and wake up times for your child, even during the holidays (except you can relax the times during holidays).
6. Make exercise a daily activity
Daily physical exercise has been shown in the research to improve concentration within 4 weeks. So make it part of your daily routine.
7. Get outside in nature
Surprisingly, studies that looked at the benefits of outdoor time for children found that natural environments and nature benefit brain development and improve attention in children, especially in children who suffer from ADHD. A 20 minute daily walk in nature has been shown to improve concentration in children with attention issues, compared to the same walk in urban areas.
8. Make meditation and mindfulness a daily practice in your family
Mindfulness exercises that focus on attention and focus improve cognitive brain functions associated with concentration and memory. Meditation doesn’t have to be sitting still! It can involve walking, yoga, drawing and movement.
9. Concentration exercises for the brain
Engage your child in mind workouts. This involves spending a specific time period engaging your child’s attention brain muscles. After the activity, ask your child to notice how they felt and if and when it was hard to focus and concentrate. Help them develop awareness around when they lost their focus.
Activities to try:
- Draw for 15 minutes.
- Don’t drop the balloon games (spending time seeing how long you can keep a balloon in the air and off the floor).
- Blinking games (set a timer for 3 minutes and get your child to see if they can blink as little as possible, count and try to improve your score).
- Put food in your mouth and see if you can suck it and resist the urge to chew or swallow.
Dr Deb Levy, Paediatrician
10. Allow space to explore
Children need time for exploration and learning through play, observation and hands-on experiences. Giving your child time for age-appropriate play, games and activities will help strengthen both their physical and cognitive development.
When they are doing tummy time as babies, it’s never too early to start to place a small toy just out of their reach. You’ll be amazed at how they will start by looking at it and, over time, as you move it further and further away, they will start to reach for it and eventually crawl towards it.
11. Connections are key
It is so important for children to have a loving and nurturing relationship with their primary caregiver. It is possibly the most important predictor of brain development and is known to promote learning and even IQ.
A loving relationship in which your child feels safe and seen and where they can engage in interactions, or ‘serve and return’, will help to build the foundation for further learning.
12. Protect their brain!
Caring for your little one’s brain goes beyond the obvious wearing a helmet when riding their bike – although, that is important too. But it also means limiting nasties in their diet, reducing exposure to harmful chemicals and toxins, limiting screen time, caring for the gut microbiome, as well as getting outdoors in nature, when possible.