Your Toddler Month by Month : 18–24 Months - Your Baby’s Brain

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A big priority for your toddler during months 18–24 will be multisensory development. Sights, sounds, smells, and textures all contribute to the hands-on experience that will develop memory and help children remember things far more effectively than simply by telling them.

Your toddler’s brain will continue to develop during months 18–24 in much the same way as it did during months 12–18, but the impact will be more dramatic, as the information embedded in her brain accumulates, and her memory gradually increases. Chemical and neurological changes that take place during brain development will continue as she gets older. All areas of the brain will continue to develop during the next six months (and into puberty). During this time you will notice an increase in your toddler’s ability to reason, remember, pay attention, and respond. Each time she listens and speaks, she is developing her language ability. Although we take it for granted, talking is a highly complex skill that requires many areas of the brain to function together.

Language and movement

Gross motor and language areas develop connections rapidly to improve coordination and develop speech. Fine motor skills mature later.

Gaining knowledge

Through experiencing many different sights, sounds, and objects, he builds a rich tapestry of information, which gives meaning to words and develops memory.

Learning to speak

To use language effectively, we need to be able to produce it—by speaking, and also to understand it—by listening and comprehending. These skills develop in tandem, but are processed via different areas of the brain. Speaking and understanding rely heavily on memory and are closely linked to the ongoing development of the thinking and reasoning areas and the memory centers of the brain.

The memory centers are believed to hold information about the meaning of words and objects based on physical description, personal experience, and connections to other words and meanings. The memory centers influence which words we know, select, and use. They link to the speech areas to influence the way we produce and understand language. The thinking and reasoning areas of the brain influence our attention and when and where we speak. The emotional and social behavior area is involved in decoding the language and gestures of others and influences our feelings and what we say.

When your toddler wants to say something, her brain will speed rapidly through a series of processes to see whether her memory has what it needs to communicate the information. She cannot yet think consciously, in the way that an adult can; but she can pay attention to what it is she wants to describe (what does it look like?). She will then visually process the image in her brain and the information it gives her (does it look familiar?). Next she will instruct her brain to assess the meaning of it (does she recognize it? What does it represent?) before assessing whether she has a word or words to describe it.

For example, if your toddler is looking at a large animal with four legs, her brain will try to figure out whether it matches any of the mental images stored in her brain. She then has to find the part of her brain which has stored the necessary word and can remind her how to say it out loud. To form the words, she will then shape her tongue and vocal cords, and pronounce it accurately, sound by sound. She may then look at you, point, smile, and say, triumphantly, “Big dog.”

Learning to understand

The brain uses a different sequence to listen to and understand spoken language. As well as using the ears to hear the sounds and interpret the literal meaning of the spoken words, the eyes and other senses are also used to decipher the social meaning of what has been said, by decoding information about the speaker (gender, age, tone of voice) and the context (familiar, dangerous, new, interesting, hostile) and so on. The words are decoded as they are spoken, and matched against a memory of stored words and meanings. Hearing skills are used to gain contextual clues about the meaning of the words and lipreading also plays a part (and is of great importance for children who have hearing difficulties).

Using the example provided under the section Learning to speak, when you receive the information “big” and “dog” that your toddler has given you, you will be able to look at the picture and from the context and your larger memory bank may see that the picture is, in fact, of a horse. Your toddler describes it as a big dog, because it comes close to the “dog” she has in her mind and she hasn’t learned the word “horse” yet. Smile at your toddler and say, “Well, it does have four legs, and it is very big, but it is too big to be a dog. It is an animal called a horse.” When you correct your toddler, she will be able to store new information for the future. Point out the horse’s mane and its long legs and face; describe the sounds that the horse makes (“neigh”/“clip clop”), and compare it with the dog’s “woof.” She will watch your mouth as you shape the words, look at the picture as you describe it, and hear the new sounds. All of this data is absorbed by your toddler’s brain and stored for future use.

Your toddler’s language and understanding will become both more specific and also more general as usage and personal experience increases. For example, she will begin to make associations, such as, “Patch is Grandma’s dog. He is white with brown spots,” and “Dogs are pets. They are usually friendly. But I should not pet dogs I don’t know.”

Left brain/right brain

The brain is divided into two hemispheres. Although they work in partnership, they are newly formed and immature in young children.

In the majority of people, the left brain (which controls the right side of the body) is great at logical thought: it governs understanding and language. The right brain (which controls the left side of the body) is more instinctive and creative: it picks up nonverbal cues and is more closely linked with the responses of the physical body. The two sides are linked by a network of nerve fibers that is the bridge via which words are delivered. Words to describe a feeling travel in one direction (from left to right); and the information about what that feeling represents and how to respond to it travels in the other direction (from right to left). As this bridge strengthens, emotional understanding and sensitivity develops. These connections are immature in young children and coordinated thinking is difficult, hence they shift rapidly between appearing calm one moment and emotional the next. As the connections gradually strengthen, the logical, rational left brain will start to communicate better with the emotional, instinctive right brain and a child develops more balanced responses.

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