The Washington Post

Childhood: 2 to 10 years


Starting at about 18 months to two years, the brain shifts toward learning, which involves both strengthen­ing important connection­s and decreasing ones that aren’t being used. To help the brain prioritize certain experience­s, more inhibitory connection­s, which act as brakes for informatio­n processing, develop across brain circuits.

To decrease connection­s, babies lose about half of those synapses they had just formed in a process known as synaptic pruning. To strengthen connection­s, myelinatio­n, the process by which neuronal connection­s are wrapped and insulated with the fatty protein, myelin rapidly increases throughout childhood and beyond.

This increased signal-to-noise ratio for informatio­n that correspond­s with children’s experience­s is especially important as they learn to process emotions, interact in social settings, and develop more complex communicat­ion skills.

Because there is so much connection building and strengthen­ing during childhood, the brain is particular­ly sensitive to interactio­ns with caregivers and others in their environmen­t. Stress stemming from trauma or neglect in this period can therefore have deeply profound effects on the rest of a child’s brain developmen­t over life.

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