Every single seed contains within it the potential for possibilities, an intelligence waiting to burst out of its shell. Perhaps the best way to describe a seed is to refer it to metaphorically as a possibility thinker, for the possibilities of its future is endless. No doubt the human brain resembles the seed with its own potentiality except this is one super big pod contains super huge possibilities–hopes, dreams, desires and goals. And where does it all start? Simple: At the beginning!

The brain, which is often believed to house the “mind” is an intricacy of thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories and expectancies. Yes, the mind holds all of these awesome potentials and then some! Did you know that modern neurological science is still only scratching the surface into uncovering the potential of the human mind? Where it ends, no one really knows because get this…the mind as it is today cannot grasp the mind’s potential of tomorrow. Basically, science makes it up as it goes along.

Within the last two decades, neuropsychology and biopsychology have found the importance of neuropathways in the brain. Neuro-pathways are the highways and bi-ways of learned knowledge which essentially creates the habits people use every day whether they are right or wrong, good/bad, or productive/destructive. Guess what? As soon as the brain is able to grasp things, which occurs as early as the neonatal stage, these neuro-pathways are already being designed and set in place.

Even though a child’s brain is considered half the size of an adult’s brain, the roots (neuro-pathways) are already sucking up mental nutrients–communication skills, self-esteem building blocks, habits and emotions which are branching in the directions that adults are guiding them. We know it is important for proper physical development, especially the brain. Yes, good foods, vitamins and supplements, healthy lifestyles and plenty of rest lead to a healthy brain. With that said, it is important that adults pay just as much attention to the mind. Did you know that where thoughts go energy flows? Are you cultivating your child’s mind with good mental nutrients?

No two children are the same. Age differences and development play vital roles in determining how children engage mentally, emotionally and socially in their everyday lives. As a general rule of thumb, different age ranges contain certain critical periods for how children should be cultivated mentally. Depending on the age of your children, the following is a good bench mark for certain criteria to follow to help your child’s mind develop to its ultimate potential.

The famous developmental psychologist Eric Erikson asserted that from birth to five years of age it is very important to lay the framework down which will help children evolve mentally, socially and emotionally thus leading them towards optimal health in all areas of their lives. From 18 months to 3 years he discussed the importance of developing a child’s autonomy which is largely created through helping a child develop self-control, courage and will. Through the ages of 3 to 5 years, they evolve further and develop initiative which is grounded in purposes: Parents demonstrate the potential blueprint for what it means to be an adult. How do parents achieve this? Simply through a host of activities and interactions. It is important that parents encourage their children to play with other children to develop their social skills, while at the same time encouraging individual play which stimulates the abilities for children to engage themselves in tasks independently. Well-known Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky demonstrated through varieties of play, whether it be individual or within groups of kids that the benefits for future mental health and social development are profound. Basically, the playful imagination of a child is a terrible thing to waste!

It is important during this age period birth to 5 years to engage your children in different types of activities (art, listening to stories, make-believe games, tasks requiring the use of their hands and fingers). Not only are visual/spatial skills being developed, but so are the neuro-pathways which lead to higher levels of mental development. Children appreciate being guided and instructed at this point of their lives due to their limited brain capacity. With that said, it is important to give them positive, learning-oriented tasks. Encourage your children in fun creative challenges in order to help their minds/brains develop. Ask things like, “What could we make with this empty cardboard box and this paint and paintbrush?” Show them that possibilities exist and that they are artists to the blank canvases of possibilities.

For parents who have children 6 to 9 years of age, it is important to help them develop their sense of “industry” as Erikson states. Helping them gain competence and self-esteem is the order of the day. It is important to teach your children words they can use to describe their feelings. For example, a child may feel pleased, excited, content, or thrilled instead of just happy. Parents need to facilitate communication which helps children identify and own their feelings. The famous learning developmental psychologist Jean Piaget believes at this stage of their lives, children become concrete operational thinkers–seeing things in polarized ways, either right/wrong, good/bad or black/white. Often times, they can’t think outside of the proverbial box. Therefore, parents could make informal learning experiences fun; compare prices at the grocery store, read and compare billboards and street signs, or study and observe similarities and differences in nature. Show children that differences exist and that these differences are good!

If you have 10-15 year olds it is important to help children develop the aspects of their minds which will lead to positive identity formation. Erikson asserts ego development and fidelity are not only fostered within family/friends alone, but task building as well. Simple life skills have a profound effect on a child’s mental and social development. Avoid nagging or “rescuing” your children when they forget to follow through on their responsibilities. Let the natural consequences unfold (e.g., kids who don’t put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket run out of clean clothes to wear).

During this cycle of a child’s life, it is important that parents avoid treating their children as miniature adults. Placing too much responsibility on children is overwhelming and most likely to distress them and set them up for failure. Conduct family meetings to talk about plans that effect the whole family. It is important to invite/engage input from all family members. Keep it clear that while your children are maturing and deserving of more independence, you are the parent and it’s your responsibility to set boundaries and consequences. Furthermore, according to Piaget, this is the period when children begin to shift their thinking and emoting from concrete thinking to abstract logical thinking–seeing a greater host of possibilities and outcomes. It is important for parents to share opinions on current events, or certain values or beliefs. Not only does listening to your children provide you with fresh perspectives, it will also helps your kids learn how to express their opinions, listen to others, and engage in a meaningful discussion. At this stage, perspective-taking is key!

Finally, if you have older teens 16 to 18 years of age, good luck with that! Just kidding of course…

This is the age when a child’s “ego” becomes more independent of the family niche and they are truly forging out their own identities according to Erikson. Add to this a teen’s growing independence, affiliation/loyalty to their friends and the conformity issues that arise and parents literally have their hands full, that is unless their hands are preoccupied pulling out their hair by the roots!

Even though they are older and appear to be “on their own” in terms of developing and completing tasks, parents still need to play an active role in the lives of 16-18 year olds. When your children receive longterm school assignments, offer to help them plan and make decisions in order to finish on time. Support and loyalty from parents is vital. Children need to know they can still turn to their parents for help rather than them believing they are on their own. Keeping the lines of communication open is paramount. If your kids do not learn from you, they will learn communication skills and the handling of emotions from the media and/or streets–not a good thing! It is important to engage the family in positive discussion time. Allow family members to leave discussions when they are too angry or upset to resolve conflicts peacefully and reasonably. Never leave things unresolved or with individuals hurting emotionally. Agree on a time to try again!

At the end of the day autonomy partnered with independence is key for raising mentally/emotionally healthy kids. Remember that when your kids have trouble making a decision, offer to talk it through, help them make a plan, or generate a list of pros and cons. Point out to them that not making a choice is making a choice—it’s choosing to give someone or something else the power to influence what happens. You want your children to know that only 10% of life is what happens to them and that 90% is choosing how to respond. How do you want your children to respond? Hopefully positively, seeing and knowing that there are a multitude of possibilities that exist. And how are they aware of this? You helped their brains/minds evolve to their greatest potentials throughout the developmental process!