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Reasons Why Mental Stimulation Is So Vital for a Toddler

Reasons Why Mental Stimulation Is So Vital for a Toddler

toddler-fun-300x292What are the basic needs of a toddler? The short answer is: food, love, shelter and warmth. But they also need mental stimulation, an opportunity to explore a safe environment, and social interaction. Children who are raised in extreme poverty, or overcrowded orphanages or home environments where they were abused or neglected, have shown that even when one of these needs is not provided, development is delayed.

For normal development, a toddler needs good nutrition during the first 2 years of life. While research has shown that a growing brain is resilient and can do without some deficiencies, prolonged lack of nutrients such as zinc, iron and DHA fatty acid, or extreme undernourishment, can cause delayed development. On top of this, a form of deprivation known as ‘food insecurity’ (where low-cost filler foods are served or where food is rationed) can cause eating disorders in later life.

Physiological reactions can be caused by lack of a stimulating environment. One example is brain atrophy – this happened in the infamous case of the boy who was kept in a playpen since the age of two, and couldn’t walk or speak. When he was rescued and examined, his brain was significantly smaller than those of other children his age. The size of his brain increased when he was placed in a more appropriate setting.

There are neural pathways in a toddler’s brain – physical structures that are fortified in response to activities. If a toddler gets little or no stimulation in his environment, the brain cells, or neurons, in these pathways will shrivel and die.

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