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COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL The next day when he had a meltdown, his teacher knelt down to eye level, slowly took one of his hands in hers, and asked, “What would you like to see hap- pen so you can feel a part of the group? How might I help you with that?” He replied, “Just walk over to the table with me and stand there.” There were very few incidents after that. Sometimes children’s behavior is baffling and doesn’t fit into past models. How can educators understand and respond to these upsetting behaviors? Two concepts that can help explain some children’s extreme behavior are brain development and attachment theory. Growing the Brain One basic principle is that the brain develops based on the experiences it has—sights, sounds, tastes, smells, textures—which actually create neural structures that give meaning to the world based on those experiences. A useful picture is that the brain is like a field with paths being built across it. As the brain tries to make sense of the world around it, a neu- ral pathway is built, step-by-step, every time the brain needs to perform a new action or explain a new event. The brain continues to travel the paths until they are well-worn ruts, which makes them even easier to travel again and again. The more a particular neurological pathway or pattern is traveled, the more it is established, trampled down, and used again and again. The less a route is used, the more it gets “overgrown” or ignored. In this way, for example, an initially complex task like tying shoelaces becomes automatic: the neural pathways for shoelace tying are established for quick usage. A newborn baby is constantly building and rebuilding many thousands of new neural pathways; this building process continues in stages and growth spurts throughout childhood, slowing significantly into adulthood. How do these ideas of brain development apply to early childhood behavior? It means that a child who has experienced secure and stable relationships in a loving environment will approach the rest of the world with that continued expectation, as he or she continues to travel the path- ways that are already built. And a child who has experienced a chaotic or abusive environment will respond to the rest of the world as though it 10 Chapter One COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL