Debbie Garvey on Neuroscience

Debbie Garvey shares neuroscience insights to inform Early Years practice - learn how co-regulation builds self-regulation, Bronfenbrenner's model shows child development, and caring adults shape life-long development. Gain strategies to create brain-building environments.
· February 16, 2024

Debbie Garvey has a range of research interests focusing on developing understanding, neuroscience, relationships, and wellbeing (for children and adults) and particularly in relation to social justice. Debbie is a huge advocate of enabling and empowering the use and development of professional reflective practice. Debbie’s current research interests include the use of autoethnography, Bronfenbrenner’s lifespan bioecological model, transitions, and the impacts of imposter syndrome.

In this session, Debbie shares how the latest neuroscience research can be applied to improve practice with young children. Drawing from her book “Little Minds Matter: A Practical Guide to Brain Development and Neuroscience in Early Childhood”, Debbie unpacks key concepts in an accessible way.

Debbie explains that before children can self-regulate, they may need help from adults to calm down and regulate their emotions. She also discusses the fight, flight, or freeze response caused by spikes in hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can make it difficult for children to think straight until their systems return to normal.

Debbie emphasises the importance of physical touch in helping children calm down, as it sends messages to the brain that everything is okay. She also mentions the work of Professor Francis McGlone, whose research on skin-to-skin contact is important in understanding how physical touch can help regulate emotions.

We discuss what may happen when children are under ‘toxic stress’ and Debbie has some key advice for practitioners, educators and teachers on becoming better ‘Brain Builders’

The main learning points covered include:

  • The importance of co-regulation – how adults help children learn to self-regulate emotions and behaviour through supportive, attuned relationships. Debbie explains how co-regulation activates children’s vagus nerve to calm the stress response.
  • Insights from Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model – how the different systems surrounding a child, from immediate family to broader society, interact and influence development over time.
  • The impact of toxic stress versus tolerable stress on brain architecture, and the protective power of responsive relationships.
  • Practical strategies for creating brain-building environments, like reflecting “how would I feel in this situation?” to empathise with children’s experiences.
  • The lasting influence caring adults can have, shaping life-long development – “50 years later I still remember my reception teacher’s kind hugs.”

If you want to learn actionable ways to improve children’s development from a leading expert in Early Childhood and neuroscience, don’t miss this engaging and enlightening episode. Debbie breaks down complex concepts with relatable examples and stories. You’ll come away energised and equipped with new knowledge to enhance your practice right away.

This episode was originally broadcast on the 7th of September, 2023.


Debbie’s latest book on neuroscience in early childhood is available here:

For our in-depth guide to self-regulation in the early years click here.

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