Parenting can be hard enough without the additional stresses of everyday life. Right now, we face the added confusion of the pandemic and the new structure it requires. Between online school classes and social distancing, it is a new challenge to help kids grow up happy, healthy, and remaining curious about their world. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson explore some great strategies to help your child thrive using techniques that keep the brain in mind. Using those strategies here we can help parents feel more in control of life at home at least and understand the roles of behavior to guide kids in a healthy direction.
When you decided to be a parent, I imagine you never imagined having to understand brain development! The more that is learned about the brain, the more researchers notice the need for parents to adapt their strategies much more efficiently by understanding what is going on. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a neuroscientist to understand the important parts.
We go through life with the biological goal to survive. It’s a noble goal for sure. But most parents want more than just survival for their kids. We want kids to thrive, achieve and flourish! At times though it feels like all we are doing is getting by from day to day. We have moments that make us feel that we are just hanging on by a thread and surviving. There are tough days, arguments, homework battles, bedtime struggles, the list could go on and on. As you go through your day, I wonder how many of these moments do you have. Do you have them 1-2 times a day? Or 5-10 times a day? Maybe somewhere in between? Let’s consider your patterns and interactions with your kids. How do you normally respond? Do you yell? Threaten? Bribe? Take a moment and write it down to explore how your current patterns come from a place of “survival”. Can you also explore some of the things that you want for your kids? Take another moment and explore your goals and what that looks like for their future.
“The Whole-Brain Child” strategy helps you explore the way to turn these survival moments into thriving moments. We don’t always have more time to devote to learning and trying new things. There isn’t extra time in the day to read more books and devote to more 1 on 1 time with each child. But maybe we can use these current survival moments and spend them in moments that help your child thrive? Maybe even resolving the issues more quickly than previously!
Let’s take a moment and consider something that happened recently. What did you do? Look at your behaviors objectively, no judgment. In what ways were you just trying to survive the moment? What lessons were you able to give to your child through those interactions? We are teaching children now how to be adults in their future. What do they learn from your interactions?
Now, let’s consider the development of the brain in the behavior of kids, as well as the reactions from parents. The human brain develops from the bottom up, and the inside out. So, if you imagine the brain stem, then the mid brain functions, and ultimately the frontal lobes and the outside portions. Some of these parts do not finish developing until we are in our mid-20’s. That’s a far cry from 6th grade. The first parts that develop are referred to as the “reptilian brain”. This part of the brain focuses on survival and instinct. The next step is the “mammalian brain”, which is our connection and emotion part of the brain. This is the part of the brain that focuses on relationships and connection between us. Our brain is also divided into 2 halves, the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere. The right hemisphere is devoted to our creativity and seeing our emotions and looking at the whole picture. The left is dedicated to logical, linear thinking. It is verbal and very literal. This half allows us to verbalize what the experience is and problem solve. Every part is important in the development of our little humans and what it means to learn and grow up. We have to have the balance of every part to be fully developed and well adjusted. This is where parents come in. If we can learn to view the child’s behavior in context, we can more precisely target the reasons and help the child resolve them. A problem develops when parents expect kids to be little adults, with the reasoning, understanding and perspective that an adult has using a fully functioning brain system. Our goal is to help kids integrate all parts of their brain as it grows and expands in a way that their brain can handle, as they have what they need to do that already in place. Everybody gets frustrated when expectations are too big for the situation. It is a common experience to ask a 3-year-old “why did you hit your sister? Would you want her to hit you?” A 3-year-old didn’t think through the experience of hitting her sister, not does she really understand the consequences of hitting her sister, as that part of her brain isn’t quite ready for that kind of logic. So, I wonder what your interactions may look like if we take a more developmental approach and helped the brain that is ready to integrate as it grows.
Follow along as we use The Whole Brain Child approach to helping us gain and understanding of how to best guide and direct our children, without being too controlling or too chaotic.