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There are so many parenting gurus out there, how do we know where to turn? When looking at a child’s behavior, it is important to know there is an underlying need behind it. Every single one. A great area to learn about this is to explore brain science and child psychology more in depth. While searching for resources, The Whole Brain Child is a book that comes up again and again; It is a perfect primer to understanding your child’s mental development and stages, as well as how this relates to approaching and guiding your child in everyday parenting. After all, the root of the word discipline is disciple; learning from one who teaches and guides.
It is possible to go from merely surviving to thriving in your parenting. By becoming aware of difficult parenting moments, you can turn these into opportunities for growth. By learning more about the brain, you give yourself and your child tools that will benefit every single day.
The brain performs at its best when its different parts work together in a coordinated and balanced way. Another word for this is integration. An integrated brain results in improved decision-making, better control of body and emotions, fuller self-understanding, stronger relationships, and success in school. Sounds like something you want for your child (and maybe, hopefully yourself too) right?
It all starts with understanding the brain, and how God wired us.
After all, the more integrated the brain is, the more we are in control of self, avoiding mental chaos or rigidity.
Use Both Side Of The Brain
Have you ever heard of the logical left-brain and the emotional right-brain? By using both sides of the brain together, we gain clarity, balance, and connection; the brain performs at its best when its different parts coordinate together. Translating this to children, we first seek to connect emotionally with the right brain: When our child is upset and raging with big, right-brain, out of control emotions. You can do this by helping to name the emotions of what is going on, and prompting your kids to talk about what’s upsetting them. This connects the left brain and right brain, by making sense of the experience and how they feel. Then, once your child is more in control and receptive, bring in the left-brain lessons and gentle discipline.
The Upstairs and Downstairs Brain
The sophisticated upstairs brain is “under construction” during childhood and adolescence, while the primitive downstairs brain is intact at birth. Simply put, this means that your child is always learning and does not know what you know – you have to teach him. That may seem fairly basic, but it’s so easily forgotten in our society. Give him the tools he needs to understand and interact in different social situations. Teach him how to be human. Understand brain science in this; in high-emotion situations, we tend to operate from the downstairs brain more than the upstairs brain. So be patient with your child (and everyone else!) when there is trouble controlling emotions and actions. With stress, it’s more difficult to make good decisions all the time. If it’s hard for you, mama, just imagine how much more difficult it is for your child!
There are a few was to help integrate your child’s upstairs brain; engage, don’t enrage; use it or lose it; move it or lose it. These mean just what they say: ask questions and negotiate, play games to solve problems, and move your body in some way, by exercise, stretches, etc.
Make The Implicit Explicit
Help your kids make their implicit (implied/connected) memories explicit (clear/detailed), so that past experiences don’t affect them in debilitating ways. By narrating past events, they can look at what’s happened and make good, intentional decisions about how to handle those memories. You can do this a few different ways; share with your child about a mental remote, where after a painful event, your child can use this tool to let her “pause,” “rewind,” and “fast-forward” a story as she tells it. This puts her in control of how much of the event she views and remembers, especially if reluctant. Practicing memory is a good way to do this as well; in the car, at the dinner table, wherever you are, help your kids talk about their experiences. The more everyday life is talked about, the more the implicit and explicit memories are integrated in a healthy way.
The Wheel Of Awareness
Sometimes our kids get stuck on one particular point on the rim of their wheel of awareness, and lose sight of the many other parts of themselves. We need to give them tools, so that they can be aware of what’s happening in their own mind. Then they can choose where they focus their attention, integrating the different aspects of themselves and gaining more control over how they feel. A positive way to do this is to remind your child that feelings come and go; fear and frustration or loneliness are temporary states, not enduring traits. Help your child name and understand their different sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts they experience. In order to grow, he needs to be aware of what’s going on.
Wired For “We”
Watch for ways to capitalize on the brain’s built-in capacity for social interaction, especially by being intentional about creating positive mental models of relationships. Adults create children’s expectations about relationships that will affect and guide them throughout their lives. Help them develop self-awareness, and further empathy for and connection with those around them. You can absolutely connect through conflict in the family; it’s not merely an obstacle to avoid. Use it positively to teach your kids essential relationships skills, like seeing other people’s perspectives, reading nonverbal cues, and making amends. A script I’ve taught my toddler for handling conflict when he plays with his brother and other kids is this: “I’m sorry I hurt you when I did ___. I never wanted to make you feel that way. How can I help you feel better?”
What do you think, mamas? Could you see yourself implementing some whole-brained practices in daily life with your kids and others around you? How do you see this changing the way you and your child learn about each other each day?
~Katherine Newsom writes at Simple Natural Mama
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