We parents internalize ourselves about what is necessary for our children's bodies to grow up healthy, we know about food and other care. But many of us lack basic information about children's brains.
And… why should we internalize about the brain? Neuroscience has come a long way in recent years and much has been discovered about the fundamental role that the brain plays in various aspects of children's lives that concern parents, such as discipline, decision making, self-awareness , social relationships, etc. In fact, the brain largely determines who we are and what we do.
Dr. Daniel Siegel, author of the book “The Child's Brain”, explains that the brain is constantly changing and that it is fundamentally shaped by experience. Even in old age, our experiences change the very physical structure of the brain. For this reason, knowing that the brain changes in response to the way we parent can help us a lot in raising children.
But let's not feel pressured. Nature has taken care that the basic architecture of the brain develops properly with proper nutrition, sleep, and stimulation. Genes, of course, play an important role in the way people are, especially when it comes to temperament.
But findings in different areas of developmental psychology suggest that everything that happens to us – the music we listen to, the people we love, the books we read, the kind of discipline we receive, the emotions we feel – have a great influence on our brain development.
In other words, in addition to our basic brain architecture and innate temperament, parents can play an essential role in providing the kinds of experiences that help develop a resilient, well-integrated brain.
What is an integrated brain and why does it matter so much?
Most of us don't take into account that our brains have many different parts, each with different jobs. For example, there is a left side that helps us think logically and organize thoughts to build sentences, and a right side that helps us experience emotions and interpret nonverbal cues.
We also have a reptilian brain, which allows us to act intuitively and make split-second survival decisions, and a mammalian brain, which guides us toward connection and relationships. One part of the brain is focused on memory, another on making moral and ethical decisions. It is almost as if our brain had multiple personalities: some rational, others irrational, some reflective, others reactive. No wonder we look like different people at different times!
It's easy to see when our kids aren't integrated: they're overcome with emotions, confused, and acting chaotic. They are not capable of responding in a calm and competent way to the situations they face. Tantrums, meltdowns, aggression, and almost every other challenging experience in parenting—and in life—is the result of a loss of integration. In these situations, the actions of parents are very important because we can, based on building a solid relationship, contribute positively.
The reason a child's brain isn't always able to integrate is simple: it hasn't had time to develop yet. In fact, it has a long way to go, as a person's brain is not considered to be fully developed until their late twenties. The good news is that using the moments of everyday life we can influence the way our child's brain moves towards integration. For example, we help to use the logical left brain and the emotional right brain, as if they were a team when, in situations of emotional overflow, we help them to register their feelings with empathy and then, when the child manages to calm down and is already more receptive, we talk about the logical questions related to discipline and the search for solutions.
We help activate the upper brain of children by asking them to reflect by asking questions, planning and choosing, instead of favoring the lower brain, where reflection is not so much involved, but reaction. There is an innate brain aptitude for social interaction, having positive and satisfying experiences with the people you spend the most time with is extremely beneficial. The conflicts that arise in this interaction with others present us with an opportunity to teach essential relationship skills, such as seeing things from the perspective of others, interpreting nonverbal signals, and making agreements.
The wonderful thing about this approach and its proposals for action is that it fully coincides with a respectful vision of parenting. An upbringing that understands that the role of parents is fundamental, that the conflicts or manifestations of this “lack of brain integration” are opportunities to teach skills, that many of the issues that happen every day are characteristic of our children's immaturity and that it is our job to help register what they feel, stimulate their reflection so that reactions do not dominate them, encourage their own thinking and greater registration and control of their body and emotions.
Different views lead us to the same path, that of active, effective, respectful and responsible parenting.
Lic. Vanesa Gómez
Source: “The child's brain”. Author: Daniel J. Siegel.