Wednesday, July 15

The Science of Parenting (Part 1)

People often make the remarks that they wish there is a manual that comes along with the baby. That would be ideal but I suppose that's not how nature wants it to be. There is great satisfaction that comes with learning and growing, along with the baby.

Once in a while I find books that pique my interest and curiousity especially if they are related to developmental psychology. I have always been fascinated especially with a baby whose growth is so rapid in the first few years of his life. The changes that I see are so incredible. I'm always thrilled when the child starts to speak and how the personality begins to emerge when just a year ago he was just looking so cute and not uttering a single word. To me, that's miracle.

I came across the book The Science of Parenting in the library a few years ago. My first reaction was "there is a science to parenting? Wow!" After browsing through I was so impressed that I bought the book because that is the kind of book that I like to own. What this book offers essentially is to illuminate the impact of different ways of parenting on a child's brain based on evidence that the author has gathered. She has done extensive research into neuroscience of parent-child interactions and her conclusions have been drawn from more than 800 studies around the world. Isn't that impressive?

I have enjoyed reading this book because it has given me much to think about and there are lots of useful information especially on why baby behaves the way they do like crying, and clinging to the mom for his dear life and so on. I shall attempt to summarize the key points from the first 2 chapters.

Understanding the child's brain.

  • The brains are made up of 3 parts - the core reptilian brain, lower mammalian brain and higher human brain. These are interconnected by a massive network of nerves yet each has its own special functions.
  • Sometimes the 3 brains work together in a beautifully coordinated way and with the activation of some positive chemicals they bring out the best in humans. Other times, particular parts of the brain or chemicals are in the driving seat. This make people act in ways which cause misery to self and others.
  • The good news is, as a parent you can influence the activation of key functions and systems in your child's brain and the way in which the 3 brains interact. It can have an impact on the child's brain so that his higher brain will be able to manage these primitive lower brain reactions effectively.
  • Our rational brain can be easily hijacked by these lower regions. When we feel a threat, impulses from the reptilian and mammalian parts of our brain can hijack our higher human functions and we can behave like a threatened animal.

Infant is born with unfinished brain

  • The brain continues to develop after birth thus it is open to being sculpted by both negative and positive parent-child interactions especially during critical periods of brain growth in the first years of life. Everything baby experiences with you as his parent will forge connections between the cells in his higher brain.
  • Designed this way so that it can be wired up to adapt to the particular environment in which it finds itself. This adaptability works for or against the well-being of a child.
  • Hence, the way you listen to your child, play with him, cuddle, comfort and treat him when he is being naughty are of real significance.
  • With emotionally responsive parenting, vital connections will form in his brain, enabling him to cope well with stress in later life, form fulfilling relationships, manage emotions well, be kind and compassionate, have the will and motivation to follow his ambitions and his dream, experience the deepest calm and be able to love intimately and in peace.

The mammalian and reptilian parts of the a child's brain.

  • In the early years, his lower brain will be in the driving seat because the higher brain is unfinished.
  • What this means is the emotional systems and primitive impulses in his lower brain will all too easily overwhelm him at times. Hence, his intense burst of rage, distress, screaming, rolling around on the the floor in a desperate state.
  • He is NOT being naughty. It's just a fact about the immaturity of the human infant brain. His higher brain is simply NOT developed enough to be able to calm these massive feeling storms naturally.
  • Genetically ingrained emotional systems deep in the lower brain are rage, fear, separation distress, seeking, care, play and lust. These are set up at birth to support a baby's survival. Infants keep getting overwhelmed by the triggering of these brain systems because there is so little higher rational brain functioning “online” yet, to help them think, reason and calm themselves down.
  • It is important to understand this when faces with a genuinely distressed screaming baby/child. He needs YOUR HELP to calm down.
  • With consistently emotionally responsive parenting, your child's frontal lobes will start to develop essential pathways that will over time enable him to calm these alarm states in his lower brain.

Chemicals that are important in good parent-child relationships

  • Oxytocin - released at birth and helps mother and baby to bond.
  • Opiods -hormones that give a sense of well-being.
  • These chemicals are produced when a child is lovingly touched or held.
  • Warm parenting will repeatedly activate the release of these hormones, creating a secure bond with their child.

What science can tell us about stress.

  • Child's developing brain is very sensitive and highly vulnerable to stress.
  • When a child is not helped enough with his intense feelings, the alarm systems in his lower brain can be over-active in later life.
  • May over-react to minor stresses, become anxious and/or be angry or short-tempered.
  • Important to help child develop effective stress regulating systems and anti-anxiety chemical systems in the brain.

Helping children with their big feelings.
This is to develop top-down brain pathways. Over times, these networks will naturally start to control those primitive impulses, enabling him to think about his feelings rather than just discharging them in primitive action.

  1. Take your child's distress seriously.
  2. Recognize how your child is experiencing an event even if it's very different from how you are experiencing it
  3. Find age-appropriate words for his distress. Even young child will benefit from this kind of understanding. He will calm down because of the parent's tone even if the child doesn't understand the words.
  4. Meet your child's feelings with the right voice and energy. Match them.
  5. Be calm and offer clear boundaries. Offer clear boundaries by saying No firmly yet calmly when appropriate. He needs to feel that you are emotionally strong parent who is clearly in charge.
  6. A key factor in your ability to manage your child's intense arousal states is managing your own. Seek support.
  7. Use physical soothing.

Long-term effects of not helping children

  • It makes life such a constant struggle if we are unable to manage stress well, and there are many people who can't just do it.
  • Suffer all sorts of mental problems such as depression, persistent state of anxiety, phobias or obsession, physical illness, being cut-off emotionally, lethargy and lacking get-up-and-go

If you find this helpful, i do urge you to get the book.
Next up: Crying and Separation. Stay tuned.

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