Are you ready to put all you’ve learned about brain development to good use with your children? Remembering the basics of brain development, its progress from lower to higher functioning as well as its dependence on experience, will be helpful when you choose how to manage your children’s challenging behavior.
This weekly column about parenting issues is written by local early childhood experts. It publishes on Mondays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.
Relate, regulate and reason are three words that can help guide a parent’s response to a child’s distress.
If you assume that your child’s behavior is the result of “can’t” rather than “won’t,” you’re on your way to being able to help him or her.
So, how to restore the relationship? By taking time to listen and understand the child’s need.
That doesn’t mean “spoiling” or “coddling” or even rewarding bad behavior. It means that the parent will stop, look and listen with an open mind in order to be attuned to the child’s need.
Usually that involves suspending judgment and managing your own emotional reactions.
Think about an infant’s earliest need: to be in a safe relationship with a primary caregiver. That caregiver then can help the infant regulate his or her stress responses.
As they get older, children begin to learn to self-regulate, but still need a relationship with a caring adult.
Children who are overly sensitive and reactive need extra help with self-regulation.
Often rocking, massage, music, rhythmic movement (breathing, walking, swinging) will help children come down from their hyper-aroused (or hypo-aroused) states.
Remember how you rocked, bounced and swung your infant to help him or her settle down? The same kinds of activities help an older child’s brain retreat from a state of distress.
It’s not until a child feels safe in a relationship and well regulated that he or she can use reason to resolve the problem and learn new skills.
Keeping in mind the brain’s development from lower to higher functioning, and the role that experience plays in brain development will help you be an effective parent with a psychologically healthy child.
Chris Young is a partner of the Routt County Early Childhood Council, First Impressions and a licensed psychologist.