Gettting To Know Your Child's Brain
by Donna Tetreault
What if you could understand how your child’s brain really works? What if you could help him/her live the most happy and healthy life possible? There is now significant research-based evidence that gives parents that advantage. According to Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, co-author of The Whole Brain Child “For parents, learning about how their kids’ (and their own) brains work is surprisingly practical, informing how they handle discipline, how they help their kids deal with everyday struggles, and ultimately how they connect with their children. Most parents haven’t heard this information before, and yet it is so helpful. So one of my main goals is to take scientifically-grounded knowledge, and use it to help parents better understand their kids and themselves, and most importantly, to apply it in the parenting trenches—in their breakfast-table, grocery-store, temper-tantrum, everyday parenting world.”
Tina emphasizes she is a mom to her three boys before anything else: “They’re my heart. Their personalities make life so much fun. They’ve also made my research very personal, helping bring together the different roles I play in my life, where I’m part-time educator/researcher, and full-time Little-League-mom/super-Jedi-spy-with-laser-powers. In other words, as I’ve studied attachment and childrearing theory and the science of how brains work, I’ve been able to apply that knowledge and let it help me parent more the way I want: lovingly, intentionally, and effectively.”
I asked Tina if I could pick her brain for some insight. She graciously accepted. For more great information, visit Tina’s website http://tinabryson.com/
Question: What did you learn about a child’s brain based on your research on neuroplasticity?
One of the most powerful things I learned was that the repeated experiences our children have don’t just influence their minds, but literally change the architecture or the structure of their brains. When we learn this and think about the most influential and frequent repeated experiences our children have is their relationship with us. If we are emotionally responsive when our children are falling apart, when they’re afraid, when they need us to listen, and even when we’ve messed up and not handled ourselves well, it wires our children’s brains in optimal ways. What’s so exciting about this is that we don’t have to be perfect as parents. (We can make things right and repair with our children when things don’t go so well.) We don’t have to have all the answers. We can use the everyday moments (like discipline moments) as opportunities to give them experiences that will lay the groundwork for developing their brains in ways that help them be flexible, adaptive, stable, and make sense of their world and who they are. The strategies in The Whole-Brain Child can be used in the everyday moments of parenting that will help parents both survive the difficult moments, and give the child experiences that will help them thrive. And we’ve put the strategies in a chart in the back of the book with specific implementation suggestions, based on your child’s age, and a “Refrigerator Sheet” so you can tear it out or copy it and put it in your car, on your fridge, or wherever it would be helpful to be reminded of the strategies.
Question: Why does this research indicate that parents think about tossing out the “time out?”
#1. What we know about the brain.
Because I know that brain connections are formed from repeated experiences, I don’t want my kids’ repeated experience to be isolation, which they may view as rejection, when they’ve made a mistake.
What I DO want them to repeatedly experience is doing things the right way. So, instead of a time out, I’ll often ask my kids to practice good behavior. If they’re being disrespectful in their tone and communication, I might ask them to try it again and say it respectfully. If they’ve been mean to their brother, I might ask them to find three kind things to do for him before bedtime. That way, the repeated experience of positive behavior is getting wired in their brain.
#2. False advertising and missed opportunities.
What’s the point or the goal for a time out? It’s supposed to be for a child to calm down and reflect on his or her behavior. In my experience, time outs frequently just make children more angry. And how often do you think kids use their time out to reflect on their behavior? I’ve got news for you: The main thing they’re reflecting on is how mean parents are.
When they’re reflecting on their horrible luck to have such a mean, unfair parent, they’re missing out on an opportunity to have experiences of building insight, empathy, and problem-solving. Putting them in time out misses a chance for them to practice being active decision-makers who are empowered to figure things out. We want to give them practice at being problem-solvers, and at making good choices. You can do your kids a lot of good by simply asking, “What are you going to do to make it better and solve this problem?” Given the chance once they’re calm, they’ll usually do the right thing, and learn in the process.
#3. Time outs often aren’t linked to the misbehavior.
Usually, we want to choose consequences that are directly and logically connected to the misbehavior. Using a broom to whack the TV means the broom is put away until the child can make appropriate choices with it again. Riding a bike without a helmet means no riding for a few days.
Time outs, though, often don’t relate in any clear way to a child’s bad decision or out-of-control reaction. As a result, they’re often not as effective in terms of changing behavior.
#4. Time outs are too often used as punishment, as opposed to a teaching tool.
Even when parents have good intentions, time outs are often used inappropriately. The idea behind time outs is to give kids a chance to calm down and pull themselves together. Then they can move from their internal chaos into calm.
But much of the time, parents use time outs punitively. The goal isn’t to help the child return to her calm baseline, but to punish her for some misbehavior. The calming, teaching aspect of the consequence gets totally lost.
#5. Kids need connection.
Often, misbehavior is a result of a child inappropriately expressing a need or a big feeling. She may be hungry or tired, or maybe there’s some other reason she’s incapable in that moment of controlling herself and making a good decision.
Like, maybe she’s three, and her brain isn’t sophisticated enough to say, “Mother dear, I’m feeling frustrated that we’re out of my favorite juice, and I’d like to respectfully request that you put it on your grocery list.” So instead, doing her best to express her crushing disappointment, she begins throwing toys at you.
It’s during these times that she most needs our comfort and calm presence. Forcing her to go off and sit by herself can feel like abandonment to the child, especially if she’s feeling out of control already. It may even send the subtle message that when she isn’t perfect, you don’t want to be near her.
Again, if done appropriately with loving connection, such as sitting with the child and talking or comforting – often called a “time-in” – some time to calm down can be helpful for children. But there are often more nurturing and effective ways to respond to kids than to give them a time out.
Dr. Tina Payne Bryson is a psychotherapist at Pediatric and Adolescent Psychology Associates in Arcadia, California, where she does parenting consultations and provides therapy to children and adolescents. She speaks to parents, educators, and clinicians all across the country, and she has written for numerous venues, most recently the PBS series “This Emotional Life.”She also co-hosts a web-based parenting show called The Intentional Parent. Tina earned her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California, where her research explored attachment science, childrearing theory, and the emerging field of interpersonal neurobiology.
The Whole-Brain Child came out in October of last year and has already been on the LA Times bestseller list.
Here’s a link with an excerpt from the opening pages: http://tinabryson.com/2011/09/27/the-whole-brain-child-the-opening-pages/
Listed in: Super Mommy Not