What has raising kids to do with your brain? On this website I talk a lot about seemingly trivial daily things to make you understand that these things are not that easy to accomplish. Especially not when you have had a brain injury of some kind.
Raising kids is a very delicate and very responsible adventure. In fact, it is one of the most responsible acts we have to perform in our lives. Because the consequences of it are enormous and at times can be devastating. Remember famous serial killers like Ted Bundy? John Wayne Gacey? Charles Manson? All were born as really nice babies, every family would like to have. However, all had been raised abnormally: either a very violent upbringing, both physically or emotionally, or very unpredictably without much chance of a normal attachment development. Remember your worst boss at work? Probably had a bad youth as well.
When looking at the facts and all science nowadays knows, raising kids in an incorrect manner causes much damage to the kid itself but also to society. Almost invariably a seriously abnormal upbringing leads to personality problems and combined with the right mixture of a bad environment and a bad school, it is bound to lead to serious (violent) crimes. We could all live much happier together when we started to take raising kids much more seriously. Perhaps, this will take some 50 years or more from now. But why not teach people how to raise their children? Why not teach them what is all required for an optimal development of a balanced personality? Because it's your own business? So it is not your responsibility when your child starts stealing or doesn't feel enough compassion for other people to prevent his stabbing them in a fight?
Back to the scientific evidence. We know that there are several critical developmental stages every child has to go through. In the first years, when he is very dependent on the upbringer, a normal and safe attachment is needed to reduce his anxiety to a normal level. That means that when having pain or any kind of sorrow a young baby, child, has to know that there is safety all around. That a parent can comfort him, offer him a safe and warm place to be (in his or her arms for example). Not giving him such safety leads to an abnormal development of the frontal lobes, the amygdala (anxiety center deep in the brain, next to the hippocampus), the hippocampus (memory center) and probably other critical regions as well. The results can be devastating: a child who is more than normally anxious, has a serious lack of self-confidence, has a serious lack of confidence in other people and therefore relates to them in a shallow and anxious way. This kind of fundamental anxiety in relationships can be resolved but only by people who have a lot of patience and are persistent, consequent and full of caring. However, this resolving of an abnormal attachment process has to take place before the age of 10 (roughly) to still have a positive effect. It can be done when a child is older, however, that takes much more energy, time and perseverance.
We do know that at the basis of a healthy personality a normal attachment process is a prerequisite. Another critical period is the right kind of social interactions with other children, adults before the age of 10. In this period the emotional brain is largely developed: it is determined how fast a child will loose its temper, how sensitive it will be to pain, sorrow or anxiety, and how compassionate it will be later. Compassion is a trait that is both genetic (what not?) but largely learned. Not trusting anyone, having too much anxiety will hinder the development of full compassion. Furthermore, anxiety will trigger unhealthy thinking patterns that will increase the risks of depressogenic or catastrophic thinking styles. I will tell you more about personality development on another page.
Morality thinking is developing steadily but will have a basis in the development of compassion and other feelings. Too much anxiety is a very bad start to develop normal feelings for others. Usually it ends up in too much frustration and anger. Morality thinking will undoubtedly be negatively influenced by too much anger and/or anxiety. Just study biographies of known mass murderes like Hitler, Stalin, Mao.
So when all the evidence shows that raising kids is very important to the healthy development of your child's personality and his or her brain, why not take some lessons? I will attempt to sketch here a very short course in raising kids ;) because in fact it is very simple...WHEN you are in balance.
By that I mean the same thing as Steve Pavlina's model describes: Truth, Love, Power. Not that he is a scientist but he has managed to describe very succinctly the most important aspects of a healthy personal development, valid in all cultures. Just by using his common sense and reading a lot in psychology, sociology, anthropology and philosophy. Being a neuropsychologist and having read a lot of philosophy as well, I can tell that his personal development model is valid and a useful guiding model for developing yourself. The first rule of a healthy personal development is being in contact with Reality, or the Truth. And the Truth is NOT a dogmatic set of rules forced upon us by whatever kind of religion, but established by good scientific observation. And with scientific I mean using all known scientific observational methods: pure descriptive observations, methodologically sound case-studies like single-case designs, through more rigorous randomized controlled studies. The second rule is being in Love with all sentient beings, either human or animal. That sounds very esoteric but it simply means that you have to have compassion and empathy with those beings. This is a very difficult one because nowadays people do not seem to trust each other that much, or only trust a few 'in-group' members (usually their own families). But they seem not to see that there is NO fundamental difference between them and other people. We are all the same, in our suffering, in our loving, in our feelings, in our shortcomings. Just look at the facts in daily life. The third most fundamental rule in personal development is Power: being able to know what you can do and most important what you can NOT do (usually that is much more than what you can do). Power is certainly not the same as being stronger or being more dominant than another person. On the contrary, it is the realization that you have to humble and know that you don't know much. That there still is so much to learn. This knowledge gives you an enormous strength or power to continue to learn and grow. Power is also the absence of turmoil or anxiety or depression, it is absolutely not driven by your fragile ego, it is really ego-free.
When in every action you take you consider this model, nothing you do can be wrong. However, people differ in their ability to master all three components. For example, when your child has done something wrong (like mine has done just a couple of minutes ago), it is important to react in balance. You'll have to see the Truth. In my case, she has given me the wrong pages to check on when doing here homework for English. All words she knew, but it turns out that she had to learn the next set of pages. Did she do this deliberately (she's 12) or what? Probably not, why should she? I have to react truthfully and state that she still has to learn the other pages but realistically with a cold and a headache she will succeed only minimally. Tomorrow, her 'punishment' will be that there is a short examination and hopefully she will pass the test barely. I have to react lovingly in order to let her know that I still love her, despite this kind of mistake (sounds like a soap but it's that simple). I have to react but not explosively in order not to damage even further her self-esteem because she probably feels like a moron right now. Powerfully means I have to react firmly, knowing what I can do about it (not much, just giving some guidance) and what not. But I do have to state my opinion that I am not happy with her mistake. All in all, in safety she knows that I am there for her, in good and bad times. However, she also knows that the next time such a mistake is not taken so lightly by papa.
Wouldn't I be in balance emotionally I probably would have exploded, blaming her for her mistake and thereby damaging her lowered self-esteem even more. Furthermore, I would have not seen the reality of this that it is just one English exam instead of her life depending on this. There will be more exams to come.
This simple lesson in raising kids can be complemented with three more specific rules (extracted from the three main ones): 1. be consequent and 2. be clear. 3. do not punish extraordinary. Consequent means expose your child to the same methods you always use when correcting him or her. Do not change between methods because then you start being unpredictable, creating more anxiety and stress. Be clear in what you want to see in his or her behavior. Punish with compassion and keep it to the bad behavior. Never punish the child herself, but the mistake.
Raising kids in eating: When a child does not want to eat something because he doesn't like it, please do force him to eat it anyway. Studies have shown that giving in into a child's wish with eating leads to a very narrow eating experience. This - in return - leads to a child who does not learn to taste all flavors and develops quite a few dislikes in eating. The chances increase of developing an eating disorder. You have to make your child eat but... in a pleasant way. The best you can do is to give just a little of food on its plate and tell him he will get the chance to choose a nice desert, as long as he eats his whole plate. In fact, reward him for eating this (new) food, even though he states he doesn't like it. Eating different things is essential for learning to like several flavors. Whenever a child is allowed nót to eat, it does not develop a brain chart of several flavors and the risk of developing some sort of eating problem is increased.
Raising kids in going to bed: Whenever a child does not want to go to bed, just say he has to, because you say so. Make sure bed time is a regular time so the child knows the simple rule: 7.30 pm is bed time. When he still refuses you can show him only 2 options: either threaten to take him to bed more forcefully (without spanking please), or he can go to bed in a nice manner (e.g. on your back, reading a short story aloud for him). When he still doesn't want to go, you can count to 3 but before you do that you have to state your punishment on the count of 3. The child then has some time to think and choose the right (peaceful) option, without having had the idea to be forced too much.
Raising kids and the 1-2-3 counting method: In general, this counting method whenever the child refuses something is to be preferred to other methods like yelling, hitting or forcefully raising your voice. It is thé most powerful method for children up to 9-10 years. It is essential to count with a clearly raised voice and in a steady but slow pace (so the child has a little time to choose). Stop the counting only when the child exhibits the behavior it was asked to do. Do NOT stop counting when it only half does the wished behavior because then you will loose the 'fight'. The counting method should be done consequently, rather stringently (in raising your voice you already display some threat) and always be followed by a punishment (on the count of 3) you mentioned just before counting. Not following through a punishment after saying 3 will seriously weaken this method. When applied correctly, the counting method NEVER fails! For children older than 9-10, sometimes it is still necessary to count but normally you can just express the punishment directly.
A general tip or remark: most of the time a child does not want to do something, please find out if the child has problems with the act. My own daughter of 7 has some problems in arithmetic and quickly refuses to practise sums. More out of fear of not doing them correctly. Then I have to coach and support her and after a couple of minutes she begins to like it a little bit. It is normal for a child to be curious in something and to practise. Refusal usually signals fatigue or not being able to do something very well.
Please be patient and make some time to play:
A child can ask a lot from your time, in playing or just a lot of questions. Please make very clear when you do have time to play with him and when not. Always make some time, every day, to play with your child. It creates a bonding, a safe trusting in you as a parent. It will make it easier to ask your child to do things.