This was the opening statement of a talk that I attended by a renowned parent educator from Los Angeles, “Parents are Brain Sculptors”. She went on to describe how science has now discovered that the interaction of a child with his or her caregivers shapes the architecture of the child’s brain.
Oh my gosh! Can this really be true I wondered. I always believed that it’s largely a child’s genes or nature which determines how they turn out. I knew that the environment plays a role but how much? The speaker said that according to the Centre for Developing Child, Harvard, “Genes form the basic blueprint, but experiences shape the process that determines whether a child’s brain will have a strong or weak foundation for all future learning, behaviour and health.”
That is a scary thought and a huge responsibility! To know that the experiences I give my children determine how pathways form in their brain? I have children who are four and six years old. I give so much attention to their food, their schooling, their extra classes but I have not given so much thought to my ‘interactions’ with them. Is that more important? I do what many parents do — scold, threaten or bribe to get them to behave. And of course, I lose it and yell at them sometimes. Even give them one whack if needed. Isn’t that what a parent is supposed to do?
Apparently not! Harvard says that for strong brain architecture a child needs warm, caring interactions with caregivers. John Medina, Developmental Molecular Biologist and author of ‘Brain Rules’ tells us that the primary function of the brain is not learning. It is survival and safety. I struggled to understand what this information meant for me as a parent? What do I need to do differently? Like every parent I try to give my children the best possible experiences. I read them stories. I have bought educational toys. I take them to the park to play. I even put them in an Abacus Math class. The talk made me aware that I was a ‘doing’ parent. Doing so much for my children. But what they need the most is a ‘being’ parent. A parent with whom they feel deeply bonded and secure. Sure, we all love our kids but in getting things done on a day-to-day basis that love may not get communicated. And then sometimes we feel helpless and resort to harsh measures to discipline them as we are conditioned to believe that is what is needed. With this information I felt the need to rethink my role if I really wanted my children to grow to their full potential as calm, happy, healthy and confident individuals.
TO SUMMARISE WHAT I LEARNT:
Building a deep bond or attachment with our child is our most important task as a parent.
Children need warm, caring and consistent responses from their caregivers.
Our anger, threats or physical punishment can deeply affect a child’s sense of safety.
We need to find ways to guide and discipline our children with love and empathy.
It is essential that young children’s feelings get the same level of attention as their thinking.
Kesang Menezes is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organisation to empower parents to build deeper connection in families.