“The health and well-being of your loved one depends on how well your brain is working.” — Daniel Siegel
This is just one of the noteworthy statements shared by professional counselor and psychotherapist Toni Dy at a recent event organized by Educating for Life (EFL) for Early Bird registrants to the upcoming Philippine Homeschool Convention.
Toni, who is a homeschooling mom of three kids, encouraged the parents present to know more about how their own brains work so that they could better understand their behavior and their respective kids’ behavior, too.
She briefly explained four important parts of the brain and their functions:
The hypothalamus controls emotions, thirst, hunger, appetite, digestion, sleep, and body temperature. It is also responsible for the “fight-or-flight response.” When we feel threatened or perceive stressful or dangerous situations, it is this response that kicks in. In some instances, we “freeze” instead of going into “fight-or-flight” mode.
The amygdala generates basic emotions like fear and anger. It’s the reason we are afraid of things we can’t control, and it also controls the way we react to certain events that cause emotions—especially those that we deem potentially dangerous or threatening. The main part of the brain responsible for processing emotions is the limbic system (sometimes called the "emotional brain") where the amygdala is located.
The hippocampus is the storage of memories, and links the emotion to the memory.
The prefrontal cortex is what makes human beings different from other mammals. This is where uniquely human traits like language, higher thought or reasoning, and imagination come from.
Once we better understand our brains and how they work, we can better understand our kids. “All behaviors are forms of communication,” Toni said. “Any addiction is an avoidance of pain.”
When we are stressed, our tendency is to go into fight, flight or freeze mode. Thus, “stress often leads to blocked care,” Toni pointed out. “Hurt brains hurt people.” This is why we parents need to be more mindful of how we react to certain situations, especially when our children are involved.
Our brains, our behavior, and our kids’ brains and behavior
During her talk, Toni also explained the “plasticity” of our brains, i.e. the capacity of the brain to change its structure and function in response to experiences. “The brain is adaptable and can be influenced by positive experiences,” she said.
At the same time, the brain is also vulnerable. Under any type of perceived threat, the brain resorts to tried and true behaviors. It becomes more automatic and over-reactive, and is less able to use “higher order thinking skills.” This is the case especially for our children, whose brains are not fully developed yet.
“Thus, what we do as parents matters to our kids’ brain development,” Toni shared.
So, for example, when your toddler is throwing a tantrum, you, as a parent, need to be mindful of what could be going on in his brain at that time. More often than not, kids act out when they feel threatened or feel unsafe.
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This is where we, as parents, must step in and help our kids. Instead of shouting or raising our voices in exasperation, we need to stay calm and respond properly. “Our facial expressions and tone of voice can make kids feel safe or threatened,” she emphasized.
Toni also shared that parents need to help their kids develop self-regulation skills like validating their feelings, mindfulness, and hugging. A 20-second hug every day helps kids release oxytocin, the hormone that elicits good feelings. “You can also use deep pressure like squeezing their hands and feet, firm massage, bear hugs,” Toni added.
“Don’t lose hope”
One of the highlights of Toni’s talk was when she reminded all parents present to be humble enough to admit when we have made our kids feel unsafe, and do “damage control” as needed. This is especially if we want to help prevent a cycle of unwanted behavior from happening.
She shared her own experiences as an example, saying that she herself had her own childhood traumas which sometimes affect how she reacts to her kids, i.e. she loses her cool and shouts at them, even if she knows that doing so will damage their brains. However, since she is aware of her behavior, she immediately addresses the situation and processes it with her kids.
“Don’t lose hope,” Toni encouraged everyone present. “We can be better parents and help our kids be better, too.” This is something most, if not all, parents need to hear every day, don’t you think?
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For more practical learnings on making your home a place like no other in terms of educating your child—whether you homeschool or not—attend the No Place Like Home Philippine Homeschool Convention on September 7, 2019 at SMX Convention Center, SM Aura Premier. For more details, visit www.bit.ly/noplacelikehomephc