In last week’s post, I shared with you important information that every parent needs to know: how we parent our children affects their emotional life and behaviour.
I explained how being an emotionally responsive parent helps your child to establish effective stress-regulating systems to take them through to adulthood. Knowing this, you adopt your style of parenting so that you nurture your child’s brain and body to manage stress in adult life.
When we respond to our children in certain ways, this gives your child’s brain opportunities to establish the pathways needed so that your child can:
- manage their emotions
- think rationally undress pressure
- self-calm without recourse to angry outbursts or anxiety attacks. In later life, the adult who is not able to self-calm may resort to alcohol, smoking or drugs.
More modern research and knowledge provides the evidence to confirm that our parenting styles can affect a child’s
- curiosity and drive
- ability to explore and embrace life
- develop deep and lasting friendships
And don’t we all want this for our child?
Our parenting has a major impact on a child’s emotional life on a long-term basis because how you raise and respond to your child during the brain’s developing years determines which part of the brain is activated most. Let me try to explain, in layman’s terms, some of the neuroscience behind this. The caveat being that I am not a neuroscientist myself.
The human brain is made up of distinct parts:
- the brain stem or core reptilian brain
- the limbic system or mammalian or emotional brain
- the midbrain
- the cortex or higher human brain, the thinking logical brain
The brain parts are connected by a network of nerves which all have their own special function.
During the brain’s development in the first five years of life, millions of brain connections are formed, unformed and reformed. Our experiences literally ‘sculpt’ our brains. This ‘sculpting’ activity is known to slow down around the age of 7. The child’s brain development is affected by how you listen, how you play, how you cuddle, how you comfort, how you respond when are angry etc. As you respond to your child, the brain connections are made – the wiring is formed. When a baby is born, the more primitive reptilian brain is in control. The higher human brain (the thinking brain) is undeveloped at birth which is why the young child can be so easily overwhelmed by emotions and primitive responses. This is not your child ‘being naughty’ or ‘manipulating’ you. This is your child trying to cope. When a child experiences feelings such as fear, sadness or anger, this activates the lower part of the brain.
This means that the developing brain in the early years is very vulnerable to stress. However when the young child is in a stressful situation, if the parent is emotionally responsive, inside the brain, the relevant neural pathways develop so that the child is able to manage stressful situations. The more often this happens, the stronger the connections and the stress-regulating systems become more effective.