Friday, March 3, 2017

The Well-Connected Child

by Angie Grindon, LCSW, LPC

This is such an exciting era regarding what we are learning about the BRAIN! This new knowledge is impacting every area of our lives, confirming, expanding or correcting what we previously believed. We now know that the brain is amazingly plastic, capable of remarkable change even in adulthood. 

We are also learning that physical exercise, good nutrition, positive, loving, safe, nurturing, close relationships, loving touch, reliable safety, consistency, good eye contact, attention, listening, structure and routine are all essential* to strong brain development and health. This most recent  knowledge gives us a new roadmap for our own living and for caring for and parenting our children.

When we are stressed, our behavior, thinking, and emotional well-being tends to deteriorate. We do not always recognize stress in ourselves or others. Most people learn, early in life, ways to mask observable signs of stress so as to not appear vulnerable. Children’s sense of vulnerability is both physical and emotional. Children (and adults) may be able to mask stress in its early stages, but in later stages it can result in acting out (e.g. anger, destructive behavior) or acting in (e.g. withdrawal).

What we know now is that once our brain is overly excited (stressed), we cannot think well. We act out a flight/fight response. Returning to our good, balanced brain requires time, positive calm and a sense of emotional and physical safety.  Until that is restored we cannot process information, talk about what is going on with ourselves, or regain use of our thinking brain. 

As adults and parents, we need to provide children with a daily “diet” of those essentials above(*). It is critical to their development. Also, to help our children develop, we must stop and attend to a child when she is displaying signs of stress (e.g. poor or deteriorating behavior, withdrawal, resistance). When this happens a child needs help to return to her best self.  To help, we engage in those identified essential* behaviors. We must do so sincerely and with a caring heart. And, this must be repeated at least daily, and more often when a child is stressed. This enables the child to learn to do so for herself and/or ask for help with this when she needs it. 

These are the elements for eventually developing a positively- and well-connected child: a child whose behavior is positive (most all of the time), can become excited, can calm down, has good eye-contact naturally, enjoys loving, safe touch and time with her caretakers, is engaged in her life, enjoys learning new things, is playful, physically active and creative.