Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Brain Science That Changes Parenting

I have been fascinated by neuroscience for several years now. In fact, learning about basic brain function and child development is why I chose to leave conventional parenting methods behind. I’m certainly no neuroscientist, and I still don’t understand the deep complexities of the brain, but I’ve come to understand the basics through No-Drama Discipline by Drs. Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne-Bryson.

Dr. Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. Dr. Bryson is a psychotherapist and the Executive Director for the Center for Connection. What they share in their book is huge, paradigm-shifting information that every parent needs to know. I’m going to share with you just a snippet that I feel is extremely important. Of course, I recommend adding their book to your library.

Let’s divide the brain into parts. The lower region of the brain is what Drs. Siegel and Bryson refer to as the “downstairs brain.” This is made up of the brainstem and the limbic region. The brainstem is our primitive “reptilian” brain and is responsible for operations such as breathing, digestion, and regulating sleep cycles. The limbic system houses our strong emotions. The downstairs brain is well developed at birth, so your child feels all of the strong emotions from the get-go, but managing those emotions is not a function of the lower brain.

The upper region, or upstairs brain as the authors call it, is made up of the cerebral cortex, the outermost layer of the brain. The upstairs brain is responsible for logical thinking, reasoning, making decisions, planning, regulation of emotions, empathy, morality, and much more, and this is very underdeveloped at birth. In fact, it won’t be fully formed until the mid 20’s.

Why does this change everything?

It takes the information we’ve been fed for years, such as the idea that a child who hits is just being mean and needs punished or that a toddler having a meltdown is being manipulative and needs ignored, and blows it completely out of the water. None of that is true! A child having a downstairs tantrum (true emotional overwhelm) cannot just stop the tantrum no matter how much you threaten or bribe her to, because she’s locked in her primitive downstairs brain and cannot access the part that houses reason. A child who hits someone has lost access to his very underdeveloped upstairs brain and is reacting from his primitive brain. He’s not mean – he’s simply not capable of controlling his emotions and behavior all the time.

Does this excuse bad behavior? Do we just let it go since they can’t help it? ..Finish reading this article over at Creative Child 

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Best-Kept Secret in Parenting!

“It’s the relationship of the child to the adult responsible for their care that is the most significant factor in the unfolding of human potential.” – Dr. Gordon Neufeld

Dr. Gordon Neufeld is a Vancouver-based developmental psychologist with over 40 years of experience with children and youth and those responsible for them. A foremost authority on child development, Dr. Neufeld is an international speaker, a bestselling author Hold On To Your Kids and a leading interpreter of the developmental paradigm.

I recently had an opportunity to listen to him speak on The Great Parenting Show, and what he said is so profoundly important that I want to try and summarize it, because I don’t want this to be the best-kept secret anymore. What is this secret?

It’s the relationship of the child to the adult responsible for their care that is the most significant factor in the unfolding of human potential. 

Attachment, not behaviorist approaches. It’s not the discipline tricks or techniques that we use to try and modify behavior that makes children want to be good – it’s the quality of our relationship! This has the potential to profoundly change the way we parent since much of parenting is still based upon behaviorist techniques that actually erode the relationship.

For example, time-out is a social exclusion technique that is supposed to be emotionally painful enough to deter the unwanted behavior, yet when we exclude children, when we withdraw the invitation to exist in our presence, as Neufeld puts it, the relationship gets damaged. The same is true for removal of items and privileges. When we say to the child, “Whatever it is that you are attached to, whatever you care about, I will take that away from you when you are not good,” this essentially is corroding the very thing that makes them want to be good.

Neufeld outlines the 6 stages of attachment in his book, Hold On To Your Kids, and those have been summarized here. I want to point out for this particular discussion stage 3 - belonging or loyalty.
It is during this stage, which occurs around 3 years of age, where the child begins wanting to be good and do right for the parent if the attachment bond is strong. In stage 5, the child becomes very emotionally involved, giving his heart to whomever he’s attached. Neufeld says, “There is nothing more important to hold sacred than the child’s desire to be good for you…when we have a good relationship with somebody, we naturally desire to be good for them and make things work for them.”

This is where we have taken a dreadful wrong turn in our parenting, because when children begin to test boundaries, we act as though they do not want to be good for us, and we start using tricks and techniques that push them away rather than bringing them close. These techniques – time-out, removal of beloved items, and certainly spanking – make no sense when we understand that the relationship is the most significant factor of all.

This knowledge makes parents then ask the question, “But how do I discipline? If time out and taking things away aren’t good, how to I stop bad behavior?” We ask because we are still looking for tricks! We have been so conditioned to believe that we must do something to the child to stop poor behavior that we cannot rest in the knowledge that a close, connected relationship will cause the child to want to behave.

This, of course, doesn’t absolve us from needing to teach our children how to manage their behavior – that is parenting – but the teaching is done in the context of the attachment. Point the child in the right direction (instill your values, show them what is expected, model well, talk about emotions and behavior) and make sure you have her heart. If you have her heart, you don’t need anything else.
Here is a 3 minute video of Dr. Gordon Neufeld explaining the effectiveness and consequences. There are several other helpful videos found at this link.

This article was originally posted on

For more of my Positive Parenting articles featured in Creative Child Magazine, click here.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The #1 Reasons Parents Yell and How to Turn It Around

Guest post by Andy Smithson, Tru Parenting

It wasn't the traffic you endured while running the kids to football, band and dance practice. It wasn't really the announcement of “I have to pee” that came from the back seat the moment you left the driveway. I wasn't even the constant noise and quarreling between your son and daughter that set you off. It wasn't the pile of paperwork your boss threw at you at the end of your work day, or the mess on the floor when you entered the front door of your house, or the dinner that needed to be prepared and then cleaned up that sent you over the edge. You thought you could handle just one tantrum, one “NO, NO, NO!” But, you started to wonder after the third “No” just how much you could take. It wasn't any one of the one million things you had to do today that sent your voice into the stratosphere. It was all of them combined, plus One More Thing!

We've all heard the idiom “the straw that broke the camel's back.” If you are like most parents, you have probably been that camel at some point or another. Although our children are not generally the “cause” of yelling, they can be awfully adept at performing the behavior that often seems to be “the last straw.” The kids end up getting the tail end of our stress and overwhelm.

But I've never met a parent that likes to yell. So why do parents yell?

What parents said was the #1 reason for yelling at the kids

I recently asked parents across social media groups and channels what they felt were the top reasons parents yelled at their kids. The comments and responses came rolling in. Hundreds of parents weighed in and I was surprised by the top responses, not because I disagreed, but because I thought that kids would get more of the blame. We are either a more insightful and enlightened generation of parents or more self deprecating. Not sure which. Either way, there was no disputing the top results. Parents sighted personal, internal issues far more than external triggers such as their children's specific behaviors.

The #1 reason parents reported that they yell, by a long shot, was stress and overwhelm. Behaviors like “not listening, slow pokes or bedtime struggles” certainly came up, but they did not dominate the discussion as I had anticipated.

We can all relate. I've felt it. You've felt it. The proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back can be anything. Sometimes its a food complaint at the dinner table. Other times it's that shoe that you swore you asked them to pick up a half hour ago. Regardless of what it is that leads us to lose it, we can usually trace it back to the overall load rather than the one specific act.

It happens to all of us, but don't worry, there is help and relief!

When it comes to stress and overwhelm there are basically 3 choices we can make, or better yet, we can implement all 3. We can...

  • Decrease our stress
  • Increase our tolerance
  • Manage the stress we've got more effectively

Here are 3 suggestions of specific ways we can do a little of each in our daily lives and lead to less stress and overwhelm and subsequently, less yelling.

  1. Say “No” more often. This can be easier said than done. It takes some serious introspection and wisdom to see and acknowledge our own limits and then to respectfully communicate those to others in our lives. But, if we want to have more and greater quality time with the people that are most important to us, we have to learn to say “no” to more “stuff” that we fill our lives with. You don't have to do everything. Say it with me... “It's okay to buy the Oreos rather than baking the gourmet desert for the school function. It's okay to to limit some of the extra-curriculars.” If you find yourself struggling with setting boundaries and saying “no” to things in your life, I often suggest the book “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud.
  2. Practice chilling out every day. You have more power than you think you do over your emotional state and reactions. I teach my counseling and coaching clients a skill I call the Quick Calm Technique and often utilize several meditation practices to help parents learn to increase awareness, tolerance and conscious, mindful responding. Our ability to tolerate and eliminate distress is both a physiological and mental activity. It takes regular practice to get good at it.
  3. Change how we look at stress. We can learn to experience stress differently by simply changing how we view it. Kelly McGonigal is a stress researcher that taught people for years that stress was “bad” and to avoid it like the plague. Through continued study she found that this view of stress was actually more harmful than the stress itself. In her TED talk, “How to Make Stress Your Friend” she explains that when we come to recognize our natural stress response as a natural and positive response that helps our body and mind prepare for challenges, we can actually change our biology and physiology surrounding that stress and have much more favorable outcomes. Stress can actually be “good.” Designing some specific positive self talk around our stress can be a simple way to start changing our view and turn overwhelm into greater strength and success.

The implementation of these 3 skills regularly can set the stage for dramatic changes in our own lives and in the lives of our kids and families. You will have less stress as well as get better at stress. You don't have to let the little things add up anymore. When our load is lighter and our ability to carry that load is strengthened our kids no longer have to play the role of the “straw that broke the camel's back.” They get to play the role of the learning, growing silly little boy or girl. They get to play the role of your child.

Sometimes we need help

Remembering all of these skills and techniques and staying accountable to following through with the practice required to master our stress and overwhelm often requires having help. We like to think that we can do everything on our own, but it just ends up stressing us out more. It's not the knowing that is the hard part. It's the doing that is the hard part. This is why Andy has created the “Stop Yelling in 21 Days Coaching Course.” It is a complete and comprehensive course that will fit any schedule and budget. It will give you the tools, inspiration and support you need to relax a little more, decrease your stress and overwhelm and finally stop yelling!

Register for the Stop Yelling Course Here.

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