Yesterday I spent a fun hour with the delightful Richard Fidler on ABC Radio in Australia.
Few experiences any of us undergo are as transformative as parenting. By definition, parenting is about transformation. One of our most important jobs as parents is to witness and influence the evolution of our children from wrinkly newborns with raw nervous systems into integrated, whole humans who know who they are and how to be in the world. And parenting obviously transforms us as well. There are smaller transformations—we learn to do most things “one-handed” while carrying a baby on our hip; we begin to eat at McDonalds; we memorize the names of dinosaurs; we learn to play video games again; we even buy a mini-van (which for some is a bigger transformation than for others). And there are huge, life-changing transformations—we adjust our priorities; we make sacrifices that cost us greatly; we learn to live with worrying and “what ifs”; we forever expand our hearts.
Along the way, we become more creative than we ever knew possible. I’m not talking about the creativity of artists, song-writers, or novelists. I’m talking about the creativity that’s required for survival for anyone caring for children. I knew I’d been forever transformed by my role as a parent when, in my attempt to get through to my non-compliant little streakers, creativity sprung forth from desperation and I made up a song with a chorus that began, “No naked butts on the furniture.” (Unfortunately, it was so catchy that one day I actually Continue Reading »
Several people have asked me recently about Shankar Vendantam’s post on NPR’s Health Blog, where he writes about a subject I’ve discussed a good bit: tantrums. In Vendantam’s article, he discusses a recent study that appeared in the journal Emotion, where scientists examined different toddler sounds that typify a tantrum.
I find the whole study – which analyzes the patterns of sound and action that usually accompany a tantrum – absolutely fascinating. And I’m grateful to any scientists (in this case Michael Potegal and James A. Green) who offer us new information that can help us better understand our children so we can be more loving and nurturing as we interact with them. I also want to mention Vendantam’s book The Hidden Brain. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my “get to” list, since I understand that it raises some really interesting questions regarding how much our brain drives who we are, even without our awareness.
Having said all that, a couple of objections kept nagging at me when I read Vendantam’s blog post about Green and Potegal’s science explaining “what’s behind a temper tantrum.” Specifically, I kept wanting to hear less about how parents can “get a tantrum to end as soon as possible” (though I totally understand this desire and have felt this way during many of my own children’s tantrums), and more about how parents can be emotionally responsive and present when their kids are upset.
In other words, I wanted a tantrum to be presented not only as an unpleasant experience that parents can learn to manage for their own benefit, but instead as another opportunity to make a child feel Continue Reading »
If you’ve heard me speak before, you may have heard me talk about the upstairs brain and the downstairs brain. Or maybe you’re read about the concepts here, where I help you teach the basic information to your kids.
Right now I want to apply that information in a way that can help us deal with one of the most unpleasant parenting issues we all face: the dreaded tantrum.
The Downstairs Brain and the Upstairs Brain
The basic idea is that we can think about our brain as a house, with a downstairs and an upstairs. The downstairs brain includes the brain stem and the limbic region, which are located in the lower parts of the brain, from the top of your neck to about the bridge of your nose. Scientists talk about these lower areas as being more primitive because they’re responsible for basic functions (like breathing and blinking), for innate reactions and impulses (like fight and flight), and for strong emotions (like anger and fear).
Your upstairs brain, on the other hand, handles much more sophisticated thinking. It’s made up of the cerebral cortex and its various parts—particularly the ones directly behind your forehead, including what’s called the middle prefrontal cortex. In other words, it is literally the higher (and thus upstairs) part of your brain. This is where more complex mental processing takes place, like thinking, imagining, and planning. Whereas the downstairs brain is primitive, the upstairs brain is Continue Reading »
Last week Dr. Drew Pinsky asked me to come on his show “Life Changers” to discuss spanking as a discipline approach. I ended up getting to say only a minute fraction of what I wanted to say about this polarizing discipline strategy, so I decided to share some of my thoughts here.
The parents I’ve talked to about spanking are almost always very strong in their position, but they avoid talking about it with other parents, and when the discussion begins, it’s almost never a respectful, open conversation among people who really are willing to listen to the other side.
I feel compelled to really have those conversations, so I’ll be doing more of this in the coming months, both informally at the park and on the ballfield, and also publicly in various formats. In order to get the ball rolling, what you’ll see below are my answers to the questions Dr. Drew’s producer asked me in our pre-show correspondence.
WHERE DO YOU STAND ON THE DEBATE OF TO SPANK OR NOT TO SPANK?
Anyone who’s heard me speak knows that I am really big on boundaries and on parents being authority figures. And still, I am against spanking. I think that using physical force, particularly against a child, is wrong. The idea of inflicting physical (even minor) pain on a child is unsettling to me. Beyond that, I firmly believe that when you understand how the brain works, you see that spanking is often counter-productive when it comes to teaching our kids the lessons we want them to learn.
However, that being said, it’s not really all that simple. Two particular points make the whole question about spanking a complex one in my mind. The first is that there are really good, loving parents who spank. I have friends who spank calmly and with nurturing conversations with their children regarding their discipline. They are intentional about how and WHY they do it. I know these parents well, and I’ve seen how great their kids are turning out, and how loved those kids feel. So those of us who don’t spank need to avoid the temptation to caricature parents who use corporal punishment, seeing them as out-of-control child abusers whose kids will turn out to be violent monsters.
The second point that complicates matters is that there are plenty of non-spanking discipline approaches that can be more damaging than spanking. I know that I myself have been guilty of Continue Reading »
One thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that even young children are capable of understanding some important basics about the way their brain works. It might seem strange to talk to kids about the brain – it is brain science, after all – but a little neuroscience presented in just the right way can give your children control over themselves.
Here’s a way you might approach the topic of tantrums and other high-emotion moments. Sit down with your child and use your own words to say something like this:
Do you ever feel like a jack-in-the-box? Where you get upset, then more and more upset, and it feels like someone’s winding your crank tighter and tighter, and before long you’re going to explode? Think about a time when you did explode and make a bad decision because the pressure built up in you. Tell me about it.
In a moment like that, the downstairs part of your brain is Continue Reading »