A Parent’s Work

Parenting is one of the most challenging tasks that a person will take on in life. It is not work for the faint of heart and it not for the person requiring unconditional acceptance and appreciation along the way. Love alone is not enough. However, it does guarantees your child a safe context to test the boundaries and unleash his or her frustrations. Even the most skilled and highly educated in child psychology can be tested beyond any previous limits.

With the advent of brain scanning technology, we have learned that our experiences continue to change our brains throughout our lives. We have learned that parents and educators can be instrumental in helping children to process new information. We have also learned how harsh and punitive discipline strategies of the past are not helpful in raising students that are best equipped to cope with changes or stresses in their lives. We have also learned that complete permissiveness does not either.

Daniel Siegel’s book, written with Tina Payne Bryson, The Whole-Brain Child, gives a nice synopsis of how the brain works to integrate new information and some strategies to ensure your child is learning appropriate boundaries alone the way. It provides a number of strategies to help parents support their child in “taming big emotions.” It also helps with the next steps of going back when your child has their emotions under control to revisit and redirect if necessary. The book provides scaffolding with refrigerator notes and scripted conversations to help parents.

I can speak to the power of encouraging children to tell their story.  I have used this extensively with my own children and my students over the years.  “The right side of our brain processes our emotions and autobiographical memories, but our left side is what makes sense of these feelings and recollections”( p. 28).  In fear inducting situations, it allows children (and adults) to name it and tame it.  In dealing with disappointment, it gives that child an understanding of wants, needs and resilience.  In dealing with conflict, it is the first step in learning empathy and conflict resolution strategies. 

Siegel and Payne Bryson also do a nice job in their discussion of nurturing relationships.  In my role as an educator, parents often want advice on how to navigate relationships between their children.  My kids are now grown and have a particularly good relationship.  Even their friends comment on it.  My conclusion was that three things contributed to this growing up.

  1.  There is an expectation that you will treat your sibling with respect and kindness.
  2. When you have a fight, you calm down first then take responsibility for your behaviour and agree on a pathway forward.
  3. Parents do not play favourites and have the same expectations for both kids.

However, Siegel and Payne Bryson brought up another factor that resonated with me.  “Recent studies have found that the best predictor for good relationships later in life is how much fun the kids have together when they’re young”(p. 133).  As a family, we had lots of beach time, park time, biking time, and ski / snowboard time.  We also regularly trekked down to California or Europe in summer to visit family.  My husband and I loved these times because sibling bickering slowed down to a minimum during the pursuit of adventure.  Our kids had lots of fun time together and they are the fabric of the revisited stories when we’re laughing together.  Makes sense.

COVID has added yet another layer of complexity. Kids are experiencing lots of big emotions and the role of parents is more important than ever. Now that my kids are grown, occasionally I even get to hear about the things I did well as a parent. It just may take a few decades to hear the appreciation for your efforts 🤗. Very best of luck in navigating these muddy waters.

Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. (2011). The Whole Brian Child. 12 Revolutionary Strategies To Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. Bantam Books, New York.

Work Intensification & The Brain

I am a grand fan of technology.  It opens up possibilities for how we work, how we teach and how we connect with the like-minded, inspiring and divergent thinkers who we wouldn’t run into in the local Starbucks.     The down-side is the work intensification.  It is literally possible to work 24/7 and still never finish the to do list.  Because so many educators  give it a valiant try to complete everything on their lists, Health and Wellness became one of  themes for the BCPVPA, British Columbia Principals and Vice Principals Association, Friday Forum on February 23, 2018 open to educational leaders in British Columbia.

Gary Anaka was one of the speakers, originally a secondary Science teacher, who has worked tirelessly in presenting  brain research about structure, neurogenesis and plasticity in an accessible way. Over many years, he has provided not only made sense of  brain research but actively models purposeful ways to engage the brain and considerations for maintaining brain health in his engaging brain coach presentations.  This was all underlined and the ideas further developed by Dr. Sabre Cherowski, Dr. Fei Wang and Sr. Stephen Berg.  Each speaker added to create an iron-clad rationale as to why educators need to not only teach health and wellness but live it as well.

Best of all, I got up the following Sunday morning, abandoned any thought of trying to catch up on emails or attending to nurturing my spiritual well-being indoors and headed up Blackcomb Mountain to complete the assigned homework of getting out in nature for my mental health, moving to grow brain cells, skiing for my physical health and enjoying life and tending to the relationship with my best friend and husband of many years.  All good things.  Only the residual guilt for the ignored things to do list remained.  The trick becomes, what work and how much work is to be done.

This seems to be going the route of every blog post I write every new year and after every extended holiday.  The quest for balance.  In this quest, my German / Scottish roots and my all too developed work ethic, most often tips the balance towards work.  The real issue is one of priorities.  As an administrator, I have no qualms telling staff that their first responsibility is to take care of themselves.  It is another things to prioritize my own health and wellness over the ever increasing onslaught of things to be done.  It is, well… work.

In these times of work intensification, we need to create space for people (yes us) to take care of themselves in order to do the work that matters most.  The beauty of the field of Applied Educational Neuroscience is that it commands a wide scope of attention extending beyond the realm of educators.  Our role is to nurture young brains  therefore it follows suit that we need to understand the field and put our learning into practice.   The rationale for optimizing conditions for brain health and wellness therefore becomes the ultimate priority in doing our work as educators.  It adds another item to our list of things to do – helping students, parents, community partners and beyond to understand why.

Note:

Gary Anaka has published a number of books through Portal Press that are a good way to support the ideas presented in his lively Brain Coach Workshops.

Your Magical Brain:  How It Learns Best

Brain Wellness:  The Secrets of Longevity

Your Brain on the Job

Other Resources:

Teaching with The Brain in Mind  by Eric Jensen is an easy to read book with many instructional strategies.

The Brain’s Way Of Healing by Norman Doidge, M.D. is a fascinating book around current research into many things we still don’t really understand abut the brain.