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.
- There is an expectation that you will treat your sibling with respect and kindness.
- When you have a fight, you calm down first then take responsibility for your behaviour and agree on a pathway forward.
- 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.