By Eloise Grobbelaar
“A parenting expert is an oxymoron” – Brene Brown (The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting)
Oh yes! It’s amazingly awful and clearly confusing to put those two words together! I have set out to learn as much as I can about the neuroscience of a child’s developing brain along with all the latest research on the psychology of parenting. My idea was that in time I would become a ‘parenting expert’. Yes, well, I’ve grown a lot since then and found that the more I learnt, the more I’ve been challenged to sort out issues in myself, before I can teach my children a better way to be! Aristotle said— ‘The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.’ So now you know, there are lots that I don’t know! However, here is one thing I know I definitely do know:
From birth, a baby’s brain develops on a physical level through loving experiences. In simple terms we are born with a ‘primitive brain’, so that we, as organisms can stay alive, but the ‘social’ brain develops after birth depending on the experiences that baby has. Where there has been extreme neglect a clear difference in brain growth can be seen in CT scans, when compared to a child raised in a loving family. As the baby grows older, experiences teach the child how to understand themselves and interpret the world around them. Each experience leads to certain neurons firing, when these neurons fire together frequently, the brain paths become more established, habits and perceptions form, directly impacting on their self-belief and relationships with others.
As a parent, this is my biggest challenge! I want to do the best I can for my children, so they can grow up to be happy, confident and resilient. I want them to feel happy in their own skin. This is also my biggest opportunity, because in the process of wanting to do better for my children, I can do better for myself! The saying goes: ‘Monkey see, monkey do’! So, if we’re talking about love and loving experiences, what am I doing and inadvertently teaching my children? Am I forgiving, kind and honest with myself? Am I happy in my own skin? When I talk about myself, what language am I using? What am I teaching my children through my relationships? Am I emotional and judgemental or loving, empathetic and aiming to see the big picture? The facts are, the way I behave towards myself and others, will likely become the way my children will behave towards themselves and others.
Small tweaks can have a big impact! You can easily implement a few strategies to allow your child to have positive experiences of themselves and others. These are my favourites:
- Special 1:1 time with your child – 10 minutes before you have to start supper or leave for work, whatever works in your family schedule. Give your child full control of how to spend those 10 minutes with you and keep all the phones and iPads well out of reach! Experiencing this regularly will strengthen a child’s belief that they are valued and at the same time strengthen your relationship.
- Family Fun – it’s not possible to be go on holidays as often as we’d like, but we can schedule ‘mini-holidays’ by putting aside afternoons for walks in the woods, or fun nights of board-games. The more enjoyable family relationships are, the more your child will desire positive and healthy relationships in the future.
The Grant study research (Harvard Medical School), which has run for more than 70 years, has proven that loving parenting is the single most important factor in children’s development to become successful. George Vaillant has summed it up perfectly: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’
Certified Parent Educator, Relax Kids Coach and Certified MHFA
For a summer toddler craft activity, check out the article Unicorn Hair by Ali Mathieson