Did you know, that when a baby is born, his/her brain is ½ the size of an adult brain? By the time he/she is 3 years old, the brain has grown to 80% size of an adult brain. This is incredible growth, in just 3 years. So how does the brain work, and how can we foster this development?
The Working Brain
Within the brain there are billions of nerve cells, known as neurons. The neurons have to connect with other brain cells in order to work. Some of these connections are present from birth – for example, the ability to breathe, to suck, to cry and others occur as the baby grows and develops. The connections occur when experiences or skills are repeated over and over. For example you don’t learn how to fly a plane with just one lesson – you need multiple opportunities to practise in order to be competent. Babies are the same – in order to learn to walk, or stack blocks or feed themselves – it doesn’t happen with just one instruction from us. This is why a young baby will drop toys (or food!) over the high chair repeatedly. Parents often think that the child doesn’t want the object. What the baby is learning, is when I drop this book, it goes bang, and when I do it again, it still goes bang. When I drop the orange it rolls away, sometimes it rolls left, sometimes right… they are looking to make the connection (in their brain) between action and response. Once they’ve dropped the book often enough, then they no longer need to do it, because they know it will go bang.
Fostering Brain Development
Whilst our skulls are hard, the brain within is fragile, and like glass, can be easily damaged. This is why we need to ensure proper care of the brain, especially in the early months, when baby’s neck muscles are not yet strong, and struggle hold up that heavy head. Babies should never be shaken, as the fragile brain bangs against the inside of the skull and can lead to death or serious permanent damage of the brain and it’s function. We also protect baby’s and children’s brains, by ensuring that they are securely placed in car seats, and later, wear helmets whilst bicycling.
Brain development is also fostered by diet. In order for those connections (known as synapses) to be strong in the brain, they need a protective coating of myelin. The myelin coating enables the brain cells to function more efficiently. Myelin occurs naturally in breast milk. Another thing which fosters healthy brain development, is limiting screen time. It is well documented, that TV, because of the fast moving images, affects the developing neural pathways. When these babies grow, they seem to require constant activity as they’ve grown to see this activity as the norm. Many Paediatric services now recommend no screen time before the age of 2 years of age, and less than 2hrs per day for ages 2+, due to the effects on the developing brain. Being a parent is a huge responsibility, which includes, as far as possible, doing everything we can do to nurture that precious developing brain.
Dunstand Baby Language
This first ‘language’ of humans, produced by different innate infant reflexes, is used by babies long before they can express the nuances of the culture they have been born into. Or whatever language they will learn from their parents. DBL was founded based on the belief that the cries produced by infants were an important and necessary form of communication. They were not just random noises. And that each cry had a distinct purpose and meaning. By listening to baby cries, a number of very specific, repetitive, subtle sounds embedded in these cries were identified. These sounds followed a pattern, and signaled a basic physical need which babies are trying to express in the only way a baby can. The five universal baby cries are as follows
- NEH – Hunger
- EH – Upper wind (burp)
- EAIRH – Lower wind (gas)
- HEH – Discomfort (hot, cold, wet)
- OWH – Sleepiness
Conscious Parenting Coaching for Optimum Child Development
At conscious parenting Ireland we offer individual parenting consultations to explore conscious parenting and optimal child development with one or both parents. A parenting philosophy is relevant only to the extent that it promotes parenting practices which support secure bonding. Our effectiveness as parents is in direct proportion to the strength of the bond we have with our child. Securing and maintaining that bond is our primary work as parents and is the key to optimal human development. If as parents we have not resolved our own history of insecure attachment with our own caregivers, trauma and/or neglect as a child then it becomes extremely difficult to establish and maintain a secure bond with our children. We pass down trauma from one generation to another and learnt maladaptive interpersonal behaviours are communicated consciously and unconsciously encoded in verbal and non verbal interactions with our children. If we have not had a present loving caring safe nurturing attuned parent , then it will be extremely difficult for us to provide this for our children.
Individual consultations and group work are extremely effective in supporting parents to explore and heal from their own traumatic histories whilst also learning effect toools and health parenting skills to create secure bonds with their children which is necessary for optimal brain development. Our nervous system is experience dependant, our early experiences are wired into our nervous system. If we grow up in a stressed anxious home, then we become stressed and anxious as adults.
Dr. Maté speaking for the Healing our Children 2016 World Summit on why he believes that every disorder and disease has its roots in early childhood, why our culture hasn't supported healthy childhood development for years, and what we can do about it. Dr. Mate confirms that raher than looking at the children's behaviour we need to look at ourselves and explore what are our children communicating in relation to how we are in ourselves and in the relational space with our children.
Guiding Principles of Conscious Parenting
While we want to use our inner compass to keep ourselves on course, it also helps to know where we’re going. For that, a road map is essential, and for ours, we’ll be using eight guiding principles of conscious parenting.
Principle 1: All behavior is a communication. Behavior reflects the internal state of the individual and the relationship’s level of connection.
Principle 2: The parent-child relationship is more important than any behavioral intervention, consequence, or punishment.
Principle 3: Children unfold neurosequentially, and quality, connected relationships allow for the unfolding. A need met will go away; a need unmet is here to stay.
Principle 4: Behaviors occur on a continuum. Behaviors in children (and parents, too) correlate to the parents’ own neurodevelopment and attachment status.
Principle 5: Parental interpretation of behaviors comes from both a conscious and subconscious place, resulting in positive or negative neurophysiologic feedback loops.
Principle 6: All individuals have a right and a responsibility to learn to express their feelings appropriately. Feelings allow us to connect to our internal guidance system.
Principle 7: Children need boundaries. We can set appropriate limits for our children while still respecting their needs and feelings—if we are aware of ourselves. (We can ask, for example, “Is this about me? Is this about them? Are my children communicating a need? Is the boundary I’m setting necessary, or is this situation an opportunity for me to grow?”)
Principle 8: The Love Cup, We need to create communities of support for ourselves and for our children. We need to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of our children. If our love cup is empty, we will have nothing to give to our children and their needs will trigger our own trauma history when perhaps our own needs were not met. This can create Disconnection.