Parenting stretches us unlike anything else. It brings us to great heights and depths that we’ve never experienced before and it can make us laugh, cry and feel all the feelings! I’ve also learned a lot. It’s a process that we feel in our body, heart, and mind. It changes us, and it literally impacts our neural pathways too.
We can see this in our stress response, with fight or flight, and how we respond, adapt, and flex ourselves around new understandings and growth as we open to learning new ways of being.
We know through science that the brain can change. There is hope for us yet!
This hope comes via neuro-plasticity. That is the capacity of the nervous system that we all have, to grow and change as it responds to both intrinsic or extrinsic triggers or stimuli.
How does it do this? It does this by re-organising its structure, rearranging its functions or connections. This is a good thing because it means we don’t have to remain caught in the struggle.
You see this in action when you practice a new response, often and with consistency, it becomes ingrained in our parenting response (or reaction), similar to forming a new habit.
Let’s not overthink it.
That which causes us to change our response can be as simple as the internal desire to change. Creating new foundations and habits facilitates this. How can we do this with our children?
Spend quality time together: Put down the screen and share a meal, a song, a warm drink together. It doesn’t have to be overly conversational, just ‘be’ available with your full presence, with open awareness.
Practice responding, overreacting: Create a short moment of pause and become an observer of your own thoughts. Let your thoughts come and go like the waves at sea. Rather than becoming emotionally fused with them, create some space during moments of emotional intensity to make room for finding calm, to re-centre, and respond in ways you’d like.
Craft regular opportunities that give all a chance to use their strengths: Think about everyone’s strengths and create time and space that provides a sense of achievement, to feel proud, and also to share and celebrate their strengths. Remember to acknowledge what is working well, and in so doing reinforce more of that in your life.
Create a safe space to make mistakes, and to try again: When we see mistakes as opportunities, we are more likely to give things another go and our children are the same. Let’s be open about our imperfections and mistakes, for how they help us learn and grow. This builds resilience and healthy input.
Have open-ended conversations; Listen more than you speak and when you ask questions, don’t be in a hurry to block, interrupt or re-direct. When we do this we allow our systems to find new ways of engaging and relating to those around us.
Be a lifelong learner: Having an attitude of growth will help us to adapt and allow our brains to grow. Nobody has all the answers, and we don’t need to. Keep learning, reading, engaging with different knowledge, and building new skills. You’re never too young or old to learn something new!
Learn about the brain; Learn how the amygdala responds to stress, how to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, enhance neuroplasticity and more. Learning about the brain can help us to understand not only our own behaviour as parents but also our children’s.
Meditation and harnessing our breath; Our breath is with us through our whole lives and learning to use our breath to find calm can be helpful in all sorts of situations. Meditation and well-paced, especially nose breathing, improve oxygen intake, uses neural networks that are linked with emotion, attention, and being aware of your body. This regulates and alters our stress response. No time? Start with 5 focused minutes a day and increase as you can.
Do Yoga and Mindfulness together; This can help everyone to not only get exercise but also to build in another lifelong skill. Cosmic Kids Yoga, Secret Ninja School, and Smiling Mind are some great videos and apps to get you started.
Practice daily gratitude; Build in a positive attitude and create a perspective that looks for the good in things and people. Each day, and at the dinner table, ask each other what you are thankful for. You might be nicely surprised when your child says, it’s you!