Brain Science Can Help Us to Become Better Parents

With the creation of new technologies and innovative research, brain science has become an exciting new frontier, offering verifiable support for the strategies and practices of authoritative approaches like Positive Discipline.  What constitutes “effective parenting” is becoming less controversial through research in the field of neurobiology, illuminating our path as parents. Here are a few  ideas from recent research that support effective and connected parenting:

Model what you want your child to learn.

With the work of Dr Marco Iacoboni and others, we now know that people are hardwired to mimic what we see through a complex set of cells scientists call “mirror neurons”. Mirror neurons allow us to learn without being implicitly taught, which is powerfully important in our development as humans; in fact, when we see someone doing something with intention, our brains fire as though we are actually doing the action ourselves, thus building the neural pathways needed for that action. So, model the behavior that you want for your children because as they watch you, their brains are being built for the same behavior.

Connect, connect, connect!

Dan Seigel explains that mirror neurons are also the basis for building empathy: human beings, from infancy on, mirror other people’s emotions. When we see someone who is sad, we also feel sad. This illustrates mirror neurons creating human attunement. Attuned  connection is critical for healthy brain development and fosters a child’s capacity for empathy.   Practice being “in tune” with your child’s emotional state.  Acknowledge what they are feeling.

Limit Screen Time

Put your phone away. Your child’s brain requires eye contact and engaged connection to develop optimally. That means being fully present with your child when you might be tempted to be on your phone. The mimicking of sounds back and forth, the finger and toe games played with a baby…all of these ways that connect a child sensorially with you and allow your baby to learn that they can trust you to respond to their needs shows them that they matter and have influence in the world.  Schedule device free, one on one time with your children. Let them lead the play and follow their lead.  For toddlers and preschoolers, sit down on the rug with them every day for 10-15 minutes. For 5-11 year olds, commit to 20 minutes of fully engaged, child led play 3-5 times a week. For teens, have dates every week at a regular time that works for both of you.

Don’t fall into the trap of handing your baby or toddler a screen for entertainment. The research on the detriments of screen time on brain development is clear. The world is full of hands on, sensorial learning that is important for their development. Even though it takes more effort, engage your child with the world rather than offering a screen. Ask your children for their help, point things out and ask questions, play games like “20 questions” and talk together.