Friday, February 1, 2013

Bubbles and Brains

These bubbles represent brain growth. 




A few years back when my sweet and extremely highly-sensitive Cienna was between 6 months and about 3 years old, her newly activated alert system worked over time (compared to most children her age) to warn her against potential threats. This phenomenon, coupled with her amazing memory of past events and her incredibly responsive amygdala (the brain’s center for fear), caused anything remotely close to invading her comfort zone to receive major rejection and often a full blown panic attack that included vomit.


So when I noticed Cienna’s eyes grow big with fear the first time she examined bubble bath foaming in her familiar bath water, I knew those innocent air-filled balls didn’t stand a chance on her acceptance list. Even with her siblings splashing happily away near her, as the bubbles began to stick uncontrollably to her tummy...and arms...and face, she screamed and I quickly plucked her out of the water before she could add her lunch to it.


Without a bit of brain development knowledge, I’m certain I would have routinely freaked out myself and projected all sorts of misery for Cienna’s future because obviously (based on this experience) fear would rule it...forever.


My worry about her future, my frustration for not finishing her bath, my annoyance that my child is now screaming like a wet noodle in my arms all would certainly have thrown more “conflict” out into the bathroom for her little mind to process in that awful moment a few years ago. Without a deep understanding and concern for Cienna’s brain development, after drying her off, I probably would have been tempted to devise a plan to “strongly encourage” her to get used to bubbles sooner than she was ready just to settle my own anxiety that she may never fully experience joy in life without bubbles in it.  


(I’m certain about this potential “reaction” because I used to make such judgments and self-centered disciplinary plans when my older children were younger...and the temptation still crops up when conflict arises in our home today...but now I’m a little more prepared for it...and I have The Pyramid...dun, dun, dun.)


Back to what really happened with the bubbles...I simply noticed Cienna’s wild reaction to the bubbles and accepted it as part of who she was at that moment. While I calmly scooped her into my arms to dry her off and reassure her that all would be well, I settled my nerves by sorting through and feeling grateful for a few neurological explanations...(If you're interested in amygdalas, memory neurons, and of course, the prefrontal cortex, use this link to view the longer version of this post over at Present Parenting.)

In short, I recognized back then that Cienna’s crazy reaction to bubbles was a combination of new brain development in some areas and lack of brain development in others, especially in the prefrontal cortex region. I knew this future brain development was still set to expand in future months and years, so we erased “I hope my daughter can enjoy bubble baths” from our list of expectations and waited patiently for more neurons to make connections before re-introducing pink liquid into her bath water again.

Cienna’s is almost 4 ½ now. 


I don’t quite remember when she decided that bubbles were okay. But when she giggled with delight as I poured bubble bath into the tub a few days ago and it started foaming all around her while she quickly dabbed some all over her face and grabbed the fake razor, I had a flashback and then felt a warm tingle as I marveled at the magic of brain growth.