Parenting, I'm learning, boils down to assisting your child in the maturity process (aka brain development).
Any childish, unruly, or perceived misbehavior that children (or adults) engage in (like tantrums, teasing, tattling, nose-picking, etc.) is simply the brain acting in an immature state. Webster's definition for "immature" = lacking complete growth or development, or having the potential capacity to attain a definitive state. The opposite, "maturity" = having attained a final or desired state (the state we sometimes wish our children were born in...but alas, there's eternal wisdom is having them come with a clean, moldable slate). Something to ponder.
So, when my children push my buttons or display embarrassing behavior, they are not bad. They are simply immature...with lots of potential. The brain growth they have accomplished is something to celebrate (in order to tease, our brains have to first learn how to talk) and the growth yet to be is also something to celebrate...especially when it's coupled with the personal maturity a parent gains when striving diligently to unlock a child's potential. We all must pass through enormous amounts of immaturity before obtaining a more perfect condition.
In fact, parenting is much more about raising parents than it is about raising children. Something else to ponder.
Now, back to helping children mature...
The BIG question is: How do you do it? (I get this question a lot...especially from fellow grocery shoppers.)
My Answer: Be willing to become more mature myself. Period. (But I don't usually blab about maturity to strangers in the store. They get the simple smile and nod response...usually.)
I'm not a perfect parent. I'm not an expert (big disclaimer here...notice I have no initials after my name...so, use my ideas if you like, but I assume no liability for your family!). And I am in no way declaring that my thoughts will make sense and/or work for the rest of the world. But here's a preview of what I invented for Brent and I to use to tackle the immaturity in our house (and the immaturity we feel as a result):
The Birth of 'The Pyramid' explains more about how The Pyramid came to be.
And our new web site www.presentparenting.org (of which Brent designed as a 2013 birthday present for me) shares info about all four sides of the pyramid.
A few basic thoughts:
Our Foundation to Parenting is this: Use Your PFC! (Pre-frontal Cortex)
If pre-frontal cortex is a new term for you (like it was for me a few years back), brush up on some brain basics here.
Background info: The old declaration to "Use Your Brain" is only half appropriate (or maybe a third). The truth is we are always using our brains. In times of stress, our bodies automatically react defensively using the impulsive responses of our emotional brain circuit. Most people notice when their blood pressure is rising...that's when the brain receives a threat and must decide how to safely respond. We put up all sorts of defenses. Unfortunately, the emotional circuits often block the use of our pre-frontal cortex (which sits right up front behind the forehead). If engaged, however, the PFC helps us pause, make moral decisions, and regulate those out-of-control emotions. So, in a tricky situation, we don't just use part of our brains, our new family saying is, "Use Your PFC!" (even though it sounds kind of nerdy).
Because the pre-frontal cortex is the key to maturity, that's the part of the brain Brent and I focus on (both in ourselves and in our children) during times of peace and times of distress. Many parenting techniques employ the use of various rewards and punishments or "made-up" consequences, which activate and strengthen the emotional brain circuits (in parent and child). This provides short-term results, but little overall maturity. We've eliminated these techniques (except in rare cases, which will take some explaining).
Instead, we place high priority on exercising our PFC neurons every day (this sounds so technical, but you'll find that it really feels quite familiar), and thus, increase our chances of modeling maturity for our children. In turn, they mirror us and exercise their PFC neurons...and Voila!...parents and children slowly work their way up The Pyramid (that's coming soon). This process doesn't eliminate immaturity overnight. It takes an eternity to grow a mature brain. But peace and happiness has dramatically improved around here.
We use the PFC acronym to help us remember how to "Use Your PFC!"
P for Pause; F for Focus; C for Choose.
Step 1: P = Pause with Patience to Ponder. Be still. Be at peace. Meditate. Do yoga. Use the Past: ponder past events with an open, non-judgmental mind and notice how it makes you feel. Use the Future: ponder the positive potential that's waiting on the horizon and let it fill you with hope. This prepares you to Be Present: accept the current maturity level in you and your children with a peaceful heart and be filled with the joy life brings in each moment.
Accepting current immaturity is often the hardest part of pondering. Our bodies are so good at warning us against immaturity or opposition or less than perfect outcomes. By paying close attention to my body, I notice when my alarm system sounds. Our bodies are also good at protecting or defending us from unpleasantness (more on how this works here). But our natural walls of protection often make openly sitting peacefully with an immature moment (before my body automatically goes into "reaction mode") nearly impossible.
When I feel overwhelmed with the task of feeling peaceful, so I can then pass peace on to my children and spouse, I use our church's Addiction Recovery Program Guide to re-wire my brain in favor of rejuvenating emotions like peace, hope, joy, and love and away from destructive emotions like fear, worry, anger, annoyance, and bitterness. This process often requires painful mourning as I work through various personal weaknesses or past baggage, but mourning is a worthwhile bridge to cross on my journey over to the brighter side. And I never feel alone on this journey because of dear loved ones and especially because of my relationship with my Savior, Jesus Christ, who ultimately makes the whole journey possible.
Brent and I prioritize individual meditation moments as part of our daily routine. We also pray together at night.This gives us great strength. Then, we make a major effort to pause before reacting inappropriately (in word or body language) to stressful situations that occur throughout the day. By nature, we are both pretty laid back, but it is still very hard to control our emotions. We are learning.
Step 2: F = Focus on Faith and Family. With focused attention, great things are accomplished. In other words, whatever you spend your focused energy on, you will become very good at. And the opposite is also true: non-focused attention results in a lesser ability in any given area (see the Brain Tab under myelination and pruning). For example, cab drivers have more neurological mass in the spacial awareness area of the brain. Violinists have more neurological mass in the motor area of the brain that controls the left hand fingers. So, naturally, we should be thoughtful and wise about what receives our focused attention. If we want to exercise the PFC part of our brains (which controls moral behavior), we have to focus our attention on moral issues, empathy, emotional regulation, and genuine human connections.
Most faiths have a basic moral creed (check my Religion tab to see mine). Truly pondering and practicing the values that give meaning to my life every day exercises my PFC. Connecting with other human beings in a loving, accepting, forgiving way, also exercises the PFC neurons. When we notice immaturity in our children, we no longer use "made up" consequences to try to manipulate their behavior. In contrast, we do Step 1, then we set aside trivial matters and turn our attention TO the stressed or misbehaving child in a loving, empathetic, and guiding way (whenever possible) instead of isolating them, leaving them to cope on their own. We've seen huge maturity strides in all of our children, despite their very different personalities and coping styles. Prioritizing selfless focused attention toward each member of my family is a very fulfilling experience.
Step 3: C = Choose Charity (for others) or Change (for myself). As our children advance up through the natural stages of The Pyramid, we conscientiously choose charity when encountering the great parenting question, "What do I DO to discipline my child?" The Pyramid (the one that's still coming soon) shows us how the definition of charity changes based on the maturity of the child. In the early years, it means spending an enormous amount of time and energy WITH our children, modeling appropriate behavior and absorbing natural consequences alongside them (as opposed to imposing consequences that isolate them from us). As they mature, charity means allowing accountability to shift to their shoulders very naturally (around age 7 or 8) because their maturing minds choose to take it. By the late-teen years, we expect our children to think and act independently from us (because that's what teenage brains are programmed to do), while co-existing and contributing in our family community. We'll show charity by giving them complete responsibility for all of their personal affairs as we express our confidence in and love for who they have become.
In general, we value our children's agency (and our own), and find we cannot force them to change their immature behaviors. Force (unnatural rewards and punishment) causes coping mechanisms that inhibit the PFC, making life challenges more difficult for them as their bodies grow. Therefore, the greatest charity I can choose for my children is to exhibit supreme self-discipline by changing myself, (recognize my own weaknesses and turn them into strengths via my religious faith), which inspires them to follow my example.
Check the 'Mindful Moments' Tab periodically to see every day application examples for the various The Pyramid phases.
Finally...I remember this simple equation when I'm interacting with my children (or anyone for that matter):
Immaturity (any childish behavior) + Immaturity (reactive response from peers or unfortunately many adults) = more Immaturity (like playing emotional ping-pong with negative energy bouncing back and forth)= Coping & Underdevelopment (in child and adult alike)
But Immaturity (any childish behavior) + Maturity (PFC response from an attuned adult) = More Maturity (the negative energy is absorbed and transformed into positive energy by the more mature person)= Growth & Progress (in child and adult alike)
For additional reading, I highly recommend these folks and their inspiring, brilliant ideas:
Dr. Sears and Attachment Parenting
Oliver DeMille and Thomas Jefferson Education
Daniel Pink and DRIVE's 3.0 Motivation
Daniel Siegel and Interpersonal Neurobiology
Sue Smalley and Mindfulness
William Glasser and The Choice Theory
Mormon and the Innocence of Children
© 2007-2013 Amy K. Smith - www.smithmoments.org