Strong parent-child relationships are built on reciprocal trust which sets the framework for positive discipline. From birth you teach your child to trust you as their caregiver. This sense of trust is the foundation for a successful life. Often though, “good parenting” defines that trust is a one-way street. Children are expected to trust their parent, but the same level of trust is not afforded to them. To children, this feels unfair and it is. A truly trusting relationship is one where the trust is awarded equally.
Empowered children have a strong sense of independence and self-confidence. Children develop these skills through interacting with the world and having opportunities to succeed. They believe that they are capable of handling the world around them. They desire opportunities to express their budding independence. A great way to provide children with opportunities to succeed is to trust them to be responsible for things you know they can handle or can learn to handle with a bit of initial guidance. This instills a sense of autonomy and gives children an opportunity to experience the power of taking responsibility for self. It encourages children to take action over their own behaviors.
This knowledge can be a blessing when approaching disciplinary practices with your child. When you trust your child to be responsible for following the rules and to be independent in their own actions they feel empowered to do so. When you communicate trust, you are showing a deep level of respect that will be reciprocated. The result is a win-win situation, your child’s sense of independence and self-confidence is bolstered all while they are following the rules.
Now…how do you do all this?
First, make sure your child understands what trust and responsibility are. You can have a conversation about these topics and you can also point out examples in the real world. This works really well when children begin showing an interest in asserting their independence. This will be apparent when your child wants to start doing things for themselves.
Anytime you are offering positive discipline to a child you want to make it as brief and understandable as possible. You do not need to lecture your child in order for them to understand. They will understand best if your message is clear and concise.
The following is a general outline of what you can say to communicate a rule and trust to your child….
*After you communicate this with your child, you do not need to ask your child if they understand you or say, “Okay?” at the end of your communication. This undermines your position and your power. This opens up space for your child to debate the rules, which I am guessing is not your goal. Your rules are non-negotiable (and aptly so). There is no need to give your child the false idea that there is any wiggle room. It also adds on extra words that are unnecessary and can confuse your meaning.
*This does not mean that you are no longer paying attention to their safety. You still need to be vigilant of their safety and follow through consistently on the consequences you gave if necessary.
Trusting your child to take control of their actions can feel a bit scary. As a parent, all you want is for your child to succeed in the world. Our culture teaches that “good parents” know what is best for their child and children do not inherently know what is best for themselves. This places parents in a powerful role, where parents have high expectations for their children’s behavior without considering their needs for nurturance and empowerment. In such a relationship, the parent has all the power and the child is seen as an empty vessel needing to be filled and taught.
“We parent by the misconception that our job is to teach our children how to act and perform in the world, and if they don’t do it right (according to whom?) then they must be forced with some kind of manipulative, punitive tactic to get them on track. What track? Whose track? What if your child is meant to establish a new track or a track you don’t approve of? What if it’s a track that public schools don’t teach?” – Trust Your Children More; Teach Them Less by Bonnie Harris
Trusting your child requires that you let go of your need for complete control. Parenting should not be a power-play, you do not need to exert power over your child. Yes, your child needs to respect you but that will come naturally when you have a relationship built on mutual respect, trust, and love. Within this framework you can apply positive discipline as you nurture and empower your child. And remember that trusting your child also means that you recognize their innate wisdom.
Children are intuitive beings and their intuitive abilities deserve to be respected and cultivated through reverence and truth.
When children’s intuition is not honored and recognized as true knowledge, their abilities begin to dwindle. The potential to recognize intuition may eventually become only a small internal whisper, a nagging feeling that they try to shake as they grow older. Sooner or later, if this process continues, they forget that they have an intuition at all. They ignore the wisdom that radiates from within.
This is disempowering. It disconnects children from an integral aspect of their being. It is disembodying.
We want children who are embodied and empowered. While there are many ways to nurture children’s intuition, I will be talking specifically about the importance of truth.
Human beings have an electromagnetic energy zone, called the biofield, surrounding their bodies. Understanding this energy layer is important because our individual biofield interacts with the biofields of other people when we are in close proximity to them.
“…These energy fields are in continuous interaction with the multiplicity of energy fields in the environment, it appears that information about nonlocal events and process is conveyed back to the body and processed as intuition.” Heart-Brain Interactions, Psychophysiological Coherence, and the Emergence of System-Wide Order”
Children can intuitively feel when they are lied to. They can sense that the information they are receiving is not in alignment with the truth they feel inside. They can tell something is off.
However, you as the parent are in a position of great power and influence. Children, especially when young, have an inborn and established inclination to trust you. In fact, you have been building this trust-based relationship since your baby was born. Every time your baby cried and you responded with care, you nurtured trust. This familial trust empowered your baby to feel that they could trust the world.
Trust is the foundation from which your child will be able to go forth in the world and succeed. When you lie, your child’s natural response is to trust you, even if it goes against their intuition. Over time, children become confused by these mixed messages. They begin trusting spoken word over actions and internal messages. They start doubting their intuition. They no longer think it is the source of truth. They disconnect from their bodily wisdom. They learn to ignore their intuition. They become disembodied.
Sometimes it feels as though the day flies by. That there is not even one spare moment of peace to be found until you collapse into bed at night. In all this rush and chaotic sweeping energy, it can be challenging to slow down and give children time to learn.
You may be thinking, “Wait a minute, part of my crazy busy daily schedule is driving my child all over town for different classes, so they can learn!”
I’m not speaking of that type of learning; the learning that happens in a desk, with a planned curriculum and a set of outcomes for what the child must be taught. I’m speaking of the vitally important learning that takes place when children are given ample time to do things for themselves, to learn how to problem solve and come up with creative solutions or new ways of learning.
Children, especially when young, take their time when learning new skills. The brain adds on layers of synaptic connections as each facet of a new skill is mastered and stored into long-term memory.
Learning happens in layers and so often teachable moments and child-led learning are blown over by time’s tornado. This can be seen when children’s questions are quickly answered or brushed off with a “because,” when parents do things for their child, or when a child who wants to help is told that it will take too long.
Children are inherently curious. At any given moment there are an infinite amount of questions bursting in your child’s mind, most often starting with, “WHY.”
What if you asked your child a question or series of questions in return to their question? Why not?
Why not lead your child towards uncovering the answer for them-self? Why not nurture your child towards child-led learning?
When children are guided to find their own answers, they are empowered. They will have learned valuable skills for problem solving that will contribute to their ability to figure things out for themselves in the future.
The art of questioning can be challenging at first but with some practice you will learn what works best with your child. Start with small easy to answer questions that give your child confidence. Then move on towards more challenging questions that require a bit of thinking.
In school, children do not get much time for unstructured play. Teachers tend to lead play, this changes the dynamics of children’s play. Some schools offer free play in which teachers take a more observational role but their presence is still felt by the children and has the potential to alter play. As children get older the amount of time they are given for play decreases drastically.
While classes can be a great way for children to gain new experiences they often do not capitalize on children’s inborn ability to learn through play. In fact, the primary way in which children learn is through play, not through rigid lectures or mindless worksheets. So, by scheduling classes every night each week children may end up missing out on a crucial piece of learning, play time!
Unstructured free play is a time when children are the masters and creators of their play. It is completely child-led and ideally free of an authority figure’s contributions.
Offering unstructured free play may require you to slow-down and simplify your child’s schedule. Instead of rushing around to different classes relax into giving your child time to just play.
Unstructured play has an inherent element of risk. It can seem scary to some parents who may have concerns about children’s safety. One of our primary instincts is to protect children. However, without experiences overcoming challenges independently how will your child be able to deal with life experiences later on?
There may be some elements of risk taking in child-led play and that is okay. Instead of thinking of all the negative things that may come from your child taking a risk, ask yourself what the benefits will be.
Below are just a few of the ways that children benefit from risk-taking
We need to slow down and simplify our children’s schedule to nurture their innate need to learn through child-led play. Ultimately, this will empower children to be independent, confident, and capable beings who are developmentally strong. Children who are given this chance will have a willingness to approach life creatively and with joy, even in the face of challenges.
A child once asked me, “Why do adults think children can’t do things?” She had just accomplished a very challenging and risky task on her own. Although it took a lot longer than it would have if I had just done it on my own the look of pride on her face swept away the pressure of time. I think the answer to her questions is that we do not give them a chance. What do you think would be the answer for you?
Wireless devices can seem to be magical saviors of sanity when it comes to taking care of children. When you just need something to distract your child, so you can get a moment of quiet, your phone is there as a quick fix, right? What if the wireless radiation from these magical devices posed life-long health risks to you and your child?
If you are struggling with your child’s challenging behavior at home or your child is not sleeping through the night wireless radiation may be part of the root cause.
The EMF energy given off by wireless devices has been considered weak and touted to pose no health risks. However, this claim is not entirely supported by research; many studies show that wireless radiation is damaging to overall health and child development. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (a branch of WHO-the World Health Organization) classifies RF energy as a Class 2B Carcinogen. Other carcinogens that have this classification are: lead, chloroform, gasoline fumes, and the pesticide DDT. Would you want your child exposed to any of these carcinogens at the level of current Wi-Fi exposure?
In addition, safety standards do not typically account for the effect of radiation on a developing fetus or small child. The research that does analyze the effects of EMF on children have alarming results. In 2004, A study on animals linked EMF exposure to delayed kidney development in utero. In 2009, A study conducted in Austria found that exposure to wireless radiation disrupts normal cellular development, especially for fetal development. This runs the risk of increasing the potential for developmental disorders.
One way in which these dangers manifest is in the quality and amount of sleep we receive. Sleep is foundational to children’s development and disrupted sleep is deleterious to health and optimal well-being. To read more on the importance of sleep check out my articles, Neuroscience of Sleep Part 1: Rock the Baby and Neuroscience of Sleep Part 2: Challenging Sleep Behaviors in Children.
In addition, poor sleep is related to many types of challenging behavior and impaired cognitive processes in children. According to the research article, Behavior Sleep Problems and their Potential Impact on Developing Executive Function in Children, studies have found a correlation between reported sleep problems in children and difficulty with problem solving, self-regulation, attention, hyperactivity, aggression, opposition, mood, anxiety, poor school functioning, and lower cognitive performance. In the editorial, The Feedback Whirlpool of Early Childhood Sleep and Behavior Problems, Michelle Garrison details that the connection between sleep and behavior challenges is bidirectional. When a child is experiencing problems with sleep, behavioral difficulties arise or are increased which in turn leads to further sleep struggles. This puts in place a dangerous cycle that derails children’s developmental health. This cycle could be ended by reducing your child’s exposure to EMF and enabling a full night’s restful sleep.
The following is a list of some of the correlative dangers associated with sleep and wireless radiation
Phase 1 Where to begin? Turn your WiFi off before going to sleep. This will reduce your exposure by 33%.
Phase 2 Ready to do more? Keep your WiFi router off until you need to use it.
Phase 3 Possibly the safest choice…is to hardwire your internet connection and do away with wireless radiation altogether. This may be a change and require some work but there are very real benefits. For starters, hardwired internet tends to be faster and more reliable!
Start limiting time with devices that expose children to radiation. If your child loves playing games on your phone this may be challenging, so you can go slowly. You can decrease the amount of time spent on devices and offer fun alternatives that engage your child.
Children do not need technology to be entertained or pacified. There are many activities children love to do that do not expose them to the dangers of radiation.
If you decide to reduce your family’s EMF exposure, note the changes you see in your life. While effects of wireless radiation may not result in an immediate disease, there may health issues in your life that you do not connect to EMF exposure. Once you limit or remove wireless radiation you most likely will start to see an improvement in you and your child’s overall health and happiness.
Are you sleeping better at night? Is your child sleeping through the night? (YES! That is a possibility) Do you have more energy during the day
When caring for children, chaos lurks around every corner. The possibility for chaos is imbued in the general nature of parenthood. Raising children can be overwhelming and your patience may be tested, often. Learning how to not only manage chaos effectively but to thrive in its midst is important for you and your family’s empowered well-being. You cannot control everything your child will do or how he or she may be feeling and acting on a particular day. Similarly, you cannot control every moment of the day in your drive to be a perfect parent. Parenting is a practice. Sometimes, the most effective way to manage chaos is to surrender to its flow rather than fight.
Rather than allowing family pandemonium to spin you into a tizzy of surmounting stress, ease into an acceptance that all will be okay. You can learn how to stop fighting chaos and thrive in its depths. The most important thing, at the end of the day, is you and your child’s feelings of happiness and connection.
Often, the source of chaos is a parent’s feelings of how they should be parenting. These shoulds may stem from experiences as a child, seeing how others parent, or from advice on parenting. Many parents take on the endless demands that come with raising children, having a job, and keeping a household with the expectation that if they do not do all these things perfectly then they have failed. It can be challenging to feel out of control when it comes to your children’s behavior, especially when you feel things should be going differently. When you remove the shoulds from the situation you will be able to set your expectations for yourself and your child with an authentic understanding of everyone’s needs.
When you should yourself and your abilities as a parent you are comparing yourself to a fantasy version of yourself. You do not need to do this. You are enough. You are a good parent.
To learn more about how to take the shoulds out of parenting read my article, Stop Shame & Empower Authenticity.
A factor that contributes to chaos is an overly busy schedule. Parents are feeling an ever-increasing pressure to promote early learning through regimented and rigorous means. With the increased exposure to (social) media, parents are seeing many children displaying abilities beyond what is developmentally appropriate. It is great that some 2-year olds can play the piano. That does not mean that you are doing something wrong as a parent if your child cannot nor does it mean that there is anything wrong with your child.
Children learn best through play. Pack your schedule with playful possibilities. Incorporate learning into play rather than taking away from play to learn.
Play also gets pushed to the side by parent’s desires to keep the house clean and organized. While it is certainly true that having a neat house can help minimize feelings of chaos, trying to control a constant state of clean can be impossible and contribute to feelings of overwhelm.
When children play, things get messy and disorganized. This is an unavoidable part of raising children. Accept the mess and you will feel less overwhelmed and stressed out. When children are done playing or it is time to move on to another activity, that is when it is time to cleanup.
The easiest way to handle playtime messiness is to include your child in clean up! You do not have to clean up the whole house on your own. You can even make cleaning up fun! Make sure to teach your child to put away toys when he or she is done with them (for tips on how to do this read this article). Also, plan to stop play 5-10 minutes early so you and your child can clean together so you will have less of a mess later.
Take as many moments as you can to be present with your child, to offer your undivided attention. Even a few moments of complete connection can revive you both and decrease the negative feelings that can build with chaos.
Find time throughout the day to play in nature. Nature holds innumerable benefits for child development and the well-being of your family as a whole. One relevant benefit of playing in nature is a sense of calming and grounding. When you and your child feel calm and grounded chaos will be unable to cavort into your life.
Take off your child’s shoes and allow for barefoot play! If you are in an area where it would be unsafe for children to play barefoot, encourage your child to touch the ground often. When our feet come into contact with nature we interact and connect with the world in a new way, this is called earthing. When earthing occurs there is a transference of electrons from the earth to your body. Not only does earthing feel good but it also benefits your mind, body, and soul in ways that are supported by science. The electrons that flow up into your body neutralize free radicals, promoting self-regulation of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems to crush the effects of chaos.
Check out my upcoming article on the benefits of earthing for children.
While in the midst of chaos, fighting the flow will only make you feel more overwhelmed. Life will feel as though it is spiraling out of control. As you fight you will most likely begin a free fall into the pit of negative emotions chaos can create. This is where routines save your sanity.
Routines are like trampolines. When you are falling into the pit of chaos (and dirty laundry), the trampoline will be there to soften your landing and bounce you back into safety. When you surrender into chaos and enjoy the ride, your established routines will support you. You may even end up having fun along the way.
Having your routine written down and hung in a central location is a great reminder. It is also a very helpful tool for children. Just like adults, children love knowing what comes next during the day. When children have a clear understanding of the structure of the day everything will flow more smoothly. Make sure to have the schedule at a height where your child can easily see it (you may need to get on your knees to change your perspective).
When I am planning schedules for children or preschools I always give at least 15 minutes of transition time between routines and activities. This time includes clean up, last minute bathroom trips, time to gather snacks, time to get into the car etc…. Always give you and your child plenty of time for transition. Even if it means you have to end playtime. Rushing through transitions is chaotic and will make everything more stressful.
Playing music or using a timer during routines will make them significantly more fun. When you and your child are having fun, feelings of chaos will disappear.
Especially as children get older, they love to express their independence. Use this to your advantage! Take as many opportunities as you can to let your child take on some control and work. Give your child a job to do as part of the routine.
If you have a chart for your routine, you can use magnets or a check list, so your child can mark off what they have accomplished. At first, this may cause the routine to move a bit slower as your child learns to master new skills but in the end it will benefit you and your child. Give yourself more time so that no one feels rushed through the routine, that would only add to the chaos.
Music can be soothing or energizing. It can uplift your spirts and set your soul on fire. There are so many benefits of music activities for children! Instrument play for children, ignites all areas of developmental growth. Listening to music, moving to music, and playing music all have brain benefits for child development.
Music activities for children activate the auditory, motor, self-appraisal, and emotional regulation areas of the brain, leading to increased brain development. The Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute describes that experiences with musical instruments sky rockets brain development in children. They found that this is particularly true in the developmental domains of language acquisition and reading skills. In addition, according to the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation, play with instruments is beneficial to children’s skills for mathematical learning.
Temporal Processing: Pattern and rhythm learning are important developmental milestones for young children. Experiencing rhythm nurtures temporal processing, which refers to the ability to understand auditory information.
Fine Motor Movements: Music activities for children require the use of fine-motor movements (movements involving the fingers and hands). Practicing fine-motor movements is an important stepping-stone that will eventually lead to children’s ability to hold a pencil and write.
Brain Alignment: Playing with musical instruments aligns the body and mind, inviting authentic action and creativity. It also helps to strengthen the corpus callosum, the bridge made of nerve fibers connecting the two brain hemispheres.
Creative Expression: Music’s essence is self-expression. Children love to express themselves in creative ways, it is how they begin to form a sense of self.
Memory: According to the Portland Chamber Orchestra, music activities for children can lead to beneficial changes in the brain. One such change is in the hippocampus, contributing to improved learning and memory.
Free Play: Having a basket of instruments available for music activities for children can be a great way to encourage your child to enjoy free play. Free play, in which children choose what they want to play and how they want to play, promotes many aspects of empowered child development. Free play does not include unsupervised time with electronics.
Benefits of free play…
• Encourages creativity and imagination
• Invites instances for the creation of ideas and motor planning
• Fosters decision making
• Nurtures independence
• Supports social skills and abilities for collaborative play
• Provides special time for children to discover their skills and interests
I have never known a child who thoroughly enjoyed cleaning and organizing (although I imagine such a child exists, somewhere). It can be a challenge for children to stop playing, let alone put away their play things and tidy up! This can be difficult for adults who, for the most part, have already learned to clean up after themselves and expect the same of their children. On the flip side, helping keep things organized with children present can be a struggle if you, as the caregiver, have a hard time keeping things organized yourself.
It is important to have an awareness that children will need to be reminded to clean up and put their toys back. This is absolutely developmentally appropriate. As a general guideline, it is extraordinarily helpful to have a designated spot for toys that is clearly labeled with both words and a picture. Having a label for toys is a beneficial tool for organizational purposes and for children’s budding love for literacy. The toys need to be put back in this spot every time.
Make it your priority to help your child do this by offering as many reminders as is necessary. If your child is expressing challenging behavior when you say it is time to clean up, start offering an earlier warning so he or she has time to finish up. This will also prime your child’s brain to be ready when it is time. This warning can be paired with a noise or music. For example, a 10 minute clean up warning can be given with a bell, a 5 minute warning can be offered with a triangle, and a final 2 minute warning can be signaled with the start of music. Alternatively, you can use a timer. Sand timers are a fun option to use because children can watch the sand moving to the bottom.
The following are simple DIY ideas for instruments made with materials that can be found in most houses. These ideas invite creativity and opportunities to brainstorm with your child. You can make a game out of finding new things in the house or outdoors to make into a musical instrument. You can go on a nature walk and collect items that may make a fun sound.
Creativity can start in the kitchen. Brainstorm different ways to use pots, pans, and utensils. You will be surprised at how magically musical an overturned bowl sounds when a beat is tapped with a wooden spoon. Experiment with all of the sounds that can be created in your enchanting kitchen orchestra.
The rhythm of life flows within us. Encourage your child to find new and unique ways to use the body to make music. Clap, stomp, snap, pop, and whistle. There are so many sounds that we can create.
This can be a fun game to play in the car. Before beginning the game set a rule that each person can only make up to 10 sounds per round (or whatever number you like). This will allow for the game to be ended easily when you are ready for some silence or music.
Using the body to make music is also a great strategy to employ if your child is having a challenging time waiting. Moving the body to create music is engaging and fun.
Practically anything can be used as a drum. Play around with empty disposable containers that once held items such as coffee, nuts, macaroons or whatever else you can find.
Take toilet paper rolls, paper towel tubes or any other type of tube you have around the house. Put tape over one end, making sure it is sealed completely. Then you can pour any materials you have that you would like to experiment with. Some suggestions are beans, rice, small pebbles, buttons, wine corks, bottle caps, sand, and shells. Do not fill it completely, the sound comes from the materials moving around inside the tube. Once you have filled your stick, tape the other side and test it out!
If you would like to decorate the outside of your rain stick, you can cover it with white paper before or after and allow your child to be creative. Rain sticks are also fun for collaging projects. Offer some magazines or images to your child to paste onto the rain stick.
Select a ribbon or string and tie a knot at one end. String on however many bells you would like and then tie another knot to keep them from sliding off the string. You can also use buttons, although the noise will be very different. This can then be tied onto your child’s wrist or ankle.
Almost any container can be used as a musical shaker when filled with rice, beans, or buttons. Plastic Easter eggs are wonderful because they fit easily in little hands. Yogurt tubs and metal canisters work well too.
Anger has a fiery energy that can be used constructively and creatively. Anger is associated with aggression and negative actions that our culture deems inappropriate and counterproductive to living in a social community. Much of what we teach children are ways to think and act to live and thrive in the current cultural community. Being polite, nice, and respectful are some qualities that many cultures value and these are duly imparted upon children. This is wonderful but has the tendency to tip the tides towards the suppression of emotions and authentic being. Often, when working towards anger management in children, we focus on suppressing anger and negative feelings. That, is not so wonderful.
It is part of our nature to want to be liked by others and to want this for our children. We want our children to be nice, respectful, empathetic, gracious, loving and forgiving TO OTHERS. We teach this to our children but what often does not get taught is how to uphold these qualities in your relationship to self. We do not place as much emphasis on teaching children to be nice, respectful, empathetic, gracious, loving and forgiving to THEMSELVES.
This means accepting anger, sadness, fear, and every other wave of feeling that may find flow in a child’s life. It means redefining how we approach anger management for children.
The below guide can be generalized to fit the needs of all emotions. The strategies provided are anger management for children exercises that you can practice with your child.
Begin to label anger and its various energetic expressions (mad, upset, furious etc..). Label it for yourself, label it for others, label it for your child! If a child cannot recognize the emotion he or she cannot work with it constructively. Anger management for children begins with an awareness of the textures and sensations of the emotion that arises when anger is building.
Cultivate an awareness of anger triggers and signs, talk about them with your child.
Ask your child to do the same and guide them through this process. Write it out, turn it into a song, create a dance about where your child’s anger starts in his or her body and moves as the energy builds and transforms. Do whatever it takes to make this a fun and engaging activity. This will help your child to sharpen the senses for an acute awareness of the different textures of emotions and how they translate to outward bodily manifestations. Some children may tense their body and some may begin to raise their voice. Everyone is unique and everyone can learn to recognize how their body reacts to emotions for an empowered sense of anger management.
Turn this awareness into conscious action.
Work on finding a few strategies for self-regulation and anger management for children. This does not mean squashing or suppressing the fiery energy that is arising but intentionally bringing awareness to it. Acknowledging the energy and giving it the respect to flow within will nurture and stoke an internal fire of power. This fire is where creative energy culminates. When anger is allowed to spiral out of control, the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain in charge of higher thinking) is scorched, and sparks of explosive volatile energy shoot outwards and a loss of energy can be felt inwards.
When children begin to recognize their personal signs of arising anger they can use these strategies to dive into the flow of energy and act consciously and authentically.
Anger does not magically dissipate without direct action. It demands to be felt and expressed. When anger is forced into submission it gets stored in the body, it creates inflammation and tension. I have known many children whose bodies manifest their suppressed emotions in symptoms such as stomach aches and headaches. We want children to develop an intuitive awareness of what their bodies need rather than forcing their bodies to develop symptoms in order to be heard. Anger may also flare into a bright uncontrollable blaze later and seem unconnected to what truly caused the original anger. A crucial step in anger management for children is learning to ground and release anger in constructive ways.
This will look different for each child and each situation. Sometimes all that is needed is a shift in perspective, actively employing empathy may release anger. Sometimes our bodies scream for momentum, to free the energy through natural movement. Sometimes the anger needs to be let out, the source of anger to be expressed. This is challenging for caregivers who desire nice children. If your child is conscious of the emotion and able to act with intention, allowing the fire of anger to be expressed does not have to be scary. Children who are authentically expressing anger will not be blowing up or throwing a tantrum.
I want to empower you as a caregiver and guide to create an honoring climate where you and your child can feel. Nix the need to be nice and negate negative emotions. Nurture your child to blossom into an empowered and authentic being.
Negative emotions have gotten a bad reputation. Such is the case for the powerfully purifying emotion, anger. Anger is an especially tricky emotion for caregivers to feel. Even more so, when that anger is sparked by a child. Rather than learning how to deal with anger, we are taught to mask these emotions from others with the façade of “I’m fine.” We continue this cycle of concealment by teaching and modeling this to our children.
The suppression of negative emotions affects the brain. It tips the brain’s balance towards negative emotions, decreasing your ability to experience positive emotions. It enrages the amygdala, sending it into over-activation.
The spectrum of human emotion demands to be felt and honored. When we recognize our emotions and consciously allow them to resound into our actions, we create the possibility for openness and lightheartedness. When we respect the flow of feelings and invite them to act as inspiration for empowered interactions, we create healing. When we do not acknowledge our emotions we begin to feel tightness, constriction, or numbness.
It is absolutely acceptable and healthy to feel angry about your child’s behavior. When you do feel angry, there are more effective communication and discipline strategies than yelling. You can learn how to deal with anger in a constructive way.
You can recognize your emotions and take responsibility for how you react to them. This will empower authentic actions that are made consciously. This will help to prevent you from blowing up at your child.
Your anger can provide you with information about yourself and the situation at hand. You can reflect on your anger and try to identify the behavior that caused you to flip your lid. This will help you identify your triggers in order to more effectively learn how to deal with anger. You can analyze your anger to notice the signs of building tension. Were your muscles constricting? Did you begin to clench your jaw? Did your heart and breathing rate speed up? Reflecting on your emotions in this way will help you more readily recognize the signs of building anger in the future.
These justifications allow for anger to be ignored. Often, the true reason a caregiver is yelling is because they are angry and have let anger build over time. In such a situation the caregiver has chosen to express that anger without taking the time to cool down first. The caregiver reacted without consciously considering the erupting emotions.
Everyone has the choice to nurture an awareness of emotions to cultivate the ability to deal with anger. With this awareness, emotions can be used as a tool to empower authenticity and inspired interactions.
Some claim that they yell at children because it is an effective form of discipline. This idea is not backed by neuroscience or any other research on child development. In fact, the opposite is true, studies show that yelling is ineffective as discipline.
Scientists have found that a yell elicits the fear response in the human brain more effectively than other sounds. David Poeppel, a neuroscience professor at New York University, asserts that screams have an acoustic quality known as roughness. Roughness describes rapid sound changes in volume. No other sound is comparable for levels of roughness. Interestingly, yells are also unique in that they trigger activation of the amygdala, which scans the environment for danger. Yelling activates the amygdala and spins the brain into a fear response, sending stress levels soaring and increasing cortisol in the bloodstream. Rough sounds, such as yelling, awaken neural circuits involved in fear/danger processing. This means that when you yell at a child, an evolutionary neural response to danger is stimulated in the brain.
You do not want to send your child into a fear response. It can lead to lifelong physical and mental health problems.
The release of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, that result from the amygdala’s activation are detrimental to healthy child development. These hormones affect the ability of the prefrontal cortex to regulate thought, emotions, and actions. They impair the brain’s ability to send new information to memory centers. Neuroimaging visualization has proven that when a child’s amygdala is over-activated no new learning can occur and no storage of new information can take place.
When a message of discipline is yelled at a child, the child’s brain is unable to process the new information. The behavior may stop in the moment due to the fight, flight, or freeze/fall asleep response but the child will not have learned anything that can positively contribute to development. The child will, more likely than not, continue to repeat the same behavior because they are not able to process the information being provided.
I am not advocating for perfection, remember, parenting is a practice. Our feelings, especially powerful ones such as anger, have a tendency of bubbling out of control fast. Cultivating an awareness of your emotions and consciously acting with authenticity will take practice. As you work on this skill it will become easier until you are able to unconsciously and automatically know how to deal with anger effectively.
There are times when yelling is necessary as a safety protocol. For example, if your child is about to run across the street and you are not within arm’s reach.
Step 1: Voice your feelings and label the emotion.
“I am feeling angry right now.”
Step 2: Take the time you need to move into a place where you can act with intention.
Step 3: Offer guidance/discipline that is just (this means that it makes sense based on the child’s behavior) and can be followed through on. *Never use discipline that you cannot be consistent with. You have to follow through.
Step 4: Take time to talk with your child about the situation.
A powerful shift comes with voicing to children that you are angry with their actions not who they are as a person.
Parenting practices often use shame based messages that are rooted in the perception of what that child should or should not do rather than on what would authentically empower the child. We need to shift our attention from communicating shame to empowering authenticity. A should-based message is a shame-based message. We use these messages with ourselves as well. How many times a day do you think, “I should be doing this” or “I should feel…” Shoulding your child is shaming your child. Shoulding yourself is shaming yourself. Even more, every time you should yourself or a child you are creating dysregulation. Since you are shoulding yourself, you are challenging yourself. This stimulates your nervous system to respond to a perceived affront. You send your nervous system into a fight, flight, or freeze (fall asleep) response. It is important to look at how you talk with and discipline your child to see if the messages you are sending as a parent include shame based messages. Shaming children is not an effective discipline strategy and has negative affects on child development. This article will provide strategies on how to stop shaming your child and yourself.
A should message is not in alignment with an individual’s authentic self. A should message is a comparison between who you are and a fantasy version of who you think you should be. For children, a should message from a caregiver is a comparison between the authentic self and who someone else expects them to be.
You are who you are, own your space and live in congruence with your authentic self. Nurture your child’s developing self and empower his or her authenticity. Nurture your abilities as a parent to stop shaming your child and offer discipline that will empower child development.
Neuroscience shows us that shame stems from the brain. Shame is felt from the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain where our emotional responses arise.
Shame has its roots in evolutionary biology and is an aspect of our ability to maintain social relationships. Mild feelings of shame are universal and have developed as an evolutionary mechanism for regulating behaviors to live in a social context. However, these shame messages only serve to further child development in a positive way if they are paired with reassurances or repairs rather than punishment. Instinctive internal feelings of shame when followed by punishment, can lead to toxic shame.
Should messages are not inherently bad but rather provide internal feedback that you can be conscious of as a way to aspire towards authenticity.
Shame messages as part of parenting are often aimed at guiding children towards appropriate behavior. This goal can be achieved without the use of shame. The following are simple strategies on how to stop shaming your child.
Children are inherently interested in learning what behaviors are appropriate for social settings. Rather than shaming the behavior you can explain how the behavior affects others and offer redirection or guidance. This allows children to build empathy and a strong foundation for how to act in the future.
Strive to understand the communication that is happening in the behavior before you should or shame your child. Challenging behavior can be difficult to deal with. It is spontaneous in nature which can lead to an automatic reaction from a caregiver. This reaction can be a statement (sometimes yelled) that the child should not be behaving in such a way. Children hear that message and feel confused. Why shouldn’t they behave that way? Why are they feeling shamed for behaving in a way that felt natural to them?
There is wisdom and communication in all behavior and we can redirect inappropriate behavior while honoring this wisdom.
For example, a child who has just bitten another child is communicating a strong emotion. This emotion can be anything from feelings of frustration to an overwhelming need to get that other child to move away. Regardless, the action of biting was a natural, brain/body-based response to external stimuli. The child bit because he or she did not have an alternative strategy for communication. The child was being authentic and acting on his or her intuition.
The shift: You shouldn’t bite vs. We don’t bite. We……(fill in the blank)
By taking the should out of the statement and simply saying, “We don’t bite,” you are offering a message that tells the child what the appropriate behavior is. You can follow this up by giving an alternative behavior that the child can use in the future. By shifting your parenting language away from a should message you are respecting your child and guiding them towards appropriate behavior, without the use of shame.
Toxic shame occurs when a child experiences frequent shaming experiences without repair in his or her early childhood development. Repair refers to when the individual who gave the shaming message apologized or reassured the child in any way. Even a seemingly simple smile can offer reassurance to a child. When repair has taken place the child is able to draw constructive meaning from the feelings of shame that will guide future behavior.
Toxic shame has the potential to undermine the confidence of children over the span of their lives. This can lead to the development of coping mechanisms such as disembodiment, numbing of emotions, and substance abuse.
It is never too late to repair your relationship with your child after an accidental shame slip. Parenting is a practice, being a perfect parent is unattainable and unrealistic. All that is required of you is that you are authentic and do your best. Do your best to stop shaming your child and work towards repairing and empowering your relationship.
Below are two interconnected guidance offerings that bolster children’s authentic self-confidence and provide a buffer to shame.
One of the strongest ways to empower a child’s ability to live authentically is to nurture his or her intuition. In order to live authentically, a child must listen to intuitive truth instead of listening to what others think the truth should be
You can strengthen your child’s intuition by helping him or her to learn to honor intuitive wisdom. This can be as simple as periodically asking your child to share how his or her body feels. By this I do not just mean feelings of health but all possibilities of feelings, including emotions and feelings of energetic openness or constriction. When your child shares these things with you, reaffirm his or her words by respecting the courage to listen to intuition.
Another powerful way to empower a child’s intuition is to be authentic with yourself. When you are authentic, your thoughts, words, and actions are congruent. You are your child’s greatest teacher and your child will model what he or she sees you do. A child who has consistent experiences with an authentic adult will learn how to make sense of the world because there has been consistency between what the child feels, hears, and sees. This means that it is absolutely okay for you to voice your feelings. It is entirely okay for you to feel upset or overwhelmed and to share this with your child.
“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”
― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
Nurturing a gratitude practice empowers health and happiness. The neuroscience of gratitude shows that the blessing of a gratitude practice begins in the brain by altering the brain’s molecular structure. Gratitude affects us on a psychological and neurobiological level. The neuroscience of gratitude shows that it is a practice of peace, soothing the central nervous system and stimulating happiness. The boon of gratitude can be felt in all areas of life and is especially powerful for inciting an inspired family.
This journey can begin as a way to effectively address challenging behavior or as a way to simply skyrocket your child and family’s ability to thrive. Gratitude is the perfect opportunity for caregivers to work as partners in learning with a child. Developing a gratitude practice can begin as a family and will reward everyone. Once you begin your practice your heart will feel more open and attuned to the possibility of gratitude. You will create a free flow of happiness rooted in gratitude.
These benefits have been studied by various scientists who have formed a picture of the neuroscience of gratitude.
Gratitude is associated with:
In a study published in NeuroImage, Kini Prathik, the leading scientist, found that subjects who practiced a simple writing task centered on gratitude showed an increase in behavioral expressions of gratitude three months after the task. In addition, these individuals displayed more gratitude-minded neural activity on brain scanners three months later. In alignment with this idea, the researchers noted that the anterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex in the brain, centers designed to predict how your actions will affect others, became more sensitive after the gratitude task. The researchers of this study imply that cultivating an awareness of gratitude becomes a perpetual practice.
You and your child have a gratitude muscle in the brain that will become increasingly stronger with use. As you cultivate your gratitude muscle, the more those feelings will come naturally to you in the future.
Strengthening your gratitude muscle will also help to fortify gratitude-based neural connections in the brain, sparking an even more spontaneous and automatic attitude of gratitude.
Prathik asserts that as you strengthen your gratitude muscle and your brain adapts to a gratitude-based mind-set these feelings will blossom into your actions. This can be very helpful for children who are still learning how to identify and express emotions. Many negative emotions such as aggression, frustration, and sadness can often be expressed through challenging behavior. While some children have a tenaciously sunny outlook on life, for many this is a skill that needs to be practiced. Despite even the cheeriest of moods, every child will feel negative emotions at some time. In order for a child to appropriately feel, express, and mindfully act within the realm of this emotion he or she needs to have a neurobiological foundation and a coping strategy that enables movement from negativity to positivity. A brain built on gratitude will look for constructive themes in life and deny destructive themes. By gracing the mind with gratitude our brain learns to lean towards positivity.
When we think of gratitude what floats to the forefront of our mind is the good things we have in life. Many children are grateful for the toys they are given or for extra time to play. That’s o.k. but there is so much more to be grateful for. Everything we have experienced, whether good or bad, has led us to where we are now. Everything that comes our way is a gift in one way or another. What falls to the wayside are the events in our life that were challenging or uncomfortable, that pushed us to find new growth. We need to learn to be grateful for these moments as well. If we shift our thinking to look for the meaning behind what occurs, we may see how something we thought to be “bad” actually lead to something great. We can look past the negative sensations of a moment to see the truth.
Just to offer up a small example…One day I had a child fall down and get badly hurt and startled. He cried, he screamed, and he made the statement, “This is the worst day of my life.” His friends came to his side to give him hugs, to check on him, and to try and cheer him up. They were clearly concerned for his well-being and wanted him to feel better. I saw that even though the child was stuck in a struggle with pain and emotion he was grateful to have his friends there. I explained this to the child and he cheered up immediately. He let one of his friends tell him a joke and then ran off to play, brandishing his scrape like a victory wound.
When we are in a moment where strong emotions are being experienced it can be challenging to focus on anything else. The mind becomes trapped in a never-ending loop of negativity. Choosing to focus on gratitude will free your mind and propel you towards positivity.
“Being grateful does not mean that everything is necessarily good. It just means that you can accept it as a gift.”
― Roy T. Bennett
Model: Cultivating a gratitude practice can begin at birth. You can model gratitude by verbally saying what you are grateful for. You can do this throughout the day.
Step 1: At the end of the day have each member of the family add at least one thing they are grateful to the jar.
Optional step 2: Pick a day at the end of the week when you can all be together as a family and read a few scraps out of the gratitude jar. You can choose to read them out loud or in private, whatever feels most comfortable to your family.
Step 3: When your child is expressing challenging behavior prompt him or her to pull from the gratitude jar as an invitation to optimism. Below is a list of challenging behaviors that may benefit from this practice.
This can happen at any time in the morning. Ideally, you would start this when your child first wakes up but it will be just as effective at other times. Having this sharing conversation can be worked in to any part of the morning that aligns best with your family schedule
This is a tool that I want all family members to practice, not just the child. Either after or before asking your child to share, you can share as well. Alternatively, you can take turns sharing, which will provide your child an added opportunity to practice turn-taking, reciprocal communication, speech and language development, and social emotional skills.
As you read in my article, Neuroscience of Sleep Part 1: Rock the Baby, the dream world, where children spend 40% of their childhood, can be better understood with an understanding of the neuroscience of challenging sleep behaviors in children. Sleep is a nurturing nutrient that is essential for empowered child development. However, some children experience challenges in getting sufficient sleep. Many children have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep.
We live in a world built on balance. Opposites create opportunities for us to thrive. Universally, we have night and day. Humans are aligned with this balance, as we need restorative sleep in order to flow with life force energy that keeps us moving throughout the day.
Sleep is the foundation for life.
There are numerous studies that have underscored the role of sleep for children’s development. The following are a few select studies that look at the neuroscience of sleep and its importance for a child’s well-being.
It is important to note that many studies have found proper sleep to be a preventing factor in the development of cognitive and behavioral problems in mid-childhood.
While children slumber their brains work to build and solidify neural connections between the brain hemispheres creating a bridge between the left and right brain. This bridge is the corpus callosum. This bridge serves as the infrastructure for speedy communication between brain hemispheres as an adult. When the brain hemispheres are symmetrically aligned and connected learning, creativity, and memory are optimized.
A study by the, University of Colorado Boulder, found that the strength of connectivity between the left and right hemispheres grew 20% in one night’s sleep. This study also demonstrated that neural pruning occurred at great levels during a child’s sleep. I discuss the importance of neural pruning in my article, Authentic Alignment & Modeling Self-Regulation.
The University of Colorado Boulder’s study findings are synergistic to a research published by Michigan State. This research demonstrated that alignment between the left and right hemispheres is crucial in preventing learning disabilities.
“The Sleeping Child Outplays the Adult’s Capacity to Convert Implicit into Explicit Knowledge”
This paper published in, Nature Neuroscience, established that as we sleep our brains process and program what we have learned during the day into our brain. Children are able to do this more efficiently than adults thanks to a greater amount of deep sleep. At the end of the day when children are asleep, they are able to turn short-term memories into long-term knowledge. They are able to turn implicit information into explicit knowledge. This creates a foundation for all future learning. Having a strong foundation will lead to a child’s ability to learn easily later on.
A research study published in, Academic Pediatrics, found that children age 3-7 who had insufficient sleep had problems with attention, peer relationships, and emotional control.
Elsie Taveras, the leading researcher of this study, reported…
“We found that children who get an insufficient amount of sleep in their preschool and early school-age years have a higher risk of poor neurobehavioral function at around age 7”
Many studies have also analyzed the link between a lack of sleep and a heightened risk for obesity. Taveras notes that the effects of insufficient sleep for cognitive and behavioral functioning, such as inhibition and impulsivity, may lead to obesity. Children who are not receiving enough sleep may consume high-caloric foods in unhealthy amounts.
When adults are overtired, they become irritable and lethargic. When children are overtired, they seem to be bouncing off the walls with energy. A child who is overtired may display signs such as waking up frequently through the night, waking up early at night and during naps, night terrors, crying, hyperactivity, and uncontrollable laughing.
I will briefly discuss the role sleep plays in ADHD and ADHD type behaviors for early childhood. ADHD is a widely discussed topic and there are many varying beliefs and attitudes about its diagnoses and treatment. My perspective is that there are many possible contributing factors that play into the behaviors that are diagnosed as ADHD. ADHD cannot be officially diagnosed until age 4 but before that there can be signs of ADHD.
There are many common behaviors that have been identified as correlates of sleep deprivation or disrupted sleep in children. These behaviors are very similar to the symptoms of ADHD.
These symptoms are:
Problems paying attention
Lack of impulse control
It is important to recognize that if your child is demonstrating any of these behaviors it may be due to a lack of sleep rather than ADHD. If you are concerned that your child may have ADHD work on improving his or her sleep to see if the symptoms resolve naturally.
Some children are misdiagnosed with ADHD when the root cause of their behavior is a sleep disorder. ADHD is the most commonly misdiagnosed behavior disorder.
If you choose to consult a pediatrician or family doctor request an in-depth analysis of alternate explanations for the symptoms your child is expressing. Also, ensure that the professional is looking at all of the child’s symptoms as a whole rather than focusing on hyperactivity, distractibility, and inattention. It is becoming increasingly common for inattention to be seen as an apparent sign of ADHD. While inattention is one of the three primary symptoms of ADHD it can also be due to a whole host of other possibilities.
*If you decide that your child would benefit from taking ADHD medication it is important to note that one of the most common side effects is trouble sleeping.
Behavior is not only a communication of internal feeling states but can also be a communication of healthy nutrition or a lack thereof.
Magnesium is a magical nutrient required for peaceful sleep.
Signs of magnesium deficiency include:
Cramps or stomach aches
Magnesium works to calm the central nervous system. It is a natural sedative, resulting in the ability to relax into deep sleep that lasts all night!
For children, magnesium is especially important as it is a potential cause of growing pains. Growing pains are often what wakes children up in the middle of the night.
Magnesium is an essential nutrient that is required for the health of bones, teeth, muscles, and joints.
Children can take a magnesium supplement for sleep but my favorite way to use magnesium for sleep is to create a magic magnesium oil spray or lotion. Applying the oil transdermally can be a fun addition to your child’s bedtime routine.
Here is a link that will show you how to create the oil:
Consistency is central to an effective routine. Once the routine has been established it is essential that it is employed consistently, every time. Children need time to adapt to a new routine. On average, it takes a few weeks for a child to fully adjust to a new routine. When working through this adjustment period there may be small changes to the routine that will help it to flow more naturally. Only make one change at a time and make sure you allow your child enough time to adapt before implementing another change.
Step 1: Review your current routine, write it down if that works for you. Think about when your child begins to display signs of sleepiness. If there is challenging behavior, when does it typically start? What time(s) does your child wake in the night? What times does your child usually wake up? Does your child seem well-rested in the morning?
Step 2: Decide what time you want your child to be asleep at. Watch your child’s behavior during the evening (typically 4-6pm) for signs of tiredness and note around what time these signs begin to show. When signs begin to arise begin the bedtime routine. In the future, plan your routine to start about 30-45 minutes before you want your child to be asleep. The goal is to get your child in bed before he or she is overtired.
You can keep a log of when your child falls asleep and compare the nights to identify which time resulted in the best sleep.
When you decide the time, stick to it! Your child will be able to adapt to this new bedtime much faster if there is consistency and predictability.
Step 3: Find a bed time ritual that works for your family.
Give your child a verbal warning that it is about to be time to get ready for bed. This can be a 10 or 5 minute warning given at the same time every day.
Suggestions for bedtime:
Put on pajamas
Read a story
Play soothing music
Pick out a favorite stuffed animal
Sing a song
Special goodnight as you leave
Watching a sleeping baby can be a truly joyful experience. No matter how challenging the day has been or how sleep deprived you are, watching your sleeping baby melts the day away.
“There was never a child so lovely but his mother was glad to get him to sleep.”
The serenity of sleep can make it seem simple, but sleep is one of the most nurturing necessities for a child’s healthy development.
Sleeping is an act that all humans engage in and yet, it still has to be learned. Most children need guidance on how to recognize and honor their natural sleep cycles. Children need to learn from loved ones how to self-soothe so they can fall asleep and stay asleep.
While every child is unique, most children begin to develop a personal circadian rhythm (a cycle of sleep-wake) around 6 weeks. A newborn will still have an irregular sleep schedule. Around 6 months, a baby’s sleep schedule will become more regular.
This information can act as a general guideline for understanding development but actually surviving through the night the first few years can be quite challenging for many sleep deprived caregivers.
There are some strategies that can be of use to help get your baby to sleep but for the most part the goal of this article is to provide neurobiological information on child development that will support you as a parent.
It may seem crazy but when it comes to rocking a baby to sleep I bet you are already doing what is best and do not need any parenting advice. Caregivers all around the world rock their babies in very similar ways. Soothing, rocking, and carrying babies until they fall asleep is part of our collective wisdom that has evolved over time.
My goal is to honor your innate intelligence as a parent to inspire your family’s ability to thrive. I will offer paradigm shifts on how you think of your child’s behavior and it is in these shifts that you will learn effective parenting strategies.
Moving towards a time when your child sleeps through the night can be an overwhelming hurdle. You may want to sprint to the finish line where your bed and a full night’s sleep awaits. Oh what a dream…
Your baby may wake up numerous times throughout the night crying for you. This behavior is communicating to you that he or she has just moved through a sleep cycle! We all, regardless of our age, enter into a moment of wakefulness after the completion of a sleep cycle. However, as adults we know how to fall right back asleep and so we barely notice this pattern. When a child finishes a sleep cycle and is awake he or she will scan the room looking for comfort from a loved one. When the child does not see a caregiver, the result may be cries of distress.
This means that getting your baby to sleep includes helping him or her learn to self-soothe through sleep cycles as the night progresses. As I discussed in my article, Authentic Alignment, a bawling baby depends on the parasympathetic nervous system of a caregiver to regulate. When you rock your baby or carry your baby as your pace around the room you are training her brain to recognize moving from high arousal to low arousal. This will help strengthen neural connections that will later result in an ability to self-soothe independently.
The process of picking up a baby, rocking, and carrying is a universal recipe for relaxation. Many caregivers have found that once their baby has been soothed and an attempt is made to lay their baby down to sleep he or she instantly wakes up crying again. Especially for an already sleep deprived caregiver, the result may be a desire to explode in frustration or puddle into a pool of self-doubt.
This behavior is not your babies attempt to control you or demand all your attention at the cost of a good night’s sleep as strategies like the “cry it out” method may purpose. It is a phenomenon that happens in all babies around the world and can be explained by an understanding of what is going on in the brain!
Neuroscience can nurture your understanding of your baby’s brain and empower you to see the importance of soothing your baby to sleep even when you are exhausted. I will then offer strategies that will support your stresses as you sway through your child’s sleep symphony.
In 2013, a research study was published in the journal, Current Biology, reporting the universal similarity of soothing that occurs when a caregiver is trying to put a baby to sleep. They found that all mammalian infants have an automatic calming response when carried. Babies have been neurobiologically designed by nature, over the span of evolution, to stop crying when carried. This response is caused by an interplay of cardiac, motor, and central regulations.
Kumi Kuroda, from the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, found that this occurrence is orchestrated by the parasympathetic nervous system in a concerto inside the cerebellum. Babies detect sensory input from the biofield as well as the external senses such as touch and sound. One of the jobs of the cerebellum is to keep you safe. It is located in the reptilian brain, which is your place of autonomic function regulation. The cerebellum is constantly vigilant for anything that may put you in danger. If something is detected it will send your body into fight-or-flight mode. The only time that the cerebellum has a chance to rest is during REM sleep. When a baby is picked up and gently rocked a signal is sent to the cerebellum to simmer down, resulting in a soothing effect (including a lower heart rate). Sometimes when a baby is set down the cerebellum kicks back up into high gear causing the baby to cry once again.
In addition, babies are calmed when held due to the processes of proprioception. Proprioception describes the ability to sense and orient body movements. Proprioception is driven by the central nervous system and aids in coordinating movements. Proprioception is at play at times when your body sends warning signals to your brain, for example, when your finger is getting close to a flaming candle.
A baby who wakes up multiple times in the night and needs a caregiver’s love to soothe is displaying the beauty of brain development. Even though this process may be frustrating it is a natural and universal aspect of a child’s healthy development.
Trust in your wisdom as a parent. Allow your knowledge of brain development to guide you. Melt away your frustration and stress with the serenity of your sleeping baby.
When you are struggling to soothe your baby to sleep or back to sleep there are some strategies you can try. The goal of these tools is to ensure that you are still nurturing your child’s brain. You want to empower your child’s ability to fall asleep independently. In order to do this, the child needs experiences in regulating to a level of arousal that will allow him or her to fall asleep. Your child needs to feel safe enough to shut down the cerebellum.
I do not recommend strategies like the “cry it out” method. In this article, I will not be going into great detail on why this method is detrimental for children, but I will touch on one of the most toxic hormones a baby can experience: cortisol. When a baby is very upset like when they are crying for a caregiver there is a possibility of synapses damage. When a baby is “crying it out” without a caregiver’s touch the hormone cortisol is released. Cortisol in excess kills neurons. A baby’s brain at 40-42 weeks is only 25% developed. We do not want to kill any of the foundational neurons of a developing brain. Proponents of this method do not often discuss the long-term outcomes for the baby. Emphasis is placed on short-term goals of getting a baby to sleep so parents can sleep or “get back to their lives.” While this method may (debatably) produce short term satisfaction there can be serious long-term side effect for the baby.
With the knowledge of brain development and neuroscience I have provided it is clear that for long-term health and well-being babies need to be soothed.
A baby whose circadian rhythms have begun to regulate can benefit greatly from a relaxing routine before naps and bedtime. Having a consistent routine provides predictability which allows a child to feel comfortable and safe. When setting up a routine take into account how long it takes for your baby to wind-down. A baby who is very active will need a longer amount of time to relax to a point where falling asleep is accessible. It may take a few days to figure out the perfect routine but go slow with changes and remember that it may take time for your baby to adapt.
Your child’s unique temperament and multiple intelligences can be a huge contributing factor to how your child would like to be soothed. Some babies respond best to physical touch while others would rather not be touched while they are calming down. A baby who is strong in natural intelligence might be most soothed by fresh air and being rocked outside. The key is to have an awareness of who your baby is and from there you can build effective strategies for soothing.
Look around your baby’s sleep space. Make sure it is a calming environment. Think about incorporating a white noise machine or gentle music to help your baby sleep. Use music to help a baby fall asleep, not a tv or iPad video program. Programs like Baby Einstein, which are used by some parents to relax babies into sleep, have been linked to autism and attention deficit disorders.
Over the course of the day we all pulse through the various emotional states that comprise the rhythm of our life. We are continuously moving through alternating states of arousal, dysregulation, and regulation. We are working towards a place of balance. Often, we think of balance as a space in which we feel calm and serene. Rather, it is a place in which you are conscious of your emotions and are empowered to express them. Alignment occurs when you feel safe enough in your own skin to let who you truly are shine. Nurturing a sense of self-regulation in children sets the stage for an authentic life in which one can feel attuned to inner feeling states.
It is impossible to feel singularly serene and never deviate into dysregulation. Rather, we want to decrease the amount of time spent in dysregulation and regulation and have an abundance of time in alignment and attunement.
This is accomplished through attuned parenting and the modeling of self-regulation strategies.
The process of learning, from a neurobiological standpoint, is a process of building, strengthening, and pruning neural connections. Once a neural pathway has been established it is called a synapse. It is these neural connections that enable alignment in the brain.
Brain development in infants begins with a minimal amount of neural connections. An infant has no independent self-regulation strategies but rather relies on a caregiver to learn these skills. Within the first year of life, as a baby gains experiences, neural connections begin forming rapidly. Infant brain development is booming with the blossoming of neural pathways. For brain development in children, these pathways resemble a mass of tangled roots. It is in the second and third year of life that these roots are pruned and organized. The neural pathways that stay in place are the ones most frequently used. If a connection is no longer actively utilized, it is pruned away; our brain employs a use it or lose it strategy.
Babies depend upon their caregivers to cope. The baby-caregiver bond is the primary means for self-regulation in children. This intimate connection also acts as the foundation for future learning and the development of self-regulation strategies. A baby borrows the parasympathetic nervous system of his or her caregiver to regulate. It is in moments of attunement that a baby will learn how to regulate arousal states. This is when neural pathways for self-regulation strategies are set in place. It is through consistently being with your child and aiding in self-regulation that these neural pathways are solidified. As a parent, you are building these connections when you rock or sing to your baby, for example. Babies need recurrent experiences of dysregulation, which may manifest in crying, and assisted self-regulation from a caregiver, which may involve holding or feeding, for example.
How you are coping in a given situation translates into how your child will learn to cope in the future. The ways in which you regulate your emotions models to your child the self-regulation strategies they can use.
It is of great importance to be authentic. You do not need to feel perfectly calm to help your baby cope. When a baby is crying or expressing challenging behavior you may feel dysregulated yourself. You may need to use strategies to nurture your self-regulation so you can then empower your child towards his or her own regulation. That is O.K.
It is valuable to recognize and honor your feelings and work to regulate them back to a place in which you are comfortable and fully aligned. Even if you do your best to appear cool, calm, and collected if you are screaming from stress internally your child will feel that turmoil.
If you respect your emotions and use self-regulation strategies you will be modeling that for your child. You will be strengthening neural pathways in his or her brain. If you do this consistently, those neural connections will result in your child’s ability to self-regulate independently in the future.
A caregiver who allows for authenticity teaches the value of feelings. Authenticity ensures that children develop trust and intuition. A child who has consistent experiences with an authentic adult will learn how to make sense of the world because there has been alignment between what the child feels, hears, and sees.
The verbal messages you send your child are just as important as the nonverbal/emotional messages they are receiving from attunement with your parasympathetic nervous system.
The simple mental shift I offer for you is to add an honoring statement when disciplining your child. This means honoring the wisdom in all emotions. By doing this you are communicating with your child that you understand and respect him or her.
Example: A parent (Arthur) walks into a room and asks his daughter (Sofia age 4) to clean up her toys and come to dinner.
Sofia yells: “NO” and throws a toy.
Arthur walks over to Sofia and places a hand on her back. He says: “Wow Sofia, I see you are angry. It can be challenging to stop playing when you are having fun.”
Sofia looks at her father and quietly says: “Ya.”
Arthur responds: “It makes me sad when you yell and throw toys. We use our words when we are upset. Next time you can tell me you aren’t ready to come to dinner yet.”
In this example, the child’s anger about having to stop playing resulted in her yelling at her father and throwing a toy. Arthur takes time to connect to his daughter and honor her anger by labeling her feeling. He communicates respect for her by recognizing how difficult it can be to stop playing. Only then does he guide her behavior. Arthur was able to see the wisdom in his child’s communication and encourage her to express it more appropriately, through words instead of aggressive action.
*Bonus tip: If this example resonates with you and your child frequently has a challenging time transitioning from an enjoyed activity, begin using a timer. This allows the child’s brain time to anticipate the transition and regulate any emotions that may be bubbling up. You can tell your child he or she has 10 minutes until it is time to do another activity or clean-up. Another verbal cue can be offered at 5 minutes, 2 minutes, and 1 minute. When giving this warning make sure your child is paying attention. This will look different for all children but you can ensure attunement by making eye contact or placing a gentle hand on your child’s body. Once the timer is set, remember to follow through. After the given time has passed the child must move on and listen to your words. Do not give extra time or your child will learn that the timer tool is not consistently enforced and if they behave a certain way they will get more time. If challenges arise at the end of the time remind your child that you respected his or her time and you expect them to do the same for you.