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Our child’s brain and what it means for parenting

May 20, 2015

As many of you may know this past year I took time out of the classroom to finish my Ed.D. program. While taking time away from a full-time job as a teacher, I had the opportunity to work for a local social service agency as their part-time (and only) parent educator. And as with anything I do, I jumped in feet first and haven’t stopped swimming. I have done countless hours of research, attended trainings, and have tried to keep up-to-date on the most current brain research and child-rearing techniques that benefit our children. Through this process I have also learned a few tricks myself. Over the next few weeks I am going to focus on just a few of the topics I discuss in my courses as a parent educator. I hope you are ready for a fun ride as we acknowledge how we were raised, but also accept how times are changing… times have changed… and times will continue to change.

I am not going to spout my opinion about parenting, because let’s face it, with 3 kids under the age of 7 I am no expert but rather still learning. However, there are experts in this world who have done countless studies on brain development, the most effective strategies for parenting, and developed “how to” guides in order to help our children prepare for adulthood through techniques of role modeling and communication.

My hope from this series of blogs is that it makes you think, makes you do your own research, and makes you reflect on parenting strategies that may unknowingly be discouraging our children in today’s democratic, high tech society.

Topic 1:   Our child’s brain

The human brain has been evolving since the start of time. And today, with current research practices, scientists are able to understand brain development at an even higher level than they were 50, 20 and even just 5 years ago.

There are three main parts to everyone’s brain. The old brain where many of our instincts live—this is developed in-utero. This part of the brain is called the old brain. Then there is the second part of the brain that is towards the middle or top of your head. This begins to really develop around a child’s first birthday. This is where the “attachment theory” lives. Fittingly this is called the “emotional brain.” Then, arguably the most important portion of the brain is right behind your forehead called the “rational brain” or the “executive center.” This part of a child’s brain (or our brain) is incredibly important and malleable—and doesn’t develop fully until we are about 25 years old! (http://hrweb.mit.edu/worklife/youngadult/brain.html) 25 years old—so if you think back to your early 20’s and say to yourself, “wow that was not a very smart idea.” You are probably right, but much in part to do with your brain development. Therefore, it is our job as parents to help our child’s “rational brain” develop through our interactions, role modeling, non-violent discipline techniques, cooperation, and patience! Patience is key!

But now you may be asking yourself, what happens in that part of our brains that doesn’t develop until we are about 25? Well, this is the part of the brain that helps with sound decisions, thinking through pros and cons of situations, empathy, and the regulation of emotions (Popkin, 2014).

Throughout the next few weeks I will be discussing proven parenting techniques that are applicable in today’s democratic society. As I tell my participants, take the information that you see fit and hold the rest on the back burner. If one day you feel like what you’re doing is not working, come back to this resource and see if some of the suggestions could possibly work for you and your family.

*Most of this information is taken from the curriculum Active Parenting. However, I have also done my own research and added it in when necessary. I am not marketing Active Parenting nor do I get anything from the sales of Active Parenting. (Michael Popkin, Ph.D., 2014)

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