August 01, 2010 — TLC for Your Family #18 – Your Child’s Unfinished Brain

TLC for Your Family #18 – Your Child's Unfinished Brain
August 01, 2010


Did you know that human infants are born with only 25% of their adult brain size, compared with most other mammal infants, born with 60-90% of their adult brain size? See Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Cosleeping, by James J. McKenna, Ph.D., p 30.

“In the words of anthropologist Ashley Montague, human infants are ‘extero-gestators,’ fn 8, meaning they complete their gestation after birth.” See prior citation.

What does this mean for us as parents?

What does it mean that “90 percent of the growth of the human brain occurs in the first five years of life”? The Science of Parenting: How Today’s Brain Research Can Help You Raise Happy, Emotionally Balanced Children, by Margot Sunderland.

What does it mean that “[o]ver these crucial years, millions of brain connections are being formed, unformed, and then re-formed, directly due to the influence of your child’s life experiences and in particular his emotional experiences with you”? See prior citation.

According to Dr. Margot Sunderland, the latest brain research proves that empathic, emotionally-responsive, physically close parenting results in repeated activation of calming, growth-inducing hormones, which helps a child’s growing brain.

By contrast, the opposite kind of parenting results in blockage of these hormones, and introduces a chronic release of toxic levels of brain-damaging stress hormones, which injures a child’s growing brain.

As Dr. Sunderland explains, blockage of brain-friendly hormones, combined with the chronic release of brain-damaging hormones, can affect the growing brain in unbelievably profound ways.

Specifically, it can result in your child having life-long struggles with an “overactive stress response system.” In other words: significant struggles with depression, anxiety, phobias and obsessions, emotional distance, lethargy and lack of get-up-and-go, lack of desire and excitement, lack of spontaneity, and physical symptoms and illnesses.

As someone who has suffered from some of these life-altering problems myself, due to misinformation my own parents possessed, I can attest to how profoundly debilitating and painful they can be. Therapy can help. But I think most adults in my position would have preferred to have recieved the gift of empathic, emotionally-responsive, and physically close parenting, instead of trying to undo damage later on.

So, I’m hoping you might join me in trying to prevent our own children from developing such problems. And, given what the brain research says, it looks to me like we have the opportunity of a lifetime to do just that.

To be sure, this might seem more like a daunting responsibility than an opportunity at times. But I hope we can instead look at it as an opportunity, and accept ourselves for whatever we’re willing and able to put into it. It helps that we can benefit at least as much as our children, from offering them the gift of empathic, emotionally-responsive, and physically close parenting.

But what exactly does this kind of parenting look like?

My reading suggests that attachment parenting (e.g., child-led breastfeeding, cosleeping, babywearing) and Nonviolent Communication are ideal ways of getting there. I’m also convinced that interest-led homeschooling (“unschooling”) can help enormously, given the importance of low stress and free play Dr. Sunderland also emphasizes as critical to healthy brain growth.

My website will be covering all of these topics over time.

So far, I have a few pages related to Nonviolent Communication in families (see my Family Communication page and my Child Discipline Transformed page), as well as many breastfeeding pages (linked from my Breastfeeding Questions and Answers page). And I’m currently working on a batch of cosleeping/family bed pages, which I’ll tell you about as soon as they’re uploaded.

Until all my pages are up, here are some other resources I recommend:

  • For help with attachment parenting, I recommend The Attachment Parenting Book: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby, by William Sears, M.D., and Martha Sears, R.N..
  • For help with cosleeping, with children of any age, I recommend, Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Cosleeping, by James J. McKenna, Ph.D.
  • For help staying attached with older children, and understanding why homeschooling can help, I recommend Hold Onto Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, by Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., and Gabor Mate, M.D..
  • For help with interest lead homeschooling/unschooling, I recommend, The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World as Your Child’s Classroom, by Mary Griffith.
  • And if you’re intrigued by interest-led learning, but not sure you’re willing or able to homeschool, I recommend, Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your

Kids a Real Education With or Without School, by Grace Llewellyn and Amy Silver.

I hope these suggestions help. And, until next time, I wish you and yours “Happy Family-ing!”

Tiffany L. Clark
Family Communication Instructor,
Family Lawyer-Mediator,
and Family-Life and Parenting Coach
Discover What Might be Possible in Your Family Life!

PLEASE NOTE: The rules governing my profession advise I inform you of the following. Issues of this ezine may periodically contain messages concerning Tiffany L. Clark’s availability for professional employment within the meaning of California Rule of Professional Conduct 1-400. In any case, no statement in any ezine issue is intended to guarantee any result in any individual case. And neither viewing the information contained in this email, nor communicating with Tiffany, nor attending a talk or workshop series, establishes any duty of confidentiality, mediator-client relationship, coach-client relationship, or attorney-client relationship. These can only be established with a signed client fee agreement for mediation, coaching, or legal services respectively. Please also note that Tiffany is not a psychologist or therapist. Therefore, she is not capable of diagnosing you or any of your family members, or providing any other services only a licensed mental health professional could provide. You are advised to turn to such professionals if you desire such assistance.



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