I used to believe that our brain was permanently hardwired and that was that.
And however it was hardwired, then you were stuck with that brain.
It wasn’t until I started working as a therapist at The Hideaway Experience marriage intensives and was exposed to their 5 Days to a New Marriage model (developed by Shawn Stoever and Terry Hargrave), that I realized that our brains could change.
This rewiring of our brains was something I was beginning to witness first hand. Every marriage intensive I worked in I would witness couples literally rewire their brains and change their interactions. And these weren’t changes that lasted just an hour or a day. But actions that literally became persistent over time.
I was so amazed that I began to use that model in my own therapy work with couples, and I’m seeing the same thing.
But this post isn’t about marriage and the brain…I will get to that later in this series. I started a series a little over a week ago on the book, The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. It’s a really great book and so I wanted to take my time blogging about it, and hopefully offer you some insight and tools as parents. I’ve posted three parts so far
- My Experiment in Learning and Implementing ‘The Whole-Brain Child’ Approach to Parenting
- The Whole Brain Child: Parents, How is Your Brain Functioning?
- Parenting with the Brain in Mind (Our Kid’s and Ours)
Today is the fourth part, where I want to continue talking about the brain and how we are molding it as parents.
A Plastic Brain
In the field of neuroscience, this amazing behavior is referred to as plasticity. Dan and Tina write:
“However, one of the surprises of neuroscience is the discovery that the brain is actually ‘plastic,’ or moldable. This means that the brain physically changes throughout the course of our lives, not just in childhood, as we had previously assumed.” (pp. 7)
This is really amazing news for all of us. But it’s amazing news for us as parents as we realize the huge responsibility we have in how we shape and mold our children’s brains.
We can shape our kid’s brain in really positive ways.
We can shape our kid’s brain in really negative ways.
There are a couple of statements early in the book that really leapt off the page at me. The statements had so captured my thoughts that the very next night, I paused the TV show my wife and I were watching, and I went and got the book…turned to the page…and read it out loud to her. I read the following out loud to her so we could just sort of let it ruminate:
“What molds our brain? Experience. Even into old age, our experiences actually change the physical structure of the brain. When we undergo an experience, our brain cells–called neurons– become active, or ‘fire.’ The brain has one hundred billion neurons, each with an average of ten thousand connections to other neurons. The ways in which particular circuits in the brain are activated determines the nature of our mental activity, ranging from perceiving sights or sounds to more abstract thought and reasoning. When neurons fire together, they grow new connections between them. Over time, the connections that result from firing lead to ‘rewiring’ in the brain.” (p. 7)
“There is a whole field of the science of child development and attachment backing up this view–and the new findings in the field of neuorplasticity support the perspective that parents can directly shape the unfolding growth of their children’s brain according to what experiences they offer. For example, hours of screen time–playing video games, watching television, texting–will wire the brain in certain ways. Educational activities, sports, and music will wire it in other ways. Spending time with family and friends and learning about relationships, especially-with face-to-face interactions, will wire it in other ways. Everything that happens to us affects the way the brain develops.” (p. 8)
How Are You Molding Your Child’s Brain?
My wife and I are very much in a season of reconfiguring our rules on the use of technology in the house and the privileges around them. There are lots of positive things that my wife and I do to mold our children’s brains, but when I see how our use of our iPhones, and their use of the Kindle Fires we got them at Christmas, have rewired our family interactions, it’s obvious to me that there is some molding of the brains (theirs and ours) that I don’t like.
By the way, unless you think I don’t love technology, I do. I’ve just learned so much in the last few years about how technology is not neutral, but is constantly shaping us in some way. The question is whether it is shaping us in positive or negative ways.
[For more thoughts on this subject, check out a post I wrote a few years ago on The Influence of Technology in Our Lives — it comes out of what I learned from my work with my friend and author John Dyer, and his book, From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology).
So whether it is technology, or sports, or music, or faith…..
What are some things you are doing to positively shape the molding of your child’s brain? What are positive things that you notice?
What are some of the things you are doing to negatively shape the molding of your child’s brain? What are the negative things that you notice?
[Note: I excerpt some pretty large quotes from the book since I’m still really learning about neuroscience and I want to accurately convey what the Dan and Tina write and mean. But please make sure you buy a copy of the book to read and mark up. I’ve marked all over the book so that my wife and I, and my clients and I can have discussions on the various principles presented.]