Developing Your Child's Mind
Every parent wants to see their child succeed in life; your child’s mind and its development are crucial to his or her success. “Human connections shape the neural connections from which the mind emerges” (from The Developing Mind by Daniel Siegel, MD). Helping your child’s cognitive development is not complicated; listed are ten simple things you can do as a parent to help develop your child’s mind, as well as ten things to avoid doing. You, and the relationship you share with your child, have a vital and exciting role to play in their development!
Assisting your child’s mental development:
Talk with your children regarding what they think about stories you read together or their response to the things they experience. Doing so will help your child’s memory; they will have a better recollection of the aspects and details of their life, a healthy “autobiographical recall”. Helping a child elaborate on what they think about an experience or what they have learned also fosters a healthy imagination.
Provide emotional connection and safety in the relationship you have with your child. When a child feels safe not only in his home but in his environment and community, he or she develops resiliency and flexibility when faced with a hardship.
Be available to comfort your child when they face unpleasant or painful emotions. When your child is afraid or sad the comforting response you provide them helps them develop a sense of security that they will carry with them as they get older and mature.
Attune to the signals your child sends, especially those of your infants. Your awareness of your child’s verbal and nonverbal cues help the child establish patterns of communication; a child learns what it means to collaborate with another individual. Furthermore, this attunement between you and your child will help the child to develop a secure attachment to you; this attachment will be their foundation for a healthy and confident child.
Establish a pattern of interpersonal connection with your child. The constant pattern of a deep relationship will your help your child develop brain structure. Though there will ultimately be times when you are disconnected from your child for various reasons the healthy pattern that has already been established will help repair the relationship and reconnection take place.
Support and encourage your child to discover new and unusual situations. Doing this is in a loving way helps increase their tolerance for new experiences and is especially beneficial for shy children. You child’s mind is aroused, meaning it says, “Pay attention!”, and is introduced to a new encounter which creates a new emotion. This new experience paves the way for further experiences and curiosities.
Be empathetic and expressive, as this is a means of effective and healthy communication. Emotions are a means of communicating, and an empathetic emotion is a vital aspect of your child’s mental development. As you attune to your child’s needs, your child internalizes the reality that they are important and their goals are attainable. The protection you provide allows their mind to organize itself.
Do your best to recognize and react to your child’s mental state (i.e. joyful, fearful, unsure). As you are predictably responsive to your child they feel a sense of cohesion and interpersonal connection; share and mirror their joy, be confident when they are afraid. These forms of communicative experiences help your son or daughter to regulate their state; their mind is able to process their own emotions as they feed off of yours.
Share positive emotions. When both you and your child are joyful, sharing and experiencing the emotions together will amplify the pleasure and increase positive affect. Your child will learn how to experience strong emotions in a balanced way and be comfortable with strong stimulation and excitement. Shared emotion helps the brain direct its energy flow and process information.
Be aware of your responses to your child’s ever-increasing curiosity. Young children are constantly becoming excited, interested and enthralled in new things; for parents this can be distressing as they often find their child putting themselves in danger or making messes (i.e. climbing on things or pulling things out of cupboards). When your child is in an excited state, do not be afraid to tell your child “No” but be prepared to help him or her adapt their excitement. If your child is excited to climb on things, guide him or her to a location where climbing is permissible and safe. Your child’s orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain that coordinates excitement with thinking and processing, learns that its excitement is ok. Their minds will look for ways to modify and control excitement in the future rather than attempting to squelch it.
Things to avoid while parenting:
Do not limit your conversation with your children to mere facts. Failing to help your child engage and reflect on their experiences or education will inhibit their memory and their aptitude to recall information.
Do not emotionally disconnect from your child. Your disconnection as a parent means that you are unavailable, unperceptive, and unresponsive; your child translates this attitude as rejection. The result will be the formation of a poor attachment to you, their primary caregiver. Furthermore, this avoidance will set your child up for social and psychological dysfunctions.
Do not be inconsistent with your child. Doing so will create an anxious state of mind in your child; parents must attempt to be sensitive to the needs of their child on a regular, consistent basis.
Do not establish frightening forms of communication with your child. Repeated frightening and confusing situations will create a sense of disorientation in your child. Your child, especially when an infant, does not know how to make sense of the confusing response he or she may receive from you; as their parent you are to be their source of safety, yet instead they feel fear and become unsettled. This mindset will cause your child to have impairments and hindrances with their emotions, social and thinking abilities.
Be careful of intruding on your child- an “emotional invasion”. This does not necessarily mean a harsh or violent interruption; an example of parental intrusion can come as a sudden showering of kisses and hugs without notice while your child has its attention on an object of interest. This may disrupt your child’s focus of attention and current state of mind, especially if he or she is not trying to communicate a need for such attention. This will cause your infant to be uncertain of his or her needs and emotional state.
Do not tune out to your child’s intense emotions. When your child senses that you have not noticed their extreme feelings they may develop the sense that they are uncontrollable. Because you have not helped them address their emotions, they may feel their feelings are bad and need to be avoided behaviorally and cognitively.
Do not openly display your frustrations at the hesitancy of your child as they face new situations. The frustrations you show that are seen by your child will make them even more anxious; your negative responses towards their nervousness or apprehension will reinforce reactions of withdrawal.
Avoid rigidity. Your child may experience a lack of emotional growth if they constantly observe and experience rigid behavior. Their mind will not be allowed to become adaptive and will simply reject new input into order to keep itself regulated; flexibility will not be allowed to develop.
Do not neglect to take care of yourself and your emotional needs. Caring for yourself will benefit your child. Infants who have despondent mothers are often withdrawn. In the case of depression, often both mother and child have a decrease in their left frontal activation, which is the part of the brain that controls positive emotions, exploration and sociability.
Do not use shame as an intentional method of parenting. While shame is a necessary emotion for your child to experience that will help him or her learn how to regulate their impulses, the state of shame is naturally wired and processed in your child’s mind. Humiliation, which is not beneficial, is produced when the shameful state that is activated within your child naturally is coupled with prolonged parental anger and irritation.