As children, our worldview is pretty much shaped by what happens in our immediate household, especially in the early years. As a result, it isn’t until we are older that we begin to see that not every family operates the same way ours does. We begin to notice things going on in other kids’ homes that might be missing in ours. We also begin to realize that some of the things that go on in our house might not be all that great. Here’s a small list of things that can have profound consequences for how well our brain develops and its parts integrate: Early Events Scale. What’s particularly challenging to determine the effects of, are the beneficial things that might have happened in our childhood home, but didn’t. We rarely miss what we never got. Here are the first three things I wish I had received as a kid. By my writing about these now, and three more next week, I hope more and more children in the world will end up receiving them.
Furnish Support for Embodied Wisdom
It wasn’t until my late 40s that I discovered I was allergic to chocolate! It seems astonishing to me now, that from around age six I suffered from allergies and headaches, but I never made the connection between eating chocolate and the pain that immediately ensued, nor did any of the adults in my life. In the best of all possible worlds, from as soon as I could understand words, I would have been trained to listen deeply to my body, and I would have been encouraged and supported to honor whatever it was that my body was attempting to communicate to me. I would have been taught to ask questions of my heart, inquire earnestly of my stomach, and attend to the places where my body was holding tension. The possible emotional meaning of diarrhea would have been readily investigated. There would have been regular discussions and explorations of waking and sleeping dreams – those embodied messages from procedural memory stored in the emotional centers of the brain. I would have learned that we get sick for a reason, and often that reason is that we have not been listening very deeply to the subtle, insistent urgings of our bodies. This is an extraordinary gift to bestow upon our children.
Offer Adequate Amounts of Loving Touch
For the first years of life, parents primarily serve as an adjunct brain for their children. They are required to perform the emotional regulation that young children’s brains are inadequately prepared to easily accomplish on their own. Physical, nonsexual touch that soothes and stabilizes most easily accomplishes this regulatory function. As a grief counselor for many years, I would get advance permission to use gentle touch to help regulate emotional overwhelm: I would simply put my hand on a person’s arm or shoulder, and it would almost magically calm them down. This also works extremely well with children, and in fact, often serves to reassure them that it’s all right to be upset – that they won’t be abandoned to flounder in their overwhelm. Once it becomes safe to go to scary emotional places, we become less fearful of going there.
Of all the words in the Oxford English Dictionary, the word touch has the most definitions listed. Clearly, touch is an important experience for human beings. It appears to be vitally important for grieving children who, with attentive supervision, will engage in all manner of physical interaction with one another. Non-sexual touching, when done with awareness, sensitivity and respect is a connecting, unifying experience. It helps us feel loved, valued and accepted. I think it’s worth deeply exploring both our attraction to it and any aversions or personal apprehensions we might have to it.
Provide Instruction in Thoughtworks
Knowing how my brain works makes it work better. Learning and paying attention to how thinking works – how thoughts simply arise and fall away, mostly in response to our external and internal environment – improves our thinking ability. If we haven’t done this already, we can learn it ourselves. It’s a learnable skill that organizations like Susan Kaiser Greenland’s Inner Kids are doing an excellent job with. So we can teach our children how to both observe thoughts mindfully, and how to not be emotionally tossed away by fearful thoughts when they arise, nor by the angry feelings often generated by such thoughts. It’s something we can attend to with curiosity and wonder and then begin to take action to move in less fear-based directions. Our brains and our children’s brains will thank us when our brains and thoughts begin working well.