“Man hands on misery to man,” the gloomy British poet Philip Larkin once wrote. “It deepens like a coastal shelf.” It’s a sentiment that’s been around for a while. We become, the thought runs, who our parents were. After all, the apple never falls very far from the tree.
Luckily, psychologists are a less pessimistic tribe than poets and spinners of folk wisdom. No wonder. They have access to the latest scientific data, and the news is good: our brains are more adaptable than many once believed.
Experts call it “neuroplasticity.” Translated into everyday English, that means that we’re all capable of changing for the better. And the more we practice new and improved habits, the better people we become. Even more uplifting, we can guide our children early on in their development to develop traits that’ll help them lead meaningful and successful lives.
That’s the verdict of Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s bestselling The Yes Brain.
A thoughtful and fully hands-on guide to mindful parenting, this book is packed full of fascinating facts and inventive strategies to help both you and your children flourish. Squarely focused on the key traits of balance, resilience, insight and empathy, it illuminates the path to the state they call the Yes Brain – an open-minded outlook that says “yes” to the world and takes adversity in its stride.
Like most people, you probably want what’s best for both yourself and your children, including this open, accepting attitude that says “yes” to the world. And that’s basically what the Yes Brain is.It’s a way of being in the world that makes you receptive and helps you live meaningfully.
Take the first part. When you’re receptive, you’re primed to take challenges in stride. You’re flexible and capable of thinking clearly.The No Brain is the opposite. It’s a defensive and reactive outlook. That’s a problem because it makes connecting with other people and reaching good decisions extremely difficult. When you put it that way, the Yes Brain is clearly preferable to the No Brain.
So how can you develop this attitude?
Being receptive might feel like an intangible goal. But there are concrete strategies you can use to begin developing a Yes Brain as an adult parent. A good place to start is with its four essential characteristics. These are balance, resilience, insight and empathy.
But what about children? Well, the one follows the other. When you model fundamental Yes Brain characteristics, your children are also likely to adopt them. A couple of techniques can help you do this.
Most people believe that who you are as a child fundamentally molds who you are later on in life. Even if environmental factors have some influence, nature trumps nurture. An unsympathetic child, according to this line of thought, will be an unsympathetic adult.
But scientific evidence shows that’s not the case. The human brain isn’t predetermined at all; in fact, it’s highly plastic and changes to reflect a person’s experiences, also referred to as neuroplasticity.
This means you can not only alter your behavior but the very structure of your brain! In order to do that, you have to learn how to engage your mind in certain ways. The approach to developing a Yes Brain based on the latest multidisciplinary research into interpersonal neurobiology or IPNB.
So what exactly is that? IPNB basically looks at the ways the brain, mind and relationships with others shape human identity.
The subject’s key principle is integration. That’s essentially the idea that integrating the different parts of your brain is a key part of your wellbeing. A well-integrated brain is flexible and adaptive, coherent, energized and stable. Who wouldn’t want that?
So, cultivating a Yes Brain means you need to begin engaging your brain in ways that encourage integration as well as the development of some of its most important parts. One of these is the cerebral cortex. This region of the brain takes time to develop. It usually reaches full maturity when you hit your mid-twenties. A sub-region of this vital part of the brain is the prefrontal cortex or PFC for short.
That’s the driver of most of your behavior. It’s here that key Yes Brain traits like emotional regulation, personal insight and empathy are controlled. In other words, when your PFC is engaged, you’re using your Yes Brain. So it pays to devote more attention to this part of the brain. The more you engage it, the more it grows. And that means that your brain becomes more integrated overall.
Take a real-world example. Say you’re reading your child a story and you ask them why they think the heroine is sad. What you’re doing is providing an opportunity for your child to build empathy and social engagement. In effect, you’re helping them strengthen the wiring of their brain. To be continued…
Check out my related post: Do you have a growth mindset?