Does your child ever freeze up in harmless situations? If so, a negative implicit memory may be to blame. After all, our memories influence our actions – even those memories we aren’t aware of.
For instance, when we talk about memories, it’s usually about those we can consciously access. These are our explicit memories, like the time your friend found a dead mouse in her salad. But there’s another type of memory called implicit memory. These are memories that we’re not consciously aware of, but which guide our actions.
So, say your son had a painful medical treatment as a child, which he can’t remember, but when he wants to go to the bathroom at his school he can’t get past the door. His brain is associating the faint smell of disinfectant and the checkered tiles of the restroom with the hospital he was treated at as an infant, and he anticipates pain.
This fear can be paralyzing. But there are two strategies to help your child alter and control his memories. Memories aren’t fixed and can be changed by focusing on a positive aspect, like a happy ending. Perhaps your daughter got lost in the supermarket one time, but a kind old lady helped her find you.
And if your child refuses to talk about a troubling memory?
It may help to suggest that she narrate it as if watching a movie with a remote control. In this way, she can pause or fast-forward whenever it gets too scary, or just skip to the happy ending.
But to alter and control memories, your child first needs to become aware of them and make them explicit. To help her do so, you should have your child talk about experiences in great detail; the hippocampus, or “search engine” of the brain, will fill in any gaps.
For instance, instead of asking “how was your day?” try, “what did you play today?” Subtle changes like this will help your child build a detailed picture of her actions and commit them to memory.
You may be just one person, but your individual self contains lots of different parts, such as your dreams, thoughts and sensations. These aspects are products of your upper brain and other cerebral regions that surround it like a wheel of awareness.
For your child to stay flexible and develop every facet of his personality, he needs to develop his own awareness of his mind. Many children can get stuck focusing on particular notions or goals, like the ambition to be the fastest runner in their grade, while forgetting about other aspects of their personal growth.
After all, when a person focuses on a distinct part of themselves, neurons fire in that direction, fostering new connections. So, if your child is always focused on the same part of their personality, it will develop this aspect at the expense of all others.
But the flexibility to shift his focus will only be available to your child if he develops mindsight, an awareness of every aspect of himself, and learns that he can choose where to place his focus. To help him get to this point, three strategies can help:
First, teach your child that emotions will come and go by themselves and that the average emotion only lasts about 90 seconds. This will prevent your child from confusing temporary states of mind like loneliness with permanent traits like being a loner.
Second, make your child aware of his SIFT, or the bodily sensations, images, feelings and thoughts that comprise his experience. To do so, keep asking your child about every one of them to show him that they all matter. In this way, he’ll learn to focus on his inner landscape.
And finally, let your child exercise his mindsight by teaching him to calm himself down and guide his attention at will. A good way for him to practice this is by focusing on nothing but the sounds around him or by visualizing a place where he feels safe.
Pretty soon he’ll be on his way to understanding his own mind. But that’s just the first part of mindsight.
So, mindsight is essential for integrating the different aspects of oneself – but it’s also a tool for understanding the minds of others. The brain is a social organ, designed to be shaped and reshaped through interaction with other people. In fact, we only thrive by learning to attune ourselves to other humans.
After all, our brains are equipped with a special type of neuron to help shape them through social interactions. These are called mirror neurons and they come into play when we see people acting with intention. Pretty soon, our mirror neurons cause us to do or want the same thing as the people we’re observing.
For instance, you might get thirsty when watching someone else drink water. In this way, you’re not just understanding what others want, but actually feeling what they feel.
Naturally, such a socially inclined organ relies on interaction to remain healthy and it’s no wonder that humans don’t do well in isolation. But children don’t yet have the skills to navigate social situations in appropriate ways, and if they don’t learn them at an early stage, they might end up feeling alone or having few friends.
That’s why it’s important to give your child sufficient opportunities to become socially adept, and a child’s relationship to her caregivers is among the most determinative of how well she’ll be able to empathize and communicate. Beyond that, such relationships will also decide whether she seeks contact and thinks of herself as part of a group.
So, to support your child’s social brain, make family life fun. A great way to do so is through playful parenting. Act silly and play games! Prepare your kids for relationships and show them that being with others is fun.
As conflicts arise, seize the opportunity to teach your child empathy by asking her to consider the other person’s perspective. But before doing that, be sure to acknowledge your child’s own feelings so that she doesn’t feel attacked, and draw her attention to body language to teach her about nonverbal cues.
Most parents never learn how to nurture their children’s brains – but this useful knowledge is an essential aspect of childrearing. Only through an understanding of the whole brain can you help your child integrate the different parts of their mind to become a self-aware and controlled person.
A couple of tips;
- Play “what would you do” games to build the higher brain.
Ask your preschooler to imagine a difficult situation like, “What would you do if your uncle gave you $10 and you really wanted to buy a new toy but your uncle said you had to share the money with your sister?” Posing such a quandary will help your child anticipate situations in which his lower brain urges him to do something he knows he shouldn’t and push him to control these urges with his higher brain.
2. Make sure that your child develops positive memories.
Memories are associations between our current experiences and those of the past. If you give your child a candy after piano lessons, she’ll connect sweets and the piano, thereby forming what we know as a “memory.” So, do your best to make your child’s experiences positive ones. After all, it won’t just make for a pleasant present, but also for a fond memory down the road.
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