Raising children is a challenging job, to say the least. On a daily basis, parents face the arduous tasks of being protectors, nourishers, comforters, teachers, guides, companions, and advocates for their children. Since life does not stand still, stress can often seem like a familiar part of the everyday routine.
Sometimes, it’s hard to see the difference between good parenting and bad parenting because each child is different. With so many different types of parenting The good news is there are practices readily available to all of everyone that parents can easily access and “exercise” to create stronger, “healthier” habits.
What is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroscience research continues to demonstrate that childhood is a time of tremendous brain development.
Brain plasticity allows infants to adapt flexibly to environment and experiences, as they build connections. A child’s brain responds to all of its new experiences, and these experiences will activate certain neurons, create new connections among them, strengthen existing connections, and prune weaker or unused connections. All of our experiences impact brain development throughout our lifetime. Understanding neuroplasticity is essential in understanding child development and how parenting can affect the brain.
How Can Parenting Affect the Brain?
Retraining the brain is something that can begin at home. While some children are simply easier to parent than others because they are more flexible. Kids recognizing their own negativity bias can help make parenting easier.
As biological beings, nature has programmed people’s minds to place greater significance on negative events and store them for easy retrieval should a real or perceived threat present itself. This leads to fear-based thinking and decision making.
Since remembering negative experiences is easier, more memories of negative or literally painful experiences will occur when searching your memory database.
In contrast, the normal flow of life, most positive experiences included, are quickly forgotten or easily overlooked. In other words, our brain is programmed to be more altered and reactive to negative experiences.
What Makes a Good Parent?
Brain research proves parenting skills lead to experiences that shape the way children respond to stress and may contribute to later anxiety. Being a good parent is difficult because it requires people to keep from judging themselves, but by retraining your brain to think positively, you can be the best parent for your child.
For example, children who display more fearful behaviors are prone to develop anxiety later in life. Understanding how the brain’s negativity bias works can be especially helpful in reframing parenting actions and verbiage to better support your children.
Negativity bias can be especially prevalent in the parenting pressures of today’s world. Parents are primed to be on the lookout for potential problems as their children learn to navigate a world that seems to grow more complicated every day with the increasing demands and pressures. The culturally accepted stress and anxiety of daily life also contribute to a propensity toward negativity.
Can Parenting Strategies Rewire an Anxious Brain?
The answer is, “Yes”! Neural networks can be altered in a way to promote or enhance mental health. Research shows us that individuals with anxiety can be reprogrammed to respond to more positive aspects of their environments instead of experiencing a fear response.
With children, this reprogramming can be done with changes in parenting. For some children or adults with a propensity toward negative thinking and fearful or anxious responses, other therapeutic interventions may be necessary. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Neurofeedback, Biofeedback, or play and art therapy may be needed to retrain an individual’s response to their environment. The good news is these research-based therapies are effective and easily accessible.
How to Create Your Own Positive Parenting Program at Home
Some simple parenting techniques practiced regularly can help to retrain the brain to notice and amplify positive experiences. The first is to make it a habit to try and notice the normal everyday things that are “right” with your child, family, parenting. Often, more things are “right” than worrisome once people get in the habit of noticing them. People often underestimate the power of positive parenting
Emphasizing positive experiences through discussion and explicit praise can be immensely helpful. This isn’t the same as gratitude. An overemphasis on gratitude can contribute to increased feelings of shame in negative thinkers. In fact, a lot of research shows that programs like positive discipline and parenting with love and logic help distinguish gratitude from positivity.
Instead, it can be as simple as pointing out a recent positive experience. For example, “Tiger just came up to you and rubbed your leg” or “George smiled when you helped him out at the bus stop”. Since people have a negativity bias, they are prone to be alert to and to remember negative experiences. Kids whose constitutional makeup is more rigid and negative are impacted even more. Alerting a child or teen to the positive can have a dramatic effect on everyone.
Taking five minutes at the end of every day to notice, reflect on, and write down three good things can also have a positive impact. These three things can be about either family life in general or be more specific, focusing on the individual child. This also provides the parent an opportunity to reflect on their own positive parenting techniques.
Some examples are: “Today we didn’t have to rush to school, everyone got out on time”, or “I saw Sarah hold the door for that woman with all the packages and I felt kind and proud” or “Even though I felt frustrated when John left his saxophone home, I remained patient and did not raise my voice.”
These simple steps, when practiced regularly, can greatly reduce stress and lead to effective parenting. While family life may still be over-scheduled and chaotic, building up a practice that reduces the brain’s tendency toward anxious, negative thinking can increase the brain’s capacity to perceive more fully.
At our Ridgefield, CT center we see that this can lead to parenting from a place that is benefitting the entire family in the long run while leaving everyone feeling safer and more supported. And, of course, this will lead to even more positives to reflect on!
To make an appointment with Dr. Roseann to discuss how we can help with parent coaching or how one of our clinically effective and natural therapies for ODD, OCD, anxiety, depression, Dyslexia, LD, ADHD, or ASD such as Neurofeedback, Biofeedback, Executive Functioning coaching, parent coaching or behavioral support can help you or your child, or to meet with one of our psychotherapists in person or virtually call 203.826.2999 or email us at [email protected]. Live out of state? We work with children, individuals, and families at our clinic through our intensive therapies 360° Reboot® Program or via video coaching sessions.
Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”
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Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of media outlets including, CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post,, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.”
She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach. She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).
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Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. *The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC does not guarantee certain results.