Parenting Issue number one for me is raising emotionally intelligent children. Emotions are very important to learning, and our greatest joy comes from connected relationships, and I want them to experience that joy.
We can hope to manage three things in our lives, our thoughts, our behavior, and our feelings, and I am not sure what success I am having in teaching my children any of these things yet.
The child who cuddles with me and looks at me with love and kisses me on the cheek can be kicking the kitten 1/18th second later, or her brother, which is how fast our Central Nervous System works, according to Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, who wrote the book FLOW.
The brother who swears he will never hurt his sister again can kick back just as fast, and I am constantly amazed at how fast I can react with anger or disgust to their expressions or tone of voice.
Paul Ekman,Ph.D., in his work on how we respond to facial expressions says that we can respond to a look of contempt in 1/25th second, which is over twice as fast as I can blink my eyes. That response is emotional, and usually it is a mixture of hurt/anger.
Any parent here not seen a look of contempt from your kid?
So parenting issues arise very fast, and I better have my parenting system in place for quick recall and recovery, because my response, if it leaves the child with a perception that they are in danger, could change their brain forever.
I might just leave them with a filter that says the people who say they love you are lying and the world is therefore a dangerous place.
That child will have some difficulty connection in relationships down the road, and there is no joy in loneliness.
Here is a quick video from John Gottman about raising emotionally intelligent children.
So parenting issue number one will be learning how to relate with one another so the child's attentional system is not impacted by stress hormones, so if mom and dad have some emotional intelligence, the child will learn that by watching mom and dad.
Just remember how fast emotions come. Above I mentioned 1/18th and 1/25th second, compared to 1/10th second for an eye blink.
Well, there is one other measurement of time in regards to behavior that I am aware of and that is the work by neuroplasicity expert Michael Merzenich,Ph.D. who in his work with Senior Drivers, says we Boomers need to be prepared to react to changing road conditions in 1/45th second.
The point being that I can lose my emotional cool with my kids fast, and impact their lives forever, if their brains are sensitized to scary facial expressions and loud, mean, or contemptuous voices.
So how do a I do emotionally intelligent parenting for emotionally intelligent kids?
Rule number one is to pay attention to my thoughts and my feelings.
Not just when they are really strong, but all the time.
Mindfulness then becomes very important, and if your kids are like mine, sitting and doing zazen is not something that they are going to do with any great joy, so maybe you look for some techological aid that you and your children can use to work on mindfulness, and you discover HeartMath, which teaches us a way to manage our physiology heart beat by heart beat, and can you conceive of everyone in the family getting on the same heart beat for family discussions?
In fact, HeartMath could be used for peak performance in athletics, and is a wonderful skill for kids to have when they take their ACT or SAT, for example, because being relaxed or in a coherent heart rate variability opens the higher perceptual systems in the brain for problem solving.
Perhaps it seems impossible to you to be prepared to parent from your system rather than your emotions because you fear you cannot possibly react as fast as 1/18th second.
The good news is you have done this ten's of thousands of times.
The bad news is that when we break down, everyone remembers, including yourself, so the next best thing to do is to get back to your affiliative and cooperative HeartMath physiology, and go on.
You may need to make amends, which your children will love you for.
HeartMath is based on research in a new field, neurocardiology, which is the study of the hearts own nervous system. It turns out that the heart has a brain of its own, and that brain can learn and make decisions independently of any other brain I have.
I can learn to cue that intelligence using the HeartMath program on my PC, and once I have learned it (took me about 3 hours), I can cue the physiology at any given heart beat which makes it a good tool for those really fast parenting emotional responses, and it makes for an excellent base line physiology for me to model for my kids.
They see and get used to my behavior. Please check out the links below for information on fast and effective tools for parenting issues from HeartMath.
Brain fitness is not just genetic, we can enhance two recently discovered capacities of the human brain, neurogenesis, which is the daily growth of new brain cells, and neuroplasticity, which is what neurons do when they are challenged with new learning and form new connections. The more connections between neurons there is the more power I can bring to problem solving.
The way that parents do that for their children is to parent from their systems, rather than their emotions. (Remember what Dr. Gottman said about adrenaline in the urine of children in the homes where their is a lot of stress?)
In fact, there has been a huge amount of information made available in the last year about brain fitness and how to get more of it, and if you are curious about what the authors are calling the pillars of brain fitness, then by all means read Brainfit for Life which talks about how we can all attend to the pillars of brain fitness; physical exercise, nutrition, including omega 3 fatty acids, sleep, stress management, and novel learning experiences, which might involve the use of computerized brain fitness programs.
The kind of novel learning experience that is most often recommended for neurogenesis and neuroplasticity is learning a new instrument or language. If your childen are not up for that, then there are some excellent computerized programs that they may use in conjunction with their HeartMath practice, and brain fitness is very important for us parents too.
I recommend the following programs for parenting issue brain fitness.
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