Im not a parent. But I am getting married in the fall, and God willing, I will have kids in the near future. So, you can imagine my terror when I attended a seminar on rearing kids recently at the North Regional Library in North Raleigh.
The actual name of the program was Brain and Behavior, and the goal of the instructor, Michelle Chachkes, was to show us how we can influence our children to act better. More or less.
Chachkes is a licensed clincial social worker and parent consultant following the philosophy of Becky Bailey, an expert in the field of parenting. Bailey is an expert on child-rearing who has written 14 books, including Managing Emotional Mayhem and Easy to Love, Difult to Discipline. She also started the first Early Childhood Education four-year university degree program in Florida.
Baileys philosophy is brain-based and focuses on the social and emotional aspects of childhood behavior.
Her curriculum has been so well-received nationally, it has turned schools around just by implementing it, Chachkes said.
The lesson April 14th followed the development patterns of the brain. For instance, Chachkes told us about the different stages in brain development and how they affect a persons behavior. The frontal lobes, the part of the brain that keeps us from doing stupid things, isnt fully developed until people are in their 20s. That means that earlier in life, we have a tendency to act rashly. Surprise, surprise. Thats pretty much the definition of a child, isnt it?
Chachkes brought some counter-intuitive principles to her talk. For instance, when punishing kids for bad behavior, many people use isolation. The conversation ends and the child has to go to his or her room. But Chachkes said that can be counterproductive because the only time were learning is when were interacting with other people.
Connections on the outside with others create connections on the inside in the brain, she said.
Chachkes also talked about the unfortunate fact that children are often operating from fear. The brain isnt well-developed yet, so fight or flight can be one of the primary ways children react to situations. That means adrenaline and cortisol will be pumping through their bodies.
Naturally, it takes a while for those chemicals to fade, and until they do, trying to reason with a kid may not be the best option. And the child has to feel safe before he or she will be open to meaningful discussion.
I have some parents who say their kids can tantrum for 45 minutes, she said.
Chachkes goal is to get parents to stop reacting to their childrens behavior. Rather than getting upset or frustrated, detach and try to understand whats happening inside the childs brain.
Three mothers attended the program. In the course of the talk, one of them brought up the fact that its hard to get kids into a reasonable state of mind when we have so much trouble ourselves.
Im still struggling with how do I get myself there, she said.
Chachkes agrees that parenting can be difficult, especially when we still deal with many of the same emotional problems.
Impulse control is hard for adults, she said. And were asking it of children.
She is fond of telling parents to keep Q-tips on hand. They remind people of the acronym Quit Taking It Personally.
Its their journey, Chachkes said of children. Its your job to just guide them.
Which is another way of saying that you cant actually control your children. You can only teach them.
Only one of the three mothers, Crystal Upson, wanted to give me her name. She is the mother of a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old. She has been to programs like this before and is familiar with Becky Baileys work. She finds Baileys philosophy helpful. She said guiding children to be conscious and not reactive is key. As a parent, you need to develop a childs thinking and problem-solving skills. Thats what they dont have that you can give them.
The other mothers told me that they also both had two children. I wondered if there was something special about having two kids that sends parents in pursuit of help. They all agreed there was.
Whats magical about it in our house is my husband says we can play man to man but we cant do zone very well, Upson said.
Ive barely covered the surface of what Chachkes discussed. But I came away feeling that when I have kids, I will now have a few more tools for helping them learn and grow. Chachkes said that her way of parenting is one that may seem odd, but its healthier for the children and the adults.
Im showing you a different way, she said. But trust me when I say it feels better.