Over the years, I’ve written about developing kindness and a sense of service in your children. Human beings need one another–in fact, forced isolation and the inability to interact with others can cause insanity and death. Babies in orphanages who receive little verbal stimulation turn their faces to the wall and die, even if they are fed and clothed adequately.
Scientists are learning wonderful things about the brain and how family attachments enhance emotional and intellectual health in growing children. They know that, literally, what a person believes to be true becomes reality. For example, a study at the University of Michigan told certain participants that a cream rubbed on their arms was a “pain-reducing” cream. Then the participants were touched with a hot instrument. Every person who received the “pain-reducing” cream reported feeling little or no pain, although the cream had absolutely no pain inhibiting factors whatsoever.
Andrea Sullivan, owner of BrainStrength Systems, says, “What we think can change the structure of our brains through what scientists call neuroplasticity.” (Good Housekeeping; January 2009; p. 103).
You, through your interactions with your child and the example you set on meeting your own life’s challenges, can help your child grow into happy adulthood. I’m not talking about setting up a rigid formula that you can follow and then be sure of the outcome. We’re talking about other human beings here, human beings who have free will. If you focus positive energy in dealing with your own challenges, you will demonstrate that you can control your own responses, even though you can’t control other people’s actions.
You can choose to be happy or upset; nobody “makes” you miserable. True, others may say mean things, steal from you, drive recklessly, and display a host of other actions over which you will have no control. But you can still choose your behavior. Tears may spring to your eyes, but you don’t have to let angry words escape your lips or swing your fists.
Your child is always watching and imitating your behavior. If you erupt into a swearing tirade when somebody cuts in front of you and steals a parking place in a crowded parking lot, don’t be surprised by your child’s tantrum if you interrupt his video game to ask him to load the dishwasher.
Tor Wager, Ph.D. assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University said that “similar brain mechanisms are at work whether we’re influenced by expectations coming from outside ourselves or we’re generating our own expectations.” This knowledge can help you understand how important it is to model positive responses to negative situations.
If someone drives erratically or bumps into you with a grocery cart, be quick to give a positive spin to the situation, “She must be distracted” or “these aisles really need traffic lights.” Be slow to anger and quick to see another’s point of view, even if you misunderstand the other person’s point of view. Positive thoughts give positive energy and positive energy produces calming chemicals in your brain. Best of all, your child will learn this marvelous way of finding peace amidst adversity–a lesson that will serve him well as he encounters the inevitable challenges and pains of life.