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What Are They Thinking?

Author: Michele Tryon, CCLS
Published Date: Friday, September 20, 2019

Do you ever wonder why kids do the things they do? While teaching parenting classes, I often hear, “I have to yell, or they just don’t listen.”

Interestingly enough, learning some basics about brain science can help us understand why children do what they do, and why it is important to keep our composure when we are looking for cooperation, rather than conflict.

Tip #1 – It takes years for the brain to develop.

The brain develops from the back to the front and from the bottom to the top. The very last part of the brain to fully develop is the thinking part of the brain. A brain is not fully developed until the age of 25 or so. Many times we say, “What was my child thinking?”

Well, they weren’t thinking. Their brain is still growing.

They learn cause and effect early on. I do this; I get that. However, the complex thinking it takes to discern whether something is a good idea is a work in progress. It takes time and practice making choices and figuring things out for that part of the brain to get established. As parents, it is important to provide consistent routines and expectations, and to offer many positive options. The brain is looking for patterns and building the architecture for later learning. When we reinforce positive behaviors, children develop positive brain habits and we get more cooperation.

Tip #2 – How a child feels affects their reasoning capabilities.

When a child is feeling stressed, pressured, overtired, or over-stimulated, we might see frustration, whining or aggression. The thinking part of the brain has gone offline.

We can help them manage any challenge by helping them feel calm and connected. Connection means the child knows they are cared for and we are there to help.

Saying something as simple as, “Take a deep breath. I’m here to help. Let’s figure this out together,” can work wonders. Once they are feeling calm and connected, they can get to the thinking part of the brain and listen to our suggestions, corrections, or feedback.

Tip #3 – Composure is key.

When our children are uncooperative or out of control, we must hold fast to our composure. They borrow from our composure until they develop emotional and brain maturity of their own.

When we model composure, they feel safe to express everything that’s going on with them. We get a glimpse into their world and they learn to trust us.

When we lose our composure and scare or hurt our children, it can cause a disconnect that is hard to repair. Parenting can be difficult and learning to keep our composure when our child is out of control takes practice, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Positive parenting supports brain development and builds the foundation for a healthy, lifelong relationship.

For more information, attend a free CHKD parenting workshop, Positive Discipline (Ages 5-12), Wednesday, October 2, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk. Register online here.  



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About Michele Tryon, CCLS

Michele Tryon, CHKD community outreach coordinator and parent educator has worked with children and families for 30 years, providing services in the hospital, home, school and community setting. Michele is a Certified Child Life Specialist, a Certified Positive Discipline™ parent educator, a nationally recognized trainer/consultant for Nurturing Parenting Programs™ and co-author of The Nurturing Program for Parents and Their Children with Special Needs and Health Challenges©.