When babies are born, they are right-brain dominant. As they grow older, they slowly begin to transition to the left brain which roughly completes by about 6 years old (with individual variation). From research and what we have observed in brain damaged individuals, we know that the right brain is capable of some very remarkable abilities. Young children, too, have the potential to perform these amazing abilities because of their early right-brain dominance. The problem is that they live in a left-brain dominant world. If the right brain is not developed, these children lose their right brain potential as they grow up.
Right brain education aims to help a child develop the functions of the right brain and to integrate it with the left brain so that these children are still able to tap into these remarkable right brain abilities when they are older. Being able to combine the right brain abilities with the mastermind left brain is what we believe many geniuses in history were capable of.
To develop the right brain, it is important to understand how it works. Shichida talked a lot about the right brain and its need to feel love in order to learn. This corresponds to the scientific findings that babies need love to learn. If a child does not feel loved, or if he is stressed, his right brain shuts down and he moves into left brain function (which performs well under stress). If a child’s right brain shuts down, he is no longer able to maximise his potential. Therefore, if we discipline a child harshly, we are triggering the activation of his left brain.
Jill Bolte Taylor confirmed the importance of compassion and gentleness when approaching the right brain in her book My Stroke of Insight. During her stroke experience, when she was functioning with her right brain, she shied away from people who were harsh in their behaviour towards her, while those who treated her with kindness and compassion, she opened up to. So if we want to connect with our children’s right brains, we need to approach them with love.
Practically, it all makes sense, but I’ll be honest, sometimes, when Gavin is going through the terrible twos and threes – throwing tantrums, open defiance, back talking and all those dreadful behaviours that ignite a very short fuse to my own anger, it can be very hard to employ methods of gentle discipline. And when he behaves this way, there is a very real fear that he is getting out of control and I am losing my authority over him as a parent. Consequently, there is a backlash and I react with a force that is fueled by my emotions, my fears, and my past.
Well, there are two take home messages that I have taken from Yumiko Tobitani and Jill Bolte Taylor. I didn’t want to detract from the message that Tobitani was trying to communicate to parents so I have quoted her verbatim:
“The next stage is at a year and a half. This is where the baby starts to express himself clearly. In our class for mothers, I often hear the comment, “You were such a good baby, I wonder where I went wrong?” This stage is really a sign of growth, however. We should actually welcome this development and, rather than putting a lid on it, warmly observe its growth. Then we get to the very crucial ages of two and three years. Because the child has by now developed an ego and is frustrated by limitations, he will throw himself down and start crying in his frustration. For example, at times when he wants to play with a new toy, his mother will tell him to put it away. Since the child has not yet acquired the left-brain intellectualisation to understand why, he will start crying to get his way. It is a transitory phase of the child’s growth process. By the age of four or five, this will stop as if a storm has blown over.
Children grow up through this process, much like a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, and so it is vital that we grasp the importance of this experience for the child. Crying and screaming a simply transitory stages. By the age of three, the foundations of a human being have been built. These three aspects of growth – the transformation, the crying, and the foundation – have to be fully accepted by parents who are able to deal with the great variety of changes they entail. The stages of child-rearing that follow will be much easier…
…We humans are animals. We need to grow up as biological beings that are also gifted with reason. That is why we cannot raise children simply with reason, but must also incorporate an animal type of instinctual love.”
The short of it is that we need to accept the terrible twos and threes as part of a growth phase that all children go through and not assume it is a reflection of bad parenting or that it is an evil in children that needs to be stamped out.
But how do you accept it when it makes your blood boiling mad when your children behave this way? I found something that Dr Taylor wrote in her book to be particularly interesting and useful:
“I define responsibility (response-ability) as the ability to choose how we respond to stimulation coming in through our sensory systems at any moment in time. Although there are certain limbic system (emotional) programs that can be triggered automatically, it takes less than 90 seconds for one of these programs to be triggered, surge through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our blood stream. My anger response, for example, is a programmed response that can be set off automatically. Once triggered, the chemical released by my brain surges through my body and I have a physiological experience. Within 90 seconds from the initial trigger, the chemical component of my anger has completely dissipated from my blood and my automatic response is over. If, however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have chosen to let that circuit continue to run. Moment by moment, I make the choice to either hook into my neurocircuitry or move back into the present moment, allowing that reaction to melt away as fleeting physiology.”
So although our anger reaction is biological and inescapable, that is only true for about 90 seconds. Beyond that 90 seconds, it’s truly all in your mind. Therefore, if you can reassess your mental state after that initial 90 seconds, you can take control of your anger and choose to let it go rather than to remain angry. So I guess that old piece of advice for counting to ten is really good advice – except that you need to count for longer.