In many situations where kids feel stupid, small and humiliated we could have helped them strengthen relevant connections in the brain if we had anticipated what was coming up. Thus, we could have helped them investing in a valuable life experience rather than experiencing (yet another) status threat.
In this post, I will give you an example of how I apply this in relation to my own kids.
The only ones without a mobile phone
When we attended a kid’s birthday party in our family some months ago, my daughters ended up feeling small and excluded because all the other kids at one point started playing on or communicating via their mobile phones.
As my husband and I believe that all kids deserve at least 10 years of childhood without a phone – and our youngest daughters are 6 and 9 years of age currently – they still don’t have their own mobile phone. And even if they had had one, they wouldn’t be bringing them to a birthday party at that age. Birthday parties are for playing, if you ask us: great opportunities for lots of offline play and a chance to move about and have fun too.
Recently we were invited to attend another birthday party in the same part of the family. However, it took place in a weekend when my husband were away and our 10-year-old was attending a different birthday party. My 6-year-old daughter, Alicia, was therefore attending the birthday party together with my parents.
Help prepare your kid’s brain
As I knew that a situation similar to the upcoming birthday party had posed a status threat to Alicia earlier on (and I know that neurons that fire together, wire together which here means that the same feelings can easily be reactivated in her once she returns to the physical and social environment of the birthday party), I wanted to help prepare her brain for resourceful ways to respond, should the same situation occur again.
Often, when humans feel stupid, small and excluded it has to do with our experience of future fog when it comes to how to respond relevantly and with impact. In other words: If I have no clue what to answer or do in a tricky situation the situation becomes WAY MORE DIFFICULT to cope with.
Thus, brainsmart parenting is partly about helping our kids strengthening the pathways in the brain that will help them cope with and grow through everyday challenges. The latter is a key aspect of resilience: the ability to “bounce back” from situations rather than becoming completely upset whilst and after experiencing them.
My conversation with Alicia beforehand was rather brief and intended to strengthen her inner calm and ability to identify and choose useful strategies.
Anette: “It’s exciting that you are going to the birthday party with Grandma and Grandpa!”
Anette: “… should it happen that the other kids start using their phones, what could you do then?”
Alicia: “I can go downstairs and play with Grandma.”
Anette: “That’s a great idea. How would that be, do you think?”
Anette: “You could also suggest them to do something else. You are good at speaking out, I know.”
Alicia: “… I think I’d rather go downstairs and play with Grandma.”
Anette: “That sounds fine. She will enjoy that too.”
Alicia smiled, excited about the party.
“How about we do something else?”
After the party, Alicia told me about some great (offline) games that they had played together in the group of approx. 8 kids. Apart from a sprained ancle from jumping on the trampoline, she had clearly had a super time. She had played with the other children and with my parents as well.
Later, my parents told me that at some point the other children had in fact disappeared upstairs with their mobile phones.
After a while, Alicia – the youngest one in the party – had gone up as well on her own and asked the others: “How about we do something else?”
Her comment had apparently reminded the others that birthday parties could indeed be spent in more meaningful and respectful ways than being absorbed in one’s own device. Her comment had kickstarted a different perception of the situation and made them start playing offline again.
Alicia had told her Grandma about this episode later.
The brief and casual conversation we had before the birthday party helped Alicia identify a preferred strategy and back-up strategy. She ended up drawing upon both strategies which means that she even found the inner courage to activate the back-up strategy that she initially preferred the least. In hindsight, this was the strategy that made her feel most proud and proactive.
Your kid needs your resourcefulness
The brain is plastic, i.e. changeable throughout life according to how we stimulate it (what we do, think, feel and focus on).
The brain is also a quick learner in the sense that simply imagining what we will do and say actually fires/activate the relevant neural connections. You create a sort of mental rehearsal when exploring possible actions or replies in particular situations. Identifying possible paths to “walk down” and practising them a little (or a lot) helps mould our emotional and cognitive reactions in those future situations. It is such a great help for the kid – and OK easy once you get a grip of the method :). After a while you can start delegating still more of the identification of possible paths to the kid himself/herself.
I have knowledge of social situations between kids that have completely changed via the “underdog’s” surprisingly resourceful response to being teased, excluded or otherwise made to feel temporarily small and status threatened. I will share some of these with you in future posts on BRAINSMART.TODAY.
All the best,
Anette Prehn (1975) is a Danish Sociologist, keynote speaker, facilitator and author of five published books about the rules of the brain. 10 years ago she realised that the brain follows certain logics, but that hardly anyone knows them. Even among the ones who’ve heard about them, most do not know how to apply the them. Anette Prehn’s ambition is to communicate neuroscience and social psychology in outstanding and down-to-earth ways: ways that make it easy to understand, remember and apply those logics. She does this in her BRAINSMART trilogy: bestselling books about key brain logics. Her only book out in English so far is Play Your Brain and her books have so far been translated into Chinese, Russian, German, Norwegian and Swedish.