All of our children’s experiences build foundational circuitry in the brain. New neural pathways form with each interaction and communication our kids have every day. So all those little moments that your kids will not remember from their early childhoods–the conversations, daily carpool rides, trips to the store, board games, dinner time help, homework help, and nightly tucking-ins–are shaping who they are to become. Every moment counts.
Really? (You ask.) Every moment? Even the ones where I may have spoken not-so-nicely to my kids? Even the one in the store the other day when I lost it and hollered at them? Or the one just yesterday when I was fed up with the volume of toys we have that no one picks up so I started tossing them into garbage bags and my kids were devastated and crying? Not my best parenting moment. Are you saying that those moments “count” too? Have I ruined things for my child’s development?
Yes, they count, and no, you haven’t ruined them. With every action, thought, feeling, and decision a child experiences, there are neurons firing in the brain that create pathways–a brain’s wiring for communication and understanding. The more often a neuron fires, the stronger that connection becomes. So while no singular incident may be responsible for a child’s entire brain structure & function, all of the little moments added up (neurons fired over and over again) are. It’s all the little moments that matter most.
Every moment counts, but it’s the repetition of moments that make connections stronger (or the lack thereof that prunes them out).
So you have an unpleasant parenting moment…this is not to say that you’ve “ruined” your child, but the opposite is also not entirely true, either, that “it doesn’t matter.” It’s just one moment layered in among many that are shaping a child’s brain. The key is to repeat the moments we want as often as we can. Moments in which we…
- Respond with empathy
- Show understanding
- Meet needs
- Validate feelings
- Solve problems
- Demonstrate cooperation
- Use nonviolent communication
- Show respect
- Wholly accept
- Teach emotional awareness
- Achieve connection
We will have moments in which we flip our lids…or snap our words…or respond harshly…or say something hurtful because we are mad. They will happen. It’s more important to surround kids with increasingly more of the peaceful moments.
Repetition yields strength. I ask myself, what connections do I want to strengthen in my kids’ developing brains? My own parenting is far from perfect, but each day I aim to give them more of those kinds of experiences than any others. What we repeat–what we live–is what will grow strong.