Every Moment Counts

March 13, 2013 at 8:08 am (Attachment Parenting, General, Positive Discipline)

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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
  • Encourage
  • 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.

9 Comments

  1. donamatthews said,

    so true! a thoughtful, practical, and insightful approach to the research on brain development as it applies to parenting!

  2. Elizabeth said,

    What about challenging toddler phases….Night time was rough for almost a year, does that mean I have screwed up my 3 year old’s brain forever even if things are good now?

    • Kelly said,

      Oh, no! What I love about the brain is its plasticity and it’s potential for change. The more positive connections we make, the stronger they become. I love the idea that at any point in our lives we can go forward, aiming to repeat certain kinds of experiences, and our brains will actually not only form new connections but let go of old ones.

      • donamatthews said,

        Current research shows that the brain is wonderfully plastic, but it also shows the importance of early experience in shaping the brain. Parenting matters! Yes, we can do better if we know better–and that is the best we can do–but every kind of parenting behaviour is not okay.

  3. Carrie said,

    I like this message! It’s easy to remember that what we repeat is what grows strong. Thanks!

  4. lia dominique andress said,

    I sooooo needed this quick post today! Thank you!!!!!!!!

  5. thenewsjunkie said,

    I’m not necessarily in disagreement but can you site some research or something that supports your claim?

  6. How I Know For a Fact That Children Are Not Morons | unnecessarywisdom said,

    […] Every Moment Counts (parentingfromscratch.wordpress.com) […]

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