Monday, June 13, 2011

Compassionate, Resilient Children Begin In The Mind

I left Sunday's Skirball Center seminars on compassion, resilience and emotional intelligence with my mind buzzing. Not surprising, because I had spent most of the day talking about the mind. Yes, we discussed brain structure, making sense of our own childhoods, mindfulness and much more...and it was fascinating! 

Dr. Dan Siegel, author of numerous books including
"Parenting From The Inside Out"
Dr. Dan Siegel was the keynote speaker at the seminar and began by relating a tragic story of a family who had come to him for help after the mother sustained severe brain trauma in a car accident. After a coma, brain surgery and successful plastic surgery the mother looked the same as she had before, but she was no longer able to connect and attune to her family. She was irritable, short tempered, disconnected and seemed as if she no longer cared about even the smallest of details. Not surprisingly, the children were devastated. 

In trying to help this family, what Dr. Siegel realized is that the part of the brain that had been destroyed in this woman (the Middle Prefrontal Cortex) was the part of the brain that regulated these 9 functions:
  • Bodily Regulation - such as heart rate, breathing, sweating
  • Attuned Communication - where you're receptive and regulated
  • Emotional Balance - your emotions have vitality, but they are not too much or too little
  • Fear Extinction - the ability to stay present
  • Flexibility - allowing you to pause before you act
  • Insight - your ability to connect where you've been to where you're going. This allows you to make a mental map of yourself, as opposed to just being on autopilot. You can look to the past, connect to where you are, decide where you need to go.
  • Empathy - feel the feelings of others, make a mental map of others which is making a map of what you think others may be feeling
  • Morality - the ability to understand that we are all interdependent
  • Intuition - signals come from heart/gut and influence reasoning. 
It was no wonder this mother couldn't attune or connect to her children anymore. After understanding this, Dr. Siegel began to put together a fascinating discovery:
  • These 9 areas are the very ones we all lose when we "flip our lids" with our children. In other words, we lose the ability to coordinate brain function
  • It has been scientifically proven that the first 8 of these brain functions are present in a child who has secure attachments.
  • Later, mindfulness meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn, pointed out to Dr. Siegel that when you are in a state of complete mindfulness, all 9 of these functions are integrated
  • Furthermore, Dr. Siegel came to learn that the major world religions and ancient peoples, such as the Inuit, taught that all 9 are what one needs to live a wise and kind life
If we want children who are kind, connected, resilient, compassionate and emotionally healthy, it stands to reason that we need to help them grow and integrate this part of the brain. Dr. Siegel began to develop the idea of Mindsight which he defines as "our ability to look within and perceive the mind". It is an awareness of thoughts, intentions and mental life and he believes that it is every bit as essential to our well-being as any of our other senses. Every disorder is due to not being integrated, Mindsight promotes neural integration.

Flipping Your Lid!
Many people worry that if they had a terrible childhood, they will not be a good parent. But Dr. Siegel pointed out that the best predictor of how you will relate to your child is how you make sense of your own attachment history. When you are flipping your lid, you now see that it is your brain not connecting as it should. So, as one of Dr Siegel's patients put it, "it may not be my fault, but it is my responsibility". If you can, keep in mind that when you can't tolerate an emotion in yourself, you can't tolerate it in someone else. So if someone evokes that emotion in you, it makes you furious. For example, if you can't tolerate vulnerability in yourself, and your child acts vulnerable, you will get irrationally angry with your child. But you won't understand this unless you begin to make sense of your past. 

What Do I Do After I Lose it?
The mind is always emerging. If you have a rupture with your child, repair it. Be present, don't be defensive, explain yourself. As Dr. Siegel said "If you know the truth, you can overcome anything". In other words, if your child knows why you yelled, slammed a door, gave a too-harsh consequence, they can make sense of the situation in their own brain and let it go. 
  • Tell your child why: I was frustrated, I was stressed because of work, I was reminded of something that happened when I was a child etc. It's never too late to do this type of repair - no matter how old your children are, connect and take responsibility.
  • Remember that children thrive on structure so set up a predictable sequence of action for situations that stress you. 
  • Model that you're monitoring and bring yourself from reactive to receptive.
The 7 activities we need on a daily
basis for a healthy mind
Healthy Mind Platter For Optimal Brain Matter
Dr. Siegel believes that there are 7 activities we need on a daily basis in order to develop a healthy mind. 
  • Sleep Time: kids need sleep to solidify learning. Lack of sleep leads to a change in metabolism which can lead to obesity. 
  • Physical Time: Aerobic exercise grows the brain. Remember: the body isn't just to transport the head around. Girls involved in sports have a lower rate of eating disorders.
  • Focus Time: focused attention creates new connections in the brain for both adults and children. We can actually prevent dementia by having a routine of focused attention. 
  • Connecting Time: Children need face to face social time. Among other things, this helps them build the part of the brain that allows them to regulate their emotions. This is also about connecting to nature.
  • Play Time: Not structured athletics. Pure play. This time helps us learn to be spontaneous, have the courage to try new things, innovate, collaborate.
  • Down Time: Not playing, just in neutral.
  • Time in: Dr. Siegel presented a model of The Wheel Of Awareness in which he showed our connection to our 8 senses. The first 5 we are familiar with. The sixth sense allows us to perceive our internal bodily states (a quickly beating heart, butterflies in the stomach etc.). The seventh sense, is Mindsight (as defined above). Our eighth sense is our sense of relationship to other people. "Time in" is a chance each day to connect to all of these senses. 
I can't wait to read this one!
Dr. Siegel has written a new book called Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation which I am reading and really liking so far. He has another book coming out this Fall which he co-authored with Tina Payne Bryson titled, The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family Thrive. You can pre-order that one on Amazon now. I can't wait to check that out!

After Dr. Siegel's lecture I took a workshop with Ms. Bryson on Whole-Brain parenting which was a terrific follow up to what I had just learned. She really took these theories and broke it down into understandable ways to use it in every day parenting. I plan to put what I learned into a blog post later this week as well. 

One of the things I love about Dan Siegel is his ability to take very complex subjects and make them understandable to the layman. I hope I was able to do his fascinating, funny and insightful lecture some justice. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, I highly, highly recommend it. In fact, if you can, he's speaking about this same subject on a webinar June 14th at noon (Pacific time). You can register by clicking here. And what about this idea of the 9 brain functions and the Healthy Mind Platter? Do you relate to Dr. Siegel's statement that you lose connection to all 9 when you "flip your lid"? Do you think your kids incorporate the entire platter every day? I'd love to know your thoughts.

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach
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6 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Christina Simon said...

Gina, sounds like an incredible seminar and workshop! The "Flipping Your Lid" part is very helpful to understanding the emotions we can/can't tolerate.

Jackie said...

Absolutely fascinating Gina! I love the part about it never being too late to connect with your kids about why you may have flipped out.

I will definitely be reading more about Dr Siegel's theories. Very interesting.

Thanks for sharing.

Dr. Tina Bryson said...

HI, Gina! Glad you posted about the Skirball seminars and about the book Dan Siegel and I are so excited to share with people. Glad to meet you virtually and wish we'd had a chance to meet in person. I'm thrilled you enjoyed my workshop, and look forward to your next post.

Dr. Tina Bryson

The Twin Coach said...

Thank you, Christina, for your comment. I'm so glad the information was helpful. I agree, knowing what's going on inside when we (or our kids) lose it really helped me a lot!

Jackie, I think you'll love Dr. Siegel's work. Let me know what you think when you do read any of it!

Dr. Bryson, thank you so much for your note! Yes, I loved your lecture and should have introduced myself at the end of your workshop. I think my brain was on overload at that point! :) I'm really looking forward to your book.
~ Gina

Keilah said...

I love reading about the different workshops and seminars you attend. I tried to listen to the webinar, but was late and only caught the last half, so was very lost. I look forward to your post about Dr. Bryson's workshop for more tips and how to apply it all.

The Twin Coach said...

Hi Keilah! I'm surprised that the webinar wasn't taped so those who couldn't listen live could still enjoy it. That's a bummer that you missed the beginning. I can see why it would be confusing to come in late! :) I hope I can sum up the workshop well.

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