Every time I look at my blog stats, it seems that the most hits are on anything to do with instilling maturity in children—a much needed skill for both parents and children. Today I’ve been musing on one aspect of what children need to grow and mature properly. I speak to this need in my books, Joy-Filled Relationships and Handbook to Joy-Filled Parenting. Children, and all of us, need pathways in our brain that lead us back to joy during and after experiencing any of the six negative emotions—anger, fear, sad, disgust, hopeless, or shame. This brain skill is supposed to be learned from around 12 to 18 months of age.
When an infant feels a negative emotion before the pathway back to joy circuits are learned, the infant feels like he or she is on an island all alone with nothing but that bad feeling. He doesn’t know about anyone else or care about anyone else. She doesn’t remember that Mommy was glad to be with her a little while before. The baby is now non-relational. He can’t connect the joy circuits of Mommy being glad to be with him to the circuits that make the emotions, at the same time he is feeling the negative emotion. Someone who loves her and wants to be with her during the emotion has to teach her brain this important skill.
Part of acting maturely is connected to these returning to joy skills. Both can be defined as “Staying relational and ‘acting like myself’ while feeling intense emotions.” If we want our children to mature, learning to return to joy is one of the vital tasks necessary. When someone lovingly joins us in a negative emotion and helps us reconnect the relational circuits while feeling the emotion, the pathway’s circuits get built. As the pathway is reinforced, it becomes stronger and stronger, until eventually the child can feel the negative emotion and stay relational at the same time. If no one lovingly joins the child in that emotion, he feels alone and disconnected. Many problems grow from not being validated and comforted during painful feelings. Many problems grow from parents who are afraid to let their children feel negative emotions. Overprotecting them is a huge disservice. It takes practice to feel the emotions in a loving relationship with someone who is glad to help us.
Usually when parents try to prevent their child from getting upset, it’s because the parent doesn’t know what to do with that emotion. Parents have to know how to return to joy from each emotion in order to “download” that skill from their brain to the child’s.
These brain skills can be learned after the window of opportunity has passed (around 12 to 18 months), but they must be learned in joy-filled, face to face relationships with others who have the skills. They cannot be learned from DVD’s or books. For more on returning to joy, check out the books linked above. These contain some of the how-to’s and exercises for brain training. You can also get more information from www.thrivetoday.org See my other blogs on returning to joy, joy, and the six emotions.