Brain Byte: Parents Beware of Brain Abuse

Baby Brain Litho

It’s not an overstatement to say putting too much stress on children is a form of child abuse. – Dr. Caroline Leaf, Neuroscientist

A child’s brain is still developing and is therefore more vulnerable to stress, especially since it damages them all the way to the cellular level.

All good parents want the very best for their child.  We desire the best education, friends, skills, home life; and as they grow the best future.  Our zealousness for our children can breed ambitions that are not always best.  I remember sitting in the waiting room for a toddler well check and the dad across from me was doing his very best to ensure all of the adults in the waiting area took note of how adept his little girl was at putting the wooden puzzle back together.  He declared loudly how smart she was and how he could not believe someone her age could ‘do that!’  He seemed to go one forever bragging to his mother-in-law about all the ways his daughter was better than others and it made me quite uneasy.  However, it also challenged me to ask myself, “Do I do that?”  I know that I had-on more than one occasion-thought to myself that my boy was advanced in ‘this or that’.  I hoped that I was not boasting and turning others off, like I had just experienced. 🙂 My point is this:  we as parents WANT to have smart kids.  We want our child to be the one excelling at critical thinking, Tball/dance, reading, math, and spelling.

Having a desire for our children to succeed, in and of itself, is a wonderful thing.  However, when we want it so bad that we lose sight of what is best, we risk hurting his precious young brain.  Scientists at Harvard Medical School found that children pushed too soon to excel at school, on stage, or sports field: show fatigue, reduced appetite, lowered effectiveness  in tests and psychosomatic illnesses.  And noteworthy is the fact that these children also show a decreased interest in learning, declining ability to judge their own progress, an increase in worry, performance anxiety, and creativity blocks.

Science also shows that early childhood stressors significantly change neural circuitry and brain chemistry, this sets the child up to be an emotionally and physically sick adult.  Children exposed to excessive levels of stress before age 12, are shown to have 30% higher chance of developing cancer as an adult.

According to Dr. Leaf, stress is fear-based.  When a child is faced with a person or situation that scares her or makes her feel like she has lost all control, the brain reacts and there is a neural reshuffling taking place.  Fear changes a child’s personality.  Fear is a reason children fail to achieve at school or in relationships.

The pattern of your physical and emotional health is laid down in childhood. – Dr. Leaf

According to Dr. Leaf, research shows that young children use their amygdala, a region that guides instinct and gut reaction, while adults rely more on their frontal cortex, which guides deep analytical thinking and introspection during times of stress.  The young brain tends to jump from sensation directly to reactive emotion.  This is how the damage happens.  The younger the brain, the higher the risk of potential damage.

It you notice your child is anxious, take time to slow down and assess the environment.  Depending on the child’s age and ability you may have a conversation to see if he/she is able to express the cause of fear.  And if nothing else: pray the verses at the end of this post over your child.

So what is a parent to do or not to do?  I suggest we become in tune with our child’s unique personality and learning style.  When we care enough to get to know his/her strengths and weaknesses we will be sensitive enough not to push beyond the S-T-R-E-T-C-H zone and into the S-T-R-E-S-S zone.  Both encourage and challenge your child and at times take a pulse and see that you do not go too far.  It is all about balance, folks.  Brain Balance.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 NIV

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matt 11:28-29 NIV

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Phil 4:6-7 NIV

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” Col 3:15 NIV


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Eric Tonningsen
    Jul 30, 2014 @ 15:26:30

    This is an interesting study/perspective! Thanks for sharing.


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