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Dharma Parenting: Understand Your Child's Brilliant Brain for Greater Happiness, Health, Success, and Fulfillment Paperback – August 2, 2016
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About the Author
ROBERT KEITH WALLACE is a pioneering researcher on the physiology of consciousness. His research has inspsired hundreds of studies on the benefits of meditation and other mind-body techniques. Dr. Wallace's findings have been published in Science, American Journal of Physiology, and Scientific American. He received his BS in physics and his PhD in physiology from UCLA and conducted postgraduate research at Harvard University. Dr. Wallace is the founding president of Maharishi University of Management (MUM) in Fairfield, Iowa.
FREDERICK TRAVIS is a world-renowned neuroscientist who has discovered brain wave patterns in children and young people that correlate with greater moral reasoning, happiness, emotional stability, and academic performance. Dr. Travis has authored or coauthored 70 scientific papers, many published in leading peer-reviewed journals. Dr. Travis received his masters and PhD in psychology from Maharishi University of Management (MUM). After a two-year post-doctoral position at University of California at Davis, he returned to MUM to direct the EEG, Consciousness, and Cognition Lab.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
DHARMA PARENTING is a unique approach to raising happy and successful children. It starts with the understanding that kids are people with their own strengths and weakness, their own gifts and preferences. Dharma Parenting provides you with simple tools to help your children discover who they are and what they can become.
Dharma is a concept found in Eastern traditions. The word “dharma” comes from the Sanskrit verb dhri, which means to “uphold” or “support.” Our dharma is our path in life—the lifestyle that supports our personal growth, happiness, success, and fulfillment. Dharma is different at different ages, and for different children. One child learns quickly and forgets quickly, while another learns slowly and forgets slowly. One may be content to work alone for long periods of time; another wants to be surrounded by friends. If we are lucky, we find our dharma early in life.
For example, we know a brilliant second-year college student who wants to teach high school math. He feels that he was born to be a teacher—his parents were both teachers, and he has been tutoring classmates since third grade. He tells us there’s nothing as satisfying as his friends’ “Aha!” when they finally “get” what he’s trying to teach them. It’s clear that teaching is his dharma. Two of his college professors, however, were shocked when he revealed his career goal. One responded by telling him to get a PhD: “You could do brilliant theoretical work!” And his computer science teacher said, “You could become a world-class programmer and be a millionaire before you’re twenty-five!” Both of these professors were projecting their own talents and desires onto the student, instead of encouraging his special aptitudes and interest. Rather than help him find his own path, they wanted him to travel down theirs. The tools of Dharma Parenting allow us to recognize and nurture our children’s unique path in life: what they’re good at, what they enjoy, what helps them grow. In addition, these tools help us understand each of the stages of brain development, from birth to adulthood, so our parenting takes into account our children’s developmental level—not demanding things that they cannot yet accomplish, but always gently encouraging them to use more of their potential.
Dharma Parenting tools help us find our own dharma as a parent. Did you ever wish that babies came with manuals? It’s so much easier to use a new gadget when there’s an instruction manual! Parenting is tremendously complex and often hopelessly confusing. Understanding the principles of brain/body types and the stages of brain development will empower you to apply Dharma Parenting tools in a variety of changing situations. In other words, you will be able to begin to fulfill your dharma as a parent.
INTRODUCTION TO DHARMA PARENTING 3
Dharma Parenting incorporates six parenting tools that apply to children of all age groups. They’re easy to remember using the word “dharma” as an acronym:
· Discover your child’s, and your own, brain/body type
· Heal yourself
· Attention and appreciation
· Routines to improve family dynamics
· Manage meltdowns and cultivate better behavior
· Anticipate and adapt
Let’s see how these tools might be applied in a specific situation.
Six-year-old Ryan storms into the kitchen, his blue eyes welling with tears, cheeks flaming red, as he flings his game box onto the floor, cracking its screen.
“This game is stupid. I hate it!” the boy screams, and runs out of the room, leaving his mother shaken. What can I do? she wonders. How do I handle his rage?
Ryan is a bright, energetic child who can be perfectly agreeable and normal for days, until some small thing throws him into a violent tantrum. Lately, both of Ryan’s parents have noticed his growing tendency to overreact, almost to overheat—mentally, physically, and emotionally—and they are increasingly concerned. What’s causing this alarming behavior? What is the cure? Is it time to find a child psychologist? Is it just a case of “boys will be boys”? Does he need medication?
THE FIRST TOOL—D: DISCOVER YOUR CHILD’S, AND YOUR OWN, BRAIN/BODY TYPE
Your brain/body type includes (1) your inherited tendencies and preferences that have been hardwired from birth, also known as our “body type,” (2) the state of balance or imbalance of your body type, and (3) your changing brain connections, which are constantly being shaped by ongoing experiences as well the stage of your brain development. Ryan appears to be a particular brain/body type that is susceptible to anger. Also, Ryan is six years old. His brain is wired to be a sensory-motor machine that sees the world very concretely. If a video machine doesn’t work, it should be thrown out. So when his game box stopped working, he became upset and threw it away because of the state of his brain/body type as well as his age-related brain connections.
One brain/body type responds with impatience and anger. Another might respond with nervousness and fear. A third type might not respond at all. The combination of inherent tendencies and personal brain development determines how everyone responds.
In chapter 1 you will learn about the basic characteristics of each type and you can take a short quiz to help you figure out your child’s brain/body type, as well as your own and the rest of your family’s. In chapter 2, we will discuss interactions between family members with different brain/body types. In the last section of this chapter, we’ll explore in greater detail how the brain changes during the first two decades of life and how these changes shape behavior.
THE SECOND TOOL—H: HEAL YOURSELF
If you are tired or stressed, you might well respond very much like Ryan’s mother did. She started to yell—after all, it was an expensive video game. But once you and your child begin to yell, the situation explodes into chaos and nothing gets resolved.
We understand that you’re a parent 24-7, and with all the demands of raising kids, there may not seem to be time for healing yourself. But you’ve got to remain aware of your own needs—for your children’s sake as well as your own.
THE THIRD TOOL—A: ATTENTION AND APPRECIATION
If Ryan’s mom or dad had sat down with him and helped him better understand how to play the game, and if they had congratulated him on how well he was doing before he became so frustrated, his blowup might have been avoided. Childhood is a roller-coaster ride of growth and development, propelled by massive transformations in the child’s brain connections. Parental attention during these years is critical for your child to learn how to work in groups and develop self-esteem, social skills, a sense of right and wrong, respect for others, and even critical and creative thinking.
Your attention is immensely important. Children are not static objects; they are constantly growing in response to each new experience. By appreciating each new accomplishment, you are supporting their developing sense of self and ability to interact with the world.
THE FOURTH TOOL—R: ROUTINES TO IMPROVE FAMILY DYNAMICS
Established routines—bedtime routines, dining room routines, or shopping routines—give children a sense of security. They know what is expected of them in each situation. Routines break up a long day into meaningful chunks and give your child a feeling of being in control.
Another valuable routine is family meetings—a designated time to talk about issues in a calm and supportive setting. This would be an ideal setting for Ryan’s parents to help him figure out what to do when his toys don’t work: for example, put them on a special shelf, tell Mom or Dad what’s wrong with them, and then play Mr. Fix-It together.
THE FIFTH TOOL—M: MANAGE MELTDOWNS AND CULTIVATE BETTER BEHAVIOR
This tool consists of six recommendations, all starting with the letter C.
1. Check in with yourself and with your child
2. Comfort your child
3. Change brain states
Let’s apply these six C’s to Ryan’s situation:
Check in with yourself and with your child. Ryan’s parents first need to determine their own brain states. For example: Are their emotions on edge? Did they skip lunch and are now famished and irritated?
Next, they need to check in with their son. Was the video game too difficult for him? Was he overheated or hungry or both? Is he having problems at school? Is he sleeping badly? Ryan is six years old; this means that the prefrontal “executive” circuits of his brain have not developed yet. At this age, he can’t even begin to comprehend such adult abstractions as “Do you know how much that game costs?”
Comfort your child. Your child knows that something is wrong. The thinking centers of his brain are overwhelmed with strong emotions. A long, warm hug or just a touch on the shoulder reassures him that everything is going to be okay. Comforting your child is the basis for your success in following the C’s. It lets him know that some part of his world is loving and supportive, no matter how badly he’s feeling.
Change the brain state. The first thing Ryan needs is to cool down his overheated brain. When your child overreacts, it is because the primitive emotional brain has taken over. Reason is simply not available at that moment. Strong passionate emotions dominate, and the child can only respond impulsively. Ryan needs help so he can switch from being dominated by his irrational, emotional brain to being able to use his reflective, thinking brain. Even moving to another part of the house can help him begin to settle down. We will talk more about meltdowns and temper tantrums in chapter 6.
Choices. Once Ryan is calm, his mom and dad can offer him concrete choices—for example, “The next time your game doesn’t work, bring it to one of us so we can fix it.” By helping Ryan reflect on his actions, his parents are showing him how to deal with frustration in the future and allowing him to exercise his executive brain circuits so they will be more available.
Consequences. Ryan needs to be held accountable for his actions. His tantrum had a natural consequence: he broke his game box, so he can no longer play with it. At the family meeting, Ryan and his parents can now discuss how he can earn a new one.
Coach. As a parent, you are your child’s life coach. What do coaches do? In sports, they ensure that their athletes train before the game so they will be successful in competition. The coach watches the play and will take players out of the game if they’re becoming overheated or emotional. Coaches teach fair play and good values. They sum up each experience so the players gain positive insight into future situations.
As coaches, we model correct behavior. Neurons in the brain called “mirror neurons” help children model what they see. Show your child how you might deal with the situation. If he makes a mistake, help him figure out how to fix it and how to avoid it next time.
THE SIXTH TOOL—A: ANTICIPATE AND ADAPT
Whether you’re focused on nurturing your child’s talents or working to ensure that family life moves smoothly through the day, part of your dharma as a parent is to anticipate your family’s needs. Once you are familiar with the first five Dharma Parenting tools, you will naturally find yourself looking ahead to see how you can use those tools to avoid crises. Even so, despite your best efforts, unexpected situations will come up. You will need to adapt to the situation, using your best judgment.
DHARMA PARENTING TOOLS ARE DIFFERENT WHEN APPLIED TO DIFFERENT AGE GROUPS
Throughout the first twenty-five years of life, your child’s brain is a work in progress. With each change in brain structure and function, he begins to see the world more globally, gets better at controlling impulses, begins to see consequences, and grows in understanding abstract ideas. Dharma Parenting tools, therefore, have different characters in the four major stages of brain development. We systematically discuss the relationship between brain development and Dharma Parenting tools in the last four chapters.
FROM BIRTH TO THREE YEARS
Children are born with their brain unassembled. At birth, the infant does not see you or hear your soothing words—your baby sees and hears only disconnected bursts of light and sound. Within the first three years, brain connections grow exponentially and children grow in the ability to interact with the world. By six months of age, the visual system develops and the child sees objects in the world around them. By two years, the hearing system develops and the child connects individual sounds into the flow of speech. During this time, Dharma Parenting tools support the developing brain and help your child begin to interact with the world.
FROM FOUR TO NINE YEARS
Four to nine are the school years. During this time, your child has the highest number of connections between brain cells that he will ever have. Also, the left and right hemispheres of the brain are being connected. This is the time when the child learns how to work in groups, how to take turns, and how to follow rules. It’s also the time of creative play—the child’s imagination transforms any object into many possibilities. At this age, Dharma Parenting tools support the child’s increasing ability to think and reflect on the world. Now you can include the child when structuring guidelines and discussing rules of family life.
FROM TEN TO SEVENTEEN YEARS
During the preteen and teenage years, 2 percent of all braincell connections drop off each year in a natural “pruning” that follows a “use it or lose it” rule. So many changes are happening so quickly that the brain your teenager wakes up with in the morning is not the same brain he went to sleep with the night before. The teen years are also a time when fatty layers begin to be added to the prefrontal executive circuits. This results in a speeding up of the flow of information in brain areas responsible for long-term planning and ethical decision making. The teenager is now beginning to think more abstractly. Rules are no longer absolute but have different meaning in different contexts. At this age, Dharma Parenting tools help your teen make the transition from being a child to a young adult.
FROM EIGHTEEN TO TWENTY-FIVE YEARS
Eighteen to twenty-five are the young adult years. The final stroke of brain development occurs as neural pruning levels off and connections with prefrontal executive brain circuits fully mature. The result is that the young adult begins to think more broadly and more abstractly. Young adults can imagine alternative situations and consider each one separately and in detail. At this age, Dharma Parenting tools support your young adult stepping out on his own—using these tools to guide their own lives and eventually their own families.
WITH ALL THAT YOU HAVE TO DO, HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY FIT THESE TOOLS INTO YOUR LIFE?
We understand that you have constant demands on your attention: work, meals, laundry, car pool, various lessons for your kids, and hundreds of other things. Your mind needs to go in many directions, at ninety miles an hour, every minute of the day. How can you possibly manage to remember all the Dharma Parenting tools and use them? Especially when your child is throwing a tantrum or grabbing the car keys and racing off to heave them down the toilet? It’s just more pressure, trying to be a better parent—along with being a useful employee, a nutritionist, an on-time chauffeur, and a caring spouse.
Fred’s oldest daughter is an avid cook, and recently she took a course on the most efficient use of a knife. She learned the best techniques to chop everything from asparagus to zucchini—but the first thing she learned was how to sharpen a knife.
This is a lesson for all of us: no matter what techniques we use, they won’t do much good if our knife is dull. Techniques like Dharma Parenting improve our lives. But before we can put them into practice, we need to expand our basic ability to think and act. We can read all the books we want, but if we’re stressed and overwhelmed, we won’t be able to implement any of the great ideas we read about.
For the writers of this book, the ultimate parenting tool has been Transcendental Meditation (TM). We have both been meditating since college, and we’ve learned that the TM technique is a great preparation for life, and especially for the most demanding job of all—parenting. First of all, TM gives you twenty minutes of effortless and profound rest and rejuvenation twice a day. It allows your mind to completely settle down, so your accumulated knots of stress and tension can loosen and dissolve. It’s an amazing way to start your morning—fresh, clear, and energized. And at the end of a stressful, demanding day, your afternoon meditation gives you the calm renewal you need before the demands of family time in the evening.
TM actually helps your brain function more coherently. After each meditation, your mind feels clearer; you see the big picture while simultaneously being able to focus on details. With regular twice-a-day practice, you start noticing that inner orderliness and energy are present more of the day, and become even stronger over time.
These three benefits—clearer thinking, relief from stress, and more energy—are invaluable for any parent. When you’re more energetic at the same time that you’re feeling calm and thinking clearly, you’ll have the mental resources to implement the parenting tools in this book. And your job as a parent will be much easier if your children have the benefit of doing TM too. There’s a children’s technique that can be learned as early as age four, and your child can learn the adult sitting technique at ten. Kids need a good stress buster as much as we do, and their developing brains thrive on the greater orderliness and acuity that TM brings.
The ultimate gift that anyone can give their children is self-knowledge and self-awareness, which allows them to build their own happiness and success. This doesn’t happen overnight, and requires both time and attention. As parents, we are not the architects of our children’s brain. We do, however, influence brain development through the environment we create for our kids, and the mental challenges and emotional support we provide for them.
Please note: Throughout the book we use the term “brain/body type” and we would like both parents and children to understand that no one is limited by his or her brain/body type. The word “type” has become increasingly common in both the popular and scientific literature. For our purposes, we interpret it to mean “tendencies” rather than fixed characteristics.
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Understanding the body type from an Ayurveda perspective is immensely useful to help understand and accept your children's growth path and behavior patterns. The book is highly readable with no neuro-science jargon. Many of the sections are customized for combinations of parent and child body-types, thus giving a fairly specific set of tips and guidelines to suit every family. Short caselets at the front of every chaper make the whole thing come together very nicely. Best of all is that all suggestions for improvement are based on practices of simple techniques such as Transcendental Meditation, or other simple behavioral recommendations. Highly recommended!