Attachment Explanation #2
Understanding Children's "Bad" Behaviors
Primitive Power vs. Mindful Management
Many parents wonder, “Is my child innocent all the time or just when he’s cute, cuddly, or sleeping? Screaming and hitting and whining and lying and stealing and pushing buttons are bad and my child has done (or will do) all of those behaviors, so is my child really innocent??” The answer is a resounding YES!
Recall the previous attachment explanation about how children are both vulnerable AND resilient.
So, let’s examine a child’s primitive power to self-defend his or her own vulnerability a little more closely.
Interestingly, although the human brain takes the longest to develop, human babies also have more potential development possible than any other creature. Compare these images of various mammals’ brains. What are the differences? Look at how the monkey and dolphin brains are larger and rounder than a squirrel or frog’s brain. Greater brain mass makes it possible for monkeys and dolphins to develop more advanced behaviors than squirrels and frogs...Monkeys for example have more brain mass in the emotional and logical areas than a squirrel and thus display behaviors like cradling their young in their arms, using tools, and even learning sign language. Dolphins have more brain mass in the language and motor areas of the brain than a frog, which explains their ability to learn advanced forms of communicating with other dolphins and fancy tricks that wow audiences.
Now compare the monkey brain to a fully developed human brain. In real life, the human brain is nearly 3 times larger than the monkey brain. The human brain also has significantly more mass in the outer layers of the brain. But notice the glaring difference at the front of the brain...The monkey and baboon brains look full except for a large missing chunk up front. In fact, all of the brains pictured--except for the human brain--have little or no prefrontal cortex, or PFC, at the front of the brain at all. Indeed, a healthy human brain has the largest PFC region of any other living being on earth.
This is VERY important in parenting. Why? Because the PFC is the brain area that is responsible for maturity beyond what any other creature can do...the PFC is in charge of planning, choosing wisely, and understanding accountability. The PFC is in charge of balance over impulse, empathy for the common good, and emotional regulation in the face of complex problem-solving.
In other words, the brain areas that humans have in common with other mammals include the ability to adapt to the environment and self-defend in order to survive. Let’s call this Primitive Power. Children need primitive power to survive in whatever circumstance they are born into. Each child’s unique, genetic Primitive Power is essential and heroic for that particular child. Think about your child’s reactive instincts...is your child’s primitive power to fight like a lion, flight like a deer, or freeze like a rabbit or all of the above? Maybe it depends on the moment?
Is primitive power bad?
Sure the consequences of primitive power can be unfortunate for some, but it depends on whose lens we’re looking through, doesn’t it? When a hawk responds to hunger pains by attacking an innocent squirrel, is the hawk bad? Or is the hawk innocent? Isn't the hawk’s primitive power successful at accomplishing its purpose of self-preservation? What is bad for the squirrel is good for the hawk. When a lion attacks another lion for entering its territory do we view the attacker as bad? What about the intruder? Does the power to respond to the environment and self-defend make an animal bad? Or can innocence have both good and bad outcomes? The answer is yes.
Children under age 8, without a mature frontal lobe, have strong primitive power instincts just like all other mammals do because that’s just about all the brain development they’ve got up to that point, particularly when conflict or stress enters their radar. So even when a child’s behavior is bad--at least for some in the room--remember that your child is exerting his or her Primitive Power, which is both good and bad AND 100% innocent.
Now look at the PFC region of the human brain again--remember this brain area is in charge of empathy, wisdom, and moral choices with true accountability--so let’s call it Mindful Management. The really good news is that although it is the last area of the brain to develop--because the brain’s development pattern is back to front and from the inside out--it is what gives humans the power to rise above animalistic instincts of mere survival.
In other words, in due time, your innocent child’s brain WILL develop to meet the greater human expectation of reaching beyond primitive self-preservation to attain a much higher level of existence...that of acting out of moral good for all. But it takes years and years for this to happen naturally. So be patient with your little monkeys and in the meantime model--with all the confidence of your own mature PFC-- how a morally wise mindful PFC acts.
The Attachment and Following mindsets that should dominate parental thinking for the first 8 years of your child's life are intended to show respect for your child’s innocent nature. These present parenting mindsets can help you embrace your child’s vulnerability and can help you provide mature balance for your child’s unique primitive power until his or her Mindful Management brain grows enough to start taking the lead.
Continue with this free class to learn more about how each of the 6 Present Parenting Mindsets can encourage your child’s brain to develop naturally and completely.