My experience has shown me, time and time again, that the parents who are the most successful at helping their children overcome cognitive, behavioral and mood challenges are the parents who ‘know’ and truly believe that behind all the layers of problems, there is a healthy, normal and uniquely talented child. The parents who believe this, can ‘see’ that normal child in their mind’s eye, and are driven to find ways to ‘free’ that child.
I want to quote Dr Martha Herbert because she says it so beautifully when she writes: “Your child is ‘in there’. Some people believe that autism is a hopeless incurable life sentence. But now we know: That some people with autism lose their diagnoses, many more improve greatly, and some break through with moments of clarity and language even when they generally don’t talk or relate much. She goes on to say, “What you can do: Look at autism as a state someone is in rather than as a permanent trait. Believe that your loved one with autism is ‘in there’…”
The parents who believe that their loved one is ‘in there’ will relate to the child in a different way than the parent who only sees the child as autistic. This is because these parents are coming from a place within their spirit that is filled with hope, not with despair. When we respond to our child’s learning, behavior and mood challenges with hope and a passionate belief that we can ‘free our child’ we are stimulating the biochemistry of hope and positive dreams within ourselves and our children. We are ‘squirting’ serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, norepinephrine and other healthy chemicals into the brain, making healing possible. When as parents we are pumping stress chemicals in our own bodies, our behavior and communication will unintentionally be stimulating bad chemicals in our children’s bodies and brains.
It all begins and ends with our chemistry.
The ability to learn easily, behave appropriately and feel good are controlled by the chemicals being secreted. When you decided to be a parent would you have ever thought that one of the most critical parenting skills you would need, would be to know how to manage your child’s biochemistry! Did you ever imagine that you would need behavior and communication skills specifically designed to have a positive effect on the child’s chemistry, and, in turn, on the family environment?
Beverley’s 7-year old, Mark, is a non verbal autistic little boy with the face of an angel. Understandably Bev felt exhausted and overwhelmed a great deal of the time. (Only others who have been in Bev’s situation can relate to the kind of challenge this can be a parent and the kind of stress and emotional pain this can create). Without being aware of this, Bev’s despair and stress were being imparted to Mark and having a negative affect on his biochemistry. One of the survival mechanisms that Bev had developed, quite unconsciously, was to shut down and not be fully present with Mark. She would go through the tasks, doing the right things and saying the right things but she was not being truly present. After ten days of practicing three NeuroParenting tools – Seeing the Mark Inside, Feeling the Joy and Hope and Being Fully Present, she sent me an email saying, ‘I want you to know that I am engaging with Mark in the ways you showed me and he is responding to me in ways that I would not have thought possible’. The biochemical shift in Bev, was mirrored in Mark, triggering the chemicals that he needed to respond effectively.
Engage. Don’t Inflame.
When Bev learnt how to adjust her own chemistry, she did something else extremely important for herself and for Mark – she reduced the high levels of inflammation in her body and brain that are always present in situations of chronic stress. The chronic stress is having the same impact on Mark’s body and brain. The inflammation (think of this like a smoldering fire) was causing all kinds of digestive problems for Mark, which then upset his neurochemistry, which then showed up as cognitive, behavior or mood problems. And all the while that this is happening, while wishing and praying that these problems would go away, Bev was unaware that she was unintentionally contributing to this. She did not know that these problems could not go away while there is chronic stress and chronic inflammation undermining Mark’s mental, physical and emotional health, day by day. But how was she to know this – few traditional doctors will tell their patients that this is how it works!
There is good news.
Simply being aware of inflammation is a great start. When you see physical, behavioral, language, mood and communication symptoms in your child, think ‘inflammation.’ What goes into a child’s mouth, the air they breathe, the products they use, can for example, cause inflammation and impact on the child’s neurochemistry. Thankfully there is much that parents can do to Take CHARGE! and protect the health of children, in spite of the toxic world we live in. This would be only half of the formula for reducing inflammation. The other half is NeuroParenting.
I would like to highlight something else that can be toxic and cause inflammation in children and that does not get enough attention – this is the way parents behave and communicate with their kids. If your child is grappling with learning and behavior and emotional issues, it is vital that you understand how to monitor and manage not only what goes into his or her mouth but also what comes out of your mouth.
Here is a hugely important, (and rather confronting) fact: What comes out of your mouth directly affects your child’s chemistry. Children with learning, behavior or mood issues need to have the kind of conversations with their parents and teachers that will stimulate the healthy chemistry in their bodies and brains. So as a parent you may want to think about this:
- Does my behavior create stress and inflammation in my child?
- Could the way I speak to my child be creating stress and inflammation in my child’s body and brain? (Just as there are inflammatory foods, so there are inflammatory conversations and inflammatory language).
- Do the words I choose when I speak to my child, add to my child’s problem, rather than help it?
- Do I have more healthy conversations with my kids than unhealthy ones?
The good news for moms and dads is that you can make everyday choices that will limit the fuel for the fire of inflammation and profoundly increase the chances of your child’s body and brain having the ability to overcome, or significantly reduce, their learning, behavior and mood problems. This involves learning non-inflammatory parenting skills such as:
- Changing the language you use with the child from pro-inflammatory to anti-inflammatory language.
- Having anti-inflammatory conversations with your children
- Identifying and changing your own inflammatory behaviors.
- Knowing how to stimulate anti-stress chemicals in your child’s body and brain during your normal daily interaction with your child.
- Identifying and removing toxic relationships in the child’s life.
Parents, I honor you!
I know how hard it is to have a happy and light spirit when your child is struggling to learn, to feel good and to enjoy life. I am in awe of how dedicated parents are as they travel on this difficult journey, looking for a way to remove and heal the problems their children wrestle with day after day. I want you, moms and dads, to know that you inspire me and I respect your dedication to freeing that amazing child that is behind the layers of problems they may have.
Dr. Gluckman teaches parents how to use Functional Behavior and Communication skills that are specifically designed to have a positive effect on the child’s chemistry and the family environment.