Understanding how your brain works – and the brain of your child – provides a great frame of reference for talking with your kids about self esteem and managing big feelings like anxiety, depression and fear.
The brain is made up of billions of cells called neurons. These cells have nerve endings called synapses and dendrites. Nerve endings release chemical and electrical signals to communicate with each other – kind of like the way that beach lifeguards signal each other to spread a message.
This brain communication forms “roads” in the brain called neuro-pathways and is the basis for how the brain works. When you first learn something, the “roads” are like dirt trails that get stronger – more like super highways – the more you think about or focus on that thing. This is how a habit is formed – and we call this brain training.
“Learning to ride a bike – At first you must pay attention to stay balanced, keeping your eyes on the road, holding onto the handlebars and steering in your desired direction. Then the more you practice, the stronger your bicycle riding pathways become.
Eventually you are able to get on your bike and ride without thinking. You’re operating on automatic. A strong brain pathway has been created as though new brain software has been uploaded and is seamlessly operating in your mind.”
What does bike riding have to do with self-esteem, and responding to big emotions? The brain works in the same way to build a strong brain pathway to our thoughts about ourselves and the world around us, as it does for riding a bike. As our thoughts are formed from the messages we hear and believe from friends, coaches, teachers and parents, the thoughts become more and more automatic.
“People don’t like me.”
“I never say anything important.”
“Something is wrong with me.”
“I can’t handle this.”
These thoughts operate like a habit, and like any habit, the brain has to be RE-TRAINED to change the thoughts. When we change our thoughts, we can change our feelings and actions.
Stay tuned for strategies and activities for developing new brain pathways in your kids – and maybe yourself too!