August 5th, 2010
Back to School Is the Real New Year
A “New Year’s” Resolution That Will Build Brain Power in Your Kids
By Don Joseph Goewey
For me, no other time of year feels more like an ending that is approaching a new beginning than the time when summer ends and the new school year begins. Well, brain science suggests that back to school days may be the most important time of the year to make a new year’s resolution that commits us to being a better person. Why? Because a dynamic shift in a parent’s attitude, directed away from stress and anxiety, facilitates great brain chemistry and brain structure in kids. It’s called neuroplasticity, which is perhaps the most important medical discovery in the last hundred years. In simple terms, it means that, if you train your mind through a change in attitude, brain structure changes. Over the last ten years, the discovery of neuroplasticity has been repeatedly covered by major magazines and newspapers, and PBS has even produced two series on it.
Your Attitude, More Than Anything, Builds Your Child’s Brain
Here’s where your new year/back-to-school resolution helps your children succeed. It turns out that a relatively stress-free, dynamically peaceful attitude builds a great brain, not just for you but also your children. Children model everything, especially a parent’s point of view, and as they model your peaceful attitude, higher brain function begins to light up in their little heads and stays lit, making it easier for them to excel. There are two other benefits. First, a dynamically peaceful attitude turns up the volume on positive emotion, which is produced on the left side of the prefrontal cortex. This means your child will be happier. Second, transcending stress boosts immunity, leading to fewer colds and flu. Stress hormones actually weaken the immune system. In short, your shift in attitude grows and strengthens neural networks that can make both you and your child healthier, happier and smarter, all through a little inner work on your part.
Ironically, this challenge to build a better you as you approach back-to-school comes at a time most people think of as stressful. Consider this: stress research tells us that the greater part of the stress we experience stems from an anxious attitude, not difficult events. Thus, cultivating a new attitude will not only grow your child’s brain, it will make back to school go smoother. Making this shift is easier than you might imagine. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes the easiest thing in the world.
When I was a kid, I marveled at Mrs. Ziglar. She had seven children and was the kind of mom who allowed her children to have friends over. You can imagine the pandemonium. But she was always cool, calm and collected, with love and affection in her eyes. I thought she was some kind of royalty who came that way. As every adult knows, you don’t remain peaceful in the middle of a challenge without working at it. At my house there was always a lot of stress. My siblings and I were just as smart as the Ziglar kids, but they always got straight A’s while we struggled. Brain research now points to the parents’ attitude as the thing that made the difference.
Stress-Free Is What Kids Want Most
Children seem to understand the importance of a stress free attitude better than parents. Actually, it is what they want most for their parents, according to a national study of over a thousand children. In the study, interviewers gave children one wish to make for a change in their parents. Their parents were then asked to guess what their child wished for. More than half of parents guessed it was for more quality time together. It was the wrong answer. Most of the children wished for their parents to be free of stress. The research found that kids are very good at reading signs of stress. They are good at detecting subtle cues about a parent’s mood, such as their down-turned expression or heavy footsteps.
“If our parents were less tired and stressed,” said one of the children interviewed, “I think that the kids would be less tired and stressed.”
“I know when my mom has a bad day because, when she picks me up from after school, she doesn’t smile,” one young girl told interviewers. “She has a really frustrated look on her face.”
Every good parent wants to teach their children how to be happy. Every good parent also wants to empower their child to excel. The most effective thing we can do in achieving both is to teach kids to transcend stress by making the shift ourselves.
It’s Simple. Here’s How You Do It
In approaching back to school, there are four things parents can do to make this shift in attitude and lower their level of stress. The good news is that results happen rather quickly. Take heart, all four are very simple:
- Exercise. You don’t have to go to the gym and spend an hour on the tread mill and another hour pumping iron. A mellow thirty minute walk around the neighborhood goes a long way towards flushing stress hormones from your system.
These hormones build up to put the emotional brain in charge of your experience, making you chronically anxious and reactive. It locks you into “survival mode.” As long as that part of your brain is dominant, you’ll never enjoy the power of peace and clarity. Instead, your life becomes a series of upsets. It’s what Mark Twain meant when he stated, “My life had been a series of terrible calamities, some of which actually happened.” Like one percent. The rest are fabricated threats your mind made up that the emotional brain believed, sending you into the uproar called fight or flight.
A walk around the block five times a week can liberate you, neurologically, for a happier brain, generating a peaceful experience. You’ll come home with that smile the kids in the study say they’re missing.
- Think Positive: The mind-made calamities that Twain’s quote reveals are a product of fearful, stressful thinking. These negative thoughts are what Ralph Waldo Emerson called our old nonsense. We can’t always stop ourselves from thinking this way. But we can stop ourselves from believing these thoughts. “You can have ten thousand thoughts a minute,’ Byron Katie writes, “and if you don’t believe them, your heart remains at peace.”
Let your negative thinking come into awareness, and each time tell yourself, this thought is in me, not in reality. Then discard the thought as you would something of no value or use. Count to three, and then, in the space that opens, choose to be at peace.
- Meditate: This, too, does not require a major effort. Starting each day in quiet, affirming the power and beauty of a peaceful attitude can set a positive day in motion. During the day, every couple of hours, take a spiritual break. Look out the window for a minute, and let your mind go completely. Watch the wind blow, the sun shine, or the rain fall. End the day in gratitude, counting your blessings. Practice these simple steps for a couple of weeks, and your brain will begin to wire you for peace and clarity. This is not an opinion; it’s hard science.
- Practice the Small Stuff: You don’t have to be Gandhi to find peace. Peace is in the small stuff. A brain under stress wants to elbow its way to the head of every line or pass the car in front. It always feels late, pressured and victimized. You can actually rewire those brain reactions away. How? Assert peace. Choose the longest line at a store, and stand in it. Use the time to slow your motor and quiet your mind until you are at peace. In a traffic jam, listen to soft music or an interesting interview. Tell yourself, my peace does not depend on my car moving faster. It depends on me valuing peace enough to choose it regardless of circumstances.
Do these four simple things every day, starting today, and back to school will be a breeze. More importantly, your children will model your dynamic calm, and their little brains will rewire to light up with the emotional and intellectual intelligence that allows them to excel at school and at life.
About the Author:
Don Joseph Goewey has worked in some of the most stressful places on Earth – from cancer wards to refugee camps to corporate offices – helping people transcend stress and fear to reach a higher potential. He co-founded a human performance firm, ProAttitude, to end stress in the workplace. His new book, Mystic Cool defines a proven approach (featured in Outside Magazine January 2010) that literally rewires the brain to extinguish stress reactions and light up higher brain networks to sustain peak performance and greater well-being. To contact Don, email email@example.com. Learn more about his book and coaching program at http://mysticcool.com. For corporate training, visit http://proattitude.com.
EmbracingMyJourney L.L.C. was created by Caryn FitzGerald in 2008.
Caryn, known as "The Manifesting Queen" is a motivational columnist, speaker and writer, she has been featured in and published several books, including "Tulips In The Sand" "Fish Sticks, Books and Blue Jeans" “Manifest Success” “Visual Arts Junction Interviews” & “Online Marketing Success Stories..."
Caryn is a domestic violence survivor who has triumphed over a 10-year battle with anorexia and bulimia. She is a wife, mother, healthy-aging-specialist, writer, speaker, blogger, coach and a health food enthusiast Click to connect with Caryn at her website
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