Warning! Brain under construction

July 16, 2015

I’ve seen lots of clients recently who are really struggling with getting their children to do as they say and some are perplexed at the way that their children respond to situations. “Why can’t they be more serious about getting their homework done?” “Why can’t they see how important it is to keep their room tidy?” Well all of this can help to be explained by a bit of brain science…

under construction

There are different areas of the brain that are responsible for different things. As children grow up, their brains undergo massive growth and development as the different areas transform into the brains they will have as adults. During this period their brains are like a construction site. There is all kinds of activity going on and many areas are incomplete and not fully functioning. One particular area that has a huge impact is the pre-frontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that deals with executive function and decision-making. It separates right from wrong and uses experience to form judgements and beliefs about life. This is the part of the brain that develops all through a child’s life with each new experience they have. This part is not fully formed until they reach adulthood. This is why children can make poor decisions (especially teenagers!). They are trying to make decisions with a brain that is still massively under construction.

This is where we as parents come in. It is one of our jobs to help guide our children into making the right decisions – be it getting their homework done, choosing the right friends to spend time with or how to spend their free time. It’s important that we are there constantly in the background providing our logic, reasoning and fully functioning pre-frontal cortex to support them in their ups and downs of school and home life. They may not always listen, they may tell us that we don’t understand or know what we are talking about, but it’s important that we don’t stop being there to provide the missing parts of their reasoning process.

Developing a thick skin to rude retorts and emotional outbursts can be easier said than done, I know. I’m reminded of a passage in a book called “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Teenagers” by Nigel Latta. He talks about looking at your rude or over emotional child as Mad Uncle Jack who has come to stay with you. Mad Uncle Jack is full of rude comments and inappropriate responses, but you don’t get upset by it as you understand that due to his mental condition he doesn't realise what he is saying (even if it is inappropriate or hurtful). Although it’s important to set boundaries for rudeness, I also believe there is a lot to be said for the Mad Uncle Jack example. Most interactions escalate because we get offended by the response we have received from our children and then things get out of hand. Next time this happens, remind your self of two things:

1. Your child’s brain is massively still under construction. They don’t have a fully formed brain like you do so it’s probably unfair to judge them as you would judge an adult

2. You have Mad Uncle Jack (or Mad Aunt Mabel) living with you for the next few years. They don’t always realise what they are saying.

Don’t take it personally – it’s their condition!


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This post was written by Beth Parmar