Part 1: Behaviour - What does the brain have to do with it?

Girl on bridge.jpg

It all happened so quickly the memory is a blur for me. As kids growing up on a farm my sister, brother and I invented some crazy schemes. The latest was no different, we had a quad bike, a rope and the three of us. The plan – my sister would drive the quad bike, my brother and I would follow behind holding a rope to see how fast we could run. It was an adventurous idea and had the great elements of teamwork, speed and excitement. We started slowly but soon we moved too quickly so I dropped off. On the other side, my brother kept holding on – he couldn’t let go! I remember watching him somersault and hit the dirt. It was a serious lesson in thinking ahead.   

In our childlike minds it seemed sensible, from an adult perspective it was impulsive, poorly planned and dangerous.

From a psychologist’s perspective, a key principle to manage a child’s behaviour is understanding that children do not understand the same way as adults. They also cannot foresee the consequences in the same way as an adult. It can be easy to assume children can understand much like an adult.  They can argue, reason and appear so savvy with technology after all!

The truth is long before birth, connections in a child’s brain are developing. These connections can grow or be damaged depending on what interaction they have in their environment. Science now tells us it takes until a young adult (25 years of age!) for these connections to fully develop.

This is why much of parenting simply involves showing, coaching, teaching and encouraging children. There is no substitute for parenting that teaches children how to react appropriately in situations they face, learn right from wrong, and develop the ability to learn healthy boundaries.

In short, parents are in a better position to determine what is appropriate for their child than the child themselves. Until the child reaches teenage years, parents need to use this position wisely. It sometimes (perhaps often) means needing to make uncomfortable decisions your child won’t be happy with.

Next week we’ll talk through brain development in different stages and how age and stage of development is crucial in managing your response as the adult.

Stay tuned!

Dr Andrew Wilkinson

Clinical Psychologist