Psychologist Explains What Makes Kids’ Brains Grow Bigger

February 4, 2016
happy family

We have always known that kids who are loved are generally more secure, healthy and capable of having more healthy relationships. Now we have research showing just that.

Love has a great deal to do with brain development

In fact, current research shows how our childrens’ brains are actually wired for love. Here is an article by Heather DiDomenico (for that correlates love to brain development.

As parents we know that teaching our kids how to use the potty and how to say “thank you” are very important to their future success as adults.  However, how many of us have really considered the role of love in growing up?

Keep reading to understand how significant it is to know how your kids think about love and how to practice love in a way that helps them to lead a happy, balanced life.

The more you show love to your children, the bigger their brains grow.

As a lover of neuroscience (how the brain relates to learning and behavior) and attachment (the process of nurturing and bonding), I am blown away by the last decade of research supporting that “love” -or the absence of- “love” is the single most important variable in the successful development of well-being in our children.

The truth is that the more you show love to your children with a hug, a kiss, a smile, unconditional positive regard, by including them, being interested in them, through family based play, and so much more of the nurturing type of communication, the bigger their brains grow.

Beyond the basic human needs of food, water and housing, love and nurturing not only builds the pathway for our children’s future happiness, but also survival. As the fittest of species, the size of the human brain in comparison to other species positively relates to our ability to pro-create successfully. The brain’s ability to grow in response to love can be seen as a way to keep humans banded together against danger and intruders.

Our brains are actually wired for love

So now that we know our brains are actually wired for love, how can we communicate with our children in a way that contributes to their overall success?

Studies also show that talking to your kids about what and how they think increases verbal ability, emotional understanding, and social relatedness.

As parents we can seek to understand what is going on inside a child by…

  •  sharing non-judgmental observations about important things in their lives;
  • having conversations about how they feel;
  • allowing them to ask questions about topics that are hard to understand, and;
  • giving them space to figure things our on their own.

This type of bonding through communication leads a child to internalize a sense of acceptance, confidence, and an ability to successfully problem solve. So if love can change the brain for the future; I suppose then love can change the world. Let’s try it!

This is a great reminder to all parents and caregivers of children. 

It is the very foundation of how we can build a stable world for our children and teenagers.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network



Frustrated by Your Child’s Need to Repeat Behaviors?

February 3, 2016
child with blocks

How many parents of babies and young children become frustrated when their children repeat the same behaviors over and over again? Like when a baby in a high chair repeatedly throws food or a toy on the floor, seeming to delight in watching it fall and seeing parents scurrying to pick it up again.

What are the dynamics of repeating behavior?

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher and Grandmother

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and Grandmother

When parents don’t understand the dynamics of this behavior, it’s understandable that they get frustrated. They can feel manipulated too!

An explanation can be found in the excellent book Treating Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents (Blaustein and Kinniburgh) as the authors describe some of the developmental tasks of childhood:

“In a safe-enough system, the young child will begin to explore his or her world. Exploration moves from sensory to physical, as the child sees, touches, tastes, smells and begins to act on the environment. It is through this exploration that the child begins to develop a sense of agency, or a belief in his or her capacity to have some impact on the world.

When the toddler knocks over a tower of blocks— and it falls!–she learns that her actions create a reaction in the world. When she does it again—and it falls again—she learns that her power is sustainable, and that there is consistency and predictability in external response.” [page 12]

Repetitions provide the child’s developing mind with a clarity about the ways the world works. Dropping things over and over from a high chair teaches a child about the laws of gravity and how predictable it is—it never changes! The bonus of seeing parents then pick up dropped objects adds to their learning: parents respond to certain behaviors in certain predictable ways!

The authors go on to say the following: “There is an increasing focus on agency and independence as young children approach the preschool years and explore the limits of what they are capable of, as well as the limits of the boundaries placed around them.

Preschoolers are particularly tuned into structure, repetition and security. This is the age when children watch the same movie over and over, prefer the same bedtime story each night, and focus strongly on ‘rules’ as inviolable. The repetition is soothing, but it also provides important information as children are building their understanding of the ways in which the world works.”

Children can get confused by parent’s responses

If parents get progressively angry as children repeat behaviors, children can learn something that may not be what parents want them to learn: that when nature drives them to learn about the world through repeating behaviors, the people who are most important to them will disapprove, become impatient and even angry.

How confusing! The child is still driven to repeat things but now may be feeling confused and then ashamed for doing what Mother Nature is pushing him or her to do.

When parents smile, allow and even encourage the repetitious activities, show that they don’t mind reading the same book over and over, or picking up the same toy over and over, their children are freer to work on their developmental tasks around repetition. And when parents understand that children are not trying to be annoying but rather are being driven to learn about the world through their repetitions, children are much freer to become confident in learning not only what the repetition provides but also that they can trust their parents to support them each step of the way.

Invitation to reflect:

  1. Have you observed your children repeating actions over and over, sometimes seeming to be unwilling to stop? How has that made you feel?
  2. How does the information shared in this blog change your understanding of and perhaps tolerance for repetitious behavior on the part of your children?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network

Talking about Paper Tigers: the Documentary

January 28, 2016
Lincoln High School, Walla Walla, Washington

Today I had the privilege of viewing the documentary Paper Tigers.

At Lincoln High School are stories similiar to Lakeside’s four schools

I was impressed with the stories of these students and the impact the staff had on their lives. I felt very much at home with the film since so much of what happened there is so similar to the many stories we have at Lakeside’s four schools.

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Promoting Emotional Literacy

January 27, 2016
child's emotional intelligence

In my previous post, I encouraged parents to be comfortable when their children express sadness. In today’s post, I would like to expand that to encourage parents to appreciate the value of emotional literacy, the subject of an excellent book by Claude M Steiner, Emotional Literacy; Intelligence with Heart.

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