The powerful shift that can place you on a path to parenting differently.
There are certain phrases I always listen for when I’m meeting with parents. They're phrases that let me know whether or not, when recounting an experience with their child and the child’s challenging behavior, the parents are seeing the situation through a brain-based/neurobehavioral lens, or if their perception is through a behavioral lens.
There’s no blame or shame if it is a behavioral lens the parents are seeing it through. We are human, after all, living in a world that is entrenched in a behavior modification approach to understanding challenging behaviors. We were taught from a very early age to believe that behaviors are always willful and intentional, and there is really no other way to view them.
Without a doubt, the brain and behaviors are always connected, and the two can never be separated.
But luckily, in more recent years, neuroscience research has taught us that there is actually a great deal more to behaviors than we’ve been led to believe. It has shown us that, without a doubt, the brain and behaviors are always connected, and the two can never be separated. When considering one, the other must come along. It only makes sense then, that if we have a child with challenging behaviors, there might be more to learn about their unique brain function, and vice versa. That perhaps understanding the way in which our child’s brain works differently can lead us to accommodations that help our child settle in ways we never thought possible.
So how do we begin to evaluate, for ourselves, whether we're in a behavioral mindset or a neurobehavioral mindset when parenting our child?
What are some of those key phrases I’ve learned to listen for, over time, as I journey alongside parents working hard to shift their lens?
And if the behavior we’re witnessing isn’t intentional and willful behavior, what might be another explanation for these actions we find so unacceptable?
To help you begin brainstorming how these factors might be playing out in your own parenting, I’ve listed a few common behavioral interpretations that come to mind for typically challenging behaviors, alongside the alternative, brain-first explanation for each.
Maybe a few of these phrases caught your attention, and/or have a familiar ring, because you've found yourself saying these (or similar comments) out loud to a partner or to yourself as you walk away from a frustrating situation with your child.
We’ve all been there, and the good news is that this is where a major growth opportunity exists for us as parents. This shift from a behavioral lens to a brain-first lens happens over time, through reflection and a great deal of self-compassion.
When met with a challenging behavior, if you can take a brief moment to step back and ask, What if...? — “What if this behavior I’m seeing actually has nothing to do with what I thought, and is instead about my child’s unique brain function? How do I respond with empathy and understanding instead of punishment?” — if you can do that, then you will be on a path of parenting differently that will lead to more success, less frustration, and greater connection with your child.
Eileen Devine works in Portland, OR as a therapist and coach supporting parents of children with special needs. She is also a consultant for families impacted by FASD, PANS/PANDAS and other neurobehavioral conditions through her private practice, working with families nationally and internationally. She lives with her husband and two amazing kids, one of whom happens to live with FASD. For more information, visit eileendevine.com.