Guide your child with a calm, steady approach to parenting. (blackred/Getty Stock Images)
Bruce Lipton, a developmental biologist and expert on cellular biology and epigenetics, is also a pioneer in the research of cloning human muscles cells. But as impressive as these credential are, it’s his contribution to our understanding of human behavior, which I think is most pertinent to parenting.
According to Lipton, once you understand how a single cell behaves, you understand how a human being behaves. Humans are “nothing more than a community of cooperative cells,” he explains in his book “The Biology Of Belief.” He further explains that a cell, or a person, is either closed for protection, or open for growth and learning. It is that simple. Both from a biological perspective and on cellular level, our state of mind is a binary choice: closed for protection or open for growth and learning.
So what does this mean for you as a parent?
Imagine that you are parking your car at the mall, planning to do some shopping before the holiday crowds become too overwhelming. Your 4-year-old is with you, perhaps coaxed by your promise to visit Santa before your trip is complete.[Read: What Drives Kids to Act the Way They Do?]
Once you are both out of the car, your child bolts away from you, running fast and furiously toward the mall entrance. Terrified, you give chase without even stopping to close your car doors and catch your child. Your small child had been running through the busy parking lot, not easily visibly to drivers who could have been concentrating more on open parking spots than pedestrians. Although this chase was only moments long, your fear could not be greater, and your heart is pounding.
Once you capture your child in your arms, you immediately start scolding him or her. “What were you thinking? You know better than to run away from me through a parking lot!” you shout. “You are a very naughty child! When will you learn? You must never, ever do that again!” Your tirade is loud, and you’re almost out of control, given how emotional you are as you admonish the child. “He must learn better now! When will he learn?” you think to yourself. “Why won’t he learn?”
Has anything like this ever happened to you? Perhaps the scenario was different but you found yourself equally terrified that your child’s careless actions may have put the child in immediate danger. This may not be parenting at its finest, but most of us can easily understand why a parent would have this kind of reaction and subsequently reprimand the child.
Our children need to learn this important lesson. This child’s behavior was very dangerous. As the child’s parent, you need to correct the child to help him or her learn. Plus, you were barely behaving rationally yourself. You were also closed for protection.[Read: Help Your Kids Tap Into the Power Within.]
The problem is, in such a tense scenario, a child is not open for growth and learning. The parent has communicated to the child: “Danger! Danger!” With this information, the child closes for protection at a cellular level. No learning is happening in this moment.
Given the same scenario, here is an alternative approach I’d suggest that’s guided by Lipton’s insights on human behavior:
The parent chases and catches the child. The parent picks the child up, holds the child tight and carries him or her to the closest available seat. Once parent is seated with child in his or her lap, the parent holds and rocks the child until the parent has calmed down. Together, parent and child take as long as they need so the moment of terror is gone, and the reality of everyone being safe has sunk in.
Now that the parent is calm, and having taken a couple of deep breaths, he or she begins to talk to the child. “That was a pretty frightening moment for me,” the parent acknowledges. “When I saw you run through the parking lot, I was scared that a car might not see you and would hit and hurt you. I was very frightened. Seems like we need to review how we leave the car together and walk through the parking lot in a safe way together. Are you ready to do that now?”
Although the child may still have been frightened when the parent scooped the child up, held on tight and carried him or her so they could sit together, by the time the parent begins talking with the child, that fear has dissipated. The child can tell, at a cellular level, that he or she is safe, and is now open for growth and learning.
In both cases, the parent wants the child to get through the parking lot safely. In both cases, the parent is teaching. But in the first scenario, the child is closed for protection, and thus not learning. In the latter scenario, the child is open for growth and learning.
Take a moment and review the last time you corrected or taught your child to behave differently. Were you upset, angry, frustrated or impatient? If you were, it’s probably likely that your state of mind was communicated to your child, even at a cellular level.[See: 12 Questions You Should Ask Your Kids at Dinner.]
As an advocate for peaceful parenting, I work to help parents remain calm and take a thoughtful approach during all parenting moments – the joyful, loving, easy times, as well as the terrifying, frustrating and challenging times. It’s not always easy of course. But when we parent in this way, our children are more likely to be open to what we’re trying so hard to teach them. Now they can really receive our parental guidance.