Mark Brady, Ph.D., is a dad, an award-winning author, a teacher and trainer. He has taught Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) courses for the last 12 years. Mark has also written numerous articles for journals and magazines. His latest book, A Father’s Book of Listening, is an insightful, relevant guide for the modern-day dad.
In Part 1 of our interview, Mark and I discussed emotional abuse, the impact of yelling at our kids and parental exhaustion/stress.
And now, Part 2…
Daddy Brain: Many of my readers are concerned with lack of time with kids & exhaustion. What are your thoughts on those subjects?
Mark Brady: This is a serious problem in modern life. Much more serious than people realize, particularly in the first three years of children’s lives. I’ll explain a bit about why that is below, but essentially the airline instruction for parents to put on their own oxygen mask first applies to parents on or off an airplane — both literally and figuratively! Oxygen is the fuel of brain function.
DB: What are the long-term effects of exhaustion on the brain?
MB: I find it VERY useful to think of the brain simply as an organ that processes energy and information, kind of like a computer. It’s obviously much more, and much more complex than this, but this metaphor is useful, particularly in terms of understanding where the difficulties lay that parents encounter, and then empowering them to do something about them.
So, how do we know when our computer’s malfunctioning and needs to be rebooted? Simple: we don’t feel good. We’re tired, emotionally upset or frightened in some way. A brain that’s processing energy and information effectively across all its neural network, feels good in what I call the heart-brain-mind-body.
It’s not that our kids are misbehaving, usually. It’s that our brains can’t adequately process the energy and information it’s receiving in the moment. If this condition persists long enough, we can get seriously ill. Two books that explain how this happens in great detail are Gabor Mate’s, When the Body Says No, and Bob Scaer’s, The Body Bears the Burden.
DB: What kind of damage is caused to parents when our kids are yelling at us!
MB: Parents have much greater neural connectivity in their brains than most children do, and generally can effectively handle large bursts of “energy and information” that come from children.
But not always. I’m sure many of your readers may have experienced or witnessed kids yelling at their parents and getting a rapid, reactive slap in response — a perfect example of a parent’s brain receiving more energy and information than it could handle, having their limbic system hijacked, and reacting impulsively.
In such a situation, it is the parents who have the work to do. Which is mostly the case whenever our limbic systems are hijacked — and this happens way more than many of us probably even realize. Here’s a Web site that uses LeDoux’s work to explain limbic hijacking briefly: timlebon.com/neuroscience. Google “limbic hijacking” for further explanation.
DB: Why have you chosen this niche to focus on? Why do you want to help kids and parents so badly?
MB: Much of the work in developmental neuroscience in recent years indicates that the period from five weeks in utero, through roughly age three when language is fully developed, is CRITICAL in human development. Things that happen during this period profoundly shape children’s world views.
Here’s what Bob Scaer, an MD who’s an expert in the effects of trauma, has to say about it: “The cumulative experiences of ‘life’s little traumas’ shape virtually every single aspect of existence. This accumulation of negative life experiences molds one’s personality, choices of mate, profession, clothes, appetite, pet peeves, social behaviors, posture, and most specifically, our state of physical and mental health.”
Whether Scaer’s correct or not, doesn’t really matter. I’ve decided that if I can bring this awareness to parents — that what they do during the first three years REALLY matters, and not just for the first three years, but for all of their children’s lives — perhaps greater “energy and information” can be devoted to making those years the absolute best they can be for kids AND parents. For more information, check out: zerotothree.org.
And remember, you are not alone…
You can find many of Mark’s books, including this one, through Amazon.com, Paideia Press (414-828-6275, firstname.lastname@example.org), or many fine online book retailers.