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.
In Part 1 & Part 2 of our interview, Mark and I discussed emotional abuse, the impact of yelling at our kids, hitting and parental exhaustion/stress.
And now, Part 3…
DB: I do not hit my children. I think it is wrong. Do you have any insight as to why some parents think it is OK? Is it upbringing? The need for control?
MB: It’s difficult to generalize, but research suggests that parents who hit children were themselves hit by their parents.
From their perspective, they were hit and “they turned out all right.” My response to this assertion is: “Compared to what?” How might you have turned out had your fear circuits not been intermittently triggered in ways that make the world look like a dangerous and difficult place?
Up until they acquire language — between age two and three — children are “citizens of the world.” By that, I mean, they don’t discriminate in any way. Once the fear circuitry gets overly activated, the world begins to become rigidly separated into “us and them.”
Out of this separation all wars are born.
Interestingly, in The Mindful Brain, Siegel points to research showing how fear of people different than us subsides when EF (Executive Function) improves. Improved EF allows us to “use words, not war.”
DB: How do we begin to change their opinion to help future generations become more civilized? Or is that an impossible task?
MB: It’s not an impossible task.
Essentially, Step One is realizing it’s possible for them to gain greater neural integration, and thus, greater ability to regulate their own emotions.
Step Two is then actually doing that work, which can often be painful and difficult. Joseph Campbell called such work, The Hero(ine)’s Journey. And he called it that for good reason. It’s rarely a cakewalk for those who take it on.
Step Three is reaping the benefits that come from greater neural connectivity and integration. And they are considerable (again, see Siegel’s, Mindful Brain book or Parenting From the Inside Out, or my book, A Little Book of Parenting Skills).
DB: In your opinion, if we could only get one thing right as parents, what would be at the top of the list of importance?
MB: Secure attachment. All things good stem from that.
But if we don’t have it ourselves, it’s not something that we co-create with our children as a matter of course. If we didn’t have it, it takes reading, learning and real work to earn it for ourselves, and then to be able to recreate it for our kids.
In A Little Book of Parenting Skills, you’ll notice that I have three different pieces in there on “relationship repair.” (The brain learns best with repetition and practice).
First knowing that a relationship even needs repair, then knowing the importance of repairing it, and then actually doing the WORK of repair — understanding and accepting our role in any breaks or damage, sincerely apologizing for them, and then finding out how things can be patched up — is an important part of creating secure attachment. It’s part and parcel of answering The Big Brain Question … YES!
DB: Can you elaborate a bit more on the meaning of secure attachment?
MB: Attachment is actually a formal field of study. This intro on Wikipedia will help, I think:
If I was to explain it simply it would be that a child finds comfort and ease of emotional regulation with a primary caretaker. It’s this relationship that works most powerfully and most easily to reduce adrenaline and cortisol levels in the body and brain, which results in calming and soothing.
Eventually, this ease of neurochemical regulation gets transferred from caretaker to self — thus allowing a child to begin to regulate their own emotional states, which allows for greater social and emotional growth and ease.
(Check out the story on my Web site: The Kindness of Children to read about a kid with disorganized attachment who can’t self-regulate, and what was done to help.)
Well, we’ve reached the end of the interview. I’d like to thank Mark for taking the time to share with us. I hope you have found his words as helpful and insightful as I have.
And remember, you are not alone…
You can find many of Mark’s books, including the one pictured above, on Amazon.com, Paideia Press (414-828-6275, firstname.lastname@example.org), or many fine online book retailers.
– How to Retrain the Reactive Brain, Part 1
– Stop Yelling Daddy, Part 1
– Stop Yelling Daddy, Part 2