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Dr. Lisa Martin (New Blog): Letting Go of the Guilt: Biological Reasons for a Child’s Challenges

Lately I can’t stop reading about the brain.  I think my renewed interest has been sparked by comments from the parents I see.  “Why does my son become so angry?”  “Why does my daughter worry so much?”  “Why can’t my child read social cues?”  And perhaps most striking.. “Why is my child so different from his/her siblings?”  The last question touches a chord in any parent who has more than one child.  In my quest for answers, I have been struck by the abundance of research about the brain.  Recent advances have made it possible for us to actually look at how the brain works and understand what structures are “lighting up” during different types of activities.  The results are quite fascinating.

Of particular interest to me is the so-called “Social Brain” which is involved in such networks as attachment and affect/emotional regulation.  (This includes such structures as the orbital frontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and cingulate).  The bottom line is that individuals are born with different levels of activation and variations in structures.  Thus, a child with low “vagal tone” (a term used to refer to the activity of the tenth cranial nerve) is more likely to experience anxiety, impulse control problems, and irritability.  Another example is that individuals with anxiety tend to have more activation in the right frontal region of their brains.  Of course, environment plays a factor as well, but it is important not to under-emphasize the role of genetics/heredity.

My ongoing studies are now focused on what to do about all of this.  I am excited about “brain-based therapy” which simply means using therapeutic techniques that are consistent with how the brain works.  Our children may be “wired” with certain types of tendencies, but there is a lot that we can do to help them navigate their way through the academic and social worlds.  As parents, we can accept certain biological differences in our children and stop blaming ourselves.  We can start by helping our children understand how their brains work, how to make better choices, and how to exercise more self-control.  While we’re at it, we might also pick up some interesting facts about our own brains.  Our journeys begin…

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