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What is it Our Brains Need Most?

March 8, 2013

GrandparentTLC GUEST BLOGGER: Barb Dorrington, MEd

What is it our brains need most? Much of brain science talks about safety, predictability and nurturing as key ingredients to help the brain thrive. As a school social worker, many of the principals at my school board have developed these same concepts into more user-friendly words for teachers. The simple questions asked by an administrator for a suspendable consequence were: “Was your action fair? Was it kind? Was it respectful?” One particular principal expelled a student for assaulting a teacher and used these questions. The end result was that same expelled student shook hands with the administrator while leaving the school with a police officer, returning a few days later to pay money for previously unpaid school fees. It leaves one to ponder what took place to cause such a responsible result from a particularly troubled student?

The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Studies investigates connections between child maltreatment and later-in-life health difficulties. All the small daily traumas of life create our attitudes and shape our personalities. What can help? History has shown that we continue to feel closest to those people who provide us with a consistently safe and nurturing haven. Likely that student felt protected and safe in the school environment and with that caring principal, even though he was being expelled for an assault.

According to Mark Brady, a neurocscience editor, grandparents have a special place in the hearts of children and stave off the isolation, loneliness and disconnection of hard daily living. He suggests that it is not the number of positive interactions but rather the quality, timeliness and rhythm of these positive interactions. His big brain question to each grandparent is, “Are you there for me?” If that answer is a resounding yes, then that child is acknowledged and feels validated. Brain science supports this need for such affirming repetition to change those dusty ruts in our brains into new strong neural superhighways.

While for some it may be the unconditional love of a grandparent, I had a wonderful Aunt Helen who told my parents I had a lazy eye at the age of two and they needed to attend to it. Some years later, she told them that I needed help with braces on my teeth. My parents loved me but they were busy and led rather chaotic lives, not necessarily vigilant about certain practical matters. Aunt Helen watched over me until her own death. She validated my existence. I always knew my Aunt Helen would be there for me, and I still ask myself, “What would Aunt Helen say?” In turn, I now ask clients about the adult that made the difference for them as children. It is a natural, safe place for us—and people of all ages—to share their stories of the person who made the difference.

The programs at TLC are solidly research-based and designed to validate the experiences of each survivor we help. TLC Founder Dr. William Steele talks about shifting victims to survivors and ultimately thrivers. While TLC offers many programs that honor the work we do with survivors, the website is full of personal stories and articles that are free to read. Do consider attending a workshop at one of the TLC assemblies, as the connection with other like-minded people is well worth the effort.

Barb Dorrington

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