Thursday, March 29, 2012

Notes on Podcast of Dr. Dan Siegal March 28, 2012

The theme of the talk was how we could encourage better brain health and integration in children.  He first described narrative integration, which is important to use after a stressful event.  As a child puts into words a stressful event, the autobiographical sequence allows the child to tap into the visceral sensations in the right brain, and put that into words, which involves the left brain.  He calls this name it to tame it.  The left brain thus become integrated with the right brain.

He emphasizes left and right brain integration as well as  “upstairs” vs.” downstairs” brain integration.  The downstairs brain is the older reactive parts of the brain………the limbic brain, the viscera, etc.  The upstairs brain is the cortex.  The downstairs brain is so influenced by the body and the autonomic nervous system that he includes the autonomic nervous system in his definition of the downstairs brain.  The downstairs brain is responsible for “fight or flight” reactions. 

He calls his discipline interpersonal neural biology, and he draws on many different fields, including psychology, sociology, biology, chemistry, physics, and anthropology to draw conclusions about the brain and, relates that to the way the synapses work.

Brain health is based on integration.  He considers the following characteristics to be indicative of brain health: adabtable, flexible, coherent, energizing, stable.  These all come from brain integration.  The healthy brain honors differences and communicates in a kind and compassionate way.

Attention, coordination, and balance are all related to brain health and integration.

The brain that is not integrated well is chaotic and/or rigid.   Toxins, genes and experience can all cause these issues.

Every single DSM (mental health) definition is related to chaos and/or rigidity.

Experience can change the brain.  Mindfulness meditation grows linking fibers between the amygdala and the downstairs brain. 

Mental life is a function of the whole body—the brain includes the distributed nervous system.  That gets some researchers angry, but there is no definition of the mind, which also exists outside the brain.  In fact, the mind is outside the body as well, because the mind can be defined as emergent processes in energy and information flow among people.  This movement is not restricted to the skin.  This movement happens in families and societies, which is why he embraces the disciplines of anthropology and sociology as well as more traditional scientific disciplines.

Relationships inspire kids to focus their intention.  Relationships shape the mind.  There is a deep scientific foundation that relationships have to do with the mind as much as biochemistry in the brain.  The mind is relational and embodied.  Relationships affect the biology.

Here are some strategies that he outlined to help a child integrate their brain:

Connect and Redirect—Rather than correcting a child when the child is upset,  affirm their feelings and redirect their attention to a strategy to deal with situations

Name it to tame it –That was the first example given, of parents talking to a child and getting them to verbalize a stressful event, which helps them integrate the experience and be able to deal with it.

Engage, don’t enrage—Parenting has to do with reaching stability between the parent and child, not becoming enraged with behavior.

Use it or lose it- Study attachment, and be awake to who you are, and how your own experiences shaped you.  That will better inform your decisions on parenting.

Move the body and let go of energy—Children need to move. That is  important for well being and neuroplasticity. 

Using imagery to change the brain— There is a wheel of awareness at his website.  Some kids feel passive at whatever happens in their lives, but using imagery keeps kids away from being on automatic pilot.  If they are sad, they can move one spoke over on the wheel so that they can engage different emotions.  This is empowerment, because they have control over their feelings.  The wheel of awareness helps them visualize this switch.  

Remember to remember--we all have experience what we know from memory integration, if we use focused attention, that activates hippocampus, puzzle piece of assembly of memory.  Ask child to articulate memory of an event , which allows pieces of memory to be integrated together. Memory talk with kids makes kids remember better, drawing on all parts of brain to remember!!

Clouds of emotion—Use this metaphor when talking to kids about their emotions.  Clouds come and go, and so do their emotional states.  They will understand it when the metaphor is used because it anchors the mental life to the physical world.   There is better emotional intelligence when emotion is discussed with a child.

Family Fun Factor—It is important for kids to experience joy through family experiences.  

It is important when parenting to identify triggers.  He did not know how to deal with his son as an infant because crying brought back to him all the vulnerabilities of children that caused him a lot of stress in his internship as a pediatrician.  It is important to recognize triggers like this.

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