Star Assignment: 4/5
Title: No More Fight-or-Flight Parenting
Brain-Based Parenting is a book written by Clinical Psychologists Daniel A. Hughes and Jonathan Baylin. Daniel Hughes received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Ohio University. He soon began specializing in the treatment of children experiencing psychological problems secondary to childhood trauma and attachment disorganization (a type of insecure attachment in which a child exhibits extreme behaviors during separation from a parent - perhaps falling to the floor and even rocking or hitting themselves) relating to child abuse and neglect. He later decided to develop attachment-focused treatment because traditional methods were not proving very helpful in his experience. Dr. Hughes has written other books such as: Facilitating Developmental Attachment: The Road to Emotional Recovery and Behavioral Change in Foster and Adopted Children (2000), Building the Bonds of Attachment: Awakening Love in Deeply Troubled Children (2006), Attachment-Focused Family Therapy (2007), Attachment-Focused Parenting: Effective Strategies to Care for Children (2009) and It Was That One Moment...: Dan Hughes' Poetry and Reflections on a Life of Making Relationships with Children and Young People (2011). Jonathan Baylin Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist who obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree from University of North Carolina, and his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the former President (and current affiliate) of the Delaware Psychological Association and is a member of the American Medical Association.
This book did a nice job at explaining how certain behaviors from our children can initiate reactions in us that we initially cannot explain (i.e. intense feelings of anger or resentment). In addition, it suggested that if our parents often responded to us in anger during our childhood, we can tend to view our children as disobedient or disrespectful even when they are not intending on it. Having an awareness of our emotional states and their potential origins can be helpful in breaking cycles that interfere with relationships - not just with children but with partners and friends. While I had already been somewhat aware of how parenting styles could be "passed from generation to generation" due to learned behaviors as children, I learned a lot about the physiological responses that become tied to a memory or experience.
As a parent of a seven year-old boy (I also have a fourteen year-old nephew, and nieces ages eleven and seven), I was able to relate to some of the cases presented in the book. However, many examples provided were about parenting teenagers. The "take home" message seemed to be about neutrality and keeping lines of communication open, even with your child or teenager being blatantly disrespectful towards you. Due to the fact that my child has not yet reached that time period, I cannot personally relate to these cases or the methods of approach recommended. I do know that it would be difficult for me to always be the apologetic "bigger person" even when feeling abused. The book makes a point to remind parents to subdue their initial reactions in order to prevent blocked parenting.
Although this is a book is targeted towards parents, it can be usefully applied to relationships of any type. However, what sets this book apart from conventional parenting books is that it provides a scientific basis for the advice. For example, it details how therapists may interact with patients to demonstrate ways to stop or de-escalate defensive reactions that could result in "blocked" care - a term frequently used to describe what results when any of the five basic parenting circuits are interfered with (in such a way that we are unable to be attuned to ourselves or our children). The five circuits are the approach system, reward system, child reading system, meaning-making system, and executive system.
Baylin and Hughes outline the cores aspects of research dealing with how life experiences affect the brain development of children and the neurobiology of parenting (specifically the brain processes that support caregiving). This book discusses the mechanisms of the mammalian caregiving brain, guiding the reader through the processes that enable an individual to sense, interpret and response effectively in situations many parents face at some point in their journey of parenthood. As a student graduating next year with a Bachelor of Science in biology (am currently taking a neurobiology course), I was interested to see what level of detail this book would encompass and how it relates to the many neurobiological processes that do occur but are not often initially thought of when it comes to parenting style.
As was explained in the beginning of the book, its purpose is to further the knowledge of the audience using layman's terminology. Therefore, it does a very good job of laying an initial explanation and then referring back to it using a wide variety of examples. I will outline some of the key ideas that are presented in this book, in a language matching that of the book. Though there were a lot of facts to remember and it required some referring back to the initial descriptions, I thought the authors did a very good job at keeping the complication to a minimum.
This book does a great job of providing readings with an overview of the processes involved in parenting. For example, the limbic system is in constant communication with the gut, lungs and heart. Specifically, the pre-frontal cortex forms a dual-level parenting system involving "bottom-up" (automatic, emotion-driven aspects) and "top-down" (problem solving, emotion regulation and reflection) circuits. These brain processes integrate parental feelings and thinking in an adaptive and flexible way. The cingulate, insula, orbital cortex and brain chemicals (such as oxytocin, dopamine, adrenaline, vasopressin and prolactin) all play a role in a mammalian ability to care for their offspring. The amygdala mediates rapid assessment of safety or threat. The hippocampus helps in stress management, creating rich memories and putting parenting experiences into perspective. The insula-anterior cingulate-von Economo neurons system helps parents to feel empathy and intuition. The anterior cingulate bridge helps parents to stay connected to theirs and their children's feelings and to think at the same time.
This book refrained from excessive technical jargon and included illustrations of the various brain regions at several points. In addition, it outlines the connections between physical brain structures and the chemical activity involved in the regulation of our responses (including those of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems). I would have enjoyed delving into the chemical aspect a bit more but I do understand the complexity of neurobiology and agree that too much detail may have taken away from the core messages from the authors. I would recommend Brain-Based Parenting to parents and professionals alike, in addition to anyone who may be interested in gaining a deeper understanding about our interactions with the outside world.