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Self-control: the key to success

Posted: Thursday, Jul 18th, 2013

DEL NORTE/MONTE VISTA—Parents are essentially “potters” and “electricians,” planting seeds and enhancing connections in their children’s brains.

These are important elements children need from parents to grow. Parents also have a crucial role as a carpenter in their children’s development; there are many things parents can do to build their children for success.

These things are called the 40 Developmental Assets, which are the building blocks children need to build strong and healthy lives. The list of 20 External and 20 Internal Assets (locally found on www.rgpp.org/parenting_matters.html) help protect children from a wide range of risky behaviors but also promote positive behaviors. Parents can use the list to provide the necessary support and resources to grow their children. The more assets parents provide, the better their children will be.

Four things parents can do to have healthy, happy, successful children are:

1. Provide them positive experiences

2. Have a relationship with them

3. Be good role models

4. Give developmental assets

The other key element to children’s success is self-control. Number 32 on the list of Developmental Assets is problem solving. How is this related to the Key to Success? Both happen in the Wizard Brain.

As long ago as the 1890s, Dr. William James recognized that humans have two brains: a thinking brain and an emotional brain. Being BrainWise is a series of classes offered in Rio Grande County that can help anyone learn about the “two brains” and the appropriate skills to make good choices. One of the brains is called the Lizard Brain, the emotional and reactive brain. The other brain is called the Wizard Brain, the thinking and rational brain.

The parts of the brain can be likened to a two-story house with a basement: the basement has the system that is responsible for keeping people alive; the main level has the Limbic System or Lizard Brain; and the second story is where the Wizard Brain lives.

The Lizard Brain is responsible for meeting the basic physiological needs, is involved with detecting dangers and threats and reacting to them through the fight-flight-or freeze Alarm Reaction. It is responsible for survival. The Lizard brain is activated when intense emotions and needs are not being met. Any intense feeling like excitement, love, pleasure, frustration, sadness, anger and hate can cause things to be said or done without thinking – meaning the Lizard Brain is being used. Lizard Brain reactions are the behaviors that result when important thinking skills haven’t been learned. When using the Lizard Brain the survival mode is being used, and that can interfere with learning.

The Wizard Brain is needed to learn. The need is to be calm and relaxed. In other words, it is important to have self-control.

The Wizard brain is the thinking brain and is responsible for regulating emotions and controlling impulses. It is the boss, the maestro and CEO that turns the whole brain into one civilized mind. It is the seat of logic, cause and effect, abstract reasoning and problem solving. Self-control is exercised when the Wizard Brain matures. But the problem lies in that the Wizard achieves maturity at age 19-25. It is now understood why children behave as they do – their Wizard brain is immature and they are controlled by the Lizard Brain, merely reacting. Another function of the Wizard Brain is called executive function. It is one of the ingredients for learning. So the Wizard is important in order to solve problems and to learn.

One of the things learned from neuroscience is that thinking skills have to be learned. The Being BrainWise 10 Wise Ways helps replace Lizard Brain reactions with Wizard brain choices. The skills in Being BrainWise include learning about the brain and how the 10 Wise Ways build important connections between the different parts of the brain. These skills help build new pathways to the Wizard Brain replacing the brain’s tendency to react on impulses. And that is a measure of self-control.

So developing and strengthening the Lizard Brain and promoting socio-emotional health competencies builds the Wizard Brain through teaching the problem-solving skills, and self-control using the following 10 Wise Ways:

#1 Wizard over Lizard

#2 Constellation of Support

#3 Red Flag Warnings

#4 Exit the Emotions Elevator

#5 Separate Fact from Opinion

#6 Ask Questions

#7 Identify your Choices

#8 Consider Consequences

#9 Set Goals/Form Action Plan

#10 Communicate Effectively

In the fall, there will be opportunities to learn more about the 10 Wise Ways. Look on the rggp.org website, the newspaper and flyers posted at various locations in the community for announcements when the classes will be offered.

This article is part of the Parenting Matters initiative to increase parenting resources in Rio Grande County. In addition, books and DVDs are located at the Carnegie Library in Monte Vista.

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