Friends Tara and Matt have been by to express their ideas about how we can (or can’t) adapt to our surroundings and experiences… Lucia Pinizotti, dear friend, neurolinguist and changework goddess (I’m biased, she’s amazing) is here today to continue the conversation on adaptation- she’s talking about how our wee ones adapt and perceive and is asking questions…
How do you want your children to hold the world?
How do you want the world to hold them when you no longer do?
As parents, how do we find our place in the nature vs. nurture chess game of life?
The answer lies in the collateral that both nature and nurture use to barter with one another—relevant, beneficial information.
The information your children are exposed to in their environment and how well they adapt to it—both at home and in the world outside of it—is critical to their ability to claim their place in the world and thrive within it.
Evolutionary success relies on a complex, symbiotic connection between our environment and the forms that inhabit and act upon it. Look no further than what it took us to succeed the dinosaurs. Their failure to adapt created an opportunity for other life forms, including our own, to succeed.
Moreover, changes to our environment are as inextricably bound to us as we are to them. The fact that you are able to read the words in this article, captured here in a digital form, is proof of just how exquisitely we and our environment have adapted to one another over time.
The digital environment we live in today is the result of adaptations to the brain that occurred millennium ago, in an environment very different than our own. And it was those adaptations that enabled us to create the digital environment in which we find ourselves today.
We adapt and we carry those adaptations into the world. For better or for worse, there’s a correlation between “how I hold the world and how the world holds me.”
Let’s try a little experiment. For just a moment, imagine standing in the doorway of a hospital nursery room. There are 50 infants not a minute old. Take a good look at them. Can you point to the ones that aren’t good enough, aren’t loveable, aren’t capable? Of course you can’t. No one could.
Surprise! You’re one of them. That’s you, without ‘your story.’ In fact, notice that right now, you don’t even have a name. The only difference between this moment and the next is what happens in your environment and the information that is provided in it. Someone walks in and writes your name on a sheet of paper and voila, you’re now “You.” Or more accurately stated, the beginning of who you’re adapting to be.
The brain that lies behind that lovely cherub face of yours is neurologically designed with one directive in mind—survival. From your very first breath, your brain is adapting and evolving around information you experience within your environment. It’s using that information in a generative way to build a sense of identity (who you think and feel you are) and a relationship with the world in which you live (whether or not you feel secure and supported).
The biological imperative to adapt in order to survive in their environment is programmed into our children’s neurological response to everything occurring around them. How can we as parents ensure that they not only survive—but truly thrive?
A child’s brain is a wondrous ‘meaning making’ organ. It makes meanings and uses those meanings to adapt itself to the meanings it makes. It’s what we know as brain plasticity, neuroplasticity or cortical remapping. This refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience.
The brain’s environment and the ideas that exist within it begin to adapt to each other, much like what happens in the outside world. More than anything else it needs quality information in order to adapt and evolve in ways that allow children to maintain a healthy co-evolutionary and adaptive relationship with their world.
This is why, in a child’s world, experiential learning trumps all—“information is king.”
In your childhood, you didn’t learn to be you out of a book. You experienced who you felt you were long before you decided to be you. Whether you feel good enough, capable, smart or worthy is all due to the meanings your brain made up around the information you experienced in your environment as a child.
Unless we consciously nurture beneficial and growth oriented meanings for our children, by providing information that fosters self-discovery, children often attach negative meanings to themselves limiting their ability to adapt in positive ways.
Let me give you a simple example. Let’s go back in time for a moment. Imagine you’re four years old. At this particular moment, you’re in your bedroom, busily creating a special gift, a picture for Mommy.
Surrounded by all of your glitter sticks and every conceivable color of magic markers and crayons, as you’re putting the final touches on your masterpiece, you just know she’s going to love it. Grabbing your treasure, you rush to show Mommy.
Bursting into the kitchen, full of enthusiasm, you hold out your picture, “Mommy! Mommy! Look what I drew!”
Now, imagine Mom suddenly spinning around, telephone in hand, saying sharply, “Go inside! Why are you always under foot! Can’t you see I’m on the phone!”
As a child, how are you feeling in this moment? In the absence of any other information, notice what meaning your brain is making up. Chances are the meaning is almost wholly about you. Something along the lines of “I’m not important” or “What I did wasn’t good enough” or “No one wants me around.”
Now, let’s play this out again with a slight twist. You’re in your room again drawing a picture, just the same as before. Only this time, when you rush into the kitchen to show Mom—because she knows that your brain is always learning through experience—she has the presence of mind to turn around and say, “Honey, what you have to show me is really important. I can’t give you my undivided attention right now. I’m on the phone. Go inside and I’ll find you as soon as I’m off.”
It’s still you, rushing into the kitchen, same brain, same context, with one significant difference—more information. How does the additional information that Mom provided in her response change the way you feel? Does it allow you to process the experience differently?
This is not to suggest that parents need to be perfect. Only that we are an important gatekeeper for information within the environment our children grow up in.
Every experience is an opportunity to offer information that is beneficial to our children’s adaptable brains.
And if we don’t get it right the first time, we can always course correct.
Take yourself back to our first scenario. Mom got angry and sent you inside. Only this time, after a little while, she comes and finds you.
Sitting down besides you, she puts her arm around you and gently says, “Honey, I’m sorry. You didn’t do anything wrong. You weren’t the reason I yelled. I’m responsible for how I think, feel and behave. You’re never the cause. I lost my patience because I was anxious about something that’s happening in the basement. Let me show you.”
Bringing you to the basement she explains, “Do you see all this water? It’s coming from a leaking pipe. See that there? All this water is ruining our things. I was on the phone with a man, called a plumber, whose going to come over later and fix the leak. Why don’t we go back upstairs and you can show me your drawing while we wait for him.”
Notice again how your brain adapts your meaning to accommodate this new information.
From this simple illustration, perhaps you’re beginning to recognize the significance of information to our children’s adaptability in life.
Ideally the information they encounter through experience can provide them the necessary environment to create a positive self-image, resilience, determination, self-motivation and self-accountability. Who will provide this environment, if not for us?
A child who holds him or herself as smart, worthy, important, capable and confident will create a neurology that will support that conception, and later mirror this into his or her external environment through interaction and contribution.
This is why it’s up to us to provide an information rich environment for our children. An environment that informs our child’s brain and encourages an adaptation for meaning-making that creates thriving, rather than simply surviving.
The world that we want for our children can be shaped by us. Imagine a society that has adapted to a future generation whose neurological response in life is one of thrive-all, rather than simply survive-all.
Isn’t that the world you want for your children? A world that is as adaptable to them as they are to it.
L U C I A Pinizotti, Partner and Co-Founder of the Mindopoly Center for Change, has a passion for change. An avowed student and self-proclaimed change-work junkie, she believes that when we know better we do better. She also believes life should be fun. When she’s not blogging, teaching or coaching, you might just find her jumping out of a perfectly functioning airplane for the heck of it. Connect with her on LinkedIn or like Mindopoly’s page on Facebook.