Become a Master Parent: Your Training Begins Now (Pt.3)


Become a Master Parent: Your Training Begins Now by Bryan Post (Pt.1)
Become a Master Parent: Your Training Begins Now by Bryan Post (Pt.2)

Now Appear a Team of Wise or Not-So-Wise Teachers
Some children are simply not easy to teach. They have learned the ways of the amygdala but have had no instruction in the ways of the hypothalamus. When such a student has gone through many teachers, the system at large, in my experience includes parents, social workers, foster care agencies, psychiatrists and therapists, are all impacted. For James Bond this would have been the secret government agency that employs him. In the movie there is always a moment in time when the government begins to worry that their student has gone rogue. He seems to be motivated more for survival than for the greater good. When this happens rather than seeking understanding, they too go after him. Now he is seemingly fighting against the enemy and his own teachers. Scary prospect, but this happens to our student as well. As our student gets sent from teacher to teacher, seemingly not learning, and staying stuck in his own methods, we stumble in the lessons that we have been taught. Our amygdala is sending out messages but we are slowly losing the way of our wise teacher the hypothalamus. Before long we move into survival. When we move into survival we look for ways to capture our student because we fear that he has gone rogue and may harm us or someone else.

What do we do? We lock him up and fill him full of medication. New York University neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux informs us that during times of stress our thinking processes become confused and distorted and our short-term memory is suppressed. Why? If you’ll recall the reaction of the amygdala, the stress messengers are fast acting, survival based, they have to deliver their message, they are determined. For these messengers it is literally do or die. When there are too many messengers at once, especially when the hypothalamus has not been sufficiently trained to respond with its own oxytocin messengers, everything goes awry. The system goes into survival. In this way fear becomes the director of the teacher who is supposed to be teaching love. How does the student learn from the fear-based teacher? He does not. Fear breeds fear.

Now that he has been locked up in the residential facility we all of a sudden feel safer. We relax. We calm down and begin to feel more in control. In fact, all of a sudden our old teaching comes back and our safety is restored to our world (bodymind). But what becomes of the child? Suddenly he is in a consistent and predictable environment. The daily routine is established, there are limits and many teachers present for helping the child comply to the rules. The student who has not previously responded seems to be responding. Why? Residential facilities are like large training camps for our secret agents. They provide an environment specifically geared towards training via behavior modification meaning reward and punishment or consequence. If you do A then B will happen which is good. If you don’t do A then C will happen which is not good. Through lots of repetition the student learns. Research from a study commissioned by MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and the government found that as long as an individual is asked to do a specific task, is provided a reward for doing such, there is an increase in positive behavior. However, the study emphasized that when a task involves higher level brain functioning, making executive decisions, problem solving, etc., the proffered reward actually has a counter effect and the individual does worse. This is demonstrated routinely in various residential treatment settings. While in the program and following a very specific sequence of expected behaviors followed by a reward the student responds well. In training camp, the student who seemed to be lost seems to excel and begin moving forward. We attend a weekly or monthly review of their progress and we are all excited to see the forward movement.

But what are we not seeing? Because of the sheer number of students to teachers in residential treatment centers, the primary teacher of the child becomes the routine. The amygdala of the child slowly adapts to the consistency and predictability of this emotionally absent teacher. The routine doesn’t engage the secret agent system of the hypothalamus. It can’t teach oxytocin. It can calm down the amygdala and slow down it’s outpouring of messengers, but it doesn’t provide an environment for teaching the secrets of how to respond to reactions. Thus, the child appears on the surface to finally be learning, we on the outside are so much more relaxed and pleased. Our group of teachers look at one another with a sense of accomplishment and pride, and the consensus is to bring the student back into one on one secret spy training.

Next – Part IV – The Return of Wise Teacher #1
Become a Master Parent: Your Training Begins Now (Pt.4)