The brain is more than a single organ inside a single skull. The brain is social and thrives on relationship. As scientists have learned, what happens between brains has a lot to do with what happens within each individual brain.
As parents and caretakers, it is important for us to remember the interpersonal nature of our children’s brains because the kinds of relationships our children experience have an impact on how they will relate to others later in life. Kids develop skills important to personal connections—skills such as communicating, listening well, tuning into and interpreting facial expressions, understanding nonverbal cues, sharing, and making sacrifices—as they interact with and relate to the important people in their lives.
Children’s important relationships are also the models for how relationships work and how they will fit into those alliances. Can they trust others to see and respond to their needs? Do they feel protected and connected in a way that allows them to step outside and take risks? Will relationships leave them feeling lonely, anxious, and confused? Or will relationships create a sense of empathy, understanding, and security?
Parents are not the only ones who create mental models for children and how they view relationships. Teachers, coaches, and extended family members also help wire the “we” in a child’s brain. If a child experiences relationships that model and impart warmth, connection, and a sense of protection and security, then that will be the child’s model for future relationships.
A child’s relational experiences are important. Be intentional in giving your child the kinds of relationships that nurture a healthy model of how personal connections work and how your child will fit into these alliances.