During this past week I attended a conference on brain development and habit change, I also listened to a program on MPR about the adolescent brain, both of which are saying a number of similar things. Essentially there are many aspects of brain development involving the hormone dopamine, self regulation, risky behavior, and limit setting. It is clear in adolescence the nature of the brain is to take risks often beyond what parents wish, but the truth is this is critical for brain development in our teenagers. The consequence of this is the teen brain begins to become altered in a way that moves it more in the direction of making what we consider better decisions (Safer, more mature). This is a process that helps their brain development. This doesn’t mean we just sit back and wait for it to happen but instead we need to continue to set the limits, talk about the need for better decisions, and process how this can happen by looking at the choices and consequences. Someday we hope it works better and more often than not it does. So some of the questions parents of children with diabetes may want answers to are what can be done all along the way to help foster better decisions and more responsible behavior. I might suggest the following bullet points for children of all ages:
- Model responsibility : if you want them to do it, show them and tell them you are being responsible
- Understand their brain is not good at setting it’s own limits, (that part is still in development) so you need to help create a safe environment by setting the limits for them. Make it a Safe Container for them.
- Expect them to be responsible. If we expect them to fail they will, if we expect success they will more often.
- Make sure the tasks are fitting for their age and knowledge base. Set them up for success not failure.
- Don’t do it for them, let them make mistakes and help them process other options
- Keep life stimulating, if it becomes boring they will find a way to make it stimulating, (maybe not the safest alternative)
- Teach and coach responsible behavior, they won’t automatically know what to do. yelling at them doesn’t get them to do it. Set up behavior in approximations (small do-able tasks) that move in the direction of the overall goal.
- Start early and practice often. Begin teaching responsibility as early as you can and keep doing it at every opportunity. What ever our kids can do for themselves developmentally let them no matter how good they do it or how long it takes, it will pay off in the long run.
- Their brain is on it’s own schedule, it is our job to continue to coax it along even if it is not always willing.