What if communication that honors differences but promotes compassionate linkages (integration) stimulates the integrative capabilities of the brain? Mental health can be seen as a balancing act between differentiation and linkage, between chaos and rigidity. This is evident in that most major mental illness is either characterized by a predilection of the mind for chaos or rigidity.
We can encourage integration of the mind. We can teach mindsight. We can teach how to monitor information and energy flow within, which is the pathway to integration. We can define the mind, which is embodied and relational, and we can build stronger, integrated minds.
What is the relationship between mindfulness (meditation, etc.) and attachment (therapy)? There is a relationship still being explored between the experiencing brain and the observing brain. Meditation is a kind of internal atunement, where the mind sees itself with curiosity, openness, acceptance, and love (or kind regard). We should practice mindfulness everyday. “Taking time in“ is a core aspect of mental health and we can teach it to young people.
The way we take care of each other is by promoting integration of the mind. So, how do we integrate a child’s brain? Honoring differences, yet promoting linkages? Some strategies:
- ATTENTION: Through attention we stimulate new connections and new experiences. We can talk about our feelings and our shared experiences. “Where neurons fire, neurons wire”, meaning whatever we emphasize in behavior, expression, or content creates new pathways and patterns in the brain.
- CONNECT, THEN REDIRECT: The right and left sides of the brain are different more in being, not in what they do. Both sides of the brain do a lot of the same work, but there are different centers of processing. The left brain is linear, later to develop, linguistic, logical, literal, text-oriented, focused on the letter of the law and details. The right brain is holistic, earlier to develop, nonverbal, visual-spatial, autobiographical and mnemonic, contextual, and concerned with the spirit of the law and how the parts add up to a whole. YOUNG PEOPLE ARE CONSIDERABLY MORE DEVELOPED IN THEIR RIGHT BRAINS. This means (and adults commonly make mistakes here) that kids need hugs, empathy, and emotional connection before we try to solve their problems and offer left-brained teachable moments. Connect to them empathically, then redirect logically.
- NAME IT TO TAME IT: Helping a (young) person name and describe their feelings helps to calm and relieve those feelings. This is integration between the two sides of the brain at work.
- USE IT OR LOSE IT/MOVE IT OR LOSE IT: When a (young) person is overcome with emotions, it is helpful for them to channel that emotion into a useful outlet like writing a letter, drawing a picture. When a person becomes stuck in mental loop or loses mindsight because of a lack of integration, anything that can move the mind can be helpful. The mind is embodied, so it can be changed or refocused. Breaking these loops with non-sequiturs or dramatic interruptions can be helpful in moving the mind along.
- LEARN FROM CONFLICTS: Conflicts are opportunities to increase integration in deeper ways. “How do we learn from this?” It is natural for children to become angry with adults and vice versa. Modeling good resolution skills, emotional/social skills, and good reflection/processing can be hugely useful in integration of the young person’s mind, but also in deepening your connection with them. “To flip your lid is human, but if you’re not honest about it and make a REPAIR, you’re inhumane.” If we do flip our lids as adults, we can apologize, talk about the experience with the child, and provide comfort/empathize with how the experience may have felt for them.
Dr. Dan Siegel also provides resources for helping to attune the mind (breath awareness practice, wheel of awareness, etc.) on his website: