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August 2009

August 21, 2009

Growth of Self Control

Our community has a debt of gratitude to pay the dedicated officials, teachers and mentors who came to speak on August 12th at the town hall meeting in support of the healing needs of our valley’s young people. It is hoped that connections between adults will result in growing awareness in the youth. Choices will be made, and growth or change will happen.

How do we choose what we choose?

The findings of famous child development theorist Piaget decades ago pointed to the fact that we humans typically develop awareness when something, or someone, gives us pause and when, consequently, instead of just acting, we stop to consider the possibilities of acting that are before us. We could heighten our awareness of what is actual by considering what is possible. We are conscious of what we do to the extent that we are conscious of what we do not do – of what we might have done. The notion of choice is thus central to self-control.

So what causes us to stop and think about our thinking—and thus makes us able to choose to direct our thinking in one way rather than the other? It is the “executive” portion of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, the site of such awareness, developing cognitive, behavioral and social functions from early childhood through adolescence. But it is not a guarantee.

One thing we know for sure is that youth-at-risk, including those just down the street, inhabit our valley community whose adult members are striving to find humane answers, witness the town hall meetings and organizational networking going on. We have to go for remediation because the costs in both human and fiscal terms are so vast. Truth be told, informed choice, also known as prevention, is a better, less expensive path.

It is within the field of infant brain development that caring adults wanting to make a difference can look for the truth about the origins of self-awareness and impulse control. Genetics supplies the parts but social interaction largely determines how the parts are put together. Dr. Daniel Siegel, an award winning UCLA Medical School teacher who brings an important message about the neuroscience of infant attachment, states “Repeated experience creates and strengthens neural pathways, while lack of experience causes the corresponding unused tracks to wither.”

Research since the 80’s have shown the pre-frontal cortex is sufficiently mature to support information processing in very early infancy. Infant brain development depends on sensory experiences and early movements. Parents of newborns have the opportunity to begin to foster autonomous self-awareness because early brain growth is rapid and depends on experience. That opportunity continues throughout the first two years of life, a sensitive period for many aspects of brain development, a time when the brain needs certain experiences to develop optimally.

Some keys to infant caregiving during that sensitive developmental period have been shown by Magda Gerber’s RIE Approach to building relationships between babies and their parents. The over thirty-year legacy of this widely practiced work, presented through many available worldwide educational programs of her organization (www.rie.org), continues to result in the growth of countless highly gifted prefrontally connected humans, aptly described as authentic, resourceful and respectful. Their earliest years, from birth to two, are instilled with respect for their point of view because they are cared for as competent human beings participating in the experiences of their lives. These babies are not passive objects being treated or talked through lessons by controlling adults unable to truly see by looking within the child for answers to their building relationship. Instead a baby can develop a strong sense of who he/she is via responsive well-attuned communication that allows a baby to be in touch with her/himself, in body and mind, as well as with the significant others in their world. That is the foundation for growth and choice determined by aware people possessing self-control, something we all need more of in our society.

Liz Memel, M.A., RIE Associate, resides in Ojai and provides weekly parenting groups for families with children from birth to age two. Trained with Magda Gerber, she has over twenty-five years experience consulting with and guiding adults, including professionals, who care for infants and toddlers. The Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center was designed and created by Liz and the board of Ojai Valley Birth and Family Support with funding from Ventura County First Five. In the fall, Liz will teach a 3-week evening course for expectant parents at the center. Call Liz at 646-0441 for information and enroll at www.birthresource.org