Connection Advances Learning

  •   When children feel connected to the people who care for them, they are able to try again and again to learn a new task – buttoning a button, riding a scooter, writing their name or zipping a zipper. Frustration diminishes. It is not just our common sense that shows us that this is occurring – the part of the brain that controls impulse and learning, and uses logic and experience to dictate response, lights up. This is a child’s limbic system, which houses their emotion centers. When our children feel safe, protected and loved, they can easily connect.

      The limbic system acts as a child’s processor of the signals of stress and love that come from the adults that are their caregivers.

      Children feel safe to experiment, make mistakes and succeed when they sense that their caregiver feels relaxed and adores them. When children feel hurt, they cannot think clearly or rationalize. They often cannot behave in a way that seems appropriate, and may not be able to respond to even the most empathetic setting of limits. When a child cannot think, they cannot learn.

      Picking up on stress or being hurt by the actions or feelings of their caregivers, the limbic systems of children go out of sorts and the prefrontal cortex no longer properly functions. Remember, this is where a young person gets their ability to act with good judgment and engage in rational thought.

      We see this in some our new students who in times of stress repeat to themselves throughout the day, “Mommy always comes back, Daddy always come back.” Children are remarkably trying to rationalize what has hurt them and what they would be utterly unable to understand if they were not deeply connected. We spend days with one another’s children and are touched by the depth of connection that we see between Ecole Claire Fontaine families, caregivers and children.

      Stressful times for children can come throughout the year, but after vacations the reconnection to school can take at least a day. It may come out in unwanted behavior or some sadness, but it will pass as the connections with school teachers and friends are reestablished. For us all, the best way to teach children how to manage emotions is by doing a great job of taking care of our own.

      This is a favorite from Dr. Laura’s Aha! Parenting, “Connection trumps everything else in parenting. Children ‘behave’ because they love and trust us and never want to disappoint us. But we have to earn that level of devotion. We earn it by managing our own emotions so we can stay compassionate with our child and help her when she most needs us. Which, if you were wondering, is when she seems to least deserve it. Children need physical snuggling and roughhousing to feel close on a daily basis, and they need our non-reactive compassion to help them through the tough spots. Your child isn’t cooperating? Reconnect.”

      The release of negative emotions needs to come, will come, one way or another. A child tells a parent, “When I have a tantrum, I just want you to cuddle me.” Try holding your child while they cry out their fear and feelings of powerlessness, or help the release of anger (usually masking hurt or sadness) by offering a punching pillow. Some children like to have their upset tickled out of them (with an understood signal to be given by the child when they want you to stop) – the stress is there, but it does not necessarily have to come out in negativity. Caregivers model regulation and accept the feelings of children, while limiting their actions. Since all feelings are acceptable, there must be an outlet for them that does not result in “punishment,” which only reinforces the disconnection that we strive so hard to repair.

      When it comes to children, connection is more important that anything. Let them see you relaxed and feel your love. What are some of your favorite things to do to foster connection? It need not be profligate — it is as simple as playing together, cuddling, running, dancing, singing, or…

      When your children feel discombobulated, or are acting out, give them a hug. Connection is everything.

      Adoration engenders connection through the powerful functioning of the limbic system. A child’s ability to learn depends on it.

  • Early Childhood Education