Stress kills adults. And it can destroy their children, too.
For more than 20 years, Robin Rose, of Salem, has researched how the stress of adults affects the brain development of the children among them.
On Friday, Rose, 58, a national consultant on stress management, will be the keynote speaker at the kickoff breakfast for Our Kids: Our Business, the annual Inland Northwest effort to support children.
Q. You’ve written that how you first greet your children in the morning shifts their brains for the next few hours. Can you elaborate?
A. Our emotional brain regulates off the brains of the people in our presence. The emotional state (adults) are in changes the chemicals being manufactured and released and, therefore, the physical brain development of the children in their presence.
So when a child sees their parent, whether the parent is sending a big smile or a tense, angry kind of ignoring, that changes the child’s brain state in as little as one-twentieth of a second.
Q. How can parents regulate themselves emotionally, especially after they’ve had a bad day, and then they walk in the door and the first person they see is their child?
A. Before (parents) walk in the door, slow down and take a long deep breath. When we are hurried, we take 15 to 20 breaths a minute, and when we breathe like that, we tell the brain something is wrong. When we are in that physiology and say hello to our child, it stimulates a stress response in our child.
We can stop that stress reaction by deepening our breath. Our body relaxes. Our tone of voice changes. When we create that shift before we say hello to our child, they read us as mom or dad is happy, relaxed, in control. Everything is OK.
Q. How aware are children of actions that we aren’t even aware of?
A. We are all born with a part of the brain that can read between 250 (billion) and 400 billion bits of information per second. Even though very little of the brain is developed at birth, that part of the brain in the primitive brain stem is developed.
Which is why in infants in homes of highly stressed adults, we can already see the (stress) response in the baby. They are taking in the stimulus even though they can’t make sense of it.
Q. Your advice for children to help them learn is to drink water, breathe and eat well. Why is drinking water so important?
A. Our brain requires hydration for brain cells to talk to each other. Learning is a chemical, electrical process. Dry brains don’t make connections.
Q. What is one simple thing every adult could do to make their behavior less stressful for children?
A. Be a listener and ask open questions. Questions that can begin great conversations:
“What surprised you most about your day today?”
“What is the silliest thing you saw?”
“What is the one thing you will remember about today?”