This weekend my family participated in a 5K which will forever hold a place in my heart. We are a fairly active family and participate in physical fitness events regularly, but this one was different. This event was honoring my girls and their giving hearts. As I’ve written in the past, instead of birthday gifts we ask for donations to a local charity. From an early age we want to teach them the importance of giving back and gratitude. We celebrate their birthday, generally with a party that I insist will be simple, yet generally ends up over-the-top. At the party, instead of gifts we collect donations to fight childhood hunger and food insecurity, rather than opening gifts. This year the organization that we have donated to over the last few years asked to do the 5K in recognition of the contributions made to their organization through our girls’ birthdays.
As each year passes and this tradition of giving continues, our girls begin to understand more and more what their contributions mean. They begin to make the connection that some children do not have enough food, and by forgoing a plethora of gifts on their birthday they feed children with “crummies in their tummies.” Each year, each moment, where we teach them the importance of helping others in need, their brains change and wire just a little differently, connections are created.
I finished the book No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, and although I have numerous take-aways, one of my favorite aspects of the book is the discussion of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the concept that a brain physically changes based on what it experiences. To put it very simply, a child’s brain is constantly working and developing to build connections; Every interaction, every exposure, changes their brain. And as a parent, we play a major role in this exposure. What they see, what we do, and what we model matters.
If a child’s brain is constantly working and developing, then as a parent, it feels like a big responsibility to influence this brain development in the best way possible. When I read about this concept, it made me take a step back to reevaluate the interactions and influences my child experiences. What tv shows am I allowing them to watch? How do these effect their development and interactions with others? What words am I using to communicate with them? Do these words, even in times of discipline, create connection? I’ve been taking a look in the mirror and contemplating how I reflect our values and how this influences my children’s developing sense of self.
What I, and everyone needs to remember and be reminded of, is there is no magic wand. The is no magic wand to make our children perfect, ourselves perfect, or our lives perfect. However, if we change our perspective and think of all of life’s messiness and chaos as an opportunity to practice what we preach, perhaps we won’t need that magic wand. We can look at instances of conflict with our children (and adults) as opportunities to utilize the skills that we learn and read about; to offer grace and forgiveness to our children and to ourselves. We can remember times of conflict and struggle, especially when dealing with our children, are opportunities for connections to be made and we get to determine what those connections are.
It’s easy to think what we are doing may not be sinking in; connections aren’t being made and synapses aren’t firing. Like many parents, I often find myself struggling to know if I am doing the right things, if I’m doing enough, if I’m modeling the right behaviors for my children; and then I’m reminded.
As we prepared for our 5K and I explained to the girls their influence and positive impact. I wasn’t sure it was entirely clicking; Until, my 5 year old asked if she could cash in her piggy bank money to give to kids with “crummies in their tummies.” She may not entirely make the connection of her impact but she’s sees its’ importance. She sees that she had excess and others have need. I may question whether I’m helping foster positive connections within her brain and with others, and then moments like this happen.
We happily went on an adventure to the bank, cashed in her $57 and she donated this money, in person at the starting line of a 5K inspired by them. I may get a lot of things wrong, I certainly don’t get it right all the time, but this time, I did. This time, we helped encourage positive connection, and she understood just a little bit more the importance of our actions; No magic wand needed today.
*Thank you to those who have donated to this incredible organization this year and in years past, this amazing experience wouldn’t have been possible without you and your generosity. If you would like to donate to help feed children facing food insecurity you can do so here*