Parents, be mindful of your words

Published on 12-04-2016

The pace of learning continues at warp speed after birth. Babies come into the world preprogrammed with some instinctual behaviors like suckling, but they have so much more to learn before they can navigate this world by themselves. No wonder evolution has endowed babies’ and young children’s brains with the ability to download an unimaginable number of behaviors and beliefs very quickly.

One key to understanding how this massive download takes place is the brain’s fluctuating electrical activity as measured by EEGs. In adult brains, EEG activity ranges over five frequencies of brain waves, from the lowest-frequency delta waves to the highest-frequency gamma waves. But in young children the two lowest frequency brain waves, theta and delta, predominate.

In the womb and through the first year of life, the human brain predominantly operates at the slowest brain-wave frequency, 0.5 to 4 cycles per second (Hz), known as delta waves. This isn’t surprising because babies sleep a lot; in adults, delta waves predominate during our deepest sleep, when we dream and we’re hardest to wake up.

From two to six years old, a child’s predominant brain wave is theta (4 to 8 Hz), a vibrational frequency associated with the state of imagination. This is the stage of development when a child’s delightful imagination runs wild. When you see a child with a broom and he or she says it’s a horse, don’t tell the child it’s only a broom! It’s a horse in the child’s mind, because at this wonderful stage of life theta waves dominate brain function, a state in which imagination and reality become entangled. In the child’s mind, the broom has become a horse.

Equally important, theta brain frequencies are associated with the state of hypnosis during which information can be directly downloaded into the subconscious mind. To induce this imaginative, suggestible state in adults, hypnotists use methods designed to drop their clients’ brain-wave frequencies down into the mellower theta range.

For the first six years of life, children do not express the quality of consciousness associated with alpha, beta, and gamma EEG activity as predominant brain states. Children’s brains primarily function below creative consciousness, just as adult brain activity drops below consciousness in sleep and during hypnosis. In their highly programmable theta state, children record vast amounts of information they need to survive in their environment, but they do not have the capacity to consciously evaluate the information while it is being downloaded.

Anyone who doubts the sophistication of this downloading should think about the first time your child blurted out a curse word picked up from you. I’m sure you noted its sophistication, correct pronunciation, nuanced style, and context carrying your signature. This ingeniously designed behavior-download system can be hijacked by hypercritical parents (and I’m not talking about the occasional swear word). Most of us grew up in families where we downloaded criticism from our parents: “You don’t deserve that. You’re not good at art. You’re not smart. You’re bad. You’re a sickly child.” Most often parents don’t mean to say that their child is unlovable; they’re acting like a coach who uses negative criticism to goad his players into trying harder.

Such parental coaching efforts require that children have the consciousness to interpret the positive logic behind their parents’ negative critiques. But a child’s brain predominantly operates below consciousness (alpha waves) in the first six to seven years of life. During those years, a child is unable to intellectually understand that verbal barbs are not true; the parent’s negative assessments are downloaded as truth just as surely as bits and bytes are downloaded to the hard drive of your desktop computer. Critical parents have no idea that in their effort to help, they’re actually sentencing their child to go through life feeling unworthy.