How to Help Kids Embrace a ‘Yes’ Brain Mindset

A national expert offers tips on how can help your kid develop their brain’s prefrontal cortex for more success in school (and life).

As parents, in challenging times and not-so-challenging times, all we want for our kids is that they are happy and successful. Or, as renowned author Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., puts it, “We want our children to be able to say yes to the world and yes to the challenges they face.”

That’s where the concept Payne Bryson calls the “yes brain” comes in. At a recent ParentEd Talk sponsored by Metro Parent as part of a series of talks with parenting experts, Payne Bryson, co-author of The Yes Brain, How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity and Resilience in Your Child, says she believes parents play a big role in helping their kids experience better achievement in school and better relationships.

“The brain is either in a reactive state (the no brain) or receptive state (the yes brain),” she says. “What we do repeatedly builds in our brain and it’s how we start reacting to the world.”

The elements of a “yes brain” include empathy, balance, resilience and insight, all things parents can cultivate in their kids through practice, she says.

Tips  to try no matter your child’s age

Because research has shown the brain’s prefrontal cortex continues to develop into a person’s late 20s, parents can help their children develop a “yes brain” whether they are toddlers or teens, she says.

1. Don’t bubble wrap your kids.

Doing everything for them won’t help them build resilience, she advises. Instead, push them to try things beyond what is comfortable for them with parent support, she says, adding she calls it “pushin’ and cushion.”

It’s a balance between pushing them “not too much and not too little,” she says. The best way to help kids build resilience is to practice adversity with support.

2. Develop their superpower.

Teach kids about their own brains and how to see and understand themselves. Teach them how to take a deep breath, practice executive functions, make decisions, trust their intuition, be flexible, control their impulses and overcome challenges. Self-awareness will help them see and understand others, she says.

3. Teach them empathy.

Parents can model empathy for their child by showing compassion when the child is having big emotions or a hard time and by creating a culture of caring for others when out and about, she says. Help kids practice by asking them to step into the characters’ thinking in their storybooks or to pay close attention to other people’s feelings in school and the community.

4. Embrace balance.

Kids need downtime, time to play, time to focus and time to exercise, she says. A big part of that also is time to sleep. She says she believes chronic sleep deprivation is contributing to the mental health crisis we’re all reading about these days.

Having enough sleep helps support kids’ ability to regulate their emotions. Make sure there’s time to experience moments of fun through playtime and soothing connections, she advises.

5. Show up.

Resilience, she says, comes from creating the “yes brain” state with a lot of practice and having at least one person who really shows up for a child.

“What your children need most from you to be able to have a ‘yes brain’ in the world and to have the best outcomes, is you, flawed you, imperfect you,” Payne Bryson says. “When we are at our worst, that is when we most need help and connection.”


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