Holiday Stress and Kids’ Brains

Holiday Baby

I bet I’m not alone in harboring mixed feelings as the holidays approach. On the one hand it’s such a special time, steeped in family nostalgia and brimming with expressive potential.

On the other hand (and that other hand always seems to be the buzz-kill, am I right?), let’s be honest: the holidays are often a holly-trimmed hotbed of stress. In trying to make sure our holidays actually fulfill all that expressive potential, we can whip ourselves into a frenzy of sky-high expectations, “must do”s, and short fuses. And that makes for a brain-drain gift we do NOT want to be giving children!

Stress Inhibits a Child’s Brain Development

When parents are stressed, their kids are stressed. This is the latest neuroscience: children “piggyback” on the self-regulation equipment of their parents’ social brain, and so when a mom is “on the verge,” so is her child. Not a happy holiday combo!

Neuroscientists have measured what happens to a child’s stress system when he or she receives what they call a “stern, inhibiting directive” — that is, a “No!” or an “Austin, I told you already!!” or even just an angry or disgusted look from the parent. Any of these rebukes that so naturally rolls off parents’ tongues — especially when they’re on edge or feeling rushed — can drastically raise a child’s level of the stress hormone cortisol.

Biology of Transcendance author Joseph Chilton Pearce points out that cortisol is one of the most neurotoxic substances known to man: it kills brain cells. It also drastically suppresses immune function, as most of us know all too well from falling ill after a bout of stress, especially some severe disappointment.

A Go-To Tool for Parents: A Growth or Protection Meter

Cortisol is one of the body’s key hormones that instruct the bodymind to shift from growth mode into protection mode. The Growth-or-Protection process is the mainspring of Parenting for Peace, a tenet that informs each of the 7 steps and principles in the book, as well as the 5 Parenting for Peace Tools I have developed since: at every moment we are either in growth mode or protection mode, at every level in our bodies, minds and spirits. Expanding or contracting. Reaching out or withdrawing in. Unfolding or reinforcing. The entity may be a single cell, a community of cells that is a person, or a community of people that is a family.

Right down to the cellular level, we are continually monitoring the environment with the question, Are conditions safe and secure, so I can grow to my fullest potential, or are conditions threatening, even subtly, so I must instead devote my energies toward protection? This process has especially huge implications for babies, toddlers, children and teens — whose frontal lobe circuitry is wiring up and whose brains are growing so rapidly…or should be.

Researchers have measured that a child’s cortisol levels can spike and remain elevated for six hours after just one “stern, inhibiting directive,” or even the aforementioned nasty look. So while their child’s brain — particularly their frontal lobes, the foundation of success at every level — is growing at a never-to-be repeated rate of speed, a parents’ stress can unintentionally, unknowingly inhibit that flourishing brain development.

So here is the internal meter I encourage parents to “install” within themselves — filter everything through the lens of this question: “Will this thing I’m about to say to my child… or action I’m about to take… foster growth mode or trigger protection mode, in my child and in myself?”

When deployed correctly, this tool (along with more you can hear about in my teleseminar, linked below) will automatically lead parents to simplify, to get more present (as opposed to more presents!), and to enjoy more peace during the Peace on Earth season!

How to Lose the Stress & Build Our Kids’ Brains

The more calm and confident we can be as parents, the more our children “catch our calm” and things go much better all the way around. More growth mode, less protection mode. And, as one of my favorite parent educator / psychologists, Lawrence Cohen, points out, our kids really need us to loosen up and be more playful and easy-going!

And doesn’t a playful holiday season sound wonderful!? Problem is, there is a massive epidemic of UNcalm and UNconfidence out there amongst parents. This puts a HUGE damper on “playful” and “easy-going”! I’ve decided it’s time to offer some healing balm & helpful tools, at my FREE TELESEMINAR:


The Secret to Being the Parent You Long to Be…
Here’s the Missing PEACE!
Free training in your own home, with Dr. Marcy Axness
Yes, I Want More Peace NOW! Click for details

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  • attributioner

    Bruce Lipton’s ideas on growth and protection are quite illuminating, aren’t they?