Friday, March 17, 2017

Your Brain on Uncertainty


Brains love uncertainty.

What? You just finished writing a post about how brains love certainty and now you are telling me the complete opposite? Yes, I am telling you the complete opposite.  Seems our brains love a good paradox.

Brains need certainty and uncertainty.
Brains need safety as well as some stress and danger.
Brains need routine as well as unpredictability.
Brains need calm learning states and as well as chaos.

Studies found that seniors walking on cobblestones rather than smooth paved roads increased neural activity and learning.  Learning is all about stretching the brain just outside the comfort zone and pushing beyond what we know.

Social emotional learning needs uncertainty in order to develop and evolve.  Children AND adults needs lots and lots of practice at managing unpredictable, uncertain environments.  This is where things can get a little tricky.

Parents are spending a great deal of energy, paving the road for their children's life.  The right programs, the right schools, the  right teacher, the right friends and it goes on and on.  Increasingly, I see parents advocating for  their children on more and more platforms. My child needs the best learning environments, the best friends, the best after school care program, the best fitting teacher, and on and on it goes.

Sometimes parent interventions are necessary.  Most of the times, the challenges can be directed at supporting the child in managing the situation on their own.  Most of the time, challenges are good learning opportunities that are probably wrapped in some discomfort, pain and stress.  We in fact need a little pain and suffering to learn.

Don't get me wrong, your job as a parent is to advocate for your child. It is your responsibility to fight for your child's best interest. It is not your job, however to eliminate suffering or discomfort or anything other than optimal learning environments. Some stress and discomfort is important. Optimal environments are the equivalent of smooth pavement and you don't want that.

Safe environments guarantee your child will not get the practice they need to develop a resilient brain. Safe environments, must include opportunities for children to practice dangerous things. This is true for all of us - It is true for adults, for teens and for children. Living means we need lots of practice inhabiting uncertain, unpredictable spaces.

Life is full of uncertainty and unpredictability. The best way all to manage uncertainty and unpredictability is to have some exposure to it and to practice, practice, practice. Practice problem solving, practice managing discomfort, practice taking care of your needs, practice asking for help, practice managing stress.

And therein lies another paradox: the best way to keep children safe is to give them exposure and practice at managing challenges, discomfort and life, with all of its uncertainty and unpredictability.

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