In Brain-Body Parenting: How to Stop Managing Behavior and Start Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids, leading child psychologist Mona Delahooke, PhD, offers a deep understanding of child development that helps parents solve children’s behavioral challenges from the inside out. Even better, she helps us understand the brain-body connection so that we can be proactive and prevent many challenges from arising in the first place.
Many parents know Dr. Delahooke’s prior best-selling book, Beyond Behaviors, where we learned about the child’s nervous system and how it contributes to their behaviors. We learned that often, children’s seemingly oppositional behaviors stem from their subconscious attempts to get their needs met. In other words, they’re not provoking us intentionally. Once we help our children meet those needs, we start enjoying more harmonious family dynamics.
In short, her brilliant books help make parenting easier.
How Brain-Body Parenting Differs from Most Parenting Manuals
In her years of experience working in the field of child psychology, Dr. Delahooke routinely encountered distraught parents craving ways to raise resilient kids — while also wanting fewer parenting challenges along the way. Through her research, she uncovered a strong brain-body connection between a child’s sensory systems and the behavior parents often find problematic.
Using this knowledge, she recommends ways that both children and their caregivers can find greater peace together. Specifically, using neuroscience and polyvagal theory (“translated” into everyday terms), Dr. Delahooke helps us better understand children’s behavior and become the peaceful parent we want to be. From this deeper understanding of what our children need, we can not only stop managing behavior, but we can also raise children who are joyful (and in whom we can delight)!
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This is not a one size fits all approach
What’s notably different from many other parenting books is that Dr. Delahooke doesn’t claim that one child’s development should necessarily match that of any other child. Each child’s unique perceptions of safety and the world around them, along with their individual sensory needs, shapes their experiences — and how they respond to those experiences. Their behavior reflects what they’re feeling, and they’re not always able to use their so-called “thinking brain” as easily as we might hope. Some behaviors are truly out of their control. She calls these behaviors “bottom-up” or “body up” behaviors.
“Behaviors are really just a signal of what’s going on on a much deeper level.” – Dr. Mona Delahooke, author of Beyond Behaviors and Brain-Body Parenting: How to Stop Managing Behavior and Start Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids
Using the latest relational neuroscience research, which is much more practical than most of the standard “parenting manuals” available today, she empowers us to see the child in front of us rather than having a “one size fits all” solution to every problem. She helps us look at our child’s signals and figure out what they need to thrive.
She gives parents tools that support their children’s self-regulation skills and calmer behavior, all within a framework supporting connection between adult and child.
She believes in treating children with respect, which helps us foster loving parent/child relationships. She’s not here to help us “control” behavior, but rather, to help us decode it. Once we understand the root causes of troublesome behavioral challenges, we can address them peacefully and with empathy for the child’s perception of their experiences.
Parents matter, too
Additionally, Dr. Delahooke encourages parental self-care in extremely practical ways. She knows the essential role our own nervous systems play in helping us navigate life with children peacefully, and we can’t possibly be peaceful if we’re running on empty.
Parents, too, have a brain-body connection, and our own nervous systems and sensory needs also need tending. We matter, too. Her tips help us show up for ourselves so that we can show up for our children.
Discussion with Dr. Mona Delahooke, clinical psychologist
Brain-Body Parenting: How to Stop Managing Behavior and Start Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids: This new, fascinating, and practical book helps parents shift from using outdated and even potentially damaging parenting methods to encouraging calmer behavior naturally.
Dr. Delahooke helps distraught parents gain a deeper understanding of the “why” behind children’s challenging behaviors. She helps us understand children’s emotions in deeper and more meaningful ways.
The following is a partial transcript of a recent interview between Dr. Mona Delahooke and Sarah R. Moore of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting. Additional notes from their conversation are available here, and the entire interview is available here.
Partial Interview Transcript: Brain-Body Parenting
Sarah of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting
How can we tell the difference between a child who’s struggling and a child whose temperament is just different from another child’s?
Dr. Mona Delahooke
That’s such a beautiful question. Children come into the world with so many individual differences. They are not a carbon copy of us, so it’s interesting.
I’ve been thinking about temperament differently in the past few years. I’ve been thinking about how we are in the world as being more related to how our sensory systems process information, because the only way we are in the world is through how our sensory systems make sense of the world.
Our sensory systems make sense of this stuff inside of our bodies: our hearing, our touch, our sense of movement, our smell, and our taste. I think that what temperament may be, actually, is understanding how a child’s body and brain process, interpret, and experience the world.
In fact, we are a sensory experience for our children. What I mean by that is, for example, you might have a child who wanted a lot of contact, always wanted to be thrown into the air, and craved a lot of movement and input. You might think, oh, this is a feisty temperament!
But what that child might be, really, rather than a feisty temperament, is a person who is engineered through their genetics and through their constitution to crave movement.
That’s why understanding our children’s sensory needs and what their bodies are craving is really useful.
Sarah of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting
I love how you talk about sensory integration in the book and how much of the book you devote to it. Knowing how sensory integration works key to understanding what our children are able to do — and how they’re able to behave in any given moment.
I really think it is. That’s what I’ve used in my practice. So far, sensory integration has been relegated to this little field called occupational therapy (OT). Children with with differences are sometimes referred for an OT evaluation or a sensory integration evaluation, but I want to blast it open to all children and all adults.
Through my own exploration, I found out a lot about my children, and also a lot about myself and how our sensory systems impact who we are.
For example, I had a serious illness that I wrote about in Brain-Body Parenting. I had a virus that took down my vestibular and proprioceptive systems. It was a basically a virus that attacked my middle and inner ears. I was hospitalized for a couple weeks, and I recovered, thankfully, but when it happened, I could not walk. People had to carry me because you need a sense of balance and gravity, which is is through your vestibular system.
Ever since then, I have had difficulties with certain types of input.
I didn’t know this at the time, but what I did know is that when I go to a restaurant, I like to have my back against a wall. When I’m in the middle of a restaurant with the sound bouncing off all around me, I would start to feel like I was getting a headache, or I’d start to feel anxious.
Only after I learned more about sensory processing did I realize what was really happening. My husband and I used to laugh and joke that I was high-maintenance. At the time, I thought, “That’s really weird,” but now I look at it as having been compassionate to my nervous system.
“Long story short, if your child has certain preferences that you think are high maintenance or weird, it’s really how their little body and brain are making sense of the world. Looking at them compassionately, know that they are using the information from their senses to feel better; to feel grounded.” – Dr. Mona Delahooke, author ofBrain-Body Parenting: How to Stop Managing Behavior and Start Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids
What parents need to know about Brain-Body Parenting
In Brain-Body Parenting: How to Stop Managing Behavior and Start Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids, Dr. Delahooke offers parents tools for solving troublesome behavioral challenges. We can improve children’s lives by understanding them better and supporting their sensory needs. As the child’s emotional experience unravels and the adult understands it, both the children and the adults can find more peace together. Dr. Delahooke guides parents to examine behavior from the perspectives of the child’s entire nervous system as well as brain science. In doing so, she helps us see beneath the child’s challenging behavior and discover what they need to thrive.
About Dr. Mona Delahooke
Mona Delahooke, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist with more than 30 years of experience caring for children and their families. She is a senior faculty member of the Profectum Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting families of neurodiverse children, adolescents and adults. She is a trainer for the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.Dr. Delahooke holds the highest level of endorsement in the field of infant and toddler mental health in California, as a Reflective Practice Mentor (RPM).
She is a frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant to parents, organizations, schools, and public agencies. Dr. Delahooke has dedicated her career to promoting compassionate, relationship-based neurodevelopmental interventions for children with developmental, behavioral, emotional, and learning differences.
She is the author of the award winning book Beyond Behaviors: Using Brain Science and Compassion to Understand and Solve Children’s Behavioral Challenges (PESI, 2019), and Social and Emotional Development in Early Intervention: A Skills Guide for Working with Children (PESI, 2017). Her popular blog, at www.monadelahooke.com covers a range of topics useful for caregivers and childhood providers. Follow her on Facebook: @DrMonaDelahooke, Instagram: @monadelahooke and Twitter @monadelahooke.
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Sarah R. Moore, MFS, is the founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting, an author, an armchair neuroscientist, and most importantly, a Mama. She’s a lifelong learner with training in child development, improv comedy, trauma recovery, and interpersonal neurobiology. She helps bring JOY, EASE, and CONNECTION back to families. Her first parenting book will be released this year. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, and Twitter.