We’ll start today’s post with a story that was recently shared with us. It’s the story of a family who, as a result of having interacted with GGK Modules and Child Development Activities during their home visiting support services, reported the joy they are experiencing as they care for and interact with their baby.
When these parents were then asked about their favorite part of the day with their child, mom described in great detail how she loves to hold her child. “He puts his left arm around my neck and uses his finger to slowly trace my neck, as he falls asleep in my arms.” Dad’s eyes teared up as he listened attentively to mom’s story. He then said, My favorite part of the day is when I come home from work and baby welcomes me with a smile.”
At first these parents were fearful of participating in the home visiting program and had difficulty trusting their home visitor. The family had many challenges in their life. Both parents struggled with developmental delays and were afraid that their baby was going to be removed from their care. Through routine home visits and support they have learned about child development, bonding, attachment, how to play with their baby, and the importance of self-care. At this time, Dad has maintained employment for over a year at a local grocery store, and Mom is attending GED classes during the evenings. By finding many opportunities to create joyful experiences with their baby, both parents have blossomed into confident, caring, loving parents. It appears that their new found confidence in their parenting has also contributed to their ability to work toward personal goals for themselves.
Now let’s spend some time talking about how such joyful experiences impact our brains even during our adult life. As in all of our blogs, we will support our discussion with the latest research on this topic, in addition to referencing 7 GGK key ingredients of home visits, as we aim to support you in making your interactions with families fun, engaging, and informative. As demonstrated by our opening story, it’s magical when you can support parents in finding the real joy of parenting!
During the past decade, research has revealed that contrary to assumptions that changes in brain networks are possible only during crucial periods of development, the brain is permanently plastic (Arne, 2011). In other words, experiences, changes to our environment or learning new skills can actually reorganize the structure of our brain (Arne, 2011). Scientists use the term neuroplasticity to refer to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself. Neuroplasticity is not a new concept, but with the development of modern technology that allows us to actually see into the brain, science has confirmed the ability of our brains to “re-wire.” It’s this impressive ability of our brains that allows us to continue to learn new things, and bounce back from damage caused by stroke or injury, even conditions such as autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, depression, and addictions (Hampton, 2015).
How does this neuroplasticity impact our work with families? Every home visit is an opportunity to help parents re-wire their brains as they learn new parenting and life skills. For these brain changes to occur, parents will need to experience lots of positive interactions and practice new skills over and over again. Scientists call this “experience-dependent neural plasticity” (Arne, 2011), we just call it excellent Home Visiting! Parents will benefit in many ways from your smiles, support, shared laughter as they play with their baby, encouragement, and reassurance – Every home visit provides amazing opportunities to connect families’ interests and motivations with what they want to accomplish, through fun activities and joyful experiences in their relationship with each other, their child, and you.
According to Dr. Bruce Perry in his Cycle of Learning and Mastery, when we experience pleasure during an activity, we want to repeat that experience. With repetition, comes mastery and mastery provides a sense of accomplishment, pleasure, and confidence to act once again on curiosity (Perry, et.al., 2000). What does this mean for you as a Home Visitor? Visits should be FUN…for everyone involved! In order to achieve the desired program outcome, families must be engaged. It’s the pleasure of the visits and their relationship with you that will keep them around and involved in your services.
Keep in mind these 7 Key Ingredients for meaningful, informative, and pleasurable home visits:
1) Intention: Have a plan for your visit – know what you are aiming for; plan ahead for 2-3 things you want to accomplish during your home visit; AND be prepared to engage parent-child in a fun activity.
2) Interactions with the parent that communicate “I care about you, and I enjoy being with you” – Listen to hear…not just to respond. Really hear parents’ feelings and opinions; communicate “I’ve been looking forward to being with you today”; create opportunities for parents to experience joy.
3) Check in on the family’s accomplishments since your last visit – What information and skills have they put into practice; check in on their goal-related progress, communicating interest; look for the positives in all the things they do and accentuate them!
4) Link their values and dreams to how they are interacting with their child now – Connect the family’s culture and traditions with strengthening their parenting and guiding their lifestyle choices; explore GGK curriculum topics of interests to parents.
5) Provide opportunities for parents to learn how to support their child’s development – Be prepared to do GGK activities to teach parents how to stimulate their child’s growth across developmental domains; take advantage of teachable moments.
6) Cultivate a parenting skill aimed at strengthening the attachment relationship – Acknowledge parents for understanding and responding sensitively to their child’s cues and needs; point out to the parents the joy they are experiencing as they are caring and playing with their child
7) Connect your visit with “real-time” parenting that will take place between now and your next visit – Before your visit ends, ask parents how they will put into practice 2 to 3 bits of information or skills you have been focusing on, between now and your next visit. Remember repetition leads to mastery!
The Growing Great Kids/Growing Great Families Curriculum materials are your tools for building the joy-filled parent-child interactions that motivate empathic parenting and give parents hope for the future. Busy Home Visitors have a tendency to get stuck using the same Modules and Child Development Activities, overlooking other rich opportunities for bringing curiosity, fun and new perspectives into their visits-Would you be open to, right now, finding 2 new modules and 2 new activities to try out later this week? We hope so!
Arne, M. (2011). Experience-dependent Structural Plasticity in the Adult Human Brain. Department of Systems Neuroscience, University of Clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany. Published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Vol. 15, No. 10. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364661311001707
Hampton, D. (2015). Neuroplasticity: The 10 Fundamentals of Rewiring the Brain. Published Online on October 25, 2015 by Reset.com Retrieved from http://reset.me/story/neuroplasticity-the-10-fundamentals-of-rewiring-your-brain/
Perry, B.D., Hogan, L., Marlin, S., (2000). Curiosity, Pleasure and Play: A Neurodevelopment Perspective. HAAEYC Advocate Pages 9-11, August 2000.