The Single Best Predictor of Positive Outcomes for Children

In my last post, I invited readers to learn about some ways memories may be transgenerational in nature. Like me, many people who learn this are fascinated by it and its possible ramifications. It can be a real game changer in understanding why we each think, believe and behave as we do.

So I am sharing more research about our behavior

Another intriguing bit of research is what Dr. Daniel Siegel writes in The Neurobiology of We. He shares the single best predictor of positive outcomes for a child—meaning the child is emotionally healthy and primed to thrive.

His answer may surprise you.

Dr. Siegel says that being raised in a home where children can achieve strong and healthy attachment, or where the parents come from strong and healthy emotional roots are certainly important factors.

However, the single most critical factor is the response to the question, “How does this parent make sense of their life?”

Let’s try to simplify this concept to understand it better. If a parent can tell the story (or narrative) of their life and make sense of it—meaning how the past affected them—then research indicates their children are more likely to thrive.

Do you have a narrative?

It turns out that a fair number of us haven’t done the work necessary to create and make sense of our narratives. And some of us may not be able to do so.

In Dr. Siegel’s 2014 seminar entitled Toward an Interpersonal Neurobiology of the Developing Mind, (starting at 57:02 on the downloaded file), he shares approximately 20% of the population are incredibly compromised when it comes to having autobiographical memories. He talks about how these adults can learn to create autobiographical memories in the present but can never go back and recapture their childhood memories.

Insecure and disorganized attachment in childhood seems to be the cause for being unable to have these autobiographical memories.

Further, if raised in families where life is extremely chaotic, our adult brains somehow can’t make sense of what is going on. Therefore, we do not store coherent memories that later can be retrieved, examined and understood as autobiographical narratives.

I think there are two takeaways from this information.

One) It is important for parents actively and intentionally to promote secure attachments in their children and be especially careful not to interact with their children in ways that leave them feeling insecurely attached.

Two) It is important for parents to make sense of their own narratives to give themselves clarity and resolution regarding childhood issues to prime their children to thrive.

I think combining this bit of research with an appreciation for the transgenerational nature of some memories is quite powerful.

After all, consider how much of our parenting practices are transgenerational in nature, including those practices that may have been necessary for survival but unhealthy in the long run for parents and their children? How many of our parenting practices based on these transgenerational memories contribute to our abilities to have coherent narratives about our lives?

How can we break unhealthy and possibly transgenerational cycles by learning how to create coherent narratives?

In my next post, readers will be invited to learn more about this idea of creating narratives. Stay tuned!

Invitation to Reflect

  1. Because this is such powerful information, notice how it is making you feel. For some, it might be interesting and even fascinating. For others it may also feel alarming and/or overwhelming. It’s a lot to think about!
  2. To what extent do you have clear and coherent childhood memories? In what ways have you thought through your childhood experiences in an effort to make sense of these experiences?
  3. Who in your life have you or could you share some of your narratives with?
  4. Have you considered making sure your children have heard your childhood family stories as a way to not only help them connect with their family but also to help them make sense of their growing narratives?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network


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