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We know that the components in children's brains don't process information in the same way as the components in adults' brains. There is a part that would be the primitive brain, which is for the child's survival and is the part of the brain that tells the child when they are hungry, sleepy, have to defend themselves against a stimulus or protect themselves when they are alone. This part of the brain helps us to survive and is what children use when they're babies. That's why it's so important to help small children to feel safe, to know that we'll look after them when they're scared, that they'll be well-fed and that we'll make sure they can sleep when they're tired, rather than making them stay awake. It's essential that they feel safe.
The second half of the brain is what is called the emotional brain. During the first years of life, this is a very important, fundamental part of the brain that lets children communicate their most basic survival instincts to their intellectual mind. If a child develops well, when they're an adult they will be able to channel their thoughts, emotions and actions in the same direction. And for that reason it is very important to educate children's emotional world during these early years. The brain is a bit like a tree: the primitive, survival-based part grows first, then the structures involving emotions develop, followed by the intellect-based part. However, if no effort has been made to help a child feel secure or to look after their emotional well-being, they will not be able to fully develop. A child will have plenty of time to learn Japanese, Chinese or math when they're older. What's important when they're young is that they grow up in a family where they feel safe and that they won't have to pay for their mistakes. All parents should be mindful of these very simple, but really important concepts.
There are many alternatives to punishments, which are a lot more pedagogical and which allow children to learn a lot more. The first of them would be to establish limits. This means explaining to a child what you don't want them to do before they do it. That way, the child does not develop certain neurocerebral connections or patterns that could lead them to repeat such negative behavior. By pausing to think before something happens, you can prevent it from taking place. That's why it's important to set limits. These limits can become rules. The difference between a rule and a punishment is that the punishment happens after an event has taken place, whereas a rule is usually established beforehand. These rules can start to apply to the whole family from the time a child is three or four. That means that when a child misbehaves, you can speak to them and reach an agreement whereby they acknowledge, realize or understand that their behavior is not acceptable. For example, a few days ago my children started arguing when they were watching TV. I was cooking at the time, so I went to the TV room and told them that I didn't like them arguing and asked them not to start arguing again. Two minutes later, they were arguing again, so I called everyone into the kitchen and we had a small meeting where I told them that it was not OK to argue because of the TV and that, in my opinion, the TV is something to be enjoyed and that they can't go around shouting and getting so angry. I then asked them how they could resolve the situation. What they said was that I could turn the TV off if they started shouting. They came up with this solution really quickly and they were very happy with it. However, what none of us could foresee was that in five minutes they would start fighting again. When this happened, I went into the room and said, “OK, so you're fighting again and, as the rule is that I can turn off the TV if you fight, we have to turn off the TV." That haven't argued about the TV since. Actually, they have argued because I've heard them; however, they've done so very quietly and in a way that you might call 'reaching an agreement'.