(This post is an excerpt from Choosing Change #13: Building Character and Building People (Part 3 of 3) in the Choosing Change series, inspired by the work of Dr. Dan Siegel and his colleague Dr. Tina Bryson. I’d also like to suggest you read Changing your Mind with LoveWorks and Changing your Mind with the Wheel of Awareness – Dr. McGill)
Wheel of Awareness + Integrated Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex Functions (McGill, 2019)
Do you ever wonder what it would look like if a Child or Adolescent had their Adult Parent/Caregiver deliver to them specific, value-laden behaviors during each of their psychosocial phases of development, to enhance the functioning of their brain, mind and their relationships, resulting in a good Triangle of Well-Being, on their way to cultivating good Interpersonal Neurobiology?
If you’re an Adolescent, do you think it would be helpful to be given a “map” that could assist you to focus your energy on what matters now in your life journey and to prepare you with insights and ideas that could help you to launch effectively into the next stage of your life journey?
Or, if you’re an Adult, and life circumstances cause you to emotionally lose it or blow your stack, would it be helpful to be given pointers that could assist you to not only regain your composure, but also help you determine what you might need to give to yourself based on the “age range of your emotional regression episode?”
Based on the research of Dr. Bryson and Dr. Siegel, I’ve created a chart loaded with information to convey how the nine functions of your middle prefrontal cortex could support a Parent or Caregiver to give assistance and guidance to their child or adolescent during these critical phases of their development.
When we think of our Children, we think of goals that we have for them, so most of the information in the Child’s entries is goal-oriented that a Parent or Caregiver will want to focus on delivering to them.
When we think of Adolescents, we not only think of goals for them, but we’d love for them to be engaged in activities to gain confidence, competence and proficiency, so most of the information in the adolescent entries focus on activity.
When Adolescents grow into Adulthood and become Partners and eventually Parents, we think of their life experience rewarding them with age-appropriate wisdom and skill, so most of the information in the Adult entries focus on skill development.
Taken together, if the executive, higher order part of your brain and mind focuses attention on appropriate goals, activities and skills then more than likely you’re setting yourself up to produce and experience some good if not great outcomes!
So what you’ll find in each of the Child, Adolescent or Adult entries (or in the Child column, the Adolescent column or the Adult column in the printer-friendly copy) are suggestions regarding how the nine functions of the middle prefrontal cortex could help each age range to develop “whole brain” strategies to be successful in that particular stage of their life.
Equally, what you’ll find under each of the nine headings (or if you read left-to-right in the printer-friendly copy) are insights regarding how that particular function of your middle prefrontal cortex could assist you to focus on developmental tasks that are critical over the course of one’s life.
Finally, as mentioned above, when adversity, dysregulation, traumatic recall or emotional flooding threaten or actually hijacks your ability to function as a Healthy Adult, Healthy Adolescent or as a Contented Child, then I suggest you read the material under the headings in reverse order (or from right-to-left in the printer-friendly copy) to recall what activity you’ll want to engage in (listed primarily in the Adolescent squares) and what goal you’ll want to focus on (listed primarily in the Child squares) that will hopefully halt, then help you to course-correct from the emotionally regressed episode you may be experiencing.
Since we’re talking Integration, I encourage you to think about how the application of the nine middle prefrontal cortex functions as written in the Integrated Chart could help you to see the other side of the Wheel of Awareness, as you endeavor to see a whole and more complete picture of your current situation.
Thanks for allowing me to give you my insights as gleaned from the wonderful work of Dr. Bryson and Dr. Siegel, as you think about the development of your Children in this important part of your house!
The Integrated Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex Functions (Child, Adolescent and Adult Goals, Activities and Skills)
1. Body Regulation
Child (Birth to 12): For children, Body regulation begins with the creation of a Secure bond and Attachment with their Caregiver(s). Safety, nurturing words and responsive behaviors convey love to them. Your goal is to create an environment where calm, connection and stability helps your child to feel soothed, which will be internalized and repeated by them as they learn and benefit from this skill given to them by you.
Adolescents (Age 13 – 17): Breathing, walking or exercising are activities that help you to discharge energy and remain calm. Going on “automatic pilot” and allowing your emotions to reactively hijack your cognitions will take you to a non-productive state of mind. You’re encouraged to investigate your emotions and what’s causing your arousal, to determine which of your values will help you to engage in helpful, intentional and functional behavior.
Adult (18+): “S.I.F.T-ing” your mind is a reflective practice to determine your sensations, images, feelings and thoughts. Others will benefit when you take ownership for your thoughts and feelings by taking a “time-in” to engage in this mindful activity, which helps you develop the skills of insight, flexibility, receptivity, empathy and compassion. Know that your ability to create Regulation will also create openness and possibility for you and others.
2. Attuned Communication
Child (Birth to 12): It’s never too early to identify and integrate Healthy Adult mode thinking and behaviors, based on smart values that help you to feel good about yourself and maintain internal peace. Practicing inclusive values that help you to establish secure and respectful connections, even when others have different values or beliefs than yours is your goal.
Adolescents (Age 13 – 17): Identifying, adopting and practicing values that help you to be aware, mindful, open, honest, kind, inclusive, empathetic and compassionate, in addition to being in touch with your thoughts and feelings is important! Creating and maintaining an “internal working model” in your brain that is flexible and open to change is an ongoing activity that will serve you best in the upcoming seasons of your life!
Adult (18+): Attuned communication is protected by a state of mind when memories from the past may intersect with your current thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, but are carefully monitored for their positive and negative potential. Skill is acquired when accidental (or intentional) ruptures are repaired by integrating the values that help you to respect any differences you have with others and to live a life that demonstrates and imparts love.
3. Emotional Balance
Child (Birth to 12): Caregivers who create environments where love, dialogue, encouragement, support, understanding, validation and connection are experienced tend to be successful in achieving their goal of facilitating emotional balance in the lives of their children. Modeling these values with your children helps you and them to avoid or eliminate chaotic and rigid extremes that are associated with emotional and dyadic dysregulation.
Adolescents (Age 13 – 17): Adolescents who take daily “time-ins” to “S.I.F.T” their mind are engaging in activities that promote awareness and insight. The payoff for the practice of these middle prefrontal cortex behaviors is the ability to “decipher then decide” what intentional actions you’ll implement when you feel strong or unpleasant emotions. Empowerment occurs when your thoughtful choices and healthy responses “cortically override” any reactive emotion that threatens to derail your intention!
Adult (18+): By deciphering then deciding what response you’ll implement when strong emotion is felt means you’re developing skills to create productive and desired outcomes that are focused, inclusive, curative and balanced. Equally, you’re probably noticing that you’re reducing the frequency, intensity and number of “emotional hijacking episodes” that are connected to unpleasant, uncomfortable or traumatic memories from your distant past or current circumstances.
4. Response Flexibility
Child (Birth to 12): Drs. Bryson and Siegel encourage parents to develop family environments that evidence flexibility, adaptiveness, coherence, (useful) energy and stability (“FACES”). The demonstration of these characteristics helps both hemispheres of your child’s brain to develop and function so that intentional, responsive and predictable behavior occurs instead of maladaptive schemas and mode behaviors.
Adolescents (Age 13 – 17): Engaging in activity that brings awareness to feelings of fear, anger, shame or loneliness which could be “cortically overridden” (versus allowing your feelings to catapult you into impulsive or regretful behavior) is critical and will determine your success at creating and maintaining a functional “Window of Tolerance.” A larger window of tolerance, coupled with your increased reflection, provides you with a greater range of options and responses from which to choose.
Adult (18+): Practicing Agape-oriented values that are mutually beneficial and consistently delivered when options, solutions and reasonable and respectful responses are needed is a reflection of a focused brain that wants to achieve and enjoy good interpersonal neurobiology with others! Thoughtful and intentional responses reflect skill, flexibility and they cultivate attunement and compassionate connections with others!
5. Fear Modulation
Child (Birth to 12): The last thing any parent wants to expose their child to is behavior that creates Avoidant, Ambivalent or Disorganized attachments (i.e., Come here!/Go away!), in addition to Maladaptive Schemas/Schema Modes (i.e., Defective, Mistrust, Failure, Unrelenting Standards). It’s good to know that even with the painful pasts that could have been experienced in childhood, we’re able to “reparent” ourselves to develop “Earned” Secure Attachments with people and processes that are restorative!
Adolescents (Age 13 – 17): Identifying Who I am and How I’m going to live my life are critical issues in the life of an adolescent, especially when you’ve been exposed to bad, ugly or traumatic life experiences. Identifying and living by values that make sense to you is a great way to productively use your energy instead of constructing or hiding behind ego defenses that result in you “getting lost in the same old familiar places” dictated by unexamined or unintegrated fear.
Adult (18+): It’s the Healthy Adult part of you that comes to the assistance of the fearful, shamed or Vulnerable Child part of you to integrate safety versus abuse, listening versus ignoring, true help versus a “habit” of escape, value and worth versus shame and encouragement to modulate your fear. Please know that when the “narrow window of fear” is opened by the presence and demonstration of your Healthy Adult responses, you’re equipping your self with skill to see a broader, clearer and unobstructed “Plain of Possibilities.”
Child (Birth to 12): Dr. Bryson quotes Dr. Siegel’s definition of Mindsight: “Understanding our own mind as well as understanding the mind of another.” Helping your children to develop the skill of mindsight (insight) occurs when we help them to interpret and make sense of their body sensations, images from their memories or current events, and their thoughts and feelings. It’s great to see them using their mPFC!
Adolescents (Age 13 – 17): When current emotions or experiences threaten to “hijack” your mind and take you to personal or interpersonal places that are not good for you, what goals, values, skills or “Healthy Adult” processes could you draw upon to refocus your energy, mind and actions? Hopefully, you’re “uploading” values that help you to feel grounded, think intentionally and behave morally and empathetically. Anything coming to mind?
Adult (18+): Paying attention (to your body, mind and uploaded values) so you’re able to act intentionally is living in the moment with awareness and skill. Focusing your attention on your “internal map of deliberate behavior” keeps you centered in the River of Integration (versus the “sandbars or shores” of Chaos, Rigidity or Regret). Repeating these mental processes keeps your focus on neurobiological goals.
Child (Birth to 12): Children need to see their parents model Agape-oriented values in their behavior with others. Observing behavior that treats others with love, respect, esteem and worth not only “uploads” into their brain Healthy Adult behavior that is safe and makes sense to them, but it also increases the likelihood it will be repeated due to the synaptic and neural connections that are “firing and wiring in” these very valuable values!
Adolescents (Age 13 – 17): Empathy, Sympathy and Compassion are values to be encoded into your long-term memory, in light of the developmental phase you’re in (Identity vs. Role Confusion), or phase you’re about to enter (Intimacy vs. Isolation) or the emotionally-regressed phase (Adolescent) you’ve lapsed into. Dr. Bryson encourages you to “Monitor (sense) and Modify (shape)” your behavior so you’ll create and enjoy good dyadic and mutual regulation experiences with others.
Adult (18+): Larger Windows of Tolerance coupled with mental processing tools (like “Cooking with C.O.A.L.” – being Curious, Open, Accepting and Loving) leads to attuned communication that is integrative, focused and inclusive (versus exclusive) of others. These skills help a person to see what others see, feel what others feel, imagine what it’s like to be them and understand what life is like for them.
Child (Birth to 12): Children thrive when parents identify and demonstrate values that facilitate growth that’s appropriate for their phase of development. Among other needs, Infants need safety, security and hope, Toddlers need support while Preschoolers could use encouragement and Elementary-aged kids could use validation with their achievements. What are you finding that your kids need and are you consistently giving it to them?
Adolescents (Age 13 – 17): Who am I and How shall I live are questions to ask yourself not just in this phase of your life but hopefully each day for the remainder of your life. Answering these questions and producing behavior congruent with your answer will depend upon the values and virtues that you deem important, integrate and become proficient with. I encourage you to live an examined life…you and others will definitely enjoy the benefits!
Adult (18+): The timely practice of values and virtues (awareness, responsibility, negotiation and collaboration, all seasoned with healthy amounts of Empathy!) produce repair in your relationships when there’s been a rupture. They’ll also help you to create and maintain space in your mind for new ideas as well as options and possibilities that not only help you in your repair but could facilitate interpersonal healing and thriving!
Child (Birth to 12): Children, who are very instinctual, have innate drives that cause them to engage in “proximity seeking behavior.” According to Dr. Siegel, this behavior prompts caregivers to move toward and connect with them, resulting in behavior that helps them to feel soothed, secure and safe. Affirming your child’s intuition validates their ability to hear and trust their own and very important biological messages!
Adolescents (Age13 – 17): Adolescence is a beautiful time to listen to your body, which is full of messages for you to explore and affirm. Coupled with your values, your intuition will inspire you to examine your ideas, concepts, people and opportunities, and if you’re listening carefully, will guide you to make thoughtful decisions that are mutually beneficial for you and others. Enjoy the mental maps you create with your mind, energy, creativity and intuition!
Adult (18+): Listening to your “gut knowledge” that you sense in your body keeps you safe, validates your feelings, informs your decisions and prompts you to act. Integrating insight and truth, derived from your self-messages may mean you have unfinished business you need to tend to, and more than likely you’ll feel wiser and peaceful when your job is done. Is there anything that your body is hinting at that needs your current focus?
Questions for the Integrated Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex Functions (Child, Adolescent and Adult Goals, Activities and Skills)
- From the Wheel of Awareness, what events or experiences located on the 10:00, 11:00, 12:00 or 1:00 o’clock position on the Wheel are creating a problem for you and causing you distress? What exactly is the problem?
- As you look at the other side of the Wheel of Awareness, in addition to the Integrated Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex functions, is there anything that comes to mind that you’d like to integrate or develop that you’ve discovered which could help you to solve your current problem? What is it?
- When you think of blessing and setting goals for your Children (or Grandchildren), which of the listed suggestions would you like to develop in their life?
- When you think of blessing and seeing your Adolescent involved in an activity that would assist them to develop competencies, which of the listed suggestions would you like to help develop in their life?
- As an Adult or Parent, what goals, activity or skills would you like to develop for yourself, in your effort to love, bless and develop skills that will help you as a person and as a Parent or Caregiver?
- What practical strategies come to mind that you will integrate and practice regularly so you’re able to regulate your body and mind (Walk, stretch, exercise, Yoga, meditation, journal, etc.)?
- If you’ve noticed that you’ve experienced one too many Emotional Regression episodes (or the intrusiveness of any of the Ego Defenses), what information located in the chart will you focus your attention on to cease this activity?
- Revisit the “12 Steps to Changing your Mind with Interpersonal Neurobiology”. Which of the Losing strategies will you eliminate and which of the Winning strategies will you integrate for your benefit and the benefit of others?
- Revisit the “Changing your Mind in the River of Integration.” Which of the Psychological or Theological strategies will you integrate to help your Child, Adolescent or Adult?
Thanks for reading this post on “The Integrated Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex Functions” and for your desire to love your Children as you love yourself!
As time permits, please visit the other blogs written by Dr. Ken McGill: Daily Bread for Life and “3 – 2 – 5 – 4 – 24″ for additional information that could be helpful. I welcome your comments below or via email and your favorites, your retweets and your “+1’s” if you have a brief moment and find the information helpful. Again, it is my desire to provide the very best info for your consideration.
TeleHealth/Video counseling sessions are available for those who prefer to meet online – Dr. McGill