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On brain development and bratty-ness

Parksville Qualicum Beach News - 9/29/2017

A mental health clinician is hoping to convince parents that, if their kid is being a pain, they should look to the brain.

Jan Ference, an infant-parent mental health fellow and NMT certified clinician, will be giving a talk called How Neuroscience Can Help Us Be Better Caregivers on Sept. 28 at Qualicum Commons.

The talk is presented by School District 69 (Qualicum) and the District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC). Ference said the core of her talk is to convince parents that, when it comes to bad behaviour, "there is an underlying mechanism that drives that behaviour that people are confused by, and usually the underlying mechanism has something to do with brain development."

Drawing on what's called the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT), Ference said she hopes to provide a new lens through which parents can look at their children's and their own behaviour.

"The sort of overarching goal of any conversation that I have with people is to remove that concept of somebody having bad behaviour, and frame it in a new way: that, depending on how your brain is wired, based on your life experience, your function is what it is, and you can improve that function if you understand how the brain works."

NMT combines child development, neuroscience and psychiatry, said Ference, "laying a groundwork of understanding for people about the neurology of a person, the biology of a person, your physiological response to things, how that translates into emotion, and behaviour and day-to-day functioning."

While the traditional way of dealing with a child with anxiety, for instance, would be to have them see a therapist and a pediatrician for medication, that approach assumes the child had a totally healthy upbringing.

Ference said she more often deals with children who have had difficult upbringings, for whom simple or uncontrollable things can lead to problems in brain development.

"That can be as simple as chronic ear infection," said Ference. Other things such as poverty, lost jobs and divorce can also have an impact, both on the parents and their children as they develop.

"So if you don't offer therapeutic intervention in the right sequence based on brain development, you are kind of missing the boat," said Ference.

While this method can put parents under a microscope, Ference said, the point is not to make parents feel like they've done something wrong. Rather, it's to provide parents with answers, and ways in which they and their kids can better understand and deal with each other.

Because, more often than not, a kid isn't behaving badly just to be mean or spiteful.

"Most people don't get up in the morning and say, 'I'm going to wreck my mom's day,'" said Ference. "I'm not going to get up in the morning and say, 'I'm going to punch somebody, or have road rage.' People don't plan that stuff. It happens, and it's all to do with how your brain responds to stress. And that is all related to how your brain developed as a young child, how much stress you had, and how it was handled by the adults in your life."

The talk takes place at Qualicum Commons at 744 Primrose St. on Thursday, Sept. 28 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Seating is limited.

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