News Column

Brain Expert: Connections Important in Raising Kids

March 27, 2013

John Lundy


American lifestyles aren't doing us or our children any favors, Dr. Amy Banks said.

"The pace, the competition -- that's the thing to know about our culture," she said. "We're off the scale."

Banks, a former psychiatry instructor at Harvard Medical School, has devoted her career to what she calls "relational neuroscience." It's a highly complex field of study that leads to common-sense conclusions.

Banks is director of advanced training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Boston. She will be in Duluth next week for a talk to a general audience and a daylong seminar geared more toward professionals.

Her free talk at Marshall School's Fregeau Auditorium on Tuesday evening will be on "Raising Connected and Competent Children."

In a telephone interview this week, Banks said what we've been learning from the science of the brain suggests that the American way of

individualism, competitiveness and a fast pace isn't the most effective way to raise children.

"The whole value of a kid becomes what they can do rather than who they are," Banks said. "They become king of the hill, but they're disconnected."

Relationships and connections need to be stressed in raising children, she said. That doesn't mean your 6-year-old shouldn't be on the soccer team, Banks said. It does mean it's not all about winning.

"Think about what soccer at age 6 could be," she said. "It could be kids building large motor muscles. It could be kids really learning to cooperate. ... There's one kid that's going to be Pele, and it's unlikely going to be your kid."

Banks understands about competition, she said -- she played Division I basketball in college. Lessons can be learned from winning and losing, she said. But she sees danger in extreme competitiveness, in valuing kids only on the basis of whether they won their last game.

Issues of raising children aren't confined to the Ivory Tower for Banks. Her own children -- 14-year-old twins -- don't cut her any slack, she said.

"It becomes known as 'oh, that relationship crap,' " she said, laughing, about her son's and daughter's evaluation of her work. "Fourteen, I have to say, sort of gets to be a critical age where they don't want to hear so much from me."

But relationships -- taking the time to connect with other people -- really are crucial, she said.

"We function best -- our whole bodies and everything -- function best when we're in healthy, supportive connections," Banks said. "In every place possible, from parenting to education ... we need to be reframing our skill set and really teaching people how to have healthy relationships."

Source: (c)2013 the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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