A monthly column by social entrepreneur and A2B Transformation Group founder Vivienne Schultz.
Understanding growth and development patterns of infants will help Christians understand the neurology of theology.
The neurological reason for so much lack of INTEGRITY among citizens is because parents and guardians messed with the development (mostly unintentionally) of their children’s minds during early childhood. This often affects the unnatural stress hormone secretion, weakening happy hormonal activity, in turn causing disorders and character flaws.
The first five years of life are a time of incredible growth and learning. An understanding of the rapid changes in a child’s developmental status requires parents and caregivers to have deep wisdom and maturity, and ideally a neuro-behavioural understanding.
It requires parents to give active and quality attention to the pre-school years and to guide and promote optimal whole-brain development (analysis and synthesis) that will form the foundation for every other phase of socio, spiritual, occupational and cognitive development.
Lets look at the child development processes required for integrity to develop. Integrity is all about integration — integration of the lower brain functions by the higher brain functions. This happens when the senses and the lower (‘primitive / reptilian’) brain is integrated with the higher brain, in other words when the senses don’t perceive danger and don’t trigger self preservation behaviour e.g. fight and flight.
Lets go back to the first level of integration, namely reflex integration:
A reflex is an automatic body response to a stimulus that is involuntary; so, the person has no control over this response. Blinking is a reflex which continues throughout life. There are other reflexes which occur in infancy and also disappear a few weeks or months after birth. The presence of reflexes at birth is an indication of normal brain and nerve development. When normal reflexes are not present or if the reflexes continue past their expiry date, it could either be medical e.g. brain or nerve damage or emotional (and emotional trauma often leads to spiritual trauma).
Some reflexes are needed for survival. Let me discuss two of these.
1. The Startle (Morro) Reflex develops approximately in the 12th week inside the womb and should ideally be integrated by month four. It’s an automatic reaction to a sudden change in sensory stimuli. It is the instant awakening of survival systems, reacting to a threat. The Morro Reflex trains the infant nervous system in developing the “fight or flight” survival response, triggering a domino physiological response, secretion of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, swallowed breathing due to increased heart rate and blood pressure. Non-integration of this reflex causes hypersensitivity to incoming stimuli causing allergies and asthma. Anger or emotional outbursts are easily triggered, as are shyness, poor balance and coordination, motion sickness and difficulty with visual perception. These children are easily fatigued, irritable under fluorescent lighting, etc.
The quicker the primitive response is calmed down the easier physiological responses can be reversed and subsided, involving the higher brain in responsiveness. One can, for example, show the baby where the source of the stimulus is, and that it is posing no danger. Attentiveness, filtering and coping skills can then develop. This is the basis of a more mature nervous system skill that has the ability to filter out unwanted stimuli and choose what to pay attention to. This eventually results in the higher brain process of an internal locus of control.
2. An even earlier reflex is called the Fear Paralysis Reflex FPR, which develops in the 5th to 8th week of womb life, and ideally is integrated before birth. FPR is a stress-coping reflex, causing tightening of the jaw and eye muscles. The limb muscles contract and pull in toward the core. Breathing stops and the heart rate drops. If this reflex is not fully integrated at birth, it causes never ending fear and anxiety. Such an individual is prevented from moving forward toward a purpose-driven life.
When the Fear Paralysis Reflex is not integrated, it prevents the integration of successive reflexes, producing adults with underlying anxiety, insecurity, low self-esteem, depression, isolation and withdrawal. They will constantly feel overwhelmed and shy. They can also expect excessive fear of embarrassment, of separation from a loved one and need for a partner. Low tolerance for stress and eating disorders are also not excluded.
Reflex movements grow the brain. But they are supposed to be temporary. If they don’t integrate, the human stays in primitive mode, and is controlled by reflexes, compulsions and impulses. And if I may say, this is exactly where the devil want us to remain — in primitive brain mode.
Such a human finds it extremely hard to get into their higher brain, where our miraculous self-controlled will and creativity lies. Instead they live a life driven by the impulses, urges and compulsions of their primitive brain. They become addicted and neglect their most important life tasks such as loving one another. They find it impossible to optimise themselves or live out their calling. They are filled with fear or depression due to the lack of sufficient happy hormone secretion.
Did you know that we are all wonderfully created to secrete our own happy hormones and that we are not supposed to be dependent on synthetic pharmaceutical supplements?
Two tips to help your child integrate their reflexes
Remove the limits.
Playpens, baby carriers, jumpers and all the other paraphernalia we use to help us cope with our little busy bodies put a damper on their natural inquisitiveness. Restricting their movements simply cause unintegrated reflexes, because they can not naturally learn the consequences of their actions. The world outside the playpen is understood to be too dangerous to engage with.
In all the busyness of our lives, make time for free play, outside of the walls of a playpen or park.
Allow them to test the limits of danger.
Why are reflexes important? From the womb on, the childhood reflex movements literally grow the brain. Repetitive, automatic reflex movements are essential for the development of balance, mobility, vision, hearing, speaking, learning and communicating.
Sensory motor stimulation and rhythmic movements not only help integrate reflexes, they activate critical links between the cerebellum, limbic system and pre-frontal cortex. This “whole-brain linking” creates optimal functioning and accounts for why the movements are so helpful for a large variety of conditions.
Where does this kind of “linking” happen most? When children are allowed to test the limits of danger for themselves — when they try to climb higher, crawl further, get dirtier. This is where the “I am not safe, I should run away” reflex is challenged through curiosity and play.
… and a warning for the adults
Here is the punchline of what I want to reveal today — and it’s a revelation for us to act upon). Even reflexes that are completely integrated can be re-activated by stress, trauma and contaminants in our air and our food.
The more active your reflexes are, the weaker you muscle tone becomes, and you become lethargic, unable to bring your focus to the here and the now and to the priorities. You will find it difficult to complete tasks. Even automatic skills like reading, writing is done with effort.
We have to be so self-aware, and know when our reflexes are not integrated, in the same way as we should know there’s something wrong with car engines. We should be totally conscious of our neurological self. We should have tricks in our back pocket to outwit the fight / flight / freeze responses of our primitive brain.
If not, you will never self-optimise, and take up an autonomous discipleship role on earth. You will be a destructive force at home, work and at church, causing tension and draining everyone’s energy, including your own.
The good news is that, at any age, an adult can integrate the reflexes and rebuild the foundation of our nervous system to function correctly.
De-contaminating our children’s neurological development and optimising it, is the theology of neurology. It requires parents to stop chasing money, be willing to let go of our adult-ness and take up a playful and unstressed attitude to life, filled with fun and play and perpetual positive stimulation with our children.
This will for sure intrinsically build a new generation of humans with integrity!
You can contact Vivienne at firstname.lastname@example.org