Brain to Brain

Brain to Brain

The talking cure goes beyond words

By Janina Fisher

January/February 2010

As I'm trying to prepare dinner, my 6-year-old granddaughter, Ruby, is tormenting her little sister with pokes and pushes. Tired, too, I feel myself tighten up, ready to bark, "Ruby, leave your little sister alone!" But instead, I pause and relax my body. I can see that Ruby is wired after a long, adventurous day at the park. If I reprimand her, I know I'm just piling on stress and asking for trouble. So I take a breath and notice a different impulse about what to do.

Whispering her name with a big smile and secretive air, I motion for her to come over to me. "Ruby," I say in hushed tones, as if conveying a top-secret message, "in a few minutes, Nika is going to start crying," I say sadly, "and then I'll have to give her all my attention." My body takes on the language of disappointment, "And I don't want that: then I won't be able to give any attention to you." She gives me a knowing look, cocks her head, and smiles. Nothing more needs to be said.

So what does this grandmotherly anecdote have to do with brain science? For millions of years, parents of all mammalian species, particularly humans, have had to undergo a crash course in "interactive neurobiology" to nurture their young. Most parents soon learn which postures are soothing, which tones of voice, which kinds of rocking, how much movement. Why do we learn so quickly? Because we ourselves are biologically thrown off-kilter by an infant's cries. Alan Schore calls this trait "adaptive projective…

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