Wednesday Wisdom

March 27, 2024

Brain Spring-Clean

By Dr Kathy Weston

Brain Spring-Clean


As parents, our focus is on raising our children so that they can survive and thrive in adulthood. Throughout the parenting journey, we attune to who they are, nurture their interests, provide them with love and support as well as the necessary resources to cope with the inevitable challenges that will come their way.

In most domains of life, where we are striving towards an end goal of any kind, it is fruitful to have an idea of the outcomes that we hope to achieve at the end of the process. How can we apply that thinking to parenting? Should we just bumble along and hope for the best? Or, is it preferable to apply some sort of strategic thinking to ‘the most important job in the world’?

Recently, in preparation for a talk on ‘Raising Children in the Digital Age’, I came across the Future of Jobs Report, 2023 published by the World Economic Forum. It lists core skills that are required in the workplace today, and those that might be required in the coming years. Reading it, I couldn’t help but think about my own children and contemplate whether or not I am raising them in a way that even partially complements the core skills and characteristics considered important by the WEF. Am I raising a child who will be able to problem-solve and think analytically? Someone who can use initiative, critically analyse the world around them and demonstrate creative initiative? Will they be good communicators; able to influence, lead and inspire? Will they have the emotional resilience, cognitive flexibility and stress tolerance to thrive in a complex and fast-moving world?

At the same time, I started reading a book entitled Creating The World We Want To Live In, written by seven authors who have come together to consider how positive psychology can build a brighter future. As a parent, I have now started to hold both in mind; thinking about my children’s life and employability skills, but also the world in which they will inhabit.

Sometimes, parenting can feel intensely introspective, as we keep our daily focus on getting through the week well but, occasionally, it can be a good idea to zoom out and to think more holistically about the world around us and our influence in it. How is our own family contributing positively to the community in which we live, to the country we inhabit and to the world that our children and grandchildren will become adults in? How can we maintain a sense of balance and focus in an age where our attention is so heavily consumed by social and digital media? How can we cut through the dross and parent purposefully and impactfully?


It isn’t easy growing up in 2024, and parenting in the digital age is also a challenging experience. We are all faced with an unprecedented level of news and digital media that can impact on our sense of reality. However, rather than get bogged down in excessive worry or inaction, I would like to offer some ways forward that are evidence-based and hopefully optimistic for all families.

Let’s start by thinking about the things that we can control. What might they be? Draw two concentric circles. In the outer ring, write down the things that bother you, over which you have no control. In the inner circle, write down the things that you have meaningful influence over and focus more closely on these. Engage in family talk about things that might feel overwhelming and remind everyone of their sphere of influence. Model and teach children to worry constructively (listing their top worries and problem-solving through them to find solutions).

Talk about sleep and going to bed as a positive, life-enhancing experience, and do everything you can to promote good sleep habits within family life. Enjoy dinnertime conversations that acknowledge everyday ups and downs, how we cope well and what we are truly grateful for. Encourage your children to explore their own and others’ feelings and to be able to consider different perspectives. Promote the need for balance in all areas of our lives (between screen time and outdoor play, between time alone and socialising with others, between self-care and altruistic acts, between working hard and taking time off). Focus on the quality rather than the quantity of relationships in your lives and consider where and with whom you feel joy and can be yourself.

Avoid falling into rabbit-holes of social comparison, particularly when online, and instead focus on the progress you are making as an individual. Encourage your children to do the same. Model self-compassion and try to look in the mirror and say something positive about what you see. Curate your social media feed (alongside your teens'), so that you intentionally view content that is mood-enhancing, rather than draining. Stay empathetic whilst having a strong sense of personal boundaries and capacities. Remind your children that they have choices and give them opportunities to feel agentic and competent in their lives. Co-create and consistently apply your core family values as they relate to the treatment of others and life approaches more generally.

Our psychological wellbeing and that of our family’s depends on thinking with some clarity, purpose and a degree of humility. The beautiful buds and blooms that surround us this Easter remind us that renewal is possible and hope eternal. It is a good time of year for a mental spring-clean, so perhaps use the list above as fodder for family chat! Our individual parenting actions can impact significantly on the world we live in and it is worth reminding ourselves that we are raising global and digital citizens, future partners and parents, employers and employees. Our proactive parenting can create powerful ripples in daily life, across society and intergenerationally.


In recent weeks, I’ve worked with numerous experts who have all stressed the importance of connection when it comes to family relationships. As spring has sprung and holidays beckon, perhaps we can consider ways that we might be able to nurture connection and repair the inevitable relationship ruptures that we each experience from time to time.

We’ve been lucky to host several webinars with Dr Gauri Seth, a parenting coach with a background in medicine and psychiatry, who helps transform important family dynamics through conscious connection. Gauri chatted to us about parenting at different stages of life - with younger children, with teens and when going through other life changes, such as menopause. She stressed how important it is to understand brain science and the differences in our brains as our bodies grow, develop and transform throughout the life course. This, she noted, can help everyone in the family approach challenges and difficulties through a more empathetic and understanding lens.

Gauri described how the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brains most associated with rational thought and decision-making, doesn’t fully develop until the age of 25. Children and teens simply don’t have as much control or capacity for remaining calm in the moment, being organised, or thinking critically as us adults do. During adolescence, significant brain and hormone changes impact on teens’ behaviour, thoughts and feelings. Typically, teens are more impulsive than adults, find it more difficult to think about the consequences of their actions, and are more prone to rapid or extreme changes in mood (otherwise known as being emotionally labile) with strong feelings and emotions. Their body clock changes. Sleep patterns become different and are often challenging to manage with the demands of the school day. They tend to become more distant from us parents and spend more time cultivating relationships with peers, relying on friends for support.

It’s not just children who experience brain changes that can impact on behaviour and mood! For around six to eight years before menopause (perimenopause), women’s oestrogen levels gradually fall. Oestrogen interacts with neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly serotonin and dopamine, which both impact on our mood and thoughts. There is evidence to suggest that menopausal ‘brain fog’ is caused by this interplay with dopamine and that some women can feel anxious, irritable or angry due to the impact of lowering oestrogen on serotonin levels.

If everyone in the family has some age-appropriate knowledge about neuroscience and its inevitable impact on our behaviours, it can help us to maintain a sense of humour and connection through difficulties, and help us to avoid making developmentally unrealistic demands and assumptions.

It is a good idea to teach children about how their brains work and help them to act as researchers, noticing the things that trigger strong emotions and how these make their bodies feel. It’s also important to consider how our children’s behaviour might activate our own responses, why we might react in ways which could antagonise, and how to take a ‘meta-moment’ before we respond - a brief reflective pause whilst we reach for a healthy and effective coping strategy.

It’s challenging, but taking time after the event to reflect calmly on family disagreements and arguments through this perspective can help to forge a more compassionate and positive connection. It can also thaw any metaphorical ice cubes that may be blocking effective communication, allow more fruitful conversations around boundaries and limits, and provide a powerful message of acceptance.

As the weather warms, why not strive to create some conscious moments of happiness and connection? I’m aiming to make the most of the quiet lengthening of the days and all the changes that go on at this time of the year, by getting outside more, observing the world around me and making a bit of time to do enjoyable activities with my family.

Are you a Tooled Up member?

All of our webinars with Dr Gauri Seth are featured on our Tooled Up platform now, ready for our subscribers to watch back if you missed the live events.

If you would like to map out the things that you can control versus those that you can’t, we have a quick template for you to use. If you’d like to audit how family life is going, our advice can help, as well as our family audit activities for older and younger children. In our experience, whilst the activity can be nerve-wracking as a parent, children will be grateful to be asked their opinion and enjoy coming up with collaborative solutions to any problems or issues that you unearth.

We also have plenty of resources that can kick start discussions about fundamental family values, including some conversation starters, a guide to discussing digital values, and a short video on setting effective boundaries. We also have whole sections of resources on sleep, goal-setting, dinnertime conversation and emotional literacy that can prompt strategic thinking around raising our children.