Brain-based parenting

SCARF: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, fairness

The research says that people's brains respond best to these five things. Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness, or SCARF. Where these are present, we learn, grow, and problem-solve. We thrive.

So, assuming my children are no different from anyone else in the human world, I have to believe that they, also, will learn, grow and problem-solve if they find themselves in an atmosphere where status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness are present. They, too, will thrive.

Will the research change the way I parent? Let me think it through a little bit.


Acknowledging and responding to someone in a positive way has been shown to light up the status parts of the brain. If I'm able to speak my children's worth to them in words that are truthful, appreciative and loving, their need for status will be filled. I would need to avoid shaming, belittling, angrily criticising or laughing at them. 


I once knew a woman who threatened to send her child to the 'naughty boys home' if he misbehaved. One day she had had enough so she told him he had to go, drove him down to an abandoned old house and told him to get out. The poor child sobbed and sobbed, promising to behave, so she 'kindly' let him get back in the car and took him home. Certainty? I don't think so. My children need to know that no matter what they do or say or think or might think, they are still loved and still my children. I need to listen to them without judgment or impatience. Being random with 'punishments' and 'rewards' is another thing that decreases certainty. And making outings or fun things that are coming up dependant on some undefined standard of 'good behaviour' also decreases certainty. 


The research shows that where people feel they have a choice, they are much happier. So, I'm for giving the children a choice and letting them be responsible for their decisions. Practically, that might mean laying out the options for my daughter for her music lessons. "You can choose what kind of musician you would like to be. If you want to be this kind, continue practicing as you are. If you want to be this other kind, you will have to practice more." Or by helping my son to see that he has a choice to do his homework or not, but if he doesn't, he'll have to live with the consequences that might come from his teacher. It might also mean working together with the children to find a mutually beneficial solution to a difficulty. "I can see you really want to bang that drum, but it's hurting my ears. Perhaps if we go in different rooms, we can both have what we want." For me, it means giving less advice, but giving more time and opportunities for them to process their own solutions. 


For kids, I think this means lots of hugs and kisses and together time. It means real listening, meals together, time doing stuff together without too many expectations. It means not holding up one child above the other one. It means giving them opportunities to spend time with their friends and family. It means showing them I value people by the way I talk about others. It means making sure my own relationships are healthy and thriving.  


Keeping my promises is key. Making sure everyone gets heard and has equal time to talk is important. Making sure one child doesn't take the fall for the others is crucial. Being fair to myself and to my husband is also a big deal.

I love this research. It certainly gives me a renewed focus with the children. If we can build this atmosphere in our house, then we can teach and guide them much more effectively.