Epigenetics in the First Seven Years
by Lauren McClain
A child’s beliefs about herself, her sense of the world, and her ways of being in the world are largely set by age seven. From before birth, a baby learns about his environment, the people in it, and how he relates to both. By the age of seven, these deep beliefs are very hard to change.
Cutting-edge cell science leads us to believe that our environment—or rather our perception of our environment—controls the activity of genes. This is known as epigenetics.
In Mind Over Genes (Pathways, winter 2016), Bruce Lipton explains how programming early in life sets us up for gene-expression throughout life. Scientists used to think that genes could turn themselves on and off, but only recently have they learned that, in fact, it’s our perceptions of the environment that tell the genes what to do.
Here we have the body-mind connection at its deepest.
Child Brain vs. Adult Brain
A baby’s brain, in utero and after birth, operates primarily in theta and delta waves. These are the low, slow waves. Reduced consciousness, day-dreaming, relaxation, and feeling, rather than thinking, predominate in these states.
Children remain heavily in theta and delta until they are seven years old. Only then do children begin to think remotely ‘like an adult,’ with more alpha and beta processing brain waves.
Little kids obtain behavioral patterns by observation, not coaching. They mimic. This explains why they can’t get in the car fast enough for us, why they can’t explain how they feel but seem to feel so deeply. It’s why they forgive and love so easily.
Young children don’t make sense. And that is completely natural and healthy. They feel their way through the world.
What does that means for us beta-loving adults? It means we have to slow down, and feel our way along life with them. We have to get to know our children on a cellular, energetic, spiritual level, not just their conglomeration of behaviors and attitudes, but their big soul in a small body.
We cannot ‘explain’ things, really. We cannot expect them to act rationally in general. It does not compute for them when you respond to a disaster with, “Why did you do that, what were you thinking!?” Likely, their inner-workings are going, “Thinking? What is that? I feel icky…I need a hug. He doesn’t look like he wants to hug but I really need a hug. Huuuuuug?”
At this point, without thinking or knowing it, the child learns something about who he is and his place in the world. Because he’s in theta, what he learns goes straight to the subconscious. Enough similar experiences up to age 7, and it’s stuck there.
After age 7, single experiences, like your reaction, matters less. The child has already learned who she is and what to expect from the world and the people around her. Her perceptions are harder to change.
This means extra love for your little ones, gargantuan amounts of patience, solid connection, and then you’re pretty much home free (right, Bruce Lipton, Ph.D?) If they all believe themselves to be safe, valued, and capable, surrounded by adults who they can trust, you can kind of coast on your labors, trusting it will all work out, and continuing to connect and show love.
If not, there are ways to heal to fix it. In the first seven years, lessons goes straight to the subconscious. After that, you must access the subconscious through steady, long-term repetition, hypnosis, or EFT which requires intention and work.
I like to sit with them and just breathe together. Tell their genes that they are safe. Remind myself that we are safe. Spend time really listening, not assuming I already know. These things, when I can manage them, help me parent the children that I love.
Lauren is a childbirth educator (Birth Boot Camp) and the author of the Breech Baby Handbook. She owns Better Birth Graphics, a shop full of practical, intuitive birth media for professionals. Her work has been published in Mothering, Holistic Parenting Magazine, Birth Issues, True Birth, Mama Birth, and elsewhere. She lives in Maryland with her family of five.