Did you know that your brain has a traffic control feature?
Deep inside your brain and straddling both the left and right hemisphere is a roughly almond shaped mass of gray matter that is totally involved with how you experience emotions and decision making. It’s called the amygdala (a-mig-d-la) and it determines if you are going to send the trigger that your child just launched your way to the emotional part of your brain (Limbic System) or to the logical and reasoning part of your brain (Frontal Cortex). Remaining calm in the midst of an altercation with your child is your first element of smart response to the child. The BRAIN SMART PARENT knows that their most basic goal is to train their child’s amygdala to keep emotions in check so that logic and reasoning can work to solve problems. Your ability to model calm in the midst of an emotional trigger is key to achieving that goal.
Take 3 deep breaths in through your nose and then more slowly out through your mouth.
Each time as you exhale, the last couple of seconds say out loud “I’m safe, I’m calm, I can handle this.”
Make eye contact with your child and begin to calmly address what has made them upset.
My suggestion is that you practice the breathing and self-talk calming strategies a couple times a day when you are not upset, so that when you become triggered, you will be able to recall the steps and utilize them in real-time.
Other blogs and my e-book give some specific examples of responses to triggers. The basic pattern as you calmly respond to your child is:
1. Acknowledge the feeling: You are very frustrated with your sister right now…., I can see that you are upset that you can’t open the gate…, You want the toy that your friend is playing with…
2. Breathe Together: We’re going to take a few deep breaths together and calm down.
3. Instruct/respond appropriately per situation: “slow down and use your words…..” provide controlled choice…, sit close and comfort…., assertive voice with clear instructions…
4. Recognize the teachable moment: If timing and circumstances are appropriate, allow the children involved to figure out and work out the issue they are having. This is your moment to shine as a BRAIN SMART PARENT because the conflict at hand is your chance to teach and coach the kids on how you want them to behave in this particular circumstance.
A quick typical early childhood example: When you want something that someone else has, you ask them for it. You don’t grab it out of their hands. You ask them for it. Let’s practice that….
Angela is the owner of Maximum Child Learning Center, LLC and is the lead counselor for Intentional Intervention, Inc. For more information about her e-book and other parenting resources, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about counseling resources at www.intentionalintervention.com.