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This is where it all starts.
The solution to all your parenting woes. The starting place to solving your relationship conflicts. The key to understanding and resolving your child’s behavioral problems.
Whenever you or your child is struggling, go back to basics. Go back to connection.
Research has shown that humans are not capable of being rational, of making good decisions, of getting along with others, of handling stress, or basically ANY executive functioning skills unless two basic needs are met first: SAFETY and CONNECTION.
When you are threatened, your brain goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode. Your conscious brain is hijacked by the hind brain as you seek safety. When you are in this “survival state” you can’t respond to stressful situations with grace or empathy. Nor can your children. Your brain and body asks “am I safe?” If the answer is no, that need must be met before you can move up to the next brain state.
Let’s say you feel safe and can calm your hind brain into understanding that you are not under threat. The next thing your brain asks is “Am I Loved?” If you are lacking connection with a loved one or a trusted friend, you will have trouble having patience and choosing positive behaviors. The same thing goes for your child. If your child feels disconnected from you, they won’t feel loved. They won’t feel safe. They won’t be able to listen to you and respond calmly. They won’t be able to make decisions, follow directions, or remain calm.
So what do you do when your hind brain hijacks you? What do you do when your screaming toddler gets red in the face and fluids drip down their face?
You meet the first two needs. First, remind yourself that you are safe. So what if some judgmental person at Target is watching your child’s melt down. Ignore them. Take a deep breath. Release some tension in your shoulders. Next, approach your child.
Get down on their level. This is a non-threatening approach. Some children will want to be touched. Some will not want to be touched, even by Mom. Try for eye contact. Tell them they are safe. Tell them they are loved. Tell them that when they are ready, you are there to help them.
This is called coregulation. Children simply do not have the executive functioning skills or inner voice that is needed for regulating their emotions. You have to co-regulate with them. Show them how it’s done. Calm yourself first. Then help them calm themselves. This is all accomplished through CONNECTION.
So the next time you see your child’s behavior taking a turn for the worse, remember that their behavior is communication. Their tantrum or resistance is telling you that they are slipping down from the higher brain state and need help to feel safe and to feel loved. Spend some time connecting with them. Slow down. Take a breath. Be present. Be playful. You’ve got this.