I’m fascinated about what makes people tick and that fascination extends very much to my own kids. I’ve just read a very enlightening book which I hope I can do justice by trying to explain what it’s about!
According to the book “The Whole-Brain Child” by Daniel J Siegal and Tina Payne Bryson, the brain has many different parts with different jobs to do and the key to thriving is to help these parts work well together – to integrate them. When our kids aren’t integrated they become overwhelmed by their emotions, confused and chaotic. They can’t respond calmly and capably to the situation at hand. Tantrums, meltdowns and aggression are a result of dis-integration.
The book explains these different parts but for this blog post I’ll talk about two parts: our left brain which loves order and logic and our right brain which is holistic and non-verbal; it’s emotional, intuitive and is more directly influenced by the body and lower brain areas.
There are times when Dan’s right brain is very much “floating too close to the bank of chaos” and I’m at a loss to know what to do or how to help him. When he’s upset he may say things like “this is the worst day ever” or “you never let me (insert whatever)” or “you hate me don’t you?” The book suggests using a strategy called Connect and Redirect. Using the same side of my brain as he is (the right side) instead of saying “oh don’t be silly it’s not a bad day” or “of course I love you” I’m best to say something like (to paraphrase the book) “sometimes it’s just really hard isn’t it? I know at times I can be really busy, but I want you to know how special you are”. So by not dismissing him, I am making him feel heard – and we can all understand that longing. And once he feels heard, he’s more receptive to problem solving whatever it is that’s upsetting him (using his logical left brain). However, if at that time I was to use my logical left brain, we could both become increasingly upset and the situation can escalate – and, ahem, this has happened. Ever looked at your kid crying over something you consider minor? Yep. But for them it’s real (and their brain is not integrated) so by taking the time to hear them, the problem can be solved quicker than by dismissing them.
So: Connect with the Right and Redirect to the Left
The second strategy suggested in the book is Name It to Tame It: Telling Stories to Calm Big Emotions
This is about getting the child to tell the story of what’s upsetting them. Naming their fears and emotions so that they can then tame them (using their logical left brain). The best conversations with kids take place while something else is happening: driving or walking home from school is a good time. The right side of the brain processes our emotions and autobiographical memories but our left is what makes sense of these feelings and recollections. Healing from a difficult situation emerges when the left side works with the right side to tell our life stories. The book recommends not avoiding talking about upsetting experiences but that actually telling the story is often exactly what children need, both to make sense of the event and to move on to a place where they can feel better about what happened.
So, don’t dismiss and deny (don’t cry, it’s okay, don’t be sad, you’re fine, just be more careful)…name it to tame it (that can hurt, I saw you running and you tripped and scraped your knee, then what happened?). As the book states, stories like this help empower kids to move forward and master the moments they feel out of control. When we give words to frightening and painful experiences they often become less frightening and painful.
At the end of each chapter there’s a cartoon you can show and read to your kids and also a section on how we, as parents, can think about our own integration.
The next blog post will be about integrating the Upstairs and Downstairs Brain.