When emotions take over and our ability to think about the situation, plan, and make sound decisions goes out the window... This happens to our children too!
You're sitting in traffic, and you find yourself getting increasingly frustrated, your heart beats faster and you get hot, your body tenses, you're cursing (in your mind or out aloud), and all you can think about is how late you are going to be. Is any of this helping you to arrive at your destination sooner?
Why doesn't your mind intercept and say "hey, you are stuck in this traffic in any case - we can be angry the whole time or take a deep breath, turn on the music, and just wait it out."
This happens for children too, when you say that they can't have raspberry twists for dinner; they get stuck in the emotions and any rational thinking is nowhere to be seen,
From birth, our brains need to learn to balance emotions vs. logic, as well as being impulsive vs. using complex thinking. The science behind this, and how it can be applied to support everyday parenting, has been described by Neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel M.D. and parenting therapist Tina Bryson Ph.D.
They describe key skills that parents can help children their to develop:
- Engaging both the left (logical) and right (emotional) sides of their brains: A child who is only engaging their left side will be stuck in rigid rules of the way things must happen.
Example: He/she insists on sitting at a particular spot at the dinner table because that is the rule, despite you having a guest over thus the seating has changed.
A child who is only engaging their right side will become overwhelmed by disappointment about losing and cannot calm.
- Practice using complex thinking: Engage children in activities and discussions which require problem-solving, planning, decision-making, and negotiating. Strengthening these skills can help them to engage such thinking rather than impulsive and emotion-lead actions.
- Awareness of self and emotions: Remind your children that emotions will pass. Help them to identify how they are feeling as well as their thoughts and sensations. They can practice turning and directing their attention as a method of calming (akin to 'mindsight' and 'mindfulness').
- Me + others = we: Create opportunities for social interaction, relationship building, and positive experiences. Help them to see how considering the others' perspective, reading body language, and repairing cracks in relationships helps to maintain relationships.
A Psychologist can help you to further understand these concepts, identify the areas that your child could further develop, and importantly show how everyday interactions can be tweaked and used as learning opportunities and practice of these skills for your child.
If you would like to read further about this, Dr. Siegel and Dr. Bryson have authored a book "The Whole-Brain Child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child's developing mind." It can be purchased through many stores including here. Other related books by these authors include "Brainstorm" which is focused on parenting adolescents, and "No-Drama Discipline" focused on managing challenging behaviours.