Have you experienced a child’s temper tantrum that is going out of control despite your countless efforts?
I have. And I can relate with you!
I see children in therapy and often I observe them struggling when asked to describe their emotions around a “meltdown” that they recently had. Sometimes, a child’s vocabulary isn’t completely developed, and so, they are unable to put their feelings into words when asked to talk about what happened.
Other times, the child gets defensive and becomes so consumed in battling a parent’s response, that the very essence of what led him to respond this way gets lost completely. For parents, these are the times when emotions like, “I am not a good parent” or “my child’s behaviors are reckless and he never listens to me” sabotage the desires to work towards better parenting.
There is nothing wrong with feeling this way. Rather, it is natural for our overwhelmed selves to succumb to extreme emotions like the above. However, it is in situations like these when true learning happens, both for the child and the parent! It is an opportunity to really feel what the child may be feeling.
Let me give you a scientific explanation of how this works.
When children get upset over something, for example, over loss of a game or because a toy broke or they lost their earned privileges, that’s when their right brainstarts to fire neurons that create emotions like anger, frustration, or rage. This is the side of the brain that senses emotions. The left brain, on the other hand, is the part that is more logical, linear, and linguistic in nature. When engaged, this is the part that helps us communicate our emotions through words.
Neuroscientists suggest that when both the right and left brains are engaged in unison, children are able to manage their emotions better, leading to less chaos (over-arousal, fight/flight responses) and rigidity (under-arousal, freeze responses).
So, how do we engage these parts of a child’s brain?
- By connecting to their emotions: When a child is furious over something, connect with their right brain by using a gentle tone of voice. Empathize with the emotion that he/she may be experiencing in the moment and help them name it, as you observe them. Putting feelings into words activates the logical left brain.
- And then, redirect those emotions: As the child expresses his emotions about the situation, redirect those feelings by distinguishing some logical explanations as to what led them to feel this way. Then, create solutions for the situation together. This arms the logical left brain to de-escalate the emotional right brain’s reaction.
In this way, the child will use both right and left sides of the brain in unison to express his/her needs. The ultimate goal: the child understands and relates to the emotions that are surfacing, as the parent mindfully helps him/her work through them. This approach may feel different, even odd, but give it a try and stick to it! It has the power to really change interactions with children!
Thanks for reading!