Thoughtful Parenting: Regulating little minds
“Shhh … Pay attention … Just take a breath … Calm down … Sit still.”
Who hasn’t said these things to a child? What if I told you that all challenging behaviors have to do with managing emotions? Managing emotions takes nervous system regulation. Your brain is the driver of your nervous system. It can problem solve, react and tell your body what to do to respond to the environment or other situations.
There are three main parts of the brain: the survival, emotional and thinking brain. We are all born with the survival brain fully formed and operational. This means we are born with the innate ability to be dysregulated so we can survive through using the freeze/flight/fight response or the asleep/collapse response.
The regulation part of our brain involves the emotional and thinking parts of our brain that wire and form as we grow, learn, experience life and form relationships. Basically, every parent and teacher who comes to me for advice is seeking how to get a child to regulate his/her nervous system.
When we are dysregulated, we express challenging or negative behaviors. Most goals adults set for a child are typically symptoms of a regulated nervous system. So how do we learn this regulation thing? We literally learn to regulate from watching our caregivers.
No pressure mom, dad, teachers and other loving adults. Infants and children do not learn about managing emotions through talking. The truth is that children become what we model. So how do we manage our emotions to model regulation? There are three basic steps to regulate through emotions. I say basic, but they are much harder than they seem.
• Awareness: Be aware of your body, are you moving or not moving, can you name three sensations in your body? Are you breathing in more than you breathe out? Example: I’m angry and notice I’m tense, have a lot of energy in my arms, and am breathing in more than out.
• Expression/label: For a few seconds, do what your body needs to do and name the experience or emotion. Do you need to move, sit down, stomp a foot, get away from others? Are you sad, angry or confused? Example: I open and close my hands and shake my arms while I breathe in a lot, I might even stomp my foot and say, “I’m so frustrated.”
• Regulate: Once you let your body do what it needs to, do the opposite of what your body and breath were doing. Example: I relax my hands and arms and breathe out deeply to take the energy down in my body.
Children watch you regulate through your emotions and they internalize how to do it as well. The next time they have the same emotion, they already have choices and tools to practice using.
Sophie Berkley, LPC RPT-S, has a private practice named Growing Potential LLC. She specializes in working with children, adolescents and families. She is a certified synergetic play therapist and a registered play therapy supervisor. For more information, call 970-819-6751.
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