Thoughtful Parenting: Remembering brain development during meltdowns
August 31, 2015
Steamboat Springs — Consider the following scene: It's Monday morning. You are helping your child get ready for school, things are rushed, and it's going to be close making it on time to the bus.
At the last minute, your child wants to wear different shoes but can't find them. She starts crying, and you sense the beginning of a big meltdown. Doesn't she understand there isn't time to find the shoes and make it to the bus on time?
In their book, “No Drama Discipline,” mental health experts, Drs. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, describe how the brain works, especially when kids feel intense emotions. They emphasize three things to keep in mind when your child is having a difficult time.
First, did you know the human brain grows through childhood and into a person's 20s? When your child is having a hard time, remember that his brain is still growing and he's not able to think as logically or behave as kindly as we would hope he would. With your help, he'll learn how to manage his emotions and make logical decisions, but it will take some time.
Second, our children learn a lot from us when they feel strong emotions or misbehave. By showing your child empathy before going into discipline mode (e.g., I wonder if you are feeling really frustrated because you really want to wear those shoes.), you are showing her that you understand how she feels.
Making this connection first lets her know that feeling emotions is OK and you are there to help her. Then, we can help solve the problem (e.g., I'll help you look for them quickly. I don't want you to miss the bus, so let's look really fast. You might have to wear the shoes you have on.). Kids learn that they can count on us to be there for them, and they build confidence to get through the next wave of emotions and when problems need to be solved.
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Finally, when your child is angry, upset or stuck, the part of the brain that senses danger is on high alert, and emotions tend to overrule any logical thinking. That's why it's so hard for children (and adults) to think logically when upset, even though we believe the solution is obvious.
You can help your child engage the logical part of his brain more quickly if you first help him name his emotions and show understanding. Knowing that the emotional brain is temporarily running the show, you will be able to help your child from a calmer perspective, trusting that you can help the logical part re-engage.
Remembering that your child's brain is growing every day, you are working hard to build social and emotional development for life.
For these and other ideas, see “No Drama Discipline” published by Bantam.
Barbara Gueldner, PhD, is a licensed psychologist specializing in children and families. She is a member of First Impressions, the Early Childhood Council of Routt County. She is the co-author of Social and Emotional Learning in the Classroom and the Strong Kids and Strong Teens curricula. Find her at http://www.successfulkidstoday.com.
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