We parents have been in that place of frustration in dealing with a toddler not wanting to brush his teeth or get dressed, or an older child not wanting to tidy up, do homework or come home in time. We want to help and guide our children to do the right thing, and when they do not cooperate, we often end up shouting at them or using physical force. The more force we use, the more they resist and we end up feeling angry or frustrated. And then, we “ lose it”! We say things and act in ways that we later regret. In our contemplative moments, we make a promise to ourselves to guide our child with love and kindness. And yet, when the time to guide comes, we might wonder where all the love and kindness has faded despite our best intentions.
When we see food crumbs on the sofa, dirty socks lying around, and hear children “back answer”, we start experiencing anger, irritation and such other emotions. When we are flooded with emotions we cannot access our higher or thinking brains, which is also the decision making center. The following image shows us how our brain is programmed. As Dr. Dan Siegel, author of the Whole Brain Child and clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine explains, when the emotional brain is overwhelmed the gate to the higher brain is shut off. When this happens, we act in ‘automatic’ mode and simply don’t have the ability to think of a best way to respond to a situation.
Something similar is happening in our child’s brain when we engage with him from our emotional brain. When we shout at or punish our children in anger, they feel fearful and go into their lower brain which is responsible for safety needs. Our emotional responses trigger freeze, flight or fight responses in our children. This means that we might often find our child simply standing before us ‘like a statue’ while we lecture him, walk away, go into his bedroom and slam the door or back answer us.
How do we stop this cycle and have access to our thinking brain?
This can be done through a process called ‘regulation’. Regulation is a process of managing stress and emotions.
When we ‘self-regulate’, we calm ourselves before we engage with our child.
There are many aspects to self regulation. In today's article we will explore what is physical self-regulation.
This involves using our sensory organs to help us regulate. For each of us our way of regulating may be different. Taking deep breaths is the most valuable regulation tool that works for every person and hence a good place to start. Besides this you can pay attention to what specific senses help you regulate. Some possibilities:
Oral : Drinking a glass of water, a hot drink, having something crunchy to chew, and singing are some ways in which we can use our oral senses to regulate our feelings.
Kinesthetic : Dancing to music, skipping, jumping, doing zumba, yoga or even pushing against the wall to let off the tension are some ways we can use our physical body to regulate.
Auditory : Listening to songs or focussing on some sounds in the background are examples in which we can use our auditory senses to center ourselves and be present for our children.
Tactile : Using our sense of touch is another way in which we can keep up our commitment to not harm the child. A parent of a seven year old shared that whenever she feels like hitting her son, she squeezes the sides of her kurta, and that keeps her from using her hands on her son. Other things which can help are a squeezy ball, popping bubble wrap or touching a soothing fabric.
Visual : Going out in the balcony and looking at nature, watching fish in a tank, looking at a snow globe.
With experience, we can figure circumstances when we would need to use these tools, and have our regulation tool handy.
For example, keeping hot water or tea in a thermos to sip on when
The child comes home from school
Mornings on weekends
Self regulation is not self control. Most often when we don't want to “lose it” we suppress our feelings and push them under the carpet. This can harm us and our children in other ways and can be exhausting. In self regulation we are finding ways to go beyond these feelings. We will explore other aspects of regulation in our future articles.
When we self-regulate and can respond calmly we meet our child’s need for safety. When children feel safe, pathways to their emotional and higher brain open up. They feel loved and learning takes place. We also role model for them how to manage feelings, thereby creating a culture of respectful and compassionate communication in families and society.
The concepts discussed here are from “ A compassionate guide to caring for younger human beings” by Ruth Beaglehole.
Author: Manasi Dandekar is a certified Parent Educator with Parenting Matters, an organisation that promotes parents to build deeper connections within families.