As parents, how can we help our children become better integrated so they can use their whole brain in a coordinated way? Here are a few suggestions:
- Connect and Redirect. When your child is melting down or blowing up emotionally, avoid immediately appealing to his logic. Saying,“Why are you acting this way? I don’t have any snacks in the car” is problematic because it addresses an emotional, right-brain problem using rational, left-brain logic. Instead, connect first emotionally—right brain to right brain. By telling him, “I can tell that you’re really disappointed about the snacks” in a soothing tone of voice, you acknowledge his feelings in a calm manner. Then, once he is more in control and receptive, redirect by bringing in the left-brain lessons and, if necessary, setting some boundaries.
- Name It to Tame It. When a scary or painful experience produces big, out-of-control emotions, don’t dismiss and deny them. Instead, help him tell the story of what happened. Telling a story helps his left brain make sense of all of those unfamiliar emotions that his right brain is experiencing, and this will help him to feel more in control. Storytelling allows both sides of the brain to work together, preventing disintegration.
- Engage, Don’t Enrage. In high-stress situations, engage your child’s upstairs brain, which is where his higher-order thinking takes place. Rather than triggering the more primitive and reactive downstairs brain with the “Because I said so!” card, ask questions, collaborate, and even negotiate. The more you can appeal to the upstairs brain and engage him in critical thinking and processing, the more your child will think and act and decide, rather than simply reacting to what he’s feeling.
- Get Active. If your child loses touch with his upstairs brain, help him regain balance by having him move his body. Doing a few jumping jacks or running around the yard can directly affect his brain chemistry. Exercise allows him to work through some of his emotions in a healthy way, allowing him to focus on other things afterward. When we change our physical state—through movement or relaxation, for example—we can change our emotional state.
These tips offer the possibility not only of surviving difficult parenting moments, but of actually turning them into times you can help your child thrive by tapping in to his whole brain. Survive and thrive. It really can happen, when you’re raising a whole-brain child.