“Give me the book!”
The demand for one of his brother’s books rang through the house as my youngest child hit his breaking point. It had been a very big first day back into our usual routine following a weeks long vacation. To say that we were all ready for a good nights rest to reset and refresh for the new day ahead was an understatement!
Stepping into the “Battle of the Books,” I found myself for a moment flashing back to my son’s therapy session several years ago. He had just been formally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. My husband and I were lost, not knowing which way to turn or what to do to support our boy who was struggling physically, intellectually, emotionally and socially. The day leading up to a Kleenex filled lap and our little boy curled up in a ball on our laps had been nothing sort of gut-wrenching as we both tried to help our son in a time of so many unknowns.
Leaning over and taking my hand, our son’s therapist said to me these words that instantly brought me back to the reality of the moment with my littles as the tears began to flow over said book; “You cannot reason with a hungry bear that just wants his honey!”
So very true! Just as a bear seeking his precious honey has his mind and heart set firmly on getting and eating his honey above all else, so too do our children find themselves in a fixated, inflexible posture when physically, intellectually and/or emotionally pushed to their breaking point.
In the book, The Whole-Brain Child, Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson discuss the reality of emotional flooding. Emotional flooding is the shift of the brain from a space of logical, literal, clear thinking into system shutdown mode where the brain of the mentally, emotionally overwhelmed individual becomes unable to access their critical thinking skills.
When our children shift hard and heavy from their upstairs brain, higher, critical problem solving thinking center into the downstairs brain, the emotionally driven center of their mind, it is critically important to know and understand that you aren’t going to be able to reason, problem solve, troubleshoot until emotional regulation is achieved first and foremost. Remember the saying above, “You cannot reason with a hungry bear that just wants his honey!”
Having to learn this important lesson years ago with our oldest as we began to understand his beautiful mind, I remembered our “Hungry Bear Mode” checklist and went to work:
1. Create Safety. Creating safety first when emotional flooding, a shift to downstairs brain has occurred, is a must! Your child needs safety with others, safety with themselves and safety with the things around them. In times where our children are stuck in their downstairs brain, understand that they may become physical. Again, they are emotionally and mentally compromised, unable to access their higher thinking skills until emotionally regulated first and foremost. Thus, creating safety first is a must!
2. Hold Space. Once safety is created, it’s time to hold space. In the case of my youngest trying to get a book from his brother, I removed him from his brothers room to create safety for himself and his brother. Once safety was achieved, I held space with my little boy, allowing him to feel; “I see and hear you’re mad. It’s okay to have your feelings. But hurting your brother or yourself is not a choice. I’m here with you and ready to talk when you can find my eyes and hear my voice.” Each child’s transition out of emotional flooding is unique to them. For my youngest, I have become attuned to his eyes softening, his fists relaxing and his crawling up into my lap when access to the upstairs brain, higher, critical thinking skills is back online. Then and only then do I move into troubleshooting the situation because my child can now see me, hear me, feel with me and reason with me.
3. Troubleshoot. Time to break it down and resolve! In the instance of the books battle, it came down to a misunderstanding in an emotionally exhausted moment of who was reading what that particular night for bedtime. Just as we adults experience moments of emotions taking over, so too do our kids get lost in their feelings thus leading to miscommunication especially when overtired, hungry, etc. Once my son was emotionally regulated and able to troubleshoot with me, resolution, apologies and make up hugs were able to be had.
Whole-brain parenting is a full time job, no doubt about it! Creating safety, holding space, all in the effort to be able to troubleshoot while staying calm and centered ourselves takes a lot of intentional practice and self-control. If this concept is new one to you and to your child, remember to have grace for yourselves in the heated moments! As long as safety is in place, remember it is okay to walk away to compose yourself before engaging in the hard and heavy. Because we ultimately need to share in the calm, not the chaos!
Parenting with purpose, being the parent your child needs you to be is not easy. That is why we have an incredible team standing by to support you in the journey if you find yourself struggling with what to do, how to support your child in physical, intellectual, emotional and/or social challenges. We are honored to be here in this journey with you every step of the way!
About the Author
Meg Klettke is the proud owner alongside her husband, Alex of Family Strong Sussex, a SKILLZ Lifetime Gold studio in Southeastern Wisconsin. With a background in traditional and alternative therapeutics, Meg is an active advocate for today’s youth. Her passion for supporting and nurturing the whole child resonates through all she does as a Proud Ninja Mom of two boys with special needs, Certified Pediatric Ninja Specialist and Content Creator for SKILLZ Worldwide