Do you find yourself as a parent or teacher struggling with your child's frequent tantrums or defiance? Do you (or others) consider your kid aggressive or oppositional? In the midst of sleep deprivation or yet another meltdown, it can be far too easy to focus on a child's behavior without pausing to consider what may be fuelling it. Underneath the surface of those tantrums and aggression, your child is likely experiencing a huge range of emotions that are frequently bubbling up (and out!). By understanding the brain-body connection, we can better interpret what our child's behavior is truly communicating - whether it's sadness, loneliness, frustration, sensory issues, fear, jealousy, a learning challenge, or anything else!
Dr. Dan Siegel coined the phrase “flipping your lid.” What does that mean?!
Under some stressful circumstances,
the prefrontal cortex or “lid”
is no longer able to manage the limbic system’s arousal.
What does that mean?
The prefrontal cortex is no longer dominant, or in charge.
Memory, organization, impulse control, attention, and emotion regulation
are affected (and impaired) to varying degrees.
The limbic system - or our stress responses - takes the lead.
What's the result?
Dr. Stuart Shanker created the Self-Reg framework for learning self-regulation. I work with the organization - The MEHRIT Centre in Canada - both as a consultant and teaching assistant. Self-Reg encourages parents and teachers to become “stress detectives” by digging deeper than the challenging behaviors we may see on the surface. We can examine the environment, the social and prosocial demands, and each child’s innate biological needs. Dr. Shanker reminds us: “See a child differently, you see a different child.”
We love the Hand/Brain model created by Dr. Siegel. It's an easy-to-grasp visual that's used by many respected scientists and child psychologists nowadays. I use it all the time with students, teachers and parents alike because it's so easy to make sense of! This video below - Why Do We Lose Control of Our Emotions - sums up the "flipping your lid" idea pretty well, with a focus on what happens to your child’s brain and body while under excessive stress. It's well worth a watch, either on your own or alongside your child to see what rich conversations might arise.
Wanna know how I decide when it’s time to reread some of my go-to professional books? When the post-it notes start to curl up & the pages get worn out from use, I usually reread sections or even the entire book to gauge if the research is still accurate or outdated, to determine if the key concepts still align with my personal and professional experience over the past 20 years, and to just plain jog my memory.
Hold On to Your Kids: Why parents need to matter more than peers was written by clinical psychologist Gordon Neufeld & physician Dr. Gabor Maté back in 2004. This one’s all about attachment & how parents can restore strong parent-child bonds that may have changed over time. Neufeld's writing was some of the first practical attachment work I referenced in my early years of teaching and his in-person trainings I attended waaay back then would be just as relevant and compelling today!
I enjoy this book so much that I have my own *old, worn-out, dog-eared* personal copy and then three additional copies that I regularly lend out to parents or educators when I'm consulting. Feedback is often similar: the book is spot-on about the importance of strong, enriching attachment experiences and there are so many easy-to-apply ideas that really resonate with teachers and parents alike!
Here are my main takeaways from just recently rereading Hold on to Your Kids - takeaways always noted in highlighted text and on dozens upon dozens of post-its. These five still ring true today some 15 years after my first read-through!
1 - ”Children do not experience our intentions[...]. They experience what we manifest in tone and behavior.” We can support our children to receive our unconditional love through the safety and connection of our relationship with them.
2 - Attachment can be both a shield & a sword - huh? What does that mean? We become +more+ vulnerable to those we’re attached to (what they say & do matters... a lot!) & our children become -less- vulnerable in relationship to others because they can be certain and rest in the safe and secure relationship we've worked so intentionally to create with them.
3 - "Make sure that the child does not need to work to get his needs met for contact and closeness to find his bearings, to orient. Children need to have their attachment needs satiated; only then can a shift of energy occur toward individuation, the process of becoming a truly individual person." When a child’s attachment needs are freely met - with no strings attached - they don’t need to spend energy on trying to earn approval or seek connection. That means there’s +more+ energy available for free exploration, , curiosity, independence, and learning!
4 - "We liberate our children not by making them work for our love but by letting them rest in it." I've broken this dense chunk of text down for you into bite-size pieces:
By offering +more+ contact and connection than the child actually needs, the child is better able to let go & become truly independent.
5 - Down to the cellular level, humans cannot be in both defensive mode & growth mode at the exact same time. One mode will always take priority.
Have any of y’all read this book? If so, what do you think? Feel free to share a comment about your thoughts on the book or any questions you might have to clarify one of my favorite takeaways.