My favorite line from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton is, “How lucky we are, to be alive right now!” I feel that way in the year 2016, as a person who loves to study the human brain. Why, you ask?
The functional MRI. This miraculous device has, for almost three decades, allowed researchers to learn more about the way our brains work than we ever thought possible.
Some discoveries feel more like science fiction than reality. For instance, it’s becoming increasingly clear that our brains interact with each other more than we ever imagined. Turns out stress is contagious, and we have special neurons in our brain called mirror neurons, which react to others’ facial expressions and movements by firing the same spot in our own brains. This is so wild that it seems like woo, but I assure you it is not woo, and you can use it to your advantage as a parent! Please, allow me to geek out about Star Wars and brain research simultaneously.
You can calm your kid like a Jedi.
You know that feeling you have when you just kind of… lose it? (That’s not just me, is it?) Therapists and brain geeks refer to this as a “state of heightened arousal.” Superstar psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Dan Siegel calls it “flipping your lid” in his book The Whole Brain Child (affiliate link, disclosures here).
Turns out we can’t think when we’re like that. We can’t reason, we can’t learn, and we can’t connect. This is not a good state in which to homeschool, right?
But our brains still read and copy other people’s brains constantly. So this is where we parents need to become Jedi masters.
If we can look into the face of a child who has “flipped her lid,” and stay calm, the calm in our brains can actually transfer to our child’s brain and help her calm down. The fancy word for this is “co-regulation,” but I prefer Jedi parenting, thankyouverymuch.
The problem is that if we fake the calm, the kid can read that too, and our plan doesn’t work. We need to find a genuine inner calm to make this work. Research has given us some great clues about that, as well. So consider this the outline for your Jedi training:
- Meditation is critical. There may be no more effective way to rewire your brain for calm than meditation. You can use prayers (I use this one), guided meditations, Scripture verses, yoga, any number of things.
- Self-care is essential. More on that here, but you simply cannot be emotionally present if your needs are not met.
- You need margins. I don’t know about you, but if I snap at my kids it is nearly ALWAYS because we’re late for something. Overscheduling kills us, and when things feel too tense we get brutal about cutting things out again.
- Time-outs are for grownups. I’m not a big fan of time-outs as a form of discipline because I don’t think they teach much and it’s better to calm with your child if at all possible. But for grown-ups? Time outs are fantastic. Maybe the best news we have about these “losing it” moments is that they literally cannot last. The body can’t sustain those levels for more than about 20 minutes. So, you may need to separate yourself for 20 minutes and calm down.
Now you know the science behind the Jedi art of calming a kid down. May the force be with you!
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