I recently started re-reading The Whole-Brain Child (affiliate link) by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD. and with just the first chapter, I already feel like I can understand Bodhi a little better. I thought I’d give a little summary for those who don’t want (or are too tired or don’t have time or have lost too much of their minds, etc.) to read parenting books.
The main idea is that children, ideally with our help, are learning to integrate the two sides of their brains- the left and right side. The left side is the logical side and the right side is the emotional side. You can probably guess what side toddlers tend to use more. So when Bodhi is having an epic meltdown, he is using the right side of the brain- pure emotion. The authors suggest the following technique to help not only deal with the meltdown, but to also help him learn from it:
- Connect with the right.
- Redirect with the left.
If we haven’t responded to the right brain yet, logic will not help the situation. Have you ever tried to rationalize with a toddler during a tantrum? Yah, it doesn’t work. So instead, you can give a hug, name the feeling, and validate those feelings. Then you can throw in a little rationalizing.
“You are so sad that your friends have to leave. You were having so much fun with them. I don’t like when my friends have to leave either. Everyone has to go home to eat some lunch and we do too. Would you like to see if your friend can go to the park with us later this week?”
I have found that I can calm Bodhi down from a tantrum with a hug about 90% of the time. And, I’m a big supporter of labeling his feelings so he can start developing some emotional literacy. I want him to be aware of his feelings and know that they’re okay, even if they’re “bad” feelings.
It’s hard, but so important, to remember that young children just don’t know how to think logically when they’re feeling intense emotions. It’s our job to teach them. And what I’ve come to realize is that I’m not good at thinking logically either when I’m having big emotions. Instead of calmly thinking about the situation and really identifying the feeling I may have, my brain can quickly go into fight or flight mode. I’ve done a lot of mindfulness training and meditation to try to work on this because I want my children to be able to do it better than I can and I know they learn the most from watching me. I want them to be able to express their emotions. Gut feelings and passion are amazing, but I want to be sure they know how to mix some logic into that crazy cauldron as well.