Before we begin, I must provide some psychoeducation around the brain and mind. The brain has many different parts, with different functions. What is important for you to know in terms of your child’s developing mind are the left side of the brain, the right side of the brain, and “the reptilian brain.”
The Developing Mind
The Left Side of the Brain likes to think logically and organize thoughts into verbal sentences.
The Right Side of the Brain experiences emotions and reads nonverbal cues. The right side is more experiential, emotional, and autobiographical.
“The Reptilian Brain” allows you to think instinctively and make split-second survival decisions. Avoid discomfort…seek out comfort. Some research suggests this Reptilian part of the brain develops as early as infancy. Avoid pain…seek out pleasure.
So we know the reptilian brain is online in your child’s mind quite early. We also know that the right side of the brain matures faster than the left which makes sense the left side of the brain is responsible for more higher order thinking. So the key to nurturing your child’s developing mind is to integrate all these parts of the brain so they can function together effectively.
So this is where the parenting strategy – Connect and Redirect happens…
Connect and Redirect
When we become upset, our right side of the brain has hijacked our mind and the left side of the brain (reason and logic) has gone offline. For children, this is especially true (as the right side has developed more so than the left side). So as parents or caregivers, we need to help support our children to mature this left side of the brain and not let the right side of the brain rule the roost.
When your child becomes upset, try to CONNECT with the right side of their brain first so you can soothe and calm. You can do this by acknowledging your child’s feelings, use nonverbal signals like physical touch, empathetic facial expressions, nurturing tone of voice, and non-judgemental listening to connect with that Right Side of the Brain. This will bring down a child’s brain into balance.
Once you have connected with the right side of the brain and your child has calmed, you can appeal to your child’s left side of the brain and address the specific issue raised. So this is where the redirect happens… Once your child is calm, explain the logic and reason behind a particular boundary or rule.
Example: “Wow I can see you feel upset and frustrated with your homework. It’s really hard huh? This is hard now, but it’ll get easier with time and practice. What can I do to help support you with your homework?”
The key is that when your child is drowning in a right brain emotional flood, you’ll do yourself (and your child) a big favour if you connect before you redirect. Also, keep in mind that the redirecting is not always immediate. Sometimes the connecting takes time for the emotional wave to pass. Maybe you child needs a snack or nap, and some one on one-time before the child is ready to discuss what happened.
Siegel, D.J., & Bryson, T.P. (2011). The whole-brain child: 12 Revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind, survive everyday parenting struggles, and help your family thrive. New York: Delacorte Press.