“The truth is we are all in this together.
Every argument, toy not shared, and missed moment
is another chance to go deeper, and learn and love more.”
It’s messy…I know, and sometimes hard to know what to do…No one can get it right all of time. We all can get triggered in one way or another. There’s always more to learn.
Kids have been teasing, fighting, or not sharing. How many times have we tried to make things right by asking for a pressured “I’m sorry” apology? How easy was it to judge the sincerity of the “I’m sorry”, pushing out more until it sounded better? How many times have we ourselves done the same thing?
I never was comfortable with “I’m sorry”, and sometimes I didn’t know what else to do. I lost consciousness and went on automatic.
Did hearts stay open or closed? Did the child really know for what he was apologizing? Was there opportunity to help the brain “connect” in a way that supported the child in problem solving and learning? Did she practice the skills needed to do it differently the next time? Is he learning to take care of many problems himself without an adult referee? What has she learned about accountability? About mistakes? About her own triggers? What have you learned?
With a disconnected, reactive brain, the “I’m sorry’s” will be empty. In other words, neither children nor adults can really work things out or learn from disconnected brains. We want our children to demonstrate respect and values, yet respect and values aren’t learned with disconnected brains or punishment.
When the limbic system of the brain feels unsafe or is triggered in other ways, it instantly follows its natural healthy process of trying to protect us from danger. Its job is to disconnect us from the parts of our brains that are responsible for problem solving, empathy, and making choices. This is a disconnected, unregulated brain. It’s like a switch was flipped.
In a small nutshell, regulation and connection come from catching the trigger as soon as possible and choosing to slowly breathe and be very present, or take a break to discharge the energy.
With co-regulation by the adult, using awareness, breath, curiosity, and reflection of feelings, the child’s regulation, including connection with the ability to empathize and problem solve themselves will get stronger.
What’s really behind our “I’m sorry” intentions? We want repair, or to make things right.
How do we teach repair to our children? The Morningside Center is a treasure chest of both social emotional learning tips and pointers for how to approach the issues of today’s world. Morningside skillfully calls reparation between children, or child to adult, a ”Do Over”, a “request to revisit a moment”. Children learn how to initiate the Do Over.
Do Overs are based on some key skills and assumptions – Awareness can be modeled and taught. With awareness we can notice when we feel badly, have regrets, or know we missed something or reacted. Awareness helps brains stay connected. We all make mistakes, and we can be accountable and learn from them. We can make it right. We can also learn to listen actively, to listen from the heart with understanding another view. We can learn to share from the first person perspective, owning our own behavior and perceptions, while avoiding blaming and shaming.
Morningside author Kristin Stuart Valdez outlines the steps she teaches kids:
- Ask for a “Do Over.”
- Explain what you wish you had done differently.
- Ask the listener if they want to share or respond and practice active listening.
- Thank each other!
Although this sounds easy, there’s a lot behind it. Inspiring Bruce Perry, MD, PhD, brain, trauma, and child development guru, states children learn through a series of “R’s” – Regulate, Relate, and Reason.
Regulate refers to the parts of the nervous system engaged in mindful awareness and “connection” resulting in more perspective and choice. This is the “connected brain.”
Relate refers to the value of relationships that are trusting and safe. A relationship, or a moment, fueled by criticism and blame is not a safe relationship or a moment that promotes regulation and learning. When a child feels “seen”, accepted for who she is, and “held” as she is, which also includes limits, there is safety in the relationship. Relationships are respectful and the foundation for learning new things.
Reason can’t take place without the first 2 R’s, Regulate and Relate. Reason is the age-wise relevance of what’s being talked about, modeled, or provided, which goes far beyond the “I told you so.”
I’ve added Role Play and Repetition. Perry talks about many R’s. Role Play is about playful practice of skills that are rewarding to the child. Playful practice when the brain is connected, coupled by the safe connection of trusting relationship, is a magic ingredient that co-creates new behaviors and paves the way for more brain connections.
Wiring the brain to build foundations takes time and practice. We end up learning and practicing along side of our children. There’s lots of steps, that first start with us. There are steps to slow down and connect our own brains, steps to build our own skills of mindful awareness, active listening and repair, steps of learning to be transparent about our own feelings, our mistakes, and learning.
I am reminded by the last declaration of Brene Brown’s Wholehearted Parenting manifesto as she addresses children: “You will learn accountability and respect by watching me make mistakes and make amends, and by watching how I ask for what I need and talk about how I feel.” We make mistakes, we make amends, we talk about how we feel, we find ways to become present and breathe, we listen, we may feel pushed to our limits, and we grow.
The truth is we are all in this together. Every argument, toy not shared, and missed moment is another chance to go deeper, and learn and love more.