There’s a myth we tell parents about children who fall apart at home because “they feel safe with you.”
I often wonder where this statement originated…
Maybe it stems from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — that children’s basic needs of food, water, security and safety are met and therefore they can express their “true” selves without fear of being abandoned.
Or perhaps “they feel safe with you” popped out of the mouth of a well-meaning toddler teacher who knew the strain of being in a busy environment all day long.
Possibly, the reassurance came from a pediatrician who understood blood sugar levels and how tired a child’s brain becomes after many hours of sitting in a chair at school.
No matter where this phrase originates from, Child Professionals need to know that saying this may unintentionally mislead parents into continuing habits that negatively contribute to meltdowns.
Emotional outbursts, meltdowns, and power struggles are a sign of “fire in the brain.”
“Fire in the brain” means that the fight-or-flight stress response is hyperactivated and brain chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol are causing children to feel anxiety, overwhelm, and anger – which may very well be due to a long school day.
Once home, parents may be accidentally triggering continued stress by stepping on any one of the 10 Hidden Parenting Landmines. Free PDF here.
Henry, an 8-year old boy with ADHD and a learning disability, charges off the school bus and bounces toward home. Mom has a healthy snack ready for him as soon as he crashes through the front door, knowing the battle over homework that’s about to take place. With Henry’s high energy and difficulty reading he won’t sit, he whines and complains about how “stupid this is” and tries every stall tactic there is. Mom tries everything she can to cajole him into doing just 20-minutes…encouragement turns into bribing…which turns into the threat of losing screen time…which turns into yelling and frustration from fighting this same battle hour after hour, day after day. Henry, too, has fallen apart and is in tears with Mom wondering, “does anyone else struggle this much?”
Is Henry falling apart because he feels safe…or is he actually more stressed?
He’s more stressed.
So our job as Child Professionals is to help – truly help – parents who have not gotten the right information on how to decrease stress and increase peace.
You can do that by providing up-to-date information on what is going on in children’s brains, and what parents can do to help!
3 Tips To Help Children Feel Safe
- Allow children a sense of control. If the adults in a child’s world control the structure without learning what s/he wants it triggers a retaliation response in the brain. Even if a child wants to do homework in order to earn screen time, the fight-or-flight response kicks in if s/he didn’t have a voice in how the process will unfold.
- Stay calm. Part of the “work” of childhood is learning how to reset when stress levels begin to spiral upward. If parents don’t have extra tools in the toolbox to regain self-control the mirror neurons in a child’s brain will reflect the same behavior it is exposed to. Oftentimes, lack of calm is due to needing effective parenting tools to navigate challenging situations. We’ve devoted our entire career to teaching these tools in 1 handy system, Mad2Glad Blueprint, that you can get on-demand access to here.
- Validate their emotions. In our busy family lives, we get caught up in all the tasks that need to happen in the short span between homework and bedtime. That’s called “The Adult World.” Not surprisingly, children have different needs, such as being seen for who they are and what they feel. One of the most powerful ways to help children feel valuable is to label how they feel. Instead of rationalizing the task by saying, “this isn’t that hard – it will only take a few minutes and then you can play,” try an emotional approach.
–> Say, “I can see you’re frustrated.” Pause to allow time for your child to respond and follow up with, “You’re right this IS hard and feels unfair.”
This doesn’t magically make emotions disappear but it stimulates a part of the brain that helps children cope with big feelings instead of getting stuck.
–> Get the free handout on how to better facilitate emotional conversations here.
I once heard a joke about how the iPhone has 10 upgrades and yet we are still the same…ha!
My goal is to help other Child Professionals upgrade the language used with parents to better help them create peace at home and deepen their bond with children.
If you are interested in upgrading how you work with families our Mad2Glad Parent Coach Certification program begins this fall. Learn more here.