Are you ever confused about how you became an angry parent when you were never an angry person?
If you’re a stressed-out parent who wonders, “How did I get here?” you want to know the two facts behind frustrated families so you can restore harmony at home.
Children don’t just act out of anger, defiance or disrespect. These are symptoms of a stressed-out brain that is compelled to get attention. Yelling, hitting and using mean words like “I hate you” indicate an overactive fight-or-flight stress response in the brain. I call this “Fire In The Brain.” Sensitive, emotional and stubborn children have different brain wiring than those born with a pleasing temperament. They are Intense Brain children.
Fact #1: Your Intense Brain child’s wiring is unique.
Intense Brain children have a psychological need to be in control. They react to unusual triggers in an over-the-top manner, negotiate their desires by wearing you down and seeking an intensity match.
Traditionally, parents attempt to regain authority by yelling, threatening to take away privileges and repeating the same lesson. Unfortunately, talking to an Intense Brain child about the “right way to behave” or “good choices” is ineffective. They learn best through touch, not listening.
Kari, mother of two, is a great example of an intentional parent who wanted the best for her 6-year-old daughter but felt stuck in a negative downward spiral. She said, “My daughter lashes out every day until I scream or criticize. I don’t want to be a parent who yells, but it’s like nothing works and I’m at the end of my rope!”
We worked together on giving her daughter instructions through touch. When it was time for supper Kari said, “I learned to stand in front of her and physically guide her through the steps to turn off the game and transition to the table rather than yelling across the room.”
As an intentional parent, you want the best for your child, not to feel angry, impatient or resentful.
But when you have an Intense Brain who is stubborn and wants to rule the roost, you quickly become frustrated and exhausted.
How do you respond to fiery moments? Do you match fire with fire? If your answer is “yes,” you are not alone.
Most intentional parents don’t go from zero to sixty just because their child wants to play five more minutes instead of getting ready to leave the house. It’s the everyday repetition of defiance and disrespect that make it impossible to remain calm and compassionate. Intense Brain children are persistent. It’s like there is a little scientist in their head testing, “Will I win this time?” Their brain craves intensity, so they bait you until you grow louder and more intense.
This intensity stimulates the same fight-or-flight stress chemicals and flood her brain, which creates a sense of familiarity that is comforting. The emotional impact may not be good but her brain doesn’t consider this.
Fact #2: What you do matters. Your response impacts whether this intensity-seeking behavior will continue or diminish.
To ensure a healthy, happy development, you want to have a parenting approach that addresses intensity and offers specific steps to transform out-of-control behavior.
At the root of every child’s unconscious demands for attention is a message. In the case of an Intense Brain child, the message is, “I need help. I don’t feel calm.”
Help your child by refraining from adding to the fire. Then, layer in other parenting strategies proven by neuroscience to decrease anger and anxiety, and increase peace and happiness.
If you’ve read dozens of parenting books, attended seminars and found that advice from your doctors, teachers, and therapists simply doesn’t work for YOUR child, please know this: you are not failing your child. Traditional strategies are failing you.
Your child is unique and has gifts, even if you don’t know how to draw them out yet.
Kari, who was at the end of her rope learned this: “My daughter’s temperament won’t change, that is a fact. But I have enormous power over her behavior — and as I changed, so did our family dynamics.”
This article was published in the Edge Magazine, October 2015 edition, here.