It’s a completely normal scenario: your child starts flipping out over something seemingly small, like being given the the pink cup instead of the green cup. Or having to get off the swings at the park because it’s time for dinner. They go from fine to absolutely out-of-this-world inconsolable. As parents, what do we do? What most do, is throw logic at them. We do that because it’s the logical thing to do! We try to explain to them the reasons behind the pink cup, or the reasons why we need to leave Activity A to start Activity B. We throw logic at them because we want them to understand that we’re not just trying to be mean. If we can only help them understand, then they’ll calm down and behave, right?
Actually, kids can only understand logic when they’re in a certain frame of mind. When they’re fitting it out, they’re not even capable of hearing your logic, let alone understanding it. Here’s how it works–and you may find that your own adult brain goes through this same process, too:
How The Brain Works
Your prefrontal cortex’s job is to apply logic to your life. Nestled underneath your cortex is your Limbic system (“Lizard Brain”).This controls our inner drive; it’s like our animalistic brain.
Our sex drives, hunger drives, fight or flight, and survival mechanisms all happen in the limbic brain. We as adults can think logically, usually. We can empathize with others and think about cause and effect and these thinking skills allow us to not freak out over most things in life. As long as the prefontal cortex is the one in the driver’s seat, we are fairly decent humans. But certain stressors can make that prefrontal cortex take a backseat and our limbic brain takes the driver’s seat. In this state, our brain decides we don’t have time for logic. We don’t have time for empathy or taking into consideration other ways of looking at the situation. Instead, we react instantly, often with a surge of adrenaline that makes us stronger and sometimes (like our toddlers) meaner.
Modern day living is stressful, and our mind has not evolved to be able to cope with a situation in which our cell phone is going off, while our kids are screaming, while we’re late for something AND we just boiled the pasta over. Our brain reaches a point where it becomes too much and we, too, flip our lids and throw a temper tantrum.
The same is happening to our kids except that their prefrontal cortex is not even yet fully formed. Our pre-frontal cortex does not fully until mid to late 20’s. So their ability to handle these stressors and take all things into consideration before flailing themselves out of the shopping cart and chucking a bag of lettuce at shopping passers-by is all but non-existent when they’re under stress.
How To Calm Your Kid
- First: Empathize with them by mirroring their “flipped lid.” Flip your lid WITH them, not AT them: “You’re ANGRY that I gave you that pink cup, aren’t you!?” They’ll often stop immediately and calm ever-so-slightly enough to look up at you with their teary puppy eyes and say, “Uh-huh!” At this point, their brain is realizing, “Someone actually gets me, and it’s safe to be me. It’s safe for me to have whatever feeling I’m having” That tiny amount of emotional safety that they’re having when they realize that we get them, allows the prefrontal cortex to come back to the driver’s seat, and THEN they can understand the logic you want to give them.
- Second: Whatever you do, don’t let YOUR lid flip in the process. That’s why it’s so important to understand the science behind this so we can choose not take it personally and instead just realize that our child’s lid is flipped…and then choose to help him put his lid back on instead of allowing our lid to flip. Because when mom and dad’s lids flip, it’s an emotional mess and nobody is happy and it takes longer to recover from.
This has been life changing for us. Just by knowing how the brain works from a scientific stand point, you will immediately start to see “oh my kid doesn’t hate me, his lid just flipped” or “oh my kid is not a jerk, his lid is just flipped and it’s my job as a parent to teach him how to put that lid back on.” Instead of exacerbating the situation by fighting with them or by throwing logic to their face and try to make them understand us, let’s understand them instead.
One thing that I constantly need to remind myself as a mom is that we are raising adults, not children. It’s more important to lovingly guide them through that rather than bending them to our will. But OHHHH, how I want to bend them to my will sometimes! (hence the constant reminding 😉 )
This tip has been very helpful in our household. What has helped you lovingly calm your kids? Comment below!