Has this happened to you as a mom or dad? Your child is having a meltdown. You can see that he or she is hurting. You try everything you know to make her feel better – you use logic, explanation, reasoning, loving, but nothing seems to work. Finally the stress gets to you. Your voice gets louder. Your face is tense. Your body language is uptight. You may say things you later wish you had not said. And your child’s meltdown continues to go from bad to worse. You go into overdrive to try and stop the meltdown but it as though your child has reached a point where he cannot stop and will need time to eventually calm down.
What has happened in this kind of situation is that, your brain and your child’s brain have been hijacked because the wrong neurochemicals have been stimulated.
In any situation of high stress that parents and kids grapple with, the hormone and neurotransmitter cortisol floods the brain. High levels of cortisol interfere with our ability to regulate emotions, make good decisions, and shuts down many other important brain functions. This stress chemistry causes one of two kinds of behavior – fight (keep arguing), or flight (withdraw). Both are harmful – to you as well as to your child.
Luckily, there’s another hormone that can help you reduce stress and calm yourself and your child. It is called oxytocin and is stimulated by warm, stress-less and authentic human connection. As a mom or dad, your goal in stressful situations, is to increase the production of oxytocin in yourself and your child and avoid stimulating those harmful spikes of cortisol.
Remember that your chemistry affect your child’s chemistry. So you want to be able to FIRE UP your good chemistry and calm the bad. When you do this, you will notice that your child begins to get calmer too. It’s a simple rule: A stressed parent creates a stressed child. A calm, centered parent creates a calm, centered child.
It’s all about the chemistry! Your behavior has the power to influence what chemicals are flooding your child’s body and brain.
Here are a few oxytocin-inducing tools you can use:
1. Practice deep breathing during stressful moments. This helps to calm your mind and body, gives your brain more oxygen and helps you to focus better and think more clearly so that you can respond to your child effectively. It is also an excellent skill for self control. When you are calm and focused your child will feel it. This will positively impact her chemistry. (See my 6-3-6 breathing exercise in the book, Parents, Take Charge!)
2. Be fully present. This is a profound way of connecting at a deeper level with your child and stimulating oxytocin.
3. Listen to what your child is saying. Make a conscious effort to speak less and listen more. They don’t want you to change their minds or give them logical arguments. They just want to feel heard and understood. Responding in this way is what I call
NeuroParenting which is an extremely powerful way of subtly and effectively having a positive impact on your child’s chemistry, making them feel good, learn easily and behave positively.
For more ways to prevent and manage meltdowns see Chapters 11- 13 in my book: Parents, Take Charge!