Tod (a toddler) loves the outdoors. His parents cannot give him the opportunity outdoors daily for various reasons. However, they have managed to squeeze in an hour of outdoors every week. Tod resists going back home at the end of the hour; he just wants to play more. His parents promise to bring him back the next day to ease him into going back home and get on with the day. They just wanted to avoid conflict, a tantrum at that moment, because the tantrum was a trigger to the parents as it made them feel incapable of meeting Tod’s needs. Each passing week the resistance becomes stronger and harder to manage. Tod has also become overly emotional about the smallest things not going his way, leaving his parents frustrated!
- The parents’ lack of awareness of their own emotions and consequent inability to regulate them caused them to avoid conflicts and make promises they couldn’t keep.
- For Tod, this was a breach of trust leading to a loss of connection leaving him frustrated.
Could the story have been different?
- Acknowledge that they are doing the best they can for Tod!
- Communicate honestly to Tod about their limitations on the time available.
- Meet Tod’s reaction with empathy and compassion.
- Once the storm (tantrum) passes, a connection is established between Tod and his parents that helps him understand his parents’ time constraints.
- A sense of trust is established in their relationship.
There is a system in the brain called the limbic system in the human brain develops in the womb. The function of the limbic system is to use all the senses and for safety in the immediate environment. For infants and young children, apart from the basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter, it is also important for them to stay connected with another limbic system in the environment to feel safe. This happens because a connected limbic system activates the prefrontal cortex that deals with attention, reasoning, judgement, planning, impulse control, and short-term memory i.e. the logical and practical responses! An interesting fact is that the prefrontal cortex takes up to the age of 24 to develop!
Understanding the functioning of the limbic system, the prefrontal cortex and the importance of connection, helps us respond to a situation rather than react.
In children, not finding another limbic system to connect with becomes an emotional emergency and hence puts them in a constant state of flight, fight, or freeze leading to tantrums, defiance, hitting, and issues with learning. This happens because a stressful situation disconnects the limbic system from the prefrontal cortex.
So, if we find our well fed, well rested, healthy children throwing tantrums, defiant, destructive, harming other kids or struggling to learn, it could be because of the lack of connection that helps them feel safe.
There is no fool proof way to develop a connection for our children. However, there are a few elements we can bring into our lives to help develop and maintain the connection. We will be discussing five of the most important elements in this blog. They are:
- Being Present: Building connection does not depend on the quantity of time spent rather it is the quality of time spent - undivided attention and child led time! It is important to ensure that during this time anything to do with learning, disciplining or any other form of direction be avoided!
- Active Listening: Effective communication with children involves acknowledging their feelings, asking open ended & reflective questions that bring them to the present, staying solution focussed and creating a partnership.
- Acceptance: All of us, including children crave to be accepted for who we are. It is important that we provide an environment that makes them feel non-judgemental and free to make a choice or even discuss a choice with us by having an unconditional positive regard for the children. While it is ok to set gentle but firm limits to unacceptable behaviour, it is important to let them know that they are love and safe with us.
- Empathy: Children need to perceive that we understand their feelings and experiences. It is necessary to let them know that we are always there for them.
- Congruence: It is important that we model what we expect from the child. Eg: Open & Honest Communication, Trust, Respect.
To be able to bring in the above elements for developing and maintaining connection with our children, it is important to stay connected with ourselves. To be able to connect with ourselves, we may want to be mindful – i.e. the basic human ability to be fully present and aware of where we are and what we're doing. Being mindful requires us to practise meditation, a state of stillness and silence in everything we do and everywhere we go!
Through connection we are building a trusting, respectful and safe space for children to express and communicate with us openly and honestly, and learn through experiences making them self-reliant. Children in such environments will be able to achieve their full potential.
To understand more about building and maintaining connection with our children, call us or DM us.
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