Challenging Times

When challenging times arise in any relationship, it's easy to focus on what is wrong and get lost in the worry and the detail. This is no less true than in our relationships with children.

"Why is she doing this?"
"I know he knows better than this!"
"If only he would listen"
"Sometimes she is amazing, and then we have a horrible day."

Thoughts such as these take over, and it is easy to lose sight of everything else. There is a common thread of thinking that if we do nice things with children during times of negative behaviour, we risk 'spoiling them' or 'rewarding bad behaviour'. With this in mind, we end up telling them off, sometimes calmly, but often less calmly than we would like. The result is usually stressed, cross and unhappy adults and children.

The reason for this is that when we tell children off and withdraw the nice things in life we risk engaging - or enraging - the part of their brain that sends them into a 'flight, fight or freeze' response. When they are operating from this part of their brain, they end up trying to avoid us, fighting back, or freezing with fear. They are also filled with adrenaline and cortisol: stress hormones which make it impossible for them to listen to what the adult is saying. None of this will lead to better behaviour, in fact the opposite is true, and we end up in a vicious cycle of negative behaviour and anger.

Instead, when challenging times present, taking a step back and focusing on the relationship and the connection we have to the child can help. This doesn't mean ignoring negative behaviour, it is simply that if we want to help children to learn, first we need to help them to feel happy and relaxed. With a brain that is calm and relaxed, the child is open to communication and to learning. This is the optimal time to teach them, and to have those meaningful conversations.

The secret to helping your child to be relaxed and open to communication is to increase their oxytocin levels. The best way to do that is to give the child a hug - or simply connect. This is especially important during periods of challenging behaviour. With a relaxed and open brain, it is then much easier to talk through the situation that led to the negative behaviour and find a solution together.

Obviously, in the heat of the moment there are many emotions and frustrations that surface which make this approach at times feel hard to manage. As with all things, with practice, it becomes easier and more natural over time. As one parent recently told me: "Connection really is everything. It isn't always easy, but it's completely worth it when I see how our relationship changes for the better."