Part 5: Regulating Emotions In Children; A Series of Tips and Tools From The Therapy Hour

Connect Before You Redirect 

Friends, this one is a game changer.  Time and time again I have had parents in my office espousing the wonder of this technique.  It seems simple and straightforward, but it packs a wallop in terms of heading off a meltdown, or deescalating a tantrum.  The strategy is simple, connect with your child prior to redirecting them.

For those that have either read Parenting Strategies For Raising Children: Brain Basics 101  or watched my video on brain basics, you know about the 2 main areas of the brain, the upstairs brain and the down stairs brain.  When a child is melting down or having a tantrum, they are basically, “flipping their lid.”  Their emotional limbic and reactive downstairs brain are no longer connected to the cortex, the regulatory and command center of the brain.  When a parent offers direction or redirection when a child is in this space, 1 of 2 things usually happens. Your child either demonstrates chaotic behaviors or rigid behaviors.  Think, they either completely lose it (chaos), or they dig in and refuse to move (rigidity). In this space, the left and right hemispheres of the brain aren’t integrated, they aren’t working together. When the brain is integrated, it’s in a receptive space, when the brain isn’t integrated, it’s reactive.

The connect before you redirect strategy is one that invites integration and receptivity.  Connection prior to redirection allows a child to “feel felt.” They are able to relax into being heard and understood, which opens them up to receptivity, so that necessary and appropriate redirection can be tolerated.

Connecting prior to redirecting strategies might include:

·      Getting down on their level

·      Naming their feelings (you’re feeling really upset about having to leave the lake)

·      Validating and normalizing their feelings (I’m upset too, I don’t want to leave the lake either. Maybe even mirror back and reflect for them some of their emotions- cross your arms, pout)

·      Offer elements of playfulness (I wish we could just stay at the lake forever. I’d live at the lake; sleep on the floatie, make sand pie patties for dinner, take a bubble bath in the lakeJ )

·      With these elements of playfulness, your child will likely connect how silly your statements are.  This is integration.  They are not existing solely in their more emotional right brain, but instead, are integrating aspects of their more logical and orienting left brain.

·      Once connected, offer a solution or strategy (come back to the lake together tomorrow) 

This strategy may seem cumbersome. As though it requires an excess amount of effort and energy when you’re asking a child to do a basic thing.  But what I have found is that the time and energy required for this strategy up front is nothing compared to the gains it offers on the back end.  Think about it. We’re talking about 2-3 minutes of playful, connected and creative engagement to create a “Yes,” that allows for you and your child to go about your day in (relative) peace and harmony.  As opposed to……what?   A dug in, rigid and emotionally dysregulated child that’s sullen, hurt, angry and reactive for the next 2-3 hours? 

The idea of connecting before redirecting offers your child the experience of being seen and heard.  It offers them an experience of the world in which their relationship with you is based on connection.  And what a gift that is!  That connection will be a lifeline as your child gets older.  A touchstone that allows them to explore the world safely while always knowing that you see them, hear them and are there for them. Not only does this strategy invite calm from chaos in the present, but it will continue to invite connection far into the future.

 For more information about connecting before redirecting, and helping your child “feel felt,” Dan Siegal and Tina Payne Bryson’s work is both excellent and accessible.  Two solid resources I often refer parents to are No- Drama Discipline, and The Whole- Brain Child.

If you are wanting support regarding your specific situation, please reach out. It really does take a village, and the wisest among us asks for help when we need it. That’s why we’re here, and we’d be honored to walk alongside you and yours on your journey. You can find out more about our child and family counseling services on the website.