“No, the math equation isn’t solved correctly. Try again.”
You ask or correct, and in response, the child retorts, “Why are you yelling at me? You always yell at me!”
Have your children ever said this to you? How about when you are talking in a normal tone and they are yelling? Confusing, huh?
These kids seem to be hearing things differently than the rest of us — and they are. They are operating in their downstairs brain, which means they are seeing things through the lens of hypervigilance. They are in survival mode. (This is an excerpt from the chapter “The Brain and Fear” from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos)
Is your child stuck in a survival mode?
In this last in the series on the brain and fear, Kathleen delves into the difference between the upstairs and downstairs brain. She also offers some practical suggestions to implement. Grab a cup of coffee and join her and don’t forget to pick up your copy of How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos –https://amzn.to/35hsay3
Maybe his fear response is stuck on the on position. If so, you’ll want to listen to this week’s episode.
Last week we covered a bit about the fear response and how the brain works. This week, I touch on how the brain wires itself into a fear response. Kids who have experienced trauma have triggers. With patience and persistence we can help our kiddos figure out what theirs are and work on rewiring them into more healthy patterns. Grab a cup of coffee and join me for some productive talk on fear!
“Imagine a constant flow of cortisol and adrenaline — as if you spend every second of every day being chased by a bear with its claws bared and its teeth dripping with blood. You might be jumpy, flighty, overreative, and unable to sleep, feeling neither hungry nor thirsty, unable to read any of your body’s signals.” If your child is stuck in survival mode, he may feel like the description above (from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos). Maybe you are stuck in a fear cycle yourself. If any of this applies to you or your children, grab a cup of coffee and join Kathleen for part one of “The Brain and Fear.”
Right now we are living in a season when the simplest tasks can seem overwhelming. Going to the grocery stores isn’t the chore it used to be. Now it’s full of even more stress and tension. We don’t know if someone will bump into us, yell at us, or if we are crossing the aisle at the wrong time.
As much as we tell ourselves, I will not let this bother me (raising my hand here), it does. It’s a palatable feeling in the air. The anxiety settles down on all of us collectively. As much as we feel it, our kiddos do too.
Our kiddos mirror us. If we feel stressed, they feel stressed.
If we feel overwhelmed, they feel overwhelmed.
If we feel anxious, our anxiety adds to their stress shaped brain and squeezes.
This is true for any kiddo, even more so for kiddos from hard places and who has a capital letter syndrome.
My anxiety Story
When I was growing up, there was a lot of political unrest. Adults around me had an unwritten rule – Kids should understand how serious this is. I didn’t know what “this” was, and I wasn’t sure how to act. So, I did what any kiddo would do in the situation – I felt anxious. My anxiety grew over the years and became my constant companion in my adulthood. I felt as if I SHOULD FEEL ANXIOUS ABOUT EVERYTHING. So I did. I was like the character in The Great Divorce with the creature on his shoulder:
“What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear.”
My anxiety is like the lizard. It whispers things in my ear, and I act upon them. But this isn’t about me. It’s about the growth of anxiety in a child.
Tips for Stunting the growth of Anxiety
With my experience in mind (and science) I’m sharing a few tips to stunt the growth of anxiety in an already anxious kid.
Tell them what’s going on. Your kids need not know everything. On the flip side, they don’t need to know nothing. Not knowing breeds anxiety. Whatever the situation, let them know what is age appropriate for them. This applies to any life situation. If Great Grandma dies, a five-year-old needs to know the truth. Not, she is floating in the air. But don’t go as far as the embalming process.
Let your kiddo talk about it. Whatever it is. One of the healthiest things a kiddo can do after a tragedy is talk. For example, my two-year-old Granddaughter fell while playing and suffered a concussion. At the ER she had a CT scan. Later, via Facetime, she told me several times about the giant camera that took a picture of her (and her daddy’s) head. She retold her story of falling and her ER visit. We make progress in our healing journey by telling our stories to an empathetic listener. So do kiddos. When something happens to a kiddo, it tempts us to tell them they will be all right. It’s tempting to tell them to forget it and move on. The truth is the world is full of adults who never talked about “it” and who have never moved on.
Realize although your kiddo may have a stress shaped brain, anxiety can also become a habit. When I was a young mom, struggling with depression and anxiety, a friend recommended a book to me (that I can’t remember the name of!). The author had many of the same anxiety driven habits. She didn’t like closed-in places; she didn’t want to do anything in which she wasn’t in control. On a ski trip, she asked an exuberant friend – Aren’t you anxious about going down the hill. To which her friend replied, “Yes, isn’t it glorious!” I’m paraphrasing here. The point is one woman took the anxious feeling, and it caused her to miss out. Another took the feeling and let her body feel it and felt joyful about it. While I’m not saying you can teach your kiddo to feel joyful about everything they are afraid of, it’s good to look for the habit of anxiety. When you see it, talk it through, work it through. Do whatever you need to help your kiddo form a new habit. “I feel anxious” can turn into “I feel excited!”
Talk through an event before you go. Guess what. I still do this to quell my anxiety. One of my adult ways for handling this is looking at routes on the GPS. I ask someone who has traveled it how many tunnels there are. I plan my rest breaks when traveling alone. I count out my change for toll booths. These practices lessen my anxiety. Sure, I run into unknowns, traffic jams, a pit stop, my cooler sliding off the seat so I can’t reach my food (true story). I handle these unknowns better if I know the majority about the trip. Kids need to talk through events even more than adults do. It moves them to their upstairs brain. They can look at the event logically and stunt the growth of anxiety.
Remember, anxiety grows if fed. I fed mine for years. Now, I’m working on starving it out. I use these tips with my kiddos. They know them so well; they use them on me!
I hope these tips help you and your kiddos. Do you have your own tip? Share it here.