Whole Brain Strategy #1: Connect and Redirect

By: - May 29, 2012

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The first strategy discussed in the Whole Brain Child is Connect and Redirect: Surfing Emotional Waves. The example used in the book is of an upset child coming to the parent shortly after going to bed, and the parent has to choose between redirecting the child or connecting and then redirecting.

I’m sure we’ve all been there. You’re tired or already asleep and in comes your sweet child seemingly wide awake. A couple weeks ago, this happened to us in the middle of the night, and one exasperated parent sent Elise back to bed before hearing what she said which resulted in her stomping out and slamming her door – at midnight. (And you’re left thinking: lovely, now the baby will wake up and we are all awake and tomorrow is going to stink.) It was a good two to three hours before Elise could be calmed back down; take my word for it, sleep deprived parenting is not the best.

So what would have been a better way to handle this situation? Siegel and Bryson say, “In a moment like this, parents wonder whether their child is really in need or just trying to stall bedtime. Whole-brain parenting doesn’t mean letting yourself be manipulated or reinforcing bad behavior. On the contrary, by understanding how your child’s brain works, you can create cooperation much more quickly and often with far less drama.” Less drama? Sign me up! They go on to say, “When a child is upset logic often won’t work until we have responded to the right brain’s emotional needs…’connect and redirect’…begins with helping our kids ‘feel felt’ before we try to solve problems or address the situation logically.”

So how do you help your child to “feel felt”? I tried to paraphrase the principles to keep in mind when applying the first strategy: Connect and Redirect below:

Step 1: Connect with the Right Brain (Emotional, Nonverbal, Experiential, Autobiographical)

  • Logic isn’t the primary vehicle for bringing sanity
  • Our child’s feelings are real and important to the child
  • Use nonverbal signs
    • Physical touch
    • Empathetic facial expressions
    • Nurturing tone of voice
    • Nonjudgmental listening

Step 2: Redirect with the Left Brain (Logical, Linguistic, Literal)

  • Sometimes the emotional waves just need to crash until the storm passes
  • Child may simply need to eat or get some sleep
  • Rules about respect and behavior still apply
  • Inappropriate behavior (as defined by your family) remains off-limits even in moments of high emotion
  • Good idea to discuss misbehavior and its consequences after the child has calmed down (the middle of the night is not a good time)

“The key here,” according to Siegel and Bryson, “is that when your child is drowning in a right brain emotional flood, you’ll do yourself (and your child) a big favor if you connect before you redirect.” I think the other key is that the redirecting is not always immediate. Sometimes the connecting takes time. Elise may need a snack and some one on one time before she is ready to discuss what happened. And we have definitely experienced letting the “emotional waves crash until the storm passes.” Mainly, we (Elise’s parents) have to work on keeping our cool and being patient – even in the middle of the night.

Also Found In: A Mother's Heart, Tapestry Blog