Whole-Brain Strategy #9: SIFT: Paying Attention to What’s Going On Inside

By: - July 24, 2012

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I found it difficult to find a time to apply Whole-Brain Strategy #9. SIFT stands for sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts. We want our children to learn to pay attention to their physical sensations so they can understand what’s going on in their body. The idea is that our children can do the following:

“… SIFT for images that are affecting the way they look at and interact with the world … SIFT for feelings and emotions they are experiencing … Thoughts are different from feelings, sensations, and images in that they represent the more left-brained part of the SIFTing process. They are what we think about, what we tell ourselves, and how e narrate the story of our own lives, using words.”

The goal is to use these four areas to help our children understand what is going on inside.

We had a life event that we knew affected our oldest daughter, but we were having a difficult time finding out why or how to help. After discussing with some friends, we realized we had never talked our daughter through the event — the birth of her little sister.

Fourteen months ago, we welcomed our youngest daughter, Maggie, and Elise got a new little sister. While we spent three nights away from Elise, she was lovingly cared for by her grandparents. The only hint we had that anything was going on with Elise was that she was always up, dressed, and playing in her room before any of the adults were up (so before 6AM). In retrospect, she was probably still processing the stress of those three days and nights when her parents weren’t at home with her.

I think for the first 6 months of adjusting to two kids we were just doing damage control. Then as my husband and I began to regain our wits, we started getting more in tune with Elise’s needs, but we were still running into problems when we made plans to do something in the evening or when my husband needed to travel. As we continued to give Elise the support she needed, we started dreaming about being able to get away for the weekend. But we were nervous because we didn’t want to suffer any setbacks since it took us so long to recover from her little sister’s birth.

Following the advice of some friends, we used Whole-Brain Strategy #6: Use the Remote of the Mind to revisit the days around Maggie’s birth. The first time Elise and I talked about it, she didn’t say much, but the next time was very enlightening. As I walked Elise through each day and event, she revealed what she had been dealing with. She told me that she missed us while we were gone, and she asked me if they needed to use scissors and if I was worried about the tools in the hospital hurting me.  I don’t remember telling her anything of those things, but she did come in the hospital room while I was in bed with an IV.

I asked her, “Were you worried I was going to get hurt?” Her answer was yes, accompanied with tears. Then as we talked about the day we all left the hospital together, Elise asked if my legs didn’t work because I had to leave the hospital in the wheelchair, so we talked about that, too. Then we pulled out Maggie’s baby book and oohed and ahhed over the tiny baby and remembered the happy memories (Whole-Brain Strategy #7: Remember to Remember). And as we remembered that time 14 months ago, we also talked about how we felt sad and worried at that time, but those feelings changed and now we feel happy and joyful (Whole-Brain Strategy #8: Let the Clouds of Emotions Roll By). And after we went through that whole process of remembering and talking about emotions, I finally understood Whole-Brain Strategy #9: SIFT: Paying Attention to What’s Going on Inside.

Elise had these images of hospital tools and thoughts of my legs not working and residual feelings of worry and sadness. And until we took the time to talk her through that event, she was probably always going to be plagued by those thoughts, images, and feelings when talking about mom and dad spending a night away. Now, I wish I could tell you that my husband and I just got back for a relaxing vacation, but we haven’t. I am hopeful that when we plan a trip we will be able to talk Elise through some of things she’s thinking and feeling about us leaving.

We hope we can enable her to let go of some the worry and sadness, and if we’re successful, we won’t spend the months that follow untangling the emotions incurred by a few nights away. Also, if we’re successful, our daughter will be able to better focus on wrapping her grandparents around her little finger while we’re gone.

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