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. This recently happened to us in the middle of the night, and one exasperated parent sent their daughter 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 she 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)
Step 2: Redirect with the Left Brain (Logical, Linguistic, Literal)
“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. Our daughter 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 (her parents) have to work on keeping our cool and being patient – even in the middle of the night.