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  • Paige Hill

The trap we so often fall in to as parents... and partners (eek)

If you have spent anytime in the playground, you would have seen this kind of exchange a million times before. Child falls over and scrapes their knee, child appears to react disproportionately (i.e. screams as if knee cap has been smashed into a thousand pieces rather than the superficial scratch the parent observes), and the parent rushes over and tells the child to stop crying. If you could read the parent's mind, they might be thinking 'it wasn't that bad', 'why is my child so dramatic', 'here we go again', 'I'm too tired to handle this'. In fact, they might be saying those things out loud. In a world where 'resilience' and 'grit' are #parentinggoals, parents often seem to think that 'tough love' is a good way of instilling these traits in their children. But is that the case? And where does emotional regulation fit in?


Imagine you get home from a really stressful day at work and you stub your toe really hard. You might swear or have a rant or close up or burst into tears. Imagine if the one person closest to you in the world reacts with disgust or anger or exasperation and tells you "it's not too bad", "chin up" or rolls their eyes. Sometimes you might be ok with that reaction, but imagine you have the emotional regulation skills of a toddler, and I suspect you might want something else. Dan Siegel and Tina Pryson suggest one such alternative in their book "The Whole Brain Child" (https://www.bookdepository.com/search?searchTerm=the+whole+brain+child&search=Find+book). Imagine if instead that person said "ouch. I see that hurt" and was patient and present with you in that moment. So rather than feeling dismissed or embarrassed about your overreaction (or as children often do, get louder to prove it really did hurt), you felt heard and cared for?


Siegel and Pryson call this strategy "name it to tame it" because when someone (even ourselves) name the feeling out loud, our left brain uses language to come online and make sense of the event, and the out-of-control right brain stops being all consuming. Parents often worry this kind of acknowledgement will lead to the child 'fake hurting' themselves more often to get attention - but it is more likely that the child will get over the event faster and move on - and in the meantime you are teaching them a lifelong skill of naming emotions so they do not feel so overwhelming (handy when they experience heightened emotions as adolescents).


You might have noticed in the example that the parent asks the child what happened next which helps the child 'close the loop', so the event is remembered as a whole story with a beginning, a middle and a (happy) end, as opposed to just the painful part (very common in more serious traumas).


Check out the book, and Siegel and Pryson's other works for more info. I will be blogging about their work in future - it's evidence base in neuropsychology is impressive and their writing is approachable and easy to read.