I have always enjoyed a challenge. I love math and science; to me it is fun to solve a problem and understand how something works. Even more than solving problems and rational thinking, I love people. I truly love people and all their unique and quirky ways. The mixture of these two contrary interests — problem-solving and people — may explain my passion for parenting. I love being a mom. I love being in relationship with my children, I love growing with each other, I love learning who we are. I have found parenting to be the most wonderful and the most challenging journey of my life.
As someone who is fascinated with the rational sequences of math and science as well as a person who is motivated by connection and relationships, I love brain science and especially how it helps us understand children’s growth and development. Professor and author Dr. Daniel J. Siegel says, “The brain is a social organ and relationships are our life’s blood.” My children are teaching me about themselves and how to be an empathic, loving parent just as much as I am teaching them how to move in this world.
My eldest son has big emotions — they come and go freely and quickly. His emotions are hardwired to his tear ducts. My darling, kinesthetic child can go from calm to crying. One minute he’s still, the next he’s jumping up and down, shaking, and making low noises. He can move quickly from his lower brain to his higher brain. His lower brain will activate on an adrenal level with the basics of a fight or flight response and then tears run. He becomes agitated and fearful; his middle brain brings in the emotions of sadness, fear, or overwhelm. After that he can quickly activate his upper brain and verbally communicate his emotions and come up with a solution.
I am hopeful that with practice and reflection he will be able to move to his higher brain more often and will not have to go through the intensity of these adrenal emotions regularly, but at this time, I am glad that he is letting himself fully express his emotions physically, verbally, and rationally. I try to help him find comfort in his emotions by supporting him in creating a meditation practice. I think the more frequently he is able to access his higher brain and his subconscious brain, the better chance he has of creating a strong neural pathway to that reflective calm area of his brain. When he is in the moment of his strong adrenal and emotional moment, touching him gently and engaging in eye contact can be very helpful to bring him into a more rational and calm state. In that place he can have some softness and understanding around his strong emotion.
I would love to say that I have calm, peaceful energy that can bring him to a calm state, but often I become very activated myself. Seeing him like this breaks my heart; I just want to fix my kids and make them happy, but sometimes letting the emotions play out is the best way to help. Oftentimes I feel like he is overreacting and that his reaction is too much for the situation. I get upset that he is crying over something I think is easily solvable. In that moment my thought of his emotion being irrational is completely unneeded because he is already in that moment. He is in an activated, flight or flight moment; he is fully in his emotions.
Once children are in this activated state, they are “offline” and cannot be reached by rational means. Some ways that may help them come back to a rational state is to offer them a sip of cold water and ask them if it is hot of cold. You can also ask them to scan the room and pick out five things that are the color blue (or any color). You can ask them to hold something slightly heavy, push against the wall with their palms flat, or push down into the floor with their feet. These are ways to help ground them back into their body. Once they have calmed a little, they will be able to hear you again, and I suggest still talking calmly and slowly. Once they are calm, you can talk about what happened and what could be done differently in the future. I know the times I have been that upset the feeling has lasted in my body for up to an hour; it takes a little time to recover from big emotions and an adrenal surge.
It is important for me to remember the tools I have to keep myself in a state of calm. I have to go to my higher brain and access the calm that I felt in my daily morning meditation. I access it and try to emanate a peaceful energy into every cell of my body so it overflows into his being. I like to think of the energy that I create in my meditation practice as something I can tangibly collect to share with people who need it. For me I receive this energy in meditation. Others may have a reserve of energy from yoga, running, dancing, music, or another activity. I feel that my children are connected to me in many ways. When they are upset, I can feel what it is like to feel upset. If I choose to get frustrated with how they are acting, they will sense that and not feel connected to me. If I can take time to pay attention and connect with what they are feeling, they will connect to how I am feeling. I can help them feel the peace and understanding that I am feeling. I can hold my son’s gaze, touch his shoulder, and look deep into his eyes. I can try to bring him back to his homebase of comfort and peacefulness so we can then talk about what he is feeling.
Of course we do not want our children, ourselves, or our loved ones to get so upset they go offline, but it does happen. Something that can help is knowing emotions, what triggers us, and what soothes us. Some people find “big emotion maps” very helpful. I have attached one here if you would like to use it for yourself or anyone that may benefit from it. Big emotions can be anger, sadness, or even joy. If we spend time learning about our emotions we can feel them coming on and know how to handle them without going into an altered state.
In addition to meditation, another way I handle big emotions and stay in a clam state is to close my eyes and breathe. I give myself a few moments of blackness where I can quickly reset. If the situation allows, splashing cold water on my face or hands, or going outside can recharge me and keep me grounded.
Emotions are wonderful and they all hold a message for us that we can learn from. I think it is great to be aware when we see certain emotions enter our lives; all the big emotions are here because we are feeling something. The idea is to learn from our emotions and not shut off because we are overwhelmed by them.
Rachel Maietta is a mom, certified parent coach, preschool teacher, and founder of Wholehearted Parent Coaching. She has worked with children of all ages, and loves to support parents. If you are interested in coaching and would like to start a 10-week parenting journey, you can receive a free consultation. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram for blogs, ideas, and parenting information, or use the form below to contact her directly.