Many psychologists and therapists believe that there are only two primal emotions: love and fear. Love keeps us connected, fear separates us. Positive emotions and behaviors come out of love, negative emotions and behaviors have their root in the fear the person is feeling.
What if we can recognize a behavior as stemming from love or fear in our child and in ourselves? How would that change our relationship? For most of us it would drastically change our relationships!
When our mind perceives that there is danger or something to be feared, we respond with emotions and actions to deal with the threat whether it is real or simply perceived. Any negative behavior is driven from fear. Explosive behaviors such as anger, aggression, defiance all stem from fear. Withdrawing behaviors like sadness and depression have their root in fear. Children with trauma in their pasts attempt to regulate their fears of terrible memories with behaviors like stealing, hoarding, lying and phobias.
To make matters worse, when we as parents are confronted with negative behaviors, we react with our own fears- “this child is out of control”, “I need to get control of this situation”, “I will not be disrespected”- that have their roots in our own traumas, misgivings, and memories. Too often, a child’s negative behaviors are met by parental negative behaviors and they escalate each other instead of the parent being able to parent effectively and help the child regulate.
If we as parents can see past the behaviors and see that the behavior is driven by fear, it changes everything. It opens our mind to respond with love and empathy to try to address the child’s fear. Once we can see the fear in the behavior, we stop the feedback loop of escalating negative behaviors. When a parent can stay calm and loving when confronting a child’s fear, it is a scientific fact that the calmer person can help the other person calm. We are such interconnected beings, which is why the natural tendency is to respond to negative behaviors with negative behaviors. Our mirror neurons pick up on the emotional signals of the other person and reciprocate. It is just as true that positive behaviors are reciprocated by positive behaviors. Parents can stop the cycle and chose to stay connected by choosing to respond in love instead of fear. Stop, take a slow deep breath and say to yourself, “I am afraid”. Bring awareness to what you are feeling and then look at the child and see that he is afraid too. Choice connections is about choosing behaviors that will keep us connected to our children. Choose love.
Brantley, J. (2014). Calming your Angry Mind. New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, CA
Forbes, H.T. & Post, B (2012). Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control. Beyond Consequences Institute, Boulder, CO.