Constant Positive Regard

act as you think

There’s a concept in psychology called Unconditional Positive Regard. It means to set aside biases and to think well of someone and accept them regardless of their actions. Professional helpers like therapists and coaches this practice this all the time to build a relationship with a client the create a no judgement zone to support them and help them reach their goals.

 

As parents, this may or may not be an easy thing to do. If you and your child are in a cycle of reactivity to each other there is a lot of mistrust and judgement flowing from both of you. There is a lot a parent can do to be the one to restore an atmosphere of connection and trust. One of the main things you can do it to remember your love for this child and practice a constant positive regard for your child.

 

If your find yourself complaining about your child, and getting tense just thinking about your child you need to restore your positive regard for your child. I blogged and kept a Facebook chronicle of my children when they were very young. I took tons of pictures of them- and still do. I love the Facebook feature of Memories on this day. I check it every day and get an “aww” feeling when I see pictures and cute saying of my kids when they were little. Look back on your memories with your children and get that sweet feeling of nostalgia. Give hugs. Build hugs into your routine; hugs when they leave for school or you go to work. Hugs before bedtime. Hugs are affection, acceptance and a transfer of warmth and love- positive regard.

 

You may need to just take some time out and sit and think about your child. Do it as a mindfulness exercise. Sit where you can see your child when he or she is occupied with something else and you can just quietly sit by. Think of your child when they were born or when they entered your family and the warm and overwhelming feelings of love you had then. Think of what you love about your child. That walk, the way they laugh, how sweet they look sleeping. Think of his or her talents, their generosity, and what makes them so special to you. Just take some time to think of only positive thoughts and love toward your child. Set aside the friction and irritations and saturate your mind with positive regard.

 

Just like “you are what you eat” you also act as you think. Your thoughts affect your feelings and your actions. Next time your child has a big behavior, it will be easier to see the child behind the behavior and stay calm to try to meet their needs. So decide to keep positive thoughts toward your child, and watch how your constant positive regard affects your relationship to keep you connected with your child.

When the Brain isn’t Listening

girl in glass

Remember that old teen rebellion quip- “talk to the hand because the ears aren’t  listening”? Truth.

The brain isn’t listening. It can’t. Not when it is in a threat response.

Let’s have a little science talk about what happens in your body when you are reacting to something that is stressful. Everyone has a range of tolerance of things that go wrong in a normal day. Traffic, misunderstandings, mistakes and conflict cause us to react and bring us to the brink of our tolerance. If something is bad enough that a person has difficulty handling the event, the brain survival mechanisms take over and the body reacts as if it is in danger.

 

In assessing our behaviors, Psychologist divide the brain into two parts, one that runs on instinct and the other that has higher reasoning skills and problem solving. Each expert has their own name for the two parts of the brain: Dan Siegel calls them the upstairs brain and the downstairs brain. Dr. Bob Rhoton calls them the Hulk brain and the Bruce Banner brain, which I think explains it pretty well. Others call them the lizard brain vs. the wizard brain. When stress levels reach beyond a person’s tolerance, the brain shifts into the “downstairs” brain. The higher reasoning skills are actually shut off and the person does not have access to it. The survival brain is in control and the only thought on the person’s mind is to survive. This is done through fight, flight or freeze- whichever one is going to mean safety. The body responds in kind, muscles tense up, the person takes shallow breathes, the pulse quickens, and blood flow decreases from the extremities so that the vital organs get the blood flow. Normal body functioning is put on hold to deal with the crisis.

The person is fearful, anxious and has extreme emotions. Do you ever feel like your child isn’t listening to you when she is upset? The middle ear muscles literally constrict when the instinct functions of the brain are in control, so you are right, she can’t hear you!

 

This person is not reasoning, not thinking, and probably isn’t making very good arguments. The survival brain has shut out the thinking brain as the person prioritizes a perceived threat. Now you know that your child is in no real danger when you are arguing with her about her chores, but her brain isn’t logical right now, and she has picked up on something, especially if she has a traumatic past where something has triggered her response where this argument feels like danger.

 

If you can tell that your child is in an instinct survival brain here are some things you can do. Stop talking, she isn’t listening anyway. Make your voice low and soothing so the constricted middle ear can pick up the tones. Keep your palms open, and your body relaxed. This will deescalate your child’s threat response. She is looking for danger signs but is only seeing you with quiet and peaceable movements. Her body will attune to your body that everything is safe right now. If your child reacts negatively to a soothing touch, do not touch her, back up and give space. Make the environment safe. When she is able to relax physically, her thinking brain will come back online.

 

Have a talk with your child later about how the brain works and how you both can recognize when the instinct brain is starting to take over so you can take steps to regulate and keep the thinking brain in control.

Raising Children with Trauma in Their Past

correct:connect

Because of my own family story, I love working with families with foster and adoptive children. These families have to be adaptive and attuned to help their children work through difficult memories.  Even after a child has been moved to a nurturing environment, it takes time for the child to feel like he is safe. It is usually not something a child can even verbalize; their body is subconsciously vigilant, and the child may seem more reactive to what a person with no trauma in their past would think necessary.

 

If you are caring for a child that was in an environment like this, normal behaviors that you might see because of this bodily sense of danger are:

 

Anger                          Inattention

Aggression                  Sleep Disturbances

Defensiveness             Fidgety

Impulsive                    Anxious

Hostile                        Irritable

Irrational                     Delayed physical and mental development

Poor Focus

 

The body tries to create a way to handle the overwhelming feelings of danger, so you might also see children do one or more of these things:

 

Freezing                      emotional numbing

Distraction                  self-soothing behaviors like thumb sucking, rocking, or

Shy                                self-harming.

Sadness                       Withdrawn

self-centered

 

 

If you understand these behaviors are a child doing their very best with their trauma history, it is much easier to have compassion and focus on connection with a child who very much needs to know they are safe with you.

 

I encourage you to seek out a counselor for you child that has an expertise in attachment and trauma in children. But as a parent, there is so much you can do to help your child heal as well.

 

The best thing you can do is stay calm and get quiet when you child gets loud. Show empathy and stay as close as they will let you. Focus on regulating your own emotions, take deep breaths and stay calm so that your child will be able to attune to your behaviors and eventually regulate.

 

After your child has calmed, explain to your child the effects of trauma on their brain and body. This gives them knowledge, knowledge is power and reduces shame. You child is NOT a bad kid, they are doing the best they can with the skills they have. Together you can work on him feeling safe and learning new skills to regulate.

I have much more to say on this topic, if you are an adoptive or foster family, please reach out and schedule a coaching session with me. You are the primary source of healing for your child and I can help you with skills and tools to help you and your child.

 

Reference:

Rhoton, R. (2017). Transformative care: A trauma-focused approach to caregiving. Arizona Trauma Institute. Phoenix, AZ.