Resilience

resilience

Resilience. In the natural world, resilience means that something is able to spring back into its shape after something causes it to momentarily change its shape. Like the elasticity of a palm tree in a storm, it sways and almost bends and touches the ground, but eventually springs back into a straight palm tree.

 

Resilience is a bit different when it comes to people and adversity. People may go through a storm too but will not usually come out of the storm the same. They will change. Resilience is when a person is able to come out of a difficult situation with new strengths or a new knowledge of who they are. They can recover from adversity but with the awareness that they are not the same person that they were before the storm.

 

If you are parenting children with trauma, or if you as a parent have had trauma in your own life, you know those scars cannot be erased. But you and your child can discover a resilience that comes from those traumas and know yourself better and be stronger for it.

 

You can help your child build resilience by attuning with your child and teaching him how to regulate those tumultuous emotions when circumstances trigger anxiety and unsafe feelings. Those feelings are normal with trauma backgrounds. You can be the safe, calm person that helps your child work through those feelings and what to do with them. I’ve said this before, knowledge is power. Learn how trauma changes the brain and how you can help that person feel safe again.

 

For further reading, here are a few other posts I have about trauma:

Raising Kids with Trauma in their Past

5 ways to Build Resilience as a Family

Parenting with a History

Creating a Nurturing Environment

 

I also have a resource section with great book recommendations to read on trauma, and I am always available to work with you one on one to help you connect with your child through those big behaviors.

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.