When parents experience a lot of rigidity or chaos in the home it can help to work on ways to increase a more flexible approach. Dan Seigel has written extensively on this concept in his books “Mindsight” and “The “YES” brain”. These books give us detailed ways to achieve a flexible brain. One of my favourite ideas about how to create a flexible and resilient brain is about promoting a state of equanimity in children. What is equanimity? And, why is it so important?

equanimity

Calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation.

“she accepted both the good and the bad with equanimity

Children are born with a natural disposition which makes it either easier or harder for them to manage life’s ups and downs. No matter what kind of child you have, all children need regular input from safe adults to help them reach independence. We can encourage our children towards a more flexible way of navigating unexpected events.

In the future when our kids are living independently from us they will need skills, such as being flexible, to manage relationships at home and at work and a whole range of other issues. It can be overwhelming to us as adults to think we have to prepare children for every eventuality. This is especially true when our child is not that flexible to start with. We can influence our children, over time to develop the trait of equanimity. We don’t have to do this all at once or in a perfect way.

Stop reacting and observe

Tantrums, dragging feet, procrastinating, ignoring and blanking are all rigid behaviours that press our buttons. Parents can be caught in a cycle of reacting to these negative behaviours. We can spend less time working out what is happening for our child which doesn’t help them to develop ways to be more flexible. A powerful way to set things up to go well is to stop reacting to negative behaviours. When we do this we can focus our energy on observing our child.

As parents we are the experts on our child. Be the citizen scientist as you observe. Inflexible behaviours give us big clues about how our child is feeling and how they are coping with stress that they are under. Start out with the aim to monitor your child and really notice what the triggers are. Stop reacting and save your energy for the solution.

Meet your child where they are

If your child has a limited ability to be flexible start with a reasonable expectation for your particular child. Ask ourselves the question “Will our particular child, with their temperament, in this situation, be able to do something unexpected with little or no notice?”

Parents sometimes ambush these children as they want to avoid causing the feelings which they anticipate will happen in a stressful situation. Although this approach is based on a kind intention, wanting to help our child, it has the opposite effect by increasing the stress they are under.

If you have a doctor’s visit or hospital trip planned, set your child up well in advance. Encourage your child to talk about how they will feel and what they will do with those feelings. Visit the location beforehand and build their confidence gradually.

Meeting your child where they are, in this way, helps to overcome the concerns about the actual event and shows the process to help children move towards a more flexible mindset.

Teach emotional literacy

Children need to understand their own emotions before they can understand other people’s. Increase their awareness of emotions by modelling a self-compassionate approach. You can do this with your children from an early age. It’ s ok to have a sad feeling. It’s important to be able to feel it and give it a name:

“I found out that my aunt died. She was a really important person in my life. That is such a shock and I feel……downhearted/lost/ bewildered.”

Teach emotional regulation

Children and adults do not like being in a negative state and often it’s these powerful feelings, felt intensely, that drive our behaviour. Emotional literacy is related to emotional regulation. In the next stage of teaching how to manage the feeling we can show children how to monitor a negative emotion and move through it. When we know that it will build like a wave and then subside, it makes it easier to choose not to react to it.

“Oh wow, there is a lot of sad energy flowing in.”

Emotional literacy and emotional regulation is a process that takes time. Here are the teaching steps we can take our children through:

Step one – Monitor state – “Sad energy is coming in”

Step two – Process of integration – “I am not hopeless I am having a feeling of hopelessness”

These steps happen at different times for each individual and need to be learned and repeated many times. It will take longer for a child who is having trouble being flexible. Over time, when we move from step one to two we change the structure of the brain so that it learns how to manage emotions. All kids are moving towards being able to live independently at their own pace, including the ones who are less flexible. As our children practice these skills during childhood they will be more likely to achieve a state of equanimity and be flexible adults.

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