Which of your "brains" do you use when you discipline your kids — your emotional brain, or your logical brain?
If you tend to react quickly to your children’s missteps, as most of us do, you’re probably working from your emotional brain. It’s designed through evolution to fly into action quickly rather than pause, evaluate, and weigh and measure next steps. (Read Two Brains, April/May 2014.)
The most effective parenting comes from our logical brain. It enables us to think about our children’s misbehavior, notice the emotional impact the misbehavior is having on us, and consider all options before we say or do anything. Knee-jerk reactions rarely lead to fine parenting.
For instance, you hear loud sounds coming from your son's bedroom. When you open the door you find him hurling his books and toys off shelves and onto the floor in a fit of extreme anger. His face is red, his chest is puffing, and homework sheets are strewn everywhere. What do you do?
If you react quickly — perhaps scolding, yelling, or demanding that he pick everything up at once — you’re working from your emotional brain. On the other hand, if you slowly survey the scene, notice how worked up you are right now, ask what happened, perhaps acknowledge how angry he seems, and decide to talk to him later about what set him off and how he handled frustration — after you and he both cool down — you're working from your logical brain.
We’re more effective when we respond rather than react … but only our logical brain is capable of responding. It does so only once we move our emotional brain out of the way. That’s accomplished by learning to insert time between the stimulus (what our kids say or do) and our response. It’s part of what’s known as mindful parenting. Maybe we take deep breaths and privately count slowly to ten before opening our mouths. Or maybe we say to our kids, “I don’t like what I see … I don’t like what’s going on … I’m going to think about it and we’ll talk later.” Short of a toddler dashing into the street, few moments with our children are best handled through an instantaneous reaction.
“When emotional reactions replace mindfulness …
it is very unlikely that you will be able to maintain nurturing
communication and connection with your child.”1
- Siegel, Daniel J. and Mary Hartzell. Parenting from the Inside Out. (New York: Tarcher/ Putnam), 2003.