When so many cultural trends have shaped us into creatures who move fast — and who want everyone and everything around us to move fast, too — can we reasonably expect ourselves to slow down? It may be reaching for the stars to harbor this wish, but it could make a world of difference in our effectiveness as parents.
Of our two brains, the emotional and the logical (see Two Brains), one by evolutionary design moves quickly: the emotional brain. It seems designed originally to sniff out danger and respond fast before our evolutionary ancestors became dinner for some hungry predator. There’s no time to waste when threatened — hence the speed embedded into the emotional brain.
But as parents, it’s the logical brain that guides us to real effectiveness. The emotional brain might prompt us to slap the face of a cursing child or fly into a rage when discovering drug paraphernalia under junior’s bed. Those aren’t our finest parenting moments. Our best response requires that we slow down so that the charged-up emotional brain can settle itself (perhaps a few deep breaths and some moments of quiet reflection). Once the emotional brain has calmed itself, there’s a path for the logical brain to come forward and guide us to smart parenting.
Many parents have come to believe — erroneously — that responding quickly is right and proper. Say, for instance, the kids have been bickering and suddenly you hear an alarming crash. You race to the scene and one child in tears accuses the other of smashing his new toy. You mistakenly think something must be done now. After asking a few questions to understand what happened, you say: I don’t like what’s going on in here. I’m going to take some time and think about it and after a while I’ll be back and we’ll talk. Taking time minimizes the likelihood that the emotional brain will shape your response. (Watch how one mother resists the pull of her emotional brain in the face of a daughter’s unkindness.)
Apart from giving yourself the time to put together your best response, slowing down sets an example of an invaluable skill we want our children to develop: pausing before acting, before words or actions erupt mindlessly and carelessly, inadvertently causing harm — just because they moved too fast.
For effective parenting, slow is better than fast.