If You Don’t See the Child, You Will See the Rebellion

More and more, the theme of “seeing” the child is coming into my awareness while coaching parents.  Parents are finding it helpful, as when they’re able to truly attune to their children, the behaviors resolve. So why does “seeing” the child work so well?

The brain is equipped with a threat alarm called the “amygdala.”  It signals the child’s body that there’s a danger at hand which puts his survival at risk.  We all have these helpful amygdalas, and they truly serve to keep us alive. When the child is seen by his parents, upon whom he is dependent for survival, the amygdala can stay calm.

The amygdala is often on overdrive, though, as it doesn’t regulate itself very well.  If a child has had trauma, it sees threat where it used to be, but is no longer.  If a child is just wired intensely, it’s the same. The amygdala often triggers over-reactions.

To calm the amygdala down, we use attunement.  Here’s the definition:

“Attunement” describes how responsive an adult is to a child’s emotional needs. A parent who is attuned will respond with supportive language and behaviors based on the child’s current state. Attuned parents are good at recognizing emotions in children and adapting their response. Well-attuned parents are important in that they are able to detect what their children are feeling or thinking and respond with compassion.

This involves two things: 1. understanding what’s normal for your child’s age, and 2. knowing how to respond in a way that assures the amygdala of survival.

  1. Let’s face it – most parents are not child development experts. I wasn’t when I had my sons, and I imagine you may not be, either.  Here’s a very helpful resource, which you may want to bookmark, that provides ages and stages. Pay close attention to the emotional milestones. It will make your life so much easier. https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/ages-stages/#.WzeJB9VKjIU
  2. Responding with reflective language instead of “adult logic” – a trap many of us fall into – can dramatically improve our ability to calm the child’s amygdala.  When we reflect the child’s present moment emotional state, he feels seen. His amygdala calms down, and he’s not defying you – which is “see me” behavior – anymore, as his body tells him he’ll survive.

“I see you” language looks like this:

“You’re really upset because I said ‘no candy’ right now.” Then wait. Use no logic about it being too close to dinnertime, as the child’s brain is not set up to receive logic. It’s only set up to be seen right now.

Ask a question, which gets the child to think and remember the rules about candy: “Can you remember when we eat candy in our family?”

For a teen or pre-teen, here’s what “I see you” language looks like: “You’re mad because I said it’s time to get off the computer.”  Let a little time pass for the amygdala to register that you see him.  Pause before you talk.

Then: “We both know that I can’t make you get off, but I truly hope you do. We’re having family time right now, and that includes you. Without you, famly time is missing an important member.”

See how this sees, values, and respects the child and doesn’t trigger a rebellious reaction?  It may not work the first few times you try it, but be patient. It takes a while for the brain to learn to trust this new way of interacting, but it will happen. It’s human nature to respond to a respectful invitation, as opposed to a command.  This is the magic in “I see you language.”

Being patient now will save you enormous conflict in the future. And you deserve that.

If you need help with saving your family from conflict, or any other parenting issue, click here.

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