The River Of Wellbeing – What is it that we see in our children, and ourselves for that matter, that indicates that we are not in the flow of our river of wellbeing? Picture these two scenarios…
- Your seven year old comes out not long after you have put them to bed stating that
they are angry that you don’t leave them notes in their lunch box, that you never do
anything nice for them, that they hate doing handwriting at school and that it is
unfair that it is still nine months until Christmas.
- Your thirteen year old comes home from school saying that she had a fight with her
best friend. Her expression is cold and distant and when you try to talk to her about
it, she shuts the conversation down, stating that she doesn’t really care and that she
found her friend annoying anyway.
So what is going on here?
In scenario one, our child is experiencing surges of emotional waves with very little left brain
logic. What they say doesn’t seem to make any coherent sense and no amount of reasoning
seems to help. As tempting as it is to jump in and defend your position as a loving parent
who does do nice things for them, this left brain response of yours, would only be met by
their unreceptive right brain wall. All that would happen is that your child would feel that
you don’t understand them, nor care about their feelings. The reason for this is that they
are in a right brain, non-rational, emotional flood.
In scenario two however, your child has retreated to the left side, hiding from the painful
emotions coming from the right and potentially losing the meaning and perspective the
right side can bring.
The way we respond can have an enormous impact on how either situation progresses.
Ultimately though the response is the same – use our right brain to connect with our child’s
But how do we do this?
In times of emotional flood when the waves come crashing down (scenario one), connecting
in a nurturing way by holding our child close, rubbing their back and caringly saying something like, ‘Sometimes, everything can feel really hard, can’t it? You mean so much to me and I will always love you no matter what’, shows that we are present for our child and willing to sit with them in their distress. It validates their experience and helps them to feel heard. This often leads to our child talking more about what really is concerning them and enables us to be there and listen. Often this process allows them to calm down, allowing you the opportunity to address some of their concerns logically before redirecting them back to bed.
In the other situation where our child has retreated to the emotional desert of the left brain, we can connect with them starting with empathy. Placing ourselves in our child’s situation and feeling what it must be like for them in that given moment, can help us be more responsive as parents. It enables us to look underneath their presenting behaviour to what is truly going on for them. Once we have allowed ourselves to feel what it is they are feeling, we can then show, through our facial expressions, posture and tone of voice that we are there for them, that they are not alone and that we care about what is going on for them. Connecting with our children in this way can then enable easier verbal communication thus aiding the discussion around what is going on. By encouraging our children to tell their story of what has happened and helping them to notice their feelings as they do so, we are helping our children use both sides of their brain to manage and understand their situation and their emotions.
When we retreat to the left side of our brain, we deny an important part of ourselves that is worthy of acknowledgement – our emotion. We can become too literal and loose perspective, missing the meaning that comes from putting things into context – a speciality of the right brain. I know myself when I am tired or worried about something, that I can get caught up with the thoughts in my head and can misinterpret the situations around me. I can easily take offence at something intended to be a joke and find that I react to what my children are doing. By unhooking from my thoughts and bringing my attention back to the present moment I am able to get back into the flow of my own river and mindfully respond to what is going on.
Read Part One here.
This post is written by Anna Young B.Nursing, GradDipNursing (Mental Health), M.Counselling, a Nurse Counsellor in Brisbane and mother of 2 kids.
Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2012). The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to
nurture your child’s developing mind. Brunswick, Vic.: Scribe Publications.