Signals of Irritation and Stress

Uncategorized Apr 28, 2022

How do you respond to signals of irritation or stress from someone you barely know? Do you notice a different reaction if the signals are from someone you feel close to? What about when they come from your child? The ways a parent interacts with their child can have a dramatic impact on how the child's brain forges connections to adapt to the environment they find themselves in. 

I remember when I shared my own internal responses after I saw a furrow between my youngest daughter's eyes several years ago. Let me take you on a little journey now, and share how things unfolded a little later on that day in relationship with her.   

After we returned home from an outing with the grandkids, and we put the them down for their naps, I noticed a subtle shift in my daughter's stance. She was standing tall, with her shoulders braced back, and the furrow had returned to crease her brow. "What's up?" I asked as I sat on the couch.   

"Why aren't you putting Rylan into public school?" she asked pointedly.   

"Homeschooling supports his style of learning and really works for him," I replied. I felt the familiar tension begin at the nape of my neck, and consciously breathed into the sensation, silently naming to myself how much I enjoy ease and mutual understanding.   

"Well, he needs socialization, Mom," she said with passion, "He's getting older and needs to be doing things for himself. You can't be doing everything for him all the time. He's got to grow up and do things for himself to be successful in life!"   

Time stood still for just a moment, in my mind's eye, and in that moment I really got that I did not need to defend anything I was choosing to do for her baby brother. I also really got that I did not need to educate her so that she would "get it." In that moment what I "really got" was that here was my little girl whom I love with all my heart - here was an opportunity for me to hear and resonate with her heart right where she is in this moment! To hear what meaning she is making in life and to connect with what she holds dear.   

I did my best to respond by meeting her energy with care."You really want your brother to succeed in life and have the tools he needs to do things for himself, don't you?" I acknowledged.  

"Of course I do!" her eyes widened as she continued, "He's going to need that to be able to go to college and make a life for himself. I know because that's what I'm doing now and it's been hard on me. He needs to start doing things for himself so it won't be so hard for him later on."   

"It has really opened your eyes to be aware of a lot of new things, to go away to college, hasn't it?"   

 "Yeah, it has, and I've talked with my professors at college about Rylan, and he needs structure and discipline right now."  

"You really care deeply for your little brother and want to be sure he has all the resources he needs to develop and live a full and meaningful life?" I reflected, connecting to the underlying needs I guessed were present.   

Her face softened, her posture relaxed, and she moved to sit in the easy chair across from me. At that point I saw something had shifted within her, and she began to pour her heart out to me about all the many things that she had been holding inside. What it has been like for her to live so far away from home, how the student body had become like a family to her, how meaningful it was to have a mentor, how stressful it is to transfer and join a new student body, and how much she worries about and loves her baby brother. She continued to speak, and for an hour and a half together I continued to listen deeply and reflect what I heard her say, co-creating her coherent narrative.   

Everything a child experiences with a parent will forge connections between the cells in the prefrontal cortex. The flow of emotional energy and information from your brain to your child's brain and from your body to your child's body have a direct and powerful impact on their key emotional and arousal systems. When you are emotionally responsive in relationships with children, vital connections form, enabling them to cope well with stress and manage strong emotions later in their lives. 

As the little ones were waking up, she got ready to go work out at the gym. Before leaving she walked over to me with a big, warm smile and gave me a big, warm long hug and said, "I love you, Mommy." The memory brings tears of joy to my eyes every time.


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