In the last couple of years, in my attempt to become a better parent, there have been a variety of new concepts that have swirled around me. Tools for me to use with the kids, but also teaching points to enable the kids to become something that is a priority for me: emotionally intelligent.
An array of these ideas quickly became a collection. What I didn’t understand for a long while is that they all had one thing in common: the activation, or downregulation ,of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Down regulation is deliberately practicing of shifting one’s nervous system from a sympathetic (fight or flight mode) to a parasympathetic (rest and digest mode) state.
The kids and I have put together a protocol when big emotions come up. And taking from academics and researchers alike, here’s where we’re at right now:
Step 1: Let it go. Repeat this several times. Ask the emotion, the feeling to leave the body.
Step 2: The Sedona Method. Place the emotion in a balloon and pulling it out of their chest, as them to watch it fly away into the sky. Or sometimes, lately, when we’re grumpy, we flush the emotion down the toilet.
Step 3: The Physiological Sigh. Two short breaths in, one long breath out. Dr. Andrew Huberman rediscovered this tactic from a UCLA researcher and has brought it back to life.
What does all this have to do with each other? It’s about going into the body to get back into the captain’s seat of your mind.
When I ask the kids to “let it go”. I touch their sternum to indicate where that big, bad feeling might be hiding. When we do the Sedona Method, I touch that same spot and pull the emotion from behind their sternum. The sigh uses a big organ, the diaphragm, to get them down regulated.
Where this all concretized was when I heard two lecturers talk about the importance of when a child has a big emotion, or does something they shouldn’t have – to not escalate yourself. That’s firstly. But the big thing they were talking about was to down regulate the parasympathetic nervous system. And to practice this over long periods of time. Their philosophy on it was that the parent should kneel down to the child’s level and embrace them. Don’t seek to solve the problem, nor to scold them. Just listen to them. Ask simple questions. And: touch them. Again, getting them back into their head by putting them in their body.
Bam. It all started to coalesce.
The path became clearer: Helping the kiddos become more emotionally endowed was about getting them into their bodies. Less talk, more action. No hardness, only softness.