HELP FOR PARENTS, TEACHERS, AND THERAPISTS OF CHILDREN
Upping Relationship Safety Helps the Child
Last month’s post was about the Safety-Challenge-Threat Lens of Discipline. This post gives one example of how relationship safety increases a child’s ability to tackle challenge.
Recently, I worked with a child who didn't like to clean up at preschool. I followed him around once, telling him that it’s clean-up time, that it’s important that we all work together so that everyone can enjoy a clean school, yadda, yadda, yadda. I was not going to let him get away with shirking his duties.
Eventually, he ran to hide in his cubby. When I followed, he scrunched up his face and said, “I don’t want to clean up! It’s uncomfortable!”
Whoa. When I mentioned this to another adult at the school, she looked at me slyly and said, “Well, he is the youngest in his family.”
Hmm. Time to look at the 7 Qualities of Engagement to see where this child needed more safety. If all our brains need the same thing, then all his brain needed was to feel safer in order to get to Level 7 where the brain’s executive system is in full swing, and where children want to contribute to a greater good.
The next time I went to that preschool class, I hung out with him. He was pushing a magnet that was under the table by moving another magnet on top. I said, “Woooow!” and laid down under the table face-up so I could watch. He was delighted, and began excitedly telling me all about what he was doing.
I was afraid that this magnet might fall on my new glasses, so I made a big show of being scared. I sat up, looked at him with wide eyes, and said, “Oh man! I’m afraid that magnet is going to fall right on my face!”
He laughed gleefully and urged me to lay back under the table. Acting terrified, I laid back down, shielding my glasses. Every time the magnet came close, I cowered and shrieked with fright. Then, predictably, he released the magnet over my face. I yelled, “Aaaaahhh!!! It fell on my face!!!!” (even though I had blocked it with my hand), and he, of course, erupted in laughter. After a while, he wanted to switch places. (He did not shield his face, so I let it fall on his tummy.)
Over 20 minutes or so, we hung out together. Sometimes we played together quietly, sometimes we talked, sometimes I silently watched him play, and occasionally, there was laughter.
I thought clean-up would be easy because all he played with the entire time were two small magnets. But when it was time to clean up, he not only put his magnets away, he went around and picked up everybody’s else’s toys!
You might be thinking, “We can’t do that everyday. We don’t have the resources to have an adult sit and play with just one child for 20 minutes.” Fact is, he might not need it every day. He might only need it once or twice a week, or once a month. He may not need it to be one-on-one: had others joined our play, he may have had his cup filled just the same. Only experimentation will tell.
Whether this happens at school, day care, or regularly at home, "Special Time" is a powerful tool for raising relationship safety and as a result, cooperation. To learn more about Special Time and how best to execute it, two books cover it in detail: Listen by Patty Wipfler, and Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen.
Measuring Relationship Safety using the NRF's 7 Qualities of Engagement
The NeuroRelational Framework:
A Healing Centered Approach
Online Class & Consultation
Monthly on 3rd Fridays & 4th Saturdays from 1-3pm PST
For parents, teachers, therapists, and anyone else who works with kids.
Re-Parenting Yourself: A Subquestion Deep Dive into The Work of Byron Katie
Have you ever wished you were parented better? Now that it’s your job, you can be! In this online class, we will take The Work of Byron Katie’s most common subquestions and ask subquestions of them. We will use our answers to help us become more attuned and responsive to our inner child in our daily interactions.
Often I am asked, “How do I love myself?” The answer is simpler than you may think. In these 9 sessions, we will explore the emotional needs of our inner child, the cues it gives us when those needs are not met, and how to go about satisfying them.
September 5 - October 31, Saturdays from 10-Noon, Online
Watch for more information on the following events that are open to the public:
CANCELED: Broadview Shelter, Disrupt the Cradle to Prison Pipeline, March 9
South King Co. Discipline Coalition,
Angry Kids! How to Calm, Comfort,
Connect and Redirect, April 16
TBA (Potentially, The Safety-Challenge-Threat Model: A Healing Form of Discipline) Broadview Shelter, June 8
The 7 Qualities of Engagement
Each of the qualities of engagement builds on each other to cause a person to develop into their best most connected self. While these qualities are hierarchical social-emotional benchmarks, they are not always linear. A relationship might jump from calm and alert (Level 1) to sharing creative expression (Level 6) without any joy being shared (Level 3). As children grow, however, they do not typically develop the ability to reach each of these levels without developing the ability to achieve the level below it.
The boy playing with magnets was at Level 1 when I joined in with his play. My contact became comforting when I sat quietly, observing. It was likely reassuring to him that I was not going to be intrusive to his play by giving him direction or asking him banal questions. (If you notice a dull expression on a child's face after asking questions like, "What sound does that animal make" or "What color is that," stop. You are pulling the child out of their own interesting thoughts and ideas, possibly just to quell your own discomfort with quiet companionship. Kids don't have a discomfort with silence when they play; and we adults can take that cue. See "Egalitarian Relationship Tool #9: Being With in the box below.)
Joking with him about the magnet falling on my face brought him to Level 3, Shared Joy. I noticed that even in his excitement, his body seemed calmer. When we weren’t laughing, I sat quietly with him, keeping him at Level 2, Comforting Contact, by watching his play. This contact contributed to a sturdier Level 1 of Calm and Alert. Level 4, Smooth Back and Forth Communication, happened spontaneously from that foundation, and he even entered into Level 6 where he got creative with the play, balancing the magnet on his feet.
Consider how an intervention of adult interaction with this child in his preschool could change the trajectory of his schooling career. Having an adult maintain comforting contact with him, even when he engages with the other children, can lower his cortisol and adrenaline levels, helping him feel calm, experience more joy, and learn more freely and easily. As the adult presence trains his brain for safety in a school environment with his peers, he can more easily gain the confidence to stay regulated on his own.
This is why preschools need to have a better ratio than 1 adult to 10 children for physical safety. There needs to be enough adults to build and maintain emotional safety as well.
To improve behavior, spend time just being with the child. Play with them or just watch them play. Alternate between chatting and sitting quietly, letting the ratio of those two things be determined by the child. A dose of this a day can dramatically increase calm and cooperation.
To have less of a top-down relationship with a child and more of an egalitarian one, join each other in meeting each other's need for peaceful companionship. So much of the day is taken up by the noise of getting stuff done that few of us are just sitting around and paying attention to each other much anymore. Yet this is exactly what all of us need in order to have a sense of equilibrium and connection with ourselves.
There's a boredom risk here, and that risk is almost the point. The benefit of being bored together is that when you break through it, there can exist spontaneity, creativity, and profound intimacy on the other side. So if you're worried that you or the child will get bored or awkward, be with that worry just as you are being with the child. Acknowledge it, understand it, have compassion for it, and then persevere.
Doing this for a child will benefit you, too. And if you've been struggling with how you have been with a child, you may find that it can help your behavior improve as well.
Egalitarian Relationship Tool #9: Being With
For teachers, parents, social workers and anyone who wants to help kids succeed in life
Disrupt The Cradle To Prison Pipeline
Monday, March 9 from 3-6 p.m.
2100 Building, 2100 24th Ave S, Seattle
Understand why the pipeline starts in the cradle.
Learn how to make a difference in the trajectory of children’s lives through a healing approach to discipline.
Practice applying the Safety-Challenge-Threat Model instead of the Compliance Model of Discipline with the kids you work with.
Use a strategy for being compassionate with yourself as you grow in your own equity journey.