Stress in the West: Joy, the Propeller of Development is Part 3 of a four-part series on how stress in Western society aggravates children's four brain systems and exacerbates difficult behaviors. After the Regulatory System and Sensory System, the third brain system the NeuroRelational Framework looks at when assessing stress is the Relevance (or relationship) System, where joy is generated.In our modern world, joy has become harder to come by, replaced by children's anxiety and resistance toward adult hectic agendas and their effects on children's nervous systems.We used to think that we needed to be serious with kids around limits or they wouldn't understand that we mean business. Well, welcome to the new paradigm of brain research.
Children learn best through play, and that includes learning limits. When a child balks at today's constant stream of transitions and commands like get dressed, brush your teeth, get out your Math book, get in line, eat your dinner, and on and on, play can be used to loosen up the threat response system, activate the social engagement system, and turn a "no" into all systems go!
Joy is a secret weapon for all things having to do with brain development. For one, it stimulates the reward centers of the brain that relax the threat response system.
The threat response system suppresses our capacity for both insight and intimacy. When our threat response system is active, everything seems like a threat. You can be as sweet as pie as you correct a child, but if the threat response system is active, possibly because the child perceives they have done something wrong, your words will feel like blame and shame.
What counters the threat response system? The social engagement system! This system works with dopamine to sharpen focus, facilitate dendrite activity for learning, and make us just like each other better.
Joy can be used in every aspect of our dealings with children, and the more we use it, the more brain development blooms. Teachers who use games, therapists who use art and imagination, and parents who roughhouse have the highest advantage in their endeavors to get kids to learn, overcome fears and painful experiences, and cooperate.
Limit setting is no exception to this rule. When children are uncooperative, their threat response system is activated, usually because of a stressful thought, fear, memory, or belief about what they are being asked to do. Play turns that stress on its ear, enabling joy to enter in and grease the wheels for a child to go with, rather than against you.
Egalitarian Tool #5 is Play Listening!
This is another tool from the book, Listen: 5 Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges.Frequently Asked Questions about adding Play to Limit Setting
What if I'm not good at play?
Learn. Read books like Playful Parenting and The Art of Roughhousing and get better at it. If you aren't good at playing now, you have a great deal of stress release, lightness, and closeness with a child awaiting you as you practice.
The child I'm thinking of isn't a good sport. When we play and I win, she pouts or complains, and it doesn't feel fun.
Stop winning. There are times to help a child learn how to lose graciously, and this is not one of them. In this kind of play (Hand in Hand Parenting calls it "play listening") you are the buffoon who can't quite do it right. You grab the corner of a shirt before a narrow escape, fall over tables and stumble over your own feet. This is the kind of play that helps kids build confidence in themselves and closeness with you.
What if it's bedtime and the child won't stop playing?
It means they need more play. If you have to stop it, stop it. But next time, allow more time for play before bed. Up to 40 minutes is a reasonable amount of time to play before a child accepts a limit as frightening as going to bed alone in the dark can be.
What if my child is one who spirals out of control?
Add some sensory soothers like a making your child the bologna in a cushion sandwich for deep pressure on the proprioceptive system, grabbing and rocking back and forth to stimulate the vestibular system, or stopping the play and moving in with a limit and some stay listening until the child gets all that tension out.
What if I have emotional blocks to playing?
No problem. The Work of Byron Katie can free you from even the most tenacious blocks. Join the Inquiry Circle Meetup for The Work in person or on Zoom, or book a private session of The Work.