Coming up with a reasonable solution, agreement, or even an apology when feeling upset or angry is difficult because remaining rational and objective in the heat of an argument is almost impossible. Yet parents feel they must deal with situations immediately as they arise without consideration of their own, or their children’s, emotional state.
When tackling a behaviour issue, parents often expect children to accept criticism or even share the parents’ perspective in the heat of the moment, when someone’s “lid is flipped.” Furthermore, we cannot expect children to control their behaviour when parents are unable to control theirs.
When faced with two flipped lids (parent and child), very little helpful problem solving will result because no one is listening.
“Flipping our lids” is a term used in positive discipline to refer to our emotional state when we are upset, angry or overexcited. To explain this concept, we use a visual of a hand. Think of your hand as your brain. Tuck your thumb inside and close your fingers over it. Your thumb represents your amygdala, the part of the brain where you store old memories and your emotions. Your fingertips represent your prefrontal cortex, the only place where rational thinking and emotional control takes place. When your lid is flipped your “fight or flight” reflexes kick in, your fingers lift and all rational thinking is lost as you are fully reacting in an emotional state.
The idea is not to stop from ever flipping your lid as all parents have “buttons” that trigger this response. The challenge is to be more aware of what is happening sooner, and therefore, be able to find ways to return to a calmer state during tough moments. By modelling self-soothing methods to our children, we can help them learn ways to self-regulate their big emotions. Whether this is through deep breathing, going to a “time out” area in the home, or just taking a moment to pause, having children witness these calming techniques used by their parent is a powerful teaching tool.
Another way to assist this transition from “flipped lid” to rational thinking is to focus on connecting with your children. This connection is established by physically getting down to their level, actively listening, and genuinely being sympathetic to their predicament and perception of the situation. This moment of connection can bring awareness and calm to a situation and give you and your child an opportunity to talk rationally. In Positive Discipline we call this “connection before correction.” Children learn when they feel safe and can access their rational brains. In contrast, when feeling threatened, all learning stops.
It is important to remember that a misbehaving child is a discouraged child. Encouragement changes the brain chemistry and behaviour. Asking your child for a hug during times of stress can tap into your child’s innate desire to contribute, connect and feel capable, all keys to positive behaviour change.
Cayman International School has adopted the Positive Discipline programme as a school-wide and community initiative. Positive Discipline is an encouragement-based approach to parenting and teaching that provides a practical set of guidelines for children to develop self-discipline, responsibility and positive capabilities and attitudes. Andrea Kilam-Higgo and Philippa Roney are teachers at CIS.