Monday, December 29, 2014

Motivating a Lazy Child

lazy teen Q: How does being extremely selfish fit into the trauma issue? Last Sunday evening, it became very obvious that my teenage daughter was not going to lift a finger to help with our Sunday family dinner when our other children and extended family were all helping out. She said she was tired.

A: It fits in perfectly. When children are in survival mode or simply overwhelmed, they feel as if they have to protect themselves and

create safety for themselves. It is all about self-protection. They seek peace and peace comes from shutting down from the world. It is actually a brilliant strategy: shut down the world and you reduce the stress in your life, you deactivate the stimulus of the environment, and your nervous system has a chance to calm down. Unfortunately for those around a child in this type of self-protection mode, this brilliant strategy makes the child look rude, selfish, and lazy.
In order to stay in a place of love, understanding, and tolerance as a parent for this type of behavior in your child (especially around extended family members), you have to ask yourself, "What is driving my child’s behavior?" Too often, we approach our children asking the wrong question of "How do I get my child to change her behavior?". If you ask the wrong question, you'll get the wrong answer. In this specific situation, if you only focus on the behavior alone, it will look as if your daughter is being lazy and selfish.

By pushing her to change her behavior, you will come off to her as nagging and lecturing. This will only serve to increase her stress, thus pushing her further into her shut-down state. Ironically, you will actually create the exact result which you were trying to avoid.

Instead, work on the core issue: OVERWHELM. Moving a child out of a state of overwhelm happens within the context of the relationship. Focus on the relationship.

Also recognize that family get-togethers, while fun, are stressful. Friends, family, and more social interaction can overwhelm a child who struggles with relationships. While I'm an advocate for families, too much family outside of the nucleus family structure can be too much for many children. Their nervous systems are not equipped to handle the increase in noise, interactions, and stress of being expected to "behave."

To solve this issue, do proactive work and develop a plan with your daughter. This is a child who needs you to join her and to assist her in order to keep her from automatically going into overwhelm. Shutting down is an automatic response; she doesn't have control over it. It doesn't happen at a conscious level. Helping her to create an awareness around this reaction, as well as a plan of how to deal with it in the future, is your responsibility as a parent of a child of trauma.

When life gets busy, loud, and unpredictable, tell her you've noticed she doesn't seem to be as happy. Invite her to reflect about how she felt during last Sunday night's dinner and let her express herself honestly and openly. Beware, though, she may blame you for having too many people over (for example, "Why did you invite them, anyway, you know I don’t like them!" or "Sunday night dinner is stupid anyway; I'd rather be in my room or be with my friends."). You don’t have to defend your decisions or try to convince her why Sunday night dinner is important.

Explore the real issue: it's too much for her and it is threatening. Say something like, "Sunday dinner isn't your favorite so maybe we can figure out a plan to help make it better. If it gets to be too much, at any time, how about you go for a walk and if you want me to go with you, I’d love to - just the two of us."

You can also set the expectation that you need her to help out, but offer to help her. "I know it can feel like it's too much energy to help with the dinner or with clean-up, but what if you and I worked together? You don't have to be alone and overwhelmed anymore. I want to be here to support you and help keep your body from shutting down. Can you let me help you?"

"Beyond Consequences" doesn’t mean a child can do anything she wants to. Children need boundaries; boundaries create emotional safety. Children need us to set the bar of what is expected, as well. However, due to the sensitivity of our children, it has to be done with love, kindness, and compassion.

Think about it as merging the strengths of Mr. Rogers (gentleness, compassion, understanding) with those of General Patton (strong, courageous, determined).

Rogers and Patton
Perhaps you're reading these suggestions and thinking, "That would be fine if she were five, but she's fifteen! Mr. Rogers is for little kids; when is it her turn to grow up and take responsibility?"
Your daughter has already proven that she can't get out of overwhelm and she isn't able to take responsibility yet, at least on her own. Expecting her to simply dig deeper internally and uncover a vast source of willpower just isn't realistic. You can continue to battle it out, which is exactly what will happen if you approach it from the perspective of her being lazy and rude.

It is never the facts of the situation that create frustration; it is the interpretation of the facts. For example:

Fact. Your daughter isn't helping out.
Interpretation. Choose one:
(1) She is lazy, rude, and choosing to be disrespectful.
(2) She is overwhelmed; shutting down from an automatic response controlled subconsciously by her nervous system, and needs help finding her way out in order to create a new pattern that will equip her for the future.

The first interpretation perceives only the negative and puts 100% of the responsibility on the child. It is her job to change. You hold your ground as the parent in charge (General Patten without Mr. Rogers) and she is the one required to take action and change. This interpretation will keep your parent/child relationship in a "me against her" power struggle.
The second interpretation sheds light on the truth about what is driving her behavior. The change in behavior shifts to a focus on improving your relationship with her. It focuses on how you can help your child, who is overwhelmed, get out of overwhelm, not go deeper into it.

It takes courage to do something different. Trust that love and relationship, coupled with setting expectations and boundaries, will be the solution to getting the tasks at hand completed.

Press on,

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love
, and Help for Billy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

"Stuck? Here is a cheat sheet to get you started."

cheatsheetQ: I have been trying to implement the Beyond Consequences model of parenting but in the moment when my child is resisting, I get stuck. I truly don't know HOW to make emotional connection and I was wondering if you might have a "cheat-sheet" of some kind to help jump start me during these times my mind goes blank.

A: If you do not have a blueprint of a parent making emotional connection with you as a child, being able to do this as a parent is like trying to speak a different language. Unfortunately, most 
of us grew up in families where our parents intellectualized, minimized, or flat out ignored our emotions so we simply do not have a solid blueprint.

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind when you are working to make an emotional connection with your child:
  • Remember that you cannot make the connection can only create an environment for it to happen (relieve yourself of the pressure).
  • You are simply there to support and to encourage your child.
  • When your child begins to express his/her feelings, validate, encourage, and stay present with your child in the moment. Watch the body for signals (80% of communication is non-verbal).
  • Help to keep the process focused on the emotional piece. "How did that make you feel." Look at the child's face, "You look really mad" or "You look really scared." Avoid solutions at that moment.
  • Get out of the logistical details and help your child into his/her feelings. "Tell me how it felt when that happened."
  • If your child begins to slip back into a cognitive/rational place, watch the body for when they constrict when talking. When you notice this, encourage your child to go back to the emotional piece that goes with the story being told. Stay open to his/her process.
  • You have to be able to handle the depth of emotional pain your child is experiencing. If he senses you are getting overwhelmed, he will cut the story short in order to make you okay.
With these ideas in mind, I'm also going to list some actual phrases that might be helpful.  It is very important not to say these words like a script, however. Your child will know immediately when the words are being given from the head as opposed to the heart. Use your passion as a parent to convince your child that you want to know his struggle. 

If your child rejects your efforts, saying something like, "You're just trying to therapize me!" You can be honest with your reply, "It probably feels that way! You're right. But I know the more I offer my love and connection, the better off we are going to be."
  1. "I know it is hard, but the more you keep it inside of you, the harder it gets." 
  2. "I need to know how bad it was for you."
  3. "You're not in trouble."
  4. "Give yourself permission to have a voice."
  5. "How did that make you feel?"
  6. "Stay with it, Billy. You're not alone in it."
  7. "Open up to the pain. You're safe now, so let it out."
  8. "I had no idea this was so hard for you!"
  9. "Breathe. Take a deep breath." (Take a deep breath to model it for your child).
  10. "I've gotta have it...I need to have your feelings."
  11. "You don't have to carry it all."
  12. "That's too much pain to have all by yourself. Can you let me share it with you?" 
  13. "I want to understand you better and if I know how you feel, I'll be able to do what you need me to do."
  14. "I love you no matter how you feel."
  15. "Give yourself permission to have a voice. I'm listening."
  16. "I can handle whatever you went through."
  17. "Look at me, Billy."  (If the child begins to hide in shame, have him/her stay connected with you, but never force eye contact.)
  18. Use your own story to connect: "I remember when I was a little girl and a friend of mine was really mean to me...."
  19. Be quiet...if these words start irritating the child, slow down, sit down, be quiet, and just be present.
  20. Take responsibility for your child's pain. You may not have been able to change the situation in the way she/he needed you to. Yet, feel it with him/her. Join your child and open yourself to your own tears. Work to understand your child's perspective. "I'm so sorry it hurts you that I wasn't there...." 
  21. Avoid words like, "It's okay. It's over." Instead, invite them to give you more, "I know it hurt, show me how much it hurt." Be conscious of your conditioned response of making it better. Allow your child to drop the feelings completely. Ironically, we try to avoid the feelings to make it better, yet acknowledging the feeling and allowing the child this emotional space is precisely what will make it better. 
  22. Feel the pain with your child and open your heart. Your child will only open up as much as you are opened up to the pain. 
  23. Maximize instead of minimize. Go into the pain and the story to explore the issue without down playing or negating what your child is sharing. Getting your child back to a sense of reality will come later, after the emotions have been expressed. 
  24. Trust in the process...the outcome is determined by staying present in each moment of the process!
Practice this with your friend, spouse, partner, and even your boss! The more you live out of the emotional side of being human, the more natural this will come to you. 

Send me the phrases you come up with and I'll compile an even larger list to publish in next month's eNewsletter so we can all work on this together!

Press on, 
Heather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love
, and Help for Billy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Redefining the Meaning of Motivation for Students at School

I want to share this excerpt from my book, "Help for Billy," on motivation with you this month. I hope this second half of the school year for your student is a positive and fulfilling experience! To purchase the book at a discounted price click here.

Children have a natural love for learning. As young toddlers, they learn to crawl and walk without external motivators. Certainly they like encouragement, but the natural desire to progress is already a part of their innate programming. Children do not need to be bribed or threatened into learning. What they need, especially children with traumatic histories (who we'll call "Billy" in this article), is to be supported, guided, and scaffolded up within an environment that is conducive to feeling emotionally safe, developing relationship, and feeling respected. 

The typical behavioral techniques most schools use to try to motivate students can be barriers and hindrances to the Billys of the classroom because they create fear. Any technique based in fear is only going to elevate more fear for a student like Billy who already lives in fear. These techniques are illusions of control and motivation. The reality is that when fear is a part of the learning environment for a student like Billy, learning stops. What subsequently follows is exactly what these external motivators were intended to eliminate: negative behaviors. 

Motivation is more about regulation than about simply making a choice to succeed and follow the rules. Motivators we see used in schools, such as stickers and rewards, address the area of the brain that is shut down for Billy. To think clearly and to sequentially rationalize that "if I behave, then I will have a prize from the treasure box" takes the work of the neocortex (the logical thinking part of the brain). 

For Billy, when he is struggling and dysregulated, this part of the brain ceases to fire. The problem exists in the lower area of the brain for Billy (the Reptilian Brain). That is why Billy’s thinking is going to be different than the typical student (who we'll refer to as "Andy"). This is especially true for Billy because Billy has a deep-seated negative belief system saying that he is stupid, the world is unsafe, and he has to do whatever it takes to make things work for himself (see below).
Reptilian Brain

In the lower part of the brain for all of us, life happens in the next fifteen seconds. Consequences are not relevant. Morals, ethics, and the differences between "right and wrong" have no bearing. All of these guiding forces reside in the neocortex, an area of the brain no longer "in charge" when Billy is dysregulated. 

When Billy is left to his own devices to regulate, all his internal resources and energy are already used for protection and safety, leaving no room for learning. The more Billy falls behind academically, the more he feels threatened and the less he learns. Hence, the negative and endless spiral begins with no way out when traditional approaches are put into place. Unfortunately, the only way out of this downward spiral for many students is to ultimately quit and drop out of school. 

It takes a shifting our understanding of motivation from a behavioral perspective to a relationship-based regulatory perspective to interrupt a student's negative spiral downward. Many of the traditional techniques need only be modified slightly and delivered in the spirit of love and connection rather than in the framework of fear and control. It is a small shift yet one that can have a powerful impact on students.

It requires interactive regulation (through relationship) to calm Billy down, to create safety for Billy, and to decrease his anxiety. It takes switching from the strategy of getting students motivated--with the promise of a reward or the threat of the loss of a privilege--to the strategy that taps into the student's neurobiological predisposition for relationship. 

For more extensive "real-life-how-to" strategies, read my latest book, Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom. With a trauma-informed classroom, let's help return our "Billys" of the world back to their natural love for learning!

Press on, 
Heather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love
, and Help for Billy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Going Beyond the Behaviors: How to Heal from the Impact of Early Trauma

In order to understand the meaning of tall, we need to understand the meaning of short.  To know if something is hot, we must be familiar with something cold.  Likewise, good is relative to bad, wet is relative to dry, and happy is relative to sad.  The same is true in order to understand the impact of early childhood trauma and abuse on a child.  We need to first understand the impact of positive early childhood experiences in order to understand the impact of negative early childhood experiences.  With the comparison of this information, we can have insight into knowing how to parent and connect with a child who experienced early childhood trauma, abuse, and neglect.
            This article is designed first to give you the information of what happens when children are raised in environments of love and attunement and then to give you information on how to re-create interactions with an adopted child whose early life experiences were void of these positive experiences and tainted by trauma and abuse.  In order to heal the broken, we must first know what it looks like unbroken.  Tools for the adoptive parent are given in order to empower you as a parent to overcome, with your child, the effects of toxic caregiving many adopted children experience in orphanages or foster homes.

The Right Brain. 
The first relationship an infant is designed to experience is the relationship with his mother.  This relationship begins in the womb and is designed to continue at a high level of intensity for at least the next three years of the child’s life.  It is in these first three years that amazing development happens due to his mother’s attention, attunement, devotion, and connection with him.
            John Bowlby, considered the Father of Attachment Theory, identified this relationship between mother and child as critical to the development of a child’s ability to relate to others during his entire lifespan.  Bowlby stated that early life experiences create imprints that influence a child’s capacity to maintain healthy and secure relationships as an adult.  New research from neurological science reinforces this concept and shows that these early life experiences literally influence the development of a child’s neurological system and influence the circuit wiring of his brain. 
            According to Dr. Allan Shore, the “King” of affect regulation, the development of a child’s brain occurs primarily in the right brain the first few years of  life.  The right brain holds the capacity for emotional and nonverbal information processing while the left brain holds the capacity for language and logical processing.  Thus, for the infant and toddler, with no or limited language skills, communication happens primarily in the right brain.  These experiences occur at the emotional level, not at the cognitive or “thinking” level. 
            It is interesting to note that as adults, we operate from mainly our left brains.  We think logically and we use words to express ourselves—all left brain functions.  Yet, our babies and children are working from the opposite side of the brain.  If you observe a mother with her infant, she has shifted out of her left brain and into her right brain.  How logical is it to say, “Goo-goo-gaa-gaa?”  Yet, when seen in the context of the parent-child relationship, it is perfectly acceptable and, in fact, necessary, in order to connect with this a child because the child’s right brain needs emotional experiences. 
            As adults, it takes shifting back into our right brain, getting outside of being the adult, and meeting our child where he is at in order to create a healthy relationship.  As adoptive parents, we need to realize that the bond we are trying to build with our children, at whatever age, needs to happen at the emotional level first.  If we allow our children to experience what they missed with us in their early years—parenting from our right brains and being emotionally available and attuned—we will be creating an environment for healing and the development of meaningful relationships with our children.
Types of Communication. 
When a young child communicates with his mother, he experiences her being predictable and manipulatable.  For instance, if the baby smiles, his mother smiles back.  If the baby cries, his mother attends to him in a soft and soothing tone in order to calm him.  The child’s communication, while non-verbal, is used to make connection with his mother. 
There are three main forms of non-verbal communication prevalent between young children and their caregivers.  First, mothers and babies communicate through visual and facial expressions.  The child is reading his mother’s face and vise-versa, the mother is reading her child’s face.  The baby smiles, the mother smiles.  Through this communication, the baby develops a sense of coherence in his feelings.  If the baby smiles and the mother frowns and becomes upset, the baby becomes confused and distorted in his understanding of feelings.
Second, the mother and child make connection through physical touch and with gestures.  Think of the pleasant sensation you have when you touch a baby’s skin.  This is an important part of positive communication between parent and child.  The skin is the largest organ in the body.  It needs physical stimulation that is pleasant and enjoyable. This helps develop the child’s sensory system.  Children who are not touched or held are at risk of having sensory integration difficulties.
Third, the parent-child connection happens through the auditory senses whereby the mother’s tone of voice influences the child’s receptivity to his mother’s verbal communication.  The baby does not have the capacity to understand his mother’s words and vocabulary, thus the baby is comprehending verbal communication solely through his mother’s emotional tone of voice.  It is not what the mother is saying, but how she is saying it.  This verbal communication is essentially a function of the right brain, the feeling brain, not the left brain, the cognitive brain.
Through these non-verbal communications, the attachment system is being created by both the child and the mother.  In this attachment system, the mother is helping the child regulate his states of stress and fear.  The mother who attends to her child’s negative states is helping her child shift back into a positive state.  This is known as “affect synchrony.”  Affect synchrony is the regulatory means for developing and maintaining positive emotional states within the relationship of emotional communication.  Positive states are amplified and maximized for the child while negative states are minimized and neutralized for the child.

Regulatory Difficulties.
As babies and children experience these types of loving and calming interactions, their systems learn how to handle high levels of both positive and negative feelings.  Their internal neurological systems become equipped to calm down on their own.  Essentially, they begin to develop the ability to self-regulate. 
            For a child who misses these early positive experiences due to trauma, abuse, or neglect, he lacks the ability to read facial expressions and to feel a sense of internal security.  If his cries for help were either met with negative reactions from his parent, as in the case of abuse, or ignored by his parent, as in the case of neglect, the child quickly shifts from living in a state of love and peace to a state of fear and terror.  When children miss having the experience of a loving parent or caregiver who helps them calm down, their systems stay in a state of stress, unable to regulate back down to a calm state.  The result is a child who is very sensitive to stress and lacks the regulatory ability to calm down on his own.     
In severe cases, children living in these environments reach a state of absolute terror and plummet to a state of survival—life or death.  Their nervous systems remain in a constant state of stress and hyper-vigilance, unable to predict what type of reaction they are going to receive with each cry for help. Some children, characteristically those who are neglected, simply stop communicating and shut down from the world.
            Healing for these children happens when the adoptive parent can recreate positive experiences in order to give the children the experience of being soothed through the parent-child relationship.  The child’s nervous system needs to experience the state of calm arousal instead of staying in a state of perpetual hyper-arousal .  It takes parenting from a new understanding that says, “Children’s behaviors are a cry for regulation—a cry for relationship, not a cry for punishment and consequences.” 
The child does not know how to say, “Hey, mom!  I’m completely stressed out here!  I’m scared, in fact, I’m quite terrified because my world has been turned upside down and I need your help in soothing me-NOW!”  The only communication the child knows at this point in his development is misbehavior.  Thus, instead of parents working to extinguish and change the child’s negative behaviors, it becomes clear that the child needs to be soothed and comforted by his parent.  The child needs connection and needs interactions with his parents that provide safety, love, and security.
It takes going beyond the behaviors in order to create this necessary and essential parent-child bond.  As adoptive parents, we have to learn the rhythms and flows of our children and then modify our own to fit into a parent-child matching.  (For more information on how to do this while at the same time teaching children appropriate behaviors and maintaining boundaries, read Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control available at  The focus of parenting then shifts from the goal of changing behaviors to building relationships.  This is the essence of creating healing and safe homes in order to stabilize our children and prepare them for a future of peace, joy, and abundance. 
In the past, parenting focused on ways to decrease negative behaviors and negative emotions.  However, with this new understanding of brain development, we now see that parenting is about increasing positive emotions and creating positive experiences.  Parenting emotionally healthy children is about joy, not fear-based punishments.

Interactive Repair.
Interactive repair is the key to helping children heal from the effects of early childhood trauma.  Repair to the nervous system and to the child’s sense of self, safety, and security comes through interactions with his parent.  As the relationship develops between the two, through loving, safe, and kind experiences, the child learns to tolerate negative emotions and eventually develops his ability to self-regulate.  The key to this is the emotional availability of the parent and the intimacy offered by the parent, which is the central growth feature for all children. 
When the parent is calm, regulated, in a state of peace, and open to connecting emotionally with the child, this influences the child’s ability to shift into this state of regulation and calm.  Interactive repair is essentially a body to body connection.  In terms of these interactions, both the parent and the child are co-regulating their central nervous systems and their autonomic nervous systems. At a physiological level, the body is changing.  Cortisol levels are dropping; oxytocin is increasing.  Their endocrine systems and their immune systems are being regulated by the nature of their relationship.

Creating a Healing Environment.
            The number one person to help your adopted child is you.  Every interaction you have with your child is a healing moment—a moment for interactive repair—24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.   This is especially true during the difficult interactions when your child is demonstrating difficult behaviors. That is when he is most “raw” and needing you the most.  These are the healing moments we have traditionally missed!  Instead of punishing the behavior, step inside your child’s pain, join him in relationship, and give him understanding and the opportunity to experience love and regulation through your relationship with him.  Being mindful that his behaviors are requests for connection is essential to this process. 
            Be proactive in working to create experiences that build connection.  Here is a list of playful activities for creating secure attachments:
  1. Carrying your baby
  2. Rocking your child
  3. Feeding your child
  4. Talking (It’s not so much as what you say as how you say it—tone of voice)
  5. Playing – letting the child lead the play experience
  6. Hugging
  7. Massage and gentle touch
  8. Cuddling
  9. Co-bathing (when age appropriate)
  10.  Swimming (skin to skin contact)
  11. Creating a life book
  12. Giving your child his story
  13. Playing “hide and seek” (recreating the coming and going experience)
  14. Tickling
  15. Wrestling (great for dads!)

Face to face play experiences feed the wiring of the brain.  Traditionally, we have underestimated the importance of play experiences in early human development.  For many children who have suffered trauma, abuse, and neglect, they do not know how to play.  Create these play experiences and you’ll be creating experiences that can truly repair the missing pieces from his past by changing his physiological system, decreasing his stress state, improving his relationship with you, and ultimately, creating the essential missing ingredient in his life:  joy!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Power of Love and Relationship

Humans are designed to be in relationship. We are designed to grow up in families and live in communities. What is considered the most severe punishment of an inmate in prison? Solitary confinement. This is because we are neurologically and biologically designed to be in relationship. Being alone for extended periods of time goes against our physiology.

Our children need connection in order to feel love, accepted, and safe. They cannot sufficiently create this on their own. They need to experience this first from their caregivers before they can give it to themselves. Children, especially babies, do not have the ability to “regulate” on their own.
A baby crying in a crib is communicating that he is in need of help. The baby is seeking regulation. The baby has slipped into a state of dysregulation, needing to be fed, rocked, cuddled, or have a diaper changed. The baby is incapable of shifting from this state of dysregulation to a state of regulation on his own. If the baby is not cared for, he goes into a hyper-aroused state, whereby the stress hormones excrete excessively until ultimately, the body will protect itself from creating internal damage by shutting down. The baby then stops crying and appears to have settled down. 

Yet in actuality, the baby has not shifted back into a state of regulation. The baby has simply shifted from a state of active arousal to a state of passive arousal, still dysregulated at the internal level. He has been denied an interactive experience with his caregiver. He has missed the vital experience of being calmed and soothed, or regulated, by his caregiver.

This same concept is true for any child. When a child is acting out, it is a sign that the child has slipped into a state of dysregulation. If the child has not had enough past regulatory experiences of being soothed through the power of a loving relationship, the child’s ability to self-regulate is insufficient to shift to a state of regulation on his own. Whether describing an infant or a 15-year-old child who is dysregulated, the role of the parent is always to join with the child in order to help the child regulate back to a state of calm arousal.
Science is showing that essential regulatory functions occur in the right hemisphere. The right hemisphere is responsible for the processing of positive and negative affective states, such as interest, excitement, and joy, along with pain, fear, and overwhelm. The right hemisphere controls the human stress response system and cortisol secretion as well as vital functions supporting survival. When a child’s early experiences do not include predictability, quality care-giving, loving interactions, and safety, these functions of the right hemisphere are impaired and the ability to regulate is compromised.
When parenting a child with difficult behaviors, look into the child’s past experiences and you will discover a history of disruption. In order to help a child get back on track, it takes connecting with the child at the emotional level. This connection happens in the right brain, so it is not the words that are important. It is the facial expression, tone and volume of voice, as well as the posture, tempo, and timing of movement. It is about learning to simply be present with your child and allowing the child the emotional space to process through his stress.

This is an interactive process between the parent and the child, and thus, it is imperative that the parent be in a state of regulation. If the caregiver is stressed out and dysregulated herself, her ability to create a state of regulation for her child is severely compromised. Have you ever been in a store and watched a stressed-out parent instructing her child to, “Calm down. Calm down, right now!”? The words are effective words; however, the delivery of the words is far more important to consider. It is not what you say, but how you say it. 

Imagine having the opportunity to sit next to Gandhi, Jesus Christ, or Mother Teresa. How do you think you would feel simply sitting next to any one of these individuals who simply radiate love? Would your system automatically shift to a state of regulation? You undoubtedly would feel a sense of calm and peacefulness, even if words were not exchanged.
While this may be an extreme example, you do have the same ability to create this type of connection with your child. This is the power of love and relationship. This is “interactive regulation.” Interactive regulation is the ability to easily regulate one’s emotional state through interactions with others. As your child experiences these interactions with you and through you, he will gain experiential knowledge of what it feels like to be regulated. He will have experiences of going from a state of dysregulation and upset to a state of peace and calm.
As the child experiences this interactive regulation through your relationship with him, he then learns how to self-regulate, or as science is terming it, to “autoregulate.” This is the ultimate gift we can give our child, to be able to self-regulate in times of stress, without others and without external measures.
You know what I am talking about when I say external measures - that cup of coffee you picked up before work today or the candy bar you downed at 3:00 this afternoon to keep you going. We all use external sources to help regulate us when we feel as if we cannot do it on our own. The ultimate goal is to teach our children to develop their innate internal capacity to self-regulate in order to keep them from seeking more severe external sources such as alcohol or drugs.
Childhood is the most opportune time to accomplish this goal. Science is showing that positive emotional experiences carve permanent pathways into a child’s developing neurological system. Every interaction you have with your child is an opportunity to help your child regulate, make a positive emotional connection, and literally lay down neural networks that will enhance his brain’s capacity to handle stress and overwhelm later in life. Conversely, research states that if a significant amount of a child’s early emotional experiences are characterized by fear, then a negative and hopeless perspective becomes part of the child’s personality framework.
It is important to realize these experiences influence a child far more than we once believed. In the past, it was believed that children who grow up with an abundance of experiences of distress, fear, separation, and rage simply develop bad behaviors and bad habits. We now know that it goes much deeper than this; they develop ingrained negative neurological pathways that control much of what they do.
The good news is that our grains are ever changing and ever creating new neuropathways. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections based on life experiences.  Yet it is vital to the healing of our children that these new neuropathways are formed from emotional experiences, not intellectual or cognitive experiences.
These emotional experiences are not experiences that can b created in a therapist’s office once a week for 50 minutes. These healing moments happen every day in our homes, 24 hours a day. It is in the moments when your child is most “raw” and the most dysregulated that you are being presented with an opportunity to create change and healing. It takes parenting from not just a new perspective but from an entirely new paradigm.