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.


Wendy said...

We have been struggling so much this fall with our 10 year old. Both my husband and I have become disregulated over and over--he gets cold and punitive; I get hot and aggressive. Oddly, this doesn't help our son to regulate. Our only successes have come when one of us maintains calm and is able to step in for the parent who is losing it. This blog post gives me renewed commitment to the tenets I believe in. I guess my question is--how do I remember this when every single one of my buttons are being pushed at once? When my son's behavior endangers his sister? When I step out of the room to calm myself before responding ,and he runs after me and throws things at me? I am not trying to justify our poor responses; I honestly need some suggestions in how to not react so quickly when my child is trying so hard to get that reaction from me.

Unknown said...


Here is a list of our support links that may help you during this time: