Can you control your thoughts, feelings, and emotions? If you answered “yes”, think again. Adult thoughts, feelings, and emotions come and go as quickly as children when it is time to do chores. We have no control over them. The only thing we can control is our response. Appropriate responses are created when we learn to pause. Learning to pause is a multilayered process that requires you to understand more about how the brain works.
Our brains never stop talking to us. Some of the statements made by your brain are helpful, “Watch out for that car, that driver is texting” or “You were very rude to that clerk and need to apologize.” Some thoughts are simply untrue, “My son hates math, so he is never going to be able to keep a job” or “She made a rude gesture towards me in the meeting. She obviously does not like me.”
Like I said earlier, our brains never stop gathering information and attempting to make sense of it. When we draw conclusions, our brain provides options on how to interpret this information. Unfortunately, we often draw the wrong conclusions and react before we realize that the story our brain tells us is a lie. These stories are the real problem, not the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that led to the creation of the story.
Unfortunately, children do not yet know how to pause and evaluate the accuracy of the stories their brains are telling them. This is why we see huge emotional reactions when we say “no” to the second cookie. Your daughter’s brain may be telling her, “You will never be able to eat another cookie.” If your child cries every time you tell him a problem is incorrect on his math homework, his brain may be screaming, “I am so dumb, I can’t even do math.”
How do we teach them to pause?
1. Start by practicing mindfulness with your child. No, you are not sitting cross-legged on the floor chanting with your children. Mindfulness is the habit of experiencing the present moment without judgement. For example, make statements like, “I am driving in a car” instead of “I am driving in an old car around other people with nicer cars.” Teach your child to recognize the facts of the situation instead of their judgements or interpretations of the situation. Practice this several times a day. Please do not attempt to do this when they are overly emotional. Do it when they are calm. Ask simple questions like, “What do you see, what do you hear, what do you feel?” Redirect their answers to the facts.
2. Begin using story language. Teach them to say, “My brain is telling me…” Use this language and model it regularly. “My brain is telling me that you had a horrible day at school because you are not happy this afternoon. Is that true?” Then, believe the given answer.
3. Model this story language for them. Tell them stories every day about what your brain was telling you during a situation and then contrast that with the truth of the situation.
4. Create time for these practices. Leave time in your schedule to have these conversations with yourself and your child. Yes, it is that important. Once your children begin to understand that they do not need to believe everything their brain is saying, they will begin to pause.