Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in negative patterns with your kids? Like there are certain events and behaviors that repeat daily - telling them to unload the dishwasher, end the video game, brush the teeth, register for the ACT, clean the room, do the missing assignments - that flip a switch of frustration for both of you?
I do. And I’ve been working on how to change them.
When I come up with the magic wand technique, you’ll be the first to know. Until then, I’ll explain a little bit about neuroplasticity, the next best thing.
First, what is neuroplasticity? This term refers to scientists’ discovery that our brains are shaped and changed by our experiences. Just as plastic becomes pliable when heated, (remember shrinky dinks?) our brains are shaped by what happens in our lives.
Each feeling and thought strengthens the circuitry in your brain known as your neural pathways. These neural pathways form connections that make up the foundation for your thinking, feeling, and behavior habits. Barbara Oakley uses the metaphor of a mouse running on a path to describe the emergence of information connecting to form a neural pathway.
The more you focus on that learning over time, the wider the pathway becomes and the easier it is for your mental mouse (the information in your brain) to run quickly along the path. When the connection is strong, the information travels automatically: experience ----> action. Like catching a ball coming toward you.
We develop strong connections to beliefs and habits of behavior in our relationships.
And this is why you can seem stuck in the same patterns with your kids. You’ve learned to automatically react based on your experiences and beliefs about what you see and hear from your kids. And they’ve learned to react based on what they see and hear from you.
Your brains are on autopilot as you yell back and forth about finishing the TV show, fortnite game, putting away laundry, sports equipment, toys, dishes, and charger cords. Sometimes it feels hopeless, I know. But it’s NOT!
Use the following 5 steps to change your brain - and the patterns that cause conflict. Then you can teach your kiddos how to change theirs. You can remember the steps by using the acronym HEART.
1. Hit the brakes
When I walk in the door after working with students and my kids are lounging around a messy family room on their devices, I want to throw a temper tantrum. But when I hit the brakes for a minute, I get time to collect my thoughts. I realize that I can greet my kids and make requests that get the room picked up AND set us up for a fun evening together.
*You may even want to put your hand on your heart to add to your ability to slow down and relax before reacting. This is a proven self-calming technique.
2. Examine the belief thats driving the negativity : what am I telling myself?
Why am I so worked up?
I am telling myself that my kids are lazy and sloppy, don’t care about me, I am a terrible parent, and it’s never going to change. I haven’t taught them how to be responsible, they are spoiled, and we’re doomed for failure.
3. Ask: am I telling myself the truth?
Hmmm...no. It feels like the truth when my switch flips, but in reality my kids are capable of being kind and don’t mean to be disrespectful. They are bored or tired or taking the easy way out, sure, but I know they want our relationship to be strong. I believe this truth: I can help them change their habits as I am changing mine.
4. Replace the negative thought
What would I rather be thinking? I have been looking forward to seeing these people all day, and I want to hug them and hear how they’re doing. I replace the negative feelings with positive ones of love and care for them.
This frames my state of mind for making requests that will get the family room picked up!
5. Tap into positive emotion: practice!
Our emotions have a huge influence on our actions and interpretations. Realize that your feelings can lie to you about a situation. The more you can tap into positive emotions of gratitude and joy, the easier it will be to practice replacing negative patterns with positive ones.
I realize that when I’m Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired, my emotions can run out of control and cause conflict that isn’t really there. Gratitude for my family can win out over the negativity. The more I’m able to replace negative thoughts with gratitude, the stronger the brain-connection becomes and the easier it gets.
People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be. — Abraham Lincoln
Use the mind-HEART connection to create habits for happiness at home!