On Tuesday night, at least forty parents gathered in the library to listen to the well-versed knowledge from Lynelle Benit. It was an insightful evening coordinated by our Parent Education team and funded by BSCO.
Instead of focusing solely on one specific area and delving deeply into that, Mrs. Benit instead focused on the broad topic of helping children to deal with their emotions and the impact it has on their brain development. Her main goal really was in giving parents tools on how to help them, and their children, to identify and separate, their emotions from the situation that was happening. For example, if a child hits another. First, acknowledge that both children are upset, and find out the reasons they are upset, identify them. Right or wrong everyone has feelings and for children they need to be recognized. THEN move to the actions.
She really was able to give parents, and I feel adults in general, many valuable nuggets of information.
Keep your emotions on the river between the banks of chaos and rigid. What can we do to make the person's river wider, by reducing the stress on either bank. By recognizing the emotions children are expressing, it allows a child to be able to then process it, separate the feelings from the action, and then move forward
The Wheel of Awareness (as seen in the drawing). Lynelle utilizes this with the majority of students that come to see her at the school she works at. It is a more in-depth and literal form of mindfulness. One example that was discussed was about 'getting shots'. The nervousness of getting a shot is a feeling, that feeling ISN'T you, it's a feeling, a temporary thing, an external sensation.
When we add logic to an emotional situation, we are able to diffuse the anxiety, and to see the situation more clearly. The example given with this is about how sometimes smoke detectors go off, even though there is no fire. It may make us nervous or anxious, but there isn't anything bad happening. She said children of all ages really respond well to this example.
Near the end of the evening, Lynelle opened up the conversation to the people there with the questions they have. Each of the following were concerns a parent expressed, but were echoed by many there.
How to get kids to pay better attention in class. First, she said, "No one has a long attention span." Adults and children alike hop around in their thoughts every three-four minutes. What parents are wanting really, is to have children come back to the task being asked of them. It was discussed about using flag timers, or vibrating timers that are set for every few minutes. And to also incorporate movement (hello brain breaks!!!)
What do you do when you try to talk to your child, and they just refuse to discuss it. Mrs. Benit mentioned that this is again very common. Children (and adults) so often combine feelings of something to the actual thing that has happened. She says to keep telling them, "I care about you, I am honoring you by acknowledging that you are upset and don't want to talk about it; but I want to help 'carry that big backpack of worry' you have. So, we don't have to talk about what made you frustrated right now, but let's talk about the good things in your life, let's take away some of those frustrations you have, let's find a balance."
Kids who have no fear. A parent was concerned about how to help their child have a healthy sense of fear. Is it alright to yell? Lynelle mentioned that the frontal lobe area of the brain is the part that focuses on impulse control. The frontal lobe doesn't finish developing until 26 (sometimes 28) years of age. So a younger child doesn't always fully understand that playing with matches, running with scissors, cutting an apple with a sharp knife, or running across a street, is a bad thing. She said that this is the time to yell, to use "the big mama bear voice". And share with them, "feel how my heart is beating fast, hear how loud and scared my voice sounds, see how quickly I moved to stop you from doing that?" All of that helps to show the reality of the seriousness of the situation to the child, which also builds up their frontal lobe.
What to do with a child who so vividly imagines scary things happening that they are unable to go to bed. A parent was getting desperate, thinking that it would just be easier to stay with the child until they fell asleep each night. But the parental concern was, was this creating unhealthy dependence on the parent. Mrs. Benit mentioned that it is more unhealthy to be controlling over how a child feels and tell them how to react, because then that creates unhealthy relationships for them as they get older. (Meaning, when someone says "No you don't like chocolate, you like jelly beans. No, you shouldn't ride a bike, you should only skateboard.") She suggested talking through the scary thought with the child, how can you turn it into something funny or silly, how can we switch it around so you feel safe. "Where can you put the monster so it won't hurt you?" Again, validate their feelings, give them control and ownership over it. Then create a very predictable routine for going to bed, which can help eliminate extra stress or anxiety. Create a transitional blanket, shirt, stuffed animal that is a part of you (the adult) and give it to the child for comfort. If all else fails, go ahead and fall asleep with the child until that phased has passed. By showing your child that you care for them and are there for them, you are creating an example of a healthy loving relationship.
These were some of the mentioned resources families could utilize, and that Lynelle uses with her students.
Whole-brain Child by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
Yes Brain by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin
The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle
a YouTube video "Sitting Quietly Like a Frog" - to help work on focus and de-escalating
In closing, she said that it is really important to recognize and validate the feelings that children have. Too often she has found that the older children/young adults who are quicker to be angry or easily fall into depression, tend to be the ones who didn't have their feelings acknowledged. Those people who, for various circumstances, bottled up their feelings, grow into adults who have a hard time expressing themselves. Which is why laying a solid foundation as children is so important.
Again, another big thank you for BSCO and our Parent Education team, for giving us to have these great events. I'm looking forward to see what we learn in January for our second Parent Education Night.