Did you know you may inadvertently be dealing “drugs” to your children?
Dopamine has been called the brain’s “pleasure chemical.” It is released when pleasure is experienced. It creates healthy motivation to pursue various life-giving pleasures such as accomplishing a goal, taking on a new challenge, or connecting with others in meaningful ways.
According to Amy Banks MD, in an ideal world dopamine bursts would happen primarily through pursuit of healthy, life-giving activities – particularly through nurturing human connection. Unfortunately, we live in a world that has many of us seeking dopamine in all the wrong places, like overeating and obesity, drug and alcohol abuse, and consumerism.
Related to dynamics with our kids, it starts out innocently enough. When you smile and give your child that thing they are SO excited about and you get a big hug – Shazam! a dopamine feast for both of you! It felt so good. Let’s do it again. And you do it again. And they do it again.
And pretty soon contentment becomes dependent on dopamine bursts.
“Are we there yet?” “I have to go to the bathroom!” “I want a Happy Meal NOW!” “No, I want Taco Bell!!”
Ahh, the bliss of car-trip vacations. Whether our children are toddlers or teens, the stress of riding in the car together for extended periods can taint the whole vacation. Wouldn’t it be great if we could time-warp ourselves to our destinations? It’s appealing, but obviously not reality. The real-life temptation is simply to equip each child with a glowing device full of their favorite movies or games, and communicate the message… when it’s hard to get along, we just turn to screens to solve the problem. So let’s look at it differently, because a helpful insight for car rides or any other difficult parenting situation is: Every challenge holds a golden opportunity!
The challenge of car rides together is a great opportunity for connection, teamwork, and creative problem-solving.
Here are some practical, simple ideas:
Heading back to school can be an anxious and stressful time for kids — and for parents, too! New schedules, new notebooks, new teachers and classmates add up to a lot of excitement and oftentimes, anxiety. All that change can get everyone in the family into a tizzy. One important element to consider is the way in which a parent or caregiver can intentionally help children face the upcoming school year, especially if they are feeling nervous about school. Here are a few proactive tips to help smooth the transition this fall:
It was every parent’s nightmare – over two hours at the allergist’s office with three young children. The kids and I all took turns alternately getting poked for blood draws, scratched all over our backs and arms for allergy testing, and puffing to check breath levels for asthma. The results? A bountiful diagnosis of asthma and allergies for everyone, with many allergies rated 4+ on the 0-4 scale.
The markers and paper I had brought along lost their appeal about 20 minutes into the two hour process, as my stress level rose to about a 6 on the 0-4 scale!
To the discouraged Mom in the third row,
As I share a story from my own parenting journey, our eyes meet and I sense a sadness inside of you. You are here alone. Are you a single parent? Are you married but struggling to get on the same page with your spouse? I’m not sure, but whatever the reason for your solitude, you seem to be bearing a lot of weight on those shoulders.
Perhaps you feel like a sponge, soaking up all the tension in your family. And there’s plenty of tension! There’s a burdensome sense of responsibility to keep everyone happy, and it’s not working.
To the Dad in the front row at our workshop,
You are here — and, based on your eye contact and nods, you are attentive. As Lynne and I present, your gaze is fixed. You write notes and take the time to write down the kind of parent you want to be at the end of each section. You want to get this parenting thing right. I watch you as we present and make some intuitive guesses informed by twenty years of speaking to moms and dads like you.
Your kids are young. You and your spouse want to be together in this parent journey, but there is tension. I see you occasionally exchange knowing glances – like you’ve been found out together. I sense discouragement not far around the corner, so I try to keep an encouraging tone and relate my own struggles so you know I understand you. I very much want you to know — you are not alone! You and your wife are here together, wanting to be on the same page. Wanting to encourage each other. Not knowing how.
Dad in the front row, I know you. I was you and I am you. I can see in the glances and eye contact with me and with your wife that you two really long to embody God’s grace with each other, for each other, and for your kids. I’m guessing by your responses to stories of Lynne’s and my struggles that you’ve had your share too. Maybe even more than your share. I can’t help but wonder if you’re feeling burdened and overwhelmed. Believe me, I know about that.
In a coaching session, Karen shared that their family’s weekly schedule seemed to take them captive every Sunday night. Lilly, their third-grader, unofficially declared it “Moan and groan about Monday morning” time. The whole family would get drawn into her dramatic, despairing proclamations about the boredom and frustration that awaited her the next day. Parental injunctions to shape up that attitude exacerbated the problem because Lilly felt invalidated and became more determined to make her point. With everyone else also feeling a milder version of the pre-Monday blues, the scent of crankiness wafted throughout their home.
“I’m so stupid, I’m SO STUPID!” Most parents at some point are faced with a discouraged, self-condemning child. That’s painful to hear.
Our anxiety often drives us to try to talk a child out of their opinion, in an effort to soothe everyone’s distressed feelings. “You are not, you’re plenty smart!” The child, now feeling invalidated in their discouragement, often makes it their primary goal to enlighten their oblivious parent – “I am too! Nobody else makes a mistake like that. All the kids think I’m dumb!” and the conversation disintegrates into irrational, extreme thinking.
So what’s a truly helpful response when your child hurls condemnation at him or herself? We’ll tackle this question with a real life example from our 20-something daughter.
Broken bones, scary surgeries, or moving to a new school — all these things can be traumatic experiences for kids to handle. How can parents best help their kids survive and even learn from difficult situations? To answer this question, Chad Hayenga sat down with CF co-founder Lynne Jackson.
(If you cannot see the video, click here to watch it on YouTube or click here to download the transcript.)
The “Whole-Brain” Perspective
According to Lynne, it really helps kids to process difficult circumstances using their whole brain. Here is an overview of the breakdown she gives in the video of how to help kids use all three major areas of their brain:
- Left brain: language and logic. Explain to your child the facts of what’s going on – how to understand exactly what happened in the past, and/or what to anticipate in the future.
- Right brain: emotions. Once you’ve talked about the facts, help your child give words to the feelings that they’re feeling about the situation.
- Frontal lobe: planning. Facilitate your child in making a plan for what to do when they feel those feelings and encounter whatever is ahead.
From this launching point of facts, feelings, plan, you can use whatever difficulties your child is facing to help build in them an identity as one who perseveres, who overcomes tough stuff. In the words of one precocious little girl whose parents Lynne coached, “Dad, I love you. You helped me persevere with a cast on!”
For help implementing these principles with your family, check out our coaching options!
Learning to receive God’s grace for ourselves, and then dispensing that grace to our kids, is the essence of becoming a safe parent. When we do this, we can focus more on caring for our children’s souls than on managing their misbehavior.
It starts with me. Kids provoke us. And when we’re provoked, we tend to reveal what’s really inside us – especially when the provocateurs are our very own little children. What’s revealed is often not a very pretty picture. Virtually every parent we’ve talked to in any depth admits, “I don’t like the me that comes out when I discipline my kids.” One said, “I am so competent at work and with friends. I’m on my game almost all the time. But when my kids act up it’s like I lose the ‘real me!’ I become someone I don’t know or like.”
The tough truth to swallow is that whatever comes out of us IS the “real me.” The goofy thing is, that as much as we tend to despise the “me” that emerges, by the beauty of God’s grace, we are accepted just as we are (but God doesn’t want to leave us unchanged!).