Remember “connect and redirect”? Connect to the emotion your child is feeling, and then redirect your child in a way that helps him or her tap a developing ability to think rationally. Connect and redirect is a very helpful strategy for many of those delicate moments you experience as a parent.
For example, let’s say you have gone to a pizza buffet for dinner. You get back to the table and notice that your four-year-old looks angry and defiant. Maybe this child communicates his or her unhappiness with arms crossed and a tongue sticking out. The question at this moment is, which part of your four-year-old’s brain do you want to engage? If you simply go into “command and demand” mode, you will possibly trigger other reactive emotions in the emotional part of his or her brain. Not only may things turn out poorly at the buffet, but an opportunity for teaching appropriate behavior will be missed.
Rather than simply demand a certain change of behavior, try to get this child thinking. Connect by making an observation about what is being felt, such as “You look like you feel kind of mad.” In this example, let’s say you are right and receive an affirmative response of some sort. Then you can connect again by asking what he or she is mad about. Perhaps your child is angry because Dad said he or she had to eat everything on his or her plate before any dessert could be had. Perhaps Dad even made that statement after the child’s plate was filled. Connect again: “Well, I can see why that would be disappointing . . . or annoying . . . or seem unfair. What do you think would be a reasonable amount to eat before you have dessert?” Now your child is thinking, and you have an opportunity to reach some sort of compromise. In addition, once the emotions have simmered down and the thinking brain is involved, you can talk about what behaviors are expected in a restaurant.
If we parents can be aware of which part of a child’s brain we trigger when we interact, and then choose to connect and redirect, we make life easier for ourselves as parents and we help our children exercise the thinking brain.