Teaching Kids Emotional Regulation(part -3)

advice/correction aggressive kid agression anger in kids Aug 07, 2022

Now how to apply the knowledge in parts 1 and 2 so we can train our brains not to react to our kids with sudden anger? How to change our “anger habit"?

I call it a habit because habit is a technical word that has three clear components according to author Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business).

1- Cue: what triggers it in your brain

2- Routine: what you do next

3- Reward: some kind of instant feel-good outcome

We can only change the ROUTINE portion. That is, we can change how we react to the CUE- what action we take.

We can’t ELIMINATE the habit altogether. That is, we can’t just give up the reward because our brain is programmed to get the reward when it sees the cue. So now we will teach our brain to have a different ROUTINE (reaction) to the same CUE.

Example: People who try to give up smoking have better success (statistically) when they REPLACE the habit with a similar cue/reward habit.

Cue: Brain craves a cigarette or sees someone else smoking or sees a smoked cigarette butt and that’s their cue.

Routine: They then use a nicotine-replacement patch/gum etc.

Reward: They get a similar reward (nicotine-hit).

Once they change this habit (opening the pack of cigarettes, sticking it in their mouth and lighting it), they can then give up the routine altogether eventually.

Now how to apply this to how our brain is programmed to react to our kids with sudden anger? How to change our “trigger” or cue?

Step 1: Identify the cue. What triggers your anger? Identify the feelings associated with the anger (the rising feeling of rage that begins in your abdomen somewhere). For many people the cue is their child “not listening” to them right away. Or saying “no” with defiance.

Step 2: Start to become aware of the feelings of rising anger. and as soon as you detect this cue, you want to replace your current reaction. I found it helpful to just “pause”- first by leaving the room and now I can take a mental pause while just standing there and taking deep breaths or reciting 'inna lillah he...' ;)

Step 3: Reward. The usual ‘reward’ of blowing up at your child is that it does feel good in that moment because you feel like you’re “doing something” proactive. After changing the routine, your new reward will be those wonderful feelings of “wow I didn’t blow up at my kid, I acted like an adult”. Allow yourself to revel in that feeling and teach your brain to enjoy this new reward. Say to yourself, "I'm an awesome parent, I'm breaking generational abuse cycles." <3

Things to remember:

1- Be patient with this process and yourself. Nothing we talk about in this group is a magical overnight solution. Everything we’re learning here takes time. Rewiring your brain's decades worth of conditioning takes time.

2- Don’t beat yourself up for the times you fail. Neuroscience tells us that making mistakes makes our brains grow. So each time your brain uses the old "routine"- it gently registers a mistake. That right there will help you overcome this habit by making a new neural connection in your brain that associates anger with mistake, thereby increasing the chance that you will do it LESS in the future.

3- Celebrating your victories is an important step. Its not just enough to avoid shaming yourself- its EQUALLY important to REWARD yourself with praise and positive affirmations (yes, I know, we don't praise and reward our kids but doing it to ourselves has a totally different dynamic.. the purpose is exactly to validate ourselves). Research tells us that people who have more positive inner dialogue are more successful with creating positive change in their lives.

When you do all of the above, you will be successfully modeling emotional regulation to your children.

What if I simply can't make any progress despite doing all of the above repeatedly over months?

Then you might have more severe trauma or more difficult current life circumstances. I highly encourage you, in that case, to seek professional help. Read the unit on Healing Ourselves (Unit 4) for more on that.

Finally, the second part of teaching emotional regulation is also non-negotiable; co-regulation and active listening. These are discussed in the following sections.

Hopefully, this makes it easier for you guys to understand those sweet kids and why taking their big feelings (or tantrums- I hate that word) personally is not helpful.

If we do our job right, then they will absolutely learn emotional regulation with time and be in no danger of ending up in prison 😉