Watch Out "The Synapses"!

validation Aug 07, 2022

Let's say you and your family including your 2-year-old and 5-year-old are all sitting and eating dinner one night.

Suddenly, you smell something burning.

The next thing you know, big puffs of smoke are coming out from one of the bedrooms.

You scream fire! fire! And ask your spouse to grab the kids and to run outside.

Your kids look confused and scared and bewildered. They're frozen in place, unable to move. You and your spouse grab each child and all four of you scramble to get out of the house while you fumble with your cell phone, trying to call Rescue 15 or 911 or 999.

As you stand outside with your family, the firemen arrive with their fire truck and attempt to put out the fire with the hose.

You and your family are given blankets.. same neighbors take you into their home. Your kids are familiar with the neighbors and their kids, but they refuse to play right now. They look scared and confused but in the end, everyone is safe.

Once you go back to your house and realize there was minimal damage and it was mainly just tons of smoke and little fire, you move on quickly. You hire someone to fix the damage and once the room is repainted, the furniture dusted and cleaned, you put the whole episode behind you.

Not your children though.

Your 2-year-old refuses to enter that room, saying things like, "Hot fire! Man with water... "

Your 5-year-old says things like, "I never want to go to the neighbors' house again!"

You're so confused! Why do they keep saying these things over and over?

When you turn on the stove, they both run outside the kitchen screaming.

When you turn on your hose to water your plants, they're terrified.

All of this makes sense, right? We know that their brain created some scary synapses (neural connections) during the fire incident.

Because of those synapses. Because all the neurons of "fire" "neighbors" "hose" got connected to "fear""danger""escape".

Should you resign yourself to your children never wanting to enter that room or the kitchen? Or be terrified of the water hose forever?

Of course not.

We help our children rewire those synapses by opening a dialogue of what happened.

Every time they bring it up, we put everything else on hold and talk to them.

We don't hurry through the conversation in fear that the more we talk about it, the more they'll think about it.

No. Clearly they're already thinking about it and feeling terrified. They need us to help them find closure.

And we do that by overriding the synapses that were created that day.

By just listening and adding things where necessary.

With the 2-year-old:

Her: "Fire hot!"

You: "Yes, fire is hot. Does it scare you?

Her: "Yes... scary..."

You: "I understand. Was it scary for you that day when we had to run outside?"

Her: "Yes! Man! Hose! Hot!"

You: "Yes. Lots of men came to help us. They had a hose to put out the fire like this.. (gesture)"

Her: "Fire! Hot!"

You: "Yes.. it was hot and scary! Would you like a hug?"

Her: "Yes. Scared."

And with lots of these kinds of conversations, you will be helping your child to rewrite the story. You will help her to REWIRE the synaptic connections...

Now connecting those same things (fire, hot, man, hose, room..) with comfort, hugs, being understood and heard.

Soon enough, your toddler will have rewritten the entire event in her brain as something bad but manageable. You helped her make sense of something scary and mysterious. She gets it now. She'll be ok.

So whatever happens in our kids' lives or our lives, even divorce, separation, death of loved one, birth of a new baby, a big move to another city etc., change and transition is HARD for kid but by holding space for them in this compassionate way, we help them become more resilient.

And the only way to connect the neurons of hardship with "I can deal with this" is to provide context to your kids. Tell them what's happening and why. Give them space to share their feelings. They will get over it faster if they're allowed to express their concerns. And most importantly- they will grow in resilience and strength

(I shared the sample conversation with a 2.5 year old because I want to emphasize once again that kids of ALL ages understand language and its messages even if they don't SPEAK it.)