This summer I got my hands on Feeling Seen: Reconnecting in a Disconnected World, the third book from Dr. Jody Carrington. If you know her, you know she is a spicy lady with no-nonsense views on connection and regulation. "Feeling Seen examines how and why humans are so disconnected right now, worse than we have been in the history of the free world."
Here are just a few of the pearls of wisdom that I gained from this humbling how-to.
"You can't tell a kid how to calm down, you have to show them."
I'll confess, this quote isn't actually from Feeling Seen. This gem comes from the first book I ever read from Carrington, Kids These Days.
In Feeling Seen, Dr. Jody isn't talking about showing kids how they can calm down. She emphasizes the importance of adults showing kids how we can regulate ourselves. "The more times big people are able to regulate in the physical presence of a child, the better that child begins to develop the skills of emotional regulation." Who better to demonstrate what to do with big emotions than the people who care for us?
As an adult, do you ever feel like you're about to lose it? Of course you do.
How about in front of your kids or the kids you work with? Of course you do.
I'm not suggesting that it's great to have a full-on scream in front of kids, but it's hugely beneficial for them to see us become dysregulated. The true power is in naming what's going on and then engaging in some regulation. Don't be afraid to use 'big words' to name what's going on for you. This is all a part of learning about brains, bodies, and regulation.
Engaging in regulation can either happen directly in front of kids or in a safe space. Either way, be clear about what you're doing - this is how they learn.
It might sound like this:
"Mom is feeling overwhelmed from all the noise and touch. I'm going to step into the other room and take some breaths until I feel more settled."
It might also sound like this:
"Hey! I need a break!"
"I was feeling frustrated and I needed a minute to myself. I made my muscles really tight and counted to ten. After that, I felt more relaxed. Let's put on some music and dance."
It also might not sound that way every time, and that's OK too. The fact that you've made it to this point in the post means that you're invested enough to care.
"If you have a big enough stick, you can get anyone to comply."
Dr. Jody is referencing behavioural approaches, which can include positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment, token economy, extinction/shaping, contracts, time outs, and systematic desensitization. She talks about how the biggest problem with these approaches is that they will work - in the short term. However, these practices were, "created for a world that no longer exists." We can, and must, do better.
Although punishments and negative reinforcements seem to work, these consequences often have elements of shame and humiliation. The last thing a child needs to hear after they've screwed up is that they've screwed up.
And they're probably already feeling terrible about it.
Positive reinforcements are another behavioural approach, which is why they tend to not work long term. This is especially true when learning about interoception and regulation; "you can't reward and consequence people into being calm, or kind, or great. You must show them."
"The job of tiny humans is to lose their friggin minds. The job of big people is simply to walk them home."
Without the mayhem of meltdowns, there's no way for kids to learn how to make sense of the mess. How the adult responds to the chaos informs the well-being of kids.
Do you find yourself yelling at your own kids, but keeping complete cool when other peoples' children are having a level ten meltdown? I'm never a better co-regulator than when it's with someone else's kid! Dr. Jody talks about how it's the job of those in the "village" to teach the most corrective experiences. This means teachers, therapists, coaches, and friends. It's so much easier to stay regulated and have access to your best co-regulation skills when you have "less skin in the game." This does not mean that you don't care. In fact, you care so deeply that you're willing to stay with that child until you see that the lid has flipped back onto their brain.
So your kid, "lost their friggin mind." But - you stayed present, validating their emotions and got that brain back in business. After a rupture, we want to be sure there is repair. This might happen right away, or a few hours later. Repair doesn't have to be fancy, and it should be fun. Think of a good-hearted wrestling match or preparing your favourite snack together.
"Empathy happens in the space before judgement."
True empathy doesn't require you to agree with or even accept another person's position. Empathy means that you can understand someone else's feelings. It means that you're working hard to "get it," not decide if it's right or wrong. Empathy is a powerful emotion, and essential to feeling seen and staying connected.
Having empathy means acknowledging what is going on for the other person. Validating can also serve as a powerful tool for defusing anger. "It's powerful enough to soften or even melt any intense emotion. If we're lucky, that's how we uncover the sad behind the mad." In Kids These Days, Dr. Jody talks about how mad is really sad's bodyguard. This analogy makes a lot of sense with kids and adults alike, and is another reason why emotions are so difficult to understand. Often, the thing we notice in another person is not the true underlying emotion.
You have to name it to tame it. even if it doesn't make sense to us.
"You wanted the blue cup."
"Feeling mad. Don't want bubbles."
"It's hard to leave fun places."
"I know that you want to stay up."
"That was not what you expected."
"A constant journey of reconnection is the whole reason we are here."
Ruptures in relationship happen. If you're lucky to love enough people, they'll happen a lot. The good news is, after rupture comes repair. Reconnection is the whole reason we are here.
Hit up your local library or purchase Feeling Seen HERE.