Beware there is a special hearing condition that occurs in our challenged children on holidays like this one. See if you recognize it. Timmy/Suzy/Alex/Sarah can hear when you call out hot brownies in the kitchen, but miss entirely a request to get shoes on. Selective hearing is a parent/child relationship killer in your midst. Maybe we need to start a selective hearing research project to find a cure.
Actually, selective hearing is what we parents are inclined to think, but that is a misnomer; as technically that is blaming the wrong body part. The research, by the way, is in. Our children hear just fine–except of course when there is a true, tested hearing problem. The issue we are dealing with has no name; however, I am fond of calling it spiky thinking. And spiky thinking is a problem of the pre-frontal cortex, not the inner ear.
Under holiday stress, our trauma-brained children are inclined to be particularly spiky thinkers. Here is the issue. Your child hears your command. The amygdala checks for danger, cortisol does its thing (or not), and your child responds (or not). Parents are tend to believe that spiky thinking is willful. While some behavior is willful, most behavior from our differently functioning children is caused by fear being triggered at the limbic level. Once triggered, the amygdala broadcasts into the executive function a false alarm that freezing, fleeing, or fighting is required. How can a safe parent’s directive to go get shoes trigger a child into survival mode? Answer: Our children come to us wired for danger. Only novel experiences, plus the smell of brownies, can override the usual fear of a parental call to action.
Parent commands in the past (or in the implicit memory) might have been followed by child abuse, chaos, loss, or suffering of some kind. Our children are scared of certain voice tones in parents, and sometimes in the actual role of parents altogether. Once traumatized, a brain, mostly unconsciously, shuffles through a zillion possibilities once the brain sends a danger alarm. What is wrong? Did I do something wrong? Is she mad? Does he think I put the towels away wrong? What did I forget to do? Are we going somewhere I don’t know about? Where? Who will be there? What will happen? Am I going to live somewhere else now? Am I going to be hurt there? What if…? And on and on it goes until interrupted by a trauma-sensitive parent who slows down, squats down, gives a little soft eye contact, assures safety, shows calm, makes a gentle request, and waits for a response. Labor intensive? Yes. Effective? Yes. That’s what works on a holiday (and any other day) to cure spiky thinking.
You can enjoy holidays with your kids. Simply keep the truth in mind: Holidays are by nature stressful to our children and parents are often the trigger for escalating children into fight, flight, or freeze. That said, parents can adopt a compassionate, trauma-sensitive parenting approach, rendering spiky thinking only a small part of the holiday experience.
And one other little tip: Resist the urge to consequence or punish your child for spiky thinking. It really is not bad behavior, as much as it is a complex traumatized brain on holiday excitement.
Now go out there and have some holiday remembrance and fun.
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