The Science of a Parental Meltdown

Today I want to tell you about what happens in OUR heads when our kids stress us out and we lose it! Last time on the blog I talked about the Science of a Meltdown and what happens in our children's brains. But what's going on when we get triggered? And what can we do about it?!

Picture this: you're at a local cafe with your kids for lunch. After a while your 5-year-old starts to complain that you won't order him some chocolate cake and gets upset. It goes on for a while and ends with him knocking food, cutlery and cups on the floor - messy, noisy and embarrassing!

This situation would test an angel! Frustration, anger and shame flood your brain as you struggle not to yell or be rough with him as you try to clean up and leave.

But know that there is a deep emotional reaction at work. I mean if the child in the cafe was someone else's would you get this upset or angry that they just made a mess and broke a cup? Unlikely!

When we really get angry with our kids, we are likely to be triggered by deeper emotions such as:

  • We feel like a failure (=shame) because we can’t get our child to do what we want them to (other parents do, so what’s wrong with me?).
  • We are upset (=hurt) that our child won’t respect us as their parent and listen to our commands or advice.
  • We are frustrated that we can’t control our child’s behaviour – we feel out of control.
  • We feel hurt that our child doesn’t care about us and our needs eg. to enjoy time in a cafe, to get out the door to work on time etc.

What this reaction looks like in our brains is that a strong emotional response is triggered in our brain's limbic system (= Downstairs Brain). This causes a fight/flight reaction to our child’s behaviour where we subconsciously feel that our child is a threat to be fixed or run from.

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, calls this the “amygdala hijack”: our child becomes effectively our 'enemy' because “our emotional memory, lodged in the limbic centre of our brain, rules our reactions without the benefit of logic or reason...which causes our bodies to go into a 'fight or flight' response.”  

This diagram shows the “Downstairs Brain" where our emotional reaction and fight/flight response is happening (in our limbic system and brain stem/spinal cord). The “Upstairs Brain" is the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain, which can have awareness of these emotions and then choose a wiser response.

Our mission is to train our prefrontal cortex to jump in when we are triggered emotionally and stop us from lashing out (yelling, being aggressive = Downstairs Brain). We want to go from Downstairs to Upstairs as quickly as we can!

If you like the idea of getting the skills to shift your mind from reactive, stressed "Downstairs Brain" to calm, connected "Upstairs Brain" then I'd love you to check out my free 5 Day Calm Parent Challenge

The Challenge includes:

> A short Video on each of the 5 themes (1. Keeping Calm as a Parent; 2. Empathy & Meeting Their Deeper Needs; 3. Connection for Co-operation; 4. Creating Calm at Home; and 5. Creating More Time in Your Lifestyle)

> A simple Daily Action to do which will enable you to make positive change in your family. 

> A very cool Workbook outlining the Daily Action plus a summary of each theme.

Sign up now and be ready for some positive challenges!

I can't wait to share it with you!

xx Suzie