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How Kids Learn To Self Regulate Their Behavior

Welcome to our latest Parenting Newsletter :)

Most parents find it hard to handle kids when they are frustrated or angry, or start acting up. Bad behavior in kids is not usually because they want to give you a hard time. It is usually the feelings and reactions that are overwhelming and the child does not yet have the ability to get control. It is also highlighting that they have needs that are not being attended to. Kids will get attention any which way, and negative attention is better than none.

Our feelings and reactions come from the reptilian part of our brain. In the cave-man days we depended on our reactions to keep us alive. Fear is a pretty good reason to run fast!

A young child has to learn to switch from the reptilian (survival) part of the brain to the rational part, and it takes time for the neural pathways to grow. Many Adults do NOT have these pathways in the brain, they react, lash out, yell or cry, and have no ability to move from their feelings, which are overwhelming, to a rational choice about how they will behave. Small wonder many children struggle in school with exactly the same issues.

A child who has lots of opportunities to understand and verbalize their feelings and gets practice moving from reaction to control, learns to self regulate. And this is essential in learning to build good relationships and be a good problem solver.

But creative thinking starts even younger than when a child has a reasonable command of language. A baby is learning from you - how you react under stress, whether or not you value creative thinking. They are testing and trying things out from the moment they are born - firstly to satisfy their basic needs of hunger, comfort and love, but then their development reflects the degree of responsiveness they get from you. So the more you offer wide experiences to your baby, such as music, people, nature, textures etc - the more their brain develops the capacity to deal with change.

It will take a bit longer though for the neural pathways to build from the reptilian brain through to the parts of the brain responsible for rational thought. Children are NOT mini adults. Their brains are functioning quite differently. Experiences are vital in the developing brain for growing all the tiny pathways that lead to clear thinking.

Your job as a parent is to help the child to recognize and put language to their feelings, which helps them move into the rational brain. Unfortunately many parents I see, have made it their goal to suppress their child's feelings - judging strong feelings as wrong, naughty or disruptive. Perhaps even punishing a child for throwing a tantrum or yelling, which does nothing to help those neural pathways grow.

More often than not, adults themselves are not demonstrating how to manage strong feelings. Adults who let fly and yell are simply reacting from the reptilian brain. Of course we all loose our tempers at times with our children - parenting can be the toughest job, particularly when combined with all the rest of our busy lives. But what we want to aim for is showing our child the process of how we acknowledge our feelings and use them as our way of realizing we want a different outcome. Then we have choices about how we behave. If the adult is out of control, the child has NO hope of moving to the rational brain functions.

Our feelings are our friends, they are our guidance to tell us something is out of whack, that we need something - there is nothing wrong with feeling angry or sad, or hurt. But we create bigger issues when we stop ourselves from feeling and make them wrong.

Thicht Nhat Hanh I learned a lovely way of looking at anger from Thicht Nhat Hanh - a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, widely known for his work as a peace activist. He says we should hold our anger the way a mother holds a tiny baby. Our anger is our energy, and to return that energy for our use we need to take care of our feelings by being mindful. He suggests using breathing and each breath acknowledge, I know I am angry, I am taking good care of my anger. As we breathe, the heart of the anger will transform. I find this a lovely way of reminding me to honor my feelings. This is of course a powerful transformation tool.

If your children (and even teenagers) clearly do not have the ability yet to move from reaction to problem solving mode, then your role is twofold. Firstly model to them how YOU deal with your feelings, make it overt - often we simply feel, start to react, perhaps decide or chose to react differently, and then interact. But the child has not seen all this happen, so share your process with them so they can learn from you. Say when you are mad and need a few moments to take a breath and respond more appropriately: "I'm feeling really cross right now, I am just going to take a few minutes to take some deep breaths so I can think clearly before we talk about this" or "I got so annoyed with that lady in the supermarket, I had to stop and re-focus myself so I didn't behave rudely to her". Showing your children how you acknowledge your feelings, and make choices about how you behave instead of just reacting, is a fantastic learning opportunity for them.

How do you process your feelings? Do you struggle with strong emotions or reactions? Can you see your kids learning to control their reactions?

Share your thoughts below . . .


Annie Recommends:
Inspired Children - Life Skills For Kids

Life Skills 4 Kids
There is so much confusing information out there about parenting, it can be hard to know how to cover all bases.

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Benefits for Parents
  • Stop feeling guilty about not spending time with your child
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Benefits for Children
  • Creates a strong platform for a happy, balanced and successful life
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Dr. Rosina McAlpine is an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney, and has received numerous awards for her work in education. Her program is a holistic approach to child development spanning 7 key areas of life.

I think this is a great resource for busy Moms - it takes ages sifting and sorting what your child needs, or finding a great activity that has a good learning focus for your kids. It covers all bases, and makes it easy to spend quality time with your kids, knowing they are learning valuable skills that will be with them for life. Life Skills For Kids would also make a great resource for homes-schoolers.

Events - One For Teenagers In Cape Town

If you happen to live in Cape Town and have a teenager, consider sending them to the Teen Entrepreneur Winter Academy next week.

They are running a brilliant training program to mentor and teach skills to teenagers who are interested in setting up their own business.

During the five day Academy, teams of 4-5 students will develop an entrepreneurial idea and begin building the structure for the success of their idea. The students will participate in lectures and hands-on learning sessions along with the creative problem solving tasks within each team.

On the final day, each team will pitch their idea to local business professionals for a chance to win part of the R10,000!

This is an awesome opportunity for teenagers - the kind of program that needs to be worldwide! You can find out more from their Facebook event page:




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Wishing you a fabulous week - I think many of you are in the middle of your summer holidays so make the most of your sunshine!

With love,
Annie D :)

P.S. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Comments? Questions? Ideas? Thoughts?

I'd love to hear from you!

Thoughts From Other Readers

Click below to read or comment on other reader's contributions.

Honoring Feelings 
Great article Annie! We are always working on feeling and honoring our feelings as they come. It is amazing how fast kids can move thru them when they …

Click here to write your own.

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Featured Book Review

Thicht Nhat Hanh is a Zen Buddhist Monk whose inspiring work to promote peace led him to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 by none other than Martin Luther King.

This incredibly gentle and wise man has written some inspiring books, but of course you don't have to be a Buddhist monk to get inspiration and wonderfully useful techniques from his work.

I love the way he totally honors all of our humanness, warts and all, and his processes to help us heal and build peaceful relationships are superb.

Healing the Inner Child is a book that will take you on a journey to heal the past AND the future. By loving and healing our own hurt child, we are better parents. And our children are the future of this beautiful blue planet.

Visit your library and borrow Thicht Nhat Hanh's books - this little Vietnamese Monk has had a life many of us would dread, but his serenity and profound love for humanity is simply awe inspiring.

I love him!

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