Tears of frustration run down my face after my emotionally drunk, pre-teen daughter, gives me the finger and tells me she hates me. I have to walk away, with her phone in my hand, and give myself a “time out” to prevent myself from saying anything I will regret later. I sit on my bed and look at a picture of my daughter and son hugging each other, on the beach, when they were toddlers.
I say to myself, “How did my babies get so obnoxious, defiant and draining?”
I know kids are challenging at any age. I signed up for this journey.
I was thrilled when I discovered I was pregnant with my first born. Getting pregnant was a difficult for me after experiencing three miscarriages.
I expected there would be bumps on the parental road. I have experienced the terrible twos, the sassy five’s, and the exhausting eights. I dealt with the talking back, the temper tantrums, the defiance, the playdate positioning and the friend drama.
Now the bumps are shaped differently and have more consequences. I am dealing with a young lady who is my height. She raids my closet and steals my makeup. My daughter is unconsciously trying to shape her identity and feels threatened when anything challenges her perception or position. Being socially accepted is top priority for my daughter. When disciplining her by taking away her phone apps, her response is explosive! She screams she will die if she doesn’t have a social life, and always adds, “My life sucks!”
All of this is extremely challenging as we live in an age of fast-paced media, constant stimulation and never-ending distractions. Coming up with tactics to deal with a hormonal pre-teen seems to be an ongoing challenge.
I quickly discovered how serious the task of balancing emotions and logic has become.
Because of social media, my kids are growing up very fast and ask questions about very mature subjects. I was relieved, and a bit sad, when they stopped believing in Santa and the Easter Bunny. But now I am dealing with discussions on sex education, drugs, guns, and suicide.
Yes, suicide. Some of my daughter’s friends are watching a Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why. It is about a 17-year-old who kills herself and sends out a detailed audio recording for each of the people she claims had a role in her death. I had no idea the series existed until our school sent out a letter explaining the situation.
This is why parents have to be vigilant about the conscious engagement and conversations they have with their children. Not only are parents bombarded by their own personal stress in everyday life, they are bombarded by the stress facing their children. Being a conscious parent is crucial.
When my kids– especially my pre-teen daughter– becomes drunk with emotion I make it a priority to be aware and conscious of my own reactions. If I am not conscious, I say and do things that make the situation worse. Since my daughter is on an unconscious quest to establish her identity and position in the world I find it is critical to build trust and co-create a harmonious relationship so I can help her navigate her emotions and decision-making.
The following are tools I use with my family and executive clients to help navigate emotions and decision-making.
- Identify Triggers
Because our brain is wired for survival, it is constantly looking for perceived threats. Therefore, when triggered, it can become very easy for us to become emotionally hijacked. Create a safe space for your kids to talk about triggers and where they feel it in the body. This builds awareness and helps them to identify potential emotional outbursts.
My daughter is devastated when she sees someone on social media with a friend who has just rejected her invitation to a playdate. Neuroscience shows being left out creates the same brain chemistry as physical pain. Knowing this, I empathize with her. I ask how she feels and where she feels the emotion in her body. We discuss how this is a normal human trigger and that it is ok to feel hurt.
2. The Inner Commentator
I often talk about the ‘Inner Commentator.’ It is the part of our ego that gives us a play by play of our lives. The Inner Commentator likes drama, tells us stories that aren’t true and likes to obsess. Talking to your kids about the Inner Commentator allows them to step outside of themselves and observe.
Back to my daughters trigger of rejection: she tells me no one likes her and everyone thinks she is weird. She believes this is the reason for her playdate rejection. As I reel her back into reality we discuss her Inner Commentator. I say, “Is it true that no one likes you?” As we go down the list of friends she realizes that statement wasn’t true and her Inner Commentator was in charge.
3. Heart Intelligence
The first organ to develop in humans is the heart. When we connect the heart, brain and nervous system we create harmony in our bodies. This allow us to move our brain function from the limbic portion of our brains to the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex allows our brain to make better decisions, increase trust and engagement, and increases our overall health.
When my daughter is triggered, like the example above, I ask her to access Heart Intelligence by first shifting the energy of her mind to her heart. I actually have her place her hand on her heart. As I ask her what she is grateful for I ask her to breathe in and out from her heart. This brings her heart rate down and creates the connection between the heart, the brain and the nervous system.
As I said, I signed up to be a parent and I am glad I did. There have been many ups and downs on this journey but it has been rich with life lessons and personal growth. Navigating the emotions of a child can be challenging at any stage of parenting, but it is achievable and necessary not only to me, as a parent, but for the sake of my kids.
Tracy Martino is a best-selling author, neuroleadership coach and executive consultant. Tracy has appeared in Forbes, Huffington Post, Positively Positive, Elephant Journal, and The Master Shift. You can connect with Tracy on Facebook or LinkedIn.