We are still living within a global pandemic.
This fall, as we face online and/or distant learning, families are panicking. This stress in unavoidable. We can't make it go away or believe it's not there. We can't change our biological response to stress, we can only strive to decrease its impact. Some families feel that because they are able to keep working, pay the bills, and have a roof over their heads, that they are not experiencing this trauma.
TRUTH BOMB: YOU ARE! We are in a global pandemic, this is societal trauma.
Trauma is defined as anything that disrupts your life and creates a sense of fear, real or imagined. Trauma is a lived experience that upsets physiology (our bodies) and increases our mental/psychological stress when it doesn't feel safe. Our body and brain are constantly scanning for danger, this is what has kept us alive for generations. Just like war, this pandemic has changed our lives forever. A generation of children are now growing up with this pandemic as an ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences).
Right now, the disruption to our routine, the uncertainty and unpredictability of our environment and the information we are receiving is disrupting our emotional balance- creating stress. This increased stress and chaos over a prolonged period of time is toxic stress or trauma. We don’t want this time to be “the new normal.” Our bodies are pretty amazing at handling stress and developing resilience to promote healthy functioning when in a time of stress. However, our current experience with the pandemic is not allowing for us to be in denial or use our former distractions to not face our truth.
Stressed brains CANNOT learn.
We know from neurobiology and how the brain develops, that the brain will always choose survival first. Any perceived threat, or ongoing chronic stress (COVID19), puts the brain in survival mode. Which we see via behaviors coming out of all of us. You may be fighting more with your spouse, yelling at your children, or breaking up more sibling fights.
General irritability is a good sign your family is experiencing stress.
While we are worried about this upcoming school year we have to remember how the brain develops-from bottom to top. A learning brain requires a regulated, calm relationships and environment in order to turn on and be active, curious, and engaged. We cannot override our biology, therefore, we must have regulation before education.
A dysregulated adult makes a dysregulated child.
And the same is true with a regulated adult which makes a regulated child. This is part of understanding emotional contagion and emotional safety.
Dysregulation includes disconnection. When a child disengages and is disconnected, this means they are dysregulated (lower brain function) and their brains are in survival mode. Learning is up in the higher brain, where cognitive processing, decision making, problem-solving, and regulated emotions reside.
This is why it's so important for adults, parents, teachers, administrators, to strive for being regulated adults during this chaotic time.
So how do you become a regulated human?
A regulated brain comes from feeling safe, secure, and connected with others. This means ensuring that you are meeting your basic needs, and your daily routines are consistent and predictable. When you notice you are feeling irritable, snappy, fatigued, hopeless, and lonely, your first job is to recognize you are dyresregulated and you need to go REGULATE NOW!
This means you need to: move your body, take a nap, eat a healthy meal, drink more water, call your best friend, take a screen break, take a parent time-out. So how do you make these things happen?
Give yourself permission to do things you wouldn't normally do. Which means: turning a movie on for the kids,
letting them play video games a little bit longer,
let the kids stay inside and you go outside to get a breath of fresh air,
do 30 minutes of your favorite hobby,
make a cup of tea,
do some yoga or stretch your body in ways that feel good,
lay on the floor with your feet up the wall (this will calm your central nervous system!),
journal your frustrations, journal what you're grateful for, use voice-to-talk features if typing is too much,
take a shower or a bath,
light your favorite candle or diffuse an essential oil,
order delivery for dinner,
go smell the flowers in the yard,
turn on your favorite music and dance!
Don't be afraid to get silly, this actually turns the joy juice on in your brain which causes you to become regulated, because it counters the stress hormones.
So I'm regulated, now what?
You did it! Now it's time to pass the regulation on through CO-REGULATION. Humans are not born able to self-regulate. We all need to learn this first from a safe and regulated adult. With your calm regulated brain, you can help regulate your child by:
give them a big hug,
hang upside-down off the couch/bed together,
create art together,
suck on a popsicle,
play hand games,
jump on the trampoline together,
play in the sprinkler (you too!),
write each other letters,
build legos together,
make temporary tattoos on each other (use washable markers!),
paint your nails together,
tickle monster attacks,
look at the clouds,
scavenger hunts, or
make nature crafts.
Remember these are together-activities!
Co-regulation only works if you do it together!
You'll notice most of these co-regulation strategies are play-based. Play is a natural stress reliever. Play brings out the neurotransmitters in our brains and bodies that directly counter the stress hormones. So, engage in activities that bring JOY to your life!
Remember, reacting is what most of us are doing right now. Slow down, stop and think before acting or speaking to improve your odds of being heard.
Remember, REGULATION then CO-REGULATION turns brains from survival mode to learning mode. Regulation builds resiliency. Regulation maintains connections. Regulation strengthens relationships.
Regulation Before Education is a must!
Cary Hamilton, Sarah Moran, & Carrie Pipkin