Much of what TBRI talks about is creating an environment for your child that lessens the number of times your hurt child acts out, and decreases their episodes of dysregulation. But a huge area of challenge I hear from parents and caregivers (and faced myself as a parent) involves the times when your child is already dysregulated. In that state of being, you are no longer looking for proactive solutions to avoid the meltdown, you’re deep into behavior management of the current episode. This has to stop now!
While it is a reasonable thing to expect a healthy child to calm down on their own, for many of our kids who come from abuse and neglect environments and for our kids whose regulatory systems are underdeveloped for any number of other reasons, this is asking for something our children are not yet capable of doing.
I need to share a biological truth with you that, when I first heard it, hit me hard. In that moment of your child melting down, your child may not even be capable of processing information in their brains. In these moments, physiologically, they are in a quicksand of their body’s survival functioning processes and their rational mind goes ‘off-line’.
THERE IS A BATTLE GOING ON, UNSEEN.
There are so many higher order physical processes that go on internally to take one’s body from dysregulation to calm, and we don’t see any of it because it’s happening inside the body. Especially for our hurt children, these systems of restoring balance and calm are in direct competition with another body system that is much more developed in them and so highly sensitive that it takes over even the body’s natural desires to be calm and regulated . Our children have over- reactive and more developed survival systems of fight, flight, and freeze which kick in at times when it doesn’t even need to. A hurt child’s body registers survival mode when there is no real threat and this creates physical chaos that we see manifest as fits, temper tantrums, screaming, etc. The hard truth is that anything we say to them at this time does not carry the weight and meaning that we need it to in order for them to calm down on their own.
But hear this though. It is not a matter of they won’t listen, but they can’t. They are drowning in their dysregulation and their bodies become incapable of rescuing themselves. Here is a God moment if ever there is one, right? We know about being incapable of rescuing ourselves don’t we? We know that in a spiritual sense, we needed an outside force to take us from the chaos resulting from ‘lost-ness’ to the calm (shalom, peace) of reconciliation with God our Father. We could not, and can not save ourselves. Our children’s physical dyregulation is a mirror of that chaos we can remember ourselves experiencing before God rescued us. Does this change how you look at your dysregulated child?
This is how our own eyes and hearts of compassion can get kicked into gear, as we see parallels of our child’s physical dysregulations with our own spirituals needs that have been met through Jesus. It is a tall order, but here is what needs to happen. We need to remember that we needed rescuing from spiritual dysregulation – it was not something we were capable of doing for ourselves. We needed a calm, confident, and compassionate God to step outside of time and eternity and come to our level and take us out of that chaos. As image bearers of God to the world, we can model for our children in their physical dysregulation what Jesus did for us spiritually. We can be the calm, confident, and compassionate force for our children.
We can always learn the tips, techniques, and strategies to be there for our children, and to help co-regulate them out of their physical and emotional storms. That is the easy part, its just a matter of gaining knowledge. TBRI has some amazingly effective ones. But the real healing comes, I believe, when we parents co-labor with God to change the way we look at our children’s struggles. We can see even our child’s maladaptive behavior as an opportunity to model for them the love and rescue that God has done for us. We can transform our minds to see our children anew, through God’s compassion, with His calmness (shalom/peace) and in the confidence that He will help us heal our children when we co-labor with Him. Then we all win. We are all healed.