Mums with kids with Naughty Brains
Guest diablogger Dr Far. Doc Far works with Mum’s (and Dad’s but will refer to all parents as Mums – Main Uneconomic Minder) of kids with Naughty Brains.
Mum: Can you help me Doc Far? My little boy Jack is very anxious and doesn’t want to go to school. He hates me leaving him anywhere. I don’t know what to do.
Dr Far: well first let’s talk about little Jack’s brain. Once you understand how his brain is misbehaving you’ll be able to come up with some ideas to help him.
That would be great Doc. I don’t know what to do at the moment. He cries and cries when it’s time to go to school. It breaks my heart. I’ve tried everything.
And of course it’s always good to make sure there’s nothing going on at school that may make him feel unsafe like bullying, but I imagine you’ve already done that?
Yep I’ve investigated everything. He can’t tell me why he’s scared but no one is hurting him or picking on him I’m quite sure of that. He worries about lots of stuff Doc.
Then I’d say his Naughty Brain is misbehaving. Our job is to show the naughty brain that it doesn’t have to be on guard, or on alarm all the time.
I don’t know what you mean by Naughty Brain Doc Far.
I mean the parts of the brain, including the amygdala, which is like the alarm system in the brain, that we could call survival brain. For kids I call it puppy dog brain or Naughty Brain because it’s just like a naughty puppy. When it’s frightened it can growl and snap or cower under the bedclothes, but when it is safe and well fed, and not tired, it’s playful and happy.
Well I think Jacky has got Naughty Brain. He can be all those things.
Everyone has a Naughty Brain, because the brain evolved first and foremost to survive. There’s no point having a clever brain if you can’t run away from a hungry lion. But in Jack’s case his little brain is stuck in survival mode, when there is no real threat. In other words his Naughty Brain is misbehaving. Our job is to untangle it from the association he has made with school and fear and teach it that it’s not unsafe.
Sounds good but I don’t know how to do that. I’ve tried everything Doc.
Yes you probably have tried everything your big brain could think of. The trouble is the Naughty Brain uses a different language. You need to treat it like a puppy or a very young child, because that is how that part of the brain functions no matter how old the brain.
Ok Doc. How do I do that?
Have you ever had a new puppy?
How did you train Bozo?
We’d tell him “no” when he did something wrong. We took him to puppy school. We’d reward him and say “good boy Bozo.” You know, the normal stuff.
You might think you told him but you actually showed him first and then you made a verbal association with that experience. So when you first started training him you gave him a treat to get him to come to you right.
And at the same time you said his name?
Yes, “here Bozo.”
“Here Bozo, good boy,” you said it in a gentle voice and gave him a treat. And you repeated and repeated it. His little puppy brain was making associations. The brain joins dots and makes associations – everybrain. And now you can just call and he’ll come but that’s because of those repeated experiences at puppy school, calling and giving him a treat. It started with the experience. In other words we showed Bozo.
But are you saying Jacky is like a dog?
No I’m not saying Jacky is like a dog at all. But I am saying the part of his little brain that’s misbehaving at the moment is like a puppy brain.
Ok but how’s that going to help me teach him not to be so frightened to go to school?
Well I’m telling you this so you orient to little Jack’s problem with a new perhaps simpler understanding, so that you remember to approach his brain as you would a frightened or naughty puppy. Let me put it this way, what do you do when your puppy is frightened?
I pick him up and hold him and pat him. He still gets frightened in storms.
Yes you’re very kind to him and you stroke him and respond through his senses, you use a calming voice. And that’s exactly how we want to teach little Jack to respond to his Naughty Brain and you’re going to help him do that.
Ok I’m still not sure how.
Well first we approach as an experiment. Because every brain is different we need to find out exactly what works best for Jack’s little brain, but the principles are the same. Always kind, always sensory, just like you calm a puppy. You approach Jack’s anxiety in the same way you would if he was having a nightmare. His brain is behaving as if he’s stuck in a nightmare and he doesn’t understand what to do to get himself out of the nightmare. Our job is to gently wake up and look around or connect to something familiar and safe.
Ok that’s starting to make sense Doc. But can you give me some tips to start with till I have mastered the language of Naughty Brain?
Ok no worries. Here are some brain tips for the naughty puppy brain when it is stuck in the nightmare:
- Getting ATTENTION is the first trick. When a child is stuck in a nightmare you wake them gently. It’s like gently tapping on the door not rushing in and grabbing attention, which will only frighten him.
- The language of the puppy brain is SENSORY. You need to engage the senses first not the mind.
- Always KIND and gentle. This is a frightened puppy we help it through the distress not kick or hurt it because it’s misbehaving. Rocking, singing, humming, holding, touching etc. whatever soothes a puppy or small child will soothe the lower brain.
So let’s call it ASK. Attention-Sensory-Kind. These are the principles to use to help that naughty puppy brain when it’s stuck in anxiety.
But I still don’t know what to do to help Jacky.
Why don’t you experiment with these principles for a while? You and little Jack are both learning a different approach. Your brain is the most amazing system in the universe so you’re not alone, your brain’s will be working with you on this.
Well that’s good to know. I feel like our brain’s have been out to lunch most of the time on this. So getting the brain on the job might be a good start.
And remember when jack is frightened or refusing to go to school his Naughty Brain is stuck in the nightmare and you want to show him how to soothe the brain and invite all of his brain onto the page. You know little Jack better than anyone and will know what he needs using these principles.
What if I get it wrong?
You can’t get it wrong if you approach as an experiment. All you do is learn. Engaging the brain’s curiosity means creating the conditions for brain change. Kids love experiments they are intensely curious so invite little Jack into his own brain science lab. The brain can’t be curious and anxious at the same time.
Ok yes Jacky loves experiments. He’s very inquisitive.
Then next time we talk we’ll see how your experiment is going and we can think about some other things to try.
Just one more thing, your attitude is very important. That’s why I’ve asked you to experiment instead of giving you specific techniques to try to “fix” little Jack. The way you approach this will give Jack’s little brain a particular message, just like a puppy reacts to your emotions. In fact puppy school is more about training the owner than the puppy.
Yes that’s what the puppy trainer told us. So Jacky knows when I’m anxious right, and he reacts to that? But if I approach more calmly, like we are just going to try a few things and see what happens he wont get as anxious? Is that what you’re saying.
Yes that’s exactly what I’m saying that your attitude is part of the brain mix. So approach with kindness and curiosity that gives your brain and his the message that everything is ok. There’s no threat, you’re just doing an experiment to see what happens. You’re inviting the curious brain in on the act.
Ok that’s good to think about because I have been really worried about this and maybe Jacky has been picking up on that. Do you think?
Well his puppy brain will have been picking up on it. But don’t be too hard on yourself either. When you’re worried the same principles apply. Use that acronym, ASK, and approach with curiosity and kindness.