In this podcast (#491) and blog, I talk to Hannah, a concerned parent, about teaching our children mind management techniques. This is part of a series I am doing on questions you submitted for my new book on children’s mental health.
This was Hannah’s question:
“My kids are 12, 10, and 8. I personally have been through extensive brain rewiring and parent accordingly to help my kids overcome toxic thought loops. However my 8 year old loops more often than not and is incredibly spiritually sensitive and is very empathic. I really believe her migraines are stress induced as they almost always follow a tough day at school, being bullied, or when she has had a day of high and happy emotions. While I try to implement as many calming and mind-management strategies as possible, I find myself completely exhausted and burned out as a result of trying to do the deeper mental work with her to help her stay mentally healthy and build resilience to and through tough emotional days. How do I help an empathic 8 year old navigate incredibly intense emotions from a vantage point of giving her tools to use that will help her mental health thrive long term?”.
When it comes to parenting, we have to remember that we are human. We have needs, emotions and feelings, and to truly be there for our children, to really show up for them when they need us, we have to take care of ourselves as well. Our mental wellbeing is as important as theirs—we can’t have one without the other.
Parenting is not just about sacrificing yourself or becoming a robot. You cannot be a good parent if you feel drained, overwhelmed and stressed. Children pick up on our emotions and behaviors. If we are not feeling great, then neither will they.
So, don’t feel guilty taking the time to focus on yourself when you feel you need it. When you are in a better place mentally and physically, you will have the strength, patience and time to better care for your child and help them learn to regulate their thoughts, feelings and emotions.
One great way to do this is to practice mind management daily, so that you are more in control of how you feel and act, and are better able to regulate how you manage your mind and emotions in the moment. To do this, I recommend using the Neurocycle mind management method I have developed and studied over the past three decades, which I discuss in detail in my latest book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess and my app Neurocycle. The Neurocycle is a way to harness your thinking power that I have developed and researched over the past three decades. It has 5 steps:
1) Gather awareness of how you feel. This starts with understanding the signals that your mind, brain, and body send you when you feel overwhelmed or burned out. These signals alert you TO protect you.
There are four main signals: your emotions, your behaviors, your physical symptoms, and your perspective/outlook. Some examples are:
- Feelings of irritability and/or hopelessness (an emotional warning signal)
- Ignoring calls, texts or emails (a behavioral warning signal)
- The world feels more negative/depressing (a perspective warning signal)
- Muscle aches and/or pains (a physical warning signal)
We all experience emotions and feelings in different ways under different circumstances—they can keep changing even in the space of one day or hour. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with you if you feel you’re “exploding” with emotions! You’re simply experiencing something that needs urgent attention.
2) Reflect on how you feel. Why do you think you feel this way?
3) Write down your reflections to help organize your thinking.
4) Recheck: think about what your thoughts and feelings are trying to tell you. What does it say about how you view the situation? What is your “antidote”—how will you give yourself more time to feel less stressed out and overwhelmed so that you can be there for your children when they need you? Look for clues in your writing, then start to reframe/reconceptualize the way you are thinking about what happened and how you can improve the situation.
5) Do your active reach. This is a thought or action you need to practice daily to help you reconceptualize what you thought about in the previous step - that is, what you are going to do each day to give yourself the time and mental space needed to manage your own feelings and thoughts so you can be there for your children.
Now, if we have a highly empathetic child like Hannah’s daughter and we are struggling to teach them manage their mind and emotions, there are several important things to remember: nature, nurture and the “I-factor” (their unique personality). There are many aspects of nature and nurture that cannot be controlled, but we can encourage your child to develop and strengthen their “I-factor” to help them build up their mental resilience and better manage their thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
We can start doing this by encouraging our child to embrace their emotions instead of fearing them or suppressing them. As a parent or guardian, this means watching how we respond to our child when they are struggling, and avoiding saying things like “Don’t be so sensitive” or “It isn’t that bad.” We should encourage our children to embrace their emotions as messengers, telling them that something is going on in their lives that they need to look at and address. We should let them know that it is okay to feel things like sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety and so on, and that these are normal human reactions to life that we all experience (even us as parents!).
Remember, we want to help our children channel their emotional energy in a healthy direction. Making them feel like they are doing something wrong in the moment will only make things worse for both us and our children, who often will not have the skill set or ability to truly communicate how they feel. In the moment, we want to help them process the intensity they feel, not shut them down, and we do this by creating a safe space where our children feel like they can express what they are feeling.
Once they feel like what they are going through has been heard and acknowledged, then you can walk them through the mind management Neurocycle process, so that they, like you as a parent, can learn how to better manage how you think, feel and choose in the moment. This is an invaluable life skill to teach your children, which is why it forms the foundation of my upcoming book on children and mental health, How to Help Your Child Clean Up Their Mental Mess, which is now available for preorder:
First, walk your child through Gathering Awareness of how they are feeling by observing their warning signals more deeply. For example:
- “I feel worried and frustrated.” (emotional warning signal)
- “I have an upset tummy.” (bodily sensation warning signal)
- “I want to cry and not talk to anyone.” (behavior warning signal)
- “I hate school.” (perspective warning signal)
Next, walk them through Reflecting and Writing/Playing/Drawing what they feel, which will help them better understand what their warning signals above are pointing to. You can encourage them to ask themselves questions like:
- Why do I feel sad and frustrated?
- Why is my tummy sore?
- Why do I want to cry and not talk to anyone?
The Recheck step will help your child work out how to make the situation better. In this step, encourage your child to explore their feelings and thoughts and try to find a way to make what happened to them better. For example, you can say something like:
“You may be sad or frustrated because you kept messing up your work and cried, your friends laughed at you, and your teacher shouted at you. You know it is okay to be sad, and this won’t stop you from doing your work again because you know your mom will help you understand it at home so you can do better next time. You know that when you take your work to your teacher tomorrow and show your friends what you learned, you will show them that you can do the work and that it’s okay to cry sometimes if something is hard. You know you aren’t stupid because it’s okay to make mistakes—that’s how you will learn!”
Lastly, the Active Reach step is like taking a “treatment” or “medicine” each day to help their thinking and feelings get better, so help your child come up with ways they can do this when they are feeling overwhelmed or unwell. This step is characterized by actions and things your child can do that are pleasant and happy, which stabilize what they have learned and anchor them in a peaceful place of acceptance.
For more on children’s mental health, listen to my podcast (episode #491). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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3:40 We as parents need to help ourselves too!
5:00 How to use mind management to handle the challenges of parenting
8:12 How to help a highly empathetic child manage their mind & emotions
13:00, 26:55 The importance of teaching your child mind management techniques
This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.