Guest blog post! (Note from Jen: In this week’s blog, I am honored to have my friend Sara Leenheer share how relational brain skills are changing her family.)
My youngest son is 16 years old. Like many of us, he finds himself in situations where he feels overwhelmed, and he cannot find his way out. When big emotions strike, my son tends to shut down. He will try to be strong in this painful state, saying, “Everything is fine” when it is apparent things are just the opposite for him. I must confess, this hurts my mother’s heart.
There are moments my son is so far beyond his emotional capacity that you can see his joy levels bottom-out. When this happens, his ability to lean on and use his relational skills are gone.
I see his eyes, that only moments ago were reflecting thoughts and emotions, suddenly look blank and disconnected, much like closed window shutters. I notice tears begin to form in the corners of his eyes. My son is then unable to speak and communicate what he needs. His body will start to jerk spastically as his brain tries to figure out what to do next.
This point of emotional and mental depletion is not usually due to a significant event; instead, it tends to be something as simple as trying to grab a plate from the cupboard while someone else is trying to get something near the same corner of the kitchen. It doesn’t take much. When you add in the fact that my son generally needs a fair amount of personal space, the formula for maxing-out is complete.
A counselor once suggested the way to deal with this kind of event was to have a discussion with my son on how his behavior was disproportionate to the situation. This method failed royally!
As you may guess, talking about this behavior merely amplified his pain and added more undue stress in my son’s life, because now he was “responding badly” with no ability to do things differently. It was pretty hopeless, and then I encountered THRIVE Training.
Thanks to the skills I learned at THRIVE Training, I finally understand what my son needs. I finally have the skills to better deal with these moments when my son is fighting to stay relationally afloat. My son needs attunement and synchronization; he needs guidance to disengage at the right times, to quiet when needed, and to return to joy when those big emotions strike.
Now, when I observe he is becoming overwhelmed, I step in and say, “You look like you need a breather right now. Why don’t you come to the living room and take a break for a moment.” At this point, we sit together and rest on the couch until he is calmer, quieter and his brain’s relational circuits are back on. Usually, my son will tell me what precisely happened that sent him over the edge, and he will then thank me for helping him take a break from the situation. Once grounded, he can return to the kitchen and accomplish the tasks that he needs to do by taking one step at a time. I cannot begin to tell you how refreshing it is to watch my son rest, recover and smile again!
After using these important skills countless times with my son, we had a triumphant moment just yesterday. My son was in the kitchen and beginning to feel like he was losing his emotional footing when he announced, “Just a minute. I need to take a break.” At this point, he stepped into the living room and took the break he needed before returning to the tasks at hand. This time I was the one who was smiling.