In our last article, we discussed a strategy called “connect to redirect.”
It is a strategy from the book, ‘The Whole Brain Child’ by Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. Connect to Redirect is a technique that parents use to connect to the child’s right side of the brain (by being empathetic). After connecting, parents then redirect children with their left-brain to analyze the situation better.
Another strategy that is in this book is, “Name it to Tame it.”
Before discussing it, let’s review and revise a key concept from this book. The brain is divided into two hemispheres: the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere. The right hemisphere is the emotional part of your brain. The left hemisphere is responsible for the logical and reasoning functions.
Children are predominantly right-brained. The right brain develops faster and dominates the left side until about three years of age. That is why it’s important for caregivers to help them see the situation in different ways. Connect to redirect helps them feel that they’re not alone and safe, and helps them calm down.
What we will discuss in this article is the other technique. This technique will help children name their emotions and help them regulate these emotions, especially in times of distress.
What is name it to tame it?
Because the right brain is dominant, there are times when a child seems to be acting out unreasonably. And these big emotions cause unrest and distress in children who (often) don’t know what they’re feeling. This is where one can practice Name it to Tame it. In the book, the authors write:
“The right side of our brain processes our emotions and autobiographical memories, but our left side is what makes sense of these feelings and recollections. Healing from a difficult experience emerges when the left side works with the right to tell our life stories. When children learn to pay attention to and share their own stories, they can respond in a healthy ways to everything from a scraped elbow to a major loss or trauma.” (pp. 28-29)The Whole Brain Child, pg. 28-29
When a child is throwing a tantrum or is feeling uneasy, the first thing a caregiver should do is connect and redirect with the child. After which, a caregiver should ask them to name the emotion they’re feeling. One can help a child here as well.
For example, Sarah doesn’t want to go to her football practice. Her parents seem to tell her all sorts of phrases like, ‘don’t cry, it’s okay.’ or “I promise it’s not going to be bad. You’ll enjoy it.” But often times, these phrases don’t work. Simply because they don’t focus on connecting with the child. Or empathizing with her.
The key is to attune oneself to the child’s feelings.
The caregiver should first empathize and then try to name the emotion. They can simply say, “It sounds like you’re feeling scared”.
This names the emotion and puts a label to what the child is feeling. This allows the child to share their experience. When they share their experiences, their right and left hemispheres get connected. This helps them make sense of the situation. In the book, the authors say,
“This is what storytelling does: it allows us to understand ourselves and our world by using both our left and right hemisphere together…For this same reason, it’s important for kids of all ages to tell their stories, as it helps them try to understand their emotions and the events that occur in their lives. Sometimes parents avoid talking about upsetting experiences, thinking that doing so will reinforce their children’s pain or make things worse. Actually, telling the story is often exactly what children need, both to make sense of the event and to move on to a place where they can feel better about what happened.” (pp. 29)The Whole Brain Child, page 29.
How to use this technique:
#1. Naming it
Here, the caregiver can sit down with the child and try to identify what the child is feeling. You can empathize and reflect on their feelings by saying, “oh dear, it sounds like a scary situation.” Or you can say, “It sounds like you’re feeling angry about this.”
This strengthens the bond between the child and the caregiver. Along with this, it gives meaning to what they’re feeling. What meaning they give to their experiences determines their emotions. Once they can label these emotions, it will calm them down. Naming these experiences make them feel more in control of their circumstances. It will calm the activity in their right brain.
#2. Taming it
After they have named their emotion, they will calm down. Once they’re in a better space, the caregiver can ask them to recount their experience. This way, they will see the situation in a different way. Or with the help of the caregiver, they can rationalize. The left hemisphere isn’t fully developed until quite some time. During childhood, children will need supervision and help on how to become balanced.
Recounting experiences in a way that makes them feel safe will help children not only respect their emotions but also others’ emotions. They will learn to be compassionate.
The authors say, “What kids often need, especially when they experience strong emotions, is to have someone help them use their left brain to make sense of what’s going on—to put things in order and to name these big scary right-brain feelings so they can deal with them effectively…stories empower us to move forward and master moments when we feel out of control. When we give words to our frightening painful experiences—when we literally come to terms with them—they often become much less frightening and painful.”
Name it to Tame it is a great tool to help navigate through these big emotions. It reduces stress and also builds (in the long-term) problem solving strategies. This also is a great way to review and reflect on some experiences and helps them validate their feelings!