How Our Kid’s Brains Are Like Our Car’s Sat Nav

Why It's Not Easy For Kids To Be a Submarine

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Ever feel out of your element – or maybe you are someplace you shouldn’t be?

No, I’m not a submarine commander. This was a few years ago, when I was on a ferry to Anderson Island and my navigation system in my trusty Subaru was telling me where I was.

I wonder, if the Subaru could think like we do, would it panic when the sat nav gave it this information?

Would it think it had to transform to a submarine somehow (queue the James Bond music)?

Similarly, when you are in a weird new place, do you feel out of sorts? Or, when you get information that you don’t know what to do with, is that disorienting?

In this scenario, most of us would look for something familiar to help navigate the situation… and maybe validate that we don’t need to grow gills or find a flotation device.

Yeah, this can be similar for our kids too.

Unlike us though, they don’t have decades of coping skills to use.

And yet, as adults, we can forget that and get upset at them.

Why can’t they get over it?

Because.

It’s not a big deal, right?

Wrong.

You see, their brains get to decide if something is big or not – just like yours. If their brains perceive something is dangerous, liking having to grow gills and not knowing how,  their stress response system is on high alert.

Sure, some kids will quickly figure out everything is okay, and get out of this alerted state.

Other kids will appear to be okay, but hide those feelings inside, wanting to be a pleaser. Later, there can be an explosion that doesn’t make sense.

Still other kids will explode immediately with some sort of undesirable behavior. They don’t know how to be a submarine and it freaks them out. They don’t know how to say that yet, so it comes out as an explosion.

Most of us adults focus on that explosion/behavior, instead of the source. We just want that noise to stop, as soon as possible.

So, again, what works for you when you are out of sorts, scared and can’t easily orient?

Is being told “get over it”, particularly effective?

Not usually.

Instead, for most of us, finding something familiar, and having some validation that “yeah, this situation is gnarly” serves us well. This simple act can stop the stress response quickly.

We can then figure out things like (a) we don’t have to be a submarine, or (b) some other thought like – oh, I’m on a ferry and I’m okay, or (c) Chris is a bad driver and has an awful sense of humor.

The same is true for our kiddos.

Ask. Listen. Validate.

Those simple steps can build a lasting skill for them of being able to cope… instead of yelling at them or expecting them to magically “get over it”.

Just what does that look like?

“Hey, you’re not in trouble… can we talk about something?”

“Yesterday in the car seemed tough, what’s up?”

“Oh yeah, that makes sense that would be scary.”

“Sure, that would be frightening to think you had to turn into a submarine. That totally makes sense.”

“So, what I heard was … did I get that right?”

That’s it.

It’s not a big deal to do this.

It doesn’t take long.

It even works for adults.

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