Stress comes in many forms and one form is dealing with the abundance of modern western life. We don’t usually think of abundance as a source of stress, but let’s consider. How many different types of cereal are for sale at your supermarket? How many jobs could you do? How many options do you have when it comes to ordering a coffee? And as for our children…
“I want Museli, no cornflakes…no, I’ll have toast. No, I don’t want toast, I want weetbix. I said museli, why did you make me toast? It’s not fair…”
People are largely non-conscious beings. We know this, if we’ve ever been in ‘the zone’ …so engrossed in an activity that we lose track of time. We know this every time we put our foot in our mouth during a conversation, because we just weren’t ‘thinking’. And it’s a good thing that we are mostly non-conscious – we’d go nuts (technical term) if we consciously noticed all the details in our lives.
The key is this: when we’re in a truly non-conscious state we are non-verbal. That pesky little voice in our head is silent.We don’t even put labels on things – it’s not a rose, pink or even a flower – it’s just there. It’s all very Zen (and most of us don’t realise we’re doing it). Our brains love this La-La state, it’s both HIGHLY alert and relaxed at the same time. It’s where we feel most content and calm, but are also at our most productive and creative.
Consciousness has it’s uses, certainly, we wouldn’t be human without it. It’s the state we need to be in when we analyse a situation or make a serious decision. But there is a flip side to consciousness: fear and anxiety. If we’re consciously making choices, for example, we’re also somewhat conscious of what we haven’t chosen. On some level there is a degree of fear that we’ve made the wrong choice. Fear means our body is on alert: muscles tight, adrenalin pumping, blood pressure up - when it probably doesn’t need to be. The more conscious choices we have to make, the more options we have, the more chance we’ve got it wrong. This can in turn lead to anxiety. What are others thinking of our choice? What if we’ve missed the best opportunity because of that choice? Is that what we were meant to choose? Our experience becomes completely caught up in the past or the future, and we start referencing ourselves to external factors. We begin to focus on our job, or our house, or our clothes, or our grades or who we are friends with – and our sense of self becomes caught up in things or other people’s opinions of us. We stop being content. We don’t hear birdsong or feel the wind on our skin, we’re too worried about whether we measure up, or not.
Children are the same, but different. They are more naturally non-conscious than adults.
Children who show mature behaviours spend more time in La-La land than those who grow up sassy/sophisticated. Especially before the age of nine or ten, the bulk of children’s decision making is meant to be done in the moment: in La-La land. Conscious decision making, for children, is meant to be rare. The more parents ask their children to make conscious decisions (often thinking they’re being kind) the more likely those children are to throw regular Power Tantrums. Children don’t tell us every minute of the day how they are feeling (although those with high emotional intelligence tell us more frequently than others)… they show us with their behaviour. The worse the behaviour: the greater the amount of stress they’re under. (Apart from children under serious stress who tend to shut down.)
So here’s a suggestion. Leave your children to their spontaneous decision making, such as: when they’re playing, or if they chose to wear certain clothes (weather appropriate), but remove the bulk of their fundamental choices. Store away 80% of their toys, and 50% of their books. Have only one type of cereal in the house; if they haven’t dressed themselves, hand them their clothes; and hand them their snack or their lunch without speaking (you know what they like). Tell them it’s time for bed or the car, when you’re completely ready, and don’t get distracted until they’re where they’re meant to be. You organise what’s going to happen (yes, perhaps around their previous requests), don’t wake up and say, “what shall we do today?” (They’ll tell you what they want to do anyway.) Say things like, “That’s an adult decision,” and “This is what’s happening,” and don’t enter into negotiations or discussion once you’ve made a stand. You don’t have to be mean or intense, just softly spoken, calm and in control. Don’t dither!
Yes, they’ll probably complain, loudly, to begin with – but give it a week or two. And let me know what happens.
(For toddlers, it’s about managing their Power Tantrums as much as avoiding them.Keep to the same principles of staying in control of the fundamentals in their lives and check out Signs of Great Parenting: Babies and Toddlers. Prevention of later tantrums begins in toddlerhood.) Here’s another post, which ties in with this: here.
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