Let me try to explain this simply….basically your brains primary goal is to keep you alive, it is it’s main purpose. So when something happens that your brain perceives as a threat to safety it responds by fighting back or running away. This is known as the fight, flight response. And this response is instinctual, preprogramed for everyone, and you naturally do one or the other. So when a person, regardless of age or developmental stage, feels threatened they respond in an attempt to protect themselves.
Let me give an illustration to help with this explanation. Your child wants ice cream for snack, but it is getting really close to dinner time, and ice cream is not necessarily as nutritious as the planned meal. So you tell your child “No, it is too close to dinner but maybe for dessert if you eat a good dinner.” Nice long logical explanation, and to a rational brain it makes sense. But unfortunately your child hears “NO!” which causes their brain to feel threatened. It is threatening because they are hungry, a basic need, and if they do not get said food they will DIE. Which causes the brain to panic and become defensive, and they go into a temper tantrum. Now what typically happens is we as parents try to logic with them, we try to convince them, we try to control them. But the real problem is logic and facts are accessed in the upstairs part of the brain- the lobes, and temper tantrums and fear are located in downstairs part of the brain- the brain stem. Then when logic does not work and our child continues to tantrum our mirror neurons kick in and we imitate the child by yelling at them. Now we too are in our downstairs brain and no one is able to be logical. This can continue as long as we allow it, which depending on your adrenaline levels could be anywhere from minutes to hours. And this is the cycle, every day, or every week, or every year. It repeats itself over and over because we are not using our brain well, we are just imitating parenting techniques that were used with us.
So I am proposing a new idea. When someone in a situation gets angry just be present. Don’t try to control or solve the situation, just be present. Let them expel their adrenaline, then acknowledge their interpretation or experience, and let them get it all out. Then just sit a few moments. When they seem calmer identify or summarize what you heard them say and then just wait again. If they are able to get up in to the top part of their brain they might say why they are really upset, typically it is an unmet expectation or a faulty belief. And then you can adjust the expectations accordingly. The teaching moment for children comes later, usually at bed time. This is a good time to calmly review what happened, what was learned, and what might work better next time. This is a time they can access their logical brain and we can all learn something. But not when they are mad. Not when we are mad.
The main idea here is : for too long we have tried to teach and direct our children when they are angry and acting out. It doesn’t work, because the brain can’t think when it feels threatened, it is designed to survive. And because the brain is not designed to be logical when it is upset nothing positive is accomplished. The really interesting thing is this applies to anyone in conflict, regardless of age. So maybe try it with your teenager, or your spouse, or a coworker. Rule of thumb is, never get mad too, someone has to be thinking or something really bad could happen. You can’t logic with a person that is mad, it just doesn’t work- believe me, I’ve tried it.