But what about my limbic brain as an adoptive or foster parent?

angry dad
angry dad
angry mom
angry mom

Ever feel like the challenging behaviors of your adoptive family have driven you to the brink?

Brink of what, you aren't sure, but you know it's not good....

As I was teaching parents about the effects of trauma on their high-risk children and discussing the limbic system and the triggers of fear and pain, a dad said to me:

"But what about my brain? I have a limbic brain too that gets triggered!"

How do you deal with your own limbic brain and emotional triggers in the midst of a child yelling, screaming, threatening, lying, controlling, name-calling, arguing, fighting, running away, trashing your home, refusing to comply, etc? Especially if it's like the millionth time that day?

Indeed, this is the hardest part of my journey as a parent of an adopted son who suffered brain impairment from his early history. It is the biggest issue among the parents I coach and train. And it is humbling beyond words to work so hard to help a child and then flip your lid, knowing you have once again stumbled in building "felt safety" in your child. If this limbic system language is new info for you, check out Dr. Dan Siegel's clip on the "flip your lid" model of the brain.

With this understanding that we have to pull ourselves together (get that flipped lid down) and use our own prefrontal cortex to calm the reactive limbic system, we can think clearly again and work rationally with our children rather than scare the living daylights out of them!

It takes tremendous self-awareness. It takes being very intentional and deliberate about understanding your own triggers. For example, why does lying get to you? Or why does disrespectful body language and a sassy mouth drive you crazy? Or any number of other things that are common in kiddos who are in total survival mode and have an underdeveloped upstairs brain. You must explore your own history in order to deal with your own reactivity. One of my favorite quotes (that I don't know where it originated) to help me in this area is, "Emotional reactivity is a sign of unfinished business."

Let's flesh this out with the example of lying. If lying is my "hot button," why is that such a big issue for me? Did someone lie to me in my childhood? Was I harmed by lies? What did I feel in the midst of the lying behavior? Have I dealt with these feelings and processed them in a healthy way? Am I harboring bitterness or unforgiveness that is taking up mental real estate in my own brain? What can I do to recognize that when my child lies, it is not about me? Time to get out my Q TIP - Quit Taking It Personally.

Lying is a survival strategy that many kids from hard places use to self-protect, so how can I look at this as an underlying need in my child that is driven by fear and pain? To be sure, it needs to be corrected as it will not build healthy relationships for him now or in his future. But it must be corrected and we must teach the skills of being honest only when the child is fully emotionally present and operating in his upstairs brain. And we can only teach this when we, as parents, stay connected and in our upstairs brains.

Simple as that? Hardly!

It is hard work to be this mindful. It takes lots of practice. It takes time. It takes building ourselves a healthier brain, just as we are working to build our child a healthier brain. It is definitely a marathon and not a sprint!

So what can you do in the moment when you have lost your mind? We must learn to use the calming strategies on ourselves like deep breathing, some movement such as a brisk walk, deep pressure which is calming to the central nervous system, or talking to a safe person about our feelings.

And we have to practice good self-care as these "flip your lid" moments will be frequent if you are not getting rest, exercise, good nutrition/hydration, and some down time to playfully enjoy your life and relationships. I know you don't have time, but you have to make time. I had to learn to make self-care a priority, but sometimes I still slip and that is when I am likely to make the most parenting mistakes. And when I do, it's my job to re-evaluate what I can do to get my life back in balance.

We basically have to realize that in order to successfully use TBRI® with our children, we have to give ourselves some grace and apply the same TBRI® principles to ourselves and to our spouses. Although I'd be careful about asking for a redo or correcting your spouse's behavior! That will not set well and don't ask me how I know this!!!  :)

Here's some wisdom from Dr. Purvis with some tips on dealing with your own stuff if you have interest.

How do you tame your own limbic system?

P.S. Be sure to apologize, repair, and reconnect after a flipped lid moment.