As I was reading my Proverb of the day this morning, this verse really stood out to me.
"A soothing tongue is a tree of life,
But perversion in it crushes the spirit." Proverbs 15:4 (NASB)
I've learned so much from Dr. Caroline Leaf about the brain and how to build healthy thoughts. On PET scans, thoughts can actually be viewed and measured. They take up "mental real estate" she says, and healthy thoughts look like tree branches - millions of them with dendrites all intertwined and connecting in complex patterns. You grow your own by choosing what to think about. By replacing toxic thoughts, you can actually grow your brain healthier by an act of your will.
This is important for our kids and it is important for us as their parents. We have to rewire our own brains from unhealthy belief systems and thought patterns in order to stay emotionally present to help them heal and grow new neural pathways in their brains. We have to help them grow new "trees" in their heads, thus a more integrated brain which can respond in respectful, kind, and healthy ways.
So when I saw this verse, I thought, Wow! There it is in print.
Our soothing words to a hurting child are a tree of life. Our soothing words and body language can help our kiddos think and calm down when they are upset, scared, or overwhelmed with pain and fear - especially if they have triggers from early harm. As they begin to think on these soothing words, they are replacing their old belief systems of shame, pain, and rejection. They are growing new healthy tree branches and thought patterns in their brains which can replace the harmful ones.
This is vital to understand if we are to help them heal and get unstuck when they are stuck. If we focus in that moment on correcting the behavior, we will miss this opportunity. We might even do more harm. A child who is stuck in an emotional flood of right brain/downstairs brain overload needs soothing. Period.
We must sooth them and help them feel safe. We must be their advocate and know that we are helping them grow new tree branches in their brains. Healthy thoughts that say,
I am safe.
I am loved.
I am precious.
I am valued.
I am protected.
I am understood.
I am comforted in my deepest pain.
Make no mistake, we will still correct behavior in a very proactive teaching way with lots of guided practice. But we correct only when the child is calm, connected to us, and can think clearly.
The truth is I've blown it with both of my kids many times by saying something corrective or reactive when I should have been soothing them. Like one dad said to me, "I have a limbic brain too!"
We have to be very intentional about our own self-regulation in order to not lose our cool and to recognize that our children need comfort and soothing from us in that crisis moment. So lots of deep breathing and calming strategies for ourselves before we can sooth our child. And lots of paying attention to our own triggers and thoughts that need to be replaced with healthy tree growing in our own brains.
I came up with a little acrostic to help me remember to sooth my child in those moments of overwhelm. Perhaps you'd like it too.
S - Say it
O - Only if it
O - Offers
T - Tender
H - Healing
And during those times when you are in need of soothing, it is my prayer that you will run into the arms of your Heavenly Father, who is the ultimate soother of all our pain and the One who holds our tears.
P. S. To be a soothing parent, you must take care of you. Why don't you treat yourself to an ice cream today? Or better yet, sign up for our PACT Parent Training and Respite Cruise by calling Janet at Paraclete Travel, 817 232-9172.