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Some Strategies for Keeping Calm, Cool, and Collected—When We’re Not!

Many times, parents call us after a particularly unpleasant conversation with their child, which has ended in a vicious cycle of angry words. The First Rule of Love and Logic is intended to help parents circumvent this unhealthy cycle by avoiding the use of anger, lectures, threats, and warnings.

Underlying this basic Love and Logic rule is an understanding of how our brain works. We have a thinking part of our brain (centered in the prefrontal cortex) and an emotional part (the limbic system). How we interact, and how a conversation goes, depends to a great extent on which part of our brain we are using—our thinking brain or our emotional brain.

If parents react to their children’s inappropriate behavior with a response stemming from their own emotional brain (for example, responding with anger), they simply trigger a similar response from their children’s emotional brain. With kids, this is often manifested as defensiveness, rebellion, and anger on their part—not to mention the flurry of unpleasant words!

Here are some examples of comparisons between responses from our emotional brain (anger) versus responses from our thinking brain (empathy).

Emotional:  Anger creates resentment and rebellion.

Thinking:  Empathy increases the odds of genuine remorse and responsibility.

Emotional:  Anger sends the message that, “I can barely handle you!”

Thinking:  Empathy demonstrates that, “I’m such a great parent that I can handle you without breaking a sweat!”

Emotional:  Anger triggers a defensive response and creates kids who get sneaky and do irresponsible things behind our backs.

Thinking:  Empathy creates kids who are more likely to behave, even when we aren’t watching them.

When parents get into the unhealthy habit of nagging and repeating themselves, their anger builds inside. By the time they finally follow through, they’re too angry to think straight! Wiser parents learn to set limits and follow through quickly, without using too many words. Because problems are handled with empathy and reason (think Love and Logic!), parents can remain calm, allowing their kids to think reflect on their behaviors and decisions—and learn from them.

Dr. Charles Fay

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