It’s a scenario many parents know all too well: a child begins the day relatively happy, chit-chatting at breakfast, maybe even singing along to the radio during the car ride to school. But in those last few minutes before being dropped off, something changes. They become sullen, anxious, afraid, even angry. What’s going on?
According to pediatric psychologist Mona Delahooke, this is the child’s autonomic nervous system kicking in—the same part of the brain that regulates our fight, flight, and freeze responses. Here, she explains what Polyvagal Theory can teach us about helping kids manage these responses when conventional approaches won’t cut it.
As Delahooke explains, these fight or flight behaviors can be the tip of the iceberg, important signals that we should address by seeking to understand a child’s individual differences in the context of relational safety.
Fortunately, there are also clear, straightforward steps, guiding principles, and mind-body techniques backed by neuroscience and research, that we can learn to better support the social and emotional lives of the children and families we work with.
“Being neurobiologically informed gives us the chance to rethink how we view, understand, and manage behavioral challenges in children,” she says in this Networker article. “We can devise solutions that are grounded in brain science and that lead to compassion,” making life more enjoyable for kids, parents, and teachers.