Updated: Oct 8, 2019
When your child is being difficult do you ever hear yourself saying, “You’re old enough to know better!”?
Brain science tells us that when we stress, we regress! This is true for grown-ups too. (Think adult temper tantrum waiting in line at the bank or post office)
Understanding that your child has 3 different ages that are not always the same, has helped many parents I've worked with. Here they are: • Chronological age - based on their birthday • Cognitive age - based on intellectual development • Emotional age - The developmental age of your child emotionally
When your child is dys-regulated they’ll act emotionally younger. But it’s not an act. They’ve regressed and must be reached through their emotional age. This is confusing and frustrating when you know they’re old enough or smart enough to know better.
This is why, during an incident, you always want to look for your child’s emotional age. It gives you your point of connection. When you are able to be calmish and meet your child where they are emotionally, you’re able to bring them back to a state of regulation. By connecting and bringing them back again and again, you positively reinforce the pathways in your child’s brain that develop resilience. This leads to emotional health, successful executive functioning and social well-being down the road. It takes time, just like making a new path across a grassy field.
So, try this next time your child is acting out.
Ask yourself how old your child seems in the moment. An older child may seem much younger, but an articulate 2 or 3 year old may just seem their actual age. What age came up for you? This is your child's emotional age in that moment. Making the mistake of relating only to your child's chronological or intellectual age leads to unrealistic expectations, frustration, anger and feelings of failure for both you and your child.
Ask yourself what you would do for a child of that age.
Do that (or something like it). Yes, I have been known to give a sippy cup to my 19 yr old, and 10 years later, he still remembers how good that felt.
I know it might seem strange at first, but this approach will help you feel more connected to your child and empower you to give them what they need emotionally. This will build the resilience your child needs to become more, not less, able to act their age.
What have you noticed about this in your experience?