We all go through moments in our parenting, teaching, coaching, and/or caregiving, when it feels that our connection with others is less than ideal. Sometimes our brains and bodies are burning great energy on multiplying stressors and our “upper level brain” gets “hijacked” by a more primitive part of the brain. While we can look at this phenomenon with a level of appreciation given that this is our brain doing as it should – it’s protecting us – the overall experience isn’t typically enjoyable.
Stress is a normal part of life, as is our response to it. Yet, the stress response was only ever meant to happen for brief periods of time. Picture a primitive person encountering a wild beast in the forest. Stressful? Definitely! But not long lasting–the situation resolves with the person fighting off the animal or quickly fleeing the danger. Like that primitive person, with the right dosage of cortisol (the stress hormone), for example, we can perform at our peak.
These days, our stressors may not resolve so quickly. When things are too stressful for extended periods of time, the body’s stress response is always “on.” When this happens, our brains and bodies can change. Our connections and relationships with others can change. There are, however, ways to better understand, cope and heal.
Let me share a recent example with you. A teacher I know was concerned about children’s behaviors and engagement, and she had a plan for improvement. She wanted to track data across a period of time and look more closely at routines and experiences of the day. She thought if she could pinpoint times of day when children were less engaged, she could make changes to the environment or activity which would in-turn enhance engagement and reduce some of the children’s behaviors that felt more challenging to her. In fact, she already had a tracking sheet in place to do just this. Talk about initiative!
Our discussion together seemed to uncover some additional data, too, that could have easily been missed. At one point, she quickly mentioned her workload, lack of planning time, and a sick child at home. She even giggled slightly while sharing that her pants were getting tighter. In other words, she had significant stress inside and outside the classroom.
Stress cannot always be avoided, but a relationship with an attuned and responsive adult can help buffer against the effects of stress (for children and adults). Stress, emotions, and levels of support within the system are data, too, which meant there were likely parts missing from the teacher’s existing tracking sheet.
I also started to think about how we respond to children’s stress, and how it can include putting stress into context by explaining…
- what it is,
- what it feels like,
- how it happened,
- how often it could happen,
- and/or whether it will happen again.
This is an important piece to helping a child see the world as less threatening and to provide them with understanding and the capacity to influence their environment, even if only in a slightly small way.
I wondered then how these very things might influence and offer support to an adult, as well. Could this be woven into our discussion somehow? Into our data tracking?
Fast forward some…it became clear that there were extra layers of important data. It became clear that the desire to track data to help reach additional responsive strategies was missing the most important piece – we are the biggest part of the strategy if not the strategy. The more we are able to recognize what we’re feeling across moments, the more we can experiment with an effective response.
The well-being of children cannot be separated from the well-being of the most consistent and critical adults in their lives. Flight attendants consistently remind us of this concept with their “put your oxygen mask on first” speech.
It’s easy to get caught up in how children are doing and forget to look at how we are doing. It’s also easy to “look outside” first. For that teacher, working on ways to handle her own stress was important to effectively help the children handle theirs.
Might this strategy apply to some of your struggles? In trying to control what spirals out of control outside, we all sometimes neglect to look inside. If you tracked how time feels or your own stress levels through the day or month, how would that data read?
I’m sharing the updated data tracking sheet in the inboxes of the Paratus community. If you’re interested in receiving this resource, as well, you can request it here! You can also take a look at another resource, The Way Time Feels, which is being used across homes and classrooms to help identify how we feel across moments of our day.
Feelings have good reason for being here. They help us in our relationships, decision-making, our engagement and alertness, and our humanity. Feelings give us clues to something we need to pay attention and respond to. They help direct us to what we need to find balance and support, such as the resources here at Paratus (check out free resources and Ask About My Day Cafe, emotion-ful shop, and group and individual coaching opportunities).
Thank you for being here. Inward, outward and upward!