Why managing behaviours in the Primitive Brain zone is futile

We all want to guide our children’s behaviours. But read on to learn why managing behaviours in the Primitive Brain zone is futile. 

No matter how mature we may think we have become, we all still have our primitive brain.  Ready to swing into action whenever the body feels threatened.  But trying to manage your child’s behaviours when they are deeply emerged in it is a fools errand.  And one you may already be all too familiar with.

Have you ever heard yourself asking in the heat of the moment “Are you even listening to me?”  Or “Have I not told you this 100 times!” Have you found yourself dumbfounded as your child responds dramatically when it is them having been found to have done something wrong?  If so, you will also know the futility of trying to manage your child’s behaviour when they are in this state. 

When we experience being under any kind of threat – much as your child may be when caught with their hand in the cookie jar – the bodies primitive responses can kick in.  Seeing them automatically responding with fight, flight, or fright as the brain reverts to operating from within its primitive zone.

They may look to “fight” back; to take “flight”; or to simply shut down, “frightened” to evoke further reprimand. 

If you are experiencing your child kicking back at you during these moments, they may be inclined to respond with “fight”.  You may see this with either physical or verbal reactions.  If your child looks to run away from the situation, taking “flight” may be their natural response.  In this instance they may look to run and hide, to slam doors or do all they can to get away.  Alternatively. they may stand in front of you, seeming to ignore everything you are saying.  In this case they may be shutting down mentally as their body takes “fright”.

Whichever response your child takes, let me say again… any attempts at managing behaviours in the Primitive Brain zone is futile!

Whatever your child’s natural tendencies are in this moment, you have gone beyond the point of no return.  And trying to manage their behaviours once they have entered this state will not get you anywhere.  This is a method of self-protection that they are no more in control of than when you recoil from a spider.  Or become lost for words in front of an angry boss.

At this point they are responding from their “primitive” brain, where any reactions are instinctive

In this moment your child is no longer operating from the thinking part of their brain.  This means that dialogue is almost impossible.  It makes no sense to demand an explanation or expect a considered apology.  In fact, all you are doing is giving them a lasting reminder of a bad experience the longer you spend in this state.

With no constructive learning occurring all the time they are in this state, this just might explain “Why do they never learn?!”

When a child is operating from this primitive part of the brain, they need to be reassured rather than reprimanded.  Once they are calm you can talk about the issues that have arisen and constructively work together to put them right.  As difficult as that may be when you feel your own blood starting to boil. 

So, take a deep breath and be fully aware of what is going on inside your child in this moment.  You can then develop practices that, in the long term, will help your child learn to consider their actions before committing to them.  But this needs them to be able to hear… and listen to… every word you say.  When you can do this, you can construct different responses for when things do not go according to plan.  Allowing them to feel less threatened.  And more likely to remain rooted in the thinking part of their brain.  

This session is taken from our course: The Secure Child

Dr Kathryn Peckham is an Early Childhood Consultant, author and researcher and the founder of Nurturing Childhoods.  Providing all the knowledge, understanding and support you need to nurture your growing child.   www.nurturingchildhoods.co.uk


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