Parenting, Emotions and Resilience

 

Have you ever noticed how some children seem to be naturally resilient?  Like a dandelion, they can bloom anywhere, even in the worst of circumstances.  Other children are more like orchids and require lots of tender care to truly thrive.  Author W. Thomas Boyce has studied this phenomenon and has written about it in his book The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive.  The difference in parenting these two types of children is like Parenting 101 compared to a PhD in parenting.  Regardless of where your children fit on this scale, the higher your emotional intelligence is as parents, the more equipped you will be to help your children thrive.  At times it may seem that we’re just steps ahead of learning how to deal with our emotions so that we can properly teach our children.  But of all the things we can teach them, how to handle stress might be the most vital in today’s world.

I am mother to four wonderful children.  Two of my kids have a genetic disorder resulting in their adrenal glands not producing two key hormones necessary for survival: cortisol and aldosterone.  Thanks to the wonder of modern medicine, they are able to receive hormone replacement therapy and survive just fine physically.  But the repercussions of not having cortisol on demand when a person is stressed can be severe.  My two children without the disorder have had their fair share of tantrums and emotional upheaval, but their bodies respond and are able to calm down the fight or flight response and move on.  However, in similar circumstances my other two children can quickly escalate into a full-blown anxiety attack.  Over the years I have had to learn the hard way that my own ability to process emotions sets the tone for my children to follow my example.  Therefore, it is beneficial for both parents and children to learn stress relieving techniques to calm down the nervous system.

image of pink and white orchid blossoms
Whether orchid or dandelion, every child is unique.


There are a lot of scientifically proven methods available to help our “orchid children” manage stress and improve their emotional intelligence.  Even something as simple as helping children label their emotions will help them process what they’re feeling and move on, rather than dwelling on a negative experience.  It is important to keep energy in motion when it comes to emotions so that they don’t become energy blockages which can lead to disease.

In my research on stress relief for those who have adrenal insufficiency, case studies used a variety of techniques to try to calm down the fight or flight response and reduce stress.  The favorite technique used among participants was meditation.  Having something to focus on, whether it be a guided meditation to listen to, or simply focusing on the breath, is very effective in slowing down brain waves and helping people be in a position to more effectively face their trials.  Of course, it is important to choose age-appropriate meditations.  I highly recommend the tips found in the book, Teach Your Child Meditation: 70 Fun and Easy Ways to Help Kids De-Stress and Chill Out, by Lisa Roberts.

The easiest starting point for young children is to learn how to breathe deeply when they are upset.  Deep abdominal breathing calms down the sympathetic nervous system, or fight or flight response.  Without calming down this response, adults and children alike will not be in a state of mind to learn or change.  However, it only takes a few minutes of deep breathing to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (allowing us to rest and digest) and help people be in more of a growth mindset where they are open to change.  

One of my favorite techniques for calming down is Emotional Freedom Techniques, also known as tapping.  My own children have been resistant to tapping because they feel very self-conscious doing it, but if done with proper intention, it is a great tool.  Tapping is a blend of acupressure and psychology. The end points of energy meridians are stimulated while talking through emotions or experiences.  The activation of these energy meridians helps release energy blockages related to emotions you’re having a hard time letting go of.  It is surprising how effective this method can be.  One study showed tapping improved anxiety by 58% and depression by 49%.   Tapping has been well researched for relieving PTSD and has been shown to reduce cortisol levels by 10% more than talk therapy.    To learn more about how to tap, there are many online resources such as thetappingsolution.com and EFTuniverse.com.

The final factor that my research included was nutritional supplements for the support of mental health.  The nervous system and the gut are inseparably connected.  If our microbiome is unhealthy, it will affect the health of our brains.  Eating a healthy diet can have profound impacts on children’s behavior and mood.  Researchers at Ohio State University found a correlation between the diversity of gut bacteria and toddler’s temperament.  Those children with a wider variety of bacteria in their microbiome were more likely to be curious, sociable and “exhibit behaviors related with positive mood.”   It is unknown which friendly bacteria are most beneficial.

A probiotic was one of three nutritional supplements used in my research to support mental health and reduce stress.  Second was an adaptogen called ashwagandha root to support hormone regulation and mental health.  This herb is not for everyone as it could interfere with medications used for thyroid conditions, diabetes, and some other medications.  So, please consult your doctor before adding any new supplements to your routine.  However, when appropriate, this herb can be a powerful tool to increase endurance as well as supporting mental health and hormone balance.  I have found it is very beneficial for the adrenal glands in my research.  

The final supplement our case studies used was Vitamin C.  Our bodies use vitamin C for at least 300 different metabolic functions in our bodies.  When we are stressed, we use more vitamin C, so we need to replenish it.  I had research participants take 1,000 mg of vitamin C daily and all reported positive benefits, with the exception of one person who experienced a week of slight digestive discomfort.  Some people need even more than this amount, but each person is unique.  Be sure to talk to a functional medicine or holistic doctor if you’re unsure how much vitamin C supplementation to add to your diet.

Although we did not use vitamin B Complex in my research, it is also essential for adrenal health.   Eating healthy, plant-based foods with little to no sugar can aid both physical and mental health.  Sometimes the simplest answers are the most effective.  Slowing down and getting out in nature to enjoy God’s beautiful creations can be so healing.  Even weeding for a few minutes or walking barefoot, while allowing your skin to touch the earth, can have a grounding effect on overly stimulated bodies.  
Some children, like orchids, are very sensitive to their environment and are more susceptible to adverse side effects from Wifi and cellphone radiation.  These same children may also be more sensitive emotionally and need extra encouragement rather than a tough love parenting style.  Sensitive children usually do not respond well to yelling and are very sensitive to tone of voice.  They often are also very hard on themselves so they may be receiving a punishment from parents for bad behavior as well as beating themselves up emotionally when they misbehave.  

mother comforting daughter
Helping a sensitive child understand their emotions and being clear about boundaries is crucial.

These sensitive children can benefit greatly from clear boundaries and pre-set consequences.  For example, if children know ahead of time that they will lose privileges such as screen time and playing with friends if they tell a lie, then when that happens, the consequence is already known by all parties.  Instead of losing their temper and frantically trying to come up with a punishment in the heat of the moment, Mom or Dad can calmly say, “You know the consequence for lying is being grounded.  It makes me sad to see you sad, but our choices have consequences.  Let’s make better choices next time to avoid this consequence in the future.”  

When children have clear boundaries, it makes it easier for them to make good choices.  It may seem counterintuitive, but boundaries help children feel safe.  Boundaries are comforting because the unknown is overwhelming.  It’s similar to a kite being held up by a string.  It may appear that if you cut the string while a kite is flying in the wind it would soar higher and higher.  The string appears to be the only thing holding it back.  But in reality, if you cut the string, the kite quickly loses control and plummets to the ground.  Healthy boundaries not only help children know what to expect, but it can help parents manage their own emotions because they don’t have to try to be creative in the moment of frustration or anger; they already have a plan in place.  And the more emotionally stable parents are, the better their children learn how to manage emotions in a healthy way.  

It takes practice and determination to recognize where we as parents have room for improvement as well as how to meet the special needs of our unique children.  However, the effort is worth it.  As we learn and implement these skills through some of the methods mentioned here, we can bring harmony and happiness to our homes.

Mother and daughter at dance smiling for selfie photo