OK, it’s not likely that many of you parents will come right out and tell your sons and daughters to chill out with the Neutral® Tool. That’s fine. I’ll get to the tool shortly, but stay with me while I explain some things.
You love your children and do whatever you can for them, and generally their lives probably seem to go smoothly enough. Naturally, there are some hiccups along the way, but what about those times when something’s truly bothering them? Can you always tell?
Given today’s busy lifestyles, it’s unlikely even the most well-meaning among us can always know when our children are going through difficult times, especially teenagers, who often simply keep things to themselves. When they do share, it’s liable to be with a close friend or someone they consider to be neutral.
Oh sure, now and then they confide in you, perhaps a favored teacher or someone else with whom they’ve built trust. It’s great when you, an educator or someone else can be a sounding board and offer some helpful advice. Based on experience, however, we can’t always count on our children coming to us on their own.
So, what can you do? The Institute of HeartMath actually has looked at the behaviors of young people and what they are experiencing mentally, emotionally and physically during these “rough spots.” HeartMath developed a tool over a decade ago that thousands of people have used to avoid a lot of stressful responses such as anger, anxiety and frustration that can occur at such times.
Bugged, Annoyed and Ticked Off: How Will Your Kids Respond?
Stuff happens and people say and do things that bother or hurt us. It is not the unpleasant or negative situations and encounters in life that bug, annoy or tick us off that cause unhealthy stress levels.
It is our emotional responses to those situations and encounters that determine the amount of stress we experience and the harmful effects it can cause.
Say, for example, someone talks behind your children’s back, spreads a nasty rumor or confronts them in a threatening or negative way. It’s easy to respond in kind, even instinctive if that’s a neural pattern already established in the brain based on previous experience.
The human brain recognizes all sorts of patterns in the way we do things. If we routinely respond with negative emotions to what bugs, annoys or ticks us off, our brains will accommodate us by establishing a negative response pattern.
So, if you typically respond to an insult, bad attitude or other negative action with a few choice words, angry outburst or other negative reaction, your brain remembers. It automatically offers up emotional responses in similar future situations that are like the emotional responses you’ve chosen in the past.
“The good news is,” HeartMath founder and co-CEO Doc Childre and president and co-CEO Deborah Rozman, Ph.D. write, “that all these brain circuits are flexible and can be reshaped with new patterns throughout life. It’s never too late to learn or to change.”
Put it in Neutral and See What Happens
The Neutral® Tool is a simple technique your children can use to help their days go more smoothly. As with a car, neutral means not going forward or in reverse, but staying right where you are.
When you explain Neutral to your kids, simply point out that when something bad or unpleasant happens, they can choose to take a timeout, rather than react immediately.
Neutral allows them to step back from strong emotional reactions or racing thoughts. Now they can ask themselves whether they want to feel even worse than they already do in a bad situation and have feelings that are even more out of sync.
Would they rather take control instead by chilling out in neutral until they have all of the facts and can decide what’s best in the situation?
In other words, neutral is an attitude that gives them a chance to stop and weigh the consequences of actions that are driven by emotionally charged thoughts and feelings. In neutral, their wise selves can talk to their confused selves and save them a lot of headache and emotional strife. Plus, it’s the start of a new and healthier neural pattern.
Going to neutral balances your brain, heart and emotions quickly and opens the door to new insights about how to respond to whatever is happening in your life.
HeartMath’s Neutral® Tool
1. Take a timeout. Breathe in a feeling of calm slowly and deeply. Imagine the air entering and leaving through the area of your heart in the center of your chest.
2. Try to leave behind your stressful thoughts and feelings as you continue to breathe.
? Practice Neutral before you get into everyday stressful situations.
? Use it anywhere, anytime, whether or not you are feeling stressed out.
? Be sure you are focusing your attention on the area around your heart when you practice because this helps draw energy away from your reactive brain.
Try this … Think of an issue or situation at home or school that has you worried, upset or angry: an upcoming test, communication issue or school project. Write it down and then do the following:
• Practice going to neutral about whatever it is by doing the steps of the Neutral Tool.
• Do this several times during the day to build up your experience and skill.
• Then after a couple or three days, or however long you feel comfortable at stopping to look at your progress on the issue or situation, ask yourself if you’re less stressed about it now? Maybe think of it terms of a percentage. Do you think you lowered your stress by 25%, 50%, more?
Who knows? Maybe whatever it was is no longer an issue. All you have to do is to practice. You’ll get good at it in no time.
Jeff Goelitz is a stress solutions expert with the HeartMath Institute, , as well as author, education specialist and program developer. He has many years of experience teaching students about stress and emotions. Learn more about HeartMath’s Parenting Free Resources.
Read more about stress levels