Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Overcoming "Flat-Brain Syndrome"

One of the books that I read during my Masters coursework talked about "flat-brain syndrome," which occurs when an emotional response minimizes one's ability to think rationally and respond to others appropriately. I've tried to become better at recognizing "flat-brain syndrome" in myself, to verbalize my own feelings more, and to avoid attacking others just because they happen to pass by while I'm feeling angry or stressed or whatever.

I've also attempted to recognize this emotional state in my children and to help them through it. Of course, it is not an easy job for anyone, but it can be particularly difficult for children who endured neglect, abuse, or significant trauma to calm down from an emotional outburst. We had one such incident with one of the boys today. Certainly, he was tired from a too-late-bedtime last night (because of a school concert that ran until almost 10pm!). Furthermore, it was in that space of time just before dinner when hunger starts to rise, but the food isn't quite ready yet. He was working on a project...I was trying to help...and let's just say that he didn't find my help particularly helpful.

Then came the explosion.

I never quite expect that. But here it was. Molten lava emotion spewing all over the living room. No sign of letting up. What should I do?

Fortunately, today, I thought of something that has been helpful in the past. Honestly, our emotional explosions are quite a bit more rare than the used to be (I'm so glad.), and I haven't had to think about too many diffusing options lately. But the idea of art popped into my head as the volcano roared. I simply pulled out a few sheets of paper, a bag of markers, and a case of colored pencils. I set them beside the offended party and quietly suggested that he might want to draw what he was feeling while I went to finish up the supper preparations in the kitchen.

I came back a few minutes later and found this...

...and an infinitely more agreeable child.

"Oooh! Can I see?" I asked.

He gladly handed over his creations.

"Can you tell me about these?" I queried, but he wasn't quite ready yet. I pointed to the shorter blue person. "Is this you?"

He nodded; a sheepish smile turned the corners of his mouth.

I pointed to the oval-shaped object near the mouth region of the boy figure and guessed. "Is that your tongue sticking out?"

The grin was unstoppable now.

"And is this who I think it is?" I asked as I pointed to the larger figure with the glaring face and the various marks upon its frame.

"That's you!" he exclaimed with glee. We giggled together and continued to talk--to actually talk about his feelings and about how great it was that he was able to share in this way, safe and productive.

Needless to say, I love this simple technique. It's like a little trapdoor that allows for the release of all kinds of pent-up emotion that my little guy can't quite figure out how to control, an alternative form of expression when verbal language simply doesn't suffice.

If others of you are using art in some creative way with kids, I'd love to hear about that. Or if you have any other strategies for overcoming "flat-brain syndrome" in your household, I'm eager to hear any other ideas, too. And if you come across a flat-brain (your own or someone else's) in the days ahead, feel free to give this feeling-drawing technique a try and let me know how it goes!

1 comment:

Kathy Castor said...

Kristy - I LOVE LOVE LOVE this! Thank you for sharing. I will definitely try this with my guy. Seems like we are having similar weeks (honestly, I'm sure I've said this before, I can't get over some of the similarities in our lives - Jack was right!).

I have used word pictures involving art with my guy before. When he's been repeatedly offending / hurting feelings, I've asked him to imagine if he had a beautiful picture that he made and really loved. I then asked him how he would feel if someone came along and tore off a piece or crumpled up a part of it.
He responds how mad or sad he would be. I then say, what if that person apologized, but came back a little while later and spit on the picture or tore off another piece of it. Would the apology seem real? How would you feel?
(And we may repeat the series one more time). I then say, when you do X to me (or to your brother) it feels like someone tearing bits and pieces off my masterpiece and not caring about me at all. When you apologize, but then do it again, it feels like that person who keeps destroying the picture.

I've used this analogy at least twice with him and it seems to get him thinking. I usually do it when he is nice and calm and able to discuss it all. Certainly not in the heat of a problem.

Thanks again, Kristy!