Connecting Before Hard Conversations

The Benefits of Establishing Connection Before Hard Conversations

people sky diving

The brain is a carefully curated and crafted thing. It tells us to breathe. It scans the environment for scents, sights and sounds to alert us and keep us safe and aware. When it’s calm and collected it can even tell the difference between the sweat of someone jumping out of an airplane and that of a person running on a treadmill! One study found that people sniffing sweaty gym T-shirts had different areas of the brain light up than when they sniffed sweatshirts from sky-divers.

a grizzly bear

But when the brain enters into a fight or flight state, reasoning and rational thought can go out the window. If we see a Grizzly Bear, our brain knows it’s not the time to question how old the bear is, where it was born or what its natural diet is. The brain knows it’s supposed to get you away from the threat immediately and instantly thinks or acts – fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. It’s these split-second decisions that save our lives.

When it comes to having a tough conversation with our child, the last thing we want is for them to be in a fight or flight mode. We want them as calm as possible. If a child assesses a threat in their environment they are likely to jump into a reactionary response instead of staying in the processing side of their brain.

kid not listening to parent

Even with the best intentions it can be hard to slow ourselves down especially when feelings like anxiety, anger, or sadness are driving the conversation, but if a child senses hesitation, anger, or concern they may react by trying to leave the room, yell, or shut down – similar to what we observe when the brain detects a threat. And that can throw hopes of a productive conversation right out the window. 

parent and child playing with dog

A wonderful solution for this is to establish a connection before bringing up the tough stuff. Even just two minutes of calm connection with your child before addressing a difficult conversation can help their amygdala and nervous system to use the other, more rational parts of their brain. Remind them that you’re there for them. Provide some humor, check in with how they feel, play with a pet. Anything that lightens the mood and establishes a connection provides calmness and encourages safety.

Whether it’s talking about limits, confronting self-harm, or bringing up a recent upsetting event it can sometimes change the entire outcome of a conversation when we take a few minutes to check in and connect first with ourselves, and then with our child.

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