78% of parents saying not listening is driving them batshit crazy!
Parents generally think that they have a listening issue for one of 3 reasons: first, children won’t do what they’re asked immediately. The second is that the child will acknowledge the request by immediately doing the opposite of what they were told to do. Or the third reason is that their child screams, “No,” or “I don’t want to!” If your child is reacting this way, they aren’t listening, but that’s just a symptom.
Listening is multiple executive functioning skills working together simultaneously. We just finished a video series in the Parenting Posse that explains why you can’t listen effectively if any of your executive functioning skills are weak. The basic idea is that you cannot access and use your executive functioning skills if you’re not calm. Calm also doesn’t necessarily mean quiet. A person can be quiet and stressed as fuck, like deer in the headlights. If you’re passed stressed, you’re in fight, flight, freeze, and fib mode.
Our executive functioning skills exist in our neocortex, the top layer of your brain. That is where language, reason, analysis, and learning takes place, none of which is necessary for survival. When we’re born we have to squeeze our very big heads out of a very small hole. What’s going on inside is that the grey matter that will become their blue brain, their neocortex, needs to be able to squish without getting damaged. So when we’re born, it’s physically there, but it’s not working yet.
The Limbic System
Our limbic system comes out of the womb ready and raring to go. Our limbic systems contain our amygdala, our hippocampus, and a bunch of other little sections. It’s mainly responsible for scanning our environment, checking for danger, and processing memories and emotions. It has thought but no reason. It upregulates us when there’s danger present and downregulates us when we’re safe.
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Since our limbic system is necessary for survival and our neocortex is not, if your child is feeling unsafe, uncertain, or emotional, all of our physical resources, all of our energy goes to our limbic system. They’ll very actively and very emotionally protest- which is a red flag that they are stuck in their limbic system. No amount of reason is going through. It’s not rational, so they aren’t going to act rationally.
Getting the Blue Brain Back Online
At this stage, they are going to ignore what you asked them to do and keep doing what feels good or that they are emotionally engaged in. They are going to look you dead in the face and then do something other than what you told them to do. Because what you told them to do is being processed as a danger, or as not safe, as an attack. Your child’s brain is preoccupied with its emotions and its intuition and sensing and feeling and making sure that there’s no danger. Which means that not listening is actually stress behaviour.
The good news is that we can actively teach them how to recognise when they are being irrational, we can teach them strategies to bring that blue brain back online. And that, my friends, is what I teach you in ParentAbility. In the program have way more in-depth information on these self-regulation concepts, and then once you have that down, we teach you exactly how to work and build up your child’s executive functioning skills.