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Karen Brennan
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help, someone has hijacked my amygdala: fight or flight and its effect on child development

Monday, October 21, 2013

The central struggle of parenthood is to let our hopes for our children outweigh our fears.  Ellen Goodman, journalist

Kim writes about amygdala hijack.  The amygdala is the ancient part of the brain that controls our fight or flight response.  This response can be very useful in emergency situations, where our lives are actually in danger, but as Sophocles said a while ago, “To him who is in fear, everything rustles.”  If we, or our children, are constantly in a state of fear, we will miss the signs if there is something dangerous happening.  “In response to a perceived threat, the amygdala the “hijacks,” or bypasses, the thinking and feeling part of the brain with a reaction that may be inappropriate to the situation.”  Especially for a young child, who is developing their thinking and feeling, this state is difficult and exhausting, physically and emotionally.  Think of a time when you were really frightened.  How did you react in the moment?  How did you feel afterwards?  Imagine how it would be to live like this most of the time.  We don’t really have access to our humanity when we are in this state.  As we discussed last week, we don’t want to be addicted to harmony, but we also don’t want to become addicted to adrenaline.

Quite Simply:  Behavioral tendencies can be soothed or relaxed by creating calm.

Kim broaches the subject of spirit, as well, in this chapter.  He writes that our children are more than the sum of their parts—genes and behavioral tendencies.  Our behavior is affected by more than the chemical makeup of our brain; we are more than tendencies, syndromes and labels.  There is something our children bring with them when they arrive on earth that makes them unique, which can be called spirit, or telos, “a thing or person’s essence, their intrinsic intent.”  He says, “A little grace is needed, after all, for them to develop into the people they’re meant to be, especially in a world that is constantly bombarding them (and us) with the distractions of so many things, so much information, speed and urgency.”  These stresses distract from the focus or “task” of childhood: an emerging, developing sense of self.  And this brings us to the answer to the question, “Why simplify?”  Simplifying gives our children time and space to become themselves with greater ease and a greater sense of well-being.  It also gives us, as parents, an opportunity to know, love and appreciate our child(ren) more deeply.

Next week we will begin to look at the next chapter, “Soul Fever.”