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Holding the calm, says Hesha Abrams, is an essential skill for resolving conflict and diffusing tension.
Conflict and tension trigger an individual’s amygdala, the “reptilian” part of the brain that initiates the flight-flight-or-freeze response. And when the amygdala is activated, the human body goes into a refractory state for about 20 minutes. Our eyes and ears only take in limited data. Attempting to reason with a person in a refractory state is a waste of time and energy because it’s like “pouring water on dry ground,” says Abrams, an internationally recognized mediator and author of Holding the Calm: The Secret to Resolving Conflict and Defusing Tension.
Telling a person who’s emotionally upset to “calm down” won’t usually help. When the amygdala is active, a person will either fight or flee in response to those words. (Think about it: Has telling your upset son to “calm down” ever really helped? More likely than not, he’s gotten even angrier and stormed away.)
How to Hold the Calm
When you are upset or emotionally triggered, Abram suggest repeating this mantra to yourself: I am holding the calm. I am holding the calm. I am holding the calm. Repeating that phrase reminds you that you have power and choices — and that gives you a “moat” around your feelings and allows you to take your time and choose what you want to do.
Doing this in front of your kids also shows them how to take care of themselves. You’re modeling emotional regulation, and your kids will learn from your example.
Handling Big Emotions with Teens
VUCS is an acronym that means Validate, Understand, Clarify, Summarize.
Validating can include simply naming the emotion you see and hear your child expressing. Your child (vigorously) disagree with your assessment, but if you calmly name the emotion (“You seem angry.”), your child may also calm a bit because they feel seen and heard.
“Naming the emotion drains 50 percent of the poison out,” says Abrams, who’s successfully used this technique in many negotiations.
Then, you can ask some question to help understand and clarify what’s going on. Summarize the situation next.
The whole process often takes less time than you’d expect — and is significantly more efficient than most alternatives. (Think about a fight with your teen, Abrams says. How long does that typically take?)
A day or so later, during a moment of calm, you can say something like, “Let’s talk about how we can help each other understand each other better, because I love you, respect you, value you and want to be able to do this better for you,” Abrams says. Then, you can teach your son some simple techniques he can use to manage his big emotions.
In this episode, Janet, & Hesha discuss:
- What spaghetti sauce can teach us about conflict
- How your brain and body respond to conflict
- How to stay calm in the midst of conflict and tension
- Helping teens handle big emotions
- How modeling & teaching your son to “hold the calm” can help him learn to respect women & choose a good mate
- Paradigm shifts that help us reframe “disrespectful” and annoying behavior
- Teaching self-soothing behavior to boys
- What to do instead of fighting about screens
Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:
holdingthecalm.com – Abram’s website
Holding the Calm: The Secret to Resolving Conflict and Defusing Tension — Abram’s book
Parenting in Real Life podcast
Cracking the Boy Code with Dr. Adam Cox — ON BOYS episode
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