In my training, I often refer to the ‘inner-zebra’ 🦓
We all have one, but for children especially, we often don’t know that their inner-zebra is at work… In other words, they often look reasonably regulated on the outside, their ‘inner-zebra’ is in control; on ‘high-alert’ and hovering close to their panic zone.

They can go through the motions of life or school etc., but, as long as their nervous system is in this state, their brains are poised to expect and react to danger at any time.

And it can be a vicious cycle; this level of reactivity ensures that stressor hormones continue to swill around their brains and bodies much longer than the event that sounded the inner-panic alarm to begin with.

The good news is that, by changing the biochemical cocktail that their brains sit in, we can help their inner-zebra take a break for a while, so the rational part of their brains (the pre-frontal cortex) can reclaim control.

It doesn’t really matter whether you turbo-charge dopamine, serotonin or oxytocin – or a combination – as they can all dampen down the brain-body stress response, buffering the unwelcome acidic impacts of adrenaline and cortisol. 

However, your kid’s nature and personality traits may determine which work better for them, so just try them out and see… Here’s how to get them flowing! 

Dopamine: This is our feel-good hormone and is generated by movement, creativity, and a sense of ‘reward’, which may come in the form of emotional connection, laughter, play, social enrichment or novelty and ‘excitation’. 

Insisting a child gets some exercise, or trying to play a game if they’re really not feeling it will only serve to increase adrenaline, so you might have to use a bit of stealth.

This isn’t about finding a silver bullet, but just taking a little walk to go get something for you, going upstairs to find something you’ve hidden for them, recalling a funny memory… These simple movement hacks can help them take one step closer to a more balanced state.

But if dopamine isn’t going to cut it, serotonin or oxytocin may be your allies instead…

Serotonin:  This is our mood-stabilising hormone.
Whether we achieve this through a few mindful breaths, paying attention to your surroundings, affording ourselves a moment of stillness or silence, or through the phenomena called ‘biophilia🍃; the feeling of wellbeing associated with being in nature; serotonin works its magic quickly.

Insisting kids do breathing exercises can be a red rag to a bull when they’re feeling frayed already, so maybe ask them to focus outwardly instead; to notice everything that’s red, blue, yellow… Or notice how many shapes of green they can see.
Where are the squares, the circles, the straight lines?
What noises can they hear when they close their eyes?

If they’re not ready yet for a serotonin injection, just lead by example.
Explain that you need some quiet time, maybe some relaxing music on, and show them what self-regulation looks.

Your child may not be ready to join you right now, but their brains will absorb what they observe you modelling, which will help lay down new neural pathways in their brains that will support them to practice self-control later on.
And lastly…

Oxytocin:
 This is known as the ‘bonding hormone’ and actually triggers labour; it’s Mother Nature’s way of ensuring that; even after the long and painful process that is both giving birth and being born, mother and baby are ready to fall in love with one another at first sight.

You may want to steer clear of hugs and kisses if your kid has really fallen out with you, but equally a cuddle might be the solution; even if they haven’t realised it yet, or are too proud to say ’I need you’ in the moment.

Regardless, being empathetic; connected to the reality of your child’s experience (not just yours!); while expressing ‘soft eyes’, staying close by with the offer of a hug or a hand to hold when they’re ready, can be the catalyst that moves them to a healthier state of being.

So, the next time you hear yourself saying (or thinking) that your child’s being ‘dramatic’ or ‘over-emotional’, just remember they’re not really ‘being’ anything.

It’s just their brain chemistry running the show and, even though it may be doing a pretty bad job, ‘being alive’ will win over ‘being right’, every time! 🦓

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