Parents of troubled teens can learn a lot from working with a unbalanced dog. Kids who have experienced trauma often function out of their amygdala, also known as the “animal brain,” reacting instead of thinking logically. All hurting or abused animals function out of this part of the brain, meaning that dogs and kids may exhibit similar behaviors.
Before you stop reading because you think I’m crazy and cold-hearted treating kids like dogs, hear, or rather, read me out.
Our kids are often not able to self-regulate. We see dis-regulation in depression, anxiety, anger, and other behavioral problems. Dis-regulated dogs act out with aggression, obsession, destruction, and hyperactivity. In order to help a dog feel safe, the “pack-leader” must be a self-regulated source of calm, assertive energy. The same is true for a teen to regulate. Their adult must be a source of calm, assertive energy.
Ok, great! What does that mean? Merriam-Webster defines calm as a peaceful mental or emotional state, assertive as confident in behavior or style, and energy as a usually positive spiritual force.
So together we have a peaceful, confident, positive force that is shared with others in the way we present ourselves This is what we must project to troubled teens, especially when they are acting out.
When a child or dog acts out you have three choices with your energy: you can add more anxiety by conforming to the negative energy, you can increase the negative energy by yelling, or you can settle the situation by practicing calm, assertive energy.
To use calm, assertive energy you might get down on the kids’ level, use a relaxed voice, and whisper. Your calm will draw them to you. Whispering will bring their energy down.
If you get into a shouting match with your struggling teen, you add tension rather than stabilizing the situation. Maintaining calm, assertive energy is a skill, and just like any skill, the only way to hone it is to practice, make mistakes, learn, and grow.
If you are looking for an examples of calm, assertive leadership, Jesus is our best example. His energy inspired people to listen, to leave everything, and follow Him. He did not control people through fear or manipulation. He spoke the truth with gentleness which drew people to Him.
Modern examples include the source of knowledge for this post, Cesar Milan (the Dog Whisperer), Tim Gunn of Project Runway, Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News, Dana Perino, former White House Press Secretary, and Buck Brannaman, the inspiration for “The Horse Whisperer.”
You can see calm, assertive energy in action by watching any of their programs. I highly recommend watching at least one episode of “The Dog Whisperer” or “Cesar 911” to see calm, assertive leadership at work both with people and dogs.
September 10, 2016