Staying Sane when the Amygdala Attacks

By January 26, 2018What works

Stimulate the amygdala part of the brain and out comes fear, aggression, and emotion.  Some affectionately call it the “lizard brain” because there is only reaction. No logical response.

She is 13 years old.  Too old for a temper tantrum, but…

Her request was for ice-cream.  She just had pizza, salad, and soda.  But when she heard “no” to ice cream, her brain told her I wasn’t meeting her needs.

Sometimes needs and wants are confused—even for mature adults. How much harder is it for a child who does not trust dad and mom to meet her needs? 

Instead of accepting no and showing gratitude for a fun day with many treats, her amygdala kicks into gear. 

Screaming. Biting. Slapping. Scratching. Kicking. My tween makes herself throw-up. 

I gently hold her. I quietly promise to stay. I try to keep away from her teeth, her feet, her fingernails. But, I stay with my precious, scared child. 

It seems like she rages forever. No one is watching. Everyone is watching.

I can only care about her. My reputation can’t be my priority. My comfort can’t be the important thing.

My daughter needs me to be present for her in every way.  

Slowly she calms down. Slowly she relaxes in my arms. Slowly we reconnect. 

How do we help a hurting child find precious calm? Here is my “go to” list:

  • Quiet voice—almost a whisper—gives an anxious, angry child a different behavior to mirror. It is not an immediate fix, but a habit of calm can slowly help a child find a more peaceful existence.
  • Gentle touch—Sometimes she doesn’t want any touch at all. Other times a pat on the back or holding a hand is needed. Reading the situation is the hard part.
  • Stay—It is so tempting to walk away when she begins to rage. Instead I try to find a place to sit and I stay put. She may walk out of the room, but she comes right back (entangled attachment style). If I stay, she rages near me. If I sit and don’t get in her way, she rages around me instead of on me.
  • Humor—Sometimes a giggle is all I have left. Never at the expense of the child. Usually at myself or a joke I tell.
  • Put the ego away—Ouch! This one hurts. I want to be a perfect parent. Actually, most days, I’d settle for decent parent. So when my kids fall apart, I feel like I’m not enough. The solution is…
  • Gratitude—God gave me the greatest gift in my children. I love them with my life. They teach me many things everyday. I get to be grateful for them in each moment—the hard moments and the easy moments. A whispered prayer of thanks in the moment helps.

Mom is a title that is hard earned. An teen who lives in the amygdala adds extra layers to the struggle. I become a better person each day I spend with my kids. More calm. More gentle. More humble. More grateful. I pray the same for you as you walk this path with your kids.