I cannot remember the specifics but it was something on par with wanting the sky to be purple instead of blue or up to be called down. It was a culmination of over-stimulation at the end of an exciting trip into the city. I remember thinking, "This is ridiculous!" and I know my husband was thinking the same. If we didn't know better, we might have tried reasoning with him, explaining the reality of the situation, bribing him to settle down because his brother had just fallen asleep, or even threatening punishment if he didn't pull it together. Instead I looked at my husband and with a hint of humor said, "Well this isn't a teachable moment."
The Flipped Lid
We both knew our little guy had flipped his lid. If you aren't familiar with Dr. Daniel Siegel's practical illustration of what happens in the brain when humans are feeling stressed or vulnerable, you can find it on youtube here. Essentially, when humans are stressed, the part of our brain that is responsible for executive function, reason, adaptability, problem solving, etc. neurologically separates from the part of our brain that is responsible for storing emotions and primitive reflexes like fight, flight, or freeze. When you watch Dr. Siegel's demonstration you will see that the lid of the brain flips, hence flipped lid. The result is often a runaway emotional train without a conductor. Attempting to reason with someone who is unable to access the part of the brain that is responsible for reason is...pointless. And yet we parents do it All. The. Time.
Time & Connection
Many, many, many (MANY) parents feel that if they do not address behavior in the moment, they will lose the "teachable moment". What they don't realize is that trying to teach a child who has flipped his or her lid is like trying to turn on a lamp that isn't plugged in. Attempting to reason with someone who is unable to access the part of the brain that is responsible for reason is...pointless. Not only is it pointless, in doing so, we don't ever get to the "teachable moment". So what is the key to getting past a flipped lid state so you can successfully address behavior (and hopefully the triggers behind the behavior)? Time and Connection. Teaching your child ways to help himself feel better when in a flipped lid state actually helps him reconnect his brain so that he can learn, problem-solve, adapt, etc. Positive Discipline provides many tools to do this including (but not limited to): hugs, special time, positive time-out, wheel of choice, validating feelings, and more.
"Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, we must first make them feel worse?" - Dr. Jane Nelsen, author Positive Discipline
When a child flips his lid it's often accompanied by some misbehavior. When we talk about helping a child learn how to make himself feel better before addressing the behavior parents often say, "Well, isn't that rewarding the behavior?" The answer is no, so long as once the child is feeling better you do take the opportunity for that "teachable moment" and talk about what happened in a respectful, calm way. The "teachable moment" doesn't disappear because we take the time to teach our children self-regulation. The true teachable moment is the moment when you can connect with your child so that he is actually able to receive the lesson.
So after my husband and I acknowledged we were not in a "teachable moment", I turned around to my son and said, "I'm sorry you're so upset. I can imagine that's very frustrating." I said it genuinely and with empathy because I recognized the circumstances of the day and what was happening in his brain and as ridiculous as the situation was, it was real for him. Acknowledging his feelings was enough of a connection to soften his reaction and ultimately he was distracted by something he saw out the window. I did not teach him that the sky is blue not purple or that up will always be called up not down. Instead we named his feelings, practiced some self-regulation, and I modeled empathy. Maybe it was a "teachable moment" after all.