Our Brains on Stress

In my last post I wrote about classroom stress and the choice that you can make between being calm and being angry in classroom situations. I also wrote about how you should not give away your power to a child. After all,

No one can make you angry without your permission.

Now it is time to examine what goes on in our heads when we are faced with a stressful situation.

In 1996 a research study was conducted about the effects of parental anger. The study revealed that anger causes people to form mistaken beliefs about the actions of the person they are angry at. These mistaken beliefs are called “trigger thoughts,” and for teachers, they prevent us from seeing the underlying causes of children’s behaviors.

The researchers grouped trigger thoughts into three distinct categories:

  • Assumed Intent – when we assign intent to the student’s actions, usually negative. Assumed intent usually means that we feel the child is misbehaving on purpose in order to upset us or another child.
  • Magnification – when our thoughts make the situation seem worse than it actually is.
  • Labeling – when we use negative words to describe the child or their behavior.

Below is a list of trigger thoughts that have been adapted from the 1996 study, as well as from Dr. Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline system. See how many of these trigger thoughts you can identify as being part of your thought process when you become angry in classroom situations:

Assumed Intent:

  • You are just doing this to annoy me.
  • You are deliberately defying me.
  • You know this is wrong and you’re doing it anyway.
  • You’re trying to drive me crazy.
  • You’re trying to see how far you can push me.
  • You are tuning me out intentionally
  • You are doing this deliberately to get back at me, hurt me, embarrass me, spite me, etc.

Magnification:

  • I can’t stand this one minute longer.
  • Your behavior is intolerable.
  • You have gone too far this time.
  • You never listen, pay attention, etc.
  • How dare you speak to me like that, look at me like that, etc.
  • You turn everything into a power struggle, lousy time, nightmare, chaos, etc.

Labeling:

  • You are getting out of control.
  • You are manipulating me.
  • You are lazy, malicious, stubborn, disrespectful, ungrateful, willful, selfish, cruel, etc.
  • You don’t care about anyone but yourself.
  • You’re deliberately being mean, cruel, hurtful, a jerk, a smart mouth, etc.

Trigger thoughts are very powerful. They usually enter our heads when we are stressed, and they have the power to transform that stress into powerful negative emotions. Imagine this scene, for example:

You cook a very special dinner for your spouse or significant other. You have spent a lot of time and effort to put this meal together. You proudly set the food in front of him, but he barely acknowledges the work you did or even the taste of the food. You become over-anxious and concerned that your loved one isn’t enjoying the meal, and as the silence continues even after the meal has ended, the trigger thoughts roll through your head:

“He doesn’t care about anything I do.”

“He is so ungrateful and selfish!”

“He purposefully didn’t say anything about all the work I did! Well, I’ll show him!”

And then you begin the silent treatment, when all along your significant other was simply distracted by his own stressful day at work! Rather than stopping and allowing yourself to discover why your significant other was behaving this way, you allowed your trigger thoughts to light a fire under the stress and anxiety you were feeling, and that created a huge explosion of anger. But you forgot one important thing:

No one can make you angry without your permission!

In the next post, we will discuss how to begin changing our mindset.

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My Journey with Conscious Discipline Part II

Today I began to implement the Conscious Discipline strategies for the first time, and let me tell you – I think I was in an entirely different classroom than the one that I’m usually in. I had less stress today than I have had in any single day working in child care. And I promise you that I’m not exaggerating.

It wasn’t too difficult. I only had one time today where I seemed to lose control of the situation, and that was right before nap time. Other than that, I kept my cool all day, I addressed every conflict as a “safety” or “helpfulness” issue, I used the stress relief strategies throughout the day, and I stayed connected with the kids on their level. Even my most rambunctious kids had a great day. There were no meltdowns. The kids played together and interacted together better than I had ever seen them before. It was amazing.

One of the funniest things about it was watching the kids’ reaction to the difference in how I responded to their “crises”. One of them, who seems to have a knack for getting her way, wasn’t getting away with anything and was trying desperately to figure out a way around it. Another one who usually gets what she wants in sneaky kind of ways was so mad at me by lunch time that she could do nothing but shoot daggers at me, simply because she wasn’t getting away with the things that she usually gets away with. A third one, the one who makes me question my choice of careers on at least a weekly basis, had the greatest day she’s ever had in my classroom.

The whole day was amazing, and I can’t wait to duplicate it again tomorrow. I don’t expect it to be as easy as it was today for the whole month, or for the whole time on the program, but if today is any indication, I would say that this book has already more than paid for itself.

My Journey with Conscious Discipline, Part I

This past week I picked up the book “Conscious Discipline” by Dr. Becky Bailey. First, let me begin by saying that for me to pick up a book having anything to do with research into the childcare field is a BIG thing. I have opened my mind quite a bit recently, but I think I surprised even myself by my willingness and enthusiasm when it came to this book. And the more I read of this book, the more enthusiastic I am becoming.

Conscious Discipline is a seven step system that challenges the way you think about discipline. Dr. Bailey states that the difference between Conscious Discipline and traditional discipline is that traditional discipline is based on fear, coercion, and power struggles, among many other negative factors. Traditional discipline is also based on childcare providers, whether teachers or parents, trying to change or control people and situations outside of ourselves.

Conscious Discipline, on the other hand, requires that we look inside ourselves as the beginning of change in discipline in our classrooms. Dr. Bailey sites research that states that our state of mind and the way that we conduct ourselves directly affects how our children will behave. We have to exhibit and model proper behavior in order to teach it.

Now, a few weeks ago this would have sounded pretty kooky to me, but when you read the book and look at the evidence, you can see how well it can work if you put it in to practice. But, speaking of work, it requires a lot of work and willingness to look inside yourself to make it work. That is one of the biggest challenges that is involved in this system. It takes time, and Dr. Bailey suggests that you tackle each step one month at a time. That will give you the proper amount of time to thoroughly integrate the skill involved into not only your every day routine, but into your mindset as well. But to me, the payoff will be huge – a classroom that interacts like a family, more caring and conscientious behavior out of myself and the children I work with, and an increase in the amount of excitement and enjoyment that I get from my job.

I will be beginning to implement this system tomorrow, when I go back to work. I am very excited about it, and I want to share it with anyone who is interested in reading about it. I will be posting progress reports every now and then, not only to share with others, but so that I can look back and see how far I’ve come.