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“Can you cut my pancakes for me mom?”

“No Siena, you need to cut your own pancakes.”

Then came the 9-year-old version of a protest: that slumped over, big sigh drama moment about the unfairness of my response.

In a perfectly non-Self-Reg parenting moment I responded, “You are more than capable of cutting your own pancakes SIENA, you’ve been cutting them since you were three years old. Next time we come to a restaurant, don’t order them if this is what’s going to happen.”

Who was that? Sigh.

I had gone red brain. I was in a limbic state, one that I hadn’t noticed until that moment and certainly not one I was happy about experiencing. Thank heavens I was able to hit the pause button, to experience that much needed moment of reflection. I looked inwards and connected with what was going on in my brain. I reframed what had happened and my emotional reaction. That’s Step 1 of Shanker Self-Reg®.

How did this look? Firstly, I did some stress detective work: “Why” and “Why now” was I experiencing stress behaviour? I knew it was some combination of many stressors, including several that had nothing at all to do with pancakes.

I was very hungry; actually, I felt ravenous.

I was in the middle of carting my daughter around running errands.

I was worrying about all the “to dos” I had before leaving on a work trip the next morning.

I was tired and hadn’t slept well the night before.

I had a lot of work to do and was eager to get back to it.

I was feeling a bit anxious overall, thanks, in part, to all of the above.

So, what was it about the fairly mundane and not totally unreasonable pancake cutting request that set me off into the world of limbic utterances?

Siena knew how to cut the pancakes. I had seen her do this many times.

I felt disappointed that she didn’t do this independently.

Something about her dramatic response set me off.

The mixture of guilt and frustration the drama evoked was energy expensive.

We were in a public restaurant.

Red brain moments don’t bring out our best parenting. But we are human and we are going to have these because we have limbic systems and finite energy resources.

A few moments passed as I thought this. Turning towards Siena, I was also able to reframe her behaviour. 

I saw a different child than I had seen only moments before. Her asking for help was not laziness, nor misbehavior. She was wound up too. Some gentle encouragement and she managed just fine, she just needed a small amount of co-regulating.

Learning to cut her own pancakes wasn’t just the mechanics of using the knife and fork, something she had acquired years ago. There was never going to be one magical moment when she would demonstrate complete “readiness” or “success” at any one thing. Each day and each task had its own contexts and learning curve. Her abilities, like my own, could shift based on her surroundings and feelings at that moment in time.

What mattered then was how I responded now that I had become stress aware. That’s Step 4 of Shanker Self-Reg®. I found my calm, and in the words of educational pyschologist Corinne Catalano, I “lent” it to Siena. Within a few minutes the pancakes were cut, syrup was poured and we were back to enjoying our family brunch. Siena was feeling better, but equally as important, so was I.