Parenting course: How to create a much calmer environment for your and your kids
This is part one of our three-part series introducing you to the OHbaby! Renew Your Mind, Mindful Parenting Course.
Developed with Chantal Hofstee, mum of three and clinical psychologist, the online course is split up into six practical sessions which teach techniques to help manage stress and resolve conflicts, increase connection in difficult times and create a calmer and happier home.
Read on for a taster of what you can expect from the course, you can find part two HERE.
To find out more or to book into the online course, visit ohbaby.co.nz/mindfulparenting
There’s no question that stress affects our parenting, but how can we keep it to a minimum and in doing so, create a much calmer environment for both ourselves and our kids? Clinical psychologist and mum of three, Chantal Hofstee explains.
Parenting is messy, ever evolving, and there is no formula to turn to for ‘getting it right’. Or is there? Could there be fundamental elements that our brain needs to be ‘at ease’ or ‘in balance’ and if so, could there be something similar for children’s brains? Like the fundamentals we need to fulfil so nature can do its part and our children can grow into healthy, resilient and happy people? And if so, what are these fundamentals and how do we make sure we get them right in our parenting?
The reason I was drawn to study psychology in the first place was this deep desire to understand humans, relationships and wellbeing. I also have this tendency to like to categorise and simplify things in order to be able to understand the world better and also explain the complexities of the brain better. Because of this, I love using models and although I am fully aware every model is flawed because it can never capture the full complexity of our reality, some can be very useful.
It was the combination of this desire to ‘crack the parenting code’ and my love for simple, easy-to-use models that has led to this three-part parenting model. It’s not all-encompassing nor is it complete, but it is still useful in your journey to becoming the parent you want to be. In this article we will focus on part one of the three-part model (that is a combination of three simple models in one).
RED, ORANGE, GREEN BRAIN
The first model I want to introduce you to is the model on which I have based the last five years of my work as a clinical psychologist and both my books, Renew Your Mind and Reach Your Goals. It is also the model my family and I refer to on such a regular basis that it has become part of our everyday language. It is simply called Red – Orange – Green brain. It is a spectrum with bright, fiery red on one end and calm, lovely green on the other end. In the middle we find orange, the neutral middle ground.
RED BRAIN stands for high levels of stress (high levels of cortisol and adrenaline) which will make us physically stronger and faster, but mentally weaker as we pay the price in our ability to think clearly, see the big picture, have self-control, take perspective and have empathy. Spending a lot of time in this state in the long-term takes a huge toll on our physical, emotional and mental health and ultimately leads to burnout.
GREEN BRAIN stands for either low levels of stress or very well managed stress. Green brain equals low levels of cortisol and adrenaline and high levels of oxytocin (our relationship chemical). It leads to relaxed bodies and clear minds with ‘full brain activity’. This means all your mental resources are available and ready to be engaged. You can see the big picture, have flexibility of thinking, have high levels of patience, self-control, empathy and creativity.
ORANGE BRAIN is the neutral middle ground; it doesn’t have the benefits of green but also not the downsides of red brain. I call it the ‘to-do-list brain’ or the ‘achieving brain’, because it is very outcome-focused and always thinking about the next thing on one's never-ending list of tasks. Every time you tick something off the list there is a moment of satisfaction or relief (a shot of dopamine and serotonin to the brain) but it doesn’t last long until the focus is onto the next thing. What also stands out in orange brain is that when you are doing activity A your mind is already focussed on B. As soon as A is accomplished you start on B but your mind is already at C. This means you might be productive but you are not really focussed, present or enjoying the moment.
PARENTING AND RED-ORANGE-GREEN
Red brain brings out the worst in us when it comes to parenting and green brain, the best. Those great parenting moments where we responded with patience, empathy and creative problem solving? Definitely green brain. Those moments we wish we could take back, where we lost our patience and yelled? Red brain. The formula is simple. Stress leads to red brain which leaves us with impaired brain function that shuts down our best parenting skills. Good parenting correlates with well-managed stress and green brain. So the solution seems simple too. Eradicate stress as much as possible, learn how to be in green brain as much as possible and our children will have the best version of us… Easier said than done, right?
Eradicating all stress from your life will not be possible, but also isn’t necessary. Consciously building in green brain routines and practices to lower stress and help manage stress better is possible. So many of us rush through the day either worried or frustrated and we save our natural green brain activators for at the end of the day, after the kids have gone to bed, when actually it is throughout the day when we need our green brain most. This is where we can be more strategic because each green brain moment will ‘reset’ your brain back to its ideal setting and the effects can be felt for the 20–40 minutes to come.
ACHIEVING MORE GREEN BRAIN
The first step to more green brain is identifying what puts you in green brain and increasing your daily dose of that (especially at strategic times throughout the day). The second step is to identify what puts you in red brain and where possible, to avoid, reduce or ‘buffer’ those scenarios so they impact you less. For example, some of my green brain triggers are: my morning coffee, listening to music or podcasts, creativity, walking the dog, time by myself, a clean and tidy house, gardening and reading. I make a conscious effort to get a healthy daily or weekly dose of these activities. They are like my brain vitamins and as soon as I slack off, I notice the effects on my mood and stress levels, and my parenting patience.
What this looks like in everyday life is that my morning coffee is ‘sacred’ and enjoyed by myself after the kids have left for school and before work starts. My Spotify list is always playing and no we cannot put on ‘Old Macdonald Had a Farm’ because Mummy needs her music to do the school drop-off in green brain. At midday, I walk the dog for a green-brain break, after school the kids play outside while I garden. I do creative projects with the kids – making Pokemon cards with my seven-year-old son and drawing unicorns with my four-year-old girl – but I don't play soccer or jump on the trampoline. In the evenings I have my ‘creative time’ where I read, write, play piano, browse Pinterest in search for ideas, paint or listen to podcasts. When I am asked if I can come lie down with them again the answer is "Sweetheart, I can give you a big cuddle here but I am not lying down with you, Mummy is reading now."
My red brain triggers are rushing, a messy house, being overstimulated (no time for myself), disrespect from my children, lack of sleep, conflict, IT not working and life admin (bills etc.). To avoid, minimise or ‘buffer’ these we have a very clear ‘division of labor’ in the mornings, so we can have a green-brain start to the day and get to school on time. When I get overstimulated or overwhelmed, I am the one who ends up taking a ‘time out’ facilitated by my husband or technology if need be. We have very clear rules and consequences for disrespect and have regular ‘family meetings’ on how we treat each other. I make a real effort to get enough sleep, talk through issues to avoid conflict, have outsourced all my IT and online life admin to my dear husband and have a cleaner to help us keep on top of the housework.
This might sound very regimented (and it is) but the truth is that it keeps me in green brain and makes for a green-brain home environment which benefits us all. As soon as I slack off on these things, my stress inevitably goes up and my calm, mindful and gentle-but-firm parenting abilities quickly diminish. I just don’t have what it takes to be a peaceful, kind, loving and patient parent by just relying on willpower. I am simply not that good.
MY LIFE GOALS
Life requires flexibility and is always changing but as soon as we have ‘one of those days’ and I reflect on what went wrong, it usually started with me not doing what I know works best for keeping myself in green brain. Because my ultimate life goals include being a good wife and mother not just on the good days but on as many days as possible, I am committed to my green brain because I know it is much more effective than just doing my best. Some might call this self-care, I prefer a more strategic approach based on lowering stress levels by doing what you know works for your brain.
For more information on our OHbaby! Renew Your Mind, Mindful Parenting Course, visit ohbaby.co.nz/mindfulparenting.
Chantal Hofstee is the mindful mum of Sem, Isha & Leon, a clinical psychologist, an executive coach and the author of Renew Your Mind and Reach Your Goals Without Stressing Out. Find out more at renewyourmind.co.nz.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 54 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW