One of our brain’s natural capacities is an ability to surprise itself. I’ve just experienced that and my ten-year old son Maxim was an unsuspecting catalyst.
Since Maxim was a baby he had hard time falling and staying asleep through the whole night. Going to bed was a ritual that took anywhere from thirty minutes to a few hours. During his two first years I didn’t have a single consecutive night sleep, with a few occasional exceptions. His sleep improved as he grew up but was still far from perfect.
He is an artistic, thoughtful, empathic and imaginative child. However, imagination can be a double-edged sword. He is known for offering a unique perspective, great sense of humor and for creating great artwork that impresses his art teachers. His rich imagination sometimes also hijacks his mind, making him overly worried and anxious, causing vivid nightmares and producing monsters in the dark. For a child, these scary thought-forms are real. His limbic system is activated and sends him to the ‘fight-or-flight’ response, keeping him awake and sometimes terrified in the middle of the night. His default strategy was to wake me up so I would calm him down and stay in his room until he fell asleep. I’ve spent countless nights zombie-walking into Maxim’s room, staying awake until he falls asleep, and going back to my bed unable to fall asleep for hours afterwards. No one is a happy camper operating on a broken sleep pattern and I’ve been trying numerous tricks, experimenting with night lights, bird-rain-ocean sounds, dream-catchers and monster-spider essential oil-sprays.
From the theory of Neurosculpting® I knew that when Maxim was awake at night a concept of SAFETY was compromised in his mind. Moving from one house to a few new apartments and then relocating to another state made the situation considerably worse. To combat his increasing nighttime anxiety, I started experimenting with Neurosculpting® tools. They helped him to fall asleep faster. Especially effective was the focus on SAFETY, which was attained by focusing on predictable elements such as breathing, familiar environment of the room and awareness of gravity. However, after he’d spend a few nights away, his old pattern was back in place. It became frustrating.
One day it occurred to me that he was also missing a sense of self-empowerment and a notion of AUTONOMY – one of the elements on the SCARF model (developed by David Rock, “SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others”). I have compiled all the techniques that worked best for Maxim, e.g. classic tools for brain entrainment: breathing, focus of safety, focus of gravity, relaxing the tongue and positive imagery. I decided to put those elements into five consecutive steps so he could use them by himself – without my guidance.
We traced Maxim’s hand on a piece of paper, spelling five steps for each outlined finger. We went through all the steps, using his real fingers, memorizing the steps until he could recite them. My point was simple: when my son wakes up he always has his hand so he only needs to remember the steps finger by finger, applying these relaxation techniques himself. Simple as 1-2-3-4-5 and it worked like magic! I was impressed. Now before he falls asleep I remind him, “You know what to do if you wake up!” With the sense of autonomy he knows he is capable of soothing himself in the middle of the night. I believe it is also beneficial for his overall confidence. We called these self-regulations techniques “Mind-Ninja Tools”.
A couple weeks ago I jokingly showed our “Mind-Ninja Tools” sketch at a business event. A few parents asked my permission to take a photo of this drawing, mentioning that they would love to learn these tools themselves and teach them to their kids. That’s when I got really surprised! Perhaps I’m onto something practical and effective that can be shared with others? Currently I’m outlining a one-hour workshop for the parents of young children. I’m still surprised about the novelty of the process that stumbled me upon the idea…
Apparently, my own brain can conjure something up and it might happen to my own surprise. We are all great learners if we are interested and amused; the brain loves novelty! But our mind can also deliver novelty from reflecting upon itself. This is something I’m still wrapping my own mind around!