My 9-year-old son was tired and grumpy. He obviously had fallen out of relational mode, which means his brain’s relational circuitry was not working correctly. I sat down and acknowledged his grumpiness using validation; then I encouraged him to use one of the four Relational Circuit Restoration steps we standardly rely on during our training events. (1) The four are called “Shalom my body”—steps which including a yawning exercise, a tapping exercise, the startle response, and practicing appreciation. My son was not interested in or excited about any of these options. We sat on my bed as he pondered what to do next.
I shifted into stealth mode and decided to try some creative steps to jumpstart his relational brain. I suggested he roll off the bed and see if that helped. His eyes grew wide, then he said with a puzzled expression, “Really?!” I nodded my head in agreement, and he quickly proceeded to roll, land on the floor with a thump, then dissolve into giggles. Both of us were now laughing. I asked, “Did it help?” He responded with a quick, “Yes!”
I told him I would write a blog about his new method for restoring relational circuits, and he was very excited. Together, we crafted the following fun phrasing:
A fifth option has now presented itself to help restore relational circuits when your relational brain is off or dim. If you lie on a bed (a moderate distance from the floor), then roll onto the floor with a loud “thud,” you will be surprised to discover how quickly you shift back into relational mode. You have now “jolted” your relational circuits back to the “On” position, and you will continue through your day with smiles and laughter. This method has been tried and tested by Matthew and Andrew Coursey.
My son was very excited to make this “new discovery,” and his brother was all-too-eager to put it into practice as well. They both tested the experiment a few more times and were satisfied with the results. This experience was a few weeks back. To this day, if one of the boys becomes stuck in non-relational mode, I will offer the suggestion, “Where is the nearest bed?” and with a sparkle in their eye and a spring in their step, the boys will take the fast path back to relational mode. Even the suggestion seems to “flip the switch” back into relational mode.
In truth, this is not entirely new in our house. For a while, I have recognized that silliness and playfulness is a “secret route” back to relational mode, especially for our older son. We have joked before that his “secret RC power” is silliness. I know that if I can do something to help my son laugh and giggle, his brain’s RCs will flip back on.
Interestingly, this is much harder to implement with our younger son. While it is true that if I can help Andrew laugh when his RCs are off, it usually flips them back on, the suggestion of silliness sometimes backfires, and he quickly becomes more frustrated. It seems the validation step is much more essential for the scenario with my youngest son.
Another RC opportunity recently came up when the check engine light on our car came on. For some reason, my son Andrew was afraid our car would catch on fire. His RCs were off, and he did not know how to recover. Chris validated how scared Andrew sounded. Next, my husband made a joke that we should pack some hot dogs and marshmallows in the car, so if the engine did burst into flames, we could roast hot dogs and make s’mores. Andrew immediately embraced this silly thought, then suggested we swing by the store to make sure we are prepared with the appropriate supplies! At this point Andrew was smiling and laughing about how great it would be if the engine caught on fire! While this is a silly example, it shows how, once we have our RCs back on and people are with us, things don’t have to feel so scary.
Silliness and playfulness are useful ways to shift back into a relational mode, but this must follow some validation; otherwise, children and adults will feel dismissed and minimized. Once the person feels validated in their upset, (Skills That Even Calm Darth Vader) they can be more open to the silliness (comfort). Validation is a step that helps others feel understood and seen. Silliness and playfulness may not work for everyone, but for children who enjoy being silly, this can be a “stealth mode” approach to shift back into relational mode.
How can you experiment with silliness this week to help those you love shift back into a relational mode? For some people, this approach will be successful. For others, especially for people who often feel misunderstood or isolated, it can quickly backfire. Start with validation, then use discernment about trying the experiment. See what you notice. This may be a surprising solution for people who are more responsive to use play as a fun way back to relational mode.