Today, I am extremely excited to be hosting Amanda Anderson. She’s the Regional Director of Brain Balance, a company that works with families across the states of Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Oregon to help children experiencing behavior issues to get back on track.
Ashley: So tell us how you got started in that line of work. Give us a little backstory of what you maybe did before Brain Balance and then what led you to that position?
Amanda: So I am a self-described multi-passionate person. I always had that nagging feeling in the back of my mind and in my heart that I wanted to be involved in something where I felt like I was really giving back and serving others. I learned about Brain Balance and started seeing the changes in the kids that we work with. It is actually changing lives and I wanted to be a part of it. So I ended up jumping from photographer to brain development, to parent coach- guru person and it’s just worked out so well.
Ashley: So how would you describe your philosophy when it comes to handling those hard parenting situations?
Ashley: It’s all about connection. Your kids are connecting to their emotions, their behaviors, what’s going on for them from the inside out. As a parent, you’re connecting to your child’s true needs. You feel like they’re opening up and you can see what’s really going on for them and you can meet them where they live. We’re not expecting them to do more than what they can because it causes frustration. So it’s a combination of connection, meeting them where they live and letting go of the things that we do as parents over and over that aren’t getting us anywhere.
Ashley: I love that. I talk a lot about that on the podcast too and I’d love to know from your perspective, where did you first learn about this idea of connection?
Amanda: When I first became a parent three and a half years ago, after I was well into my Brain Balance career, it just really clicked for me that we don’t grow out of that need. That’s always within us and our kids have this amazing ability to hold up this mirror to us and go remember? Remember when we connected as kids? Remember when we played and let go of frustration? We weren’t so worried about the stuff that didn’t matter. So I feel like it’s always there inside of us and our kids just remind us and it’s hard and it’s beautiful and it’s messy.
Ashley: I feel like I can remember to the day when I first learned about this connection piece, and again like you said, it was always there, but I never had it described to me in that way. I just remember reading about this analogy of our children, wearing a backpack and having all of these emotions that they deal with on a daily basis. They store them in this backpack and then when they feel safe and when they feel connected with someone, they will unleash the backpack and all the emotions will flow at once. They carry all of this emotion and it’s our job as parents to help them sort through those emotions. It was just a big game changer for me.
Amanda: Absolutely! I love that. We don’t see their ‘backpack’ sometimes, and the more aware we are, the better we can support our kids. There’s nothing wrong with this backpack, but I need some help and support because I don’t know what to do with this yet. I haven’t learned it yet. That’s our job as parents to show them it’s okay, we can do this.
Ashley: So I know that you have some tips for how we can help them unpack that backpack. How do we do that?
Amanda: It starts with us. I know sometimes as parents, we think it starts with our kids. Contrary to what we are kind of wired to think, we can’t really control our kids in a lot of ways. We can influence them, we can guide them. But the first thing we can control is ourselves. So what I like to use are the three Cs. So these tools, you can use those in the moment when your kids are showing big emotions.
This is the most important step because this is where it really requires us as parents to slow down, to become more present. I love mantras. So one of my big ones is, we are all doing the best we can. If we stop and say that to ourselves right now, that just immediately changes the perspective that we have. We have more empathy and compassion for ourselves first and then also our kids. I also say this makes total sense. Everything that my child is doing right now makes total sense for where they’re at developmentally. The tools they have, the understanding they have and that helps me feel calm.
We feed off each other, so we want to really center ourselves and calm ourselves before we reach in to connect to our kids. Because if we’re bringing a brunch of stressful energy to our child, that’s not going to really help, it’s going to usually create more stress.
Again, this is really the heart of all of it. This is why this is the middle step. This is that place that we can always go back to and we’re teaching our kids to go back to that step as well. When it comes to connection, mine love touch, mine love hugs. Every kid kind of has a different recipe of what works for them and it’s going to probably depend on the day as well.
Another important way to connect is to have fun. The language our kids speak is fun. If we can make anything fun, if we can dissipate stress with fun and humor, it just makes all the difference in the world. While you’re engaged in their world, while you get down on their level, and maybe you’re playing with them, practice active listening.
This is a skill that we need to develop, as it goes go a long way to help our kids feel seen and feel heard. We’re not just here to fix a problem, we’re here because we care. And we want to learn more about why they’re feeling what they’re feeling.
So get that stress level down through those steps of centering and connection, and then we move into communication. The way that we want to communicate is shame-free, so we don’t want to place judgment on the behaviors. This is not about the behaviors, this is about the feeling that drove that behavior. Because the behavior is just a symptom. When we start to insert judgment and shame, we all shut down. That’s how us adults are as well and we can relate to our kids in a lot of ways.
So it’s really about empathy, about validation. I like to use phrases like, “I know this is really hard for you” or “I can see you’re struggling. Tell me more, tell me everything.” We don’t want them to hold those feelings in. So, what are you feeling right now? How can I help you? I love I statements. So for example, let’s say your kid’s aggressive with their sibling. I like to say things like, “I can see you’re picking up that toy and you want to throw it at your sister. I can’t let you do that, I’m going to actually just move this stuff over here.”
So I’m creating some loving limits and boundaries, but it’s very neutral non-judgmental. Hold those limits and know that they may react with disappointment or anger and that’s okay.
Ashley: So I know that a lot of people listening right now are probably like, okay, cool. That sounds awesome, but what happens when you can’t regulate yourself and you’ve made matters worse?
Amanda: The biggest thing is that we don’t want to compound judgment on top of reactivity. Try to stay very neutral and even going back to my mantras of I’m doing the best that I can. It makes sense that I got upset. It doesn’t mean that I should have said what I said or did what I said. That behavior is not how I want to show up in the world or with my kids. But then I’m also not going to just keep that feeling and that regret.
So for my little one, she’s three and a half, you know she doesn’t understand. I’ll say things like, “I didn’t act like I should have in that moment. I didn’t respond to you. I wasn’t as nice as I want to be in that moment. Mommy was really upset, I shouldn’t have done that. I’m really sorry. It wasn’t you, it was how I was feeling.” So then that immediately shifts things into a learning opportunity where I don’t want to hide my difficult emotions from my kids. I want them to see that I’m a human being. So it’s not that we aren’t ever going to react. The goal is not for our kids to just never react or for us to never react.
Don’t dwell on those moments where you were reactive, we’re just chalking that up to learning and we’re moving on.
Ashley: Is it okay to narrate how we’re feeling to our kids because of their behavior? Or would you wait until the third step where you’re communicating that lesson?
Amanda: Be careful in making sure our kids don’t own our own feelings. We don’t want them to take those feelings on board as far as they are the cause of our emotions. We have to co-exist and we have to meet both of our needs. I would try to explain that in a way that’s a little bit independent from my kids’ emotion. Something that I like to say would be, “You’re having some big feelings about that. You’re feeling really tired. I’m having some big feelings about this, what can we do?” So it becomes like a game that we’re trying to solve a little bit.
Ashley: How do I know when these behaviors sort of go beyond what we would call “typical.” How do parents know when they need additional support and what can we do? How do we seek that support?
Amanda: A lot of parents come to Brain Balance after having tried various things or felt that frustration of not knowing what their kid needs. Knowing how to help your kid is everything. The great thing about our program and how we help kids at Brain Balance, is that because we are so unique, we’re so different in terms of it’s the natural brain development that we’re working with. Having that balance that we need to do hard things, to learn and behave and be a good friend and all these things that come from the brain. So when we get to the root of it and help the brain, every kid, no matter how small or how big the challenges are will benefit, because this is where it all begins. We just want to help the brain get stronger and increase connectivity.
I think as parents, we feel that gut feeling of my kid, there’s just something that’s not connecting, there’s something that is just in the way. If you feel like your kid’s a little bit stuck in maybe some immaturity in their emotions, this is a process that all kids can benefit from.
Ashley: When I took my son Jaden to Brain Balance, you started with an assessment. Can you sort of elaborate on that assessment and what is it looking for or what are you measuring?
Amanda: Our assessment identifies where your child is at developmentally. We don’t diagnose, we’re nonmedical. We’re really getting very specific as to what’s causing those behavioral challenges or emotional or learning challenges. When your child is stressed and triggered, is part of their brain kind of in toddler development still? Are they wired and responding in a way that they simply can’t control? We would be able to see that in our assessment because we’re looking at that sensory motor development that is present from the very beginning life.
Ashley: When it comes to Brain Balance’s approach, is there anything else that makes Brain Balance different when it comes to supporting children? And who specifically do you help? Like what sort of behaviors have you guys sort of seen improvement on through Brain Balance?
Amanda: A lot of what we see are kids that have a hard time regulating their emotions. The most common things being meltdowns or kids that are shutting down. But with that being said, we see everything you can think of. There might be very little kids, where parents are seeing some really early signs that there are some challenges in learning or behavior. Then we have kids that are even much older, high school and college aged kids that are just having a hard time functioning at that optimum level.
Ashley: What I love about Brain Balance specifically, is that you guys hold your client’s hand every step of the way. But I know that there’s a little bit more to the program than just like going into the center. So can you just touch on a couple of the extra things that you guys also have available besides just the center work?
Amanda: There’s a lot of things that we suggest, so you’ll feel empowered. It’s not just about what we do, it’s about this comprehensive approach with the family at home and with us in the center that’s individualized to your needs as well. Every kid and every family is different and we help everyone to feel like they can do this. So you have a lot of tools, a lot of support, it’s really comprehensive and unique in that way and we’re here to help every step of the way.
Ashley: You guys also have a nutrition piece, that is supporting the whole program as well, right?
Amanda: Yes, so we all know that what we put in our body helps us to feel better, to not feel so good. The brain works its best when we’re putting good fuel in the body. So we have a lot of tools and support as far as healthy eating so that every family feels like it’s doable for them. Because for some of you, you might be going my kid is such a picky eater, or my kid doesn’t ever stop eating the junk or the food. There’s a reason for all of it and so again, we want to address this comprehensively and talk about what your child needs specifically.
To find more information about getting an assessment for your child at Brain Balance, you can find them on social media or visit their website at ourbrainbalance.com where you can complete a contact form and get in touch with Amanda and her team. You can also catch Amanda on her Living Connected podcast available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify to learn more about her work at Brain Balance.