Around my house, we are working on how to help each other stay regulated and in the “green zone” (see The Whole-Brain Child and No-Drama Discipline.) The transition from the school year to summer break is just as challenging as the back-to-school transition. My anxiety-prone family has a hard time with transitions! We know that connecting with and soothing each other is the key if we want to help widen and strengthen each other’s green zones. But we discovered that it is really hard to soothe someone else if you are anxious or upset, too!
In his wonderful little book, The Opposite of Worry, Lawrence J Cohen, PhD, describes the “Second Chicken” effect. It’s a fun reminder that even the kids understand. It goes something like this:
If a baby chicken gets scared, say from the sight of a hawk or even the gaze of a human eyeball impersonating a hawk, it freezes. It won’t move for some time, hoping to go unnoticed until it feels the danger has passed. If there happens to be another chicken nearby who is NOT frozen in fright, but happily pecking around, the frozen chicken will get over its fright much sooner than if it is alone. However, if the nearby chicken is also immobilized in fright, both of the poor chickens will stay frozen for much longer than either one of them would have on its own.
You can find Dr. Cohen’s website here: http://www.playfulparenting.com/a-about.htm
Anxious human brains see hawks overhead even when there are none. If we have someone nearby who can continue contentedly pecking around, we can get back to our green zone more quickly and easily. But if the other peeps in our coop are also escalating into fight-flight-or-freeze, we will all stay disregulated for much longer. We have to be calm second chickens for our children, so they can look into our eyes and see that there is no danger. Then we can connect with them and redirect them. But if we have an anxious brain, we also have to have someone else in our lives that we can look to, to reassure ourselves that the shadow overhead is only a shadow, and it will pass.