Everyone gets flooded emotionally now and then. Kids, teens, adults. It’s the way the brain is wired. The brain is always looking for danger and is set off in a 200th of a second.
It’s not useful to try talking when you’re a red light (high heart rate, angry, things are going to escalate). Please don’t even bother trying to talk! Give yourself 20-30 minutes for your physiology to calm down.
For some people, it’s really hard to wait through this period—resolution is needed immediately as it’s so painful to be in the upset and unknown. But it’s really unlikely that any good can come of it, so if you’re one of this type of person, you get to learn to self-soothe during this time. Listen to music, go for a walk, read, draw, look at beautiful things . . . You know yourself best, so do what calms you.
When you’re yellow light, it’s an indicator that you’re flooded or becoming flooded. That’s when it’s time to s l o w d o w n and drop into talking about your feelings. It might be, “I’m feeling anxious” or “I’m feeling hopeless” or “I’m feeling overwhelmed” (very common right now during Covid-19). Tell feelings in small bites, slowly, with a kind tone. Don’t spew a bunch of feelings all at once. After you say a feeling, your beloved can reflect back: “You’re feeling overwhelmed. Please tell me more about that.” Tell a little more. Then your partner can reflect back again and ask “What do you need to be comforted?”
If you’re green light, talk about whatever you want; please include feelings.
As parents, you notice your kids/teens moods shifting. Teach them about traffic lights; what they mean and how they will be used in the family.
Use traffic lights to help your child(ren) and teens notice how they are feeling and what they need. It will make them feel seen, heard and safe. It will most likely keep things from escalating, as well as assisting in slowing down and stopping the cycle. Maybe even make a sign with traffic lights to put on your fridge or someplace visible so a child can point to her/his current experience.
Make sure you and your beloved model using traffics lights between you in front of your kids. Yes, it makes you vulnerable, but it also teaches them. Make sure you do some amount of repair in front of your kids, too. This is how they learn these adult skills of feelings and communication.
These are wonderful tools to teach your kids; it is a life skill that will serve them in all their relationships as they become adults, have a partner of their own, and even in a work environment.
You may not bring emotional issues up in a work setting, but recognizing your own traffic light reaction in a work situation gives you so many more options for how to manage yourself in differing situations.