“There is no way I’m taking swimming lessons this summer!”
Tina’s seven-year-old made this firm proclamation when he found out his parents had signed him up for lessons at their local high school pool. Sitting at the dinner table, he glared at his mom and dad, setting his jaw and narrowing his eyes.
Tina looked to her husband, Scott, who shrugged, as if to say, OK, I’ll go first.
“I don’t get it. You love swimming.”
“Exactly, Dad, that’s the point.” He even sounded sarcastic. “I already know how to swim.”
Scott nodded. “We know you do. The lessons are to help you get better.”
Tina added, “Plus Henry’s doing it. You’ll be hanging out with him every day next week.”
He shook his head. “No way. I don’t care.” He looked down at his plate, and a hint of fear crept into his determined voice. “Please don’t make me do this.”
Scott and Tina exchanged a look and said they’d think about it and continue the discussion later. But they were shocked. It was absolutely unheard of for their son to turn down any activity with Henry, his best friend, especially one related to athletics.
Situations like this come up all the time for parents, where they are left completely baffled by the way their child responds to something they say. When fear, anger, frustration, and other big emotions overpower children and they act in ways that don’t make sense, there may be an easily fixable reason. They may simply be hungry or tired. Or maybe they’ve been in the car too long. Or maybe it’s just because they’re two (or three, or four, or five—or fifteen). But other times, a child acts out or behaves uncharacteristically because of more deep-seated reasons.
For example, as Tina and Scott spoke later that night, they agreed that their son’s surprising right-brained response likely resulted from a mildly traumatic experience he had undergone three years earlier, an experience he probably wasn’t even thinking about. Tina knew this was a great time to introduce her son to a couple of important facts about the brain, so at bedtime that night, that’s what she did. Before we tell you about that conversation, we should first explain what Tina was trying to accomplish when she talked to her son. She knew that one of the best ways to help a child deal with difficult experiences is to understand some basics about the science of how memory works in the brain.