Every parent has been there: their child is red in the face, wailing, inconsolable. In times like this it may seem as though nothing in the world could calm those tears of frustration. It may come as a surprise, then, that there are practices that can be applied both over time and in the moment that help children to move from a place of irritation into calm.
Enter Dr. Greene’s practice of BANG!. Applying the pillars of breathing, appreciation, nature, and giving, BANG! supports the nervous system by setting a strong foundation that enables children and adults to move more readily from the sympathetic (agitated) to parasympathetic (relaxed) states. Practiced consistently over time and with your support, your child will develop the capacity to ground and soothe themselves in even the most stressful of times.
Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.
Full Episode Transcript
Agatha Luczo: Hi, I'm Agatha Luczo, mother of four.
[00:00:08] Dr. Greene: And I'm Alan Greene, pediatrician.
[00:00:10] Agatha Luczo: Welcome to Bambini Furtuna's podcast. Mom driven.
[00:00:14] Dr. Greene: Dr. Aligned.
[00:00:15] Agatha Luczo: Hi, Dr. Greene! So I'm excited about our conversation today because we are talking about our kids' tempers and tummy troubles. And as most of you know, Dr. Greene is our family doctor, so we've had numerous conversations about this topic for my family and also for Bambini Furtuna.
[00:00:34] Dr. Greene: It was great hearing your voice today. Agatha, as you know, it's been a little bit since we've seen each other, and as you also know, this is a topic that I really care about.
[00:00:41] Agatha Luczo: And so do I, and I think that, you know, this is a time of uncertainty and I just feel like kids are having even more troubles now.
[00:00:49] Some are thriving during this time of uncertainty and others aren't and the ones that aren't are really having a stressful situation and they don't know how to control their emotions and their temper tantrums.
[00:01:02] Dr. Greene: For some kids its actually a wonderful time . Well your kids, for instance, when kids have each other and have their parents' attention at home, more than even the ordinary times, some of them are loving it. But for some kids, especially ones that are only kids or that are older when developmentally they're wanting to distance from parents, it can be a pretty tough time. But for all kids in all seasons, it's not just this coronavirus season, our brains, our human brains are adapted to always be scanning the horizon for danger, on the alert, looking for if there's something that we need to respond to quickly. And yeah, there is more of this during COVID with their masks and news alerts and things like that, but just an ordinary childhood and especially for toddlers and younger kids, there is this lurking danger. Somebody grabs something from them, a toy they're playing with, or tells them its time to get out of the pool and they're enjoying the pool and somebody’s taking that away.
[00:02:03] Or even just taking away an idea they have, that they really want something and somebody says no. Or they get overwhelmed because there's so many choices and any of those, they can feel out of control and it switches on that danger mechanism in the body it's called the sympathetic nervous system.
[00:02:21] Agatha Luczo: And you have an acronym for that, right?
[00:02:24] Dr. Greene: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have an acronym for how to solve that or how to get kids back into a state of balance. But this sympathetic nervous system, people are aware or heard of the fight or flight response, is like, if there's a tree falling on you, then suddenly even without thinking about it, you have more strength and you're breathing faster, your heart rates up and you jump out of the way, but it's not always dramatic in that way. I mean, all of us, when we wake up in the morning, our sympathetic nervous system is activated to help us wake up and be more alert. But sometimes it's like this flash flood of emotion. You can see it in case they just get really upset and overwhelmed.
[00:02:59] Agatha Luczo: Yeah, the kids are getting more overwhelmed easily. And I feel like they also are looking for more attention from the parents.
[00:03:05] Dr. Greene: Yup. And physiologically what's happening, part of this is out of their control. There's this flash flood of hormones and neurotransmitters, the heart rate goes up, the blood flow to the GI system goes down. The blood pressure goes up, the breathing goes up and they're agitated. And as you mentioned, I have an acronym for dealing with that, that I use personally and with kids. And the acronym is simple. It's “BANG!”
[00:03:29] Agatha Luczo: Alright, so let's start what the "B" stands for. " B" is for breathing, right?
[00:03:34] Dr. Greene: Yup! Exactly. So breathing a few slow, deep breaths. I tried to get like eight to 10 slow, deep breaths activate the other side of the autonomic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system that helps us rest and refresh, rest and digest. And the vagus nerve is the big nerve, the longest nerve in the body is the big nerve that is associated with the parasympathetic nervous system. And when you fill up your lungs and stretch them wide, the sensors in there help flip you very quickly from the storm to calm.
[00:04:10] And in fact it may be the quickest switch in there, and that's why it's at the beginning of the acronym. So there are wonderful breathing apps on the watch and on phones, but you don't need an app. You just need slow deep breaths, eight to 10, and it's best if you do it with your child and it connects you together when you're breathing slowly and helps them with the pace.
[00:04:31] And then very, very quickly you can feel yourself and feel the child becoming just a little bit more calm. And I love linking the beginning of breathing with some kind of external environmental cue. So for me at home, I have this Himalayan singing bowl. So we were in Nepal a couple of years ago. And while we were in Katmandu on a little side street, I stumbled across a shop of Himalayan singing bowls, and it was floor to ceiling bowls in every direction in this little, tiny crowded shop. And the shop master was also a master craftsman who had hand hammered many of these bowls. And walked over to me and said, “This is your bowl.” And I thought that was pretty funny.
[00:05:14] He put it on my head and everybody laughed because I looked silly and then did a little gong with a soft mallet and it was just rich reverberating noise. And I wanted to try a bunch of others because they all looked the same. But for my head, the one he picked out, it's like the scene from a movie, like Harry Potter or something when they're picking up the right one for somebody. The one he picked initially was the one that was the most resonant on me and not for other people in the group.
[00:05:41] So anyway, once I got home, I had been using that as a really nice bong that helps get me into the state of deep breathing really quickly. Like even before the first breath. It doesn't have to be a specific bowl. It could just be a bell. I use a snap of my fingers when I'm out and about when I don't have anything with me, or of course you can use something, a smell is sometimes one of the quickest ways to bring us into a certain place. And that was the idea behind Fussy Temper.
[00:06:09] Agatha Luczo: Why I like the Fussy Temper Comfort is because I do the deep breaths. I'll roll it on, on the inside of our kids' arms and I'll tell them to take 10 deep breaths. And I feel like the sensory also can help trigger calmness.
[00:06:23] Dr. Greene: Yeah. I 100% agree with you. I think it's a powerful way. And if there's the same signal every time it makes it even more effective.
[00:06:31] Agatha Luczo: Yeah. And I also love it for myself. So let's get onto "A". "A" is for appreciation. One of my favorites.
[00:06:38] Dr. Greene: Yes. So yeah, appreciation. It's really hard to be agitated and thankful at the same time. And the two kind of go back and forth with each other. And so this is slower. It's not as quick as the snap of a finger or breathing in the Fussy Temper or hearing a bell. And I'm not suggesting it's actually in the moment of agitation, it's building this foundation of that. So making it a ritual and cultures have done this throughout history, and it could be before bed that you take a few moments to recognize what you're thankful for, or it could be before meals, many cultures do that before meals and not just reciting some words, but actually being grateful.
[00:07:19] One of the things that you can't get your baby or your toddler necessarily to feel grateful, but if you can do that, and that takes a little practice, if you can be appreciative for what you have in that moment, there are mirror neurons that all of us have where we're tuned in to the emotions of others.
[00:07:38] And if your kid is clearly upset, and you take a deep breath and are grateful for having such a wonderful kid, even in this emotional storm that makes a difference.
[00:07:48] Agatha Luczo: It does. I completely agree with you. And as you know, I love to practice gratitude with our family and I love using our gratitude journal whenever we can, either on a daily basis or weekly basis, just slip it in there at a moment to practice gratitude. I feel like it makes a difference, makes them happier and calmer. And I see a difference.
[00:08:08] Dr. Greene: I agree more grounded and able to get back to calm more easily.
[00:08:12] Agatha Luczo: Yes. And it helps them reflect on what's important in life.
[00:08:15] Dr. Greene: Indeed.
[00:08:16] Agatha Luczo: Alright. So the next one in BANG is "N". So "N" is for nature. And I think that's one of your favorites is the "N".
[00:08:24] Dr. Greene: It is. I love that one. There's a lot of research showing that spending time in a peaceful, natural setting, connecting with nature both in the moment and foundationally can help restore calm and help activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
[00:08:39] And there's a whole series of studies we've talked about before with being in the forest and how that does that. And it's partly the sight, sound that actually the aromas of the plants, the things that we smell also trigger the nervous system to relax. It doesn't need to be a forest. Anything green is good.
[00:08:55] Doesn't need to be plants. Water can be really calming as well. And it could be still water, like being by a pond or moving water, like a fountain or river. I love the waves of the ocean is a powerful way to do it. Firelight can do it sitting by a fire safely with kids can be calming. Starlight can do it. Or the moon. We've got a full moon right now that could do it.
[00:09:16] Also, just eating real whole foods, bringing nature into us, equips our body to respond to emotional storms better than super processed white flour added sugar does. And as you mentioned before, that was one of the ideas behind our Fussy Temper thing was to bring nature from the farm in Sicily into the situation.
[00:09:39] Agatha Luczo: Yeah. I just love all the smells and bringing them in the moment of nature. And having it always available to me whenever possible. I think if kids can imagine a moment of calmness and close their eyes and visualize nature and also have the sensory and smell it at the same time, it really does bring them to a moment of calm. And also what I love is that it creates a bonding moment.
[00:10:02] Dr. Greene: Yes.
[00:10:03] Agatha Luczo: So as your kid is having a temper tantrum, it's nice to say, "Alright, let's calm down. Let's close your eyes for a moment. And, you know, taking all these wonderful aromas and smells and visualizing being on the farm. And then we'll talk about your problems and let's see how we can resolve how you're feeling."
[00:10:22] And just that moment of bonding with your child, I feel like the children then know that they were heard and that's what they want from their parents. It's just to know that they're heard and sometimes the problems are just resolved right then and there.
[00:10:35] Dr. Greene: Yeah. I think you're exactly right. One of the things that really stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, the agitation is the sense that you're not understood or that you're not heard. In fact, I know people who have a recurring nightmare, their biggest nightmare is to not be heard, be cut off like their cell phone doesn't work or that they can't communicate.
[00:10:57] And for many kids before they're able to speak clearly, that's something that happens to them in real life every day, they don't have the words to express what they want. And so they just cry, " I want something!" And to know I see you. I hear you. “It's okay” is by itself, really, really calming.
[00:11:14] Agatha Luczo: Yes.
[00:11:15] Dr. Greene: And back to bringing nature inside all of the ingredients that we put together for Fussy Temper are things that grow on the farm in Sicily. And there's this amazing tree that has an orange fruit on it, bitter orange. And we have the zest from that in there. And then also some of the oil from the leaves and the blossom itself, which has been used traditionally as a calming thing, Neroli. And there's chamomile and geranium, and this all in the amazing Bona Furtuna Olive Oil.
[00:11:46] And so together, when you breathe it in, it's a reminder of that beautiful place and brings nature in. t's like ringing a bell for the senses.
[00:11:55] Agatha Luczo: And so what are the differences, I know that some people have asked me, you know, I'd rather them hear it from you than from me, the differences between Dreamy Hush Time and Fussy Temper Comfort? Because both of them are to calm the mind and bring children to a moment of peace. But one is for bedtime and the other is for throughout the day to calm the fussy tempers and to relax the child.
[00:12:22] Dr. Greene: Well, the big thing is we're trying to signal different things to kids. At bedtime, we're trying to provide a sleepy cue that when that series of things happens, it's the time that you're safe enough to let go and fall asleep.
[00:12:36] And it's part of a bedtime ritual that might include a story or bath time and the same things in the same order. And so we have a distinct set of plants. They have all been used in helping kids and traditionally in helping people rest and fall asleep. And then we have another set to say, "it's time to do your deep breathing and relax, and to let go of what is agitating you so much". But because there are different situations, we have different cues.
[00:13:05] Agatha Luczo: Yeah. And I also think that it's good to separate them so kids know the differences.
[00:13:11] Dr. Greene: Yeah. And we've done that with color and sight and the animals are involved and the whole story too.
[00:13:18] Agatha Luczo: Yes. And then let's get to the last letter in BANG and that's "G" for Giving.
[00:13:23] Dr. Greene: Yes. And so BANG again, is Breathing, Appreciation, Nature and then Giving is the big thing. And as a parent, you may have learned, and certainly as a doctor, I've learned that when in an emergency you're caring for someone else, your brain focuses on that and you're able to relax more and be more calm yourself in the moment.
[00:13:43] So even when there's chaos going on around me in an emergency, and I'm focused on getting the job done, I can be pretty calm. And then afterwards, I might feel differently. And it doesn't have to be a big emergency when we're focused on doing something for someone else, we're better able to channel our own emotions.
[00:14:02] And so one of the big things we can do for our kids is cultivating them, this noticing and doing things for other people.
[00:14:10] Agatha Luczo: And that's the best. I mean, teaching giving is one of the biggest gifts you can give to your children.
[00:14:16] Dr. Greene: Yeah. And as we cultivate all of those things, the breathing, appreciation, nature and giving, both in the moment and foundationally, it becomes easier to stay in balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems
[00:14:29] Agatha Luczo: Right. But you also mentioned the GI system. So I know when children also get very stressed emotionally, I think even for adults, we get tummy aches and tummy troubles.
[00:14:40] Dr. Greene: Yeah. So there's a huge connection between the gut and the brain. What's going on in our head will affect our gut. You can feel it there pretty quickly and vice versa. What's going on in our gut can affect our brain. And there's another part of the, we call it the autonomic nervous system, the automatic part that regulates hormones, neurotransmitters in our body. And for a while, people talk about it as just sympathetic versus parasympathetic, both really important to be flexible and balanced, but there's also an enteric nervous system. Enteric meaning 'of the gut'.
[00:15:13] It's got its own really complex, almost like a brain in the gut that is connected to the others, and influenced by the others, but it could even operate on itself. That's the biggest nerve. So it's there. And you've noticed when butterflies in your stomach, it's the enteric nervous system regulates among other things, what we call peristalsis, this wave of contraction, it goes down through the intestines and sometimes it'll get going too fast and you can feel it with cramps. It's too intense and you can feel it might have loose stools. Sometimes it's too slow or even stopped and kids get backed up and they get uncomfortable from that.
[00:15:51] And we want it to be as much as possible in that mid place that is moving just right. But you'll hear kids say my tummy hurts a lot. It's one of the more common complaints in kids. And often it's from that enteric nervous system, either being too intense or not intense enough, and either being backed up or going too quickly.
[00:16:12] Agatha Luczo: So we used a different set of herbs and plants for Soothing Tummy Love. Can you tell us a little bit about those herbs and plants and how they help calm the stomach down?
[00:16:23] Dr. Greene: So, Soothing Tummy Love, that idea for me springs back to my own childhood. And I used to get a tummy ache a bunch and I can remember my mom connecting with me and she would give me something to drink often, a little bit of, I think it was Alka Seltzer and Coca-Cola syrup were things that she would use to try to calm.
[00:16:41] But the big thing that she would use is a really gentle tummy massage. So this clockwise motion around my belly and with a little bit of oil in her hand and it was just so relaxing connecting with her and I was able to ease the cramps and ease the backup. And it was really powerful.
[00:17:02] And so for this one, again, we're just trying to create that bonding moment. And we went back to the farm in Sicily and chose all ingredients that grow there again, and things that have been used traditionally in that area. For the tummy, there was a wild yam that is involved is called a colic root, historically and it's for a reason.
[00:17:20] And tangerine and nutmeg and marjoram and lemon. And again chamomile and bitter orange, bergamot. It's a collection of things that are trying to ring that bell that it's okay to relax a little bit. Now this is for a little tummy ache that's connected to the emotions into what they're, what you're feeling and thinking is not for abdominal pain.
[00:17:43] Abdominal pain is something different.
[00:17:45] Agatha Luczo: How do we know when there's something besides emotions that are causing an upset tummy?
[00:17:49] Dr. Greene: Emotions are always involved. The brain and gut are always connected. It's not like it's one or the other, but there are ways to tell if it's something that needs more immediate concern than not.
[00:18:00] First of all, if you're rubbing the tummy and they're screaming that this hurts, then that's the time to get in touch with somebody right away. But one of the ways that I love doing it is if you can tap on a kid's heel pretty strongly, and they say, "ow" and you don't tell them why you're doing it you just do that.
[00:18:17] And they say "ow", and then you ask, "where does it hurt?" And if they say, "my foot, of course!" then it's likely it's what's going on. It's in their intestines and it might be cramps, or it might be an upset stomach, but it's not an organ problem. But if you're tapping the foot and they go" Ow! My stomach! Here! Ouch!", then it could be an appendix or a gallbladder or a liver or something else that's going on in there.
[00:18:40] So it's a nice way to tell the difference. Yeah.
[00:18:42] Agatha Luczo: That’s such a neat trick!
[00:18:43] Dr. Greene: Yeah!
[00:18:43] Agatha Luczo: I remember you doing that in the office to our kids.
[00:18:46] Dr. Greene: Or with a little older kid, you just have them jumped once. If they hop and they're able to hop, then it's much more likely to be something in the intestines than it is in one of the other organs.
[00:18:55] Agatha Luczo: Well, thank you for that Dr. Greene. So our three takeaways for today would be one, kids have more reason than ever to be anxious, especially with the whole pandemic and all the uncertainty that they are feeling.
[00:19:08] Two. Parents can use the BANG. Bang stands for Breathing, Appreciation, Nature and Giving to help engage the parasympathetic system.
[00:19:18] And I would say number three would be with the butterflies and the tummy are another way kids display anxiety, and BANG works for that too.
[00:19:27] Dr. Greene: Thank you Agatha and great talking with you as always.
[00:19:30] Agatha Luczo: Thank you so much. And we'd love to hear from you with any questions or topics for upcoming podcasts. Just add them to the comments below. Please rate, review and share Mom Driven, Dr. Aligned.
[00:19:41] Dr. Greene: And until next time, stay well.