When Emotions Take Over
“Dad, he yelled at me and put his hand on my knee.”
My daughter, Addy, was sitting in my car, crying uncontrollably, re-living the experience she had at her first driving lesson. Her instructor had just taken her out on her first open-road lesson.
Addy didn’t do well.
She was yelled at.
She never wants to go back.
What do you do when you have to have a tough conversation?
“Addy, I’m going to go talk to your instructor right now.” I told her while we were still in the parking lot of the school.
“No Dad! Just leave.” she replied through her tears. “I did really bad. It was my fault.”
Addy is a new driver and she probably was really bad, and nervous. However, there should not be a standard where an adult instructor yells at the student during a driving lesson. What happened to Addy during the lesson? She made a mistake, he yelled, she froze, he put his hand on her knee to press down on the gas. What was happening was an amygdala hijacking.
What is an Amygdala Hijacking?
“The amygdala hijack is an immediate, overwhelming emotional response with a later realization that the response was inappropriately strong given the trigger. Daniel Goleman coined the term based on the work of neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, which demonstrated that some emotional information travels directly from the thalamus to the amygdala without engaging the neocortex, or higher brain regions. This causes a strong emotional response that precedes more rational thought.” (Definition From GoStrength.com).
The driver’s-ed instructor was having an amygdala hijacking as well, and honestly, I was too.
“Addy, I will be talking to him (tomorrow), and mom or I will be talking to the driver’s-ed school on Monday”
As I processed the situation, Addy was right, now was not the time to talk. I was ready for a fight and Addy was ready for a flight. So, we took the evening to process the experience and talk about the facts of the lesson.
Seek to Understand, Then be Understood
The next morning (Saturday), Addy had her next lesson. We arrived early to meet the instructor before the lesson.
I asked Addy to stay in the car while I talked to the instructor. I was calm and in control of my emotions.
“Good morning Randy (I changed the instructor’s name), can you tell me about Addy’s driving experience yesterday?”
Randy: “Yeah, what a ride, I had to raise my voice with her and tell her to get moving.”
“Did you yell at her?” I asked.
“I might have yelled.”
“Did you put your hand on her knee?” I asked.
“Yes, she needed to get moving.” he said.
How To Have Clear Communication
“Randy, after the lesson last night, Addy was emotionally out of control. She told me you yelled at her and you put your hand on her knee.”
“Randy, you are the adult and the trained instructor. Yelling and getting angry will not help you get the desired results.”
“Also, it is never appropriate to place your hand on my daughters knee.”
“Randy, how do you want to proceed?”
Be Firm and Gracious
Randy let me know that he would talk with Addy before the lesson and that he understood the expectations.
Jen called the Driver’s-Ed school to let the office know about our experience.
Addy has been stressed about driving but she is getting better. I had to be clear with our expectations of the instructor and I had to allow the instructor the freedom to own his part and do his job. I also, had another follow-up talk with Addy to “coach” her on how to deal with an amygdala hijacking, and how to respond to adults in similar situations.
I don’t like having difficult conversations, however, I have found that we tend to experience what we tolerate. If I didn’t address this issue with the instructor then he would continue to yell at my daughter. This is a basic relationship principle, we experience in relationship, what we tolerate.