Lessons from a Scared Kitten (Part 1)
We got a new kitty for Greta on Saturday. Greta gave her the name Baby. She is 7.5 weeks old and absolutely adorable. But she is scared.
All these giants are walking around her and there are loud noises and strange smells. She is on high alert at all times. She explores the house when no one is there but as soon as one of us enters the room she darts for the nearest hiding spot.
It reminds me of Greta’s nervous system. On high alert and terrified of any extreme stimulus…loud sounds, bright lights, strong smells, overwhelming stress, physical exertion … Her brain interprets all of these things as danger and sends extra pain to make her dart away to the nearest hiding spot (laying down on a couch or retreating to a dark bedroom).
We realized that, just like we have needed to take baby steps to re-introduce Greta to becoming functional and pacing herself throughout the day to avoid flare-ups, we need to do the same for Baby.
The house is too big for Baby, the smells too much, and the people too towering. So we need to take it back to what she can manage and grow her capacity and her safety zone. Now she only stays in one room ~ Greta’s bedroom. And we don’t grab her to hold her so much.
Baby is becoming familiar with the room and is running around and playing. When we go to pick her up she still runs away. So yesterday we just put our hands out for her to explore and play with. Today, if I bring my hand towards her very slowly, she allows me to pet her and starts to purr. But not always. Sometimes she still runs away. Tomorrow she will probably be a little more trusting. As long as I don’t do anything to scare her.
We know that our house is safe and want her to be comfortable with us and play around in the house but her nervous system isn’t ready for that. She IS responding, however. With baby steps.
Similarly, we know that the stimulus our kids face is safe (loud sounds, strong smells, extra stress from school, physical exertion) but their nervous systems are not ready for all that.
Since understanding pain differently I have often thought that retraining the brain is kind of like training a scared animal. And now I am seeing it in lived out in our sweet little kitty. The same guidance applies for both Greta and Baby…
1. Start with where they feel safe and their nervous system can be at ease
2. Introduce new stimulus slowly (goal setting)
3. Don’t introduce too much at once (pacing)
4. Know that you will get there. It just takes time. And patience. And consistency.
5. Soon your efforts will start to snowball and you will see how far you have come.
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