Whole-Brain Child Strategy #9: “SIFT: Paying Attention to What’s Going on Inside”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALet’s be honest, sometimes I just don’t know the right questions to ask my kids when I want to better understand what they are feeling. Heck, many times I don’t know what I’m feeling myself so it’s hard to elicit a response from others, especially our kids.

In situations like this, it’s helpful to have some type of framework to operate out of, and I think that strategy #9 in The Whole-Brain Child is the perfect tool to aid you. I use it with my clients all the time and I teach it to them to use with their kids. Rarely does a week go by where a parent doesn’t come back to my office and say, “I tried out SIFT and it worked great.”

So what is SIFT exactly?

Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson write:

“Just help your kids understand that there are many parts of themselves that they can get to know and integrate with one another.

One of the best ways to begin orienting kids to what’s on their rim (read pp. 92-103 about the rim of awareness) is to help them learn to SIFT through all the sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts that are affecting them.” (pp. 105)

To practice this with yourself or your kids, simply start from the beginning. To demonstrate it for you I will use a composite example from some young clients I have worked with.

S=sensations:

Me: “When that incident happened, what did it feel like in your body? Where did you feel it? Can you describe it to me?”
Client: “I felt my chest get tight like I was losing my breath. And my hands got sweaty. I kind of felt dizzy also.

I=images:

Me: “And when you felt these things did any picture come up in your mind? Did you picture something bad happening? Or was there a face you saw?”
Client: “I sort of just saw nothing. Like a big black hole. I think my chest felt tight because I was getting sucked into the black hole.”

F=feelings:

Me: “What did it feel like when your chest was tight and you were being sucked into this black hole? Can you put some words to that?”
Client: “I felt alone. I felt scared. I felt completely out of control because I had no power.”
[By the way, I find it very helpful to have a list of feeling words in front of my client — of all ages — as we work together. I’m trying to help them identify and build a vocabulary of their feelings. And hopefully as they do this they will become proficient and recognizing them and talking about them.]

T=thoughts:

Me: “What thoughts were running through your head as your chest was tightening up, and you were feeling alone after being sucked towards this black hole?”
Client: “I started to wonder if anyone would ever find me. Would anyone care for me. I thought I might have to go through life alone.”

I think strategy #9 is another great tool in an ever widening tool belt of strategies that you are assembling from this book. I recommend that next time you are wanting to take your conversation with your kid to a deeper level, especially after specific situations, think of SIFT. You can use all the letters at once, in order. Or you can just try a few of them at a time. Don’t worry about implementing it perfectly…I think that happens rarely, if ever. But by beginning to think in terms of this acronym you can connect to your kids in a whole new way.

And while you are at it, I recommend using it on yourself as well. See what you notice.