Neuroscience 101. Didn’t expect to see this on MiniBury today, did you?
Flipping a lid. Blowing a gasket. Freaking out. Throwing a tantrum. You’ve heard similar (or worse) idioms and you know what it looks like when it happens to you or your child. Scientifically, what we intend to say is that our emotions are overriding our prefrontal cortex.? Dr. Jody Brakeley, a Middlebury based Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician with a special interest in early brain development (aka neurobiology aka brain science), is here to explain in human terms what happens when an individual loses it.
Dr. Brakeley will explain the “Hand Model of the Brain” that was developed by Dr. Dan Siegel, to help us better understand our temper tantrums, meltdowns and other challenging behaviors (at any age). The hand model of the brain also provides powerful insights into ways to deal with anxiety, stress and worries.
from Dr. Brakeley:
Over the course of a lifetime three distinct areas of the human brain develop. Humans first develop the automatic portion of the brain (the “wrist” of an open hand), next the emotional brain (thumb folded over the palm), then the thinking brain (wrap your fingers over the thumb like a fist). See the illustration below of the Hand Model of the Brain for further details.
Research shows that brain development such as this takes about 25 years to complete, maybe longer. Until then, the child needs his or her parents to be the “surrogate frontal lobes,” in this model, the closed fist.
As a child matures, strong connections (neural circuits) are forming between all parts of the brain; up and down, side to side and diagonally. These brain cell connections start off like little bicycle paths. Through lots of “use” (practice, repetition, rehearsal), the paths become like state roads and then like super highways. These well-developed circuits are faster, more efficient and reliable. It is like going from dial up to high speed Internet access. Research shows that brain development such as this takes about 25 years to complete, maybe longer. Until then, the child needs his or her parents to be the “surrogate frontal lobes,” in the hand model, the closed fist. This is one job from which a parent wants to be fired. When your child’s brain reaches that level of maturation, this part of your job is done.
When a child/individual feels frustrated, overwhelmed, mad, confused, threatened, anxious, worried, afraid or is hungry, sick or tired, the thinking brain goes off-line (raise up the four fingers) exposing the emotional brain (thumb folded over the palm):
In that condition, there are meager thinking, reasoning or judgment skills and very limited language skills. Some people refer to this as “flipping your lid” or “losing it;” or in the case of a child, throwing a temper tantrum. During this time the connections between the thinking brain and emotional brain are not working very well, the “fight, flight or freeze” portion of the brain is exposed.
It is not our finest hour for “thinking.”
So, now you know that sending a child to the principal’s office to write an essay on “What I did wrong and could do better,” may be an impossible task for the child at that moment.
Likewise, demanding our children apologize, check in or pull it together, during this time is futile. And yet, we still expect this of ourselves and our children. This needs to stop.
The child/individual needs to calm first and then, when all systems are reconnected, she will be able to use her thinking brain. “Regulate before you educate.”
So, save those heat of the moment lectures for later when everyone is feeling calm; your child likely needs longer than you to reconnect to their thinking brain. Your child may very likely need help calming their body. Sometimes this is just soothing words, calming breaths or visual distractions; other times more intervention is needed.
Our job as adults and parents is to be sure children’s brains develop in healthy ways. We need to help our children groom their skills for remaining calm so they can use their thinking brains to the max!
Now that you know what happens when we’re stressed, tired and freaking out; we’ll focus on what to do to move your brain (or your child’s) from the raw emotional brain (four fingers up) back to a calm, regulated thinking brain (closed fist). Stay tuned for tips, tricks and more brain science articles on getting calm.
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