Recently enjoyed this post by Dr. Hazel Harrison about how to teach kids to understand what is happening in their brains when they’re experiencing big emotions. It’s a long read, but really worth it, with great kid-friendly explanations for fight-and-flight emotions and ideas for how to help your child visualize and problem-solve through these feelings. Here’s a quote:
“I tell children that their brains are like a house, with an upstairs and a downstairs… Really, what I’m talking about are the functions of the neocortex (our thinking brain – the upstairs), and the limbic system (our feeling brain – the downstairs). Typically, the upstairs characters are thinkers, problem solvers, planners, emotion regulators, creatives, flexible and empathic types. I give them names like Calming Carl, Problem Solving Pete, Creative Craig and Flexible Felix. The downstairs folk are the feelers. They are very focused on keeping us safe and making sure our needs are met. Our instinct for survival originates here. These characters look out for danger, sound the alarm and make sure we are ready to fight, run or hide when we are faced with a threat. Downstairs we’ve got characters like Alerting Allie, Frightened Fred, and Big Boss Bootsy… Our brains work best when the upstairs and the downstairs work together. Imagine that the stairs connecting upstairs and downstairs are very busy with characters carrying messages up and down to each other. This is what helps us make good choices, make friends and get along with other people, come up with exciting games to play, calm ourselves down and get ourselves out of sticky situations. Sometimes, in the downstairs brain, Alerting Allie spots some danger, Frightened Fred panics and before we know where we are, Big Boss Bootsy has sounded the alarm telling your body to be prepared for danger. Big Boss Bootsy is a bossy fellow, and he shouts ‘the downstairs brain is taking over now. Upstairs gang can work properly again when we are out of danger’. The downstairs brain “flips the lid” (to borrow Dan Siegel’s phrase) on the upstairs brain. This means that the stairs that normally allow the upstairs and downstairs to work together are no longer connected.”
I’m excited to talk this out with Scout Kid (I think the Feral Kid is still too young, and also too feral, for this talk, but I can definitely see him needing it later as his feeling brain is a big feeler!) and do some illustrations/visuals. I think I’ll lose the gender-specific names, though; that one:six gender ratio doesn’t fly with me 😉
We just watched Inside Out as a family, and although it’s a bit over Scout Kid’s comprehension level, I think it will help him understand these concepts too as he gets older.