Beyond Behaviour - Emotional Brain Science

Module one : Lesson one

Understanding a child's behavior begins with understanding their brain development. In this lesson we will exploring the brain science behind children's emotional behaviors. Take notes because kids can learn about their brain's development as early as three years old. We are going to make this very easy to follow and empower you with the tools to teach your child or classroom.


We all want children to be able to make good, reasonable decisions. When your child's emotions are heightened, chances are good that their midbrain is going to take over and start making their decisions for them, which usually leads to very disruptive, challenging, defiant behaviors. That makes it much harder for us to support them as well.

Often, when kids engage in difficult behaviors, it leads to that defensive state where we automatically want to start controlling the situation so we start to feel a little bit more comfortable again, a little bit more in charge again. But here's the thing, helping your child regulate and make good decisions begins with our ability to regulate our own emotional responses to those behaviors. One of the things that helps and goes a long way is understanding your child's emotional brain. When we understand that children experience emotions the same way that we do, however they don't have the same skills that we have due to natural brain development, it helps us relate to them a little bit better and to empathize more, which really opens us up to regulating our own big emotional responses to their behavior.

I want to share with you the hand model. This is the way that it was explained to me, and I absolutely loved it. I use it with all of my classes, and I hope that you get something out of it, too.

hand model course graphic sk.png

My hand represents your child's brain. Where my tattoo is, this is the brainstem. This is where the fight, flight, and freeze response is stored. Now, if I fold my thumb over, this represents the midbrain. This is where we have all of our emotions, and memories, and feelings of discouragement. They're all stored in the mid primal brain.

Now, if I flip my fingers down like this, this represents the prefrontal cortex, which is where we have all of our executive functioning skills. Things like reasoning, problem-solving, and regulating all take place in the prefrontal cortex. Now, obviously, this is where we want to be making most of our decisions, right? Now, for your child, they have a very underdeveloped cortex compared to your own. As a matter of fact, the prefrontal cortex does not finish developing until 25 years old. That means that there is still a lot of work left to go.

So when children experience a stressor ... Now, in health psychology, a stressor is anything that interrupts the expectations of the brain. So you saying no to something or telling them they need to share or to hurry up and get in the car, all of these the brain will translate as a stressor. And as soon as that happens, the child flips their lid, right? So the brain flips its lid, and now the mid emotional brain takes over. We could see that this is where all of those poor decisions come from, and those difficult disruptive behaviors will start to kick in, ultimately leading to the fight and flight response as well, which is when we see disobedience, aggression, tantrums. All of those things are stored down here.

So as soon as your child experiences a stressor, they flip their lid. And more often than not, it stimulates very difficult, challenging behavior. And here's the thing, when your child is at a flipped lid state, 8 times out of 10, guess what happens? The same thing happens to our brain, and we flip our lid right back at them. So now we have two brains that are unreasonable and emotionally heightened. Nothing is going to be accomplished right now. There's no way we're going to be able to stay calm, and communicate, and be supportive with them because we're being triggered as well. That's why it's so important to understand what is happening behind the behavior so we can fully support them with that brain development in mind.

So as soon as your child is in a flipped lid, ultimately, our goal is for them to be able to activate their prefrontal cortex and get that reasoning and critical thinking to kick back in. There's a few ways that we can do this. If your child is under four years old, then the key would be looking at redirection, which we're going to be exploring later on further down the line in our modules. The other option is reasoning. One of the ways that I like to introduce reasoning is by asking simple, engaging questions that navigate your child through the problem towards a solution. So throughout this module, we're going to be exploring exactly what reasoning and redirection looks like in order to take your child from this state back to this state.


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