Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Brain House: Building Strong Foundations for Emotional Intellegence

This past month I have read and reread the book No Drama Discipline by Dr. Dan Siegel. I was amazed by what I was reading and upon finishing the book I had two immediate thoughts: every new parent should be handed this book and any person working in the education sector in any capacity should be required to read this. This book explains how the brain develops, how it works and how to relate and support children as they learn to identify, deal with, and learn from their emotions. The book provides concrete examples and lessons so the reader has a healthier understanding of what children are facing on the inside. It shows how to connect with them, help them to feel safe and how to become proficient in teaching the most effective lessons.

It can be frustrating when it seems there is nothing you can do to get through to a child, you’ve exhausted every last consequence (positive or negative) and you resort to punishing your child and maybe even engaging  in behavior you aren’t proud of. I will be the first to say that it is hard to admit defeat with a child and it makes you feel completely powerless. It can become argument after argument with and sometimes asked myself, “Why can’t they just listen?”. After trying countless teaching practices and numerous discipline approaches it has become fairly clear to me that when emotions are high it is impossible to have clear communication. While a child is in a state where they are consumed by their feelings, their actions are emotionally driven. If we fight back with emotion it will only escalate the situation.

Mindfulness is something we talk about often and this is a great opportunity to take a step back and breathe. Practicing mindfulness with children is important so that when situations arise they are able to self soothe. In No Drama Discipline Siegel talks about the "upstairs" brain (neocortex - our thinking brain)  and "downstairs" brain (the limbic system - our feelings brain), and sometimes our brains can become overwhelmed with feelings such as fear, sadness or anger, and when this happens it is confusing for children. If they are operating from their "downstairs" and you are trying to talk to them "upstairs" they won't hear you.
Giving children ways to make sense of what's happening in their brain is so important, but this is a lot of information for them to process. I like to create stories to better help them understand. For example: I will use characters that live in a house together, some upstairs and some down. I tend to give them silly names like frightened Fred and calming Carl but maybe you can think of your own names with your child. 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. 
Don’t expect to move all the characters into the brain house and unpack on the same day; moving house takes time, and so does learning about brains. Start the conversation and revisit it. Using similar vocabulary so they can get acquainted with it, and practicing mindfulness activities are great ways to get started.

I would love to hear of ways you may explore the brain with your child!

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