Manageable Meltdown Monday and the Brain


Most parents are experts on their child. They know his favorite color, favorite movie, food, and so on. But when it comes to what is going on in their brain, they are at a loss. I’ve been there. Busy dealing with outward behaviors and trying to manage them instead of figuring out what is going on inside.

Years ago, we were packing up to go to a state part about forty minutes away for some amateur rock climbing and hiking. One of my sons did  everything and anything to make the trip go away. Fits. Meltdowns. Hitting. Not helping pack. I was shocked. This kid loves the outdoors!  I managed to get him in the suburban and he had a great time after feeling out the place.

So, what was going on in this kid’s brain? Why did he oppose something he loved. Control? Yes, but where did that control come from? Did he feel powerless? Yes. But why? Let’s look at what was going on in the brain.

“Most of us don’t think about the fact that our brain has many different parts with different jobs. For example, you have a left side of the brain that helps you think logically and organize thoughts into sentences, and a right side that helps you experience emotions and read nonverbal cues. You also have a “reptile brain” that allows you to act instinctually and make split-second survival decisions, and a “mammal brain’ that leads you toward connection and relationships….”-Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, The Whole-Brain Child

A hurt child and children who have suffered breaks in attachment are using only part of the brain. Their brains get stuck in “reptile brain” or survival mode. Everything is dangerous. They are hypervigilant. Change, even good change, like going out for ice cream make them react as if they are stuck in the middle of a forest during a forest fire.The flight or fight hormones are raging. The child cannot self regulate because he is not integrating that part of the brain into his decision making process. His brain is dis-integrated. The goal is to help the child integrate all parts of the brain.

This post is just one suggestion to help integrate. There is so much new information on the brain, It’s exciting and overwhelming. I am only offering a bit at at time, so we can chew on it together. We can practice together.

Right now, your child’s brain is constantly being wired and rewired through experiences. How can we help them integrate other parts of the brain, the logic side? Talk. Listen. Rehearse experiences. Let them tell the story. After the state park meltdown, my son and I had opportunities to talk about what we did that day, hiking, climbing, picnicking and the bees that swarmed around our sweet drinks. He has a place to put that memory and pull it out next time we go to the park.

“Are we going to the place that has Rock City? Are we packing a lunch? Should I wear my hiking boots?” I can almost see the gears turning in the left brain. Like the old computers booting up, he is reaching to grab onto the past experience. When he has it in mind, he has a framework to build on. He stress is lessened.

My allowing and I say allowing, because sometimes I would like quiet instead, my once nonverbal son, former cleft palate patient is a talker. After a busy few days, he wants to talk, to tell me the story of his life. He needs to. He needs to put it out there to rewire his brain, to de-stress and get out of survival mode. One of his tells, “I had fun. I didn’t  think I would like it.” or “It wasn’t bad. Did you like it mom?” in reference to whatever event we just attended. He has definite dislikes too, He likes to tag along on my Barnes and Noble coffee dates if a certain cousin is attending or he has money to buy a book. Otherwise, he would rather stay home. That is using the logic part of the brain to make a choice. Yeee-HAWWW!

What about Mondays?

On Mondays, I need to allow time in the morning for him to talk about the weekend. Sunday evening doesn’t cut it. I know. Mondays are busy. We want to get back on track. We have schedules and our kids need schedules, but if we want our kids to make progress and integrate their brains, re-wire them, we must make time to let them tell their stories.

“…children whose parents talk with them about their experiences tend to have better access to the memories of their experiences. Parents who speak with their children about their feelings have children who develop emotional intelligence and can understand their own and other people’s feelings more fully.”-Daniel J. Siegal and Tina Payne Bryson, The Whole-Brain Child

The tip for this Monday? Let your child talk. Let him talk about his experiences, his feelings without correcting. Listen.

Want to read more about the whole-brain? Click on the book below and order a copy!

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