In the last blog post I wrote about shame’s role in your child’s meltdowns and dysregulation. And then I left you hanging, with but a mere promise to answer the question: HOW DO WE HELP THEM?
I propose that we can teach our kids a little bit about their brains, and this can take some of the stigma and shame out of those past meltdowns.
You can teach your kiddo about their brain in simple terms, so that they understand what happens behind the scenes in their brains during a meltdown.
When they understand how their brain’s actually go ‘off line’, they will experience less shame when they ‘blow it’ and flip their lid. This can reduce the frequency, duration and intensity of meltdowns. AND it can give them new experiences that challenge those old tapes playing in their head.
Now, natural consequences will follow in the aftermath of a meltdown, and there are times when they need to make restitution for what they’ve done. But if we can get our kids to understand that they are not bad people when a meltdown happens– that it is their ‘thinking brain’ that is ‘off-line’ so to speak, we can empower them to not re-cycle into further meltdowns because of the shame and confusion they might feel about what just happened.
Let me say this, shame is not the same as guilt. Shame is not a motivator toward better thinking and behaving. Its what keeps people stuck and dysregulated. Guilt says, I did wrong, I can improve. Shame says : I AM wrong, I AM a lost cause.
In today’s post, we’re going to learn about Dr. Dan Seigel’s hand model of the brain. I’ve written about it here.
Please watch the video from that post, so you can educate yourself about what it means to flip your lid and become dysregulated, then come back here and we’ll learn how to take that language and make it understandable for your child.
When talking to your child, pick a time when you both are calm. Use toys or puppets if you want, to make the learning more fun and so your child doesn’t think they are going to be in trouble for anything. That is very important that they don’t think they’ve done something wrong. Use language similar to this:
“You know how you (or the name of the toy you are using) sometimes have a hard day and get upset about things and you don’t really know why? That can feel really scary if you don’t know why. Did you know that it’s because of something going on in our brain that you aren’t even aware of? Do you want to see your brain? I can show you what it looks like.
Make a fist with your hand, tucking your thumb under your fingers (see picture above, the hand at the top left ). This handy little model of the brain can go with you wherever you are. You may already know that you have has a left side and a right side of your brain. You also have an upstairs and a downstairs part of your brain. Each part of your brain helps you do very important things.
The upstairs brain is where you make the best decisions and do the best things, even when you are feeling really upset. Some people like to call it the big brain, the thinking brain, the upstairs brain, or the wise leader.
Now, open up your ‘brain’ model and peek inside. Lift your fingers a little bit, see where your thumb is? (see picture above, the lower part of the hand/palm on the bottom right)That’s part of your downstairs brain, or little brain, animal brain, or feeling brain. That’s where your really big feelings come from, it lets you feel really upset, like when you are mad or scared or frustrated.
There is nothing wrong with feeling upset, that’s normal, especially when your upstairs brain helps you calm down. Close your fingers again. What do you notice about your upstairs brain and your downstairs brain? (top left picture). The thinking brain and the feeling brain are touching! When the two are touching, the upstairs, thinking brain can help your downstairs, feeling brain express your emotions calmly.
Sometimes when we get really upset, we can flip our lids (see lower right picture). See how your upstairs brain is no longer touching your downstairs brain? That means it cannot help it stay calm. This is what is happening when you have a meltdown. Then what we need to do is find a way to get your thinking brain working together with your downstairs brain.”
At this point, you can explain to your child that everyone has this happen to them – even mom and dad! The idea is to teach your child about what goes on behind the scenes of a meltdown so they can know that we don’t think they are bad kids when they flip their lids. And neither are you when YOU flip your lid.
There is a lot you can do after teaching this hand model of the brain, maybe then teaching some calming techniques such as this .
Or you could just use the time to let your child know that you’re there to help him or her when things feel really out of control. How might you use this brain model to help your kids feel less shame about their past? I’d love to know!