When they flip their lids…

So my youngest was laying on the floor sobbing.  Her father and sister just left to go on an errand.  Right before they left she chose not to go, but now she had changed her mind.  It was too late, and she was really, really unhappy about it.  Part of me was feeling exasperated.  She had chosen to stay home.  There was nothing that could be done now.  They were gone.  I was thinking, she is not being reasonable.  Then the counselor part of me said, that’s right, she’s not being reasonable right now, because she can’t.  She’s flipped her lid.

So what is flipping her lid?  It has to do with how the brain works, and the best way to explain it is to use the hand model of the brain.  Make a fist, but instead of having your thumb on top, curl it in and tuck it under your fingers.  You are now looking at a brain!  Turn your hand toward you.  You are looking at your fingers curled over the top of your thumb.  This is the pre-frontal cortex and cortex area of the brain.  It is the thinking, reasoning, and logical part of your brain.  In children this is the area that is the most “under construction,” and the younger they are the less finished it is.  Now lift up your fingers.  There is your thumb.  That is the limbic area of the brain.  It is the emotional center of the brain.  It is also where fight, flight, and freeze reactions come from.  This area is in charge of survival in dangerous situations, and because of that, it has the power to highjack the thinking and reasoning part of the brain. 

Powerful emotions in the limbic system will “flip” off the thinking and reasoning cortex, and so people will become highly unreasonable and reactive.  This is even more true for children since their connections in the cortex are still developing.  This means that trying to be reasonable and logical (i.e. trying to explain to an upset child why they should not be upset or telling them what they should be doing to fix their problem) is ineffective.  You simply do not have access to that part of the brain.  In fact, trying to reason with a person’s limbic system is likely to make them even more upset!

So what do you do when your children have flipped their lids?  You have to communicate with the part of the brain that you have access to.  You have to connect with their emotions.  How do you do that?  Well… look for the answer in next month’s Nurturing the Nest!  In the meantime, check out Dr. Dan Seigel’s wonderful explanation of the hand model of the brain in the video below.