In an effort to teach my 7 year old son emotional regulation I have introduced him to the idea of the “upstairs brain” and the “downstairs brain”. This is a concept that I “borrowed” from ‘The Whole Brain Child‘ by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson.
The downstairs brain is the primitive, instinctual, emotional, intuitive part of the brain and includes the amygdala, the area behind the “fight or flight” mechanism, the automatic response to sensory stimuli, the unconscious component of emotion. The downstairs brain is fully developed at birth and is concerned with basic survival.
The upstairs brain on the other hand is the seat of executive function, the base for self regulation, planning, organisation, problem solving, impulse control, theory of mind and the conscious component of emotion. This is the area at the front of the brain, part of the frontal lobe, and includes the cerebral cortex. This area of the brain is not fully developed until the age of around 23.
The downstairs brain is very reactive. For someone who has strong emotional reactions it is important to engage the upstairs brain to slow this reaction and think things through. Just naming the responses which are generated by his upstairs and downstairs brain, I am showing my son that he can be in control of his reactions and his body states. It slows him down enough to help him clear his mind and help him self regulate. If he has a strong emotional reaction, I tell him “that is your downstairs brain talking. What does your upstairs brain say?” A few seconds later he has calmed himself in order to think clearly and gives me a considered answer.
This is the most effective emotional regulation technique I have discovered, more effective than simply telling him to take deep breaths or another meditative technique. His body is calming itself automatically as his brain is distracted. Last week he was having panic attacks. This week he is much more in control.
My son’s psychologist recommended a few simple techniques for helping him to relax, which I shall share here.
Hug for 20 seconds, Hugging releases a hormone called oxytocin, often called the “love hormone” which has been “linked to a sense of calmness and wellbeing”*
Deep or slow “belly breathing“. You and your child lie down on your backs with a cushion under your heads, and tell your child to breathe in deeply through their nose until they can feel their belly going up. Then you both breathe out through your mouths, almost blowing the air out in one long breath. They could blow a feather or windmill (pinwheel). See breathing techniques for children for more information. Do this several times building up to five minutes. You or your child may feel a little dizzy or lightheaded after this so make sure you are lying down. Alternatively, if they find this difficult teach them to hold their breath for five seconds and let it out through their mouth as before. Relaxing music may help them slow down and get into the right frame of mind.
For muscle relaxation pretend to be a ragdoll and make your bodies go all limp, or “shake like a dog”, pretending to be a dog and shake as a wet dog would to get dry, shaking all over.
Just like any kind of sensory processing, emotional processing happens automatically and varies from person to person. Continue reading
It could happen at the grocery store. At a restaurant. At school. At home. Meltdowns are stressful for both child and adult, but Dr. Baker can help! His 20+ years of experience have yielded time-tested strategies, and amazing results. An easy-to-follow, four-step model will improve your everyday relationships with the children in your life: Managing your own emotions by adjusting your expectations, Learning strategies to calm a meltdown in the moment, Understanding why a meltdown occurs, and Creating plans to prevent future meltdowns.
via No More Meltdowns: Positive Strategies for Managing and Preventing Out-of-control Behavior.
In Sue Larkey‘s latest newsletter for parents and teachers of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, she shares tips for helping children with Executive Function.
Impaired Executive Function can impact significantly on children with an autism spectrum disorder’s ability to learn and engage in busy learning environments. Continue reading
What is executive function? Think of it as the brain’s higher command centre. It is the area of the brain that filters incoming stimuli, assesses the situation at hand, coordinates and regulates the brain and body’s responses, and is involved in planning the appropriate course of action. Continue reading
At a seminar in 2012, Sue Larkey, Autism Education expert, shared these 10 tips for working with children on the Autism Spectrum. Continue reading