Behavioral is what we label certain kids based on their actions. The problem with that is that kids are only acting out what they feel in their body based on thoughts and emotions. What we think and feel affect how we behave. Most adults can state to others when upset, “I am disappointed, I am frustrated, I am angry”. Children however, do not understand this. See, the part of their brain called the amygdala is still developing and that part of our brains doesn’t develop fully until we are in our 20s. The amygdala is responsible for emotional regulation, fight or flight so ultimately protecting ourselves. The amygdala is responding to situations that make us uncomfortable or are a perceived threat. It gets us ready to run, fight or freeze which is a good thing, when there is a real threat! But when it’s things like math or speaking in public it is over reacting to things that might be challenging. Another situation that fires up the amygdala is when we are experiencing constant threats like domestic violence, emotional, verbal or physical abuse or neglect because we are experiencing a constant state of fight or flight in our minds and bodies so the amygdala becomes hyper alert.
The cortex which is responsible for problem solving, reasoning, making good choices shuts down when the amygdala is functioning to protect us. It says “No thinking is involved here, only run, freeze or fight” to protect. But this response is not always appropriate given the over reaction and hyper vigilance sometimes of the amygdala. It sometimes just gets it wrong. In order to use the cortex part of our brain to problem solve what we are having a reaction about we have to learn to regulate the emotional response of the amygdala.
See the behaviors are a result of the amygdala reacting to uncomfortable situations. When kids can’t focus on math as an example, it might be because they don’t understand it so they shut down or act out in the classroom doing anything to get kicked out of class to avoid having to do math. They feel stupid and don’t have the knowledge to say “I just don’t understand it”, instead they do what kids do, they react to the nervousness, the agitation in their bodies, the racing thoughts of “I’m not good at this, I’m going to fail, I’m stupid” by acting out. They don’t understand emotions and can’t associate their reaction to an emotion.
Knowledge is power! Teaching kids that their isn’t anything wrong with them and giving them control back, over their minds, bodies and reactions is powerful. To see kids transform in understanding that they aren’t “Just another bad kid” and instead are normal in their reaction. Adults act out just the same because of their amygdala too. Emotions are real and all of them are ok but it’s how we respond to them is most important. Teaching kids about emotions in general is key because they dont’ know that they are “scared” “angry” or “sad”. They don’t know how to label the emotion but they can tell you what happens in their body. They can describe “Yelling” “Crying” “Hitting”. When we help connect for them their behavior to an emotion, they then have the ability to identify and self regulate before the negative reaction if they have healthy tools to use.
See an example in this video of my friend Chloe learning about her Amygdala, “Guard Dog Brain”, and her Cortex, “Wise Owl Brain”, and sharing of some helpful breathing tools for calming our guard dog brain down and putting him back on his leash so our wise owl flies back helping us then think of the best possible solution the situation.
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