These last two months have been a mixture of feelings. I have been grateful for more time with my youngest kids and the ability to be their teacher. I have also been fearful for what is going on in the world and I know my boys have felt this shift as well. When fear takes over it is hard to make decisions and think clearly. It is for these reasons that social and emotional learning has taken a priority over academics for our at-home-learning routines.
Seeing a need to think through our different brain states I created this book for myself and my kids to process our upstairs brain and downstairs brain. If you are unfamiliar with Dan Siegel’s hand model of the brain I have linked to a few videos below to help familiarize you with this concept. Dan Siegel is a genius! We have used his handmodel language in our home for years.
For adults: Daniel Siegel's Hand Model: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFTljLo1bK8
For adults and older kids: Dan Siegel presenting the hand model, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-m2YcdMdFw
For adults and older kids: Neuroanatomical Transformation of the teen brain, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzT_SBl31-s
For elementary school age (video that my colleague Kristin Souers and I helped to create): Brain Lesson, https://vimeo.com/221019140
For elementary school age: Why Do We Lose Control of Our Emotions?, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bKuoH8CkFc
If your printer prints front and back make sure in settings you select the printer to flip pages on the short end. If it doesn’t you will want to print the even pages first and then reinsert and print the odd pages. Once the pages are printed you can fold the pages in half and staple or fasten them in some other way.
Once you are familiar with the hand model language the next step is to help your child understand it. Below is a guide of how to utilize this book activity.
On the first two pages children can color the upstairs brain green and the downstairs brain red. This is a good time to watch one of the videos and talk about our upstairs brain and downstairs brain. Share examples of times when you have gone to your downstairs brain and how you were able to get back upstairs. Our children need us to model that we are not always in control. Stress and fear are normal, biological responses. When we have these conversations it normalizes this response for ourselves and our kids. Helping them understand that sometimes we are not okay, and that is okay.
The next two pages are about our natural and biological response to stress. When we can understand how our body feels stress it can cue us of a potential lid flip. Often we feel stress before we are cognizant of it. Help your children identify where they feel stress in their body. Color those parts of the body where you feel stress the most. For myself, I typically feel it in my neck. When I am stressing, my shoulders start to rise up from tension until they are practically touching my ears, and soon my neck is hurting. I also pace a lot when I am stressing. I colored the feet and neck areas in for my book. My youngest feels strees in his head. He said, "It feels squishy."
I am in my upstairs brain when… On this page label things that will initiate an upstairs brain state. For me I am likely to start my day in an upstairs brain state when I have slept well and eaten a healthy breakfast, especially with some protein. I also find that if I plan my day out and stick to a schedule I am more likely to be in my upstairs brain. My middle schooler also needs breakfast to help him. My youngest needs a predictable routine in the morning with some soft music and a good breakfast.
This is how I look and sound when I am in my upstairs brain. On this page draw or describe how you look when your prefrontal cortex is in control and your amygdala is calm. What things might you say or do in your upstairs brain?
I am often singing, giving kisses and hugs, encouraging people, dancing around my house and asking others how I can help them when I am in my upstairs brain. Overall my mood is light and I want to share it with others. When my middle schooler is in his upstairs brain he is likely doing something he enjoys like reading or enjoying a computer game with friends. He is also cracking jokes and playing with his youngest sibling.
These things help me stay in my upstairs brain. Sometimes we have days where we can feel ourselves going to our downstairs brain. What are some things you can do to help stay in your upstairs brain? On this page identify those tools that will help you stay in your upstairs brain and maintain that brain state.
I try to get movement throughout my day, drink water, and listen to music whenever I am able to. These routines help me maintain my upstairs brain state. When I feel myself going to my downstairs brain I need hugs, snacks, to be around my family or a good dance party. Cooking is also a stress reliever that helps me stay in my upstairs brain. Sometimes I take a break and read or go for a walk.
I am in my downstairs brain when… On this page identify your triggers. We all have situations that can cause us to go to our downstairs brain. Fear is a common emotional state that is likely to trigger a downstairs brain state. Fear can take all sorts of forms. When we are fearful we may feel unsafe, unloved, or incompetent.
For me when I feel ignored and unappreciated I am more likely to go to my downstairs brain. I also know that when my energy tank is low because I am tired or I feel like I don’t have enough time to complete a task I will flip my lid. I also find myself in my downstairs brain when I am hungry or hangry. My youngest will flip his lid when he doesn't have enough time to complete a task or if I give him too many instructions. My middle schooler goes to his downstairs brain when he doesn't feel like someone is listening to him or he is overwhelmed with a school task.
This is how I look and sound when I am in my downstairs brain. On this page draw or describe how you look when you have flipped your lid. What things might you say or do in your downstairs brain?
For me, when I am in my downstairs brain, I am usually stomping around and speaking in harsh tones, sometimes saying unkind words or even yelling. Other times I may ignore people and want to be myself. For my youngest, he often cries and yells when he is in his downstairs brain. He also has a chair with a cover that he sits in when he has flipped his lid.
These things help me get back to my upstairs brain. On this page list or draw those tools that you know help calm your amygdala and engage your prefrontal cortex. For me I need to breathe, read one of my gratitude notes or crank up the music and dance. My youngest finds that a snack, swinging on his swing set, laying in his bed or hanging out with his brother is likely to help him get back to his upstairs brain.
I hope you find this resource as helpful for your own learning and relationships as we have on #teamrowe.