The Power in the way we Think

Posts tagged ‘kids’

Stress and Children

Kids experience stress just as much as the rest of us.

And sometimes more intensely than the rest of us.

I hope you’re all wondering why this is, because I’m about to share it with you.

It all originates in the field of child development. Or more specifically, brain development. When I began this series on stress we talked about the Triune Brain. We discussed how the brain processes stress and a little bit about the ages at which the different parts of the brain develop.

I’d like to discuss these age differences in a little more detail.

When we are born the only part of the brain to be fully developed is the brain stem, which is responsible for our physiological responses such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. If this part of the brain is damaged in some way, your survival may be threatened and it is possible that you would be looking at support from machines to stay alive. The brain stem is also responsible for the physiological aspects of the stress response – elevating the heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure.

The limbic region is the next part of the brain to develop, usually completed at around 3-5 years of age. This controls our emotions. The amygdala lives in the limbic region and if you remember back to my previous post on this, its job is to make an assessment about whether your life is at threat. So when we perceive our life to be in danger, our emotions, such as fear and anxiety, are activated.

The final part of the brain to develop is the neocortex, which is responsible for our ability to think, reason and solve problems. This begins to develop properly in our teens but isn’t completely developed until we reach our mid 20’s. When our stress response is activated, the blood flow to the neocortex is reduced, and therefore our ability to think is impaired.

Here is a simple diagram that shows this relationship.

triune brain 4

Let’s think about these facts in relation to children. As adults, when we become stressed we can sometimes use our reasoning ability to calm this response and get back to our balanced state (homeostasis). Remember though, by the time we reach our mid 20’s, all 3 areas of the brain are fully developed. This means that the sizes of the limbic region and the neocortex are somewhat even, thereby making it easier to reason things out when we’re stressed.

Children, however, do not have this. Because of their brain development, their limbic region and neocortex are different sizes, which means that their emotions have much more control than their thinking and reasoning ability. So when their stress response is activated, they are unable to down-regulate, or calm the response. This is not only due to the size difference, but also because the blood flow to the neocortex is diminished. So they have all these emotions running through their mind and body, but are unable to use logic to bring themselves back to a place of balance.

I hope this makes sense, because it is an integral part of why children’s behaviour can become volatile at the smallest things.

Sometimes their parents or another adult is able to “talk them down”, particularly if they combine some simple breathing techniques with ‘loaning’ out some logic or reasoning power. But sometimes the stress response is engaged to such an extent that the only way to calm it is to allow it to burn itself out. In this way kids are able to burn off any adrenalin with physical activity. Most of the time you’ll probably find this happen with the use of some pretty intense tantrums, complete with throwing things, yelling, hitting and so on.

The key to helping your kids to manage their response comes by making them more aware of their body and the signals it gives out to indicate stress. Look for a post on this in the next few days. In the meantime, try reviewing an article I wrote back in August about some secret kids business. In it I discuss how kids can learn to manage their own self-care by creating a box in which to keep some special things to help them calm down.

A special note for children who have experienced trauma or abuse, particularly at an early age. Neurobiological research has found that these kids often have an amygdala that is enlarged. This means that it is much more easily activated. And this in turn means that there is a larger difference in size between the limbic region and the neocortex, making it even more difficult to regulate their emotions. For these kids (well, for all kids, but especially for these ones), the key is safety and security. More than anything else, they need to understand that they are safe. So the best thing you can do is to remain calm, firm and completely sure in your attempts to support them. As you work at calming their response, regulate your own breathing using the belly breathing techniques we have already discussed. We all know that children pick up on our energy and moods, so the calmer you become, the easier it will be to help regulate them. And please consider seeking psychological support for these kids. Not only can a professional teach them how to regulate their emotions, they can work with you on specific strategies to use with them.

mirror neurons

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Secret Kids’ Business

Sunday mornings like today are commonly reserved for rest and relaxation. But as people wake up this morning they know that for most of the week they are probably pretty exhausted. We all have plenty of demands on our time and energy. And our kids are no different. A lot of the time they finish the week just as exhausted as we do and therefore need down-time also as much as we do. I wrote this post to help kids to recognise when they need to take some time away from “their rat race” and to give them a strategy they can use to take care of themselves. The language is aimed at kids between about 8 and 13, but anyone can use the tips it includes. I’d love it if you’d share it with your kids. If you’d like to share it with younger kids, try simply doing the activity with them. As for the teens, just make a suggestion that they ignore the younger language and take what they need out of it. Hope all your kids get something out of it. I’d love to hear how it goes for them!  🙂 

 

What kinds of things do you do during your day? When I was at school I remember getting up early to make my bed (well, sometimes I did. Most of the time I tried to get away without doing it). I got dressed, had breakfast, did some jobs and then went to school. I did all my work at school, and I concentrated pretty hard to get things right. When I went outside at lunch times I sometimes played games with other kids. I had 2 friends who used to fight a lot and I helped them be friends again. I spent most of the time alone and I got teased and bullied too. After school I went home and did my homework and then did more jobs. Some days I watched my brothers play sports. I read books a lot. It was my way of getting away from all the bullying. I rode my bike sometimes. And I worried a lot. I worried about my friends and about how much people didn’t like me.

sad sun face

What do you do? Do you do sports? Practice a musical instrument maybe? Or do you get tutoring to help with school work? Do you dance or go to gymnastics classes? Do you visit family or friends?

I bet doing all that stuff would make you pretty busy! I wonder whether you get tired by the time you get home?

How does it feel inside your body when you’re tired? Do you feel sleepy? I bet that sometimes you can feel tired but not want to sleep. For me my arms and legs feel pretty heavy, like they don’t want to follow my instructions to move them. Sometimes my tummy feels a bit funny too. Almost like I’m hungry but also like I have snakes slithering around in there. Sometimes I feel really cranky like I want to yell and other times I feel like I want to hide from everyone. Do you feel any of these? Or maybe for you it’s a bit different?

body scan pose

If we listen closely to our body sometimes it’s kind of like it’s talking to us and we can figure out what it wants. It can take a bit of practice, but trying different things sometimes helps discover what makes us feel calmer and happier. Those things will be different for us on different days because we feel different too.

Sometimes we really don’t know what to do when we feel funny and we can end up being cranky with the people we love the most. That can be our mums and dads, our brothers and sisters, or even our best friends. And that’s not always the nicest thing to do. We can feel pretty horrible when we do stuff like that.

It can help to try other things instead. I often suggest that kids make a box especially for themselves. You could call it whatever you want to. Maybe Alice’s box, or Jack’s box if your name is Alice or Jack. Or you could have a little fun with it and name it after your favourite movie character or even make up your own name for it. You could decorate it however you want too.

self care box

Inside the box put lots of different things you could do to help you feel better after a tiring day. Try putting in some of your favourite activities, like a bouncy ball, dancing, reading, listening to music, colouring, riding your bike or playing with your dog. Some things will be too big for the box so you could just write them on some paper instead. If you have trouble thinking of things to put in, you could ask someone in your family for help. And when you try new activities that really help you to feel good, you could put those in the box too!

When the box is ready, on the days you feel a bit funny inside, you could tell mum or dad that you need your box and then choose something that you want to try. If one thing doesn’t work, just put it back in and choose something else.

We’d love to know what’s inside your special box so if you’d like to share with us, maybe mum can help you type them in the comments below. And you may be giving other kids some great ideas for things they can put in their box too!

 

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