Explaining the Brain to Children

I just watched a great video on child brain trauma and helping them recover. It was recorded by the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development. Click on the link to view the complete presentation. The presenter centers her talk around the concept that if young people understand what is happening in their brain, recovery will be facilitated. Yes it is a simplistic view of the brain but what our children need are not scientific words, they need understandable explanations.

Hand Model for child brain trauma

Her explanation starts with the hand model which was first developed by Dr. Dan Seigel to explain child brain trauma.

When explaining it to teenagers the thumb is the “downstairs brain” and the fingers are the “upstairs brain” when you make a fist with your hand. Formally the downstairs brain is called the limbic system and the upstairs brain is the cerebrum. Fight, flight or freeze lives in the downstairs brain. For many of our children who have experienced trauma and neglect they have a very highly developed “downstairs brains”. One of the many jobs of the upstairs brain is to solve problems and this part of the brain has not had as much exercise. For many of our children to survive they have had to live in the downstairs part of the brain. Because of trauma the brain becomes emotionally highjacked, the downstairs brain dominates the upstairs brain. The only things that work when the downstairs brain dominates are things that calm you down, then the upstairs brain can do its work.

The Hand Model for Children

With young children she does not use the terms downstairs and upstairs but “barking dog” and “wise owl” to explain child brain trauma. The barking dog is the limbic system and the wise owl is the cerebrum. When the dog barks the wise owl flies away. Most traumatized children need to learn strategies that help the dog calm down. Once the dog stops barking the owl can come back and help find solutions to their problem. Many times we start with addressing the wise owl when the child is being held captive by the barking dog. The way Dan Seigel puts it is to connect with the child (calm the downstairs brain) before we try to redirect (access the upstairs brain).

Family Christian Counseling Centers Link

I encourage you to watch this video, I hope it helps. Click on the link for how the Center  works with children that have experienced trauma. Another blog that might be helpful to read on this topic is Brain Plasticity – change is possible(Opens in a new browser tab)  The Center realizes how hard it is to seek counseling for your child, please call and begin the process of healing for your child.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.