The Developing Mind- Understanding Your Child’s Behavior
One of the biggest struggles in parenting is understanding why perfectly sweet and
smart children can, in an instant, turn into the most difficult beings ever faced. It’s often
as if a switch was flipped and chaos has ensued. This typically results in parents
becoming frustrated at their child and disciplining them in the heat of the moment. And
while this may seem like the best option, it can be counterproductive in many ways.
When parents become knowledgeable about the basics of brain development and
how this affects behavior, they can help integrate all areas of the brain and have
better parenting success.
The key to whole-brain integration is having a basic understanding of children’s brains.
To simplify this, Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, created the concept of the
“Upstairs brain” and the “downstairs brain” in the book “The Whole-Brainchild.” When
children are born, their primitive, “downstairs brain” is well developed. This part is
responsible for the basic functioning of the body such as breathing and the heart
beating but also incorporates innate responses related to strong emotions such as fear
and anger. The amygdala, a tiny, almond-shaped mass, is the supervisor of the
downstairs brain and stays alert for anything threatening. When there is perceived
danger, our basic survival instincts kick in and we act before we think. For children, this
often presents as a tantrum because they are flooded with stress hormones and strong
Above this is the sophisticated, “upstairs brain.” The pre-frontal cortex, specifically, is
where higher thinking, decision making, and problem-solving take place. This part of
the brain shows us the bigger picture and helps regulate our emotions. During
“Downstairs tantrums,” this is the part of the brain that needs to jump in and help. The
problem is the upstairs brain doesn’t reach full development until our mid twenty’s.
Since it is not fully functional until then, children are not able to access this part of the
brain all the time to make better decisions during an emotional flood.
Armed with this knowledge, adults can help reinforce the metaphorical “staircase”
from the downstairs to the upstairs brain. This is where vertical integration takes place. If
downstairs tantrums are handled with discipline, it can, instead, force children even
further down into emotional turmoil. Instead, this is best handled with attunement and
connection. As a tactic of the SKILLZ Child Development approach, these two
concepts create a more constructive way of dealing with an emotional flood and
strengthens the child’s ability to tap into the power of the upstairs brain on their own.
This approach allows emotions to be resolved, instead of ignored, while also engaging
decision-making skills. As a result, children can self-regulate and return to a place
where they can learn and retain things better.
Since adults aren’t typically knowledgeable about how the brain develops and
functions and what this has to do with children’s behaviors, they must become
informed. By becoming familiar with the development of the brain, adults can be more
understanding and patient with children during upstairs tantrums. Knowing that these
types of tantrums are due to a lack of skills in the upstairs brain, not a lack of motivation
to be good, we can take a more productive approach to parenting.