One thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that even young children are capable of understanding some important basics about the way their brain works. It might seem strange to talk to kids about the brain – it is brain science, after all – but a little neuroscience presented in just the right way can give your children control over themselves. Here’s a way you might approach the topic of tantrums and other high-emotion moments. Sit down with your child and use your own words to say something like this:
Do you ever feel like a jack-in-the-box? Where you get upset, then more and more upset, and it feels like someone’s winding your crank tighter and tighter, and before long you’re going to explode? Think about a time when you did explode and make a bad decision because the pressure built up in you. Tell me about it.
In a moment like that, the downstairs part of your brain is feeling all of those emotions, and it doesn’t know how to deal with them.
The good news is that you also have an upstairs part of your brain. Its job is to help you make good decisions, and do the right thing, even when you feel like you’re going to explode. By listening to your upstairs brain, you can stop being a jack-in-the-box and instead become a STAR: you Stop, Think, Act, and Reflect.
When you get upset, you don’t have to be controlled by other people, or circumstances, or even your own feelings. When you’re a STAR, you can decide how to act, instead of just reacting. Even when you’re totally upset, you have the power to stop, think, and choose how you want to act.
So the next time you feel like a jack-in-the-box, with circumstances or someone else winding your crank, think of your upstairs brain and be a STAR. Before you act, stop and think. Then, afterwards, go back and reflect on the decision you made. It won’t always be a good decision, and it’s not easy to be a STAR, but you are powerful, and you can make good decisions, even when the pressure builds up in your box.