Course Notes: The Whole-Brain Child Approach. Pt 3

Our last Whole-Brain post covered the following topics:

  • Aside from the brain being divided into two hemispheres, it can also be split into the upstairs (reasoning) and the downstairs (emotions)
  • Strategies 3, 4, and 5 connect these two brains to reduce an “emotional hijack” and promote clear thinking

On to strategies 6 and 7. They’re short, we promise!

Memory, Revisited

We covered memory last month, but to recap: Memories are past experiences that can shape our present and influence how we move forward in the future. What’s fascinating is that we can recall moments with or without knowing it.

There are two types of memory: implicit and explicit. Implicit memory is associated emotional responses, perceptions, behaviors, and bodily sensations that occur unconsciously to a presented stimulus. For example, trigger words or certain smells can do this. Explicit memory, on the other hand, is the memories we can draw up and reminisce about.

These two memory functions work together to create a vivid recall of an experience. The explicit provides the setting, while the implicit gives the textures and feel to the memory. The problem arises when the implicit memory has no foundation. These feelings have no direction, resulting in emotional floods. The following strategies help make these implicit memories explicit.

The Whole-Brain Approach: Implicit and Explicit Memory
The Whole-Brain Child, 2011.

Strategy 6 – Rewind to Remember

The authors coin the term, “Kill the Butterflies”. This is an expansion of strategy 2, labeling and talking about the moment. However, in this case, your child may not know what is triggering them, only that they are having involuntary reactions and sensations, like butterflies in the stomach.

If they are not in a state to talk it out, use strategy 1 (while being mindful of strategies 3 and 4) to calm and refocus your child. When they are open to talking about what they are feeling, help them acknowledge the sensations and images that are resurfacing and retell the story of the associations to create a new narrative.

For example, if your child has had a bad encounter with a dog and the idea of seeing another one gives them strong emotions, try the following:

  1. Help them recognize and label what they are feeling in the moment. They might have a tight chest, butterflies in the stomach, sweating; are they scared, nervous, anxious?
  2. From there, figure out what associations are causing these feelings. Is the word “dog” a trigger? What images are coming into mind when thinking about engaging with a dog?
  3. Create a new narrative about the situation. Maybe the dog was being playful and that’s why it was jumping? Perhaps the dog doesn’t realize it has a loud bark? How can we make it not so scary next time and be “friends” with the dog?

Remember that the trigger may not be as straightforward as the example above. If this happens, implement mindfulness strategies (like breathing) to address the current feelings, reassure them that they are safe before redirecting to solve the issue.

Strategy 7 – Remember to Remember

To prevent a prolonged disconnect between the implicit and explicit memory, let kids practice recalling events that happen in their lives as much as possible. Giving your kid the opportunity to remember/recall things in their day allows them to build stronger memories, as well as a stronger relationship with you.

Rather than ask broad questions, like “How was your day?”, try adding detail with, “What did you do at school? Were all your friends there? What was your favorite activity you did today?”.

If they’re older and don’t want to disclose everything, encourage journaling or sketching. As they recall their day, it’s easier for emotions to come up. They are in a safe and trusting space with you, so don’t try to judge their actions or solve their problems for them. You are there to help them acknowledge and label their feelings, so that they can develop their own methods of coping and regulation.

Siegal, D.J. and Bryson, T.P. (2013, November 8). The Whole-Brain Child Approach: Develop Kids’ Minds and Integrate Their Brains for Better Outcomes. Retrieved from seminar.

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