Brain Stoplight: Kids’ Brains
You may find yourself saying things like, “Act your age!” or “You’re acting like a 2 year old!” in a demeaning way. When I started learning about the brain, I discovered there is some truth to this. When you’re on green, you’re closer to your chronological age.
So if I’m 40 something in my prefrontal cortex (green light), I may be like a teenager in my emotional brain (yellow light) and a 5 year old in my survival brain (red light). More likely, I wouldn’t regress that far unless it was something really big for me. Day to day, I’d probably have teen moments, but that’s probably about it for me.
Our kids have less room for those regressions. When you’re only 3 and you regress, they can really only go backwards and they don’t have far to go. When this happens, the more you can just be present with them, recognize they’ve moved out of the “smart” part of their brain, and respond to that younger child, the more quickly they’ll move back to their thinking brain. That allows them to connect with us at that moment and regulate.
Remember that regulation happens in connection, not isolation.
Take your time getting back to green. Beautiful moments can happen on yellow with your children. Right after a big meltdown, your child can feel really connected to you when you’ve created space for them. Those are the moments when they’re snuggled up in your lap and connected to you. Young children are designed to stay in the thinking brain in short bursts. They’re actually meant to be more in their emotional brain until around age 7. Yes, seven.
Especially with younger children and babies, use few words when your child is distressed. You can verbalize for yourself what you’re going to do. “I’m going to take care of you right now and help you.”