brain basics

One of the most important parts of our work with young women and their families is helping everyone understand how our brains function, what sets the adolescent brain apart from the adult brain, and what all of this has to do with managing stress, working through conflict and the inevitable meltdowns that occur along the path to adulthood.

Here's a great video by Dr. Dan Siegel that explains the structure of the brain in an easy-to-understand model:

We've talked before about the left and right hemispheres of the brain. When you pair that knowledge with an understanding of the "upstairs" and "downstairs" brains, you can begin to see the bigger picture of brain functioning. The cerebral cortex is the "lid" to the brain, also known as the upstairs brain. The upstairs brain can be thought of as the part that's usually running the show responsibly. The downstairs brain, the part that contains our brain stem and limbic system, contains our emotions center, and works with the upstairs brain to help us regulate our responses. When we "flip our lids," the downstairs brain has highjacked the controls and is flying solo, which is one way to think about what happens when we get upset and have trouble thinking and talking clearly and calmly. 

Try the hand model with your family and see if anyone recognizes the signs of when their upstairs or downstairs brain is in control. Oftentimes children, teens and adults alike are relieved to know that losing your cool is understandable when we know a little bit about how our brains work! And it's particularly important to remember that our upstairs brain isn't fully mature until our mid-20s! So when you're wondering just why your tween or teen is having a tough time regulating emotions, planning ahead, thinking through consequences and all the other good stuff that our upstairs brains are responsible for, remember that the adolescent brain is fundamentally different than the adult brain. It takes practice, patience and a lot of trial and error to strengthen the upstairs brain. 

Learn about brain basics and much more at our back-to-school workshop this Saturday, August 17!