The Human Brain and Responding to Trauma.
We have 4 brains and they work bottom to top as they evolve.
|Neurosequential Model of the brain|
BRAIN 4= top of brain (frontal cortex). Brain 4 does everything we can do that dogs can’t! Think to yourself “can the dog do it?” e.g reading. Quite a high up level of intelligence and our highest form of thinking. Takes a lot to access this brain and we access this at different ages depending on a range of variables. It involves everything at school that involves higher intellect eg. empathy, controls emotions, understands consequences. Stuff that makes us nice people to be around. It’s not just about our genes but 50% relies on nurture too. We learn a lot in the first 1000 days of life that tells us a lot about what we are going to be like. How quickly we mature relies a lot on birth order. Males mature at age 22-32. Females at age 18-24. If you are the first child born into a family AND the first girl it is likely you will reach adulthood at age 18, later born girls would be age 24. First born boys in a family would reach adulthood age 22, later born age 32. How quickly you reach milestones depends on gender and birth order. Interesting to think about in a school sense. 23 girl might have her shit together as she’s technically been an ‘adult’ for 5 years. Whereas a 23 year old male second born is only halfway through adolescence, not reaching adulthood til 32.... Can’t compare by ages.
BRAIN 3= Emotional brain. Limbic system. We begin accessing this brain between ages 2-8. This is why ECE curriculums are social and emotional.
BRAIN 2= Sports brain (movement brain). Starts around 12 months.
BRAIN 1= Survival brain (brain stem) attachment. We learn this from birth.
If needs haven’t been met in brain 1, 2 and 3 we can’t expect students to do anything to do with brain 4.
We often undervalue brain 3 and focus just on brain 4 in schools. This was due a lot to National Standards and large focus on Numeracy and Literacy. Play based learning!! We need to let kids be kids rather than so much focus on academics. Kids don’t need Literacy and Numeracy to be ready for school. There is no evidence that kids need to know the alphabet etc before they come to school.
If you have two 4 year old children and you give one child two halves of a broken biscuit and the other child a full biscuit, the child with the two broken pieces would lose the plot even though it is technically the same amount of biscuit. They don’t have the logical reasoning and can’t do halves. They are still seeing world in emotional way.
ECE teachers job is to see how a child feels about themselves as a learner. Under age of 8 it’s all about how kids feel. We can’t measure how well they are going to achieve academically as it all plateaus by 8. Studies show that it doesn’t matter!
In our teenage years our brain “shuts for renovations” we start regressing in controlling emotions. We go backwards in brain 4 stuff and begin falling back down into brain 3. Think of a teenage girl not wanting to go to school. She’s size 10 and think she’s fat. Logic goes out window and she begins dealing with her emotional brain. Can’t talk them out of it as they aren’t accessing higher level thinking and functioning that happens in our frontal cortex (brain 4).
In terms of responding to trauma...
|Children need to be able to make meaning of trauma.|
So how do we meet needs of brain 1,2,3?
Brain 1= DIAD. We can use mindfulness or yoga (able to permanently calm brain stem) but the main way to meet our survival brains needs is through relationships. The relationship with the teacher is crucial. It gives kids a sense of security. Make yourself available to these kids!
Mindfulness calms our amygdala and survival brain. Brings you into the present moment.
MINDFULNESS IDEAS FOR CLASSROOM:
Play classical music when kids come into the classroom. Tuning in helps calm them. Classical music is based on our heartbeat and this is a calming factor for kids.
Box breathing. Inhale for 2, pause for 2, out for 2, pause for 2. Helps calm the brain stem and sets an emotional tone in the classroom.
BRAIN 2= RHYTHMIC PATTERN. It needs to be steady. We need to keep routine and regularity. Doesn’t need to be strict as we must be flexible and respond to our kids needs. We could use singing as way to respond to regulating rhythmic pattern. Start day with waiata? Harvard University carried out a study to show what gives students the most endorphins. After exercise, and laughter it was shown that singing releases a high level of dopamine and serotonin which helps calm our kids. Something to look at in our school...
BRAIN 3= VALIDATE. We need to ensure our students feel safe and secure. Provide movies, games etc when they need it. Make ourselves relatable and ensure other people would have felt those emotions too. Especially in regards to trauma and recent attacks. Children consist of 90% emotion and these emotions need to be validated in ways such as, “Wow, you must of been feeling really angry to do that.” Children come to us when they know their emotions are going to be validated. Think of the one teacher, or friends parent you would go to as a teengager. There was a reason we went to them when we needed to talk. We were being listened to and our thoughts/concerns were understood.
BRAIN 4= COGNITIVE TRAINING. The number one factor in human wellbeing is a coherent life story. We need to get thoughts out of our head. We can do this through talking, writing or playing etc. In terms of talking to kids, we don’t need to talk a lot they just need to get a coherent story about what has happened. Use a strength based statement that models resiliency. “Yes but the police responded really quickly.” Optimism. Acknowledge their pain.
Thinking of behaviour management- if we tell a student “No standing on the chairs” they will then visualise this happening. This happens in our parietal lobe, we can’t tell our brain what not to do. If you say “Don’t picture an elephant” we picture an elephant…. Cognitive training is the most effective way to change behaviour. Tell them what to do rather than what not to do. We need to empower kids with what they should be doing… Teach social skills!
Kids who are the most traumatised are the ones who have nothing said to them. They all know something is going on and if they have no explanation then that’s the worst outcome they could have. We need to say enough that is developmentally appropriate for their level and ‘maturity age’ thinking of what level of the brain they may be in, whether it be brain 1, 2, 3 or 4.
As teachers we must ensure that we are modelling strength and security to our kids. They need to see that it’s okay! We are the ones who need to be a rock for our students.