How the Thought Process Affects Behavior
Children and adults all have the same method of processing thought. As adults, we hope that we have already mastered this skill, however, in today’s world with stressors around every corner, we tend to revert back to our childhood days. With children, they are just learning how to process thoughts. Hopefully, by the time you finish this article, we will have successfully demonstrated how the thought process affects behavior. The optimal goal here is to get parents, teachers, and caregivers the understanding of why a child behaves the way they do and how to cope with behavioral issues.
The three primary areas of the brain we will focus on are the brain stem, limbic system, and prefrontal lobes.
Brain Stem – The brain stem is home to our fight or flight mechanism. When we are scared or angry our brain wants us to take immediate action and that action is run or fight. Typically, however, an instant decision is not needed but getting our brain to understand takes about 10-seconds. A child does not understand that. They want to immediately react. Let’s say little Johnnie and Tommy both want the same truck. Johnnie hits Tommy and the fight is on. Both children are processing thought from their brain stem, the flight or fight region. What would happen if an adult intervened and asked the question, “Who had the truck first”? Or any such question that would divert the thought process from the brain stem. The probability of the fight stopping is pretty good.
The Limbic System – The limbic system is home to our emotions. Here our brain wants to make sure we are loved and safe. Is anything threatening that? Let’s say Annie is eating lunch, Bobby reaches over and takes her chicken nugget. Annie gets really upset and begins to cry. She believes that she is not safe because someone has taken her food. She is thinking with emotion and from self-protection. What would happen if a teacher intervened and gave Annie her chicken nugget back? Odds are Annie would again return to her cheerful self.
The Prefrontal Lobes – The prefrontal lobes are where our brain processes logical rational thought. If you are working on a math problem, this is the part of your brain sparking the results. Let’s say Katie and Adam both want the color red for their art project but there is only one red crayon. Katie determines that sharing would be a good idea and Adam agrees. This is a logical and rational thought.
How the Thought Process Affects Behavior
Now you understand how our behavior is impacted by our thought process. Making choices/decisions in the wrong area of our brain causes us to react irrationally and illogically. Children are just learning how to process thought. Adults, however, learned how to process thought long ago, but that doesn’t stop us from reacting to situations using thoughts processed through our brain stem. Example… driving down the road and some driver pulls out in front of you. Thoughts in your brain stem immediately tell you to slam on the brakes to prevent an accident. But those thoughts don’t stop there… they also turn to anger for the person driving that car and often words are uttered or yelled in some cases out the car window. We are allowing our flight or fight mechanism to control us.
Allowing a Thought to Run its Course
So, how do we get our brains to not control our behavior? We don’t react at the drop of a hat. We take a minimum of 10-seconds to allow the thought to run its course from the brain stem to the prefrontal lobes. What does this do for you? It calms you down! Take a moment or ten and breathe, imagine something you love, recreate a memory of your favorite moment in time, sing your favorite feel good song… do anything that will give your brain the time it needs to complete the cycle. Your reaction will be completely different than if you reacted in that first couple of seconds. The guy that cut you off will still have issues, however, those are HIS issues, not yours. You have let the anger go and moved on.
As adults, we have to teach our children those same techniques. We know what stressors are out there waiting for them in this world. Teaching them how to be patient, calm, and allow for thought completion will help them cope with what the world throws at them as they grow.
There are so many calming techniques out there. Just Google mindfulness, calming exercises, meditation, yoga… etc… and you will find many options to choose from. Try one, try many, but don’t give up. Do these alone or as a family or as a class. These techniques can be done at home and at school. Changing a recurring behavior is much like breaking a bad habit. You have to stick with it for it to be successful. At a minimum, you should practice the technique for 30-days. Getting into a routine will help break the habit. Do the activity around the same time each day.
Hopefully, now when your child throws a fit, you will understand that the thoughts he is experiencing are occurring in his brain stem. He needs time to calm down and process thought logically. How much logic does a toddler have? Not much until we teach them!
Author: Belinda Davis ©2018