Brain Basics

The primary goal of the FocusedKids program is to have children, and the adults in their lives understand basic concepts about how the brain works and apply that knowledge to managing their thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Using the regular practice of awareness, calming, and focusing, the brain is wired for self-regulation. This is part of the executive function and is often used as a predictor for school and life success.

There are two big reasons children need to learn about their brains. In early childhood, the brain is not developed enough to meet the ongoing needs that arise. As a result, there is one part, the amygdala, that reacts when a need comes up. Until the child learns appropriate ways to signal for help, the amygdala takes over the whole system until the need is met. The associated behavior might be crying, hitting, kicking, screaming, and other difficult behaviors. What is needed is for the amygdala to calm down, allowing the other brain parts to focus and respond to the need appropriately.

This is true for older children, and because the brain can change throughout their lives, they understand that the brain is doing what they have practiced. They can practice a different skill and change the wiring in the brain for a different outcome.

The second reason is that children feel empowered to be in charge of their brain when they understand what is causing them to think, feel, and behave the way they are at any moment. This understanding is foundational for taking responsibility for themselves and empathizing with others.

Adults need the same information to assist the children in learning about the brain and, most importantly, to facilitate a safe relationship so the language and practice for wiring a healthy brain can be successful. If the child is fearful of the adult or the environment his amygdala is on alert, which impedes learning. One skill the adults learn is that of co-regulation. Being calm and regulated themselves, encourages trust, and they can be the key source of initial calm for the child. On the other hand, a dysregulated adult will not be successful in helping a child to regulate.

The three parts of the brain we teach in the FocusedKids curriculum include the Amygdala, Hippocampus, and Prefrontal Cortex. We have found that even preschoolers can grasp each brain part's function and help them work together. Because we use puppets to represent the parts, children engage quickly and fully. Right away, they are introduced to various tools, like the chime, a breathing ball, or glitter jar. They experience the calm and focus that comes with paying attention to one thing. And they love the feeling!

Success with this program happens due to the adults in children's lives using it consistently every day. Teachers, parents, and caregivers are provided the resources for learning and practicing what is important for children to learn to self-regulate, be kind and happy, and successful.

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