When children are in a calm state, their ability to see the bigger picture improves. Science says that positive emotional states affect brain activity associated with cognitive flexibility. It makes sense right? When a child is calm, their ability to think more rationally and with more flexibility improves.
But it's not that simple. What's important to remember is that the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that helps us see the bigger picture) doesn't fully develop until our mid-20's. So when we expect children to naturally and independently change their thinking, see another point of view, or use what we call a growth mindset, it's often an unrealistic expectation.
The reality is that many children require the support of an attuned adult to help them develop these skills; over and over and over again. These executive functioning skills aren't a one and done learned skill; it's the repeated experience that helps create pathways for learning. Children need nurturing adults throughout their childhood and even beyond late adolescence to help foster the development of these skills. This doesn't mean you're problem-solving for them or fixing their problems. The joint effort in problem-solving is often what's required for children to reframe their thoughts to be more helpful and useful. The work of Dr. Ross Greene is a wonderful resource to help in this process. His evidence-based model based on neurobiological research provides a framework for parents and educators to help children develop these skills. We recommend his books Lost at School for educators and Raising Human Beings for parents and caregivers.
We hope you enjoy the visual in this blog from our MIND-BODY-GROW curriculum. It can be used as a resource in your classroom or at home, but don't let eye-catching visuals stand-alone and replace the learning that comes only when an attuned adult connects with a child and collaboratively supports their learning.
Jen Rapanos, LMSW, RCYT is a child and adolescent psychotherapist and owner of Well-Bean.
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