Explaining how the brain works helps children control their emotions

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“It’s your crocodile, Oliver”.

This is something I say a lot to Oliver in a moment of crisis. Because in a crisis he must recognise his emotions before he can control them. Because he must get back in touch with his rational brain first. I learnt it long time ago at a positive discipline course held by Macarena Soto Rueda and I’ve been using it since.

When I tell him, I do like this with my hand.

It symbolises a crocodile, and Oliver knows. He knows that it means his crocodile, the instinctive part of his brain, has taken over. He knows because I explained to him that we have a brain model in the palm of our hand—I’ve learnt it from Daniel Siegel and taught it to my children.

The palm is the brainstem (the instinctive, reptilian part), the thumb is the limbic system and the fingers are the cortex (the rational part). If you look at it closely, it actually does look like a brain

When these three parts are connected, the brain is calm, balanced, flexible.

But when the fingers are up like a crest, the instincts take over and we must tame the crocodile before being able to explore solutions and reconnect with the rational part of our brain. After all, what does a crocodile do when it feels threatened? It attacks!

I talk a lot about this in my online course (only in Italian for now, but I’m working to translate it into English), because Oliver has big, huge emotions and this concept helped us a lot.

Understanding how the brain works helps us adults debunk the myth about tantrums and explaining the crocodile mode to our children helps them recognise and name their emotions to be able to tame them.


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The woman behind the words

My name is Carlotta, I’m 33 years old, I’m Italian, married to a Finnish guy, and together we raise Oliver (4) and Emily (2) Montessori and multilingual. We’re selling everything to travel the world.

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