Deirdre’s Tips for Understanding your Child’s Brain

The Left side of the Brain controls the right side of the body. It sees the ‘Small Picture’ i.e. details. It performs tasks that have to do with Logic, Reasoning and Analysing. It is the ‘thinking brain. It is responsible for verbal functions – reading, writing, speaking, interpretation.
The Right side of the Brain controls the left side of the body. It sees the ‘Big Picture’. It performs tasks that have to do with Creativity and the Arts. It is more ‘Visual’ and ‘Intuitive’. It is responsible for emotions, feeling empathetic, spatial awareness and operates sensory controls.
Although the two sides function differently, they work together and complement each other. You don’t use only one side of your brain at a time.

How do you respond to your children when they’re upset?

For some parents they immediately go to the Left Side of the Brain with logic/reasoning.

Do these phrases sound familiar?

“Don’t worry. There’s nothing to be afraid of”
“It’s not a big deal that it broke. Just fix it”
“There’s no reason to cry. Losing is part of the…

There is nothing wrong with this ‘left sided’ response however it usually doesn’t work when a child is upset. This is because left-brain logic doesn’t connect with a child having a right-brain meltdown.

Other Parents react using the right side of the Brain. This reaction provides the chance for emotional connection however it may cause overwhelm and chaos if not careful.

Ideally, we work with integrating both sides of the Brain to work as a team in helping children to calm down and restore a balanced and regulated bodily state.


★ These signs are ALL messages that your child sends to let you know that their brain isn’t in a state of integration, and that they need help building skills when it comes to handling challenging situation.

★ Think about yourself now, and how you respond in high-stress situations. Do you generally respond with logic, explaining the reasons, do you typically match emotion with emotion, elevating the chaos in the situation? Or are you usually more integrated, combining left and right brain approaches?

What Triggers Your Reaction? How does Your Body feel when your child explodes emotionally? What goes through Your Mind? Are you more Right or Left Brain in Your Response?
★ Once you’re aware of your own typical response, not only do you have more opportunities for modelling the sort of behaviour you want your child to exhibit, but you’re also more capable of connecting with your child in the way he/she needs to bring his/her brain back to a state of integration.

★ Be Mindful as Parents that sometimes before you respond to your child you may need to redirect yourself, breathe and focus so that you can connect to your child in the most appropriate way.

Techniques to Use to Help Re-Integrate Your Child’s

★Connect & Redirect –

When your child is upset logic won’t work until you have responded to their right side emotional needs. Acknowledging feelings in a non-judgmental way, using physical touch, empathetic facial expressions, and a nurturing tone of voice, are all ways you use your right brain to connect. Once you sense that your child’s brain has settled enough that it can handle a left-brain, logical approach, you can then redirect by problem-solving with your child or making suggestions on what he can do now that he’s feeling calmer and more in control of himself.

★Nonverbal Cues –

Nonverbal communication plays a big role in the Connect and Redirect strategy. Small changes in your behaviour can make a huge difference. Below is a list of various ways to connect effectively with your child using nonverbal cues. Try to be more mindful of how your child perceives these and what way you want your child to view you.

Facial Expression
Using soft eyes, a relaxed face to show that I am in control of the situation, not losing my cool and that the child doesn’t need to be fearful
Tone of Voice
Using a soft, calm, steady tone of voice helps me to communicate that I am here to comfort my child, that I am available to soothe and help my child
My shoulders are relaxed, I use open hands and I am kneeling down on my child’s level, so I am not communicating anger to my child
Offering touch/hugs to show comfort and help soothe a child to bring their body back to a balanced state
Timing of Response
I allow my child to finish before I speak, I am a listening ear but don’t use long pauses that imply guilt/shame.
Intensity of Response
I try to stay as calm as can be as I know if I don’t it will only heighten my child’s reactions, I move closer with relaxed movements
★ Children are incredibly perceptive of everything. Making yourself more aware of how many nonverbal ways you communicate with your child, and how each of them can impact how connected or how reactive your child feels toward you in a given moment is beneficial.
★Remember to ALWAYS try to Connect before you Redirect!
Using only the right or left brain would be like trying to swim using only one arm. We might be able to do it, but wouldn’t we be a lot more successful – and avoid going in circles – if we used both arms together?

Deirdre Ward: Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist & Play Therapist (B.Ed., MIAPTP)
Tel: (085) 1780736
Email: info@unlockirl.ie