I think most of us most likely take for granted that (generally) we feel safe. Right? I mean it was probably pretty obvious when the pandemic hit and suddenly we had reasons to not feel safe.
Suddenly, we were thrown into a situation where even going to the grocery store could jeopardize our safety, or the safety of those close to us. This seemed especially apparent at the beginning of the pandemic, since the scientific community was still trying to even figure out how the virus spread, how long it lasted on surfaces and all that.
This post however, isn’t about the pandemic. It’s about safety.
In the post titled “The Baby Brain“, I talked about the Triune Brain Theory that we use at Brain Fit Academy. Triune- the three parts of the brain that we refer to as the “baby brain”, the “emotional brain”, and the “thinking brain”. In that post, I focused more on the role of the emotional brain. When thinking about safety, we’re talking more about the “baby brain”.
You see, the baby brain (brain stem) is in charge of our sense of safety. It has this continuous communication with the emotional brain (the limbic midbrain) to help us know whether we are safe, or whether we need to fight, flight or freeze.
It’s like the baby brain and the emotional brain have a cool walkie-talkie system between them.
BZZZ…”Hello? Baby brain? Are you there?”
BZZZ…”Yeah, I’m here. What’s going on up there?”
BZZZ…”I’ve got some incoming sensory input that I’m sending down to you. I don’t don’t know how to respond, so I need you to react. You ready?”
BZZZ…”Yup- all systems go. I’m ready to kick up those stress hormones, tighten up the back of the body, send the blood to the big muscles, and move the eyes to the periphery. Just send it on down!”
So imagine that for a minute. Incoming information comes into the brain, the emotional brain decides if it’s safe or a threat and sends the information along- up to the thinking brain (neocortex) if it’s deemed safe, and down to the baby brain (brain stem) if deemed a threat.
That walkie-talkie system continuously on, continuously communicating. But what if the baby brain is getting too much action? Too much information being sent down there and the body is in a constant state of stress? A constant state of not feeling safe?
Let’s go back to the pandemic analogy for a minute.
Think about the first time you went into the grocery store after the lockdown started. If you were anything like me, you were probably nervous about touching anything and wiped down the cart with multiple sanitizing wipes. You wore your mask and made sure that it fit well so that you weren’t breathing in any one else’s germs. As you walked around the store, your eyes darted around the aisles- making sure you were keeping the appropriate amount of distance from those around you and that you were following the “one-way” system of walking through the store.
Now imagine, that as you were in the middle of that trip, the store manager came on the loud speaker and said that there was a mandatory meeting for all shoppers and you needed to meet him by the milk section- it was time for the first lesson of the day- how to read the labels on milk bottles.
Being the diligent shopper that you are, and not wanting to cause any trouble, you make your way over to the milk aisle- still on guard, alert and nervous about the virus.
When you arrive to the gathering, the manager proceeds to give all the customers the lesson about reading labels. You’re thinking- what is happening? Why is this person trying to teach me some (seemingly) unimportant thing when I’m just trying to make sure I survive this shopping trip?!?
Now, some of you may have guessed by now where I am going with this.
And if not, let me tell you.
Replace “grocery store” with “classroom”. And replace “you” with “a student”.
Every day, kids in schools are expected to learn when their body is in a state of just trying to survive. It may be an actual, physical, survival feeling- such as that of extreme hunger. Or- it could be a perceived threat to the system due to what we call a “disorganized brain” caused by unintegrated primitive reflexes. It doesn’t matter. In both instances, the brain and body feel the same.
The physiological reactions are the same.
The behavioral reactions are the same.
Either way- do you think in that state the child is going to learn? I mean really learn?
Would you? Would you learn how to read those labels on the milk bottles in the grocery store? Think about it- would you really?!?
I would like to say emphatically that the answer would be NO! You wouldn’t learn in that state, and a child wouldn’t learn in that state either.
So, all that being said, what do we do about this? How can we help kids feel safe so that they can learn?
Well, one way is with movement. At Brain Fit Academy, we use movements that help calm the nervous system. We use movements that address the physiological responses to stress and bring the body back to a calmer state.
We can use movement activities to (literally) move from that survival mode to learning mode.
Because- honestly? Without moving out of survival mode, we aren’t going to learn how to read milk bottle labels in the middle of a pandemic grocery store trip. And children aren’t going to learn their math, or spelling or history in a classroom either.
Let’s do our best to limit that walkie-talkie conversation between the emotional brain and the baby brain, and get it talking to the thinking brain instead.
BZZZ…”Hello? Thinking brain? I don’t need the baby brain this time. I’ve got some sensory input I’m sending up to you. Here it comes. You ready?”