The Brain Part 2: Fight, Flight or Freeze

The Brain Part 2: Fight, Flight or Freeze

In the first part of this two part blog series we looked at the different parts of our brain and the different functions that they hold.

Can you remember the three parts of your brain? Let’s recap:

The Reptilian Brain: Our primal brain which focuses on meeting our survival needs of eating, drinking, breathing and sleeping for example.

The Limbic Brain: The part of our brain where the Amygdala lives, this asks the question – Am I safe?

The Cerebral Cortex: Our outer brain where different functions are performed, but ultimately make us different as humans – our personality, language and behaviour.

Understanding our Brains

In the second part of our blog, we are going to be looking at the Fight, Flight or Freeze actions of our brains and how you can explain these to your children. It is important that they understand these in terms of how these situations can affect our happiness.  

Fight or Flight comes from our basic survival instincts. When we come across a new situation, potentially a dangerous one, our brains do one of two things.  

  • It either fights and tackles the situation
  • Or it flights – we run away!

In recent years experts have now added an additional term – freeze. This is when we do neither of the above, and we freeze (like a deer in headlights).

Fight or flight is a decision the brain makes and it is about hope and survival.  Let’s think about a caveman for example. This is a good way of explaining to your children about the fight or flight actions our brain takes, you could make it into a story.  

Here are some basics to include to help understanding:

  • Cavemen’s main job years ago was to hunt for food.
  • If a lion appeared, a pretend alarm bell would go off in their brain to trigger a reaction – their Amygdala would be asking – Am I safe? Because it would be feeling threatened.
  • The brain diverts energy away from the thinking part of the brain which can make it hard to think.
  • Energy is diverted from his stomach which is why we sometimes feel butterflies when feeling stress.
  • The cave man decides to either fight the lion, run away or do nothing and pretend he is dead!

The important part of the story to focus on is the next part. The part about how the caveman moves on from his scary experience.  In terms of your brain, if an event was really scary or traumatic, then this is when the amygdala stops talking to the hippocampus and the memory doesn’t get stored safely.

When this happens we get stuck in frightening patterns. So if he caveman sees a shadow on the wall, he might think it is a real lion and react in the same way.

Happiness therefore is a key skill that we need to learn.

After all Happiness is a choice!

Our brains are geared to keep us safe and will make us scared to prevent us from making the same mistakes again. We have to practise reminding our brains that the danger has passed and to deal with this unresolved memory.

We have to learn the skills to make our brain remember we are not caveman anymore and we don’t always have to react on the same fears as they did. This can be a complicated thing for children to understand, some useful ways of answering their questions might be:

  • The Amygdala is like a guard dog of our brains – he asks Am I safe?
  • The Hippocampus’ job is to store our memories safely – so we can remain calm when we have been in the situation before.
  • The Prefrontal Cortex – is the thinking part of the brain. We need to model and show good behaviours as parents (kindness, empathy and love) as it helps this part of your child’s brain grow.

Key Learning Point

By learning and understanding how our brain is working, we can become more mindful. We can recognise when our emergency circuitry has been triggered and by paying attention to what is going on inside our brain, we can bring ourselves back under control more quickly.

You can read about the brain in much more detail in my Best Selling book, “Your Happy Child, 10 Proven Steps To Raising A Happy Child”. There is also a whole chapter with perfect exercises and activities you can do with your children to get their brains working in the right way, To buy your copy on Amazon or if you want a signed copy you can order directly from my website.

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