The part of the brain that governs emotion is represented by the thumb and acts like an accelerator on areas that govern body function. The thinking part of the brain acts as a brake on emotions and is represented by the finger tips.
When the thumb is active and the fingers pushed up we have ‘Flipped our Lid’ – we are reactive (reactive response). When the thumb is calm and the fist is closed representing motorways of connections between different areas of the brain we are responsive.
When we are responsive we make our best decisions – this is when the fist is closed and the different parts of their brains connect well with each other.
We can learn to calm the reactivity of our brain through emotion coaching techniques and mindfulness exercises. Dan Siegel uses the phrase ‘Name it to Tame it’.
One of the ways the thinking part of our brain works to calm our bodily responses is through stimulation of the vagus nerve (this is known as Vagal Tone). The vagus nerve travels from the brain stem to key organs in the body doing things like lowering heart rate and breathing rates.
The relevance of relationships to early brain development.
Through non-invasive scanning of very young babies and children, the brain has been understood to be a ‘social organ.’ The normal development of the brain relies on stimulation through social interaction and is influenced as well by other factors including epigenetics, physical health, and diet. Key figures in the research in this area include John Bowlby, Pat Crittendon, Mary Ainsworth, and Mary Main.
All this means is that a baby is born with a basic brain structure. Then neural connections are encouraged by stimulating that brain through interaction.
Connections form in human brains all the time – but the bulk of the connections are made in the first two years of life.
The brain is organized into different areas of responsibility – including sight, smell, emotions, logic, and memory. The different areas are connected by a network of a hundred billion neurons. The more we use the network, the more connections are made and the bigger, better and faster they are.
John Gottman and Emotion Coaching
John Gottman is an American psychologist who has studied human relationships for decades. He describes 4 relationship styles : Emotion Coaching Style, Dismissing Style (often motivated by a desire to fix eg don’t worry, you’ll be fine), , Disapproving Style (ofen motivated by a desire to control or regain power) and Laissez Faire Style. Children with a parent or carer who used the Emotion Coaching Style at least 30% of the time had improved outcomes into adulthood (sociability, achievement, health).
The main message of Emotion Coaching is that all emotions are OK but not all behavior is OK…..
Paul Ekman has studied emotions and facial experiences across many cultures and concluded that human emotions are universal. Everything we see, feel, touch, and taste (i.e., ‘experience’) passes through the emotional part of our brain (how we feel) and the thinking part of our brain (how we respond to the feeling). He describes six core emotions that all humans experience. Anger, Sadness, Disgust, Surprise, Fear and Joy.
John Gottman’s five steps of Emotion Coaching
2.Connect with the people around you.
3.Recognise feelings and empathise with them.
4. Validate feelings – try to define and label them.
5.Problem solve and where necessary impose limits.
Emotion coaching is about building and enriching relationships. The problem solving comes last – after you’ve talked about your feelings.
Seeing the brain as a social organ dependent upon relationships with other people and understanding how our brains develop early on in our lives helps us all understand our emotions.
As we get better at understanding how the emotion centre in our brain connects with other areas we can start to change how we behave and become more responsive.
Dr Sarah Temple MRCGP
References and Evidence
Somerset Emotion Coaching Project 2015 - Evaluation
Gottman, J. M. & DeClair, J. (1997). The Heart of Parenting: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. New York: Simon & Schuster.
https://www.gottman.com/about/research/ - Professor John Gottman Research Base
Daniel J Siegel The Whole Brain Child
http://www.drdansiegel.com/about/mindsight/ - Dr Dan Siegel Research base
Developing Adult Capabilities- Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University
Havighurst, S. S., Wilson, K. R., Harley, A. E., Prior, M. R., & Kehoe, C. (2010). Tuning in to Kids™: Improving emotion socialization practices in parents of preschool children – findings from a community trial. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51(12), 1342-1350
The California Clearing House is an internationally recognised system for analysing the robust- ness of evaluation. This TIK randomised control trial is rated 2/5 where 1 is the highest score and 5 the lowest. This is directly comparable with Triple P.