March 08, 2016

Getting Clear on Your Growing Person’s Brain

Let’s be honest. Most adults enter the parenting arena with little to no training, other than once being a little person who was once led by some bigger people.

And suddenly, parents are expected to navigate ups and downs that come with the phenomenal growth of humanhood – all while evolving themselves.

Today, I want to get us all on the same page. Below is a rundown on the developing brain – and it’s a crucial first step in connecting with your people and yourself. In fact, these concepts are the cornerstone of every keynote speech, program, workshop, and coaching call I lead – it’s that important to know!

(Psst! Already understand the human brain? Wonderful! Take a breath, and read the following with fresh eyes and an open heart. I am sure you’ll discover something new.)

Here we go!

There are three main parts of the human brain. We are born with all the parts and all the neurons that will eventually allow the whole system to work together. However, the process of brain development — wiring the brain so that we can control our impulses, manage our emotions, think rationally, empathize, etc. — Takes years and years.

It’s a lot of work to wire a healthy brain!

Because of all of the wiring and re-wiring that needs to take place, especially in the early years of life, growing people (ourselves included) can sometimes become dysregulated. And when we feel dysregulated we operate from brain states that are more reactionary. This is the real cause of unsavory behavior. Your growing people (and you at times) can get overdone and as a result slip into a reactionary brain state.

Knowing this is so important! So what can you do? Read & Respond!

A simplified way to read your child’s behavior:

Your child is in a Human Brain STATE if they are…
speaking rationally, listening, cooperating, creating, thinking, playing, reasoning, or loving.

Your child is in a Mammal Brain STATE if they are…
whining, clinging, not listening, resisting, cuddly, ordering you around, speeding up, nervous laughing, crying, or playing baby.

Your child is in a Reptile Brain STATE if they are…
fighting: kicking, biting, screaming, hitting, spitting, melting down
flight: running away, shutting down



Here’s what you can do:

Human Brain State? Teach! Guide and Give the Yeses
Inform, Play the lessons, Guide, Appreciate

Mammal Brain State? Observe! Reflect and Regulate
Connect, Reflect, Zip it, Play

Reptile Brain State? Slow down! Stop and Soothe
Calm, Connect, Comfort

Once upon a time ago, I made two videos to explain the human brain featuring myself and my lovely drum set. This was 5 years ago – amazing to see how many people embrace this understanding of humanhood now!

Plus, access this cheat sheet to keep all these pieces front and center. Even print it out and post all over your house, office, car, wherever! Then play with this information, and email me any ah-ha moments that pop up over the next few days as you see your people’s brain states.



P.S. I want to share these inspiring words from a mama who took this information and ran with it…

Understanding the brain development as the first step was crucial. Getting out of my brain and connected with my daughter’s helped me find compassion and understanding – for the biology of it instead of getting upset at the actions. The language and the tools were next. Being able to speak about the feelings and name them was so helpful… for all of us. But one of the most helpful tools that I still use with her (almost 9) and with my youngest (almost 4) is humor and play. Being silly during difficult meltdowns lightens things up, brings the connection back, and it enables us to communicate again – while still feeling the feelings. – Deborah E. (six year member of Evolve)


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  • I'm grateful for information!

    Great article! I am an occupational therapist and will share this with parents and teachers. Also, as a parent of a willful 11 year old - it is a good reminder!! Thanks!
  • […] And from Carrie Contey’s blog: A child brain takes decades to develop, and that’s important to keep in mind as you evaluate your child’s behavior. One easy way to categorize it: Your child is in a Human Brain State if they are speaking rationally, listening, cooperating, creating, thinking, playing, reasoning, or loving. And that means they’re teachable in this moment! Your child is in a Mammal Brain State if they are whining, clinging, not listening, resisting, cuddly, ordering you around, speeding up, nervously laughing, crying or paying baby. And that means you need to observe, reflect, connect and play. But don’t teach. They’re not in their higher functioning brain. Your child is in Reptile Brain State if they are fighting, kicking, biting, screaming, hitting, spitting, melting down, running away, or shutting down (in fight or flight mode basically). In this instance, you slow down, you stop and soothe, you calm and comfort. […]
  • […] Getting Clear on Your Growing Person’s Brain, from Carrie’s blog […]
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