top of page

Engage and instruct, don’t fall into anger (Strategy 3)

One of the most important skills we can teach our kids is to make good decisions in high-emotion situations. We want them to pause before acting, to consider consequences, to think about the feelings of others, to make ethical and moral judgments.

But, what makes kids choose their actions? Vertical integration. 

Our lower part of the brain includes the brain stem and the limbic region (it’s located from the top of your neck to the bridge of your nose); these lower areas are one of the most ancient we have as humans, the most primitive as they are responsible for our basic functions (breathing), innate reactions and impulses (fight or flight (our reptile part)), and our amygdala (anger and fear). 

On the other hand, the upper part of our brain it’s made up of the cerebral cortex, prefrontal cortex and other parts of the brain. This upper part is more evolved and gives us more perspective. Here is where we think, imagine and plan. It controls our analytical thinking, self-understanding, empathy, morality and control over emotions and body.

A properly functioning upstairs brain will give a mature, balanced and healthy life as we can regulate our emotions, consider consequences, think before acting, and consider how others feel. If we manage to succeed in our vertical integration we will monitor our actions and help calm strong reactions, impulses and emotions.

Now, we have some evolutionary problems. Downstairs brain is well developed from birth; while the upstairs brain isn’t fully mature until mid-twenties (actually, is one of the last parts of the brain to develop). Hence, it can be unrealistic to expect kids to be rational, regulate their emotions, make good decisions, think before acting and be empathetic. They can demonstrate some of these qualities, time to time or certain moments; but it will not happen everyday.

So, what can we do when the amygdala hits? Help soothe, and steer away from the chaos bank (right part of the brain, out of control side) because when they are in anger or fear they will not process any information. Help them calm down with breathing techniques, horizontal integration (as previously mentioned in our last articles), or distract them to focus on other things.

Now, if it is a tantrum you must teach them to put firm limits to themselves. They must see the consequences of their inappropriate actions, and learn how to control their impulses. For instance, if they have a game they want to attend or play and they do not follow your orders then you must follow through on those consequences. By providing this type of firm limit you will be teaching them to have respectful communication, patience, and delayed gratification pay off. 

Finally, how to exercise the brain upstairs?

  1. Give them practice at making decisions for themselves. Show them different options, competing alternatives, and the outcomes of those choices they will make. Give them practice by strengthening the whole picture of their decisions.

  2. Develop Self-Understanding: Ask questions that help them look beyond of what they understand. Encourage daily writing or drawing on a journal.

    1. Why do you think you made that choice?

    2. What made you feel that way?

    3. Why do you think you didn't do well?

  3. Develop empathy:

    1. Why do you think that kid is crying?

    2. How do you think Amanda is feeling right now after what happen to her?

  4. Develop morality: Challenge them to think about how they act, and to consider the implications of their decisions.

  5. Move the body to avoid losing the mind (it has been proven that bodily movement directly affects brain chemistry)

    1. Teach them to take a deep breath, or count to ten.

    2. Help them express their feelings.

So we have learn three (3) strategies:

  1. Retell the story of the frightening or painful experience so you integrate the left and right hemisphere and start healing. (

  2. Instead of command and demand, try to connect and redirect: working left with left, and right with right (Horizontal integration). (

  3. Engage and instruct, don’t fall into anger (vertical integration). 


bottom of page