We all know that the wiring of the human brain is extremely complicated, and its functions are versatile. Luckily, scientists are doing their best to explain brain functions in simple terms so that we can all understand our brains a little better. An example of such simplification is the left and the right brain.
If we had to describe each side in just one adjective, we’d say that the left brain is the logical one and the right brain is the creative one. But let’s go deeper than that.
In today’s post, we’ll explain the different functions of the left and the right brain, and how these two interact to achieve whole brain integration (the definition of a healthy functioning brain).
Without further ado, meet Larry left brain and Rachel right brain.
Rachel Right Brain
Rachel right brain is creative and artistic. She has strong imagination and intuition. Like all artists, she is empathetic and experiences strong emotions that sometimes she can’t tame. She is a dreamer, and she loves to connect with others.
And did you also know that Rachel right brain develops first, by the age of 3 or 4? That’s why kids prefer to learn through playing and exploring. Traditional learning methods are a bit hard for them to grasp. Attending classes and studying is for later, when Larry left brain starts to develop.
Larry Left Brain
So, Larry left brain develops by the age of 7. He is more of a thinker, this one. Larry prefers to analyse things, to have it all planned out and calculated. He is all about literacy as well: he has math, science, and language skills. One might say he’s rational and more down to earth than sweet Rachel.
But how dull would life be without a little innocent drama? Let’s see how Rachel and Larry help each other out to find the balance between uncontrollable emotions and sheer logic.
Whole Brain Integration: Rachel and Larry Together, the perfect match
Have you ever met a person who seems cut off from their feelings, whose actions are always calculated and driven by logic? Or a person who can’t get a hold of their emotions and acts impulsively with hair trigger responses to stress? Both cases indicate impaired brain integration. That means these people use one side of the brain significantly more than the other.
When Rachel and Larry are best friends and work closely together, then you have a healthy, well-integrated brain. And let’s not forget about our upstairs and downstairs brain, either. The brain needs lots of connections to function at its best and help us regulate our emotions. To find out about the upstairs and downstairs brain, read our post on Dan Siegel’s “Hand Model of the Brain” here.
So how do Rachel right brain and larry left brain interact?
Like we said, Rachel right brain is more emotional than Larry left brain. When Rachel gets upset, she may find it difficult to calm down. She may even throw a tantrum. That’s when Larry, who is more rational and cool-headed, swoops in to help her realise why she is upset. Once she figures it out, Rachel begins to calm down, and they start working on a solution together.
How Parents Can Help Build Whole Brain Integration and Healthy Brains
When a child is upset, they usually find it hard to control their feelings. What’s more, their frustration may manifest in exaggerated ways. Not always, though. Sulking, eye-rolling, whining are all signs that the right brain is taking over, and the child is struggling with tidal wave of negative emotion.
As a parent or caregiver, you need to step up and bring in the big weapons of the left brain. Of course, when a kid is still in the right brain emotional meltdown state, there’s no point addressing their logic. It’s better to support their emotional needs first. Do a sympathetic gesture signaling you understand, speak to them in a calm voice, hug them. You can also ask your child to name their feelings or label them for them e.g. “I can see you are feeling mad right now.”
Research has shown that simply identifying the feeling calms the limbic system down and allows the person to feel seen, supported and understood. To that end, practising mindfulness can be really helpful. Mindfulness teaches both kids and adults to identify, observe, and coexist with their feelings, rather than shutting them down or being overwhelmed by them. Once the “big feelings” have subdued, you can have a meaningful, problem solving conversation. Discover child friendly mindfulness practices we’ve shared in a previous blog, here.
Play also helps build whole brain integration through involving the senses and empathic interactions in relationships. It’s also a great way to help children reframe or create new narratives to process traumas and ideas, problem-solve, etc. Even simple activities, like singing, engage both sides of the brain. The right brain for music skills and the left for language skills.
As mammals, we are biologically wired with social brains that need safety, play, and connection to wire in a healthy, well-integrated way. When one side of the brain takes over, the result is either a rigid individual or one in a constant state of emotional turbulence. Surround your child with unconditional love and join them in creative, playful, connection based activities so that they can grow up to be self-aware, emotionally intelligent individuals.
Rachel right brain, with her emotional temperament and vivid imagination, adds a little colour to Larry’s linear life. And Larry left brain, the voice of the logic, reminds her to come down to earth and be a little practical every now and then. Rachel and Larry are indeed the perfect match!