Children’s Levels of Cognition

In my last post, I wrote about how the brain states of children can impact their functional IQ. Research published by Dr. Bruce Perry on this topic is compelling and something that parents, caregivers and teachers should understand in order to help children through their difficult or fearful brain states.

parts of the brain
How does a child’s brain work when he is fearful?

How does a child’s brain process information when he feels fearful?

Another aspect of this is in how the brain state has impact to the ability to comprehend and process information.  There is a significant difference between how a child can process in a fear state than how they process when they are calm.

Here is a quick summary of the brain states and the capability to process:

  • When a child is in a calm brain state they can think abstractly,
  • When a child is in an alert brain state they think concretely,
  • When a child is in an alarm brain state they think emotionally,
  • When a child is in a fear brain state they think reactively,
  • When a child is in a terror brain state they are reflexive.

How are these states determined?

The most simple answer is when certain sensory information is given to the child, it triggers the brain to react then certain parts of the brain take over putting the child into a particular brain state. So, what state they are in is determined by what part of the brain is in control at the time. Thus, a child is in the:

But going back to brain states, think once again about a child taking a test. What brain state should he/she be in to do well on that test?  It is, of course, that calm brain state: in the neo-cortex, where he/she can think about abstract and detailed information. If he/she is taking the test in a fearful brain state, then thinking in how to answer a question will be reactive and impulsive.

If we are attempting to get a child to learn, what should be the brain state?

We want him to think as abstractly as possible.

Consider why children become emotional when frustrated? Probably because they are alarmed about something. Alarm does not encourage calm or abstract thinking.

Why do we find so many of our students in urban settings shutting down and falling asleep in class? Possibly because they have been terrorized outside of school and they cannot process at all.

I could go on and on with examples, but I think you get the point. Understanding brain states and how to help children regulate the state of their brain is not only healthy but essential to learning, comprehension, growing and maturation.

We live in a world of high alert caused by so many issues, and our children are attempting to deal with all of them regularly. As caregivers, it is significant we become and stay aware and attuned to their brain states. It is a well-documented way we can help them deal with their developing brains, social relationships, home life and academic expectations in a way that they can emerge as successful and healthy adults.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

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