Earlier this year, I released Flooded: A Brain-Based Guide to Help Children Manage Emotions. The book was for parents, educators and caregivers and just after releasing it, the message I heard from readers was clear: we need a book like this for kids. I’d been sharing this information with kids in my office for many years and referred to the amygdala – the fear center of the brain – as a peanut. After all, the amygdala is shaped like an almond and when explaining complex ideas to kids, concrete examples seem to work best.
In my office, I have a huge whiteboard and I draw out the brain, highlight the amygdala and teach kids how blood flows from the top of the brain to the bottom when the amygdala fires. I explain it’s not their fault they lose control and act in crazy ways. When the blood leaves the top of the brain, they have no choice. Their brain is out of order. The top of the brain is where rational thinking and emotion regulation occur. Without blood there, those two things simply can’t happen. This information has been a huge relief to kids. I’ve seen teenagers sigh and say, “I thought I was crazy,” and seven-year-olds say, “Really? That’s what’s happening?!?” No matter the age, this information has helped kids understand why they lose control and more importantly, what to do about it.
In How to Crack Your Peanut, I take kids through this journey just as if they were in my office. The main character, Diego, struggles with managing emotions and goes to see a counselor, who shows him a giant picture of the brain and what happens when the amygdala fires. Each week, Diego goes back to the counselor and learns a strategy to send blood back to the top of the brain. By the end of the book, he’s even teaching his little brother how to do Square Breathing! Most importantly, Diego learns that he’s not alone and that nothing is wrong with him. All of the guilt and embarrassment he felt from his prior dysregulated outbursts are replaced by empowering moments of successfully managing difficult feelings.
Early in my career, a wise woman said our job as counselors is to shorten the lag time between when a child falls down and is able to get back up. We aren’t here to fix children’s problems but to assist them in getting back on their feet. There are many kids I will never be able to see in my office. There are many parents I will never get to meet but my hope is that through this book, children everywhere will gain access to this information and from it, will grow the emotional legs they need for their journey.