Coping skills for kids – Coping Brain Details

Coping Brain – Our Amazing Adaptable Brain

The human brain, weighing just three pounds, is packed with billions of flexible,changing cells (neurons) capable of forming trillions of connections. Throughout our life, human brain cells die and new ones grow. The result is that our brain is never the same from moment to moment. Today we briefly discuss about coping skills for kids.

Because our brain is always changing, this is the how we can grow up and learns better ways to cope with new challenges. Microscopic neurons, our brain cells, send messages to each other at the incredible speed of one thousand times per second.

All of these features make our amazing brain the most powerful, quick and adaptable learning tool in the universe!

What does the term “coping brain” mean?

Every time we are challenged by new or upsetting experiences our brain must come up with ways to deal with our stress or worry.

 Sometimes our brain needs to find better ways to deal with our upsets because the old ways don’t work anymore.

We need all three coping brain functions, thinking, feeling and self-protection, to get over experiences that make us stressed, worried, angry or upset

Training our brain to use health coping methods means we can heal our own emotional wounds so we also feel better about ourselves.

Look at all the things our coping brain does:

Our brain can instantly change from thinking up new ideas, to telling us what we are feeling, and protecting us from danger — all from moment to moment.

  • Learning and storing memories
  • Telling parts of our body what to do
  • Figuring out how to come up with safe ways to keep us alive and free from danger.

How does our amazing adaptable brain do all of these things at once? To successfully cope and adapt all humans have three powerful coping brain functions. You may be surprised to know that “thinking” is just one of these functions.

We also are also born with several instinctive coping brain functions that begin to operate the moment we come into the world.

There’s another way you can learn about how your three coping brains work. Find out by getting to know your Brain Team in action.

Emotional Coping Brain

The emotional coping function is also known as the mammalian brain since it is common to all mammals whose babies are born live and completely dependent upon their mother for survival.

Neuroscientists, refer to this small but essential brain function as the limbic system. As we will see, without our emotional brain mothers would not feel an instinctive need to nurture and feed their young.

Nor would babies recognize and sense that their survival depends upon staying close to their mother for protection. This relatively small but important brain function serves a variety of coping and sensory purposes including our capacity for emotional attachment to others.

When we talk about our“feelings” we are describing sensations and impulses arising from our emotional coping brain.

We can’t help think of our emotional coping brain without realizing its connection to reptilian instincts that also help us to survive. But emotional brain does much more than keep us alive.

It is the link to our thinking (neocortex) brain that allows humans to know and name what they are feeling (like happiness or sadness). We need an emotional brain to help us form judgments, preferences and attitudes – that tell us who and what we like or dislike.

When we feel we really like a certain movie star or character in a book, our emotional coping brain urges us to see that actor’s movies or read books about our favorite characters.

Feelings and Emotions – The connection between Coping Brain functions

We often use the words “emotions” and “feelings” as though they are the same thing. When it comes to coping skills and brain tools, we can see they are the result of different brain coping functions. We have an immediate response when our emotional brain senses we are having an emotional experience (like having fun spending time with a close friend).

However, our feelings go beyond sensing an experience.Feelings result from our thinking (neocortex), emotional (mammalian) and reptilian (survival) brains’ reaction to what we are feeling inside.

Thinking brain is always working hard to understand what kind of experience emotional brain is sensing or processing. Neocortex is also connected to reptilian brain since it’s like an emergency signal (stress) we need to respond to.

Emotional brain is also sensitive to reptilian warnings when something seems like a threat or sign of danger (upsets our feelings). Here is another way of explaining the relationship between “emotions” and “feelings”: Feelings are the subjective, inner meaning (or interpretation) we give to our emotional experiences.

Two people may have the same stressful experience (like their pet dying), but inner feelings are determined by each person’s own neocortex, which gives meaning to an emotional experience and considers the best way to cope with an upsetting situation.

One person can become sad and cry. Another person,who might not feel so attached to their pet , might decide to go out and replace it with another one. Brain timing is important. Reptilian impulses tend to lead us to respond quickly using anger or avoidance.

Thinking brains take awhile to “figure out” why we feel the way we do and what we should do about it. Neocortex provides meaning (that we call our feelings) by explaining to us what emotional brain is experiencing — whether it’s happiness or hurt feelings.

Human Emotional Brain Coping Characteristics

1. Instinctive survival when dependent upon others

2. Emotional expression

3. Social identity and emotional connection with others

4. Mutual love and emotional bonding

5. Compassion and empathy with others

6. Joyful feelings of happiness and excitement

7. Enjoyment of play

8. Our sense of emotional distress and sadness

9. Our emotional preferences, likes and dislikes

10. Our sense of shame, rejection and acceptance

 1. Instinctive survival when dependent upon others

Human emotions are needed for a baby’s survival since helpless infants are completely dependent on someone upon their parents for protecting, caring for and feeding them.

This is one reason fathers and mothers have different instinctive brain capabilities when it comes to protecting their young.

Fathers have strong reptilian brain impulses to physically protect their children, while mothers’ emotional brain functions focus more on nurturing behavior that includes emotional displays of love and hugging to reassure the helpless infant that they are safe and loved.

 2. Emotional expression

Without an emotional brain function our face wouldn’t show how we feel about things. Do we feel safe and comfortable with someone, or are we suspicious or afraid of them?All this is the emotional brain’s instinctive ability to express or show others what we are feeling.

Some people are very good at reading “body language” and facial expressions to figure out how people respond to them. Others find it difficult to understand how others feel about them.

Our emotional coping brain depends upon our thinking brain’s interpretation of our relationships with others. Without our ability to correctly interpret what other people think of us, we would feel lost in social situations.

Some of our emotional brain instincts are more sensitive than others according to whether we’re a male or female. Generally, female brains tend to be better than males at sensing relationships with others.

Females also tend to react more emotionally than boys being more sensitive to feelings as well as capable of expressing them.For example, girls’ brains often experience deep sadness or distress when they experience the loss or rejection of someone they have been close to.

Males more naturally display anger, followed by reptilian brain aggressive behavior, when they are emotionally upset and unable to cope with such experiences. Our instinctive brains can send different messages that cause anger or sadness.

Both responses require us to use neocortex self-control methods to get over our emotional brain sadness or reptilian brain anger.

 3. Social identity and emotional connections with others

Humans are social beings. This means we feel better when we have friends and do things that we enjoy together. The emotional brain senses being safer when we belong and have a connection with others, because our brain has a basic need for security and protection.

This emotional brain’s strong social need also contributes to our sense of status and our ranking within a group. In personal relationships it is our emotional brain that senses how others feel or think about us.

The way people respond to us is often a key cue for telling our self “How lovable and acceptable I am.” As we move from being a child to pre-teen and later during teenage years we need far more social assurance that we are lovable and acceptable persons.

Adolescence involves turning away from parents for our sense of who we are and what others think of us. We need and seek more approval from peers – our similar age friends and classmates.

At this time we become far more sensitive to responses from those whose approval we need. It is a constant adolescent worry whether a person or group rejects or accept us.

 4. Mutual love and emotional attachment

Emotional coping functions are necessary when we are with those people upon whom we depend and who are important to us. This includes our parents, teachers and friends.

If we didn’t have an emotional brain, we couldn’t have the warm experience when we are with close, trusting friends, or later in life enjoy the love and companionship of another person who we want to spend the rest of our life with.

Our natural survival instinct drives us to seek close emotional attachment with others. This begins with the bond between mother and child that assures baby’s survival.

However, as we grow older it is not enough to have similar interests or share the same activities with others, although this is an important way of forming social connections.

From the moment we are born we feel the need to express and receive assurance that we are cared for by someone or some group.

As we grow older, the most reassuring feeling our emotional brain provides us is that someone else loves and cares for me the same as I care for them.

 5. Compassion and empathy with others

Emotional brain provides us with the ability to understand and sense the deepest feelings of others. This gives us the ability to feel sad when others do; or share the joy of others in a group having fun.

This connection to others’ feelings is what makes us want to sacrifice ourselves in possible harm to help others ourselves for others we care about. Parents can have deep emotional attachment with their children.

This means some parents are willing to sacrifice their own personal needs in order to help their children fill their needs. One example isa single mother who works several jobs at a time, while taking care of her home and children. She receives enjoyment just by feeding, caring for and bringing enjoyment to her children. A mother’s or father’s sacrifice can make it possible for her children to go to college.

Compassion means we simply care about the welfare of others and want to comfort and assist them any way we can.

The emotional coping brain connection to our thinking brain creates one of the most valued human emotional experiences: To truly understand and experience what others are feeling. This is more than sympathy, and people just feeling sorry for us.

The deepest emotional connection with another person (or pet) is called “empathy.” The closest emotional relationships we have in life require empathy – the joining of two individuals’ feelings. When they are happy, itmakes us happy.

When they are sad, so are we. Native Americans have expressed this sense of deep emotional connection with another by calling it “Walking a mile in their moccasins.”

 6. Joyful feelings of happiness and excitement

A major difference between reptiles and mammals is that humans and other higher mammals have an emotional brain function that is able to experience and express the excitement of joy and happiness.

You don’t expect a lizard or alligator to wag its tail or lick your face if you pet it. Why?

They have no emotional brain that provides this sense of enjoyment. Emotional experiences like birthdays or wonderful surprises are able to lift our human spirits.

Without an emotional brain we wouldn’t scream out in joy when our team or school wins a big game. In addition to joy, humans have the ability to laugh at our self. A sense of humor is a unique human coping ability that can help to reduce stress.

Humor is the result of combining emotional brain and thinking brain abilities to not only sense when we are happy or sad, but to express our joy by laughing, or even making fun of what we fear.

 7. Enjoyment of play

Everyone loves puppies and small kittens because their emotional brain provides them with the unique ability and impulse to engage in play.

As children we can’t get enough of play, for it is one of our most active and instinctive emotional brain functions. Sometimes we use play to divert our thinking brain worrying about something that upsets us.

Play also makes us feel good since it engages or uses all of our three coping brain functions – reptilian, emotional and thinking. “Play” in the sense we use it as an emotional brain function, is different than “competitive activity” where there is a need to prove something by winning, and feeling terrible if we lose or don’t measure up.

Emotional play is a light sense of enjoyment that reduces stress. Baseball and other competitive games we “play” involve “keeping score” and even “settling a score”by dominating and “beating” others. That is more a reptilian than emotional brain function. (See the previous “reptilian brain” section.)

 8. Our sense of emotional distress and sadness

Happiness and the enjoyment of play come from the same emotional brain that gives us the ability to experience sorrow, sadness and emotional longing for someone or something we have lost. Both of these emotional senses are involved when we feel betrayed or lied to and disappointed by someone we trust or care about.

Emotional brain is particularly sensitive to betrayal because it can damage our ability to love and care for others. Some people carry grudges against people for weeks or years because they don’t have the emotional resilience to get overemotional hurt because of what someone said or did .

It is important we learn the connection between stress, caring and coping since this helps us to get over an emotionally painful experience like rejection and humiliation.

Knowing how our coping brains responds to these powerful emotional experiences helps us to get over our sadness, anger and other stressful periods in life.

 9. Our emotional preferences, likes and dislikes

When scientists study human brain and behavior connections they have found a direct connection between emotional brain functions and facial expressions.

Higher mammals, particularly humans, come equipped with very sensitive emotional brains that give us a broad range of expressions to show our preferences, likes and dislikes. For example, look at the face of someone trying out a new food they find out they really dislike and you can see their instant “distasteful”expression.

Compare this to the look on the face of someone enjoying a delicious,ice cream Sunday. Our face reveals which food or person we like. Just as our face reveals our disliking or disgust, emotional brain reveals when we are experiencing fun and pleasure.

Emotional brain functions are highly sensitive to new, and possibly threatening situations when we meet new people. Being instinctive, our emotional brain responses are instantly displayed by our face.

If we see a smiling and friendly person, we feel safe, and possibly attracted to them. When we see a stranger who seems mysterious, angry, and different from us, our emotional brain signals an alert to reptilian brain to be on alert that we may need to hide or attack.

The result is we don’t want to get too close to that strange or frightening person. Sometimes our neocortex struggles to unscramble different messages received at the same time from emotional and reptilian coping brains.

This is when our brain becomes confused by “mixed feelings.” For example, we may think: “Why is a smiling person doing or saying cruel things to me?” This is both confusing and upsetting to our coping brains.

School bullies who are taken to the principal’s office may say in their defense, “I was only having fun.” This same double messages makes smiling villains in movies even more frightening.

 10. Our sense of shame, rejection and acceptance

Emotional brain is the center for recognizing or telling ourselves when we are to blame for another person’s emotional upset or pain. Even the emotional brain of our pet dog responds with a sense of shame when it is punished for unacceptable behavior like peeing on the rug.

We use a strong and loud voice to say, “Baddog” over and over to make sure our dog understands how much we dislike what it has done.

Now dogs, and human infants, may not understand words, but theire motional as well as reptilian brain instincts immediately recognize a loud and angry tone of voice that feels like “I’ve done something wrong” and “I’m in trouble with someone who I need to care for me.”

This is how we humans experience shame and guilt. Shame and guilt are the most primitive ways our emotional coping brain informs us that we need to change our behavior to beloved and accepted by others.

During adolescence the need for social acceptance is so strong that we have deep emotional pain and shame when we experience rejection.

Shame and rejection are two of the most difficult and painful experiences that teenagers must learn to cope with particularly during teenage years when emotional brain becomes far more sensitive to being rejected and ashamed.

Thinking Coping Brain

As we have seen, two of our three human coping brain elements (reptilian and emotional)are mostly instinctive and use coping capabilities we have at birth. By contrast, our thinking (neocortex) human coping brain has the ability to learn and use language.

These functions require the linking of learning brain cells we call neurons. These microscopic, multi-functional neurons are building blocks not only for thinking and learning, but for deciding the way we behave.

Thinking brain makes possible our organizing and planning abilities. It also enables us to figure out the meaning of our emotional experiences, such as why we are upset or hurt. The meanings of emotional experiences are what we call our “feelings.”

Not only is neocortex by far our largest coping brain, it is the center for learning and using self-management skills. It enables us to judge and plan what type of coping response we use when we are upset, stressed and hurting inside.

Neocortex uses words to name our experiences so we can gain control over the non-verbal instinctive coping brain elements. To learn as well as use healthy coping skills we must first understand how to use our thinking brain’s ability for problem-solving.

The following are major coping issues that involve our thinking brain functions:

The battle between our three coping brains when we’re upset, angry or sad

The neocortex, our uniquely human thinking brain

The battle between our three coping brains when we’re upset, angry or sad :

Scientists have yet been unable to see how our three coping brain elements actually struggle with each other and decide how we respond to or cope with challenging experiences and changes in life.

To help you understand and see this complex processes in action go to the home page feature “Captain Neo and our Brain Team.” These imaginary Brain Team characters represent how our three brain functions interact communicate with each other and possibly conflict fight or argue with each other.

 The neocortex, our uniquely human thinking brain

Our human brain neocortex is responsible for coordinating all coping brain responses when we are faced with a stressful situation. This thinking brain is equipped with a variety of tools and abilities unlike any other brain in the animal kingdom.

This is the only brain function that has the ability to name and group things and experiences by using words. Words are a powerful brain short cut symbol that are also used to direct our coping response to stress and upsets.

Using learning and language, neocortex is the conductor and director of our coping brain orchestra. It has the capability of taking the lead and sorting through and selecting from the two other instinctive coping brain impulses under its control.

To understand this task, read on to find out about the many tools and abilities this captain of our coping brain team is able to use.

7 Major Characteristics of Our Amazing Human Thinking and Coping Brain

1. Our questioning, “figuring out,” problem-solving brain

2. Ability to reason, judge and choose among different options

3. Ability to learn from and gain knowledge from our experiences

4. The pre-teen neocortex can regulate instinctive brain functions and develop new coping strategies

5. Ability to understand and use words and abstract symbols

6. Ability to create, plan and imagine things that do not exist

7. Ability to adapt to change and develop new coping skills, beliefs and behavior 

1. Our questioning, “figuring out,”problem-solving brain

Unlike reptilian and emotional coping brains, which operate primarily by the instinctive and primitive need to survive, the neocortex — newest and largest of our coping brains — reacts after a process of “thinking through” a problem and reviewing possible solutions.

When we are upset by a new and challenging situation, all three brain functions are “excited” to become involved. Yet only neocortex has the ability to consider all the input it receives from other brain functions to plan a coping response to stress and decide upon the best way to deal with it.

Neocortex is also the only coping brain with insight to ask questions of its self! This part of our coping brain leads us to ask “why”we feel the way we do when we are upset, stressed, or experiencing a threat.

Neocortex uses vast neural networks to store coping short cuts so we can respond more quickly the next time we are faced with a similar problem. Neural networks transmit messages at one-thousandth of a second.

This is how we learn to solve new problems by comparing a new challenge to a similar challenging event. Neurons are able to arrange and rapidly change their connections, which makes them flexible and capable of adding knowledge by learning new things.

Trillions of brains cells can be involved in solving an important problem by instantly searching memory to compare new experiences with ones we’ve have had in the past.

When faced with challenging situations, the neocortex is able to imagine new solutions by combining the “knowledge” of a number of neural networks.

This is called a “creative coping response.” The more experience our thinking brain has in memory from solving other hard problems the more choices we have for successfully coping and dealing with new threats or challenges.

 2. Our ability to reason, judge and choose among different options

Neocortexmay also be called the “judge” within our brain. It listens to input from its own memory bank, plus trying to understanding impulses from the two instinctive (emotional and reptilian) coping brains before making a judgment.

Then it decides what type of coping response we should make to recover from a stressful or upsetting event. This reasoning process often takes much longer than automatic reactions of reptilian and emotional coping brains.

When we need to cope with an injury or other dangerous situation, reptilian impulses are often the first to respond. Because our survival may be at stake, reptilian impulses quickly prepare our brain and body to take immediate actions such as attack or hide.

This response is then followed by emotional brain activity and its ability to sense problems between us and others. Emotional brain may respond to painful stress by automatically triggering crying.

You may notice that only after you have escaped from a dangerous threat of injury or dying do we usually begin to cry.

Following emergency coping responses led by reptilian and our emotional brain responses, it takes more time for neocortex to consider its options and figure out what is the best way we should do to deal with our stress or pain.

If neocortex allows the other instinctive brains to take control, we often refer to our behavior as “being out of control.”

Due to hormones sensitizing emotional and reptilian brain, adolescents and particularly teenagers often over react to upsets that take command over the thinking brain’s judgment.

 3. Ability to learn from and gain knowledge from our experiences

The ability to learn and store large amounts of experiences in our neocortex memory bank is a great advantage human brains have over all reptiles and most other mammals.

We humans are the most intelligent being on earth because we are capable of continuously learning from our experiences to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. But neocortex learning and memory functions can be impaired by stress that we have not yet learned to get over using healthy coping skills.

Neuroscience research includes examining the effects of stress on the brain. These studies, using laboratory animals and human brain imaging,show that stress hormones released in our blood stream alter our brain and coping functions when we remain upset, angry or sad for long periods.

In fact,over time stress hormones can actually affect important brain functions including our memory, attention ability and learning. Fortunately, humans have the unique ability to use thinking brain coping tools to help us get over upsets and hurt feelings more easily and reduce our level of distress.

Parents and educators can learn more about “Coping and Stress; Memory and Learning” by going to the “For Parents & Educators” home page menu.

 4. The pre-teen neocortex can regulate many instinctive brain functions and develop new coping strategies

We don’t expect young children to always learn from their mistakes. Nor do we expect small children to have a great amount of self-control. But pre-teens, teenagers and adults can learn to put thinking brain in charge of coping strategies.

The younger child’s brain is not yet ready to take this step by understanding their own brain functions. Younger children are easily frustrated, angry, and more likely to fight or throw tantrums if they don’t get their way.

Both their reptilian and emotional coping brain instincts often over-rule neocortex rational way of coping. When young children are upset they cry more than pre-teens since neocortex has not learned to control emotional and reptilian brain impulses.

Young children often respond to hurtful experiences by making themselves even more upset and stressed. Instinctive brain impulses will be a dominant coping force until the pre-teen thinking brain matures as they near adult brain ability around age 11 or 12. Pre-teens are capable of learning howto manage many emotional upsets when things don’t go their way.

Young children’s brains are simply too immature to learn and use thinking brain coping skills. On the other hand, young children are more easily excited and emotionally expressive than pre-teens.

They more openly show their joy and excitement.Younger kids scream with delight more often since they haven’t yet learned to put brakes on these real, but considered “childish” emotional brain responses.

Children become pre-teens and enter adolescence. At this unsettling time our brains, behavior and bodies are between childhood and becoming an adult.

Neocortex begins to take on a stronger role of exercising self-discipline using neocortex coping abilities. This is why the Brain Works classroom education project is introduced to 4th, 5th and 6th graders.

 5. Ability to understand and use words and abstract symbols

The ability to understand and use words to describe our experiences is the most powerful of our thinking brain tools.

Think how many times a day we use words to communicate with others to explain our ideas and feelings about people, things and experiences. Neocortex rules over other coping brains when it comes to using words.

In fact, neither reptilian nor emotional coping brain functions can communicate using words. We know that instinctive brains telecommunication-chemical impulses. Neocortex helps children learn to recognize and communicate using words as symbols to name and identify objects.

By the time we’re 9 or 10, we are gaining the thinking brain ability to describe how we feel by using words. Words are symbols, like math signs or musical notes, which require the neocortex unique ability for abstract thinking.

This same thinking ability helps us to use words to analyze dangerous and stressful situations.The more we use these abilities the greater our intelligence and problem-solving ability becomes.

Once we learn to use words instead of angry actions or temper tantrums when our feelings are hurt, we can gain control over instinctive reptilian or emotional impulses.

Thinking brain uses words as shortcuts to quickly understand and communicate what we fear as well as what we find enjoyable or funny. When we develop our coping skills, new words are added to our neocortex thinking tool box.

Neocortex means “new brain.” It is a shining crown sitting atop the more primitive human reptilian and emotional brain levels. With some practice, thinking brain is able to learn how to overrule instinctive brain impulses which control “impulsive” human behavior when we were young children.

 6. Ability to create, plan and imagine things that do not exist

How do we develop new coping skills? We need a powerful neocortex capable of not only learning from our experiences, but imagining what doesn’t currently exist.

This highest level of all brain function enables humans to create symphonies,discover the theory of gravity, and develop new coping skills we lacked when we were younger.

It all begins with our curiosity. We use neocortex to ask “Why?”and “How?” questions. The human thinking brain uses its curiosity to take information from our experiences, combine it with our imagination, and make a great leap of intelligence that enables us to understand and create solutions to problems previously unknown to us.

When neocortex applies this planning and thinking power it can create great cities, explore outer space and even understand how our own brain works.

We can use neocortex to discover new ways to prevent wars that destroy the lives of thousands of people every year. Think how remarkable that is!

For our neocortex to use its creative imagination it must first be able to reduce the confusing and harmful effects of stress that distracts us from developing healthy coping skills. We can learn to use words to describe our fears and feelings.

We can identify why we’re upset or angry.We can imagine how our own brain works so we can manage reptilian and emotional impulses. We couldn’t do any of these remarkable things were it not for ourneocortex thinking, creating and planning functions.

As we grow older this creative part of our coping brain helps us to imagine new solutions to old problems.

7. Ability to adapt to change and develop new coping skills, beliefs and behavior

Our brain struggles to understand new or strange experiences or information. We also know that once we develop a thinking habit, or form beliefs about ourselves or others, it may be difficult to change them.

Imagine our thinking brain’s crevices and wrinkles being hills and river valleys. The river valleys, where we store past experiences, go deeper into our brain the more water(experiences) that runs through them.

Once a river of thought and behavior carves a deep course in our brain system of neurons, that river will continue to run along that same deep path whenever we have similar experiences!

Now consider how difficult it is for us to change that deep and powerful river’s path. Making that adjustment takes a lot of work.

Neocortex has this amazing ability to change the path of its past thinking only by learning new skills,ideas and views about our self , our experiences and our world. Neuroscientists have discovered that our thinking brain is always “changing its mind” by replacing, creating and connecting new thinking cell neurons.

This is how we are able to change habits and learn new ways of thinking, coping and behaving. The fact that neocortex has this ability to adapt means we are able to learn new coping skills throughout our life.

We do not have to be slaves to “This is what I’ve always done” when it comes to dealing with stress, upsets, anger or sadness. We can learn new ways and new coping skills for kids.

Of course this takes lots of practice and brain work. That’s why we have the Brain Works Project.

-Thanks a lot for reading my article – Coping skills for kids – Coping Brain Details.