So I was excited when I found his brain hand model written into the current Second Step curriculum, within the third grade unit on emotions! Here is a video of Dr. Dan explaining (in greater detail than you would with third graders) the brain hand model:
Next (in a variation from the Second Step lesson), I shared a story from my own childhood when I was a new student and tried out for the basketball team. I felt very nervous, because I wasn't sure if I would make the team and I didn't know the other girls or the coach. Then I asked all the students to close their eyes or look down, so everyone could have privacy. They were asked to think of a time when they felt very nervous, and how it made their emotions and body feel. I listed off some signals of anxiety like a racing heart, sweaty palms, and negative self talk, and asked them to raise their hands if they felt those symptoms during that memory (This turned out to be a great way for students to honestly share what they experience without judgement from peers, but also a quick check for me as a counselor/teacher about which signals came up most often and the corresponding coping skills I should teach in lessons to follow!). I thanked students for honoring their peers' privacy by not looking around. Then, I shared that everyone raised their hands at different signals, which means we all experience nervousness in a variety of combinations. This is important because it can be tricky to identify exactly how we/others feel if we think there is only one way to be angry, sad, overexcited, or anxious. Instead, we must recognize that everyone is unique and experience emotions in slightly different ways.
It's true... our bodies give us clues about how we feel. I drew a simple stick figure person on the board, with a head, spinal cord, and brain. We talked about how the brain is in charge of our entire body, and directs our thoughts, actions, and even feelings. The brain sends signals to the body through nerves in the spinal cord and down through our arms and legs. If we want to wiggle our toes, we think it and almost instantly our toes move. If we feel sad, our eyes might start to tear up almost instantly.
I asked students to hold up their hand with their four fingers straight up and their thumb to the side. They then folded in the thumb and we talked about the feeling part of the brain: this section of the brain controls our breathing, but also stays alert to our surroundings and responds with emotions like fear, excitement, or sadness. If we aren't thinking things through, we will react to those feelings automatically… and often these impulsive actions can get us into trouble! Then they folded the four fingers down to represent the calming thinking part of the brain. If we are thinking before we act on emotions, we can predict reactions, and think about consequences. It was amazing how quickly students caught on to this! We wrapped the lesson up by talking about the idea they had at the beginning of the lesson about emotions and the brain. Finally, as their teachers took back the class, I had them show which part of their brain was in control during these types of scenarios:
1. You hit your brother because you are angry (feeling position).
2. You take some deep breaths when you present a speech in class (thinking position).
3. You are tired so fall asleep in the middle of class (feeling position).
4. You plan your birthday party with your mother (thinking position).
We covered a lot in the lesson, so I think it would be possible to split it up into two lessons. However, teachers and parents gave a lot of feedback that their students were talking about the model and applying it in class and at home! I plan to follow up in the next lessons with talk of how to engage the thinking part of the brain to calm strong emotions.