Critical training to better protect, support, and heal vulnerable children


series: CAREGIVER 101 by Steve Gross


Oftentimes think of like we as human beings, we have kind of three brains. You know, we have our reptilian brain, our brain stem, which is like, it's all about our survival. It's about regulating your heart rate, how you breathe, sleeping, eating, eliminating. That is kind of our snake brain that keeps us alive and it's really important.

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And then above that we have kind of this limbic brain and that's about emotion and feeling and connection and play. And that's kind of our mammalian brain. it is almost like the same brain that a dog, a certain mammals have. And then above that we have our human brain, which is around thinking and reasoning and philosophizing and abstract ideas. Now what's interesting is when children are struggling with threat and feel overwhelmed and feel that they're in danger, well the part of their brain is online, is that reptilian brain.

It's hard to love and to connect and learn when you're feeling that you're struggling just to survive. So we often tell care providers and playmakers is the first thing that we have to do with kids if they're struggling, is we have to soothe and calm the snake.

We got to make sure that they can breathe, that they're hydrated, they feel safe in the moment. That is kind of quieting the snake. Once we quiet the snake, well then we get to play with the dog. We get to bond, we get to build a relationship, we get to have fun. We tap into that limbic part of the brain.

And then once we've played with the dog and quieted the snake, well then we can teach the child. You cannot teach a terrified child who is in snake brain. And so what we have to do is understand that for a lot of kids, the most basic thing that we can do is to help them feel safe and empowered in that moment. And then we formed that playful connection with them.

And then once a child is feeling safe and loved and valued by you, then, man, you can teach them a lot.


Steve Gross

Steve Gross, M.S.W., is the founder and chief playmaker of the Life is Good Kids Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit whose mission is to spread the power of optimism to help kids heal. The foundation partners with leading childcare organizations to strengthen theircapacity to build healing,...

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life-changing relationships with the children in their care.

Steve’s teachings have been utilized across the country and throughout the world in response to the social and emotional needs of communities deeply impacted by poverty, violence and illness. Steve helps others discover their own sense of optimism so that they can inspire the people around them to focus on the good and overcome life’s most difficult challenges.


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