Last week we discussed how understanding the development of the right and left sides of the brain could be beneficial in making choices as a parent. This week, we will discuss the vertical aspect.

The lower areas of the brain include the brain stem and the limbic region. These lower areas are responsible for basic functions like breathing, for innate reactions and impulses like the fight or flight response, and for strong emotions such as fear and anger.

The cerebral cortex is housed in the upper area of the brain. This part of the brain is more evolved and allows us to have a more complete picture of the world. Thinking, imagining, and planning all occur in the cerebral cortex. When all is functioning well, the complexity of our cortex is responsible for decision making and planning, self-regulation of emotions and the behaviors related to those emotions, self-understanding, empathy, and morality.

As you might guess, integrating the lower areas and the upper areas of the brain is helpful. Integration allows a person’s brain to function in the best possible way. As a parent, it is important to help your child connect the bottom with the top in the same way we discussed integrating the right with the left. Also similarly, we need to set realistic expectations for our children around integration.

Developmentally, the lower brain is well formed at birth while the higher brain isn’t fully mature until a person reaches his or her mid-twenties. That’s right . . . mid-twenties! That information is important for parents to understand. The science behind the information means that the behaviors and skills we want our children to demonstrate—such as regulating emotions, making good decisions, and having empathy, self-understanding, and a sense of morality—are dependent on a part of the brain that isn’t even developed yet. Your child may function well at times, but your child is simply not capable of fully functioning all the time.

As a parent, just knowing the facts about how the brain develops can help us have a new view. Our kids are often doing the best they can with the brain they have at any given developmental stage.