The upstairs and the downstairs of the brain!

We have been having trouble with our 8 year old in regards to settling for sleep. If he does not fall asleep quickly he magically appears in the lounge room, not just once, but 3, 4 of even 5 times, by which stage I have definitely turned into a monster!


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I knew there was a right and left side of the brain, but the upstairs and downstairs of the brain as discussed in chapter 3 of “The whole-brain child” (Daniel J.Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson) was new for me.

The downstairs includes the brain stem and the limbic region.  These areas are thought of as more primitive as they are responsible for basic things like breathing, blinking, fight and flight, anger and fear (page 38).

The upstairs is made up of the cerebral cortex which contains the parts that give a fuller perspective on the world it is highly sophisticated, controlling some of your most important higher-order and analytical thinking. Because of its sophistication and complexity, it is responsible for producing many of the characteristics we hope to see in our kids:

Sound decision making and planning

Control over emotions and body



Morality (Page40)


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Like the way the left and right brain work best integrated it is the same for the upstairs and downstairs. But there are a couple of complications.  The downstairs is full developed at birth, but the upstairs does not fully develop until the mid twenties.  Also, there needs to be connections built between the two- a ‘metaphorical staircase’ is what the authors call it.


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Given this information we can be more understanding in our parenting ,teaching and relating to others, but, it is not an excuse for poor behaviour.  In a way it is a challenge for us to help build the staircase so the connections can happen.  We need to size up each situation for what it is.

Back to my 8 year old.  A tantrum (or lets call it in his case poor decision making) can be allocated to the top or bottom of the brain. Some tantrums are totally out of control and need to run their course, where there are others that are chosen delibrately, usually to get what is wanted. These ones can be turned on and off and are controlled by the upstairs!

I am not sure exactly why my 8 year old keeps coming out, but last night I noticed a wry grin! Then, today I suggested we make a chart.  When he has gone to bed with no coming out for 3 nights, there will be a reward of some time on the ipad! The response was fascinating ” Ok, lets do that, that sounds good.”


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Mmm interesting. I am thinking his upstairs and downstairs are needing some help to be aligned!

3 thoughts on “The upstairs and the downstairs of the brain!

  1. Hmmmmmmm…. Was a bit of a complicated one. Still it was interesting. Good job Mum. Love you lots Mum.
    Love Noah xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


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