top of page

How to Help Your Child Navigate Emotions: Understanding Dr. Dan Siegel's Hand Model

After reading this article, you will:

  1. Gain a deeper understanding of the natural stress response and its connection to emotional regulation.

  2. Learn about Dr. Dan Siegel's Hand Model of the Brain and its implications for children's emotional well-being.

  3. Discover child-friendly concepts from The Galaxy Guide to Running My Rocket that can help your child navigate their emotions.

  4. Acquire practical strategies to support your child in managing their intense emotions effectively.

  5. Learn how to create a safe and supportive environment that promotes emotional regulation in children.

In this article, we will explore the natural stress response and its connection to emotional regulation, focusing on its significance for children. Our bodies have an inbuilt mechanism known as the "fight, flight, or freeze" response, which can lead to intense emotional reactions, particularly in children. We will delve into Dr. Dan Siegel's Hand Model of the Brain, which sheds light on how our brain responds to stress and how the thinking and feeling parts of the brain interact. Additionally, we will introduce child-friendly concepts from The Galaxy Guide to Running My Rocket, which help children understand and manage their emotions in a safe and non-judgmental way.

Understanding the Stress Response

Our bodies have a built-in stress response mechanism that is commonly referred to as "fight, flight, freeze, or fawn." When we experience extreme emotions or perceive a threat, our brain interprets it as a danger, triggering a physiological and emotional response. This response is particularly heightened in children who may lack the necessary emotional regulation skills to manage their intense emotions effectively.

Understanding the Stress Response To better understand the interplay between our emotions and the stress response, we can turn to Dr. Dan Siegel's Hand Model of the Brain. According to this model, the brain can be visualised as a hand, with the wrist representing the brainstem (the "feeling brain") and the palm representing the midbrain (the "emotional brain"). The fingers, curled over the palm, symbolise the prefrontal cortex (the "thinking brain"), which is responsible for rational thought, decision-making, and emotional regulation (Siegel, 2017).

During times of stress or heightened emotions, the hand model illustrates how the connection between the thinking brain and the feeling brain can be disrupted. This disconnection is often referred to as "flipping our lid," where the prefrontal cortex becomes less accessible, and our responses are primarily driven by the emotional brain. In this state, individuals may struggle to communicate effectively, control their behaviours, or respond to reasoning.

Understanding the natural stress response and the impact it has on emotional regulation is crucial for parents and caregivers who serve as co-regulators for children. By recognising and acknowledging the child's stress response, adults can play a vital role in helping children navigate their emotions safely. It is important to approach this understanding without judgment or shame, focusing instead on teaching children about healthy coping strategies and creating an adaptive environment that supports emotional well-being.

The Galaxy Guide to Running My Rocket

The Galaxy Guide to Running My Rocket introduces child-friendly concepts that align with Dr. Siegel's Hand Model to facilitate children's understanding of their emotional experiences. One such concept is the "foggy goggles," which represents the disconnection between the thinking and feeling parts of the brain during moments of emotional dysregulation. By using this metaphor, children can grasp the idea that their ability to think clearly and make rational decisions may be temporarily impaired.

Additionally, the Galaxy Guide emphasises the importance of taking a "Planet Pause" when experiencing emotional dysregulation. This pause allows children to recognise the need to step back, take a break, and regain control of their emotions. It provides them with a child-friendly language to express what they are feeling and communicate their emotional state to others.

Through understanding the natural stress response and its impact on emotional regulation, we can shift our mindset from misunderstanding to empathy. Dr. Dan Siegel's Hand Model of the Brain provides valuable insights into the neurological processes underlying emotional responses. By incorporating child-friendly concepts like the "foggy goggles" and the "Planet Pause," The Galaxy Guide to Running My Rocket offers a practical and compassionate approach to helping children navigate their emotions safely. By fostering an environment that acknowledges and supports their emotional experiences, we can empower children to develop effective emotional regulation skills that will benefit them throughout their lives. Our Online Emotions Workshop includes a walk through of this concept as well as a detailed neurodiverse-affirming and science-backed tips to support children during emotional dysregulation. This self-paced two-hour includes a detailed walk through of emotional regulation strategies and a plan to help you help your child.

References: Conte, C., Koch, S. C., & Perry, A. (2019). Emotion regulation in children: The contribution of co-regulation in early development. Child Development Perspectives, 13(4), 251-257. Siegel, D. J. (2017). The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind. Bantam.


@readyrocketresources Join our community on instagram!


bottom of page