Grow Your Mind

A resource used by the teachers to teach students about managing their emotions. Grow Your Mind aims to foster mentally healthy children, families and teachers. Using animal analogy to teach key parts of the brain, children are introduced to the basics of neuroscience and what it means to feel mentally healthy.  

Brief overview:

Guard Dog – amygdala– this part of the brain determines whether we will fight, freeze or flee from a situation.

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Wise Owlprefrontal cortex– this part of the brain helps to make decisions.

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The Elephant who tries to remember hippocampus – this part of the brain helps us to remember what is learnt.

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Sifting Sootyreticular activating system (RAS) this part of the brain enables us to focus. 

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Listen out for your child talking about shrinking their Guard Dog, or growing their Wise Owl, their Elephant and their Sifting Sooty.

More detail:

Guard Dog – amygdala – this part of the brain determines whether we will fight, freeze or flee from a situation. Our Guard Dog is important as it protects and enables us to sense fear. Sometimes, however, our Guard Dog gets really BIG and really BOSSY when we are angry or stressed. When this happens the animal helpers or parts of our brain cannot talk to each other.

One of the easiest ways to SHRINK our Guard Dog is to be aware of our breathing. A simple technique that we have been practising with the students is finger breathing. This involves running your finger up and down each digit on one hand, breathing in as your trace up the thumb/finger and breathing out as your trace down the thumb/finger. This mindfulness activity enables us to focus on and slow our breathing down which in turn slows our heart rate and calms the body and ultimately shrinks our Guard Dog.  

We discover the Guard Dog catastrophe scale in class. This resource helps students to understand that sometimes our Guard Dog can look and feel like a huge problem when in fact the problem is teeny tiny. This is helping students to match their reaction to the size of the problem. We don’t want our Guard Dog to look like it does when there is a HUGE problem, when we are actually only facing a teeny tiny problem. It is important students know that it is ok to feel like it is a huge problem but we don’t need our reaction to look like it. 

Try practising the finger breathing at home with your child. Then prompt them to use it when they are stressed or angry to shrink their Guard Dog.  

There are a number of apps which can be downloaded and used to guide mindfulness and meditation. These include: 

  • Smiling Mind

  • Headspace 

  • Stop, Breathe and Think – Kids

  • Breathe

  • Calm 

Wise Owlprefrontal cortex – this part of the brain helps to make decisions. 

Our Wise Owl is important as it helps us make decisions and allows us to be a flexible friend. It can problem solve and carry out higher order thinking. So, when everything is going smoothly and our guard dog is small, Wise Owl is capable of making good decisions and helping us to act in a way that does not harm ourselves or others. Wise Owl is very useful to us! 

Elephant – Hippocampus – helps us remember. 

Elephant helps us to lock in memories and stores the information we learn. It helps us to remember names, places and other new things. Elephant stores information and tries to remember it when we need it.  

Sifting Sooty – Reticular Activating System (RAS) - helps us to focus.  

Every day we are exposed to many sights, sounds and information and Sifting Sooty helps decide which information is important and should go through to the other animals in our brain. It does this by blocking out information it thinks is not so important.  

All of these animals or parts of the brain are very useful to us! The students at St Joseph's are familiar with these parts of the brain. The students learn strategies to keep things running smoothly so their animals can talk to each other.  

Knowing about the parts of the brain helps to empower our thinking.  

Growth vs Fixed Mindset  

Did you know that the way we talk to ourselves really matters?  

If we adopt a “fixed mindset, we perceive outcomes as the ultimate measure of what people are capable of achieving – you’re clever or dumb, good at sports or clumsy”. We also “fear criticism and perceive failure as a signal” that we have reached our potential. 

On the other hand, if we have a growth mindset we “believe that while you’re born with a certain amount of talent and intelligence, with learning and effort you can always improve”. People with growth mindsets also “value learning and effort and are prepared to meet the challenges. This lowers their levels of stress and anxiety and gives them the confidence to reframe failure and criticisms as teachable moments” (McQuaid & Kern, 2017).  

When students feel stressed or nervous, their amygdala stops them from learning in the best way. Their bossy Guard Dog (amygdala) then mistakes the fear of trying something new as a danger. This can often result in the student telling themselves that something is ‘boring’ or they begin saying fixed statements such as ‘I can’t do it’.  

Breathing techniques can help them to shrink their Guard Dog and then they can begin telling themselves statements like ‘Mistakes help us to learn’, ‘I can learn anything through hard work and grit’ and ‘I can’t do it YET!’.  

Help your child to develop a growth mindset by reframing their language or by simply adding YET to their comments that they can’t do something.