Stop the Amygdala Hijack in its Tracks!

Sometimes when your child is extremely anxious or stressed out, they may experience moments of flipping out! When this happens, logical reasoning gets kicked out the door and a knee-jerk emotional responses to situations ensue.

If this has happened to your child, they may be experiencing an AMYGDALA HIJACK.

Normally when people experience the world through their five senses, the cortex — the newer, thinking part of the brain — is sent information and helps one reason through reactions. When a threat is perceived, however, the thoughts can by-pass the thinking brain and get handled directly by the amygdala — residing in the older, emotional part of the brain. What does the amygdala do? It tries to protect you with an automatic and often fierce hormonal response to the stress.

During this reaction, the thinking brain would like to break through and reason with children, but the emotional brain doesn’t allow logic to penetrate through the hormones bombarding their body. Logic becomes hazy and they may even find it difficult to “think straight.”

Now, an amygdala hijack can happen to both anxious and non-anxious kids, but when one undergoes prolonged stress it’s possible for the amygdala to become highly sensitive and for hijackings become more frequent.

So, what should you do? Here are three tips:

1. Take 6-seconds to chill out – it takes the chemicals spewing out from the amygdala about 6 seconds to dissipate. Take take deep breaths with your child during this time. Try to find something positive to savor until the reaction subsides.

2. Engage your logic with writing – the logical brain wants to help sort through the situation. Help logic along by working with your child to write down the worst case scenario, best case scenario, and most likely outcome from the stressful situation.

3. Identify the trigger – after the situation calms down, identify with your child what caused the meltdown. Talk about it candidly. Awareness of triggers can help regulate the response in the future.

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2 thoughts on “Stop the Amygdala Hijack in its Tracks!”

  1. This explanation makes total sense to me and will be a big help as I raise my son! He sometimes reacts emotionally to something that’s illogical rather than real. For example, he knows no one has entered our home. We’ve been sitting together in the living room next to the front door all evening. Yet he won’t go to his bedroom, the bathroom or even down the hallway if the lights are off. He says someone might be in our house. Somewhere in his brain, he feels fear despite reality. Thank you for the sharing these tips. I think they will really help as I comfort him.

  2. I was afraid to go down the dark hallway to my dark bedroom as a child. I was made to anyway. Now in my 70s I still have claustrophobia and great fear of the dark! And yes of course I know better, but it doesn’t matter.


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