We’ve all been there. You ask your child to do something seemingly simple and suddenly, here come the waterworks. Then, your own frustration and confusion build because nothing you say or do can calm down kids in this state.

The truth is, there’s usually more going on in your child’s brain than resisting doing as he or she is told.

Amanda, of the parenting blog Dirt & Boogers, is a former mental health counselor for mothers and children, and has a bachelor’s degree in child development and family studies and masters in counseling, and she recently shared a way to calm kids down with a simple brain game.

Start by understanding the emotional brain

If you’re familiar with the fascinating work of Dr. Daniel J. Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson (The Whole Brain Child and No Drama Discipline) you’re probably aware of the concept of the upstairs and downstairs brain. As adults, we’ve hopefully had the time and nurturing to develop the upstairs brain which houses the logical, problem-solving functions. But as children, we live in the downstairs brain which houses our basic survival skills and can cause us to deal with issues emotionally or with a “fight or flight” response.

Amanda explains that when we’re stuck in the limbic system (downstairs brain) it’s hard for us to control our emotions—so much so that “we can’t think straight.” The key to calming down kids and pulling them back from the brink is as simple as getting them thinking. “This moves brain functioning from the emotional brain to the logical brain,” explains Amanda.

The brain game to calm down kids

Next time your little one gets overwhelmed and can’t calm down, try this simple method:

  1. Get their attention. Ask if they want to play a fun game and show them you’re excited too.
  2. Give them a challenge like finding five things of the same color in the room, naming their three favorite toys/foods/books, naming three things they can touch, hear or see, or doing a simple addition or subtraction problem.
  3. Once they’ve calmed down and have completed the challenge, take the time to connect with them further. Talk through what they were feeling and how you can solve it together. You can then hopefully go about what you were trying to do.

By using this strategy, you engage their upstairs brain to help them problem solve, and connect with them so they know they are heard and understood.

This article was originally published on Simplemost.