When my children were small and I would hear of another terror attack, it would remind me of how precious each minute of life is and how careful we must be. I would think, "If I were to killed, G‑d forbid, in an attack, how would my children remember me?" If, G‑d forbid, one of them were to die, I would not want to feel guilty for having screamed, criticized or hit them! I would want to know that I had done my best to be the most loving mother possible.

While this may sound macabre to some, it often prevented me from giving in to my primitive reflexes. Did I always want to get up with a cheery face each morning, especially after a sleepless night with a sick baby? Did I want to act calm and patient when children were whining, fighting, badgering and bickering? Obviously not! But I wanted to be an example of refinement; so I did my best to avoid hurting them, even when I felt hurt and helpless.

Each of us has many disappointments, frustrations and losses. In order to avoid sinking into despair, we must learn to be spiritual warriors. Our forefather Abraham showed us the way. He was commanded by G‑d to, "Go," lech lecha – literally, go to your true self. This meant leaving "his birthplace, his social milieu and his father's home" (Genesis 12:1). Perhaps it can be said that these three "leavings" are metaphors for the three major brain centers which fight each other for dominance:

REPTILIAN BRAIN: Put your hand on the back of your head. In Hebrew, this area is called the oref, it is where our reptilian brain resides. Fully functional at six months in utero, it is responsible for satisfying our physical needs, such as food, touch, stimulation and material comforts. However, the Hebrew word oref has the same letters as the name Pharaoh, and also as the word for "wild," paruah. When our Pharaoh-brain dominates, we cannot bear discomfort or deprivation and insist on getting our desires satisfied now, at all costs, even if it means hurting others or indulging in addictive substances or behaviors.

LIMBIC SYSTEM: Hold your hands over your ears. Between the two hands, embedded in mid-brain, is a plum-sized mechanism known as the limbic system. It is responsible for getting our emotional needs satisfied; i.e., to feel loved, validated, understood and important. By the age of five, our basic emotional patterns are firmly in place, telling us whether we are lovable or unworthy, capable or incompetent, and whether we can trust people or must be fearful of contact. If we were disciplined severely and criticized, we became "addicted" to negative mood states, such as anxiety, jealousy, sadness or anger. The limbic system is loyal to childhood beliefs. Some are good, such as "brush teeth after meals," and some are destructive, like, "I must be perfect," or "I need constant attention and praise."

Together, the reptilian brain and the limbic system make up the lower brain. In this realm, there is no free will—only automatic, instinctive responses based on genetic destiny and socio-cultural conditioning. This is where children – and many adults – spend most of their thinking time! This is why we are told, "Every emotional thought of man is evil from his youth" (Genesis 8:2 and 6:5), for the lower brain imprisons us with its primitive impulses and fears. Thankfully, we also have another area of the brain, called the cortex.

CORTEX: Put your hand on your forehead. This is where the cortex, our executive center, is located. It is our choice center, which allows us to liberate ourselves from the primitive responses of the lower brain. While the lower brain develops on its own, it takes discipline to develop the cortex. A disciplined mind allows us to respond with logic, delay gratification, anticipate the consequences of our behavior, focus on long-range goals and empowers us to bring holiness into the world.

The cortex does not reach maximum cellular growth until age twenty! Thus, the lower brain has a huge head start and has determined most of our habits and beliefs long before we had any choice in the matter. This is why our addictions and prejudices persist so tenaciously despite our efforts to free ourselves from their grip. This fact also explains why Torah law does not hold us responsible in certain areas until age twenty.

Thus, the brain is a war zone, with different voices fighting for dominance.

Children are totally dominated by their lower brain. It is up to teachers and parents to patiently teach them to develop their cortex so that they will want to be disciplined, respectful and kind-hearted. If parents hit, scream or criticize, they actually strengthen the lower brain. To train children to behave in a refined manner, we must sometimes be "hypocritical," i.e., we must hide our "natural" responses and use our soul powers to stay loving and find creative solutions.

One of the best ways to do this is to use the "brain dance" when a child misbehaves. To play, take four index cards and number them from one to four. Place these cards between you and the child. Then hold the child's hand firmly while the cards are between you.

Stand at Number One and say, "This was the trigger that caused you to feel upset." (E.g., He may have seen something a sibling had and wanted to grab it, or he wanted to go to a friend and you told him he had to do his homework, or he wanted another piece of candy and you said that one was enough.)

Stand at Number Two and say, "This is what your primitive brain told you to do." (E.g., hit, scream, call names, pinch, grab, hit, throw things, etc.)

Stand at Number Three and say, "This is your 'cortical response.' Tell me how you can solve the problem in a mature manner?" Keep holding the child's hand as you think together of a possible solution or compromise.

Stand at Number Four and hug the child. Say, "G‑d is so proud of you for not giving in to your animal brain."

If you want, you can also use yourself at an example. While holding the child's hand, stand at Number One and say, "When I saw you pinch your little sister, I went to Number Two and I wanted to pinch you back!" Stand at Number Three and say, "But I decided to choose a more mature response and teach you this 'brain dance.'" Then move to Number Four and say, "G‑d is so proud of me for having self-control!"

Each act of self-discipline raises us to a holier level and actually strengthens the cortex. Parents and teachers who indulge in their primitive whims are doing terrible damage to their children and students, who are likely to copy them. Each time you practice self-discipline, take a few seconds to feel the glow of having been victorious.