The Whole-Brain Child: A Must Read for Parents of All Children

Daniel Siegel continues to publish fascinating, applicable and well-researched material on shaping the parent-child relationship in ways that will most optimally foster a child’s emotional development. In this book he teams up with Dr. Tina Payne Bryson and the two set out to teach cutting-edge parenting strategies that speak directly to a child’s brain. Bryson and Siegel demonstrate what language to use and when to use it, in order to most effectively help a child integrate the various parts of the brain as he/she processes emotions. They explain their ideas not just through neuroscience but with comics, cheat sheets that you can keep on the fridge for quick reference, and hands-on techniques for explaining the concepts to children (even very young children) in order to help them understand their own brains.

Most parents want their children not only to survive and make it through life, but to thrive, to flourish, to be the best they can possibly be. Siegel and Bryson explain that the integration of the various parts of the brain is the key to developing emotional well-being and mental health. How to facilitate the integration process? Speak to your child, both verbally and nonverbally, in ways that take into account their logical, linear left brain and their creative, emotional right brain. Like a married couple, ideally these two sides of the brain connect, communicate and work together, especially when the going gets tough.

When kids are struggling or upset, Siegel and Bryson teach us to “connect and redirect”. First start by meeting your little one’s upset with a big dose of empathy and understanding. “Wow, I hear that you’re feeling really angry right now!” (I’d add, really sink into his experience and feel what it’s like to be him in this moment—sometimes parents tell me that they are concerned that empathy can feel condescending or feigned. Not if you’re truly being empathic and seeing the world from your child’s perspective.) So light up his right brain with some emotional connection. Once his big, intense feelings have settled, bring in the logical, linear left brain. Now you can offer discipline (which means teaching or a lesson, not punishment) and help him form a coherent story of the upsetting event.

In my practice, I often recommend books to parents as I think they are useful tools for normalizing our experiences and giving us strategies to work with. This one is not just a recommendation. It’s a MUST! Siegel and Bryson have given us such an accessible, hands on tool for helping kids through difficult times and, for those of you more left-brain types—it’s backed by neuroscience! What more can a parent ask for?

About sanampej

Play Therapist, Psychotherapist
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