As a stay at home mom who is basically on 24/7, I’m always looking for new methods to improve the relationships I have with my kids, and solutions for handling the big emotions that come with parenting. Most of my research pointed to The Whole-Brain Child written by Daniel J Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, PH.D. This practical child rearing read is a New York Times Bestseller and for good reason.
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The 12 no-drama discipline strategies laid out in the book are game changing. The illustrations and relatable narratives offer parents an effortless implementation and are easy to follow. However, the most beneficial piece to this read was the information regarding brain science and the many links to child emotional development. The authors provide a thorough explanation as to why children are at times highly emotionally reactive and how to better understand their struggles.
Overall, The Whole-Brain Child can help foster happier and healthier kids which is what we all strive for. Here are the 4 Best Takeaways from The Whole-Brain Child.
1.) Integration – The Many Parts of the Brain
Most of us understand that the brain has many different parts with many different functions. There’s the logical left brain and the emotional right brain. There’s an instinctive reptile brain and a mammal brain that helps us foster emotional connections and relationships. New research shows that all of these components of the brain need to work well together in order to flourish and thrive. This concept is called integration.
Because the human brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 20-25, we can’t expect the littlest among us to be experts in brain functions such us emotional intelligence or sounds decision making.
The book notes that because children are right brain dominant, they aren’t experts in getting messages across without mastery of the left brain logic. As a result, it is difficult to explain how they’re feeling. This is often the cause of a tantrum or meltdown. Parents can integrate the the child brain by providing them experiences in which the many parts of the brain can collaborate.
The book expands on these experiences and gives various strategies for integration. However, simply understanding the composition of the brain allows parents to nurture the child brain more effectively.
2.) Attunement – Allow them to Feel Felt
“When a child is upset, logic won’t work until we’ve responded to the child’s emotional needs first,” -The Whole-Brain Child
I love this quote directly from the book. When we respond to our child’s tantrum with a logical answer, it probably won’t connect because the child’s emotional needs are commanding the brain in a way that is all-consuming. That is precisely why responses such as (below) don’t resonate.
- “You’re fine.”
- “It’s not a big deal.”
- “Calm down.”
Help your child feel heard and felt by affirming their feelings (no matter how irrational), not invalidating them. Assuring a child that they’re not alone and that we want to know whats happening on the inside can help calm the situation. Once their emotional needs are met, it will be easier to break through to the developing logical left brain, to work through the problem.
For more on appropriate responses to tantrums read our article 5 Simple Tips for Taming Tantrums.
3.) Traumas – Name Their Pain
When a child experiences a trauma, a parent’s first instinct is to avoid it or distract the child from re-living the experience. But due to the inner workings of the developing brain, it’s important to talk about the trauma in order to overcome.
This section of The Whole-Brain Child points out that while we don’t want our children to hurt, its vital for them to have these experiences to learn how to heal and grow. Traumas should never go unresolved. Recount the fear and walk through it together.
Trauma is a word that is often misunderstood. Trauma doesn’t have to be the death of a family member or a scary car accident. It can be any deeply distressing or disturbing experience. For children, a perceived trauma can be something that an adult would find silly or irrational. Examples of child trauma:
- Getting sick at preschool or daycare
- A scary encounter with an animal
- A toilet overflowing
- Falling off the playground
Though these situations may sound minor, something as simple as a toilet overflowing can create anxiety or discomfort in a child that needs to be worked through.
“A sense of not only right and wrong, but also what is for the greater good beyond their own personal needs,” -The Whole-Brain Child
This one resonated with me, as its one of the most important values I wish to instill in my kids: a strong sense of morality. The book explains that a well integrated upstairs brain with the following attributes culminates in morality.
- Sound decision making
- Controlling emotions and the body
A great way to exercise this part of the brain is to place a child in scenarios in which they practice good decision making. A few examples of hypotheticals (that kids love) directly from the book:
- “Would it be ok to run a red light in an emergency?”
- “If a bully was picking on someone, would you intervene?”
- “If you found a toy at the playground that didn’t belong to you, would you take it?”
By challenging kids to think critically about decisions, and by guiding them through these scenarios, we allow them to build the morality necessary to make good choices. Being able to assess the implications in any situation is a crucial life skill and is important in helping children develop sound decision making skills.