Children Parenting

“The Whole-Brain Child” – Helping children to thrive

Daniel J. Siegel’s and Tina Payne Bryson’s book “The Whole-Brain Child” had been on my reading wish list for quite some time and it did not disappoint. I found it very inspirational  and practical at the same time. It helped me to better understand how to use everyday moments, each interaction with my daughter to help her reach her true potential. A big plus of the book are the age-adapted strategies. Highly recommended!

To assist us in better understanding our children, the authors explain (in simple terms) some basic concepts about how the brain functions. The most important for a properly working brain is integration, that is helping the right and the left side of the brain as well as the downstairs and the upstairs brains to work in a coordinated way. The book offers an excellent explanation of the characteristics of the two brain hemispheres and the upstairs and the downstairs brains and how they relate to child’s behaviour. This is essential to understand why a child is behaving in a certain way – tantrums, anyone?;-) – and how to best address this behaviour.

A person with a well-integrated brain is mentally and emotionally healthy, stable, flexible, adaptive, and has an understanding of him/herself and the surroundings. A mentally healthy person is, according to the authors, someone who is able to “remain in a river of well-being”, avoiding both extremes – those of chaos and rigidity –  that are opposite to integration.

Some of the very useful strategies that assist with brain integration at different levels are: Connect and redirect; Name it to tame it; Engage, don’t enrage; Use it or lose it; Move it or lose it; Let the clouds of emotions roll by; SIFT (sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts); and Exercise mindsight. All of these are explained with excellent illustrations and an annex to the book provides practical steps how to apply this strategies to different age groups, from 0 to 12 years old.

As important as maintaining one’s own identity is to connect with the minds of others, to be part of we; since self and community are fundamentally interrelated. This is called interpersonal integration and strategies that help with it are: Increase the family fun factor and Connection through conflict.

A concept from the book that I like very much is the wheel of awareness, which is based on an immensely important discovery of neuroscience that the brain’s physical architecture actually changes throughout our life based on our experiences. It teaches us about the importance of the “hub perspective”, being in control of our life, rather than “stuck on the rim”, that is a simple observer.

As you have probably noticed, the book’s concept are not useful only for better understanding our children but for understanding ourselves. Being an adult does not necessarily mean having a well integrated brain. I have also discovered that my education style is often not conducive to brain integration but rather the wrong “command and demand” and “dismiss and deny” one. Another important discovery was that brain integration benefits from retelling stories of the scary or painful experiences.

To sum up, The Whole-Brain Child is a highly recommended book. Imagine what a great potential the brain integration has! On the flip-side – there is a great responsibility that comes with this understanding. But I am all up for starting the movement of helping our children to thrive and become experts in navigating the river of well-being.