The Whole-Brain Child - Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind
by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.
This was such an interesting book. I learned a lot. I wish I'd had more time to focus on it, but what I got from reading it recently was that our children are so complex. It's not just "terrible twos" or tantrums in the teenage years. Yes, those happen, but also kids' brains are wired with chaos and crazy during certain periods in their development. Learning how to integrate their left and ride sides of their brain to work together is what most of this book was about.
The right side of the brain is about emotions, feelings, experiences.
The left side is the logic, the facts, reality.
Getting the two to work together in the same moment is key in helping someone feel at ease, confident, safe.
The authors suggest some helpful tips for working with children:
-Connect and redirect.
When your child has done something wrong instead of running in to yell at them or tell them to listen to you right now, you first address their right side of the brain by connecting with them on their level, then redirect them to the left side of the brain for some truth, reality, facts about what is going on.
For example, I went into my son's room the other day at 4 a.m. when he was wide awake and wanting to play with his toys. I was frustrated, thinking my sleep was disrupted, as was his and when his is disrupted he gets very cranky later in the day. So I walked in and instantly said, "You need to get in bed right now, Owen. It's not morning yet," in a stern voice. He instantly started crying, real tears, really upset. So I picked him up and asked in my nicer mommy voice, "What's wrong pal? Tell mama what is making you wake up and cry." He pointed to the shadows on the wall and said "They scare me, Mama. I no sleep. I pee, too."
The author would encourage me to first have gone in the room and said, "Why are you awake, bud? Why can't you sleep? What can I help you with?" instead of snapping at him. Then redirect by saying, "It's not morning yet, we need to stay asleep in our beds, OK?"
On page 29, Siegel wrote, "What kids often need, especially when they experience strong emotions, is to have someone help them use their left brain to make sense of what's going on - to put things in order and to name these big and scary right-brain feelings so they can deal with them effectively."
Siegel encourages you to talk with your children in a way to help them make sense of what is going on for them. When a child is scared of something that happened, you help them tell the story of what happened, who they responded, how parents responded, etc. in order to help them make sense of it and hopefully move on from it.
-Remember to remember.
Instead of asking, "how was your day?" ask "what was the best part of your day?"
-Let emotions roll by.
Siegel said one of the best things parents can do for their children is to help them understand what emotions are, name them, and learn that they are fleeting; no emotion stays forever.
I love this explanation of emotions the author wrote on page 103,
"... it's also true that feelings need to be recognized for what they are: temporary, changing conditions. They are states, not traits. They're like the weather. Rain is real, and we'd be foolish to stand in a downpour and act as if it weren't actually raining. But we'd be just as foolish to expect that the sun will never appear. We need to help children understand that the clouds of their emotions can (and will) roll on by. They won't feel sad or angry or hurt or lonely forever."
-Instead of denying or dismissing, try teaching feelings come and go.
So instead of quickly rushing to make your children feel better or move on by saying things like, "oh, you're OK, you don't need to cry." Try saying, "I understand it's hard when you lose what you had. You know that you feel so sad right now because you can't find your toy, but remember when you were playing on the toy and you were so happy, well that feeling being happy will come again soon. Feelings change a lot don't they?"
One of my favorites is this one:
-Instead of command and demand, try playful parenting.
The picture in the book is of mom giving girl a bath.Girl screams that she wants dad to come give her a bath, but dad is helping the other sibling to bed. The first scenario is command and demand, what the author says not to do, where girl screams for dad, and mom says, "Yelling isn't going to work. If you don't stop, we won't read any stories tonight." Girl keeps screaming.
Second scenario of trying playful parenting, which the author suggests is better, is when girl is screaming. Mom says, "Hello, Samantha. Were you calling me? It's me, Daddy. Shall I give you the special shampoo?" in a dad voice. Girl stops screaming and is heard and happy. Sometimes it's just redirection and silliness that's needed to get our children to listen.
Whole-Brain Ages and Stages
The best part of the book is the last few pages where there are cheat sheets on everything the authors suggested in the book. The author gives various ages and shows what might help with getting children to understand their feelings and even feel more understood by parents. For example, in the 0-3 age range they suggest acknowledging the feelings when you see your child is upset, but then move on to something physical, move around or race to the bedroom to clean up or play with him to change his mood.
Overall, an interesting read. Not something to skim lightly. Lots of important, even scientific information in this book. I highly recommend it.
It was good to just stop and think about why my toddler does things and realize that much of it is brain chemistry and physical development, not lack of parenting skills on my part or anything else. There is more to the Terrible Twos and Threes than meets the eye, and this book has great tools for dealing with those challenging moments.