The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind, Survive Everyday Parenting Struggles, and Help Your Family Thriveby Daniel J. Siegel
The Whole-Brain Child is a book for parents, grandparents, teachers, therapists, and other significant caregivers in a child's life. Delving into the science of the human brain, it provides proven strategies to help your child not just survive, but thrive in their everyday lives. With a focus on the critical years from birth to twelve, this book is packed with essential tips and techniques for guiding toddlers, school-age kids, and preteens on their journey to success.
Parenting With the Brain in Mind
Parents often lack basic information about their child’s brains. However, acquiring a basic understanding of its functioning can greatly benefit parenting. By gaining insight into how the brain works, they will be able to understand their child better, respond more effectively to difficult situations, and build a foundation for their child's social, emotional, and mental well-being.
At the core of this understanding is the idea of integration. For your child to thrive, the different parts of their brain must be integrated. This is how "whole-brain" parenting works.
Integrating the Left and Right Brain
The human brain is divided into two hemispheres: the left and the right. The left hemisphere is characterized by its love for order, logical thinking, and language-based linear processing. On the other hand, the right hemisphere is known for its holistic and nonverbal approach, which is responsible for interpreting emotions, images, and personal memories.
At an early age, children tend to rely more on their right hemisphere, but as they start asking questions, the left hemisphere starts to kick in.
However, when these two hemispheres are not integrated, it can lead to imbalanced thinking and a limited perception of experiences. For example, if someone is primarily left-brained, they may experience a lack of emotional connection as they rely too much on logic. Conversely, someone who is predominantly right-brained may feel overwhelmed by their emotions. The corpus callosum, a bundle of fibers located in the center of the brain, helps connect the two hemispheres and enables them to work together and become horizontally integrated.
Integrating both hemispheres is crucial in ensuring a balanced perspective. When children’s raw emotions are not paired with logical thinking, they may become overwhelmed and lose control. Likewise, if they’re denying their emotions and retreating to the left, they’re hugging the bank of rigidity. By integrating both hemispheres, children can navigate the complexities of life with ease, avoiding the pitfalls of emotional extremes.
Actions to take
Integrating the Upper and Lower Brain
Aside from the two hemispheres, the human brain also has two domains: the upper and lower parts of the brain.
The lower parts of the brain—which is made up of the brain stem and the limbic region—is responsible for basic functions, strong emotions, and impulsive reactions. Meanwhile, the upper part of the brain is made up of the cerebral cortex, which is more evolved and can give one a fuller perspective on the world. It is responsible for higher-order and analytical thinking, such as thinking, imagining, and planning.
When a child throws a tantrum, it is because their amygdala has taken over and is blocking access to their upper brain. This results in a lack of control over their emotions and body and prevents them from using their higher-order thinking skills. Engaging the upper brain, however, can help children think through the situation and find a way to negotiate with their parents.
Depending on the circumstances, there may be times when there is no room for negotiation, and the children must respect their parent's authority.
By simply being aware of the upper and lower parts of the brain, parents will be able to understand how to better raise and discipline their children.
Actions to take
Integrating Implicit and Explicit Memories
Memory is not an exact reproduction of events from the past, as it can easily be altered when retrieved. Sure, what we've recalled may be close to exactly what happened, but the very act of recalling an experience changes it, sometimes in significant ways.
To put it scientifically, memory retrieval activates a neural cluster similar to, but not identical with, the one created at the time of encoding. Thus memories are distorted—sometimes slightly, sometimes greatly—even though one believes they are being accurate.
There are two types of memory: implicit and explicit. Implicit memory past experiences influence one's behavior in the present without us even realizing it. It can also shape our expectations and reactions. For example, if a parent has a ritual of giving their child a hug every time they come home, the child will begin to expect and anticipate the hug through implicit memory. This type of memory helps us stay safe and avoid danger. Explicit memory, on the other hand, is a conscious recollection of a past experience.
Integrating implicit and explicit memories can help one make sense of their experiences and gain control over how they think and behave. By getting a clear handle on these two different types of memory, one can provide their kids with what they need as they grow, mature and deal with difficult experiences.
Actions to take
Integrating the Many Parts of the Self
Josh was an 11-year-old who excelled at everything, but he was struggling with doubts about his self-worth. He blamed himself for his father's absence and felt an overpowering need to be perfect.
To help him overcome these challenges, he was introduced to Tina, a therapist who taught him about the concept of "mindsight." This term, coined by psychologist Daniel J. Siegel, refers to the ability to understand one's own mind and the mind of others.
To exercise this, Tina utilized the "wheel of awareness" model. It's like a bicycle wheel with a hub in the center and spokes reaching out to the rim. The rim represents anything we can pay attention to or become aware of, and the hub is the center of our mind, where we become aware of everything around us and within us. Tina showed Josh how focusing on the hub can give us insight and control in our lives.
She then presented the "windshield of awareness" to help him recognize and understand the different rim points of his individual wheel of awareness. She used the windshield to explain to him the different thoughts and emotions he was feeling.
In terms of helping your child better understand what's happening inside their bodies, you may ask questions to identify their SIFT - sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts - that were affecting them.
By paying attention to their physical sensations, children can become much more aware of what’s going on inside their bodies. They can also learn to recognize and understand their emotions and the thoughts going through their minds and not just automatically believe them.
The nervous system in our body functions like an antenna, picking up different physical sensations from our five senses. These sensations are then processed by the right hemisphere of the brain, which combines them with emotions from the right brain and limbic system. Finally, they are integrated with conscious thoughts from the left hemisphere and the analytical skills of the upper brain.
In essence, the "SIFT" technique helps us understand how our bodily sensations shape our emotions, which in turn shape our thinking and the images in our minds. Integrating all aspects of oneself leads to both survival and thriving.
Actions to take
Developing Insight and Empathy for Meaningful Relationships
Ron and Sandy were fed up with their seven-year-old son Colin's selfish behavior. They wanted to help him become more considerate, so they looked into insight and empathy.
Insight is about understanding one's own mind, while empathy is about recognizing the feelings, desires, and perspectives of another. Developing insight and empathy can help one build meaningful relationships and maintain a healthy sense of self.
Mirror neurons are one of the fascinating recent discoveries about the brain. They help us understand the nature of culture and how our shared behaviors bind us together. They also allow us to resonate with the feelings of others.
To help create a secure attachment and strong connection with our children, we need to make sense of one's own stories. Research studies have consistently shown that when parents offer repeated, predictable experiences in which they see and sensitively respond to their children’s emotions and needs, their children will thrive.