Half of the Whole-Brain Child

whole brain child

I’m about halfway done reading The Whole-Brain Child, 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, a book in which the authors provide a basic introduction to how a child’s brain develops and what parents can do to foster its healthy development.

In the first few chapters, the authors provide a brief description of the brain. They discuss the left brain (logical side) and the right brain (emotional side) in order to get us thinking about “horizontal integration,” or harmony between both sides. The authors also talk about “vertical integration” of the top and bottom of the brain, using the metaphor of a “mental staircase.” The bottom of the brain is responsible for basic instincts while the upstairs brain is responsible for analytical thinking. While our “downstairs brain” is pretty developed at birth, our “upstairs brain” develops our entire life and is not fully mature until our mid-twenties! All this talk of the brain is well and good but what do we do with this information?

Fortunately the authors give us background as well as how-to (they have to, it’s in the book title!). They offer us insight to real-life examples and twelve strategies of how we can engage our kids and their brains. These strategies show us how we can help our child tap into the different parts of their brain so that they “integrate” them, especially when emotions are high and logic is seemingly inaccessible.  

The strategy of addressing a child’s emotions, validating them, and then when they are calm, getting them to think logically about themselves and the situation is not new. However, for me (as a person with no background in child psychology) it was interesting to read how the authors frame or characterize the right brain and left brain. So in this strategy, they encourage the parent to “connect with the [child’s] right brain” and become attuned to your child’s emotion and then “redirect with the left brain” and use logic or critical thinking to teach and discipline.

In Chapter 4, the authors explain how memories work (my favorite chapter thus far). One example that I enjoyed reading was the conversation the author, Tina, had with her 7-year-old son about his anxiety over taking swimming lessons.

Tina and her son identify why he was anxious about taking swimming lessons. He had a bad memory of a previous swim class so he did not want to take them again. But then she helps him recognize that he also had good feelings and memories of swimming, especially when he swims with his best friend. So then her son recognizes that in general, he likes swimming. Finally, they come up with a plan for him to think of what he could say to himself when he gets that nervous feeling before lessons. OK, prepare yourself. Her son says he’d like to “kill the butterflies.” That’s right. Since he gets butterflies when he’s nervous, the phrase he came up with is “kill the butterflies.”

I think the point the authors are trying to make is that we should bring out our child’s memories (no matter how scary or painful) so we can better understand our children, and so our children themselves can become self-aware through a narration of these memories. The authors state this can bring about “healing.” That’s some pretty powerful stuff. I mean, how many of us adults are told to “forget the past” or throw away things that elicit bad memories? If we can get our kids to recall memories so that they can have power over their emotion and reasoning, that’s some pretty, serious, parenting.

All these parenting strategies have forced me to think about how I might approach a situation when it seems like reason has gone out the door. I feel better knowing more about the different parts of the brain and having strategies to engage my son in times when I would want to yell “No!” or “Because I said so!”

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