Based on the Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
The following strategies are based on the book by Daniel Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.
I have summarised the first four strategies in this handout.
CHAPTER ONE: Parenting with the Brain in Mind
Because experiences are constantly shaping the brain for better or for worse, your interactions have a big impact on children’s brains. Integration is the key concept underlying the 12 strategies described in the book – connecting the many parts and functions of the brain to achieve well-being.
CHAPTER TWO: Two Brains Are Better Than One: Integrating the Left and the RightThe two sides of our brains are different. The left side likes lists, sequences, logic, language, details, rules, and order. The right side pays attention to nonverbal signals, emotions, images, personal memories, music, art, creativity, and is more connected to the lower brain area that receives, understands, and processes emotional information. The two sides are connected by a bundle of fibers because we need them to work together, to be integrated. Two strategies will help for kids of any age:
Whole brain strategy #1: Connect and Redirect: Surfing Emotional Waves
Step 1: Connect with the Right:Instead, use your right brain to connect, to tune in to their emotions, to resonate with your child – acknowledge their feelings. Then and only then -
Step 2: Redirect with the Left:Use simple logic and language to suggest solutions to their problems.
Whole brain strategy #2: Name It to Tame It: Telling Stories to Calm Big Emotions
Pick a time when you and your child are feeling calm, and have a story-telling conversation about the difficult event. This strategy is integrating both sides of the brain – the left tells the story of the right brain’s strong emotion: taming by naming.
CHAPTER THREE: Building the Staircase of the Mind: Integrating the Upstairs and Downstairs Brain
Imagine the brain as a two-story house. The downstairs brain develops early and is responsible for bodily functions like breathing, as well as for strong emotional reactions like fight (anger), flight (fear), and freeze (fear). The upstairs brain (the top part of your cortex) develops later in childhood and on into adulthood; it’s the place where mental processes happen – good decisions, self-understanding, emotional and bodily control, empathy, a sense of right and wrong, etc.
Whole brain strategy #3: Engage, Don’t Enrage: Appealing to the Upstairs Brain
First make sure you have applied step 1 of Strategy 1 and connect. Then, once calm, help them find solutions to their challenges. Engage their upstairs brain in problem-solving.
Whole brain strategy #4: Use It or Lose It: Exercising the Upstairs Brain
“A strong upstairs brain balances out the downstairs brain, and is essential for social-emotional intelligence.” So throughout the day look for opportunities to help your child practice upstairs brain skills:
- Making decisions: For toddlers, give choices about what to wear, what to drink, etc. For older kids, let them, with support and guidance, make more difficult choices about conflicting schedules or desires. Don’t rescue them, even if you can foresee that their choice might lead to their regret. However, help them predict possible outcomes.
- Regulating emotions and the body:Be sure and model this yourself in all your interactions with your kids. Teach them calming techniques like taking a deep breath (“Swallow a bubble,” “Take a belly breath.”). Older kids can learn to count to ten, or take a mental time-out.
- Self-understanding:Ask kids questions that help them think about and reflect on their feelings, help them predict what they might feel in a new situation & how they might handle it. Also, model this for them by using self-talk out loud, “Hmmm. I seem to feel extra nervous. I wonder why? Maybe it’s because I don’t know what my boss will say when I ask for time off.”
- Empathy:Ask kids questions about the feelings of others, about what someone’s actions might suggest about how they feel, about what might make someone feel better, etc. Show compassion and empathy yourself.
- Morality:This isn’t just knowing what’s right and wrong but understanding how actions impact the greater good. We want our kids to do the right thing with compassion, kindness, and empathy