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The Whole-Brain Child

Video Length 2:37

Who Should Read It

All parents who are raising children of any age.

Why Should We Read It

We can learn and apply the latest neuropsychological research when raising our children to be well-adjusted adults.

What Will We Learn

Parenting truly can be rewarding, even when it feels impossibly difficult.

Book Reflections

"I expected the parents to command her to behave, and/or a tantrum to erupt. Instead...like magic, the frustration evaporated."

A couple of years ago, my friends Daniel and Sarah came to visit with their two children. We knew this couple from our time together in New York City- a completely different era for all of us. In New York, my wife and I were still only dating, and Daniel and Sarah had only one child. Now they two daughters, a preschooler and a toddler. I saw that the elder daughter continued to be opinionated and curious, and that she liked her younger sister- usually! While preparing for the day's itinerary in the hotel, I could see that the elder sister was increasingly frustrated that her younger sister kept taking her toys. The four adults in the room could sense that she was close to throwing a fit. I expected the parents to command her to behave, and/or a tantrum to erupt. Instead, neither happened. Sarah simply spoke to her daughter for 5 minutes, and like magic, the frustration evaporated. I would not understand how chaos was diverted until I came across The Whole-Brain Child, by Drs. Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson.

"...children do not yet have their 'left and right brains', and 'upstairs and downstairs brains' fully integrated...."

Most of us know that our brain, as complex and incomprehensible as it is, can be conceptualized into different parts. We commonly consider our logical and analytical selves to be the function of the "left brain." Our creative and artistic selves are served by our "right brain." We can even distinguish the parts of our brain based on type of thinking. Primitive, more instinctive reflexes are housed deep in the amygdala. Higher level, executive thinking and consciousness are located in the outer cortex. Drs. Siegel and Bryson reinforce these concepts, and add a revolutionary twist: children do not yet have their "left and right brains", and "upstairs and downstairs brains" fully integrated. They fall prey to inexplicable temper tantrums because they do not yet know how to use their entire brain to process what they are feeling. This is what happened to Sarah's eldest daughter- she didn't yet know how to balance the seemingly impossible pull of loving her younger sister with the desire to play with her own toys.

"...offer[s] concrete strategies for parents to consider for their own parenting routine."

Understanding a child's brain development is worthless to overworked and sleep-deprived parents unless there are actionable items. The Whole-Brain Child shines in this regard. For every abstract neurocognitive principle introduced, Drs. Siegel and Bryson also offer concrete strategies for parents to consider for their own parenting routine. These tactics are what Sarah applied to her eldest daughter. Instead of "command and demand" for the eldest to share her toys (which she didn't yet have the neural connections to do naturally), Sarah opted to "connect and redirect" the emotions building in the "downstairs" amygdala. Sarah acknowledged that it was very difficult to see someone playing with the toys we wanted to play with, and then asked what else she might want to do today in San Francisco. In doing so, Sarah not only averted a wave of intense anger, but also created a satisfying parenting moment that helped build a "stairway" to her daughter's "upstairs" cortex to help her manage on her own the next time.

"'...raising kids to use a fully integrated brain is very difficult to do...[this is] essential reading for all parents."

The Whole-Brain Child aims to help parents raise well-adjusted children, and it also looks at how adults can make their own brains "whole", if needed. At the end of each chapter, Drs. Siegel and Bryson devote 1-3 pages to adults who may need or want to apply similar neurocognitive principles to their own lives. The book does not presume that every parent has had the luxury of experiencing a nurturing childhood of his or her own. It is a nice touch- I can now tell you from experience (my wife and I now have a kid; Daniel and Sarah have three!) that raising kids to use a fully integrated brain is very difficult to do already; to parent without an integrated brain ourselves must exponentially harder. Drs. Siegel and Bryson’s work here is essential reading for all parents.

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