30 March 2014, by Petrina Kow
Book Review: The Whole Brain Child by Dan J. Siegel M.D & Tina Payne Bryson P.H.D
Can you tell I’ve been reading? Anyway, it occurred to me as I’m writing this that we should start some kind of parenting book club, where we read and get together monthly to discuss the topics in these books because 1) I’m geeky like that, and 2) it would be really nice to get different opinions and some kind of support group to deal with this universally challenging thing we call parenting.
This book came to me at an interesting time in my journey as a parent. It was just at the right time when I was researching for my Speak to Influence course that I teach at Art of Voice where I train as a Voice and Presentation Coach. It caught my eye because of the very sexy subtitle : “12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind”. After reading it, I was completely blown away by their efforts to make ‘cheem’ neurological science so easy to understand and applicable. In fact, they even have illustrations and strategies that you are meant to share with your kids so that you can educate them about their developing brain too. More importantly, it was very useful and dare I say it life-changing to start to understand your kids in this way. I also used a lot of the brain science in this book to inform my teaching of my course especially when we are dealing with how the brain processes emotion.
There are 12 strategies but I will talk about my two favourite ones and how I’ve used them to much success at home. I also like how they’ve made it into these easy to remember slogans like ‘Name it to Tame it’, ‘Engage Don’t Enrage’, ‘Connect Through Conflict’ and my favourite ‘Connect then Re-direct’. The basis of this strategy works on the knowledge that when their brain is overcome with the ‘base’ emotions that are controlled by their ‘reptilian’ brain, there is no point trying to reason with your kids because their brain is neurologically unable to do so.
For example, when they are really distressed about something, it is scientifically to your advantage to connect with their right brain by calming them down first then appealing to their left brain by ‘teaching’ them the right things to do afterwards. Hence ‘connect, then re-direct’. We tried this out with Oliver when he was incomprehensibly distressed by the fact that we didn’t have a sling bag to pack for a field trip. A slice of the conversation.
Oliver: ‘But MOM, we HAVE to pack a SLING BAG! It says here on the packing list, SLING BAG.’
Me: ‘Yes dear, I see that, but we don’t really need to follow exactly. We can pack any other backpack.’
Oliver: ‘No… we HAVE to bring a SLING BAG, otherwise I might get into trouble.’
Me: ‘My dear, Mommy has years of experience packing for field trips…I assure you this little backpack will be more than adequate.’
Oliver: But but….(BIG FAT TEARS develop into throaty SOBS and eventually into HYSTERICAL CRIES)
It is usually at this point that I lose patience and start to raise my voice whilst trying to keep calm and talk ‘reason’ to him. ‘Don’t be unreasonable, ‘Can you please stop over-reacting?’ ‘Stop crying, it’s only a SLING BAG!’ were some of the choice phrases that might have emerged from my mouth prior to my ‘enlightenment’. I decided to employ the ‘Connect then Re-direct’ method from the book and this is roughly what happened when he started crying.
Me: ‘Oh sweetheart, I know you feel very insecure about not having a sling bag like it says in the list. It’s ok honey.’ (Big hugs…lots of kisses) ‘Oh do you want to hear something really funny that happened to me today?’ (proceeded to tell some silly story to calm the amygdala*)
When I could tell that he was sufficiently calm and not distressed about the bag anymore, I explained myself again.
Me: ‘You know honey, I think I know why your teacher put ‘SLING BAG’ in the list. I think it’s to make it easier for you to carry your belongings whilst going on the field trip. But I don’t think he really cares what kind of bag it is. And Mommy has packed this backpack for your sister’s field trips before, and she’s never had any trouble with it.’
And just like that. All was well with the world again. He felt reassured, packed his things into said backpack and went to school the next day for his field trip without incident. He even triumphantly returned home proclaiming his ‘wisdom’ in packing a backpack because it could fit so many more things.
Another fun activity that we’ve started doing with the kids is what I’ve dubbed ‘3 Things’ but really it was a suggestion in the book about how to get your kids talking about their day. The game goes like this. We take turns to tell each other about 3 things that happen in the day. Two of which are true and one is false. This not only is a fun way to get them to express themselves, it also helps them to neurologically process the days events. Plus, you’d be surprised at the kinds of things you find out when you play this game with them. I’ve found that this not only helps us to bond with the kids, but they also get a chance to hear about your day and what interesting things happened to you. I’ve not extended the game to include 2 emotions, and 1observation. This way, it really gets them working on digging a little deeper than usual and I’m really pleased to report that I’ve uncovered all kinds of wonderful nuggets from them that I know I wouldn’t have gotten with the usual ‘How’s your day at school’.
I’ve been telling all my friends to read this book, even those that don’t have kids! Because once we start to understand our brain and how it works, is when I believe, we begin to really grow, heal and connect with ourselves and with others. Read it. You most likely will finish it in one sitting. More importantly, try out the techniques and let me know if it works for you!