Book Review: The Whole-Brain Child

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“The beauty of the whole-brain perspective is that it lets you understand that even the mistakes are opportunities to grow and learn… It’s not your responsibility to avoid all mistakes, any more than you’re supposed to remove all obstacles your children face. Instead, your job is to be present with your children and connect with them through the ups and downs of life’s journey.”

A few years ago when I was still a classroom teacher, I had one of those not-so-proud moments in my life. I was so angry at one of my students because he wouldn’t stop punching one of his classmates. I felt every bit of patience leave my body when I threw his bag out of our classroom and told him to leave. This experience left both me and him crying in the end. Though this student and I have resolved this issue, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. And now that I’m a parent, I still think about it and I try to continue learning from it.

Apart from raising kind children, I guess one thing that parents (and teachers, caregivers, guardians, etc.) continue to struggle with is discipline. What do we do when our children become difficult? Many parents and adults go through tantrums and blow ups on survival mode –  it’s either you endure it or you end up losing it as well.

Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson’s book The Whole-Brain Child gives a fresh perspective on discipline and understanding the needs and struggles of children. Instead of simply focusing on what to do (ex. affirmation and consequences), we must ask ourselves: How do we engage and connect with them during these moments?  And by shifting our perspective, we can stop being on survival mode and actually turn a disastrous moment into an experience where our children can actually thrive.

According to Siegel and Bryson, we can connect with our children more effectively if we understand the way their brains work and how they develop. They explain this principle through integration, which simply means having the four main parts of the brain working together like a well-oiled machine.

Neuroscience as it turns out, doesn’t have to be complicated. What I love about this book is how the authors managed to make brain science simple and relatable for people who aren’t scientists or in the academe. Take a look at the illustrations below:

Siegel and Bryson explain how the brain is divided into four parts: the left side, the right side, the upstairs brain, and the downstairs brain. Each part has its own unique function and way of responding. The whole-brain approach teaches parents how to identify which parts of the brain are stimulated when children are excited, sad, have tantrums, etc. It explores how we can best connect and engage with our children when we take into context which part of the brain is activated and how we can integrate that part with the other parts of the brain. Here’s an example below:

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And it doesn’t end there! Using a child-friendly approach, the book provides materials on how you can explain the same concepts to your children:

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Apart from the different parts of the brain, the book also discusses the importance of activating our children’s memories and how we can make them active storytellers of their lives. This helps in making sense of experiences and avoiding trauma and phobias later on in life.

Just like the book The Parents We Mean to Be, the whole-brain approach discusses how we can encourage our children to develop their unique identities yet also have the moral obligation to care for other people.

Again, there’s no perfect guide or handbook on raising children but understanding our children’s contexts better will surely help us become better parents, teachers, and guardians.

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