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The Whole Brain Child – 12 Proven Strategies to Nurture your Child’s developing Mind

The Whole-Brain Child

“If you know yourself to be someone who is super logical and very left brain dominant, who may need some help emotionally coaching and connecting with your child…go for it. But for everyone else,  I’d say don’t read this expecting 12 strategies. There’s really only one or two”

“On the fence as I am, I’d give it 3 stars I think. Better for those wholly fresh to the subject” 

By Mel Wilde, mother of 2, London

Just finished ‘The Whole Brain Child – 12 Proven Strategies to Nurture your Child’s Developing Mind’ Siegel & Bryson…

I REALLY wanted to read this book, straight from the get go. I was drawn to the cover blurb, which emphasised this was a practical book, with lots of explanation on not just the left and right side of my child’s brain, but also the top and the bottom. Since I’m a fan of developing my boys’ emotional literacy I was curious. Turns out we keep learning more and more about the brain, especially in the last 25 years and the top and bottom of the brain and the amygdala are a whole other ballgame. They’re not like left and right, logic and feeling. This upstairs, downstairs brain is instinct, memory, trauma storage and flight drive.

My goal as a parent is (to raise) a resilient child. If I do my job right, in the future, most of the time he will know how to help himself or ask for comfort. He’ll be happier, connected and empowered. This stuff is big and nothing to do with how well he test scores. Mostly. I know, how he looks after himself and interprets the world and those around him will mostly come from our parenting. So… back to this book, I was keen!

Like most parents I know, we’re all super aware that our children are in development They’re just beginning to learn to emotionally self regulate, but they don’t have enough experience yet to always pull it off. So, if a red alert just went off in the instinct part of their brain or in their memory because something scary reminds them of something else scary, we get a double whammy reaction. I know this already, on a simplistic level. Could Siegel and Bryson teach me anything new?

Well… yes… but not nearly enough. Won over by what were set to be 12 strategies, to coach my child, the book’s language is often a turn off and I had to dig deep to stick with it.

The twelve strategies: Name it to tame it (acknowledging feelings, showing empathy); Connect and Redirect (kind of the same);  Engage don’t enrage (more of the same);  Use it or lose it (a little more of the same but also coaching your child to assess risk or problem solve for themselves to aid them when you are not around); Move it or lose it (using physical activity to reduce overwhelming emotion before talking)… Certainly, for anyone new to guides on emotionally coaching your children, there is useful content in here. For me, nerdy prolific reader who has encountered a lot of this stuff before, I was underwhelmed. Largely because it took almost 80 pages to tell me some basics. Namely, when my child is showing big emotions – in whatever context- I need to:

  •  acknowledge / name the feeling
  • empathise with the feeling
  • get a chat started where they can open up and replay the cause
  • and then together try and problem solve (possibly with you telling a similar story of your own for them to advise you on what to do – but only if they’re having trouble opening up).

This is my main criticism of the book, because some of the other 12 strategies could be summarised pretty much as I just did above, in 4 bullet points. Though the brain bits are fascinating, the 12 practical strategies don’t truly feel that numerous.

So, is it actually worth a read then… ? Well, begrudgingly, yes and here’s why.

The big hit is the chapter on memory and trauma storage.

Most of us, understandably, dread the day anything bad happens to our children that can’t be solved by the above or a Mr Men plaster. But, we don’t get to control everything and life happens and we need to model for our children how to cope. Three years ago on a family holiday, my eldest nearly drowned. He was literally in the process for over a minute and he was 3 years old. It was a situation that, retrospectively, beggars belief and ought to have been entirely preventable. At 6, now a fish in the water, he still remembers it. I hadn’t read this book then, so we sought out lots of professional advice for our understandably swimming phobic pre schooler.

The memory chapter explains what goes on in the brain wiring when a very scary event happens to someone with too little experience at processing big emotions.  Actually, the process in the brain it could be any adult facing any trauma that is big. What we learned, which Siegel and Bryson support, is conversationally revisiting what happened often, but in a safe way is good. What’s fantastic is that they offer tips on how. By doing this, one can actually help the brain not to turn the fear into a trauma memory for life.

For any parent, that’s got to be worth a read. For everything else… I’m on the fence. If you know yourself to be someone who is super logical and very left brain dominant, who may need some help emotionally coaching and connecting with your child…go for it. But for everyone else,  I’d say don’t read this expecting 12 strategies. There’s really only one or two.

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