There are a ton of amazing parenting resources out there that approach parenting from completely different worldviews. I have been guilty of sticking to one genre and have missed out on some incredible resources. This website is getting me out of my comfort zone as I explore parenting books from varying viewpoints. The Whole-Brain Child is written from a secular humanist worldview. Secular humanism teaches that humans are merely made up of physical materials of hormones and cells and discounts the nonmaterial (or spiritual) aspect of the human self. The book relies heavily on the science of the brain to explain how to parent. However, I believe that this book has some value that I can appreciate from a Christian worldview. I am thankful that God created the authors of this book in His image and gave them the ability to do research of his orderly world, including the human brain, to provide us with incredibly practical tools to help parent our children. I appreciate that this book helps us pay attention to our children’s emotions to teach them to have self-control and compassion. As a Christian who does not embrace the humanist worldview of the authors I am thankful that there are many valuable take-aways.
The authors encourage parents not to shelter children from every obstacle, but to view difficulties as opportunities for children to learn about themselves and the world around them. The book is designed to teach children how to think about what is going on in the brain as they experience emotions. It gives practical advice for how to take control of the brain (mindsight), rather than be driven by emotions.
The left side of the brain is more logical, while the right side is more emotional. By connecting with the emotional (right side) of the brain first, you link the more emotional side of the brain to the logical side. Acknowledge your child’s feelings first. This nugget of information was immediately helpful to me as I have one child that is more emotional than the rest of the family. Instead of jumping straight into an explanation of how he can fix his problem, I said “I get angry when that happens too.” After that he was ready to listen to practical solutions to his problem.
The downstairs part of the brain is where a lot of the strong emotions come from, while the upstairs part of the brain can control that downstairs part. As children get older, they learn to operate from the more sophisticated upper part of the brain. Help your child develop the upper brain (develop self-control) by encouraging him to make decisions. Ask him, “what would you do?” Sometimes that lower brain takes over and is no longer being controlled by the upper brain. Now your kid’s emotions are out of control. When that happens, first name that feeling then try moving the body. This connects the more sophisticated upper brain to the lower brain, helping your child regain control.
Memories are like spaghetti noodles in the brain, all intertwined with emotions. Your child can have a deep emotional response to a new situation triggered by an event that he doesn’t even remember. Help your child retell the story of his past experience. You can even play a game by fast forwarding over the really sad or scary parts until he is ready to talk about it. Bringing a forgotten memory to light keeps your child from being limited by the emotional response of a past experience. Help your child improve his memory and talk about experiences. Play games to help your child remember the events of the day. Ask him to name two true things and one false thing that happened at school that day, and you try to guess what was false.
Children are encouraged to think about their minds, called mindsight. Parents can help use the acronym SIFT to encourage their children to identify the Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts that are inside them. Dr. Siegel encourages children to picture their mind like a bicycle wheel with the child’s name in the center and different thoughts occupying various areas on the outer rim. At times our thoughts can get stuck on one of those outer rims. The author encourages parents to teach children to recenter and focus their thoughts on another aspect of the rim. One practical suggestion is to help children and parents realize the difference between “feel” and “am”. You may “feel” sad, but that doesn’t mean that’s what you “are” sad. Encourage children to see emotions like clouds. They are not permanent. They will roll in and roll out.
While the humanist worldview breaks down in trying to explain why we were created for relationship by talking about brain-to-brain connections explained by monkeys’ neurons firing, we all know that loving one another is good thing. All the previous concepts of mindsight can be applied towards relationships with others. Talk to your children about how the other child might be feeling or perceiving the situation. Parents are encouraged to provide children with opportunities to build positive relationships. Family fun times can create positive feelings that will strengthen the sibling bond into adulthood. Finally, don’t shy away from conflict. Help your child pick up on nonverbal clues that there is conflict. Equip him with the tools to empathize and make amends.
The friend who lent me the book said, “In my culture boys are taught to bury their feelings. I want my sons to grow up understanding their emotions and how to manage them.” No doubt this book is an incredible tool for that. The concept of mindsight and teaching our children to be emotionally aware and receptive to others’ thoughts and feelings is popular right now. Here is a blog built on these principles that gives tips for managing the emotional toddler years: biglittlefeelings.com. I would also encourage parents to read parenting books about managing behavior and nurturing your child’s spiritual development.
Siegel, D.J., & Payne Bryson, T. (2011). The Whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind. Bantam Books.