January started and I thought, “While I am not setting any numbers-oriented reading goals for 2013 (because they always make me NOT read), I really want to read some books that will change my life, my marriage, my parenting, my outlook on life in general.” Sometimes I’m stupid.
But not this time!
I just finished The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD, and dang, I wish I would have read this eons ago. Of course, it wasn’t published until 2011 so it’s not like I could have read it while pregnant in 2005, but still. It’s probably the first parenting book that I’ve finished and:
- Not been annoyed.
- Found more than one helpful hint into parenting my children.
- Not been annoyed.
- Not been annoyed.
Maybe I’m reading the wrong parenting books.
Whatever the case, I did start out reading this book and thinking, “Well, dang! I’m just a horrible parent.” Thankfully, unlike some of the books I have suffered through in the past, that feeling left. I read the book, written by a neuropsychiatrist and a psychotherapist, with interest and hope. The book has a lot of science about the brain in it, but it is not dry. Both authors give personal parenting examples as well as using examples from the parents involved in their research. Plus, there are illustrations, both for you and for your children. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
In short, the book teaches parents about our brains and the developing brains of our children. The main point is on teaching children (and, ahem, ourselves) to integrate both the left and right sides of their brain as well as the “upstairs and downstairs” of the brain (by employing the amygdala). Additionally, we learn that brains are not solitary organs inside a skull but are social organs, meant to interact with other brains; as such, there’s also talk about integrating your brain with those around you by understanding how people feel (mindsight), act and react. There’s a “Fridge Sheet” for quick reference and an Ages and Stages index in the back of the book. (Both quite helpful. Seriously.)
I promise it’s not as boring as that paragraph makes it sound.
The best part of the book is that it gives simple takeaways to help you help your kids engage and integrate their brains when they’re struggling with something — throwing a tantrum, struggling through homework, having a hard time listening, and on and on. Using strategies like “connect and redirect,” “name it to tame it” and SIFT-ing (sensations, images, feelings and thoughts) (among others), parents are better able to connect and help their children. Before you wonder, yes, the book still talks about making sure your children have boundaries and that there are disciplinarian consequences to actions, so brain integration isn’t a write off to let your kid be a jerk.
One quote that really stuck out to me (of many, as my whole book is flagged):
Parents are a child’s first mindsight teachers, using challenging moments to engage a child’s own circuits of reflection to view our shared inner worlds. As children develop these mindsight skills, they can learn to balance the importance of their own inner lives with those of others. These reflective skills are also the basis for how children learn to balance their own emotions while understanding the emotional lives of the people around them. Mindsight is the basis of both social and emotional intelligence. It allows children to learn that they are a part of a larger world of relationships where feelings matter and connections are a source of reward, meaning and fun.
Isn’t that what we’re trying to do as parents in general? Raise our kids to understand that the world is bigger than just them, that there are lessons that are vital to learn and understand, that all people are important, that you shouldn’t grow up to be a jerk.
I come away from this book with the important recognition that I’m not just trying to survive today’s parenting foibles and battles with a five- and seven-year-old. I (along with my husband) am shaping their brains. What we do now affects their future relationships with not only us in terms of bonding but with their future spouses, their children, their bosses, their friends. How we respond and react to them now shapes how they will respond and react later. How we engage now shapes how they will engage later. It is a tremendous responsibility to physically shape the brain of a child. I feel better equipped now, with the knowledge I learned about brains and neuroplasticity and mindsight, to move forward in that shaping. More over, the authors, parents themselves, acknowledge that you won’t be perfect all of the time, but “even the mistakes are opportunities to grow and learn.”
I have rarely recommended a parenting book in my day. I can think of one, and it’s specifically for breastfeeding (Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers). That said, I do recommend The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. That said, I can’t guarantee, as with any book, that it will be 100% right for you and your family, but I feel strongly enough about the importance of shaping our kids’ minds in proper ways to give it my stamp of approval.