Book Review on “The Whole Brain Child”

If you have ever wondered why your child can be a rationale…okay, somewhat rationale creature one moment, and out of control the next, this is the book for you. Daniel Siegal, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. do an amazing job of explaining what is happening in your child’s brain development and provide 12 strategies for how to work with their developing brain without going insane yourself. Most of us know that our brain has a right and left hemisphere and that each side specializes in certain functions. But they explain that our brain essentially has a bottom half and a top half as well. The bottom half of our brain is the much more primitive part of our brain that involves basic automatic body functions such as breathing, heart rate, blinking, etc.. The bottom half also holds our fight/flight/freeze system. The upper half of our brain is the part that makes us the most human. It is where we can access reasoning, logic, decision making, and organization. It is essentially the “conductor” for the rest of the brain.

From birth our brain is developing from the bottom up, which is why children are not always capable of being rationale, logical beings. Their frontal cortex is still developing. It can be so tricky to parent because they can have the capacity for reason at some moments, and none at all the next. As a parent it can be hard to make the shift with them and we may expect them to be able to be rationale and logical much of the time. This book explains that at times of high emotional arousal it is almost as though a gate closes between the bottom and top half of the brain, preventing access to logical thought. If you have ever seen your child laying in a puddle on the floor, crying hysterically because their favorite pants are in the wash you know what I am talking about. Yelling at your child or giving them consequences at that point is useless because they do not have access to the logical part of their brain to comprehend the point of the consequence. The child needs assistance from the parent to just focus on calming down so that their “thinking” brain can come back online and work out the problem rationally. Trying to force or demand the return of their logic is pretty ineffective, speaking as someone who has tried it. My reward for that is usually another 10 minutes of tantrums…from them or me is kind of debatable.

Mr. Siegal and Ms. Bryson do a great job of creating relatable examples of parenting struggles. As I read the book I found myself saying, “Oh my gosh! That exact same thing has happened to me!” After validating your experience as a parent they offer reasonable strategies for how to approach these struggles. They do not make unrealistic claims like “follow these 12 strategies and you will have perfect angels.” Personally I have found that having a better understanding of what is happening in my child’s brain when they are a crying, floor puddle has eased my own tension and frustration. This ultimately leads to more opportunities for me to stay calm and parent from my best place. I have found that when I am able to use these strateiges my child calms down faster, and therefore we can work through the issue more quickly and get on with the day. This book validates that as parents we are also humans. The writers understand that you are not going to use these strategies perfectly, nor every time there is an opportunity because sometimes we are not at our best. Sometimes we get stuck because of our own mood or stressors. We have to be forgiving of ourselves as parents and keep plugging away.   This book just offers some great knowledge about the development of children and a few more tools to throw into the parenting toolbox.