Shawn, Ryan, and Lori discuss The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. (https://amzn.to/2IJuJh4) This is one of several books that CK Family Services recommends that all parents read, and it holds a special place with our show hosts. We invite you to join us and read through the book alongside us this Summer. Whether you are new to the book or have already read it through, we are confident that you’ll be glad you did. If you need a copy of the book, please consider using the link above to purchase a copy via Amazon.com. Doing so will help support the show.
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In this episode, we continue with chapter 3 and we talk about the concept of the upstairs-downstairs brain. The authors of The Whole-Brain Child describe the brain not only as divided horizontally but also vertically, like a house. In that sense, the downstairs part is the fundamental part and it controls basic functions such as breathing, reacting to danger, experiencing strong emotions and so on. The upstairs brain is the more complex part where processes like thinking, planning, and imagining happen. This is the part of the brain that allows critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making processes to take place.
So, for example, it is much more difficult to make a good connection between the downstairs and upstairs brain for children who have experienced trauma – it is much more difficult to smoothly climb the stairs. The trauma produces obstacles which make the process of climbing slower and more laborious or, practically speaking, make it harder for the child to properly respond to real life situation due to the trauma.
This also shows that approaching a crying child being only guided by the left-brain-right-brain division may not be enough because sometimes, the child is unable to calm because of the trauma. So, in such cases, an upstairs-downstairs approach is necessary to understand and calm the tantrum because it might be coming from the downstairs brain which is not always rational.
Among some great illustrations of the brain’s functioning in this episode is the example of asking a person to use the browser to find a nice place for dinner while there is no internet connection. This is very similar to parents demanding something from a child when the child is unable to properly respond due to the fact that his or her brain is not developed yet. In other words, the physical structure is there but it is not connected yet, it is not “online”.
The rest of the chapter – and of our discussion – focuses on how to approach that developing upstairs part of the child’s brain, how to help the child navigate, and how to protect it in that new unknown territory. There are 3 strategies proposed by the authors of the book.
The first one is Engage, Don’t Enrage. That means engaging with the child, showing them that you are there for them both emotionally and physically, comforting them, and showing them that you can climb those stairs together. As parents, we often deal with our own upstairs-downstairs issues and forget that our children are not adults. What we need to do, instead, is to put our personal problems away and help the children get into the rational part of their own experience.
The second strategy is Use It Or Lose It and it urges parents to teach children everything they can from tying their shoes to showing empathy; in other words, it appeals to parents’ responsibility to make children use their brains. If they do not motivate the child to exercise his or her brain and if they do not teach new things, the child will be late to learn so many things that he or she could have learned sooner; on top of that, they will learn them from someone else.
The final strategy is Move It Or Lose It and it is based on the idea that movement helps the body relax and, consequently, changes our emotional state. Whether that may be going for a walk around the block or just going for a run, moving the body helps us calm and establish better self-regulation. In addition, movement increases the connection between the left and right brain. So, when in conflict, instead of continuing to yell at each other, we should go out and take a walk until we calm down and then continue the conversation.
Our next episode will focus on the strategies in chapter 4 of The Whole-Brain Child. We look forward to engaging with you over the course of the summer.
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