You’re baffled why your child refuses to go to swim lessons, because last week, you couldn’t get him out of the pool. Or maybe your children are fighting again, and one is about to explode.

Most of us try to survive these situations, but Dr. Daniel J. Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson suggest in their book, The Whole-Brain Child, 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, that these struggles are opportunities for your child to grow. The touchstone of the book is that daily challenges with your children are opportunities to develop their brains, leading to calmer, happier children, and, ultimately adults.  The authors clearly explain the science behind the child’s brain, and present 12 key strategies you can use during those difficult times to foster healthy brain development.

For instance, the “upstairs brain,” (the cerebral cortex), plans, thinks, imagines, and controls emotions, but it isn’t fully developed until the mid-twenties. No wonder children experience such huge emotions. But you can help your young child integrate the upstairs brain, by appealing to that part of the brain.  When your child is defiant, the authors suggest it might be appropriate to go with the traditional “command and demand” route: “Stop making those faces young man!” But if such a response will trigger all kinds of reactive emotions in his downstairs brain, (the brain stem and limbic region, home of strong emotions like fear and anger), you can appeal to his upstairs brain: “You look like you feel angry. Is that right?” “Why are you angry?” “What would you suggest as the solution?” The questions get him thinking, which means he invokes his upstairs brain.

Another great strategy is to help your child understand the way the brain actually works, using the “Wheel of Awareness.” The basic concept is that the mind is like a bicycle wheel, with a hub at the center and spokes radiating to an outer rim. The rim represents anything we pay attention to. The hub is the quiet center, (prefrontal cortex) from which we become aware of all that’s happening around us and within us. When your child becomes fixated on one point of the rim—the test tomorrow; the mean thing a friend said yesterday—you can help her see the entire rim, and perhaps return her back to the hub.

Challenges are going to happen. Every day. The Whole-Brain Child takes that as a given and shows you how to turn them into something valuable, even brain-shaping.

The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson
Reviewed by Nina Schuyler

If you are interested in writing a book review of your own, please contact Nina Schuyler or Susie Shaw.

Book Review: The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
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