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I recently read a very interesting book, especially if you are one of those people who is interested in the biologic basis of behavior and brain development. I must say, my reading of the Whole Brain Child did give me more understanding about the division of labor of a human brain even though I have been to medical school, taken neuroanatomy, and dissected a human brain myself. Drs. Siegel and Bryson, a pediatric psychiatrist and psychotherapist respectfully, introduced me to the concept of brain plasticity and brain integration. We have known since the 19th century, that different parts of the brain have different functions but until recently, we have not understood the concept of an ever changing, rewiring brain that is constantly “integrating” brain functions and information so that a child’s emotional state stays in their lingo, the “River of well-being”. For me, this is the core concept of Drs. Siegel and Bryson’s book. I must say, they also do a great job of explaining the vital role that parents play in this never ending rewiring process. A child’s brain is ever changing, learning, adapting, and attempting to understand and cope.
The Whole Brain Child is not a discipline or parenting book, even though it seems like one at times. It does give parents a new insight into the roots of their children’s behavior however. For instance, pointing out that memories come with an emotional tag and that retagging a memory association with a different emotional tag can really help both parent and child understand and change some of a child’s behavior. A parent’s insights are vital in helping “Shine the light of awareness” on difficult emotions a child may encounter. Children learn to “integrate” these memories, emotions, and feelings into an understandable form only with the help of their parents. I don’t mean to imply that The Whole Brain Child doesn’t have some practical suggestions for parents, it certainly does. It does present strategies for dealing with tantrums, the overly rigid child, understanding the importance of hunger and fatigue on a child’s behavior, and offers strategies for helping a child deal with excessive situational anxiety. But frankly, I prefer the common sense approach of listening before a parent speaks, trying to help a child turn their emotional volume down rather than turning it up, trying to understand what a child is feeling and helping them articulate and understand these feelings–something that I don’t need cute names like “Connect and reconnect”, “Turning me to we”, or “Engage don’t enrage” to do.
I think that the strength of this book is that it further defines the process of what we already know; an emotionally engaged loving parent, regularly present to help a child interpret their feelings and experiences is the backbone of raising an emotionally healthy child; teaching them to deal with and understand their own temperament or in the Whole Brain lingo, “integrating” the competing feelings and associations that a child feels. I think by explaining some of the biologic basis of behavior, the book likely will help some parents not have the all too easy angry response to a child’s emotional expressions. Less anger and frustration by parents can only be a good thing for every child. For those parents who are looking for a practical solution to common parenting dilemmas, I am afraid you won’t find it here. For those parents looking for an intellectual understanding of child development, this is your book. I give The Whole Brain Child 3.5 Doc Smo stars. Until next time.