the whole-brain child (chapter 6)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The intro post for this series can be found here.
Read along and give your opinions!

Chapter 6 really brings this whole thing full-circle to the place where I really felt like I needed some solutions. Once we teach our kids about themselves, to identify their own feelings, and how to deal with their own stuff, then how do we move from that to teaching them how to relate better to others? The authors ask “how do we teach our kids to move to ‘we’ without losing ‘me’?” I think this is one area where I often expect too much of my kids. I want them to consider others first, but is that at the expense of themselves?

The brain is set up for relationships. One thing that has gotten quite a bit of coverage in child development/adoption circles is something called mirror neurons. However, we don’t just imitate behaviors, we also identify with others’ feelings. Given that, it is really important to remember that every interaction we have without someone else literally alters both our brain and the that of the other person. When I first learned about this in foster training, it didn’t quite connect as deeply as it did once I saw the extent of how my kids’ brains were altered when they came to us from a background of trauma, abuse, and neglect. The relationships that our kids have experienced and are experiencing still are what dictates what they expect in the future. It’s not just a feeling. It’s hard-wired into their brains. It has been a powerful revelation for my parenting.

“It’s really not an exaggeration to say that the kind of relationships you provide for your children will affect generations to come. We can impact the future of the world by caring well for our children and by being intentional in giving them the kinds of relationships that we value and that we want them to see as normal.” 
Siegel, Daniel J. and Bryson, Tina Payne (2011). The Whole Brain Child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind. New York: Delacorte Press.

Strategy #11 – Increase the Family Fun Factory: Making a Point to Enjoy Each Other
Fun enjoyable experiences teach kids what it means to be in loving relationship with each other. Another fun tactic is to use ‘playful parenting’: engaging conflict with playfulness to diffuse the situation. Christine Moers will calls this type of thing “out-crazy the crazy”. Complete silliness is often the best tactic.

My own take-away: I wish this was my first reaction to crazy behavior. I also have to really watch myself that I don’t turn silly parenting into a mocking situation. I don’t need to be mean-spirited to change a situation. Snark has its place, but parenting young children is not a place where it belongs.

Strategy #12 – Connection Through Conflict: Teach Kids to Argue with a “We” in Mind
1) See through the other person’s eyes: help kids recognize other point of view
2) Listen to what’s NOT being said: teach kids about nonverbal communication and attuning to others
3) Repair: teach kids to make things right after a conflict. This could be a specific and direct reparation like paying for a broken object or cleaning up a mess they made, or it could be more relational instead.

My own take-away: Oh arguments. With five kids, I feel like every day is one big long argument. This is going to require a concerted effort from me to interject and help diffuse the anger. I tend towards the denial form of parenting my children’s arguments. If I pretend they’re not happening, I don’t have to worry about it. While they are definitely learning to work out some problems on their own, I do recognize that there are times and situations when I don’t step in when I should. This strategy gives me a specific action plan which I hope will make me more likely to engage in these situations.


What’s your takeaway from this chapter? Are you a playful parent? What are some ways you are teaching your kids how to argue healthily?

I covered a lot of stuff over the past six weeks, but please believe it is only a fraction of the detail that the book includes. The authors also include an extremely helpful graphic at the end of each chapter to give you concrete examples of how to engage with your kids and teach them about brain function. Another aspect I found particularly helpful was in the appendix where there is an age by age breakdown of brain development, strategies, and applications. If this interested you at all, I highly encourage you to read it for yourself. You’ll learn way more than you are from my vague summaries each week.

I really enjoyed working through this book – I’ve found myself implementing several of the strategies over the past few weeks. Some have been successful, some not, although the failures are more likely due to my laziness and inconsistency rather than through any fault of the strategy. What was your favorite part of the book? Learn anything new? I’d love to hear!

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