The Whole-Brain Child – Book review


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

The Whole-Brain Child has received much hype since it was first published (it’s a New York Times Bestseller).

Written by a neuropsychiatrist (Daniel J. Siegel) and a parenting expert (Tina Payne Bryson), The Whole-Brain Child explores how a child’s brain functions and matures. It explains why young children do not act like adults and why they can appear to be out of control.

The book proposes “twelve revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind, survive everyday parenting struggles, and help your family thrive”. Although far from “revolutionary”, The Whole-Brain Child proposes useful tools based on neuroscience to deal with everyday parenting.

Siegel and Bryson’s book revolves around the idea that children’s experiences – and traumatising events in particular – should not be overlooked but, rather, should be addressed using age-appropriate strategies. The book focuses on helping parents understand how children deal with their emotions in different situations.

One of the key strengths of The Whole-Brain Child is that it shows that a child’s brain is constantly changing, and that parents can play a role in ensuring that their children maintain a positive emotional state. The book is aimed at helping children develop emotional intelligence.

The Whole-Brain Child is structured around the following twelve strategies:

1) Connect and Redirect: Let your child feel that you hear him/her (connect emotionally to show them they are seen) before redirecting (deciding how to react) (translation: listen before you speak!)
2) Name It to Tame It: Telling Stories to Calm Big Emotions
3) Engage, Don’t Enrage: Encourage your child to think and listen rather than react
4) Use It or Lose It: Exercising the “Upstairs Brain” by helping your child practise making choices
5) Move It or Lose It: Moving the Body (physical exercises) to shift your child’s emotional state
6) Use the Remote of the Mind: Replay memories to bring awareness to your child and enable him/her to integrate memory
7) Remember to Remember: Make recollection a part of your family’s daily life
8) Let the Clouds of Emotion Roll By: Help your child, when he/she is experiencing a negative emotion, to understand that feelings come and go
9) SIFT: Pay attention to the sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts within your child
10) Exercise Mindsight: Help your child understand his/her mind and those of others
11) Increase the Family Fun Factor: Have fun together as a family
12) Connect through Conflict: Help your child recognise others’ points of view (the “we”) to encourage empathy.

The Whole-Brain Child: The pros

The Whole-Brain Child helps parents understand how a child’s mind functions and why children act in the way they do. It provides great graphics and suggests ways in which parents might talk to their children about how the brain works. This is important as it enables parents to help their children become more aware of their emotions and how they react to those emotions.

The Whole-Brain Child comes with helpful suggestions for how parents might respond to everyday parenting situations. The authors suggest that the twelve strategies above can enable parents to help their kids connect the left and right brain (and the “upstairs” and “downstairs” brain) and, in so doing, produce kids who are “happier, healthier, and more fully themselves”. There are many interesting parenting ideas to help parents understand and change some elements of their children’s behaviour. The book provides age-appropriate strategies for dealing with everyday challenges associated with parenting, such as anxiety and tantrums.

The Whole-Brain Child is based on proven scientific facts explained in simple terms.

The Whole-Brain Child: The cons

Many “scientific” books tend to be overly wordy and The Whole-Brain Child is no exception. Although there are many very interesting and useful points, there are also many repetitions whose relevance is not always clear. As a result, some sections of the book come off as boring.

Overall, there are many good, applicable strategies although a few appear to be unrealistic.

Who Will The Whole-Brain Child Benefit?

The strategies proposed in The Whole-Brain Child are helpful and highly informative, and they undoubtedly have a place in each family. However, they are better suited to slightly older, rather than younger, children. This may not be the book for you if you’re expecting or are new parents (unless you want a head start!) but it could be applied to children from at least age two.

If you’re interested in understanding how your child’s brain works, and how the brain impacts his/her social and emotional development, then The Whole-Brain Child is the book for you.

This book is more suitable for children with minor difficulties in what is generally normal childhood development and it may not be appropriate for children with major difficulties, for whom the techniques proposed may fail. Indeed, while the authors evoke the possible failure of some of the techniques, they do not provide guidance or offer possible options for parents should this occur. They also fail to highlight when it would be appropriate for parents to consult a professional.