The Whole-Brain Child: A book review by Bob Morris

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind
Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
Bantam Books 92011)

How and why “the moments you are just trying to survive are actually opportunities to help your child to thrive”
 
As a father of three sons and a daughter and one of the grandfathers of their ten children, I can certainly understand what Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson have in mind while discussing moments of extreme stress for parents when their children become infuriating and intolerable. That is why I was intrigued by their explanation of the power of the “whole-brain approach” during all manner of touchpoints in parent-child relationships. That power is especially helpful in “the moments you are just trying to survive” because it creates “opportunities to help your child to thrive.” In fact, the 12 strategies that Siegal and Bryson recommend can be effective for almost anyone who has direct and frequent contact with children, including teachers, coaches, and clergy as well as parents and other relatives.

In fact, with only minor modification, I think they can be beneficial to interactive relationships between and among adults, especially to those within a workplace.

“What’s great about this survive-and-thrive approach is that you don’t have to try to carve out special time to help your children thrive. You can use [begin italics] all [end italics] of the interactions you share – the stressful, angry ones as well as the miraculous, adorable ones – as opportunities to help them become the responsible, caring, capable people you want them to be. That’s what this book is about: using those everyday moments with your kids to help them reach their true potential.”

These are among the passages that caught my eye:

o   Integration of Various Mental Domains (Pages 6-10)
o   Get in the Flow: Navigating the Waters Between Chaos and Rigidity (10-13)
o   Left Brain, Right Brain: An Introduction (15-16)
o   Two Halves Make a Whole: Combining the Left and the Right (18-22)
o   The Mental Staircase: Integrating the Upstairs and Downstairs Brain (38-41)
o   Integrating Ourselves: Using Our Own Mental Staircase (64-65)
o   Integrating Implicit and Explicit: Assembling the Puzzle Pieces of the Mind (76-86)
o   Mindsight and the Wheel of Awareness (93-97)
o   Integrating Ourselves: Looking at Our Own Wheel of Awareness (117-118)
o   Laying the Groundwork for Connection: Creating Positive Mental Models (125-127)
o   Cultivating a “Yes” State of Mind: Helping Kids Be Receptive to Relationships (129-133)
o   Integrating Ourselves: Making Sense of Our Own Story (143-144

Note: I urge you to check out another of Siegal’s books, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, in which Mindsight and the Wheel of Awareness are among the subjects discussed.

Readers will appreciate Siegal and Bryson’s skillful use of “What You Can Do” sections throughout their narrative that serve several purposes, notably focusing on key points while suggesting specific initiatives to apply what has been learned from the given material. For example, “What You Can Do: Helping Your Child Work from Both Sides of the Brain” (Pages 22-33). Dozens of eminently appropriate illustrations were created by Tuesday Mourning.

However, no brief commentary such as mine could possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of what Siegal and Bryson cover, with eloquence as well as rigor. I have elected not to list the twelve (12) strategies because I think they are best revealed in context, within the narrative. I do presume to suggest that those who are about to read this book begin and then frequently review later the “Whole-Brain Ages and Stages” material (on Pages 154-168) because it creates a wide and deep context, a frame of reference, for the abundance of information, insights, and recommendations in the six preceding chapters and Conclusion, “Bringing It All Together. ”

This book need not be read straight through (although I prefer that approach) but it should certainly be consulted frequently, hence the importance of “Whole-Brain Ages and Stages” and the Index as well as (I hope) passages of special importance that have been highlighted.

I also presume to suggest that Daniel Siegal and Tina Payne Bryson’s brilliant book will be most valuable to whole-brain readers. In it, they provide what they characterize in the Introduction as “an antidote to parenting and academic approaches that overemphasize achievement and perfection at any cost.” It is imperative that everyone involved directly (and even indirectly) with the development if children “understand some basics about the young brain that [they] are helping to grow and develop.”

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