Dr. Daniel Siegel, Neuropsychiatrist and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, parenting expert combine their experiences in parenting, psychotherapy and neurology to bring us The Whole Brained Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. This book helps parents understand how their child’s brain works; so that they can utilize this knowledge to parent more effectively. One of the most important concepts in this book is left to right brain integration. The authors explain that a healthy brain is an integrated brain, meaning that the healthy brain uses left and right brain hemispheres to understand, make meaning and organize experiences. While the integration process takes a lifetime to perfect, as parents we can help our children begin this process as early as toddler age.
As parents, we must first understand the difference between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The left hemisphere of the brain loves creating order, understanding things logically, and describing cause and effect relationships. The right hemisphere of the brain is holistic, emotional, and stores and retrieves autobiographical memories. When a brain is dominated by the right brain, Siegel and Bryson describe this brain as chaotic. On the other hand, when a brain is dominated by the left-brain hemisphere, the authors describe this brain as rigid. The key to a healthy brain is being able to integrate right brain emotional experiences with left-brain logic and understanding.
How can we help begin this process for our young children? As parents of very young children can relate to, our toddlers can become emotionally flooded, meaning that they are overwhelmed by their emotions; resulting in tantrums, yelling or uncontrollable crying. This happens more frequently for toddlers because their brains are right brain dominant, which means that logic; responsibilities and time don’t exist dominantly for them. Developmentally this makes sense because young children’s left-brain hemispheres do not start to kick in until about age 4. How can we effectively handle it when our toddlers become overwhelmed by emotions?
In these situations, the authors provide clear direction on how not to handle your emotionally flooded child. As a parent, we should not dismiss or deny their feelings. For example:
“It’s not that bad. You’re fine. You need to be more careful. “
But rather, acknowledging what your child might be feeling and helping them to tell a story about what happened.
“Wow, that looked like it hurt. You were running and then you fell and scraped your knee.”
And finally, perhaps later in the week, when you are connecting with your child and they are not emotionally flooded, helping them understand the lesson in the story.
“Remember when you fell and scraped your knee on the asphalt at school? Maybe you should slow down on the asphalt at school.”
Another example that puts this into perspective is to imagine if your child was drowning in the ocean, and you went to save him. While you were rescuing your child would you start to teach them a lesson about swimming too far out? No, you would first rescue, then as you bring them to shore, you would help them to describe what happened. And then perhaps later on in the week, while things were calmed down and you had a moment to connect, you would talk about the rules and reasons why your child should swim closer to shore.
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