Parents often ask how to help their children when they are having big emotions. The Whole Brain Child by Daniel Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D perfectly explains the neurobiology of children’s developing brains and how it affects children’s behaviors. It provides 12 strategies for parents to help their children navigate big feelings. For educational purposes and to easily understand how your child’s brain works, we are going to break the brain up into two categories with a total of four parts.

Category 1: LEFT BRAIN vs. RIGHT BRAIN

The left brain- the logical part of the brain. This part is responsible for math, cause and effect reasoning, language, etc. Children do not fully have access to this part of their brain until roughly 3 years old. It takes longer for other children to have access to that part, and that is totally okay!

The right brain- This is the emotional part of the brain, and it is also responsible for creativity. Children naturally live in the right side of their brain. When having a tantrum, children are all in the right side of the brain and it is our job as a caregiver to connect the left and right side of the brain. There are two ways to do that. This will be explained in the connect and re-direct step and the name it to tame it step.

Category 2: UPSTAIRS BRAIN VS. DOWNSTAIRS BRAIN

Upstairs brain- The sophisticated analytical part of the brain. Research suggests it is not fully developed until roughly 18 to 30 years old!

Downstairs brain- The primitive and reactive part of the brain. When your child is full on having a tantrum, their primitive brain takes over! Again, the goal as caregivers to help guide the child into using their whole brain. Steps 3-12 explain strategies to do so.

STEPS TO INTEGRATE THE WHOLE BRAIN:

Step 1: Connect and Re-Direct

Connect first right brain to left brain by using loving touch, empathy, validating their feelings, listen, and reflect. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP.

This can look like, “You are really mad right now. What happened made you mad.”

Redirect with left brain when they are ready and receptive involve child in making amends.

Step 2: Name it to Tame it

Use left-brain storytelling to help them understand what is upsetting them and how to feel more in control.

Step 3: Engage, don’t Enrage.

In high stress situations APPEAL TO THE UPSTAIRS BRAIN. Keep them thinking and listening rather than just reacting.

Step 4: Use it or Lose It

EXERCISE THE UPSTAIRS BRAIN- give choices, practice solving problems with them, practice controlling emotions, build self-understanding, consider feelings.

Step 5: Move it or Lose it

When kids are reactive ENCOURAGE PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES to shift their emotional state and reconnect with their upstairs brain

Step 6: Rewind and Remember

After a difficult even USE THE REMOTE OF THE MIND TO PAUSE, REWIND, AND FAST FORWARD to help them process what happened.

Step 7: Remember to Remember

GIVE KIDS PRACTICE AT REMEMBERING to help integrate implicit and explicit memories e.g. important and valuable moments of their lives

Step 8: Feelings Come and Go

LET THE CLOUDS OF EMOTION ROLL BY to help children understand that negative feelings are temporary.

Step 9: Sift

Teach kids to explore SENSATIONS, IMAGES, FEELINGS, THOUGHTS inside them to help them understand and change their experience.

Step 10: Exercise Mindsight

GIVE TOOLS+ STRATEGIES TO CALM THEMSELVES e.g. taking calm breaths, visualizing a calm place

Step 11: Connect Through Conflict

USE CONFLICT AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO TEACH KIDS

Step 12: Enjoy Each Other

FAMILY FUN+ ENJOYABLE RITUALS creates positive memories.

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I did. If you would like more support with this book or how to implement this content with your child please don’t hesitate to reach out! 

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