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Recently I came across a book that revolutionized the way I parent my toddler AND interact with patients in my speech therapy sessions. It is just so good that I had to summarize and share it with you!
“The Whole Brain Child” by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson explores practical strategies for understanding and nurturing a child’s developing brain, fostering healthy emotional growth, and improving parent-child (and caregiver- or therapist-child) relationships. The book emphasizes the importance of integrating parts of the brain and provides 12 strategies for parents and caregivers (and SLPs!) to support children’s emotional and cognitive development.
The Upstairs Brain and Downstairs Brain
This was my favorite part of the book! Dr. Siegel introduces the concept of the “upstairs brain” and the “downstairs brain” as a simplified way to explain the brain’s regions and functions to children.
The authors emphasize that helping children integrate both brain regions is crucial for balanced emotional and cognitive development. The “upstairs brain” should guide and regulate the “downstairs brain,” allowing children to respond to situations with emotional intelligence and rational thinking. Understanding the difference between the “upstairs” and “downstairs” brain can help parents and caregivers explain emotional and behavioral responses to children and teach them self-regulation skills. It can also help parents understand why their children are acting they way that they are. It takes practice, time, and maturity for our children to learn to access their “upstairs brain” in challenging moments.
This is such an important concept and I love that it can be explained in such parent-friendly language! I think, many times, parents (myself included!) expect emotional regulation skills of their child that are not yet developmentally appropriate. Children function in their “downstairs brain” during tantrums, yet parents try to reason with their “upstairs brain” (which is totally inaccessible in that moment). For example, my daughter starts tantruming when I tell her it’s time to leave the playground. She throws her body to the ground, screams, and cries. She is functioning in her “downstairs brain.” No amount of reasoning with her is going to stop the tantrum. Her “upstairs brain” is not working right now. I need to appeal to her “downstairs brain” by co-regulating with her (calmly crouching down to her level, narrating what is happening, soothing her, and labeling the emotion). If that doesn’t stop the tantrum, it’s alright for me to calmly pick her up and take her to the car. I’m allowed to hold a boundary and she’s allowed to have feelings about it.
12 Strategies from “The Whole Brain Child”
1. Connect and Redirect:
2. Name It to Tame It:
3. Engage, Don’t Enrage:
4. Use It or Lose It:
5. Move the Body to Move the Brain:
6. Use the Senses:
7. Connect Through Conflict:
8. Use Creativity:
9. Move from Right to Left:
10. Connect Through Conflict:
11. Reflect, Integrate, and Redirect:
12. Remember to Remember:
In conclusion, “The Whole Brain Child” provides valuable insights into nurturing a child’s emotional and cognitive development and offers practical strategies for anyone working with children– speech-language pathologists included! I have already been incorporating several of these strategies into my therapy sessions and recommending this book to parents that are interested! This book gets 5 stars from me!
If you want to pick up your own copy, click this link!
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