“The Whole-Brain Child” Review

I read The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel. I am glad I did. The two major takeaways that I took from this book were storytelling (another “tool” to use with children) and the benefit of fun experiences among siblings. Here are all of my major takeaways:

  • Like Dr. Ginott, the authors recommend calming a child down before trying to reason with them, if the child is upset. They call it, “Connect and Redirect.” The authors write, “it’s generally a good idea to discuss misbehavior and its consequences after the child has calmed down, since moments of emotional flooding are not the best times for lessons to be learned.” I love this: “It’s as if you are a lifeguard who swims out, puts your arms around your child, and helps him to shore before telling him not to swim out so far next time.
  • They describe a “Name It to Tame It” tactic, where you name the emotion the child is going through (“literally come to terms with it”) to help calm them down. Observe ( 😉 ) what they are going through and then describe, describe, describe. This is one of the fundamentals of good parenting.
  • Curiosity questions. These finally “clicked” for me after reading this book. It’s like giving a friend a cup of coffee to get them to open up, rather than a bright light shining in their face, demanding questions. From the book, “Children are much more apt to share and talk while building something, playing cards, or riding in the car than when you sit down and look them right in the face and ask them to open up.” An aside: This is why I do not like the “Use your words!” tactic, which is very demanding in nature.
  • Storytelling. After a traumatic event, use storytelling. It helps the child put the story in perspective and prevents irrational fears from developing. Go slowly and skip over scary parts at first, until the story is, indeed, just a story. “To tell a story that makes sense, the left brain must put things in order, using words and logic. The right brain contributes the bodily sensations, raw emotions, and personal memories, so we can see the whole picture and communicate our experience. This is the scientific explanation behind why journaling and talking about a difficult event can be so powerful in helping us heal. In fact, research shows that merely assigning a name or label to what we feel literally calms down the activity of the emotional circuitry in the right hemisphere.
  • Bodily movement. “Research shows that when we change our physical state—through movement or relaxation, for example—we can change our emotional state. ” Indeed, when thinking about it, yes, walking or exercise does help calm me down and can focus my mind and even give courage to tackle a problem. If a child is very upset, getting them moving may help.
  • The average emotion lasts about 90 seconds. As such, I have a 2 minute timer ready for my use. If ever very angry, I flip it over and wait for it before deciding what to do. I have used it once so far. (After coffee spilled all over my laptop.)
  • Creating fun sibling experiences. After reading the following, I immediately started to think of fun things my children could do together: “Recent studies have found that the best predictor for good sibling relationships later in life is how much fun the kids have together when they’re young. The rate of conflict can even be high, as long as there’s plenty of fun to balance it out. The real danger comes when the siblings just ignore each other.
  • “What would you do?” games. Ask the child “If a child takes your ball at the playground, what would you do?” It helps them exercise that muscle in their brain to get good at responding to life’s sticky situations.
  • This quote from the book is worth pondering: “There’s nothing wrong with saying, “I’m scared.” But help him understand that another way to say it is, “I feel scared.” This minor shift in vocabulary can help him understand the subtle but important distinction between “feel” and “am.””

Finally, the book talks a lot about the different parts of the brain; latent memories in adults; and other scientific/psychological topics. I posted above what I got out of the book as a parent, for practical application. If interested in these topics, I would encourage you to take a look at the book.


There’s nothing more important you can do as a parent than to be intentional about the way you’re shaping your child’s mind. What you do matters profoundly.


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