Course Notes: The Whole-Brain Child Approach, Pt. 5

Last week, we covered the following:

  • As our kids begin to acknowledge and address their emotions, they start realizing that situations can be complicated
  • How we, as parents, effect our kids as they make sense of their circumstances
  • Strategies on how to help our children integrate the many pieces of themselves

Home stretch! On to the last 2 strategies.

The Me-We Connection

Humans are social beings. Research shows that we can become so in sync with another person that we begin to predict what the other person will say during conversations or storytelling. Learning and being considerate of others not only transforms your identity, but promotes longevity and builds resilience.

The last strategies show how to integrate your child’s self with others.

Strategy 11 – Increase the Family Fun Factor

“All grown ups were once children, but only few of them remember it.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

One way to increase family fun is by incorporating play into your interactions with your kids. We know it seems like we’re adding yet another task for you to do in an already busy schedule, but think about it.

Would you rather be demanding and fight with your kid about something, or make it playful and have little resistance? Both tactics require patience and effort. But playfulness, unlike rigid commands, improves interpersonal connection, reduces stress, and increases tolerance for not-so-fun tasks. In addition, the joy and laughter you share can also increase their brain integration and their neuroplasticity, both necessary for learning and general well-being.

I will admit, this took me a while to incorporate once I became a parent. As an OT, I use play when engaging with kiddos. But honestly, who has time to play after you switch to being a parent and running a household? The truth is that it’s hard fighting with your mini-me.

For example, my 3-year-old runs to the car when I pick up him up from school. He is so focused on his mission to get to the minivan that he doesn’t take the other cars around him into account. I would run after him, grab his arm, and scold him about safety. This was daily…and it was frustrating.

After this course, I decided to change up my role from disciplinarian to playmate in this scenario. I asked if we could race from the pick-up location to the minivan, but explained there were rules that we had to follow (watch for cars, stay close to each other, etc) or we couldn’t play anymore. Since then, we have fun racing other, and he sticks to the rules every time. No arguing, no conflict; just fun.

Strategy 12 – Connect Through Conflict

The Whole-Brain Child, 2011.

As much as we try to avoid it, conflicts with our kids are inevitable, but they can also be opportunities to connect and problem solve. Strategies 9, 10, or 11 can be helpful for little kids in these situations, but what about conflict with teens?

Dr. Dan Siegel discussed the adolescent brain in his book Brainstorm, noting that the adolescent brain undergoes a huge remodeling phase from the age of 12-24, using pruning and myelination to create efficient pathways and integration for their soon-to-be adult brain. 

The genuine nature or essence of the teen brain are:

  • EmotionsThey are rampant and spontaneous as their downstairs brain is dominant during this time. This is needed to push away from their parents and achieve independence. Why else would you leave free room and board?
  • Social Engagement Peer pressure is strong due to the need to belong to a group. There is an underlying fear of isolation and teens look to others to rely on as they prepare to leave the nest.
  • NoveltyBecause the brain is changing, teens are in constant search for something new to give them a good dopamine kick. This is why they are easily drawn to danger, even when they know the consequences. This hyper-rational thinking elevates the pros and diminishes the cons of various situations.
  • Creative Exploration With strong emotions and a drive to find something new, the teen brain opens a whole avenue for creativity and thinking outside the box.

Dr. Siegel theorizes that one of the main reasons why parents and teens conflict with one another is because parents, as they age, begin to:

  • Lose their emotional spark (emotions)
  • Limit themselves to fewer or no friends (social engagement)
  • Stay in a routine (novelty)
  • Lose their creativity (creative exploration)

Polar opposites much?

Now that we have a better understanding of the teenage brain, find ways to bring these characteristics and perspectives back into your adult/parent life. It may help reduce the disagreements with your adolescent.

And that’s a wrap! Personally, these strategies have made a huge impact on the way Patti and I (and our spouses) approach parenting, from the day-to-day squabbles to bigger picture empathy and relationship-building.

We hope this series provided some new insight into your child’s developing brain and gave you some ideas on how to help with their big emotions and self-understanding.

Siegal, D.J. and Bryson, T.P. (2013, November 8). The Whole-Brain Child Approach: Develop Kids’ Minds and Integrate Their Brains for Better Outcomes. Retrieved from Seminar.

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