Book Review: The Whole-Brain Child

The students I work with tend to find school challenging.

And they tend to worry.

Some of my students experience mild anxiety, while some experience overwhelming fear. In my effort to nurture children academically and emotionally, I am constantly searching for tools to help students understand themselves and put their struggles into context.

In this search, I came across the book The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies To Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD. Dr. Siegel is a graduate of Harvard Medical School and is currently a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. Dr. Siegel is also the author of several other bestselling books, including Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation. Tina Payne Bryson is a psychotherapist and school counselor in Arcadia, California. Both are parents.

The Whole Brain Child is one of the most accessible books I have read on what I call “practical neuroscience”. At 149 pages, the book’s length strikes the balance between containing helpful information while not overwhelming the reader with excess details. There is also a chart in the back of the book that lists strategies and practical applications for parents, organized by the child’s age/level of development. I love charts. Charts make it easy to quickly reference information.

My favorite tool from this book is the Wheel of Awareness. Using the image of a bicycle wheel, the child (or adult, as this tool is really applicable to everyone) writes words and terms that are currently “on his mind” around the rim. These can be positive items (“spending time with friends”) or stressful elements (“fear of getting a D in math”). The child writes his name in the hub of the wheel. This visual representation shows the child that he can be aware of his thoughts and concerns and view them as points along the continuous rim, but he is still himself at the center. As the authors explain it, “Those fears and worries were definitely part of him, but they didn’t represent the totality of his being.”

It is immensely helpful for our children to be aware of what is going on in their own minds. The more aware they are of the variety of their feelings and thoughts, the less likely they are to be dominated by particular fears. Temporary experiences do not define any of us; we are the totality of a wide range of experiences.

As we strive to become aware of our own dynamics as parents and teachers, helping our children do the same will yield more confident and centered people. Doctors Siegel and Payne Bryson sum this up perfectly when they state “That’s where mental health and well-being begin, with achieving clarity and insight into our own individual mind.”


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