I can’t believe I’m doing this. It gives me flashbacks to the dreaded book report from middle or elementary school. I never wanted to write anything until my college composition course. Finally, I was guided to write about stuff I was interested in and how to write with action (active voice) instead of boredom (passive voice).

Well here goes, but I’m not going to call it a book report. I’m calling it Book Notes and it won’t be the last one because books provide so much free or cheap knowledge. These days, you don’t even need to read them you can listen to them. Here’s a bunch of affiliate links that will help this blog while helping you at the same time. But, I recommend using your local library. I use the digital public library on a regular basis. Its good for the budget, for the family, and for me!

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 The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

I have moments as a parent when I do just the right thing and then I have most of the time…I think parents find No Drama Discipline first because that causes us the most pain-dramatic kids and discipline. In the future I’ll create book notes for that as well.

The chapters give a good idea of what I discovered in it’s 168 pages.

Chapter 1: Parenting with the Brain in Mind

Chapter 2: Two Brains are Better Than One: Integrating the Left and the Right

Chapter 3: Building the Staircase of the Mind: Integrating the Upstairs and Downstairs Brain

Chapter 4: Kill the Butterflies! Integrating Memory for Growth and Healing

Chapter 5: The United States of Me: Integrating the Many Parts of Self

Chapter 6: The Me-We Connection: Integrating Self and Other

Conclusion: Bringing it all Together

Chapter 1: Parenting with the Brain in Mind


The reptile brain introduced in the first chapter represents the downstairs brain, the fight or flight survival brain. To thinking individuals (me), this brain makes no sense and someone working from this brain just seems illogical–part of my problem. This brain takes control when I feel helpless or threatened. Until I realize the reptile brain controls my child, I’m never going to get what I want let alone teach the child anything.

The upstairs brain, “responsible for decision making, personal insight, empathy, and morality,” wraps over the downstairs brain like a protective early 1900s leather football helmet. The learned upstairs brain interprets, explains, and translates the world and experiences thus insulating the downstairs brain from the stresses and triggers of this world.

The authors use stories and examples to strengthen their message. It just so happens experience molds and trains the brain. Stories strengthen the process of molding and training the brain. Assisting our children to recount and understand stories helps them integrate the stories as experiences that mold the brain. Encouraging our youngest children to tell stories of real life events while assisting them in filling in parts improves the experience and the training given to the upstairs brain. Eventually through repetition, they can tell the story completely on their own.

The stories and experiences don’t touch this reptile brain much but they work on the upstairs brain.

 Chapter 2: Two Brains are Better Than One: Integrating the Left and the Right

The authors continue sharing thought provoking stories that show good examples of the content they teach. I am left brained: logical, literal, linguistic (I’m not sure I like words that much or language but they put it in there and they are the PhDs). The right brain is “holistic and nonverbal, sending and receiving signals that allow us to communicate, such as facial expressions, eye contact, tone of voice, posture, and gestures.” Basically responsible and filled with meaning, feelings, and creativity.

Brand new human beings are right brain dominant. I am left brain dominant. I need to be especially mindful of my two little ones and pretend I’m more like my wife. They are completely existing and responding in the now. No logic (I need logic), no requirements, no responsibilities. I honor that development and wait for the “Why?”. When they begin asking “Why?” they matured into using the left brain–computer programmer dad is happy and things start to make sense for him.

Communication and integration between the left and the right are key to successful development. Using the left brain to understand and ask the “Why?” in order to connect that to the feelings and emotions of the right brain results in a well-grounded person. Following a painful interaction with another person, young children (and old computer programmers) see a logical solution in withdrawing and isolating as a quick and easy solution rather than seeking to understand. A full understanding of a situation including awareness of another’s feelings by the left brain can guide and help the right brain deal with pain and rejection by seeing how their feelings and actions make sense from the context of the situation.

How do we use this knowledge? When I’m, I mean my little ones are struggling with a situation I want them to not struggle and I logically know how to help. I know what to say but they’re not listening. The first thing I need to do is connect. Connect with the right brain: touch, pick-up, hold, show awareness of the hurt. If I could only remember that with all my family members: CONNECT. Connect to get the feelings under control. Get back to that state where asking or knowing “Why?” even has a chance to make sense.

Then redirect, explain, demonstrate, tell stories with the role reversed. The explanation will “Name it” and give context to the issue which helps our children identify similar situations in the future and thus be able to apply logic and understanding to resolve them. These tools for teaching create a child or a person that responds better and better with practice and experience. My take away here is I need to be the teacher. Everyone knows how to behave and how to empathize. Taking longer here, at this stage of life, whatever stage it is, to explain and teach instead of rushing to get my way and what I want yields lasting change and growth.

Chapter 3: Building the Staircase of the Mind: Integrating the Upstairs and Downstairs Brain

In Chapter 1’s notes, I introduced the concept of the upstairs, thinking brain and the downstairs, reptile brain or animal brain. When we’re born our animal brain performs well: fight or flight, hungry, sleepy, hurting, “Change my diaper!” Self-centered seeking comfort in all ways and seeking connection and we call that beautiful?! And it is.

They describe the brain as a house. At birth the downstairs “is complete and fully furnished, but when you look up at the second floor, you see that it is unfinished and littered with construction tools.” The second floor is a clean slate begging for our guidance. The tools are there ready for adults and parents to use.

The best part of the entire book lies at the end of this chapter, the hand model of the brain. Children understand and apply this model easily. Make a fist with your hand, one of those elementary girl fists (or so they were called when I was there) with your thumb tucked inside underneath all the fingers in the perfect place to break your thumb if you actually punched somebody.

Consider this a model of your brain with the thumb being the downstairs, reptile brain in charge of fight or flight, emotions, big feelings, protecting itself. It lets you care about people and lets you feel upset, angry, and scared. The fingers over the top represent the upstairs brain, thinking, choosing, logical, and analyzing–translating the world for the downstairs brain and making good decisions.

When life is going well the thumb is pleasantly wrapped and protected by the upstairs brain fingers. When things get intense, positively or negatively, those big feelings erupt from the downstairs brain. This causes the upstairs brain to loosen its grip a bit but still lies in place helping the downstairs brain calm down and assisting in expressing the big feelings and life goes on.

On occasion though, we all know that sometimes we get really upset and so do our kids. Open up your fingers and stand them straight up now exposing the downstairs brain (thumb) to the world. They call this “flipping your lid”, the upstairs brain lost its connection with the downstairs and can no longer help it to stay calm, logic is gone, communication is gone, lizard brain is in control. This is the time where I want to come in and “fix” things and fix them now and I actually usually think that I can. Wrong, the lizard brain doesn’t communicate, listen, nor reason. Time to connect with my child. . . and with connection I can teach. The connection enables the fingers to wrap back over that thumb, the upstairs brain to reconnect with the downstairs brain.

Chapter 4: Kill the Butterflies: Integrating Memory for Growth and Healing

Memory serves us for the positive and the negative. Going through stories with our children especially the difficult times they experience improves the content and nature of a memory. Just by accessing a memory, I change it. Memory doesn’t necessarily represent truth. By reviewing and telling the story of events with our kids we strengthen the memory. Remember what I said about accessing a memory changes it. The value of retelling a “bad” story lies in these changes.

We can help them bring more reality into a bad memory: the first day of swimming lessons was fun, when receiving criticism, it’s a good thing, the nursery at church is a place to play and meet people. All three of these situations could be created from a bad memory giving our children tools to come into those situations better in the future. By repeating the story of the memory, including the uncomfortable part, we can add more context and positivity to the experience our child had. Remember, “Neurons that fire together wire together.” we want to have our child tell the story of the experience over and over, the whole story, not just the uncomfortable part of the story.

Sometimes we don’t catch and review bad experience’s story and it comes up again in the future. It’s not too late to retell the whole story with empathy and inclusion of the bad parts, to present to the child how they’ve grown since the experience, and to show other positive stories that closely relate to the bad experience that happened since the “bad” one. Relating all that information and having the child tell their brain, that is “trying to protect them” that they’re older and wiser now and don’t need to fear that old memory any longer. The future is full of new experiences and new starts that deserve to be separated from the bad experience.

Part of the discussion dissects implicit and explicit memories.

“The memory that enables you to change your baby without knowing that you are remembering is called implicit memory. Your ability to recall learning to change a diaper (or to recall any other specific moment) is explicit memory.”

Bad experiences hurt and it is only natural for a child or any person to only want to allow them to be an implicit memory. I call it a quiet, passive, back of the mind memory. Take the example of a bad underwater swimming lesson experience that is left as an implicit memory. That can plague you for your entire life without even knowing the cause of the unfounded fear because it is found in the implicit memory of that small long ago experience.

Sure, at the time it didn’t seem so small, it was very scary, you didn’t like to think about it so you stashed it in the back of your mind and now it has the power to secretly torture you all the days of your life. By leaving the experience as an explicit memory it is allowing that memory to magnify the bad part of it. Implicit memories create expectations which can also be good like expecting to feel loved because we’ve experience that our whole life.

Reviewing the experience like we discussed above, using specific details and adding all the surrounding stories to the story, we turn the memory from implicit too explicit. It allows us to be aware of the memory so it can no longer sneak attack us. The review of a memory expands it and gives us more to make sense of and better information to apply to future experiences.

Chapter 5: The United States of Me: Integrating the Many Parts of the Self

I learned to look at myself and my mind from the outstide and it has served me well. I didn’t come to it naturally, I learned it. Dan Siegil terms this skill, Mindsight and goes on to extend it to understanding the mind of another.

Dan created the wheel of awareness to help in understanding mindsight. Imagine a bicycle wheel with a hub and a rim connected by spokes. The rim is everything we pay attention to and the hub is our mind. From the inside, hub, we can look out at any area of the rim we decide to but we can’t look at the whole thing. I often fixate on one area of the rim and exclude many others. Using mindsight, I can take my attention back and scan the rim and decide where and how to direct my attention. Molding my brain to control and direct my thinking.

Being in the hub separates me from the rim. But, I can easily go to a place where I allow the rim to be me but it’s not. I can get consumed by giving some small area of the rim more attention than it deserves. It’s easy to join my feelings and myself puts them in control of me. Feelings are temporary and they roll on by. They are separate from me.

I need to separate the “I feel”s from the “I am”s and not use them interchangeably. When I use an “I am” for feelings it attaches them to me more firmly. That might be good when saying “I am happy” or “I am joyful” but when I say, “I am sad” the “am” makes it me, just a part of me, one of my traits, something I can do nothing about. On the other had to say “I feel sad” gives me one layer of separation between me and the sad. It’s not that I “am” but I “feel” sad. Take the wheel for a spin and look for another point on it and I can find another feeling because feelings are temporary they aren’t part of me.

There are even parts of the rim that I haven’t even looked at. I need help from parents or friends to look at the whole rim. I can even drop things off the rim by not paying attention to them. If you were driving down the road staring at the dragonfly on the windshield you’re likely to get in a wreck. Sure the dragon fly is there right in front of you but you can look through the windshield still. There are lots of other areas of glass to look through similarly, there are lots of areas of the rim we can put our focus on. We just have to sift and sort what gets our attention.

In the same way, we can use the mind to control images. When my child comes to my room at night to describe the scary monster, I used to tell them and look around with them and say, “Look, there are no monsters.” But now I try to coach them, “Tell me about the monster, what does he look like?” “OK, how would he look with a pink polka-dotted tutu on?” Helping her change the image to something humorous will free the fear of the monster and let me get back to bed.

One of the areas we can focus is on our breathing, meditation 101. Along with a story about a music recital the concept of directing focus with the child’s eyes around the room is used as an example of how the child can also direct their thoughts just like their eyes to any area of the rim. With that in mind the child can focus on breathing to find some freedom from the anxiety of the coming performance.

Chapter 6: The Me-We Connection: Integrating Self and Other

Continuing to develop mindsight by considering others, going beyond our own wheel of awareness to see other people’s wheels. Their brain develops and grows by interacting with other brains. The community of brains offers a feeling of connectedness, and community.

Do you yawn when someone else yawns? Research shows that mirror neurons trigger the motor neurons to match what we see. Mirror neurons only trigger to behaviors with a purpose not just a simple wave but things like yawning, eating, drinking. Not only connecting with behaviors, mirror neurons actually help us connect with other’s feelings.

Adults in a child’s life create the expectations for relationships for the entire life of the child. These relationships become the model for future relationships. Children need to learn mindsight skills that enable better quality relationships, that need good practice.

When my child experiences a less than ideal situation: time to leave the pool or playground, time to start on homework, or the child is treating a sibling poorly, I should consider their current state of reactivity or receptivity. We want to discuss logical and relational subjects when they are receptive not when you’re hauling them off the playground to the car. By finding the times where they are receptive they are better able to learn and build relationships. Sometimes I need to wait until later to talk about leaving the playground more appropriately.

Just have fun within your family. I spend so much time correcting that I actually have to intentionally make time for fun with the family. We need to show children how to build close positive relationships in the family so that they can translate and apply the learning in the “real” world. Have fun together.

“Teach kids to argue with a ‘we’ in mind” Help our children to see things from others points of view by asking things like “How does Bobby feel?” “Why might he feel that way?” This often gives opportunities to teach kids about body language and nonverbal communications. Finally, using this understanding guide our children in ways to repair the damage done in a conflict.

Further Resources

The end of the book holds two key resources. The first is a Refrigerator Sheet to help summarize the ideas of left and right brain along with the upstairs and downstairs brain. You can get the sheet by [clicking here].

Following that is an age based range of hints and strategies. This helps me a bunch because although I coached 10-15-year-old athletes for many years. . . now I have three under 10 in my home. It’s my natural tendency to treat kid the same but each age and each person is an individual creature.

 Wrap Up

As you can guess, if you have small children or expect them soon or ever come in contact with them, you should read this book. Although I know the importance of connecting with children, reading this book has motivated me to prioritize that even further in life. The main thing I need to do as a parent and adult is remember to CONNECT FIRST and not get so focused on my redirection or behavior modification. Everyone wants to connect and please others but when anyone works from their lizard brain they are incapable of reflecting and evaluating what is going on. To be effective and teach I must connect THEN redirect.

The hand model of the brain has really helped me in connecting with my 9-year-old as I’m trying to be the best parent I can be.

I’ve read the book twice and think it will be on my regular listening (Audible) list to keep the reminders fresh in my head.

Hey if you read the whole post, please let me know via email or a comment below. I just want to get a feel for how many people will read a 3,500 word post. Thanks!


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