What Is ‘Whole Brain’ Parenting?


Why Your Child’s Brain Needs To Dictate Your Parenting


Our brain is a complex organism. There are many sections of the brain responsible for different functions. Connections between these brain areas mean that any given experience uses multiple parts of our brain. A song for example might activate the parts of your brain responsible for the recollection of lyrics, as well as other parts related to the retrieval of memories.

Tantrums are the result of your child's right hemisphere dominating the left

Tantrums are the result of your child’s right hemisphere dominating the left

We can divide the brain into two hemispheres; the left and the right. The right hemisphere is concerned with processing emotions, creativity, music and art. It is the emotion driven hemisphere of our brain. The left hemisphere is concerned with order, logic, structure and language. It’s the cognitive, thinking side of our brain.

We can also divide the brain into top and bottom; the higher order thinking of our forebrain (at the front) and our brain stem (at the back), responsible for lower order processing, such as automatic reactions. The hindbrain, or back of our brain is driven by primal urges. When you’re angry or fearful, this is the part of the brain that forces you to react quickly and impulsively. Conversely, the front sections of your brain help you to make complex decisions, inhibit impulses, and form the foundation of your personality.

Unfortunately, the front section of your brain is often switched off during periods of high anxiety and stress, which means we sometimes act in a way we regret because we’ve acted without thinking through how we should respond. It’s also hard for the brain to work cohesively when we’re overwhelmed by emotion. When we’re emotional, there’s a breakdown in communication between the right and left hemispheres which is why it’s hard to think clearly or logically when we’re emotional.

Even as adults, the communication between the different areas of our brain can breakdown and we can act without thinking and make mistakes. The brains of young children and even teens are still developing. Their brains don’t always work cohesively and the emotional parts of their brain often override their logic. The younger your child, the more help he or she will likely need to get all the different parts of their brain talking together in a way that makes sense. Here’s 3 tips to get you started.

Tip #1: Acknowledge Your Child’s Feelings

Acknowledge your child’s feelings and empathise with their distress – “I think you’re upset because you want to keep playing outside and I’ve asked you to come in for your bath. It’s upsetting when you have to stop doing something fun to do something you don’t really want to do”. Remember that while the issue might seem trivial to you, it’s real and upsetting for your child. Dismissing your child’s concerns or responding with logic will only keep them stuck.

Tip #2: Help Your Child Calm Down

If your child is really distressed, their actions will be emotion driven. They won’t be able to think clearly enough to decide the right course of action. If your child is really distressed say “I think we need a few minutes to cool down so we can think clearly to solve this problem”, then re-direct your child’s attention to a pleasant activity such as drawing, play dough, Lego, etc. Distraction will provide immediate relief from extreme emotion so your child can problem solve more effectively, but it’s not a long-term solution for frustration.

Tip #3: Help Your Child Problem Solve

By encouraging your child to solve their own problems, you help them to build the skills they need to think their way out of any frustrating situation. Pre-school aged children won’t be able to problem solve independently, but modelling the problem solving process and giving your child the power to choose the final solution (from 2-3 suggested solutions) will help to build these skills.

Shanna is a warm and empathic clinically trained registered psychologist very experienced at working with children, adolescents, families and adults. She has extensive experience practicing from a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approach, but is also experienced with Acceptance Based Therapy (ACT), Dialectical behaviour Therapy (DBT), Schema therapy, Mindfulness and Biofeedback evidence-based approaches. Shanna works with a range of presentations including anxiety disorders, depression, emotional dysregulation, stress and adjustment.


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