I came across the book The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. The book talks about understanding the brain to help us survive daily struggles with our kids. Especially using storytelling and empathy.
Most of us have heard of left-brain and right-brain. The more integrated the different brain areas are, the calmer and happier children tend to be. The authors offer 12 strategies that parents can use to help them do just that.
The left brain controls all things logical and literal. Most adults have their left brains going at full force—children do not. They tend to rely on their right brains, which are emotionally charged and “in the moment.”
(If your child starts asking, “Why? Why?” ten thousand times a day, that’s a sign her left brain is kicking in.)
So how exactly do we go about helping them integrate their left and right brains using storytelling and empathy?
Strategy #1: Empathy—Connect and redirect
When your toddler fusses, connect with her emotional side and ride brain. How? By being empathetic to her emotions and feelings.
Let’s say my toddler was playing with the blinds when he shouldn’t be and started wailing. The first things out of my mouth should try to relate to what he must be feeling. “Looks like you’re having fun playing with the blinds.”
Once I’ve connected with his feelings, I can then redirect and set the boundaries. “Whenever you pull hard on the blinds though, they can break.”
I’ve been practicing this method and find that I’m having a harder time than I thought. Usually when my toddler is doing something he shouldn’t, my first action is to tell him what to do or not do. I’ll say, “Don’t take out the CDs from the cabinet,” or “Turn the pages gently so that they don’t tear.”
That’s all fine and necessary, but I really should preface that with more empathy. “Are you taking out the CDs because you like putting them back in?” Then I can follow it up with the boundaries and let him know why it’s not okay to pull them out.
Sure, doling out the rules and discipline without empathy can work on its own. My toddler will stop pulling out the CDs if I just told him to stop. But without empathy, he’ll do so begrudgingly.
Showing empathy also strengthens our relationship because he knows “I’m on his side.” I understand what he feels. And encouraging empathy connects with his “right brain” emotions (where two-year-olds predominantly function from). It’ll be easier to lay down the rules and prevent any flare-ups.
Strategy #2: Storytelling — Name it to tame it
From a new school to getting over a cold, kids experience emotional confusion. Telling a story integrates their right brain emotions with their left brain logic.
They’re wound up with emotions that they need their left brain logic to maintain order to the madness. Stories have a sequence of order, a beginning and an ending.
Even labeling the emotion is enough to help them better understand the situation.
Left and right harmony
The more integrated logic and emotions are, the more kids can manage chaos and rigidity. Practice the two strategies. Address his right-brain emotions first before handing out the discipline (connect and redirect). Then tell stories to apply sequence and order to the chaos (name it to tame it).
Get more tips on empathy and storytelling:
- 5 Easy Tips for Kids to Learn Empathy
- 10 Children’s Books about Being Kind
- How to Stop Siblings from Fighting and Teach Conflict Resolution Instead
- How to Teach Gratitude to Children So They’re Thankful for What They Have
- Parenting Mistakes: Judging Your Child’s Emotions
Tell me in the comments: Do you practice empathy or storytelling with your kids? What are some parenting books that you’ve read and liked?