I picked up The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J.Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson after seeing it everywhere. Friends’ to-read lists, my you-may-also-like feed, and recommendations from a number of people. I didn’t actually read any of the reviews or even know what it was about, but I had a number of mis-conceptions about the book before I even picked it up, none of which the authors should be faulted for, of course.
For one thing, it’s a really tiny book. The actual text is only 149 pages, with lots of white space and illustrations. For some reason, a book with the words “whole-brain” in the title sounds like it would be several hundred pages long, at least. The subtitle, “12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind” had me thinking that this book was about enhancing your child’s intellectual abilities, but the book is actually about behavior (a topic I find more interesting and palatable anyway, so that was a good surprise).
The book was a much lighter read than I was expecting, and not just because it was short. I am not a particularly science-minded person, and I don’t generally enjoy reading about brain science, which was a very popular topic for in-services during the years I was teaching. (I’ve never been particularly curious about the neurological “whys” behind something that works, and am a bit mystified by the kind of people who are made giddy by a brain scan that demonstrates something is happening when a child is allowed to get up and take a break from schoolwork or the like. Common sense and a bit of experience seem to back that up just fine, for my purposes.) However, I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t really any science in this book; perhaps this was because I’d geared myself up for a boring, technical tome about intellectual development, and instead found a short, conversationally-written piece about techniques for getting children to cooperate. It seemed odd to be that there wasn’t actually anything scientific in this book that I didn’t already know (maybe I retained more from those in-services than I thought I did) about the brain.
So far, none of this really reflects on the book or the authors, and it shouldn’t. The book is pleasant to read and has a few good ideas, but it seems as if they take a simple concept, and labor the point at unnecessary length. The fact that the book seems to repeat itself quite a bit, and yet still only is barely long enough to be a book, left me with the feeling that there just isn’t much content in here. What content there is, is certainly not as “revolutionary” as the cover claims. None of these strategies were particularly new or surprising, although their alliterative names for the techniques were original (with just a tinge of branding about them). I can’t imagine that any parent of a 3 year old, in the midst of a temper tantrum in the grocery store, does not recognize that this is not a good time for a lecture about proper grocery etiquette. The advice about meeting a child where he is, putting the behavior in context, taking a playful rather than confrontational approach — there are plenty of parenting books the already suggest this kind of advice. As the brain science isn’t particularly technical, this book doesn’t seem to add much to a topic that is already discussed many other places.
The one unique part of this book is that the authors recommend explaining to children how their brains work, and why they sometimes feel or respond the way they do, as well as suggesting techniques that they can learn to help them through difficult feelings. I liked this suggestion for older children, but I was surprised that the authors, while recognizing that younger children won’t fully understand, did seem to feel that parents can and should discuss this topic with even quite small children. I don’t personally believe that young children should be encouraged to have that level of awareness (it seems incompatible with a Waldorf view of the young child), but I can see where some people might enjoy this aspect of the book.