The strategies presented here are sourced from The Whole Brain Child, a book by Drs. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne-Bryson.
The Whole Brain Child approach uses neuroscience to help regulate strong emotions. As Drs. Siegel and Payne-Bryson state, “Two brains are better than one.” By integrating the left and right hemispheres of the brain, we can balance logic with emotions. The left brain tends to view emotions rigidly and objectively, while the right brain can potentially overwhelm us with emotional responses. When both hemispheres are engaged, they provide a balance of emotional awareness and logical reasoning.
The “Downstairs” Brain, well-developed at birth, is responsible for basic functions, reactions, impulses (fight, flight, and freeze), and strong emotions such as fear and anger. To learn more about this, check out this video by Dr. Dan Siegel on “Flipping Your Lid.”
Strategy 1: Connect and Redirect – Surfing Emotional Waves
First, connect with the individual, then redirect their focus. Start by engaging the right brain, then move to the left (Dr. Siegel explains this in the linked video). It’s necessary to establish an emotional connection before addressing the issue logically. Logic won’t be effective until the child’s emotional needs have been met; parents should help their kids “feel felt.”
Strategy 2: Name it to Tame it – Telling Stories to Calm BIG Emotions
Children often need assistance engaging their “left brain” to make sense of their emotions. Encourage your child to use words to process their emotions by retelling a frightening or painful experience. As a parent, you may need to prompt this storytelling.
Strategy 3: Engage, Don’t Enrage – Appeal to the Upstairs Brain
Empower your child by giving them a voice. Use compromise and shared power, encouraging phrases like “Convince me,” or “Let’s find a solution that works for both of us.” This approach promotes problem-solving and decision-making skills.
Strategy 4: Use it or Lose it – Exercising the Upstairs Brain
Allow your child practice in making choices, but avoid using threats disguised as choices (e.g., “Either do your homework, or you will lose TV privileges for a week.”) Use consequences judiciously, focusing on natural consequences rather than logical or parent-imposed ones.
Strategy 5: Move it or Lose it – Exercising the Upstairs Brain
Pay attention to your child’s holistic needs. Often, changing a child’s physical state can also change their emotional state (encourage them to move or relax). A key point to remember is our goal for our children to “feel felt,” which means that we, as parents, need to “feel with” our children and model empathy.
To explore all twelve strategies, visit Dr. Dan Siegel’s website.
Article by Christina Shaw, Ed.D., LPC-A.