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By referring to Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s book “The Whole Brain Child,” we will learn how to help a child heal from trauma, irrational fears, and phobias.

  1. The nature of the brain
  2. Why do children have irrational fears?
  3. Our role?
  4. How can we practically apply this strategy?
  5. Final advice
  6. We can use this strategy with adults too

1-The nature of the brain

We cannot understand how to help a child heal from trauma and other irrational fears without first understanding the structure of the brain, specifically, a child’s brain. Our brain is divided into four sections, each of which is responsible for different functions.

Scientists have recently created brain-scanning technology that enables researchers to explore the brain in previously unimaginable ways. Scientists discovered that the brain is plastic, meaning that it can be reformed again and again.

What reforms the brain then?

The answer is: EXPERIENCE.

”…one of the surprises that has shaken the very foundations of neuroscience is the discovery that the brain is actually “plastic,” or moldable. This means that the brain physically changes throughout the course of our lives, not just in childhood, as we had previously assumed” 

Siegel & Bryson. 

When it comes to children, we must turn their experiences into opportunities that allow us to aid in their natural brain development. We seek harmony, not disharmony, of the brain parts.

If we leave children to face the harsh experiences that they face without helping them in a healthy way, they are more likely to develop phobias and unbalanced personalities.

2-Why do children have irrational fears?

Children are controlled by their emotional right brain THE WHOLE TIME. Their left logical one has not developed yet. This is why we hear lots of irrational complaints and comments from them, and this is why they are likely to be emotional the entire time. And yes, this is why they tend to be angry and go through violent outbursts when they need a seemingly insignificant thing.

They simply can not put into a logical sentence what they want us to know.

3-Our role?

Our role is to help them achieve balance by helping them use the left logical brain. 

We will explain Siegel & Bryson’s strategy, which is based on integrating the left and right brain in a harmonic way. The strategy has two parts:

1- Connect and redirect:

Remember how in this post we discussed Faber and King’s strategy for acknowledging feelings? The writers here take a similar approach.

Make the child feel that they have the right to feel what they’re feeling and that you understand them by connecting and empathising with them. Only then will they become calmer and more prepared to shift the debate in a more rational direction, which will use the left logical brain. 

2- Name it to tame it:

This is trying to put into words what they’re feeling; children often don’t know how to explain themselves verbally. When you give their feelings a description, they start to make sense of the whole thing and to move toward using the left logical brain.

4-How can we practically apply this strategy?

Put simply: through STORY TELLING. According to many child experts, allowing the child to tell and retell what happened is very powerful.

Check out the following two stories:

1-Marco’s Story

Marco is 2 years old. He was in the car with his babysitter, Sophia. They had a car crash, Sophia had a seizure, and then the police came to the scene. It was a very frightening experience for Marco, and for the next week he wouldn’t stop saying the words “Eea woo woo,” imitating the ambulance’s siren. He’d also mimic Sophia’s fit by stretching his arms. 

He is taken by the entire incident and doesn’t know what happened or how to move on. 

When being involved in a serious accident, children often have no idea what is going on or why they are reacting the way they are. They just can not organise things in a linear order or understand cause-and-effect relationships using logic and order.

The authors tell us that helping children retell the story would help them. Why? Because previously, they were thinking of the incident using only the right emotional brain. 

When they retell the story, they use and stimulate their left verbal and logical brains. This integration creates a balance between the right and left hemispheres. The left-brain, in addition, starts to grow more and more with every new experience.

In the first scenario, Marco’s fears will remain unresolved, and they might surface in other ways or develop into phobias of cars, separation from parents, trauma, or frequent tantrums if left unresolved.

We, as parents, must help them retell the story agin and again until the fear lessens and eventually goes away.

2- Katie’s Story

Katie has acquired a phobia of going to kindergarten since she became ill. Katie’s father was called by the school to pick her up. When she got better, she refused to go back to school, yelling in her father’s face, “I’ll die if you leave me…”

A very irrational and exaggerated statement, right? However, this is how children feel because of being overwhelmed by their emotional right brain.

Look at how the father will use the above strategy with Katie.

The father then would talk with Katie about all the fun and beautiful things in her school. 

The father made Katie put all the pieces together so that she could logically think now. The ”I will die if you leave me” expression was issued only from her right brain. 

”by bringing in logic, putting the events in order, and assigning words to her feelings. The way he did this was by helping her tell a story about what had happened that day so that she could use both sides of her brain together”. 

Siegel & Bryson.

5-Final advice

When your kids wash you with questions, don’t feel mad; they are developing their logical left-brain. 

6-We can use this strategy with adults too

Both sides of the brain have matured in adults. As a result, if someone you know becomes enraged, their emotional right brain is then taking control of them at this very moment. Before you say anything logical or offer counsel, talk to them about their feelings (connect with them!). Tell them that what they’re feeling is correct and show empathy. Then, when they are calm, you can talk logically with them.

For more anecdotes and information on children’s brains, pick up the book. The writers explain how to connect the upper and lower parts and narrate more stories in which we might find ourselves.

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