Whole Brain Parenting (or, My Favorite 12 Step Program!) Strategy #2: Name It To Tame It


I have been absolutely enthralled by the book, The Whole Brain Child, by Drs. Dan Siegal and Tina Payne Bryson. It's rare that one finds a book that not only synthesizes years of study, but does so in easy-to-understand language, filled with concrete examples and applications. So how lucky am I to have found all of that in just one book?!?

I'm so excited about this approach, in fact, that I've developed an intensive, 6-hour long workshop to help parents both understand and actually practice some of the 12 strategies introduced in the book. I've started using these strategies in all of my parent coaching. And, most importantly, I've been using these strategies in my own parenting. And I am here to tell you--they work.

So I'm going to do a 12-part series, talking about each of the strategies, what they mean, and how I've been able to apply them in my own family. (And if not all 12, then I'll tell you all about the ones I'm finding most useful on a regular basis!) And while Connect & Redirect is the first one introduced in the book, I'm going to start off with Name It To Tame It, because that is the one I've been using over and over the last few weeks. (Caveat--if you are not connected with your child before you try these strategies, they will not work, so never skip that part! More about connection in a later post, but know it's the basis for everything else!)

First, a brief synopsis of the Name It To Tame It Strategy: The neurological concept here is that when kids are being flooded by emotions and feelings (found (sort of--it's not entirely accurate, but the short hand is useful) in the Right Brain), helping kids talk about what happened activates the language and logic (in the Left Brain--again, it's a short hand and not absolute) will help integrate the experience. What does this mean for parents? Your kid is going to have a much shorter tantrum if you're able to activate that language center, because then you have two parts of the brain lighting up and one is not necessarily dominating. (You really should read the book--their explanation is SO much more elegant!) Essentially, you encourage your child to tell her/his story, from their point of view. Your job? Listen. Just listen. Technically it's called, "reflective listening," where you mirror back what's been said to you. It's not just repeating it--it's mirroring back what they said, so they know that you really, truly heard them.

How does it work? Well, let me share two recent examples (out of dozens) from my own life. A few weeks ago my son had a massive tantrum--screaming incoherently, crying, kicking, the whole shebang. His father had just gone for a run, and I was taking the kids and the dogs for a walk. I got him out the door (still screaming) and walking, and began to apply this method.

Me: You seem so upset.

Him: (incoherent scream)

Me: What happened?

Him: (incoherent scream)

Me: I saw that Daddy left for a run without you.

Him: YES! HE LEFT WITHOUT ME!!!!

Me: You seem very angry about that.

Him: I AM SO ANGRY WITH DADDY!!!! (more incoherent screaming)

Me: I can see that. I saw that he was getting his shoes on and asked you to go with him. Then what happened?

Him: He left without me!

Me: He did. Did you stretch with him?

Him: HE DIDN'T TELL ME HE WAS STRETCHING!

Me: You did not know he was stretching.

Him: NO!

Me: And I remember the rule is you have to stretch before you can run. Is that right?

Him: YES! (incoherent screams again, a few stomps) I AM SO ANGRY WITH DADDY! HE DIDN'T TELL ME AND THEN HE LEFT!!!!

Me: You are so very angry with Daddy right now. What would you like to say to him?

And that was it. He calmed down within moments, was able to tell me what he wanted to say to his dad, expressed what he thought had happened, and finished the walk relatively calmly. When we got back, he was able to talk with his dad without screaming and everything was...well, integrated.

I got to practice this skill again a few nights ago with my daughter. As she was putting away laundry, we heard an ear-piercing scream. She came running out and crying--it was a spider. Her dad went in and removed the spider, and she was told to go back and finish her laundry. But instead, when I came through the living room (while doing other chores), I saw her sitting on the couch. I asked her why she wasn't putting away clothes, and she told me she was scared to go back in her room because of the spider. I reminded her the spider was outside now, and she maintained she was scared. This strategy popped into my head, and instead of telling her to just get over it I sat down on the couch with her.

Me: So, tell me what happened.

Her: I was putting away my clothes and saw a HUGE spider on the wall. It was HUGE, Mommy! Like, this big! (she put her hands up to show a dramatically large circle) I've never seen one that big before!

Me: That is pretty big. Then what happened?

Her: I screamed and started crying and ran out here.

Me: And then what happened?

Her: Daddy went in and picked it up with a tissue and put it outside.

Me: Daddy put it outside so it wouldn't be in your room any more.

Her: Yes. But I'm still scared!

Me: You're still feeling scared?

Her: Yes!

Me: What are you feeling scared of?

Her: Of the big spider!

Me: I see. And where is the spider now?

Her: It's outside.

Me: It is outside. Daddy put it outside. What are you feeling scared of?

Her: That there might be another one!

Me: Oh, I see. If there were another one, what would you do?

Her: I'd scream and cry again.

Me: And then what would happen?

Her: Daddy would probably put it outside again.

Me: I think you're right. And there probably wouldn't be another one that big, since that was the biggest one you've ever seen, right?

Her: Yeah...but I'm still feeling scared!

Me: What do you need so that you can go back and finish your laundry and not be scared?

Her: Will you go with me?

Me: I can certainly go with you! I can't stay for long, because I have other chores, but I can go with you for a few minutes. Will that be all right?

Her: Yes.

And that was that! I held her hand, we went back into her room, and there were no more spiders. She had a plan just in case there were, and she was able to go back and put away more laundry. What could have been a full-blown tantrum calmed in a matter of moments--and all I had to do was ask her what happened, and listen. And most importantly she was able to integrate a frightening moment and move on.

These two examples are both kids who are seven years old, and quite verbal. For kids who are pre-verbal or non-verbal, the concept is the same, except you the parent tell the story for them. They'll be listening to you, which engages the Left Brain, and brings you to the same place...integration. For older kids, of course you would adapt your language to match their development. But in the end it's all the same--helping your child tell their story, and listening.

The concepts in the book are so beautiful and loving and supportive and effective--I wish I could meet Dr. Siegal and Dr. Bryson in person to tell them how wonderful they are!

I look forward to my next installment in this, my now-favorite, 12-step program.

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