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August 31, 2015 / 16 Elul, 5775
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Integration: Helping Our Children Use Their Whole Brains


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Engage, don’t enrage

Seigel explains that people have “upstairs” and “downstairs” brains. The upstairs brain is involved in higher-level thinking and capable of negotiating and compromise. The downstairs brain is reactive and impulsive.

If your child, like Yoni, is throwing a fit, chances are that his downstairs brain is in charge. In order to integrate both parts of his brain, it is important to engage his upstairs brain as well. In our story, rather than responding to Yoni with an ultimatum, “Yoni, if you don’t turn on the light, you will not get stories,” the father might try questioning Yoni about his refusal, “Yoni, why are you saying you can’t reach the light. What’s stopping you?”

Engaging Yoni’s rational brain, rather than further enraging his impulsive brain will ultimately help Yoni learn how to problem solve and extricate himself from the tantrum.

Move it, or lose it

Studies have found that bodily movement directly affects brain chemistry. Therefore, if your child loses touch with his upstairs brain, a great way for him to regain balance (or integrate) is to have him move his body. Though perhaps inappropriate right before bed, if Yoni had done ten jumping jacks or ran around the house a few times, his body would have released some of his angry energy and tension, allowing him to calm down.

After vigorous physical activity, a child’s body sends more relaxed information to his upstairs brain, letting his emotional balance return and the different parts of his body function again in an integrated manner. We all know this to be true – sometimes our kids just need to kick their legs all over the place and jump up and down during a tantrum. However, if we direct their movement in a productive and non-destructive way, we help our children return to “the middle of the river.”

Benefits of “The Whole Brain Child” Approach

As Seigel writes, “The great news The Whole Brain Child offers is that even the hard times you go through with your kids, even the mistakes you make as a parent, are opportunities to help your children grow, learn, and develop into people who are happy, healthy, and fully themselves. Rather than ignoring their big emotions or distracting them from their struggles, you can nurture their whole brain, walking with them through those challenges, staying present and thus strengthening the parent-child bond and helping your kids feel seen, heard, and cared for.”

As a parent, what more could you ask for?

About the Author: An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@gmail.com.


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