Bringing it All Together - Woodmam

We all have hopes and dreams for our children. For most of us, they involve wanting our kids to be happy, healthy, and fully themselves. Our message throughout this book has been that you can help create this reality for your kids by paying attention during the everyday, ordinary experiences you share with them. That means you can use the obvious teachable moments, but also the difficult challenges and even the humdrum “nothing’s really going on” times, as opportunities to prepare your children to be happy and successful, to enjoy good relationships, and to feel content with who they are. In short, to be whole-brain children.

One of the main benefits of the whole-brain perspective, as we’ve discussed, is that it empowers you to transform the daily parenting challenges that can interrupt the fun and connection you have with your children. Whole-brain parenting allows you to go far beyond mere survival. This approach promotes connection and a deeper understanding between you and your children. An awareness of integration gives you the competence and confidence to handle things in ways that make you closer to your kids, so you can know their minds, and therefore help shape their minds in positive and healthy ways. As a result, not only will your children thrive, but your relationship with them will flourish as well.

So whole-brain parenting isn’t just about who your adorable—and at times no doubt exasperating—child is right now, but also about who she will become in the future. It’s about integrating her brain, nurturing her mind, and giving her skills that will benefit her as she grows into adolescence and adulthood. By encouraging integration in your children and helping develop their upstairs brain, you prepare them to be better friends, better spouses, and better parents. For example, when a child learns how to SIFT for the sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts in his mind, he’ll have a much deeper understanding of himself, and he’ll therefore be better able to control himself and connect with others. Likewise, by teaching about connection through conflict, you give your child the invaluable gift of seeing that even unpleasant arguments are opportunities to engage with and learn from the minds of others. Integration is about surviving and thriving, and about your child’s well-being now and in the future.

It’s extraordinary when you think about the generational impact of the whole-brain approach. Do you realize the power you now have to effect positive change in the future? By giving your children the gift of using their whole brain, you’re impacting not just their lives, but also those of the people with whom they interact. Remember mirror neurons and how social the brain is? As we’ve explained, your child’s brain isn’t an isolated, “single skull” organ, acting in a vacuum. Self and family and community are fundamentally connected neurologically. Even in our busy, driven, and often isolated lives, we can remember this fundamental reality, that we’re all interdependent and connected with one another.

Children who learn this truth have the chance not only to develop happiness and meaning and wisdom in their own lives, but to pass their knowledge along to others as well. When, for example, you help your kids use their internal remote to make their implicit memories explicit, you’re helping create within them the skill of self-reflection that will make them much more capable of meaningful interactions with others throughout their lives. The same goes for teaching them about their wheel of awareness. Once they understand about integrating the many parts of themselves, they’ll be able to comprehend themselves much more deeply and actively choose how they interact with the people around them. They can captain the ship of their lives, more easily avoiding the banks of chaos and rigidity, and more often remaining in the harmonious flow of well-being.

We’ve found time and again that teaching people about integration and how to apply it in their daily lives has deep and lasting positive effects. For kids, this approach can change the direction of how they develop and set the stage for a life of meaning, kindness, flexibility, and resilience. Some children who have been raised with a whole-brain approach will say things that seem wise beyond their years. A three-year-old we know became so good at identifying and communicating seemingly contradictory emotions that he told his parents, when they returned after he’d spent an evening with his babysitter, “I missed you guys when you were gone, but I also had fun with Katie.” And a seven-year-old told her parents on the way to a family picnic, “I’ve decided not to fuss about my hurt thumb at the park. I’ll just tell people I hurt myself, and then have fun and play anyway.” This level of self-awareness may seem remarkable in children so young, but it shows you what’s possible with the whole-brain approach. When you’ve become the active author of your life story and not merely the passive scribe of history as it unfolds, you can create a life that you love.

You can see how this kind of self-awareness would lead to healthier relationships down the road, and especially what it could mean for your children’s own kids when they become parents. By raising a whole-brain child, you’re actually offering your future grandchildren an important gift. For a moment, close your eyes and imagine your child holding his child, and realize the power of what you are passing on. And it won’t stop there. Your grandchildren can take what they learn from their parents and pass it further along as a continuing legacy of joy and happiness. Imagine watching your own children connect and redirect with your grandchildren! This is how we integrate our lives across the generations.

We hope this vision will inspire you to become the parent you want to be. Granted, sometimes you’ll fall short of your ideals. And yes, much of what we’ve shared requires real effort on the part of you and your children. It’s not always easy, after all, to go back and retell stories about painful experiences, or to remember to engage the upstairs when your child is upset, rather than triggering the downstairs. But every whole-brain strategy offers practical steps you can take right now to make your life as a family better and more manageable. You don’t need to become a perfect superparent or follow some sort of prescribed agenda that programs your kids to be ideal little robot children. You’ll still make plenty of mistakes (just as we do), and so will your kids (just as ours do). But the beauty of the whole-brain perspective is that it lets you understand that even the mistakes are opportunities to grow and learn. This approach involves being intentional about what we’re doing and where we’re going, while accepting that we are all human. Intention and attention are our goals, not some rigid, harsh expectation of perfection.

Once you discover the whole-brain approach, you’ll likely want to share it with the others in your life who will join you in this great responsibility of raising the future. Whole-brain parents become enthusiastic about sharing what they know with other parents as well as with teachers and caregivers who can work as a team to promote health and well-being in their children. As you create a whole-brain family, you also join a broader vision of creating an entire society full of rich, relational communities where emotional well-being is nurtured for this and future generations. We are all synaptically and socially connected, and bringing integration into our lives creates a world of well-being.

You can see how passionately we believe in the positive impact parents can have on their children and on society as a whole. There’s nothing more important you can do as a parent than to be intentional about the way you’re shaping your child’s mind. What you do matters profoundly.

That being said, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. We’ve emphasized the importance of taking advantage of the moments you have with your kids, but it’s not realistic to think you can do this 100 percent of the time. The point is to remain aware of the daily opportunities to nurture your kids’ development. But that doesn’t mean you have to be constantly talking about the brain or repeatedly prodding your children to recall significant events in their lives. It’s just as important to relax and have fun together. And yes, sometimes it’s even okay to let a teachable moment pass by.

We realize that all this talk about your power to shape your children’s minds and influence the future can feel intimidating at first, especially since genes and experiences affect kids in ways parents simply can’t control. But if you really get the concept of The Whole-Brain Child at its essence, you’ll see that it can liberate you from your fears that you’re not doing a good enough job with your kids. It’s not your responsibility to avoid all mistakes, any more than you’re supposed to remove all obstacles your children face. Instead, your job is to be present with your children and connect with them through the ups and downs of life’s journey.

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 you 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 these challenges, staying present and thus strengthening the parent-child bond and helping your kids feel seen, heard, and cared for. We hope what we’ve shared in these pages will give you the solid foundation and inspiration to create the life you want for your children and your family, now and for the years and generations to come.
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