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  • Writer's pictureLena Agree JD, PsyD

Help Your Nanny with Your Child "The Whole-Brain Child" Way ~ Concrete Strategies (Part 1 of 4)


Good nannies/au pairs are hard to find, and you want yours to be happy with your family. This can put you in an uncomfortable situation when your child acts out because you just want this relationship to work!

What can you do? You can be confident and prepared with a basic understanding of your child’s emotional needs, together with a few concrete strategies you can teach your nanny so she has some tools in her toolbox and feels a sense of control when watching your child.

The book, The Whole Brain Child, by Siegel and Bryson, provides a terrific framework for relating to young children in a positive, effective manner. Here are some highlights:

The goal: The overall goal is called “integration,” which means teaching the different parts of your child’s brain to work together so one part (eg: the angry, scared, non-rational part) does not overwhelm the other, cognitive, more rational parts, and dictate your child’s behavior. This is how optimal brains function at every age.

Why is this important? Treating a child in ways that promote integration is important because it not only provides an emotionally safer and more secure environment, but it also affects the physiology of your child’s brain: The growing brain remembers the patterns of functioning that it uses most, and these patterns persist into adulthood. Thus, encouraging integration during childhood strongly influences the extent to which the child’s brain will be capable of integration as an adult. In short, integration equals maturity.

Four types of integration:

  1. “Horizontal integration” of the left and right brains to coordinate logic and emotion;

  2. “Vertical integration” of the prefrontal cortex (the cognitive part) and limbic structures (the primitive, fight/flight/freeze center) to temper strong anger and fear with cognitive processing;

  3. Integration of implicit (unconscious) and explicit (conscious) memories to encourage clarity and mastery over past negative experiences;

  4. “Mindsight,” which includes understanding one’s own mind and having empathy for the separate perspectives and experiences of others (p.121). It is comparable to what some people call “mentalization.”

Signs a child needs help integrating: Look for signs of imbalance between chaos and rigidity in your child. If your child is experiencing too much chaos, s/he will be excessively emotional and out of control. In this case, you may be wondering why the child seems disproportionately upset for the circumstances. If your child is becoming too rigid, s/he will behave inflexibly and over-controlling. Getting into power struggles with your child may indicate rigidity (his/hers or maybe yours!).

These situations can be difficult to deal with, and the authors provide several integration strategies, which I outline in the next few articles. Check out the first one: Two Steps to Manage Big Feelings.

Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, P. H. D. T. P.(2012).The whole-brain child.Random House.

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