“We now know that the way to help a child develop optimally is to help create connections in her brain—her whole brain—that develop skills that lead to better relationships, better mental health, and more meaningful lives. You could call it brain sculpting, or brain nourishing, or brain building. Whatever phrase you prefer, the point is crucial, and thrilling: as a result of the words we use and the actions we take, children’s brains will actually change, and be built, as they undergo new experiences.”
–Daniel J. Siegel
Dr. Daniel J. Siegel is currently a clinical professor of psychiatry on the faculty of the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development at the UCLA School of Medicine. He also serves as the innovative executive director of the Mindsight Institute. One of his innovations is the Norton Professional Series on interpersonal neurobiology, of which he is the founding editor, and which has published a number of works that focus on recovery from trauma. Some of the titles in the series include, “Healing Trauma,” “The Power of Emotion,” and “Trauma and the Body.” In addition to his teaching and writing, he has also delivered lectures all over the world and has made a number of videos to make to make his research findings more accessible to people. His goal is to reduce the number of family life struggles while increasing the quality of interpersonal relationships between family members.
The Role of Trauma in Family Life Struggles
In a world in which, due to war and economic and social inequality, the devastating effects of trauma have created a cycle of abuse and neglect, he has made it his life’s work to break that cycle. One of the most important ways to accomplish that is educating parents. While trauma causes physical changes in the brain that can increase family life struggles, there are steps that can be taken to reverse the damage. Because one of the characteristics of the human brain is it’s remarkable plasticity and potential for healing, he developed a workbook to accompany his 2011 book, “The Whole Brain Child“. The workbook contains practical exercises and activities that assist in healthy brain development.
Much of his work focuses on mindfulness. He considers one of the most important things parents can do to achieve what he calls “attunement” with their children, is to become aware of, and take steps towards healing, their own childhood wounds. Through becoming aware of the qualities of their own attachments and fears, parents can avoid transmitting those fears to their children. Best of all, while parents may begin the process out of love for their children and a desire to both heal trauma and prevent further damage, the process results in healing for the parents as well.
The Role of Education in Reducing Family Life Struggles
A number of his books are based on the scientific premise that brain development is affected by the quality of interpersonal relationships. His gift for simplifying and communicating the complex relationship between physical and mental experiences and brain development has earned him rave reviews from colleagues and lay readers alike. It has also gotten him invited to participate in the prestigious TED talks series more than once. Using simple language and easily understandable examples, he is able to transmit a great deal of information in a very short time.
In a review in the Guardian, Siegel suggests that rather than fearing the onset of adolescence and the physiological changes that accompany it, parents should embrace it as a potentially powerful agent of positive social change. Because adolescence is a time of rapid brain development as well as elasticity, it is a time of great creativity. He believes that channeling that creativity in positive directions can result not in increased family life struggles, but in exploring new, and more sustainable, ways to do things. That creative spark, combined with heightened emotions associated with the increase of hormonal activity, could have the power to create sustainable solutions to some of the global problems that currently pose a very real threat to life on the planet. Individual family life struggles all too often result in family life struggles on a global scale within the human family.
The best news for parents is his scientific conclusion that the brain can change, and that different areas can be accessed and stimulated, at any age. In an audio interview, he offers strategies for parents who are struggling to adapt to the powerful changes in their children during adolescence. One of the indicators of a great teacher is the recognition that people have a variety of learning styles. Differences in learning styles can be one source of family life struggles. Since most parents are too busy providing for their children to take formal courses in neurobiology, he makes this valuable information available in visual, audio, and written form to benefit as many parents as possible. Towards that end, “The Whole-Brain Child” has also been translated into 17 languages.