Whole in the Brain

Your child doesn’t want a hole in the brain, which is what happens if you neglect either half of it! Renuka Selvaraj has both sides of the story.

Lisa was watching Obama on TV, and at the same time keeping a watchful eye over her toddler, Jordan, four, who was playing with the remote control. For a moment, she thought of the American president and then of Jordan, and dreamily fantasised that he too might grow up to be anybody he wanted.

“We have two hemispheres, left and right. Both sides of the brain process information in different ways,” interrupted the TV. Jordan had flipped the TV to a random new channel. Lisa shifted her gaze back to the TV. The documentary was titled ‘A Tale of Two Hemispheres’.

The narrator continued, “The left hemisphere of the brain processes information in a linear manner while the right side does so in a holistic manner.”

“Left brained people are detail-oriented and logical – they are the kind of people you describe as planning for the future. Right brained people however see the big picture first – they are intuitive and sensual, and experience life fully in the here and now.”

Lisa was now giving the programme her full attention.

“But while we have dominant sides – be it left brain or right, as adults we all have learned how to use both sides of the brain – the whole brain.”

Lisa gently wrested the remote control from Jordan’s hands and pressed the ‘Record’ button.

The Balanced Brain

That evening during dinner, Lisa told her husband about the program.

“Really? That is interesting. So, how about Jordan? Is he a right or left brainer?” queried Steven as he munched on a piece of carrot.

“Well, I’m not really sure about that. But here is the real deal. Learning and thinking processes are enhanced when both sides of the brain participate in a balanced manner. The show says that this can be done by engaging Jordan in whole brain stimulating activities,” answered Lisa as she wiped the side of Jordan’s mouth.

“Like what? Flip cards and such?”

Lisa smiled, “Yes! Along with that the show also mentioned showering love and affection, having proper breakfast and nutritious food which includes brain foods like Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, green leafy vegetables, nuts, and seeds that lead to the development of brain’s messaging network, enough sleep, and exposure to culture and arts. Speaking of that, since Jordan has an interest in drawing, how about enrolling him in art classes?”

“There goes the excited mother hen,” chuckled Steven to himself as Lisa listed out the range of whole-brained activities she would be planning for Jordan’s future.

Every child is mostly right-brained

Lisa was only half right actually. It’s true that it is not possible to know whether Jordan is a right or left brained person yet, because a toddler’s brain needs time to grow.

However, while adults are able to use their developed left brain for communicating and problem solving, toddlers live much more in their right brain because their brain isn’t fully developed yet. This means they can see and recognise feelings (right brain), but they’re not so great at expressing those feelings with language (left brain).

You can tell the right brain dominance whenever your child loses his temper. The more angry or frustrated a toddler gets, the more his left brain shuts off and the more primitive his mode of communication becomes. Hence comes the tears, the kicking, and the screaming. He’s acting like a child because that’s how the right brain is wired to communicate.

So what’s left?

You are. You’re the one with the mature left brain, so it’s up to you to complete the thought process he started. So while your kid is screaming and crying, you have to acknowledge his emotions so he knows that his attempt at communication is succeeding.

You do this by narrating back his feelings. Repeat very short, easy-to-understand phrases several times: “You’re angry, angry, angry! You want the toy! You want the toy now!”

Additionally, you can match your toddler’s emotional intensity with the tone of your voice— and use your face and body too (point, gesture, move your arms). Reflect about a third of his level of anger. And if you want to screw up your face, tighten up your fists, and flail your arms, too, that’s terrific. A toddler’s right brain is great at understanding this nonverbal communication.

You will understand how the same process works if you finally lose your own temper. You may repeat the same words over and over again, have a feeling of ‘losing it’, and feel like screaming, crying or smacking your toddler…

But before that happens, remind yourself that you, unlike your toddler, have had more years to train both halves of your brain. So before you scold or strike your child, always ask yourself: who has had time to grow the bigger brain?