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Book Spotlight

Book Spotlight: The Yes Brain and other Books for Parents

Written by Kelsie Goller, MA, LPC-S, RPT

Clinical Director, KPS

Parents frequently ask for books to use as resources in parenting conundrums, and having recently finished Dan Siegel’s and Tina Payne’s book The YES Brain, I wanted to share both this book and their entire series as excellent resources for parents. (We also list several of their books on our KPS Resource page! Check out our Resource page here.) Dan Siegel is a psychiatrist and the executive director of the Mindsight Institute.

Tina Payne is a pediatric and adolescent psychotherapist and the founder/executive director of the Center for Connection. They co-authored a book called No Drama Discipline which is my top recommendation for a parenting book (more on this one and their other books later), so I was intrigued to read one of their newer books, The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your Child. This book talks about helping children to develop a “yes brain”- an approach to life that is “flexible, curious, resilient, willing to try new things and even make mistakes” (pg 186). The “yes brain” looks for connections and ways to relate to self and others. The “no brain”, on the other hand, is “reactive and fearful, rigid and shut-down, worrying that it might make a mistake” (pg. 186). The four fundamentals discussed in this book for building a “yes brain” are balance, resilience, insight, and empathy.

  • The goal of the fundamental skill of balance is to help kids stay in the window of tolerance (see below for explanation on what that is!)

  • The goal of the fundamental skill of resilience is to help kids get back into the window of tolerance when they’ve left it, and to help them expand the window of tolerance.

  • The goal of the fundamental skill of insight is to teach kids to pause and choose how to respond to the situation, particularly by developing the ability to reflect on their own thoughts and emotions from the perspective of a spectator.

  • Finally, the goal of the fundamental skill of empathy is to help children’s developing brains move from egocentrism (being interested in oneself even at the expense of others/inability to take the perspective of others) to empathy. Babies are born egocentric, and empathy is a skill to learn and a part of the brain that develops later throughout childhood.

The authors talk about the window of tolerance- the zone in which the nervous system is calm and at rest, able to play and learn. We would say that someone in this zone is emotionally regulated, meaning they are able to handle stressors and situations without entering hyper- or hypo- arousal. If the child’s brain goes into a state of hyperarousal, this activates a stress response and we would see this as dysregulation- this is when our children might be yelling, screaming, biting, kicking, throwing objects, or crying uncontrollably. The physical symptoms of hyperarousal are higher heart rate, rapid breathing, clenched teeth, tight muscles, flushed skin, body temperature rising. The other side of the window of tolerance is collapsing into hypoarousal, which is when the child withdraws, becomes quiet, shuts others out, leaves, or even dissociates. The physical symptoms of hypoarousal are opposite: lower heart rate, slower breathing, floppy muscles, lack of eye contact.

What I especially like about this book is three-fold: the practical “strategies” for developing each of the fundamental skills of balance/resilience/insight/empathy, the section at the end of each chapter that helps adults reflect on building that fundamental skill in themself, and the other section at the end of each chapter with a cartoon illustration to read with children to explain these concepts and begin a conversation.

Though this review has focused on the concepts in one of their newer books, Siegel and Payne have written other books that are excellent resources for parents. See the summaries below (in order of publication date) to check out which book might be the most helpful resource for you as you continue to grow as a parent!

~Parenting From The Inside Out: How A Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive (2004) by Siegel and Hartzell- about deepening your understanding of your own childhood experiences in order to encourage loving, securely attached relationships with your children and improve your parenting.

~The Whole Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind (2012) by Siegel and Payne- about understanding the brain development that occurs in children (right brain and left brain, “upstairs and downstairs” brain, etc.) in order to help promote emotional and intellectual intelligence and brain integration.

~Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain (2015) by Siegel- about the incredible changes in the brain between ages 12 and 24 and how this impacts teenagers’ behavior, emotions, and relationships.

~No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind (2016) by Siegel and Payne- a deep dive into how to connect with your child first (including specific strategies) and then how to redirect your child (with, again, steps and specific strategies).

~The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your Child (2019) by Siegel and Payne- about how to cultivate in your children an approach to life that is curious, flexible, and resilient through developing the fundamentals of balance, resilience, insight, and empathy.

~The Bottom Line for Baby: From Sleep Training to Screens, Thumb Sucking to Tummy Time- What the Science Says (2020) by Payne- information about more than sixty common parenting dilemmas, with three parts for each question: introduction to the various schools of thought about that dilemma, what current research says, and the “bottom line”.

~The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired (2021) by Siegel and Payne- about using the quality of presence to help children feel the “four S’s”: safe, seen, soothed, and secure.


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