the yes brain, dr. Daniel j. Siegel

“The Yes Brain”, with Dr. Daniel J. Siegel

What if children’s brains could be helped to become receptive and curious instead of anxious and reactive? Psychiatrist Dr. Daniel J. Siegel and psychotherapist Tina Payne Bryson, authors of the bestselling “No-Drama Discipline”, have put forward the concept of the “Yes Brain” in their book by the same name. We interviewed Dr. Siegel about cultivating the Yes Brain in both parents and children.

Parvati Magazine: Tell us about the Yes Brain.

Dr. Daniel Siegel: The Yes Brain is something I created to capture an experience that my workshop participants, parents and children in my psychiatry practice describe when I say the word “yes” repeatedly, and when I say “no” repeatedly. Essentially, these represent a state of receptivity and threat respectively. The state of receptivity is open and connected to both the outside world and what is going on inside of oneself. The threat state comes with the feeling of wanting to fight or flee. Because these two states are so important in the way we parent and how we understand our children, I created this concept that will make it easy for parents to remember. The Yes Brain refers to the open, receptive state where the sympathetic nervous system is relaxed, and social engagement system of the brain is turned on and engaged in learning.

PMAG: You talk a lot about integration.

DS: Integration seems to be the basis of regulation of social function, memory, behaviour, morality, etc. An integrated brain is important in building resilience and creativity. As the saying goes: where attention goes, neural connection grows. How a parent communicates with their child, and how focused attention is streamed into the child’s awareness, can help to stimulate the integrative capacity of the child’s brain. For example, when you say to a child, “What are you feeling in your muscles, in your heart right now?” This focused attention from parent to child essentially develops neural pathways that build an internal compass that will guide the child through difficult times. It helps to develop courage, an internal source of direction, hence resilience. The nurturing of creativity likewise requires a kind of spaciousness of mind that is found in an integrated brain state, the Yes Brain state. What’s great is that we are now taking brain science and translating this into practical applications to help parents help their children.

PMAG: It’s also important for parents themselves to cultivate insight.

DS: Absolutely. The security of attachment of a child to the parent has a huge impact on functions such as emotional regulation. Research has shown that the best predictor of the child’s security of attachment is how well the parent has made sense of his or her life, how their history of being parented influenced their development. The good news is that what’s most important is not what happened to you, but rather the meaning you have derived from your past. Your self-understanding is one of the best predictors of how your child will turn out. So how do I use my own self-understanding to guide me to become an integrated parent, and then help my child develop their self-understanding? There are sections in my books with exercises to help parents cultivate this. We call this the Mindsight approach.

PMAG: How would you apply this method to children with behavioural difficulties?

DS: This is a really important question. In the field of interpersonal neurobiology, we view integration as the foundation of health – brain integration, and relational integration (for example, parents honouring the differences in each of their children and linking these to compassionate, caring communication). In children with challenges such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder, developmental trauma, there is evidence suggesting an impairment of brain integration. Yet, I believe that the Mindsight approach may help promote whole brain as well as relational integration even when there is an underlying impairment. We did a preliminary project with adolescents and adults with ADD, where we saw greater improvements in attention using this method than compared with meditation. A Mindsight practice, over time, may promote the development of integration and neural connections that are reinforced to become an enduring state. This method is really about inspiring parents to rewire their own and their child’s brains towards better integration.

Dan Siegel-The Yes Brain-MindsightDaniel J. Siegel, M.D., is clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, the founding co-director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, and executive director of the Mindsight Institute. Dr. Siegel is the author of several books, including “Mindsight”, “No-Drama Discipline” and “The Whole-Brain Child” (with Tina Payne Bryson).