Book review: Brain-based parenting

Brain-based parenting: The Neuroscience of caregiving for healthy attachment (by Daniel A. Hughes & Jonathan Baylin) tries to do something truly amazing – to explain the chemical and emotional brain mechanisms that interact to create and sustain the loving bond parents feel for our children. That magical bond that makes us love every inch of them, that makes us prioritise our children’s needs over our own and keeps their wellbeing central to our thoughts and fears. And that stops us throwing them out the window when they are at their most annoying and antagonistic. This is magical territory indeed.

This book covers some really crucial topics – like the importance of parents’ emotional self-regulation in parenting effectively and the negative impact of stress on parents’ ability to tune into their children empathetically (and remain the ‘adult in the room’). There are some fascinating insights into the roles of oxytocin and dopamine in building the parent-child relationship and ensuring the parent gets pleasure from it (and therefore wants to engage even more). And a truly wonderful “caregiving formula” comprising playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy to optimise a reciprocal and nurturing parent-child relationship.

But there is no denying, it is a very stodgy read. The nuggets have to be actively picked out from a mass of technical details about developmental neuroscience which, even for a brain geek like me, made for some slow-moving chapters.

The authors say they have aimed Brain-based Parenting at both therapists and parents but I think you may have to be a parent who is really interested in the brain to persevere with it. Which is a shame because if you can pick out the story from the details, this books offers a very clear narrative of how parent-child relationships can go wrong and how well-meaning parents can struggle to sustain loving feelings towards their children at certain periods in their lives. And it offers some really good ideas on how play can help parents to reconnect with children – the kind of play that is truly present and in the moment and mindful. (Those of you who have attended my seminar on Making the most of time with your children will have heard me bang on about that idea!).

As a professional who works one-to-one with parents helping them reflect on their relationship with their children, I took a lot from this book that I hope will enrich my practice. As the parent of a teenager who is currently determined to keep his parents at arm’s length, the book’s emphasis on accepting our children without judging them and being curious to learn about their thoughts and feelings without becoming defensive, were timely reminders and inspiring pointers for a developing a different way of interacting.

Ultimately, it took a fair amount of effort to read this book but, personally, that effort was rewarded. Would I recommend it to parents? Yes, but you will either need to be a fan of neurobiology or be prepared to skim read large sections to find the important message behind the neuroscientific details.

Brain-based parenting: The Neuroscience of caregiving for healthy attachment (by Daniel A. Hughes & Jonathan Baylin) was published in 2012 by W. W. Norton & Company and is available in hardcover. Interested in children’s brains? You might like to read Toddlers’ brains: how toddlers think or, if you have a teenager, What’s going on in my teenager’s brain?

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This review reflects my personal opinion. I was not paid to write it but I did receive a free copy of the book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and buy the book from Amazon, I receive a small fee (see Disclosure Notice for more details).

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