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Why Don't You Understand?

by Susie Leonard Weller

illustrated by Elizabeth Wagele

copyright Parenting Press, 2009

How Your Brain Works Affects How You Parent
adapted from Why Don't You Understand?

How do you think? That’s one of the questions I want you to answer. And when you have identified your brain style, you’ll know more about what kind of people make you comfortable, what kind drive you crazy—and what that all has to do with how you parent.

Beginning in the 1960s, research has shown that there is a biological basis for how our brains work—how we think.

Each of our two brain hemispheres is divided by natural fissures so that we have four major divisions of cerebral tissue. Many experts now believe we have four brain, or thinking, styles: Logical and its opposite, Relational; and Practical and its opposite, Creative. Being left brain dominant means you more often use the Logical or Practical thinking styles; if you are right brain dominant, you are more likely Relational or Creative. In addition, we use an intellectual—or an instinctual—approach to decision-making. Logical and Creative emphasize intellect; Practical and Relational, instinct. Although men more often demonstrate the Logical thinking style and women the Relational, you will see each of these thinking styles dominating in both men and women. Sexual orientation does not indicate brain pattern.

People with opposite styles are often attracted to each other because we sense that in a relationship of any kind—marriage, friendship, professional—we need a balanced perspective. For example, think of how often we see a very creative person with an organized, reliable partner who ensures that bills get paid, appointments get kept and there’s always gas in the car and food in the fridge. However, if we are unaware of how we each think, getting to that balance can be filled with conflict.

When a Logical thinking style dominates in an adult, the person is directive, with a focus on facts and results. The Logical child needs a reason to do things, is more likely to be competitive and may be the one full of “What?” or “Why?” questions. By contrast, a Relational adult is expressive, friendly, sensitive and intuitive; the Relational child maintains close friendships, enjoys teams and tries to please others.

The Practical adult is likely to be reliable and organized, a practical, efficient planner. The Practical child likes routines and predictability and is more likely to follow directions and rules. The Creative, as an adult, is imaginative, spontaneous and flexible—more of a risk taker and entrepreneur. The Creative child is curious, interested in fantasy and in such abstract subjects as physics. This child may also be a daydreamer.

Dealing with opposing brain styles can be a partner issue: how you learn to parent together. It can also be a parent-child issue: how you as the parent determine when to surrender—or when to assert—your needs, desires and preferred thinking style when confronted with a child’s contrasting needs, wants or approach.

Brain research shows other biological reasons for how we relate to others. Women’s brains, in general, make it easier for women to communicate between both sides of the brain. This means they multi-task more easily, while men are better able to focus on one task at a time and compartmentalize parts of their lives. What does this mean for our parenting? That mothers are often distracted trying to complete chores and may forget to take time to have fun with their children. It also means that men may be so focused on a project that they are unaware of what children are doing—even in the same room.

When you share a dominant thinking style, you sometimes click—and you sometimes butt heads. For example, when both parent and child tend to be logical, disagreements can escalate into heated debates. Each one wants to prove why he or she is right. When you have two logical kids, you may feel as if you’re living through a battle of know-it-alls. By contrast, when family members share the Relational thinking style, both will express a wide variety of emotions. Tempers easily flare and then just as quickly, people will see ways to repair the relationship.

As parent educators and early childhood professionals, one issue we need to address is thinking style strengths gone to such extremes that they become weaknesses. The Logical parent (or a would-be mentor), for example, may set standards too high for anyone else to meet—even the spouse and children who have the same thinking style. The Creative parent may be such a risk-taker that other family members don’t feel financially secure.

For a parent struggling to appreciate a partner’s opposing thinking style, I sometimes suggest a job swap. This can be relatively minor: trading tasks such as grocery shopping or household bill-paying. Or it can be significant, such as the swap my husband and I made when our children were very young: he spent a decade as a stay-at-home dad while I worked for the Community Colleges of Spokane. My role as the single breadwinner gave me a valuable perspective on what traditional fathers face. Suddenly I appreciated the stress experienced by someone who works full-time and then comes home and wants a break—only to discover that the homebound parent is ready for respite, too.

When you understand children’s thinking styles, you are better prepared to communicate with them and motivate them. In other words, they hear what you’re saying. Suppose you’re anxious for a little boy to be toilet-trained so that he can attend preschool. If the logical thinking style is dominant in your brain, you’re tempted to go straight to the bottom line: “You can’t start preschool until you’re out of diapers.” A better approach with a Ccreative thinker might be, “Let’s drop a Cherrio in the toilet and see if you can hit it.” With a child who wants to bake on her own, the Logical parent might say, “Help me measure the ingredients.” With a Practical child, a better solution might be, “Let’s get out the recipe for your favorite cake and you see if we have all the ingredients.”

Understanding how thinking styles affects learning also helps us design presentations that are useful to a variety of brain styles. For example:

With Logical learners:

  • Explain why they need this information
  • Be precise
  • Include individual exercises or projects
  • Expect debate

With Practical learners, offer

  • Explanations of practical applications
  • Step-by-step procedures
  • Time to practice new skills

With Creative learners, offer

  • Opportunities to explore and experiment
  • Variety
  • Flexibility

With Relational learners, provide

  • A safe, comfortable environment
  • Generous encouragement
  • Group projects
  • Individual attention

Susie Leonard Weller, the author of Why Don't You Understand? Improve Family Communication with the 4 Thinking Styles (Parenting Press), is a parent educator and life coach in Spokane. You may reprint this article if you credit Mrs. Weller and her book, and include Parenting Press’s copyright notice and its URL, www.ParentingPress.com.

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Useful for all ages
144 pages
$13.95 paperback

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Last updated June 11, 2014