I just finished reading The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. It's now in my Top 5 list for child development books.
The idea is to turn everyday interactions into brain-shaping opportunities. There's what most of us usually do as parents - for example, dismiss and deny. And then there's what we should do to help develop their brains.
There are 12 Whole-Brain Strategies in the book. The first strategy I tried - "Name It to Tame It" - worked immediately for all three of our kids. Now I tell everyone my new trick to stop the tears after a fall. You simply get them to talk about it, or for younger kids like Luke, repeat what's happened. "Ouch! You were running really fast and tripped on that rock!" That turns on their upper brain (thinking and reason), so that they're no longer stuck in their lower brain (fight or flight/tears).
The Whole-Brain Child talks about the science of our brains, but never speaks over your head. The content is fascinating. The examples and illustrations are simple and smart. The strategies are easy to implement.
The book is geared toward parents and kids alike. Both of our girls sat down with me for over an hour looking at the pictures and having me read the examples. Sydney loved it so much, she has asked to see it again several times over the last few weeks. And when I find myself in a challenging situation, like Sydney crying because she suddenly doesn't want to go to school when last week she begged the doctor to let her go back, I've referred to a similar example from the book to help get us through the crisis.
Two other brain books I also recommend are Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten, by Dr. David Perlmutter and Einstein Never Used Flash Cards by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff. The overall theme is that spending time with our children - talking, singing, interacting and playing - is the most important step we can take to help them learn.