By Dalia Ibrahim
“Name it to tame it”. This is the name of a theory I read about in Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s book The Whole-brain Child (2011). I started reading it driven by the urge to understand what happens in my daughter’s brain: I need to know what to expect from her, how to deal with her everyday crises - such as tantrums- and, most importantly, when it is time for proper discipline and when I should leave her dealing with the world the way she likes and feels. This was the primary reason behind choosing this book, but after some pages, I realized it had more to offer.
This book made me realize that whatever theory, or instructional and psychological rule I apply when dealing with my daughter as a parent, can be also utilized with my students and any other person, including myself. In “Chapter 2”, the authors discuss the idea of talking about painful experiences, to be able to tame them and psychologically overcome any trauma caused by them. If a toddler gets sick at the nursery, for instance, he/she is likely to be afraid of going there again. The only solution to this is that parents start talking about it with their child, letting him/her tell the whole story and helping in reconstructing the scene, part by part. Avoiding mentioning the incident is harmful because it leaves the kid confused about his/her feelings; for this, children can learn to deal with their pain only if they face it in the first place. When re-telling the story of that bad experience, they re-feel the whole situation and turn emotions into words, ideas, concepts, and, consequently, they can touch their own self.
Is not this what we personally do when we are upset? Do not we look for someone to talk to feel better? Do not we run to our best friend, mother, father, brother, sister, husband, or wife to just explode and let everything come out? Even if you are not a person that calms down when telling your story, I am sure there are other forms of expression you use, be it writing about it, drawing, or even listening to certain songs related to your mood. In both cases, human beings feel better only when facing their bad experiences, only when naming them to tame them.
While reading about this theory, I also realized that I did personally employed it many times with my students. I can still remember that speaking task I posted on Flipgrid last May, asking them to talk about their biggest flaw and how it had influenced their life so far. I was impressed to find out that this generation is extremely aware of their flaws: they are not ashamed, and they deal with them openly. Some of these students also narrated hard life experiences they went through, opening up their hearts to me and their classmates; they were involuntary naming their flaws and taming them without noticing; they were doing exactly what I personally do when feeling upset and what I am trying to teach my daughter to do. One should always talk about what he/she has inside and never hide it because “[w]hen we can give words to our frightening and painful experiences…they often become much less frightening and painful” (Siegel & Bryson, 49).