Is your child "left-brained" or "right-brained"? Left-brained children tend to be more analytical while right-brained children are more creative, so says the old adage. But in recent years, psychologists have found that having one side dominate the brain can be detrimental to a child's development. Now, psychologists are pushing for what they call "brain balance."
Right Brain-Left Brain Theory
Roger Wolcott Sperry, a Nobel laureate, developed the right brain-left brain theory while studying patients with epilepsy and noticing how different the right side of the brain is from the left side. His theory has transferred to school psychologists as educators have worked to find ways to strengthen either the right brain or left brain. In recent times, psychologists suggest a more holistic approach, rather than having students engaged in activities that dominate in either logic or creativity.
Brains need both hemispheres working together, says Dr. Robert Melillo, renowned author and expert in neuropsychology and neurobehavioral disorders in children. "A balanced brain makes a child's digestion and immune system function properly and also increases intellectual ability," he says. When a child doesn't have a balanced brain, he can have problems with his "motor skills, ability to process information, digestive system, hormones and immune system."
He encourages parents to try to find out where the imbalance is. Children who have a left-brain delay, meaning the left side is weaker, may struggle with writing and processing language. Right-brain delay can show up as clumsiness, odd posture and poor motor skills. A doctor or psychologist can help you figure out the source of any imbalance if you don't know where to start.
How to Achieve Brain Balance
Dr. Melillo and Sherianna Boyle, a former school psychologist and author of Powered by Me for Educators Pre-K to 12, both emphasize that there are concrete ways you can help your child balance his brain. You and your child can have fun and bond while doing a few simple exercises.
- Crossing the Midline of the Body. Play games that literally force your child to cross over the middle of his body. One example would be marching in place and slapping the left hand to the right knee and then reversing it by slapping the right hand on the left knee. You can make this game more fun by playing music in the background. March quickly to fast songs and slow down when slower songs play.
- Imagination Station. Allow your child to transport you to a world of make believe. Encourage him to invent his own games or improvise a story involving his toys. This display of creativity can really help your child practice strengthening his right brain.
- Pencil Push-Ups. Dr. Melillo suggests that you hold a pencil in front of your child's nose far enough away that he doesn’t see double but close enough that he really has to focus on it. Slowly move the pencil forward and have your child tell you when he sees two pencils instead of one. Ask him to try to focus so that he sees one pencil. When he achieves that, move the pencil even closer until he sees two pencils again. And then, slowly move the pencil back. Repeat three times. This exercise can help strengthen the eye muscles and the brain.
- Juggling. Juggling is a great brain balance activity because it requires strong motor skills and focus on objects that cross from one side of your child's body to another. It's also a cheap activity that can occupy an interested child for hours.
- Word Fluency. Challenge your child to list as many words as he can think of that start with the same letter in just 60 seconds. Keep track of how many words he has listed and watch as he improves. If your child is competitive, this kind of activity can improve brain balance and teach him to compete with himself.
- Yoga. Take a yoga class with your child. Yoga specifically focuses on different kinds of breathing. Getting extra oxygen to your child's brain can help improve brain function overall. He may be able to focus better and think more clearly. Yoga allows your child to get moving, and it could be a great opportunity for some parent-child bonding.
- Play the “What If” Game. This is a great one for car rides. What if we all moved to the moon? What if you could fly? What if Batman was real? Ask your child some "what if" style questions and brainstorm some answers. This activity pushes kids to think outside the box and explore their creativity while using the language skills of the left side of the brain. You could also ask more practical questions. What if I get hurt? What if someone bullies you? Talk about some solutions to those scenarios.
- Physical Activity. Step outside and shoot some hoops. Hike up a local trail and take in the great outdoors. Play soccer at the local park. Exercise is a great boost for the brain in general, but sports without the strict structure of a league can help with brain balance. A trip to the park can also be a great opportunity to make new friends and practice social skills.
- Art. Encourage your child to bring out his artsy side. It could be as simple as getting paint and big pads of paper from your local craft store. Or you could go as far as to sign your child up for sculpting, painting or drawing lessons.
- Learn to Relax. Stress can seriously hinder brain function. Children and adults can both get to the point of being so caught up in stress that they have trouble focusing and processing information. From meditation to mani-pedis, there's a variety of ways to relax and recuperate.
"Every child has a degree of brain imbalance.” Dr. Melillo says. “Some children are more left- or right-brain dominant.” These exercises and other expressions of creativity can work to balance out the left-brain dominant exercises teachers usually plan for academic classes. When your child does achieve brain balance, you may notice (and enjoy!) his increased level of focus, more balanced moods, better motor skills and increased physical health.