The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your Child

An indispensable guide to unlocking your child’s innate capacity for resilience, compassion, and creativity.

Home » Book Summaries » The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your Child

Karsen: From the Parents Club, I’m Karsen Kolnicki. This is your briefing.


Karsen: Today, we’re discussing The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience in Your Child. Written by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson.

In this title, the New York Times bestselling authors share their guide to unlocking your child’s innate capacity for resilience, compassion, and creativity. When facing challenging issues like screen time, food choices, and bedtime, children often act out or shut down. In this book, the authors give parents the skills, scripts, and activities to approach life with more openness and curiosity.

Karsen: Vincent Phamvan on the key takeaways [pause] and what you need to know.


Karsen: Vincent, when kids act out, the authors call this the No Brain response, what exactly is the No Brain?

Vincent: If you close your eyes and repeat the word “no” to yourself over and over again, chances are you’re tense and not very motivated. If you were to do the same thing but you say “yes” instead, it causes a completely different feeling.

Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson say this is because affirmation has a calming and relaxing effect.

Dr. Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. Dr. Bryson is a psychotherapist. In this book, they’ve coined that open, accepting attitude that says “yes” to the world as the Yes Brain.

The Yes Brain is receptive and helps you live meaningfully.

Karsen: So I assume the No Brain is the opposite of the Yes Brain.

Vincent: You’d be right. The No Brain is the opposite, it’s defensive and has a reactive outlook. Both adults and children can adopt the characteristics of the Yes Brain, while avoiding No Brain responses.

One example from the book is Alex and his son Teddy. Teddy would have a meltdown while playing soccer if something didn’t go as he wanted, a No Brain response from Alex would be to shame Teddy.

If he says, “Other kids don’t start crying with they miss a shot,” this would be a No Brain response.

Karsen: What would a better approach be?

Vincent: Rather than embarrassing Teddy, he could instead take the approach of helping to widen Teddy’s window of tolerance. Alex could learn how to empathize with his son and comfort him instead.

For Teddy, practicing some deep breathing could help him calm down enough to listen and become more aware of his behavior.

The Yes Brain helps you be more adaptive to the world without being defensive.

Karsen: So the Yes Brain is a mindset, but it also helps promote brain development and integration?

Vincent: Exactly, the brain continues to develop as children grow. It’s not a fixed brain, so environmental factors can influence and nurture how the brain develops and integrates.

If you were stuck in your ways, then your thoughts as a child would dictate your thoughts as an adult. However, the scientific research shows this isn’t the case.

The human brain isn’t predetermined.  It can change to reflect a person’s experiences. This is called neuroplasticity.

Karsen: How would someone approach developing a Yes Brain?

Vincent: This is part of a rapidly expanding area of research called interpersonal neurobiology or IPNB. It basically looks at the ways the brain, mind, and relationships with others will shape your human identity.

Karsen: When the authors say the brain integrates, what exactly does that mean?

Vincent: Siegel explains that integration is the idea that integrating the different parts of your brain is key to your wellbeing. A well-integrated brain is more flexible and adaptive, coherent, energized, and stable.

When babies are born, they don’t have a fully integrated or developed brain. For instance, the cerebral cortex is one of the last areas to fully develop, and most don’t hit full maturity until they hit their mid-twenties.

Karsen: And what part of the brain influences your behavior?

Vincent: That would be the prefrontal cortex or PFC. This is a sub-region of the cerebral cortex which is responsible for much of your behavior, including emotional regulation, personal insight and empathy.

When you use your prefrontal cortex, you’re using your Yes Brain.

Karsen: Are there ways to encourage children to use their PFC more often?

Vincent: One way that the authors suggest can occur during story time. When you read a book, you can ask them why they think a character is sad. This gives children an opportunity to build empathy and social engagement.

Karsen: That makes sense, and this stimulation helps strengthen the wiring of their brain to encourage healthy integration.

Vincent: When a child throws a tantrum, it’s easy to respond by punishing them. However, most kids lose control of their emotions because their brains aren’t developed enough to handle their response to certain situations.

Karsen: I’d bet that the child doesn’t like being out of control any more than the adult does.

Vincent: Of course not. So rather than punishing children or giving in to their demands, you can take two simple steps instead. First, you acknowledge their experience. Then, you can begin helping them develop skills that let them regain self-control.

Karsen: Let’s take another example, what if you have a child that cries every time you drop them off at school or a babysitter comes to the house?

Vincent: A No Brain response would be to tell him or her that they’re a “big boy” or “big girl” and should be able to handle it. Instead, the Yes Brain response would take a different approach.

The best thing to do, according to the authors, is to try to empathize with your child’s feelings. This gives them a foundation to be able to develop healthy coping strategies.

One suggestion for an effective technique is to sit down with him or her and make an illustrated book about school mornings. This will allow them to express how they feel and how difficult saying goodbye can be, but also emphasize how much fun school was once they got there.

In this example, the parent also talked to the teachers, who said she could stay in the drop-off circle longer than usual. Then later decreasing time waiting there each day. Eventually, the child became comfortable with going to school.

Karsen: It sounds like when you teach children to pay attention to the way they’re feeling, this allows them to regain balance and tune into their emotional state.

Vincent: Yes, absolutely. Another way of doing this is explaining feelings as different zones. If you’re feeling good, you’re in the “green zone.” If you’re mad, anxious, or afraid, then you’re in the “red zone.” And lastly, when they’re feeling sad or want to be left alone, they’re in the “blue zone.”

Karsen: That seems like a safe way to help kids describe their feelings while also normalizing conversations about emotions.

Vincent: And Siegel and Payne say that once kids understand how they’re feeling, it gradually shows them that there are choices when it comes to how they respond to their feelings. This ultimately empowers them to learn that they don’t have to be a victim to their emotions.

Karsen: What’s a trait that you want to build with your children to help them be prepared for life?

Vincent: The authors say that resilience is one of the most important characteristics that parents can cultivate. You want your children to be able to bounce back from failure and master adversity. It’ll go a long way when they become an adult.

Karsen: So, tactically, how do you cultivate resilience with your kids?

Vincent: One place to start is by encouraging your children to take risks, while providing a safety net for them if they need help.

The example from the book is a son, Derek, who wanted to play little league baseball, but he was too scared. In this situation, you could be encouraging and supportive.

When you show up at the first practice, it might not go well, but it will get easier over time. Encouraging him to try the new hobby could lead to falling in love with the sport and forgetting that he was really scared in the beginning.

Karsen: When things do go wrong, how do you help your child cope with this?

Vincent: One story the authors told was about Alana, who was a nine-year-old. She often suffered from panic attacks when things didn’t go as planned.

Something like forgetting her lunch could have a detrimental effect on her anxiety.

Karsen: Ohh no…. So what’d they do?

Vincent: Well the authors introduced the colored zones with her and taught her to think of herself as being in the green zone when things were going well and the red zone when things were bad. Then they set a goal of trying to be in the green zone as much as possible.

Then, they paired this with exercises like deep breathing. They also showed her a technique called the “worry bully”, which was an imaginary figure sitting on her shoulder that she could talk to.

Karsen: How did Alana react to these new skills?

Vincent: Well, the authors said that the next time Alana came into the office, she was really excited because the methods worked. So that’s when they took the last step, which was explaining resilience to her and sharing that the more she learned about calming herself down, the more adversity she would be able to overcome.

Karsen: You know, it can be really hard for parents to step back and be aware of their own behaviors. What do the authors suggest doing?

Vincent: Right, the authors do talk about how you can train yourself and your children by building a habit of insight. That’s when you’re being purposeful about being aware of and regulating your thoughts.

The first step here is to pause for a moment and try to look at the situation from a different perspective. How would an onlooker feel?

If you can feel yourself slipping into your personal red zone, then you might be running out of patience. That’s when you could take a deep breath and imagine that you’re a spectator.

As a spectator, you should just observe. Take note of your sensations, environment, and thoughts to understand the context for how you’re feeling.

Karsen: Oftentimes, kids are just being kids.

Vincent: Yes, and that’s why the authors suggest taking a moment to calm down before talking to them.

Karsen: How would you apply this strategy to an eight-year-old who’s getting angry after not eating for a few hours?

Vincent: If the child isn’t throwing a tantrum, you can talk to him or her about their reactions. Explain the red and green zones by comparing it to a volcano. When the red zone reaches the top, the volcano erupts.

You could say something like, “It’s okay to get upset, but wouldn’t it be great if you could take some time out and stop yourself from exploding?”

Karsen: It sounds like the key is to teach them early on that they have a choice in how they respond to situations. You mentioned early on that empathy is also a trait that you want to instill as a parent.

Vincent: Yes, young children can often be selfish, but this is actually because from an evolutionary perspective, it increases their chances of survival.

Karsen: That means sense.

Vincent: Luckily, that can change and evolve over time. Research shows that humans are naturally predisposed to care for others, and this can actually kick in at an early age.

Karsen: So young children can also develop empathy?

Vincent: Yes, the fourth fundamental Yes Brain characteristic is empathy, which is the ability to care about and understand other people’s feelings. Empathy is a skill that can be learned.

Karsen: So if you have a child who often bullies other classmates, what should you do?

Vincent: One of the best ways is to model empathy yourself, as a parent. You can also do role-playing activities.

If your child is acting selfishly, you can take a moment to tell them how other less fortunate people live. You could mention how much the homeless are suffering in the winter, or even take them to volunteer at a homeless shelter.

Another technique is to help them build an empathetic vocabulary. One of the strategies is called “speak from the I,” which is encouraging them to talk about their feelings. By doing so, they’ll be more attentive to their emotions instead of lashing out at others.

And lastly, it’s key to build good listening skills. You can help your child build good listening skills by giving your children your full attention. When you listen to kids when they have a problem, this makes listening to others normal, so they’ll develop this habit themselves.

Karsen: It sounds like the key takeaway from this book is that using the Yes Brain can give both children and adults a positive mindset to engage with the world around us. The Yes Brain is made up of balance, resilience, insight, and empathy. When you cultivate these qualities in your child, you’ll help set them up for later in life. The process is about learning bit by bit and overtime, you and your family can become your best selves.


Karsen: That’s it for your briefing. I’m Karsen Kolnicki. See you next time.


From the authors of The Whole-Brain Child and No-Drama Discipline, an indispensable guide to unlocking your child’s innate capacity for resilience, compassion, and creativity.

When facing contentious issues such as screen time, food choices, and bedtime, children often act out or shut down, responding with reactivity instead of receptivity. This is what New York Times bestselling authors Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson call a No Brain response. But our kids can be taught to approach life with openness and curiosity. When kids work from a Yes Brain, they’re more willing to take chances and explore. They’re more curious and imaginative. They’re better at relationships and handling adversity. In The Yes Brain, the authors give parents skills, scripts, and activities to bring kids of all ages into the beneficial “yes” state. You’ll learn:

  • the four fundamentals of the Yes Brain—balance, resilience, insight, and empathy—and how to strengthen them
  • the key to knowing when kids need a gentle push out of a comfort zone vs. needing the “cushion” of safety and familiarity
  • strategies for navigating away from negative behavioral and emotional states (aggression and withdrawal) and expanding your child’s capacity for positivity

The Yes Brain is an essential tool for nurturing positive potential and keeping your child’s inner spark glowing and growing strong.

Leave a Comment