The Stanford professor who pioneered praising kids for effort says we’ve totally missed the point

Not everyone deserves a medal for trying.

It is well known that telling a kid she is smart is wading into seriously dangerous territory.

Reams of research show that kids who are praised for being smart fixate on performance, shying away from taking risks and meeting potential failure. Kids who are praised for their efforts try harder and persist with tasks longer. These “effort” kids have a “growth mindset” marked by resilience and a thirst for mastery; the “smart” ones have a “fixed mindset” believing intelligence to be innate and not malleable.

But now, Carol Dweck, the Stanford professor of psychology who spent 40 years researching, introducing and explaining the growth mindset, is calling a big timeout.

It seems the growth mindset has run amok. Kids are being offered empty praise for just trying. Effort itself has become praise-worthy without the goal it was meant to unleash: learning. Parents tell her that they have a growth mindset, but then they react with anxiety or false affect to a child’s struggle or setback. “They need a learning reaction – ‘what did you do?’, ‘what can we do next?’” Dweck says.

Teachers say they have a “growth mindset” because not to have one would be silly. But then they fail to teach in such a way that kids can actually develop growth mindset muscles. “It was never just effort in the abstract,” Dweck tells Quartz. “Some educators are using it as a consolation play, saying things like ‘I tell all my kids to try hard’ or ‘you can do anything if you try’.”

“That’s nagging, not a growth mindset,” she says.

The key to instilling a growth mindset is teaching kids that their brains are like muscles that can be strengthened through hard work and persistence. So rather than saying “Not everybody is a good at math. Just do your best,” a teacher or parent should say “When you learn how to do a new math problem, it grows your brain.” Or instead of saying “Maybe math is not one of your strengths,” a better approach is adding “yet” to the end of the sentence: “Maybe math is not one of your strengths yet.”

The exciting part of Dweck’s mindset research is that it shows intelligence is malleable and anyone can change their mindset. She did: growing up, she was seated by IQ in her classroom (at the front) and spent most of her time trying to look smart.

“I was very invested in being smart and thought to be smart was more important than accomplishing anything in life,” she says. But her research made her realize she could take some risks and push herself to reach her potential, or she could spend all her time trying to look smart.

She and other researchers are discovering new things about mindsets. Adults with growth mindsets don’t just innately pass those on to their kids, or students, she says, something they had assumed they would. She’s also noticed that people may have a growth mindset, but a trigger that transports them to a fixed-mindset mode. For example, criticism may make a person defensive and shut down how he or she approaches learning. It turns out all of us have a bit of both mindsets, and harnessing the growth one takes work.

Researchers are also discovering just how early a fixed and growth mindset forms. Research Dweck is doing in collaboration with a longitudinal study at the University of Chicago looked at how mothers praised their babies at one, two, and three years old. They checked back with them five years later. “We found that process praise predicted the child’s mindset and desire for challenge five years later,” she says.

In a follow-up, the kids who had more early process praise—relative to person praise—sought more challenges and did better in school. “The more they had a growth mindset in 2nd grade the better they did in 4th grade and the relationship was significant,” Dweck wrote in an email. “It’s powerful.”

Dweck was alerted to things going awry when a colleague in Australia reported seeing the growth mindset being misunderstood and poorly implemented. “When she put a label on it, I saw it everywhere,” Dweck recalls.

But it didn’t deflate her (how could it, with a growth mindset?). It energized her:

I know how powerful it can be when implemented and understood correctly. Education can be very faddish but this is not a fad. It’s a basic scientific finding, I want it to be part of what we know and what we use.

https://qz.com/587811/stanford-professor-who-pioneered-praising-effort-sees-false-praise-everywhere/

10 Dark Parenting Truths We Never Talk About

PHOTOGRAPH BY TWENTY20

 

Two newly expectant parents recently asked my husband and me for advice about becoming parents. At first, we spoke to some of the lighter, more common truths about having babies—the sleepless hours, the blowout diapers, the potential relinquishing of one’s hours to rocking, holding, changing, cleaning, worrying, wearing pajamas, eating takeout and watching binge-worthy TV. (This last part isn’t so bad, so long as the baby isn’t wailing.)

For some reason—maybe because I love these two soon-to-be-parents, maybe because I was feeling especially reflective at that moment—I went deep, and fast, to some of the darker truths about raising children. I dove straight toward parenting’s ugly underbelly. To my surprise, instead of expressing fear and disgust, these two people thanked me for being so honest about these lesser-known realities of parenting.

And so I thought, perhaps my own dark parenting truths are ones that everyone should know.

1. You might regret becoming a parent

Few parents have the audacity or cruelty to admit this regret to their children, let alone speak these feelings out loud.

But I’d bet that many of us have felt fleeting tinges of regret. Those times when we’ve locked ourselves in the bathroom to cry. Those canceled plans and forgotten dreams. Those moments when we’ve wondered why the hell we wanted to commit to this whole child-rearing business in the first place.

2. You might like children less after you have children of your own

Once, in a college class discussion, I toyed with the idea of letting children run the world. They could make all our rules and solve all our problems, I thought, because they had a far better capacity for innocence and perfection and infinite love than adults did.

My professor then asked me, “Haven’t you ever read ‘Lord of the Flies’?”

She had a point.

It’s easy to cling to the myth of the innocence and perfection of childhood before you are a constant caretaker of children. My years of babysitting as a teenager and young adult did not prepare me for what I would discover as a parent. These days, I know that children are neither innocent nor perfect. They are, perhaps, less flawed than adults. But they are still fundamentally flawed.

For the most part, I only want to be around the flaws—the snot, the whining, the capriciousness, the meltdowns, the jealousy—of my own children, and maybe a few select others. All the rest can just stay home. Or at least stay only for a very, very short playdate.

3. You might lose friends

Parenthood disassembles and reconfigures your life in a way that few other events or experiences can.

Like puzzle pieces, some friends still fit after that initial reconfiguration. Some don’t fit until much later, far beyond those early chaotic years. Others never quite find their way back into your life.

Becoming a parent has fashioned both a mirror and a magnifying glass in front of me.

4. You might give up pieces of yourself that you once loved

No one has it all. No mother. No father. No person. All of life involves sacrifice, and parenting always demands its share of it.

It’s like those friends who stay, or return, or never come back at all. Some dreams and passions and loves stay even after the babies are born. Some return. Others don’t.

5. You might find parenting unfulfilling

In fact, I would argue that parenting is not completely fulfilling for anyone—nor should it be. Our children’s lives cannot and should not consume our own (much as they might devour our time and attention). Our children are not and should not be viewed as extensions of ourselves.

Parenting can fill one with love and wonder and joy. But it cannot take the place of all the other possible loves and wonders and joys in the world.

6. You might one day feel as if your child is a stranger

It might be that first time they utter, “I hate you.” The moments when they disappoint you. The realization that they have gone off and developed friends of their own, interests of their own, ideas of their own. Sometimes the strangeness is quite beautiful. Other times, it’s frightening.

7. You might face hard, impossible truths about your own parents

Becoming a parent has fashioned both a mirror and a magnifying glass in front of me. I can see in sharper focus all the mistakes that my own parents made when I was a child. But I can also see myself making some of those same mistakes, and new mistakes of my own, now that I am a parent.

My heart breaks when my children walk out the door without me.

8. You might understand, for the first time, horrific things

A new mother once confided in me that she never understood how people could shake babies until she had a crying, inconsolable baby of her own.

I never understood what she meant until, years later, when I had a baby of my own. Red-stippled eyes, leaking breasts, my own tears like tributaries feeding into a river of my newborn’s snot and saliva. I felt the urge to throw things, to scream, and, yes, to shake.

As I set my baby down in his crib and cried my way out into the hallway, I thought of parents who had less support, less security. Less of an ability to stop, set the baby down and walk away.

“There but for the grace of God go I,” I thought.

9. You might feel true, blinding rage toward your flesh and blood

Audre Lorde once described motherhood as the “suffering of ambivalence: the murderous alternation between bitter resentment and raw edged nerves, and blissful gratification and tenderness.”

I feel this ambivalence nearly every day of my life.

10. Your heart might break, every day, forever

My heart breaks when my children walk out the door without me. It breaks when I think of all I cannot protect them from. It breaks when I consider how I would be destroyed if I were to lose them.

My heart breaks with love for them. And it’s a different, darker, deeper, more flawed and more broken love than I ever imagined before I had children.

https://mom.me/baby/26774-10-darker-parenting-truths-every-person-should-know/

Simplifying Childhood May Protect Against Mental Health Disorders

When my Dad was growing up he had one jumper each winter. One. Total.

He remembers how vigilantly he cared for his jumper. If the elbows got holes in them my Grandma patched them back together. If he lost his jumper he’d recount his steps to find it again. He guarded it like the precious gift it was.

He had everything he needed and not a lot more. The only rule was to be home by dinner time. My Grandma rarely knew exactly where her kids were.

They were off building forts, making bows and arrows, collecting bruises and bloody knees and having the time of their lives. They were immersed in childhood.

But the world has moved on since then. We’ve become more sophisticated. And entered a unique period in which, rather than struggling to provide enough parents are unable to resist providing too much. In doing so, we’re unknowingly creating an environment in which mental health issues flourish.

When I read Kim John Payne’s book, Simplicity Parenting one message leapt off the page. Normal personality quirks combined with the stress of “too much” can propel children into the realm of disorder. A child who is systematic may be pushed into obsessive behaviours. A dreamy child may lose the ability to focus.

Payne conducted a study in which he simplified the lives of children with attention deficit disorder. Within four short months 68% went from being clinically dysfunctional to clinically functional. The children also displayed a 37% increase in academic and cognitive aptitude, an effect not seen with commonly prescribed drugs like Ritalin.

As a new parent I find this both empowering and terrifying. We officially have a massive opportunity and responsibility to provide an environment in which our children can thrive physically, emotionally and mentally.

So, what are we getting wrong and how can we fix it?

THE BURDEN OF TOO MUCH

Early in his career, Payne volunteered in refugee camps in Jakarta, where children were dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. He describes them as, “jumpy, nervous, and hyper-vigilant, wary of anything novel or new.”

Years later Payne ran a private practice in England, where he recognized many affluent English children were displaying the same behavioural tendencies as the children living in war zones half a world away. Why would these children living perfectly safe lives show similar symptoms?

Payne explains that although they were physically safe, mentally they were also living in a war zone of sorts, “Privy to their parents’ fears, drives, ambitions, and the very fast pace of their lives, the children were busy trying to construct their own boundaries, their own level of safety in behaviours that weren’t ultimately helpful.”

Suffering with a “cumulative stress reaction” as a result of the snowballing effect of too much, children develop their own coping strategies to feel safe. Parents and society are conscious of the need to protect our children physically.

We legislate car seats, bike helmets and hover in playgrounds. But protecting mental health is more obscure.

But, sadly, we are messing up. Modern day children are exposed to a constant flood of information which they can’t process or rationalise. They’re growing up faster as we put them into adult roles and increase our expectations of them. So, they look for other aspects of their life they can control.

THE FOUR PILLARS OF EXCESS

Naturally as parents we want to provide our kids with the best start in life. If a little is good, we think more is better, or is it?

We enrol them in endless activities. Soccer. Music. Martial arts. Gymnastics. Ballet. We schedule play dates with precision. And we fill every space in their rooms with educational books, devices and toys. The average western child has in excess of 150 toys each and receives an additional 70 toys per year. With so much stuff children become blinded and overwhelmed with choice.

They play superficially rather than becoming immersed deeply and lost in their wild imaginations.

Simplicity Parenting encourages parents to keep fewer toys so children can engage more deeply with the ones they have. Payne describes the four pillars of excess as having too much stuff, too many choices, too much information and too much speed.

When children are overwhelmed they lose the precious down time they need to explore, play and release tension. Too many choices erodes happiness, robbing kids of the gift of boredom which encourages creativity and self-directed learning. And most importantly “too much” steals precious time.

PROTECTING CHILDHOOD

Similar to the anecdote of the heat slowly being turned up and boiling the unsuspecting frog, so too has society slowly chipped away at the unique wonder of childhood, redefining it and leaving our kid’s immature brains drowning trying to keep up. Many refer to this as a “war on childhood”.

Developmental Psychologist David Elkind reports kids have lost more than 12 hours of free time per week in the last two decades meaning the opportunity for free play is scarce. Even preschools and kindergartens have become more intellectually-oriented. And many schools have eliminated recess so children have more time to learn.

The time children spend playing in organized sports has been shown to significantly lower creativity as young adults, whereas time spent playing informal sports was significantly related to more creativity. It’s not the organized sports themselves that destroy creativity but the lack of down time. Even two hours per week of unstructured play boosted children’s creativity to above-average levels.

PARENTS TAKE CHARGE

So, how do we as parents protect our kids in this new “normal” society has created?

Simple, we say no. We protect our kids and say no, so we can create space for them to be kids. No, Sam can’t make the birthday party on Saturday. No, Sophie can’t make soccer practice this week.

And we recreate regular down time providing a sense of calm and solace in their otherwise chaotic worlds. It provides a release of tension children know they can rely on and allows children to recover and grow, serving a vital purpose in child development.

We filter unnecessary busyness and simplify their lives. We don’t talk about global warming at the dinner table with a seven year old. We watch the news after our kids are asleep. We remove excessive toys and games from our toddler’s room when they’re sleeping. We recreate and honour childhood. Our children have their whole lives to be adults and to deal with the complexities of life, but only a fleetingly short time in which they can be kids. Silly, fun loving kids.

Childhood serves a very real purpose. It’s not something to “get through”. It’s there to protect and develop young minds so they can grow into healthy and happy adults. When society messes too much with childhood, young brains react. By providing a sense of balance and actively protecting childhood we’re giving our children the greatest gift they’ll ever receive.

5 Reasons We Should Stop Distracting Toddlers (And What To Do Instead)

Apparently, distraction often works — at least momentarily — and I can appreciate that it allows mom, dad or caregiver to remain the good guy. I love being the good guy! Instead of saying, “I can’t let you draw on the sofa. Here’s some paper if you want to draw,” (or better yet, not leaving young children unsupervised with markers in the first place) it’s easier and less likely to cause friction if I change the subject enthusiastically: “Can you draw me a silly face on this piece of paper?”

So, I may save my sofa in the nick of time, but my child has no idea that drawing on it is not okay, and he may very well try it again. Well, at least there are no tears, and I’m still the good guy!

And right there is the first of several problems I have with distraction:

1) Phoniness. I don’t like acting perky and upbeat when I’m really a little annoyed. Besides making me feel like a big phony, I don’t think it’s good modeling or healthy for my relationship with my children. As uncomfortable as it is to face the music (or markers on the sofa), I believe children deserve and need an honest response. No, we shouldn’t react angrily if we can possibly help it, but we don’t have to perform or be inauthentic either. Staying calm and giving a simple correction and a real choice (like “You can draw on paper or find something else to do.”) is all that’s needed.

Yes, the child may get upset — he has a right to his conflicting opinion and his feelings. It’s good for him to vent and for us to acknowledge, “You really wanted to draw on the sofa and I wouldn’t let you.” Children are capable of experiencing these kinds of safe, age-appropriate conflicts. Which brings me to my second objection to distraction….

2) Wastes opportunities to learn from conflict. Our children need practice handling safe disagreements with us and with peers. When our infant or toddler is struggling with a peer over a toy and we immediately suggest, “Oh, look at this cool toy over here…,” we rob him of a valuable opportunity to learn how to manage conflicts himself. Directing our child to another identical toy, if there is one, might be helpful if children seem really stuck, but even then the infant or young toddler usually wants the one that has ‘heat’ in another child’s hands. Often the children are far more interested in understanding the struggle than they are in the particular toy. But whatever their focus, young children need time and our confidence in them to learn to resolve conflicts rather than avoiding them.

3) No guidance. What does a child learn when we direct him to draw a silly face rather than just telling him we can’t let him draw on the sofa? Infants and toddlers need us to help them understand the house rules, and eventually internalize our expectations and values. Distraction erases the possibility of a teachable moment instead of helping children benefit from it.

4) Underestimates and discourages attention and awareness. Distracting a child means asking him to switch gears and forget what has taken place. Is this lack of awareness something to encourage? An article I read recently on the subject (“Understanding Children”) suggests: “Since young children’s attention spans are so short, distraction is often effective.”

Even if I agreed about children having short attention spans, which I don’t (see video), distracting them from what they are engaged in seems a sure fire way to make them even shorter.

On the other hand, children who aren’t used to distraction don’t buy it. They can’t be fooled, coaxed or lured away from marking up the sofa (unfortunately). Encouraged to be fully present and aware, they need a straight answer, and they deserve one.

An aware child may be less convenient sometimes (when we can’t trick him with sleight of hand, “Oops, the cell phone disappeared, here’s a fun rattle instead!”), but awareness and attentiveness are essential to learning and will serve him well throughout his life.

5) Respect. Distracting is trickery that underestimates a toddler’s intelligence — his ability to learn and comprehend. Toddlers deserve the same respect we would give an adult, rather than this (from a website about parenting toddlers):

Distract and divert. The best form of toddler discipline is redirection. First, you have to distract them from their original intention and then, quickly divert them toward a safer alternative. Give them something else to do for example, helping with the household chores and soon they will be enjoying themselves rather than investing a lot of emotional energy into the original plan.

How distraction can be construed as discipline is beyond me, but more importantly –would you distract an adult in the middle of a disagreement and direct her to mop up the floor? Then why treat a younger person like a fool? I believe that we can trust babies to choose where to invest their emotional energy. Only babies know what they are working on and figuring out.

Here are some alternative responses that not only work,  but also feel respectful and authentic:

Breathe first. Pause and observe, unless there is a marker making contact with our sofa or a fist making contact with our toddler’s buddy’s head, in which case we quickly take hold of the hands and/or markers as gently as possible. But then we breathe.

Remain calm, kind, empathetic, but firm. In the case of a peer conflict, narrate the situation objectively without assigning blame or guilt. Infant expert Magda Gerber called this ‘sportscasting’. “Jake and John are both trying to hold onto the truck. It’s tough when you both want to use the same thing… You’re really having a hard time…” Allow the struggle, but don’t let the children hurt each other. “I see you’re frustrated, but I won’t let you hit.”

Acknowledge feelings and point of view. When it’s over, acknowledge, “Jake has the truck now. John, you wanted it. You’re upset.”

Be fully available to respond with comfort if the child wants it.

After our response to a behavior like drawing on the sofa, and after we’ve allowed the child to cry, argue, or move on as he chooses, while offering empathy and comfort, we can acknowledge his point of view. “You thought the sofa needed decorating. I said no.”

Recognize achievement and encourage curiosity. The use of distraction as redirection reflects our natural tendency to want to put an immediate end to a child’s undesirable behavior. And in our haste, it’s easy to forget to recognize and encourage positives in the situation – positives like inventiveness, achievement, curiosity. When the situation isn’t an emergency, we can take a moment to acknowledge: “Wow, you reached all the way up to the counter and picked up my sunglasses!”

Then we can allow the child to examine the sunglasses while we hold them. If he tries to take them out of our hands, we might say, “You can look at these and touch them, but I won’t let you take them.” Then, if that turns into a struggle, we might say finally, “You really want to hold these yourself and I can’t let you. I’m going to put them away in the desk.”

Dealing with these situations openly with patience, empathy and honesty — braving a child’s tears and accepting temporary ‘bad guy’ status — is the path to a loving relationship, trust and respect. This, believe it or not, is real quality time.

http://www.janetlansbury.com/2014/05/5-reasons-we-should-stop-distracting-toddlers-and-what-to-do-instead/

Building Resilience in Children – 20 Practical, Powerful Strategies (Backed by Science)

All children are capable of extraordinary things. There is no happiness gene, no success gene, and no ‘doer of extraordinary things’ gene. The potential for happiness and greatness lies in all of them, and will mean different things to different kids. We can’t change that they will face challenges along the way. What we can do is give them the skills so these challenges are never able to break them. We can build their resilience.

Resilience is being able to bounce back from stress, challenge, tragedy, trauma or adversity. When children are resilient, they are braver, more curious, more adaptable, and more able to extend their reach into the world.

The great news is that resilience is something that can be nurtured in all children.

Resilience and the brain. Here’s what you need to know.

During times of stress or adversity, the body goes through a number of changes designed to make us faster, stronger, more alert, more capable versions of ourselves. Our heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up, and adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormone) surge through the body. In the short-term, this is brilliant, but the changes were only ever mean to be for the short-term. Here’s what happens …

The stress response is initiated by the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for our instinctive, impulsive responses. From there, messages are sent to the brain to release its chemical cocktail (including adrenaline and cortisol) to help the body deal with the stress. When the stress is ongoing, the physiological changes stay switched on. Over an extended period of time, they can weaken the immune system (which is why students often get sick during exams), the body and the brain.

Stress can also cause the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain to temporarily shut down. The prefrontal cortex is the control tower of the brain. It is involved in attention, problem solving, impulse control, and regulating emotion. These are known as ‘executive functions’. Sometimes not having too much involvement from the pre-frontal cortex can be a good thing – there are times we just need to get the job done without pausing to reflect, plan or contemplate (such as crying out in pain to bring help fast, or powering through an all-nighter). Then there are the other times.

Resilience is related to the capacity to activate the prefrontal cortex and calm the amygdala. When this happens, the physiological changes that are activated by stress start to reverse, expanding the capacity to recovering from, adapt to, or find a solution to stress, challenge or adversity.

How does resilience affect behaviour?

Children will have different levels of resilience and different ways of responding to and recovering from stressful times. They will also have different ways of showing when the demands that are being put upon them outweigh their capacity to cope. They might become emotional, they might withdraw, or they might become defiant, angry or resentful. Of course, even the most resilient of warriors have days where it all gets too much, but low resilience will likely drive certain patterns of behaviour more often.

Can resilience be changed?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Absolutely resilience can be changed. Resilience is not for the genetically blessed and can be strengthened at any age. One of the most exciting findings in the last decade or so is that we can change the wiring of the brain through the experiences we expose it to. The right experiences can shape the individual, intrinsic characteristics of a child in a way that will build their resilience.

Now for the how. Building resilience in children.

Building small humans into healthy, thriving big ones isn’t about clearing adversity out of their way. Of course, if we could scoop them up and lift them over the things that would cause them to stumble, that would be a wonderful thing, but it wouldn’t necessarily be doing them any favours. A little bit of stress is life-giving and helps them to develop the skills they need to flourish. Strengthening them towards healthy living is about nurturing within them the strategies to deal with that adversity. Here’s how.

  1. Resilience needs relationships, not uncompromising independence.

    Research tells us that it’s not rugged self-reliance, determination or inner strength that leads kids through adversity, but the reliable presence of at least one supportive relationship. In the context of a loving relationship with a caring adult, children have the opportunity to develop vital coping skills. The presence of a responsive adult can also help to reverse the  physiological changes that are activated by stress. This will ensure that the developing brain, body and immune system are protected from the damaging effects of these physiological changes. Anyone in the life of a child can make a difference – family, teachers, coaches – anyone.

  2. Increase their exposure to people who care about them.

    Social support is associated with higher positive emotions, a sense of personal control and predictability, self-esteem, motivation, optimism, a resilience. Kids won’t always notice the people who are in their corner cheering them on, so when you can, let them know about the people in their fan club. Anything you can do to build their connection with the people who love them will strengthen them.

    ‘I told Grandma how brave you were. She’s so proud of you.’

  3. Let them know that it’s okay to ask for help.

    Children will often have the idea that being brave is about dealing with things by themselves. Let them know that being brave and strong means knowing when to ask for help. If there is anything they can do themselves, guide them towards that but resist carrying them there.

  4. Build their executive functioning.

    Strengthening their executive functioning will strengthen the prefrontal cortex. This will help them manage their own behaviour and feelings, and increase their capacity to develop coping strategies. Some powerful ways to build their executive functioning are:

    •  establishing routines;

    •  modelling healthy social behaviour;

    •  creating and maintaining supportive reliable relationships around them;

    •  providing opportunities for their own social connections;

    •  creative play;

    • board games (good for impulse control (taking turns), planning, working memory, and mental flexibility (the ability to shift thoughts to an alternative, better pattern of thought if the situation requires);

    •  games that involve memory (e.g. the shopping game – ‘I went shopping and I bought a [puppy]’; the next person says, ‘I went shopping and I bought a [puppy and a bike for my t-rex]’; next person … ‘I went shopping and I bought [a puppy, a bike for my t-rex and a hot air balloon] – the winner is the last one standing who doesn’t forget something on the shopping list;

    •  exercise;

    •  giving them opportunities to think and act independently (if they disagree with you and tell you why you’re wrong, there’s a plus side – their executive functioning is flourishing!);

    •  providing opportunities for them to make their own decisions.

  5. Encourage a regular mindfulness practice.

    Mindfulness creates structural and functional changes in the brain that support a healthy response to stress. It strengthens the calming, rational prefrontal cortex and reduces activity in the instinctive, impulsive amygdala. It also strengthens the connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. When this connection is strong, the calming prefrontal cortex will have more of a hand in decisions and behaviour. See here for fun ways that children can practice mindfulness.

  6. Exercise.

    Exercise strengthens and reorganises the brain to make it more resilient to stress. One of the ways it does this is by increasing the neurochemicals  that can calm the brain in times of stress. Anything that gets kids moving is stellar, but of course, if you can make it fun that pretty much grants you hero status. Here are some ideas, but get them thinking and they’ll have plenty of their own:

    • throw a frisbee;

    • kick a ball;

    • give a hula-hoop a spin;

    • dance stars;

    • walk the dog;

    • superhero tag (the tagged one stands in the middle of a circle on the ground, a superhero saves them by using their superhero powers to fly with running feet through the circle);

    • detective (in the park or backyard … first one to find five things that are green; or five things starting with ‘s’; or seven things that could be used for dress-ups; or ten things that smell gorgeous – ready, set, go!).

  7. Build feelings of competence and a sense of mastery.

    Nurture that feeling in them – that one that reminds them they can do hard things. You’ll be doing this every time you acknowledge their strengths, the brave things they do, their effort when they do something difficult; and when you encourage them to make their own decisions. When they have a sense of mastery, they are less likely to be reactive to future stress and more likely to handle future challenges.

    ‘You’re a superstar when it comes to trying hard things. You’ve got what it takes. Keep going. You’ll get there.’

  8. Nurture optimism.

    Optimism has been found to be one of the key characteristics of resilient people. The brain can be rewired to be more optimistic through the experiences it is exposed to. If you have a small human who tends to look at the glass as being half empty, show them a different view. This doesn’t mean invalidating how they feel. Acknowledge their view of the world, and introduce them to a different one. (See here for more ways to nurture optimism in children.)

    ‘It’s disappointing when it rains on a sports day isn’t it. Let’s make the most of this. What’s something we can do on a rainy day that we probably wouldn’t do if it was sunny?’ The idea is to focus on what is left, rather than what has been lost.

  9. Teach them how to reframe.

    The ability to reframe challenges in ways that feel less threatening is linked to resilience. Reframing is such a valuable skill to have. In times of difficulty or disappointment, it will help them to focus on what they have, rather than what they’ve lost. To build this skill, acknowledge their disappointment, then gently steer them away from looking at what the problem has cost them, towards the opportunities it might have brought them.

    For example, if a rainy day has meant sport has been cancelled,

    ‘I understand how disappointed you are about not playing today. I’d be disappointed too. What can we do because of the rain that we might not have been able to do otherwise?’ (If they’re really disappointed they might need your help.) ‘You could snuggle up and read a book, watch a movie, play a game inside, walk in the rain, we could cook and throw a pretend party or have a fancy afternoon tea – with very fancy clothes of course, and jewels and fancy shoes and china plates and fancy glasses and maybe even … a tablecloth – but no forks – we are not eating cake with forks, no way – that’s just too far.’

    Let there be ridiculous ideas too. This will let them push past the obvious and come up with something that is beautifully unique. It will also encourage them to question any limits or ideas about how things ‘should’ be done.

    ‘Maybe we could have a picnic in the rain, or a beach party. Maybe we could paint ourselves with mud, or wash the dog in the rain, or make a bubble bath out there and wash ourselves!’ Are there ways they can turn this into interesting ideas.

  10. Model resiliency.

    Imitation is such a powerful way to learn. The small humans in your life will want to be just like you, and they’ll be watching everything. Without pitching it above what they can cope with, let them see how you deal with disappointment. Bringing them into your emotional world at appropriate times will help them to see that sadness, stuckness, disappointment are all very normal human experiences. When experiences are normalised, there will be a safety and security that will open the way for them to explore what those experiences mean for them, and experiment with ways to respond.

    ‘I’m disappointed that I didn’t get the job, but that’s because it was important to me. It’s nice to have things that are important to you, even if they don’t end the way you want them to. I did my very best in the interview and I know I’ll be okay. That one wasn’t the job for me, but I know there is going to be one that is perfect. I just have to keep trying and be patient.

  11. Facing fear – but with support.

    Facing fear is so empowering (within the limits of self-preservation of course – staying alive is also empowering) but to do this, they need the right support – as we all do. Kids can be fairly black and white about things so when they are faced with something difficult, the choices can seem like only two – face it head on or avoid it at all costs. But there is a third option, and that is to move gradually towards it, while feeling supported and with a certain amount of control. See here for the stepladder, which explains how to edge them gently and safely towards the things that challenge them.

  12. Encourage them to take safe, considered risks.

    Let them know that the courage they show in doing something brave and difficult is more important than the outcome. Age-appropriate freedom lets them learn where their edges are, encourages them to think about their decisions, and teaches them that they can cope with the things that go wrong. When they take risks they start to open up to the world and realise their capacity to shape it. There’s magic in that for them and for us.

    ‘I love how brave you are. When you try harder and harder things, they might not  always work out, but it means you’re getting stronger, smarter, braver and you’ll be closer to getting it next time.’

  13. Don’t rush to their rescue.

    It is in the precious space between falling and standing back up again that they learn how to find their feet. Of course, sometimes scooping them up and giving them a steady place to be is exactly what they need to find the strength to move forward. The main thing is not to do it every time. Exposure to stressors and challenges that they can manage during childhood will help to ensure that they are more able to deal with stress during adulthood. There is evidence that these early experiences cause positive changes in the prefrontal cortex (the ‘calm down, you’ve got this’ part of the brain), that will protect against the negative effects of future stress. Think of it like immunisation – a little bit of the pathogen, whether it’s a virus or something stressful, helps to build up resistance or protect against the more severe version.

  14. Meet them where they are.

    Resilience isn’t about never falling down. It’s about getting back up again, and there’s no hurry for this to happen. All of us experience emotional pain, setback, grief and sadness sometimes. Feelings always have a good reason for being there, even if they can feel a little pushy at times. The key for kids is to learn to respect those feelings (even the bad ones), but not let them take charge and steer towards trouble. Sadness and grief, for example, can make us want to withdraw for a little while. It is during the withdrawal that information is reflected upon, assimilated and processed so that balance can be found again. If this is rushed, even if it is in the name of resilience, it can stay as a gentle rumble and show up through behaviour, sometimes at wildly unexpected times.

  15. Nurture a growth mindset. We can change, and so can other people.

    Research has found that children who have a growth mindset – the belief that people have the potential to change – are more likely to show resilience when things get tough. Compared to kids who believe that bullies will always be bullies and victims will always be victims, kids who believe that people can change report less stress and anxiety, better feelings about themselves in response to social exclusion, and better physical health. See here for the step by step on how to nurture a growth mindset.

  16. Let them know that you trust their capacity to cope.

    Fear of failure isn’t so much about the loss but about the fear that they (or you) won’t be able to cope with the loss. What you think matters – it really does. You’re the one they will look to as a gauge for how they’re going. If you believe they have it in them to cope with the stumbles along the way, they will believe this too. This isn’t always easy. We will often feel every bump, bruise, fall or fail. It can be heartbreaking when they struggle or miss out on something they want, not because of what it means for us, but because of what we know it means for them. But – they’ll be okay. However long it takes, they’ll be okay. When you decide, they’ll decide.

  17. Build their problem-solving toolbox.

    Self-talk is such an important part of problem-solving. Your words are powerful because they are the foundation on which they build their own self-talk. Rather than solving their problems for them, start to give them the language to solve their own. Some ideas:

    •  What would [someone who they see as capable] do?

    •  What has worked before?

    •  Say as many ideas as you can in two minutes, even the silly ones? Lay them on me. Go.

    •  How can we break this big problem into little pieces?

    So say, for example, the problem is, ‘What if I miss you or get scared when I’m at Grandmas?’ Validate them first, then start giving them the problem-solving language without handing them solution,

    ‘You might miss me. I’ll miss you too. It’s really normal to miss people you love, even if you’re with people you love being with. What do you think might help if that happens?’ or, ‘What would [Superman/ Dad/ big sister who is practicing to rule the universe] do?’ or ‘What sort of things do you do here at home that help you to feel cozy or safe?’ I know you always have great ideas.’

  18. Make time for creativity and play.

    Problem-solving is a creative process. Anything that strengthens their problem-solving skills will nurture their resilience. Children are naturally curious, inquisitive and creative. Give them the space and the time to play and get creative, and they’ll do the rest.

  19. Shhh. Let them talk.

    Try to resist solving their problems for them. (Oh but so tempting, I know!) Instead, be the sounding board as they take themselves to wherever they need to be. As they talk, their mind is processing and strengthening. The sparks that are flying up there could shine a light bright enough to read by. Guide them, but wherever you can, let them talk and try to come up with their own solutions. You are the safest place in the world for them to experiment and try new things. Problem-solving is a wonderful skill to have, and their time talking to you, and coming up with ideas, will build it beautifully. Give them the opportunity to explore and wander around their own great potential.

  20. Try, ‘how’, not ‘why’.

    When things go wrong – as they will – asking kids ‘why’ will often end in ‘don’t know’. Who knows why any of us do silly things or make decisions that aren’t great ones. The only certainty is that we all do them. Rather than, ‘why did you paint your sister’s face?’ which might lead to the perfectly reasonable explanation of, ‘to make it yellow’, encourage problem-solving and reflection by asking how they can put it right. ‘She’s yellow but it’s not okay for her to stay yellow. How can you fix this?’

And above all else …

Let them know they are loved unconditionally. (But you already knew that.)

This will give them a solid foundation to come back to when the world starts to feel wobbly. Eventually, they will learn that they can give that solid foundation to themselves. A big part of resilience is building their belief in themselves. It’s the best thing they’ll ever believe in.

http://www.heysigmund.com/building-resilience-children/

Have American Parents Got It All Backwards?

The eager new mom offering her insouciant toddler an array of carefully-arranged healthy snacks from an ice cube tray?

That was me.

The always-on-top-of-her-child’s-play parent intervening during play dates at the first sign of discord?

That was me too.

We hold some basic truths as self-evident when it comes to good parenting. Our job is to keep our children safe, enable them to fulfill their potential and make sure they’re healthy and happy and thriving.

The parent I used to be and the parent I am now both have the same goal: to raise self-reliant, self-assured, successful children. But 12 years of parenting, over five years of living on and off in Japan, two years of research, investigative trips to Europe and Asia and dozens of interviews with psychologists, child development experts, sociologists, educators, administrators and parents in Japan, Korea, China, Finland, Germany, Sweden, France, Spain, Brazil and elsewhere have taught me that though parents around the world have the same goals, American parents like me (despite our very best intentions) have gotten it all backwards.

Why?

We need to let 3-year-olds climb trees and 5-year-olds use knives.

Imagine my surprise when I came across a kindergartener in the German forest whittling away on a stick with a penknife. His teacher, Wolfgang, lightheartedly dismissed my concern: “No one’s ever lost a finger!”

Similarly, Brittany, an American mom, was stunned when she moved her young family to Sweden and saw 3- and 4-year-olds with no adult supervision bicycling down the street, climbing the roofs of playhouses and scaling tall trees with no adult supervision. The first time she saw a 3-year-old high up in a tree at preschool, she started searching for the teacher to let her know. Then she saw another parent stop and chat with one of the little tree occupants, completely unfazed. It was clear that no one but Brittany was concerned.

“I think of myself as an open-minded parent,” she confided to me, “and yet here I was, wanting to tell a child to come down from a tree.”

Why it’s better: Ellen Hansen Sandseter, a Norwegian researcher at Queen Maud University in Norway, has found in her research that the relaxed approach to risk-taking and safety actually keeps our children safer by honing their judgment about what they’re capable of. Children are drawn to the things we parents fear: high places, water, wandering far away, dangerous sharp tools. Our instinct is to keep them safe by childproofing their lives. But “the most important safety protection you can give a child,” Sandseter explained when we talked, “is to let them take… risks.”

Consider the facts to back up her assertion: Sweden, where children are given this kind of ample freedom to explore (while at the same time benefitting from comprehensive laws that protect their rights and safety), has the lowest rates of child injury in the world.

Children can go hungry from time-to-time.

In Korea, eating is taught to children as a life skill and as in most cultures, children are taught it is important to wait out their hunger until it is time for the whole family to sit down together and eat. Koreans do not believe it’s healthy to graze or eat alone, and they don’t tend to excuse bad behavior (like I do) by blaming it on low blood sugar. Instead, children are taught that food is best enjoyed as a shared experience. All children eat the same things that adults do, just like they do in most countries in the world with robust food cultures. (Ever wonder why ethnic restaurants don’t have kids’ menus?). The result? Korean children are incredible eaters. They sit down to tables filled with vegetables of all sorts, broiled fish, meats, spicy pickled cabbage and healthy grains and soups at every meal.

Why it’s better: In stark contrast to our growing child overweight/obesity levels, South Koreans enjoy the lowest obesity rates in the developed world. A closely similar-by-body index country in the world is Japan, where parents have a similar approach to food.

Instead of keeping children satisfied, we need to fuel their feelings of frustration.

The French, as well as many others, believe that routinely giving your child a chance to feel frustration gives him a chance to practice the art of waiting and developing self-control. Gilles, a French father of two young boys, told me that frustrating kids is good for them because it teaches them the value of delaying gratification and not always expecting (or worse, demanding) that their needs be met right now.

Why it’s better: Studies show that children who exhibit self-control and the ability to delay gratification enjoy greater future success. Anecdotally, we know that children who don’t think they’re the center of the universe are a pleasure to be around. Alice Sedar, Ph.D., a former journalist for Le Figaro and a professor of French Culture at Northeastern University, agrees. “Living in a group is a skill,” she declares, and it’s one that the French assiduously cultivate in their kids.

Children should spend less time in school.

Children in Finland go outside to play frequently all day long. “How can you teach when the children are going outside every 45 minutes?” a recent American Fulbright grant recipient in Finland, who was astonished by how little time the Finns were spending in school, inquired curiously of a teacher at one of the schools she visited. The teacher in turn was astonished by the question. “I could not teach unless the children went outside every 45 minutes!”

The Finnish model of education includes a late start to academics (children do not begin any formal academics until they are 7 years old), frequent breaks for outdoor time, shorter school hours and more variety of classes than in the US. Equity, not high achievement, is the guiding principle of the Finnish education system.

While we in America preach the mantra of early intervention, shave time off recess to teach more formal academics and cut funding to non-academic subjects like art and music, Finnish educators emphasize that learning art, music, home economics and life skills is essential.

Why it’s better: American school children score in the middle of the heap on international measures of achievement, especially in science and mathematics. Finnish children, with their truncated time in school, frequently rank among the best in the world.

Thou shalt spoil thy baby.

Tomo, a 10-year-old boy in our neighborhood in Japan, was incredibly independent. He had walked to school on his own since he was 6 years old, just like all Japanese 6-year-olds do. He always took meticulous care of his belongings when he came to visit us, arranging his shoes just so when he took them off, and he taught my son how to ride the city bus. Tomo was so helpful and responsible that when he’d come over for dinner, he offered to run out to fetch ingredients I needed, helped make the salad and stir-fried noodles. Yet every night this competent, self-reliant child went home, took his bath and fell asleep next to his aunt, who was helping raise him.

In Japan, where co-sleeping with babies and kids is common, people are incredulous that there are countries where parents routinely put their newborns to sleep in a separate room. The Japanese respond to their babies immediately and hold them constantly.

While we think of this as spoiling, the Japanese think that when babies get their needs met and are loved unconditionally as infants, they more easily become independent and self-assured as they grow.

Why it’s better: Meret Keller, a professor at UC Irvine, agrees that there is an intriguing connection between co sleeping and independent behavior. “Many people throw the word “independence” around without thinking conceptually about what it actually means,” she explained.

We’re anxious for our babies to become independent and hurry them along, starting with independent sleep, but Keller’s research has found that co-sleeping children later became more independent and self-reliant than solitary sleepers, dressing themselves or working out problems with their playmates on their own.

Children need to feel obligated.

In America, as our kids become adolescents, we believe it’s time to start letting them go and giving them their freedom. We want to help them be out in the world more and we don’t want to burden them with family responsibilities. In China, parents do the opposite: the older children get, the more parents remind them of their obligations.

Eva Pomerantz of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign has found through multiple studies that in China, the cultural ideal of not letting adolescents go but of reminding them of their responsibility to the family and the expectation that their hard work in school is one way to pay back a little for all they have received, helps their motivation and their achievement.

Even more surprising: She’s found that the same holds for Western students here in the US: adolescents who feel responsible to their families tend to do better in school.

The lesson for us: if you want to help your adolescent do well in school make them feel obligated.

I parent differently than I used to. I’m still an American mom — we struggle with all-day snacking, and the kids could use more practice being patient. But 3-year-old Anna stands on a stool next to me in the kitchen using a knife to cut apples. I am not even in earshot when 6-year-old Mia scales as high in the beech in our yard as she feels comfortable. And I trust now that my boys (Daniel, 10, and Benjamin, 12) learn as much out of school as they do in the classroom.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christine-grossloh/have-american-parents-got-it-all-backwards_b_3202328.html