Why Executive Function Is A Vital Stepping-Stone For Kids’ Ability to Learn

Neuroscientists and educational psychologists are constantly learning more about how children learn and the various influences beyond IQ that affect cognition. Some research, like Carol Dweck’s on growth mindset or Angela Duckworth’s on grit, quickly became catch phrases among educators. At the same time, critics have pushed back against the notion that students underperform only because of cognitive deficits, pointing to an equally pressing need for big changes to teaching practice. Many teachers are trying to combine the research about cognitive skills with more effective teaching practices. They are finding that whether students are working on self-directed projects or worksheets, executive functioning skills are important.

Bruce Wexler has been studying executive functioning — a group of cognitive abilities crucial for managing oneself and information — for the past 20 years. He first worked with adults, but he began to wonder if he could design interventions specifically for young children to get them started down a positive path before any of the negative secondary qualities associated with under-achievement — like disengagement, low self-esteem and behavior problems — began to manifest at school.

“The data just keeps coming in about the importance of focus, self-control and working memory for learning and life,” Wexler said in an edWeb webinar. One meta-analysis of six studies found that a child’s executive functioning skills in kindergarten predicted reading and math achievement into middle school and beyond. This research is particularly important because students who have poor executive functioning skills because of trauma, poverty, or diagnosed disorders are missing out on learning. Often these children haven’t had a chance to develop executive functioning skills required for school before arriving there.

Many kinds of interventions can work to improve executive functioning, another reason researchers feel confident that this cognitive ability is not innate, but rather taught. Martial arts, yoga and exercise, among others, help improve students’ ability to focus and control themselves. Wexler helped design his own intervention, called Activate, which uses a mixture of online games and physical activities to target focus, self-control and working memory, the skills most closely linked with academic achievement.

To test whether the program works Wexler’s company, C8Sciences, took executive function tests designed by the National Institutes of Health and made them Web-based so teachers could use them in class. These tests helped Wexler’s team learn about the relative areas of cognitive weaknesses in students before using the Activate program.

“Soon it became evident that not only did we want that information, but that it was very valuable for teachers,” Wexler said. It’s often hard for a teacher to know when a student isn’t learning something because of a lack of executive functioning capacity, because it hasn’t been taught well enough, or because the student just needs more time with the content. The online diagnostic tests helped give them valuable insight to tailor their teaching.

After determining a baseline for students, Wexler’s team asked teachers to use the Activate program and then tested students after four months to see how it affected their cognitive abilities. Early tests showed the training improved working memory, but Wexler was more interested in whether the training would carry over into academic achievement, so he tested third-graders from a low-income school on reading proficiency. In the test group that used Activate, 83 percent of students reached third-grade reading proficiency, compared to 58 percent districtwide. On a first-grade math proficiency test, 92 percent of students in the test group reached proficiency, compared to 63 percent districtwide. In another first-grade class at the same school that did not receive the training, only 53 percent of students reached proficiency.

“Training these executive functions leads to improvement in achievement schools,” Wexler concluded. And the effects seemed to last through the summer. Another test showed kindergartners who received the training showed better executive functioning skills when they started first grade than their peers.

When Wexler compared the effects he was seeing to other interventions — like one-on-one tutoring, summer and after-school programming — improving executive functioning skills had a much bigger effect. “Training a whole classroom in focus, self-control, and memory has a bigger effect on math achievement than providing one-on-one tutoring,” Wexler said. Tutoring had the next strongest effect.

Executive functioning training also seems to make a difference regardless of student IQ. “Its effect was four times as big as the differences in IQ,” Wexler said. “Of course IQ is important, but executive functioning is something we can do something about.”

SCHOOLS FOCUSING ON EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING

Carlisle Area School District has taken the research on executive function and put it into practice, especially in K-5 schools where educators hope to improve these cognitive skills early so students don’t fall behind. District leaders started by educating teachers about different neural pathways and why problems with executive functioning could lead to problems with learning. In trainings, they give teachers scenarios, and ask them to identify a student’s cognitive weakness based on behavior, and then design an intervention. They also ask teachers to reflect on their own cognitive weaknesses and where they might be able to identify with a disorganized student or one who has a hard time staying on task.

Carlisle teachers also have a long list of strategies they integrate into the day with the whole class that emphasize brain breaks, exercise and routines. Additionally, some children need more help developing executive functioning, and educators differentiate strategies for them as well. They often talk to students about how their brain works and emphasize that when their “amygdala is hijacked,” they need to stop and think about the next action rather than lashing out.

STRATEGIES

  • Breathing buddies: Students lie down on the floor with a favorite stuffed animal on their chests. They slowly breathe in and out, watching the animal rise and fall. This helps students calm down when they are upset and gives them a strategy to implement when they feel themselves getting worked up.
  • Teachers keep “meta boxes” in their classrooms full of fidget toys students can use to help them pay attention when they feel like they need to move.
  • When transitioning between subjects or recess, teachers often play calming music and let only five kids in at a time to limit the chaos.
  • Many elementary school teachers have had the experience of asking a question, seeing many hands in the air, but then calling on a student who says he forgot. That could be a working memory problem. Some Carlisle teachers are proactively addressing this by letting those kids record their thoughts on paper or a device so they can contribute when they’re called on.
  • Carlisle was an early adopter of Wexler’s Activate program, too. The iPad lessons focus on typical working memory games that require students to remember the order of things, progressively getting harder as the game develops. The physical games reinforce the online learning with social interactions that help embed the memories in movement. Mass ball is one game that requires students to throw a ball in a specific sequence. Students have to juggle paying attention to the order and catching the ball.
  • Carlisle teachers also have students do a lot of balancing games, which help with executive functioning. Teachers might ask students to walk on a line balancing bean bags on their heads or to do the same walk on tiptoe. Teachers also use relay races to get kids moving, since exercise alone helps with executive functioning.

Adults have an attention span of about 12 minutes with a fully developed executive functioning system, so it’s no wonder kids can’t focus without a break. “It cannot be overemphasized that all of us need to be thinking about taking information in smaller chunks,” said Malinda Mikesell, the reading supervisor for the Carlisle Area School District. She said kids need an opportunity to do something with the information on their own before having the chance to reset for the next chunk of information.

“We have mature executive function systems as adults, so we have to be careful that we’re not putting our perspective onto very immature executive functioning systems,” Mikesell said. She also emphasized that teachers in her district have successfully involved parents in their effort to improve executive functions, educating the adults about the brain and what cognitive weaknesses look like. Often parents have noticed the same lack of short-term memory, difficulty focusing, and disorganization affecting kids at school, and are happy to learn tips to help their child.

Mikesell said Carlisle is in the early stages of evaluating data on how well their approach is working. Early data showed that kids in the Activate program were outperforming peers not in the program on reading tests. Teachers are also reporting stories about disorganized students improving, who never had what they needed for the day or activity. Now those students are able to follow the classroom routines and are benefiting from checklists and visual organizers that teachers put together to help them with their working memory weaknesses.

https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/12/13/why-executive-function-is-a-vital-stepping-stone-for-kids-ability-to-learn/

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/

Fear and Anxiety – An Age by Age Guide to Common Fears, The Reasons for Each and How to Manage Them

It is very normal for all children to have specific fears at some point in their childhood. Even the bravest of hearts beat right up against their edges sometimes. As your child learns more about the world, some things will become more confusing and frightening. This is nothing at all to worry about and these fears will usually disappear on their own as your child grows and expands his or her experience.

In the meantime, as the parent who is often called on to ease the worried mind of your small person, it can be helpful to know that most children at certain ages will become scared of particular things.

When is fear or anxiety a problem?

Fear is a very normal part of growing up. It is a sign that your child is starting to understand the world and the way it works, and that they are trying to make sense of what it means for them. With time and experience, they will come to figure out for themselves that the things that seem scary aren’t so scary after all. Over time, they will also realise that they have an incredible capacity to cope.

Fears can certainly cause a lot of cause distress, not only for the kids and teens who have the fears, but also for the people who care about them. It’s important to remember that fears at certain ages are completely appropriate and in no way are a sign of abnormality.

The truth is, there really is no such thing as an abnormal fear, but some kids and teens will have fears that are more intense and intrusive. Even fears that seem quite odd at first, will make sense in some way.

For example, a child who does not want to be separated from you is likely to be thinking the same thing we all think about the people we love – what if something happens to you while you are away from them? A child who is scared of balloons would have probably experienced that jarring, terrifying panic that comes with the boom. It’s an awful feeling. Although we know it passes within moments, for a child who is still getting used to the world, the threat of that panicked feeling can be overwhelming. It can be enough to teach them that balloons pretend to be fun, but they’ll turn fierce without warning and the first thing you’ll know is the boom. #not-fun-you-guys

Worry becomes a problem when it causes a problem. If it’s a problem for your child or teen, then it’s a problem. When the fear seems to direct most of your child’s behaviour or the day to day life of the family (sleep, family outings, routines, going to school, friendships), it’s likely the fear has become too pushy and it’s time to pull things back.

So how do we get rid of the fear?

If you have a child with anxiety, they may be more prone to developing certain fears. Again, this is nothing at all to worry about. Kids with anxiety will mostly likely always be sensitive kids with beautiful deep minds and big open hearts. They will think and feel deeply, which is a wonderful thing to have. We don’t want to change that. What we want to do is stop their deep-thinking minds and their open hearts from holding them back.

The idea then, isn’t to get rid of all fears completely, but to make them manageable. As the adult in their lives who loves them, you are in a perfect position to help them to gently interact with whatever they are scared of. Eventually, this familiarity will take the steam out of the fear.

First of all though, it can be helpful for you and your child to know that other children just like them are going through exactly the same experience.

An age by age guide to fears.

When you are looking through the list, look around your child’s age group as well. Humans are beautifully complicated beings and human nature doesn’t tend to stay inside the lines. The list is a guide to common fears during childhood and the general age at which they might appear. There are no rules though and they might appear earlier or later.

Infants and toddlers (0-2)

•   Loud noises and anything that might overload their senses (storms, the vacuum cleaner, blender, hair dryer, balloons bursting, sirens, the bath draining, abrupt movement, being put down too quickly).

Here’s why: When babies are born, their nervous systems are the baby versions. When there is too much information coming to them through their senses, such as a loud noise or being put down too quickly (which might make them feel like they’re falling), it’s too much for their nervous systems to handle.

•   Being separated from you.

Here’s why: At around 8-10 months, babies become aware that when things disappear, those things still exist. Before this, it tends to be ‘out of sight, out of mind’. From around 8 months, they will start to realize that when you leave the room you are somewhere, just not somewhere they can see you. This may be the start of them being scared of being separated from you, as they grapple with where you’ve gone, and when you’ll be coming back. During their second year, they begin to understand how much they rely on your love and protection. For a while, their worlds will start and end with you. (Though for you in relation to your little heart stealers, it will probably always be that way.)

•   Strangers.

Here’s why: An awareness of strangers will peak at around 6-8 months. This is a good thing because it means they are starting to recognize the difference between familiar and unfamiliar faces. By this age, babies will have formed a close connection with the ones who take care of them. They will know the difference between you and the rest of the world, not only because of what you look like or the sound of your voice, but also because of what you mean for them. For many babies, strangers and ‘sort of strangers’ – actually anyone outside of their chosen few – will need to move gently. Babies will be sensitive to their personal space and will be easily scared by anyone who quickly and unexpectedly enters that space.

(At this age, separation anxiety and stranger anxiety can be a tough duo for any parent. Your little person doesn’t like being away from you, but they might not be too fond of the person you leave them in the care of. It can be tough, but hang in there – it will end.)

•   People in costume.

Soooo lemme get this right – you’re putting me in front of a big man in a red suit with a white beard the likes I’ve never seen before and you want me to sit on his lap? Nope. Not today. Probably not until I’m like, five. Or 72. Or when I figure that out he brings stuff. Then I might get close enough to tell him want I want, or maybe I’ll throw him a letter or something. And I don’t get the point of the big people-sized rabbits that carry baskets of shiny wrapped thin- … actually, wait. No to the rabbit people. Yes to the shiny wrapped things. Just put them where I can reach them and leave. K?

•   Anything outside of their control (exuberant dogs, a flushing toilet, thunder).

Here’s why: At around age one when your child starts to take little steps, he or she will start to experiment with their independence. This might look like moving small distances away from you or wanting to play with their food or feed themselves. With this, comes an increasing need for them to have a sense of predictability and control over their environment. Anything that feels outside of their control might seem frightening.

Preschoolers (3-4)

•  Lightning, loud noises (the bath draining, thunder, balloons bursting, fireworks, loud barking dogs, trains) and anything else that doesn’t make sense.

Here’s why: They will become very aware of their lack of control in the world. Because of this, they might show a fear of things that seem perfectly innocent to the rest of us to make no sense at all to a grown up. It can be a scary world when you’re new to the job of finding your way in it!

•  Anything that isn’t as it usually is – (an uncle who shows up with a new beard, a grandparent with different colored hair).

Here’s why: It’s hard enough when strangers are strangers, but when favorite people look like strangers … whoa! Familiarity is the stuff of happy days. There’s so much in the world to get used to when you’re fairly new to the job. When things change unexpectedly, it can feel like being back at the beginning and having to get comfortable all over again. Massive ‘ugh’.

•  Scary noises, Halloween costumes, ghosts, witches, monsters living under the bed, burglars breaking into the house, burglars making friends with the monsters living under the bed and ganging up  – and anything else that feeds their hardworking imaginations.

Here’s why: Their imaginative play is flourishing and their imaginations are wonderfully rich. At this age, they will have trouble telling the difference between fantasy and reality.

•  The things they see on television or read in books might fuel their already vivid imaginations and come out as scary dreams. This might bring on a fear of the dark or being alone at night.

Here’s why: At this age, kids can struggle a little to separate fantasy from reality. If they hear a story about a pirate for example, as soon as the lights are out they might imagine Captain-Russell-With-The-Boat-Who-Steals-Toys-From-Sleeping-Kids is waiting under their bed, ready to cause trouble. A calming bedtime routine and happy, pirate-free stories can help to bring on happy zzz’s.

•  People in costume (Santa, the Easter Bunny, story or cartoon characters.)

Here’s why: At this age, grown-ups in dress-ups are no more adorable than they were in the baby days. If Santa doesn’t know what they want, he might just have to work harder, because there’s no way they’ll be telling him in person. Lucky he’s magic and has people on the ground who know the important stuff.

•  Being separated from you or being away from the people or pets they love.

Here’s why:  They might worry that something will happen to themselves, the people they love or a pet, particularly if something happens to someone close to them.

•  The dark and being on their own at night, particularly if they hear a strange sound or see lights or shadows on the wall.

Here’s why: The dark can feel scary at this age. With their imaginations running wild and free, they might put their own explanations to strange night-time noises or shadows on the wall. They might convince themselves that the sound of a moth hitting a light bulb is definitely a robber, because no other explanation makes any sense.

5-6 years.

•  Being separated from you.

Here’s why: At this age, children might show a strong reaction to being separated from one or either or their parents. This comes as they start to see outside of themselves and realize that bad things can happen to the people they love. They might want to avoid school or sleepovers so they can be with you and know that you’re safe and sound.

•  Ghosts, monsters and witches – and anything else that bumps around in their wonderfully vivid imaginations. This can also show itself as a fear of the dark – because we all know the spooky things love it there.

Here’s why: Their imaginations are still hard at work so anything they can bring to life in there will be fuel for fear.

•  The dark, noises, being on their own at night, getting lost, getting sick.

Here’s why: As well as being scared of things that take up precious real estate in their heads, they might also become scared of things could actually happen. These are the sorts of things that might unsettle all of us from time to time.

•  Nightmares and bad dreams.

Here’s why:  Because of the blurred line between fantasy and reality, bad dreams can feel very real and are likely to peak at this age.

•  Fire, wind, thunder, lightning – anything that seems to come from nowhere.

Here’s why: They are still trying to grasp cause and effect and their minds are curious and powerful. They might scare themselves trying to explain where scary things come from. Lightning might mean the sky is about to catch fire. Thunder – who knows – but anything that loud surely doesn’t come in ‘cute’ or ‘chocolate coated’.

7-11 years.

•  Monsters, witches, ghosts, shadows on the wall at night.

Here’s why: Though their thinking is more concrete, children at this age will still have a very vivid imagination.

•  Being at home alone.

Here’s why: They’re still learning to trust the world and their capacity to cope with small periods of time on their own, without you. Staying at home alone might be exciting, scary or both – then there’s that imagination of theirs that might still ambush them at times.

•  Something happening to themselves or the people (or pets) they care about.

Here’s why: They start to understand that death affects everyone at some point and that it’s permanent. They might start to worry about something happening to themselves or the people (or pets) they care about.

•  Being rejected, not liked, or judged badly by their peers (buckle up – this one might stay a while).

Here’s why: This can show up at any age but it might ramp up or towards the end of these years. This is because they will start to have an increased dependence on their friendships as they gear up for adolescence.

Adolescents (12+)

•  What their peers are thinking of them.

One of the primary developmental goals of adolescence is figuring out how they are and where they fit into the world. As they do this, they will start to worry about what other people think. They also have the job of moving towards independence from you. What their friends think will take on a new importance as they start to make the move away from their family tribe and towards their peer one. They will always love you (though it might not feel that way if you’re weathering one of the storms that comes with adolescence!), but their dependency on you will shift. This is healthy and important and the way it’s meant to be. It’s all part of them growing from small, dependent humans into capable, independent, thriving bigger ones.

•  Themselves or someone they care about getting hurt, becoming sick or dying.

Here’s why: They will be very aware that accidents happen, people get sick, and sometimes you just can’t see it coming. This fear will probably have more muscle if they hear of someone around them becoming sick or getting hurt. Realising that people can break isn’t all bad for them. During adolescence, they will be particularly prone to taking silly risks. It’s all part of them extending into the world and learning what they are capable of. What’s important is keeping their fear at a level that it doesn’t get in the way of them being brave, learning new things, and finding safe ways to discover what they’re capable of.

•  how they’re doing at school, exams, failure, getting into college or university, not being able to ‘make it’ after school.

Here’s why: They’re thinking about life after high school . They want to do well, live a good life, and chase the dreams they’ve been dreaming.

•  Strangers getting into their room at night, war, terrorism, being kidnapped, natural disasters – and any other frightening thing they might hear about in the news.

Here’s why: They realize that bad things happen sometimes but don’t understand the likelihood and the rarity of such events. With their increasing time on social media, they will tend to hear about bad news more often and come to believe that the risk of it happening to them is greater than it actually is.

•  Talking to you about important personal issues.

Here’s why: It’s their job during adolescence to learn how to need you less. Adolescence isn’t always gentle with it’s developmental tasks and needing you less might be felt as ‘loving you less’. It’s not this – they love you as much as ever and however they might act towards you, what you think really does matter to them. They want you to be proud of them and they don’t want to disappoint you.

•  Fear of missing out.

Here’s why: Being connected to their friends and being a part of what’s going on in their friendship group can feel like a matter of life or death. It sounds dramatic and for them, it is – but there is a good reason for this. For all mammals throughout history (think cave-people) and in nature, exclusion from the tribe means has meant almost certain death. For our adolescents, that’s how it feels when they feel on their outside of their tribe – it feels like death. In time they will learn that they will still feel connected to their friends even if they aren’t a part of everything that happens.

What to do:

For babies.

•  Play peek-a-boo.

It will start to teach your baby that even when your face disappears, you’re still there. (That, and because the way their face lights up when they see you is gorgeous.)

•   Teach them that separation is temporary, but go gently.

Practice leaving the room for short periods at a time so your baby can learn that you will always come back. Start with a minute, then, when your baby is ready, move up from there. When you are ready to leave them in the care of others, start with people they are familiar with for short periods, then work gently up from there.

•  Always say goodbye.

Saying goodbye is the most important thing to do when you leave them. Making a quick dash while they are distracted might make things easier in the short term, but it will risk your baby being shocked to find you’re not there. This can add to their fears that you’ll disappear unexpectedly and it also runs the risk of chipping away at their trust. Have your ‘kiss and fly’ routine ready – tell them you’re leaving, a quick kiss, and let them know you’ll be back soon – or whatever works for you. It will be worth it in the long run.

For kids and adolescents.

•   Give them plenty of information.

Even though kids at this age are aware of their environment, they don’t understand all of the things that go on in it. Thunder feels really scary – it’s unpredictable, it’s loud, and for a curious, powerful, inquisitive mind, it can surely feel as though the sky is breaking. For the child who is still getting used the world, it’s not so obvious that they won’t be sucked down the plughole when the bath drains. Point out what they can’t see. (‘Water fits down the plughole, but my arm won’t fit, neither will this boat, or the vacuum cleaner, or the car, or a hippo, or my foot, or my elbow. An ant would fit – wait – maybe that’s why ants don’t have baths! If I’m away from the plughole, nothing happens to me. See?’)

Give them all the information they need to put their scary things in context, where they belong. There’s no such thing as too much talk and at this age, they’re so hungry to learn. Make the most of it. By the time they reach adolescence, you will no longer be as smart (or sought after) as you think you should be. Celebrate their curiosity and feed it. They love hearing the detail of everything you know. You’re their hero and if anyone knows how to make sense of things, it’s you.

•   Meet them where they are.

Some kids will love new things and will want to try everything and speak to everyone. Others will take longer to warm up. Unless it is a child who races towards the unknown like it’s the only thing to do, introduce new things and people gradually. There’s so much to learn and little people do a brilliant job of taking it all in when they’re given the space to do it at their own pace.

•  Play

Play is such an important part of learning about the world. So much of their play is actually a rehearsal for real life. If your child is scared of something, introduce it during play. That way, they can be in charge of whatever it is they are worried about, whether it’s playing with the (unplugged) vacuum cleaner, being the monster, or having a ‘monster’ as a special pet. Give them some ideas, but let them take it from there. Through play they can practice their responses, different scenarios, and get comfortable with scary things from a safe distance.

•  Be careful not to overreact.

It’s important to validate what your child is feeling, but it’s also important not to overreact to the fear. If you scoop your child up every time they become scared, you might be inadvertently reinforcing the fear. Rather than over-comforting, get down on their level and talk to them about it after naming what you see – ‘That balloon scared you when it popped didn’t it.’

•  Don’t avoid.

It’s completely understandable that a loving parent would want to protect their child from the bad feelings that come with fear. Sometimes it feels as though the only way to do this is to support their avoidance of whatever it is that’s frightening. Here’s the rub. It makes things better in the short term, but in the long term will keep the fear well fed. The more something is avoided, the more that avoidance is confirmed as the only way to feel safe. It also takes away the opportunity for your child to learn that they are resilient, strong and resourceful enough to cope. It’s important for kids to learn that a little bit of discomfort is okay and that it’s a sign that they are about to do something really brave – and that they have what they need inside them to cope.

•  Let them explore their fear safely.

Introduce the fear gently, in a way that your child can feel as though they have control. If your child is terrified of the vacuum cleaner, explore it with them while it isn’t plugged in. If your child is terrified of dogs, introduce them to dogs in books, in a movie, through a pet shop window, behind a fence. Do this gradually and in small steps, starting with the least scariest (maybe a picture of a dog) and working up in gently to the fear that upsets them most (patting a real dog). The more you can help them to feel empowered and in control of their world, the braver they will feel. (For a more detailed step by step description of how to do this, see here.)

•  Don’t give excessive reassurance.

If your child has had a genuine fright or is a little broken-hearted, there is nothing like a cuddle and reassurance to steady the ground beneath them. When that reassurance is excessive though, it can confirm that there is something to be worried about. It can also take away their opportunity to grow their own confidence and ability to self-soothe. Finding the scaffold between an anxious thought and a brave response is something every child is capable of. Understandably, it can be wildly difficult to hold off on reassurance, particularly when all you want to do is scoop them up and protect them from the world that they are feeling the hard edges of. What is healthier, is setting them on a course that will empower them to find within themselves the strength and resources to manage their own fear or anxiety. Reassure them, then remind them that they know the answer, or lovingly direct them to find their own answers or evidence to back up their concerns. Let them know you love the way they are starting to think about these things for themselves.

•  Understand the physical signs of fear.

Fear might show itself in physical ways. Children might have shaky hands, they might suck their thumbs or their fingers and they might develop nervous little tics. When this happens, respond to the feelings behind the physical symptoms – fear, insecurity, uncertainty.

•  Something soft and familiar makes the world feel lovelier. It just does.

Toys or special things might be a familiar passenger wherever your child goes. Let this happen. Your child will let go of the toy or whatever special thing they have when they are ready. Security blankets will often be the bridge between the unknown and familiar, and will form a strong foundation upon which they will build confidence and trust in their own capacity to cope with new and unfamiliar things.

•  Be alive to what they are watching on TV or reading in books.

If you can, watch their shows with them to understand how they are making sense of what they see. Some kids will handle anything they see, and others will turn it into a brilliant but terrifying nightmare or vivid thoughts that become a little too pushy.

•  Remember they’re watching.

They’ll be watching everything you do. If they see you terrified of dogs, it will easy for them to learn this same response. Remember though, if you can influence their fears, you can influence their courage. Let them see you being brave whenever you can.

•  Validate their fears and let them put word to their fears.

Let them talk about their fears. The more they can do this, the more they will be able to make sense of the big feelings that don’t make any sense to them at all. Talking about feelings connects the literal left side of the brain to the emotional right side of the brain. When there is a strong connection between the right brain and the left brain, children will start to make sense of their experience, rather than being barrelled by big feelings that make no sense to them at all.

•  Acknowledge any brave behavior.

Because they’ll always love being your hero and it will teach them that they can be their own.

And finally …

It can always be unsettling when fears come home and throw themselves in your child’s way. Often though, fears are a sign that your child is travelling along just as he or she should be. The world can be a confusing place – even for adults. Of course, sometimes fear will lead to a healthy avoidance – snakes, spiders, crossing a busy road. Sometimes though, fear will be a burly imposter that pretends to be scarier than it is.

Fears are proof that your child is learning more about the world, sharpening their minds, expanding their sense of the world and what it means to them, and learning about their own capacity to cope. As they experience more of the world, they will come to figure out for themselves that the things that seem scary aren’t so scary after all, and that with time, understanding, and some brave behavior, they can step bravely through or around anything that might unsteady them along the way.

Help Protect Your Child from Sexual Abuse

You can help to protect your child from sexual abuse by teaching the following crucial Body Safety Rules.

1. From an early age, teach your child that their body is their body and it belongs to them. Explain that they have the right to say “no” if they don’t want to be kissed or hugged by someone.

In a greeting situation, encourage your child to offer the person a high-five or a handshake (or, with people they know well they could blow them a kiss instead). Other adults may be offended by your family’s stance on this issue, but the best option is to explain your family’s reasons behind this practice.

Keep in mind it is our job as parents and carers to empower our children and not to pacify the occasional disapproving adult and/or relative.

2. Help your child to create a Safety Network. A Safety Network is made up of three to five adults that your child trusts. These are adults your child could tell anything to and they would be believed. The people who have the honor of being on your child’s Safety Network should be adults who will listen to your child’s concerns, who will always believe them, and who are accessible. Remember, it is your child’s choice who they place in their Safety Network.

3. Talk to your child about their Early Warning Signs. Explain that if they feel worried or unsafe, their body will let them know. Their Early Warning Signs may include feeling sick in the stomach, feeling shaky, their heart racing, etc. Explain to your child that if they feel any of their Early Warning Signs, they must tell an adult on their Safety Network straightaway.

4. Always call your child’s private parts by their correct names. Explain that no child, teenager or adult can touch their private parts, that they should never touch another person’s private parts even when asked, and that they should not view images of private parts.

Explain that if any of these things happen, they have the right to say, “no” or “stop,” and then they must tell an adult on their Safety Network straightaway. If that person is not available, they will need to tell another person on their Safety Network. Reinforce that your child needs to keep telling until they are believed.

5. Discourage secrets. Explain that your family has “happy surprises” instead of secrets because happy surprises will always be told. Explain that if someone does ask them to keep a secret, they should tell that person that they don’t keep secrets. Reinforce that if someone does ask them to keep a secret that makes them feel unsafe or uncomfortable, they must tell an adult on their Safety Network straightaway.

A few final hints!

1. Decide on a “family word.” For example, “pickles.” So if your child is somewhere without you or in a situation where they can’t speak up, and they feel unsafe, they can call or shout out “pickles.” This will alert you to the fact that they feel unsafe and need to be removed from the situation immediately.

2. Educate yourself in Body Safety; this includes signs of child sexual abuse and the grooming process. Remember, sexual predators groom both parents and children.

3. Encourage your child’s school to teach Body Safety! And if they don’t, please ask why not.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/help-protect-your-child-from-sexual-abuse_us_5878261be4b03e071c14fbc8

13 Children’s Books That Encourage Kindness Towards Others

Kindness is one of the most important character traits, but sometimes kids need an extra reminder about the best ways to be kind to others or why kindness matters. These books provide that reminder in creative and appealing ways. Happy reading!

1. We All Sing With The Same Voice by J. Philip Miller and Sheppard M. Greene

What It's About: This is a song book that connects kids around the world. The verses highlight differences between kids, illustrated on the pages of the book. The chorus brings all of these kids with many differences together, singing 'We all sing with the same voice. The same song. The same voice. We all sing with the same voice and we sing in harmony.' Why It's Important: Not only will the music engage kids as young as three, but it also encourages global awareness and connection at a young age. Everyone is different and unique, and this book celebrates those differences while singing together as friends.

What It’s About: This is a song book that connects kids around the world. The verses highlight differences between kids, illustrated on the pages of the book. The chorus brings all of these kids with many differences together, singing “We all sing with the same voice. The same song. The same voice. We all sing with the same voice and we sing in harmony.”

Why It’s Important: Not only will the music engage kids as young as three, but it also encourages global awareness and connection at a young age. Everyone is different and unique, and this book celebrates those differences while singing together as friends.

2. Have You Filled A Bucket Today? A Guide To Daily Happiness For Kids by Carol McCloud

What It's About: This book introduces an idea that everyone has an 'invisible bucket.' These buckets are used to hold your good thoughts and feelings about yourself. When you do something kind, you help fill someone else's bucket.Why It's Important: This provides kids with a visual representation of the importance of kindness. It focuses on social interactions and how our actions positively or negatively affect other people. This book would be especially beneficial as kids begin to develop empathy towards others.

What It’s About: This book introduces an idea that everyone has an “invisible bucket.” These buckets are used to hold your good thoughts and feelings about yourself. When you do something kind, you help fill someone else’s bucket.

Why It’s Important: This provides kids with a visual representation of the importance of kindness. It focuses on social interactions and how our actions positively or negatively affect other people. This book would be especially beneficial as kids begin to develop empathy towards others.

3. A Sick Day For Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead

What It's About: This story is about a zookeeper who is great friends with all of the animals and takes the time out of his day to do what they like with them. One day, he is too sick to go to work and the animals decide to come and visit him. Why It's Important: This sweet story shows how kind actions towards others are repaid. The animals all take care of Amos when he needs a friend, which shows children how important continual kindness towards others is.

What It’s About: This story is about a zookeeper who is great friends with all of the animals and takes the time out of his day to do what they like with them. One day, he is too sick to go to work and the animals decide to come and visit him.

Why It’s Important: This sweet story shows how kind actions towards others are repaid. The animals all take care of Amos when he needs a friend, which shows children how important continual kindness towards others is.

4. Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson

What It's About: This story is about a new girl at school, named Maya and how Chloe, who has gone to the school for a while, reacts when she arrives. Chloe is not welcoming towards Maya, and excludes her from the group games. Maya leaves and Chloe is left feeling full of regret.Why It's Important: This story does not have the happy ending that so many books do, but teaches a critical lesson. Every choice we makes affects others in either a positive or negative way, and we do not always have an opportunity to fix our negative actions.

What It’s About: This story is about a new girl at school, named Maya and how Chloe, who has gone to the school for a while, reacts when she arrives. Chloe is not welcoming towards Maya, and excludes her from the group games. Maya leaves and Chloe is left feeling full of regret.

Why It’s Important: This story does not have the happy ending that so many books do, but teaches a critical lesson. Every choice we makes affects others in either a positive or negative way, and we do not always have an opportunity to fix our negative actions.

5. Last Stop On Market Street by Matt de la Pena

What It's About: This 2016 winner of the Newbery Medal follows a young boy, CJ, and his grandmother on their way home one day. CJ spends most of the journey asking 'How come...?' questions about everyone and everything. His grandmother answers each question with patience and eventually they leave the bus to volunteer at a soup kitchen.Why It's Important: CJ is asking seemingly simple questions throughout the book, but his grandmother's responses always elicit empathy towards the other characters throughout the book. It serves as a reminder that everyone we encounter has skills and a story, but we must be kind and open-hearted in order to hear it.

What It’s About: This 2016 winner of the Newbery Medal follows a young boy, CJ, and his grandmother on their way home one day. CJ spends most of the journey asking “How come…?” questions about everyone and everything. His grandmother answers each question with patience and eventually they leave the bus to volunteer at a soup kitchen.

Why It’s Important: CJ is asking seemingly simple questions throughout the book, but his grandmother’s responses always elicit empathy towards the other characters throughout the book. It serves as a reminder that everyone we encounter has skills and a story, but we must be kind and open-hearted in order to hear it.

6. Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

What It's About: In this book, we see a young boy dreaming about getting a pair of really cool shoes. Unfortunately, his family does not have the money for this dream to become a reality. He eventually finds the shoes in a thrift shop in near perfect condition and buys them even though they are too tight. Another kid in his class can't afford new shoes either, and his feet would fit in the cool shoes when the narrator's would not. So, the narrator decides to give his shoes away.Why It's Important: This book highlights the importance of giving and making difficult decisions. We see the narrator struggle to decide if he can really give his shoes away, but when he decides to, both he and the boy who receive his shoes end up happier than they were before.

What It’s About: In this book, we see a young boy dreaming about getting a pair of really cool shoes. Unfortunately, his family does not have the money for this dream to become a reality. He eventually finds the shoes in a thrift shop in near perfect condition and buys them even though they are too tight. Another kid in his class can’t afford new shoes either, and his feet would fit in the cool shoes when the narrator’s would not. So, the narrator decides to give his shoes away.

Why It’s Important: This book highlights the importance of giving and making difficult decisions. We see the narrator struggle to decide if he can really give his shoes away, but when he decides to, both he and the boy who receive his shoes end up happier than they were before.

7. Horton Hears A Who by Dr. Seuss

What It's About: A classic Dr. Seuss, this book is about an elephant who discovers an entire community living on a speck of dust. With his big ears, Horton is the only animal in the jungle who is able to hear the Whos. Despite being made fun of by the other animals, Horton stands by Whoville because he knows it is the right thing to do. Why It's Important: Not only is Horton doing the right thing, he is doing the right thing while everyone around him is bullying him to give up. This teaches an important lesson about standing by what you believe in, no matter what you face. With older children, you can also use this book to discuss the importance of advocating for those who do not have a voice

What It’s About: A classic Dr. Seuss, this book is about an elephant who discovers an entire community living on a speck of dust. With his big ears, Horton is the only animal in the jungle who is able to hear the Whos. Despite being made fun of by the other animals, Horton stands by Whoville because he knows it is the right thing to do.

Why It’s Important: Not only is Horton doing the right thing, he is doing the right thing while everyone around him is bullying him to give up. This teaches an important lesson about standing by what you believe in, no matter what you face. With older children, you can also use this book to discuss the importance of advocating for those who do not have a voice

8. Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

What It's About: This is about a boy who is having a great summer until Jeremy Ross moves in down the street. Jeremy excludes people from birthday parties and laughs when they strike out in baseball. The narrator's father makes enemy pie to help defeat Jeremy Ross. In order for enemy pie to work, the boys have to play together all day. By the end of the day they are good friends and enjoy the pie together. Why It's Important: This tells a classic story of judging a book by its cover, or making judgements about people based on insignificant details. After spending quality time together the two enemies learned that they actually got along quite well.

What It’s About: This is about a boy who is having a great summer until Jeremy Ross moves in down the street. Jeremy excludes people from birthday parties and laughs when they strike out in baseball. The narrator’s father makes enemy pie to help defeat Jeremy Ross. In order for enemy pie to work, the boys have to play together all day. By the end of the day they are good friends and enjoy the pie together.

Why It’s Important: This tells a classic story of judging a book by its cover, or making judgements about people based on insignificant details. After spending quality time together the two enemies learned that they actually got along quite well.

9. Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson, Fumi Kosaka

What It's About: This story is about an average girl who decides to pick some blueberries for her neighbor. The neighbor bakes blueberry muffins and gives plates of them to five other people. This good deed turns into a chain strangers doing kind things for other strangers. Eventually, Mary has someone do something nice for her whose kind actions can be traced back to Mary's blueberry picking.Why It's Important: This is another book that shows the important your actions can have on others, but it also shows the ways your actions can ripple out to affect total strangers.

What It’s About: This story is about an average girl who decides to pick some blueberries for her neighbor. The neighbor bakes blueberry muffins and gives plates of them to five other people. This good deed turns into a chain strangers doing kind things for other strangers. Eventually, Mary has someone do something nice for her whose kind actions can be traced back to Mary’s blueberry picking.

Why It’s Important: This is another book that shows the important your actions can have on others, but it also shows the ways your actions can ripple out to affect total strangers.

10. The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

What It's About: This sweet book tells the story of Brian, a quiet boy who never makes a fuss or much noise at all. He feels invisible compared to the other children who are the center of the teacher's attention by being loud, or the children with lots of friends who get picked first for sports. When a new kid comes to school, he makes Brian feel a lot less invisible. Why It's Important: All kids are different. Some are outgoing and some are quiet. This book celebrates those differences while teaching the importance of welcoming all types of kids to play and participate.

What It’s About: This sweet book tells the story of Brian, a quiet boy who never makes a fuss or much noise at all. He feels invisible compared to the other children who are the center of the teacher’s attention by being loud, or the children with lots of friends who get picked first for sports. When a new kid comes to school, he makes Brian feel a lot less invisible.

Why It’s Important: All kids are different. Some are outgoing and some are quiet. This book celebrates those differences while teaching the importance of welcoming all types of kids to play and participate.

11. The Three Questions by Jon J Muth

What It's About: This book is about a boy named Nikolai who wants to be a good person, but is not always sure how. He wants to discover the answer to the three questions: When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? His three animal friends help him answer these questions, but they all have slightly different approaches. He eventually learns that the right time is now, the important one is the one you are with, and the right thing to do is good. Why It's Important: This book takes a more conceptual approach to helping others, but would serve as an extremely useful tool for starting a discussion with older children about why kindness is an important character trait.

What It’s About: This book is about a boy named Nikolai who wants to be a good person, but is not always sure how. He wants to discover the answer to the three questions: When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? His three animal friends help him answer these questions, but they all have slightly different approaches. He eventually learns that the right time is now, the important one is the one you are with, and the right thing to do is good.

Why It’s Important: This book takes a more conceptual approach to helping others, but would serve as an extremely useful tool for starting a discussion with older children about why kindness is an important character trait.

12. Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins

What It's About: This book is about a cake, who is, very rude. He never says please or thank you, never listens, and doesn't share well. One day a giant cyclops takes the rude cake and wears him as a hat. The cyclops has great manners, but the cake hates being a hat. After finally getting away from the cyclops, the cake becomes much more polite.Why It's Important: Although this book is quite out there, it teaches how far good manners and behavior can go toward getting what you want.

What It’s About: This book is about a cake, who is, very rude. He never says please or thank you, never listens, and doesn’t share well. One day a giant cyclops takes the rude cake and wears him as a hat. The cyclops has great manners, but the cake hates being a hat. After finally getting away from the cyclops, the cake becomes much more polite.

Why It’s Important: Although this book is quite out there, it teaches how far good manners and behavior can go toward getting what you want.

13. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

What It's About: A familiar book to many, this book tells the heartfelt story of a boy and a tree who loved each other very much, but the boy ends up taking parts of the tree until the tree is worn down into a stump. At the end of the book, the boy (now an old man) just needs a place to sit, so he and the stump sit together. Why It's Important: This book shows the continual generosity and kindness of the tree, and how much the actions of the boy affected the tree. It can be used to teach children that kindness is important, but you should never give up so much that you suffer. You can also use it to teach give and take, the importance of a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship.

What It’s About: A familiar book to many, this book tells the heartfelt story of a boy and a tree who loved each other very much, but the boy ends up taking parts of the tree until the tree is worn down into a stump. At the end of the book, the boy (now an old man) just needs a place to sit, so he and the stump sit together.

Why It’s Important: This book shows the continual generosity and kindness of the tree, and how much the actions of the boy affected the tree. It can be used to teach children that kindness is important, but you should never give up so much that you suffer. You can also use it to teach give and take, the importance of a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/emeynardie/13-childrens-books-that-encourage-kindness-toward-26paw?utm_term=.nkpjWjlBaY#.nabQNQVWbZ

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