Understanding Shyness: How to Help a Child Who Is Shy

Jake is that kid on the playground who waits for others to tell him he can join in the game. Sometimes, it seems it’s much easier for him to be alone in his own world than to talk to others. He definitely doesn’t enjoy talking to people he’s not familiar with. He’s quite talkative at home, though. He also doesn’t enjoy being the center of attention. And when he is, he hesitates to speak up; he tends to mumble and easily gets confused. He’s only comfortable talking about Math because he loves it. For anything else, even if he knows the answer, he seems afraid to say it. 

They don’t quite understand why.

Jake’s parents say he’s very shy.

“Shy”

Such a little word, a simple and familiar adjective, that carries so much meaning.

Shyness is often linked to anxiety, a lack of confidence, or low social intelligence. It is often connected to those experiences where you might have felt uncomfortable, embarrassed, or socially inadequate. It leads people to avoid situations in which they perceive some sort of a threat.

Many people have unproven but strongly-held theories that shy people don’t have much of a chance of succeeding in life. It seems as though the world favors dynamic extroverts who connect easily with others. Consequently, parents often seek professional help when they feel that their children might be behaving in a way they perceive as shy.

Where does shyness come from?

There are many theories which attempt to explain how shyness develops.

Some argue there is something “built in” that makes us shy and others claim we might have picked it up by watching somebody important to us act in a similar manner. Some might say that we are, from an early age, aware of our shortcomings, which makes us feel insecure in the presence of a group. Generally speaking, “shyness” could denote a feeling of inadequacy in regard to certain expectations (i.e. Everybody is good at sports. I am the only one who’s clumsy).

But we’ll take another path.
Let’s not look at the theories. Let’s focus simply on understanding each child individually.

How not to be supportive

Let’s start with how you certainly won’t show understanding.

Describing your child as shy everywhere you go and interpreting every single behavior that includes withdrawing from the group as shyness won’t help. Also, telling them not to blush every time they do might be a bad idea. Making excuses for them every time they stall, get confused, or refuse to talk to people might not be the best way to support them.

“He takes after his father. He’s not talkative either.” Comparing your child to someone else or speaking about their behavior as if it were a fixed trait isn’t going to be of much use. You want your child to believe they can change something they don’t like about themselves, right? So don’t make them feel they can’t.

Understanding ourselves as parents

Now, here’s how you can help.

Explore why it is that your child might be acting in a way you think of as shy.
Ask yourself the following questions so you can understand better.
It’s important to be aware of your own thoughts and impressions.

  • How do I know that my child is behaving shyly?

(Recognize the specific behaviors. It’s important to distinguish specific behaviors from our interpretations of those behaviors.)

  • When did I first notice my child acting this way?

(The behavior could be seen a reaction or response to a specific event in the past.)

  • Why do I think this might be a problem?

(It is important to acknowledge our own understanding of the way our child is behaving and what we see as the effects of that behavior.)

  • What do I think are the main reasons for my child’s shyness?

(We need to take into consideration the variety of different factors that might be influencing the child to behave that way.)

  • What are the consequences of my child not changing?

(Recognizing and understanding your own fears and worries is one of the most important steps.)

  • When is this shyness most apparent?

(You can try to recognize specific triggers by looking at specific situations.)

  • Are there any situations where the shyness eases?

(What is it about these situations which differs them from those in which your child is extremely shy?)

  • How do I react when I notice my child being shy?

(What we say and do has a significant bearing on how our children behave.)

  • How does my child respond to my reaction?

(The response is often a reflection of how the child sees our reaction.)

  • Is there anyone else in the family who acts the way my child does?

(“Shyness” is often a learned behavior.)

  • Have I ever asked my child why they are behaving like this?

(If not, why haven’t I?)

  • Do I understand how my child perceives the situations in which they are shy?

(How does the world look through the eyes of my child?)

Sometimes, we might be too emotionally invested to be able to answer these questions and reflect upon our answers. But that’s what Coaches are for. The Coaches navigate you through this exploration process with their questions.

Understanding your child

Now, all the above questions can be modified to help your child express their perspective, too.

What’s important is to understand that this “shy” voice inside your child, even when it’s quite dominant, is just one of the many voices inside them. Your child might take the lead in some situations, even though in many more they decide to stay on the side. Help your child recognize that part of themselves that keeps them stuck. Look at those situations where you see the same behavior and ask the child what they have in common. It might be that the common denominator is a trigger for that part of you that says “You’re going to embarrass yourself”, “You’ll fail” or “Nobody likes to be around you”. Don’t disregard or ignore that part. Try to understand why it’s there.

Frequently, when we detect a behavior that we “don’t like” to see in our children we try to find ways to eliminate it. However, every single behavior has its own internal logic and a purpose which needs to be understood. Shyness can often protect a child from getting involved in situations where they feel they might get hurt.

Again, our emotional bias sometimes makes this hard to do. We have the impulse to protect our child from feeling bad, which is why, when they share a thought such as “Nobody likes me”, we’ll try to convince them that’s not true. The Coach would continue with questions such as “How do you know that?” or “When did you notice that?”

Suggestions on what to do

Each segment in this section is a suggestion on what you could do.

Understanding is always the first step.

There are specific strategies on how to help a child open up and feel free to explore their actions in everyday situations. Feel free to use whichever seems to make the most sense for your child.

  • Give your child a chance to practice getting by in unfamiliar situations. This doesn’t mean you should expose your child to a frustrating situation unprepared, and show them over and over again how they’re not managing it. It means that you should take them with you, teach them and make suggestions, and then let them deal with the situations on their own, step by step. For instance, you could take your child to the park and tell them: “Why don’t you go up to that kid over there and ask: ‘Do you want to play with me?’ Mom can’t play with you now. It’ll be much more fun with another child. Just go over there and try it. I’ll be right here waiting for you.” Encourage your child to participate in interactions with others.
  • There’s no need to describe your child as shy in front of the child. A “shy child” can easily become a role children slip into and start playing without wanting to relinquish it. Any chance to adopt more easy-going behavior should be supported and rewarded. Help your child explore some other sides of themselves. The creative one? The playful one?
  • Show your child that you want to understand them. Try to understand the way your child sees other children in their peer group and how they think those children see them. In case your child tells you that they know other children are mocking them or that they see other children as evil and bad, try not to be defensive but consider other options you could take. How would your child like to be seen by other children? Why can or can’t they achieve that? Why do they think that the way they are is exclusively good or bad (depending on how they think of themselves)? Use the answers your child gives you as a way to continue the conversation and better understand, and not as a reason to attack another child or condemn other parents.
  • Check – maybe your child simply prefers playing alone as opposed to playing in a group. Try to understand why. What wouldn’t they have if they played in a group? What would they lose if they did this? What are the risks of playing in a group?
  • Ask your child without judgment: “It sometimes seems you’re avoiding other kids and don’t want to talk with people very much (describe the “symptoms” of shyness). Is there a reason you do this?”
  • Pay attention to the way your child perceives the situation in which they are usually shy. How do they describe it? What do they feel? While the child is telling you about this, be aware of your own expectations regarding your child’s behavior.

Infographic with tips to help and support a shy child.

Bear in mind that every child is different.
That is why the path to helping your child is understanding them.

The reasons why somebody acts in a certain way are highly individualized. Don’t generalize.
We attribute so many meanings to that simple adjective  “shy”. Let’s understand those meanings.

by Ana Jovanovic

Coach at Nobel Coaching & Tutoring

Where Do Bad Grades Come From

Long before they start school, children are given feedback on how they are doing in the form of stars, bows, stickers, and other tangible rewards. These are not only reinforcing for the child, but also for their parents. Once school begins, many parents assume that grades (whether expressed by numbers, letters, or smiles) are a good indicator of their children’s knowledge.

“You were great! You get an A!”

“You get five stars for reciting the poem!”

Consequently, when a child brings a test back home, parents will commonly remark solely on the grade itself: “Why did you get a C?” or, if the grade measures up to what the parents consider good enough: “Wow! You got a B+ on your test, I’m so proud of you!
Bad grades alarm most parents, concerned that something “isn’t right”. To them, this usually means that the child is lazy, that they procrastinate, that their “attention is poor”, and so on.
Once you consult with professionals, you’ll see that they rarely rush into giving you a definitive answer as to the source of the problem.
This article aims to address some of the most common reasons for bad grades. Think of it as a “checklist” to direct your attention into exploring the possible issues that, when resolved, might help the student achieve better results.

They can’t or won’t study?

If there is a line between “can’t” and won’t”, ability and motivation, it is very thin. The two are often intertwined. Recognizing what comes first – difficulty with handling a task or a lack of willingness to do it – is a very important step for those working with the student.

Abilities – Reasons why they “can’t”

Cognitive abilities

Let’s start with abilities. Parents, unaware of an underlying problem, often push their children to succeed and exacerbate things by frustrating the child with demands the child can’t fulfill. It is important to assess whether the child’s cognitive status, their “intelligence”, is equal to the task. If there is a suspicion that the issue is the child’s intellectual ability, it’s necessary to contact a psychologist, who can determine, through testing, exactly what  “isn’t working” in the way the child thinks. After assessing the problem, the psychologist then designs a plan to work with the child. Other abilities we need to pay attention to are the student’s hearing and vision. You want to make sure there are no sensory problems causing the learning difficulties.

Attention problems

Cognitive-abilities testing also encompasses attention issues, with subtests specifically designed to gauge attention deficit. Frequently, a child simply gets distracted because the material isn’t interesting, engaging, and stimulating enough, not because they haven’t learned how to focus their attention. With gifted children, especially, it’s quite common to confuse a lack of interest for attention issues.
However, for some students, directing attention and maintaining focus is more difficult. Their brains just function differently. That’s why, if you see that no matter how much you try helping your child focus, and no matter how hard they are trying, nothing seems to really work, make sure you have them tested for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD).

This, of course, does not mean that once the student is diagnosed and gets treatment and begins focusing better, we should give up exploring how engaging the material and how difficult the task may be for them.  ADHD/ADD can often go together with various learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, dysgraphia or dyscalculia, as well as with students who are very interested and gifted in specific subjects and lacking interest in others.

Speech and language development

Speech therapists assert that reading and writing problems are rooted in earlier phases of speech and language development. Being able to differentiate the sounds that constitute a word or having sufficient vocabulary are both prerequisites for acquiring reading and writing skills. If your student has had problems with speech development, a consultation with a speech therapist is recommended.

There are also cases where the child’s abilities aren’t in question. The problem with grades is masking another problem.

Reasons why they won’t

Attention seeking (due to concerns at home)

Given that parents value and care about academic performance, a perceptive child can use their concern for bad grades as a means of manipulation to achieve a personal goal. This is not to imply something “bad” or “negative”. For instance, the child may figure out that a bad grade can divert a busy parent into dedicating more time and attention to what’s going on with them and help with homework even if that help is not actually needed.  For those children who feel uncomfortable communicating their need to spend more time with their parents, getting bad grades “on purpose” can be an effective strategy.

Bad grades can, in some cases, be seen as a symptom of challenges within the family. Family therapists have many times described examples where “helping the child with motivation” serves as a common goal for parents to work on together when the student sees the parents going through tough times in their marriage. The student offers the problem to help change the family dynamics. This is not to say that bad grades are caused by inadequate parenting. It says that to understand where bad grades come from, the dynamic within the family should be addressed and better understood.

The subject, the teachers, the peers

When we talk about a student’s motivation, it’s important to consider whether the student is not getting good grades in all their classes or only in specific ones. Some classes might just not “suit” the student’s skills and interests in a way that motivates them to push harder. They might see a class as boring and not worth the effort. Try exploring with the student: “If there was anything that could make Math fun, what would that be?” or “If you had a chance to transform your Language Arts class, how would you do it?”

The student-teacher relationship is also an important factor to consider.  Teachers play a major role in sparking a student’s interest in a subject and we need to learn the student’s opinion of the teacher in a class where they’re not performing well.   Another question worth asking is: “Who’s in your class?” Just imagine a teenage boy in the same class with a girl he really likes, and you’ll get the idea about why this is a good question.

The “I don’t care about grades” approach

Sometimes, when asked why they don’t want to try to do better in school, the student will just shrug, “I’m lazy and I don’t want to do it.” This can leave the parents frustrated and feeling helpless. How can you support a kid who does not want any support?
That is precisely the right kind of challenge for Coaches. We unpack “the box” of behaviors that the label “lazy” has been put on.
We look carefully into the meaning of all of those behaviors headed “lazy”. Perhaps the child isn’t used to doing something that demands more work and did all their previous tasks with ease (or the tasks were too easy and this is the first time they’re being faced with something that requires more effort). It may be that the student does not connect grades to any tangible goal they might have for themselves in the future. It might be that they feel better “saving” their energy for something with more meaning to them. In some cases, it’s easier not to try and call yourself “lazy”, than try, not succeed, and call yourself “a failure”.

The “good grades aren’t cool” approach

Are bad grades perceived as socially acceptable? “Cool”? For a student trying to fit in, academic performance can sometimes not count as much as being on the basketball team or having an amazingly cool shirt. So good grades can be “sacrificed” for the sake of different positioning within the social group.
How to deal with this challenge? We need to understand why it is so important for the student to fit into a specific group and why they see that as more significant than getting good grades.

Stage fright and other fears

There are cases where it’s not that the student doesn’t care about the grades but actually cares too much. So, when they “practice” at home, they achieve great results but have problems when it comes to presenting what they’ve learned. Tests, quizzes, exams, and other ways of assessing knowledge can be a great source of stress for children. Children, like adults, often suffer from stage fright and don’t perform at their best. If this ends up being a problem, the child should work on their fears with a professional Coach, who can help them identify key triggers and the source of those triggers. By reaching a deeper understanding of why the fear exists, the student and the Coach can come up with better ways to cope with it in a more functional way.

Where bad grades come from is a complex question to which the answers never come easily. Sometimes, we become so focused on what we perceive as a problem, that we miss the solution – or too focused on what we think is the solution, that we misunderstand the problem.
And given the emotional investment and attachment to their child, it makes it all the more difficult for parents to approach the problem in a way that would truly help.

That is why it is a good idea to consult with people who can help provide your student with the best possible support.

We have tried to outline the most common “roots” for bad grades. Bear in mind that this article cannot cover each issue in detail. That’s why we welcome your questions. We’ll be happy to answer them.

by Ana Jovanović

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The Growth Mindset – The Power Of Yet

One of the more talked-about topics in psychology and especially in educational psychology is Carol Dweck’s idea of the “growth mindset”, a concept she discusses in her book Mindset: The new psychology of success. Growth mindset isn’t something that Dweck invented and is now teaching us all how to attain. It is a distinctive trait she observed in people who are happier and more successful, which led her to seek ways to help develop and nurture it in people who do not share this predisposition.

So what actually is growth mindset?

While working as a young researcher, Dweck noticed that some children face challenges in a much more “positive” way than others. They would say things like “Oh, I love a challenge” or “I expected this to be informative”, instead of having tragic and catastrophic thoughts when faced with difficulties. Dweck coined the term “fixed mindset” for children who shrink before obstacles, and “growth mindset” for those who seek challenges and become even more engaged when faced with obstacles. Of course, these two mindsets apply to us all, and it is important to note that whereas we can’t have a growth mindset in every area of our lives, we sure can try to develop it.

To show what growth mindset really is, let’s try to contrast it further with the fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset think that their characteristics are carved in stone and can never be changed. They firmly believe that intelligence, creativity, and personality are things we are born with and can hardly be something we develop. People with a growth mindset believe we can cultivate these characteristics through effort and that the process of cultivating them is more important than the actual outcome. A fixed mindset, on the other hand, wants results right away and doesn’t care as much about the process as it does about the outcome. Of course, Dweck doesn’t deny that people differ from the get-go, but she claims that we can all “change and grow through application and experience” (Dweck, 2006).

Another thing that differentiates these two mindsets is how they perceive and react to failure. People with a fixed mindset are more likely to believe they can fail and that by doing so their abilities will be questioned. Just the act of hitting obstacles would prove to them that they aren’t capable of overcoming them. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, don’t really see failure as on option – obstacles are just perceived as opportunities to improve and learn, and by being faced with them and, generally something new, we get smarter.

Dweck illustrates this difference further with an interesting remark about language and how we use it to rate success. She mentions how saying “not yet” to students instead of saying they failed a class is a much better way to show them that even if they have difficulties overcoming something now, the time will come when they will succeed if they continue tackling the obstacle from different angles. The use of “yet” shows that there is a learning curve, and points to the process, not the outcome. This also tells children that they aren’t being taught to learn simply for grades, but for their future and it encourages them to dream big and think about what they want to do with their lives, instead of on focusing only on what they are currently achieving in school.

This entire idea of the power of yet and growth mindset isn’t just something Dweck came up with and wrote overnight. She (and many others) actually did research and showed time and time again that if a growth mindset is encouraged, children earn better grades and achieve better results than they did before – even better than some of their peers from much more affluent schools, which shows that growth mindset is a great path to achieving a more equal education system.
This research illustrates two important facts about growth mindset: it does work and it can be developed. It is not something we are born with.

What is a false growth mindset?

Before we dive into the exciting topic of how a growth mindset can be developed, we need to do some myth-busting. As with any other trending topic in education, it is hard nowadays to avoid the words “have to”, “need to”, and “all” when reading about growth mindset. It is often declared that we should all have to develop growth mindsets because they are just so much better, which ignores the principle behind the concept. Firstly, a growth mindset isn’t something you can just achieve overnight. It takes a lot of work and develops over time. Secondly, it isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card you can use whenever you’re faced with difficulty. Dweck points out that we are a mixture of both growth mindset and fixed mindset, and at different times and in different areas of our lives either one can predominate.

Another point she makes is that people often claim they have a growth mindset when they actually don’t or use the concept of a fixed mindset to excuse why someone is failing when the only failure is actually not providing the context in which a growth mindset can be achieved. It is also easy to think that simply by encouraging children and praising their effort, we are developing their growth mindsets. It’s a bit more complicated than that – it is not just about praising, it is about praising the right way.

So how is a growth mindset developed?

Developing a growth mindset is a complex process, but it is not unattainable and can actually serve as a great first obstacle on which to practice our mindsets.

The main point that Dweck makes is that a growth mindset is developed through praise, but not the usual after-the-fact praise which focuses on outcomes, but the praise that focuses on the process of learning. This isn’t about blanketing children in praise for any of their efforts, but about praising the strategies they used and the entire process that leads to outcomes. A simple example of this would be saying “I love how you tried all these different strategies while solving this problem until you got it” instead of saying “Great job. I knew you’d get it, you are smart!”

That example showcases another point that Dweck makes; we should praise the process, not the abilities. Praising abilities encourages the fixed mindset that these things are set in stone, which definitely doesn’t promote change or development. Rather, it makes children think that what they can do is what they can do and the same applies for what they can’t do.

Another reason why Dweck insists “it is not the outcome, it is the effort that counts” is ineffective is because it lets students believe that if they try hard enough, they will succeed no matter their strategies. In effect, it can bring them to repeat the same futile strategies over and over again. On the other hand, insisting on the process or the use of multiple strategies until the obstacle is overcome, and praising that effort, teaches them that they need to change their strategies in order solve the problem. It also shows them they can use all the resources available and ask for help when they need it.

And finally, Dweck points out that even failure should be addressed as something that enhances learning. We can ask children “What is this teaching us? What should we do next?” instead of either praising the effort or protecting them by saying things like “Don’t worry, not everyone can be good in everything. You are not the only one that failed.” In both cases, we are developing a fixed mindset and letting children know that we believe they can’t do better, while a switch in mindsets would help them achieve so much more and help them in their future lives.

If you are already thinking of implementing these ideas while raising your child, there is more encouraging news. The growth mindset isn’t something we can start developing only in early childhood, Dweck says it is never too late for change, so why not try it on yourself, too, and see how it goes.

Resources:

  1. Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
  2. Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfill your potential. Constable & Robinson Limited.
  3. Dweck, C. S. (2014). Developing a Growth Mindset.
  4. Dweck, C. S. (2016). What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means.
  5. Gross-Loh, C. (2016). How Praise Became a Consolation Prize.
  6. Romero, C. (2015). What We Know About Growth Mindset from Scientific Research.
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Family Night At The Movies – Talking With Your Teen About Inside Out And The Purpose Of Sadness

In our series, Family Night at the Movies, we recommend movies for viewing and later discussion whose message may be helpful for teenagers and their parents.
In one of our previous articles, you can read more about movies as valuable tools in addressing the emotional and social needs of teens.

Our latest choice is Inside Out, the acclaimed Pixar animation movie of 2015 directed by Pete Docter, which deals with the emotions, specifically sadness:

The film is set inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley, with the main characters actually being her primary emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust, who argue and compete with one another. The conflict between Joy and Sadness forms the basis of the action.

Warning: spoilers!

When her father’s new job requires that the family moved to San Francisco, Riley’s emotions are thrown into turmoil. She has torn away from her familiar, harmonious Midwestern life and forced to adjust to a new environment. In this classically stressful situation, we watch the battle of her emotions as they try to navigate these new challenges in her life.

Taking into account that the complexity of psychological processes is impossible to fully explore in a movie, Inside Out nevertheless effectively illustrates how our emotions work and how they connect to happenings in the outside world and to our cognitive processes.

Various lessons can be taken from this movie, among them that all emotions are equally important and the danger of the imperative to stay positive all the time. We have addressed these in a previous article, Come to the dark side, we have emotions. Here, we address an important third lesson – the purpose of sadness.

Purpose of Sadness – Adaptation of Loss

Emotions are specific reactions to happenings that are important to us and the purpose of each is an adaptation to the change, reconnection with important others, and ultimately the ability to move on with our lives. We are sad when we anticipate or experience the loss of someone or something valuable to us, so the particular purpose of sadness is a psychological adjustment to loss.
At the beginning of the movie, Joy, Riley’s dominant emotion, introduces the other emotions. She explains why each of them is important to Riley and points out that they all work as a team. However, when she comes to Sadness, Joy just skips it, admitting that she doesn’t really understand its purpose. So, in the face of this stressful situation, Joy prevents Sadness from acting and does not allow Riley to be sad, although that is clearly her most natural emotional reaction. She is losing her old way of life and being forced to adjust to a new one. She misses her old house, her friends, her hockey team, and also her father, who is more frequently absent because of his new job. She is struggling to adapt.

When we allow ourselves to experience certain emotions, many processes in both our mind and body work in concert to prepare us for action. The work of sadness differs in that when we are sad we feel listless and to all appearances become passive. Yet our mind is working actively to try to process the loss and reorganize our inner world in order to adapt to the new reality.

Purpose of Sadness – Relief and Connection

Another important function of sadness is its specific bodily expression. When we experience sadness without repression and let it flow freely through our body, we manifest specific facial expressions and body posture and will cry or sob.

Crying is a natural healing process. When we cry we are relieving tension and pain from our body as if the tears were melting the pain and alleviating our sadness. The release is complete with deep crying that involves sobbing since our distress is expressed through our voice and a different pattern of breathing. After a while, breathing is deeper, the body is relieved of tension and we feel much better. Reassure your children of any age; give them permission, let them know it’s okay to cry.

The specific body language associated with sadness has its social dimension, too. It is obvious to others that we are sad and they may show compassion. This is what, in the end, Joy finally recognized and came to understood to be the purpose of Sadness.

When Joy allowed Sadness to act and Riley finally expressed her sadness, her parents hugged and comforted her. In her distress, Riley’s image of “family” had collapsed and almost caused her to run away. Now the family was once again a team, reunited and reconnected.

Danger of Repressing Sadness

Sadness or any other emotion can be repressed when it is perceived as less valuable. “Being sad is for weaklings. I must be strong.” Our system of values is mainly formed through family and wider cultural influences.
Today we are witnessing a global trend which values “positive thinking”; a sort of industry of happiness to keep us smiling, optimistic, shiny and happy, which is not in accordance with our psychological makeup. Under certain circumstances, it is natural to feel fear, sadness, or anger. Every repression, denial, or compulsion to feel differently than we actually feel, leads to imbalance.

This is exactly what we learn in the movie. Since Joy doesn’t understand the purpose of Sadness and is afraid Sadness will spoil Riley’s happy life and infect her joyful memories, she multitasks in order to keep each new experience positive or funny at all costs.

The pressure to stay positive is even stronger when her mother praises Riley for staying so cheerful despite everything, implying that if both of them just keep smiling it will ease the pressure Riley’s father is going through. We’ll see later in the movie the consequences of this attitude. It is a reminder also for us parents to be careful with the messages we’re sending to our kids. You never know what kind of battle is going on in their heads and how they will interpret our words.

“Don’t feel” or “Don’t feel (certain emotion)” are frequent injunctions that repeat in the back of the minds of depressive or anxious clients going to therapy. The authors of Redecision Therapy, Goulding and Goulding, observed that when sadness is repressed, repression of joy and other pleasant emotions follows. As a consequence, a person is unable to emotionally bond with others.

That is why it is important to reassure your child of any age that feeling sad is okay. How do you do that? By understanding, allowing, and encouraging your child to feel and express sadness (and all other emotions), so cleansing can take place and the child can move forward. It is especially important to discuss later what happened and what made her/him so sad.

With teenagers, you can engage in even deeper conversations and we hope that some of the information in this article will help.

Ask your teens what they’ve learned from the movie. Did they ever feel as Riley did? What is the purpose of sadness, in their opinion? Can they identify their dominant emotion and the one they’re tending to neglect? For more about particular questions and how to lead a conversation after the movie, read here.

by Milena Ćuk,
Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

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THE SECRETS AND LEARNING CHALLENGES OF DYSLEXIA

If you have no idea what something looks like, you probably wouldn’t recognize it even if it was right there in front of you. You might not even notice it, right? But, if somehow it does attract your attention, you’d probably identify it as something you’re already familiar with, or try to explain it with what’s already known to you. We want an explanation for why things exist, even if that means inventing one!

Now, imagine – You see a “normal”, bright kid struggling with such a simple thing as reading.
How can that be?

If you have never heard of dyslexia, you might be tempted to call this kid “lazy”, “stubborn” or “not as bright as you thought they were”. You might think that the parents are being too soft and need to push the child to do better in school.

So, what is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. When you have dyslexia, your brain needs more time and energy for some of the processes many would say come “naturally” or “automatically”. Matching the letters on a page with the sounds that those letters and combinations of letters make is one of those things. People who have dyslexia experience difficulties with skills such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words.

Who said reading was easy?

Nobody is born with the ability to read. (Obviously!) It is an activity that requires a lot from our brain, which needs to be able to focus on the letters, put them into words, then the words into sentences, and link the sentences into paragraphs so that we can read them –  and only then, understand the content of what we’re reading. So, when you see the letters D, O, G connected, your brain needs to pick up the letters, connect those letters to specific sounds and then read the word “dog” and also comprehend that the word on the paper is a symbol for a cheerful, four-legged animal that loves playing “fetch” with you.

So – reading is NOT easy, even though many think it is.

What causes dyslexia?

We’re still trying to figure out what’s actually going on in the brain. Anatomical and brain imaging studies show differences in the development and functioning of the brain in a person with dyslexia. What we know for sure is that most people with dyslexia have problems with identifying the separate speech sounds within a word. Understanding how the letters represent speech sounds seems to be the key factor in reading difficulties. What’s important to know is that this learning disability has nothing to do with how intelligent you are.

What are the risk factors for dyslexia?

People with dyslexia have, in many cases, experienced difficulties with learning to speak, difficulties with differentiating the sounds in speech, difficulties in learning letters, organizing spoken language, memorizing words, etc.
Also, the parents of dyslexic students tend to report delays in reaching common milestones of childhood, such as learning to crawl or walk or ride a bike.

What are the typical signs of dyslexia?

Depending on the age, dyslexia can be spotted through a variety of signs.
We’ll outline some of the most common ones.

PRESCHOOL

  • Difficulty learning new words
  • Difficulty guessing a word based on its description
  • Difficulty recognizing whether two words rhyme
  • Difficulty in pronunciation of familiar words
  • Difficulty sounding out unfamiliar words
  • Difficulty remembering multi-step instructions
  • Difficulty remembering the order in which things appear in a story
  • Difficulty structuring the answer about how the day went or how something happened
  • A child does not use as many words as peers do
  • A child tends to mix up words that sound familiar
  • A child tends to struggle to organize a story chronologically

GRADE SCHOOL

  • Difficulty learning letters (and writing them)
  • Difficulty differentiating similar letters both in writing and reading (like b and d)
  • Difficulty recognizing which letters produce which sound
  • Stalling while reading; guessing a word based on the first two letters
  • Difficulty isolating the middle sound of a word
  • Difficulty recognizing the spelling of a word
  • The student quickly forgets how to spell the words he reads
  • Struggles with word problems in math
  • Difficulty remembering the key elements of a story
  • The student focuses so much on the reading itself that he fails to remember and comprehend what he has read

MIDDLE SCHOOL

  • Makes a lot of spelling errors
  • Avoids all assignments that require reading
  • Takes a lot of time to finish homework that requires reading
  • Gets nervous while reading
  • The student reads at a lower academic level than they speak
  • The student tends to re-read sentences to be able to comprehend them
  • The student tends to forget what he has read
  • When reading, the student often makes pauses with “um” or filler words

There’s more to dyslexia than you’d think

Not being able to read and write at the same level as your peers can significantly affect how you see yourself. The peer group tends to mock the student who isn’t able to do things they do with ease. That is why it is extremely important to pay attention to how the student is feeling and how he sees himself.

The students with dyslexia tend to think “out of the box”. They are creative and innovative.
These are the strengths that any person working with a student with dyslexia should capitalize on.

What to do if you suspect that your child has dyslexia

  1. Consult with the experts – speech therapists and psychologists. They will do all the necessary testing to see whether the student has dyslexia.
  2. If it turns out that your student does have dyslexia, do not despair. There are many successful people who have this diagnosis. With proper treatment, you can help your child succeed in school. Just make sure you contact professionals on time.

Coaches and Tutors at Nobel Coaching and Tutoring are trained to work with a student with these difficulties (dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia). Together, we map all of the areas of improvement that we can work on and help your student succeed. Contact Us!

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WHY DO THE ARTS MATTER?

Things children and parents alike can learn from art

Enjoying art for art’s sake is a noble goal we should all aim for, as it unquestionably enriches our lives. But in a world where time spent on art can be viewed as time better spent on something “more useful”, it can’t hurt to remind ourselves what art actually does for us. Most parents and children invest their every waking moment in learning more, on extracurricular activities, and improving their chances of getting into the school they want. Meanwhile, art pursuits often get left behind even though they, too, can promote the skills necessary for academic and life success. This article reminds us of the ways the Arts enhance our learning and enrich our lives.

The Arts make us more creative

It is impossible to overstate the benefits the Arts bring to our creativity and divergent thinking [8]. As we express ourselves through various art forms or observe the art of others, we come to understand that being creative isn’t exclusively confined to the world of art itself. Rather, it enables us to see the larger world through different eyes and teaches us how to be creative and innovative in many fields not necessarily having anything to do with the Arts themselves [3].

Enjoying the Arts “makes us smarter”

Art, like science, is a broad term with many interpretations, but most art can teach us something about aesthetic perception and taste [1]. This isn’t where the magic ends, though. How many times have you heard that you need to read a lot in order to be well spoken or be a good writer? Literature is art and enhances our vocabulary and language skills [4].

However, it is not only literature and reading that can improve our skills and widen our knowledge. When children draw, paint, or play with clay, they are not only creating their own art, but they’re learning about the world and at the same time developing their cognitive skills by going through the oh-so-hard decision process of which color to choose, planning how their drawing will look, tweaking and experimenting. In other words, art gives children a chance to make decisions and learn from them [6].

The Arts teach us how to be human

While nothing can really prepare us for a living except actually living and learning along the way, the Arts offer us an invaluable window into the human experience and can teach us how it is to live on this planet for different people from different places. It also shows us our similarities and differences and helps us empathize with others. For instance, Maya Angelou’s autobiographical “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”, though written in 1969 and relates events that happened in the ‘30s and ‘40s, still manages to teach us a great deal about racism and how to overcome it, and gives us a different perspective on coming of age as an African-American girl in the United States back then. Similarly, paintings can show us a lot about how some people live and what is important to them, and also help us understand the way they perceive reality.

This insight into the lives of different people helps with our social skills, but there are other ways the Arts can nurture these skills. Many artistic endeavors, such as different types of dramatic performance or large-format paintings, can be created by groups or with one partner, thus teaching the participants how to be cooperative, helping, and caring and how to share with others [5].

The Arts help us master our emotions and feel better about ourselves.

Expressing and regulating our emotions is essential to our everyday life, but a lot of us experience difficulties with one or both of these. Art is there to help when things are too complicated to verbalize. This is often the case for children, so it is especially beneficial for them to have access to art and to feel free to draw things the way they
want. It can be instructive to give a child a piece of paper when they are upset or unusually quiet since many things can be revealed through their art. There is usually some meaning behind a child exaggerating something in a drawing, not paying attention to something else at all [3] or simply using dark colors.

Art is also used in therapy to help people with a wide range of problems and has been shown to have beneficial effects on emotion regulation [2] and attitude, and in improving self-image [7].

Additionally, specific activities like drama and dance can be great confidence builders [5] and help with stage fright. Just participating in the realm of art teaches us perseverance and focus, as art requires practice and a high level of concentration [9].

Nurturing your child in his/her artistic endeavors and also enjoying participating in the Arts yourself, mindful of their benefits or even just for their own sake, is definitely worth your time. Not only will they enrich your lives, but they will make your child and you better human beings in every way possible.

REFERENCES:

  1. Arslan, A. A. (2014). A Study into the Effects of Art Education on Children at the Socialisation Process. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 116, 4114-4118. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.01.900
  2. Brown, E. D., & Sax, K. L. (2013). Arts enrichment and preschool emotions for low-income children at risk. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28(2), 337-346. doi:10.1016/j.ecresq.2012.08.002
  3. Extension (August 31, 2015). Creative Art Helps Children Develop across Many Domains.
  4. Klein, O., Biedinger, N., & Becker, B. (2014). The effect of reading aloud daily—Differential effects of reading to native-born German and Turkish-origin immigrant children. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 38, 43-56. doi:10.1016/j.rssm.2014.06.001
  5. National Endowment for the Arts (2015). The Arts in Early Childhood: Social and Emotional Benefits of Arts Participation.
  6. PennState Extension (February 6, 2014). Art – An opportunity to develop children’s skills.
  7. Schweizer, C., Knorth, E. J., & Spreen, M. (2014). Art therapy with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A review of clinical case descriptions on ‘what works’. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 41(5), 577-593. doi:10.1016/j.aip.2014.10.009
  8. Sowden, P. T., Clements, L., Redlich, C., & Lewis, C. (2015). Improvisation facilitates divergent thinking and creativity: Realizing a benefit of primary school arts education. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 9(2), 128-138. doi:10.1037/aca0000018
  9. Strauss, V. (January 22, 2013). Top 10 skills children can learn from the arts.

By Anja Anđelković

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THE BENEFITS OF ONLINE LEARNING

Learning online is no longer a novelty and more and more students are opting to take online courses every day. The world’s top universities and colleges now offer online courses and it was recently noted that “The future of higher education lies with it.” (Tom Snyder, Huffington).

The popularity of online learning lies principally in its flexibility. Students do not have to be physically in a classroom but can learn remotely and frequently at their own pace. Naturally, this approach may present challenges. While learning online, students must also learn to prioritize their commitments. Good time-management and organization skills are essential for it to be effective, but those are skills which can be improved upon, and that usually do improve, along with self-discipline and responsibility, as students progress through their online courses.

Online learning can also help busy professionals get additional training and keep abreast of advances in their fields of expertise as they continue to work at their jobs.

Another great advantage of online learning is coverage. There will never be as many spots in universities as students who want to enroll in them, but with online courses, educators can reach many more students than would be possible in the traditional classroom. Moreover, everyone receives the same training, communicated in the same way to everyone participating in the course.

It is often thought that with flexibility comes a more laissez-faire approach to learning; that online courses aren’t as “serious” as more traditional ones, and that students simply can’t learn as much as they would if they were sitting in a classroom with a teacher in front of them. If you’ve ever taken an online course you’re probably aware that this criticism is unfounded. Many online courses make greater demands on students and assign more reading material than traditional ones in order to ensure students stay engaged and always have something to work on.

Online courses are designed so as to keep engagement high and help students retain the material taught in them longer. This is usually achieved through the use of media inherent in this type of learning, and also with gamification. Online teachers often find ways to make the course fun and more similar to a game than to what we usually think of when we imagine learning.

Last but not least, online learning usually means time and money savings. Students who opt for this type of learning remove the need for travel and its attendant costs. It reduces or eliminates time away from the workplace and opens a pathway to lifelong learning.

And let’s not forget our planet. The fact that we can now learn without dozens of handouts and paper-based materials does the environment a great favor that we shouldn’t take for granted.

IS ONLINE LEARNING FOR EVERYONE?

As with anything in education, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question as to whether you or your student should try online learning. It is designed on the assumption that the student has some interest in the subject already and will be motivated to learn more. It also requires instructors familiar with this approach who know how to engage students and present the material in an original way, tailored for the online environment. But it is definitely worth a try. The benefits are great and any drawbacks can be overcome if dealt with in a timely fashion and with solid support. We will offer just that this summer to all students interested in online learning, combined with the great project-based learning approach in our new program Nobel Explorers. It is worth checking out if you are interested in providing your child with a summer full of learning and fun.

by Anja Anđelković

DO CHORES HAVE TO BE A CHORE?

Children, and even adults, often consider chores a “burden” since they take away time we could spend on activities we enjoy doing and intrude into our “fun” time. However, while few people think ironing shirts is interesting and uplifting, it is something most of us will need to do at some point in our lives, even if only before those first job interviews because, let’s admit it – nobody really irons their clothes all the time.

The truth is chores don’t have to be all that horrible, especially if you start participating in them early on and without any negative associations. In fact, a good relationship towards them leads to developing skills useful in adult life and learning how to deal with responsibilities in constructive ways. This is what every parent would want for their child and the good news is there are ways to achieve it. It is possible to have your children help with chores without frustrating them or hearing the usual “Later” whenever you mention anything loosely associated with the household.

HOW TO MAKE CHORES NOT A CHORE

To help your child develop a good relationship to chores, the most important thing is to start young. A good way to begin having a functional household with all members participating in maintaining it is to have your toddler start caring for their basic hygiene. Teach them to brush their teeth and dress and let them have some independence while doing so. Yes, this means you don’t get to pick out that cute matching outfit, but let your child have a choice about what they wear, as long as it’s not a summer dress… in the middle of winter. When your child starts doing these as a part of their routine, you can gradually add other simple tasks: putting their toys away after playing, making their bed or helping set the table. As your child grows, feel free to add more chores that benefit the entire family, and always show your appreciation for your child’s engagement in them. This will help teach your child autonomy, and also that their needs are not the only ones and that all members of the household should participate in maintaining it.

As your child starts taking on more and more chores, you’ll start noticing that some tasks suit their personalities and interests better than others. Encourage them to develop their own methods. As their skills improve, they will feel proud of themselves and chores can actually become a way for them to develop self-esteem. If you have more than one child, it would be smart to delegate different responsibilities to each one. This will not only help you have your house in tip-top condition but will help avoid competition between your children and let them all have a place of their own in the family dynamic. It will also teach them that there is more to being a member of the family than just being born into it. When delegating tasks, try to stay away from social norms about what girls and boys should do. Consider only your child’s individuality and go with that as your main criterion.

Another key factor in keeping the drudgery factor out of chores is your own relationship to them. It is completely understandable that you find some tasks tedious or that it is hard for you to clean the grout and hum upbeat tunes while doing so, but at least try not to be extremely negative whenever it’s time to do housework. Think about all the good you will do for your child if you teach them how to accept chores as a part of their everyday lives. Demonstrate that chores are just like any other activity we do daily and that there is no need to complain about ordinary tasks. If you need to occasionally fake enthusiasm for a chore you particularly dislike, it’s probably better than displaying a negative attitude. Maybe it becomes easier and you actually help yourself on your journey to teaching your child important life skills.

The third thing to keep in mind while delegating chores is the number of tasks your child has to do. As with any other good thing, moderation is key. Having your child help with chores is all well and good and beneficial for everyone involved, but keep in mind that children need time to study and play, and that chores shouldn’t take up most of their time. If you don’t want your child to become resentful towards all household tasks, don’t make him/her participate in them in all their spare time and try not to use chores as a form of punishment. This often leads to resistance and can have negative effects even later in life.

In case you have a child who has already developed a not-so-great relationship with chores, fret not – there are ways to make it better! Of course, take into account everything said in the previous paragraphs, but also show appreciation for any contribution your child makes to the household no matter how minor. If the only thing your child does is occasionally making the bed, mention how great that is that they did that instead of criticizing them for not doing more. Also, keep in mind that we tend to show resistance to activities that are presented as something we must do, so try not to make chores one of those as it will only make the child dislike it even more. And, most importantly, be patient. It might take some time for your child to realize that chores are just a regular activity that, in the long run, make life easier for everyone in the household.

CHORES AS A MEANS TO A FULFILLED CHILD

The first thing that usually comes to parents’ mind when they think about how their children could be doing more around the house is that it would make running the household easier, but this is actually low on the list of reasons why chores are good for your child.

When participating in household activities, children see themselves as important contributors to the family’s well-being, especially if they start while young. Other than that, chores can be a great way to bond with your child and make them feel more connected to everything that is happening within the family. Running a household is a team project, and getting your child to help with chores will prepare them for working successfully with others throughout their lives.

Another benefit for your child in doing chores is that it helps them become more responsible, teaches them self-discipline and gives them a sense of pride and self-worth once they complete their tasks. It also is a great way for them to start managing their time, as they will have to learn how to fit chores into their daily schedules.

And if all of this isn’t enough, think about the many ways chores can be useful in bettering certain skills. They can be great exercise and help your child develop both fine and gross motor skills. For instance, doing almost any type of outdoor work not only works up a sweat but can improve physical well-being. Drying the dishes can help them learn how to handle delicate objects. Chores can also help with your child’s numerical and even verbal skills. Ask your child to help write a shopping list, measure and count some ingredients for a cake, or sort the laundry by color to help with their classification skills. The list never ends. You can actually get very creative and make it fun for both you and your child. The case for chores is strong. All you and your child have to do is start doing them. It is never too late.

Resources:

  1. Albernaz, A. (December 8, 2015). Sparing Chores Spoils Children And Their Future Selves, Study Says.
  2. Paton, G. (February 20, 2014). Parents told ‘use chores to teach children basic skills’.
  3. Responsibility And Chores: Part I – The Benefits of Chores. (December 16, 2012).
  4. 4. 6 Big Ways Your Children Benefit From Having Chores (September 10, 2014).

THE SECRETS OF THE TEENAGE BRAIN

by Anja Anđelković

It is no secret that adolescence is hard. We have all been through those years of being mad at the world, taking risks, experiencing intense emotions, and having strong opinions about almost anything. Those of us who have children have experienced this more than once, and it is probably even more frustrating if you are experiencing it from the sidelines, as a parent of someone who is constantly telling you to leave them alone. Usually, we think of the teenage years as an obligatory phase we just need to get through and of teenagers as lazy, opinionated know-it-alls whose main purpose in life is to annoy their parents. And while it is understandable to feel this way, it might be useful to know that adolescents aren’t necessarily choosing to be that way – their brains are just wired differently than the brains of adults.

If you caught yourself wishing to know what’s inside that head of your teenager, you’re in luck. Scientists are finding out more and more about the brain in general, and how it develops, and thus, about the teenage brain itself. This won’t help you find out if your teen thinks you are a cool parent, but it sure will help you deal with all of his/her reactions more appropriately as you will, finally, know why they are behaving the way they are.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE BRAIN

Before we get into the consequences of the teenage brain being different than that of an adult, we have to learn how the brain develops and what happens to it during adolescence. Basically, we have to get through the science stuff.

Our brains grow significantly during early childhood and, as a matter of fact, most of our brain is already developed by the age of six. However, there is one more stage when the brain starts developing more noticeably and that is – you guessed it – during our teenage years [6]. In fact, the brain continues this process of maturation even past adolescence and some parts of it, like the prefrontal cortex, are not fully mature until our early to mid-twenties [1].

PREFRONTAL CORTEX: THE BRAIN’S CONDUCTOR

What exactly happens during the brain’s second period of rapid growth? First, it is important to note that most of the more significant changes are connected to the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain situated just behind the forehead [3]. This part of the brain is thought to be in charge of planning, decision making, and emotion regulation. It is often compared to a “conductor”, as it orchestrates the activity of other parts of the human brain [7].

As we approach our teenage years, this “conductor” must ready itself to take on its role to the fullest and it is then that its activity starts to increase. We develop an overabundance of neural connections (synapses) that need to be “pruned” to be used effectively. Scientists used to believe this only occurs in infancy, but as it turns out, it also happens just before we hit puberty and it takes until our early twenties for our brains to reorganize this new brain matter and lose some of the extra connections [4].

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN: THE ADULT BRAIN VS. THE TEEN BRAIN

We have found out that the brain goes through a growth spurt during adolescence, just like children themselves. But what does this actually mean and how does it affect their behavior, emotions, and lives in general?

A POWERFUL COMPUTER WITH A SURGE OF EMOTIONS

Even though it is still under construction, the teenage brain is a mighty thing, especially in terms of its intellectual power. In fact, it is equal to the adult brain in this regard. Apart from that, there is no time in our lives when we can learn as much as we can during our teenage years [9]. This is especially true for taking in information and processing and retaining it. Just think about how you could recollect the slightest of details when you were a teen or how many times you’ve thought your teen had the memory of an elephant.

However, there is an important difference in how teens and adults carry out mental tasks and process information. Adults seem to engage different parts of the brain carrying out the same tasks as teenagers. As the frontal parts of their brains are still in development, teens tend to use the back of the brain (“their gut”) more and when they do engage their frontal lobes they tend to use much more of the brain’s power to get a task done than would an adult. This is due to the fact that adults have already pruned those synapses in the frontal lobes and can make communication between parts of the brain faster, as there are simply fewer roads information can take [8].

STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION, USE OLDER BRAIN PARTS!

Now let’s get back to that gut that we mentioned. You surely have noticed how teens often act impulsively or engage in risk-taking behavior even though they clearly can tell why the reaction was inappropriate. As the frontal lobes are the last piece of the brain development puzzle, teens rely on other, “older” parts of the brain when making split-second decisions. This does mean you were right all those times you told your teen to think before acting, but it also means there is not much they can do about it, as their decisions, especially split-second ones, are simply led more by their emotions than by their frontal lobes [2]

Based on your teen’s moodiness and the fact that they are led by emotion more than reason, you would think that teens are experts in recognizing emotional expression. The opposite is true: exactly because they use cruder parts of the brain more before the frontal ones develop fully, teens have difficulty differentiating subtle shades of expression and can’t, for example, tell a shocked face apart from a frightened one. Of course, as they grow older they start using the frontal lobes more and get better at this [5].

HOW TO LIVE WITH A TEENAGE BRAIN?

Synapses, cortex, lobes, executive functions – when you start listing all these things that factor into the development of our brains, it starts sounding like this fairly new knowledge we gained about the teenage brain is a strictly scholarly matter, useful only for those who understand the terminology very well and also know some greater implications of all these findings. However, all this information about the adolescent brain and its development is extremely useful for parents and teens alike. Firstly, it helps parents have a greater understanding of their teens. As Dr. Jensen, a neurologist, says: “Being armed with facts can help you be a more patient parent because you understand the neurobiology. [2]” So, the next time your teen is faced with a decision, you’ll know that it is better for him/her to have time to think about options than to decide fast and probably impulsively and not give themselves a chance to engage their frontal lobes. Also, you will have a greater understanding of the way they process emotions and the difficulties they encounter on the way.

WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN FOR TEENS?

And how is it useful for teens to know their brains aren’t quite there yet in terms of development? Teens often can’t explain their moods, feelings, and reactions to themselves, so knowing that there is a neurobiological reason for this might help them learn to accept themselves as they are and teach them to be aware of the fact that their brain is often trying to take the fastest route. They can start to rationalize things consciously and try to engage their frontal lobes as much as they can by discussing the consequences of their actions with someone, as this will lead them to think before they act [10].

It is also important to remember that the teenage brain is extremely powerful and this can be a great encouragement for teenagers who are a bit overwhelmed by all the changes they are going through. Their brains are learning machines and they can memorize more now than they ever will. This is a great opportunity for improvement in areas they weren’t great at or just for exploring their interests and learning as much as possible about them. If you tell your teen that he/she has a power they will never have again, they will probably roll their eyes, but try repeating it to them a lot and ingraining it in their memories because they might end up listening to you just once and using their brain to its fullest potential.

References:

  1. Forster, K. (January 25, 2015). Secrets of the teenage brain.
  2. Gregoire, C. (June 14, 2015). Why Are Teens So Moody And Impulsive? This Neuroscientist Has The Answer.
  3. Mascarelli, A. L. (October 17, 2012). The teenage brain. Adolescence triggers brain – and behavioral – changes that few kids or adults understand.
  4. Nixon, R. & Britt, R. R. (March 31, 2016). 10 Facts Every Parent Should Know about Their Teen’s Brain.
  5. Packard, E. (2007). That Teenage Feeling. Monitor on Psychology, Vol 38 (4).
  6. Schaffer, A. (October 15, 2004). Head Case. Roper v. Simmons asks how adolescent and adult brains differ.
  7. Shimamura, A. P. (April 5, 2014). Surrealism, Creativity, and the Prefrontal Cortex.
  8. The Teenage Brain: Research Highlights. (June 8, 2013).
  9. The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction. (2011).
  10. Understanding The Teen Brain. University of Rochester Medical Centre.
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6 Tips to Support Self-Awareness Development in Teens

by Milena Ćuk,

Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”
― Lao Tzu

Research has shown that a high self-awareness score is a crucial predictor of overall success. Acclaimed psychologist Daniel Goleman points out that self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence and that mastery of emotional self-awareness is a key attribute of successful leaders

Why is self-awareness important for teens?

Who am I? What makes me special, a unique human being, different from others? What do I want from my life? Why do I feel like this? What made me react like this? These are just some of the questions adolescents ask themselves.

Answers to such questions build the foundation of a teen’s self-awareness. Practically speaking, being self-aware means we are able to understand our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, traits, and motivations and perceive how they affect our performance.

This skill develops naturally over time through experience and maturity. However, since  it is crucial in taking ownership of our lives and the direction we choose, we all need to foster it in ourselves and in our children.

There are a variety of practices and exercises to help you enhance self-awareness as you guide your child’s development, and we describe these below. Your teen doesn’t have to choose only one as they begin to discover which of these practices resonates the most with his/her unique being. Each can become a habit of daily routine, which is the best-case scenario.  And remember, it’s  good for all of us to be open to applying them in our own lives. Let’s not forget that we thrive together with our kids!

Time and space for self-reflection

We live in a busy world where speed and multitasking have become the norm. However, our brains haven’t evolved fast enough to catch up and process all the information and impressions inundating us daily. Sometimes (ideally each day) we need to slow down, pause,  be still, and be left quietly alone for self-reflection because this will ground us in reality.

This applies to your teen as well, especially after busy day or week. If your teen is more introverted, he prefers to spend time alone and you should respect his need. However, you might suggest that exploring and learning different ways to self-reflect could be beneficial for him. If your teen is more extroverted and doesn’t like being alone, you should teach him the advantages of slowing down and self-reflecting every now and then.

This could mean taking a walk outside or just sitting or lying down in your room and doing nothing. Though it may appear we’re doing nothing, we are consciously and subconsciously processing information and getting closer to our true selves.

You can simply offer a  gentle suggestion. For instance: “Honey, why don’t you go for a walk, write in your journal, or just spend some time processing this so you can figure out your true feelings and what you should do next.”

Keeping a journal

This is another form of self-reflection, but it is especially beneficial for teenagers.

Writing our thoughts down can help us explore what is going on in our minds – what we think, how we feel, what inspires or frightens us. Writing provides a sense of clarity especially for confusing and complex feelings we don’t yet understand.

For the emotionally loaded or conflicted experiences teens face as they grow, writing a journal is particularly useful since it provides a safe space for expressing their feelings, and there is a greater chance that creative solutions will emerge in the form of new decisions and actions.

If you had a diary of your own when you were young, you can share it to encourage your teen to start his own.  Journals can take many forms. Besides the classic diary, they can combine words with drawings or images if your teen is more visually inclined.

Mindfulness practices

Mindfulness practices develop full awareness in the here and now, promote non-judgmental observance and acceptance of our inner thoughts and feelings and help us release and overcome emotional pain. Watch this short movie to find out how mindfulness empowers us.

Inspired by the wisdom of the East, particularly the Buddhist tradition of meditation, Jon Kabat-Zinn was one of the first to introduce and adapt mindfulness practices to the Western world.

Due to its proven clinical effects on stress reduction, enhancement of self-awareness, inner balance and general well-being, a variety of mindfulness techniques has been developed for application in daily life and school programs.

You can find available mindfulness programs in your area or even find some guided online sessions and practice it together with your teens.

Emotional learning

Emotional awareness, understanding why we feel a certain way and knowing how to handle these feelings is crucial to success and happiness in every aspect of our lives.

Psychotherapist Claude Steiner defines this ability as “emotional literacy”. We learn how to manage our emotions, develop empathy for other people, repair emotional damage when we’ve done something wrong, and succeed in interacting with others effectively.

The importance of emotional awareness has brought emotional learning programs into schools and hopefully your children have already had the opportunity to develop this competency. If not, look for available lectures and workshops in your community that are oriented towards developing emotional awareness and literacy, either for youth or adults. Let’s not forget that as parents, we are pivots of our children’s emotional health and emotional learning, and personal development should always be a priority.

You can also check available online programs. Here you can find more about emotional literacy and even download a full book by Claude Steiner. In one of our previous articles, we wrote about how we can enhance teen’s emotional development through the use of movies.

Learning to have an accurate self-image

Self-image in teens can often be biased or fluid and they need to learn to evaluate their own strengths and limitations objectively. Constructive feedback, both positive and negative, is essential in learning this ability, which is part of self-awareness and development in general.

Foster an atmosphere in your family where providing honest feedback is natural both for you and your children. Here you can check some of the principles to deliver effective feedback.

Try this interesting exercise along with your teens from time to time. Each of you should write down three positive and three negative aspects of yourself. These can be your personality traits, habits, abilities or physical appearance. Then share and discuss what you all wrote down, suggesting how strengths can be used and limitations overcome.

Pay attention to how realistic your teen has been in his/her estimation. Has she written positive or negative first? Did she have problems listing positive or negative qualities? These indicators, if any, will be the basis for your further interventions.

The mind-body connection

Long a tradition in Eastern cultures and advocated widely by current holistic practitioners, mind-body awareness or the ability to “listen” to your body through sensory experiences can enhance the development of full self-awareness.

Besides yoga, there are numerous practices that can help us integrate mind-body experiences.  Some are spiritual in nature while others are more physical. Free dance practices with elements of improvisation, such as 5Rhythms, Open Floor or Authentic Movement, also referred to as “moving meditation”, are good examples. All these can help us focus on our inner selves,  become rooted and more fully present.

So if your teen is more inclined to work through his thoughts and emotions  through body/movement, seek out those activities and practices that best match his channels of communication with himself.

“Know thyself” – it was inscribed at the Delphi temple. This virtue was as valued in ancient times as it is today. Let’s help our kids acquire this wisdom and prepare them to be able to lead fulfilling lives.

Need additional support in helping your teen develop self-awareness? Don’t hesitate. We can help. Schedule an appointment with our coach.

References and useful links:

  1. Self-Awareness: The Foundation of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
  2. New Study Shows Nice Guys Finish First by Shari Lifland (American Management Foundation)
  3. How Mindfulness Empowers Us: An Animation Narrated by Sharon Salzberg
  4. Emotional Literacy: Intelligence with Heart by Claude Steiner (2003)