What Is Executive Function?

Executive function is a set of mental processes that helps us manage, plan, and organize our activities in order to achieve a certain goal [1]. Extensive neuropsychological research places it in the prefrontal cortex and even though it forms in early childhood, it continues to develop and change throughout our lifetime. It plays an essential part in our everyday dealings and we rely on it when faced with situations that require us to make decisions and see them through. If we were to compare our brains to a complex organization, executive function would be the equivalent of a CEO. Essentially, executive function is what allows us to get things done, and it’s important to understand how it works so that we can really appreciate its value and potentially work on improving it.

Areas of Executive Function and Executive-Functioning Skills

Executive function is a complex construct consisting of three key components or areas, which are: working memory, cognitive flexibility, and impulse control. All of these components are interconnected and together allow us to do things like process information, switch from task to task, and hold back impulsive behavior.

  1. Working memory represents the more advanced understanding of our short-term memory, the one we use to store information happening in the present and hold onto it for a brief period of time in order to deal with a task at hand. So, for example, if you’re having a conversation with someone, working memory is allowing you to follow what they’re saying and respond or engage them by asking relevant questions.
  2. Cognitive flexibility refers to our ability to adapt our mental strategies to new conditions. When faced with a task we’ve never encountered in the past, cognitive flexibility allows us to rapidly use our past experience, knowledge, and skills to overcome that particular challenge.
  3. Impulse control is referred to as self-control in layman’s terms. It is our capability to subdue impulsive behavior and refrain from acting abruptly to a specific stimulus. For instance, if you’re feeling frustrated, impulse control is what holds you back from lashing out at others, keeps you calm, and allows you to rationally assess the situation.

These key areas enable us to perform complex mental tasks such as:

  • Paying attention – being able to focus and process information for an extended period of time.
  • Planning and organizing – setting up the proper conditions and taking the right steps in the process of decision-making and overcoming challenges.
  • Time assessment and time management – being able to predict the time it would take to complete a certain task and adjusting your activities in order to complete the most tasks in the shortest amount of time.
  • Initiating and completing tasks – actually getting started with an activity that will help you complete a task and see it through.
  • Prioritizing – being able to assess the importance of tasks and to rank them accordingly.

The combined effort of the key areas is needed in order to complete these tasks, but not all of them are always being activated. For instance, paying attention depends on the use of working memory and impulse control, while planning and organizing require all three. Being able to perform these activities successfully is referred to as having executive-functioning skills.

Executive function can be trained and improved over time, which means that understanding how it works can be a huge benefit in terms of both academic and real-life success.

Hot and Cool Executive Functions: An Emotional Context

When studying human behavior, it’s always a good rule of thumb to have the question of context in mind. Some phenomena may be more or less consistent but they are usually connected to a network of factors and can have different interpretations depending on the situation. Such is the case with executive function, which is contextually related to and affected by an emotional factor. That is why we differentiate between hot and cool executive functions [2].

Hot executive functions are used when emotions are running high. In order for them to be activated, a certain amount of tension between instant and long-term gratification needs to exist. On the other hand, cool executive functions are activated when there is no emotional arousal whatsoever.

The most important thing that determines whether we’re going to use hot or cool executive functions is the way in which we perceive the challenge in front of us. It’s a matter of individual differences, meaning there are specific situations out there that would invoke the use of hot executive functions in some, while others will be able to remain cool.

How to Spot an Executive-Function Deficit

The most representative behaviors that will help you identify executive functioning issues are:

  • Poor planning and organization – working in messy conditions without having the “bigger picture” in mind.
  • Impulsive behavior – lacking impulse control and overreacting.
  • Struggling with time management – always being late for scheduled appointments and missing deadlines.
  • Lack of and/or inability to focus – attention tends to drift in the middle of an important activity.
  • Working-memory difficulties – having difficulty retaining information for short periods of time.
  • Procrastination – avoiding or struggling to initiate task resolution.
  • Prioritization issues – not being able to determine the importance of certain tasks.
  • Rigid thinking patterns – showing frustration when asked to think about a certain issue in a different way.

If you are a parent of a child who is struggling in a similar way and exhibiting one or more symptoms, then they might have an executive-functioning issue. We have prepared an online executive-functioning course for parents, which explores many different aspects of the concept, providing you with:

  • Real-life examples of executive-functioning skills and issues!
  • Direct advice on how to improve executive functioning!
  • Access to a whole community of parents just like you!
  • And tons more information about executive function!

Take a look at this introductory video with our Coach Ana, which briefly sums up what the course is all about.

Executive Function and Psychological Disorders

In psychology, a sizable amount of data regarding specific mental processes and brain functions comes from examining the unfortunate cases of people exhibiting certain issues or complete lack thereof. Disorders in the domain of executive functioning are directly related to and reflect on the areas and skills we’ve discussed in the previous segment. That being said, executive function disorder as such is not yet recognized by the American Psychiatric Association officially. However, studies imply that executive-functioning challenges are closely connected to other cognitive disorders, such as ADHD and dyslexia.

ADHD

People suffering from ADHD are in fact struggling with scattered attention, impulsive behavior, and hyperactivity which leads to different social difficulties. You’re probably already able to sense the connection between these symptoms and what we previously defined as an executive-function deficit [3]. The fact of the matter is these two issues share the same neurophysiological background. Even though executive function can’t explain the cause of ADHD, it’s obvious that it is a component of how the disorder actually plays out. That is why children with ADHD can benefit from executive-function exercises and why consulting an executive function Coach is highly recommended.

Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a neurobiological learning disability characterized by difficulties with word recognition, spelling, and decoding abilities [4]. Studies show that children with dyslexia also experience challenges in areas related to executive function, like verbal and visual short-term processing and attention. By strategically improving these domains of executive function, children with dyslexia can learn how to compensate for and overcome the limiting nature of their disability. Once again, consulting an executive-function Coach can help you devise a plan to systematically work on tackling this issue.

Academic and Real-Life Examples of Executive-Function Deficits and Issues

It’s very important for us to understand that executive-functioning issues are not only found in a school setting, but also interfere with everyday activities such as doing chores, having productive conversations, and even affect the simple act of playing. On that note, we will describe two scenarios – academic and real life – connected to executive-functioning issues.

Mary is four and she has recently started preschool. A couple of days ago, she threw a tantrum when another child from the class didn’t want to share a stuffed toy elephant. At the end of each day, she’s almost always the last one ready, usually because she left her things all over the classroom and then forgot where they were. Her teacher noticed that often during group activities and interaction, she responds by saying things completely unrelated to the topic or task.

 

Josh is sixteen, and his parents feel that something is just not right. He often wanders from room to room, starts doing one thing and quickly switches to another. His chores are a similar story. He often procrastinates and puts things off, like cleaning the garage or folding his laundry, and even when he does manage to start doing them, he either quits soon after or doesn’t do a very good job. He’s recently asked for his allowance to be increased but left the discussion abruptly, showing signs of frustration when asked to back up his request with arguments.

Remember that taking a holistic approach is very important when determining whether or not someone has issues with executive function. Both of these examples contain descriptions of behaviors representative of executive-functioning issues, but they are exclusively exploring situations related to a specific setting. Only by looking at the whole picture are we able to claim that someone is actually suffering from an executive-function deficit and that other factors are not at play, such as lack of motivation.

If you think your child is struggling in similar ways, our Coaches are highly experienced with resolving specific executive-functioning issues and helping children overcome the deficits that accompany them.

 

Why Is Understanding Executive Function so Important?

Executive function refers to a set of mental processes that help us handle most of our everyday activities. Many aspects of concepts like creativity, problem-solving, and good decision-making rely on these processes. The good news is that we can help our kids develop and improve their executive function. The really good news is that we can use their personal strengths to compensate for those skills they find hard to improve. We’re not talking about complex programs that are costly and time-consuming, but about everyday activities that facilitate growth and learning.

It is evident that children would benefit from a structured and systematic practice of executive-functioning skills. That is exactly why it’s important for every parent to be familiar with the concept, so that they can help their children directly by encouraging activities which nurture executive function. Furthermore, in the bigger picture of educating children in general, it’s crucial that teachers are also well acquainted with executive function, so they can adapt their curriculum to encourage its development.

Author: Predrag Mladenovic

References:

Zelazo, P. D., & Cunningham, W. (2005). What is executive function? AboutkidsHealth. Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto. (Part one of a multi-part series). Recuperado el, 2.
Goldstein, S., & Naglieri, J. A. (Eds.). (2013). Handbook of executive functioning. Springer Science & Business Media.
Meltzer, L. (Ed.). (2018). Executive function in education: From theory to practice. Guilford Publications.

Did you enjoy how we answered the question of ‘what is executive function?’
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Going Back to School: How to Overcome Procrastination

Ah, January… The month of getting back to reality. The holidays are over and everyone’s back to their regular routine of working and going to school. But now that the kids are used to sleeping in and getting some well deserved rest, procrastination may be an issue when it comes to getting up early for school and studying. So how can you help them find their motivation and get back to hustling? We have some ideas for you!

Procrastination: Laziness or Something Else?

The first question we should answer is: what is procrastination? For children who tend to procrastinate, it’s an ongoing habit that doesn’t depend on the time of year, a.k.a. chronic procrastination. However, it can become more apparent and troubling if they’ve just returned from vacation and are suddenly expected to be doing a million school assignments at once. Why is that? Are they just lazy?

Well, if you came across this article when you were searching for topics like “how to overcome laziness”, we have some (good) news: procrastination usually doesn’t stem from children being lazy. Although the definition of procrastination is “avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished” [1], that avoidance is usually the result of fear of failure. You can’t fail at something you never attempt in the first place, right? And the chance of failing is much greater if you’ve been on break for days or even weeks and are now suddenly required to be finishing task after task.

Another cause of procrastination may be perfectionism. People who want to do things perfectly never feel quite ready to start doing them – they feel they could always be a bit more prepared. Combine that with not studying for a while and voilà – you’ve got yourself a perfectionist who’s afraid of failure and thus – procrastinating.

It All Comes Down to Habits

This whole thing may sound scary, but there’s good news, too. It’s all about reversing bad habits. Although fear of failure and perfectionism are not habits per se – they’re emotional struggles – they’re difficult for children to overcome because they’re being reinforced. Every time the child feels stressed out, they choose to close up their books and whisper those magic words, “I’ll do it later – I have enough time”. This brings instant relief, which makes it easier for them to do the same thing over and over, just to calm their fear and anxiety. Though it might work for a while, time soon starts running out. So what can they do instead – and how can you help them?

They can choose to stay in that stressful situation, or challenge themselves, and become stronger. It’s like exercise, really – you try to do one push-up for the first time, and it’s so difficult! You keep going, and eventually you can do two, three, five, until the moment you find everything less than twenty to be a piece of cake.

But children shouldn’t be forced into it – instead, they need to develop certain skills and understanding of their issues before being able to confidently work on them. What you as a parent can do here is learn what makes your child fall behind at times and work on that with them.


If you want to know more about how to help your child deal with different issues and help them become more independent, check out our upcoming Online Classes for Parents.

These classes are perfect for you if you want to:

  • Improve Your Child’s Executive Function
  • Help Them Build Great Homework Habits
  • Help Them Manage Their Screen Time

Get a FREE Access to the Syllabus of Online Class “Improve Your Child’s Executive Function”:


What Are Some Other Reasons for Falling Behind?

Parents often come to us, especially at this time of year, with: “I don’t feel my child is keeping up with their classmates. What can I do to help?”

So, what happened? Your child did their best to keep up before the holidays, but now that they’ve gotten some rest, it’s become harder for them to get back into the study-hard mode. What can you do to help them become better at handling school assignments? How can you aid their productivity?

One of the ways you can help them is by providing them with motivation. A more comprehensive list of ways to do that can be found in one of our previous articles, but it all comes down to intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is the one that lies inward. When the child is self-motivated, results tend to be better and the child is happier to tackle the necessary work. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, means you’re providing rewards for them – the motivation lies outside of them. This isn’t a bad thing – in fact, it’s a good way to start developing intrinsic motivation – but intrinsic motivation should be the main goal.

What Can I Do?

For example, you can start motivating them by offering to make their favorite meal if they study for two hours every day that week. Make sure to praise the effort they’re putting into studying, rather than the result. For one thing, the effort will usually lead to good results; and it will all happen without the stress they’re feeling if they need to strive for the result. The “you must get an A” might cause test anxiety and further exacerbate their perfectionistic issues, which will have precisely the opposite effect from the desired one.

Once they start seeing their efforts rewarded, they’re in a much better position to begin developing intrinsic motivation. In fact, one of the best ways to ease your child’s transition to school during the post-holiday period is to make studying creative and fun – and making their favorite meal together once they’ve studied enough is a good start [2].

One more thing to pay attention to is the amount of time they spend using technology. They may have had a lot of time to browse through social media or YouTube while on vacation, but that amount should be lower now that they’re back at school [3].


If any of this sounds familiar to you, schedule a free consultation with one of our Coaches and talk to them – together with your child – about their struggles and steps for overcoming them.


In Conclusion…

Procrastination is a normal occurrence after the holidays. Just remember how difficult it is for you during those first few working days in January. Now, imagine if you had to go home and do homework and study on top of that! A lot of children tend to also be fearful of any sort of failure, or even be perfectionists when it comes to school. All of that can lead to avoiding school tasks, which can often be mistaken for laziness.

The best thing you can do is to motivate them by rewarding their efforts. This will teach them both that effort really matters, and that they don’t need to be perfect, as long as they keep trying. Eventually, they may develop their own inner motivation for studying – and you’ll be happy to see that it’s bringing in good results, without your needing to reward them for it anymore.

References:

  1. https://nobelcoaching.com/procrastination-teens-can-help/
  2. https://www.verywellfamily.com/solutions-for-back-to-school-problems-4081699
  3. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/10-common-back-to-school-strugglesand-how-to-deal_b_5b896a6ae4b0f023e4a60479

Black Friday – A Good Day for Sellers, But Is It Really Good for You?

Black Friday has finally come! Although it’s not a national holiday, many people look forward to shopping then. Special offers, deals, and sales are everywhere and you can find a ton of advice on how/where/what to shop, and tips and tricks on how to be “the winner of the day”. But do you really need to buy something just because it’s Black Friday?

Why do we call it Black Friday?

Black Friday, falling on the day after the Thanksgiving holiday, is one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Originally, the term marked the day when a retailer had sold enough inventory and turned a profit for that year. So Black Friday refers to the day of the year when retailers hope to go from being in the “red” (i.e. losing money) to being in the “black” (i.e. making money).

Drawing $ in a notebook

How does Black Friday look today?

These days, since it’s one of the busiest shopping days of the year, Black Friday is known for long lines, packed stores, aggressive customers, and a limited number of products available at a reduced price.

Black Friday sellers

Retailers use discounts to draw consumers into their stores and will aggressively campaign by offering incentives like gift cards and other small enticements. Many of them will offer limited-quantity sales to bring customers through their doors [1].

Black Friday shoppers

Whether people are searching in malls, department stores, specialty stores, or online, the sales on Black Friday are very effective at encouraging them to shop. Some people spend hours and even days preparing for Black Friday, scouring newspaper, internet, and television ads for the best Black Friday deals. Then groups and families strategically plan the best routes to their favorite stores, collect stacks of Black Friday ads and coupons, and coordinate strategies for purchasing products once inside the store [1, 5].

Why do people love to shop on Black Friday?

Hundreds of consumers crowding in to grab marked-down goods create a sense of competition, which in turn creates hedonistic shopping value – enjoyment from the mere process of buying things. We love to share stories and show off our bargains at the end of the day, boasting about the great deals we found and how we managed to get hold of that last popular item. Paying a low price for something makes us feel smart and pleased with ourselves. We have a sense of accomplishment and perhaps the thrill of feeling in a small way victorious over other customers [1, 4].

Happy girl sitting in a shopping cart

Frustration and aggression

The Black Friday experience can have a bonding effect [3]. However, sometimes the limited availability of goods in stores can excite those who view this as a form of competition. If someone gets in their way when they’re trying to reach an item they want, they might feel frustrated, which can devolve into an aggressive response towards the person blocking their way [1, 2, 3]. This aggressiveness can be dangerous!

Buy Nothing Day

Now, we have frustration and safety concerns on the one hand and pleasant emotions on the other, so what are we going to do? Before you answer this question, read about Buy Nothing Day – the anti-Black Friday movement that falls on the same day as Black Friday.
The aim of this day is to inspire worldwide action against mass consumerism and rediscover how to live freely. It tries to show us that we need to take a harder look at the stuff we’re purchasing on Black Friday and decide whether we really need all of it. Also, it points out the irony of giving thanks for everything we already have one day and going out to buy more things (we don’t really need) the next one. Lots of people use social media to post about this movement, so explore a bit – you may find many enlightening facts.

Trying to buy something that’s on sale but really isn’t discounted or is in limited quantity can be disappointing, for sure. However, these holiday sales can actually have an upside. Everyone is now expected to offer discounts as a goodwill gesture and not every retailer uses tricks to attract customers. You still can find things that you need or want and pay a better price for them. Just be discerning, purchase worthwhile items, and don’t get caught up in the consumerism!

 

We know that the holidays can be tough and stressful for some people. If you are experiencing “the holiday blues”, feeling stressed out or you simply need to talk to someone, don’t hesitate to book a free consultation call with one of our Coaches. They are always there for you!

 

References:

[1] Byun, S., & Mann, M. (2011). The Influence of Others. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal,29(4), 284-297. doi:10.1177/0887302×11422820
[2] Berkowitz, L. (1989). Frustration-aggression hypothesis: Examination and reformation. Psychological Bulletin, 106, 59-73.
[3] Dill, J. C., & Anderson, C. A. (1995). Effects of frustration justification on hostile aggression. Aggressive Behavior,21(5), 359-369. doi:10.1002/1098-2337(1995)21:53.0.co;2-6
[4] Holbrook, M. B., Chestnut, R. W., Oliva, T. A., & Greenleaf, E. A. (1984). Play as a consumption experience: The roles of emotions, performance, and personality in the enjoyment of games. Journal of consumer research, 11(2), 728-739.
[5] Thomas, J. B., & Peters, C. (2011). An exploratory investigation of Black Friday consumption rituals. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management,39(7), 522-537. doi:10.1108/09590551111144905

Report Cards – Don’t Let Them Surprise You

It’s report card time! Even though this can be stressful for students, it can be tough for parents, too! Are you surprised when you see their grades? How do you react? In this article, we’ll answer a few questions parents commonly have and help you deal with the situation.

The purpose of report cards

Sometimes we misunderstand the purpose of report cards. They’re designed to involve your child in the process of getting good grades.  They shouldn’t be an indictment!  Rather, see the report card as a roadmap. Your child is at point A and the goal is to be at point B. Ask yourself what they need to improve in to achieve that goal. And, even better, ask them.

Where do bad grades come from?

So your child has had A’s or B+’s but now you see more C’s than you want to. This may come as a shock. Or your child has promised you that this semester they’ll get only A’s and B’s, but that didn’t happen. Now you’re disappointed. Do you ask yourself What did I do wrong? The best way forward is to include both yourself and your child in resolving such questions.

We started our discussion in the article Where Do Bad Grades Come From. Let’s continue that discussion here, exploring a few more possible reasons. Is your student a teenager? Teens have active social lives and other interests that are more important to them than getting good grades. A sudden drop in grades sometimes indicates a substance abuse problem, which is also linked with teens. Also, a transition to a new school can be very stressful. Plummeting grades can be a sign that a student is being bullied. High achievers often experience a high level of stress and if they can’t handle the pressure, their grades slip.

These are only a few of the possible reasons. The first step toward getting good grades is to determine the cause of the drop in grades. The next step will depend on the cause you’ve determined, but here are some DO’s AND DON’T’s that apply in (almost) every situation.

What DOESN’T help

Talking while you’re angry.

So you saw the report cards and now you’re angry. Haven’t you asked them a thousand times Did you finish your homework/assignments? They told you they did, but it doesn’t look like that. So you might start yelling. Don’t! You’ve tried this already and it doesn’t work, right? Your child probably expects this reaction and has prepared at least ten excuses. It will make them act defensively. Let’s try something different.

Focusing on negative things.

You saw C’s in the report cards, but have you also seen A’s and B+’s? Usually, we focus on what is wrong, what we don’t like, etc. Don’t underestimate what is right. Think about that before you talk with your children. Have they improved in some subjects? Maybe there are more topics that still need improvement, but every step counts.

Labeling the student as lazy, unmotivated…

This doesn’t change their behavior. It can only reinforce it and perpetuate the bad habits they have. However, providing understanding and motivation will probably have a positive effect on their study habits and improve their grades. Here are ways you can do that!

How to help your child get good grades

Student learning at the top of the big books

Talk when you’re ready.

Talking while you’re angry doesn’t work, so wait until you’ve calmed down. Also, prepare yourself. Think about questions you want to ask, the possible causes of a drop, how your student feels, etc.

Talk less, listen more.

Let your student take the lead. Don’t put them in the position of acting defensively – let them tell you how they see the situation. Don’t interrupt them while they’re talking – listen to them carefully. If you don’t understand something they told you, ask them to explain it to you. Talk about feelings, problems, and other intimate stuff. And because these are personal things, try your best to be understanding and supportive. If you act like this, they’ll have confidence in you and tell you something they usually wouldn’t.

Make a deal.

Make a deal with your child that every time they get any grade they’ll tell you about it. Isn’t it better that you find out about bad grades from them rather than in report cards? Make them feel that they can talk to you about problems they’re facing. Offer them help in handling the pressure and school stress. This way, they will more likely tell you when something’s wrong and you can help them deal with it before it has consequences.

Reward.

Another good idea is to offer some kind of reward if they improve their grades. Recognizing students for the work they put in is very important, even more so than rewarding them for better grades. Try with I’m so proud of all the things you’ve learned this semester. That can be anything that’s important to them / they like – for example, you can make them their favorite meal, buy them their favorite snack. or clothes, etc. Who doesn’t like a little reward for hard work? Remember that it doesn’t have to be anything expensive.

 

If your child still has trouble with some topics or with studying, consider asking for help. We offer online coaching and tutoring for academic and personal growth. Here you can find out how we help and feedback from people we’ve helped.

The Best Halloween Costume for Your Child

Halloween is, without doubt, a favorite holiday for children of all ages. From toddlers to teenagers, kids are always excited to dress up as their favorite characters and go trick-or-treating with their friends. There’s also the fun of joining in the many outdoor fall activities taking place at this time of year, and the great opportunity Halloween offers for parents and children to share in the fun of creating costumes together. So it’s easy to see why studies have shown that this holiday can be so beneficial for children.

Choosing and making costumes is one of the best aspects of this holiday for children and actually, costuming itself is beneficial for small children. As Dr. Ashley Gilpin has noted: “Preschoolers and early elementary-aged children are in the height of the pretending stage, where they learn to take other people’s perspectives, which is the basis for empathy. As silly as it sounds, dressing up and pretending to be someone else helps them learn to take another person’s perspective and be more empathetic [1].”

To make things as enjoyable and constructive as possible for your child, there are things you can do to help you find the best possible costume and make it as appropriate as possible.

 

Don’t worry about the scary stuff

You might be worried if the holiday that started out as the day of death and, in modern culture, revolves around the aesthetics of horror might be too scary for children. Of course, you should not let them visit some of the more elaborate and non-child-friendly houses of terror, but as far as costumes go, dressing them up as witches or mummies is perfectly fine!

Research conducted by Jacqueline Woolley and her colleagues has proven that preschoolers of the age of 3 and 4 have a very good perception of what is real and what isn’t [2]. And, as mentioned, dressing up like this can even turn out to be beneficial, since kids are exploring various identities, building upon their imagination and getting a better grasp of what’s real and what isn’t. The trick is to keep the celebration in the context of the holiday and use the ideas we’ll talk about to remind the kids of what is real. At the same time, they’ll be practicing their cognitive skills, such as storytelling and making distinctions between fantasy and reality.

 

If there is a scary element, reason it out

Sometimes, Halloween can be a bit “too much” for youngsters, and that’s okay. Rather than not letting them go out and have fun if you know they’ll be scared, you can prepare them and put costumes and horror elements in the context of fantasy.

You can show your child how some scary costume is made and include them in the making process – they can help you with your zombie makeup, or choosing elements for the witch’s gown. Take them to the store during the day and show them around, so they can see how those elements and decorations are not at all scary when not put together. All in all, show them it’s really simply a fantasy rather than a real thing, and include them in the process of creating their costume.

Finally, everything looks more terrifying in the dark, even for adults. Therefore, it’s okay to consider limiting the time for trick-or-treating to the daylight hours.

 

Let your child choose

Communication with your child is always the key to a good relationship. While you shouldn’t let your kids make all the decisions, you should hear them out and try to reason with them if something in their thinking or acting isn’t valid. The same goes for costumes.

Some of the ideas that your child has for their costume might not be the most fitting ones: it might be a costume that isn’t suitable for their age, or simply something too expensive and hard to make. In those cases, compromise. Explain the basics of why their idea isn’t possible, but still take their suggestions – show them that you listen and consider them.

If your child wishes to choose a gender-neutral costume or to “gender-bend” the costume, there are studies that say this is highly beneficial. It is not only good for girls to try out traditionally more masculine and empowering costumes (heroes, scientists, etc.) – it’s good for boys to try embracing more feminine roles and ideas, and break the mold of seeing manly costumes and professions as better than traditionally feminine ones [3].

If, when Halloween comes, a child is not at all interested in wearing the costume you both spent a long time making, don’t push it. Maybe they can go just with the cape, and not the whole Superman outfit? Making them do something against their will can be stressful for both you and the child, and the point of the holiday is to have fun. At the end of the day, it’s not that important.

 

Make sure to be respectful

Over the last few years there’s been a lot of talk about which costumes are respectful and what is absolutely not to be made into dress-up for fun. No matter on which side of the debate you are, make sure your child has the best possible time by avoiding putting them into any kind of bad situation.

Many think Halloween attire is “just a costume”. Yet if the clothing your child is wearing has a chance of offending someone, it’s not “just a costume” for the other person in question. Chances are they have a different perspective than you, so try to be as compassionate as possible. Avoid any costumes that might have a political implication or that can be read as sacred attire. As the author, Susan Scafidi said: “We can all learn to be polite and respectful without being political. And, in fact, I think most people want to be.”

The best advice is to keep children’s costumes in the realm of fantasy or dress them up in career uniforms. The beauty of this holiday is, after all, in having the freedom to be as creative as possible, so there are hundreds of possibilities and characters to explore, without stepping into politically or socially sensitive areas.

If you are ready to fight the summer slide with your child, you’ve come to the right place!

Schedule a FREE CONSULTATION with one of our Coaches:

KEEP READING:

[1] https://www.ua.edu/news/2016/10/ua-psychology-professor-children-benefit-from-halloween-activities/

[2] http://time.com/4090715/halloween-can-help-kids-learn-whats-real/

[3] https://globalnews.ca/news/2310986/gender-bias-in-kids-halloween-costumes-is-a-problem-psychologist/

4 Tips to Help Your Child Adjust to Their New School

If you have just moved to a different place and want to help your child adapt to their new school environment, well, this article is for you! Leaving a familiar environment along with their good friends, teachers, and neighbors is a stressful experience for both younger children and (especially so) teenagers. [3] Here are a few tips that might make the whole experience easier and even exciting!

Meet the New Neighborhood

As a grownup, you’ve probably already dealt with moving in one way or another – maybe you did so at college, or for work, or after you got married. But for your kids, it’s a completely new and scary experience. We all have our own favorite little places in a town. For your kids, those might be the local park, schoolground, ice cream shop… So try to find something similar in your new neighborhood that could make them feel more at home.

Go for a walk with them and ask them which of the places you’re passing by they like. You can purposely stop and spend some time getting more acquainted with these places. This will increase their comfort level and sense of familiarity with their new surroundings.

Meet the Kids

Woah, that subtitle really looks like the name of some talent show, doesn’t it? What it means, though, is that your child left some good friends in the other town, and they’ll need to start from scratch and make some new ones. And if they try doing that on the first day at their new school, they’ll be experiencing all kinds of stresses all at once: new building, new rules, and on top of that – alone amongst their peers who are already friends amongst themselves? It can be overwhelming.

That’s why it’s a good idea to try to meet some of their peers prior to their first day of school. [3] You and your child together can visit your new neighbors to introduce yourselves. You might even want to take them a treat. Try to learn something about them and the other neighbors. If they have kids the similar age as yours – bingo! And if not, ask them about the other neighbors’ kids (make sure to explain your concerns and the reasons behind your questions, though: otherwise it might come out a little strange!). You can even arrange a small gathering for all the neighbors and ask them to bring their families along. Some of those will probably end up being your child’s new classmates, and they can get to know them and become friends in a more informal way.

Get to Know the School

Even before they attend their first classes, you can contact your child’s new school and arrange a meeting with an administrator. Talk to them about how things work there, and if you can, discuss which teacher would be a good fit for your student. Ask them if it would be okay to take a walk through the halls and classrooms. That way, it will all seem much more familiar to your child on their first day; they’ll have no trouble finding their locker, classroom, bathroom, or the cafeteria. Doing these things will reduce a great deal of stress for the child on their first day at the new school. [1]

Find A New Routine

Another thing we all leave behind when we move is the routines we’ve developed. This time around, it might take longer to get to school, which means waking up earlier. Instead of walking, it could mean getting on the bus. So try to stick to the parts of your previous routine that don’t need to be changed. If you’re used to having breakfast together, do it, even if it means waking up an extra half hour earlier. Make sure that your child goes to bed relatively early and wakes up early enough as well, so they can get sufficient rest and have enough time for everything the next morning. Packing in a matter of seconds, not getting to finish breakfast, and overall rushing can just add  to the already existing stress, so try to avoid it as best as you can. [1]

Bonus Advice

If you haven’t already (and even if you have), watch the animated movie called Inside Out – together. It’s told from the point of view of a teenage girl who had to move to a new place, new school, and make new friends. It will not only give you all some adjustment tips, but it will also tell you that feeling nervous and even sad is completely normal and should be talked about. [2] Don’t be overly enthusiastic and diminish your child’s feelings, but do try to inspire them to look at the positives as well. Above all, have patience. Reassure your child that it will take some time to get used to the new places and new people and to feel at home. Finally, let them know you’ll be there for them every step of the way. That way, adapting to changes will be a much smoother process.

References:

  1. https://www.theclassroom.com/adapt-new-school-16096.html
  2. https://www.schoolchoiceintl.com/how-students-can-adjust-to-a-new-school/
  3. https://www.thespruce.com/help-your-kid-adjust-new-school-2435862

 

 

Why is Effective Communication so Important?

Being able to communicate our thoughts, opinions, and wishes has always been important for our survival. Just imagine our cave-dwelling great-grand-ancestors not being able to precisely convey that they really, really do not want to join in on that hunt because their leg is hurting. Next thing they know, they’re running away from a tiger – and not very successfully!

Although most of us don’t need to run from tigers anymore, the skill of clear communication is more important than ever. Thanks to our new technologies, we can now communicate with virtually any person from any place on Earth, and many people do just this on a regular basis, especially if they work for a large corporation.  Indeed,  for some people communication itself is the main goal – successful talk-show hosts and writers have mastered this skill to such a degree that simply communicating has become their primary job.

Struggling with communication? 

BECOME A BETTER COMUNICATOR. 

Knowing how to present ourselves in a good light and understand the other party well enough to persuade them to help us achieve something is an incredibly important skill to develop. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the benefits of effective communication and offer some ideas on how to hone that skill.

Professional Benefits

Since we’ve already mentioned the importance of communicating in the workplace, let’s tackle the professional aspect of this skill first. Some of the benefits of clear communication in the workplace are:

  1. Fewer mistakes.
  2. Better workplace atmosphere.
  3. Good persuasion skills.

Making Fewer Mistakes

Have you ever been in a situation where your boss or your professor is explaining to you how to do something, but you just can’t seem to understand them? So maybe after asking them to explain it one more time and still not understanding it, you tell yourself, “It’s fine, I’ll do it by myself”, and you end up making a mistake. Or maybe you were too shy to even ask them to explain it to you in the first place!

Either way, the primary cause for your mistake would be the fact that both parties failed to communicate effectively. To begin with, your boss/professor didn’t communicate their expectations in a way you could understand. They are probably speaking from the perspective of somebody who has been doing that task for quite some time, so it’s easy for them to forget the mistakes they were making in the beginning or the challenges they faced then.  Now that they’re more knowledgeable, they simply assume it must be as easy for you to do as it is for them. In other words, they are communicating from their perspective only, without taking your perspective and your context into consideration.

Secondly, your fear of communicating your lack of understanding is what might cause you to make a mistake. Not asking for an explanation is something that usually happens when you assume that the person you’re talking to will be annoyed and bored by your questions. But instead, you could have asked them a clarifying question. For example, saying: “Okay, so let me just see if I understood you correctly so I am 100% sure I’ll do it properly” and then repeating the task the way you understood it saves you from asking a million tiny questions. Instead, you just ask one, and if your boss sees a fault in what you said, they’ll let you know.

So in both cases, assumptions of how much someone knows and how they feel about certain things can lead to mistakes. And though it’s sometimes hard to get over that voice in your head that says, “Stop bothering them or they’ll think you’re stupid and unable to do this!”, it’s something we all must work on if we are to be effective communicators and avoid mistakes.

Better Workplace Atmosphere

Imagine your next hypothetical situation. Your colleague or classmate is celebrating their birthday this Friday and they bring muffins for everyone – but you. What’s up with that?! You might naturally think that they don’t like you and don’t want to hang out with you without really checking that hypothesis with them. So the next time they need help from you, you might turn away and ignore them, causing them to not finish their assignment and to feel really bad.

But what if the reason you didn’t get a muffin was because the muffins their mom made for them were all made with peanuts, and they only remembered about your allergies after they started sharing them around? They had been trying to protect you this entire time, and here you were thinking that they hated you!

In that scenario, both of you were lacking proper communication skills. On one hand, they should have apologized to you for forgetting all about your allergies, while you should have asked them if there was something wrong in your relationship the moment you noticed something wasn’t adding up.

If we are looking at this from their perspective, they should have said something like: “I’m very sorry that I don’t have a muffin for you, I completely forgot about your allergies. How about we go grab a coffee later so I can properly apologize?” You could also have helped solve this situation by simply asking them: “Hey, I noticed everyone got a muffin but me, and I’m feeling really left out. Could you tell me why I didn’t get one?” Any of these two explanations would have prevented a further misunderstanding.

Just imagine if a pilot and air traffic control were communicating in such an inefficient and petty way – it wouldn’t be fun, would it?

Good Persuasion Skills

Now now, I’m not trying to teach you how to manipulate the people around you in order to always have things your way. By “persuasion”, I primarily mean marketing skills – and, well, if they also teach you how to convince your friend to help you with your math, that’s not so bad now, is it?

What do you think all great companies have in common? Sure, the most important thing is that they all have something that a lot of people want and can use. But that in itself isn’t enough. If they didn’t have a good, persuasive marketing team, no one would even have heard of them. In this day and age, when new apps, technologies, and inventions are being created every day, having the ability to communicate about your product in an innovative way is what will separate you and your company from the rest of the pack.

And not only that, but in order to sell yourself (not in an illegal way, more like – sell your worth to a university you want to go to or sell your abilities and character to your potential employer) you need to know how to communicate about your strengths and weaknesses in the right way.

Personal Benefits

After reading the first part of the article, you’re probably already aware of the main benefit good communication can give you in your personal life – better and more honest relationships. There are thousands of articles online about the relationships between parents and teenagers and what both sides can do to make them better. But what if I told you that just by changing the way you communicate with each other, you can fix 90% of that relationship?

Instead of snooping around their teenager’s room, parents should be more open and honest about their fears and feelings. Simply saying things like, “I feel sad that you don’t spend as much time at home” or “I’ve been noticing some changes in your behavior and I’m very worried that something may be bothering you” is a hundred times better for a relationship than looking for some sort of proof for your hypothesis. If parents raise their children this way, if they’re not ashamed to tell them they are sad or hurt by something, then they’ll be good role models for their children to do the same once they start having problems.

Tips on Being a Better Communicator

Communication is far more than just what you say, it’s also how you act. Non-verbal signals such as facial expressions or body movements can at times tell us more about what someone really feels than any words they might be saying. If your parents are nagging you about that C you received and you keep saying how you feel sorry about it, all the while rolling your eyes with your arms crossed, they probably won’t be inclined to believe you.

What you communicate with your words and your body language needs to be in sync in order for your message to get through. And not only that, you need to take into consideration your previous communication with someone.  For example, if you’re prone to sarcasm, no matter how seriously you are now speaking to them, they might be nodding their heads suspiciously. Instead of simply saying what you want to say and getting angry when they don’t believe you, it’s a good idea to remember your previous interactions and maybe predict their reaction. This is especially important if something big is at stake – say, you want to ask your professor for extra credit, but they don’t really think much of you after you’ve been late for 70% of their classes. Taking their perspective and feelings into consideration is a great first step to start communicating better.

You could start by saying, “Look, I know I’m always being sarcastic, but I really need your help with this now”, or “Professor, I’m sorry for always being late. It was really irresponsible of me, but in order to get into the university I really want, I’ll  need some extra credit from your class. Is there anything I can do to make that happen?”

Communication is an amazing ability. We can communicate through words, hands, drawings, even eyes. And yet, we so often tend to repeat the same behavior. If a wife is angry with her husband, she’ll keep yelling at him and he’ll keep withdrawing. Even though they can both see it’s not getting them anywhere, it’s easier to fall into their usual pattern of communication rather than to try and change it.

But if we dare change that script, it will make our lives not only easier, but more beautiful and fulfilled as well. So start today! If you’ve had a fight with someone recently, or if you keep having fights about the same thing, think about which part of your communication is falling short. Take their point of view into consideration and try to alter your communication style. After all, there are infinite ways of doing that.

 

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6 Ways Your Child Can Benefit From Classroom Diversity

When we hear the word diversity, most of us tend to think only about race or ethnicity. But diversity comes in many shapes and forms: gender, socio-economic status, religion, even learning styles [6].  Each of those things makes us different and gives us the opportunity to teach others something new. In this article, we’ll look at the enormous benefits your child can gain as part of a diverse classroom.

School is for Learning

The main purpose of sending children to school is to allow them to learn. But we tend to think inside the box when it comes to learning. We immediately think about science, English, or psychology – that’s what my kid will be studying at school, right? Of course, but that’s not where the list ends. They’ll also gain important knowledge about the way the world works: by mingling among other children, your child can become better at communicating, understanding different people and different points of view; they can learn to be more relaxed and confident in different situations. And what better place to do that than in a diverse classroom?

How Does Diversity Make it Different?

You might be asking yourself – but wouldn’t they be learning all those things just as well in a homogenous classroom? Won’t they still get to hear a lot of different opinions and learn some important social skills?

Not quite.

While it’s true that any sort of interaction with others will aid your child in developing their social skills, the extent to which they’ll do that depends largely on their environment. Imagine this: it’s the first day of school. Your son comes back home, delighted to tell you all about his new friends. It turns out they’re all boys of the same race, same ethnicity, same religion, whose parents make roughly the same amount of money you do, living in the same neighborhood, listening to the same music, reading the same books. It’s perfect friendship!

But fast forward a couple of years.  You might start noticing that your child is having a hard time dealing with conflict, differences of opinion, and adapting to new situations. This could well be because they have never experienced anything different from what they’ve known their whole life. And as they grow up, there will be more and more of these situations, and the more your child is familiar with them, the easier it will be for them to navigate their way through this ever-changing world.

Not only that, but they’ll also be able to get a more complete perspective on any challenging situation if they are aware of all the different opinions a person can have in a given situation. This will help them when it comes to solving real-life problems by finding more (and better) solutions.

What Else Can be a Benefit?

Besides developing social skills important for the future, this is what your child can also learn in a diverse classroom:

  1. Empathy and Tolerance
  2. Feeling Safe
  3. Cultural Understanding
  4. Political Involvement
  5. Gender Equality

Empathy and Tolerance

Since the beginnings of civilization, there have been stereotypes. But the main thing that allowed those stereotypes to spread was the fact that different nations were separated by very strong borders, and there wasn’t nearly as much mingling as there is today.

In psychology, there is something called contact theory [2]. This theory has been proven time and time again, and the idea is this: (negative) stereotypes can be broken if different groups come into direct contact with one another, but only if:

  1. That contact occurs on the basis of equality
  2. in a setting that offers common experiences and objectives, and
  3. it happens frequently and intensively [2].

You may have already noticed that the classroom setting can provide all three of the necessary conditions [2]. This means that it’s a perfect place for different groups of children to come into contact and begin to understand one another. Once that happens, they’ll be able to develop tolerance for those different from them, and also empathy.

Empathy means being able to feel exactly the way someone else feels. You would probably agree that the more we understand someone, the easier it becomes for us to “walk in their shoes”. The basis of almost any large-scale conflict today is the fact that we don’t understand one another. We cannot connect to those of different origin, skin color, or religion because we don’t know what they are like outside of our TV screens and what  politicians tell us. So why not prevent all that misunderstanding simply by allowing our children to develop friendships in a context of diversity?

Feeling Safe

Did you know that students report feeling much safer in school and life in general, if they have been educated in diverse classrooms [6]?

This shouldn’t come as a surprise – we don’t fear what we’re familiar with. We would feel more scared going into anyone else’s house and finding it completely in the dark, rather than going into our own unlit house. We would have no trouble feeling for the light switch and walking in complete darkness from room to room.

It’s the same with people different from us, and I don’t just mean of different ethnicity. Up until the end of the 18th century, it was believed that atypically developing people were a danger to society and should be confined. But today, in the 21st century, we’ve adopted the principle of Integrated Classrooms, and thanks to that, many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can go to regular classes with their typically developing classmates. And it’s not only beneficial for children who deal with ADHD and ASD to interact with their typically developing peers [1], but it can also be beneficial for their peers as well.

However, that didn’t just happen overnight. It took a lot of explaining and contact with those developing atypically to understand that the more they interact with other people, the better off they will be and the more they can be helped. From fear, we went to understanding and love. We started feeling safe among those different from us, because we had the opportunity to see them and talk with them.

Cultural Understanding

The only way to truly understand a different culture is to talk with someone who comes from that culture. Just look at all the craze for Japanese anime that’s taken hold in recent years. There are some who conflate anime with traditional Japanese culture and style themselves accordingly – in dress, mannerisms, etc. But if you were to describe these people’s actions to the people of Japan, they’d very clearly assure you they are not remotely like that. Reading books and watching movies about different cultures is a great alternative, but nothing beats genuine human contact.

If your child decides at some point in their life to go overseas for studies, work, or for any other reason, they’ll fit in much more easily if they’ve been in contact with different cultures prior to their departure. But if all they have ever known is people similar to them, they are bound to experience “culture shock” – and adapting to their new apartment or workplace will be that much more difficult.

Political Involvement

Studies as well as personal experiences of teachers, show that if the teacher is willing to let the class discuss different political issues, the number of people engaged in the conversation and the variety of different opinions will be much greater if the classroom is diverse [5]. If everyone comes from the same background, there isn’t much to discuss – everyone more or less agrees on the same points and they don’t go too much further than that.. But this approach is what tends to lead to people not being interested and not understanding the current political climate, and, as a result, often not voting. It is much better for a country’s political health if everyone is involved, not just a handful of people with the same opinions. If we can discuss different issues with one another, we’ll be able to learn more, understand more, challenge ourselves and the others’ opinions, and arrive at much better ideas and conclusions.

And who knows, maybe that’s what will prompt your kid to one day run for president!

Gender Equality

Speaking of running for president, isn’t it about time more women ran? Skeptics might say, “but that’s just because women aren’t interested in politics and don’t have that much experience!” Such false assumptions clearly indicate the necessity for more discussion and encouragement about individual life choices while we’re growing up, and our schools need to support questioning of outdated gender stereotypes and challenge us to try doing things differently [8].

Attitudes can change if we talk to each other more. Research tells us that friendships tend to develop between same sexes, same socio-economic backgrounds, same ethnicity, same race [4]. How does that allow us to grow, then? If boys spend time with boys and girls with girls with no contact up until the age they’re looking for romantic relationships, how will we understand and support each other?

We could start with extracurricular activities – book clubs, political clubs, sports clubs, IT clubs. They are a great way to promote more contact between genders, ethnicities – all kinds of differences, really. It makes it easier to realize the discrepancies we’re a part of and start working on making them better [4]. How can we teach our girls to shoot for the stars and our boys to be respectful, if all they’ve ever known is the company of one gender? That’s how we separate children into groups, and that’s how they learn to identify themselves with their gender, instead of their humanity.

Final Advice

A report from 2012 noted that  “80% of Latino students and 74% of black students attend majority non-white schools” [5]. It would be a mistake to assume that everyone would feel better surrounded by like-minded people. Only if we talk with people from different backgrounds and opinions, can we learn to be more accepting, more understanding, more creative, and even create better opportunities for ourselves. And while this shouldn’t just be the case in classrooms, classrooms are an ideal place to start.

So my advice for you as a parent is: don’t shy away from diversity. Don’t force it, but inspire your child to support those different from them. Inspire them to learn from others. After all, “the friend of my friend is a friend” is especially true when it comes to schools: if one child is making friends among other ethnicities and learning styles, their friends will start doing that, too. And one by one, we may even reach the day when this article becomes completely unnecessary, because everyone is friends with everyone [4].

One child said it best: “There are a lot of ways things and people could be misunderstood. In order to eliminate them, we must be listeners and learners” [3].

 

References:

  1. Chan, J.M. & O’Reilly, M.F. (2008). A Social Stories Intervention Package for Students with Autism in Inclusive Classrooms. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, Vol.41, 3, pp. 405-409.
  2. Janmaat, J.G. (2012).  The effect of classroom diversity on tolerance and participation in England, Sweden and Germany. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol.38, 1, pp. 21-39
  3. Lee, J.J. & Hoadley, C.M. (2006). Ugly in a World Where You Can Choose to be Beautiful”:Teaching and Learning About Diversity via Virtual Worlds. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Learning Sciences, pp. 383-389.
  4. Moody,  J. (2001). Race, School Integration, and Friendship Segregation in America. American Journal of Sociology, Vol.107, 3, pp. 679-716.
  5. https://blog.ed.gov/2016/04/the-value-of-classroom-diversity/
  6. https://online.queens.edu/online-programs/medl/resources/benefits-of-diversity-in-school
  7. https://www.millennialdialogue.com/blog/the-gender-gap-in-political-interest
  8. https://www.vox.com/mischiefs-of-faction/2017/4/10/15239998/womens-representation-congress-america

 

Mindfulness for Children with ADHD and ASD

Mindfulness is a concept that is becoming more and more popular by the day, and with good reason: the list of benefits from practicing mindfulness is endless, from mental health to battling chronic pain!

With that being said, what we do not see as often is mindfulness in the context of helping children with ADHD (Attentional Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). This is why we decided to dedicate an entire article to it. You might find yourself amazed at the benefits of specific mindfulness practices for children with ADHD/ASD – and their parents.

ADHD and Stress

It will come as no surprise that both ADHD and ASD pose a great challenge for parents, which is why they tend to be much more stressed than parents not dealing with these [2].  ADHD means that the child will have trouble focusing their attention on a certain task. Moreover, their behavior will often be impulsive, and their daily life may be characterized by an overall hyperactivity [4].

This may lead to parents becoming less patient and more impulsive in reacting to their child’s behavior. This is often referred to as “parental overreactivity” [4]. Another troubling thing that parents of children with ADHD often fall prey to is inconsistent parenting. They might treat kids one way when they’re rested and feeling patient, but once they become tired and frustrated, the same parent will pivot 180 degrees and behave in exactly the opposite manner. And while ADHD is highly controlled by genes, certain experiences can increase a child’s susceptibility to it – inconsistent parenting being one of them [5].

What is more, parental stress often leads to the child’s externalizing behavior (showing more and more symptoms), which in turn, leads to even greater parental stress [6].  It’s a vicious cycle that, luckily, can be cut short by practicing mindfulness.

ASD and Stress

A lot of the points mentioned in relation to ADHD and parenting can also apply to ASD and parenting. The stress parents feel (especially mothers, studies show) is enormous, and it’s heightened when the child is exhibiting symptoms [2]. With ASD, behavior is also the issue.  It can be impulsive, but more often it’s repetitive and restrictive [2]. This and the fact that these kids struggle in social situations is enough to make their daily lives very difficult.

Besides stress, parents of children with ASD also tend to show signs of overreactivity, much like parents dealing with ADHD. ASD and ADHD share some similar symptoms in children, but almost the same symptoms in parents, which is why we decided to discuss both in this article.

Mindful Child = More Attention; Mindful Parent = Less Stress

So what is it in mindfulness that connects these two and can help children regardless of their specific behaviors? Well, when it comes to ADHD, the issue is that executive function and the ability to focus on something for a prolonged period of time are affected. On the other hand, a child with ASD may feel attacked by sensory input and will have trouble distracting themselves from it. As you can notice, the common trait is focus – either too little or too much of it.

What Can Mindfulness Do?

Mindfulness can help a child with ASD practice seeing negative sensory input as something neutral, and to accept thoughts, smells, or sounds as they come, without holding onto them. Specific mindfulness practices for ASD also offer an opportunity to find an anchor, and it’s best if that anchor is a neutral part of their body. It’s often the soles of their feet, which is how one of the techniques got its name.

By using this or similar techniques, the child can try to disregard the negative sensations and focus on the neutral ones (anchor themselves in the present moment) [7]. And when the distraction comes, instead of feeling guilty and holding onto it, they can accept it non-judgmentally, as something transitory. This will allow them to re-focus their attention on the anchor [1].

When it comes to practicing mindfulness, it’s highly recommended that you practice these techniques together with your children. That way, you can help your child feel less alone and you yourself can begin to understand the techniques better. Studies have shown that mindful meditation can also help parents significantly when it comes to feeling stressed, showing their own impulsive behavior (usually that of overreactivity), and even with some of their own ADHD symptoms [3].  All in all, we believe that a calm parent is better able to calm their child.

Specific Mindfulness Techniques for ADHD

For children with ADHD there are some specific exercises, such as:

  • “Noticing Walk”
  • Using a Yoga Deck
  • Mindful Eating
  • Describing Their Favorite Place

“Noticing Walk”

When doing this exercise, take a stroll around your house or around the park with your child [6]. This is more or less a “stop and smell the roses” kind of practice. You should stop often to notice different things around you. Stop next to some fallen leaves and tell your child to slowly step on them and feel and hear the crunchiness. Smell the flowers you see along the way. Start noticing the creases of your house’s outer walls and touch them slowly, or count all the apples on a tree. You can’t go wrong with this one, as long as you guide them to pay close attention to something and use their senses, such as touch or smell – the more senses, the better [6].

Using a Yoga Deck

A Yoga Deck is a deck of cards that contain different yoga poses [6]. You shuffle them, pick a card, and then try doing the poses together. Make sure to deepen and slow down your breathing [6]. Try to focus on the way your muscles feel. If you don’t want to buy a deck, you can always find some interesting (and not too difficult!) poses on the internet and practice those. Have fun!

Mindful Eating

This is an exercise that you can do daily. All these exercises work best if done daily, but we know that not everyone will have the time for that, giving our busy lives. But this one might be doable. Give your child some raisins, for example, or anything with an interesting texture. Ask them to eat the raisins one by one, slowly, and describe to you the creases, what kind of taste and feel they have. You can do this with any type of food as long as you inspire them to eat the food slowly and pay attention to each bite.

Describe Your Favorite Place

Finally, you can give them a pen and paper and tell them to describe their favorite place.  Encourage them to be as detailed as possible. Which colors can you see there? How does it smell? What kind of sounds can be heard? This will help them keep their attention on one thing and use all of their senses to focus on it.  You can also try this one out with every new place you visit together.

While they’re reading their description to you, you should close your eyes, take deep breaths, and take a tour inside your child’s favorite place. This practice is part of  the “guided meditation scripts”, so let your child’s descriptions guide you through what you’re imagining. After they read it to you, you can revise it and maybe rewrite it together, so they can add even more details. You can take turns with this exercise: describe your favorite place next! Now they can be the one breathing deeply and letting you guide them through your imagination!

You can find the description of all of these techniques in this downloadable PDF: https://www.additudemag.com/download/mindfulness-exercises-students/

Specific Mindfulness Techniques for ASD

When it comes to ASD mindfulness practices, we already mentioned one of the most popular ones – Soles of the Feet. Here are some more:

  • Bell-Listening Exercise
  • Bedtime Mindfulness
  • Snow Globe

Soles of the Feet

This is a great exercise for when your child is feeling stressed out and overwhelmed by sounds, smells, or any other sensory input [7]. When that happens, you can encourage them to pay attention and “move their energy” to a neutral part of their body – like the soles of their feet [7]. Tell them to really feel their soles, to think about how they feel in their shoes or on the carpet. They can wiggle their toes and start walking and noticing different sensations. Are they walking on grass or tiles? How does each of those feel? How are they different? You can even tell them to choose their favorite sensation and remember it specifically. That way, they can revisit it in their mind the next time they feel overwhelmed by their environment.

Bell-Listening Exercise

A listening exercise such as this one is a powerful way of connecting to the present moment. Ring a bell (if you don’t have one, you can use an app) and tell them to listen to and feel the vibrations of it. They should raise their hand once they can’t hear the ringing anymore. After that, they can start noticing other sounds for a minute and tell you what it is they can hear [7].

Bedtime Mindfulness

Much like with Mindful Eating, you can do this one regularly. Once your child is lying down in their bed, tell them to pay attention to their body, starting with their toes [7]. They should stretch them as much as they can, then ease them back (Progressive Muscle Relaxation). Alternatively, tell them to imagine that their legs are made of iron and sinking into the sheets. They start with one leg, then the other, then both, and they keep on doing that all the way up to their forehead. This is a great way to both connect to the body and relax before going to sleep.

Snow Globe

This is another exercise (next to Soles of the Feet) that can help your child calm down if they’re feeling stressed [7]. Shake the snow globe and tell them to pay attention to the snowflakes falling down and reaching the ground [7]. This will help them turn their attention to something beautiful instead of remaining stressed out. And since it takes a lot of time for the snow to drift down completely, it will give them plenty of time to calm down.

If you don’t happen to have a snow globe or if you just prefer something else, you can try using glitter wands or even try making your own glitter jar! That will give your child the additional sense of power. They will be bringing something beautiful to life, so the next time they feel stressed out they can use their very own creation to calm down.

Did you find this article helpful? If you would like to read more about similar topics, visit our Articles page!

 

References:

  1. Cassone, A.R. (2015). Mindfulness Training as an Adjunct to Evidence-Based Treatment for ADHD Within Families. Journal of Attention Disorders, Vol. 19(2) 147–157
  2. Ridderinkhof, A., Bruin, E.I., Blom, R., & Bögels, S. (2018). Mindfulness-Based Program for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Their Parents: Direct and Long-Term Improvements . Mindfulness, 9:773–791
  3. Conner, C., & White, S. (2014). Stress in mothers of children with autism: Trait mindfulness as a protective factor. Research in Autism Spectrum, 8, 617–624
  4. Oord, C., Bögels, S., & Peijnenburg, D. (2012). The Effectiveness of Mindfulness Training for Children with ADHD and Mindful Parenting for their Parents. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 21:139-147
  5. Weijer-Bergsma, E., Formsma, A.R., Bruin, E.I., & Bögels, S. (2012). The Effectiveness of Mindfulness Training on Behavioral Problems and Attentional Functioning in Adolescents with ADHD. Journal of Child and Family Studies,21:775-787
  6. https://www.additudemag.com/download/mindfulness-exercises-students/
  7. http://blog.stageslearning.com/blog/six-simple-mindfulness-practices-for-kids-with-autism

 

Is Playing Video Games Good or Bad for Children?

“You know what’s really exciting about video games is you don’t just interact with the game physically—you’re not just moving your hand on a joystick, but you’re asked to interact with the game psychologically and emotionally as well. You’re not just watching the characters on screen; you’re becoming those characters.” – Nina Huntemann, Game Over

Video games have become an integral part of popular culture, as well as one of the largest industries in the United States. They are a topic of extensive discussion, especially in the media. For more than a decade now, a vast majority of children in the United States engage in playing video games during childhood. Results of a nationally representative study of U.S. teenagers show us that 99% of boys and 94% of girls play video games.

Most young kids see video games as a social activity, rather than an isolating one, and they believe video games are a great way to spend time with their peers or even make new friends. While children often don’t see anything wrong with their engagement in video games, and like them because they are fun, exciting, and challenging, parents may worry about the potential negative effects they may have. Some parents may prefer that their children invest their time in other activities out of concern that video games could encourage violence and procrastination, which in turn could lead to neglect of school commitments, and even the development of addiction. In the aftermath of a violent incident or a display of antisocial behavior, the media often links the behavior to video-game use, and paints them as the cause, sometimes regardless of any correlation, which is why parents in turn focus more attention on the potential dangers of video games rather than their benefits. In this way, media can add fuel to the fire without really tackling the issue, leading parents to forget that games are today a normal part of modern childhood and to start believing their children shouldn’t be playing games at all, which can create conflict between them.

On the flip side, some psychologists suggest that video games can actually have many benefits, especially bearing in mind that “the nature of these games has changed dramatically in the last decade, becoming increasingly complex, diverse, realistic, and social in nature”. So, in order to understand the impact video games have on children’s development, we need to look at both the positive and the negative effects of these games.

Benefits of Video Games

Problem solving and decision-making skills

Games usually include some puzzles or other problem situations that players need to solve in order to get to the next level. Playing a game such as The Incredible Machine, Machinarium, Angry Birds or Cut the Rope, makes for an excellent workout for children’s minds as they have to use their logic skills and creativity in order to achieve a goal; they have to search, plan, and experiment with different approaches in order to solve puzzles and deal with other problems. Some scientists believe that video games could be used as training tools to develop quicker decision-making. They showed that video-games players had heightened sensitivity towards their environment and were able to make correct decisions more quickly than people who didn’t play games.

Hand-eye coordination, fine motor and spatial skills

Some games require the real-world players to keep track of the position of a character, where they are heading and at what speed, at the same time as they must keep an eye on diverse stimuli. The player has to take into account all these factors and then coordinate the brain’s interpretation with the movement of his hands. In order to accomplish all of this, the player requires a great deal of eye-hand coordination and the utilization of visual-spatial ability. Research suggests that people who play video games have better visual-spatial attention skills and are more successful in visual processing of images than non-gamers. Meta-analysis studies show that, by playing video games, spatial skills can be acquired in a relatively short time, and that the results are often comparable to formal training designed to enhance the same skills. This effect is well-known, as, nowadays, pilots and surgeons are being trained on video games (you can check out the game which is a validated training tool for laparoscopic motor skills, right here).

Multitasking skills

Being able to effectively and quickly switch between two or more tasks is an important skill in life. It’s been suggested that video games may enhance one’s ability to apprehend and track many shifting variables and manage multiple objectives. Some researchers report that children who played video games performed significantly better compared to other children on a version of the multiple-object tracking task. This multitasking ability can especially be seen in strategy games where a player must take care of lots of different buildings and units and can encounter many unexpected surprises, which forces them to be flexible and change tactics quickly and accordingly.

Negative Effects of Video Games on Children

Aggression in Children

It’s a widespread concern that violent video games promote aggression, reduce prosocial behavior, increase impulsivity, and have a negative effect on children’s mood. Parents are afraid that this is yet another form of media, besides TV shows, movies, comics, etc., where children can encounter violence daily and become desensitized to it. By now, much research has been conducted showing that playing violent video games increases aggression in children, leading to a lack of empathy and prosocial behavior. These studies are usually conducted by having children play an aggressive game (e.g. Grand Theft Auto) and assessing their aggression afterwards. On the other hand, there is also a lot of research that provided evidence of video games having only immediate and short-term effects on aggression, or even that they have the opposite effect – they make children less aggressive, and that, in the long term, video games are not promoting or causing aggression in players in their offline lives.

It is still unclear if playing aggressive games really does cause the player to become aggressive. Some would argue that it’s not that games that are making people aggressive, it’s just that gamers who already have aggressive tendencies are more attracted to these kinds of games. If you’re a parent and you have a concern that your child is showing aggressive behavior and is unwilling to talk to you about it, you might want to consider talking with a parent with a similar problem, or even try to find someone who has expertise in the subject.

Gaming Addiction

There is no doubt that video games can indeed be highly addictive, as they can lead to behavioral dependency characterized by an excessive or compulsive use of computer or video games, which can interfere with one’s everyday life.

While it may be controversial, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized “a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior” as a disorder in June, 2018. In order for a diagnosis to be assigned, the behavioral pattern should be evident over a period of at least 12 months, and should result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other areas of functioning. Gaming Disorder is manifested by:

  1. Impaired control over gaming (e.g., onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context)
  2. Increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities
  3. Continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences

On the other hand, the American Psychological Association (APA) concluded that there is not sufficient evidence to determine whether the condition is a unique mental disorder, but they are subjecting gaming to further research (along with caffeine-use disorder and several others).

We can also talk about the consequences that investing too much time in playing games can have on some of the important aspects of children’s lives.

Poor academic performance. This is one of the negative consequences of extended and reckless engagement in video games. As with any activity, if children are devoting a lot of their time to playing video games, their school performance can be affected as they’ll have less time for their school obligations. There’s an obvious correlation between these two.

Adverse effects on health. Video games also have an indirect effect on physical health, if children are choosing video games over physical activity (here you can read our take on why children should take up sports). Children who are too invested in games can easily skip meals or even sleep in order to play the games they like.

What’s the Verdict? Are Video Games Good or Bad?

Video games are neither good nor bad. Technically, video games are just games with a visual component, and can be more social and distracting due to constant availability. They can be used as powerful teaching and skill-honing tools but can also be over-used and have an overwhelming effect on a child’s life if they frequently get angry and frustrated while playing games. It all comes down to appropriate and moderate use. Video games are fun and can sometimes enrich a person’s life and create happiness, but they shouldn’t be used as a substitute for living your own life outside a video game.

Young children especially have problems with this line, so parents need to help them by providing understanding, support, and guidance while also imposing rules when necessary. We’ll now take a look at just how parents can help children maximize the benefits of video games while minimizing their potential harm.

Parents as Mediators in Children’s Gaming Life

– Take the time to get to know your children’s habits around video games, but also do the research and know about the content and rating of the video games they play. Try talking with them about their feelings and observations about the games they play in order to understand what drives them to play them.

– Set limits on how long and how often your children can play games, and make sure they do it in their spare time, after finishing their homework or chores around the house. Monitor your child’s video game consumption while also showing respect and a willingness to understand their playing time. Modern online games often don’t have a pause button, and currently many popular games are matches played with other people, in real time. So try talking with your child to set up more appropriate restrictions; for example, it might be more appropriate to make a deal and say “1 game” instead of “30 minutes”.

– Find a game you can play together, as this can be a good bonding activity for the whole family. If they know more about a particular game than you, you can act as their pupil and see how good they are in the role of teacher. Here you can find some games to play with children of different ages.

– Try to use video games to increase children’s school engagement by motivating them to learn through games. There is a large number of educational games to choose from which can help with learning, math, history, etc. Having fun while studying makes children persistent and less likely to quit, as some video games are capable of making difficult subjects fun and easy to understand. If you’re unsure about mixing technology and education, you should definitely read our article on this subject.

– If you’re afraid that your child is addicted to playing video games, try to help them recognize their compulsive behavior. Encourage them not to feel guilty or ashamed and be patient with them. If you have trouble communicating how you feel about them excessively playing games, don’t be embarrassed or scared to ask for help. Here on Nobel Coaching & Tutoring, we have amazing Coaches who can help you with this.