Supporting Children’s Transition to Adulthood

A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity. It dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path. – Agatha Christie

Before heading to preschool or grade school, children spend most of their time with their parents, from whom they learn and with whom they laugh, cry, and share everything in between. And so, when the time comes for parents to let their children grow up, it’s completely understandable why it can be so hard and challenging to do so.

As children grow older, parents are faced with the fact that their children won’t be spending as much time with them as before. Some parents may be looking forward to this stage, and others may be dreading it, but regardless, obstacles may arise. Kids are going to make new friends and relationships which will differ from the one they have with their parents. They are sometimes going to prefer hanging out with their friends from school, which can come at the expense of family time. Nevertheless, this is crucial for building social independence with their peers. When children reach adolescence, parents need to loosen their restrictions and trust their children to take some risks and explore (e.g. going out with friends alone, entering dating relationships, etc.). Finally, and probably the hardest to bear, parents have to let their children leave home and start their own independent life.

The path of parenting can take many different turns. There are some parenting practices that can slow down children’s transition from childhood to adulthood. For example, parents may feel as though they’re abandoning their children if they don’t provide them with enough care and supervision – which could lead to overparenting, or becoming a helicopter parent. Doing everything for your children may result in you controlling them, and denying them the power to make their own choices and to express themselves. All of this sends a clear message to them – that you don’t believe that they can do something on their own.

The quality and nature of relationships between parents and children differ. Even within the same family, roles and relationships change over time as parents start down the path of raising their children. From an early age, children learn to internalize their experiences with parents and translate them to other relationships in their childhood and adulthood [2]. For example, if parents continually undermine their autonomy and risk-taking, children may become overly dependent on them, as well as experiencing increased anxiety when making decisions or dealing with life choices. This can result in them not being prepared for the adult world.

Parent-Child Relationship in Adolescence

Adolescence is one of the most turbulent periods of childhood. In this phase of development, adolescents tend to vacillate between childhood and adulthood, so a parent can’t always react today exactly like they did yesterday. Research shows that a positive relationship in adolescence functions in exactly the same way as it does in early childhood. In this kind of relationship, it’s likely that a parent will retain a substantial role through the school-age years. Or, as one child puts it [1]:

I can go to [my mom] with my problems, I can rely on her to be there for me, I know that she won’t get mad at me for you know, for like a mistake or something like that. If I have problems, whatever, she, I don’t know, she’s always there for me.

Studies show that having a good relationship with your child is associated with them being less engaged in high-risk behaviors, having fewer mental-health problems, and better social skills and strategies to cope with distress [2]. Also, they’re less likely to engage in excessive drinking, drug use, and risky sexual behavior [2]. Children who have this kind of positive relationship with their parents also “manage the transition to high school more successfully, enjoy more positive relationships, and experience less conflict with family and peers” [2].

So, building strong and positive relationships between parents and children leads to desirable outcomes in early childhood, as well as in adolescence. In this type of relationship, parents encourage their children to explore and take some minor risks, while at the same time providing them with a safe and reliable harbor to come to in times of trouble. We’ll now look at some parental practices that can be beneficial in helping a child’s transition from childhood to adulthood.

How to build and maintain a positive relationship with a child who is coming of age

– Although the parent’s availability and sensitivity in times of distress are essential for maintaining a secure attachment with adolescent children, adolescents don’t need the same amount of proximity and physical availability as do young children. Knowing that they’ve got the support of their parents is more important to them [2]. Keep in touch, stay close, but not too close, and don’t ask too many questions. Give them the space they need to try their own wings. Parents are the safety net, rather than the cage.

– Make sure your children have an opportunity to do some tasks all by themselves, without standing over their shoulder every second, even if that means they’ll occasionally make mistakes. Try to give them some commitments and obligations that are more grown-up, such as paying the bills through the mail, taking care of their younger sister/brother, taking up some new chores and more responsibility around the house, etc.

Don’t demand, suggest! Clearly and thoroughly explain your reasoning behind a proposal about, for example, something they should do differently. Your relationship should be less about dependency and authority, and more about mutual respect.

– Instead of monitoring their every move by playing 20 questions, start a conversation by telling them about something interesting that happened to you on that particular day, and then ask them about how their day went. If you haven’t already done it, try establishing a routine where you talk and learn about each other’s day and experiences in a conversational way, rather than pressuring answers with question after question. Remember, it’s fine if they don’t have anything to report – some days can just be slow and uninteresting.

– It’s important to understand that your children now have other important people in their lives. You should be proud and happy because they have different people they can rely on in times of need. In the end, you have to acknowledge that you’ve done your best as a parent and appreciate the life choices your children make. Otherwise, caring too much and controlling your teenagers may be overwhelming for everyone.

We at Nobel Coaching & Tutoring know there are many variables that can take you off your intended parenting path to the point where your relationship with your adolescent could be in distress. Connect with us to hear how we assist students and their parents through Coaching and Tutoring!

References:

  1. Freeman, H., & Brown, B. B. (2001). Primary attachment to parents and peers during adolescence: Differences by attachment style. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 30(6), 653-674.
  2. Moretti, M. M., & Peled, M. (2004). Adolescent-parent attachment: Bonds that support healthy development. Paediatrics & child health, 9(8), 551-555.

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School Stress: High Achievers

Children, especially adolescents, frequently deal with significant stress during their school years. They usually cite academic requirements, school transitions, peer relationships, and over-commitment as their most challenging issues. So it is notable that so-called high-achieving students, almost without exception, are able to excel despite such challenges [2].

Low achievers versus high achievers

There are high and low achievers in every school and the academic disparity between them can often be linked to differences in motivation.

Less accomplished individuals are often more motivated to avoid failure [1]. They try to protect themselves from failing important tasks and the feelings of embarrassment and incompetence which result. When it seems that something is unlikely to be a success, they quickly give up. If they can’t avoid it, they procrastinate or don`t give their best effort. For example, the night before an exam they might decide to clean their room or go to a party. To them, this serves as an excuse for less success or outright failure.

On the other hand, high-achieving students perform much better academically because they have strong motivation to achieve something that’s important and valuable to them, so they’re willing to put in significant, extended effort [1].

High achievers and high levels of stress

Sometimes the stress high-achieving students experience is underestimated. High achievers are often admired and people aren’t always aware of their inner struggles. They’re faced with demands and expectations from themselves, school, their parents, peers, etc. They are trying to be perfect in every area of their lives and cannot permit themselves to make mistakes.

Sometimes parents’ reaction to “not an A+” increases the feeling of stress. Too many parents think that the road to college starts in elementary school and that every grade counts. They ask themselves, How hard should I push my child to get better grades? This is precisely the wrong question. Pushing a child makes the situation even worse. By focusing only on grades, parents lose sight of the importance of social interaction in academic performance.What matters most are not grades, but the habits of mind that children form in elementary school: self-control, goal orientation, responsibility, persistence, and resilience [3].

Students may simply not communicate their distress to the adults who are invested in their achievement or non-achievement [2]. Be aware that the consequences of stress differ. Pay attention if their grades drop rapidly or if they have a high frequency of absences. Personal stress in gifted students can also manifest itself in other ways. They can still excel academically and in extra-curricular performance, but might quietly experience significant stress from heavy commitments in or outside of school. One way to maintain the same level of high performance is to cheat, so it shouldn’t be surprising that high achievers are more likely to cheat.

If you are the parent of a high-achieving child, we have some suggestions for you that will make it easier for you to recognize these “quiet” indicators and help your child handle the pressure through communication and coping strategies.

Ways to deal with the situation

Talk casually and often.

It’s a good idea to talk casually to your child about their feelings and how they’re managing high-stress times in the academic or extracurricular year. Don`t push it! Your efforts could boomerang and the student might withdraw even more. You also need to be aware that you are a role model for your child. So try openly discussing minor stresses you yourself encounter every day and show them that communicating your frustration can help – not only to relieve the stress but also to help find solutions.

Highlight your student’s strengths.

Gently comment when you see them “down” and offer credible comments about personal strengths and resilience. It could be crucial support at a time of vulnerability and reinforces your confidence in their ability to cope. You trust them.

Help a student find “me time”.

Don’t let them over-commit themselves. They need some unstructured, free time with their peers or alone. Model the behavior of taking care of yourself as a parent as well. They need to realize it’s okay to take “me time”. If they’re already over-committed, help them rethink their choices about extra-curricular activities and set priorities. Some activity has to take a back seat to a higher priority one, which will allow them to be even better at the one (or more) they’ve chosen.

Mistakes can be a path to success.

Help them understand that it’s okay to make mistakes and that sometimes mistakes are a learning opportunity. They can teach us to see the positive, and encourage initiative and growth. Expect to make mistakes. Try to persuade them not to judge themselves against others and help them recognize their own progress.

Sharing feelings is good.

Show them that admitting their worries and mistakes is a way to get them out of their head and get advice. Help them realize they aren’t the only ones feeling that way.

 

If you are having difficulty helping your high-achieving student cope with school stress, we have coaches who are trained to help students and their parents manage the demands of being a top performer in school.

 

References:

[1] Beuke, C. (2011, October 19). How Do High Achievers Really Think? Retrieved February 13, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/youre-hired/201110/how-do-high-achievers-really-think

[2] Peterson, J., Duncan, N., & Canady, K. (2009). A longitudinal study of negative life events, stress, and school experiences of gifted youth. Gifted Child Quarterly, 53(1), 34-49.

[3] Tough, P. (2013). How children succeed: grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character. Boston: Mariner Books.

 

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How to Motivate Children to Study

“I’m tired. I’ll do it later.”

“I’ll do it tomorrow.”

“It’s not such a big deal!”

“I’m going to my friend’s now, but I’ll do it as soon as I get back!”

If these excuses sound familiar to you, chances are you have a student at home who finds it hard to motivate themselves to study or do their homework. Motivation is an important driver of academic success – children who are more motivated to study tend to have better grades [2]. Since we commonly address motivation with our clients in both our coaching and tutoring domains, we have some suggestions to share with you. So, here are four ways you can boost your student’s motivation!

1. Choose your words

Some students lack the motivation to do their school assignments because they’re afraid of failing. This could be due to a variety of factors; previous negative experiences, or different types of anxiety, such as test anxiety. Whatever the reason, one thing you can do to help them feel less afraid is paying attention to the words you use to describe their successes [1].

We often tend to identify students by their talents or efforts, so we say things like: “You’re such a good singer!” or “You’re so good at math!” It might not sound bad – and really, it isn’t! – but by saying these things, we unintentionally put a lot of pressure on students [1]. We often believe (and children do, too) that talent equals success. So what happens if a child who’s constantly being told they are incredibly talented at something, fails a test? They might start thinking something along the lines of: “If I’m so good at math, why did I fail this test? What does that make me? It makes me a failure, too, doesn’t it?”

The belief that they must succeed since they’re so “talented” creates fear. They might get scared that they’re not talented after all, which could lead them to believe they’re not worth much.

This is why you should praise their efforts and outcomes instead of their talents [1]. Teach them that success requires effort, and that sometimes even that will not be enough – we all need some luck here and there! You can say, for example: “You did such a good job on your math test!” [1]. This lets them know that they are neither their successes nor their failures; they are simply people with their ups and downs. With the right choice of words, their fear of failing will not be so debilitating, their reactions will be less emotional, and their motivation to improve will not be as affected.

2. Interests and rewards

There are two main factors that ultimately determine grades: ability and effort [3]. Both can be affected by a lack of motivation, but in order to work on that, we need to understand which of the two is problematic for the student in question [3].

Students can have both the ability and put in the right amount of effort into a certain subject, or they could have just one and lack the other. For example, one student could be a physics whiz and yet lack the motivation to put in the necessary effort. Chances are they are simply not interested in it [3]. They might think it’s boring and would much rather be outside going for a run or inside learning Japanese, if that’s what really interests them. In order to help them, we need to make a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation [3]. Intrinsic motivation goes hand in hand with interests: it means that simply doing an activity like running or learning Japanese may make someone happy, regardless of consequences or any rewards. But in case your student is lacking this in some subjects, don’t worry!

Extrinsic motivation is the exact opposite: it’s when we do something well because we’re expecting a reward, not because it interests us. Now, having your child do well at school because they’re about to get something from you is not ideal, but it could be a start, because extrinsic motivation can turn into intrinsic motivation somewhere down the line. We’ll talk about that, too.

Of course, you should be cautious about rewarding them every time they do well on a test or complete an assignment! They’ll soon get used to the rewards and they’ll lose their appeal, so you should only resort to this tactic occasionally. That way, they’ll never be sure whether a reward is coming, so they’re more likely to do their best each time. Rewards should also follow soon after the achievement, and they don’t have to be something expensive or time-consuming: their favorite dinner or moving bed time an hour could do the trick. You just have to figure out what is most appealing to your student. For some students, grades themselves or even simple praise from you will be enough [3]. And think about rewarding their efforts as well, not only their achievements. This will let them know how much you appreciate that they’re giving their best!

3. Understanding mistakes

We mentioned before that both ability and effort determine grades [3]. So what if your student is really willing to put in the necessary effort, but they simply “don’t get” math? Although “practice makes perfect” and “hard work pays off” are phrases we’re all familiar with, if they try their best but don’t see results, giving up might, unfortunately, start to seem like a valid option. Your student might start thinking: “Why should I be wasting so much time to just get another C? I can do that without all that effort!”

The first thing to do is talk to their teacher – and bring your child with you! This should be an open discussion that will show them you care about them and want to support them. Also, by having them there, you send a message that you believe they’re mature and smart enough to work on their own issues. Find out what’s most troubling for them: is it that they can’t remember the right formula? Or do they do everything right, but at the very end, their attention falters and they make a silly mistake that costs them a grade? Understanding one’s mistakes is the first step towards fixing them.

After you’ve found out what’s troubling your student, you can work on helping them, and they can work on it, too. Once they get the hang of it and start seeing results, they should be more motivated to learn and perform well.

However, each of these problems (memory, attention) requires a different approach, and you can decide whether you want to tackle it yourself or enlist the help of a tutor. There are a few things that could determine whether you might need outside help. For example, you could ask yourself: “How well do I know the subject matter? Do I know it well enough to teach it in a different manner? Is it a short-term challenge (such as long division) or a long-term one (no “head” for math)?” And last, but not least: “Will my persistent efforts hurt the relationship I have with my child?” After you’ve answered all these questions, you can decide whether you might need the help of a tutor.

4. Build situational interest

As previously mentioned, students can be internally or externally motivated to do something. And although being motivated externally is still better than not being motivated at all, ideally, that external motivation should at least in part translate into internal motivation. We do this through what is called situational interest [3]. Even though your student might not be interested in computer science per se, presenting it in a new light (for example, creating a learning environment that appeals to them) could spark their interest in it [3].

One way to do this, especially with younger students, is by creating a text, or even a presentation, on the topic they’re currently learning [3]. Say they are supposed to be learning about the environment, but they believe that it’s just so boring! You could take a look at their textbook and, instead of teaching them fact after fact, you make a story out of it. It could be a story about a young girl who was one day visited by a wizard who gave her a great task – to save the planet! He left her a sheet with the instructions that said: 1. conserve the water; 2. plant trees; 3. shut down some factories… and so on. Things that appeal to young students in these stories are the element of surprise, vividness, intensity, and ease of understanding [3]. Of course, you should introduce the facts, too; but they’ll be much more likely to remember them if they are a part of an epic story!

This approach should prove useful not just as they are studying for their tests, but while they’re growing up, as well. If they internalize this way of learning and eventually start using it on their own, they’ll find it easier to deal with tougher subjects and the more complex information to come!

When it comes to older students, if you notice they’re struggling with a certain topic, try to find an interesting movie (documentary or otherwise), a TV show – or a book, if they enjoy reading –  on the topic. It’s important to get them involved. Once they find themselves even slightly interested in their assignment, they’ll be more likely to put in the effort and finish it on time!

 

We hope you find these tips helpful! If you find you need some additional help making them work, Nobel coaches and tutors are always here to help you out!

 

References:

1. Cimpian, A., Arce, H., Markman, E., & Dweck, C. (2006). Subtle Linguistic Cues Affect Children’s Motivation. Psychological Science, Vol. 18, No.4. pp. 314–316.
2. Hidi, S., & Harackiewicz, J. (2000). Motivating the Academically Unmotivated: A Critical Issue for the 21st Century. Review of Educational Research, Vol. 70, No.2. pp. 151-179.
3. Kindermann, T. (1993). Natural Peer Groups as Contexts for Individual Development: The Case of Children’s Motivation in School. Developmental Psychology, Vol. 29, No.6, pp. 970-977.

 

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Test Anxiety – How Can We Help?

“What? I don’t know this one! I didn’t study it. The very first question and I don’t know the answer! And it’s happening again… my heart’s racing… I’m sweating so much I can’t hold my pencil…can’t catch my breath. I’m going to fail, I’ll never graduate, I’ll never get into college. My parents are going to be ashamed of me. I just need to focus… I can’t focus. Okay, I’ll just guess and go on to the next question. No! I don’t remember this, either! I know I studied it. Why can’t I remember? I’m no good. I’m a failure. What’s the point? I’m just going to stop trying and I’ll fail. I’ll just guess at all the other questions, too. Probably won’t know them, anyway. I’ll never amount to anything. I wish I could at least catch my breath. I just want to get out of here.”

If that narrative or something similar has ever played out in your head, you’re in the company of 38% of U.S. students who also struggle with test anxiety. That means more than three out of ten students face similar symptoms before, during, and/or after taking a test. From the debilitating physiological symptoms – rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, out-of-control breathing, stiffening jaw, etc. – to the nagging psychological symptoms, such as thought-consuming and self-disparaging, negative self-talk – the impact of not addressing test anxiety can be quite damaging to a child or an adolescent. Many students struggle with finding and applying the best techniques to prevent or counter the symptoms of anxiety, so this article is meant to provide insights on how to be the best test-taker possible, especially if you’ve ever struggled with testing before.

Before we move on to the tips, you should know that the physiological symptoms you feel during a testing or performing situation can actually be beneficial – they are your body’s way of telling you to focus and ensuring you give your best performance. For example, rapid breathing is your body’s way of getting more oxygen to your blood so that your senses are heightened and you can react more quickly to a challenge. [6] If you’re able to recognize the physiological sensations and then use your self-talk to make a positive statement about them, you may not get stuck in the thought tornado of labeling what your body is doing as damaging. “My heart rate’s increasing. That’s great because now my blood’s circulating faster so I can respond faster. I’ll take some calming, deep breaths so I can give my body the oxygen it needs and  my heartbeat can settle down.”

Similarly, there has been research that resulted in the concept known as “facilitating anxiety” that actually helps you get motivated to perform. Facilitating anxiety is meant to help you use your thoughts to predict potential outcomes accurately so you make the best choice, because some of the worried thoughts you may have are in fact true statements. For example, the thought “I’ll fail the class if I don’t take the exam, since it’s worth half my grade” is true because, yes, you will actually fail the class if you don’t show up to take the final exam, but the thought “I will never amount to anything if I don’t get an A on this exam” is untrue because one A on an exam does not predict overall outcomes for the rest of your life. Learning how to distinguish between worried thoughts that facilitate motivation and self-disparaging thoughts that damage your mental wellbeing is an important skill to have during a test.

Now let’s add some other skills you can use before, during, and after taking a test.

Fighting test anxiety – what can students do?

Music therapy. Yes, you can actually help yourself through listening to your favorite music! Whether it’s the newest pop releases or heavy metal, the music you prefer listening to in your free time works miracles to calm you down before a big test. If concentration allows, you can even listen to it as you’re studying, especially if the music is instrumental, so lyrics won’t distract you. If you notice that your heartbeat hasn’t lowered after listening to your favorite music, don’t worry – music tends to raise the heartbeat while calming your thoughts (the worry dimension of your anxiety). [1]

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). You can start to become familiar with progressive muscle relaxation through this video. PMR allows you to work primarily on the physiological symptoms, but not only that. Self-defeating thoughts can be caused, in part, by physiological symptoms, because the body and mind are connected; calming the body will, in turn, calm your mind, and allow you to think more clearly about the situation at hand. These exercises relax your muscles, deepen your breathing, and calm your heartbeat. You’ll learn to systematically tense and then relax your muscles while breathing deeply and getting to a “happy place”. [2]

Work on your mistakes.  Making mistakes is the only way for us to actually learn something and become better at what we do. So if one of your dominant anxieties is “I’ll fail again”, ask your teacher to let you see your previous test. Explain you’d like to look at what you got wrong so you can work on it. Once you see which part of the test is the issue, you can sit down and work carefully on learning those things – alone, or with a classmate who can help you. You can also ask your parents if it’s something you think they’d be good at explaining. [3]

Another thing you can try is to create a test-like situation as you’re studying. One of the scariest things about tests is that they’re full of things that are unknown to you and that you’re not used to. The simple act of entering the classroom on a test day can be enough to send your heartbeat into overdrive. To make this a little bit easier for you, why don’t you create a test-like situation at home while you’re studying? Make your desk look like a school desk by getting rid of your phone and other distractions you won’t find in a classroom. You can even schedule an alarm to ring at the end of the “class”, both to allow yourself to rest a bit and to recreate the school atmosphere as best you can.

Fighting test anxiety – what can parents do?

Offer them incentives. One of the best things you can do to ease your children’s test anxiety is to offer them some sort of reward if they do well on a test. Their thoughts are telling them that they can only expect a bad outcome after the test, so having something good to look forward to might make the whole experience less stressful for them. This reward works best if it’s something that means a lot to them – it can be as simple as praise, or it can be a material reward, depending on what you believe works best for them. [4]

You can also take the time to create a Plan B with them, in case the test doesn’t go as well as they’d like. This will show them that it’s not the end of the world if everything doesn’t go perfectly!

Quiz them. Students themselves can create an atmosphere that resembles that of the classroom, but you can help by playing the teacher. By quizzing them, you’re accomplishing two things: you’re helping them learn what they need for the test and you’re also making them more resistant to the test situation itself. You can combine these two by offering them a small reward if they do the practice test well – but be careful: if you can do it without becoming adversarial, then it’s a good thing to try.

These exercises and tips are something you can do, and should make a student feel better and more at ease! But if you feel as though you need more guidance on this matter, please contact us to set up a consultation with one of our coaches. Parents and students can also sign up for our FREE WEBINAR on test preparation and learn how to improve time-management and eliminate test anxiety!

References:

  1. Davis, W. B. & Thaut, M. H. (1989). The Influence of Preferred Relaxing Music on Measures of State Anxiety, Relaxation, and Physiological Responses. Journal of Music Therapy, XXVI (4), pp. 168-187.
  1. Conrad, A. & Roth, W. T. (2007). Muscle Relaxation Therapy for Anxiety Disorders: It Works But How? Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21, pp. 243-264
  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-9cqaRJMP4
  1. Hembree, R. (1988).  Correlates, Causes, Effects, and Treatment of Test Anxiety. Review of Educational Research Spring 1988, Vol. 58, 1, pp. 47-77
  1. Cassady, J. C. & Johnson, R. E. (2002). Cognitive Test Anxiety and Academic Performance. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 27, pp. 270-295.
  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response

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10 Important Reasons Why Children Should Take up Sports

When children are engaged in activities which align with their particular interests, their psychosocial development is enhanced. They not only learn a variety of useful skills, they learn to express themselves, go on a journey of self-discovery, and grow into adulthood with an authentic set of characteristics and values.

Here, however, we will focus on those important activities which impact children’s health and body development – participation in sports.

According to the latest Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance in the United States (2016), 14% of children reported not having any kind of physical activity at least once a week prior to taking part in the survey, while 27% of the children reported having been physically active every day of the week for at least 60 minutes per day. Also, 14% of the children were found to be obese, while 16% were overweight [1]. The results of this study clearly suggest that taking up sports as an extracurricular activity is an especially good idea.

In this article, we’ll take a look not only at the obvious benefits of sports on physical health, but also at a much-neglected topic – how sports help in developing children’s personalities and positive forms of behavior.

Psychosocial development through sports

  1. Companionship and friendship

Being on a sports team provides children with a new social circle outside of school, an opportunity for making new friendships, some of which may last a lifetime. By training with other kids, children participate in different interactions from those they have in school. Also, their communication and interactions are far richer than the ones they get by simply texting via social media. They win together, they compete among themselves, they lose and deal with defeat together. Being involved in a sport teaches valuable lessons in teamwork, such as putting yourself in second place for the benefit of the whole team. All of this gives children a new sense of togetherness and belonging.

  1. Learning how to lose

Learning to accept and cope with defeat is an important lesson in life. The nature of sports is such that there is always a winner and a loser, and the experience of being one or the other is a valuable one. It’s inevitable that there will be multiple occasions when children come out of the game defeated in practice or in a match, but it’s important to help them realize that losing is nothing to be ashamed of. We all have a friend who’s a sore loser, and who can sometimes ruin all the fun of the game. By learning to control and understand their emotions after losing, children can build resilience that can aid them in life. After all, life brings many obstacles and learning to be dignified in defeat and to stand up when you’re down are lessons sports can teach us early on.

  1. Learning discipline and respect for authority

Specific rules may apply on the sports field, set by new authority figures like coaches or other older individuals (e.g. referees). Following the rules requires discipline and respect for the decisions made by more experienced and skilled others. Obeying rules and orders is the basis for good interaction and cooperation in any sport, and being disciplined in training sessions is a necessary part of succeeding. Constructive criticism is a big part of sports and the main ingredient for developing the necessary skills. Children learn to respect those in authority, even when they don’t agree with them, as they see their skills developing and improving. This way sports introduce a new authority figure for children, besides parents and teachers, who can help them in their healthy development.

  1. Developing persistence, dedication, and patience

Through competition, children can develop the motivation to improve and avoid defeat. By working hard at every practice and staying focused on their goal, children build persistence and learn the importance of patience, and in the end, realize that hard work pays off. This translates to life in general – setting out to accomplish something requires dedication and persistence over a long period of time. There is some evidence that long-term commitment to sports has a positive impact on children’s behavior in the classroom [2]. They tend to apply the same principles of dedication, persistence, and patience they learn through sports to the school environment. Everything mentioned above, such as interactions with peers, dedication to training, and practicing teamwork translates into the classroom. In this sense, sports are able to advance the educational aspirations of children and create pathways to educational success [3].

  1. Developing self-esteem

Participation in sports can be beneficial for children’s self-esteem and confidence even though they might not necessarily be good at it. Words of praise from coaches for successfully finishing a workout or winning a game, high-fives from teammates after a great team action, or just having something of their own that helps them build their own identity (“I’m a tennis player”) – are all ways of building trust in their own abilities and developing a feeling of confidence. On the other hand, it is important for children to focus on how much they enjoy playing a particular sport, and not whether they’ll win or lose a game. If they become overly competitive and their self-esteem only depends on winning, they risk losing self-confidence. Because of this, parents have an important role in encouraging children to play sports for fun and enjoyment, and not necessarily for winning every single game. After all, when are you going to have fun if not during your childhood? Of course,  physical activity also benefits the body and overall health, so it’s not surprising that one study found that girls who played sports reported greater acceptance of their body image [4].

  1. Sports as a mood-enhancer

Sports are generally a positive emotional experience, and being physically active and engaging in sports practices leaves children feeling better afterward. This mood-enhancement effect of sports is not only short-term. Doing something they love and enjoy regularly will provide children with more energy and a lasting feeling of wellbeing. Participating in sports a couple of days a week leads to happier children each day of the week. There’s even research that suggests that people who are not active are more depressed than those who maintain an exercise regimen [5]. Sports can not only be a protective factor for certain clinical mental health disorders, such as depression, but also guard against a range of risky behaviors prevalent in adolescence, such as the use of tobacco or illegal substances [4]

Health benefits

  1. Body composition and weight

Research has shown that children who engage in more vigorous physical activity have more muscle and less body fat. If we bear in mind that by having more lean mass, the organism burns more calories, it’s not surprising that participating in a physical activity and sports tends to reduce the risk of being overweight [4].

  1. Building a healthy heart

Lowering body fat by playing sports or engaging in a regular physical activity also means taking care of the heart, and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. One study showed that high school students who took up a sport outside of school had significantly better cardiovascular fitness than children who participated solely in PE [4, 6]. On the other hand, it’s important to bear in mind that following good eating habits is also crucial for maintaining a healthy heart and a fit body.

  1. Strengthening the bones

Playing sports can have a positive impact on bone health as well. Engaging in a vigorous physical activity over a sustained period of time can improve bone mineral density, especially among girls [4, 6].

  1. Building a healthy adult

Finally, physically active children usually grow up to be physically active adults. We have seen that sports represent an excellent way of preventing several chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, obesity, osteoporosis, etc., so getting involved in sports in childhood is a key element in developing and maintaining good health and promoting longevity..

 

The role of the parent…

– If you’re having trouble encouraging your children to take up sports, you should set an example by doing some workouts at home, or becoming more physically active in some other way. Also, try raising their interest by exploring and playing some sport together, such as tennis or baseball, or simply throwing a frisbee around.

– Try not to push your children towards a sport you like, but they don’t show a particular interest in.

– If your children don’t want you to attend their match, try to talk to them and see why. They might be afraid of not performing well, or they lack self-confidence, so try to be supportive.

– Make sure your children don’t neglect other commitments (e.g. schoolwork). It is possible for your children to become too invested in a sport or some other hobby. If you are not sure how many extracurricular activities they should take up, we have an article that can be helpful.

by Darko Stojilović

References:

[1] Kann, L. (2016). Youth risk behavior surveillance — United States, 2015. MMWR. Surveillance Summaries, 65, 6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

[2] Singh, A., Uijtdewilligen, L., Twisk, J. W., Van Mechelen, W., & Chinapaw, M. J. (2012). Physical activity and performance at school: a systematic review of the literature including a methodological quality assessment. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 166(1), 49-55.

[3] Rosewater, A. (2009). Learning to play and playing to learn: Organized sports and educational outcome. The Education Digest, 75(1), 50.

[4] Rosewater, A. (2010). Organized sports and the health of children and youth. Prepared for Team Up for Youth.

[5] Blumenthal, J. A., Babyak, M. A., Doraiswamy, P. M., Watkins, L., Hoffman, B. M., Barbour, K. A., … & Hinderliter, A. (2007). Exercise and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of major depressive disorder. Psychosomatic Medicine, 69(7), 587.

[6] Warburton, D. E., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. S. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Canadian medical association journal, 174(6), 801-809.

 

If you need any advice on sports and activities for your child, you’ve come to the right place!

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Teamwork for Children with Learning Differences

The cornerstone of good teamwork is cooperation. This is a skill which requires practice to master, and some need more practice than others. The best way children can practice teamwork is through play activities, where they have the chance to learn all kinds of prosocial behaviors and social cues such as smiling, conversing, or praising. [1]

But it’s not only about learning; play is natural for every child. If they’re asked to become responsible too soon and not allowed to play enough, they’ll try to find play in places they shouldn’t – during class, for example – which can negatively affect their ability to be part of a group. [2]

Since we find that play is the best way to practice teamwork, this article will be centered around building the best possible play atmosphere for kids whose learning difficulties are directly related to attention.

Scheduled activities

While promoting natural, spontaneous play is beneficial for most children, kids with learning differences tend to work better if they have a clear schedule in front of them. This serves to essentially “wire their brains” – it’s like putting up a flashing neon billboard inside their minds, which helps them focus more easily. So instead of simply gathering them together and telling them to play, you should create activities for them and act as a guide.

It’s also beneficial to allow them to be the co-creators of the schedule. For example, you can color each activity differently and ask them which colors you should use. You can tell each child to write down the schedule and tell them to color it the way they want. This will help them focus on the task at hand and memorize future activities more clearly. [5]

Interest raises motivation

Some children have trouble maintaining their attention on the task at hand, and one of the main reasons is that they lack the motivation to finish it. [1] Quite simply, they don’t find it interesting enough, so they choose to move to a different, more interesting task, often leaving their teammates (in, say, a group practice during class) to deal with it alone; that, in turn, leads to other children starting to avoid teamwork with them.

To help them with this during play, you can organize them into groups based on their interests. For example, you might ask each child what they want to be when they grow up. All those who choose the same profession can be put in a group together. Next, you can give them some questions to answer or tasks to complete based on this profession – that way, they’re more likely to remain motivated to persevere rather than switching to something else, all while practicing teamwork.

Verbalizing social cues

Another challenge some kids might face is difficulty recognizing others’ feelings and thoughts. This can lead to misunderstandings, with other children viewing them as insensitive, not understanding their issues. To help solve this the best way possible, create games requiring acting or imitation.[1] Charades would be a good example for this. It gives kids the chance to practice recognizing cues their teammates are giving them. Some themes you can create here are “emotions”, “chores”, “school activities”, etc. They can also imitate their own classmates – that way, they become familiar with how others act and what they mean by it. This also necessitates your instructions for a game be as clear and specific as possible – understanding you correctly means kids will be more likely to proceed with undivided attention.

Another way to help them is to encourage the other children to verbalize their feelings more. This is actually a good practice for every child.  Kids with learning differences want to play just as much as any child does, but if they keep feeling as though they’re doing something wrong without really understanding what that is, they’ll eventually choose to play on their own instead. That’s why other kids telling them things like “It makes me sad and angry when you take my ball because you want to play something else” can be beneficial – they’ll learn that everyone makes mistakes, but that some mistakes can be fixed; they can learn to talk to other children, understand their feelings, and practice choosing group activities together.   

The importance of friendship

As a general rule of life, having a friend or a sibling who’s there to support us helps us overcome our problems with more strength and self-confidence. So if you make sure the child who needs some extra help has a peer alongside them who understands the way they think and act, it will make their teamwork much easier; their friend can give them important cues, teach them what is expected of them, and develop their prosocial skills. [1]

Being a peer team coach can be a challenging task – sometimes it can take a lot of time and practice for their peers to be able to understand and help these children. And be careful not to put two children with learning differences in the same group, or you’re risking them just playing with each other and not the others, which, in the long run, doesn’t do much good for them.

That being said, children with learning differences should ideally start learning about teamwork in smaller groups, or even in pairs. Anything more than three people can frighten them and make them feel insecure, leading them to act out. [3]

Rewarding prosocial behavior

Any behavior that shows signs of cooperation should be rewarded; this way, children are more likely to continue doing what is expected of them in a group environment. [1] The Reward can be as simple as praise – “good job!”. This makes a huge difference in their lives, as they become aware they’re doing something right, which gives them the motivation to continue doing so. [5] Praise can come from you as well as their peers. You can ask each group to say one good thing about each of their playmates – what they like about them, if they think they’re especially good at something… This also strengthens the bonds of their newly-formed group and allows them to interact more easily.

Green spaces

Another thing to consider is the setting in which teamwork takes place. For children with learning differences, green spaces can be much more beneficial than any others. So if you can, choose a park for teamwork practices, or a backyard – any place that offers enough nature. If outside teamwork is impossible for some reason, then try to find a room with a green view. [4]

Green spaces are highly beneficial when it comes to our ability to focus. Our attention span isn’t infinite – once we reach our limit, it drops off. However, we can restore it by going to sleep or by practicing gently absorbing activities that draw on what is called involuntary attention. This type of attention is effortless and allows the brain to relax and, in a way, reboot. For example, listening to light music while working could be an example of a gently absorbing activity, as long as you are aware of the music, but not actually focused on it. Another thing that works as an outlet for involuntary attention is, again,  nature, which helps the brain focus on the task at hand.

You can also help by tailoring the environment to meet children’s needs in terms of visual and auditory stimuli.  You can turn on a song or make the room more colorful – all of these serve to increase involuntary, and, consequently, voluntary attention. [3]

Natural play

Last, but not least, children need to feel as free as possible during play. This sounds counterintuitive, given the aforementioned rules of successful play. However, a limit should be set for the amount of interference. Yes, you should step in if you notice a problem, and yes, it’s better to present them with a clear schedule, but any further interference should be brief and clear. If you notice some of the kids are isolating themselves or not respecting teamwork, you can take them aside for just a moment, explain what should be done differently, and allow them to continue playing, instead of punishing them by, say, having them wait until the next game. This way, they’ll see the immediate continuation of play as a reward for understanding you, and it will help them act better in the same situation next time. [2]

In conclusion, it’s not easy to plan and organize teamwork practice for children with learning differences. It requires a lot of patience and not a small amount of creativity. Some rules need to be followed, while you try not to suffocate the kids too much. But if you use what we’ve mentioned above, they’ll be able to play more smoothly, and, eventually, they’ll internalize what you’ve been teaching them, and become able to participate in teamwork with less stress and more understanding.

One important thing to remember is – it all happens one step at a time. 

If you want your child (with learning differences or without them) to get a great teamwork practice while learning about something that interests them and developing other 21st century skills, check out our online program based on the Project Based Learning approach, Nobel Explorers.

by Jelena Jegdić

References:

  1. Cordier, R., Bundy, A., Hocking, C., & Einfeld, S. (2009) A model for play-based intervention for children with ADHD. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal (2009) 56, 332–340
  2. Panksepp, J. (2007) Can PLAY Diminish ADHD and Facilitate the Construction of the Social Brain? Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry16(2), 57–66.
  3. Sherman, J., Rasmussen, C., & Baydala, L. (2008) The impact of teacher factors on achievement and behavioural outcomes of children with Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): a review of the literature. Educational Research, 50:4, 347-360
  4. Taylor, A., & Kuo, F. (2011) Could Exposure to Everyday Green Spaces Help Treat ADHD? Evidence from Children’s Play Settings. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 2011, 3 (3), 281–303
  5. Personal interview with a school counselor for kids with learning differences

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Cultivating a Sense of Gratitude

Gratitude is the emotion we experience when we notice and appreciate gifts that have been given to us in our lives. These gifts are frequently thoughtful things others do for us, but they can really be anything that makes us stop and say, “I am so grateful for this!” You can appreciate the gifts of nature, be grateful for feeling good today, or just for being alive!

But gratitude is often overlooked in the fast-paced world of today. It’s easy to get lost in the hassles of our everyday lives and never pause to look at the big picture and realize there’s a lot to be grateful for. And although gratitude is an emotion, it can, through time, grow into a positive personal ethic. If we feel gratitude as an emotion, we feel it only briefly and not necessarily often. But if we integrate it into our value system, it becomes part of us and we feel it more often and more deeply.

However, that requires persistence and hard work, but we’re here to help! Today, you’ll learn about all the positive outcomes of gratitude, as well as how you can practice it to become a happier and healthier person.

Psychological benefits

Gratitude can be beneficial for our mental health in many different ways. First and foremost, it’s a good stepping stone for combatting – and preventing – depression and anxiety. [4] People who suffer from mild depression have said that when they feel as though they’re sinking, being grateful helps them feel they can survive and swim instead.

But besides that, gratitude can simply make us feel happier, more enthusiastic, and more optimistic about our present and our future as well. [3] People who tend to focus on all the gifts they’ve been given also tend to experience negative emotions like envy, sadness, or bitterness, less than those who focus on their problems. [3] This isn’t to say all our problems should be completely overlooked and expected to solve themselves; rather, we should start by being grateful for what we still have, before proceeding to work on the issues we’re facing.

Finally, gratitude is a very adaptive feeling when it comes to facing stressful situations. People who often feel grateful say they feel calmer and less stressed when it comes to difficult situations, compared to those who don’t practice gratefulness that often.

Interpersonal benefits

As we mentioned before, gratitude is often related to other people in our lives. Although we may feel grateful for life itself, we tend to appreciate the people we have in our lives and everything they are giving us wholeheartedly – all their help, love, and care. When we feel grateful about that, we start feeling loved and cared for, which further leads to us trusting other people and wanting to preserve our existing relationships, or even build new ones. [2]

Some say that gratefulness is the core of altruism. [2] If we feel other people have been kind to us and if we appreciate it, we’re more likely to help them out when needed, even if it can sometimes come at the short-term expense of ourselves. Through gratitude, we learn to let go of our fears of being hurt or used, and we start feeling good if we help others, just as we feel good when they help us.

Physical benefits

You may have now realized that gratitude can have mental benefits, but can you believe it also helps you be physically healthier? And it’s not just self-reports, either.  If you start feeling grateful often, people close to you are bound to start noticing both mental and physical differences in you. There are cyclical physical benefits to the immune system: gratefulness helps lower stress, which lowers blood pressure, too; having more balance in your body means your immune system will be stronger and thus you’ll be getting sick less often; being sick less often decreases your psychological anxiety, which lets you sleep better. Finally, all of this helps you look better and have more energy, which is very helpful if you’re having trouble convincing yourself to exercise. Of course, exercising helps the body, too. And it all starts with gratitude! [4] [3]

We can be very focused on what we don’t have – so much so that we forget about the things we do have. But after hearing of all the benefits gratefulness can give us, the question remains – how do we cultivate a sense of gratitude? How do we internalize it, instead of it being an emotion we tend to feel only once a year during Thanksgiving?

One thing you can do is keep a journal. [4] Writing in it every day might be a bit too much – you could get so used to writing gifts down that you start feeling indifferent towards them. Instead, write in it once or twice a week, or as often as you feel like – everybody is different when it comes to that.

What you should do is create a list of things you’re grateful for – family, friends, a wonderful day, that great new song you heard – anything that makes you happy. Simply think of all the things you have that are not really a default in life, as well as things you didn’t even have until recently.

Another useful thing you can do is help your community. You can volunteer or donate to the less fortunate.  Getting a sense of other people’s misfortunes and feeling you are helping someone makes you feel more grateful for the things you have in your own life. [4]

Finally, a simple meditation practice can help open your mind and make more room for gratitude. [4] Each person has their own preferences, and gratitude works best if they choose the practice that fits them best. So choose yours and ask yourself – What am I grateful for?

by Jelena Jegdić

 

References:

  1. Bartlett, M., & DeSteno, D. (2004). Gratitude and Prosocial Behavior. Psychological Science 17(4):319-25.
  2. Emmons, R., & Stern, R. (2013). Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(8):846-55
  3. Emmons, R., & McCullough, M. (2003). Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, No. 2, 377–389
  4. Sheldon, K. & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to Increase and Sustain Positive Emotion: The Effects of Expressing Gratitude and Visualizing Best Possible Selves. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(2): 73–82

If you need any kind of advice related to the emotional development of your children, you’ve come to the right place!

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Four More Team-Building Activities For Teens to Develop Teamwork And Trust

We had such a great response from our first article on team-building activities for teens that we’re back with more ideas!

Team-building activities are fun and easy ways to help teenagers (and adults too!) learn and practice how to communicate their thoughts and ideas, develop relationships, and build teamwork and trust. These activities can be invaluable because being able to work effectively on a team is an imperative for the 21st-century workplace. Here’s a list of four team-building activities to help teenagers develop their social skills, teach them the importance of teamwork, and provide an opportunity to share their points of view.

1. Photo Scavenger Hunt

In this activity, small groups (around 4 members) have a time limit (e.g. 1 hour) to take photographs of various objects or situations. In order to play, each group needs to have at least one camera or a smartphone and a checklist of the items they need to photograph. This activity can be organized as a competition between groups where each item is worth a certain amount of points, with bonus points given for creativity and originality. It’s important to make the checklist as fun as possible and include both easy and challenging tasks. These could include various landmarks in the neighborhood, animals, a group reflection in the water, unusual food, something frozen, a picture where you look like you’re flying, etc. If you want to encourage creativity, you could use nonspecific tasks – take a picture of “something green” – “something you love” – “something that begins with the letter Z” or “something funny”  to give groups more freedom to express themselves. Many people have shared their own lists online, so you could use those as inspiration to create your own tasks.

This activity works best when members of each group stay together. If you want to practice teamwork, cooperation, and decision-making, you might decide to allow team members to split the tasks among themselves or reduce the time limit to make things more challenging. However, the activity could then become stressful and less fun. The “stay-together rule” is the preferred way to go, because as the group works on the activity together rather than having participants wander around alone, cohesion develops and social skills are enhanced. When the time is up, every group presents their pictures and the winner is chosen (the group with the highest score).

2. Fear In a Hat

This activity can be helpful for adolescents because they get a chance to hear different opinions about a specific personal problem or a fear they may have. Acquired information can be very valuable because teens often feel ashamed or scared to seek help from their peers. In addition, by participating in this activity, group members realize that everyone has similar fears and this promotes unity and trust.

Before starting this activity, the group moderator should make sure to set an appropriate caring and serious tone. Introduce the topic of fear, explaining that everyone experiences some worries or fears about all sorts of things, and that a good way to fight those fears is to acknowledge them openly.

After this, each person writes down their personal fears privately on a sheet of paper, which they then put in a hat. In order to make it easier for the teens to formulate their fears, you can use unfinished sentences like – “I am most afraid that…” or “The worst thing that could happen to me would be…”

When all the fears have been placed in the hat, each person in turn takes one out. (This is not done simultaneously because group members might focus only on the fear they pulled out of the hat.) After reading the contents, the first reader describes his own understanding of the writer’s fear. If the reader does not elaborate enough, the group moderator should ask one or two questions without expressing an opinion on the topic, unless the reader misunderstands what has been written.

Depending on the group size, the moderator can initiate a discussion with the rest of the group right after the first reader explains their understanding of the fear (whether they agree with the reader or not, what is their opinion, and have they experienced something similar), or after everyone has had a chance to be a reader. The moderator should facilitate intra-group communication, keeping in mind that the purposes of this activity are fear reduction and showing empathy and understanding.

3. Jigsaw-Puzzle Pieces

Setting up this activity is simple. A large jigsaw puzzle is divided and the same number of pieces given to each group. Make sure to divide the puzzle in a way that every group can fully assemble their own part of the whole. The moderator should introduce this activity in the following way – “The aim of this exercise is for each team to assemble the jigsaw puzzle as quickly as possible using the pieces provided. You will receive no additional instructions.”  This way, groups will think that they’re competing against each other before realizing that the only way to complete the entire puzzle is by working together.

This is a great activity for kids and younger adolescents where they learn that a competitive spirit can put cooperation and teamwork at risk. After the puzzle is completed, the moderator can lead a discussion around the fact that most jobs in the modern world require cooperation and teamwork, or more broadly, that humans in a society must work together to survive and advance. Another thing that should be discussed is the strategy each group employed during the assembling of their own section – were there any leaders, did everyone work separately, did they split tasks (e.g. sort the blue pieces, find the edge pieces), and how did all these things affect their efficiency and satisfaction with the activity.

4.  Spot the Difference

To begin this activity you need to divide the group into two teams. Then, have each team form a line so that each person is facing someone on the opposite team. Give the teams some time (e.g. 15 seconds) to memorize as much as possible about the other team’s appearance. After that, have one team turn their backs or exit the room so that the opposing team has enough time to change appearance. Each person should change a fixed number of things about their appearance. Any change is allowed, the only rule being that the changes must be visible. When the second team returns (or turns around), they need to find as many differences as they can. Once this is done, teams swap roles.

There are at least two ways to determine the winning team. One way is to determine a time limit – the winner is the team which found more differences during the limited time period. Another way is to remove the time limit and see which team notices all the differences faster. If a team cannot notice some changes, you can add time (for example 20 seconds) onto their total time for each change they could not find.

This activity is great for improving focus and memory, but it requires teamwork and communication, too. The team of observers can form a strategy (this should be explicitly suggested to groups after playing a round or two) where every person tries to remember as much information about the person right in front of them and one or two persons next to that person. Team members in the “observed” team should work together to make the changes in appearance hard to notice for the other team.

Teamwork is one of the key values here at Nobel Coaching. Check out our new engaging program Nobel Explorers where middle and high-school students work in small teams to learn something new, overcome a challenge, or accomplish a goal.

If you need any kind of advice related to project-based learning and teamwork of your children, you’ve come to the right place!

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by Marko Nikolić

The Effects of Sleep on Performance

In this day and age, sleep could be considered a luxury for many of us. Whether you have to study, work, or do chores, sometimes it’s difficult to get enough sleep. This leaves you feeling tired, irritable, and sleepy the next day. This problem is even bigger if you’re an adolescent who, due to brain chemistry, usually goes to bed very late and ends up getting too little sleep.

In the next few paragraphs, you’ll learn exactly how sleep affects performance, the DO’s and DON’T’s of staying awake, and how you can get more sleep. Also, we’ll look at common assumptions about sleep and determine if they’re myths or if there is some truth to them.

Consequences of poor sleep

When we say “poor sleep,” we’re thinking of both quantity and quality – how many hours and how restful those hours actually are. Poor sleep includes not enough hours, frequent nocturnal awakening, and trouble waking up in the morning. Sometimes, if you don’t sleep enough, the quality of your sleep can compensate for it; other times, even if you sleep for ten hours but wake up non-stop, you might wake up feeling tired. [2]

The things that are most affected by the lack of quality sleep are learning, memory, and motor skills.

In order to really learn something, the newly acquired knowledge needs to be properly consolidated – that is to say, stored safely in our long-term memory. For this to happen, at least 4.5 hours of sleep is necessary the night after learning something new. So, if you spent hours studying something the night before an exam, but didn’t give yourself enough time for quality sleep, chances are you’ll do worse than if you only studied for half that time, but got enough sleep afterwards. [2]

As for performing motor skills, similar rules apply – you need enough quality sleep for best performance. This is especially important for movement-based sports, learning an instrument, or developing fine artistic movement. If you don’t sleep enough the night before the big competition, you’ll be slower and less precise than you might expect to be. What you should do is get some rest from that activity for 24 hours before the performance, as well as make sure you get a good night’s sleep. This might sound counterintuitive – shouldn’t I squeeze in as much practice as possible? Not the day before the performance! As we mentioned before, newly learned things (and this means movement-based things as well) need to be properly stored in long-term memory if you are to remember and perform them correctly. [3]

Now the question arises – how can I best use sleep to my advantage? What are the DO’s and DON’T’s?

Let’s go through some common sleep myths, and hopefully, all your burning questions will be answered.

Myth  No.1: “The older you are, the less sleep you need”

Sure, this is true when comparing adolescents to very young children. However, adolescents in high school DO NOT need less hours of sleep than, say, adolescents in middle school. They need the same amount, which depends on the individual, but is sometimes as long as ten hours. This is proven by the fact that most high school students who don’t need to get up early in the morning will often wake up only after a full ten hours of sleep. [2]

So why do we believe they need less, then?

There are two reasons: first, high school students usually go to sleep later than middle school students, and second, they start school earlier. Thus, their overall sleep time becomes shorter; and seeing how a majority of adolescents lives on seven-ish hours of sleep a night, we tend to believe they just need less of it – which simply isn’t true. [4] This was the reason for the recent debate about U.S. school starting times. Many think it would be more beneficial for students’ health if high school classes were to start an hour later than they currently do, and based on research, we can’t help but agree with that.

Myth  No.2: “Adolescents’ brains are different, so they turn into night owls”

This is true, but there’s more to it. If you are an adolescent, especially one who considers themselves to be mature, chances are you start feeling sleepy later at night than you used to – this is a purely biological factor. [2] However, there are social factors as well, one of them being late-night social activities – like parties –  that often start happening during adolescent years. Be that as it may, the biggest culprit is still technology.

Older students tend to spend more time using their smartphones, computers, and technology in general. And while too much time in front of a screen is harmful in itself, it also affects our sleep schedules. Screens we look at daily have a special type of light – blue light – that our brains read as a “wake up” signal. This is why most social networks have blue backgrounds – Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr… So if you decide to “just check Facebook before bed”, you might find yourself still attached to your phone an hour later. Add this to an already delayed sleep schedule and you can begin to understand why most adolescents today suffer from sleep deprivation. [4] [9]

If you want to learn more about screen addictions and how to manage them, sign up for our free webinar on this topic and save your spot now!

Myth  No.3: “Naps are a valid replacement for night sleep”

Again, this statement is partially true. Naps can be extremely useful if you didn’t have enough sleep last night, or haven’t slept in a long time – but in the long run, not enough night sleep will cause you issues like diminished alertness, irritability, learning and memory problems, and micro-sleep  – when you fall asleep for just a second or two, which can be deadly if you’re sitting behind a wheel. Therefore, naps shouldn’t be overused, but they can be useful if need be.

But now the question arises – what is a perfect nap?

First of all, you should nap in the afternoon; ideally, anywhere between noon and 2:00 p.m. [7] As for how long these naps should be, anything between 30 and 60 minutes is great. [8] You should be aware, though, that after you’ve awakened from a nap, you’re almost certain to experience sleep inertia – that feeling of sleepiness and fatigue that comes after a nap. [7] However, this usually passes after five to fifteen minutes, and then you’re good to go!

Myth  No.4: “If you don’t have the time to sleep, energy drinks or coffee are a good substitute!”

The truth is, energy drinks can do more harm than good, especially if you have medical issues like diabetes or a heart condition. The amount of caffeine in energy drinks is not regulated and is usually through the roof; on top of that, energy drinks have sugar and additives such as guarana, to further help you stay awake. [6] So if you absolutely must stay awake, coffee is a better solution. But the problem here is the more you drink, the more you need to drink to stay awake. And if you drink coffee less than six hours before going to bed, you’re more likely to have trouble falling asleep. [5]

That’s why a short nap is a much healthier and more beneficial option. Another thing you can do (if you’re not a nap person, or you just can’t fit one in) is some brief exercise. It can be anything – sit-ups, squats, a short run – anything to get your heart rate and adrenaline up. After it, you’ll feel much more awake and without any of the side effects of energy drinks or coffee!

Helpful tips for a better sleep

Now that we’re at the end of our sleep-conversation, here are some helpful tips to make you feel more energetic and functional in the morning.

Growing up, adolescents start craving more and more independence, and one of these acts of independence is setting their own bed-time. And while this surely helps you feel more mature, it can often create issues when it comes to a sleep schedule. As mentioned before, it often means going to bed later and sleeping less. But if that is to be expected due to changes in the brain, how can it be countered?

Ideally, you will set your own bed-time no later than 11 p.m. If you do this enough times, your brain will rewire to accommodate the new sleep schedule. Next, you should try to create a relaxing pre-sleep atmosphere. It can be meditation or listening to some light and slow music, but the most important thing is – no loud noises and no screens! The best thing to do is to read a few pages of a book.  It’s been shown that people who read before bedtime fall asleep faster and have a more quality sleep, than those who don’t. [4]

Finally, your sleep schedule should be consistent, no matter the day. An additional problem for adolescents is they tend to sleep much longer on weekends. It’s impossible to live on quality weekend sleep only – sleeping regularly every day is the way to go. Sleeping longer on weekends only confuses the body and it can’t revert to the weekday sleep schedule until, say, Wednesday. But just when it gets the hang of it – boom, it’s the weekend again! [1]

Following these rules, you shouldn’t have too many problems with sleeping, learning, or performing. But if you notice some problems still remain, experts are just a click away from helping you with that.

by Jelena Jegdić

 

References:

  1. Bonnet, M.H. (1985). Effect of Sleep Disruption on Sleep, Performance, and Mood
  2. Curcio, G., Ferrara, M. & De Gennaro, L. (2006) Sleep loss, learning capacity, and academic performance. Sleep Medicine Reviews 10, 323–337
  3. Walker, M.P. et al. (2002). Practice with Sleep Makes Perfect: Sleep-Dependent Motor Skill Learning. Neuron, Vol. 35, 205–211
  4. Carskadon, M.A. (2011). Sleep in Adolescents: The Perfect Storm. Pediatr Clin North Am; 58(3): 637–647
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nn42RC1zT_A
  6. Seifert, S. M. (2011). Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. pediatrics.org/cgi/doi/10.1542/peds.2009-3592
  7. Naitoh, P., Englund, C.E. & Ryman, D. (1982) Restorative power of naps in designing continuous work schedule. Human Ergol.,11, Suppl.: 259-278
  8. Gillberg, M. et al. (1996). The Effects of a Short Daytime Nap After Restricted Night Sleep. 19(7):570-575
  9. http://jap.physiology.org/content/110/5/1432.full

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Bullying: How to Recognize it and Build Resilience

Bullying is a very emotional topic for kids and parents alike. Unfortunately, we are used to hearing about bullying incidents that mostly happen during middle and high school, due to the biological, social, and emotional changes adolescents undergo during this period. [3] That being said, it’s important to emphasize that while bullying tends to be more noticed during those years, for some children it can start as early as preschool.

If you’re not certain whether something constitutes bullying or not, ask yourself these questions: Is there a power imbalance?, Is the negative behavior intentional?, and, finally, Was it a single incident or is it ongoing? 

A power imbalance makes bullying easier. The bully can be physically stronger than the victim, but that doesn’t have to be the case. These days, being popular creates the biggest power imbalance in schools and often allows spreading rumors and name-calling to be perpetrated with no repercussions.

Also, bullying is an intentional infliction of harm. Bad things can happen accidentally – if a bad message goes to the wrong number by accident, it’s not bullying. But if it’s sent with full intent, then whoever sent it could be considered a bully – if it’s not a single incident. A single bad action cannot be viewed as bullying, though it should be dealt with firmly. Bullying implies the incidents are being repeated, creating a vicious pattern. [4]

Types of bullying

Many people tend to think of bullying specifically as physical abuse. A physical act of bullying can be any situation in which the student’s physical integrity is under attack – pushing, kicking, hitting… However, it’s not the most common form of bullying today.

The two most common are verbal and relational bullying, and a very specific form that’s being practiced more frequently – cyberbullying. [3]

Verbal bullying is very common and it mostly revolves around name-calling. Relational bullying doesn’t necessarily involve face-to-face contact between the bully and the victim. Any form of social exclusion (not allowing someone into a peer group, denying them access to social activities on purpose) or rumor-spreading falls under relational bullying. Another form of relational bullying is issuing orders and ultimatums to peers in order to command more power in social circles, for example, “you can’t hang out with that person and still be part of our group ”.

Cyberbullying is a growing problem for many reasons. For one, access to technology has never been easier, and with a growing number of platforms where someone can express their opinion by sending and receiving messages, the proportion of cyberbullies is growing as well.  Instant messaging allows perpetrators to “hide behind a screen”, which instills a lot of anxiety in the victim, given that the identity of the bully is often not known. [5]

Recognizing bullying is the first step in tackling an issue that’s been going on for a very long time. However, recognizing a child who’s being bullied is just as important.

Signs that a child is being bullied

It’s not easy to recognize that a child is the victim of bullying, but you should be able to notice that something is wrong. The best thing you can do is create a loving, positive, and safe atmosphere in which your child feels comfortable enough to tell you they’re being bullied.

Bullying can have many consequences, from emotional distress to lower grades.

Behaviors resembling depression or anxiety are very common indicators that a child is being bullied. You may notice that they have trouble sleeping (insomnia, nightmares) and they look sad and worried. Consequently, their desire to go to school, as well as their grades, might be plummeting. It’s difficult for a student to concentrate on studying and paying attention in class if they’re afraid of what’s going to happen after class is out. [7] If they look fearful and anxious before going to school, or they’re constantly making up excuses to avoid going, the best thing to do is talk to them about it.

If you notice that they look nervous after interacting with technology, it could be a sign of cyberbullying. Some children will become socially isolated due to rumors being spread or name-calling, so they might not be hanging out with friends as much as they used to. [4]

In extreme cases, the child might resort to self-harm as a way to cope with stress and fear. If you notice any cuts or bruises they try to hide, you should talk to them about it. They could also start acting out in an unusual way – they could become aggressive verbally or even physically towards others, both as an outlet for frustration and out of the belief that aggression should be battled with aggression. [4]

As we mentioned before, these are some of the signs that could help you notice something’s off, but it’s difficult to know for sure unless they tell you themselves or a teacher reports it.  Remind your children often to let you know if they’re being bullied – anywhere!  Assure them that you will not overreact, but instead, will assist them in dealing with it themselves.

Why do they hide it?

The solution to this problem would be easier if all the victims of bullying came forward. Unfortunately, many students do not do so. One reason is that they don’t want to seem”weak“ in front of their peers, so they choose to take it silently rather than admit to it.  Another possibility is fear of retaliation once the bully is punished for their behavior. Last, but not least, they sometimes think their parents will want them to change schools, and they don’t want to leave their classmates and friends behind. Starting over can be very difficult, especially in adolescent years.

Because of this, we need to create a safe environment that clearly condemns bullying; we need to tackle it systematically. However, parents can do their part as well, and to help with that we’ve prepared some advice.

Building resilience

Often, we tend to (wrongly) assume that if we remove the bully, we stop the bullying. This might be the case for some children, but for most, bullying is an ongoing process that has to do with their vulnerability. And while no child is to blame for being bullied, there are some characteristics that make them susceptible to bullies, and that parents can help them strengthen.

By achieving resilience, children start feeling:

• in control of their lives

• strong enough to battle this issue

• confident that they have enough strength and outside support to do it, and

•able to communicate their problems and expect a positive outcome.

One of the characteristics that might make them vulnerable is solving problems by internalizing them. They feel anxious and depressed when dealing with stressful events, they have trouble telling anyone about it, and aren’t assertive enough. Kids like these may be perceived as easy targets who won’t retaliate if attacked. [4]

Alternatively, if children tend to externalize their problems, dealing with them by showing aggression (yelling, breaking things), their peers might not accept them, leaving them without social support and vulnerable to bullies. [4]

Once we have this in mind, we can work on strengthening the characteristics important for resilience.

1. “This is my fault”. Victims of bullying often feel they’ve done something to deserve it. Parents and teachers alike have the responsibility to talk to children and let them know that nobody deserves to be bullied. However, this might make them feel there’s nothing to be done about it; if it’s not about them, how can they change something and stop it?

It’s of the utmost importance to help children understand that bullies come after those whom they think either won’t defend themselves or appear to believe they have no one to defend them. This is what makes confidence, sense of self-efficacy and assertiveness pivotal to resilience. [2]

2. Confidence and self-efficacy. Children who have experienced bullying often don’t have a lot of confidence, and don’t perceive themselves as being in control of their lives. They don’t think they’re able to change anything, and that leaves them vulnerable. [2]

In order to be able to solve problems and acquire confidence, children need to be given two things: autonomy and support. You should encourage them, from an early age, to try and tackle the obstacles they face. If they see you believe that they’re strong enough to solve something on their own, they’ll eventually start believing it themselves. [1]

However, you should also be there for them as a safety net. They need to know that should a problem prove to be too big to solve alone, they can always confide in you and receive support and help.

3. Being assertive. When faced with bullying, vulnerable children often try to deal with it in one of two ways: they either hide and take it silently or they try to battle aggression with aggression. Neither of these options is beneficial; they should instead be taught to be assertive. This means they learn to express their emotions and thoughts, letting the bully know how they feel – that the behavior is wrong and punishable. If that doesn’t prove to be enough, assertiveness also means they can confide in their parents, friends, and teachers and expect that the problem will eventually be solved. [4]

4. Standing up against bullying. Even if your child is not the one being bullied, standing by as some other child is being abused makes an audience out of them, and that audience is often what reinforces further bullying. They should understand from a young age why bullying is wrong and, if they see it happen, they should support the child being attacked and help them report it. It’s also important to know that children who have close friends (particularly at school) have less chance of being bullied than children who have no peers to protect them. By becoming part of a peer group ready to protect their members against bullying, they are well on their way to becoming more resilient. [6]

5. Dealing with stress and emotions. The cornerstone of resilience is being able to deal with stress without being overwhelmed by anxiety. A positive reaction to stress means being able to keep a clear head and think of different ways to solve a problem. Of course, feeling sad or angry is a normal reaction to negative events, but the important thing is to not internalize or externalize.  Keeping problems and emotions to ourselves even as they overwhelm us is a mistake, but so is acting out.

A healthy reaction to stress consists of confidence in our strength to solve a problem as well as the belief that there are people in our lives who will help us if it becomes too much to handle. If you can instill that way of thinking and feeling in your child, they’ll be much more protected against any type of bullying. [4]

What can you do?

Dealing with bullying is not an easy task, and the solution is not a simple one. And as with any other problem, mistakes are always a possibility. So to help you be there for your child in the best way possible, we’ll list some of the things you shouldn’t do, and advise you on what to do instead.

Taking away their phones/computers. If your child is being cyberbullied, taking the technology away from them doesn’t solve the problem; if anything, it creates a bigger one. Many children won’t admit to being bullied because of this exact reason – fear that their parents will take their computers away from them. Instead… 

…Build resilience. Try to find out who the bully is, talk to teachers and other school staff. Taking the phone away doesn’t mean that the bullying won’t continue in “real life”. [5]

Overreacting. Similarly, you might want to change schools as soon as you hear about bullying. But what if there’s another bully in the next school? Running away from a problem doesn’t help solve it. Alternatively, some parents tell their kids to just stay put and they’ll take care of things. But solving the problem while keeping them excluded could lead the child to think they’re not strong enough to solve their own problems. So if a similar situation comes up later on, they might react even more negatively than the first time. Instead… 

…You should work on it together and discuss every possible solution with them. Once included, their confidence and perceived sense of control will grow. [1]

Telling them it’s all a part of growing up. Sure, kids can be mean,  but a joke is only a joke if both parties understand it as such. If your child is feeling negatively towards being called names or pushed around, telling them it’s all normal and that “boys will be boys” won’t help them build resilience. If anything, it will teach them that being aggressive and not respecting others’ emotions is okay. Instead…

…You should show empathy and understanding towards their feelings and work on the best possible solution – together.

by Jelena Jegdić

References:

  1. Grotberg, E. (1995). A guide to promoting resilience in children: strengthening the human spirit. Early Childhood Development: Practice and Reflections Number 8
  2. Narayanan A. & Betts, L.R. (2014). Bullying Behaviors and Victimization Experiences Among Adolescent Students: The Role of Resilience. The Journal of Genetic Psychology Vol. 175 , Iss. 2,2014
  3. Wang, J., Iannotti, R.J., & Nansel, T.R. (2009). School Bullying Among U.S. Adolescents: Physical, Verbal, Relational and Cyber. J Adolesc Health 45(4): 368–375.
  4. Arseneault L., Bowes L. & Shakoor S. (2010). Bullying victimization in youths and mental health problems: ‘Much ado about nothing’? Psychological Medicine / Volume 40 / Issue 05/ pp 717 729
  5. https://pro.psychcentral.com/cyber-bullying-recognizing-and-treating-victim-and-aggressor/00112.html
  6. Craig, W.M., Pepler D., & Atlas, R. (2000). Observations of Bullying in the Playground and in the Classroom. School Psychology International, Vol. 21(1)
  7. Juvonen, J., Wang, Z., & Espinoza, G. (2011). Bullying Experiences and Compromised Academic Performance Across Middle School Grades. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 31: 152

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