Raising Your Children with Laughter

Why did the kid cross the playground?
To get to the other slide.

Nothing warms a parent’s heart like seeing or hearing their children laugh. Kids start to develop a sense of humor from an early age, but it’s not as sophisticated at that time as it will be when they grow up. Babies will react with laughter to funny noises or faces, and especially to physical touch (e.g. tickling or raspberries). The game of peekaboo is the funniest thing in the world to a one-year-old, but later on, they won’t find it funny at all. As we can see, at this age, a child’s sense of humor mostly consists of reacting to others doing something funny and trying to make them laugh. When children learn to speak, they start to make their own jokes and take a much more active role in humorous interactions with others. This is important because devising their own jokes helps them in the process of learning and mastering language.

School-age children begin to use humor not only for its intrinsic value but also for a social purpose, such as joking to avoid embarrassment or to create solidarity among peers [1]. By the time they reach the secondary level, they have a better grasp of what words mean and can get into wordplay and create some more complex forms of humor, such as sarcasm.

Everyone wants to be seen as funny and witty, but what makes humor in children especially important?

The Importance of Being Humorous

First of all, engaging in humor helps children see the joy of life and teaches them not to take themselves too seriously – that’s what adulthood is for (just kidding!). A good sense of humor helps with the development of spontaneity and the ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes. When exchanging jokes with peers, children practice thinking in a more unconventional manner, as well as being creative and quick.

Humor is also a good way of connecting with one’s parents and peers. Researchers found that kids who are better at making and understanding jokes are more socially competent, more popular, have better prosocial skills, and are less likely to be depressed [3, 6]. In other words, a good sense of humor can help children feel more competent and in control of social interactions at school and with their peers.

The use of humor is also linked to better physical health, and, some studies show that humor has a similar effect on reducing stress levels as physical exercise [6, 7]. In other words, humor is a great way to relieve oneself of tension. Instead of dwelling too long on a stressful situation, looking at the positive aspects and even laughing at the whole thing after resolving it can help build a positive attitude.

Nevertheless, you should bear in mind that not all humor is benevolent. There are some types of humor that are less desirable, such as off-color humor, or jokes at the expense of others that should be discouraged.

Humor Styles Children Use

Psychologists describe four general humor styles school-children and adolescents use, and we’ll take a look at each one of them [3, 4, 5]. The first two types of humor listed are considered to be adaptive, as they build relationships or one’s own ability to cope. The second two are considered to be maladaptive, as they harm – either one’s own self or other people (peers, teachers, etc.).

  1. Affiliative humor is a well-meaning, benevolent style of humor which children use to amuse other people, to facilitate relationships, and reduce interpersonal tensions. They often engage in spontaneous witty interactions, tell jokes, or say funny things about themselves, and at the same time not take themselves too seriously.
  2. Self-Enhancing humor is used to maintain a positive and humorous outlook on life, to boost one’s mood or deal with stressful situations. It’s regarded as a healthy defense mechanism that helps one avoid negative emotions. As one girl puts it: “When someone was upset we would say, ‘turn that frown upside down.’ The other person would always be looking down so you would bend over and go upside-down and make a silly face and it would always just make whichever one of us feel much better” [2].
  3. Self-Defeating style of humor is an attempt to amuse others by doing or saying something at one’s own expense or laughing along with others when ridiculed as a means of gaining approval. Self-defeating humor is often related to low self-confidence and emotional neediness, and it’s used by “class clowns” in school, as well as children who are being bullied [1, 5].
  4. Aggressive humor is used at the expense of others, often without regard for the potential negative impact on them and their feelings. It includes the use of humor to manipulate others by means of ridicule. The examples of this humor style are sarcasm, teasing, “put-downs”, etc. Bullies can use not only aggressive humor but affiliative as well. Bullies who use affiliative humor are often good at social skills and use this type of humor to harass children who are not part of their social group, or to emphasize their own importance in the group. Furthermore, by using aggressive humor, they demean their peers in front of others or exclude rejected children by spreading rumors in a way that does not exceed the social norms of their group [6].

Parents should learn to differentiate between different types of humor, then set some boundaries, with themselves and their children, so as not to encourage inappropriate humor. When children make a rude, hurtful, or untimely joke, a parent can either not laugh, or even better, explain to them why the joke isn’t funny. Modeling how to respond to aggressive humor can help them respond appropriately to their peers when something hurtful or rude is put in a “just joking” form. Furthermore, children sometimes have trouble determining the appropriate place and time for a joke, so parents should try to provide them guidance in those moments.  For example, using “potty” humor at a sleepover with friends is probably okay, but saying the same type of jokes in class at school is not okay and may be considered rude or disrespectful.

How to Encourage Your Child’s Sense of Humor

– Make sure to create an environment with lots of humor and fun. If you have younger children, surround them with humorous books, or funny cartoons. If they’re a bit older, books or comics will work as well, but you can also watch comedy TV shows, stand-up comedy shows, and movies together.

– Be their comedy role-model! It’s likely that they’ll develop a great sense of humor if they’re surrounded by their parents telling them funny stories and jokes all the time. Put a smile on their face every day!

–  Encourage your children’s attempts at humor and never miss an opportunity to tell them you loved their joke. If the joke isn’t funny, try complimenting their effort and provide them with advice how to make it even better. Then try out that joke on someone else together. After all, kids learn by doing!

– Try playing The No-Laugh Challenge together. One should really try hard to make the other one laugh, and that person should make every effort not to laugh. It’s a hilarious game which is really hard to win!

The internet is filled with jokes that you can model and teach your kids! Here are just a few from this site:

What did one plate say to the other plate?
Dinner is on me!

Why did the student eat his homework?
Because the teacher told him it was a piece of cake!

How do you stop an astronaut’s baby from crying?
You rocket!

Why did the cookie go to the hospital?
Because he felt crummy.

Why are ghosts bad liars?
Because you can see right through them.

We hope you enjoy adding some more humor into your home and your relationship with your kids.  For other ways to boost healthy relationships with your children, check out this article.

References:

  1. Cunningham, J. (2005). Children’s humor. Children’s play. SAGE publications.
  2. Dowling, J. S. (2014). School-age children talking about humor: Data from focus groups. Humor, 27(1), 121-139.
  3. James, L. A., & Fox, C. L. (2016). Children’s understanding of self-focused humor styles. Europe’s journal of psychology, 12(3), 420.
  4. Kuiper, N. A., & Leite, C. (2010). Personality impressions associated with four distinct humor styles. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 51(2), 115-122.
  5. Martin, R. A., Puhlik-Doris, P., Larsen, G., Gray, J., & Weir, K. (2003). Individual differences in uses of humor and their relation to psychological well-being: Development of the Humor Styles Questionnaire. Journal of research in personality, 37(1), 48-75.
  6. Semrud-Clikeman, M., & Glass, K. (2010). The relation of humor and child development: Social, adaptive, and emotional aspects. Journal of child neurology, 25(10), 1248-1260.
  7. Szabo, A. (2003). The acute effects of humor and exercise on mood and anxiety. Journal of Leisure Research, 35(2), 152-162.

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TEACHERS: Four Easy Ways to Address Your Students’ Visual and Verbal Learning Styles

Each teacher is unique and has their own particular teaching style. “Teaching style” refers to the way one prefers to teach and is illustrated in instructional behavior from which a teacher will rarely deviate [3]. Despite the fact that teachers seldom, if ever, change their style, they may vary their teaching strategies depending on the nature of the subject, requirements of the course, common learning styles, and other factors.

Understanding one`s teaching style can serve as a foundation for the improvement of instruction and enhancement of the learning experience [2]. How much a given student learns in a class is governed in part by the compatibility of the instructor’s teaching style and the pupil’s learning style [1]. However, although each teacher may consistently embrace one predominant learning style, students will experience various teaching styles as they encounter different teachers. Both students and their teachers can therefore benefit from understanding variations in teaching and learning styles [2]. This awareness can be the means to achieving the highest possible effectiveness.

This article can help you become aware of your teaching style, understand its relationship to learning styles, and how to easily customize it.

Visual and verbal learning styles

Students learn in many ways. There are visual, verbal, and kinesthetic learners. Most children learn most effectively with one of these three modalities and tend to miss or ignore information presented in either of the other two [1]. In current educational practice, we have tended to distinguish principally between visual and verbal learners, although much more attention is now, appropriately, being focused on kinesthetic learning as well.

Visual learners remember best what they see. They prefer using pictures, images, demonstrations, etc. Verbal learners remember best what is explained in words or written and they learn best from books and lectures.  In the article Are You a Visual or a Verbal Learner you may find out more about what suits each type of learner best.

Most learning and teaching style components parallel one another [1, 5]. So, for example, the student who favors visual perception would be most comfortable with an instructor who uses charts, pictures, and films.

The mismatch between teaching style and students’ learning styles

The most common learning style is visual while most teaching is verbal [1]. Educators present information predominantly verbally through lecturing or words/symbols written in texts and handouts or on a chalkboard. Accordingly, there can be a mismatch between the preferred presentation mode of educators and the preferred input modality of most students, which may lead to serious consequences.

Students may become bored and inattentive in class, do poorly on tests, get discouraged about their courses, lose motivation and the desire for achievement, and in some cases, even drop out of school. Educators are confronted by low test scores, unresponsive or hostile classes, poor attendance, and dropouts. They also often become frustrated, because they realize something is not working [1]. 

Teachers can’t adapt to all the students they teach

In the classroom, there’s usually only one teacher and many students. Do you ask yourself Should I adapt my teaching style to the students’ learning styles or should it be vice versa? There are arguments and evidence in favor of both sides [4]. However, if we think about it, we may conclude that it’s impossible for one teacher to adapt to all the students they teach! But there is something teachers can do.

The adoption of a few teaching techniques may help teachers meet the needs of most or all of their students. They can keep their particular teaching style and at the same time find ways to reach students whose preferences differ from their own.

Four easy ways to address your students’ learning styles  

Motivate learning.

If you motivate your students, they will learn more easily and retain information, regardless of the way it’s presented. For that reason, relate the presented material to what has come before and what is still to come in your course, to material in other courses, and particularly to the students’ personal experience. You can even ask some students to present the same material you’re teaching in a different way to the class, you may be able to learn a new technique while motivating students with different learning strategies to pay attention!

Combine visual and verbal presentations.

Irrespective of the extent of the match or mismatch, presentations that use both visual and auditory modalities reinforce learning for all students. Before, during, or after the presentation of verbal material, you can use pictures, schematics, graphs, or simple sketches. The way to encompass both visual and verbal learners is to show films and provide demonstrations, followed by discussion.

Talk to students.

Try to find out what their academic difficulties and learning preferences are, so you can help them. You can demonstrate various learning styles by using the same content presented in different ways and ask them which one they prefer. Sometimes, explaining the way to learn most efficiently to a student who is struggling is a great help – that way they may reshape their learning experiences and be successful. You can also learn about tips and tricks they use to help themselves, so you could recommend those later to someone who has learning difficulties.

Teach students to help themselves and to seek help.

You don’t have to do all the work! For example, teach students to look for alternative sources of information that suit them better or explain to them the benefits of learning in groups. Check in with them to see if they were able to find something that would benefit the entire class. They may feel like the task is more purposeful if they feel is it able helping others.

Utilize brief formative assessments of your students’ learning by quickly surveying the students about their understanding of the material. This will help you figure out if how your teaching is meeting the needs of your students’ learning styles. If a student continues to struggle, we have Coaches and Tutors who can help them overcome academic and learning difficulties, look us up for ways to refer families to our services.

Resources:

[1] Felder, R. M., & Silverman, L. K. (1988). Learning and teaching styles in engineering education. Engineering education, 78(7), 674-681.

[2] Heimlich, J. E., & Norland, E. (2002). Teaching style: where are we now?  New directions for adult and continuing education, 2002(93), 17-26.

[3] Silver, H. F. (2003). Teaching styles and strategies: Interventions to enrich instructional decision-making. Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ: Thoughtful Education Press.

[4] Thompson, T. C. (1997). Learning Styles and Teaching Styles: Who Should Adapt to Whom? Business Communication Quarterly, 60(2), 125-127. doi:10.1177/108056999706000212

[5] Vaezi, S., & Shahroosvand, H. R. (2015). Iranian EFL Learners and Teachers Sensory Preferences and the Learners Speaking Ability. International Journal of English Language Education, 3(2), 14. doi:10.5296/ijele.v3i2.7627

 

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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.

 

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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