How To Tame Your Fear Of Public Speaking

Have you ever experienced dry mouth, trembling, difficulty breathing, or your voice starting to shake during public speaking?

Racing heart, sweating, your face turning red?

Have you ever frozen in front of an audience?

These are some of the major symptoms of the Fear Of Public Speaking [1]. The body reacts to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival by releasing the hormone, adrenaline, which causes these symptoms. And in order to be able to overcome this fear it’s first necessary to understand it.

What is the fear of public speaking?

The fear of public speaking involves an overriding fear of being scrutinized or evaluated by others [2]. It may happen in the classroom, where a student hopes the teacher won’t call on him/her to answer a question. College students may avoid certain courses where speaking in front of the group is required or decide against certain careers for the same reason. Some students may even avoid social events they would like to attend.

The fear of public speaking is often linked with shyness, unwillingness to communicate, low self-esteem, and communication apprehension [3, 4] and these also frequently lead to avoidance of any situation that is perceived as a threat.

This all might sound scary, but there are many ways in which, with help, you can overcome your fear.

How to tame your fear

It’s okay to be a little nervous

Public speaking is a situation where most people feel anxiety. It’s a normal and common reaction, so remember – you’re not alone! Some people even believe that a little anxiety makes you a better speaker! Learn to accept it and use these tips to reduce the fear to a manageable level.

Prepare yourself

It’s important to be well prepared, so that you feel confident regarding the topic you’re going to be talking about in front of the audience.

Practice, practice, practice

The more you practice, the better you’re going to be! You can start by practicing in front of a mirror. Then, practice in front of friends or family, or someone you trust. You can even videotape or audiotape yourself, so you can have better insight in what to improve.

Use positive thinking

Visualizing speaking and the wanted outcome can reduce negative thoughts and some of the anxiety you feel about performing in front of an audience.

Slow down

Talking too fast can interfere with your breathing and lead to the sensation of running out of air, which could increase the fear. Choose a pace of speech that makes you comfortable and allows your audience to follow you.

Take deep breaths

To prevent the onset of any of the symptoms of public-speaking anxiety, take slow, deep, abdominal breaths before you stand up. This will calm you down and help even if you start feeling anxious during your speech.

Give yourself some credit

Perfect presentation doesn’t really exist, so concentrate on what you did well and remind yourself that a single unsuccessful speech does not automatically mean future speeches will be unsuccessful. Instead of worrying about your weaknesses, concentrate on your strengths.

Fear Of Public Speaking versus Public-Speaking Anxiety

Many people fear speaking in public or performing at events. However, some people suffer from public-speaking anxiety. If you’re afraid of speaking or performing in front of an audience, it doesn’t mean that you have a phobia. There’s a big difference between a fear and a phobia. A phobia is a fear that is excessive, persistent, and interfering. Public-speaking anxiety is a subset of social phobia, the fear of social situations. People who suffer from this have the symptoms we’ve described earlier, but they’re not able to manage and control their fear, so it causes problems in school and in social or professional settings. They tend to freeze in front of even a couple of people and suffer intense anxiety prior to, or even at the thought of, having to orally communicate with any group.

If your fear of public speaking is overwhelming, we recommend seeking the outside help of a coach or counselor, who can help you work through the fear and make your journey from fear to confidence a happy and successful one.

by Jelena Nedeljković

  1.  http://www.glossophobia.com
  2. Westwood, James D., ed. Medicine Meets Virtual Reality 02/10: Digital Upgrades, Applying Moore’s Law to Health. Vol. 85. IOS Press, 2002.
  3. Jovanovic, A. (2017, July 27) Retrieved from  https://nobelcoaching.com/shyness-in-child-development/
  4. Vevea, Nadene N., et al. “The only thing to fear is… public speaking?: Exploring predictors of communication in the public speaking classroom”. Journal of the Communication, Speech & Theatre Association of North Dakota 22 (2009), 1-8.

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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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“New Year, New You” – the Nobel Way!

Don’t give up on your resolutions – Nobel can help you modify them to actually work!

New Year’s resolutions often start with the grand idea of perfecting something or making yourself perfect. We all know, though, that perfection isn’t a realistic, achievable goal, which is why many resolutions tend to be unsuccessful. Nobel Coaching & Tutoring truly knows how to help clients set goals, utilize strengths, and work to achieve success, so we’re offering some quick tips and insights on how you can get started.

  • Prioritize: Be mindful of what you actually want or need to achieve and prioritize two or three realistic and measurable goals.
  • Set short-term targets for long-term goals: Define what can be tracked in manageable, short-term periods that could help you reach a long-term goal.
  • Accountability: Use your resources to help you work on your trackable short-term goals (calendars, reminders, loved ones, personal trainers, Nobel Coaches, etc.).

So, let’s see where you should start!

Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals

Have you ever created a long list of New Year’s resolutions, adding one wish after another, full of motivation and confidence, only to give it all up as your motivation starts declining and your goals start to seem unattainable?

To prevent that from happening, each and every goal you decide on should be created based on the above catchy abbreviation, that stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. [2] We’ll now go through the most popular New Year’s resolutions for 2018, see what they’re missing, and turn them into more easily achievable goals!

The three most common resolutions for this year are:

  • Eat healthier
  • Get more exercise
  • Save (more) money. [1]

But since Nobel Coaching is dedicated to students’ academic success, here we’ll add another, very common one:

Let’s start with the first thing from the S.MA.R.T. template and try to make these goals more specific.

Specifying your goal

Although “eat healthier” is a very positive goal to strive for, this definition allows for a lot of cheating! You need to define what eating healthier means for you and be as specific as possible. [2] Does it mean eating at least one vegetable a day? Does it mean no chips and soda? If you don’t define it, you could make yourself believe one vegetable and two sodas a day constitute a good diet, and once you don’t see any results, it would be easy for you to give up. But if your goal is clearly defined, you’ll be much more motivated to go on.

So, instead of making “eat healthier” your goal, let’s say “cut out chips and soda”, or “instead of sweets, eat fruit for dessert”, or “no eating after 8:00 p.m.”, or – why not all three of these combined?

Instead of  “get more exercise” (you could convince yourself that walking for just a few minutes constitutes that!), you should set a clear goal, such as “exercise three times a week at the gym” or “jog for half an hour three mornings a week”. Notice that it’s important to specify even the place or time; the more specific your goal, the easier it will be for you to make it a habit.

“Save more money” could turn into a specific monthly sum that you want to save, depending on your salary. Even if it seems like only a small amount for you, be sure to specify it! You’ll still save more money that way than if you give up after a month or two!

Finally, “do better in school” also lacks precision. So instead, you could put “go from a C to a B student”, or even better – “Go from C’s to B’s in these three courses”. Then you can choose two or three courses you’re currently having trouble with, and decide to focus on those first.

Measurable goals

You can see that most of our goals have numbers in them, which allows for them to be measurable. [2] If you only say “get more exercise”, there’s nothing to stop you from exercising only once every ten days. But if you say you’ll exercise three times a week, it will be harder for you to skip a day! In order to set goals that are even more measurable, you can separate them into short-term and long-term goals, but be patient: while you could achieve short-term goals fairly quickly, getting to the long-term goal will take more time. Make sure not to give up and not to change the long-term goal in the middle of the time-frame you’ve created!

For example, both “instead of sweets, eat fruit for dessert” and “no chips and soda” could amount to the goal of  “eating two portions of fruit and vegetables every day”, while “save more money each month” can be a stepping stone towards a specific sum you want to save altogether. When it comes to grades, your long-term goal could be a fixed GPA; getting to your B’s and A’s could be just a start towards this goal!

Attainable goals

Reading this, you might start thinking: “Jogging only three times a week? I can do much better than that!” And although one day you will be able to surpass these temporary goals, starting too big too soon more often than not results in disappointment. This will cause you to drop all your motivation and stop trying altogether, and we don’t want that! Once you’ve achieved your current goals, there’s nothing stopping you – you can set more goals and make them bigger!

But for the very beginning, they should be more easily achievable, to make sure you don’t lose your motivation and the will to achieve them. This is why we said “jog only three times a week“ instead of “jog daily”; similarly, make sure to take your financial situation into account when making plans concerning your savings. Regarding your grades, although going from C’s to A’s sounds wonderful, don’t push yourself too hard. Going up a whole grade is something to be proud of, so start with B’s first. Once you’re there, feel free to find new goals for yourself. [2]

Relevant goals

Although we want you to succeed, we don’t want you to put as little effort into your goals as possible. Your goals should be your actual goals, and not just something made up to keep your spirits high while you’re actually not accomplishing much. For example, if you rarely eat sweets and are eating a healthy diet, putting “no more sweets” on your list means you’re crowding out other, more important goals. If you’re a student, these important, relevant goals could be “go from C to B in five of my classes” or “pass all of my tests this year with at least 80%”.

The relevance of the goals also means that your list of resolutions shouldn’t be a mile long – decide on two or three most important long-term goals and once you’ve achieved those, you can add others to the list! [2]

Time-bound goals

Now, what do we mean exactly when we talk about short-term and long-term goals? Short-term goals are simply your stepping stones towards long-term goals. Long-term goals tend to be more specific and measurable. “Going from C’s to B’s in these three courses” would be a short-term goal, while “reach a 4.5 GPA” would be a long-term one. Make sure to give your short-term goals a time limit; this makes it easier to achieve your long-term goal (which should also have a time limit!) more easily and quickly. For example, your short-term goal could be to save “this much” the first month, “this much” the next –  and so on until you reach your long-term financial goal. [2]

To make sure these goals are met, you should use all the resources available to you that could help you track and achieve your short-term goals. This applies to all the groups and individuals who could be helpful: for example, you can join a gym and find a personal trainer, team up with your friends when it comes to jogging or studying, or contact us at Nobel Coaching & Tutoring and decide on a plan together!

But as you embark on this journey, remember one more thing… Don’t tell everyone about your big resolutions! You can share them with your family and one or two close friends, but that should be it. If you go around telling everyone you plan to start jogging or studying two times a day, you’re tricking your brain into thinking you’re actually doing it. This is because the reward centers in our brains are activated by both words and actions, so your brain will essentially be rewarding you just for talking about your big decisions!

So, make S.M.A.R.T. resolutions, use all the resources at your disposal, and your motivation will be sure to stay with you all the way through!

by Jelena Jegdić

References:

  1. https://www.statista.com/chart/12386/the-most-common-new-years-resolutions-for-2018/
  2. https://www.smartsheet.com/blog/essential-guide-writing-smart-goals

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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]

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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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Balancing Homework And Friends After School

School and social activities are high priorities for young people, but balancing the two can sometimes be challenging. If you think this occasionally applies to you, here’s some advice on how to solve the dilemma.

1. Do It Together

People differ when it comes to the surroundings that make them feel relaxed and comfortable. Some prefer spending a quiet night in with a book or a movie, while others usually need external stimulation to feel good; they enjoy loud places, meeting lots of people, and being the center of attention. However, most of us fall somewhere in between the two extremes, sometimes preferring peace and quiet, sometimes bright lights and lively company.

But how does this relate to helping you with your homework? Well, depending on which end of the continuum you’re closest to, the solution to your problem with the homework-friends balance might be different.

If you generally prefer small groups, you might find it hard to choose between picking up a school book or calling a friend over or perhaps messaging them all day. Having one eye on your work and the other on your phone tends to be very distracting. So, do you perform your academic tasks or decide to have a fun time with your friends? Actually, there’s no need to always choose between the two. You can ask your friends to come to a study group with you. Just choose a quiet place, decide on a goal together (forty-five minutes of studying, fifteen minutes of free time, for example) and follow it. It helps to work together – you’re motivating as well as keeping an eye on each other. And after the homework’s done, you can continue to hang out.

Now, what about those who prefer to be among lots of people? Pretty much the same thing applies, except the surroundings are different. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone needs to be closeted away in a quiet room to make the most of their homework time. If you find it hard to concentrate this way, you might benefit from a different approach. Invite your friends to join you at a neighborhood coffee shop, or go to a popular park with a blanket and your books and get ready to work! You’ll be with your friends, and surrounded by the chatter and stimulation that simply doing your homework in your room doesn’t give you.[2] You’ll feel comfortable and much more able to focus on your work.

However, for most people, the ideal work environment depends largely on their current mood. If this describes you, you might sometimes prefer quiet surroundings, sometimes lively ones. You know yourself best, so find out what works best for you at any given time. Be honest with yourself, though. It’s important to do the work as well as socialize, so if you notice you’re frequently distracted while with your friends, you might want to try the other approach.

2. Do It As Soon As Possible

Whether you decide to do your homework with friends or alone, tackling it as soon as possible after you’ve dealt with the material in class can lower the time you’ll need to retain the content successfully. When new information is still fresh in your mind, it’s easier to recall the small details and hints your teacher gave you as well as the overall material. [3] So, doing your homework first is a smart move. It means you’ll finish it more quickly and have more time for your friends later on. That in itself should be motivation enough.

And here’s something else that may help. It’s been shown that studying, as well as homework, is best done in parts. [4] That means that though you should ideally start doing your homework as soon as possible, if you feel your eyelids getting heavy and your yawns getting the best of you, it’s probably time to hit the pause button. You can use this time to clear your head.  Listen to some music, make some coffee, exercise, or squeeze in a little quality time with your friends. The choice is up to you. However, the time you spend on your break should depend on the amount of time you’ve spent doing homework. If you only began half an hour ago, a break of ten minutes will do just fine. On the other hand, if you’ve been dealing with it for two hours straight, an hour off won’t be too much. This break helps you in two ways. Your brain will return to the task refreshed, yet still able to remember what you’ve been working on, and as a matter of fact, tasks you don’t finish from the get-go tend to be remembered more clearly than those you do! [5]  So, having a break is nothing to fear, as long as it doesn’t turn into a vacation.

Now that you know these little tricks, there’s nothing stopping you from leading a fulfilling academic AND social life. So, enough procrastination and off you go!

by Jelena Jegdić

References:

  1. Jung, C.G. (1987), C.G. Jung Speaking
  2. Geen, R. G. (1984). Preferred stimulation levels in introverts and extroverts: Effects on arousal and performanceJournal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46(6), 1303-1312.
  3. Edwards, C.D. (1999), How to Handle a Hard-to-Handle Kid: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding and Changing Problem Behaviors
  4. Mace, C.A. (1963), Psychology of study
  5. Zeigarnik, B. (1967). On finished and unfinished tasks. In W. D. Ellis (Ed.), A sourcebook of Gestalt psychology

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The Secrets And Learning Challenges Of Dyslexia

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

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

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

So, what is dyslexia?

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

Who said reading was easy?

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

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

What causes dyslexia?

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

What are the risk factors for dyslexia?

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

What are the typical signs of dyslexia?

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

PRESCHOOL

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

GRADE SCHOOL

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

MIDDLE SCHOOL

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

There’s more to dyslexia than you’d think

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

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

What to do if you suspect that your child has dyslexia

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

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WHY DO THE ARTS MATTER?

Things children and parents alike can learn from art

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

The Arts make us more creative

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

Enjoying the Arts “makes us smarter”

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

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

The Arts teach us how to be human

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REFERENCES:

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

By Anja Anđelković

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4 SOCIAL/EMOTIONAL SKILLS YOU CAN EASILY PRACTICE WITH TEENS

Whether you are a parent or work directly with teens, here you can read about some concrete social/emotional skills and useful activities that can help teens practice them. We will cover basic information about Listening skills, Assertiveness, Emotional awareness, and Nonverbal communication.

Why practice social/emotional skills?

Whether we call them soft skills, social/emotional skills, social/emotional intelligence or growth mindset, there is a consensus among researchers and practitioners that we need certain abilities to achieve our fullest potential at school, in our professional careers, and in our private lives. These abilities help us recognize and manage our emotions, cope with obstacles and life challenges, and enhance communication skills and good interpersonal relations (including empathy).

According to an analysis of longitudinal studies in nine OECD countries published in Skills for Social Progress: The Power of Social and Emotional Skills by OECD in 2015:

“Children’s capacity to achieve goals, work effectively with others and manage emotions will be essential to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Besides acknowledging the importance of social/emotional skills such as perseverance, sociability, and self-esteem, the report discusses how policy-makers, schools, and families facilitate the development of social/emotional skills through intervention programs, teaching, and parenting practices.

All these abilities are interrelated and their development starts at home and continues throughout the school years. If parents and important adults show a high level of social/emotional maturity, it will be easier for kids to acquire these abilities simply by modeling their behavior.

However, it is always useful when children and teens have a chance to practice social/emotional skills under the guidance of experienced adults. The best case scenario is when programs for enhancing social/emotional skills are an integral part of an educational system and a local community’s initiatives.

Below, we will look at some important social/emotional skills and suggest simple activities for practicing them, adjusted to teens.

1. Social communication skill – Listening

Being able to hear what people are really saying is a valuable communication skill that has a major impact on the quality of our relations with others. You’ve probably already heard about Active Listening, a skill that allows us to hear not only the words people are saying but also the emotions they are reflecting through their nonverbal behavior. Both are important in understanding the whole message being communicated.

This is a complex skill that can be practiced. In the following activity, the focus is on practicing concentration; listening to the verbal message with undivided attention. You can practice this activity with a group of teens in your home, in the classroom or in a workshop.

Instruction

Firstly, ask all the participants to sit in a circle. The first person starts to tell a story (whatever he/she wants). After 3-5 sentences, say “stop” and randomly choose another participant to continue. This person now has to repeat the last sentence said and then continue making up the story. If he cannot correctly repeat the last sentence after five seconds, he is disqualified. The game continues with the same rules and the winner is the last person remaining after everybody else is disqualified.

This is the competitive version of the game. However, you can make up your own version, without disqualifications or adding new elements that you find useful.

Have a discussion

Ask participants to reflect on the game. When and how was their attention distracted? What helped them concentrate and remember the previous sentence? Check out our forthcoming online training Let’s Make a Deal – active listening is one of the objectives!

2. Social communication skill – Assertiveness

Assertiveness, as a style of communication, is characterized by the ability to directly and confidently express our genuine opinion, feelings, or attitudes, such that the rights of others and social circumstances are respected.

It is proven that assertiveness affects our self-esteem and self-confidence, so there’s no doubt that practicing assertiveness is useful for teens. It is a complex skill that can be acquired through a training program led by a trained coach/therapist. However, some aspects of assertiveness can be practiced through simple exercises at home and in a school setting.

Maybe the most important point is to assure teens that it’s okay to claim their rights and to ask, to initiate, to express their opinions and feelings. That it’s okay to say NO to other people in a respectful way.

In this exercise, the focus will be on encouraging teens to initiate a conversation in which they will ask something of others and express their opinion or feelings. It can be practiced as social challenges given to teens either by their parents or teachers.

Instruction

Firstly, a list of social challenges is created, taking into consideration a teen’s age or social needs. Challenges can be written down/printed on separate cards. If given consent to take part in the challenge, a teen takes a random card and his task is to do what is required on the card in the next 24 hours or over several days, as you jointly arrange.

Challenges can be practiced once a week or according to whatever schedule you agree upon.

Examples of social challenges:

  • Give an honest compliment to someone.
  • Learn two new things about somebody from your class.
  • Share with a friend what’s been on your mind lately.
  • Call customer service at your favorite store and ask for information about some product you like.
  • Tell your best friend what you like about him/her.
  • Ask a teacher (or a coach) for clarification of a task you didn’t understand completely.

Have a discussion

After the task is accomplished, it’s important to discuss with the teen how the particular challenge made him feel. Did he find it easy, hard, awkward, or something else? What could be alternative ways to ask, to express? How did others react?
The inspiration for this activity is taken and adjusted from the Speech Bubble SLP.

3. Emotional skill – Emotional self-awareness

We have already written about self-awareness as the basic ability to understand our own inner processes and to relate adequately with others. Emotional awareness, in this context the ability to recognize our own feelings, is the foundation of emotional intelligence.

Besides helping us be aware of our emotions, these skills are important for developing emotional intelligence, according to Daniel Goleman and his bestselling book Emotional Intelligence. Understanding why we feel a certain way and knowing how to handle these feelings, including self-motivation; the ability to recognize the feelings of others (empathy) and to motivate them – these skills are crucial to success and happiness in every aspect of our lives and in our relationships with others.

In the following activity, the focus is on getting in touch with eight emotions a teen chooses, raising awareness of how a particular emotion manifests itself, and how it affects the teen’s life. It is based on art therapy principles and is performed individually. However, it can be practiced in groups, too. You need a white paper and colored markers.

Instruction

Firstly, ask a teen to draw a circle and divide it into eight pies. Then, ask him/her to dedicate each pie to one emotion and fill in each pie with a corresponding color or images that match his/her idea of what the emotion means to him/her. It may be that a teen has a problem coming up with eight emotions. You can assist him but never choose instead of him. Don’t push if he can’t come up with eight. Work with whatever he manages to present.

Have a discussion

After the teen is done with the drawing, initiate a dialogue. You may find these questions useful: What does each image mean to you? What made you choose those particular colors? When in your life do you experience this emotion? What emotion is dominant for you nowadays? What emotion is the hardest to handle? And so on.

If a teen has a problem in coming up with emotions, you can use Plutchik’s wheel of emotion to help him recognize emotions he would like to work on.

emotions in teens

 

This exercise is taken and adjusted from the Art therapy directives BlogSpot.

4. Social/emotional skills – Understanding nonverbal communication

Good understanding of nonverbal communication is a sign of social and emotional intelligence.

The ability to observe and understand nonverbal signs during communication, or any other interaction between people, gives us tremendous information about the real message being communicated. It is especially important when we notice that the verbal message and nonverbal behavior are not harmonized. It also gives us a clue about the motives of the person we are communicating with or their emotional state.

Besides what is said, it is always important to follow HOW it is said. Basic nonverbal aspects of human behavior to be aware of include eye contact, the tone of voice, facial expression, gestures, personal distance, body language, and posture.

The following activity, based on acting and improvisation methodology, focuses on recognizing the emotional state of participants exposed to simulated social situations, through observing only their nonverbal behavior. A group is needed for this activity.

Instruction

Ask a volunteer from the group to leave the room. Separate instructions are given to him/her and to the group, who stays in the room in order to prepare for the final scene. While the volunteer is outside, each individual in the group has to choose one emotion and must express this emotion only through nonverbal behavior (acting). Remind them of the different aspects of nonverbal communication.

Meanwhile, the volunteer outside is given the task of coming up with several social situations familiar to teens such as: in class; during family dinner; on a date; at a birthday party; working on homework, etc.

Finally, when the volunteer is back to the room, he sets the scene: You’re in class (for example). All members of the group act as if they are in the classroom, including expressing their chosen emotional state nonverbally. They can use their voice but only in the form of inarticulate sounds. The volunteer observes their behavior and tries to guess how they feel. If he is confused, he can put them in another social situation (or only for fun:). The game can be repeated several times with different volunteers, emotions to guess, and social situations.

Have a discussion

After it is revealed which emotion has been presented by each member of the group, a discussion follows. You may find these questions useful: What are the main nonverbal indicators of this emotion? How did you feel while acting? Did anybody have difficulties acting in the scenes (why)? What do you usually do when you feel (this particular emotion)? What do you usually do when you recognize somebody acting like this? Was there something confusing and what? – A question to the volunteer.

Depending on available time and the goal of your group work you can go even deeper into a conversation about particular emotions. If you are interested in activities useful for teen’s emotional development, you may like this article.

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