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New School Year Has Arrived

Happy New (School) Year!

The new school year is upon us. As a mom or dad with school-age kids, there are many extra “to-do’s” that appear on your list as you’re preparing for the big day; new clothes, new supplies, shoes that fit, haircuts, fall sports sign-ups or tryouts, etc. The kids need so many new items and it often feels there’s hardly time to take care of it all. I’ve been there and completely relate!

As you are well aware, being a parent is one of the toughest jobs you’ll ever do! Not only do you have to think about all these tangible things, but you have to take care of your child’s emotional and academic needs as well.

As a mom, while I dreaded the “Back to School” shopping, that was really the easiest part, since the list was already made and I just needed to check it off. The other parts that didn’t come with an already-made checklist were the most overwhelming. So I created a couple of “cheat sheets” for you to refer to as you prepare to enter a new school year.

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL CHEAT SHEET

While you’re managing your own feelings as the school year approaches, remember that children are full of feelings they may not know how to manage themselves, too. For example, they may have “worries” about teachers and friends. It can be especially scary when they are attending a new school.  Of course, always listen to your child’s concerns – truly listen. Validate the reasons they feel that way. Let them know it’s perfectly normal to feel nervous, excited, eager, and a bit uneasy when going into a new situation. Then, reassure them that you have confidence in their abilities. They will cope and before long they’ll feel comfortable in their new class/school. If they still feel uneasy after several days, ask questions about what’s going on at school. There might be some bigger challenges there that you can help them resolve so they can stay focused on their learning.

And we can’t forget that we also have academic concerns and questions on our mind. Will my child do better this year? How can I help them succeed in school? If you’re thinking these things, then your kid probably is as well. Help them focus on their strengths as learners so that they can use those strengths to help them with their areas of improvement. Remind them that this is a fresh, new year and they can use their mindset to be the learner they know, and you know, they can be. Check out our article on developing a Growth Mindset for more information.


ROUTINES CHEAT SHEET

Establish routines

Before school starts, sit down for a “family meeting” with your kids and get their input about daily routines. Planning ahead can save headaches later on. When children know what to do and know their expectations, it’s easier for them to succeed. It’s not about having a strict unmalleable plan, it’s about decreasing stress through preparation. Plan out the routines that fit your household and lifestyle. This might include morning routines, afternoon routines, and bedtime routines. Talk about alarm time, breakfast, clothes, homework, backpacks, the time to leave the house, and method of transportation. Make checklists for each routine and post them where they can be seen. Instead of having to tell your child each step, every morning… all you have to say is, “Check the board.”
Include yourselves, as parents, in making your own routines. It never ceases to amaze me how helpful a checklist can be, especially on those mornings when we happen to get up late.

Implement and adjust the routines

A routine is a guideline, nothing more and nothing less. It works for you when you implement it. If you don’t implement, then it won’t work. So… follow the plan! Practice it for few days and then, if it needs to be adjusted, go ahead and adjust it because it is important to actually follow whatever plan you have set. You can always tweak it again until you arrive at the routine you can faithfully follow.

SCHOOLWORK CHEAT SHEET

Set aside a “Homework Space and Time”

With your child’s participation, set up a homework space and time. In this space, your child can complete their homework, study, or read. Having a set time daily to complete homework provides your child an easier and faster way to get this task accomplished. You might even assist your child in composing a checklist which they can review each day, so that something important is never missed. This checklist could include: 1) reviewing their learning for the day, 2) completing assignments, and/or 3) working on a long-term project. It’s a great habit to go into this space daily to review upcoming assignments and commitments, even when there is nothing due the very next day.

Let your child “struggle” (some)

Not all learning comes quickly and easily. Sometimes it takes review and work before the light bulb goes on. Too often it’s easy to give up!  Encourage your child to persist. Remind them of other things that they’ve learned, only because they kept practicing. Watching a baby learn to walk or eat with a spoon can remind them that they were exactly the same before they practiced that skill. The current challenge will become easier with practice.

Monitor your child’s progress

One of the things your child will HATE ( but you have to do anyway) is monitor their grades. There are many ways to keep track of your child’s grades on a weekly basis so there are fewer surprises at the end of the grading period. I checked my son’s grades twice a week on the school-parent gradebook site.  I could see when daily assignments were missing or if a test score was low. That provided a perfect opportunity to have a discussion. Also, it gave me a chance to recognize his hard work when I saw an excellent grade.  (He wasn’t about to tell me about this either.)

SUPPORTING YOUR STUDENT CHEAT SHEET

Don’t postpone getting help when your child really needs it

Realize that sometimes your child needs some extra assistance through no fault of their own. In our mobile society, many students change schools, school systems, or even different states and this causes them to miss content. Or maybe, your child was home sick with the flu when fractions were taught. Filling that “gap” with a tutor can do wonders to help your child get back on track.

Work together with the teacher(s) and school

When you have to make the trip up to school…

Start with finding something good to say. It can be about anything, as long as it’s genuine.

Show appreciation for the work the school does. This establishes a non-adversarial collaboration. Work with the school rather than against them.

Be as objective about your own child as you can be. Our children are so precious to us that as parents we sometimes can’t see them objectively. Every human being makes mistakes, and our children are not the exception.

Ask questions about your child’s behavior. “What does Johnny do in class?  Where does Johnny sit? Does Johnny seem distracted by his friends? Is there a time or subject where Johnny is very engaged in the learning?” The school sees your child in a different setting than you do, so you’re gathering information. Listen and realize they’re telling you what they perceive. Even when you hear something that makes you uncomfortable, remind yourself that the teacher wants the best for your kid, too.

Ask how you can help your child. Show willingness to work with the school. Ask about easy ways to communicate, so you can assist the teacher in helping your child learn. When you want a particular thing to happen… Ask if it can happen, rather than tell them to make it happen… Ask the reasons if something can’t be done.

Be patient. Remember that your child is not the only child in the class or in the school. Ask the teacher when they will be able to do something like, “When will you be able to email me about Johnny’s missing assignments?” Then, follow up to make sure the commitment is fulfilled. Similarly, be sure to uphold the commitments you make to the teacher – if you say you will check the backpack and binder daily, be sure to add that to your routine.

Thank the teacher for their time. Tell the teacher that they can call you anytime. Develop this into a win-win relationship and your child will be the beneficiary.

So, it’s time to go back to school. While life is hectic, and you seem to be always running, see which of these strategies you can implement to make your own life more sane and your child more successful. You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of your child.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, or you believe your child could benefit from the help of an academic coach and tutor, visit us at www.nobelcoaching.com to set that up.

 

Written by Nancy Marrufo

5 Things Your Child Needs (Depending on Their Age)

It’s no secret that there are certain things that all children need, regardless of how old they are. These things are love, respect, support, and understanding. However, during the course of their development and growth, some needs are stronger than others and, according to a well-renowned psychologist, Erik Erikson, unless these needs are met, they’ll have trouble reaching their full potential in the next stages of their life.

These needs are, in order:

  • Trust
  • Autonomy
  • Initiative
  • Industry
  • Identity

There are three more phases for ages over 18 (Intimacy, Generativity, Integrity), but we will stick to the ones important before adulthood.

Trust

This stage lasts from birth until the child is (roughly) one and a half years old. During this time, the child is uncertain about – everything, really. Their entire world consists of an unintelligible mixture of colors, sounds, and touch. In this stage, their primary caregiver(s) are their only connection to the world they were thrown into and that’s when the feeling of trust develops. If they start noticing that their needs are consistently met (whether it be hunger or diapers), they can start trusting the world and people around them to help them when they need it. The trust they develop will also lead to hope and optimism.

Autonomy

This stage is a challenge for many parents. After the first stage and up until their third year, children will start exploring. If they’ve developed enough trust, they’ll have no problem walking away from their parents, playing alone, or asking to try new things by themselves, such as putting on their clothes or making something by themselves.

As much as parents want to be there for their child, allowing them to be autonomous in this period is very important, as it will later on lead to them developing the will to try and do something new and challenging.

Here’s a few ways you can help them along the way:

  • If your child says they want to dress themselves, don’t jump in as soon as you see them struggling. Wait until they ask for assistance. If you don’t, they might start feeling powerless rather than autonomous.
  • You may notice your child is starting to play on their own, maybe even break their toys in an attempt to create something new. This is nothing to worry about! They’re simply trying out their strength and skills and trying to see what will happen if they do this or that. By understanding their own abilities, they’ll be on their way to becoming confident and empathetic.

Initiative

Once they’re trusting and autonomous enough, children will start exploring the world of initiative. During this period, they’ll be practicing their interpersonal skills by initiating games, conversations, and different activities. You can help them fulfill this need by doing the following:

  • If you notice that your child is showing initiative which might be dangerous for them (maybe something that includes running across the street), don’t simply criticize them and tell them NO. Instead, try to help them think of something similar, yet less dangerous, like running around the swings in a park, or in their backyard. Make sure to do this in a positive way by explaining to them why you are changing their idea. For example, you can say: “The road can be dangerous, but running is a great idea! How about we do it in the backyard?”
  • Spend more time with them, even if you don’t find their games interesting (or if they don’t make sense). If they’ve initiated some made-up game and they invited you to play with them, don’t explain to them that the rules don’t make sense etc. Be proud that your child is taking initiative.
  • This is the period when they’ll be playing with other children as well. If you see them attempting to “sell” their idea and another child opposing them, don’t jump right in to defend them. They’ll struggle with initiative, but letting them do things themselves is very important during this period.

 

That being said, if things get loud and violent, it’s okay to calm the situation down by acting as a mediator – we don’t need any bruises over the choice of a game!

 

The challenge for parents during this time is trying to protect their children while, at the same time, allowing them to express themselves. If you manage to do this, your child will develop a sense of purpose.

Industry

Between the ages of 5 and 12, the child’s teachers and peer group start gaining more significance. This period will be similar to the stage of autonomy, as the child will also start exploring their skills and abilities, but this time they’ll have a clear goal: to impress others and gain confidence. You can help them with it in the following ways:

– Praise their strengths. If you notice your child is great at writing, don’t simply accept it as if it were expected. Praise their stories, their poems, their A’s. If you’re not sure where their strengths lie, talk to their teachers and ask for their opinions.

– Try to understand what things they are not particularly confident about. If they feel bad for being the smallest kid in class, don’t joke by saying something like, “Hey, then you can be the best miniature golfer in the world!” It’s okay to joke about short-term situations – them getting a C, for example – as that breaks the tension. But since this is something very important to them and they might be living through it for years, joking might make it worse.

Instead, focus on their strengths when talking about it. Tell them that it doesn’t matter how tall someone is if they are the greatest writer ever, or if they are an amazing soccer player. However, if that trait is something they can change, make a game-plan. For example, if they are not too confident about dancing, you can try watching some YouTube tutorials and practicing together.

If your child is aware of their strengths and weaknesses (and how to improve them), this period will result in competence.

Identity

Finally, during adolescence, your child will start to struggle with developing their own sense of identity. They’ll try to figure out where they fit in and what their role in society is. Furthermore, they’ll be looking for their calling and looking for people whose life philosophy matches their own.

The important things to do during this period are:

  • Trust your child and speak to them without accusations and a lack of understanding. If your child is suddenly dressing in all black and listening to some strange music, try not to attack them over it. Since they’ve already developed a sense of trust, you can sit them down and ask them what they like about that music and style of clothes. Try to phrase your questions in such a way to demonstrate that you want to understand them, not pry into their life. Ask if you can get their playlist – who knows, maybe you’ll find something you’ll enjoy!
  • If you notice they aren’t speaking to you as much as they used to, don’t take it personally – they’ll start turning to their friends much more during this period. The best thing you can do is remind them that you are always there if they need to talk to you and that you would love to be a part of their life. Don’t push or pressure them. During this period, your biggest challenge will be the virtue of patience.

Chances are, your child will go through many different changes in this period, which is perfectly normal, since everything else in their life is changing as well – their body, thoughts, expectations… For parents, this might be the most challenging period of all. But if you have patience and talk with them often, you’ll help them find themselves and develop a sense of fidelity.

Was this article helpful to you? Are there any other topics you’d like to read about in the future? Let us know!

 

Good Parenting without Overmonitoring – Yes, It’s Possible!

Have you ever been tempted to read your teen’s diary or check their Facebook messages? Have you ever made a social media profile so you could spy on their online activities? Do you make very strict rules for your teen without allowing them to question them and invite you to a debate?

If the answer to some or all of these is YES – then this is just the article for you, because we’ll explain how you can navigate the continuum of monitoring your teen in a healthy way that maintains communication, trust, and your overall relationship.

We Know You Are Worried!

You hear of all these terrible things on the news, or even in your own neighborhood – underage drinking, drugs, accidents… So it’s perfectly normal to be worried that, with the right combination of circumstances, your teen might become susceptible to some of these high-risk behaviors. With that in mind, knowing where your child is and who their friends are – that is to say, a little bit of monitoring – is not a bad thing. [1] The thing that damages parent-teen relationships is extreme monitoring. [3] It’s when parents, in an attempt to calm themselves down and protect their child, resort to what teens would call “extreme measures” or strict parenting: being home by a certain time and not one minute later, always volunteering to chaperone or attend their social events so you can see who they are with and what they’re doing, asking (or trying) to see their instant messages so you can be certain there is no mention of unwanted activities in there.

So after you’ve done this, you feel calmer and believe you now know everything there is to know about your teen. Meanwhile, a young person with the need for psychological and physical autonomy is ignoring you, answering all your questions with one-syllable words, and spending more and more time outside the house, or in their own room. You will have inevitably hurt your relationship with your child in an attempt to keep them safe.

But what if we told you that over-monitoring is exactly what might cause them to engage in some of those unwanted things you were trying to prevent? Moreover, what if we showed you that creating a warm but firm relationship that still allows them some freedom will lead to them being much more open to you and you knowing much more about them and the way they spend their time?

Why Extreme Monitoring Does not Work

Just because you have established some hard rules and checked their messages does not necessarily mean you now have full control over their comings and goings. Much of the conflict between parents and teens could be avoided with some honest talk. In fact, much of the rebelling and rule-breaking happens as a response of teens who feel like they have no control over their own lives. [2] So in an attempt to both gain some control and get back at their parents, they may intentionally act in the very way you were trying to prevent.

For example, you have a rule that you always drop them off when they go to a friend’s house, so you know who they’ll be with and where. But as soon as your car turns the corner, they might leave with that friend, meet with some different people and go to a different place. And whether you come to know about it or not, they’ll be happy. If you don’t find out, that means they’re getting away with it. If you do, they’ll feel like they’re getting back at you for the lack of autonomy.

Similarly, if you ask to read their texts, they might find their way around that as well. They could buy another phone you don’t know about, or have a profile on some social network hidden from you. What we want to say is this: prying and asking to have complete control over someone, even if they are your child and still live under your roof will only succeed in making you feel better temporarily. In the long run, it might lead to the exact opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish, and it will definitely affect your relationship with them. Your alleged selfless act of overprotecting through extreme monitoring is actually quite self-regarding in that it only relieves your worry in the short-term while increasing the odds of your teen feeling resentment towards you.

Full Disclosure is the Only True Knowledge

Research shows that when parents know about their child’s real whereabouts, it comes from the child themselves, and their decision to be honest, rather than through extreme monitoring. [3] In order to create a positive atmosphere that will allow them to open themselves to you, no matter how scared or embarrassed they feel, you might want to give authoritative parenting a chance. [2] A parent who nurtures this style is warm but firm, and they give their child the freedom to choose their own beliefs and make their own choices. A lot of research has shown that this way of parenting leads to the healthiest, happiest, and academically most successful children. [2]

So how would an authoritative parent handle potential conflicts?

For one, they would still be interested in their child’s life, but in a warm, healthy way. They wouldn’t ask questions like “How many people will there be? What will you be doing?” or mandate a curfew time. Instead, they would simply ask – “So what is this party about?”, and allow their child to tell them everything they want to disclose. If they want to warn them, they won’t do it through harsh words and placing blame, automatically not trusting their teen to make a wise choice. Instead, they would say “I hope you understand that I’m a little bit worried that there will be alcohol there, but I will trust you not to drink.” This way, the child won’t feel threatened. They’ll just feel guilty at the thought of disappointing you, and that has proven to be a much better prevention technique.

However, an authoritative parent still needs to set some rules – but they’ll do so with the help of the child. If you’re deciding on a curfew and believe 11 pm is late enough, consult with your teen and listen to their opinions. If they tell you that everyone else can return by midnight, that they’ll have friends to accompany them on their way home instead of going alone, and that they’ll be responsible, maybe think about giving them the benefit of the doubt – especially if they’ve never given you a reason to doubt them before. Making parenting decisions based on trust will help them make choices to keep that trust.

If the trust is weakened through a broken rule, the consequences need to be just as clear and reasonable for the type of rule that was broken.

Tell them, for example, that they can be home by midnight, but if they are even a minute late, they won’t be getting that late a curfew any time soon. As much as an authoritative parent wants to give their child freedom, they still need a firm set of rules that they decide on together with their child. Setting rules is a positive thing, and it leads to much better decisions than monitoring and blocking someone’s psychological development. It will also teach them responsibility and independence much better than you going everywhere with them and checking their every move.

Some Final Words of Wisdom

Imagine a line with “no monitoring” on one side and “extreme monitoring” on the other side. People are most comfortable in their working environments and in relationships in the middle of that line. At work, you probably don’t like being micromanaged and having to account for each and every move you make, but you thrive when your work is being noticed and your superiors care about the circumstances of your work and the outcomes of your efforts. Teens are similar – they want their parents to care about them and have clear expectations and limits, but are also seeking autonomy in order to build their identities. Parents may feel a sense of security through extreme monitoring; however, it may cause more damage than the effort intends.

You’ve heard that adolescence is often accompanied by a great deal of conflict, but the thing is, it only happens if parents’ and teens’ views on autonomy are completely different. Everyone wants to feel like they have control over their own life, while parents find it hard to watch their child separate themselves and spend less and less time with their family. The best way to get through this is to start treating them more like an adult and less like a child, as long as they keep proving they can be responsible for themselves. This kind of atmosphere will allow them to tell you everything, as they won’t fear your judgment. The possibility to negotiate future rules and consequences that impact their choices, all while building their understanding that you want to keep them both happy and safe, will lead to them being much happier and more open. You’ll have peace of mind and your teen will have the comfort of a healthy, trusting, and supportive relationship with their parents.

References:

  1. Dishon, T. (1998). Parental Monitoring and the Prevention of Child and Adolescent Problem Behavior: A Conceptual and Empirical Formulation. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, Vol.1, No. 1, pp. 61-73.
  2. Steinberg, L. (2001). Parental Monitoring and the Prevention of Child and Adolescent Problem Behavior: A Conceptual and Empirical Formulation. Journal of Research on Adolescence, Vol.11, No.1, pp. 1-19.
  3. Stattin, H. (2000). What Parents Know, How They Know It, and Several Forms of Adolescent Adjustment: Further Support for a Reinterpretation of Monitoring. Developmental Psychology, Vol.36, No. 3, pp. 366-380.

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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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Are You A Helicopter Parent?

It’s perfectly normal to be concerned for your child’s safety.

Parents feel the urge to keep their kids protected from any perceived threat that could harm them. However, our best intentions can trick us into going overboard to make sure our children are safe and lead us onto an emotional slippery slope that could actually harm the child.

One of the biggest parenting challenges is how to support your child in a way that helps them feel secure but also helps them build resilience – the ability to “bounce back” when something goes wrong.

With so many terrifying stories in the media, how can we know that the next risk we take won’t be the one we regret?

Protective Bubble: “I seriously need to wrap my kid in bubble wrap.”

Write down a list of daily concerns you have about your child.
Then, write down the things you do each day to address those concerns.
Now, ask yourself – what would happen if I stopped doing these things?

Our own fears can sometimes overwhelm us. A reaction aimed at helping us cope can easily turn into a habit with time, if it has proven successful. We continue to do things to protect ourselves and people we love, even after the perceived threat has passed. Worst-case scenarios linger in our minds long after the “real” threat is gone.

The protective bubbles we create frequently do indeed protect our children from harm. But when well-meaning protection is carried to extremes, our kids are denied the opportunity to develop their own capacity to deal with difficult situations.

This can mean that, when faced with a challenge, they get trapped by that “fixed mindset” persona inside them that gets scared of a failure they may never have even experienced: “I can’t do it! I’m not ready!” Or they may be experiencing Learned Helplessness that prevents them from even knowing where to start when dealing with a problem.

Clearly, we’re not talking about life-threatening situations where they undoubtedly need your support. We’re talking about those situations where, no matter how much you want to be there for them, you need to let them experience the consequences of their decisions.

Let’s say you’ve invited a couple of families to your home on a Saturday evening. While you’re all talking on the deck, you hear noises in the basement. Turns out, kids were teasing your child and calling them rude names. What do you do?

Your child got a bad grade on a test they’d studied for, because the teacher decided to set different types of problems at the very last minute. They feel really disappointed and think that’s unfair because it’ll affect their grade significantly. Do you go talk to that teacher?

Your son’s or daughter’s soccer coach believes in the “tough love” approach, to which the child doesn’t react well. Do you go talk to the coach?

Before you intervene, we’d like you to give yourself a chance to consider the option of your child being able to deal with these situations on their own.
“What if they fail?” “What if they get hurt?” “What if they get embarrassed?”
You might be having these thoughts. And that’s okay.
You want what’s best for your child and you’re concerned.
Still, does that mean you should run to help every time they stumble?

Removing obstacles, keeping the path of life “clean” and “flat” so that a child can safely walk through childhood is one of those solutions that might seem beneficial in the short-term, but is never a sustainable one. Why? The very world that a parent is trying to protect them from, will reach them eventually. And when it does, it’s important they know how to navigate it.

How can we help?

We want to help our kids develop mechanisms to cope with the world inside them and the world around them.
How can we do this?

Help your child understand the reasons behind your worry and suggest ways they could deal with challenging situations they confront. We know that it’s never easy to put that into words – but try anyway!

Teach them and guide them through these experiences rather than “protecting” them from them. Analyze what happened in situations where they felt they were treated unfairly. Brainstorm on different ways they might handle things next time.

Help them discover their strengths and abilities to deal with different challenges.

If they’re discouraged, try to understand what would encourage them.

Lead by example. Show them that all learning starts by making mistakes from which we grow.

Problems are strength-training for our brains. They toughen our mental muscles. You won’t be able to stop every single obstacle from reaching your child. However, you can be there to support your kids as they learn how to fly on their own. You’ll probably be surprised at how well they do and their sense of pride and confidence will grow the more opportunities they have to handle challenges themselves.

One of the most famous writers from my country, Duško Radović, says:

“If you solve all of your children’s problems, the only problem they will have is you.“

Do you agree?

by Ana Jovanovic

Coach for Nobel Coaching

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Family Night At The Movies – Talking With Your Teen About Inside Out And The Purpose Of Sadness

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

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

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

Warning: spoilers!

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

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

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

Purpose of Sadness – Adaptation of Loss

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

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

Purpose of Sadness – Relief and Connection

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

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

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

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

Danger of Repressing Sadness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Secrets And Learning Challenges Of Dyslexia

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

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

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

So, what is dyslexia?

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

Who said reading was easy?

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

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

What causes dyslexia?

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

What are the risk factors for dyslexia?

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

What are the typical signs of dyslexia?

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

PRESCHOOL

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

GRADE SCHOOL

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

MIDDLE SCHOOL

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

There’s more to dyslexia than you’d think

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

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

What to do if you suspect that your child has dyslexia

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

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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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Do Chores Have to Be a Chore?

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

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

HOW TO MAKE CHORES NOT A CHORE

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

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

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

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

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

CHORES AS A MEANS TO A FULFILLED CHILD

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

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

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

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

Resources:

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

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The Secrets of the Teenage Brain

by Anja Anđelković

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

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

THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE BRAIN

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

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

PREFRONTAL CORTEX: THE BRAIN’S CONDUCTOR

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

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

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

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

A POWERFUL COMPUTER WITH A SURGE OF EMOTIONS

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

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

STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION, USE OLDER BRAIN PARTS!

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

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

HOW TO LIVE WITH A TEENAGE BRAIN?

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

WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN FOR TEENS?

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

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

References:

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

If you need any kind of advice related adolescent period, you’ve come to the right place!

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