Archive for ‘attunement’

March 18, 2014

The Wonder of the Ordinary: A Crucible for Creativity, Talent, and Genius

the wonder of the ordinary

Parents can help their kids find their own particular kind of genius by encouraging their sense of wonder in the ordinary. You may or may not want your child to be a genius—an exceedingly rare and extraordinarily high achiever in a particular field—but you can help him develop his intelligence, creativity, and talents, by ensuring he has enough time for unstructured play and daydreaming.

In The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents, William Martin wrote, “Do you have agendas for your children that are more important than the children themselves? Lost in the shuffle of uniforms, practices, games, recitals, and performances can be the creative and joyful soul of your child. Watch and listen carefully. Do they have time to daydream? From your children’s dreams will emerge the practices and activities that will make self-discipline as natural as breathing.” 

read more »

November 5, 2013

Love, Play, Reflect; Passion, Gratitude, and Grit: Parenting for Success and Happiness across the Lifespan

Love, play, reflect; passion, gratitude, and grit; a blog by Dona MatthewsChildhood giftedness is a great start, but it doesn’t predict happiness, success, or fulfillment across the life span. What does the research say about parents’ roles in helping their kids become happily productive adults?

  1. 1.       Love:

The single most important ingredient in the early days, weeks, and months of life is the security of a home environment characterized by loving warmth. Infants who develop an early attachment to a caregiver—usually a mother—do a lot better over the life span than those who don’t.  Parenting characteristics of a secure and loving environment include emotional attunement, reassurance and comfort, holding and snuggling, and listening and responding to children’s needs.

Kids do best whose early home experience includes warmth, acceptance, sensitivity, stimulation, and engaged conversation. That means limiting electronic (and other) distractions when you’re spending time with your kids. Device-focused parents don’t look their kids in the eye as often, hear what they have to say, pick up on their feelings, or transmit that sparkle in the eye that makes children (and adults) feel valued.

read more »

September 30, 2013

Giving All Kids a Head Start in Life: Tackling the Parenting Gap

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Parents spend a lot of time worrying about their kids’ schools. Yes, school matters, but what happens at home matters more. According to Parenting, Politics, and Social Mobility, a new report by the Brookings Institute (a Washington think tank), we’re not paying enough attention to the ‘the parenting gap.’ The parenting gap is even more powerful than the school-based reasons for the academic learning gap between kids growing up in families with more and fewer advantages.

Some recommendations that emerge from Parenting, Politics, and Social Mobility:

  • Time spent with kids matters. Parents who spend more time with their children, especially in the preschool years, give their kids a big advantage in learning and subsequent achievement.
  • The quality of the time spent with kids matters. Kids respond well when they grow up in a home characterized by warmth, acceptance, sensitivity, stimulation, and engaged conversation. 

read more »

February 27, 2013

Why are some poor kids resilient? Parenting makes the difference

There’s fascinating new research showing us something about where ‘grit’ comes from. ‘Why do some children who grow up in poverty do well, while others struggle?’ Alix Spiegel asks in this article. She answers the question with some fascinating new research showing how the quality of an infant’s attachment to her mother makes an enormous difference to sensitive kids, and that this difference grows over time.

Some infants are a lot more sensitive to the environment than others. These sensitive babies are the kids at highest risk of behavioural problems as they get older. Sensitive babies in this research who showed an insecure attachment to their mothers in infancy (i.e., not soothed by the mother’s presence, not happy to see mother after a separation) are the ones who grew into troubled children with the most severe behavioural problems.

Fascinatingly, though, the sensitive babies who showed secure attachments to their mothers in infancy were the ones who grew into the best kids, with the lowest number of problem behaviours.

(The children with low set points [an indicator of less sensitivity to the environment] were not as good as the best or as bad as the worst, no matter their parenting.)

And perhaps most interestingly, Spiegel writes that ‘The behavior of the children with high set points and secure attachments to their mothers compared favorably with the behavior of children whose environments were often much easier.’ The kids who were growing up in high-risk poverty who were sensitive to the environment (‘high set points’) and who experienced secure attachment to their mothers, actually did better than kids growing up with a lot more advantages.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/02/25/172880140/to-spot-kids-who-will-overcome-poverty-look-at-babies

Thank you to Ben Peterson at Newsana–http://www.newsana.com/— for bringing this to my attention!

For those interested in following this farther and deeper, you can go to the source:

Poverty, Problem Behavior, and Promise: Differential Susceptibility Among Infants Reared in Poverty, by Elisabeth Conradt, Jeffrey Measelle, and Jennifer C. Ablow  http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/01/29/0956797612457381

You might also be interested in Dan Keating’s work– http://books.google.com/books/about/Nature_and_Nurture_in_Early_Child_Develo.html?id=0hdB63OT_RYC

or Stephen Suomi’s fascinating studies with cross-fostering monkeys, discussed by Dan Keating in The Nature and Nurture of Early Child Development, and elsewhere–

e.g., http://books.google.com/books?id=R8-HitN5Jp0C&pg=PA254&dq=stephen+suomi&hl=en&sa=X&ei=rCAuUcbnFIba9ASqvYDYDw&ved=0CEwQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=stephen%20suomi&f=false

November 12, 2012

All Kids Can Thrive: A Call to Action

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, by Paul Tough

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York; October, 2012.

 

There’s a good reason that everyone is talking about this book. It’s an unflinchingly honest look at the failings of a society where too many children are growing up without the tools they need to create meaningful and fulfilling lives for themselves. As Tough writes, ‘The biggest obstacles to academic success that poor children, especially very poor children, often face [are] a home and a community that create high levels of stress, and the absence of a secure relationship with a caregiver that would allow a child to manage that stress.’ (p. 195)

And it’s not just poor kids who have problems due to high levels of stress and insecure relationships with their parents. Tough also reviews research on kids who grow up in affluent families and communities, and offers some startling conclusions. Simply put, rich kids have many of the same problems as those experienced by poor kids. Both groups are more likely than middle class kids to experience low levels of maternal attachment, high levels of parental criticism, and minimal afterschool supervision. Furthermore, wealthy kids have higher levels of anxiety and depression, especially in adolescence. Reviewing the findings, Tough writes, ‘The emotional disconnection that existed between many affluent parents and their children often meant that the parents were unusually indulgent of their children’s bad behavior.’ (p. 83)

In spite of Tough’s dire analyses of how bad things are for far too many children in far too many communities, How Children Succeed is one of the most encouraging books I have read on this topic. He weaves thoughtful stories of real children, teenagers, and adults into current research findings on child development and resiliency, coming up with recommendations that promise to transform society if we pay attention to them.

He describes research on executive function—emotional and cognitive self-regulation, which affects attention, impulsivity, self-soothing, anger management and other skills involved in coping with stress and challenge. These are skills that children growing up in poverty are a lot less likely to have. ‘The reason researchers who care about the gap between rich and poor are so excited about executive function,’ he writes, ‘is that these skills are not only highly predictive of success; they are also quite malleable, much more so than other cognitive skills…If we can improve a child’s environment in the specific ways that lead to better executive functioning, we can increase his prospects for success in a particularly efficient way.’ (p. 21)

Environmental risks like family turmoil, chaos, and crowding have a big impact on measures of children’s stress, but only when mothers are inattentive or unresponsive: ‘High quality mothering, in other words, can act as a powerful buffer against the damage that adversity inflicts on a child’s stress-response system…Good parenting—being helpful and attentive in a game of Jenga—can make a profound difference for a child’s future prospects.’ (p. 32) Tough concludes that parents’ responding sensitively to infants’ cues has a long-lasting effect on children’s prospects, leading them to be more curious, self-reliant, self-confident, calm, and better able to deal with obstacles.

Although ‘character’ means different things to different people, there are several qualities that can be thought of collectively as ‘character’ that have been shown both to be important to success and well-being, and also teachable: bravery, fairness, integrity, humour, zest, appreciation of beauty, social intelligence, kindness, and gratitude. Tough reviews successful attempts to teach these qualities—not as ways to impose middle class ideas of morality, but rather as ways for all kids to experience personal growth, achievement, and fulfillment.

Parental warmth and nurturance are the most important factors leading to infants and young children thriving. Later on, as children enter adolescence, one person who takes them seriously, believes in their abilities, and challenges them consistently to improve themselves, can make all the difference.

Tough concludes that ‘The most reliable way to produce an adult who is brave and curious and kind and prudent is to ensure that when he is an infant, his hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis functions well… First, as much as possible, you protect him from serious trauma and chronic stress; then, even more important, you provide him with a secure, nurturing relationship with at least one parent and ideally two.’ (p. 182)

As a child gets older, Tough continues, he needs ‘more than love and hugs. He also need[s] discipline, rules, limits, someone to say no. And what he need[s] more than anything is some child-size adversity, a chance to fall down and get back up on his own, without help.’ (p. 183) Children need support in learning how to manage failure, and in order to do that, they need to experience failures they can cope with. This is what Carol Dweck writes about in Mindset: kids need to learn how to see failures and setbacks as opportunities to learn.

It’s also, in some ways, what Amy Chua writes about in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. An important difference between Tough’s recommendations and Chua’s description of her own parenting is that Tough emphasizes the importance of support, warmth, security, and nurturing. I think their goals are probably similar, though, that kids build their self-confidence on a solid foundation of achievement rather than the shifting sands of other people’s opinions or attention.

Tough’s recommendations for going forward are radical, but doable. He says we need a coordinated system that might start with comprehensive pediatric wellness centers like Nadine Burke Harris has established in Bayview-Hunters Point, in San Francisco. We might continue with parenting interventions that help parents establish secure connections with their infants. We might implement early childhood education  programs that have shown dramatic positive results. We also need to provide supports at school and outside of school for kids as they move into adolescence, as well as the adults in their lives. Science demonstrates that society can make a difference to kids’ outcomes. This book provides a call to action for thinking about how to do that.

 

Links

http://www.paultough.com/the-books/how-children-succeed/

http://nadineburke.com/users/dr-nadine-burke-harris

 

 

 

November 6, 2012

5 ways to increase happiness

There are a lot of reasons people are feeling more stressed right now than usual–Hurricane Sandy, economic worries, political uncertainty, and also (in the northern half of the northern hemisphere) the fact that it’s November and the light is decreasing every day.

If you’re a parent–specially of a small child–it becomes even more important to manage that stress well. Little ones absorb our feelings and worry when we worry. Here are five great ideas for coping, and reducing the likelihood of the added stress burden leading to further problems:

5 ways to increase happiness.

via 5 ways to increase happiness.

October 5, 2012

Encouraging a Child’s Creativity

Real creativity starts with passion, with a keen interest in learning something, and then taking it farther. So the starting place for parents who want to encourage creativity in a child is to expose her to as many different kinds of experience as possible—scientific, musical, visual, physical, etc., —so she has enough knowledge to figure out what really interests her.

From there, it’s about giving her what she needs to take her interests as far as she can. If it’s painting, see if she’d like art classes, and try to make that happen. Get an easel if that’s helpful, and enough paints or crayons or pencils, and paper so she can explore and develop her skills. It doesn’t have to be expensive. You and your child can exercise your creativity in solving the problem of getting the right kinds of supplies. What you need to do is provide as much support and encouragement as you can.

Give her the opportunities, challenges, and support she needs to work hard at what interests her, and discover if she wants to take it farther. Your belief in her ability to go forward is what’s important in the early stages. Do what you can to help her learn as much as she can possibly learn about her area of interest. The more a person knows, the more they have with which to be creative.

As your child gets farther along in her mastery, she’ll discover conflicts and ambiguities, the way that ‘truths’ appear to contradict other ‘truths’. It’s good to start by understanding the rules in the domain—e.g., musical scales, or grammatical standards—but then it’s good to break those rules. This is confusing and difficult until she’s learned to tolerate ambiguity, and can let it be okay that apparently opposing ideas are both valid.

Although knowledge is essential to creativity, it is also a double-edged sword—too much knowledge can limit creativity. So help your child keep growing, keep moving forward in her learning, thinking, exploring, and developing. That means generating lots of ideas, reframing problems as they’re encountered, and it also means learning to critically analyze her ideas. Nobody has good ideas all the time. Some are worth pursuing. Some aren’t. Help her learn to think about her ideas, and ask herself and others if they’re worth developing before she proceeds.

Once she’s far enough along to have a reasonable level of proficiency, help her learn to share her creative work with others. Communicating her work with others—whether it’s dance, writing, or math problem-solving—allows her to take it to the next stage, and opens up further possibilities for growth and learning. When others start reacting to what she produces—her ideas, her songs, her inventions—she’ll learn more about where it might need more work, and where she wants to invest more effort.

Every innovator encounters opposition, so as she moves farther along in her creativity, your child also needs to learn how to believe in her ideas, take sensible risks, surmount obstacles, and stay strong in the face of opposition.

The very best thing you can do to encourage your child’s creativity is to apply all these recommendations to yourself. Find your passion, and pursue it as far as you can. Learn more about it, develop skills and expertise, decide what rules you want to break, and share your ideas and products with others. Challenge yourself to keep growing. Find ways to believe in yourself, to surmount the inevitable obstacles, to look for ways to sell your ideas. By engaging in creative activity yourself, you’ll be a great role model for your child. She’ll see how good it feels to engage in creativity.

If you’re a parent or a teacher, you’ve got chances every day to encourage the creativity of the children in your life. There’s no more exciting or important work you can do!

For more on these ideas, go to www.raisingsmarterkids.net

Sources: book in progress with Joanne Foster on raising smarter kids; Dan Keating’s work on defining creativity, specifically his article entitled ‘The Four Faces of Creativity’;  Bob Sternberg’s work on deciding for creativity, especially his article called ‘Identifying and Developing Creative Giftedness.’

July 31, 2012

Review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

I loved Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I read it only because two reviewers have compared my work with Joanne Foster to it. One described our work as an ‘antidote to the Tiger Mother’; the other commented that we provide a good balance between the Tiger Mother approach and laissez-faire parenting. We write about how parents can instill the good habits of mind that lead to high-level achievement over time—Amy Chua’s focus—while respecting their children’s individuality and nurturing their independence—which she decries as Western nonsense, at least in the first 3/4 of her book.

I loved the tongue-in-cheek self-deprecating tone of Tiger Mother, and found parts of it amusing, and other parts poignant. I also had the normal Western reactions to the verbal abuse Chua heaped on her daughters, and to the list of rules at the beginning. I was appalled that young children would be subjected to such draconian regimentation—three hours piano practice seven days a week, no free time for play, ridicule for anything less than first place in anything, no permission to participate in school plays or other extracurricular activities, and more. Over the course of the book, though, I came to like Amy Chua and her family. I found it interesting to read about their attempts to resolve the seemingly-impossible conflicts between the absolute brutal authority of a Chinese Tiger mother, and the kind, caring parenting of a Western Jewish father, in the context of a liberal American culture. Daughters Sophia and Lulu came through as wonderful personalities in their own right, making large contributions (eventually) to Chua’s development as a parent.

Chua is clear at the beginning of the book that there are lots of non-Chinese people, including many Westerners, who implement what she calls Chinese parenting practices, as well as some Chinese parents (mostly 2nd generation, and living in the United States, she says) who parent in what she terms Western ways.

Although not Chinese, I was born in the year of the Tiger myself, and admire Chua’s commitment to her children gaining self-respect and confidence through hard work and achievement, rather than hollow platitudes and praise. I also like her focus on perseverance, practice, and accomplishment, and agree with her that those are the most satisfying and self-esteem-building goals in the long run. I don’t like her attitude, however, that free play is a waste of time, her lack of respect for children’s individuality, and her disregard for children’s need to discover for themselves what it is they want to invest their time in. I found her status consciousness deeply troubling, including her belief that top-level prizes and awards matter so terribly much, and that anything other than Ivy League acceptance is embarrassing.

Chua makes some good observations about the differences between Western and Chinese parenting. For example, she writes “Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”

These are not mutually exclusive values and attitudes, however. It’s quite possible to respect children’s individuality, and also support the development of good work habits. It doesn’t require a whole lot of yelling, pressure, and fighting, either, which (in my opinion) Chua’s home had way too much of. Finding that balance is about parents being flexibly responsive to their children—a concept that Chua would have an impossible time accepting, I suspect—while simultaneously setting age-appropriate rules and boundaries. One thing a parent has to give up if she’s going to achieve this balance is the demand that her children place first in everything the parent values—in Chua’s case that meant all the ‘important’ subjects at school, plus piano and violin, at extraordinarily high levels.

More than anything else, I think Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother provides a cautionary tale for high-achieving over-scheduling status-conscious parents. Lulu in particular, with her fierce need to assert her own will, forced her mother to back off, and let her children begin to create and live their own lives. To the extent that this book is about Chua’s growth as a parent, I applaud it.

July 3, 2012

Emotional Attunement: Good Food for Babies’ Brains

Warm, caring, attentive human connection is as essential to babies’ developing brains as food and sleep are to their physical growth.

An emerging area of science is demonstrating something that most parents know instinctively, and that attachment theorists have known for a long time: When an infant’s mother is calm–even in the face of daily disasters such as the baby’s hunger, exhaustion, or discomfort–the child absorbs and acquires a capacity for calm self-soothing. When his mother is distressed or agitated, the baby absorbs and learns that.

‘Attachment neurobiology,’ ‘biological synchronicity,’ ‘limbic resonance,’ and ‘mommy mind-meld’ are some of the names being given to emerging findings that show the deep connections that are formed at the brain level between infants and their adult nurturers. All of these terms, including ‘mommy mind-meld,’ refer to an infant’s experience primarily with her mother, but also with any other adult with whom she has a strong, nurturing connection, including a father, grandparent, or other close, caring, and consistent person in her life.

In a recent blog, Mary Axness discusses the science behind this phenomenon. She cites the research of neurobiology pioneer Allan Schore, who describes the mother as ‘downloading emotion programs into the infant’s right brain,’ and the child as using the mother’s right hemisphere as a template for the imprinting and hard wiring of circuits in his own right hemisphere, giving the child a template for mediating his emotional experiences.

Axness also discusses problems with all of the electronic engagement-replacements available today—television, videos, Baby Einstein, iPhones, iPads, and other computerized programs designed for babies. These may appear to give a sense of engagement, but excessive use of these media devices is actually associated with delayed language development. In 2009, the American Academy of Pediatrics went on record against using electronic media with children younger than the age of two, stating that they ‘probably interfere with the crucial wiring being laid down in their brains during early development.’ In the ensuing media debate on the topic, an AAP spokesperson declared that ‘parents hoping to raise baby Einsteins by using infant educational videos are actually creating baby Homer Simpsons.’

Understanding the power of infants’ connections to their parents as ‘mind-melds’, where babies are downloading certain aspects of their caregivers’ brains—is a great argument for parents and other caregivers to take very good care of their own mental health. In addition to all the basics for good physical and emotional health (good nutrition, regular exercise, as good a sleep regime as possible), caregivers might consider integrating yoga, journal-keeping, mindfulness, meditation, or other reflective, mind-calming practices into their lives.

Another practice to consider is conscious attunement to sources of gratitude. The fields of positive psychology and psychoneuroimmunology demonstrate the ways that the choice to feel appreciation for what one has in one’s life (and to combat feelings of entitlement and resentment) changes the level of oxytocin available, thereby changing one’s attitudes, perceptions, and behaviours. A parent who attunes regularly to her sources of gratitude provides a clearer, more positive mind for her baby to meld with, thus giving her baby a better start on creating a good life for himself.

For more information:

My inspiration for this blog: Mommy Mind Meld blog by Marcy Axness: http://mothering.com/all-things-mothering/mothering/nourish-infant-brain-development-with-the-mommy-mind-meld

A great background resource for people interested in the science behind these ideas:  Schore, A. N. Attachment and the Regulation of the Right Brain. Attachment and Human Development 2, no. 1 (2000): 23-47.

For more on the effects of media use on infants’ development, see http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1651-2227.2008.01027.x/full  for an article by Dimitri Christakis, called The Effects of Infant Media Usage: What Do We Know and What Should We Learn? Acta Paediactrica 98 (2009): 8-16. Christakis’ conclusions: ‘No studies to date have demonstrated benefits associated with early infant TV viewing. The preponderance of existing evidence suggests the potential for harm. Parents should exercise due caution in exposing infants to excessive media.’

For more on the power of gratitude to change our minds, see Laura Markham: http://www.ahaparenting.com/_blog/Parenting_Blog/post/How_to_Change_Your_Happiness_Set_Point_with_Gratitude/

For more on similar topics:

Raising Smarter Kids blog: www.raisingsmarterkids.net

%d bloggers like this: