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Posts Tagged ‘Raising children’

Six ways to raise a resilient child

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Helping our children navigate the stresses and strains of daily life is more important than ever. Figures released in November last year by NHS Digital show a worrying rise in young people’s mental health problems; sadly, my experience as a GP confirms this. One in eight children aged between five and 19 in England has a diagnosable mental health condition; the prevalence of emotional disorders, including anxiety and depression, has risen by 48% since 2004. “The pressures young people face range from school stress, bullying and worries about job and housing prospects, to concerns around body image,” says Emma Saddleton, helpline manager at the charity YoungMinds.

While we may not be able to remove all these challenges, we can pass on skills to help young people cope with stress and adversity. “It’s what’s known as resilience,” Saddleton says. “The ability to overcome difficult experiences and be shaped positively by them.” Our brains respond to the information around us, so resilience can be taught, modelled and nurtured at any age. “By doing this, through strong support networks and encouraging communication, we can help young people understand when they feel down and know what they can do to make themselves feel better,” she adds.

As a parent myself – I have a son of eight and a daughter of six – it’s something that’s high on my agenda, and I’ve discovered some effective techniques. Crucially, they don’t require you to overhaul your parenting style, but simply to make a few tweaks that will help your children thrive.

Have one-on-one time with each child, without distractions

I have a full-on job, two school-age children, and an elderly mother to care for, so I understand that we’re all busy; I’m not trying to pile on the guilt. But I’ll never forget what my daughter, then four, said one day. We were working on a jigsaw, but I kept nipping to the kitchen to check my phone. When I rejoined her for the third or fourth time, she rightly observed, “Daddy, you’re not really here, are you?”

Resilience comes from relationships; children need nurturing. It’s not a magical “inner strength” that helps kids through tough times; instead, it’s the reliable presence of one, supportive relationship, be it parent, teacher, relative, family friend or healthcare practitioner. My key point is, it’s quality, not quantity, that counts. Ten minutes of fully focused attention is better than an hour when your mind is on other things. If you’re on your tablet at the dinner table, you’re teaching them it’s OK to always be distracted. And that they are not important enough for your sole attention.

One-on-one time doesn’t have to be time carved out of an already hectic schedule. Make bathtime, car journeys, meals, queues count. Chat, listen, talk about your feelings, encourage them to express theirs. Once these one-to-ones become regular, your children will know they always have a safe space to open up.

Give sleep a chance

I see so many children who are struggling to sleep, waking tired, with dark circles under their eyes. A lack of good-quality sleep is a huge driver for stress: it has a negative effect on memory, concentration, cognitive function, and decision-making.

One of the fastest ways to improve sleep – for all of us – is to limit screen time before bed. The type of blue light emitted by digital devices suppresses production of melatonin, the hormone that signals to the body it’s time for sleep. In addition, looking at screens before bed keeps us emotionally wired and stimulated, making it harder for us to switch off.

It’s a steely parent who can ban tech completely, and I don’t think you need to. But I would urge you to issue a household ban on devices at least an hour before bedtime. Turn off the wifi, if need be. (TV isn’t so bad if you need that as a compromise; we tend not to sit as close to the screen.)

Earlier in the evening, insist everyone uses “night-time mode” on their devices, which swaps the blue light for a warmer glow. You can download apps that do this (such as f:lux), too, or buy blue-light-cancelling glasses. It’s also worth switching your children’s night lights to red ones – red has the least impact on melatonin production. When I did this in my children’s rooms, they slept in more than an hour later the next morning.

Get out and exercise

We all know that regular activity is important, and that most of us, children included, need to do more of it. But what if I told you that, as well as keeping them physically fit, exercise will increase your child’s resilience? It actually strengthens the brain.

It’s well documented that exercise is on a par with medication when it comes to treating mild to moderate depression and anxiety. This could be because it gets the body used to moving more fluidly in and out of the stress state. The same hormones released when we’re stressed (cortisol and adrenaline) are raised temporarily when we exercise. Regular physical activity teaches our stress-response system to recover more efficiently.

It can be a lot of fun to do this together, and I’ve learned that kids do what they see us doing, not what we tell them to. I’m a big fan of “movement snacking” – short bursts of exercise throughout the day. I’ll put on the radio before dinner and we’ll all dance around in the kitchen. Or my kids will join me doing squats, star jumps, bear crawls or frog hops. The sillier I look, the more they seem to enjoy it.

Teach delayed gratification

Resilience means understanding you can’t always have what you want as soon as you want it. It’s an important concept to pass on in the age of Amazon Prime, Spotify, Netflix and Uber. Psychology teaches us that people who can accept delayed gratification lead happier, healthier lives. Without the ability to defer pleasure and reward, our kids are losing an important skill for their wellbeing.

One of the best ways to teach it? Playing board games. These require impulse control, turn-taking, and mental flexibility. They exercise the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of the brain involved in decision-making, emotional regulation and, yes, resilience. Board games are also a good way for you to model resilience by being a good loser.

But there are no shortage of other ways to encourage delayed gratification: learning a musical instrument; listening to whole albums instead of skipping from track to track online; mastering a new sport; even watching a TV series together week by week, instead of bingeing in a couple of sittings.

Eat the alphabet

Nutrition has a significant impact on mental health. Good-quality food changes the composition of our gut bugs, which helps send calm signals to the brain. Poor-quality, highly processed food sends stress signals instead. A diverse diet, rich in fibre, will lead to greater diversity in our gut bugs, which in turn will help make us more resilient, and anxiety and depression less likely. Persuading kids to eat more healthily can feel like an uphill battle, though, especially if they’re fussy, so this is not about becoming a top chef – just trying a few tricks that can really benefit them emotionally.

Related: ‘It’s been bittersweet’: three Indian women on 50 years in the UK

I like to challenge the whole family to “eat the alphabet” over 30 days. I think it’s a realistic goal to consume 26 different plant foods in a month: A for asparagus, B for banana, C for chickpeas, and so on. It turns healthy eating into a game, and encourages children to try new foods. Turn it into a competition and see who can tick off all the letters first.

Model gratitude

Instead of pestering your children with questions such as, “How was school?” and, “What did you do today?”, teach them to reframe their day.

The following is a game I learned from a friend, who played it with his daughter over dinner. Everyone must answer three questions:

1) What did someone do today to make you happy?

2) What did you do to make someone else happy?

3) What have you learned today?

I love this simple exercise for how it helps us all find the positive in every day. It teaches gratitude, nurtures optimism, and recognises kindness. It doesn’t matter what may have happened at work or school, or how stressed any of us may have felt when we sat down at the table; the whole mood seems to lift once we’ve played this game. I learn things about my kids that they’d probably never have thought to tell me otherwise. Try it. It might just become the highlight of your day.

 

This article was written by Dr Rangan Chatterjee from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

5 Scientifically Proven Ways to Raise Happier Kids

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Most moms beat themselves up about the same “failures”: Too many chicken nuggets, not enough kale; zombifying our kids with screens because we just can’t even; not volunteering to be class mom because we may actually drop dead if we take on one more responsibility, etc. But what if we told you the keys to improved parenting have zero to do with those tired old guilt traps? Here, five research-backed secrets for upping your mom game.

Go to work

The New York Times cites evidence out of Harvard Business School that kids reap the benefits when moms work: “In a new study of 50,000 adults in 25 countries, daughters of working mothers completed more years of education, were more likely to be employed and in supervisory roles and earned higher incomes.” Career-oriented mamas may also be doing their future daughter-in-laws a favor, as sons of working mothers are more likely to “spend more time on child care and housework” and look to marry women who work. Being a professional may also be a boon to your kids’ physical health. One study out of the Berlin Social Science Center found moms who work a typical full-time job optimize their offspring’s BMI. “Amongst school aged children (8-14 years) the risk [of obesity] decreased when a mother worked between 35 and 40 hours per week, compared to working shorter (1-24) or longer hours (41 or more) a week.”

Put them to bed ridiculously early

Parents who put their kids to sleep with the sun (or, in summer, well before it sets) not only have significantly more hours for Netflix; they also have children who thrive. “Research consistently shows that putting kids to bed early is beneficial for their physical, emotional, and cognitive development,” writes Melinda Wenner Moyer in Slate. One study she cites shows “Across all ages, a late bedtime and having a parent present when the child falls asleep had the strongest negative association with reported sleep patterns,” like trouble falling asleep and more night wakings. Sorry, Kourtney Kardashian. Research also demonstrated that children age three and up “without a consistent bedtime routine were reported to obtain less sleep.” A different study she cites found “toddlers with a bedtime before 9 p.m. slept 78 minutes more than those with a later bedtime.” 

Lock up your phone

Illinois State University family and consumer sciences professor Brandon McDaniel studies the connection between tech-obsessed parents and the resulting behavioral problems in their kids. This phenomenon even has a name: “Technoference.” Per the Chicago Tribune, results of McDaniel’s recent study of 170 U.S. parents “showed that the parents who reported problematic or addictive use of technology—checking phones often, feeling lost without them or turning to cellphones when they are lonely—also reported that their relationships with their children were being interrupted. The interruptions led to kids acting out, turning inward with feelings, or exhibiting aggressive behavior or crying spells.”

Sing to your kids

We know that babies recognize their parents’ voices in utero. But the benefits of singing to kids go well beyond bonding. A study out of the University of Montreal demonstrated that singing to babies keeps them calm twice as long as talking to them—good news for showtune-belting mamas everywhere (don’t judge ’til you hear my Eponine). Another study conducted by psychiatrists at Stanford University School of Medicine found that hearing their moms’ voices triggers pro-social responses in kids. Per this research, the strength of a child’s neurological response to hearing his mom’s voice actually “predicted that child’s social communication abilities.” Explained lead author, Dr. Daniel Abrams: “We know that hearing mother’s voice can be an important source of emotional comfort to children. Here, we’re showing the biological circuitry underlying that.” Sally Goddard Blythe, director of the UK’s Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology, suggests singing lullabies and nursery rhymes to babies is “an essential precursor to later educational success and emotional well-being.” Other experts say it enhances their mathematical and scientific abilities. Bonus: Babies are just as into it whether you sound like Beyoncé or Countess Luann. 

Run around with them

Research from the University of Cambridge shows active mothers “appear to have active school-aged children, who are in turn more likely than their less active peers to have good health outcomes.” The science belies the assumption that all kids are natural exercisers. In fact, researchers “saw a direct, positive association between physical activity in children and their mothers—the more activity a mother did, the more active her child.” The upshot? Sweaty moms = healthy kids.

This article was from PureWow and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Raising a Generous Child

The ability to give unselfishly to others is not a quality people are born with. Experiences we have and the values we are taught form the basis for the choices we tend to make in our lives regarding generosity. Similar to other behavioral and physical growth stages, researchers have found that children’s moral behaviors also evolve in developmental phases.

Usually young children up to about five years of age are a bit self-absorbed and fairly unaware of other’s feelings. They tend to believe that they should have whatever it is that they want. At around four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half years of age, children like to please adults and are more willing to be coached.

As a child’s moral reasoning develops, parents can model generous behaviors and discuss the importance of generosity. Children will more easily grasp a value such as generosity if they have early and frequent real-life exposure to it. Setting examples and reinforcing good manners at this stage will go a long way.

Don’t despair if your little one seems quite selfish. It’s almost as nature intends for us to learn to love ourselves before we can love others. Remember that a child’s behavior and train of thought will go through various transitions and eventually even a self-centered preschooler can become a warm and generous individual.

By giving your children many opportunities to experience the wonderful feeling of giving to others, they will likely grow up to be generous adults.