Category: Parenting & Children

Erin Clabough: Developing Empathy, Creativity, and Sel...

Dr. Erin Clabough is an assistant professor of biology and neuroscience at Hampden-Sydney College. With Sounds True, she has published Second Nature: How Parents Can Use Neuroscience to Help Kids Develop Empathy, Creativity, and Self-Control. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Erin about the experience of raising four children while also pursuing her PhD, and how this informed the lessons in Second Nature. Erin describes specific methods she’s used to challenge and discipline her children in ways that encourage the development of positive lifelong traits, as well as how these methods can be applied in any family. Erin and Tami discuss the tricky modern issue of screen time and the different ways to approach rules with differently aged children. Finally, they talk about the concept of emotional “scaffolding” and what it takes to really model positive behaviors in your daily life. (56 minutes)

Tami’s Takeaway: Have you ever noticed that sometimes when someone says, “I’m sorry” for some ignorant or destructive action, their apology can feel insufficient or incomplete? A mother of four and a neuroscience educator, Erin Clabough says to her children, “I don’t want your ‘sorry.’ I want you not to do it again.” Erin teaches her children what she calls “the OUT method.” O stands for “owning the action you took.” U stands for “understanding how that action affected other people.” And T stands for “telling the person you hurt how you will do it differently next time.” What a powerful way to build empathy in children and for all of us to make amends when we need to!

Mindful Kids in Context

 

Mindful eating, mindful burgers, mindful sex . . . pretty much everything is mindful lately. Paying attention has value, but what’s the goal of all that mindfulness?

Defining mindfulness exactly is like trying to define psychology or exercise in one line; you can do it, but it never quite captures everything. To summarize, mindfulness means aiming to be more aware of our immediate experience, with less reactive habit. Even that language may feel abstract to the average parent or child trying to find some peace and happiness. More than any single definition, what matters most is that there’s an intention. We spend an awful lot of our lives reacting to things we like or dislike in ways that aren’t always useful. When we break patterns and handle the uncertainty of life more easily, that’s beneficial. However you define it, mindfulness means living with less mindless habit and more ability to manage the fact that life is awfully hard sometimes.

So what does mindfulness with kids mean? Another way of framing mindfulness is as a group of mental traits. It’s not that anything specifically gets fixed by a practice of mindfulness; it’s guiding children toward long-term skills that make life easier. We teach children to become more attentive, less reactive, more compassionate, and resilient. From that perspective, mindfulness is a way to build life management abilities, but far from the only one. We offer children tools to handle the challenging road ahead through any means that fit.

When we say that mindfulness means “paying attention to what we’re doing,” we transfer this to our children by paying more attention to them when we’re together. “Staying calm under pressure” means taking a few breaths and not blowing a gasket when homework falls apart. When we say to treat others with compassion, that starts with how we speak to the frazzled guy at the airport dealing with our flight cancellation. Acknowledging honestly and openly that no one is perfect, we also recognize that we won’t stick to our own intentions all the time. We make mistakes and learn from them and keep going. Drawing our children into that part of life teaches them something too.

When it comes to teaching mindfulness, focus on the skills you want your children to develop. That matters more than whether they commit to a “mindfulness practice.” We build resilience by developing EF (Executive Function) and attention, emotional awareness, self-confidence, self-compassion, positive relationships, and all the rest that comes from being raised in a mindful, aware household. That doesn’t mean specifically meditating, but it does mean emphasizing a balanced lifestyle.

Mindfulness implies living with clarity in a certain way. We guide kids to pay attention every way we can — by taking moments to pause and look at a sea shell or by prioritizing activities that build attention (like reading, chess, and board games) over those that disrupt attention (excessive screen time). We discuss emotions and describe our own emotions. We live compassionately, read books that reflect other people’s perspectives, and generally immerse kids in compassion, while gradually considering if they’re ready for a compassion-based mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness is a tool kit for a different way of living, one that provides kids skills to manage life on their own one day. The good news is, kids don’t even have to practice it themselves to get there. They learn from watching us and from the overall way they live themselves. Of course, they eventually can learn from their own practice of mindfulness too. As you practice yourself, you’ll know exactly how to encourage your children to join you (links to books supporting mindfulness in kids can be found at howchildrenthrive.com). But it’s the big picture of how they are raised that counts most.

Consider This:

Imagine yourself from your child’s point of view. How would your child describe you to a friend? What’s fun and easy about you, what are your strengths, and what areas might you want to change?

 

Excerpted from How Children Thrive: The Practical Science of Raising Independent, Resilient, and Happy Kids.

 

 

Mark Bertin, MD, is a bestselling author who specializes in integrating mindfulness with other evidence-based neurodevelopmental care. His previous books include Mindful Parenting for ADHD and The Family ADHD Solution.

 

 

Buy your copy of How Children Thrive at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

 

Susan David: Emotional Agility

Susan David is a psychologist teaching at Harvard Medical School, cofounder of the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital, and the bestselling author of Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon talks with Susan about modern society’s attitudes toward emotion—specifically our tendency to label certain feelings as good or bad, and the dysfunctional behaviors that arise as a result. Susan explains that a much healthier approach is to identify “bad” emotions as “tough” or “difficult,” allowing us to examine them in a granular way that helps in processing them. Tami and Susan discuss how this informed method of dealing with emotions can be taught to children, which is especially important for learning not to bottle or brood upon unpleasant feelings. Finally, Susan draws upon a story from her adolescence to illustrate why emotional honesty is paramount for living a fulfilled life and why forced positivity never works out in the long run. (66 minutes)

Tami’s Takeaway: I loved hearing from a Harvard professor that “chasing happiness just doesn’t work.” It certainly hasn’t worked for me. Instead, she teaches how rewarding it can be to orient ourselves towards fulfillment and living a life that is meaningful. And then in some strange, unexpected way, happiness dawns. My two favorite quotes from this interview are: “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life,” and “Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility.”

5 Ways to Bring Nature into Playtime: The Biophilia Ef...

The childhood capacity to play creatively helps kids learn how to solve problems more effectively. Children develop their motor and mechanical skills, as well as planning skills and teamwork. The fact that many of our children now spend little time playing outdoors, growing up instead with commercial toys, video game consoles, computer games, and television prevents them from learning practical things in such a simple and joyful way as playing creatively in nature. Spending more time in nature or in a garden can bring this aspect back into the development of our children.

Spending time in nature can also significantly help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Richard Louv, a contributor to the New York Times and the Washington Post, speaks of the “Ritalin of nature” and advocates that children be treated with time in nature instead of with medication. But even for children without ADHD, the effects of being in nature boost attention and concentration.

Patrik Grahn—professor in environmental psychology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences—and his team compared children in two kindergartens. One group played regularly on a playground that was mostly paved over, had few plants, and was surrounded by high-rise buildings. The other playground was in the middle of woods and meadows, bordering an overgrown orchard with old fruit trees. The children played there in almost any weather. Professor Grahn showed that these children exhibited better physical coordination and significantly better concentration skills in comparison to the children going to a playground with less nature.

Children’s ability to communicate also increases, as the researchers from the University of Illinois found in the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory. They also proved that symptoms of restlessness and hyperactivity can be alleviated even in ADHD patients by regularly playing in nature. I recommend the following to parents and teachers who wish to improve their children’s attention, communication skills, and concentration:

  • If possible, try to set up your children’s playroom/bedroom in a room that has a view of nature.
  • Motivate children to play outside in green surroundings whenever possible—even in the rain or snow!
  • Be an advocate for natural schoolyards at your children’s school. It is especially important for the recovery of the child’s ability to concentrate and interact.
  • Plant and care for trees and other vegetation at home, or work with your landlord to establish a community garden in your apartment area.
  • Get creative and make toys and other crafts from natural “supplies” from nature, such as this gourd music maker:

Musical Instruments from Gourds: Here’s How to Do It!

Dried gourds from your garden—whether short and spherical, long and cone-shaped, or those with a huge, bulbous, resounding body—make excellent rattles for children. Any variety of bottle gourds, also known as calabashes, is good for making a rattle.

Harvest the ripe calabashes in autumn. Now let the spongy flesh inside dry up and shrink. To do this, hang the calabashes at home in a way that allows sufficient air circulation around them; above a heater is particularly suitable. Drying is best done during the cold season, when home heaters are on, since low humidity is important for success. The calabashes must not touch one another, for this encourages decomposition.

During drying, it is hard to avoid a slight mold coating on the shell. This can be regularly wiped off with a cloth. You only have to take care that the gourd doesn’t get soft or rotten in spots. Occasionally it is possible to keep the calabash entirely mold-free by scraping off the outermost skin early in the drying process. Once the fruit is dried, the rattle is ready. The fruit flesh inside is sufficiently dried and shrunk so that the seeds are now free in the resulting cavity and will rattle when shaken.

Of course, calabashes can be further crafted into more sophisticated musical instruments, such as the finger piano (kalimba), which children especially like. If you enjoy working with your hands, bongos or a sitar—an Indian string instrument—can also be created from bottle gourds, as these offer an optimal resounding space. There are also types of gourds with very long, narrow fruits that, after drying and scraping, can produce a didgeridoo with proper bass and rich overtones. The Australian Aborigines traditionally made didgeridoos from branches and trunks of eucalyptus trees that were naturally hollowed out by termites in the wild.

Children will love to play instruments that they watched growing in the garden. This creates a connection that is so much more valuable than any store-bought rattle or toy drum. Other items of daily use can be produced from gourds, such as bottles, spoons, pitchers, dolls, ornamental objects, and many others. There is no limit to your creativity, and the internet is full of instructions for the use of calabashes as musical instruments and utensils.

Born in 1980, Clemens G. Arvay is an Austrian engineer and biologist. He studied landscape ecology (BSc) at Graz University and applied plant sciences (MSc) at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna. Arvay examines the relationship between humans and nature, focusing on the health-promoting effects of contact with plants, animals, and landscapes. The author also addresses a second range of topics that includes ecologically produced food along with the economics of large food conglomerates. Clemens G. Arvay has written numerous books, including his bestseller The Biophilia Effect. For more, please visit clemensarvay.com.

Buy your copy of The Biophilia Effect: A Scientific and Spiritual Exploration of the Healing Bond Between Humans and Nature at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

Mark Bertin: How Children Thrive and the Developmental...

Dr. Mark Bertin is a pediatrician, mindfulness teacher, and the author of regular articles for Mindful.org, Huffpost, and Psychology Today. With Sounds True, he has published How Children Thrive: The Practical Science of Raising Independent, Resilient, and Happy Kids. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon and Mark discuss his research on executive functioning—those mental processes that allow us to organize and responsibly manage our immediate environment—and how this develops in children. Drawing from his extensive work, Mark explains the healthy stages of executive function development and why a supportive, open-minded, and fun-promoting environment is what kids actually need to thrive. They talk about Mark’s previous work with childhood ADHD and how it led to his current focus, as well as why attention disorders can be interpreted as delays in executive function development. Finally, Mark and Tami speak on setting boundaries around technology use and how introducing mindfulness practices early in childhood leads to healthier, happier lives down the road. (64 minutes)

Goldie Hawn: Moving in a Direction That Matters

Goldie Hawn is an Academy Award-winning actor, director, producer, and activist best known for her roles in films such as Cactus Flower, Private Benjamin, and Death Becomes Her. She created The Hawn Foundation, the nonprofit organization behind MindUP™, an educational program that is bringing mindfulness practices to millions of children across the world. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Goldie about her longtime interest in meditation and why it’s so important to teach brain basics to kids. They discuss the neuroscience that demonstrates the clear benefits of teaching emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and the basics of brain science to children from an early age—as well as why Goldie is teaching these aspects to her own grandchildren. Finally, Tami and Goldie talk about what it means to differentiate one’s true self from the projections of others, as well as why love and family remain Goldie’s first priorities in life. (67 minutes)

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