Search Results: values

Developing Universal Values of Compassion and Empathy

By Charles Solis / March 14, 2019 / Comments Off on Developing Universal Values of Compassion and Empathy
Christine de Marcellus Vollmer

It is my great joy to feature a guest post today by one of our dearest friends in the whole world, Christine de Marcellus Vollmer. I first met Christine and her husband, Alberto, forty-some years ago when they brought their profoundly brain-injured son, Leopoldo, to the clinic where I worked. I became responsible for Leopoldo’s development and over the next ten years he went from cortical blindness to vision, and from deafness to hearing and understanding. He developed good tactile sensation where he had none. He went from paralysis to tummy crawling and then creeping. He eventually communicated his feelings and needs with sounds. He enjoyed good health and dramatically reduced seizures. Leopoldo became a bunch of miracles in one little body. Christine and her family made that happen.

Christine and Alberto became strong advocates and supporters of our work. With their help, we began seeing children in Venezuela in 1983. In 1988 Leopoldo died, having lived thirteen years longer than all of his doctors had predicted. Shortly thereafter we began a pilot project to bring our work to the poorest of the poor in Venezuela. That project was a huge success and became known as “Programa Leopoldo”. Eventually, through Programa Leopoldo, we trained more than two hundred professionals (doctors, therapists, teachers) in our methods and opened thirty-four centers all over Venezuela where poor families could get help for their children free of charge.

Christine is the mother of seven children and grandmother of 26 grandchildren.

She is the president of Asociacion PROVIVE in Venezuela and the Latin American Alliance for the Family. Christine is also a former member of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and a founding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. As if all of that is not enough, Christine is one of the authors of and the principal engine behind ALIVE TO THE WORLD (Aprendiendo a Querer in Spanish) a comprehensive program of education in universal human values designed for the classroom from K to 12. ALIVE TO THE WORLD has reached over 1 million students in selected schools since 1990. Christine can be reached at christinedemv@gmail.com.

Today’s guest post is about teaching universal values to young children. Every day we are bombarded with news reports about corruption, crime, and all sorts of other misbehavior. The very recent scandal of rich, privileged parents scamming the college admissions system is a case in point. It is being portrayed in the media as a problem of the wealthy. It is much, much more than that. It is a problem of values, ethics, and morality. I can’t think of a more timely post.

We decided to try out a different format for this post since Christine is so good at answering questions on the fly about her work. So, we collected questions from some young parents and a few teachers of young children and then posed them to Christine in an interview. For clarity, BFK is BrainFit Kids and CdMV is Christine de Marcellus Vollmer.

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BFK:

Part of the vision of BrainFit Kids is a world in which every child grows up to be compassionate. We know that in order for anyone to be compassionate the parts of the brain responsible for compassion and empathy must be properly developed. We attempt to do this with the information we share in our blogs. What or how do you recommend parents teach and model to best develop empathy and compassion in their children?

CdVM:

Of course, teaching through example is very important. The gestures of compassion that parents can make to those whom they come across who are in difficulties are of prime importance. Certainly, too, the explanation that parents can give as they make these gestures will help greatly. However, I believe (as did Aristotle) that stories and books are the world’s best resource. One difficulty today is that many schools now only recommend the books written that year, and the wonderful classics, such as The Little Princess, or The Secret Garden and so many others, which lead the children to live the acts of care for others, are totally forgotten. I am shocked to see that many excellent young teachers have never heard of these books and stories. We must get back to the classic books whose very existence was to teach values.  Our school curriculum, Alive to the World, uses a story to help children and adolescents to interiorize and make their own, the virtues of compassion, solidarity, and integrity. Stories are very effective.

BFK:

What are the values that are shared universally across a wide range of cultures?

CdVM:

Courage, loyalty, veracity, generosity, perseverance, compassion, patience and grit are shared by all humanity and at all stages. Even when cultures were quite cruel, compassion was admired and included in fables of heroes. I believe that these values are written on the subconscious in some way because we have seen how they are even admired by the members of gangs of delinquents. Their opposite vices of cowardice, betrayal, lying, meanness, etc, are universally despised.

BFK:
How can sound values best be integrated into the child’s worldview and way-of-life without imposing on them where they might rebel and do the opposite?

CdVM:

Certainly through stories. Adolescents, particularly, are very averse to being told what is right and wrong. They want to discover it by observation. This can take too long in real life. That is why reading (and to a lesser degree, films) are the ideal way for them to ‘learn by observing’ the characters in the books.

BFK:

At what age do kids start to understand these more abstract ideas such as justice, loyalty, etc.?

CdVM:

Justice is one of the earliest. Just try giving two candies to two three-year-old children and only one candy to a third child. A sense of justice will immediately make itself known. Loyalty is more subtle but very present in small children. Responsibility comes later, of course. Dr. David Isaacs has written about the ‘windows of opportunity’ for the learning of virtues. But in general, these are natural feelings, as expressed in the second question and the important thing is to consistently point out virtues, praise the child for practicing kindness, generosity, sharing, and being considerate. It is also important to avoid saying “you are so kind, generous, etc.” But, rather, to exclaim over the action, “That was so kind!”,  in order for the child to understand the action is good, and not feel that he or she has now attained goodness.

BFK:

What are age-appropriate ways to start introducing these themes?

CdVM:

I feel that pointing them out from the beginning, say 18 months. At first, very simply, insisting on “Thank you” and then on “Please”.  This is truly the beginning of virtue as it is the start of knowing that all is not “due”, but we must be grateful. Gratitude contains many virtues, principally humility. As the child grows in understanding of what is going on around him or her, good actions should be pointed out. And selfish actions as well.

BFK:

Besides setting a good example, how do you teach things like empathy?

CdVM:

Explaining situations empathetically is most effective. Children tend to be very judgmental and look down on all that is done differently in other homes. To explain that others don’t do things the same way for ethnic, religious, or cultural reasons is helpful. “Joey is having a difficult time because he has no daddy. We can help him by having him over to our house” type of thing.

BFK:

Do you have a list of favorite books, by age, that highlight these values?

CdVM:

Theresa Fagan, a mother of eight, issues one every year called “A Mother’s List of Books”. It is wonderful! Parents can order a copy by writing to Theresa directly at tafagan@juno.com.

BFK:

What are the most important values to teach a young child/toddler and older child?

CdVM:

Gratitude, compassion, and grit are the winners at all ages. Gratitude is absolutely essential, from the beginning. Grit needs to be eased in slowly, but early.  This is done by praising bravery over those first falls and scratches. Our series, Alive to the World, works them into each book, from K to 12, putting emphasis on the most age appropriate. All of the virtues are needed, and they are quite intertwined and interdependent.

BFK:

If talking about values isn’t really something that’s in your comfort zone as a parent what resources are available to help the parent navigate these waters and to help children learn values?

CdVM:

The Alive to the World Series*, now available as digital books, will do the trick if the parents read them as well so as to keep up. Apart from that, “The Book of Virtues”, an anthology of stories that embody the principle virtues, by William Bennett is very helpful, as well as “Books That Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories” by William Kilpatrick. And again, the books on Teresa Fagan’s list.

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Thanks again to Christine for her time and insight.

Information on ALIVE TO THE WORLD can be found at http://alivetotheworld.org/en/. Excerpts from the books in the series can be viewed at www.blinklearning.com/editoriales/alafa. The books can be purchased at https://shopusa.blinklearning.com/en/194_alafa-editores.



Teaching Compassion

By Conceição Solis / June 25, 2020 /

Racism and intolerance are very much in the news here in the United States and around the world. People are discussing lots of ideas about how to address this deep-rooted problem and that’s a good thing. New rules of engagement, new laws are surely needed. However, we’ve already tried to change racism and intolerance by changing laws. Obviously, it’s not enough. 

In the long run, societal change is always most effective when it begins at the most basic level of society, the family, and then move to more complex levels of society. This is known as the principle of subsidiarity. We parents are our children’s first and most influential teachers. Each of us, individually, must look in the mirror and examine our attitudes and behaviors; and, most importantly, what we are teaching our children. This issue is too important to leave in the hands of teachers, sociologists, and politicians. 

BrainFit Kids is uniquely positioned to help with this shift because of our dual focus on human dignity and brain development. BrainFit Kids’ vision is “a world where all children are valued, capable, and compassionate.” This has been our vision from the very beginning.

Let’s take a look at that vision – what it means and how achieving it can diminish or eliminate problems related to racism and intolerance in the future. 

  • Valued: When we say children are valued we mean that they are valued simply for being a part of the human family. When we value a child for being a part of the human family we automatically love them unconditionally. When children are valued, each child’s uniqueness is celebrated with love and respect. Valuing a child affects not only the child but also the parent. That dynamic begins at conception and continues throughout life as any grandparent can tell you. 
  • Capable: Most people understand what we mean by capable. The dictionary defines it as “able to achieve efficiently whatever one has to do; competent.” At BrainFit Kids, our goal is for each child to reach their intellectual, physical, and social potential whatever that potential might be. We all want this for our children. Since intellectual, physical, and social ability is the result of brain development it is axiomatic that a high level of brain development will result in a high level of ability.
  • Compassionate: This aspect of our vision surprises a lot of people. We include it because we firmly believe that being capable is simply not enough. The world is filled with highly capable people who lack empathy and compassion. It’s been that way throughout history, For us, the vision of the world we want to see must include more than simply a high level of intellectual, physical, and social ability.

Raising a compassionate child begins at birth. In order for a child to have the ability to become compassionate the part of the brain responsible for empathy must be developed and “wired” correctly. This typically happens early in life. When a baby is held and caressed often, when you respond to the baby’s cries in a timely manner, when you and your baby share a mutual gaze, you are developing the parts of the brain responsible for empathy. You are working on the foundation for compassion. An abused or neglected child often develops a brain that is compromised in its ability to feel empathy. Without empathy, there cannot be compassion. Unfortunately, many children experience neglect and abuse every day. This happens at all levels of society but is particularly true amongst the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. It is important that we recognize this problem and address it for the good of the children and our society. 

As I sit here thinking about all of the protests and the pain related to racism, I can not help but think of the children we work with and a related, but broader, issue. The roots of racism might be different from the roots of discrimination based on ethnicity or disability but they have several points in common – disrespect for, intolerance of, and ignorance about someone who is different from you. Racists do not like, accept, or even understand differences. 

Having spent my adult life working with children of all levels of functional ability I have seen up close the value they all bring to my life, the lives of their families, and their value to society. When our daughter, Juliana, was a little girl she spent a great deal of time with us while we were working with families and their children. Throughout her childhood, she was surrounded by children of varying levels of ability – blind children, immobile children, children with learning difficulties, hyperactive children, children who could not speak, children who had convulsions, etc. Juliana began almost every morning with the same two questions. First – who is coming today? Second – can they see, walk, talk? She wanted to know because the answer would determine how she would be able to play that day. However, for her it made no real difference. To Juliana it was quite simple – some children could see, some could not; some children could walk, some could not, some children could talk, some could not. She was no better or no less a person than they, simply because she could do more. 

I wish I could say that we did all of this by design. We didn’t. But how incredibly lucky Juliana was because she was forever and irrevocably enriched by her experiences playing with those kids. She learned about patience, tolerance, dedication, service, success, failure, and compassion. Most importantly, she learned about the dignity and worth of human life and through those experiences, she became a better person. All children have that same potential.

Many parents are now asking how can I teach my child to respect, accept, and love people for who they truly are? How can I talk about racism with my children? How can I teach my children to embrace and celebrate the differences in everyone, no matter the color of their skin, ethnicity, religion, level of ability, etc.? 

Here are some thoughts.

  • Begin by giving your child the opportunity to develop a well-organized brain.
  • Read our blog post on teaching the universal values of empathy and compassion.
  • Teach with your actions! 
  • Teach compassion by showing empathy for others who are hurt or suffering. 
  • Read books about differences that are developmentally appropriate. 
  • Have age-appropriate conversations. Keep it simple and positive. Be honest. Leave room for your child to ask questions. 

Most importantly, remember that children are not born racist or prejudiced or afraid of others who are different from them. That is something they learn from the environment around them. You can help break the cycle. It’s really not that difficult. 

One last thing… a little exercise in decreasing stress if you will… take a few minutes to sit quietly with your eyes closed and imagine a world in which all children are valued, capable, and compassionate… it’s a beautiful thing!

Resources:

Some great books: You can order books online or pick them up at a local bookstore.

9 year old, Rylei created a children’s/teen’s bookstore featuring books centered around brown characters. You can also follow her @thebrownbookcase! Some other accounts worth following to diversify your child’s bookshelf are @booksofmelanin and @blackbabybooks

Watch:

Take the time to watch the conversation held by PBS Kids for Parents about talking to children authentically about race and racism. 

Avoid the snow plow – help your child succeed in life!

By Charles Solis / March 21, 2019 / Comments Off on Avoid the snow plow – help your child succeed in life!

Last week we posted an interview with Christine de Marcellus Vollmer about teaching universal values to young children. It was a particularly timely post because it came on the heels of a breaking news story about wealthy parents engaging in all kinds of illegal and immoral activities to pave the way for their children’s acceptance into elite colleges and universities here in the United States.

Today, I want to talk about another aspect of the story that is also quite topical, the phenomenon known as lawnmower or snowplow parenting. I prefer the image of the snowplow moving massive amounts of snow to clear a path so I’ll go with that one. These are parents who believe they must pave the way for their child’s success in life by removing all obstacles to failure. The parents involved in the college admissions scandal are snowplow parents par excellence!

Before leaving the workforce to devote herself to raising her children, Juliana Gaither (my daughter and a big part of BrainFit Kids) was the Associate Director for Study Abroad at one of America’s elite universities. In her role she sometimes dealt with these kinds of parents. In preparing to write this post I asked Juliana to tell me about her experience.

“We often had parents call and ask what their son or daughter needed to do to be accepted into a program instead of the student calling us or coming in to speak with us themselves. We even had the occasional parent wanting to meet with us in place of their child to find out more about the programs and the procedures for acceptance because their children were ‘too busy’ to do it themselves. ”

Remember, these students are 18 to 21-year-old young men and women! Unfortunately, many folks working at all levels of education have run into these types of parents. The problem is that in the long run, this kind of parenting has the opposite effect. Rather than helping children succeed, it sets them up for failure.

It is important for me to deal with this because some people believe that the things we teach at BrainFit Kids will lead parents to become “helicopter” parents or “snowplow” parents. If parents understand what we teach and apply it correctly nothing could be further from the truth.

Here’s a direct quote about the goal of BrainFit Kids from Day 1 of our free email course, “Make the First Three Years Count.”

“Who are BrainFit Kids? BrainFit Kids are children who are smart, capable, and compassionate. They are children who function at a high level physically, intellectually, socially, and emotionally. They are children who are curious and have a love of learning. They are children with self-confidence who enthusiastically tackle new challenges. BrainFit Kids are kids who have many options from which to choose. By the way, other than the fact that they are children who are raised with the brain in mind, they’re just like other kids. In other words, every well-child has the potential to be a BrainFit Kid. We’d like nothing better than to see a zillion of them!”

It is not possible for us to achieve that goal if our parents become either helicopter or snowplow parents.

So, how can you help your child to succeed in life?

First, ensure that that wonderful gift of the human brain is well developed and functioning optimally. Remember, all ability is the direct result of the development and organization of the brain. There’s plenty of information about that in our free email course and on our blog.

Second, take a cue from Dr. Carol Dweck, a world-renowned Stanford University psychologist, about how to interact with your child as they confront the many challenges of life.

Dr. Carol Dweck, has spent decades researching the factors that lead to achievement and success. Her research eventually led her to pinpoint two beliefs that people have about themselves that affect how they approach challenges. She labeled those beliefs the “fixed mindset”, the belief that intelligence and ability are predetermined and unchangeable, and the “growth mindset”, the belief that intelligence and ability can be developed and improved through effort and determination.

Children begin to develop a mindset about themselves by around 3 or 4 years of age. Parents and teachers play a significant role in which mindset children develop because they are constantly giving feedback to them. Dr. Dweck discovered that the nature of that feedback is critical. Simply put, children who are praised for being smart tend to be children who shun challenges and opt for the easy way out, whereas children who are praised for their effort tend to be children who enthusiastically embrace challenges.

Sounds counterintuitive, right? But think about it. If Billy believes that his success is based on his intelligence, he is unlikely to do anything that might alter that perception of him. Billy doesn’t want to fail because that will prove that he’s not smart! On the other hand, if Susie believes that her success is based on her effort and perseverance, she is more likely to give challenges a shot. Susie sees failure as a part of the process of learning. Check out this video of children attempting to do puzzles for a clear demonstration of this concept.

Of course, as with many things in parenting, there are nuances in how one gives praise even when it is “effort” focused. In an article in “The Atlantic”, Dr. Dweck explains,  

“If parents react to their child’s failures as though there is something negative, if they rush in, are anxious, reassure the child, ‘Oh not everyone can be good at math, don’t worry, you’re good at other things,’ the child gets it that no, this is important, and it’s fixed.”

“But if the parent reacts to a child’s failure as though it’s something that enhances learning, asking, “Okay, what is this teaching us? Where should we go next? Should we talk to the teacher about how we can learn this better?” that child comes to understand that abilities can be developed.”

“So, with praise, focus on “process praise” – focus on the learning process and show how hard work, good strategies, and good use of resources lead to better learning.”

Dr. Dweck’s research has implications for all of us in our role as parents and in our own lives as we face the challenges of life at work, in our communities, and at home.

So now you have two pieces of the puzzle. There’s one more left.

Third, get out of the way and trust your child!

Let’s face it, nobody learns to walk without falling down and getting a few scrapes and bruises. The road to true success is a bumpy one. We take a few steps, lose our balance, and down we go. But then we dust ourselves off, regain our bearings, and try again. Try, fail, adjust, try again. With effort and perseverance, we eventually succeed. Failure is a part of life. It’s impossible for any child to develop successfully without it.

One final thought. We teach three basic laws of brain development. The third law says that “where there is a need, there is a facility”. Basically, it means that in order for any ability to develop there must first be a need for that ability. It’s an incredibly important law to understand. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to read our post on this law here. I promise you, if you understand it well you will never turn into a helicopter or snowplow parent.

Happy parenting!

Support Reach and BrainFit Kids NOW to help us obtain a matching gift on GivingTuesday!

By Charles Solis / November 26, 2018 / Comments Off on Support Reach and BrainFit Kids NOW to help us obtain a matching gift on GivingTuesday!

Donate Now

GivingTuesday is today – a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide. #GivingTuesday is an opportunity for you to show what values are important to you and connect with a community and an organization working together to make your values into reality – we’re most effective together.

This GivingTuesday, we hope you’ll choose to CelebrateHumanPotential by supporting the life transforming work of the REACH Family Institute and our vision of a world in which all children are valued, compassionate, and capable. 

 

Starting at 8:00am ET (5:00am PT) on Tuesday, November 27, 2018 Facebook and PayPal will match donations up to a total of $7 million on a first come first serve basis. Please consider donating here to help us capitalize on this unique opportunity!

 

The REACH Family Institute is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to teaching parents and professionals about the extraordinary human brain. REACH’s work applies to children across the entire range of function from little ability (profound brain-injury) to above average ability. International in scope, REACH works with individual families, professionals, and organizations to ensure a better future through more capable and compassionate children.

On April 9th 2018, after several years of hard work, the REACH Family Institute launched BrainFit Kids, our new online initiative designed to empower parents of young children with the knowledge and tools necessary to Parent with the Brain in Mind. BrainFit Kids consists of a website, a regular blog, and online consulting. As a service to all young parents in the world we created a free 7-day email course called “Make the first three years count”. Over the last six months more than 1,000 families around the world have taken the course and are raising their children with the brain in mind!

2018 was also a year of major anniversaries for our worldwide REACH family. We celebrated the

  • 40th anniversary of Executive Director Charles Solis’s historic thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail
  • 30th anniversary of our Programa Leopoldo Pilot Project in Venezuela
  • 25th anniversary of the Casa de la Mujer (Programa Leopoldo) in Venezuela
  • 20th anniversary of the founding of the REACH Family Institute!

So, you can see we have a long, proud history of serving children and families throughout the world. We’ve transformed the lives of a lot of children and a lot of parents. But there is still an awful lot to do. High on our list for the coming year is to produce a series of video courses about child brain development. We’d love to have your support in that effort. So, as you consider which organizations you will support this #GivingTuesday, we hope you will choose the REACH Family Institute.

Please Donate Now to help us capitalize on Facebook and PayPal’s generosity to match your gift!