Charles Solis

Free Consultations, Printables, and Live Streams!

By Charles Solis / May 7, 2020 /

We just completed our second week of our Facebook Live streams!

In addition to the great content we discussed, here are the printables from those sessions:

As a reminder we are offering free online parent coaching through BrainFit Kids and consultations through the Reach Family Institute for parents who have specific questions or concerns about a child with developmental challenges 

Click “Book Now” on our Facebook Pages:

More details on the live streams and free appointments below.

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BrainFit Kids Live Show – Two times per week for 15 minutes we will be streaming on Facebook Live. The focus will be on well-developing children from birth to six years of age, with the occasional detour talking about older kids and teens. Here’s some of what you can expect to learn

  • The three basic, non-negotiable laws that govern brain development 
  • The three fundamental, universal principles that guide brain development 
  • How to easily apply those laws and principles in everyday life
  • Simple, practical, developmental activities to do with your children at home
  • Tips on homeschooling – How to teaching anything with the brain in mind for maximum success 

Free Online Coaching – We will set aside time each day to provide free coaching sessions for parents who have specific questions about their child’s development. More details to come.

Membership Coaching Program – A comprehensive program of education and guidance to empower you to Parent with the Brain in Mind. More details to come.

Children with Developmental Challenges 

REACH Family Institute LIVE Show – Two times per week for 15 minutes, tentatively Tuesday and Thursday, we will be streaming live on Facebook. The focus will be on children, teens, and young adults with developmental challenges. Here’s some of what you can expect to learn

  • The three basic, non-negotiable laws that govern brain development 
  • The three fundamental, universal principles that guide brain development 
  • How to easily apply those laws and principles in everyday life
  • Simple, practical, developmental activities to do with your children at home
  • Tips for successfully working with your child at home
  • Tips for successfully teaching your child at home 

Free Online Consultations – We will set aside time each day to provide free thirty-minute consultations for parents who have specific questions or concerns about a child with developmental challenges with or without a specific diagnosis – autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, developmental delay, learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, etc.

More details to come.

Discounted Home Program – Parents who have children with developmental challenges already deal with a lot of stress. The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has only added to that. If that’s you or someone you know, we want to help. Starting today and until July 31st of this year, we are offering online Initial Evaluation and Programming appointments for our Home Program at a 30% discount for all new families who are struggling financially due to the current crisis. Getting an appointment is simple – families simply write to us at admin@reachfamilyinstitute.org to request an appointment and explain their circumstances. No family will be refused. 

Support for Parents & Children: Coping with COVID-19 Part 2

By Charles Solis / April 22, 2020 / Comments Off on Support for Parents & Children: Coping with COVID-19 Part 2

Hopefully, you are all safe and healthy after these first few weeks of the COVID-19 crisis. In my last post, I gave some general guidelines for decreasing the chances of becoming infected, bolstering the immune system to fight infection, and dealing with the fears and emotions that are quite naturally a part of any crisis of this magnitude. I hope that those suggestions have been helpful.

We are four full weeks into a widespread government shutdown here in the United States. It is estimated that more than one-third of the world’s population is under some form of restriction ranging from mandatory geographic quarantines to non-mandatory recommendations to stay at home, close certain businesses, and ban public events and gatherings. A little more than a month ago we were doing business as usual! Now life is anything but usual! That’s an awful lot of change for a lot of people in a very short span of time.

So, what are we to do with that?

Stop the World!, I Want to Get Off
I am probably dating myself but here goes… With all of the craziness lately, I keep thinking back to a wonderful musical that packed the theaters in London and Broadway in the early 1960s. That musical was “Stop the World!, I Want to Get Off”. The title captures the sentiments that I imagine many of you are feeling.

Basically, the story follows the life of a character named Littlechap from birth to old age. Never satisfied with his lot in life he is constantly searching for something better. Every time he runs into difficulty he shouts ‘Stop the World!’ and turns to speak to the audience. Late in life, he realizes that all of his searchings were pointless because he already had everything he ever wanted. 

One of the classic songs from the musical is “Just Once in a Lifetime”. The lyrics are eerily appropriate for this moment we are living, and offer a glimmer of hope. Here is just the first stanza. 

Just once in a lifetime
There’s one special moment
One wonderful moment
When fate takes your hand
And this is the moment
My once in a lifetime
When I can explore
A new and exciting land

Hidden in that wonderful song is the clue to Part 2 of Coping with COVID-19. The million-dollar question is how can you seize the hidden opportunities in this crisis and come out the other end better than before? 

A Golden Opportunity

Most of you, like us, are sheltered at home for the foreseeable future… with the kids!!!  Heaven knows how long that is going to last… a few more weeks, months… into next year? It already seems like it’s been forever but in terms of getting back to some semblance of normality, it could be just beginning!

So, one really important question to ask is what is that going to look like? I assume you already took steps to mitigate the risks posed by the coronavirus. The question now is how to handle you and your children being home together for what could be anywhere from a few weeks to many months? What the heck are you supposed to do with them all day?! How do you juggle working from home, homeschooling, childcare, meal preparation, house cleaning, etc., etc., etc. 

Take a deep breath… Read those lyrics again… slowly… let the words roll off your tongue… let them sink in…

Believe it or not, this crisis contains within it a golden opportunity for you and your children. As the song says, it may very well be a once in a lifetime opportunity, one special moment, one wonderful moment, when fate takes your hand…

Here’s a shortlist of some of the opportunities we see for you and your children.

  • An opportunity to spend serious quality time together as a family.
  • An opportunity to eat meals together. 
  • An opportunity to reclaim your role as your child’s first and most influential teacher.
  • An opportunity to focus on well rounded global development.
  • An opportunity to learn based on interests rather than a standard curriculum.

Most importantly, you have an opportunity to focus on developing the most important tool that every human being has to navigate through life… the human brain.

And the best part is that it’s not complicated. You and your children have everything to gain! You will all come out the other end of this crisis brilliant not broken if you seize the opportunity!

Uniquely Positioned To Help

Experience in Person and Online

For over 40 years, my wife Conceição and I have taught parents about the extraordinary human brain and guided them as they develop and educate their children at home. We’ve done this with parents of every social class, of every race, ethnicity, and religion, on every continent on the planet with the exception of Antarctica. We’ve done this with parents whose children range across the entire spectrum of functional ability from virtually no ability (due to severe brain injury) to exceptional ability. In between those two extremes are children with virtually every known developmental diagnosis – autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, developmental delay, learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, etc… the list is long.

That’s nearly a century of experience… with all kinds of parents… with all kinds of kids… from all kinds of cultures and circumstances! There isn’t much we haven’t seen! 

In addition to that, we also have extensive experience in teaching families online. Ten years ago several families from Perth, Australia brought their children to us in southern Oregon. After their initial appointment, in order to try to save them the trauma of more thirty-six hour trips in each direction, plus the travel expenses, we decided to give online teaching a try. Since those early days the technology has come a long way and today it is almost second nature to teach online. Just three weeks ago we spent 24 hours online teaching a family from Lithuania!

Philosophy

Our entire approach to the development of children is different from the mainstream. Three incredibly important differences stand out. 

Children are children first. Children are not their labels. Some children have medical labels or diagnoses, some have popular labels or put-downs. The point is that the label does not define the child. Billy is not a dyslexic child. He is a child with dyslexia. Children are children first. The label really doesn’t matter. Here’s how that plays out for us. Our focus is first and foremost on ability. Everything else is secondary. We ask a simple question. What can Billy do? Then we ask another simple question. How can we help Billy do that better or do more? 

Focus on the brain. Our primary focus is on the human brain. It’s our obsession. It consumes our every waking hour. Why? Because all ability is the direct result of brain development and function. Poor brain development and function equal less ability. Better brain development and function equal better ability. It’s a good thing to have better ability, more ability. It makes life a lot easier. The obvious corollary to this is that optimum brain development and function are prerequisites to the achievement of one’s potential. It’s really not complicated. We should all be striving to achieve our potential. The brain is the key. 

Family-Centered. Throughout our careers, the family has always been at the center of our work. Why? It’s actually pretty simple. We’re really results-driven so we always try to do what works best. We ask ourselves what should we do to produce the best results in the fastest time. It turns out that the human family is tailor-made for achieving success with child brain development. There is no better or more dynamic learning team than the family. Parents are their child’s first and most influential teachers. Parents know their children better than anyone. Parents love their children more than anyone. Those things give parents amazing power! All they need is knowledge and guidance. We keep parents at the center of our work because it works! 

Parenting With The Brain In Mind

As our way of contributing to the global effort to deal with the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, we are opening up our toolbox and sharing our four decades of knowledge and experience with you, simple ideas that have a profound impact on brain development and therefore everything about your child’s life. Below are some of the first steps we are taking to support families throughout the world. To make this easy to understand I am dividing it into well-developing children and children with developmental challenges. 

Well Developing Children

BrainFit Kids Live Show – Two times per week for 15 minutes we will be streaming on Facebook Live. The focus will be on well-developing children from birth to six years of age, with the occasional detour talking about older kids and teens. Here’s some of what you can expect to learn

  • The three basic, non-negotiable laws that govern brain development 
  • The three fundamental, universal principles that guide brain development 
  • How to easily apply those laws and principles in everyday life
  • Simple, practical, developmental activities to do with your children at home
  • Tips on homeschooling – How to teaching anything with the brain in mind for maximum success 

Free Online Coaching – We will set aside time each day to provide free coaching sessions for parents who have specific questions about their child’s development. More details to come.

Membership Coaching Program – A comprehensive program of education and guidance to empower you to Parent with the Brain in Mind. More details to come.

Children with Developmental Challenges 

REACH Family Institute LIVE Show – Two times per week for 15 minutes, tentatively Tuesday and Thursday, we will be streaming live on Facebook. The focus will be on children, teens, and young adults with developmental challenges. Here’s some of what you can expect to learn

  • The three basic, non-negotiable laws that govern brain development 
  • The three fundamental, universal principles that guide brain development 
  • How to easily apply those laws and principles in everyday life
  • Simple, practical, developmental activities to do with your children at home
  • Tips for successfully working with your child at home
  • Tips for successfully teaching your child at home 

Free Online Consultations – We will set aside time each day to provide free thirty-minute consultations for parents who have specific questions or concerns about a child with developmental challenges with or without a specific diagnosis – autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, developmental delay, learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, etc.

More details to come.

Discounted Home Program – Parents who have children with developmental challenges already deal with a lot of stress. The Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has only added to that. If that’s you or someone you know, we want to help. Starting today and until July 31st of this year, we are offering online Initial Evaluation and Programming appointments for our Home Program at a 30% discount for all new families who are struggling financially due to the current crisis. Getting an appointment is simple – families simply write to us at admin@reachfamilyinstitute.org to request an appointment and explain their circumstances. No family will be refused. 

We sincerely hope our efforts will be of service to many, many families around the world who need help at this time. We are all in this together. Wishing all of you robust health in this challenging time. Be well!

Now that you have gotten this far I have a little treat for you. Anthony Newley co-wrote the music and lyrics for Stop the World! I Want to Get Off. He was also one of the greatest artists to ever grace the stage in musical theater. He performed the part of Littlechap nearly a thousand times in London and on Broadway! He is said to have been a major influence on the early career of David Bowie. You deserve a break today. Take four minutes and watch a master at work performing the final song of the musical. This film clip is grainy but it nonetheless captures his brilliance beautifully… Anthony Newley as Littlechap singing “What Kind of Fool Am I?” on the 1969 TV show Hollywood Palace.

Managing Health and Wellness: Coping with COVID-19 Part 1

By Charles Solis / March 29, 2020 / Comments Off on Managing Health and Wellness: Coping with COVID-19 Part 1

We get it! Your life has been turned upside down almost overnight by a microscopic organism. A microscopic organism, specifically a coronavirus that evidently didn’t even exist before November of 2019 and that almost nobody on earth had even heard about before the beginning of 2020. 

You’re afraid about you and your children becoming infected by this coronavirus. You’re afraid about infecting others if you or your children do become infected. You’re worried about your family members, perhaps older parents, grandparents. You’re concerned about whether you and your children can fight the virus if you do become infected. On top of that you may well be one of the millions of people around the world whose jobs have been affected by this and you worry about the impact that is going to have on you and your family. 

And as if all of that is not enough to worry about, you’re unexpectedly home with the kids and asking yourselves “What the heck am I going to do with them all day?!” We’ve got a bunch of things in the works to help you with that one but more on that in Part 2 of Coping with COVID-19.

Weathering the Storm

For the following thoughts I am deeply indebted to the work and inspiration of leadership expert, Michael Hyatt. You can learn more about his work at https://michaelhyatt.com/

So, for a few moments sit back, take a few deep breaths, and consider this. In any crisis, there are three main things you need to do to weather the storm and come out on the other side not just whole but better than you might possibly have imagined. First, you must recognize what has happened. Second, you must reassess where you are as a result of that. Third, based on your reassessment you must then respond to what has happened.

Here’s what that might look like in the current situation:

  1. Recognize – The first step is to acknowledge the challenge in all of it’s ugliness. This means looking at the threats posed by the virus itself – the threat to your health, as well as the threat to your economic well being. The second step is to carefully consider how you are responding to the crisis. It’s so easy to become overwhelmed by all the bad news. To avoid that it’s critical that you are careful about the input you allow into your life. In an age of 24/7 cable news that is no easy task! But remember, your children are watching you and taking their cues from you. Your ability to remain calm and collected as you come to grips with everything will determine your ability to take the next two steps.
  2. Reassess – So here you are. Most of you, like us, are sheltered at home for the foreseeable future… with the kids!!!  Heaven knows how long that is going to last. So, one really important question to ask is what is that going to look like? Obviously, you need to mitigate the risks posed by the coronavirus. There’s a lot we don’t know about the virus but there is also a lot we do know. So that may actually be the easiest part of dealing with this. The bigger question is how to handle you and your children being home together for what could be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months? And that is where the silver lining lies in this crisis. It may have been completely unexpected, but believe it or not this crisis contains within it a golden opportunity for you and your children. It’s an opportunity to spend seriously quality time together, an opportunity to reclaim your rightful role as your child’s first and best teacher, and an opportunity to pursue an education focused more on your child’s interests and passions and less on a standardized curriculum. You and your children have everything to gain if you seize the opportunity!
  3. Respond – You have to act. Now that you have recognized the magnitude of what has happened and reassessed where you are as a result, the next step is to act. Decide how you are going to handle this. Devise a plan, rally the troops, tell them what you are going to do, and put the wheels in motion. 

Maintaining Health + Managing Fears and Emotions

In the remainder of this post, I’m going to deal with two things related to your children and your role as parents, things that we deal with on a regular basis:

  1. Health – avoiding and fighting infections
  2. Fears and Emotions – dealing with them openly and honestly

Health

First, let’s deal with health concerns because without health everything else is meaningless. It’s important for me to point out that what follows is for educational purposes only. It does not substitute for or replace medical advice. If you have concerns about your health or that of your children you should seek the opinion of your family physician. 

Some of the things I will list have already been talked about at great length by others. I am providing a Cliffs Notes version. Remember our mantra… frequency, intensity, duration. These are messages that bear repeating. They might save a life! A big shout out to Dr. Elisa Song for her extensive treatment of both the health and emotional aspects of this crisis on her blog at https://healthykidshappykids.com/ 

The key to avoiding infections, including and especially infection by COVID-19, is common sense vigilance. The key to fighting infections, including infection by COVID-19, is a robust immune system. 

Avoiding infection – COMMON SENSE!

  • Keep your distance. All of the evidence gathered so far points to the importance of this. Experience demonstrates that social distancing slows the spread of the virus. Because COVID-19 is so virulent this practice, difficult as it may be, is critical. 
  • Wash hands frequently. With soap and water. For at least 20 seconds. Like, more frequently than you have ever washed them in your life. And, in the words of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young… teach your children well!
  • Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. It’s simple. Alcohol kills viruses. If you are washing hands frequently that should suffice but you can use an alcohol based sanitizer to disinfect the surfaces you come in contact with.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth! I know… REALLY, REALLY, difficult especially for the kids. You have to try!
  • Irrigate your nose. I think this is a great recommendation from Dr. Elisa Song, one I have not seen from anyone else. Lots of ways to do this but XLEAR Nasal Spray works beautifully. 
  • Cover your cough with your elbow or tissues. Hello Captain Obvious!
  • Stay home when you’re sick unless you need urgent medical attention. Seriously? This should go without saying!  

Fighting infection – Requires a ROBUST immune system

  • Eat lots of foods and spices with antiviral properties. Think garlic, ginger, turmeric, oregano, thyme, star anise. 
  • Eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables. Colorful veggies, especially red and yellow, are rich in Vitamin C. Many fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, crucial for fighting oxidative stress brought on by infection and just the stress of daily living. 
  • Stay well-hydrated. Drink! Water! Lots of it! 
  • Avoid simple sugars and processed/junk food. This is ultra important! Even under “normal” circumstances, the single most important thing that anyone can do to improve overall health is to reduce or eliminate sugar from the diet. When confronted with the threat of the coronavirus this takes on special importance. Don’t eat sugar!
  • Get fresh air and moderate daily exercise. Sure, practice social distancing but get outside in the sunlight and get your heart pumping! Full spectrum light and Vitamin D all for free! It does a body good. 
  • Get adequate sleep. You’re home. No excuses. Get more sleep!
  • Minimize stress. Sure, you want to know what is going on. So go ahead and get your daily news briefing. But do yourself and your heart and brain a favor. Control your exposure to the onslaught of 24/7 news. In talking about children being diagnosed as “emotionally disturbed”, one of my most important mentors was fond of sarcastically saying “If emotionally disturbed means what I think it means, I can tell you that I get emotionally disturbed every afternoon when my daily dose of depression (the daily newspaper) comes flying over the wall in front of my house!” Keep that under control. You’ve already got enough stress!

Helpful supplements

These are things that we recommend for all of the children we work with and think that everyone should take because the average Western diet is woefully deficient in most of these vitamins and minerals. Makes sense to include them as part of an overall strategy to pump up your immune system at this time.

  • Fish oil 
  • Probiotics 
  • Vitamin C 
  • Vitamin D3 
  • Zinc 

Fear and Emotions

I don’t need to tell you that your children come equipped with built-in radar and can read your feelings and emotions without the slightest problem. When you’re stressed, worried, or afraid… they know. It’s like a sixth sense. You can’t hide your feelings from them. Therefore, it is important that you recognize how you react to this crisis and that you are careful about how you talk about it.

Monitor your own reaction

  • Just covered this above. If you’re having a tough time, that’s OK, it’s normal. Cut yourself some slack. But deal with your feelings out of sight of the kids. Once you’re calm and collected, you’ll be in a better place to speak with them. 

Listen

  • Listen carefully to your children. We often think we know what our children are thinking only to find out later that we were projecting our fears onto them. So don’t make assumptions. Ask questions and let them ask questions. Try to put yourself in their shoes. 
  • Be respectful. Pay special attention to how you are reacting to their questions and thoughts. And by all means, don’t minimize any of their feelings because however trivial they might seem to you, they are very real to them.

Name it

  • Children often have difficulty clearly expressing things as abstract as feelings. It helps to make those feelings concrete by giving them a label or name. It just helps them verbalize the feelings and begin to deal with them. All feelings are fair game. Remember to put yourself in their shoes.

Talk with your kids

  • We’ve talked about this in another blog post as just a generally important way of being with children. But in this situation it takes on special importance. Talk WITH your kids, not talk to them. Do this and you’ll be amazed at how they respond.
  • Any discussion about the current crisis should be age-appropriate. 
  • Answer questions in a straightforward manner. Keep it simple.
  • Be honest. Don’t try to hide anything because remember, your kids have radar. They’ll know and then their imaginations can run wild. Also, if you don’t know the answer to a question, say so.
  • Let your kids know how you feel but maintain your cool. Zen is the word.

Reassure

  • You don’t have to paint a rosy picture, but you shouldn’t paint one of just doom and gloom, either.
  • Let kids know that most people who have the virus don’t even know it because they have no symptoms or mild symptoms. This is especially true for children.
  • More than anything children need to know and feel that they are safe, and they look to their parents to provide that safety. 

Maintain routines

  • Routine helps us to know what we can expect. It provides emotional security. The younger one is, the more neurologically immature the more important this is. The simple fact that school is closed (and it’s not summer vacation!) and many parents are now working from home throws the usual routine right out the window. It’s essential that you establish a new routine for the duration of this crisis however long that might be.

Focus on the positive

  • So often how well we are able to weather a crisis is determined by our perception of it. Be a “glass is half full” kind of parent. Let your sense of optimism in the midst of trial permeate everything you do with your children.

Take action

  • Nothing helps to relieve the mind of the weight of dealing with a crisis like this better than taking action. Brainstorm with your kids how you as a family can make a difference in this time of need. Children LOVE to be part of making a difference. Two favorite quotes related to this: From German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe “Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.”; and from neuroscientist Robert K. Cooper “Care as if everything depends on your caring, and raise a banner where a banner never flew.”

We know these are tough times for everyone. We are very busy here figuring out for ourselves how to move forward in this new reality. Life for us is changing too. But, when faced with the right attitude, change is good. It’s invigorating.

We are working on a number of new initiatives to help you take the best advantage of this totally unexpected and golden opportunity that you now have by having your kids at home! In Part 2 of Coping with COVID-19 I will talk about why this is such a golden opportunity for you and your children and give you a peek behind the curtain at what we have in the works.

In the meantime check out some of our archive post categories to help you at home:

Contact us here if you need any help or advice… practice social distancing… and stay healthy!


SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

By Charles Solis / September 5, 2019 / Comments Off on SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

Name of Book:
SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

We hear all the time about how exercise is good for the heart. But what about the effects that exercise has on the brain? Well, it turns out that exercise is one more thing that can be added to the list of “what’s good for the heart is good for the brain”! We have used exercise (crawling, creeping, walking, hiking, running, etc.) in our work with children for decades specifically because we were convinced of the organizing effect that physical activity has on the brain. We were also well aware of the many physiological (respiratory, cardiovascular, etc.) benefits of exercise. But Dr. John J. Ratey, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has taken the science of exercise to a whole new level.


Name of Book:
SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain


Summary of Book: 
A groundbreaking and fascinating investigation into the transformative effects of exercise on the brain, from the bestselling author and renowned psychiatrist John J. Ratey, MD.

Did you know you can beat stress, lift your mood, fight memory loss, sharpen your intellect, and function better than ever simply by elevating your heart rate and breaking a sweat? The evidence is incontrovertible: Aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance. 

In SPARK, John J. Ratey, M.D., embarks upon a fascinating and entertaining journey through the mind-body connection, presenting startling research to prove that exercise is truly our best defense against everything from depression to ADD to addiction to aggression to menopause to Alzheimer’s. Filled with amazing case studies (such as the revolutionary fitness program in Naperville, Illinois, which has put this school district of 19,000 kids first in the world of science test scores), SPARK is the first book to explore comprehensively the connection between exercise and the brain. It will change forever the way you think about your morning run—or, for that matter, simply the way you think. (Summary courtesy of goodreads.com)


Book Category:
Neuroscience, Health, Psychology


Why We Like It:
Quite simply, we like it because it provides a solid scientific underpinning to so much of what we teach about the importance of physical activity or exercise for the development, organization, and function of the human brain. Dr. John J. Ratey looks at some of the latest neuroscience as it relates to physical exercise and the brain and the evidence is clear – if you want to perform to your potential, physical exercise must be a part of your regular routine.  

One of the wonderful things about the book is how Dr. Ratey shows the incredibly broad impact that exercise has on the brain – learning, dealing with stress, overcoming anxiety and depression, helping with attention problems, beating addictions, regulating hormones, the aging process. This should really come as no surprise since the brain controls literally everything that we do. But it bears repeating since we tend to take the brain for granted and give little notice to how our daily habits are affecting its performance. 

Without getting into any details, I want to give special mention to the first two chapters of Spark.  They deal with the relationship between exercise and learning and the extraordinary experience of a school district in Naperville, Illinois when they decided to go all in on a revolutionary physical fitness program. You’ll have to read the book to get the specifics but believe me it will blow your mind! I love that Dr. Ratey decided to begin the book with these two chapters because they provide spectacular scientific evidence for the connection between physical exercise, the structural and physiological development of the brain, and the subsequent development of functional ability. He clearly explains in easily understandable terms a physiological process that takes place in the brain when we are physically active. This is research that was completely unknown thirty years ago. The implications of this are critically important for all of us, especially for our children. The bottom line, as we have said so many times, is that movement (i.e. exercise, physical activity, etc.) is the glue that holds everything together in the human brain. The takeaway for your child is to start early and make exercise and physical activity a way of life. Your child’s brain will thank you for it!

The Mirror: 7 Behavior Principles for your Child’s Development

By Charles Solis / July 9, 2019 / Comments Off on The Mirror: 7 Behavior Principles for your Child’s Development

Behaviornoun – the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially towards others. 

Perhaps no subject causes more grief for parents than how to deal with behavior. In our two previous blog posts on the subject we looked at two aspects of the behavior question – how a child’s level of neurological development and brain organization can affect behavior, as well as the effect that nutrition can have on brain function and, therefore, behavior. 

As you can see from the definition above, behavior involves how one acts towards other people. Obviously, there are always two sides to that coin. As the saying goes, “It takes two to tango!” When we are guiding parents in how to raise their children to be cooperative and responsible we always eventually get around to the role that they (the parents) play in the dance of behavior. So, today we’re going to look at the parental side of the equation.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall!

Since you, as a parent, are an integral part of the dance of behavior it is essential that you take an honest look at how you are behaving. We call that “the Mirror”. Looking in the mirror is important for several reasons. 

First, we are all influenced by our parents and that influence includes how we deal with behavior in our children especially when we are under stress! Ever get that feeling that “Oh no, I’m turning into my mother (or father)!” ? Sometimes that influence is constructive and sometimes it is not. 

Second, some approaches to behavior are more effective than others. It’s important to evaluate what is working and what is not. 

Third, it is important to establish right off the bat that we are only human and that means we are going to make mistakes. We will make mistakes no matter how well intentioned we are and no matter how well thought out our approach to behavior is. We all, at one time or another, feel overwhelmed or stressed by everyday life and lose our patience. Life is full of ups and downs. How well you handle the down times is what really matters. That is when you are teaching the most important messages to your child. So, the first order of business is to cut yourself some slack! Looking in the mirror is not a blame game… no need to feel guilty.

Basic Principles to Guide Behavior
What follows is the result of many, many years of guiding parents of children and young adults with a wide range of functional ability. That experience has taught us a lot about the dynamics of human behavior and some of the best practices for helping children. My hope is that the following principles will give you some inspiration and confidence as you guide the development of your child’s behavior towards the objectives of harmony, cooperation, and civility beginning in your family and eventually extending to the communities in which you live and the wider society. Along the way you will find that these principles will lead to good communication with your child and the establishment of a healthy lifelong relationship.

1. Model the Behavior You Hope to See

Warning! Your child is constantly, and I do mean constantly, watching you and taking cues about behavior from you. All children, for better or worse, mirror their parents behavior. So, when your child is behaving in a way that is concerning to you, you must first ask yourself, “Is she behaving like this because of how I am behaving?” 

2. Listen to Your Child

When you listen to your child and seek to understand, you are showing her that you care about her opinions and feelings. You are teaching her that what she says matters. You are telling her that you respect her. This is important because if you want her to listen to you, you must listen to her first. 

3. Consistency, Consistency, Consistency

The most common mistake we see parents making when dealing with the behavior of their children is inconsistency. If you want to avoid behavior problems it is extremely important that your approach be consistent. What do I mean by consistency? I mean that, however you approach a given behavior, it is essential that 1) both parents be on the same page and 2) their approach be applied consistently from day to day. Why? Because children need consistency in their lives to feel secure and comfortable. The younger they are the more this is true because young children (i.e. toddlers) have brains that are not yet organized and mature. Consistency helps the young child learn what to expect in any given situation. If the approach is constantly changing then the child does not know what to expect and that leads to problems. 

4 . Set Limits and Establish Rules

Children need to know where the boundaries are. They want to know where the boundaries are. Children who are given clear boundaries have better social skills, are happier and can more easily make friends. Having boundaries gives them a sense of respect for things and for people. The younger your child is the more limits she needs because a young child does not know what is right or wrong and they can be in danger when limits are not set. As she grows you should ease up on the limits imposed by you. As her understanding, awareness, and self-discipline develops you can allow her more freedom to set self limits. We all learn from our mistakes and, unless the mistake puts your child or others in physical danger, you should allow her to make mistakes and learn from them.

5. Teach Responsibility and Encourage Independence

Responsibilities should be developmentally appropriate and age-appropriate but you can start at a very young age. As soon as your child can walk you can begin asking her for help with carrying things, putting things away, little things to give her a sense of responsibility. Increase the level of responsibilities according to her growth. Giving children responsibilities encourages them to be independent, which in turn makes them proud of their accomplishments and helps them feel good about themselves. This is true self-esteem! Plus they learn at an early age to become problem solvers. Our society needs people who are independent and who feel comfortable solving problems. 

6. Teach Manners

Bullying amongst children is almost constantly in the news these days. When one looks at the overall decrease in civility throughout our society it should come as no surprise. Civility is a word that derives from the Old French and Latin for a good citizen. Far from being a quaint concept, it enables us to live in community and is the glue that holds a society together. It may seem old fashioned and outdated to talk about manners but that is where the seeds of civility are planted. Using words like excuse me, thank you, you are welcome, please, and so on all the time when speaking with your child and others will teach her manners and the polite way to treat others. 

7. Recognize Positive Behavior

Children need and want attention and they will do whatever works to get it. We often ignore children when they are “behaving” because that is what we expect but as soon as they begin to misbehave we are quick to reprimand them. This teaches children that the best or fastest way to get our attention is to misbehave. If you want your child to have positive behavior you must recognize it. Give attention to your child when she is being nice, polite, patient. Get in the habit of pointing out and complimenting your child when she is listening or doing anything positive. I guarantee that if you recognize your child when her behavior is positive and give less attention to negative behavior you will see a decrease in negative behavior and an increase in positive behavior. 

These seven principles are guideposts to light the way. In the next post I will develop these seven principles further by providing concrete examples of how you can apply them in everyday life. For now I hope this post helps you to set up a positive and healthy relationship with your child so that you can help her get ready to take her place in society.

Behavior is a complex subject. If you are experiencing struggles with your child remember you are not alone. We’d love to have you comment below and feel free to send us a private message or email.

Now go be positive! Cheers!!

Nutrition’s link to behavior and the brain

By Charles Solis / June 13, 2019 / Comments Off on Nutrition’s link to behavior and the brain

Yes, that’s right… the food that your child eats can have a big impact on his or her behavior. Why? Because in the end, everything that happens in the brain boils down to biochemical reactions. The raw materials for those biochemical reactions come from the foods that we eat. So, diet can significantly affect brain function and therefore can impact energy, mood, emotion, mental clarity, behavior… really, almost any aspect of function.

Today, first we’re going to do a crash course in how you can you feed your child so that nutrition contributes to creating civil behavior by enhancing brain function. Then, we’ll take a look at the foods that most often contribute to behavior problems and give a few real-life examples of children with huge behavior issues and how we changed everything for them by changing their nutrition.

How to Feed a Growing Brain

In the first year of life, breast milk is the ideal food for a growing child with some soft solid (or pureed) foods being introduced after about six months of age – and by this, we do not mean rice cereal and other such grains. You can read more recommendations on foods in the first year of life in this excellent guest post from our good friend, Deborah Gordon, M.D.

Once children start eating regular food it is important that you choose foods carefully so that the brain gets what it needs.

All food should be

Natural

No artificial chemicals. No food flavorings, no food colorings, no food preservatives, no artificial thickeners, no artificial anything. The human body is designed to process, metabolize, and eliminate real food. It has no idea what to do with artificial chemicals. Most kids with neurological issues do not react well to artificial chemicals. Avoid them like the plague! This means that you MUST become a label reader. You will be amazed at the junk in the food you eat.

Fresh

Fresh vegetables and fruit contain the highest vitamin and mineral content. It’s just that simple. Since vegetables and fruit should be the number one source of vitamins and minerals it only makes sense to eat them in a form that provides the most bang for the buck. Another reason that fresh is best is fresh food is more than just calories and nutrients. Fresh food has a life force… it is life sustaining life. You won’t find any life force in canned carrots.

Whole

This means foods from which nothing has been taken away. For example, if you are going to eat bread then whole grain bread is more nutritious than white bread, brown rice is more nutritious than white rice, etc.

Essential foods for the brain include:

Lean protein

Beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, fish, etc. Ideally, all protein should come from sources that raise their animals as nature meant for them to be raised. There is a world of difference in the meat that comes from pasture-raised cattle versus cattle raised on grain. Cows are not designed by nature to eat corn, soy, or oats. They are designed to eat grass. And just like us, what they eat makes all the difference. Mainly, the difference is in the fat content. Your cardiologist may very well tell you that you shouldn’t eat red meat. It’s bad for your heart because of the fat. Wrong! The fat from red meat that is pasture raised is really good for you! Really good for your heart and your brain! Why? Because it is very rich in omega-3 fatty acids and the balance of omega-3 fatty acids (high) to omega-6 fatty acids (low) is in its ideal ratio. On the other hand, if you eat meat from grain-fed animals the opposite is true. So, it’s not that red meat is bad for your heart. It’s a question of how that red meat was raised. The same principle applies to all other forms of protein. When it comes to fish, wild is best.

Fat

Omega-3 fatty acids are the most important. You can get most of that from protein sources (see lean protein). Good cooking fats are avocado oil, coconut oil, butter from grass-fed cows, and grass-fed ghee (clarified butter). Good oils for salads, etc. are olive oil, walnut oil, almond oil, macadamia oil. Avoid soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, and vegetable oil. Avoid, like the plague, vegetable shortening, margarine and all butter substitutes, anything that says “hydrogenated”, and anything else that doesn’t look real.

Vegetables

This is the main source of vitamins and minerals. The easiest way to talk about what vegetables to eat is to say that you should go for as much color as possible. By eating the rainbow of colors available you ensure the widest range of nutrients (vitamins and minerals) in your diet. Beyond that, the only other caveat is that vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and sweet corn are high in sugar so you want to keep them under control

Fruit

Fruit in moderation is good for your child. Berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries) are particularly good because they are very rich in antioxidants. Don’t drink fruit, eat it. Fruit juice is extremely high in sugar.

Nuts

Pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, and almonds are all good for you. They are a good source of protein and healthy fats, and all contain antioxidants. Don’t go overboard but a few handfuls a day is perfectly healthy. Nuts are also often available in the form of nut butter which makes it easy for children to eat. By the way, peanuts are not nuts, they are legumes. They really are not very good for you and must be approached with caution if there is a family history of allergies.

Again, you can read more about good nutrition for your growing child in our guest post from Deborah Gordon, M.D.

Nutrition Solutions for Behavior Issues

Over the course of more than four decades of working with children, we have worked with many children who had behavior issues that ranged from simply annoying to downright dangerous. Solving those issues usually involves a multi-pronged approach and improving diet is usually a big part of that. Many children have food sensitivities, many have food allergies, and these can be a major cause of behavior issues.

We have always found it interesting and frustrating that while most people (and many doctors) have no difficulty accepting the idea that sensitivities and/or allergies can cause reactions in the upper respiratory tract (sneezing, coughing, breathing problems, etc.) and the skin (rashes, itching, etc.) they have great difficulty accepting the idea that these same sensitivities and/or allergies can cause reactions in the brain. As if the brain somehow lives in another universe and is immune to the same things that affect the rest of the body!

Our clinical experience demonstrates very clearly that food can and does affect brain function. Here’s the bottom line. If you are seeing behavior issues in your child one of the things you should look at is the foods that your child eats and the possibility that he or she might have sensitivities or allergies to one or more of those foods. The most common culprits in terms of food sensitivities and allergies are dairy, eggs, gluten, soy, corn, sugar, and artificial chemicals (preservatives, coloring, flavoring). However, when children are really sensitive they can react to lots of different foods, even foods that we normally consider to be completely innocuous. Lettuce, for example, can cause some children to react! But, by far, the biggest issues we see are with sugar and gluten.

Foods to eliminate, avoid or reduce:

Sugar

Refined sugar affects blood sugar level and insulin production causing a yo-yo effect with blood sugar level constantly on a roller coaster. This negatively affects energy level, concentration ability, mood, and emotional stability. Something that most people do not know is that sugar also causes chronic inflammation in the body. Because of this, it is linked to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, liver disease, and cancer. Refined sugar has a powerful addictive effect, making it very difficult to stop eating it unless one makes a concerted effort. When we say sugar, we mean all forms of sweetener  – cane sugar, beet sugar, agave syrup, high fructose corn syrup, etc. Also, all artificial sweeteners should be avoided. Honey and maple syrup in small quantities are usually tolerated.

Gluten

Gluten causes gut inflammation in most of the population and many people develop antibodies against gluten proteins in the gut. Gluten’s inflammatory effect in the gut causes intestinal cells to die prematurely and causes oxidation in those cells. This effect creates a leaky gut and a leaky gut can allow bacterial proteins and other toxic compounds to get in the bloodstream, which can also lead to autoimmune attacks on the body. A leaky gut also means that food is not digested properly and nutrients are not absorbed fully, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies.

Real World Examples

Now for a few examples of kids with behavior issues and how changes in diet made a big difference. We have hundreds of examples of this.

Alberto and Sugar

Alberto came to us from Venezuela at 8 years of age. To outward appearances, he was like all of the other boys his age. Except that Alberto had big learning difficulties, poor concentration, and very disruptive behavior. He was failing miserably in school. He was diagnosed with ADHD.

After evaluating him, we taught his parents and grandmother a developmental program to improve his function and, hopefully, his behavior. Part of that program involved making changes in his diet. He ate a ton of sugar. His mother even sprinkled sugar on meat in order to get him to eat it! Before flying back to Venezuela, Alberto stayed in the US for a few weeks with his grandmother in order to attend his uncle’s graduation from law school. That turned out to be a very good thing for Alberto because his grandmother was determined to see him improve and she implemented our dietary suggestions immediately. Just before heading back to Caracas, only two weeks after changing his diet, Alberto’s grandmother called to tell us of the incredible changes in him. He was already a different child – reduced hyperactivity, improved concentration, fewer tantrums. Within one year of us seeing him for the first time, Alberto was able to function just like his peers. Much of that progress was due to the changes we made in his diet.

Jake and Gluten

Jake came to us at about 10 years of age with a diagnosis of autism. On the day that we saw him for the first time, there was a shooting in a local high school in which a number of children were injured. As we were taking Jake’s initial history, his mother asked if we had heard about the shooting. She then said to us, “My biggest fear is that one day a few years from now, I am going to get a phone call from the police telling me that my son was a school shooter”! Can you imagine the fear?

And she had good reason to be afraid. Jake’s behavior was extremely volatile. He was a bright boy but had significant problems with social and emotional development. He could easily have ten knock down, drag out temper tantrums in a day. His younger sister was terrified of him. On that first day, we saw his outbursts a number of times. So, although we rarely do this at the first consultation, with Jake we decided to eliminate all gluten from his diet immediately. We did this based on his typical daily diet (it contained lots of gluten!) and based on our experience with many other children with similar behavior issues.

A week later, Jake’s mother called to give us a report. Immediately after our consultation, she had completely emptied the house of everything that contained gluten and implemented the dietary changes we had recommended. Within days she saw changes in Jake’s behavior. He was more pleasant, less agitated, calmer. Most significantly he was having fewer temper tantrums, they were less violent, and of shorter duration. She was thrilled! Within six months, Jake was already a completely different child. There was still more work to be done but for the first time in his life he was making true progress and she could see the wonderful boy that she knew was inside that body.

Fortunately, these two examples are by no means unusual for us. We see results like this on a regular basis. When we give the human brain what it needs to thrive and avoid those things that cause problems it is amazing how quickly the brain responds.

So, do yourself and your children a favor. Pay careful attention to how you feed them. If, for some reason, your child is experiencing behavior difficulties then make sure you take nutrition into consideration.

Behavior…one of the most common concerns

By Charles Solis / June 5, 2019 / Comments Off on Behavior…one of the most common concerns

Oh boy, BEHAVIOR! One of the most common concerns that parents ask us about is behavior. Mostly, parents want to know how to guide their children in how they behave with them (the parents), with other children, with other adults, and with society in general. So, let’s take a look at how to best address our children’s needs so we can more calmly and confidently deal with each stage of the development of behavior. This is the first in a series of three or, perhaps, four blog posts on behavior.

Parents often worry about how to teach their children how to socialize and how to relate to others without crushing their individuality and creativity. We all want our children to be themselves, be confident and independent, and be comfortable in social situations. Right? We also want our children to be kind and compassionate. No one wants to raise a bully! So, finding a balance between raising a well behaved “nice” child who, at the same time, is not a pushover is something most parents hope to achieve. I think we can agree that for most parents the objectives regarding behavior are harmony, cooperation, and civility beginning in the family and eventually extending to the communities in which we live and the wider society.

The Big Three of Behavior
We’ve been guiding parents in how to handle behavior issues with children and young adults of all levels of ability for a long time. Over the years, we learned that dealing with behavior involves three really important things.

1 – Neurological Organization, or more simply put – brain organization

2 – Physiological issues affecting behavior

3- Parental behavior, or what we like to call “The Mirror”

Today we will focus on brain organization because it is the basis for all human ability including behavior.

As we have covered in past posts here, here, here, here and here as well as in our 7-day Email Course, our brain controls everything we do. It is impossible to have good functional ability without a well developed and organized brain. The more developed and organized a child’s brain is, the better their function will be. Behavior is no exception!

So, when it comes to teaching behavior you need to consider where your child is at neurologically because this determines her level of understanding. Most people tend to use chronological age when talking about what to expect from a child. We prefer to talk about neurological age. Why? Because a child who is experiencing difficulties is not necessarily functioning at her chronological age.

So for the child who is experiencing difficulties, when it comes to dealing with her behavior it is more appropriate and more effective to look at her actions in terms of neurological age. We want to work on improving brain organization so she can get to the point where her neurological age meets or surpasses her chronological age.

Neurological Organization and Behavior

Now, from now on let’s assume that the child I am talking about has a chronological age and neurological age that match. What should you expect from her behavior? Where is she in terms of understanding and behaving? If you understand this you will be one step ahead with understanding where your child is coming from, what is normal to expect, and therefore how to respond.

1 – Birth to 1-year-old – Awareness leading to Center of Attention

In the first year of life, a child begins to develop understanding by first becoming aware of her environment and then learning basic communication skills. The important thing for you to understand and be aware of during this stage is that during the first year of your child’s life, as her brain develops and becomes organized, she is learning that what she does results in a reaction from you. We often think that we are the ones learning how our children behave and that is certainly true, but at this stage, your child is learning a lot more about how you respond or behave to what she does. As she becomes more aware of everything around her she will develop more and more ability to affect your behavior. Children at this stage think, and they are right, that the world spins around them. They feel like the center to everything. So, during this first year of basic brain organization, keep in mind that your child is constantly learning how her actions cause certain actions or responses from you or from the person who spends the most amount of time interacting with her. She is beginning to learn what to do to get or keep your attention when she wants it!

2 – 1-year-old to 2-year-old – Understanding and Using Language

From the age of 1 to 2 years old your child’s understanding of spoken language takes off provided that the process of brain organization is taking place. Your child is beginning to follow instructions and the sophistication of the instructions will keep getting more and more complex. Because the understanding of language is more developed the child begins to respond more to the words she hears than the actions she sees. She also begins to use language to express her likes and wants.

3 – 2-year-old to 3-year-old – Attention and the Terrible Twos

Neurologically, now your child is beginning to follow more sophisticated instructions but because her attention span is still not yet not fully developed she goes from one thing to another and seems to not be able to focus on anything for very long. The reason for this is that the organization of the brain is still in the process of developing. As she matures and her brain becomes more organized, her attention span will increase. But she will be more demanding in her wants and needs because she now knows exactly what to do when she wants your full attention and how to use language to get it. At least that is what she thinks! Thus, the reputation of the terrible twos!

As her understanding and brain organization develops she will begin to explore how she can get her way, what she wants to do as opposed to what you want her to do. This stage can be difficult because your child is learning in a more sophisticated way “who is in charge” and she will be testing the boundaries. Nowadays, many people refer to this stage as the “threenager”. This is the stage that many parents become concerned about what to do because they are afraid to break the child’s “spirit”, their individuality or personality. Remember, your child does not know what is appropriate behavior or inappropriate behavior. She doesn’t know what is dangerous behavior or safe behavior. She doesn’t know how to be considerate of others. If you do not teach her she cannot learn. Her behavior at this stage is indirectly asking you for guidance and it can be done without causing harm to her “personality”.

4 – 3-year-old to 5-year-old – Learning Cooperation

This is the stage when your child is learning about cooperation. How to play and get along with others. This can also be a challenging stage because, as children begin to play with each other as opposed to side by side, there will be more disagreements between them and hurt feelings. This can be difficult for parents because now the behavior issues are not just between you and your child but between your child and their peers. Remember, your child is just learning these skills and she needs the opportunity to learn how to best respond to and relate to others. In reality, this is just the beginning of a lifelong issue so give her the opportunity to learn and only get involved when it is becoming harmful to either child. You will help your child learn some of these skills by encouraging her to help you with tasks of everyday life at home.

5 – 5-year-old to 6-year-old (and older) – Independence and Responsibility

This is the age when your child should become more independent, more aware of the likes, dislikes, and feelings of others, and more responsible around the home. At this stage, giving your child responsibilities that are age appropriate and allowing and encouraging her to be more independent will promote better behavior and result in less conflict.

Highlights

So, here are the main points I want you to understand for now:

  • Good brain organization is the key to good function in all areas of development, including behavior.
  • The earlier you focus on brain organization, the better off your child will be and the smoother your child’s transition from one stage to the next will be. That helps to avoid getting stuck in a difficult stage.
  • If your child is experiencing difficulties or delays this may be because her brain is not properly organized. That’s not a big deal because thanks to brain plasticity this can be addressed and changed.
  • No matter what, at one time or another, every parent deals with behavior issues. It is not about never having bad behavior, it is about keeping it to a minimum and both you and your child learning from it.
  • Successful parenting is a constant learning process. Education, education, education!

We look forward to diving more deeply into the subject with you in the following weeks.

Cheers!

The Human Brain Makes Us Brothers and Sisters

By Charles Solis / April 29, 2019 / Comments Off on The Human Brain Makes Us Brothers and Sisters

It’s time for a paradigm shift in how we look at human functional ability. In his landmark book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, physicist Thomas Kuhn coined the term “paradigm shift” to describe the change in thinking that precedes dramatic changes in scientific models. The shift in the field of physics from the laws of motion of Sir Isaac Newton to the theory of relativity of Albert Einstein is a good example.

Traditionally, the medical, psychology and education establishments have assigned human beings to categories according to functional ability – what they can and cannot do, as well as according to how well they do what they can do. This remains the dominant paradigm today. It is most commonly seen in the diagnosis of disabilities – children are placed into categories according to their lack of ability and are then placed into categories within those categories according to the severity of their lack of ability. But it’s been a pervasive idea throughout society for a long time.

Here’s a personal story that shows how this played out in schools when I was young. When I enrolled at Archbishop Wood High School for Boys sometime in the last century, I was assigned to a “track” based on my IQ score and previous academic performance in elementary school. There were three tracks – first, second, and third.

The “first” track was for the kids who had high IQ scores and really good grades in elementary school. It was generally understood that the kids in these classes were going on to college after high school graduation and that most of them would go to top-notch colleges and universities.

The “second” track was for the kids who had average IQ scores and average grades in elementary school. That’s where they put me. It was generally understood that the kids in my “track” would also go on to college but the push for us was to aim for the smaller state colleges where the admissions requirements were not as stringent.

The “third” track was for the kids with below average IQ scores and below average grades in elementary school. It was generally accepted that the boys in the “third” track were not college material and therefore would go on to learn a trade like plumbing or auto mechanics.

Nobody ever told us that the divisions between “tracks” were made along these lines, but we all knew it. And it had a significant influence on how we saw ourselves and our potential and also how we saw each other. It was, in a certain sense, a caste system based on the belief that intelligence is predetermined and unchangeable. So we all thought that if you were lucky and born smart, you were dealt a good hand of cards; and if you were unlucky and not born smart, you were dealt a bad hand of cards. Stanford University psychologist Carolyn Dweck calls this the fixed mindset and when I was growing up the fixed mindset ruled!

The idea that any ability, including intelligence, is predetermined and unchangeable has always been a lousy idea and it has limited the potential of untold numbers of people. But during the last decade or so there has been a movement afoot in neuroscience circles that deserves our attention because it represents a significant departure from the traditional way of assigning children to fixed categories. It is called “neurodiversity”.

Advocates of neurodiversity view neurological conditions like autism and dyslexia as being the result of natural variations of the human genome rather than pathologies or disorders. On that basis, they argue, the traits caused by genetic variations should be celebrated and that there is no need for or possibility of a cure. The neurodiversity movement has seen it’s most ardent embrace amongst the autism community.

Let me give some perspective. Forty years ago, there was no such thing as the autism spectrum. There were simply children with autism and they were categorized as mild, moderate, or severe. That’s it. Some years later, those terms were replaced with autism, pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), and Asperger’s syndrome. Today, those terms have been largely replaced with the blanket term autism spectrum disorder and the children are all somewhere “on the spectrum”. While autism spectrum disorder is still a medical diagnosis that categorizes children according to sets of symptoms (and is therefore not acceptable to neurodiversity advocates) it is a term that nonetheless was greatly influenced by the neurodiversity movement.

While I have fundamental disagreements with both of these developments (neurodiversity and the autism spectrum), they do represent an encouraging trend. These concepts represent ways of looking at human ability that seek to find some commonality amongst all people or at least people with those traits rather than focusing on their differences. And they also at least imply the possibility that performance amongst people who are “neurodiverse” or “on the spectrum” is somewhat fluid rather than static. That’s a big difference from the classical approach of diagnosing a child with a disability and placing him in a box from which he cannot escape.

Nonetheless, these changes do not go far enough because they are still mired in a concept of human functional ability that is essentially based on the idea that ability is predetermined by genetics and therefore is largely unchangeable. This ignores all of the extraordinary advances in our understanding of the human brain and neuroplasticity of the past forty years. So, I propose that we take this notion several steps further.

We have worked with children whose abilities span the entire spectrum of human performance for more than forty years. Since the late 1970s, we have taught a concept that we call the Continuum of Human Functional Ability. A continuum is defined as a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct. The Continuum of Human Functional Ability ranges from little functional ability on the low end (as in a child in a coma) to superior functional ability on the high end. When we speak of functional ability we mean sensory, cognitive or intellectual, physical, emotional, and social ability. We mean ability in its most comprehensive or holistic sense. In between the low end and high end of the continuum, there are gradations of functional ability.

In order to understand the continuum, one must first understand that all human functional ability is the direct result of the development and organization of the human brain. You are able to do what you do and do it as well as you do because of the degree to which your brain is developed and organized.

Essentially, the idea is that all human beings can be placed on a continuum that is based on the degree to which the brain is developed and organized. You can see this in any classroom. There is always a range of performance (i.e. ability) amongst the children. That range of performance is, to a very large extent, the result of a range in brain development and organization. Same thing on the soccer team. Same thing in the band. Same thing with children who are diagnosed with disabilities – take ten children with Down syndrome and you will find a range of functional ability, take ten children with cerebral palsy and you will find a range of functional ability.

Remember, these differences in ability are based on brain development and organization not on genetic endowment. Because of that, one’s position on the continuum is fluid. It can change! Improve brain function and you can move up the continuum towards the superior end. Suffer a loss of brain function and you might move down the continuum towards the low end.

We have seen this happen more times than I can count in our work with children who have developmental difficulties. Back in the days before the “autism spectrum” we saw children start our Home Program with a diagnosis of autism. Two years later they came back and their diagnosis had been changed to pervasive developmental delay. Two years later their diagnosis had been changed once more, this time to Asperger’s syndrome.
After you’ve seen this scenario play out enough times you have to say to yourself, what is going on here? If each of these conditions is genetically determined how is it possible that we are changing the diagnosis every two years. Was the original diagnosis wrong? Well, if this experience were only confined to children on the “autism spectrum” perhaps that might be the case. But, it’s not. We have seen the same pattern in children with every diagnosis we work with – cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Sensory Integration Disorder, ADD, ADHD, and on and on. Over and over again, we have watched children start at one point on the continuum and, as their brain’s developed and became organized, they moved up the spectrum towards a higher level of functional ability!

So, here is the bottom line. We are all, each and every one of us, on the Continuum of Human Functional Ability. I am on it. Conceição, my wife and colleague, is on it. Juliana, our daughter is on it. Same for her husband, Jack. Same for our grandchildren, Jack and Adeline.

You are on the continuum too, and so are your children!

If you have been a regular reader of this blog you know that, as a parent, you have a significant influence on your children and their development. What you do as a parent matters a lot! You can play a role in helping your child find a place high on the continuum.

Finally, and this is the key, ALL of the children who are diagnosed with some type of developmental challenge regardless of the name that the doctors, or psychologists, or teachers have given it, are also on the continuum.

We are all on the continuum! Where we find ourselves is determined by the degree to which our brain is developed and organized. And that, at least as far as functional ability is concerned, is really the only difference between us! I have a great deal in common with the child who is diagnosed with cerebral palsy. I also have a great deal in common with the child diagnosed with Down syndrome. Each of those children has much in common with the other. We are all so much alike!

The beauty of the continuum is that it represents the hope contained in the miracle of the human brain – plasticity, growth, potential. And, best of all, it does this while simultaneously erasing the stigma associated with so many of the antiquated ideas of the past. Diversity is a wonderful thing but so is brotherhood and sisterhood. When it comes to the human brain and functional ability we are all brothers and sisters!

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!

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.