Empowering You to Parent with the Brain in Mind
Parents are the first and most influential teachers in a child's life... 85% of the human brain develops in the first three years of life so we want to help you with tips and tools to make every day count and help you maximize your child’s potential.
Our goal is to help you raise smart, capable, and compassionate children.
We hope these Simple Ideas With Profound Impact will make the difference in your child's life.
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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:
- 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.
- 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!
- 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:
- Health – avoiding and fighting infections
- Fears and Emotions – dealing with them openly and honestly
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!
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
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D3
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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Introductory Posts – Refresher on who we are
- Practical – Tips, tricks, and bits of knowledge to incorporate into your day to day.
- Science – Learn how the brain works and how it can help you parent better!
- Product Reviews
Contact us here if you need any help or advice… practice social distancing… and stay healthy!
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.
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)
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!
Part four of our summer series on behavior:
- Behavior…one of the most common concerns
- Nutrition’s link to behavior and the brain
- The Mirror: 7 Behavior Principles for your Child’s Development
My last post, The Mirror: 7 Behavior Principles for your Child’s Development, will take you and your child a long way on the road to success when it comes to behavior and social skills. But let’s face it, no matter what you do or how well you do it, there are going to be bumps in the road. After all, you and your children are human and there are bound to be situations where everyone feels tired, frustrated, and upset. So, let me give you my 4 Top Tips for those times when things are getting out of control.
1. Avoid Power Struggles!
Why? Well, don’t tell your child this, but it’s because your child will always, and I do mean always, win! When we enter into a struggle with a child with whom you can not reason, the child will always win the battle. So, avoid this by physically removing her if you are in a situation which can be disturbing to others or by removing yourself from the room if you are at home.
Actions speak louder than words, especially when you are dealing with a child who is developmentally immature. An 18 month old to 3 year old does not have the understanding or the maturity to listen to an explanation of why her tantrum is frustrating you. Trying to explain your frustration while she is upset is useless because it will just prolong the tantrum and frustrate you even more. You are better off doing one of three things – ignoring the tantrum, holding your child quietly (if allowed), or leaving the room. During those times you need to take a step back, count to 10 (or 100!), calm yourself, and practice patience!
Remember, it takes 2 to tango! Sometimes you just need to know when to retreat. If you withdraw yourself from the conflict, there is no longer a conflict. Leave the talk and teaching for later after everything is calm and your child is no longer upset. Only then is your child in a place to listen and learn better ways of dealing with situations.
Sometimes the best way to deal with an upset child is to use diversionary tactics. Change the subject, talk about something or someone else. Last summer, when Juliana and Jack moved to California their lives were very stressful because so much went wrong with the move. One day, I was traveling with them and after a couple of hours in the car 2 year old Adeline began to cry. We tried singing, changing the music on the radio, giving her a different toy, telling her that we were almost there, but nothing was working. All of a sudden, her 4½ year old brother Jack said in a lively voice, “Adeline where is Ceci (her friend from back in Chicago)? Is she in San Francisco?” Immediately Adeline stopped crying and with a big smile she said “No!” and he continued, “Is she on the top of our car?” and she repeated “No!” and that went on until we got home. We had a good 15 to 20 happy minutes at the end of the trip because Jack knew what to say. He diverted her attention by making up a fun guessing game using the name of the little friend she had just left a few weeks prior. We all thanked him for his help with his sister.
2. Use Natural & Logical Consequences, Avoid Punishment & Reward!
Punishing a child for “bad” behavior or rewarding a child for “good” behavior is not the way to go. Remember, children want attention and will do what is necessary to get it. They will not learn what is right or what is wrong by being punished or rewarded. When we punish or reward a child we are teaching them that we have control over them. Instead, we should teach them that their actions, their choices belong to them. At least that is the ultimate goal, right? We want our children to learn that their actions, their choices, have consequences and they are responsible for those consequences.
There are two types of consequences – natural consequences and logical consequences.
A natural consequence is something that is the natural result of an action or choice. Here’s a good example – if you touch a hot iron you get burned. Natural consequences are extremely effective! All you have to do is touch that hot iron one time! You get the message loud and clear and you know that the pain you feel is a direct result of something that you did. So you should use natural consequences whenever you can. Unfortunately, as you can see, many natural consequences are also often dangerous. So, although they are really effective, they are not always useful with children. That’s where logical consequences come in.
A logical consequence is something that logically follows an action or choice. You have to make sure that the logical consequence is a)enforceable, b) appropriate to the offense, and c) imposed with love and empathy.
Let me give you an example of what I mean by a logical consequence. Let’s say your toddler is playing with building blocks and she decides to throw a block. She knows that is not allowed. You first remind her that she must not throw blocks because she could hurt someone or break something. If she doesn’t listen and throws a block again you should pick up all the blocks and put them away where she can not reach them. No screaming, no “I told you so”. You simply, calmly, and with great empathy explain that because she threw the block she lost the privilege of playing with them. That is a logical consequence. This teaches your child a direct relationship between her actions and the result of those actions. You throw blocks, you lose the blocks.
Another example. Many can relate to this, especially now that it is summertime. You are at a party at a friend’s home playing in the pool. You explain the rules to your child – only walking around the pool because it can be slippery, no rough play in the pool because children can get hurt. Your child completely ignores your rules. Here is what probably happens most of the time. You keep telling your child over and over again not to run or not to play rough. Then either someone gets hurt or you lose your patience and grab your child for a serious talk. Then, as soon as your talk is over she is back doing whatever she wants. Sound familiar?
Well, what would the logical consequence be in this situation? Removing the child completely from the pool, right? Of course the only guaranteed way to keep your child from the pool if she is being really defiant is to leave the party. This is a hard thing for parents to do because they are enjoying the company of their friends. But I promise you, unless your child has a developmental difficulty and neurologically does not understand consequences, you will not have to leave many more times before your child learns. You should not own her choices. It is for her to pay the consequences.
If you use natural and logical consequences and use them consistently your child will learn to own their actions, their choices, their behavior.
3. Practice Emotional Detachment!
This one is not always easy. The more you can detach yourself emotionally when imposing logical consequences, the better. Anger, lecturing, “I-told-you-so’s” dilute the power of logical consequences because the child stays focused on us rather than on the lesson the consequence is meant to teach. Think of yourself as a police officer pulling someone over for a traffic violation.
“License, registration, and proof of insurance, please.” No screaming, no tantrums. What you want to teach your child is that she lost a privilege because she chose to break the rules. It’s not because you are mean or frustrated or stressed. If you allow yourself to become emotionally involved and you scream or go on and on lecturing her, you are in fact owning her actions and making yourself the “bad” guy for punishing her. Do you see the difference?!
4. Empathy Wins The Day!
Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, which is to say the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. We were all children one day. We all misbehaved, broke rules, made mistakes. We all know what it feels like to be reprimanded, to lose privileges, to be punished. So, we’ve been there and, therefore, it should actually be quite easy for us to place ourselves in their place when our children mess up. And it is so unbelievably powerful and effective. Why? Because empathy is an act of love. Our love for our children takes precedence over everything. Our relationship with them is of the utmost importance. A screw-up in behavior, even a big screw-up doesn’t change that. Our children need to know that little fact about us and how we feel about them. We need to tell them regularly. So, when they do mess up we really need to let them know how much we “feel their pain”. When we show sincere empathy while imposing consequences it tells them that we understand, we’ve got their backs, we love them no matter what. That then allows the consequences to do the teaching.
If you apply our 7 principles and 4 tips and you are still struggling with your child’s behavior please contact us to schedule a 30 minute online consultation which we offer free of charge.