Friday, August 28

Thursday, August 27

Responding with affection

Listen to Marianne Williamson on this here.

Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

John C. Maxwell

Tuesday, August 25

Quote of the day (QOTD)

"Happiness is different from pleasure. Happiness has something to do with struggling and enduring and accomplishing."
– George Sheehan

Thursday, August 20

Science of Parenting: The Trying times

Children will be children and because of that there will be trying times. This chapter focuses mainly on the under-fives and provides tips on how to manage them. What is of importance is that the brain's dopamine and noradrenaline systems - which are vital for concentration and sustained attention - are slow to mature in children. Hence, the child is often easily distracted, impulsive, unable to focus, unable to filter out distractions and is prone to lots of manic behaviours. It is a tall order to expect the child to comply with adult behaviour.

When they just say won't or no!
There is a delicate balance between giving clear boundaries, rules and consequences for unacceptable behaviours and damaging the will of the child, which is of great life resource. Saying "won't" or "no" at 2-3 years old is precursor for the capacity to stand up for oneself, the passion to know what one wants and the drive to follow through. Children who move into total compliance at toddler age often suffer later in life from not having developed a separate self. They may be skilled at adapting to the needs and feelings of others but have little or no notion of what they want and feel. Thus, parents need to think carefully about how to respond to the child appropriately.

Trying times when they bounce about

  • Bouncing and running about is not being naughty.
  • You've guessed it, the higher brain has not yet formed the key pathways which connect to the lower brain.
  • The answer for this is to find a channel for their energy for example go to the playground or park, get them to jump on trampoline etc...

Trying times in public places

  • Find a space where they are free to run around and look for places where they are fewer people.
  • At cafes and restaurants, offer toy or colouring book to meet their stimulation hungers.
  • Turn shopping trip from hell into exciting treasure hunt. Engage and get them to assist with task-focused games.

Trying times on train/car journeys

  • If a child has to be on a train or in a car for a while, his motoric impulses become very strong, leading to fidgeting and restlessness.
  • It is extremely stressful for children to sit still in long rides.
  • Give something interesting to the child to engage the frontal lobes and activates the SEEKING system.
  • Play guessing game, story-telling, riddles, paper, crayon, puzzle etc..
  • Take a break from the ride and head to open spaces where they can expend their energy.

Trying times with meals

  • Children prefer to play games at the table rather sitting nicely to eat because when they are excited, the appetite will be suppressed.
  • If a child has become anxious about food or meal time, undo any negative associations between eating and place.
  • Try to activate your child's lower brain play system at meal times so she starts to associate food with fun instead of fear.
  • Give her patterned plates and allow her to play with food to explore new textures and colours.

Trying times with making a mess

  • It is important to avoid squashing your child's creativity and imagination. Imaginative, cooperative play is a real developmental achievement for young children.
  • That said, it is also crucial not to give the message that she can create whatever havoc she likes and expect you to clear up.
  • Make tidying up into a game. Use the “let's” game or the "choices and consequences" technique.

Trying times and toy wars

  • Children get heated up about possession of toys. Why is that?
  • Firstly, the emotional attachment she has with the toy provides her with a sense of well-being.
  • The toy is her territory hence she is likely to respond with rage to an invasion. Concept of sharing is foreign to her.
  • Use distraction and help squabbling kids find a solution. For older kids, teach them about trading and taking turns.
  • If possible, choose cooperative games instead of competitive ones till the child is older. The pain of losing can be too painful and young children are not good at putting things in perspective.

Trying times with wanting something eg. At a toyshop

  • Toyshop activates the SEEKING system which is to do with curiosity, exploration, will, drive, expectancy, and desire and this makes your child extremely aroused and focused.
  • If her desire is frustrated, her rage and separation distress can be triggered.
  • A good strategy is to pay no attention whatsoever to any pleading. Be firm and clear with “no” accompanied by an empathic response.
  • Don't try to reason with your child as it is futile because you're dealing with her higher brain when the lower brain is in the driving seat.
  • For children over 5, offer a choice. Once her higher brain is engaged in decision-making, it naturally calms the lower brain.

Trying times with not wanting to listen

  • Reason: they have difficulty to switch attention from one thing to another as easily as adult can.
  • One strategy is to build in a clear disengagement strategy, for example “I will count now from five to one..”
  • Make it clear what the rules are when you are out and about with your child.
  • Praise you child when she did as requested, “Well done. You did so well at coming back when I called.”

Trying times with telling tales and name-calling

  • Help your child to express anger and resentment in healthier ways.
  • Set house rules to prevent such behaviours.

Trying times with children at war

  • Fighting among siblings is common.
  • Parent power is influential and if you treat them wrongly, it can strengthen the primitive response in the brain.
  • Fights often happen because one or more of your child's psychological hungers is not being met. She could be bored, under stimulated, hungry etc..
  • She may be upset, angry and because she doesn't have words, she uses her fists.
  • Ensure there are do's and don'ts in responding to fighting

    1. Don't meet violence with violence.
    2. Don't scream, shout or smack. This method may be effective in the short term but this response is modelling using rage in difficult situation.
    3. Use firm but calm voice.
    4. Don't take sides or reward tale-telling.
    5. Help your child with “too big” feeling and don't leave her to deal with it on her own.
    6. Make sure there are some clear family rules about quarreling and fighting and read through them with the kids.

Monday, August 17

Half Full or Half Empty

If you want to know where you stand in the continuum of optimism and pessimism, this book has just the questionnaire for you. The main premise in this book is that the way we think can diminish or enlarge our control. An optimistic explanatory style stops helplessness while pessimistic style spreads helplessness. Explanatory style is the manner in which we habitually explain to ourself why events happen. This is a great modulator of learned helplessness as it determines how helpless or energized you can become.

Optimism has an important place in life as it can protect us against depression, raise our level of achievement and enhance our physical well-being. It is important to remember that learned optimism is NOT a rediscovery of “the power of positive thinking”. They do not consist in learning to say positive statements to yourself. What is crucial is what we think when we fail and using the power of “non-negative thinking”. Changing the destructive thing we say to ourself when we experience setbacks that life deals us is the central skill of optimism. Learned helplessness is the giving up reaction that follows from the belief that whatever you do doesn't matter.

There 3 crucial dimensions to explanatory style:
1. Permanence
2. Pervasiveness
3. Personalization

People who give up easily believe the cause of bad events are permanent, persistent and personal . Everyone encounters failures from time to time. It makes everyone feels at least momentarily helpless and discouraged. For optimist it goes away almost instantaneously while for the pessimist, as you can guess takes much longer or never. The permanence dimension determines how long a person gives up for. As such, permanent explanations for bad events produce long lasting helplessness while temporary explanations produce resilience. Optimistic people also believe that good events have permanent cause rather than temporary. They tend to explain good events in terms of permanent causes – such as traits, abilities - while pessimists name transient causes – such as moods, effort or luck.

When you consider pervasiveness, it refers to whether this incident is specific or universal. Those who make universal explanations for their failures give up on EVERYTHING when failure strikes in ONE area. People who make specific explanations may become helpless in that one part of life yet strive on in the others.

The third dimension, personalization controls how you feel about yourself. The optimistic style of explaining good events is the opposite of that used for bad events. When bad things happen, we can either blame ourselves (internalize) or we blame other people or circumstances (externalize). People who blame themselves when they fail tend to have low self-esteem as a consequence. Low self-esteem usually comes from an internal style for bad events.

How we think affects how we feel and one particular self-defeating way to think is to make personal, permanent and pervasive explanations for bad events. Prof Seligman offers hope to those who are pessimists. He claimed that it is possible to unlearn helplessness by using cognitive therapy. Becoming optimist consists of learning a set of skills about how to talk to yourself when you suffer a personal defeat. You will learn to speak to yourself about setbacks from a more encouraging viewpoint. It takes effort and time to unlearn tendencies that we have practiced for many years. The book provides techniques to change to be more optimistic. You can find many examples of how this happen in various aspects of life - in school, at work, in sports, health as well as politics.

There are numerous advantages when you hold a more optimistic style of thinking. It helps improve health – catches fewer infectious disease, have better health habits, improved immune system. If you feel that you are ready to change your thinking style, do give this book a shot.

Tuesday, August 4

The Science of Parenting- Dealing with the letter T.....

the terrifying TANTRUMS!

I don't know about you but when a child shows signs of a tantrum, that is the cue for me to return the said child to the parents. Now, what if you are the parents? Here is the good news because in this chapter we will learn all about tantrums - why it happens, what are the different types and most importantly how we can deal with them. Armed with the arsenal, hopefully parents will be empowered and feel less helpless when tantrums happen. Firstly, we need to understand what is going on inside a child's head when he is being naughty. It is also essential to keep in mind of the child's feelings and relationship issues in addition to the overt difficult behaviours. According to the book, there are 6 main reasons that contribute to a child behaving badly. These are:

  • Tiredness and Hunger
  • An undeveloped Brain
  • Psychological Hungers
  • Needing help with a Big feeling
  • Picking up on YOUR stress
  • You activate the wrong part of your child's brain.

Tiredness and Hunger

  • Children behave badly when they have an unmet physical need for food or sleep. This is the easiest of the lot to deal with as you can ascertain this quite quickly.
  • Sleep loss intensifies negative emotions when we are under stress. It also causes imbalances in blood sugar levels and consequently affects moods.
  • Sugar and sweets may cause bad behaviour – sugar high. They get energy boost within 10-15 min and then they crash after a certain period of time. This can lead to hypoglycaemia, which in turn leads to aggression, anxiety and hyperactive behaviour such as rushing about and climbing up on things.
  • Hunger also disrupts the hormones in the body. To remedy, ensure that your children are eating proper meal.
  • Consuming certain foods or drinks may also play havoc with their brains.
  • Children are particularly vulnerable to food additives because their bodies and brain are so immature.
  • These are often found in processed food such as biscuits, sweets, soft drinks. They can have mood-altering effects and are common triggers for bad behaviour. Some additives reduce the level of dopamine and noradrenaline in the brain resulting in hyperactive behaviour in some children.
  • Opt for appealing healthy alternatives that are low in additives, colouring and sugar whenever possible.

An undeveloped emotional brain

  • Remember the Immature brain theory that we have learned about in the past chapters? Young children can't naturally inhibit their primitive impulses to lash out, run about and climb up things.
  • Sometimes a child is unfairly punished as parents are afraid of being manipulated and resort to punishments for the behaviours.
  • There are scientific evidence to suggest that a baby's or a young child's brain isn't developed enough to have thoughts about manipulating adults.
  • Glutamate system in the frontal lobes of the brain enables us to have clearly defined thoughts and intentions. And this system is not properly established in babies and small children, which means they lack the sophistication to be deliberately naughty or manipulative. This system starts to develop during the first year of life.

Psychological hungers

  • There are 3 psychological hungers – for stimulation, recognition and structure. Over time, if one or more of these remain unsatisfied, people can be emotionally unwell.
  • Under-stimulation (boredom) is a pain in the brain. It is registered as stress. To change this state, people do things to increase their arousal state.
  • Because children have fewer resources than adults, the stimulation they choose is often aggressive, noisy or destructive.
  • Part of stimulation hunger is incident hunger. If a child is not experiencing enough incidents, he will make his own, perhaps fighting his brother or throwing a temper tantrum.
  • Recognition hunger makes a child seeks attention.
  • This is a genetically programmed need for attention. This means having an impact on someone in a way that makes them respond. “If I have an impact, I know I exist.”
  • If a child feels that good behaviour does not impact on his parents, he resorts to bad behaviour instead.
  • Bad behaviour stems from the recognition hunger that says, “Please don't ignore me”. If your child thinks the only way to get your attention is to be naughty, to scream or to cry then this is what he will do. They will take what they can get.
  • We have a psychological need for structure. Without it adult feels restless, depressed, anxious or lose focus and meaning. It is the same with children. They need the structure of a clear house rules and consistent routine.
  • Consider the structureless time for a child waiting in a queue at a supermarket. Your child will suddenly become horrid. However, when you do some structured activities with him while waiting, your child will be fine.

Needing help with big feeling.

  • Children may be angered, frustrated or jealous of the attention being paid to a sibling and so on. These big feelings activate the stress chemicals in the brain and body and thus outbursts are often a child's way of relieving tension.
  • A child does not have the words to express his emotions, so he vents his feelings in a scream or a shout.
  • Parents need to help the children with the feelings so that the higher brain can develop essential pathways to regulate such feelings.

Picking up on your stress.

  • A child's behaviour is often a barometer of parental stress, depression, anger or grief.
  • Persistent screaming and raging in a child can be a way of discharging his parents' emotions.
  • The right prefrontal part of a child's brain can pick up emotional atmospheres in milliseconds. As such, the more stressed you are, the more likely your children are to behave badly.
  • Just as some dogs are susceptible to the emotions of their owners, so children are deeply affected on a bodily and emotional level by stress and unhappiness in their family.
  • If the atmosphere at home is tense, you child can be horrid. Conversely, if you're relaxed, chances are they will be calm.

You activate the wrong part of your child's brain.

  • The way you relate to you child is crucial. For instance, if you shout and issue endless commands – "Do this, don't do that" – you could be unwittingly activating the primitive Rage and Fear systems that are deep in the mammalian and reptilian parts of the brain.
  • In contrast, lots of play, laughter and cuddles are likely to activate the brain's PLAY and CARE systems. These release the calming opiods which make children feel happy and contented.

Temper tantrums

  • Because of their intensity, temper tantrums are not only frightening to the child himself but also leave the parents feeling inept, helpless and overwhelmed.
  • This is particularly true when parents' own intense feelings were not handled well in their childhood. It can be very challenging for a parent to manage his/her own feelings during a child's tantrum.
  • It is vital that parents stay calm and think of rational and creative ways to manage a child's feeling.
  • Why tantrums are important?

    1. These are key times for brain sculpting because the emotional regulation of a child's feelings enables him to establish essential brain pathways for managing stress and being assertive later in life.
    2. The too-good child who does not have tantrums, learned early on that when he expressed big feelings, he elicited a frightening parental response. The price of parental love, acceptance and approval is total compliance hence no tantrums at all cost.
    3. This child misses out of the vital brain sculpting that he gets from his parents when he expresses big, dramatic feelings. This means that when he faces frustration later in life, he may respond with angry outbursts or struggle to be assertive.
    4. Not ALL tantrums are battles for power. It could be a genuine emotional pain. It is a mistake to think that rage is always about control.
    5. There are 2 different types of tantrum namely Distress versus "Little Nero" tantrums.
    6. Learn to differentiate the 2 so that you can respond appropriately. For the former, move towards the child with comfort and solace while the latter you need to move away.

Distress tantrums

  • Parent's role is to soothe your child when he experiences huge emotional storms in his brain and body. Without comfort the distress can leave the child with toxic level of stress hormones.
  • Children can't talk or listen well when distressed. Avoid trying to talk to your child during this period as they won't be able to process it.
  • Take the distress seriously and meet your child's pain of loss, frustration or acute disappointment with sympathy and understanding. When this is done, you will be helping your child to develop vital stress regulating systems.
  • How to handle distress tantrums?

    1. Use simple, calm actions or provide a simple choice. For example, if your child is upset about getting dressed, ask whether he wants to wear his blue or brown shirt.
    2. Use distraction. This activates the SEEKING system and makes him feel curious. It can override the brain's rage or distress systems.
    3. Hold your child tenderly. Speak to him softly using soothing words like “I know, I know”.. This prevents him from becoming angry or withdrawing from you.
    4. Avoid using the time-out technique during distress tantrum.
    5. Avoid putting a child in a room on his own. Vocal crying may stop but he may continue to cry internally, which is more worrying.
    6. Remind yourself that the distress is genuine when you get overwhelmed.
    7. Using distraction to avert tantrum is not “spoiling” your child.
    8. They do not have an adult perspective on life and thus not being able to do or have something they want can activate full-blown grief reaction. This is a result of immaturity rather than being naughty.

Little Nero tantrums

  • Happens when a child tries to get what he wants – attention, toy, food etc – through bullying his parents into submission. They have learned that shouting and screaming produce results.
  • These children need to learn that they can't receive the gratification they want and that it is not OK to bully or control others to get what they want in life.
  • In little nero tantrums, there is usually an absence of tears and the child is able to articulate her demands and argues when you say “no”.
  • The more you reward the tantrum with attention and giving her what she wants, the more she will continue to adopt the behaviour and you are in danger of setting up a trigger-happy rage system in her brain.
  • Reason is the mere experience of rage without the capacity for reasoned thinking can result in rage becoming a part of your child's personality.
  • When this is not handled well at an early age, they continue use this strategy to win tantrums at age 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 20, 35 or 60. They might grow into power-seeking, bullying adults.
  • Techniques to handling Little Nero tantrums.

    1. Don't give your child an audience. It must be a solo performance for it to stop. Once you are sure it is not distress tantrum, simply walk away.
    2. Don't try to reason, argue or persuade. Attention and words reward his negative behaviour.
    3. Don't “kiss it better”
    4. Don't negotiate. You are rewarding the behaviour if you do.
    5. Give clear, firm “nos” and try to manage your own anger.
    6. Deal firmly with your child's commands. Give a clear, firm message about commands being unacceptable as a way to get what he wants. Eg. “I'm happy to talk about what you would like when your voice is as quiet as mine.”
    7. Give information about social charm. This works better with an older child whose brain is more developed.
    8. Use humour and play when appropriate. This can deflate a Little Nero's power bubble. Mirror him back to himself.
    9. Use Time Out as a last resort. It is only appropriate only if your child is hurting someone.
    10. Learn to distinguish between the 2 tantrums.

Other triggers
  • It is also useful to understand the triggers that are linked to tantrums. Typically, these are boredom, frustration and disappointment.
  • Find out if there are enough stimulations in the house.
  • Teach your child to express their feelings through words.

    It is no wonder that people say parenting is the hardest job in the world. Not only do we have to ensure that we bring up the child with proper care and love, we also need to work at having the knowledge, skills and the right dispositions when dealing with the child at different stages of growth. Maybe that is why people also say parenting grows adults up. What a challenge and privilege.

    Next up: The trying times

    If you miss the previous summaries on Science of Parenting click here and here and here.

    P.S. Your discretion is advised. Your comments and thoughts are most welcome.