The Power of Positive Mindset

Having a positive mindset has a bigger impact on performance than what researchers have expected. A recent study by Stanford University found something surprising. Researchers observed the brains of students to understand how attitude influence achievement, and it turns out that having a positive outlook on learning, plays an equally important role as IQ.

When children do well in tests, they would naturally enjoy the subject more and feel more confident about it. However, the study has shown that the other way around — starting off with an expectation that they will like the subject and are capable in it, can help their brains to problem-solve better and improve their achievement too.

How do we as parents, help children foster more positive mindsets towards a subject or their potential then? Here are some suggestions:

To help children establish a positive mindset, we have to develop one ourselves. When parents or teachers respond to children’s struggles and mistakes with “anxiety or over-concern”, they unknowingly teach children to fear failure and prevent them from learning from trial and error.

First of all, make an effort to recognise your own unhelpful or self-defeating thinking, e.g., an overemphasis on getting things right, trying to please everyone, or fear of losing out  (to name a few). Secondly, be conscious about making a choice in shifting your negative thinking by reminding yourself to strive for progress rather than perfection. Model a positive mindset in your lifestyle and interactions with your child and he will learn its true value.

Don’t praise your children for being smart. Research by psychologist Carol Dweck has shown that by doing so, it can cause children to be fearful of taking risks or pursuing tough goals that might make them feel vulnerable and less intelligent. Praise them for making effort by saying, “I’m proud that you tried really hard!” or “You really practiced that, and look how you’ve improved!”  

Build your child’s resilience by instilling in them a belief that our mental capabilities are not fixed and can be improved with effort. When your child makes mistakes, tell them that they are giving their brains opportunity for growth. So if your child comes back to you with a D on his math test, respond with something like, “What did you do?”, “what can we do next?” Don’t just tell your child to try harder, offer strategies or skills to overcome a challenging task.

Instead of saying “I can’t play basketball or I can’t do multiplication,” adding a “yet” to the end of the sentences changes their meaning and promotes growth and opportunity. The word “yet” gives children more confidence and lead them on a path that encourages persistence. By saying “yet”, it leaves possibilities open instead of just saying “I can’t”.This simple linguistic trick implies that children will master these skills eventually with time and practice.

Find meaning in things that happen

Help your child bounce back from disappointments by encouraging them to talk about their emotions and make meaning of the events that happened to them. Life is unpredictable and filled with ups and downs, and by nurturing spirituality, we can find direction and hope during difficult times. Connecting with nature, meditating, sharing stories, creating something or helping others in need are some ways to develop spirituality, which can give a greater purpose to life.

There are so many benefits to having an attitude of gratitude and one of them is helping us to develop a positive outlook. Teach your child to see the positives in everyday life, no matter how big or small. At dinner or bedtime, share stories with each other about the simple pleasures of your day. Create a “gratitude journal” together as a family by gluing pictures from magazines, drawing or writing down things everyone is grateful for. These activities do not only build close relationships, they also can create a positive environment at home.

Having a positive mindset is one of the most important strengths for building resilience, which can eventually bring greater success and happiness in life. When children learn to perceive a difficulty as a manageable one, it makes them feel more confident and gives them hope. Besides, it also acts as a shield from anxiety, depression and poor health. Teaching your child how to respond to problems positively can make all the difference. Try to find the cup half full and be on the lookout for the bright side — your kids will also do the same.

The Role of Father’s: Insights and tips on how father’s contribute to their child’s social, emotional, and cognitive learning

Prior to the late 1970s, the role of fathers was more defined as the family’s main breadwinner, disciplinarian, and would take time to play when he could. However, times have changed and fathers are seen to be more involved in raising their children. In fact, majority of studies have affirmed that fathers play an important role in the health and well-being of their children. In celebration of Father’s Day, we want to share with you how the presence of a father is not only a positive experience for the family, but is also beneficial to a child’s social, emotional and cognitive growth.

How Fathers Can Help

When fathers are involved in parenting, children’s emotional well-being have been proven to increase. Children are generally more well-adjusted and there are less expressions of fear, guilt, stress and anxiety. When stressful situations occur, children develop a greater tolerance and have better problem-solving and adaptive skills — managing their emotions healthily and appropriately. And as a child enters adolescence, close relationships with their fathers can also improve self-efficacy and reduce aggressive behaviours. When children feel their fathers’ love and acceptance, they would also have higher self-esteem and be more self-motivated.

What Fathers Can Do

Children are highly impressionable and often take after their parents’ reactions to negative emotions. Therefore, the key to developing emotional intelligence in your child is to first recognise and manage your own emotions appropriately. When you are feeling more positive and relaxed, you can then be more sensitive to your child’s feelings especially when he is not able to express his feelings adequately. Increase your child’s vocabulary for words that describe feelings by demonstrating and modelling how to express feelings. When your child is feeling stressed or frustrated, be there to support him. Encourage your child to solve a problem by thinking ahead about the consequences of the solutions, help him to generate alternative ideas and choose the best plan of action.

How Fathers Can Help

Studies have proven that when infants enjoy higher levels of interaction with fathers through play and caregiving activities, their problem-solving ability increases and have higher cognitive functioning. When compared with mothers, fathers’ talk with toddlers is characterized by more wh- (e.g. “what, where” etc.) questions, which requires the child to express themselves more, use more  vocabulary and produce longer sentences when communicating with their fathers. School-aged children of involved fathers also perform better academically. They have more positive attitudes towards school and have less behavioural problems.

What Fathers Can Do

Cognitive development is the process where a child learns to solve problems, reason, think logically and creatively. Boost cognitive development through lots of play! Come up with games and activities that encourage your child to think and find solutions. From board games to sports, train your child to learn through trial and error and encourage your child not to give up. Children are little explorers so plan for a nature outing at least once a month. For example, it could be as simple as having a family picnic at the beach. Everything that the child observes — from the waves on the shore, birds flying, fish swimming in water or ships passing by — these are excellent ways to stimulate the senses, start conversations and spur imaginative thinking.

How Fathers Can Help

Studies have proven that when fathers are more hands-on with parenting, children tend to have more positive peer relations — less aggression and conflict, more reciprocity and generosity. They also have increased moral judgement, values and conformity to rules and display more moral and pro-social behaviours. By feeling secure and attached to their fathers, children are more tolerant and understanding of others. As they become adults, they are also more likely to enjoy supportive social networks consisting of long-term close friendships and successful marriages.

What Fathers Can Do

Teach your child that relationships are important. Model it for your child early on and help him to be respectful of others. If you notice your child behaving disrespectfully unintentionally, be sure to talk about it with him later. Be clear about insisting that they acknowledge adults in their presence as well as other kids. If you happen to have a child who is shy, teach effective strategies to deal with fears such as being interested by asking questions and listening to others. Have plenty of opportunities to practice social behaviours by following their lead in a “peer-like” way. When you are responsive to your child’s play ideas, it makes your child feel that they are good, effective play partners and thus are eager to play with other peers.

From what we gather, many findings have affirmed the positive effects of fathers’ presence and father-child relationship. Mothers are not only the ones who affect their children’s development but fathers do have a direct impact on children too. Fathers provide for children’s needs in a different way than mothers, and they are just as invaluable to children’s physical, emotional, social and cognitive functioning.

7 Ways to Engage Your Child in Everyday Play

The “P” in Dolphin Kids’ P.O.D.  stands for PLAY! Why is play important? From learning problem-solving skills, to creative thinking, processing emotions and building resilience, play offers great opportunities for growth and parent-child bonding.

Children love to play and have an endless capacity for play. However, parents’ ability or willingness for play may not be as consistent. Sometimes, after a long day of work and chores, getting down on the floor to play dollhouse with your child or going outdoors for physically active game may seem exhausting. But the truth is, play does not have to last long and it can also be part of everyday life.

According to Dr. Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute for Play, there are 7 different types of play that accomplishes different benefits. Here are its definitions and some tips to get your started:

Attunement Play

Communication with your child happens all the time, and a large percentage of what we perceive in communication is non-verbal signals. Eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice and bodily gestures can be easily sensed by your child as to whether or not you are genuinely interested in them.

Attunement play is therefore the foundation of all forms of play and can be used in all kinds of interactions with your child. Respond to your child’s actions by mirroring her movements and expressions, make up a song or do a dance with the action. Enter into your child’s world and show that you are listening and understanding him/her.

Social Play

Social play helps children establish social norms. Play with parents set the stage for children’s ability to successfully play with others. Strive for an even distribution of power — Be careful not to take over and give too many directions when playing with your child. Likewise, it is also important not to let your child boss you around. When we allow children to dominate us in play, to be inattentive to our needs and desires, we may, in fact, be turning them into spoiled brats. Cooperate with your child in play by sharing a common goal and having complementary roles, e.g., fixing a jigsaw puzzle, building a bridge with blocks, making art, baking/cooking together.

Pretend Play

Imaginative and pretend play is where creativity begins. Playing the pirate, doctor or teacher — acting out stories which involve multiple perspectives and determining ideas and emotions, pretend play can help children to create their own sense of their mind, and that of others. If make-believe play is not something you feel comfortable doing, try talking to your child regularly explaining features about nature and social issues, or read to your child at bedtime instead.

Movement Play

Leaping in the air teaches us the effects of gravity. Dance teaches us the various ways that our bodies can move. Movement play helps us think spatially, and the physical exertion and effort to get a movement right fosters adaptability and resilience. Chase games, hide and seek, tickles, and rough-housing games make children laugh, scream and sweat — which can help release pent-up stress hormones that they would otherwise have to tantrum to discharge.

Object Play

Object play allows children to explore the functions of objects and develop tools. By manipulating objects such as building blocks, puzzles, cars, dolls, etc., object play allows children to try out new combinations of actions, and may help develop problem solving skills. Sometimes, object play also involves pretend play, e.g., building a house or feeding a doll. Some household items can also serve as fun and interesting objects for play, as long as they are safe.

Storytelling-Narrative Play

Besides improving children’s sense of well-being and self-identity, storytelling plays an essential role to children in understanding their environment. Through listening to stories, they learn to understand the differences to others’ feelings, culture, backgrounds, and experiences. When children can create their own stories, they also show better divergent thinking. Try coming up with a beginning of a story and let your child think and explore as much as they can. If they get stuck or repetitive, suggest one or two ideas on what can happen next.

Creative Play

Children start developing their creativity in role-playing and pretend play, and when they do, they are able to imagine new ways or ideas about doing things that can add function and progress to lives in future. When you are with your child, stimulate creative ideas by encouraging them to come up with new and unusual uses of everyday items, art materials or toys. Try to remain open and curious to new and original ideas, and encourage children to come up with more than one solution or answer.

Play is in the Everyday

Play offers connection, bonding, and co-operation. Opportunities for play can happen everyday with common daily activities. The quality of time spent with your child is the factor that makes a difference. As Lawrence J. Cohen, author of Playful Parenting puts it, you need to be “tuned in” to your child’s needs and wants. Give your child your full attention and follow their lead by letting them direct and control the pace of the play. Relax and have fun while being in the moment with them. Whether it’s baking cookies together, or washing a car, it’s the spirit of playfulness that we bring to daily activities that turns the mundane into play.

The Role of Mother’s: Insights and tips on how mothers contribute to social-emotional-cognitive (SEC) learning

Mothers are most often the primary caregiver who support their children’s physical, emotional, mental and social development. As such, it is no surprise that mothers play a significant role in every aspect of their children’s growth. In celebration of Mother’s Day, we want to recognise and strengthen the maternal role and relationship that contribute to social-emotional-cognitive (SEC) learning in their children. Here are some insights and tips on how to interact with your child to improve their SEC skills.

Children often take reference from their mothers when it comes to the expression, understanding and coping with emotions. Even early in infancy, your child can already express themselves emotionally through their body language, vocalizations and facial expressions. When mothers respond with positive emotions, infants begin to regulate their emotions and gain a sense of predictability, safety and responsiveness in their environments, that will eventually contribute to a sense of self-confidence as they grow up.

Provide a positive role model of emotional regulation through your behavior and through the verbal and emotional support you offer your child when managing their emotions. Don’t be afraid to apologise to your child if you have lost your cool and reacted in an inappropriate way to a situation. Use feeling words when you talk with children about everyday situations, “You scored a goal! How exciting was that!”; or “It’s pretty disappointing that your friend can’t play with you today.” Invite children to describe their own feelings, “I’m feeling quite nervous about going to the dentist. How about you?”, or “when I am angry, I try to take a few deep breaths to calm down.” Demonstrate and explain to your child how to identify, label and manage emotions in a calm and helpful manner.

When young children are able to experience, express and manage emotions, they are equipped with the ability to establish positive and rewarding social connections with others. Positive emotions enable relationships to form, while struggles with expressing and coping with emotions leads to problems in social relationships. Research has also indicated that a mother’s advice and guidance about peer relationships significantly reduces aggression in boys, while improving girls’ prosocial behaviours, i.e., helping, sharing, caring and collaborating with others. In other words, social competence improves with mother’s coaching and positive responsiveness.

Talk to your child about how people’s feelings, beliefs, wants and intentions to improve your child’s social understanding and empathy. Use TV shows, movies or story books to talk to your child about what the characters may be feeling as a result of what others do. There are also many teachable moments available everyday. For example, if you notice your child being refusing to share his toys with a friend, you can say, “That makes him sad when you choose not to share,” instead of just saying, “stop it,” or “don’t do that”.

Research has shown that a mother’s EF, e.g., short-term memory, self-control, and cognitive flexibility contribute to their child’s development of EF.  In other words, high level cognitive tasks, including planning, problem solving and decision-making are essentially EF. For example, when a child shows an undesirable behavior, a mother has to use her EF skills to focus on relevant information, control her response in the presence of her own stress, plan and act as necessary according to situational demands. Rather than having negative or hasty reactions, she has to analyse the various situations through logic and emotions to plan and make decisions.

Besides role-modelling EF skills as a parent, you can teach and encourage your child to develop their own plans as they encounter new experiences –  for everything from celebrations (e.g., creating a plan to make a birthday fun and meaningful) to the most difficult of life’s challenges (e.g., creating a plan to remember the loss of a loved one). Let them practice writing out their plans, and then trying to execute and when necessary, adjust their plans. Set a few guidelines and try to allow them to explore as much as possible (Be a DOLPHIN Parent!) without overly correcting them or imposing your ideas on them. This way, children are given opportunities to integrate the key systems of the brain that boosts EF.

From the above, we caught a glimpse into how each aspect of SEC development in young children are supported by their relationship with their mothers. However, because mothers have such great influence on her child’s well-being, they too, feel often blamed for the way the child turns out. As such, mothers carry the burden of the responsibility of caregiving, which includes the struggle of dealing with expectations from themselves and others. Therefore, it is always important to remember that as a parent, you are also every bit as human and hence, will make mistakes from time to time. Children do not need to grow up in a “perfect” environment, rather they need to experience, understand and learn from how you adapt to problems and deal with your struggles too.

Help Your Kids Hit Their Stride By Practicing Gratitude

By teaching children the true meaning of gratitude, we can enhance their emotional wellness.

“What are you grateful for today?” This question was difficult for 14-year-old “Claire” – a patient of mine whose real name I’m not using to protect her privacy – to answer when she first started coming to see me at the clinic. Diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety, she often grappled with finding the silver linings in her life and had begun to refute positive thinking altogether.

Claire viewed her life in absolutes. If she failed at one thing, she considered herself to be a complete and utter failure at all things. Her OCD and anxiety increased for her what are called cognitive distortions, which manifest in polarized thinking – she was unable to perceive any middle ground on things. A cognitive distortion is like wearing a patchy blindfold over your eyes; your vision of reality becomes darkened, and you can only see the negative parts of a situation.

Polarized thinking blindfolded Claire, and aspects of her life or events, such as school, friendships, family or piano performances, were either perfect or a complete disaster. The puzzled expression of disbelief Claire made when I handed her a prescription that read, “Start a gratitude journal – today,” will forever be etched into my memory. She was completely skeptical. But I reassured her that research supports looking at the positive aspects of her life could ultimately help her see situations in vibrant color, rather than just in “black and white.”

According to a national survey on gratitude commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation, respondents tended to think others’ levels of gratefulness were going down (though most didn’t feel their own levels of gratitude were decreasing). Sadly, the national survey also indicates that 18- to 24-year-olds were less likely to express gratitude than any other age group; and when they did display signs of appreciation, it was usually for self-serving reasons. A Cisco Connected World Technology Report found one-third of college students were more grateful for their mobile devices than their access to food, shelter or safety. When youth value their iPhones, MacBook Pro computers and GPS systems more than the necessities for survival, we can understand how this generation came to be viewed as being so entitled.

Why are children becoming more entitled and less grateful? Perhaps, it’s because they’re growing up without really learning what gratitude is. In the national survey commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation, 8 to 10 percent of respondents indicated that no one has ever taught them the meaning of gratitude. Research shows that a child’s gratitude has its roots in a nurturing family environment. Given this, a good question for parents is whether gratitude is an attitude we’re promoting for our children?

Let’s think of the perfectionistic “tiger” parent for a moment. I think it would be difficult to foster gratitude in an overscheduled, hyper-competitive, be-No. 1-at-all-costs tiger environment. Tiger parenting tendencies to build a child’s resume take priority over developing the child’s internal character and values. Can you imagine the tiger parent telling their child not to focus on results, like winning a game, for example, but to have gratitude for the opportunity to learn to play?

As an adolescent psychiatrist, I’ve treated countless patients who have achieved their cherished external goals, such as acceptance into a dance academy, making a sports team or getting to go to the college of “their choice,” but whose lives are utterly devoid of internal joy. They tell me they feel that they’re just going through the motions of life for a fixed result, rather than relishing the journey.

The research is clear: Gratitude leads to better sleep, less depression, less perceived stress, better coping skills, improved relationships and increased happiness. Here are some things you and your kids can do to practice gratitude:

Create a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal is a wonderful and scientifically proven way to guide your child toward health, happiness and internal motivation. I used to be skeptical of prescribing a gratitude journal to angry or anxious teenagers, because I thought they would reject the idea. However, my patients have proven me wrong, and over the years, I’ve seen firsthand how a gratitude journal has been a consistent, highly effective tool to shift my patients’ thinking from negative to positive.

Be a role model, and guide your kids toward gratefulness. At Thanksgiving, it’s always nice to talk about what you’re grateful for with your children around the dinner table. In addition, doing things like writing thank-you cards, phoning friends on their birthday and modeling other small acts of kindness in front of your children will demonstrate some ways gratitude can be expressed personally and toward others.

Serve others. Making a contribution to one’s community is a powerful tool for health, happiness and self-motivation; and it’s something I “prescribe” for all my patients. There is a reason why it feels so good to give. Connecting, sharing and giving all stimulate powerful reward centers in the brain. The wisdom of ancient sages and saints is now verified by science.

Your role as a parent has a major impact on your child’s understanding of the word gratitude. Take the time to reflect on your own “attitude of gratitude” and how you project your views onto your children.

Claire’s OCD and anxiety didn’t magically go away after she began journaling about what she was grateful for. But she did start to see the cup as half full and generally display more of an optimistic attitude when things didn’t go as planned. She stopped taking things for granted. By asking herself, “What are you grateful for today?” on a daily basis, the blindfold slowly started coming off, and she began to create her own silver linings.

Kids Need a Bigger Dose of Nature

“Adam” was a 14-year-old boy who I was asked to see for symptoms of anxiety and depression. His parents were concerned about him and asked if he needed vitamin supplements or an antidepressant. During my assessment, I discovered that Adam, whose real name I’m not using to protect his privacy, was having trouble sleeping, had low energy and poor focus, and was experiencing anxiety and irritability about simple things (like a change in his routine).

Since Adam’s symptoms were still in the “mild” category, he would likely experience a significant benefit from a change in his lifestyle, and my recommendation was to try that before any medication. Although Adam did not have a serious mental health issue (yet), he did have a serious lifestyle issue. When I asked him how much fresh air and sunlight he received per week, he asked me if being in his car with the windows open counted! I said no, so he told me that between his hockey practice, homework and playing video games, he spent less than two hours outside a week – and that was essentially only when he walked to and from wherever his mom parked her car when she picked him up.

My first prescription for Adam was to get out into the great outdoors. For 99 percent of human history, we’ve lived in the natural environment and our brains have adapted to find balance and health in that setting. But more recently, we have become increasingly disconnected from nature with profound negative consequences on the growing brain of children and adolescents.

Here is how nature can help with symptoms like those Adam experienced:

It can improve sleep. Regular daily doses of bright natural sunlight help children stay more alert during the day and make it easier to sleep at night. A known treatment for trouble sleeping at night is exposure to sunlight early in the morning, since this helps regulate our body’s natural sleep-wake cycle and internal rhythms.

Nature can boost energy levels. Even though it may take some time to kick in, most of us can relate to feeling more energetic while in nature. A 2010 study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that being in nature increased one’s sense of vitality, happiness and energy. In addition, playing outside encourages activities such as climbing, jumping, running and tumbling that promote muscle fitness and flexibility. Research shows that moderate to vigorous physical activity in child care settings increased from 1 percent indoors to as much as 11 percent outdoors. When outdoor play was child-led, the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity further increased to 17 percent. Cardiovascular exercise itself is a natural antidepressant as it releases soothing endorphins into the bloodstream and can help with the production of sleep-inducing melatonin.

Being outside can reduce stress and negative emotions. Just looking at a natural scene activates parts of the brain associated with balance and happiness. A South Korean study found that subjects who saw images of mountains, forests and other landscapes experienced heightened activity in a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus, which is linked to optimism and emotional stability, and the basal ganglia, which is linked to the recollection of happy memories. A Scottish study showed subjects who walked through a rural area viewed their to-do list as more manageable than those who walked on city streets.

It can improve focus and attention. The Attention Restoration Theory suggests the brain relaxes in nature, entering a state of contemplation that is “restorative or refreshing.” In contrast, in urban environments, the brain’s working memory is “bombarded with distractions and attention systems are on alert.” A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that children who played outdoors gained creativity and problem-solving skills as well as cooperation skills and self-discipline, and children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder seem to focus better after being outdoors.

Spending time outside can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Norwegian researchers discovered that subjects with moderate to severe depression who participated in a gardening program experienced reduced symptoms after 12 weeks. There are plenty of antidepressants in nature, including sunlight and “negative ions” – particles found near waterfalls, breaking waves and river rapids. A study found that breathing negative ions for an hour lead to subjects’ blood lactate levels dropping by 33 percent, improving their energy levels.

I told Adam and his parents that these are just the mental health effects of nature and that there are loads of physical health benefits as well. Research suggests that rising rates of allergies and autoimmune disorders may be linked to less exposure to healthy bacteria found in nature. In addition, reduced exposure to nature is linked to higher risk for obesity, cancer and heart disease, and the farther you live from green space, the likelier you are to be in poorer health. Humans are biophilic, meaning we have a love of nature, and we are biologically driven to be there. Nature keeps us healthy.

Why We Need Social and Emotional Learning in Schools

When “Tyler” was a child, he was anxious.

He may have inherited his tendency to worry from his mom, who was obsessed with “what ifs” and what others thought. Or maybe it was his father, who pushed him hard in school and extracurricular activities. Whatever the case, his parents often tried to solve his problems for him, which greatly diminished his ability to cope with adversity as an adolescent.

By age 19, Tyler – a patient of mine whose name I changed to protect his privacy – was failing his college courses and became withdrawn from family and friends. His parents urged him to seek help, which led to his diagnosis of depression. Personal counseling sessions helped Tyler learn positive coping strategies and how to better deal with uncertainty, independently problem-solve, regulate his emotions and live a balanced life.

The Child Mind Institute reports that half of all mental illness occurs before the age of 14 and 75 percent by the age of 24. Many suffer from anxiety and depression.

Although Tyler found help and learned how to cope with his depression, other youth are not so fortunate. Of those children diagnosed with a mental illness, around 70 percent of them will not receive professional help, according to the Child Mind Institute. The World Health Organization notes that 1.2 million teens die worldwide each year and that most of those deaths are preventable, with suicide being the third leading cause of death among adolescents; it emphasizes the dire need to take action to improve adolescent health services, education and social support. But in many cases, as WHO outlines in its reporton teen deaths, adolescents who suffer from mental health disorders cannot obtain prevention or care services because they either do not exist or because they do not know about them.

So, how can we encourage children to get the help they need, when that help is hard to find? For one thing, if we teach children and youth coping skills early, this alarming situation doesn’t have to become our new normal.

In an article for Edutopia, Roger Weissberg, the Chief Knowledge Officer of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, writes that social and emotional learning can enhance a student’s ability to succeed in school, careers and life. SEL can be the most proactive initiative for mental health illness prevention, as research shows that this type of learning can reduce anxiety, substance abuse, suicide, depression and violence, while increasing attendance, test scores and prosocial behavior such as kindness, empathy and personal awareness. If SEL was integrated into Tyler’s school or household earlier in life, he could have learned how to cope, adapt and find balance in high-stress situations.

SEL is powerful programming that we can implement in all of our schools to proactively educate our youth and address the issues we are trying to cope with in our society. Imagine if all schools leveraged SEL to approach student behavior, teaching students to use techniques such as meditation and deep breathing to restore their mental balance? If this approach was the norm in school, many more children would be able to develop the coping skills needed to flourish.

Research-based SEL programs have been developed to enhance students’ social, emotional and mental wellbeing skills. CASEL, a leader in the movement to bring SEL into U.S. schools, wants to make social and emotional learning an integral part of the education system. Partnerships with various school districts and organizations have led CASEL to developing SEL policies and pilot projects to help bring this education to children all across the U.S. I’ve also joined in the effort. I started Dolphin KIDS Achievement Programs, a positive mindset and life skills program aimed to teach children how to develop the emotional wellness, social connectivity, innovation, resiliency and adaptability they need to achieve success in today’s fast-paced world.

Although, the solution of integrating more SEL in schools seems simple, it doesn’t mean it’s easy. But if our children learn coping skills early, and SEL is integrated into more schools on a global scale, more children will be able to maintain balance in today’s unbalanced world.

As a parent, I’ve learned the foundations for social and emotional learning begin at home. An important tip for guiding your child towards positive SEL skills is to practice empathy. Empathy helps improve your child’s self-esteem, particularly because chances are good your child may be feel alone sometimes in the challenges he or she faces. Since we were all children once, letting your child know that you made mistakes too or had the same feelings when you were young is a great way to express empathy and promote positive social, emotional and cognitive growth.

Children With ADHD Are Suffering Because of Lack of Awareness

In the light of the recent incident, where a Deputy of Kentucky Sheriff handcuffed an eight-year old boy diagnosed with ADHD, let us talk about children with ADHD.

The incident occurred whereby Deputy Kevin Sumner, working as a school resource officer at Latonia Elementary School in Covington, is been sued by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for allegedly handcuffing an eight-year-old boy with ADHD, by his biceps at the back, because the wrists were too small, as a part of punishment given for not complying with orders.

ACLU’s Disability Counsel, Susan Mizner has said that using physical punishment for the purpose of disciplining students with disabilities “only serves to traumatize children.” Physical punishment could also further aggravate their behavioral issues Mizner added.

Sumner apparently handcuffed the eight-year-old boy, to “discipline” him and teach him to comply with teacher’s or elders’ orders. The video footage captures Sumner telling the little boy, already crying in pain, that he must “behave” if he wants the handcuffs gone and that he won’t be set free until he stops “acting up.”

This incident raises an important and immediate question about an awareness regarding ADHD, which is still lacking amongst the general public and professionals. There are plenty of us who are not aware of this medical condition and might not know how to react upon meeting kids/adults with ADHD. So what exactly is ADHD if you may ask?

The answer will be this — Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder a.k.a ADHD is a neurobiological disorder, which was earlier known as ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder until 1994. It has three subtypes: an inattentive type, a hyperactive-impulsive type and a combined type. All three affect attention, but with their own set of variations in symptoms. 

An inattentive type will show signs like having difficulty in focusing on simple tasks. The child faces difficulty in terms of paying attention to details or is more prone to making careless mistakes in mundane tasks, is unable to stay organized, or even listen to plain instructions. He/She may be forgetful about his/her belongings.

Whereas, a hyperactive type will have problems with staying calm for even shorter period of time. For instance, there may have trouble staying seated in a place for more than a minute or so, and there may be excessive fidgeting or talking.

The third type, a combined type, is somewhat of a combination of the previous two. It will show symptoms from both the first two categories.

Therefore, the first step towards understanding someone with ADHD is to realize that they are not “acting out” when they behave differently. They genuinely have difficulty with performing simple tasks unlike most of us and hence, they need more sensitive interaction.

So who can be diagnosed with ADHD?

The diagnosis of ADHD often occurs in childhood and the symptoms might recede with age but the condition can last throughout life. There is no particular test for detecting ADHD in a child, thus a complete evaluation by family practitioner or a pediatrician serves best. Though sometimes, the child may also need psychological or neurological intervention, apart from medical intervention, for diagnosing any other possible disability like depression or anxiety.

But don’t just jump to conclusions about considering a diagnosis for your child if he/she is throwing tantrums.

For your child to be considered for diagnosis, you must observe him/her and become assured that he/she shows signs or symptoms of disorder for at least six months and in at least two areas of life. Remember, the child might show anxiety signs if there is some discord in family or school; in which case it may not be ADHD.

Though research does not show a clear cause for the disorder, there are certain pre-conditions which have been identified. For instance, studies highlight that if a close relative has the disorder then there is a higher risk of having ADHD. Smoking or injuries during pregnancy or premature delivery has also been linked with ADHD.

So can children with ADHD lead a normal life? The answer is — yes!

You just have to ensure that the right kind of intervention necessary is provided to the child. And each child with ADHD, being a unique individual like all of us needs to be given individualized treatment. You can consult with your child’s doctor and form an individualized plan for a healthy and effective treatment.

In most cases, ADHD can be best treated with a combination of both medicine and behaviour therapy. It is not a disease that can be cured with just medicine and therefore medical intervention needs to provide for behavioral control too.

When one talks about medical intervention, there are several types of medication that are being used for treating ADHD, like the stimulants, non-stimulants, antidepressants [LINK]. It is always advisable to seek a doctor to help you choose the right kind of medication for your child. But you must not forget that a behavioral therapy needs to be worked out with a therapist, if you want to achieve the best results for your child.

A behavioral therapy requires involvement on part of both parents and teachers to support the child in managing his/her behaviors. Involvement on part of the parent means that they will have to join certain training and education programs, where they will be taught about how to handle their child’s behavior during difficult times and otherwise, help him/her improve behaviors, and also strengthen their bond with the child. If you are unsure of what a behavior module might include, then the following list of activities may help:

  • Create a routine for your child and help him/her get organized by breaking the tasks into simple steps, so that your child can actually aim for finishing them. Once the child starts to finish them, everyday he/she will grow in self confidence.
  • Try to get your child to take part in some social activities making use of role play, such that the child effectively learns about normal behavioral patterns in different situations that come up every day in one’s regular social life. This way you will help him/her improve upon social skills.
  • Avoid any sort of distraction like TV or music when your child is busy with homework as it might lead to him/her losing their concentration.
  • Limit the choices you provide for your child so as not to overwhelm or confuse him/her. ADHD kids already face issues with decision making, so giving them multiple choices will only result in more stress.
  • Try to be empathic and patient when your child is having mood swings. This will help him/her to calm down faster by seeing you breathe easy.
  • Do help your child in discovering his/her talent, as it can be a great way to boost his/her confidence and self-assurance.

A little bit of sensitivity has never hurt anyone.

ADHD is not a recent phenomenon that you and I are witnessing for the first time, but instead it is something that has been often misunderstood, neglected, or taken too casually. It is of vital importance to understand that everyone can contribute towards spreading positive awareness about ADHD.

Benefits of Going On Vacation: Mental Health and Productivity

Who killed summer vacation? That’s the million dollar question — literally. Long gone are the days of casually taking a few weeks off with the family to go on a road trip, or jetting off to a remote destination where the real world ceases to exist.

This is the problem recently addressed by Jack Dickey in a June issue of TIME Magazine, where he talks about the raising concerns and effects of workers not taking their deserved time off — even when paid to. We’ve all seen it. Most of us have even been this person at one point or another: You know, the one who sits poolside at a resort glued to their smartphone or laptop, and whose entire holiday itinerary revolves around whether or not WiFi will be readily available.

Because while traditionally vacations were meant to restore and rejuvenate, our cultural unwillingness to truly “unplug” from everything, especially in today’s digital age, has proven to be more exhausting and stressful than just staying in the office — a mindset that is seriously hurting us mentally, physically and professionally.

According to reports, Americans are taking less vacation days now than at any point in the past four decades. And 61 per cent of the Americans who do plan on taking their paid vacation days say they will be continuing to do work, send emails, and make business calls while away.

So, What’s Wrong with Vacation?

When surveyed, the top three reasons cited by people for not taking their vacation days were:

  • Heavier workload upon returning from holiday
  • Nobody else can do the work
  • Can’t afford to take it

What Does This Mean?

Whether we are at home, away, or in the office, many of us are constantly working. To quote USA Today, “The United States is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday”. So naturally with all this work and no play, one would think that companies and the workplace are becoming more productive, right? Unfortunately, the answer is no. What is happening however, is that we are breeding a society of overworked, uninspired, physically exhausted, and mentally worn out adults whose health, happiness, motivation, and personal relationships are also deteriorating as a result.

Overwhelmed, Overworked and Unproductive!

As a psychiatrist, I can’t stress enough the importance of downtime, unplugging, and rest to my patients. In fact, the most effective prescriptions I write are often lifestyle recommendations such as sleeping more, making meaningful social connections, routine regular exercise. Think of it this way, the best athletes know that without adequate rest, their bodies can’t perform or train as efficiently — this is no different when it comes to the brain! If we are constantly tired, how can our brains possibly be working at full capacity? Our brains need to rest in order to function at optimum capacity. The term “recreation” comes from the root “to re-create.”

The problem is many people don’t realize just how exhausted and stressed they are until given the opportunity to actually take time off.

As marketing expert Donny Deutsch puts it, “I didn’t realize how unproductive I’d become until I came back from a vacation, where you go, ‘Oh my God, this is what a mind feels like?'”

A study done by the Tatung University of Taiwan, published in New Scientist Magazine, has shown that driving even for 80 minutes straight without frequent rest stops greatly decreases a driver’s rate of reaction, increasing the risk of accidents. Now compare this to people working day in and day out without as much as taking two weeks off in the entire year–with over half of those people not even getting any real rest during those two weeks–you can just imagine the rate of deterioration that would happen to their overall mental capacity and work productivity.

On a positive note, in light of all this information, we now have progressive companies who are coming forward and updating their paid vacation policies–even going as far as offering incentives in bonuses to employees who take all of their vacation days, contingent on the premise that they are doing absolutely zero work on their days off. Because these companies understand that they benefit more and observe higher work productivity from well-rested and balanced individuals who work less months over the year, versus those who work non-stop 12 months a year to the point of burnout.

Resting for your Health and Sanity: Paying the Price

Time is money. Or more specifically, your time is money. According to the study ‘Project: Time Off’ conducted by the U.S. Travel Association, “The value of one forgone day, where workers are de facto volunteers for their employers, totals an average of $504 per employee. Therefore, the value of those 169 million lost days is significant–$52.4 billion in forfeited benefits.”

That is a significant value in benefits that employees are entitled to and yet choosing to forego every year! Instead, they are putting their mental, emotional, and physical health at risk, sacrificing personal relationships, and often end up having to spend their hard-earned money on healthcare due to all of the stress. Because an overwhelmed brain not only results in poor decision making skills and lack of creativity, but also a weakened nervous and immune system. Mental health disorders begin to arise in the forms of depression, severe anxiety, eating disorders, just to name a few. Other health problems that may occur due to lack of rest and stress include: heart disease, autoimmune diseases, insomnia, allergies, accelerated cell aging, cancer, diabetes, the list is simply endless.

The Cure: Less Work, More Play

The next time you think about skipping that well-deserved paid vacation, don’t! And the next time you feel tempted to reach out for your smartphone or laptop while away, focus on being present instead. No matter what, your work will still be there for you when you get back and there will always be more to do. Allow yourself to be rewarded for all your hard work and achievements, and in turn be rewarded with mental clarity, energy, a fresh perspective and overall improved health. Use this time to relax, reflect and repair your mind and body. As a result, your health, relationships and career will absolutely prosper from it.

If you’re concerned about the heavy workload upon returning to work, plan your schedule out ahead of time and figure out a way to complete most of your tasks prior to leaving, or set up the ground work that makes it easier for you to pick up where you left off. When you are well-prepared and show that you are able to maintain (or even increase) productivity after taking time off, it will only prove your capability and value to the company, as well as the benefits of encouraging employees to go on vacation.

Now, excuse me while I head to the beach with my family and indulge in a few good books I have been meaning to read. Life, when you allow it, is really good.