Friday, July 26, 2013
Be calm to help kids cope with tragic events” SF Chronicle, Dr. Winston Chung http://www.sfgate.com/health/article/Be-mindful-when-talking-tragedy-with-children-4682499.php offers advice on the importance of parents talking with children to help them better understand and cope with tragedy.
A parent’s tendency to want to protect their child from unpleasant emotions is understandable but brain science tells us to take a different approach.
Children are right hemisphere dominant, which is interested in emotions and the meaning and feel of an experience. The left hemisphere likes to know the linear cause-effect relationships in the world and uses language to express that logic. Each part of the brain does their unique job but they also need to work together as a whole to function well, for a child to thrive both emotionally and intellectually.
When a child’s brain is not integrated, the child becomes overwhelmed by their emotions, which feels chaotic and confusing. Re-telling the story of a frightening or painful experience helps integrate the brain. Talking with children about what happened and how they felt when they fell and scraped a knee, or faced a bully at school, or were disappointed they don’t make the team—all these experiences bring on strong emotions. The re-telling of what happened brings the left side of the brain into the picture and helps a child tame and name the emotions they are experiencing. Empathy and perspective springs from that experience.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Children entering school with a vocabulary of 22,000 words have a distinct advantage over the child who enters school with a vocabulary of 2,000 words. The child with the lower vocabulary is word improvised and that does not bode well for attaining success in school. Many of the skills a child needs to get ready to learn to read are first learned in conversation. Research substantiates that children who have been exposed to a lot of talk have an almost incalculable cognitive advantage. “A child who enters school with a strong vocabulary and strong cognitive abilities is likely to do well in school early on and continues to do well in the longer term.”* Early language experience actually stimulate a child’s brain to grow. Young children and infants need to be surrounded by people talking and talking a lot. Talking develops a child’s use and understanding of language, which is the basis of reading.
In Verbal Advantage (New York: Random House, 2000), Charles Elster cites research demonstrating the “close relationship between a large, precise knowledge of words and achievement in life” and draws these conclusions: “A low vocabulary is a serious handicap. Ambitious and energetic persons can push ahead in their jobs just so far, but then they reach a plateau caused by low vocabulary. “As you improve your skill with language you will become a better speaker, a better writer, a better reader, and a better listener. And, if you are all those things, you probably will be a more successful person.”
* US Department of Education
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
The value of reading fiction is receiving much attention these days and research suggests that people who read fiction are better at thinking creatively and they have more insight about others and their perspectives. In addition, brain science tells us that fiction, reading and talking about a story is an activity that helps integrate the brain. Parents reading and talking with children about a story is at the heart of the matter.
Our brains have many different parts, each with their own job description. The left side helps us logically organize our thoughts into sentences and the right side helps us experience emotions and read nonverbal clues. Each part of the brain does their unique job but they also need to work together as a whole to function well, for a child to thrive both emotionally and intellectually. Children are right hemisphere dominant, which is interested in emotions and the meaning and feel of an experience. During the first 3 years, children have not mastered the ability to use logic and words to express their feelings, which explains why they live in the moment. When a child begins to ask “Why?” all the time you know that the left-brain is beginning to really kick in. The left hemisphere likes to know the linear cause-effect relationships in the world and uses language to express that logic.
When a child’s brain is not integrated, the child becomes overwhelmed by their emotions, which feels chaotic and confusing. Re-telling the story of a frightening or painful experience helps integrate the brain. Talking with children about what happened and how they felt when they fell and scraped a knee, or faced a bully at school, or were disappointed they don’t make the team, or a friend disappointed them—all these experiences bring on strong emotions. The re-telling of what happened brings the left side of the brain into the picture and helps a child tame and name the emotions they are experiencing. Empathy springs from that experience and permits them to understand their own and other people’s feelings. The same can be said for reading and talking about a story.
Research indicates that parents can directly shape the unfolding growth of their child’s brain according to the experiences they offer— experiences shape brain growth. Parents can help their child’s brain develop to work to full capacity, and become integrated by giving their children the experience of reading and talking with them about a story.
The goal is to help children lean to use both sides of the brain together. To thrive, children depend on both sides of the brain to work in harmony. Perspective comes when our emotions are working along side the logical and linear part of the brain.
In addition to the important benefits of how stories work to integrate the right and left hemispheres of the brain, the rewards for the parent child relationship is incalculable. The relationship between parent and child is part of the reading experience. Parents who Conversationally Read— read and talk about a story with children— feel more connected to their children and more satisfied in their role as a parent. In turn, the reading experience for the child gives a clear message they are loved and understood.
We can begin to see how important it is to make sure children have high literacy skills, the use and command of language, so they can tell their own stories and understand the stories of other. Stories help us regulate our emotions, consider consequences, think before acting, and consider how others feel, all of which help us thrive in all aspects of our lives.
Friday, July 12, 2013
A current exhibit at the NY Public Library, The ABS of It: Why Children’s Books Matter is a family reunion of sorts as it gathers together creatures and characters from the memories of childhood and parenthood. The exhibit brings new meaning to W.H. Auden’s words: “There are no good books only for children.”
Childhood is about Be-Coming and teaching children to read deeply gives them the ability to better understand themselves, find their place in the world, and reach their full potential. Stories are how children try the world on for size, see who they are at a moment in time and see who they might become.
The relationship between parent and child is part of the reading experience. Parents who read and talk with their children feel more connected to their children and more satisfied in their role as a parent. In turn, the reading experience for the child gives a clear message they are loved and understood. Reading to children is a gift that lasts a lifetime. These are the books and characters that will help shape them. The most important outcome is not how many books children read, but how many conversations they have about them. In our fast-moving, media-saturated world, reading with children and talking with them about what matters is more important than ever before.
The benefits of reading with children supports my Merry-Go-Round philosophy of parenting. Visualize your very young child sitting on a merry-go-round. What makes the ride exciting and worthwhile has less to do with the movement of the merry-go-round, and more to do with the child’s eager anticipation of seeing you waving and cheering them on as they pass. If no one is there to wave, the child quickly loses interest in the ride or they become worried. They feel unseen.
So much of parenting is about the work of noticing; noticing a child’s feelings, dreams, hopes and fears. Children feel loved when they feel known and understood. Remember in the story, The Velveteen Rabbit, when the old hobby-horse, older and wiser than any toy in the nursery, tells the rabbit the way he can become real, is through the love of a child who plays with him? In the same vein, a child becomes real through a parent’s love. Reading to children is one of the most important activities we can do to show them they are loved. This is how children thrive and become real persons in their own right.
I often think parents, and maybe mothers in particular, create children from scratch. Yes, children come into the world as their own being but they need a parent’s love and attention to build a strong sense of self. Parental love give children the foundation they need “to put on their roller skates”, go out into the world, and be their best self. A passage from a book I just read comes to mind on the heels of this thought. A Dad is speaking with his teenage daughter who asks him “Why are we here on this planet, what is our purpose?” The Dad responds that he hasn’t yet figured out his complete answer, but he knows for sure that “One of the reasons we’re here for is to make certain that those whom we love fall asleep each night assured of that love. Reading to children is one of the ways we assure children thrive and know they are loved.
Monday, July 1, 2013
Google’s high-tech glasses could be the subject of a science fiction thriller. But they are for real and however controversial they prove to be, they are part of the next generation of technology that will impact the world of communication, as we know it. A recent article in the NYT* highlighted the Google Glass ability to reply to a text message with a photo, where no words were needed to communicate an idea. “Photos will become a new type of dialogue.” I have no issue with photos becoming a type of dialogue. My concern is that this current generation of children might be in dire danger of not acquiring the ability to effectively use language— both verbal and written. People with high literacy skills, with a strong command of language have a distinct advantage in achieving personal and professional success. No one yet knows what will be the consequences of this new generation of devices, Google Glass, Snapchat, or Instagram, but it could lead to a generation of children who will be proficient in pushing buttons and swiping, but who lack the very skills the need to reach their potential. This is cause for concern.