Antagonistic Teachers Lower Scores, Hurt Academic Futures

Antagonistic teachers, or teachers who seem hostile much of the time, are a fact of life. We reassure school children suffering the misery of an unpleasant teacher who belittles them. We tell them that not every teacher they have will be amazing, that muddling through the year is just something they have to do. But a new study suggests that having antagonistic teachers not only lowers students’ grades, but affects their ability to learn in future.

Which suggests that the tack we’ve taken all along, as parents, has been wrong. Why would we tell our kids to put up and shut up with unpleasant teachers knowing this will not only affect their grade point average but sour them on learning, going forward? The simple answer is: we wouldn’t. We’d try like heck to get our children transferred to a different class, in order to avoid that awful, no good teacher.

The study, by researchers from West Virginia University, Morgantown, and California State University, Long Beach, and funded by the Taylor & Francis Group, defines the antagonistic teacher as one who belittles students, shows favoritism, or criticizes a student’s efforts. And while the participants of this randomized trial were college students, it seems likely the results could be even more profound among, for instance, adolescents whose brains are still maturing and whose behavior is more volatile as a result.

In this particular study, experts in communication set up a teaching experiment in which around 500 college undergrads watched one of two versions of a videotaped lecture. Half the students watched a version of the lecture in which the teacher antagonized students. The other half watched a standard lesson, without antagonism. The students then answered questions on how they felt about the lesson, and went on to take a multiple-choice quiz on the lesson content.

Lesson With Or Without Antagonistic Teacher

In order to make the student subjects feel like they were in a real classroom, the authors filmed the lecture to show four undergrad students, two guys in the front row, two young women in the second row. The study participants viewed the lectures as if they were students sitting in the third row, behind the students shown in the first two rows in the video. What happened next was very simple, very clear cut: the students who watched the video of the lesson served with a side order of antagonism, performed worse on the test than the students who watched the standard lesson, without an antagonistic teacher.

Just what kind of antagonism did the students face? Some examples:

Antagonistic teacher: “You should already know the answer to that question if you were paying attention to last class.”

Normal teacher: “We went over that last class, so it should be in your notes, but I can go over that with you later if you’d like.”

Teacher modeling positive behavior
Teacher models positive behavior

Antagonistic teacher: “Yup. Well, it looks like some people can keep up and pay attention.” [Looks at student # 1.] “Brian, you could try and be more like Brenda here.” [Brenda is student #3].

Normal teacher: “Yup. Thanks for keeping up and paying attention.”

In the video with the antagonistic teacher, the instructor belittled the students in the first two rows, criticizing their answers and showing favoritism toward one of the students while criticizing the others. It sounds quite bad enough, but the truth is, the antagonistic teacher never raised his voice. The study participants generally rated the instructor as more than “sometimes antagonistic,” but less than “often antagonistic.

And still, the results were significant. Even stunning.

Boy happy to be holding a stack of books
Students do well when they enjoy their lessons

The students who watched the class with the antagonistic teacher scored as much as 5 percent lower than those who watched the standard lesson. The implication seems obvious: students don’t do as well when they don’t enjoy their lessons.

And it would be a rare student indeed who would enjoy being belittled, criticized, or shunted aside in favor of other students. That kind of teacher behavior is arguably abuse. At a certain point, you’d tune out the lesson in order to tune out the abuse. You’d miss stuff.

Anyone would.

Antagonistic Teacher: Long-Lasting Effects

The thing is, this wasn’t just about a student’s score on a single test after one lesson that showed the effects of the antagonistic teacher. The effects were much longer-lasting than that. The students made less of an effort with their learning: after all, if you can’t please the teacher, what’s the point of working hard and doing well? The students with the hostile teacher, moreover, said they would never take part in a future course taught by that teacher, going forward.

Can you blame them?

Study author Dr. Alan Goodboy feels that the long-term consequences of having an antagonistic teacher are the real takeaway from this study. “Even slight antagonism, coupled with otherwise effective teaching, can demotivate students from being engaged and hinder their learning opportunities. So even one bad day of teaching can ruin a student’s perception of the teacher and create an unnecessary roadblock to learning for the rest of the term.”

In Dr. Goodboy’s opinion, teachers must therefore take particular care not to allow themselves to engage in this sort of negative and hostile behavior in the classroom. “Antagonism can come into classrooms unexpectedly and suddenly, even without the knowledge of the teachers themselves,” said Goodboy.

Antagonistic Teachers: Unaware of Their Own Behavior

Asked how an antagonistic teacher could be unaware of his own unpleasant behavior, Goodboy said, “We know that many instructors are unaware when they are misbehaving by antagonizing their students. We know this because they self-report at very low levels of misbehavior (or they don’t want to admit that they do it).”

Goodboy admits there is another kind of teacher who is very much aware of his or her own ill behavior in the classroom. For them it’s a choice. “There are plenty of instructors who are quite aware of their misbehavior and choose to belittle and put down their students in class. These instructors make the volitional decision to antagonize their students,” says Goodboy.

The results of this study, however, are without regard to the teacher’s intention. It’s all about the students’ perspective in relation to nasty teacher behavior, whether purposeful or otherwise. In general, explains Goodboy, the antagonism occurs at “very low levels, but when it does occur, it negatively impacts a learning environment as students do not enjoy learning the content and subsequently score worse on a quiz of that material.”

Dr. Goodboy believes that most teachers don’t engage in this sort of behavior, don’t antagonize their students. But where they do, learning is compromised. The researcher offers a suggestion that teachers be trained in self-awareness: to know when they are beginning to act in an antagonistic manner in the classroom. It’s critical for teachers to recognize and put a stop to this negative behavior that we now know can both damage a student’s grades and his or her attitude to learning in future.

Staying Positive No Matter What

Goodboy also suggests that teachers work at developing positive methods of interacting with students, maintaining an even behavioral keel, even when disagreements arise between student and teacher.

Will the researchers continue to pursue this topic further? Absolutely. The subject is too important to stop here. “These studies focus on instructor misbehaviors in a college context. We do not know that teacher misbehaviors in middle school or high school are similar to those with college aged adults. We believe that college instructors engage in hostility more than K-12 teachers, but without the data this is just speculation,” says Goodboy.

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Taylor & Francis Group. “Hostile teachers can lose students 5 percent on test scores.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 May 2018. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180510203744.htm

Underage Drinking: Having the Talk About Alcohol and Brain Health

Underage drinking can get in the way of the developing brain. And anything that gets in the way of the developing brain, for instance underage drinking, can interfere with academic performance. That means that kids who drink may grow up to be unemployed adults. If they don’t, for instance, get killed while driving under the influence of alcohol.

If you managed to follow that train of thought to its logical conclusion, your child can, too. It’s just that most parents haven’t thought to explain it to them, lay it all out on the table. Which is a shame, because doing so may just stop children from taking that first sip of alcohol.

That’s the conclusion of a new survey conducted by market research firm GfK on behalf of Ask, Listen, Learn, a program of Responsibility.org. More than 1,000 parents of children ages 10-17 took part in the November, 2017 survey, the results of which are in a report entitled, A Lifetime of Conversations: Kids, Alcohol, and the Developing Brain, issued just ahead of Alcohol Responsibility Month. The report also includes data culled from other research on the topic of underage drinking, along with important advice and perspectives from experts in the field.

Stunning details in the new report illustrate both how and when parents are having conversations with their children about underage drinking. This information helps us understand how we have managed to achieve a significant reduction in children’s alcohol consumption in the United States since 1991, when experts first began to track the point at which underage drinking begins.

Some conclusions from the report:

More Parents Are Talking the Talk.

The good news is that more parents are talking to their children about drinking alcohol. A majority (76 percent) of parents of children aged 10-17, have in fact, spoken to their children at least once during the past year about underage drinking. That represents an increase of 7 percent since 2003.[1]

Parents Wait Too Long to Have the Talk.

The report suggests that parents may be choosing to be reactive, rather than proactive in their conversations with their children about underage drinking and alcohol. Half of the parents surveyed wait until their children see something about drinking on television or social media, or until asked about underage drinking, before they begin the conversation about alcohol. They may be waiting too long at that: only 2 in 5 parents spoke to kids aged 10-14, though 23 percent of 8th graders (age 13 or so) have already tasted alcohol.

Too Many Parents Think: “My Kid Wouldn’t Drink.”

More than half the parents surveyed, 58 percent, or nearly 6 in 10 parents of children age 10-17, say their children won’t be needing to make any sort of decision about alcohol over the next three months. They think their children are too young to discuss drinking. This flies in the face of underage drinking statistics: 23 percent of 8th graders have drunk alcohol and 53 percent think it would be easy to get alcohol. These particular statistics only increase as children get to high school.

Parents Think Kids Are Too Young for the Talk.

Of parent participants of children aged 10-17 who have not yet spoken to their children about underage drinking, 46 percent say their children are too young to have a talk about drinking alcohol. This figure includes 60 percent of parents with children aged 10-14.

Parents Don’t Think About the Impact of Underage Drinking on Living a Healthy Lifestyle.

Only 15 percent of the parents surveyed listed avoiding underage drinking as a factor in children living a healthy lifestyle. Parents instead prioritized eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, and staying away from smoking and drug use, as elements critical to living a healthy lifestyle.

Parents Don’t Talk About Underage Drinking and Brain Health.

Parents tend to speak to their children only about the immediate consequences of underage drinking, for instance alcohol poisoning or car crashes. Experts believe that parents should instead be discussing the impact of alcohol on brain development and the long-term effects of underage drinking, for example, memory issues and alcohol dependence. When asked to list reasons children shouldn’t drink, 4 out of 10 parents did not list brain health.

“Parents are the most powerful influence in kids’ decisions not to drink alcohol underage,” says Ralph Blackman, president and CEO of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, the survey sponsor. “Past research demonstrates that when conversations between parents and kids about alcohol go up, underage drinking rates go down, but there is more that can be done to improve the effectiveness of these conversations.”

Experts like Blackman would like to see parents starting the conversation about underage drinking earlier, and they’d like them to continue the conversation as the child matures. Parents should begin the conversation before children are afforded an opportunity to drink alcohol, which means having that first conversation when a child is around 10 years old. By age 14, many children have already been offered a drink.

Does this mean that most children have been offered a drink by age 15? “No, not necessarily,” says Deborah Gilboa, MD, family physician and youth development expert, who serves on the Ask, Listen, Learn education advisory board. “In fact, the overwhelming majority of kids this age have not tried alcohol. but as kids transition from middle school to high school, their chances of participating in underage drinking increase. According to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2017 Monitoring the Future survey, 23 percent of 8th graders have reported drinking alcohol in their lifetime, which increases to 42 percent in 10th grade and 62 percent in 12th grade.

“While there is still work to be done, these numbers have significantly decreased since 1991, partly due to an increase in parent/child conversations around underage drinking. Ideally, parents should discuss the dangers of alcohol, including the impact of alcohol on the developing brain, early and often with their kids, so they truly understand the risks and can feel confident in saying no if approached with an opportunity to drink,” says Gilboa.

But some parents aren’t speaking to their children about alcohol at all. One in four parents surveyed said they either didn’t speak to their children about underage drinking, or can’t recall whether or not they had that talk. That’s a shame: children need to know about these things, about alcohol and its effects. Children are open, moreover, to hearing about what underage drinking can do to them, not just in the short-term, but over time. Learning the facts of what alcohol can do to their developing brains, appears to deter them from ever wanting to try alcohol in the first place, according to the experts.

The upshot: It’s great that more parents are having conversations about underage drinking with their kids, but experts wish they’d put a different spin on these talks, and speak about brain health as being the most important reason to avoid alcohol. “Create a foundation for these conversations with kids by answering their questions simply and clearly at any age, and actively discuss this topic by age nine or ten. At this time, kids are becoming very curious about their growing bodies and brains and are open to learning about how alcohol can impact both.

“Adolescence includes critical phases in brain development. The area of the brain that controls reasoning—helps us think before we act—matures later in the third decade of life. The sooner that parents speak with their children about the dangers of drinking alcohol underage, the better,” says Dr. Gilboa.

Survey Methodology

The Lifetime of Conversations study was conducted online with GfK’s Omnibus, using the web-enabled “KnowledgePanel,” a probability-based tool designed to represent the U.S. general population, not just the online population. The study consisted of 1,000 nationally representative interviews conducted between November 10 and 12, 2017 among adults aged 18+ with at least one child between ages 10 and 17. The margin of error is +/-3 percentage points for the full sample.

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[1] Responsibility.org, Wirthlin Worldwide National Quorum, May, 2003

How Should Kids Brush Their Teeth?

How should kids brush their teeth and when should they begin? The simple answer is that the minute that first pearly white tooth pops out of your baby’s gums, it’s time to begin brushing. At first, use a very soft brush and some water. Later on, at around 18 months, use a pea-sized glob of fluoride toothpaste. After the age of seven, children can be trusted to brush their own teeth, with a bit of supervision from parents.

No parent can doubt the importance of a child’s teeth. Teeth help children eat and speak and support the bones in their faces so they look nice. But teeth don’t take care of themselves. If children don’t brush their teeth, plaque can form in a thin coating on the teeth. Plaque (PLACK), is a sticky, thin film of bacteria that attaches itself to the teeth.

The preferred food of the bacteria in plaque is sugar. That may be the sugar in a piece of candy or a glass of soda pop, or it may be the sugars that develop from the carbohydrates we eat, for instance noodles, grains, and potatoes. Any time children eat starchy or sweet carbohydrates, they feed the bacteria on their teeth. As bacteria interact with starches and sugars, they turn into acids. These acids burn their way through children’s tooth enamel, making the holes in their teeth that we call cavities.

Mother brushes little girl's teeth

Brush Their Teeth: Gums, Too!

The bacteria in children’s mouths don’t just cause cavities. They also attack children’s gums. If kids don’t brush to remove the bacteria-filled plaque in their mouths, they may end up with gingivitis (jin-ja-VIE-tis), or gum disease. Gum disease not only looks and feels bad, giving children sore, swollen, red gums, but can also cause tooth loss. Gums, after all, are the tissues that hold and support the teeth inside the mouth.

Children should brush their teeth twice a day, after eating breakfast and again before bed. It doesn’t hurt to brush after lunch and after having a snack, too. It is brushing the teeth that removes plaque from children’s teeth, keeping them and their gums, healthy.

Cute little boy brushes his teeth

All of the teeth should be brushed, and not just those in the front. If children can think of their mouths as having four parts or quadrants, it makes it easier to cover all of them. Spend 30 seconds brushing each section of the mouth, beginning at the back and working toward the front, front and back of each section, gums and teeth, for a total of two minutes of brushing altogether.

Angle the brush 45 degree toward the gums from the upper and lower teeth. Move the brush back and forth using short strokes along teeth and gums, making sure to cover all the teeth and gums, front and back. Make sure the tip of the brush is upright when brushing behind the front teeth, both top and bottom.

Don’t forget to brush the tongue, too! Plaque sticks to tongues as well as teeth.

Brush Their Teeth: Two Minutes

It can help to play a 2-minute song as children brush, or to have them sing one in their heads. When the song is over, they’re done brushing! Alternatively, parents can use a two-minute hourglass to help children keep track of how long they should brush their teeth. Some battery-operated or electric toothbrushes have a built-in timer, and will vibrate when it’s time for the child to move along to the next quadrant.

Make sure to use a toothbrush with soft bristles. Get a new one every three months. Some toothbrushes have bristles that turn pale when it’s time to change to a new brush.

If children become sick with a cold or the flu, buy a new toothbrush once the child is recovered. It’s a good idea to have several spare soft-bristled toothbrushes on hand in the home for this purpose. Buy a bunch when they go on sale.

Brush Their Teeth: Floss ‘Em, Too!

Floss your child’s teeth as soon as there are two teeth that touch. Do this once a day. Slip the floss between the teeth to remove food that gets trapped between the teeth, where a toothbrush cannot reach.

To floss, take a strand of floss between thumb and index finger, wrapping the floss around a finger at each end of the strand for good control. Insert the floss gently and curve it around each tooth, sliding it up and down along the insides of the teeth and just below the gum line. Use a new section of the floss for each two teeth, so as not to transfer plaque from one tooth to the next.

Even when children do a great job brushing and flossing, it’s important to have their teeth cleaned by a dental hygienist (hi-JEN- 7i ist) or dentist twice a year. A professional cleaning gets the plaque we might miss, even with the best of efforts. The dentist or hygienist can also give children tips on better techniques to use when they brush their teeth.

Red-headed brothers get a lesson in tooth brushing from bearded dentist

Limit sweets and starches to starve plaque of its favorite source of nourishment!

Brush Their Teeth: Water or Toothpaste?

You can begin using fluoride toothpaste for a child of 18 months, using a pea-sized dab on a water-dampened soft-bristled toothbrush. Children should be cautioned not to swallow toothpaste when brushing. Make sure that children spit the foamy mess of toothpaste and loosened plaque out into the sink.

Children can rinse their mouths out with water, after they brush0 their teeth. This gives them more practice at spitting!

Brush Their Teeth: Infants

An infant’s teeth should be brushed with a soft-bristled toothbrush moistened with water.

For an infant or very young child, hold the child in your lap, facing away from you, or stand behind a young child. The head should be tilted back so you can see the teeth. Brush their teeth gently with a circular motion, angling the bristles toward the gums.

Infant has his teeth brushed

It’s important to make tooth-brushing a fun time for parent and child, in order to avoid a situation where the child fusses and fights when it comes time to brush their teeth. You want the child to develop good dental hygiene habits right from the beginning. That’s the best way to prevent painful cavities and expensive dental work.

Let your child see you brushing your own teeth, night and day. Doing so sends a message to your child that this is something that everyone does and that it’s important.

Brush Their Teeth: Make it Fun!

Make tooth-brushing a fun time by gargling noisily or trying to sing songs as children brush their teeth. Roll your eyes and make faces at your child as the two of you brush your teeth together! Tell jokes. Do whatever you can to reinforce the idea that brushing teeth is fun and represents quality parent-child time.

Think of keeping your child’s teeth clean as having the same importance as wearing a seat belt in a car, or putting on sunscreen. If you feel this way, your child will come to feel this way, too.

If you can’t find a toothpaste your child likes, have children brush their teeth with plain water. Your child will still get the benefits of brushing.

How do you make brushing fun?

How do you keep kids from fussing at tooth-brushing time?

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Roots of Empathy: Can Babies Heal Bullies?

Can spending time with a baby prevent bullying? One school program, Roots of Empathy, brings babies and their moms into classrooms. And research suggests that participating classrooms show a reduction in bullying and aggressive behavior.

Is it really just that simple? What is the exact nature of the Roots of Empathy program, and how can we reproduce these results in our own children’s classrooms? Because even one child bullied, is one child too many.

Roots of Empathy has developed a research-based school program for primary school children in which the teaching tools consist, in the main, of a local baby and parent. The program has spread across Canada and to 10 other countries, as well. More than 800,000 children have experienced the program since the nonprofit’s founding, in 1996. Roots of Empathy Founder Mary Gordon, says the long-term goal of the program is to build a “more caring, peaceful, and civil society, where everybody feels a sense of belonging.”

The Roots of Empathy program has local parents volunteering themselves and their babies, coming every few weeks to classrooms, so that children can witness a baby’s vulnerability and development over time. Gordon says she started the program because she wanted to find a way to help children talk about their feelings. “Roots of empathy is a bit of a trick. We use a baby to help children find the vulnerability and humanity in this little baby so that then you can flip it back to their own experiences.

“They realize this sudden universe of ‘everybody in the world feels the same as me. We’re not so disconnected.’

“It’s very hard to hate someone if you realize they feel like you. It’s very hard to be bullying someone if you realize that.”

Lisa Bahar, a licensed psychotherapist in Newport Beach, California, explains that the goal of the Roots of Empathy program goal is to realize that “we” are all the same, “in the sense of wanting to belong, to be loved and cared about. This kind of unique vehicle of bringing a baby into the classroom is what I consider a wonderful way to allow children to relate to someone who is nonthreatening, and who can give a young person the awareness of true connection to other human beings. This creates empathy, sympathy and compassion,” says Bahar.

But is this really something we need to have in our classrooms? Shouldn’t parents be teaching empathy at home? “If we are educating children who can read well and compute well but can’t relate well, we will have a failed society. Learning how to relate to one another requires empathy. You have to understand how the other fella feels,” says Mary Gordon.

Can It Heal A Bully?

Can the Roots of Empathy program help turn around a child who is already a bully? Bahar says yes. “Spending time with a baby activates the senses as we observe the eyes, the responses, the touch, and the expressions of the baby. These sensory impressions can be internalized and experienced through the baby. The pathology that exists within the bully will fight to resist the impact of these sensory lessons, the insight will nonetheless be gained, as the child experiences a sense of connection to another living being,” says Bahar.

Studies from 2000 onward, confirm that the Roots of Empathy program is effective, reducing bullying and aggression over the course of the school year and over time, in general. Children who take part in the program have an increased sense of positivity about the classroom environment. They feel more of a sense of belonging and acceptance. Students are also more likely to engage in “pro-social” behavior, for instance sharing with and helping their peers, and including them in their activities. Perhaps most important of all, the program appears to reduce fighting among classmates by 50 percent, on average. This is notable, since in general, classroom squabbles tend to increase over the course of the school year.

Roots of Empathy and the Root Cause of Bullying

But Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors and CBS TV, says that as a method of targeting bullies, Roots of Empathy misses the mark. “Roots of Empathy is a truly wonderful and beautiful program that by bringing a baby into the classroom teaches school age children about human relatedness, reading/understanding emotions, and human-to-human engagement. However, they missed the mark for targeting prevention of bullying. Clearly, the creators do not fully understand the root cause of all bullies,” says Walfish, who explains, “All bullies carry a secret that they, personally, have been the target of bullying, mistreatment, and mishandling by someone important within their family. That important someone is usually their father or mother, and in less frequent instances, an older sibling. Often, the mistreatment is abusive—emotionally or physically.

“The child who is the victim in his own family cannot ‘hold’ or contain the hostility and rage, and thus becomes the bully. He goes to school or out into the world and looks for an easy target. Then, he expels his hostilities onto another innocent victim.  It is a vicious cycle,” says Walfish, suggesting that playing with a baby is just not going to cut it, not going to stop that cycle, and is certainly not going to prevent that cycle from occurring in the first place.

Erin Clabough, PhD, a neurobiologist and author of Second Nature: How Parents Can Use Neuroscience to Help Kids Develop Empathy, Creativity, and Self-Control  (December 2018, Sounds True Publishing) sees Roots of Empathy program as, at the very least, a valuable tool in developing empathy, even among bullies. “Being a bully doesn’t mean you are pathological. Everyone can be a bully if they are placed in the wrong kind of situation. Part of our role as parents is to put our kids in roles where they can experience healthy things and feel how rewarding they are. Roots of Empathy is an incredible program that works to increase social awareness in kids and its effectiveness is supported by lots of peer-reviewed studies.”

But according to Clabough, the Roots of Empathy program isn’t enough. “Bringing a baby into the classroom to decrease the incidence of bullying in a school is a great start. But if that’s all we do, it will make as much meaningful change in a person as playing with a puppy for the afternoon. It’s a cute stress-reliever, a great wake-up call, and you can certainly learn a lot about nonverbal emotional communication from a baby, but these kids also need to practice cross-age relationships in an ongoing way.”

Buddy System

Clabough suggests that the buddy system is a great way to provide this sort of relationship practice and provides a means to build on the Roots of Empathy program. “Having a buddy in lower grades that kids see once a week is a great way to do this through the school setting, as is providing older mentors (for example, an 8th grader mentoring a 6th grader new to middle school). Our elementary school (Free Union Country School, in the Charlottesville, Virginia area) does a great job with this—every child in grades 2-5 has a smaller buddy in grades PreK-1. The buddy partnerships change each year, and as the children advance through school, they look forward to the time when they can finally be the big buddy,” says Clabough.

The practical benefits of the buddy system, suggests Clabough, are broad. “This buddy system normalizes having friends of different ages, it allows kids to grow meaningful connections to individuals outside their normal social groups, it creates a broader sense of belonging, and it strengthens every kid’s support network. Perhaps most importantly, it gives kids a chance to practice empathy through both teaching and looking at things from a different person’s perspective,” says Clabough, a mother of four, who concedes that, “The Roots of Empathy program has other components that are worth exploring.”

Is Dyslexia a Gift?

Is Dyslexia a gift? Or is it a curse? Is it a learning disability or a learning difference? It all depends on whom you ask. But dyslexia sure does make it difficult to read. Dyslexia, in fact, is defined as an unexpected reading difficulty that occurs without relation to intelligence, age, motivation, or education.

How could that be a good thing? It makes it hard to read. It comes out of the blue. How can one learn anything without having the knack of fluent reading, let alone attain a high school diploma? How is someone who find it difficult to read going to get through school and get a job?

It is often said that the first three years of school are spent learning to read. After that, students read to learn. Students with dyslexia find it difficult to read, so of course they’re going to find it difficult to learn, right? On the face of it, it sure looks as though dyslexia is a curse, rather than a gift.

Gift of Dyslexia: Superior Understanding

So far, we’re talking facts. Except that there’s another set of talking points on dyslexia that appears to contradict these facts. These alternative arguments say that people with dyslexia just have a different way of learning, that of course people with dyslexia are going to fail if you teach them the way you teach more typical students. This line of thinking holds that people with dyslexia have a superior way of learning and understanding, if only you teach according to their abilities and gifts.

Judy Packhem, a reading specialist, owner and consultant at Shaping Readers explains, “Dyslexia is a neurological disorder that is characterized by problems with phonological processing skills. In layman’s terms, dyslexics have trouble with accurate and fluent word reading, spelling and decoding (sounding out words). Functional MRIs show a difference between the brains of dyslexics and non-dyslexics. Simply put, the wiring in the brain for reading processes is different. But while their reading skills are lacking, dyslexics excel in other areas.”

If you’re a parent of a child with dyslexia, by now, you’re wondering: what are these “other areas” at which people with dyslexia “excel?” According to Packhem, people with dyslexia are creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, which is why some 35% of all entrepreneurs have dyslexia. Packhem recites the usual list of geniuses said to have dyslexia, including Albert Einstein, Steven Spielber, and Bill Gates on her list.

Can Kids With Dyslexia See It As A Gift?

All fine and good. But how do you help children with dyslexia to see their difficulty as a gift? Because if you fail at making them see this, they’re going to feel inferior to their peers who have no trouble whatsoever when it comes to making sense of text. From Packhem’s point of view, the relief that comes with diagnosis solves that problem. “Once diagnosed, dyslexics are often relieved to learn that there is an explanation for their reading difficulty and that they aren’t ‘dumb,’” says Packhem. “They know that having dyslexia means they need to learn in a different way. With the right treatment, dyslexics are able to learn to read. It requires intervention that is multisensory, explicit, language-based, and emotionally sound.”

As far as Packhem is concerned, the gold standard for the effective treatment of dyslexia is the Orton-Gillingham (O-G) approach. “O-G succeeds where traditional teaching does not in that it is able to create new neural pathways in the brain for reading,” says Packhem, who has a master’s degree in reading and literacy and is a certified dyslexia therapist.

But what, exactly, does it mean to “think out of the box?” What does it mean, in practical terms, to learn in a “different” way? For Arvin Vohra, founder of the Vohra Method of study, and author of Lies, Damned Lies, and College Admissions, and The Equation for Excellence: How to Make Your Child Excel at Math, it’s about a difference in vision, in how people with dyslexia see things. “Students with dyslexia often treat letters as three dimensional objects. Just as we consider a pen rotated to still be a pen, they often see a b and a d to be the same thing. This poses a challenge in initial stages of reading, but thanks to the work of many educational innovators, a challenge most students can overcome. But the positive benefits of dyslexia are huge! Students who have that 3 dimensional reading facility have a huge advantage in advanced math, as well as in non-academic areas like sculpture and sport,” says Vohra.

Dyslexia: Gift and Curse

Phil Weaver, of the Learning Success System, doesn’t necessarily agree. “Dyslexia is a gift and a curse. You have chosen a very controversial subject. We deal with that statement every day and know well how emotional people can get around that simple phrase.”

Weaver suggests that you can’t define dyslexia according to a single standard. “The exact definition of dyslexia is wildly disputed. So before saying dyslexia is a gift it would be good to know how the term is being used.

“Many schools and professionals will use the term ‘specific learning disability,’ instead. Sometimes this term is used to circumvent providing necessary programs and other times simply to be more descriptive. In fact, all this vagary of speech is one of the main problems in the space.

“Dyslexia can refer to phonological dyslexia, visual dyslexia, or kinesthetic dyslexia. Phonological dyslexia is a problem with language, which could be either a problem deciphering sounds or a problem with abstractions. Visual dyslexia could be a problem with the eyes which could be treated with visual therapy, or it might be Irlen syndrome*, or a difficulty with visual mental skills such as visual memory, visual discrimination, or visual closure. Kinesthetic dyslexia describes problems with directionality and proprioception. Or, to confuse things even more, any possible combination of any of those, which is actually more likely,” says Weaver.

Children With Dyslexia Need Help Not Battles

“There is a large faction that will claim that only phonological dyslexia is true dyslexia. And they get quite defensive if anyone says otherwise. All of this is ridiculous. These children need help and endless battles are fought over definitions.

“With all of that in mind,” says Weaver, “if we can just go with a basic assumption of some specific learning disability. This means that a child (or adult) has a problem with a specific learning skill, in this case reading, but is otherwise intelligent.”

Building on this idea, Weaver suggests that once we stipulate dyslexia as a difficulty with perception or mental function, we can speak about compensation, which is what people do when they have any sort of deficit. For students with dyslexia, says Weaver, compensation is often seen in the area of social skills. “Students with dyslexia may develop some amazing social skills in the interest of hiding their problem,” says Weaver, who suggests that compensation occurs with a student’s thinking skills (cognition), as well. “When we think we use our internal visual, auditory, and spatial skills. These all work together in such a way that we really don’t notice them. And we all use these skills a bit differently. When one skill is weak, the others will become stronger to compensate.”

In summary, says Weaver, there are an infinite number of ways in which the “gifts” of dyslexia display themselves. “You will hear a lot of generalizations such as ‘dyslexics are visual thinkers.’ The truth is that some dyslexics are amazing visual thinkers. Others may actually have a weakness in that area and that is the cause of their dyslexia. These generalizations all sprout from specific subjective experiences.

All Kinds of Dyslexics

“You’ll also hear many claims of dyslexics being highly intelligent. The reality is that dyslexics span the full range of intelligence. No specific gift of intelligence comes with dyslexia. There are highly intelligent dyslexics. Dyslexics of average intelligence. And there are dyslexics of low intelligence,” says Weaver.

Weaver cautions that while some students with dyslexia do develop their gifts, others never get past the issue of low self-esteem. The low self-esteem comes from feeling inferior to their neurotypical classmates, who have no trouble reading. “If they don’t get past the typical self-esteem issues caused by the disability then it is unlikely those gifts will help much. Some get past it by intentionally developing self-esteem. Others do well by constantly proving themselves.

“For dyslexics to not feel “less than” the neurotypical I think it is important for them to realize that there truly is no “neurotypical.” We all think differently. Some are easier to fit into a box and learn in the standard ways. This just means that their neurological differences are not so obvious,” says Weaver.

Concrete Example Of Dyslexia As Gift: John Crossman, CEO

For John Crossman, however, a 46-year-old man with dyslexia who is CEO of Crossman & Company, the difference is indeed obvious. “I consider dyslexia a gift in that it pushed me (without knowing it) to sharpen my skills as a public speaker. I can now write a speech in my head and deliver it without every writing down a note. I give a speech about once a month and almost never use notes.”

Weaver suggests that what Crossman sees as a gift is part and parcel of learning to cope with dyslexia. “In the context of dyslexics realizing that they have a fantastic opportunity for having very pronounced skills that they can maximize and profit from, talking about dyslexia as a gift is quite healthy. With that realization must come the acceptance that those gifts emerged from a difficulty. With that healthy acceptance, a dyslexic can strive to both maximize the gift, and work to overcome the difficulty,” says Weaver.

Referring to the plasticity of the brain, that the brain can grow connections, improve, and change, Weaver comments, “We are not forced to live with the same brain we were born with. We can change it if we want to. To what extent no one knows. But we can only start with a healthy look at where we are at any given moment.”

*Irlen syndrome is a controversial topic. Some of the studies conducted on Irlen syndrome were in some ways faulty, and it is disputed whether or not the syndrome actually exists.  For more information, see:

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/002221949002301010

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-colored-overlays/study-doubts-colored-overlays-for-reading-problems-idUSTRE78K4J420110921

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/09/15/peds.2011-0314

http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g4872/rr/761729

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/irlen-syndrome/

5 Tips for Managing Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrums are dreaded events most parents associate with the “terrible twos.” Many, if not most tantrums can be avoided (see: How to End Power Struggles with Toddlers). But when tantrums do occur, they are exhausting and upsetting for both parent and child. Five simple techniques can ease the experience for everyone: be empathetic; narrate your child’s experience; walk him to the goal (then walk away); hold your child facing away from you; and resist lecturing your child (more on these techniques later).

In toddlerhood, children become aware that they are beings separate from their parents. This is the time children begin to explore the limits of their independence and capabilities. It is typical of children this age to demand the right to behave according to their own wills. A power struggle results when the parent tells the child what to do. The child’s subsequent meltdown expresses this idea: “I am me. You are you. You don’t tell me what to do. I tell me what to do.”

Toddlers can only learn to fend for themselves as individuals by asserting their independence, and by exercising control over their own behavior. They do this as they learn how to stay dry and feed themselves. They learn that it’s possible to delay gratification: that dessert, for instance, comes after dinner. Their language skills grow in leaps and bounds and they become social beings, capable of making friends. These are the skills of independence: things that others cannot do for them. Toddlers learn these skills by performing them.

Toddlerhood is a critical period in a child’s development: the time when the child realizes he is an independent being, separate from his parents. This phase of development is mirrored by adolescence, in which teens shrug off their parents’ authority in favor of the independence of adulthood. When toddlerhood is positive and successful, the toddler feels empowered, rather than overpowered by his parents. This is a good foundation for the child’s upcoming adolescence, way off in the distant future, when the child must again assert his separateness and independence from his parents.

Tantrums Express the Desire for Independence

If the child was forced to behave according to a parent’s dictates in toddlerhood, the child will rebel and meltdowns ensue. The same is true of teens. The trick is to guide, rather than demand. If the child was guided to make safe, positive choices as a toddler, he will likely continue to make safe, positive choices as a teenager. Supportive parenting is the key to success in both toddlerhood and adolescence. One lays the ground for the other.

How then, can parents ensure a successful and positive toddlerhood for their children? How can we, as parents, avoid meltdowns and power struggles? And considering that none of us are perfect parents, and may not always handle things as we should, how bad is it if we screw things up, at least now and then? “Toddlerhood is the most challenging phase of human development for parents and the most critical one for children in the lifespan. Any adult that I have treated in psychotherapy in my private practice was found to be stuck somewhere in a toddler milestone,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author, The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors and CBS TV.

5 Tips for Managing Temper Tantrums

If you’re scared witless at this point, chillax. Making an occasional mess of things won’t scar you or your child for life. Besides, Dr. Walfish has you covered with these 5 tips for managing temper tantrums. Read these tips, follow them to the letter, then lather, rinse, repeat until your child turns 3 or so. (It’ll be fine. We promise.)

  1. Be genuinely empathetic to your toddler’s struggle.
  2. Narrate the struggle. Learn to speak reflectively with empathy in the moment of a conflict. You might say, “Johnny (use his first name since pronouns are not mastered by children until the age of 4 years) wanted more video and Mommy said it’s bath time. Johnny got mad. It’s hard to stop when you want more.”
  3. Physically walk your screaming child to his next destination. If your child resists the idea that it’s time to take a bath, for instance, walk him to the bath. This will help settle and calm him down in the space where he needs to be. Children will escalate their yelling, and protest, thinking you might change your no to a yes. If, after getting your child where he needs to be, you then walk away, your child will calm down faster.
  4. If your child is out of control or has been aggressive (for instance hitting, biting, scratching, or pinching), calmly hold your child on your lap facing away from you. By holding the child, you provide a safe container whereby you can act as a receptacle for your child’s rage. By remaining calm in the face of your child’s rage, the child learns that she can be super-angry and still, you do not attack, criticize, blame, or collapse as the target for his/her rage. Tell your child when she stops pulling on you, you will let go. The moment her muscles relax release her and praise her for learning to settle herself. You will not have to hold her too many times before you see a decrease in the frequency and intensity of her oppositional tantrums.
  5. Do not lecture your child. Kids hate to be told what to do. Rather, after a tantrum, talk gently with your child about what he wanted and was feeling when he was so upset. Together, the two of you can come up with alternative ways he can get what he wants without a meltdown.

Still worried? Dr. Walfish stress that the main thing is to “Always accept your child where he is.”

“We are all on a learning curve,” says Dr. Walfish. “No one is perfect. We all want the same thing: to be acknowledged, validated, and accepted—flaws and all!”

In other words, don’t be angry at yourself or your child, even when you forget to do the right thing, even as he falls apart in total meltdown. Realize that there are both good and bad days ahead. And love him no matter what.

How to End Power Struggles with Toddlers

Is there a way for parents to end power struggles with two-year-olds for good? Probably not. But parents can certainly aim for fewer power struggles. You may even turn most of the struggles into learning experiences, if you keep the goal in mind and work it with all you’ve got.

What causes power struggles with two-year-olds? It’s about a milestone in the child’s development. The child at two, now understands that she is an individual, and that her behavior is a choice, under her control. Exercising that choice reinforces the idea for the child that she is an independent being: no one can force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do.

“Toddlers must claim their separateness from their parents. The adolescent phase mirrors toddlerhood in that teens must resolve the separation they first declared during toddlerhood. This means, “I am me – you are not me! Don’t tell me what to do!” That is their way of asserting and declaring control and independence.  During this phase they must also learn control over their body functions including toilet-training, self-feeding, delayed gratification, language development, coping with disappointment, and social skills,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author, The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors and CBS TV.

Power Struggles: Testing the Limits of Power

This need of a toddler to be a distinct individual means that when the parent tells the child to do something, the child will do the opposite action, because that’s part of the process of individuation; or becoming a separate person, distinct from others. Going against a parent’s wishes, at this stage of development, is about children making decisions for themselves, and about testing the limits of their power as human beings. It’s about learning the boundaries of their own abilities, their choices, and their behavior.

The trick for us as parents is to guide children to make positive decisions, whenever possible. This allows the child to be independent in a productive and meaningful way. It’s the difference between demanding something, and helping the child see the smart thing to do. It’s about empowering children, as opposed to overpowering them.

Toddler playing with toy mobile phone
No power struggles here. This boy is comfortable exploring what it is like to be an adult with a mobile phone.

Let’s take a look:

Tracy wiggles her finger into a small hole in the fabric of the living room sofa. “Stop that,” says her mom. “You’re going to make the hole bigger. Leave it alone.”

Tracy, however, is two years old. Telling her not to do something is like egging her on to do exactly that. Which is why the little girl now pokes her finger into the hole of the fabric some more, casting a mischievous smile at her mother as if to say, “Ha ha. Who’s going to stop me?”

Now, we all have good and bad parenting days. If Tracy’s mom had been having a good day, she never would have demanded the girl stop what she was doing. Instead, she would have distracted her. “Oh look! The begonia has a new flower bud!” she might have said, pointing to a potted plant on the other side of the room.

Tracy would have forgotten all about the hole in the sofa. And the potential for a power struggle would have been nipped in the bud, right there and then. No raised voices, tears, or tantrums.

Tired and Cranky=Power Struggles

But because Tracy’s mom had been up half the night with Tracy’s new baby brother, she was tired and cranky. She was not in the mood to do the kind of creative thinking necessary to engage in positive parenting. And so, Tracy’s mom, without meaning to do so, set off a power struggle with her two-year-old daughter.

We’ve all been there: arguing with a two-year-old and feeling stupid when the child gets the best of us. Sometimes it is the child who sets the scene for a power struggle, doing something she knows she’s not allowed to do. At other times, the parent sets the power struggle in motion, by making a demand of the child that feels like a challenge. No matter how it begins, however, the power struggle leaves everyone feeling bad: parent and child (and anyone within hearing distance).

We’ve established that Tracy’s mom could have distracted her daughter to prevent a power struggle. But that isn’t the only tool available to end a power struggle before it begins. Tracy’s mom might have asked for the little girl’s help with the sofa, which would have made Tracy feel in control of the situation (not to mention powerful and cooperative). Tracy’s mom might have asked the two-year-old to help her turn the sofa cushion so the hole doesn’t show. She might have explained that a small child could get a finger caught in the hole and get hurt, and that the couch looks so much nicer this way. Using this tack, this mom can make Tracy feel really big about keeping other children safe and helpful in terms of making the family living room look nicer.

Requesting Tracy’s help prevents a power struggle in which Tracy would be made to feel powerless, overpowered by her mother’s demands. Instead, Tracy feels empowered, since her help is needed, even requested, to improve the situation. Compare this outcome to a power struggle, in which the child is made to feel as though she must obey: that there are no choices. By requesting a child’s help, a parent can put the power back into the child’s hands by making her feel part of the solution.

Toddler plotting mischief
This boy is plotting some kind of mischief–the kind that tends to end with power struggles. It would be good to give him something positive to do that will make him feel big.

That doesn’t mean we can or should let children do things that endanger them. Sometimes, we really do have to forbid behavior. Often, however, there’s a way to help children work through the logic demanded of the situation. Failing that, we can offer children a choice of behaviors to choose from, or distract them with something interesting.

Take the two year old child who is exhausted and needs to nap. Told that it’s time to take a nap, the child will scream, “No!”

That’s because you’ve taken away the child’s power by giving the child a command: take a nap. It’s a recipe for a power struggle. The child must protest. But once you’ve “blundered” by commanding your child to do something, you still have a way out of the power struggle. You escape the tantrum by offering your child a choice: “Which stuffed animal would you like to have with you for your nap? The brown teddy bear or your Snoopy dog?”

In offering a choice, you’ve found the way to restore your child’s power over the situation. Having a choice and the power to make a decision restores justice to your two-year-old’s world. He just wants to exert his human right as an independent human being. For this purpose, choosing between a teddy or a stuffed dog is all it takes.

Toddler girl paints the wall of her bedroom
This little girl thought she’d be like her mom and do some creative “decorating.” What would you do to prevent power struggles in a case like this?

Here, it should be noted that power struggles are more than just tantrums, or finding creative ways to prevent them. A power struggle is a negative experience with an unhappy ending. A command to take a nap sets up a negative experience that will always be associated with naptime. The mom who offers a choice between stuffed animals at naptime, on the other hand, gives her child a chance to feel happy and powerful. Nap, in this case, becomes an opportunity for a child to exercise his own free will, rather than a nasty, tear-filled struggle between parent and child. This mother sends a message to her son: “I trust you to make good decisions,” instead of, “You aren’t big enough to make decisions. I will tell you what to do.”

Let’s say you are putting your child’s coat on because it’s cold outside. The child is struggling and screaming, “No, no, no!”

It’s a full-blown power struggle. Can a parent end a power struggle in progress?

Often, the answer is yes. You might, for instance, ask if your child’s small rubber duck should sit in the right front pocket of the coat, or the left? Or you could sing a silly song to distract your child. The trick is not to let the crying and screaming go on without doing something to refocus your child. You want to turn the struggle into something else: a child’s choice instead of a parent’s command; cooperation between wise child and loving parent; or even an opportunity for the child to choose laughter over tears.

End Power Struggles with Humor or Distraction

Ending power struggles is about seeking ways to give your child more power in tricky situations. The child who doesn’t want to go to sleep may be able to choose the best way to sleep: his sleeping circumstances. The child who hates to wear a hat can earn a prize for wearing one, or choose the type of hat he must wear. It’s not always easy to find the way to a happy, independent child. It helps if parents remember that the goal is a raising a child to be a confident, capable adult.

Sometimes, all you need to do to defuse a power struggle is to change the tone. Picture this: you ask your child to pick up his toys and put them away. He says, “No!”

Instead of arguing or repeating your demand, you say the same thing in a funny, sing-song voice while rolling your eyes. He laughs and says, “Again!”

You say, in the same funny, sing-song voice, “Not until you pick up those toys and put them away. Now put away the truck!”

He laughs and puts away the truck.

“Now put away the policeman.”

He laughs and puts away the policeman.

Power Struggles Replaced by Laughter

In this way, the two of you continue until all the toys are put away. The child has learned that his good behavior—putting away a toy—is rewarded (with more funny-sounding, humorous commands). The child chooses to do as requested, instead of engaging in a battle of wills with the parent. He puts his toys away and the struggle is gone, replaced by laughter and a fun time for both parent and child.

In this case, instead of forcing the child to do as you say, you have inspired him to do the right thing of his own free will. This time you used humor. But next time it might be about offering choices, or making the child feel part of the solution, as with Tracy and the hole in the sofa.

High Level Parenting

But how does a parent get to this high level of parenting in which power struggles are a thing of the past? How does a parent get to this place of always finding the right thing to say to the child? In addition to keeping the goal in mind: restoring the child’s power, there are two other things we can do as parents to end power struggles:

Detach: It’s easy to get sucked into the emotion, into the wanting to be right. After all, you’re the parent, and the child is the child. The parent is supposed to rule, to be in charge, to make decisions for children. A parent has to learn that it’s better to be smart, than right. If you feel yourself getting steamed up, it’s sign you’ve already entered a power struggle. Stop what you’re doing and saying and take some deep breaths. Think: cut the emotion, just detach. Think: how can I restore my child’s power?

Self-Care: You know how on airplanes they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask before you help your child with his oxygen mask? That’s because if you become oxygen-deprived you’ll be no good to your child. By taking care of your own needs, you make it possible to care for your child’s needs. So do what you can to take good care of yourself. Get enough sleep, even if it means skipping housework for a nap. Do whatever it is that makes you feel fulfilled, whether it’s working out, or getting your nails done.

If you do feel cranky or sluggish, make a note of it. Make sure you don’t allow your mood to get you and your toddler into power struggle hell. Do something to baby yourself that makes you feel better. Go slow. Think.

And if you slip up and a power struggle occurs, don’t beat yourself up over it. Parenting a two-year-old is challenging. “Toddlerhood is the most challenging phase of human development for parents and the most critical one for children in the lifespan. Any adult that I have treated in psychotherapy in my private practice was found to be stuck somewhere in a toddler milestone,” notes Dr. Walfish.

“Toddlerhood is the time I prescribe parents, especially moms, to be all there with their kids.  If moms work, choose an ever-present warm, nurturing, and firm caregiver.

“Toddlerhood is the foundation (bricks and mortar) laid upon which adolescence must resolve. Parenting is most challenging and rewarding when toddlerhood is done well.”

First Pair of Shoes for Baby

Buying that first pair of shoes for baby is a big deal. But confining those little feet by putting them in shoes is a bad idea until such time as a baby is walking out of doors. That is when shoes become necessary to protect the feet from things like weather, glass, gravel, dirt, worms and other creepy-crawlies. When indoors, it’s far better for baby to be barefoot, or in socks or booties with non-skid bottoms for warmth. This is best for baby’s foot development.

It can be a challenge to resist the impulse to make that trip to the shoe store once the baby is walking. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that shoes make walking difficult for baby. That’s because even the softest, most flexible pair of baby shoes can’t help but get in the way of free movement of the feet.

Once baby is walking, on the other hand, you do need to have some shoes for when you go out of the house. Shoes are then necessary to protect the baby’s feet, keeping them warm, dry, clean, and uninjured. Just keep in mind that it’s best for baby to go barefoot (or in socks or booties) whenever possible, so his or her feet can move unrestricted.

A baby's fat little feet on a wooden floor
Barefoot is best, especially indoors.

Some parents think that buying that first pair of shoes for baby will motivate him to walk sooner or better. This is a myth. Shoes make it more difficult for your baby to learn to walk because they restrict the natural movement of the baby’s feet. Think barefoot, which is what baby should be, most of the time, to get baby walking like an expert.

Of course, it’s fun to buy that first pair of shoes for baby. The shoes themselves are generally adorable, and baby understands that this is a big deal. The baby tends to feel pride in reaching an important milestone. Mommy and daddy are proud, too.

First Pair of Shoes for Baby: What Kind?

What kind of shoes should you buy when purchasing that first pair of shoes for baby? Look for shoes that feel light in your hands. See if the shoe is flexible by bending it at midsole. The shoe should fold almost in half, easily. The soles of the shoe should have ribbed, rubber soles to keep baby from slipping and falling.

The next step is making sure the shoe fits. Here there is often the temptation to get a shoe that is a bit larger to save money and time. But a shoe that is too big is a shoe that makes walking difficult for baby. Resist the urge to buy shoes with “toe-room,” even though it means buying another pair in the not-too-distant future.

Some babies walk more easily in shoes that come up over the ankles. They need the extra support. These high top shoe styles also stay on better, especially for babies who can’t resist taking their shoes on and off. Other babies, meanwhile, do just fine in regular shoe styles. What you want to avoid are unusual or trendy styles, no matter how cute they might be, such as clogs or boots with pointed toes. These may look adorable but make it hard for your baby to walk and may even affect the natural development and growth of the foot.

First Pair of Shoes for Baby: Type of Material

When choosing that first pair of shoes for baby, look for natural materials that bend and breathe. Canvas or cloth sneakers with a not-too-stiff rubber, medium-ribbed sole, or even a soft leather shoe is perfect. The main things are flexibility, so the foot can move and grow, and air, so little feet don’t get hot and sweaty.

Medium-ribbed rubber soles should also go a long way toward keeping your baby from slipping and falling. But if you buy leather shoes, you can scrape the bottoms of the soles with sandpaper to rough them up a bit. That should do the trick of keeping baby steady on the feet.

Getting the Right FitBaby walking holding onto Mommy's hands, seen from behind

Choose a shoe that looks like your baby’s foot, with a square or oval outline or shape. There should be no more than a half inch of space between your child’s big toe and the outermost tip of the shoe. That length is about the width of your thumb.

The back of the shoe should hug the baby’s heel without pinching it. If the baby’s heel pops in and out of the shoe, the shoe’s too big. If the shoe appears to pinch the baby’s heel, it’s too small.

Make sure the shoe salesperson measures both your baby’s feet. It’s normal for one foot to be up to half a size larger. Buy shoes to fit the larger of baby’s two feet.

Baby’s Second Pair of Shoes

Babies grow out of their shoes lickety-split. You may have to go shoe shopping again even three months after you purchase that first pair of shoes for baby. Expect it. Check how baby’s shoes fit every few months, by seeing if baby still has about a thumb’s width (half an inch) of space between big toe and front of shoe. Is baby’s toe getting close to hitting the front of his shoe? Time to go shopping!

As for reaching this amazing milestone, congratulations!

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How Does the Brain Learn?

How does the brain learn and truly absorb the information it receives? The brain learns through a process of Sequencing: putting information into the right order; Abstraction: making sense of that information; and Organization: using the information to form thoughts. When the brain completes these three steps of processing information, this is called Integration.

The term “integration” is a way of saying the brain has learned something. This may be input from the classroom, or input from life. A child can learn how to add and subtract in the classroom. The child can also learn through life experience that touching a hot stove can burn the skin and cause pain. No matter the source of the information, once it is input and integrated, the brain understands the information it has been fed.

How does the brain, this remarkable organ, take in the information it receives, make sense of it, and use it to create and do incredible things? And what happens when something goes wrong along the way? Is there a way to assist the brain in understanding and absorbing information?

Answering these questions begins with knowing how the brain learns, or the steps we take in processing information. The three steps of the brain’s unique learning formula (sequencing, abstraction, and organization), also provide clues where there are learning difficulties. These clues can ensure we offer children with learning problems the right kind of help.

How Does the Brain Learn: Sequencing

What kind of problems might be spotted as the child learns information? A child might, for example, have a problem with sequencing. If the child has a consistent weakness in this area, a learning difficulty or disability might be suspected. A child may have trouble learning to count, for instance. This might suggest the child has trouble sequencing numbers: putting them in order.

Confirmation that the difficulty has to do with sequencing might come when the child then has trouble learning the correct order of the letters of the alphabet, or the months of the year. When one looks at all the difficulties the child has, and sees they are about placing information into the correct order, two things become clear:

  • The child’s brain has a problem with processing information
  • The specific neurological (brain) problem is sequencing: putting information in order.

How Does the Brain Learn: Abstraction

Once the brain has the information sorted into the right sequence, it’s time to understand the meaning of the information (abstraction). Most children with learning difficulties have no serious problem with this part of learning. Abstraction is about things like understanding symbols (for example, a stop sign), or the meaning of a word (sit, eat, sleep). These are basic brain tasks. A child with a serious problem in the area of abstraction wouldn’t have a learning disability or difficulty, but an intellectual disability.

How Does the Brain Work: the brain does abstract thinking in the chemistry lab

There can, however, be minor problems with abstraction. A person who doesn’t “get” jokes, and doesn’t seem to have a sense of humor, may have a problem with abstraction. A person who doesn’t understand puns or idioms may be having problems with abstraction. Call this person a “pig” and he won’t understand that the word “pig” is not just an animal, but an insult. These types of abstraction issues are exceptions to the rule.

How Does the Brain Learn: Organization

When we think of organization difficulties, it’s easy to imagine a child with a messy room. The child can never find anything. Nothing has a specific place. The child loses things, forgets to bring important items to school, mislays homework, text books, notebooks. These issues may extend to time management. The child is always late and can never turn in assignments on time.

Each of these scenarios: messy room; losing things; forgetfulness; time management issues, have to do with different pathways in the brain. Learning creates new brain pathways. When we call on these brain pathways, electrical impulses light up and activate those parts of the brain.

In some children, the wiring gets crossed or tangled. In other children, the brain pathways may be damaged. Since the circuit in the brain is interrupted, the information never gets to where it is sent, at least not in the form it was intended. Sometimes only part of the information is sent. This leads to incomplete or flawed information processing.

tangled wires

When such processing problems repeat on a regular basis and interfere with the child’s learning, it is time to think whether the child might have a learning difficulty or disability. This is where an evaluation is both necessary and helpful. A thorough evaluation can help pinpoint subtle issues in brain functioning. This can tell parents and educators where the failure is occurring within the three-step procedure of information processing.

That doesn’t mean an exact diagnosis is easy to obtain. A child who calls a fork, a “korf,” may have a problem, but it is difficult to say what the problem might be. It could be the child has a problem with sequencing, verbal output, or auditory processing. The mispronunciation may be about integrating any or all of the these processing areas into one solid whole. For this reason, the child must be assessed in all of these areas.

How Does the Brain Learn: Basic Skills

Whether the problem is sequencing, abstraction, organization, or something else, If a child’s brain has a problem processing information, the child may find it difficult to learn even basic skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. When neurological (brain) processing interferes with reading, for instance, the child will be said to have dyslexia. When a processing problem interferes with learning to write, we call it dysgraphia. A problem with processing numbers is called dyscalculia. These are just three examples of learning difficulties that are labeled according to the specific skill sets affected by neurological processing problems.

Learning difficulties are not limited to basic skills. Sometimes processing problems interfere with a child’s higher level skills. Higher level skills include managing time, organization, and abstract thinking. Here too, a learning difficulty is recognized according to the specific processing issue.

How Does the Brain Learn: Four Areas of Processing

A child’s processing problem may have to do with taking in information (input); or it may be about making sense of information (integration). For another child, the difficulty may be storing information and retrieving it for later use (memory). In some cases, a child may have no trouble taking in information, making sense of it, and remembering it, but can’t use this information to form words, write, draw, or gesture (output). It is in one or more of these four basic areas that children diagnosed with learning difficulties will be found to have a processing problem.

Input Output sockets

When the brain receives information, this is called input. Sometimes input is visual, or information we understand with our eyes. Sometimes input is auditory, or information we understand with our ears.

How Does the Brain Learn: Visual Input

A difficulty with visual input doesn’t mean, for instance someone who has a vision problem, such as near or far-sightedness. A visual input problem has to do with the way the brain understands what is seen. If the brain sees letters in reverse, for example, this might be a visual input processing problem.

Let’s say a child has trouble with the mechanics of catching a ball. In order to catch the ball, the eyes have to focus on the ball. This is called figure-ground. At the same time, the brain must be able to pinpoint the position of the ball and its path (depth perception). This helps the body understand where and when to move. Finally, the body must obey the brain’s commands, to stretch out the hands and actually catch the ball as it arrives. If the child misjudges the speed of the ball, or how far it must travel, or if the brain doesn’t issue the right commands to the arms and hands, the child may very well fail to catch the ball.

These are just two examples of visual processing problems. In one example, the visual processing problem leads to letter reversals. In the other example, visual processing problems quite literally lead to dropping the ball. There are many other ways we might see the effects of visual processing problems.

How Does the Brain Learn: Auditory Input

Just as a visual processing problem isn’t about being near or far-sighted, a difficulty with auditory input doesn’t mean that someone is, for example, hearing challenged. An auditory processing problem has to do with the way the brain understands what is heard. A child who has an auditory processing problem, may, for instance, be unable to understand how the words too, two, and to are not the same word. This can lead to confusion when the child hears these words in spoken sentences.

In another example of an auditory input processing problem, the child might need more time to understand what is heard. Because of this, the child misses some of what you say because the speed of your speech is too quick for his understanding. This is called an “auditory lag.”

Children can have both visual and auditory processing problems. This might make it difficult for a child to make sense of what is happening when the child receives visual and auditory information at the same time. An example of this could be the student who sees writing on a blackboard while listening to an explanation of those words.

How Does the Brain Learn:  Integration

Once input is complete, through visual and/or auditory means, it’s time for the three-step integration process. The brain must put all the information into the right order (sequencing). The brain must be able to understand how to use the information (abstraction). Last of all, the brain must take each piece of information and add it to the whole to make a complete thought. This type of organization of information is the final step in integration. It is what makes integration complete.

How Does the Brain Learn:  Memory

At this point, learning is still not complete. Will the brain hold onto the memory for tomorrow’s French test (short-term memory or working memory), or will the child remember that French phrase ten years later (long-term memory) when she visits France as an exchange student? Like abstraction, it is unlikely that your child would have a serious long-term memory disability. Such a problem would not be a learning difficulty, but rather an intellectual disability.

A short-term memory disability, on the other hand, is a real phenomenon. You see it with the child who spends hours memorizing the names of countries on a map for geography class and then forgets everything during the test the next morning. By the same token, the teacher may be very patient in the classroom, explaining how to divide fractions. But when the child pulls out her math homework that night, she cannot remember how to do the work.

How Does the Brain Learn:  Output

The final step in learning is actual using the information. This is called output. Output may be verbal, by way of spoken words or language, or motor, which is by way of muscle activity. Motor output includes drawing, writing, and pointing, for example. A child with issues in these areas might have a language disability or a motor disability.

There are two types of language we use to communicate: spontaneous language and demand language. Spontaneous language is where you begin a conversation. You’ve chosen the topic, and had time to think about what you’re going to say. Most children have no problem here.

In demand language, however, someone might ask you a question. You haven’t chosen the subject, thought about your response, or organized your thoughts. You’ve got this split-second to answer the question. For the child with a language disability, this is a tongue-tying situation. The child may ask you to repeat the question, or simply answer, “What?” or “I don’t know.” Some children will respond but the response won’t make any sense—won’t seem to relate to the question.

Child draws outline with colored pen

In motor disabilities, the child may have a problem using the large muscle groups. This is known as a gross motor disability. For other children, it’s hard to perform tasks that requires using many muscles to work together at once. This is called a fine motor disability.

A child with gross motor disabilities may always be tripping over her own feet. She might fall a lot, spill her milk, bump into things, and drop things often. The child will find it hard to learn how to swim or ride a bike.

A child with a fine motor disability may have trouble writing or speaking. The child who has trouble speaking because of a fine motor disability may find it difficult to coordinate all the parts of the mouth, tongue, throat, and face used in speech. Writing, on the other hand, requires coordinating the use of many muscles in the hand at the same time. Children with handwriting problems may write slowly, or have messy handwriting. The child may even find that the writing hand, when writing, develops a cramp.

This should be considered a very broad overview of a complicated subject. For more information, follow the links for deeper reading. If you suspect your child has an information processing problem or learning disability, it’s important to have the child evaluated.

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Study Strategies for Students of All Ages

How younger students study is somewhat in the hands of their parents. Last week’s post, Homework Help and Advice From the Experts, was all about this topic. This post expands on the homework theme, beginning where we left off, with the younger student, and moving on to high school and college students.

For the older student, homework is different, becoming a far more difficult task than ever before. Now, homework is about long hours of study to prep for difficult exams or for researching and writing lengthy papers. At this point, parents aren’t much help. Students are on their own with this sort of homework. Parents can, however, still gently suggest helpful study methods to their older children. And of course, encourage them.

While some of the advice you will find here applies to the younger student (parents of younger children—don’t stop reading—this is for you, too!), this post is mostly about tried and true homework advice for the older student, from the experts. And if your older child doesn’t want to hear the advice from you, you can always leave a copy of this article on his desk with a no-pressure note: “This is interesting!”

Study by Teaching the Parent

Our first piece of advice comes from Murray Suid, who has served as a teacher to middle school, high school, and college level students. Suid, who has co-authored a number of educational books including, 10 Minute Grammar Grabbers, and How to Teach Writing Without Going Crazy, likes to quote Joseph Joubert: “To teach is to learn twice.”

What does this mean? It means, says Suid, that the best way to learn is to teach. Suid offers the following advice:

“Have the child teach the homework lesson to the parent. If it’s learning to capitalize nouns, the student could tell the parent the rule and then make up a short worksheet for the parent. Same thing if it’s solving an algebraic word problem or analyzing why Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo.

“When students teach what they’re learning, they are forced to really think about the lesson and come up with creative strategies for making it clear.

“This method not only reinforces the lesson at hand, but also gives [the student] important practice in communication.”

If the student wants to switch things up, Suid suggests that rather than teach the parent the lesson, the student can summarize the lesson and its purpose, for instance: “We’re learning how pronouns relate to their antecedents. This is important because if the connection isn’t clear, readers may be confused.”

“By putting a homework assignment into his or her own words, students are compelled to think about a task and why it matters. This can make doing homework more meaningful,” says Suid.

Study as if you Expect to Teach the Material

Troy Dvorak agrees with Suid that teaching is a valuable method of learning, or at least studying the material as if preparing to teach it to others. Dvorak, a psychology professor at Minneapolis Community & Technical College, has made a study of the factors associated with student success. He has, in fact, authored a book called, Psychological Keys to Student Success, and is finishing up his second book, Studying vs Learning. “One of the most influential quotations I’ve come across,” says Dvorak, “is ‘Learning how to learn cannot be left to students. It must be taught.’ That has really shaped my approach to teaching.”

Dvorak offers two strategies that students of all ages can use to be more successful. These strategies, he says, are empirically validated. That means it has been demonstrated that these strategies work, whether or not we understand why.Girl at study stretches

“The first strategy is self-testing. The testing effect is a very well-known aspect of learning and is the subject of a ton of psychological research. In order to find out what you know, you must test yourself. There is also robust research on the metacognitive feeling of knowing (the “ya ya ya, I know that” feeling you have as you review something multiple times) – it can mislead students because recognition is not the same as free recall,” says Dvorak, who recommends this pdf file as a valuable resource on self-testing.

“The second strategy is to have students study as if they will have to teach the information to someone else. Studying in anticipation of having to explain the material results in higher test scores than simply studying for a test,” says Dvorak, citing a study that demonstrates the power of this particular strategy:

Nestojko, J. F., Bui, D. C., Kornell, N., & Bjork, E. L. (2014). Expecting to teach enhances learning and organization of knowledge in free recall of text passages. Memory & cognition42(7), 1038-1048.

7 TNT Study Strategies and Tips

Our final series of tips comes from Janet Ruth Heller, Ph.D., president of the Michigan College English Association. Dr. Heller has taught English and American literature, creative writing, linguistics, composition, and women’s studies courses for 35 years at 8 colleges and universities. She has also tutored many students in her office to help them understand concepts, improve their writing, and apply to graduate schools. Dr. Heller has also advised students on how to handle various academic problems. Here is Dr. Heller’s advice for students and their parents about homework:

1) Avoid procrastination. Read your assigned chapters and do your assigned writing and other projects on time. If you procrastinate, you will have to cram too much information into your brain too quickly to process everything. Also, procrastination leads to poorly executed papers, tests, and research projects.

2) Some students benefit from having a study group, a supportive group of students who are in the same class and study together. Study group members can ask one another questions, discuss the most important aspects of a reading assignment, compare class notes to make sure that everyone understands the material, prepare for tests, give one another advice on improving research papers and projects, etc. However, make sure that your study group does not disintegrate into a purely social conversation.

3) Find college students, especially graduate students, who major in your most difficult subject areas to tutor and/or mentor you. Such tutors/mentors can help you to prepare for tests, understand difficult material, give you advice on research, etc. You or your parents can e-mail or phone the chairs of different departments at a local college to recommend the best graduate students as tutors.

4) Feel free to make an appointment to meet with your teacher or professor if you have questions or want feedback. Your teacher can answer your questions about difficult material, look over your rough draft of a paper and give you comments, advise you on the best way to handle a research project, etc. When I was teaching, I respected students who took the time to meet with me because they tended to be more motivated and they often improved their work dramatically due to their extra effort.

5) If your teacher or professor offers extra-credit assignments, try to complete these. Such work will improve your competence and impress faculty members. They will remember this when you come to them later asking for a letter of recommendation.

6) As you work on your assignments, underline or highlight key sentences and paragraphs. This will help you to focus on the most important material and to review for tests. Also, write down questions that you have. Feel free to ask your teachers to answer these questions in class or at a meeting that you have scheduled.

7) For research projects, librarians can be very helpful. Find reference librarians and other knowledgeable staff members at your school library to help you find the best articles and books about your topic.

If your younger or older child is struggling with studies, why not try have the student try at least one tip from this piece to see if it helps? Assuming it works, build on that success by taking on another strategy. The bottom line? We hope these expert tips will send your child to the top of the class!

Found what you just read useful? Why not consider sending a donation to our Kars4Kids youth and educational programs. Or help us just by sharing!