children art in heart hannes.a.schwetz

Getting Along with Others: Supporting Children’s Social Intelligence

children art in heart hannes.a.schwetzChildren and teens can experience social challenges at any point during the school year. Social context—including opportunities for interaction and collaboration with others—makes an enormous difference in what and how much children learn, and how quickly that happens.

People who are able to get along well with others do better in academic, personal, and professional dimensions of their lives. What can parents do to help their children develop positive social connections, and build a strong foundation for happy productivity? Here are eight suggestions:

  1. Be encouraging. Celebrate your child’s interests, personality, efforts, and accomplishments. This will help her gain the self-knowledge and self-confidence that will help her do well in social situations in playgrounds, schools, extracurricular activities, and later, in colleges and workplaces..
  2. Teach tolerance. Help your child appreciate his own strengths and accept his weaknesses. Show him that everyone has their own unique pattern of abilities, so he learns to welcome individual differences and diversity.
  3. Explore interests. We’re more likely to be at our best in every way, including socially, when we’re doing something we love. Help your child find opportunities to interact with people who share his interests. (This is especially important with kids who are shy or socially awkward.)
  4. Welcome problems as learning opportunities. When you or your child encounters an obstacle or challenge, avoid looking for someone to blame, and instead focus on being resilient and on moving forward in a positive way.
  5. Solve problems together. Effective problem-solving skills are an important part of social success. Show your child through your own attitudes and behaviour how to deal respectfully and collaboratively with issues with other kids. Help him build a network of support, including ample opportunities for play, talking, listening, and sharing because that’s when kids learn important social skills.
  6. Teach safe social media habits. Does your child understand both the positive possibilities and the destructive dimensions of social media? Make sure she knows how to handle cyber-bullying, whether it’s directed at herself or others, and to avoid questionable online interactions.
  7. Be available. Problems with relationships are both unavoidable and a healthy part of growing up. Your child is more likely to thrive if he feels he can talk to you about what’s going on in his social life, without judgement, blame, lecturing, or recrimination.
  8. Model kindness, thoughtfulness, and good conflict-resolution skills. Work toward a positive family atmosphere where each member of the family feels liked, respected, listened to, and loved.

As children navigate the social challenges ahead, parents can support them in many ways including by reinforcing their efforts, teaching then to be tolerant, encouraging them to explore their passions, demonstrating how to welcome obstacles, solving problems together, and teaching safe social media habits. Most importantly, parents can stay attuned to what’s happening in their children’s lives and create a positive, responsive family atmosphere.

For more information on this and related topics, see

Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster (House of Anansi, 2014).

How to Raise a Socially Intelligent Child, by Laura Markham

Growing Friendships, by Eileen Kennedy-Moore

Four Best Ways to Raise Children with Social Intelligence, by Janet Lansbury

 

Book Giveaway!

To enter a back-to-school contest and win 4 copies of Beyond Intelligence for your child’s school: http://beyondintelligence.net/2015/08/28/back-to-school-challenge-enter-to-win/

 

confident boy with magnifying glass

How Parents Can Help Their Child Build Self-Confidence

superkidSelf-confidence is a worthwhile goal for parents to hold for their kids, and while parents are right to think they can have an impact on their kids’ developing self-confidence, there are two widespread misconceptions that can stand in the way of that:

Misconception # 1. People are either confident or insecure. In reality, very few people feel good (or bad) about themselves in every area of life. A child who feels confident in her social abilities, for example, might feel insecure about her athletic or musical ability.

Misconception # 2. Praise helps people feel confident. In fact, hollow praise actually diminishes a person’s self-esteem. A strong sense of self is built on feeling genuinely competent in areas that matter to the individual, whether sports, painting, academics, social popularity, or something else.

Not everyone is skilled at everything they do, of course, and certainly not right at the beginning. Sometimes what’s required is more effort, guidance, or assistance. A child’s lack of self-confidence can indicate problems with goal-setting, such as figuring out what he wants to invest his energy in, or persistence, which involves staying engaged with a pursuit long enough to have fulfilling and confidence-building experiences.

Here are some practical tips for parents who want to help their child or teenager develop self-confidence:

  1. Unique ability profile. Encourage your child to appreciate her uniqueness—what comes easily, and also what’s harder for her to learn—and to understand that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Incremental learning. Celebrate the small steps, and help your child see how those steps are required for larger achievements. Say ‘I admire  how you stayed with that picture. Those flowers make me feel happy when I look at them.’ Not, ‘You’re just like me, not very good at painting,’ or, ‘You’re a terrific artist!’
  3. Engagement. Help your child discover learning opportunities in his areas of interest. His confidence will build through experiencing activities he enjoys.
  4. Availability, especially through change. Be available to encourage your child as she considers her options, reviews her goals, and adjusts her efforts to adapt to changing demands and circumstances.
  5. Growth mindset. Show your child how to face setbacks with a positive mindset, seeing difficulties as ways to learn, not as insurmountable obstacles. Help him understand that everyone experiences problems during the course of learning anything that’s worth learning, and encourage him to take pride in overcoming hurdles.

Working together with children and adolescents to bolster their self-confidence will stand them in good stead at the outset of the school year, during the months that follow, and beyond.

For additional information on this topic and more see Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster (House of Anansi, 2014), and visit the authors’ website at www.beyondintelligence.net for articles, blogs and resources.

For more on this topic:

Aamodt & Wang, (2012). Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College. London: Bloomsbury.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House. 

Foster, J. F. (2015). Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination. Tuscon: Great Potential Press. 

girl looking into camera

Helping Kids Thrive in Middle School or High School: Parenting through Opportunity and Challenge

girl looking into cameraSo much is changing all at once for teenagers—their bodies, feelings, brains, perspectives, identities, relationships with others, and more. During early adolescence most kids begin to spend more time with friends than with family. They can appear to reject their parents’ values, and seem not to need or want much by way of their parents’ time and attention.

Early adolescence (11-14) is a time of vulnerability and possibility, and whether they realize it or not, young people need their parents as much as they did as toddlers. Kids are moving toward independence, but parents still have an enormous role making sure they are safe, and increasing their chances of creating happily productive adult lives for themselves. Here are ten suggestions to help your teenager flourish:

  1. Be available. The transition to middle school or high school can be tricky, and your child may need more reassurance than usual. Be available to listen, spend time together, provide quietly invisible support, or actively engage in addressing his concerns.
  2. Establish and enforce reasonable guidelines. This is a period when your child’s ego is fragile. Treat her with respect and understanding, but also be ready to stay firm, and keep her safe if she goes off the rails.
  3. Yield control. You can avoid power struggles by allowing your tween or teenager to make as many decisions as possible. Unless you anticipate serious long-term consequences of an impending decision, provide guidance only as requested.
  4. Allow your child to suffer the natural consequences of his actions. This can be hard for parents, but is essential if you want him to grow into a responsible, competent, confident adult. For example, accept that he’ll fail a course if he doesn’t do his homework.
  5. Support her developing intelligences. Middle school is a time of rapidly changing, often confusing, and steadily escalating intellectual, social, emotional, and sexual demands. Encourage your teen to process her experiences with others, and help her make sense of what’s happening. Be alert to the possibility of bullying, whether online or in the real world.
  6. Help your child develop good coping strategies. Be honest about what works for you, and what doesn’t. Help your child identify when he’s feeling stressed, and chat about options he might find useful for dealing with his stressors.
  7. Make time for physical exercise and outdoor activities. Exercise and time outdoors are two of the most valuable tools for physical and psychological health. Encourage your young person to integrate these into her schedule.
  8. Support extracurricular interests. Whether it’s music, public speaking, volunteering in the community, athletics, or something else, pursuing an interest can provide excellent opportunities for developing competence and confidence.
  9. Help your child find balance. Be a positive role model, and support your child in establishing better habits concerning sleep, nutrition, recreational activities, and social media.
  10. Be a thoughtful advocate. The more your teenager can take on her own advocacy role, the better. Allow her to solve the problems she can, but be ready to work together to resolve troubling situations at school, home, or elsewhere.

We address all of these ideas in detail in Beyond Intelligence, Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (House of Anansi, 2014), as well as in our blogs and published articles. See www.beyondintelligence.net

And for additional information:

Inside Your Teenager’s Scary Brain, by Tamsin McMahon (Maclean’s, January 4, 2015)

Age of Opportunity: Lessons Learned from the New Science of Adolescence, by Laurence Steinberg

The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, by Jessica Lahey

Kids Now  A Canadian organization offering extracurricular skill-building programs for students in middle schools.

girl with ipad

Make It a Happy Start to School: Our Top 10 Secrets

girl with ipadAs children think about starting back to school, they often have questions, and so do their parents. Here are some ideas that will ease your child’s return to the classroom at the end of the summer.

  1. Plan ahead for the basics. Make sure your child has what he needs for school success: the necessary supplies, a quiet place for homework, good sleeping and eating habits, and ample physical exercise.
  2. Listen and be observant. Know what’s happening in your child’s life. Listen carefully to her worries and concerns. Think about the highs, lows, and rollercoasters of previous years, and how they might have an impact this year.
  3. Nurture creativity. There are many ways you can foster your child’s curiosity, encourage his imagination, and support his critical thinking skills. (See Beyond Intelligence for ideas about how to do that.)
  4. Be reassuring. Provide the reassurance your child needs as the school year begins, as he encounters different academic challenges, and makes new friends. Help him learn to trust that (with your support) he can find his way through tough times.
  5. Make real-world connections. Your child will be more engaged in learning if she sees the relevance of what she’s being asked to do—that is, why it matters—to herself and to others.
  6. Encourage exploration. Look together for ways to expand your child’s world, whether it’s sports, reading genres, cultural activities, second and third languages, museum trips, or something else. Encourage him to ask questions, and to find answers from various sources, including people, books, online, or elsewhere.
  7. Support good work habits. Now is a great time to focus on building a strong foundation for learning, including organizational and time management skills, effort, and persistence. (And of course, the best way to teach these habits is to model them yourself!)
  8. Make time for play. Unstructured play is where children consolidate what they’re learning and discover what they’re interested in. Talk together about how to make sure there’s enough time for free play in your child’s schedule.
  9. Find a healthy balance. Kids need challenge, stimulation, and a broad range of physical activities and learning opportunities. They also need time for reflection and daydreaming, even if that means limiting their time with technology.
  10. Advocate as needed.Thoughtful advocacy can go a long way toward making good things happen at school. By building bridges with your child’s school, you can ensure that meetings with teachers and other professionals are as fruitful as possible.

We address all these ideas in more detail in Beyond Intelligence, Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (House of Anansi, 2014), as well as on our blogs and in our published articles. For more, see www.beyondintelligence.net

boy who played with fusion Book-Jacket-copy-199x30

The Boy Genius and the Genius in All of Us A review of The Boy Who Played with Fusion, by Tom Clynes

boy who played with fusion Book-Jacket-copy-199x30In The Boy Who Played with Fusion, Tom Clynes tells a fascinating story about a boy’s pursuit of a passionate interest in nuclear physics, and draws some surprising conclusions about the nature and development of genius-level intelligence. Clynes considers the roles played not only by innate ability and environmental factors such as parenting, teaching, and mentoring, but also by temperament, motivation, culture, and politics.

The Boy Who Played with Fusion chronicles the remarkable childhood and adolescence of physics prodigy Taylor Wilson, now 21 years old. Taylor did his first enormously successful TED Talk at the age of 17, and has already investigated such arcane topics as magnetic confinement fusion, radioactivity, and gamma ray lasers. He has several inventions and patents under his belt, including a specialized particle accelerator that could revolutionize the production of diagnostic pharmaceuticals, at one-thirtieth the cost and one-tenth the floor space of conventional methods; and a portable neutron detector that promises to counter terrorism. He is a young superstar who has attracted attention from Nobel prizewinners, Barack Obama, and the media.

The Boy Who Played with Fusion is also a book about parenting and education in America today. Clynes raises important questions about the nature of genius, and how best to nurture its development. He concludes that parents are the most important catalysts of each child’s intellectual development. “The challenge is to find the outlet that best fits a person’s unique set of interests and characteristics,” he writes. “As a start, give kids lots of exposure to different experiences in their younger years, and pay attention to what they pick up on.” (p. 273) He recommends pulling kids out of school if that’s the best way to give them authentic learning experiences in areas of deep curiosity. He observes that attendance and grades are a lot less important than actual learning, especially in the early years.

Taylor Wilson thrived at the Davidson Academy for highly gifted learners, but his brother Joey, who scores higher than Taylor on intelligence tests, did not. After thinking about this, and talking to a number of gifted education experts, Clynes concluded that gifted education needs to be individualized; a one-size-fits-all gifted program can’t possibly work for everyone. Educators better serve children when they focus on (1) encouraging kids to discover and explore their values, goals, and interests; (2) helping kids develop talents into fulfilling careers that will provide a foundation for a happily productive life; and (3) encouraging the kind of intellectual risk-taking that moves a field’s or a society’s knowledge and practice forward. Specific educational approaches that worked for Taylor at Davidson that Clynes argues should be applied by all educators include individualized learning, targeted acceleration, dual enrolment (high school and university simultaneously), and the acceptance of every kind of diversity.

Amazingly for such an erudite subject, The Boy Who Played with Fusion is a pleasure to read. It’s beautifully written, in an intelligently thoughtful and accessible tone. Clynes enlivens challenging intellectual concepts with personal observations, concerns, and questions. Seamlessly, he weaves into the story informal conversations with all the players in Taylor Wilson’s story, as well as with a wide variety of educational and psychological researchers, including Carol Dweck, David Henry Feldman, Susan Cain, Ellen Winner, Scott Barry Kaufman, Joan Freeman, Barbara Kerr, Dean Keith Simonton,and David Lubinski, among many others. “Take your kids places,” writes Clynes, summarizing the extensive and growing body of evidence that suggests that a lasting capacity for creativity is enhanced by early exposure to unusual and diverse situations. “Early novel experiences play an important role in shapingthe healthy development of brain systems that are important for effective learning and self-regulation, in childhood and beyond.” (p. 75)

Although the subject of this book is extraordinary in many ways, Clynes’s attitude toward talent is not exclusive, elitist, or person-centered. He is aware of the confluence of circumstances required to nurture the development of giftedness and talent, and remarks that “the latest research suggests that nearly everyone has the capacity to achieve extraordinary performance in some mode of expression, if each can discover opportunities in a domain of expertise that allows his or her unique set of personal attributes to shine.” (p. xv)

Clynes makes it clear that talent development is not about money. As Taylor Wilson’s story illustrates, optimal child development experiences do not need to be expensive: “Whether we use it or not, we have the recipe…parents who are courageous enough to give their children wings and let them fly in the directions they choose; schools that support children as individuals; a society that understands the difference between elitism and individualizededucation and that addresses the needs of kids at all levels.” (p. 281)

The Boy Who Played with Fusion is an essential contribution to our understanding of the most important underlying questions about the development of giftedness, talent, creativity, and intelligence. It is urgently relevant to every parent, teacher, psychologist, educational administrator, and policy-maker who cares about children’s learning and about the future of our civilization.

For more:

The Boy Who Played with Fusion, by Tom Clynes

Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster 

Child_swinging

For Smarter, Happier, Healthier Kids, Keep Moving! Eighteen Reasons to Ensure Your Kids Participate in Regular Frequent Activity

Child_swingingChildren who are physically active do better than others on virtually all developmental measures. They’re not only healthier, stronger, and more resilient to illness, but they’re also happier, more confident, more academically successful, and more creative than others. They sleep better, feel better about themselves, and become healthier adults.

Kids of all ages need frequent daily opportunities for physical exercise. Too many kids are spending too much of their time on screens or sitting at their desks, and not participating in the activity their growing minds and bodies need.

In a review of the research on young children and exercise, Brian Timmons at McMaster University and his colleagues concluded that frequent regular exercise is associated not only with better physical outcomes—motor skills, cardiometabolic health, body fat, bone health, etc.—but also higher scores on measures of psychological, social, and cognitive development.

In international comparisons of educational outcomes, Finnish students do exceptionally well compared to others in spite of the fact that they don’t start their academic education until the age of seven, and their school days are less than six hours long. One of the most potent success factors appears to be that they allocate fifteen minutes out of every hour to unstructured outdoor play, or recess.

Why is that? Here are eighteen evidence-based reasons that kids who are physically active do better than other kids on pretty much every measure of development—social, emotional, cognitive, academic, and physical. 

Eighteen Reasons to Ensure Your Kids Keep Moving

  1. Concentration, focus, attention. Exercise increases the flow of blood to the brain, delivering the oxygen and glucose required for keen concentration and focus.
  2. Memory, accuracy, and reaction time. When kids are active, their short-term memory and reaction time improve. Those with higher aerobic fitness are able to complete challenging cognitive tasks faster and more accurately.
  3. Academic achievement. Exercise stimulates brain cells to grow, branch out, and connect with each other, resulting in a greater openness to learning and capacity for knowledge.
  4. Creativity. Kids who exercise frequently have greater cognitive flexibility, the ability to shift thinking and produce creative, original thoughts.
  5. Strength, flexibility, and endurance. Kids need to exercise regularly in order to become strong, flexible, and resilient.
  6. Sleep. Children sleep better if they get at least thirty minutes of exercise a day.
  7. Weight. Kids who are sedentary tend to consume more caloriesthan they burn, resulting in extra weight. Active kids are more likely to maintain a healthy weight.
  8. Bone health. Just like muscles, bones grow stronger when physically stressed.
  9. Motor skill development. It’s only by moving that kids’ muscles and gross motor skills can develop.
  10. Heart health. Like all muscles, the heart is strengthened and its functioning improves through exercise. Exercise also helps to lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart problems later.
  11. Stress. Exercise increases norepinephrine and endorphins, reducing stress and enhancing mood.
  12. Energy. Regular exercise makes people feel more energetic.
  13. Diabetes. Exercise prevents sugar from accumulating in the blood by triggering muscles to take up more glucose from the bloodstream and use it for energy.
  14. Immune system. Frequent regular exercise improves the body’s ability to get rid of toxins and fight disease. Fit kids are less prone to colds, allergies, and many kinds of disease, including cancer.
  15. Confidence and self-esteem. Exercise improves children’s sense of well-being and their appearance, both of which contribute to confidence and self-esteem.
  16. Social skills. Kids who get frequent daily breaks learn how to cooperate, communicate, and compromise.
  17. Emotional well-being. Children feel calmer and happier when they’re getting frequent regular exercise. There are many reasons for this, including the first 16 reasons on this list. Additionally, though, exercise stimulates beta-endorphins and serotonin, which are associated with feelings of well-being.
  18. Health and happiness across the life span. Kids who get into the exercise habit early are a lot more likely to stay fit across their lifetimes.

It’s never too late to get moving. Studies of previously sedentary children who participated in increased levels of physical activity showed improved functioning in all these ways. Fifteen minutes of playtime every hour gives kids’ brains a chance to reboot, so they come back to their studies fresh and ready to focus.

For the research behind the reasons:

Systematic Review of Physical Activity and Health in the Early Years, by Brian W. Timmons and colleagues

How Finland Keeps Kids Focused through Free Play, by Tim Walker 

Kids and Exercise, by Kids Health 

The American Heart Association’s Recommendations for Physical Activity in Children, by the AHA

The Benefit of Exercise on Your Kid’s Brain, by Raise Smart Kid

Exercise for Children: The Cognitive Benefits, by Gwen Dewar 

Ten Benefits of Physical Activity, by Jane Forester

How Exercise Benefits Your Whole Body, by WebMD 

Five Ways Exercise Affects Sleep, by Cleveland Clinic’s Brain and Spine Team

For more ideas like this, see Beyond Intelligence, Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

child-studying

Intelligence, IQ, Tests, and Assessments: What Do Parents Need to Know? What Should They Tell Their Kids?

child-studyingWhat is intelligence? Do IQ tests measure it? What can parents expect by way of results and interpretation? What should parents tell their kids about the results?  How do test results help in deciding on an educational program? These are some of the thorny questions parents ask us about testing and their kids.

It’s a complicated and important topic that we’ve written an article about, published in the September 2014 issue of Parenting for High Potential. You can find the article here: Intelligence, IQ, Tests, and Assessments.

Here are a few of the fundamentals:

Intelligence develops step by step with the right kinds of supports and opportunities to learn. High-level abilities develop when children engage meaningfully in various forms of reasoning and a range of learning experiences, confronting challenges, overcoming obstacles, and developing resilience along the way. Parents can encourage their children’s interests and nurture their creativity and critical thinking. Parents can also help kids build their skills by modeling patience, persistence, and hard work in their own pursuits.

IQ tests have limitations. There are many reasons for test scores to underestimate a person’s abilities, including illness, test anxiety, language barriers, and lots more. Because intelligence tests include only a narrow range of abilities and are limited in many other ways, and because intelligence changes over time with learning opportunities, motivation, and effort, IQ scores are not accurate predictors of anyone’s future success. These scores can provide information about a child’s learning needs at a given point in time, but any comprehensive understanding of a person’s capacities should rest on careful consideration of other sources of information as well. These include observations, reports, and portfolios of completed assignments in different subject areas.

What should parents tell their child about test results? Parents who realize the limitations and temporary nature of test results can be honest with their child. They can provide as much information as the child is interested in, including test scores, as long as they make it clear that the scores are indicators of the way the child answered a bunch of questions in a certain circumstance on a given day, and are subject to change. Parents should emphasize practical implications, rather than numbers, saying things like ‘Your science scores weren’t as good as your language reasoning scores. Maybe we can find science stuff you’d like to learn about.’

“Now what?” When assessment results are thoughtfully interpreted by a professional, they can provide useful information for educational decision-making. They can inform parents about their child’s strengths and weaknesses, indicate practical implications for instruction and learning, and suggest available options. Well-informed parents can make better decisions for and with their child.

 

To discover more about testing—including types of tests, when to test, how to interpret test results, and how to make wise decisions for your kids—check out our recent book, Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, and additional resources at www.beyondintelligence.net.

teacher and child

Classroom Management – To Dojo or Not to Dojo…?

teacher and child

According to Margaret Wente in yesterday’s Globe and Mail, “Students need interaction, not app taps.” So true! There are plenty of ways to encourage respectful and appropriate classroom behaviour—and few, if any of these, involve apps.

Wente focused on “ClassDojo,” an app that she said “Allows teachers to add or subtract points for each student’s conduct throughout the day. …ClassDojo is supposed to be a motivational tool to help kids behave better.”

Although in all fairness I know very little about this particular technological tool, I agree with Wente. Many teachers have concerns about discipline, classroom management, and how to keep kids productively engaged. Rather than using electronic score sheets that compare and contrast students’ behaviour in an impersonal manner, why not use strategies that are predicated on a respectful classroom environment?

I’ve taught aspiring teachers at OISE/University of Toronto for more than a decade, and I’ve worked in the field of education for over 30 years, and I can assure you there are lots of strategies to facilitate respectful behaviour and a stimulating classroom dynamic without resorting to apps such as ClassDojo. Read more

Praise sick kids

A Personal Perspective on Parents’ Praise

Praise sick kidsWhat’s the best way to praise your kids to foster their intelligence and creativity? Be as specific as possible. Reinforce their persistence, and indicate ways they can move forward, tackling the next step.

How can you do this? Encourage the child to think about options, learning strategies, and interests. Reassure her that she can confront challenges, stretch her boundaries, and know that she’ll still garner positive reinforcement, encouragement, and support.

As an educational consultant, I’ve worked with parents in more schools than I can possibly count. I conduct presentations on how to nurture high-level development—sharing insights, and also asking questions. The sessions are usually held in an auditorium, and they often go like this…

I ask, “How do you know if a child is intelligent?” Parents in the audience inevitably agree that intelligent kids learn quickly, with very few errors and little or no difficulty. Many parents feel that speed and ease are, in fact proof of being smart. And, most praise their children for these attributes. “What do you say to them?” I ask.

Read more

child and dandelion crpd

Overscheduled? Too busy to play? Six ways to push back and create a healthy balance for your kids

child and dandelion crpdBalance is one of the most important secrets for raising happily productive kids. It’s important to provide lots of stimulation, challenge, and learning for your kids, but it’s just as important to ensure ample time for free play, nature, reflection, imagination, and even boredom. Here are six ideas you can implement starting today that will help you push back against overscheduling, and create a healthy balance.

  1. Make time for play. It’s through playing with other children in games of their own devising that kids learn to make decisions wisely, manage their emotions, see things from others’ perspectives, sort out conflicts, and make friends. Other benefits of unstructured playful exploration include better self-regulation, self-awareness, and collaboration skills; greater ownership of one’s own learning; and a freer imagination.

Free up your kids’ time in whatever ways you can. Reduce the emphasis on organized sports, homework, lessons, and practice. Encourage their curiosity, playfulness, sociability and deep desire to learn by assigning a top priority to playtime.

  1. Go outside! Time spent outdoors increases well-being in every area: psychological, physical, cognitive, and creative. Time in nature expands the imagination; stimulates all the senses; frees the spirit; and makes a person calmer, more optimistic, healthier, and more creative. It enhances academic success by improving attention and focus. Kids are calmer, more optimistic, healthier, more creative, and more successful at school when they spend time outdoors.

From the time he’s born, make sure your child gets some outdoor time every day, no matter the weather or your schedule. An hour outside every day is great, but even if it’s only twenty minutes, he’ll experience many benefits, including stress reduction and increased sense of well-being.

  1. Turn it off! For too many kids, too much of the time in their lives that could otherwise be spent playing, thinking, or being creative, is being gobbled up by electronic gadgets and screens. Although there’s a place for technology in children’s lives, too much time on computer games, television, smart phones, and the rest can encourage lazy habits of mind, where a child comes to rely on entertainment and activities created by others instead of creating his own fun and discovering his own interests.

Wise parents turn off their screens, too. As cognitive psychologist Tracy Dennis has written, ‘Multi-tasking on our devices all the time is a sure-fire way to interfere with our ability to look our children in the eye, hear what they have to say, sensitively pick up on their feelings, and transmit that sparkle in the eye. The multitasking mode is the opposite of mirroring and of being present.’

  1. Let there be downtime.Ample time for doing nothing—the ‘restful neural processing’ that occurs when we’re daydreaming and dawdling—is essential to self-discovery, and to optimal learning and happiness over the long run.

In The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents, William Martin wrote, “Lost in the shuffle of uniforms, practices, games, recitals, and performances can be the creative and joyful soul of your child. Watch and listen carefully. Do they have time to daydream? From your children’s dreams will emerge the practices and activities that will make self-discipline as natural as breathing.”  

Parents can support their kids in acquiring the important habit of reflection by allowing themselves to slow down and think. Through modeling and active encouragement, help your children welcome downtime as an opportunity for self-discovery, consolidation of learning, creativity, and regeneration.

  1. Breathe and be mindful. Kids who learn about breathing and other mindfulness techniques can do a better job of balancing their inner and outer experiences, and feel more solidly in control of their responses to the environment. Mindfulness reduces stress, improves sleep quality, and heightens the ability to focus. It helps kids concentrate on tests and exams, soothes their anxieties, and helps them cope better with challenging situations. This is particularly important for those with attentional and anxiety issues, and it’s also been proven effective with kids with autism.

‘Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.’ That was written by Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, but these practices are also being supported by scientists like Jim Swanson, an expert in ADHD at U of California, Irvine, who said, ‘Mindfulness seems to be training the same areas of the brain that have reduced activity in ADHD… That’s why mindfulness might be so important. It seems to get at the causes.”

One of the best ways to help your kids slow down is to practice mindfulness techniques yourself. Breathe deeply when you notice yourself stressed, or see signs of stress in the people around you. Practice yoga. Meditate. Listen to your children, your environment, and yourself. Think—and take at least one good thoughtful breath—before you speak.

  1. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Children who feel grateful for the people, activities, and opportunities in their lives are happier than others. They score higher on measures of well-being, energy, optimism, empathy, and popularity.

When parents model appreciation for the small gifts of everyday life—sunshine, food, time together with loved ones—they help their children achieve an attitude of gratitude. Kids (and adults) don’t need to fill their time with busy activities when they take time to feel happy with what they have.

 

In a culture that prizes overscheduling, pushing back against being ‘crazy busy’ takes courage, but it is very much worth doing. By thoughtfully slowing down the pace of your children’s lives so they have time to play, go outside, decompress, and breathe deeply, you enhance their chances of creating happily productive lives for themselves.

To read more about these ideas:

‘Protect Your Child’s Playtime: It’s More Important than Homework, Lessons, and Organized Sports,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Free Play Vital to Children’s Healthy Development,’ by Peter Gray

‘How Nature Makes Kids Calmer, Healthier, Smarter,’ by Laura Markham

‘Play Outside! Twelve Ways to Health, Happiness, Creativity, and to Environmental Sustainability,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Overwhelmed Moms Choose NOT to Be Busy,’ by Jacoba Urist 

‘Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming,’ by Jerome Singer, Rebecca McMillan, and Scott Barry Kaufman

‘The Wonder of the Ordinary: A Crucible for Creativity, Talent, and Genius,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Exercising the Mind to Treat Attention Deficits,’  by Daniel Goleman

and for more resources on supporting children’s optimal development:

Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster