girl at window

Ten Steps toward Parenting for Happy Productivity Forget the résumé: Focus on self-actualization and legacy virtues instead

girl at windowAccomplishment, achievement, and recognition are good goals for our children, but being loving and happily productive on one’s own terms are better. For my children and grandchildren, what delights me more than any prizes the world might offer is a confident integrity; a radiant inner light; a life lived with love, kindness, courage, happy productivity, and appreciation.

David Brooks recently wrote a column in the New York Times called ‘A Moral Bucket List.’ In it, he distinguished between résumé virtues and eulogy virtues: ‘The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?’

Brooks goes on to write that although most of us see the eulogy virtues as more important than the résumé virtues, it is the latter—the attributes that bring wealth, status, recognition, and success in worldly terms—that we put the heaviest focus on through our culture and education. Kids are given more support for developing the skills and strategies they need for getting into top universities and making lots of money than for establishing the character strengths that lead to a life of happy productivity, love, and fulfilment, the kind of life that creates a meaningful legacy.

What can parents do who want their children to radiate the inner light that’s a symptom of self-actualization and the legacy virtues?

  1. Slow down enough to be loving and attuned. Too often, parents’ patience gets lost in the flurry of their busy lives, but loving attunement is the most powerful tool they have for supporting happy productivity across the life span. As frequently as you can through the day, make time to listen to your children, with love.
  2. Ensure ample time for free unstructured play. Free play—invented and managed by kids, both solo and with other kids—enables children to nourish their curiosity, self-awareness, and imagination. It also strengthens their self-regulation, autonomy, decision-making, conflict resolution, and friendship skills.
  3. Spend time outdoors. A daily dose of outdoor time—preferably in natural settings—reduces stress, increases optimism, improves health, stimulates the senses, frees the spirit, and enhances creativity. By improving attention and focus, it also increases academic and other kinds of achievement.
  4. Help kids find their passions. Provide opportunities for exploration and discovery in the arts, the sciences, architecture, gardening, and more, as widely as possible. Support your children in developing their curiosities into passions.
  5. Welcome daydreaming, do-nothing times, and boredom. The restful neural processing that occurs in daydreaming is essential to self-discovery and self-actualization. Busy kids need downtime in order to replenish their spirits and find their creative wellspring.
  6. Teach your kids to breathe. Kids who learn mindful breathing techniques are better able to manage their stress, sleep soundly, and focus their attention on cognitive, emotional, and physical activities. They can concentrate better on tests and exams, and cope better with challenging situations.
  7. Model a growth mindset. Reinforce your children’s awareness that abilities develop step by step, with hard work, persistence, and patience. Holding a growth mindset—including realizing that intelligence and creativity develop incrementally, and welcoming setbacks as learning opportunities—leads to higher measures of well-being in every area of life.
  8. Limit screen time. Yes, there is a time and place for electronic devices, but most kids are spending way too much time on them. By limiting screen time, you’ll free up time for outdoor exploration, unstructured play, daydreaming, and self-discovery.
  9. Restrict homework and other structured activities. Yes, it’s important to support kids’ interests and abilities, but somewhat counter-intuitively, play and downtime are more important for happy productivity across the life span than more hours of homework, extracurricular lessons, organized sports, practice, and other good things.
  10. Say thank you. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. It’s the opposite of entitlement, and people who actively appreciate what’s good in their lives experience higher levels of well-being, happiness, energy, optimism, empathy, and popularity.

In the end, parenting for self-actualization is probably all about balance. The first step—loving attunement—is the most important, and should come before everything else. After that, you can start with any one of the remaining nine steps, take it where it goes, and then try another. The ultimate goal is to integrate all of them into your children’s lives, in balance.

For more on these ideas:

‘The Moral Bucket List,’ by David Brooks 

‘Optimal Development across the Life Span,’ Dona Matthews’ blog in The Creativity Post http://www.creativitypost.com/authors/list/162/dmatthews

 ’26 Simple Gifts to Last Forever: An Alphabet List of Inexpensive Holiday Treasures for Children,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Play, Run, Skip: Physically active children are smarter, happier, and healthier,’ by Dona Matthews

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

Scott Barry Kaufman interviewed me recently for a podcast in his series for Scientific American called ‘Beautiful Minds,’ where he explores intelligence, creativity, and the mind. We talked in some detail about the science of raising happily productive kids

In Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, Joanne Foster and I consider most of these ideas in more detail: www.beyondintelligence.net

 

Photo by Aikawa Ke, Creative Commons, Flickr

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

front cover rsz

Ten Ideas for Parents Who Want to Raise a Happily Productive Child

front cover rszOn Dec. 7, 2014, I had a lot of fun doing a podcast interview with Scott Barry Kaufman. We had an interesting conversation about the nature and development of giftedness and talent, with some serious moments, and lots of laughs. He synopsized our talk brilliantly, writing, ‘Just had a delightful chat with Dona Matthews. I highly recommend her book, co-written with Joanne Foster, Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids.’

Scott went on, writing a great synopsis of many of the points Joanne Foster and I wanted to make in that book, framing it as ten ideas for parents, to help them raise a happily productive child:

  1. Be wary of your child’s “potential.” All children have a tremendous capacity for intelligence, no matter what anyone might predict, or how well they do on an intelligence test.
  2. Think about intelligence as a process rather than an innate essence that some people have more of than others. Intelligence is more about doing than being.
  3. Remember that intelligence develops incrementally, and varies across time, situations, and domains.
  4. Support your child’s particular kinds of intelligence. Each child has his own profile of different intelligences.
  5. Think carefully about the implications of any test results your child achieves, especially IQ. Scores don’t always mean what they seem to mean.
  6. Look for and encourage children’s involvement in music and second language learning experiences. These are valuable for all kids, but especially for those who don’t learn in traditional academic ways.
  7. Support your child in acquiring a growth mindset— the attitude that ability develops one step at a time, with hard work, persistence, and patience.
  8. Don’t praise your child for being intelligent. It’s better to be specific with your praise, by focusing on what she’s doing and how she’s doing it.
  9. Do praise your child for working hard. Thoughtful attention to detail (which can be painfully slow, challenging, and effortful) is how intelligence grows.
  10. Learn to have and display an open mind about obstacles, criticisms, and mistakes. Avoid blame. Think constructively about failures, seeing them as opportunities for learning about what needs more work.

You can find lots more about Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids at www.beyondintelligence.net

Thank you, Scott Barry Kaufman! You can find his podcasts and more about his wide ranging work supporting the development of intelligence, creativity, and imagination at http://scottbarrykaufman.com/

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.

mom reading with toddler

Reading to Kids: Ten Reasons It Matters, Ten Ways to Do It

mom reading with toddler“There’s nothing quite as powerful as listening to a child, reading to her, communicating with her, and staying attuned to her individual needs.” (Beyond Intelligence, page 1)

The American Academy of Pediatrics is now asking 62,000 pediatricians across the United States to talk to parents about the importance of reading to their kids, starting from birth. This is based on research showing that reading enhances children’s intellectual and social development, their creativity, and their academic success.

A child whose parents read to him is more likely to do well in every area of life. No matter what neighbourhood he’s growing up in, or where his parents come from, he’ll start school with a bigger vocabulary and better communication skills, find it easier to make and keep friends, be more confident in his interactions with others, stay in school longer, and end up doing better in every part of his life.

Why is reading to your kids a good habit to start early, and to continue as long as they enjoy it? We give ten reasons reading is critically important to children’s development, and ten ways parents can encourage their children’s development through books and reading. Each of these suggestions is supported by a quote from Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids.

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

mom and little girl reading

Read to Your Child, Starting at Birth: It’s Good for Learning, Thinking, Imagining, and Relating

mom and little girl readingA child whose parents read to her, starting from birth, is more likely to do well in every area of life. She’ll start school with better language skills, find it easier to make and keep friends, feel better about herself, stay in school longer, and do better, both personally and professionally. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics is now asking 62,000 pediatricians across America to talk to parents about the importance of reading. Read more

intelligence IQ gifted education

Controversies and Misconceptions: Intelligence, IQ, and Gifted Education

intelligence IQ gifted education

Intelligence is a much more interesting, democratic, and dynamic process than a lot of people realize.

There’s a dangerous but all too prevalent misconception that some people are born intellectually gifted (and the rest of us aren’t). From this perspective, traditional models of gifted education make good sense. All one has to do is figure out who has the extra dollop of intelligence, call them ‘gifted,’ and segregate them with each other in order to give them special educational experiences. Under this misconception about the nature of intelligence, the best way to ascertain whether a person belongs to the gifted category (or not) is to administer an intelligence test. The resulting score—an intelligence quotient or IQ—is then interpreted as being stable over the person’s lifetime.

The more that’s being learned about the brain, however, the more that cognitive scientists and neuropsychologists are emphasizing the dynamic nature of intelligence and the diversity of developmental pathways that lead to gifted levels of competence and achievement. Ability is spread much more broadly across the population than the demographic distribution of IQ scores would suggest, and is much more amenable to environmental influences like family life and day-to-day experiences. Read more

play outside

Play Outside! Twelve Ways to Health, Happiness, Intelligence, and Creativity, and to Environmental Sustainability

play outside

Spending more time outdoors, preferably in natural settings, may be the simplest, healthiest, and most economical remedy for the terrible increase in numbers of children diagnosed with social, emotional, and learning problems over the past two decades. It may also be the answer to many problems suffered by adults in our increasingly rushed, technology-focused lives. And on a global scale, there’s evidence that more people spending more time in natural spaces would contribute to solving the environmental challenges that are increasingly disrupting our lives.  Read more

the wonder of the ordinary

The Wonder of the Ordinary: A Crucible for Creativity, Talent, and Genius

the wonder of the ordinary

Parents can help their kids find their own particular kind of genius by encouraging their sense of wonder in the ordinary. You may or may not want your child to be a genius—an exceedingly rare and extraordinarily high achiever in a particular field—but you can help him develop his intelligence, creativity, and talents, by ensuring he has enough time for unstructured play and daydreaming.

In The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents, William Martin wrote, “Do you have agendas for your children that are more important than the children themselves? 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.”

Read more