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/

 

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

Father Holding Daughter's Hand

Raising Happily Productive Kids in Every Kind of Family The Same Rules Apply Whether You’re Divorced, Single, Gay, or ‘Normal’


Father Holding Daughter's Hand The principles of wise parenting are timeless, and apply across all situations. What works to support children’s optimal development works, whether you’re raising your kids in a traditional family, in the midst of divorce, part of a gay couple, or doing anything else that doesn’t look like ‘Leave It to Beaver.’ Here are ten rules for raising happily productive kids, no matter what kind of family you’re creating.

Yes, alternative family compositions bring unique challenges. Families going through divorce are in a vulnerable and potentially volatile restructuring process. Single parents usually have fewer resources to help them through times of trouble. Gay parents can experience prejudice and criticism, and so can their kids. Adoption brings its own set of challenges. Raising kids across more than one culture or religion can be dicey. But lots of traditional families experience problems too. Abuse happens in every kind of family, as do alcoholism, mental illness, and economic pressures.

Family composition is less important to children’s long-term development than kindness, boundary-setting, and meaningful learning opportunities. A single mother or two gay fathers can provide everything a child needs to become a happily productive adult. Such parents need to find sources of emotional and social support, but so does every other parent, no matter the situation.

I’ll briefly describe some current research on three non-traditional family groupings. Then I’ll outline the ten basic rules for raising happily productive kids, rules that apply to all parents in all kinds of families.

Divorce and child development

As with other changes in a family’s structure, there are many possible effects of divorce on every aspect of a child’s development. Kids can become depressed, suicidal, or angry. They can become antisocial or excessively social. They can become mistrustful of close relationships, or hypersexual. Their grades might plummet, or the child might throw himself into schoolwork to the exclusion of everything else. Kids can develop eating disorders or any number of other psychological problems.

None of these effects is inevitable. In fact, the preponderance of current research shows that most children are beginning to function reasonably well within two years after their parents’ divorce. How the parents handle the divorce makes a big difference in how well children get through it, very much including the support the children get in navigating the inevitable period of disruption.

Divorce can actually bring benefits to children, especially those whose pre-divorce experience included fear, chaos, unpredictability, or abuse. Children can begin to thrive when one or both parents create home environments that are calmer and more dependable. Children who feel loved and supported through the divorce process and whose parents negotiate custody amicably can become more competent and capable. When one or both parents move on to create fulfilling lives for themselves, divorce can help children learn about coping with changes and setbacks in their own lives.

Single-parent families

It’s normal for single parents to experience a sense of overload at least some of the time. They struggle to find enough time, energy, and money to do everything that needs doing. Regardless of the financial situation, it can feel overwhelming when there’s no other adult with whom to share the joys and worries of parenting, as well as the daily tasks of life—shopping, cooking, reading bedtime stories, cleaning, taking kids to appointments, and all the rest of it.

Single parents do best when they develop networks of social support. Friends and relatives who care about the children can ease the burden, as well as providing alternative role models and adult confidants for the children.

Single parents need to pay attention to their own physical, intellectual, and social needs if they’re to do the best possible job with their kids. This is no more or less true for single parents than others, but it can be harder to make it happen when there’s just one adult trying to handle all the tasks of the household.

Same-sex parenting

Same-sex parenting has been controversial for some time, but as the research accumulates, it becomes increasingly clear that gay couples can raise kids just as well as other couples. Researchers at Columbia Law School have launched a project that pulls together all the peer-reviewed studies in this area. They’ve concluded that, in general, kids with gay parents do just as well as others.

Depending on where they live, the children of same-sex parents can experience social pressures that other kids don’t. They can be subject to bullying and prejudice similar to that experienced by mixed-race families in previous years (and in some communities still). There is an additional stressor placed on same-sex parents to ensure their kids feel safe, confident, and well-informed, but at the end of the day, the same factors that apply in situations of divorce, single parenting, and adoption apply in families where there are two parents of the same sex: love, support, and guidance make a much bigger difference than who’s doing the parenting.

Raising Happily Productive Kids: Ten Basic Rules that Apply in Every Kind of Family

  1. Practice loving attunement. Parents in non-traditional circumstances who realize the power of being present to their kids—patient, loving, engaged—are well on their way to overcoming any obstacles their family structure might entail. As frequently as you can through the day, make time to listen to your children, with love.
  2. Set and enforce dependable rules. Kids need reliable boundaries in order to feel safe. This is particularly important in alternative family situations where social and cultural norms don’t apply, and parents are tempted to break the rules in order to compensate for extra challenges they feel they’re imposing on their kids.
  3. Play. Free play nourishes children’s curiosity, self-awareness, and imagination. It also strengthens self-regulation, autonomy, decision-making, conflict resolution, and friendship skills.
  4. Hug a tree. Spending time in nature—even urban nature—reduces stress, increases optimism, improves health, stimulates the senses, frees the spirit, and enhances creativity. It also improves attention and focus, thereby increasing academic and other kinds of achievement.
  5. Discover enthusiasms. Help your kids engage in exploration and discovery activities in as many different areas as possible. Support them in developing their curiosities into passions.
  6. Daydream. 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.
  7. Breathe. Mindful breathing helps kids manage stress, sleep soundly, and focus their attention. Mindful breathing helps them concentrate on tests and exams, and cope with challenging situations.
  8. Welcome setbacks. Teach your kids the importance of hard work, persistence, and patience. A growth mindset—welcoming setbacks as learning opportunities—leads to well-being and productivity in every area of life.
  9. Turn it off!  Most kids are spending way too much time on electronic devices. By limiting screen time, you’ll free up time for outdoor exploration, unstructured play, daydreaming, and self-discovery.
  10. Be grateful. People who actively appreciate what’s good in their lives feel better, happier, more energetic, more optimistic, and are more empathetic than those who feel entitled.

These ten parenting practices can help your children thrive, no matter your family structure. Temperament and other personality factors can also contribute to how well an individual child manages alternative parenting situations. Those with growth mindsets and positive attitudes to problem-solving do better at coping than those with fixed mindsets or dependent personalities. And those who seek and receive social support are more resilient than those who feel they can sort out their own problems.

If you follow these ten basic rules, you’re supporting your kids in making happily productive lives for themselves, both now and in the future.

For more on these ideas:

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

‘Optimal Development across the Life Span,’ by Dona Matthews in The Creativity Post

‘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)

The Science of Raising Happily Productive Kids,’ a podcast with Dona Matthews, by Scott Barry Kaufman

Is Divorce Bad for Children?Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld Scientific American

‘The Challenges of Single Parenthood,’ Healthy Children

‘Single Parenting and Today’s Family,’ American Psychological Association Help Center

 ‘Single Parent? Tips for Raising a Child Alone,’ by Mayo Clinic Staff

‘What We Know—Really—About Lesbian and Gay Parenting,’ by Nathaniel Frank

‘What Does the Scholarly Research Say about the Wellbeing of Children with Gay or Lesbian Parents?’ by the Public Policy Portal of the Columbia University Law School

 

worried girl and soothingadult.rsz

Helping Kids Handle Terrible Events in the News: 15 Top Tips for Fostering Children’s Resiliency in Times of Trouble

worried girl and soothingadult.rszChildren’s natural worries can intensify when they hear about terrorism, floods, diseases, fires, and other disturbing events. The recent deadly shootings in Montreal and Ottawa—two places usually considered safe—remind us of the importance of helping kids cope through troubling times.

Times of trouble provide opportunities for parents to help their children learn how to manage their feelings, confront challenges, and acquire resilience. By providing a safe environment, and being calm and attentive—and seeking professional help when it’s needed—parents can alleviate the fear, dismay, or confusion children often experience during chaotic times, as well as helping them develop coping skills that will serve them well going forward.

Parents shouldn’t dismiss a child’s desire to learn about what’s happening, no matter how troubling the circumstances are. Instead, they should listen carefully, acknowledge the fears as valid, and offer support in discovering more about the situation, its possible causes, and what’s being done to prevent recurrences.

Adults who listen actively to their kids, and provide a safe and dependable environment for them, are on track to supporting emotional well-being during troubling times. Regardless of a child’s age, temperament, ability, situation, or concerns, adults can work effectively to soothe worries that would otherwise cause deeper distress.

Following the same principle as the airlines’ instructions to fix your own oxygen mask before adjusting a child’s, parents have to wrestle with their own anxieties and emotional responses to adversity before they can address their child’s. This means developing effective coping strategies for themselves. It also helps to communicate regularly with others in children’s lives, such as grandparents and teachers. If a child perceives that the adults in her life are upset, distracted, condescending, or harried, she may be more worried.

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Children and Change: Perspectives, Implications, and Strategies

In January we think about change, and wonder how the year will unfold. Here are some guidelines parents can use to help kids welcome and benefit from changes that may occur—and especially changes that might take place in school settings.  

It’s hard for parents to foresee what might transpire in a child’s life as a direct result of changes, whether they occur at school or elsewhere. Change can happen any time, and it can be big or little, expected or unexpected, painstakingly slow or lightening fast. Moreover, change affects kids in different ways. In order for parents to promote and ensure positive change-related experiences for their children, it helps to be familiar with possible implications, and with some strategies for supporting change processes. Here are some basic guidelines.

Understanding Change

“Change can be _________. “ Fill in the blank.  Perhaps you’re thinking exciting or scary, or inspirational. There are countless possibilities. Descriptors will vary from one person to the next, and will depend on context, and on how an individual feels about previous change experiences. Parents who recognize and appreciate the complexities of change, and who take time to reflect upon the causes and consequences, set the tone for good development opportunities for their children. There’s no doubt that we live in an ever-changing world. Successful change entails planning, preparation, and commitment—as well as adaption.

Helping Children Adjust to Change

It’s not productive to avoid or fear change. It’s far better to be open-minded and welcome it. Help kids develop confidence, resilience, and enthusiasm by modeling a growth mindset. This means showing them how to accept change by seeing it in a positive light, anticipating what might possibly lie ahead, and setting a sensible course. These steps will serve to reduce or eliminate apprehension and ensure a smooth transition. Offer children information about change, including the reasons for it and what will likely occur as a result, and provide encouragement, guidance, and support as needed. Think through the potential academic, social, and emotional implications. If change is apt to be unsettling in one or more areas, it’s especially important to be available, to listen carefully to what your child has to say, to talk about it together, and to be amenable to considerations such as adjusting the pace, extent, or nature of the change process.

Educational Change

Change is inevitable. But for now, let’s focus on school-related change. For example, the status quo at your child’s school may be shifting as children’s individual needs are identified and addressed, as educational policies are revisited, and as teaching practices and learning opportunities are extended. There may be program modifications, technological advances, innovative modes of instruction, or new learning environments. Naturally, parents hope that any such changes their kids encounter at school will be appropriate, timely, and productive. Teaching children about flexibility and patience can help pave the way for them to cope more effectively with ups and downs. Although many changes in schools are quite seamless, this is not always the case. Work together with teachers, and stay attuned to your child’s feelings. This will help mitigate problems in the event that a change experience becomes intimidating, impractical, difficult, or disruptive.

A Brief Checklist for Supporting Change at School

Parents who seek to support their children during times of change might want to think about the following tips:

  • Take careful stock of the nature and extent of the change, and the reasons for it. Consider the who, what, where, when, why, and how of it—and inform your child in ways he can comprehend. Knowledge is empowering.
  • Try and work out what the implications of the change might be, in particular with respect to your child’s reactions and comfort level, taking into account his past experiences, and resilience in similar kinds of circumstances.
  • Check out the availability of support services at school and within the community, including people involved in planning and implementing the change, and those who might be able to provide measures of support.
  • Determine if the complexity of the change might call for some refinement so as to be more accommodating of your child’s individual needs, or to offset any potential adjustment issues you might foresee or observe.
  • Take a deep breath. There’s a lot to be said for time and patience.
  • Read stories together and talk about positive change, about others who’ve prevailed during transitions, and about how to acquire a growth mindset—all of which will contribute to a strong foundation for developing adaptability.
  • Consider outside or unexpected factors and influences that may have a bearing on a change process. Pay attention to these as they arise, and encourage your child to do likewise.
  • Be mindful. If it becomes apparent that your child needs increased support, encouragement, or coping strategies, get professional help.

Of Relevance

When all is said and done, there’s little to be gained from pointless change. Relevance is a key component. For example, a meaningful change initiative might have to do with creating a better fit between your child and the school system, and it could involve different instructional materials, classroom placement, teaching methods, or learning activities. Share understandings such as these. When a change is in the works, talk it through with your child. And remember, change is likely to be more successful if it evolves from negotiation and cooperation among all parties. So be flexible, thoughtful, and collaborative, as you help your child navigate in new directions—now, and in the months ahead.