Calm & Loving Minds Begin at Home: Mindful Parenting Workshop

Right after having my daughter, I started a blog called "The Mommy Brain: Where this Mommy Comes to Organize her Brain" to share the research I was consuming about brain development in the first three years of life. I wanted to share the research with anyone who would read my silly mommy blog because I was simply shocked that the brain was not mentioned in any of the prenatal or parenting classes I took, and I took several. We're told to breast feed, we're told to vaccinate, we're told about attachment parenting, to sleep train, not to sleep train, and there's no shortage of lists about what we're supposed to buy before baby comes. But, I was never informed about how important the first three years of life are to cognitive development, and how big of an impact a lack of such development will have on a child's life-long learning abilities, and ultimate well-being and success. As Paul Tough states in his book Helping Children Succeed, "The science tells us that parents and caregivers, and the environment they create for a child, are the most effective tool we have in early childhood for improving that child's future."

You see, the latest research shows us that, unlike almost all other organs, the brain is unfinished at birth, and that it grows 85% in the first three years of life. The 85% brain development happens in an area called the prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of two very important functions for life-long learning: self-regulation and executive function, otherwise known as the ability focus on a single activity for an extended period, the ability to understand and follow directions and the ability to cope with disappointment. But, the brain does not just develop in positive ways on its own. It is completely dependent on the parent providing the child with face-to-face serve-and-return interactions in a calm & loving home environment. As Dana Suskind so bluntly states in her book, Thirty Million Words. Building a Child's Brain, "Children are not born smart. They're made smart by you talking to them."

maxresdefault.jpg

The image below shows the difference of two three-year-old brains, one of which developed normally, and the other that experienced extreme neglect. But, something very important to note here is that neglect does not mean abuse in the traditional sense, but the mere absence of responsiveness from a parent or caregiver, according to Tough (p. 23). There exists a whole spectrum of environmental factors that fall short of the traditional definition of trauma but still have an adverse effect on brain development. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that one of the most serious threats to a child's healthy development is the absence of responsiveness form a parent. When children are neglected, especially in infancy, their nervous systems experience it as a serious threat to their well-being, and researchers have found that neglect can do MORE long-term harm to a child than physical abuse. 

neglected child brain.png

I was on maternity leave as an elementary school behavior interventionist at the time that I was reading all of this research, and it was like a lightbulb went off in my mommy brain! I realized I had been approaching my most challenging students needs all wrong because they didn't lack the will to behave and learn; they lacked the ability to do so because of their experience in the first three years of life. That part of their brain that would have allowed them to sit still and absorb information was simply underdeveloped. This was no fault of their own, or even their parents. We parents (myself included) are all so busy, stressed and distracted that providing a child the attention and interactions they need in the first three years of life takes knowledge of the research, intentionality, constant prioritization and practical application. Those moment-to-moment interactions are incredibly important to our children's development. In fact, according to Tough, "what matters, in general, is warm, responsive face-to-face, serve-and-return parenting, which can be delivered in many different flavors. That parenting approach, however it is carried out, conveys to infants some deep, even transcendent messages about belonging, security, stability, and their place in the world. And, those mushy, sentimental notions find their articulation in the infants' brains in precise neurochemical reactions: the formation of a synapse, the pruning of a dendrite, the methylation of a DNA sequence. All of which contribute, directly or indirectly, to the children's future success in school"  (p. 72). 

It is with this in mind that I developed Calma's mindful parenting workshop because it is clear that Calm & Loving Minds begin at home. In this 4-part workshop will explore the science of the brain in the first few years of life, and real-life practical tips to develop it. The workshop content is an amalgamation of the latest research from childhood Psychologists, Pediatricians and educators, my experience applying such research to my daughter, and the ways in which my husband and I work to rid ourselves of constant distractions to become engaged, mindful parents. I hope you will join us to ensure your child develops a calm & loving mind that is prepared for life-long learning.

Click here to sign up for the workshop. 

Research from: Thirty Million Words by Dana Suskind, MD, Simplicity Parenting by Jim John Payne, M.Ed., Helping Children Succeed by Paul Tough, The Whole Brain Child by Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Payne, Ph.D., No-Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Payne, Ph.D., The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel Ph.D. Also see Calma's library

How To Keep a Positive Attitude As a Single Parent (by Daniel Sherwin)

By: Daniel Sherwin Founder of DadSolo.com, a Website with tips for single parents. I find Daniel's content incredibly helpful for staying positive, healthy and happy. There's been a lot of talk about mental health lately, and it is so true what he says about our responsibility as parents to stay on top of self-care and mental health in order to create a safe and loving home environment for our children. "The way we eat, drink, love, and cope with stress, depression, anxiety, and sadness all play a big role in the state our mental health is in." Please read, enjoy and support Daniel is his efforts to help parents create calm & loving homes for their children.  

"Parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world. It takes huge amounts of energy, time, money, and emotional effort to raise a child in a healthy and happy home, and it can bring so much stress and anxiety that you may begin to second-guess your decision to have children at all. Don’t worry; this is normal. For single parents, especially, the task of raising a child while keeping both of you happy and sane may seem overwhelming, in part because everything falls on your shoulders.

It’s important, therefore, to have a plan of action when it comes to staying positive and being the best parent you can be. The way we eat, drink, love, and cope with stress, depression, anxiety, and sadness all play a big role in the state our mental health is in. Sometimes, it’s necessary to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re doing the right thing for you, and not the easiest thing.

Here are a few of the best ways to gain a “gratitude attitude”.

Practice self-care

It’s so important to take care of yourself, not only because you are the one responsible for the wellbeing of your child, but because it will help you be the best parent you can be. Daily exercise, a well-balanced diet, and careful attention to your mental health will help you stay happy and healthy. Of course, this means never abusing substances as a means of forgetting your problems or “dealing with” your anxiety or stress. For more tips on how to make good choices, read on here. 

Work hard, play harder

It’s a given that you’re going to work hard; as a single parent, that’s all you do. But it’s important to play just as hard, and that means you’ll have to work out a schedule that allows you to add a bit of fun to your days. Going through life drudging through the same old routine of work, dinner, dishes, chores, helping with homework, and everything else you have to take care of will grow old very fast and may lead to resentment at the fact that you’re responsible for everything. Taking steps to incorporate things that make you happy will allow you to make the most of your days and keep in mind what’s most important.

Be your own cheerleader

Being a parent is often a thankless job, so it’s up to you to be your own cheerleader. For every success you have in a day, treat yourself in some way. It doesn’t have to be anything big; splurge on the fancy yogurt when you give a great presentation at work, or plan a night out with friends after a long week of getting the kiddos to school on time with everything they need in their backpacks. These may not seem like huge accomplishments, but they don’t have to be. Just by patting yourself on the back for all your hard work, you’re allowing yourself to celebrate single parenthood rather than being stressed by it.

Know how to say no

It can be difficult for a single parent to say “no” sometimes, either because they feel guilty about all the things they can’t provide for their child or because they just don’t have the energy for another argument. Instead of saying “no”, find different ways to communicate what you want. For example, when your child wants more television time, say something like, “I’d rather you did your reading for class first.” It’s a way to compromise without starting a fight. For more tips on how to keep things positive at home, check out this article.

 Stay on top of your finances

One of the most stressful parts of being a single parent is handling your finances. Some days it may seem like there’s never going to be enough money, which can cause quite a bit of stress and anxiety. Those feelings can be internalized and come out in a different form, such as yelling at your child over a small infraction. Stay on top of your mental health by staying on top of your finances; create a budget and stick to it.

Remember that no one is a perfect parent; some days, the best you can do is feed, clothe, and bathe your child, and that’s okay. Think about the best ways to create a more relaxed, happy attitude in your home and stick with it."

Thanks for helping Calm & Loving Minds Achieve, Daniel. 

 

 

 

 

The Story of Calma

Let me ask you a question… (and be honest!) How many of you have said to a student “You JUST need to calm down?!” or “Why can’t you just follow directions?!” Me too! We ALL have! Just being able to calm down, or simply being able to hear directions and carry out a task are actually skills that can, and should, be taught in schools. It wasn’t until I began teaching these skills that I had any luck with my most behaviorally challenged little friends while working as a behavior interventionist at an inner-city charter school. Just as we teach children to add, subtract, read and write, we must equip them with skills of self-regulation, focused attention and metacognition if we expect them to learn. 

3rd grade, Lamar Elementary, San antonio ISD

3rd grade, Lamar Elementary, San antonio ISD

Skills of self-regulation (being able to calm down once emotions take over) and executive function (being able to listen to directions, absorb and comprehend the information, then carry out the task) require a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. But, unfortunately, this part of the brain isn’t fully developed until early adulthood. And, what’s worse, it doesn’t just develop in positive ways on its own, but is almost completely dependent on a child being raised in a nurturing home environment. Therefore, children growing up in stressful homes due to the busyness of everyday life, overscheduling, constant stimulation and especially poverty, often see a negative development of this part of the brain, which means these students lack the ability to control their impulses, carry out tasks and, most importantly, absorb information. 

Fortunately, the same type of cognitive research shows us there's a way to build this part of the brain through mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is the focus and clarity that develops through intentional moment to moment awareness. It is exercise for the mind. It’s like doing a bicep curl for the brain, specifically for the prefrontal cortex. Practicing mindfulness helps increase skills like self-regulation, executive function and focused attention while decreasing disruptive behaviors by equipping students with the skills of mental awareness and emotional control. 

2nd grade, KIPP: Un Mundo 

2nd grade, KIPP: Un Mundo 

It is with this research in mind that I had our entire staff trained in mindfulness by Dr. Lindsay Bira, a local Clinical Health Psychologist here in San Antonio, TX who specializes in mindfulness with military soldiers suffering from PTSD. Although we understood the science of mindfulness after the training, and realized the importance of practicing it with our students, our staff lacked the tools we needed to practice mindfulness exercises consistently, and had a hard time helping students understand the importance of mindfulness to their academic and social & emotional well-being. And, with that, Calma was born in order to provide educators the tools they need to practice mindfulness with their students in the classroom not only to foster calmer, happier schools where more effective learning will occur, but so that students also understand the importance of mindfulness to their brain development, academic success and social & emotional well-being. 

1st grade, KIPP: Un Mundo

1st grade, KIPP: Un Mundo

Together with student centered focus groups, teacher feedback and the scientific oversight of Dr. Bira, we wrote three (K-2nd, 3rd-5th and 6-12th) five lesson research-based mindfulness curricula complete with step-by-step instructions for classroom implementation and guided mindfulness audio. The 5 modules include: a body scan for present awareness, mindful breathing for emotional and behavioral regulation, mindful listening for focused attention, gratitude toward opportunity and others, and empathy: perspective-taking. We also offer a two-hour staff training, mindfulness audio for parents and supplemental resources for curricula implementation such as our Calma Mindfulness Journal. 

Calma's mindfulness journal

Calma's mindfulness journal

Lastly, the question I hear all the time from those who observe our program is, “So what’s up with the sunglasses?” I have two answers for that. First, wearing sunglasses during the mindfulness activity helps students avoid eye-contact and privately focus while being in a public setting. Secondly, it’s just fun. When I started doing mindfulness I noticed elementary aged kids thought it was silly, and middle schoolers thought it was weird, but when I walked in with a bag of sunglasses, the little kids really began to focus and the teenagers were more inclined to fully and willingly participate. 

6th & 7th grade, bonham M.S., San antonio Isd

6th & 7th grade, bonham M.S., San antonio Isd

Please check out our 5 week curricula complete with step-by-step instructions for classroom implementation & guided mindfulness audio, and our free audio available for parentsRead our blog that covers topics ranging from “mindfulness in schools” to “how to use Psychology language in the classroom” and “parenting tips and tricks”. Also enjoy our library page full of books and some articles covering the work of the best psychologists, doctors, economists, and educators of our time who are currently developing research-based approaches that enable kids to learn and flourish, academically, socially and emotionally. And, of course, contact us if you have any questions, comments or feedback - it’s the only way we can ensure our program is working most effectively. 

May Calm and Loving Minds Achieve in your Homes and Schools. 

Stop Stressing. It's Hurting Our Kids.

Our brains are worrying about the past or stressing about the future most of the time. They were developed this way from our ancestors, and this used to serve us well to protect us from danger, or to prepare us for action from harm. In the lecture The Science of Mindfulness Ronald Siegel explains why. "Imagine our ancestor Lucy was looking at some bushes, and spied a beige shape. She could have made two possible mistakes. The first mistake would be to think, 'I think it’s a lion, when it’s actually a beige rock.' The second mistake would be to think, 'Eh, it’s probably a beige rock when it was really a lion.' The cost of the first mistake is needless anxiety. The cost of the second mistake is death. So, we evolved to make the first mistake a thousand times to avoid making the second mistake even once. The ancestors that did focus on the moment by enjoying a luscious piece of fruit, or the campfire, statistically, were not our ancestors because they died before reproducing. Our ancestors were the ones that spent each day remembering every bad thing that had happened, and spent much of their lives anticipating more trouble in the future. This is the mind they bequeathed to us." Therefore, our minds were not designed to be focused on the present moment; they were developed to worry, perseverate, anticipate and plan. 

According to a recent article in Pediatric News by Barbara Howard, MD, (Mindfulness and Child Health) a lot of personal distress is due to negative thoughts about one’s past or fears for one’s future, and these negative thoughts can paralyze us with anxiety, take away pleasure, interrupt our sleep, stimulate physiologic stress responses, and have adverse impacts on health, and we're passing this on to our kids. 1 in 5 children report that they worry all or most of the time, according to the American Psychological Association, and nearly 50% show signs of stress through headaches or lack of sleep. The most common current issues in child health are anxiety, depression, sleep problems, stress, and even adverse childhood experiences, all of which appear to stem from our culture, according to Dr. Howard. 

But, it doesn't have to be this way. Today we have the luxury of not worrying all of the time, so we should take advantage. We have to work to balance our negative thoughts, or the cost is our own well-being, and the well-being of our kids. According to Dr. Howard, the most promising method to managing stressful thinking, for both children and their parents, is to learn and practice mindfulness. The below video claims mindfulness is a super power because it allows you to create a buffer between a stimulus and your reaction to it. Practicing mindfulness allows you to observe negative thoughts, just like you're watching them in a movie, instead of getting carried away by them or letting them take over. If we can reduce negative thoughts by simply letting them pass by or choosing not to engage with them, we reduce stress and anxiety, and have more brain space to enjoy the pleasures of life. 

Teaching this skill to our kids is imperative to their health, happiness and overall well-being, too. According to Dr. Howard, the goal of mindfulness is to listen to one’s own feelings and thoughts as “just thoughts.” Being aware that feelings, both pleasant and unpleasant, tend to rise and subside just like the weather beyond your control is a form of “emotion education.” Teaching children to let these feelings pass by, rather than respond to them, is the goal. And, when children are empowered with this skill of self-regulation, it is nothing short of a super power. 

Click here for mindfulness audio for children and teens to empower them to check in with their body using a body scan, self-regulate using the breath and to simply observe their emotions instead of respond to them. 

CONFESSION: I used to be so negative, extremely stressed and a constant worrier. One day, years ago, my husband pointed this out and I thought, "Yuck! I don't want to be like that. Who would ever want to be around someone like that?" So, I began to pick and choose what negative things I talked about, then I began to pick and choose which negative things I cared about, and in doing that I realized that I really do control what negative thoughts I choose to engage with. Sounds profound, huh? Well, it really was for me who just played victim to my negative thoughts. I definitely still have a lot of work to do to rid myself of the old Negative Nellie, but at least now my husband still wants to be around me. 

 

Only Calm Minds Can Learn, According to Science

In May I made a split second panicked decision to cancel a trip to Mexico with my best friends and our children because my 19-month-old daughter was on day five of having absolutely insane tantrums. The one at the airport (that ultimately resulted in me returning to the airline desk in tears to retrieve my already checked luggage and carseat) was going on thirty minutes before I decided there's no way I was putting myself in a 3-foot torture chamber for the next five hours with a screaming toddler on my lap and 100's of people staring at me in frustration, or at best pity, no matter how much I craved Mexican culture, the beach, making memories with good friends and relaxation, which I clearly wasn't going to get. After that incident, I began obsessively consuming books with titles like, "No Drama Discipline", "The Happiest Toddler on the Block" and "How to Deal with the Terrible Twos". Thank God for Amazon's "Customers who bought this item also bought" feature. In all these books, I noticed one common theme, the same theme I saw in every educational book or training I participated in as a behavior interventionist: Only Calm Minds Can Learn. 

Fotolia_112522822_S.jpg

It doesn't matter if you're teaching mathematics in a classroom, or teaching little Suzie that she doesn't get a candy every time you check out at the grocery store because its bad for her teeth. A mind that is worried, upset, frustrated or angry can not physiologically absorb information. When we're feeling this way, the part of the brain called the amygdala hijacks the rest of the brain, and stress hormones flood the body, meaning that the part of the brain that allows us to take in and process information (the prefrontal cortex) is not fully functioning because its been taken over by the amygdala. This is why it is so important to calm the mind before the brain can learn. 

In the book No Drama Discipline the authors explain that from its inception, the word discipline has meant "to teach", and remind us that the goal of discipline should not be to punish, but to teach the correct behavior. Punishing without teaching will not foster the correct behavior in future situations. Luckily, parenting books are chock-full of incredibly effective and easy little techniques to use with your children to calm them down. (My personal favorite, and what I found most effective with my daughter, is to remove the tantruming toddler from the situation, then get below their eye level; set them on a counter, or kneel down to speak to them. This removes the authoritative feel, and provides connection for the child when they need it most.)

151006_NatalieRamo_illustration-childargument.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2.jpg

Unlike these parenting books, I found almost no strategies to use in the classroom to create a calm learning environment when I was an educator. Of course when you're trying to calm one child, similar techniques as found in parenting books can be applied, i.e. connecting, removing the child from the situation, breathing, counting, etc. But, how could I make sure the minds of 20+ children are calm in order for them to learn? This was of particular concern to me working with students from inner-city households because poverty is the number one predictor for stress in children, and high levels of stress hinder the development of a child's prefrontal cortex, that part of the brain mentioned above that controls our intellectual functions, according to Paul Tough in his most recent book Helping Children Succeed (p. 15). Dr. Dana Suskind author of Thirty Million Words says, "If a child's mind can't, in a sense, quiet itself or concentrate on the information being presented, that information will not be absorbed by the child. It's that simple. The result is not only curtailed learning at that moment, but a poor prognosis for future learning, regardless of the child's potential IQ." (Suskind, p. 112). Yikes! 

I had been practicing mindfulness regularly, and noticed that I was not only much calmer, but my thinking was clearer, too. So clear that I told my mindfulness expert, Dr. Bira that I really, honestly, with all of my heart and research from experts believe mindfulness is the key to education because it helps students' minds quiet and the part of the brain that allows them to learn (the prefrontal cortex) is ready to absorb information. We can create all the fanciest academic curricula in the world, but if our students' minds aren't calm and focused, then they're not learning it. Dr. Bira agreed, but said, "I don't know how to work with kids. You've got to do this." It was then that Calma was born, and with the oversight from Dr. Bira, focus groups of very honest kids, and teacher feedback we wrote a 5 week, 5 lesson curricula with grade-specific guided mindfulness audio in order provide teachers the tools they need to calm the minds of their students in order to grow their brains. And, it is amazing to see calm and loving minds achieve. 

Icon_scan.jpg

How to Use Growth Mindset Language to Foster Grit and Good Character in Kids

The work of Carol Dweck's growth mindset has become very popular in classrooms across the country because her research proves that intelligence is malleable, and with hard work, dedication, and the right mindset, anyone achieve. People with a growth mindset "believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment." The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset, which she defines as "people who believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort." But, they're wrong, she says.

There is, however, very specific language to develop such a mindset in children, and it all boils down to praising the process, not the person, or using process-based praise instead of person-based praise. Let's say your child got an "A" on their math test. Awesome! A process-based praise would sound like, "I know you studied really hard for that test to be sure you understood the material. It looks like your hard work paid off. Good job!" as opposed to "You're so good at math; you're a math wiz like your dad!". And, as you might have guessed, person-based praise is praising the person. When Johnny scores the winning goal of his basketball game person-based praise would sound like, "You're so good at basketball. You're a natural." as opposed to "Those extra hours you put in practicing your three-point shot really showed today! Way to go!"

Person-based praise, or telling a child he or she is "smart", "amazing", "a natural", or "the best" unfortunately does not produce a child that will grow up to be "smart", "amazing", "a natural" or "the best". According to Dr. Dana Suskind the author of Thirty Million Words, praising a child in this way is actually counterproductive and counterintuitive because when the child inevitably runs into a situation where something doesn't come natural he or she will be more likely to give up, whether is be on a math test or on the basketball court. This type of praise fosters a fixed mindset, the belief that basic qualities, like intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits that cannot be developed. Dweck's research supports that children who have heard person-based praise have been found to be more likely to give up when things became challenging, and were more likely to lie about achievement in order to appear smarter (Suskind, p. 105). 

images.jpeg

However, when you want to foster a child with good character, one who is kind, empathetic and honest, the exact opposite is true. You want to praise the person, not the process, because you want children to feel like they ARE intrinsically good. For example, if I see my child share her toys I would say, "You ARE such a good friend" as opposed to "It was really nice of you to share your toys." This makes her feel like she is a good person or friend, not that she made the choice to be, and that she has the choice not to be. Adam Grant, the author of the article Raising a Moral Child says, "When our actions become a reflection of our character, we lean more heavily toward the moral and generous choices. Over time it can become a part of us.” (Suskind, p. 125).

In summary, praise the process if you want a gritty child who won't give up. Praise the person if you want to develop a child with good character. I suggest a balance of both so all kids know how to work hard and be nice. 

Counting the Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness with Kids: Empathy

Counting the Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness with Kids: Empathy

Empathy may seem like a "soft" skill, one that's not very important to acquire, or teach our children in order to be successful in school or life. But, new research on the topic shows that empathy is far from "soft", and actually plays an integral role in predicting kids' current and future happiness, success and overall well-being, according to Dr. Borba's book Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. Research shows that having the ability to empathize affects our heath, wealth, authentic happiness, relationship satisfaction, and ability to bounce back from adversity faster. In fact, Harvard Business Review named it one of the "essential ingredients for leadership success and excellent performance". And, just like all character traits, it is a skill that can be taught, learned, cultivated and lived.

Read More

Bilingual Brains

Bilingual Brains

Living in south Texas, my daughter June has already picked up a lot of Spanish, only referring to water as "aqua" and eggs as "huevos", and today she started at the Mustard Seed Academy, a full Spanish Immersion school. When June was just a baby, I read Thirty Million Words by Dr. Dana Suskind, a research-based book that proves that a child's brain grows 85% in the first three years of life, and a warm, loving positive language environment greatly enhances that growth, which affects life-long learning. In her book TMW, she shares the latest research on bilingualism, and discusses the verbal and non-verbal advantages of children who are bilingual. After reading this research, I knew I had to take advantage of the ubiquity of bilingualism that exists in San Antonio, and luckily for us, the Mustard Seed was just three blocks away.

Read More

Connection Calms

I was working as a behavior interventionist at an inner-city charter school a couple years ago, and I distinctly remember the moment I realized that what my most behaviorally challenged kids needed was simply more connection, not more rules and discipline. I was called into a classroom to encounter a five-year-old boy walking around clearly very angry, chest puffed out, a scowl on this face, his hand in the air giving his entire Kindergarten class the middle finger... five.years.old. I guess my mommy instincts kicked in, or something, because I looked at that child and, I thought to myself, "the last thing that kid needs is another stern disciplinary response from another angry authoritative figure. What that kid needs is a hug." Since then, my whole approach to working with "behaviorally challenged" children changed to a connection first approach. 

Read More

Talk to Your Kids About Tragedy

Talk to Your Kids About Tragedy

I am so glad my daughter is only 19 months so that I don't have to talk to her about events like the Manchester bombing... yet. It's only a matter of time. The reality is that terrorist attacks, shootings, and other tragedies will continue to occur in this World. I, for one, am so glad to see experts and organizations coming together to provide resources for us parents, educators and caregivers to know how to talk to our children about these horrible events. 

Read More

Counting the Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness with Kids: Gratitude

Practicing gratitude might sound fluffy, unimportant, or unnecessary, but hard science shows there are many benefits to having a "gratitude attitude" (sorry, I had to). Having a daily gratitude practice, like keeping a gratitude journal or writing daily "thank you" notes increases your energy levels, improves relationships, and makes you happier and healthier, according to science.

Read More

The Traveling Bug

The Traveling Bug

In our early twenties, two of my girlfriends, Aly, Janell, and I had a crazy dream to travel the world. We saved all our money for over a year, quit our first "real" post-college jobs, and travelled to 13 countries and numerous cities from New Zealand to Australia, then Asia & Europe. Needless to say, it was one of the best decisions of our lives because we had an absolute blast, of course, but also because we learned so much about different people, food, cultures, perspectives and ways of living. Now, Aly is adamant that we pass the experience of travel down to our kids with our first stop being Tulum, Mexico in May, and research highly supports it, too!

Read More

Counting the Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness with Kids: 3. Focused Attention

I once heard at a positive behavior training led by Dan St. Romain that a child's attention span = their age + or - two minutes, up to the age of 14. This means a five-year-old kindergarten student can realistically only pay attention for a whopping 3-7 minutes. An eighth grade fourteen-year-old middle school student can give you 12-16 minutes before he or she checks out. Add in hours of screen time full of fast-paced entertainment, and a child's ability to focus in the classroom decreases, while their need for loud, animated, rapid and exciting entertainment increases. This leaves teachers to fight a losing battle, vying for the attention of 25-30 students while delivering lesson plans of minimal entertainment for more than quadruple the amount of time a child is actually able to pay attention. 

Read More

Counting the Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness with Kids: 2. Stress Reduction

Counting the Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness with Kids: 2. Stress Reduction

Have you ever taken a shower, and when drying off thought, "Did I even wash my hair?" because you were so focused on rehearsing that crucial conversation you are supposed to have with your boss that day? Or have you ever driven somewhere thinking about the millions of things you have to do just to arrive at your destination, and realize you don't remember the drive, that you were on complete autopilot? That's ok. Me too. It's not your fault, or mine. Our brains are preconditioned to stress over the past, or worry about the future, instead of focusing on the present moment. Research shows us that this stress is really bad for our health, but also that there's a lot we can do to change the brains we were born with, even into adulthood. 

Read More

Counting the Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness with Kids: 1. Self-Control

Counting the Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness with Kids: 1. Self-Control

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard a parent or teacher say, "He just needs to learn to calm down, control his temper, not talk back, stop yelling, or not hit his sister when he gets mad." In other words, he just needs to learn self-control. Expecting kids to just learn self-control is like expecting them to just learn math, but actually even harder because the part of the brain that learns math is developed, but the part of the brain that would help them calm down, the prefrontal cortex, doesn't completely mature until the early twenties. 

Read More

Counting the Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness with Kids

Counting the Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness with Kids

I've mentioned before in previous posts that I started practicing mindfulness, or mindful meditation, back in March when I stumbled upon Dr. Lindsay Bira's meet-up group. (See the video below about mindfulness if you have no idea what I'm talking about.) Mindfulness, again, isn't some weird, fluffy hippie stuff; it is research-based science that proves that you can train your brain to have better focus, attention and emotional regulation. After attending a couple drop-in mindfulness classes guided by Dr. Bira, I began to notice physical and mental benefits: my stress/anxiety level had decreased drastically, I felt like I could think more clearly (no more mommy brain!), and, overall I was calmer and happier. Knowing I would be returning to work as an inner-city charter school educator in the not so distant future, I began thinking about how practicing brief mindfulness techniques in the classroom could benefit the staff, but especially my (K-4) students who seemed to lack the basic ability to focus, emotional and behavioral regulation, and self-control. Coincidentally, Dr. Bira had recently trained an elementary school staff in mindfulness practices, and was happy to train ours. 

Read More

How to Raise Kinder Kids, According to the Experts

How to Raise Kinder Kids, According to the Experts

Despite a tough political season, I still have so much hope for our children's future because of the many parents, grandparents, caregivers and educators (from both parties) I have spoken with who are ready to roll up their sleeves, and get busy raising a generation of kids that are kinder, more understanding, accepting and loving. Fortunately for us, there is a growing body of research called behavioral economics that explores the sometimes irrational ways we all make decisions and think about the world. The hope of the researchers, according to Karen Weese, is that maybe if we can understand a little more about the instinctive, irrational quirks of our kids' minds, then we'll be better equipped to raise children to become caring, respectful and responsible adults. According to Adam Grant's article Raising a Moral Child, studies suggest that anywhere from a quarter to more than half of our propensity to be giving and caring is inherited (i.e. nature). That leaves us a lot of room for nurture, for us to use these researched-based recommendations to mold our children's hearts, and encourage their actions. So, let's get started.

Read More

One Year, Twenty-nine Words

One Year, Twenty-nine Words

Hi. Bye. Bubbles. Mama. Dada. Granddad. Up. Aqua. Ball. Baba. Tickle. Poof. Boo. Moo. Banana. Purple. Hello. Uh-oh. Quack. Woof. Puff. Chris. Thank you. Gus. Diaper. Good. Book. Ooops. and Butt paste... This is the list of words that we have heard our daughter June say in recent weeks leading up to her first birthday compiled by her grandparents, her dad and myself. If you've read my blog, or if you know me at all, I hope you know by now that I am not writing this to brag. As an educator, I am so passionate about sharing any information I can with other moms, dads, caregivers, or anyone willing to read, that will help them to know how important their role is in their child's brain development. In fact, in her book Thirty Million Words, Dr. Dana Suskind says, "the most important component in brain development is the relationship between the baby and his or her caretaker."

Read More

Take a Moment to be in the Moment

Take a Moment to be in the Moment

Since about March I have been practicing mindfulness, or mindfulness meditation, which is simply trying to focus on the moment you are in, recognizing when your mind starts to wonder to other things, then bringing it back to the present moment over, and over, again, and again, without judgment. It's actually incredibly hard because our brains are preconditioned to perseverate over the past, or worry about the future, instead of being in the present. Practicing mindfulness has helped me tune-in to the moment, while in the moment, instead of thinking about the past or worrying about the future.

Read More

Simply Tune-in

In her book Thirty Million Words Dr. Dana Suskind informs us that a child's brain grows 85% in the first three years of life, and that growth is completely dependent on the language environment in which the child is exposed to, which WE, as parents, provide (or not). In her book, she guides us to create the optimal language environment in "three simple steps", called the Three T's: tune-in, talk more and take turns. Lately, I have been making a very conscience effort to "tune-in" with my daughter, June, for the few hours we get to spend together each evening by putting my phone away, turning my thoughts off and engaging in her little world.

Read More