What is your child’s E-Q?

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Empathy is the ability to share and understand another’s feelings. Relating to other people is one of the most critical developmental steps that your child needs to master during early stages of his childhood.  Since empathy is a skill that he is not born with it must be taught, learned and then practiced. It is important for mom and dad to be aware of their child’s progress and purposefully model this; talk about it with him and find ways for him to get better at it.

As you practice empathy, actual neuronal pathways are created and deepened and exercised in the brain. Our brains actually generate the same emotions that we recognize in the other person (this is proven in MRI brain scans). The empathy pathways in your brain are designed to pick up another person’s feelings, process the information then actually feel the same feeling.

Because physical presence and face to face relationship is the learning ground for fully understanding another person, empathy is stunted with a digital diet heavy on video games and social media. It gets harder to master this character trait as the number of screens, virtual friends, and isolated play increases in your child’s life. The harsh nature of gaming (killing your best friend in Minecraft to shooting a police office in Grand Theft Auto), combined with the subtle (and not so subtle) disrespect and cruelty in social media will hurt and desensitize your child’s ability to discern pain in another person. While one may argue that being on a team in a video game can help build empathy, it simply isn’t true. All popular games are designed to be a very competitive ‘me first’ training ground. It is a game and you are ultimately playing to win, not playing to worry about all the other player’s problems.  Games may develop other skills in your child but empathy is not one them.

What is your child’s empathy (selfless acts) quotient?  Think about that today and think of some creative ways to practice more empathy in your home. Taking care of a pet can be the beginning of building empathy but there are many other ways to teach empathy skills in your home.

Here are some practical tips:

  1. Non-distracted true listening with a eye to eye contact and no screen buzzing or interrupting. Show your child how to do this by doing it with him. Turn your phone off and listen to him.
  2. Sharing feelings in the conversation, empathy is a 2 way street. Don’t just listen but offer kind words without solving the problem too quickly every time. “I know how you must feel; I was very scared and sad the day I lost my dog too.”
  3. Being aware of surroundings. Be attentive when out; help an elderly person, offer to carry something for someone who is struggling  or hold the door for a stranger etc. Teach your child to use his senses to ‘see’ what is going on around him and anticipating other people’s needs.  He can’t do this if he is focusing on his handheld when you are doing errands.
  4. Offer your help. This is a great way to show empathy because it requires giving your time which actually shows you care more than saying you care. Stop what your doing to help your son with a puzzle he is frustrated with or have your child help you with his grandparents with a project they are having trouble with. Show your child how put the other person first.
  5. Physical contact. Human touch is very powerful activating empathy pathways and increasing oxytocin hormone levels making both feel better.  Even a hand on the shoulder or pat on the back is healing, conveying more than words.  Giving a hug or a double handshake (shaking your child’s hand then putting your other hand on top) is a strong sign of empathy and very important to give and receive on a regular basis.
  6. Talking with people. One of the best ways to build empathy is to teach your child to talk with adults when you are out; be friendly and teach them to focus on the other person in the conversation. Teach them to ask good questions, use humor and make other people feel important. This act will take the focus off your child and engage the other person. He should learn how to look the other person in the eye and start a conversation. Practice with the clerk at the store: “How is your day going today sir?” or at the vet, “What do you like best about your job?” Teaching your child the art of communication with others will build his empathy skills.
  7. Offer help and assistance without passing judgment. Teach your child that it is not his job to criticize or focus on the problem but to offer help instead letting the other person know that you are in it with them, “I am here to help you till we figure it out, we are in this together!”
  8. Use your imagination:  An active imagination will help your child feel another’s feelings. This can be developed and practiced by reading fiction and learning how to feel the feelings of the characters in the book.

Empathy creates compassion and makes us a caring human being and society. It is important for our own mental health too and is a keystone habit for success in life. Screens during childhood can move our kids away from developing deep human connections toward a place where time moves too fast, deep feelings of caring for others are pushed aside and values are not clearly understood.  Purposefully make empathy  part of each day and before long your child’s E-Q will be soaring!

How to pave a dirt road.

As I have learned more about the effects of technology and gaming overuse in young children, I have consistently been taken back to the basics of brain development. It is very important to understand how our experiences affect our brain and how technology changes the experiences in childhood. Childhood is a very impressionable time where the window of opportunity for learning and development is pretty short. While our brain is able to develop after childhood the neuronal pathways we set as children will be the foundation for the rest of our lives.

In simple terms, each new experience creates a neuronal pathway in your child’s brain. As he learns a new skill, those neurons fire for the first time. This new pathway (or dirt road as I like to call it) is scary, hard to travel and full of potholes and rocks! As the child learns the new skill the road becomes paved and more comfortable and fun.  In this slide image(taken from a recent MMM presentation) you can see that repetition is key for our children (or anyone) to learn a new skill and be comfortable with it.

The take away points are:

Learning new skills are hard at first. Language, reading, writing and math are hard for your child in the beginning but they get easier as your child practices those skills and ‘pave’ those neuronal pathways (roads).

Tech roads are easy. If gaming and technology is introduced too early, your child may prefer paving those easy roads with his time and brain energy instead of the harder roads.  While technology is a dirt road for some parents, it is not much of a dirt road for children.  Games are not designed to be hard, if they were your child would lose interest too soon. Rather they are designed to be very easy, exciting, fun and addictive for the player (so they will keep playing). Over time if you don’t keep it balanced, your child will end up with many dirt roads in the hard necessary areas and only paved roads in the area of shallow technology and game use.

Manage it wisely mom and know that there will be plenty of time for your child to dive into technology once his major pathways are paved well! As my 16 year old daughter recently said, “Technology fixes everything so you don’t have to think so hard.” She nailed it on the head!

How do you pave a dirt road? You use it often even when it it frustrating and not so much fun.  Eventually it will get easier and the pay off is awesome! Encourage your child to work on paving a dirt road today!

Is he SAFE at home? It’s your call.

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We are in the middle of Fall Ball and there is nothing quite like the baseball field in the crisp, cool evenings. We love this sport! They love catching the fly balls and I love catching the shots!

This season we have seen interesting developments in the dugout. The boys are a little more rowdy and not as awed by the baseball process as they were even a season ago. But that is okay because they are growing up and figuring things out and gaining confidence, all good things! The challenge is that baseball is not all they are figuring out at this age. A few weeks ago a  team member gave detailed instructions to the whole dugout about how to disable your parents’ parental controls on your laptop. Wow! That was a lesson that I wasn’t prepared to hear from a 9 year old! My boys were there and took it all in and even asked questions! I got home and followed the instructions and, to my dismay, they worked very well.

What is the lesson here? That our kids are two steps ahead of us at all times.  While we need to be in constant communication about internet dangers with our children, we also need to be smarter than they are with the controls. Check your settings right now, simply do a search (for something you don’t want your kids searching for) and see if your screens (including smart phones) are locked down.  Be sure to click on the ‘images’ tab too when searching. When I checked my computer and my phone, I discovered that my sites were blocked fine but not my images, requiring additional research. Remember if they have 3G or 4G they can get past your locked down router controls too.  I recommend calling Covenant Eyes for help (877) 479-1119 if you are unsure about your parental control world.  Their site has great info on filtering content and how to manage it all and their service works great.

Remember Mom, you are the only one who can protect your child’s childhood and keep them safe on the screens at home, it is your call!

Low tech home.

Low tech home

Many moms have a hidden fear from the time their babies are born that their child will be left behind other children one way or another. (After your third or fourth child,  you get a little less worried!)  With technology now in every corner of our world, moms fear that their children are missing out (and may be uncool) if they don’t have enough tech but also worry if they have too much.  Should they have a smart phone? Should they take an iPad to school? Do they need their own laptop?  Should they limit technology use in their home? But more is better, right?

We all want our kids to have the ‘edge’ and some sort of advantage, but deep down we know that we should be protecting their childhood at the same time. Just when you thought you had a handle on managing the kitchen timer over gaming limits for each child, You Tube consumption and Angry Birds,  you are now faced with bigger decisions as questions loom around purchasing even more technology that is of the portable nature. Will it ever stop?  You long for the days gone by when technology was used as a tool and not what has become a toy in the hands of your child. A toy that is distracting him from very important childhood activities like talking to mom and dad at the dinner table and playing baseball with his brother in the backyard.

If you are worried that your kids will be left behind if you limit technology in their lives by taking the uncommon, uncool path your gut is telling you to take – – think again. The top CEOs and owners of many high tech companies including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook, all have one thing in common: Their homes and kids are relatively tech free and when tech is allowed, they have very strict limits on it’s use. Yes, I know it is hard to believe but it is true.

A recent New York Times article entitled Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent  tells of Mr. Jobs’ surprising response when asked how his children liked the new iPad. “They haven’t used it yet; we limit how much technology our kids use at home.” Steve Jobs would not even let his kids have an iPad. Now there is a good line next time your child is begging for another screen: ”The guy who invented it wouldn’t give it to his own kids sweetie. Why should I let you have one, honey?”

Do these technology chief executives know something that Mom doesn’t know? Let’s just say that they know the detailed science behind what every mom feels deep down: technology overuse is harmful to young children and must be used carefully and in moderation as they grow into older teens.  These leaders set strict tech limits and none of them allow screens (including phones) in their children’s bedroom. Many of their kids also attend low-tech schools. They know that the business of brain development in a child is best accomplished when the child can utilize many different neuronal pathways not just overusing the pathways needed for Angry Birds.

Will tech overuse hurt your child? Yes it will. It is not a benign activity. It causes the release of neurochemicals and if out of balance, can change the actual structure (neuronal pathways) of the brain.

Will moderate use (whatever that is) hurt him? Maybe. This generation is part of the experiential phase of this new frontier of a screen in the hands of every child. The verdict is still out.

Will little or no tech hurt him? No. Why? Because children have more important brain building activities to take care of before they soak  their brains with technology. Limited/balanced  use when he is young  will allow  important brain development to take place that he will need later in life. When he is an older teen he will be able to use that balanced brain to utilize technology as a tool in his life instead of a toy.  Not only will he be able to easily jump on the technology train at that point,  he may even be able to drive it! I am pretty sure that Bill Gates didn’t play video games all day or waste time on Instagram when he was a kid. Just saying.

Join the ranks of the upper echelon of tech savvy smart parent leaders and follow their advise on this one. But first do your own research so you can own your decision. Re-think the purpose of each technology screen in your child’s hands and err on the side of caution on this one, Mom. Slow things down a bit for your kids and have no fear, it is usually the “uncool” kids in school that grow up to make the world a better place!

Keep your eye on the ball, Mom.

 

IMG_3127Fall ball has started and the boys are having a blast. Another season, another team and a fresh new uniform! I find myself sitting in the stands cheering them on and offering the only advice I know about baseball – – “Keep your eye on the ball!” reminding them to focus on the only thing that matters at that split second in time. If they look down or over at the stands when the pitch comes in they will strike out.

Every now and then we need a little reminder that it is okay to say no to the computer, no to the cell phone and no to the video game.  Parents get swayed by peer pressure just as much as kids do. Everyone else is doing it and we don’t want our kids to be left out so we give in. We get distracted with life and forget the basics sometimes. But we have to remember to keep our eye on the ball and not strike out with our parenting.  We only have a very short childhood window (seems like a split second) to set a good foundation for our children and they should be focused on doing that stage well. They have their whole life to get saturated with technology. Give them the gift of some tech-free days during the week or tech-free weeks in the year. How about a video-game-free year all together or no cell phone until you are responsible enough to brush your teeth without me reminding you to do that every day? Just some things to think about, Mom. Revisit your parenting goals and make sure technology isn’t making your child stressed or irresponsible.

You know:

  • that gaming/texting raises the levels of dopamine in their brains.
  • gaming activates the limbic system (pleasure center) while shutting down the frontal cortex (thinking center); actually re-wiring their brains.
  • that they will grow to love the things they spend time on and lifelong habits begin early.
  • that tech addiction is very real.
  • that to date, no child has ever died of a video-game-playing-deficiency or not having a cell phone (despite current middle school surveys!).
  • there is a growing number of families who are pulling the plug and refocusing on balanced childhoods.

If your child is nagging you constantly, if he is spending too much isolating time in front of the screen, if he is not enjoying being outside, reading real books, playing with some sort of ball or sport, or riding his bike it may be time to just say no for now. Step back and look at the big picture. He gets plenty of screen time in school and can take a break at home. Don’t stress over how you are going to manage content and apps and figure out who got what amount of time on what screen. I give you permission to just take a break, and a deep breath, and calmly say no. Replace the game with another hobby. Protect his childhood now and then equip him to use tech responsibility when he is an older teen.

Keep your eye on the ball, Mom, and focus on what you know in your gut (and heart) is best for your child.  He will live through some game free seasons in his life and be better for it. Mom, I am cheering for you in the stands: “Keep your eye on the ball!” And, I added a new cheer: Give me a “N”,  Give me a “O”…. “NO!”  You can do it! Go team!

How does your child fill his time?

time As parents we have a big responsibility to guide and equip our children to to have a balanced childhood and to spend their time wisely.  If left up to their own choices,  they may choose to have doughnuts for dinner every night and spend all their time on low effort high reward activities like gaming and computer entertainment.  I designed this chart to give moms a clear visual of pouring time (milk) into different activities in your child’s day (vases).  Your mission is to help him use his time wisely by choosing a balance of appropriate activities. Every drop that goes into one vase can’t go into another. It is a done deal. If your child spends 3 hours gaming, those hours can never be used again for reading or art or nature.  It is a simple but profound concept and as we teach them to use their time on foundational character building skills, they will reap the benefits their whole life.

Here is what we know:

  • Multi-tasking is a brain science myth; your child (and you) can only do one activity at a time, i.e. he can’t game and do his homework! I promise!
  • The activities that your child learns and practices during childhood will strengthen specific neuronal pathways and set the foundation for how his brain is wired.
  • Learning a hard new skill takes repetition, patience and time to develop.
  • Neuronal pathways (building skills) that are not used during childhood will be pruned away and much more difficult to activate (learn) later in life.
  • Moms have the most influence over how their children spend their time and their talents.
  • Time is a limited resource for children and adults alike.

How much time will your child put into each activity in his day?  It is up to you, Mom, to help him structure a good balanced plan.  Until his frontal cortex is developed he will need encouragement to try many different activities. Video games and screens will be hard for him to resist and if he had full control of the “milk” he may just pour it all into that vase.

Don’t get paralyzed by the overwhelming task of limiting your child’s screen entertainment activities. Start with a small plan if you are having trouble. Some families find success by making gaming and computer  entertainment time off limits during the school week. My decision was to go game free all together because I was having problems managing the ‘milk’ decisions for four children! Now their weekdays and weekends are filled with many non-screen activities and our life just feels richer, more meaningful and less stressful. While I give them certain choices around which vases they fill,  I am ultimately responsible for where their milk goes. This visual has really helped me evaluate my parenting goals and I hope it helps you too!

“Mom can I borrow the car keys and your frontal cortex?”

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Did you know? The human brain does not mature until age 25 and you can’t speed it up!

This wonderful chart shows an MRI of the gradual development of the same brain images taken at different ages.  The brain matures from back to front with the frontal cortex or expectative center maturing last (decision making, reasoning, problem solving, impulse control.) As your child’s brain develops it is organizing the neuronal pathways that it will use the rest of its life. Because of this, your child is very sensitive to outside life experiences and actions including screen time and gaming.

What does this mean for gaming?

*Repetition: Neuronal connections are made every time your child experiences a new activity and the pathway must be fired over and over during the development process to gain competence in that activity.  How much gaming is really necessary for your child? Is gaming a skill that you want him to invest in and become an expert at?

*Release of neurochemicals  with gaming: Gaming activates the limbic system in the brain and after just 20 minutes of play  it reduces connections to the frontal cortex.  In our house we call it the game coma when extended game play renders the child moody, glazed over and unable to easily communicate with others (and come to dinner when called!); brain science explains why.

*Pruning occurs during early childhood when neuronal pathways that are not being used
are shut down while pathways that are used a lot get stronger. Do you want your child to have strong reading pathways or video gaming pathways?

*There are rich windows of opportunity for learning and gaining new skills during the early Continue reading

Book vs. screen reading.

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Another study* just came out to say that our comprehension is better when we read an actual paper book instead of reading the same book on a digital screen.

Why?

Because paper books stimulate a wider variety of senses than screens do, activating deeper memory banks in the brain. The increased sensory experience of book reading fires more neuronal pathways which translates into more brain activity and more brain connections resulting in better recall.

Emotions like empathy, character identification and emersion are higher with paper book reading and these emotions help with recall. According to the study, the ability to recall accurate chronicle order of the story is also higher with paper book reading. The feeling of where you are in the story is physically apparent in a book as finished pages move from your right hand to your left hand. The touch and feel of a book is very different than the touch and feel of a screen. Screens are also bright and distracting which may cause a bit Continue reading

Emotion vs. Emoticon

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A recent study has confirmed again what every mom already knows: technology use reduces our child’s ability to read non verbal social cues and emotional information from others. Even though you are looking at your digital screen as you read this, you can see that the photo on the left is much more descriptive than the emoticon on the right. But if you were actually in the room with this child many more of your senses would be activated as you would also hear the contagious belly laugh, watch the bouncing body movement and get the message loud and clear that this was a happy kid. You would feel it with your emotions and it would make you smile. The image on the right is more shallow and does not give the same cues. Very important emotional information is missing when we text, rather than when we talk face to face.

According to a new UCLA study, people need more face to face interaction away from screens.  Digital media overuse/imbalance is causing a decline in our children’s ability to Continue reading