Friday, December 24, 2010

Happiness and Children's Learning - SDT and CPS

Here are 2 quotes from Joe Bower's blog , a Freak economist Steven Levitt on incentives for school kids and an example of truly constructivist learning from 8 year old's.

I would like to explore them using Self determination Theory principles.

Few parents have the courage and independence to care more for their children's happiness than for their 'success' - Eric Fromm

I would prefer my students to be little “dumber” but a whole lot happier - William Chamberlain

Eight-year-old children publish bee study in Royal Society journal.

With all the pressure on parents and kids to be successful and accepted in school and on the sports ground , little thought is given whether a child is happy or not. The first thing that parents ask teachers is – how are his test scores , is he behaving himself ? In nearly all meetings they fail to ask - is my child happy in school , does he enjoy learning ?

I make it a habit of mine to ask children in the community what they like about school - the answers I get - recess , friends etc , not learning . Pretty tragic !

The mistake parents make is that success and happiness are dichotomies. In fact I hold - If you are not happy , you will be a whole lot '' dumber''.

According to SDT , people and this includes children are intrinsically happier when they are self determined , can direct their lives and feel that their actions are autonomous. People are happy when they become connected to their inner beings , and this is when true learning takes place . This is the place , a place where kids are happy and want to learn that they can connect to their deeper selves , construct knowledge and make meaning of the world around them and offer insights which are unique to them. When kids are alienated from learning , they are not themselves , not connected to their inner beings.

Steven Levitt takes the other path , the shorter one paved with fool's gold. Paying kids for A's is given them a double reward. Alfie Kohn says the grade , the A is a reward for how well you have done , and the award is rewarding the kid a second time by giving him a reward that is scarce. The kids in the video clip seem very happy . Unfortunately the happiness is not even for the A grades , but for the $$$s and Limo ride.

Now Steven Levitt makes the point that if we want to improve tests scores we should invest in students by giving them incentives rather than in our reforms or teaching. This is freak economics , but not sound economics. Yong Zhao says that Chinese education is producing people with high test scores but low ability. The greatest economic resource a country has is its people. If we invest in people , help them become more self determined, competent, autonomous and interrelated will not only have more successful people , but also people who love learning and love people.

Happiness and success are dependent on one another. Constructivist learning provides an opportunity for the construction and integration of knowledge that becomes part of the child. When kids study for good grades , they forget all they learned as soon as they leave the examination hall. And what reinforces this the grades and award ceremonies.

The 8 year old bee study is evidence of true education which brings with it success and happiness.

There is also social and moral learning. Kids learn when they have opportunities to reflect on pro-social behavior and solve problems using CPS- collaborative problem solving , in a collaborative way finding mutually satisfying solutions. When teachers and parents use consequences to deal with problems , ' doing to ' children certainly does not bring with it happiness. When rewards are used to get children to comply with adult demands , kids are in fact being punished by being given a substitute for real intrinsic rewards and having problem solved taking their concerns into account. CPS promotes real happiness in our children , because it is the way where their problems are being solved and their concerns are being addressed.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Social Skills Training - Part 1

Social competence is critical for a child's development. Many kids particular those with challenging behaviors and who may also have a diagnosis have deficits in social skills. The research into the effectiveness of Social Skills training SST has showed not encouraging results for long term benefits and generalization to real life contexts.

Social competence is the ability to obtain successful outcomes from social interactions with others. It reflects the child's ability to integrate behavioral, cognitive and emotional skills in order to adapt flexibly to various social contexts and demands.

Social Skills include a series of non-verbal responses such as appropriate use of eye contact, posture, social distance, use of gesture and facial expressions and verbal responses such as tone, rate and volume of speech, clarity of speech , influence of emotions – anger, fear, happiness, etc conveyed which will influence how others will respond. Children need conversation skills, how to initiate conversations at the appropriate moment , selecting relevant topics for conversation, asking questions, requesting help, offering assistance and invitations, asking to join in etc .

Here is a list of interventions used to train social skills including CPS –collaborative problem solving.

Traditionally SST has focused on teaching behavioral aspects of social responding using direct instruction and role play. Other interventions such as interpersonal problem solving skills training, cognitive restructuring , training in social perception and perspective taking, self regulation skills, emotional regulation skills and modifying environmental contingencies are now being used in association with SST.

A - direct instruction, discussion and modeling skills providing information of how and why the skills are performed , breaking down skills into small steps.

B- Behavioral rehearsal, role play and practice - This is important for skill acquisition and improvement and opportunities should be found for children to practice their skills in various natural settings – in the home , school and at friends

Feedback , Encouragement of reinforcement.

Feedback helps children to make improvements and get help when they are having difficulties. When done in a constructive way and encouraging way children learn to reflect on how their actions affect others , self evaluate and experience pride in their achievements. This is considered better than verbal praise and tangible reinforcers.

Social Perception skills training teaches children to monitor and identify cues relating to their own emotions , feelings and perspectives and those of others with whom they are interacting and understanding the social context and rules. This helps them identify social problems and adapt to the situation.

Interpersonal problem solving skills training – children are taught to identify problems, think of alternative solutions, predict the consequences of each solution, and then select the most appropriate solution.

Self-instructional and self regulation training helps children use self talk and internal dialog to monitor thinking and guide their behavior and can be used in training of social problem solving steps.

Emotion regulation skills help the child to manage his emotional response to frustration and think rationally and deal with irritability or anxiety.

Cognitive therapy to help children with distorted thinking.

Contingency management – a behaviorist approach using rewards and consequences to encourage pro-social behavior. This type of intervention is not recommended by non-behaviorists who show that this approach teaches kids only to think of themselves.

Collaborative problem solving – CPS

Cps teaches various lacking cognitive skills like executive functions, language processing skills, emotional regulation skills, social skills and cognitive flexibility when teachers and parents collaborate with children to solve real problems in a mutually satisfactory way. Skills need to taught in the context of the child's concerns and unsolved problems and not in a top-down manner.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Mindfulness for children

I have a friend who believes in the 10% principle , finding different methods or approaches which compliment CPS – collaborative problem solving. These include medication for mood or chronic impulsivity , good sleep , healthy and regular eating so kids are not hungry , hobbies and personal interests, mentors , sport or exercise and very important meditation and relaxation techniques .

The Mindfulnes approach teaches people and kids to pay attention and to relax . Susan KaiserGreenland has written a book and has some video clips on mindfulness for children.

here are some insights from a parent who uses relaxation and mindfulness with her children.

'Here is one of the books that my dear son and I used to read night after night. You start at the head and work your way down to the feet with this book. It helps w/ relaxation, visualization and breathing. He loved it when he was young.

There are others that come up when you go to Amazon that follow the same principal. This one is to help get to sleep but there are others that teach visualization as a way to slow heart rate, break the stress loop and in general hit pause.

I recommend "The Mindful Child" by Susan Kaiser Greenland.

She offers hope through mindfulness and describes it thusly,

"Mindfulness is an offer of hope as it brings awareness to what happens in one's thoughts, emotions and the physical sensations these engender not with the goal of controlling the mind but of transforming it." She works with children of all religions and beliefs (and their parents).

I don't know how young would be to young as my son(who is 5) uses a mindful vocabulary. He is learning how to talk about his emotions, thoughts, and physical feelings. He will ask for quiet to think. He is learning introspection in a young form

Another thing we used to do was involve my dear son in taking pictures of himself doing activities that calmed him. We would talk about how he could use those pictures (mount them on paper, hole punch and put a ring around) when he wasn't calm to remind him how to be or get calm.

Visual cues can be quite helpful.

I find this different for different age groups. When my ds was younger, we would use picture schedules/reminders. That way even if the mind wanders there is a way to bring it back on track. And actually a wandering mind is better for explosiveness as it can be diverted from that part of the brain  used for fight or flight easier. So, that's a good thing.

Here is a site that has information on picture schedules/reminders, etc.

These ideas transfer easily to use as reminders when the mind wanders. We get used to pulling them out.

I have found them great for young kids too with help re: coping skills. They are upset or agitated and don't know how to calm down (their minds are locked or looping) and they have the pictures (one can make their own pictures) depicting the steps used...breathing....visualizing the bear, etc. '

Teaching mindfulness to children



Meltdowns and Parental Creativity

I can well understand parents wanting tools to help them deal with meltdowns . The feelings of despair and helplessness remain long after the meltdown where your child has spiraled out of control. These negative feelings are pretty dangerous as we tend to loose sight of the big picture , the progress our child may be making and we start looking for the ' quick fixes. He needs a shaking up , heavy consequences so he would never dream of ever behaving like that again. We forget that ' children do well if they can ' and that it takes 2 to tango . What role did we play in the scenario. ? Did we act like a THERMOSTAT to help the kid cool down or did we throw more fuel on the fire. ?

We should relate to meltdowns as a big wave coming at you , you put your head down and ride it out. This is not the time for collaborative problem solving – emergency Plan B and certainly not a time for Plan A – using power . This is a time to help your child calm down and get back on track and this requires creativity.

A typical ' explosive child ' - inflexible , low frustration tolerance , poor adaptability etc exploded because her father had lit the candle = attendant/shamash used to light the other Hanukah candles. The kid was also pretty nervous as she had planned to go to her grandparents nearby and work on a family 'roots' project and then go to a youth group meeting. The candle lighting ceremony takes about 15 minutes.

Her parents tried to calm her down by saying that it was no big deal that her father had lit the ' shamash ' candle - not the Hanukah candle itself , she would be able to light this candle on the following nights. The kid was angry with her father and was not polite at all and wanted to leave the ceremony and go to her grandparents. Her dad did not allow her to leave and then because she was rude , she was given a consequence of staying in her room and not be allowed to go to the group meeting. The dad had to leave the home with the mom protesting that she had to deal with the kid's raging and that it was unfair that the dad who had given the consequence was not there to deal with the kid.

The way to deal with meltdowns is to AVOID them. We avoid them by creating an environment which is user friendly , get rid of potential triggers , have a happy , calm and relaxed atmosphere, plenty of chatting and bonding and most important –working together to find mutually , realistic and doable solutions to unsolved problems.

The constraints of time often are triggers for explosive behavior. It would have been helpful if the kid with the help of her parents had made a schedule of her day - that would make her day predictable with inbuilt room for flexibility. Lists and schedules are great because it is not the parent telling the kid what to do , but the list or schedule which the kid has made.

When a kid is showing signs of frustration it is time for parental creativity. If the parents had also focused on their role in the interaction and the need for some creativity instead of just trying to calm the kid down , they would have come up with the obvious solution – put out the candle and apologize. Being creative is better than emergency Plan B.

It is also better to be proactive and come up with a plan with the child to help the kid calm down. You can build a ' comfort corner ' or a little tent with books , beanbag chair ,tape , games , coloring books etc that the kid chooses to distract him and help him calm down. Food , snacks or drinks can also have a calming down affect. Kids can do some quick exercise , walk around the block , skipping rope or have mom give them a massage or let them have a warm bubble bath. Meditation and breathing techniques are very useful. The family as a whole can learn this techniques and spend time relaxing . Kids who know how to use these techniques find them very useful in calming themselves down. Instead of being angry , kids can put their thoughts on paper and journalize the things that make them angry, sad or happy. This journal is something private , only for their eyes , which they can tear up when they feel fit.

When the meltdown is on its way , our aim is to stop the emotional rush by distracting the brain into ' thinking' about something different. You can do something different – stand on your head , dance like a crazy woman etc. Giving a kid something very different to touch , or a snack , drink can change thinking. If the kid is ranting and raving , just be there to listen silently , with the occasional 'oh' or I hear yuh and wait for the energy to dissipate . Sometimes the meltdown has to run its course - the kid needs to release that tied up frustration. Kids will also try to do things which will seems to be provocative. Do not respond and let them have the last word.

We deal with meltdowns by avoiding them and working on solutions for unsolved problems. The more problem solving exercises the child experience , whether he is collaboratively problem solving his own personal issues or discussing perspectives and concerns of others , he will become a better thinker – a person who can think straight and find various alternative solutions to one problem is less unlikely to have a meltdown.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hanukah parenting message - Love your children for no good reason

At the present time Jews are celebrating the holiday of Hanukah , known as the festival of lights , commemorating the rededication of the holy temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt of the 2nd century BCE. The festival is observed for 8 nights by kindling candles on a unique candelabrum , one additional light on each night of the holiday , progressing to 8 on the final night depicting the miracle of the oil which should have been enough to light the candelabrum in the temple for one day but lasted 8 days until new pure oil could be made.

There is an extra candle called the 'shamash= attendant ' –which is raised above the other candles . The purpose of the shamash is to have a light available for use , as using the Hanukah lights themselves is forbidden. They are meant to be art , conveying a spiritual message and not for personal use.

What is the rationale behind this ruling ?

When we relate to things or even to people in terms of how they can benefit us , we tend to be very judgmental. Parents look at their kids as extensions of themselves , whether they are meeting their expectations , successful or making trouble , teachers do the same with their students and adults with their spouses.

If we can benefit from the candles , we tend to see what they can do for us and this gets in the way of us investing in appreciating the spiritual message of the candles , the power of light over darkness , how a little light , how a small amount of purity can drive away impurity and darkness.

If we look at our children in terms of how they affect us , how they benefit us , how they impact on our lives we will fail to see their uniqueness and specialness. Our love will ultimately become conditional and contingent on how well they behave or how they perform at school.

Alfie Kohn in his book ' Unconditional Parents ' says

'I want to defend the idea of unconditional parenting on the basis of both a value judgment and a prediction. The value judgment is, very simply, that children shouldn't have to earn our approval. We ought to love them, as my friend Deborah says, "for no good reason." Furthermore, what counts is not just that we believe we love them unconditionally, but that they feel loved in that way.

The prediction, meanwhile, is that loving children unconditionally will have a positive effect. It's not only the right thing to do, morally speaking, but also a smart thing to do. Children need to be loved as they are, and for who they are. When that happens, they can accept themselves as fundamentally good people, even when they screw up or fall short. And with this basic need met, they're also freer to accept (and help) other people. Unconditional love, in short, is what children require in order to flourish.'