Posts Tagged ‘Child development’

Want your child to have positive memories of childhood?

January 9, 2011 Leave a comment
Do you find my brain? - Auf der Suche nach mei...

Image by alles-schlumpf via Flickr

Apparently the human brain is naturally hard-wired to remember negative experiences. Even when positive experiences outnumber negative ones, the implicit negative memory bank grows faster. We retain negative memories and tend to forget the good ones.

So given that we know that, how can we use that to the benefit of parenting? You can rig your child’s brain for happy memories! Sounds a little creepy, but it actually makes a lot of sense. The remedy is not to suppress negative experiences. Instead, the key is to fostering as many positive experiences as possible and then really let them soak in.  Christine Carter, a psychologist who writes a blog on at the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley, suggests the following:

1. Teach kids to see all the good around them. Share with them an appreciation for a beautiful day, time spent together, good food, the kindness of others. The idea is turn positive facts that are present all around us into an experience for the child.

2. Draw out and really savor the experience. The idea here is to not only encourage your child to hold the positive idea in mind, but also to remember the emotions. That practice will strengthen the positive associations made with the memory.

3. Let it all sink in. Let your child imagine this feeling sinking into their mind, using methaphors such as the way water sinks into a sponge.

Focusing on good memories in this way can actually overwrite negative ones. Dr. Carter’s uses her personal example of not remembering the pain of being bullied because all the positive attention she received from friends and family created so many positive memories for her that they outweighed the negative.

Do you have an example to support this theory from your childhood?


Is Technology Wiring Your Child for Distraction?

November 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Is it possible that the constant stimulation from technology available to children today could be rewiring their brain in such a way that they become less able to focus and stay on task? This idea made front page news today in the New York Times.

The articles interviews a group of teens who are having trouble staying focused on schoolwork while facing constant temptation from texting, Facebook, YouTube, and the myriad of other technologies at their fingertips (often simultaneously). The kids interviewed for the report blame falling grades on their use of technology, noting that it zaps their time as well as their interest for the comparatively bland alternative of schoolwork. So that piqued my interest, given that just last week I was wondering in my blog post whether any research had been done on this very subject. The following studies were discussed in the article:

Computer time worse than TV
In a 2007 study conducted at the German Sport University in Cologne, researchers found that playing video games before bedtime led to significantly lower sleep quality and reduced ability to remember vocabulary words. TV watching only decreased sleep efficiency (ratio of time slept to time spent in bed). The researchers hypothesize that it is the stimulating nature of video games that leads to different results. Video games can induce emotional (e.g., frustration, surprise) and physiological changes (e.g., increased heart rate, adrenaline release) that television usually does not. I imagine Facebooking and texting could potentially have similar results, especially in the context of teens, but that was not tested.

The brain needs downtime
Studies in rats suggest that periods of rest are important in order for the brain to make new connections. When rats are allowed to explore unfamiliar areas, brain patterns show that persistent memory is only made after the rats take a break from exploration. Furthermore, recent imaging studies of the brain that show activity in major cross sections of the brain during rest periods have also supported the view that downtime enables the brain to synthesize information. And plenty of scientists are concerned about the apparent loss of downtime to the brain, although no reports were made of related research.

“Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body,” said Dr. Rich of Harvard Medical School. “But kids are in a constant mode of stimulation.”

Not only are kids constantly stimulated, they are also multitasking. The kids interviewed for the Times article note doing homework while facebooking and texting. While not mentioned in the report, I have also read a study by UCLA that multi-tasking affects how you learn, making it more difficult to retrieve information learned.

The NY times report indicates that there is some evidence that technology has some negative effects related to the ability to learn. But is it really rewiring the growing brains of our children for distraction? I have not seen the proof yet. In fact, if you read the comments to the NY Times article, you will see that there are plenty of parents whose kids have thrived after significant exposure to technological distractions. Maybe it just comes down teaching our children the good old adage: everything in moderation……….

Test Your Child’s Temperament (and it’s free!)

November 16, 2010 2 comments

In addition to reading a lot of books about parenting, I also like to read blogs. So when I find interesting elements, I will share those here as well. If I find the entire blog interesting to following long-term, I add it to my blog roll to the right of the screen.

While browsing tonight, I found an interesting quiz to improve your understanding of your child. Psychologists Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess have come up with nine typical traits that make up a person’s temperament (a few other theories exist as well):

1. Activity level (physical energy)
2. Distractability (tendency to get distracted by events in environment)
3. Intensity (energy level of a positive or negative response)
4. Need for physical routine (predictability in biological functions)
5. Sensory sensitivity (reaction to sensory changes in environment)
6. Initial reaction (approach/withdrawal to a situation)
7. Adaptability (how long a child takes to adjust to a new situation)
8. Persistence (attention span)
9. Usual mood (general tendency toward happy or unhappy demeanor)

You can test your child’s temperament for these 9 traits here:

You can also test your own temperament to see how it matches your child’s. The site ( also has other interesting information on temperament. Knowing your child’s temperament can help you reframe how you look at your child’s behavior and address their individual needs.

How do you Teach Honesty? The difference between “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and “George Washington and the Cherry Tree”

November 15, 2010 2 comments

In the book NurtureShock, authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman discuss research by Dr. Victoria Talwar, one of the leading experts on children’s lying behavior. During one of Dr. Talwar’s experiments, reading the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree (George confesses he chops downs a prized cherry tree with a hatchet and the father forgives him and says to hear George tell the truth is better than having a thousand cherry trees) cut down lying in boys by 75 percent and in girls by 50 percent. While 75 percent of parents polled by Bronson and Merryman on their website ( believed The Boy Who Cried Wolf would reduce lying, it actually served to increase it slightly.

In essence, what Dr. Talwar’s research found is that children lie to make parents happy. Most parents respond to lies with anger and punishment. She found in her experiment with six-year olds that what really reduces lying is for the parent to say that they are not upset with the transgression and that if the child tells the truth, they will make the parent very happy. While it also reduces lying to say that the child will make him/herself very happy, young kids are most focused on making their parent happy, hence the greater effect when saying it in the context of the parent’s happiness.

The other reason that children lie, Talwar notes, is that they learn it from us in the most subtle ways – white lies and disapproval about tattling. More on that some other time.

How to get kids to do boring but necessary tasks

November 10, 2010 Leave a comment

The week is getting super busy so I have not done much reading to talk about. I would like to continue posting, so today I am sharing an article that I found some time ago from the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley entitled How to Get Kids to Do Boring but Necessary Tasks

The best part of the article I think is the final conclusion (based on this one and several previous related articles):

“Rewards work in the short-term because they provide us with a nice feel-good Dopamine hit. But unfortunately, rewards tend to have a negative effect on kids’ motivation over the long-term. The answer is to motivate kids to do those not-so-fun things that are necessary in life with the particular kind of encouragement described above. That way, their brains deliver those feel-good chemicals in response to their feelings of mastery and autonomy (intrinsic motivation) rather than in response to receiving a material reward (extrinsic motivation).”

Based on other things I have read, this means rewards are helpful when you want to make a change in a temporary behavior, for example, sleeping without a pacifier. But when it comes to long-term behavior, such as working hard in school or instilling honesty, it is better to motivate using the strategies discussed in the article above.

Parental control and children’s intrinsic motivation

November 7, 2010 4 comments

Since becoming a parent, I have always been fascinated about how parental control and motivation of children are interrelated.  Many mainstream parenting books have touched upon the subject and discuss the spectrum of parenting techniques based on work by Diane Baumrind (authoritarian, authoritative, permissive and everything in between). I happened upon a book a few years ago that delves into this issue in much more detail: The Psychology of Parental Control: How Well-Meaning Parenting Backfires by Wendy S. Grolnick. I am going to share a few items from that book in my next few posts, although I highly suggest reading the book. It discusses many research studies on the topic of parental control and its effects and many of the results are counter-intuitive and incredibly insightful.

For example, the book quotes studies by Dweck et al.(1998), which found that found that when children were praised for being smart after successfully completing an assigned task, they did not enjoy a subsequent, more challenging task as much as kids who had been praised for effort. Furthermore, on the second round, the kids praised for intelligence were more likely to choose the easier problems that would make them look good.  These kids also were more likely to attribute mistakes to a lack of ability and gave up trying more quickly. Those praised for effort, however, tended to pick more challenging problems and also enjoyed the exercise more. The kids praised for effort were also more likely to see intelligence as linked to improvement, rather than a static trait. My own interpretation of the research is that praising for intelligence versus effort results in kids who feel trapped to have to live up to the label, which makes them afraid to fail. The beauty of failure is that you learn that you can get up and try again. Kids who are praised for effort aren’t pressured to perform to an expectation and can relax and focus on learning.

It such a simple concept, but a potentially very important and powerful one.

Negotiating and parenting

November 5, 2010 Leave a comment

About 6 months ago, I was researching the renowned developmental child psychologist Jean Piaget, and I came past this article:

Intellectual and Moral Autonomy: Operational Implications in Child Development. Aids to Programming UNICEF Assistance to Education. June 1984.

While many parts of the paper were great food for thought, I liked this piece the most:

“Children who thus negotiate mutually acceptable solutions day after day develop their ability to think logically because they have to make sense to others if they are to be convincing. This ability to think logically is an important foundation for learning to read, to do arithmetic, and to organise every other kind of knowledge in and out of school.”

I loved this paragraph because it is definitely a core belief of our family to allow negotiation and to always listen to a child’s viewpoint. However, sometimes I am (very) worn down by the negotiating done in our house (especially at the end of the day, simultaneously by all 3 kids!). However, it helps to remember that it is useful developmentally and this reminds me to stick to our belief.