How are teachers using psychology in the classroom?

How are teachers using psychology in the classroom?

A child is not a statistic, roll number or a brick in the wall. Every child has a unique way to process life and learning and to impose a one-size-fits-all teaching methodology is insensitive and short-sighted. Research has repeatedly proven that every individual has a certain learning style that is informed by their upbringing, background, social and personal experiences. As educators, if we cannot address every nuance in a child’s personality, we can at least make an effort to understand the basics of educational psychology to help children learn better.

Labelling and castigating children for ‘acting out,’ ‘being difficult,’ calling them ‘emotionally unstable’ and making a bad example out of them is not unusual in schools. The damage this does to the delicate psyche of the child is inestimable. Labels like ‘slow’, ‘disruptive’ and ‘inattentive’ can scar a child forever.

Educational psychology is an attempt to approach a child with empathy as well as with knowledge about their emotional, cognitive, social and behavioural needs. The challenges that children are facing today are unprecedented. The pandemic has disrupted their education, their social life and altered their perception of the world forever. At such a time, it is even more important to make space for their anxieties, fears and possible inability to focus single-mindedly on academics.

For over two years, the lives of our children have been limited to their computer or mobile screens. Many have lost loved ones to Covid-19 and countless others have battled the infection themselves or seen their parents go through financial and emotional challenges. When they return to school, they will have to deal with the anxiety of whether classrooms and schools are pandemic proof, whether they can play just like before with their peers etc. This is why educators need to be prepared to not just educate but to create safe spaces for children to share what is on their minds. Instructional processes will have to recognise individual differences in learning and this is where educational psychology will help.

All-round development

In a nutshell, educational psychology is not just about how children are behaving or faring in academics but is focused on all-around development as they transition from childhood to adolescence. It teaches educators to understand that learning is retained in different ways and that instructional methods must address the social, emotional, and cognitive particularities of the pupils. Broadly speaking, educators can benefit from a study of developmental, behavioural and cognitive psychology.

The idea is to have an empirical perspective rather than have fixed, theory-based ideas about how to teach. Multiple perspectives about what causes certain behaviours, how conditioning impacts cognition, how emotions shape motivations for learning can all help teachers cultivate empathy and […]

ASD Symptoms May be Present Before Your Baby First Speaks

ASD Symptoms May be Present Before Your Baby First Speaks

  • Some infants with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or autism, may exhibit social communication differences as early as 9 months of age, a new study suggests.
  • Compared to their typically developing peers, infants with ASD may show signs such as a lack of appropriate eye contact and inability to respond to attention.
  • However, these signs may not always be as apparent to parents. Hence, getting help from specialists with child development backgrounds could put concerns to rest.
  • The study’s findings also point to a critical window for targeted early intervention that could help children with ASD reach their full developmental potential.

Although speech is many parents’ first concern when spotting signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), there may be other forms of communication that could point to autism early on in infancy, a new study has found.

Social communication skills such as eye gaze and facial expressions, for example, develop rapidly in the first year of life for babies — more specifically, between 9 to 12 months.

Developmental gains in these skills before the baby says their first words, generally around 12 to 18 months, may go unnoticed.

“Social communication differences are part of the diagnostic criteria for ASD. Yet, we don’t really know how early in life these differences appear. Beginning at around 9 months of age, typically developing infants use their eye gaze, facial expression, sounds, and gestures to communicate. They also begin to show very early play skills around this age,” said Dr. Jessica Bradshaw, assistant professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina and corresponding author.

Bradshaw said she wanted to determine whether social communication differences were apparent as early as 9 months in infants who had a greater familial likelihood of autism, which is months before they would usually receive a diagnosis.

Published in the journal Child Development, the longitudinal research studied the social development of 124 infants between the years 2012 and 2016.

The researchers then carried out an early social-communication assessment at both 9 and 12 months, measuring the babies’ social, speech, and symbolic skills.

Later, when the babies reached the age of 2, researchers used gold standard diagnostic tools to see if any infants fit the ASD diagnostic criteria.

Infants who were later diagnosed with ASD showed significantly fewer social and early speech skills at 9 months of age, the study found.

And at 12 months, infants with ASD had lower performance scores on almost all measures of preverbal communication.

The infants with ASD showed the following three unique patterns of social-communication development:

  • Their communication with eye gaze, facial expressions, and sounds were “consistently low” between 9 and 12 months.
  • Their symbolic use of objects such as being creative with toys was delayed at 12 months.
  • There was a “growing gap” between typically developing infants and infants with ASD when it came to using gestures and the frequency of communication.

The findings are in line with previous research, which has shown that infants with ASD have specific areas of vulnerability and unique patterns of change that indicate a disorder.

“It was interesting to see that there were distinct patterns of social communication development from 9 to 12 months for infants who later developed ASD. Some skills were consistently low while other skills showed a ‘growing gap’ between 9 to 12 months,” said Bradshaw.

Dr. Mayra Mendez, a psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California, said she was not surprised by the findings that indicated nonverbal social communication skills differed between typically developing infants and infants who are later diagnosed with ASD.

“The characteristics of ASD may be subtle and are qualitative in presentation rather than directly identifiable as atypical. This means that the quality of interactions and social-emotional presentation of an individual diagnosed with ASD differs from the quality of the same characteristics in typically developing children,” she said.

She explained that this quality is measured by the frequency, intensity, duration, degree, and number of behaviors present.

“In the first few years of life, salient signs of autism include lack of appropriate eye contact and inability to initiate or respond to joint attention that qualitatively varies in everyone. Since ASD does not just suddenly present, rather it evolves throughout the first 2 to 3 years of life with symptom presentation becoming more evident and noticeable from 18 months of age forward, it is not surprising to see that even in 9-12-month-old infants, subtle signs of social-emotional differences may be noticed.”
– Dr. Mayra Mendez

Mendez said the prospect of being able to spot symptoms of ASD as early as 9 to 12 months could empower parents, caregivers, and clinicians working with families, as well as increase awareness of social-emotional development, and support child and family interventions to ensure a child’s developmental is not hindered.

She acknowledged that research was limited on early ASD signs and symptoms before 18 months of age but that there was some anecdotal evidence from parents, such as videos.

“In such parent reports, the difference becomes more evident when language skills are expected to develop and when the expectations for social and relational engagement are anticipated at higher levels than those exhibited by the 2- to 3-year-old who presents with signs and symptoms of ASD,” she said.

Do Mindfulness Interventions Improve Obesity Rates in Children and Adolescents: A Review of the Evidence

Do Mindfulness Interventions Improve Obesity Rates in Children and Adolescents

Mindfulness interventions have shown promise in improving self-regulation, depression, anxiety, and stress levels across all ages. Obesity rates in children are rising worldwide. It has been postulated that through improvements in self-regulation with mindfulness interventions, obesity rates can be improved in children and adolescents. In this review, we attempt to explain how mindfulness interventions may impact obesity rates and obesity-related complications and give the current state of evidence for the following mindfulness interventions: Mindful Eating, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Yoga, Spirituality, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

Over the last 20 years, childhood obesity has become a major public health concern in the United States. According to the most recent data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2015–2016, 18.5% of American youth between the ages of 2 and 19 were classified as being obese using a body mass index (BMI) threshold >95% for age.1

The rate of obesity increases with age in children. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 have an obesity rate of 13.9% as compared to 20.6% in children between the ages of 12 and 19. In addition, obesity has some ethnic predispositions, with obesity rates being most prevalent among Hispanic and Non-Hispanic Black children with no significant difference between the sexes.1

Obesity begins in childhood due to a combination of genetic, social, physical, and psychological factors.2 As children with obesity age, they often develop obesity-related comorbidities including insulin resistance, early onset diabetes mellitus (DM), hypertension, hyperlipidemia, depression, and sleep apnea.3 These medical conditions often persist into childbearing years and adulthood.4 Pregnancies of women with obesity are more likely to have perinatal complications or be stillborn.5 Infants born to mothers with obesity have increased rates of neuropsychiatric disorders including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, eating disorders,6 and adult obesity.7 This circular pattern perpetuates, increasing obesity rates in all ages.

With the increase in families with obesity, pediatric medical providers are consistently charged with finding evidence-based treatments. One area of interest is the use of mindfulness interventions to modulate eating behaviors.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is a psychological process of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment.8 Mindfulness activities have been effective in altering human behavior to improve health promoting behaviors.9–11 In addition, mindfulness activities have consistently shown improvements in levels of stress and anxiety and increased stress has been associated with weight gain.9–12 For these reasons, it seems that mindfulness activities may provide value as a treatment option for patients with obesity.

Human Eating Behavior

To further understand how mindfulness may affect obesity, it seems paramount to understand the psychology of human eating behavior. Human eating behaviors are based on the existence of personal and psychological constraints that operate in addition to food availability. Figure 1 was created by Ulijaszek et al13 based on the initial work of Mela et al,14 and describes a mechanism where human body-weight homeostasis may be maintained or lost based on different factors including food availability, energy density of the diet, genetic, psychological, physiological, behavioral and cultural factors.

Through this theory of the psychological contribution of weight gain, it would be a logical deduction that being more mindful of emotions and how emotions affect eating behaviors would allow one to control what he or she eats. As a consequence, there may be decreased consumption of high calorie foods and increased consumption of healthier, low-calorie foods. With time, this change in food preference may lead to weight control or weight loss and decreased amounts of obesity.

Figure 1. This flow chart explains that when one is exposed to high fat, sweet, or highly processed foods combined with learned feeding behaviors, preferences for these foods may be established. The combination these preferences, Increased availability of unhealthy foods, loss of dietary control from social and cultural eating patterns, and emotional eating or eating environments, predisposes individuals to over-consumption of energy dense foods. This in turn leads to overeating, positive energy balance, and weight gain. Low physical activity and genetic predisposition may negatively impact the picture further.

What is Emotional Dysregulation?

What is Emotional Dysregulation?

Emotional dysregulation refers to difficulty in managing emotions or in keeping them in check. These may also be thought of as mood swings or labile moods. It can involve experiencing intense emotions such as sadness, irritability, frustration, or anger that are comparatively more heightened than expected, relative to the situation that triggered them.

What is emotional dysregulation?

Emotion dysregulation involves difficulties with negative affective states e.g., sadness and anger.

Emotional dysregulation might affect children or adults. Adolescents may be particularly at risk due to this developmental period in a person’s life being recognizably a time of increased stress due to puberty and peer context. Although it is a common perception that children learn to manage their emotions as they grow up, for some effectively managing emotions continues to be problematic well into adulthood.

Those with emotional dysregulation might not easily recognize their own emotions and can become confused or guilty about emotions experienced such that behavior is not readily controlled and decision making becomes a challenge.

Experiencing intense emotions can lead to situations in which a sufferer is unable to calm down easily. People with emotional dysregulation might try to avoid difficult emotions and when experiencing them they can easily become impulsive. Another example is that those with emotional dysregulation might be overly negative. As a result, there is a risk for:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Self-harm

Other symptoms include high-risk sexual behaviors, extreme perfectionism, and eating disorders.

In children emotional dysregulation exhibits itself through temper tantrums, crying, and refusing to talk or to make eye contact.

Over time the condition may interfere with the quality of life leading to interpersonal problems, issues at home and work, or, in the case of children, at school.

Causes of emotional dysregulation

Scientists believe that in the experience of emotional dysregulation there is a problem with the emotional braking mechanism in the brain caused by a reduction in the response of certain neurotransmitters. This leads an individual to experience an ongoing “fight or flight” response whereby the pre-frontal cortex shuts down in times of heightened stress.

There a several possible reasons why a person may develop this condition and it is often co-morbid with another larger mental health problem (see below). Possible causes are:

1. Child neglect

In the case of neglect, there is a failure on the part of the caregiver to cater to the basic needs of the child. Here the caregiver does not provide adequate levels of physical and or emotional care.

2. Early childhood trauma

Whereby traumatic events are experienced early on in life during the critical period of a child’s development.

3. Traumatic brain injury

Brain dysfunction is caused by a dramatic blow to the head, for example.

4. Chronic invalidation

When a person’s thoughts and feelings are repeatedly ignored, rejected, or else judged.

Teach children how to be responsible for their own learning to gain agency

Teach children how to be responsible for their own learning to gain agency

One cannot fail to notice that concerns about mental health and wellbeing are increasingly figuring in all news media, especially in relation to young people. This raises questions as to whether this is primarily a product of our rapidly changing, volatile and unpredictable times, or a lack of parenting and schooling practices that fail to develop strong volition, perseverance and the capability to deal with life’s inevitable challenges. Challenges, albeit in different forms, have always been part of human history. For example, bullying was ever-present in yesteryear, but we hear more about it nowadays, especially in relation to the online environment. Similarly, poverty and discrimination of various kinds are not new existential phenomena, they have always been part of human interactions – or the lack of them.

Certainly, statistics paint a disturbing picture, with one in eight children and adolescents in the UK experiencing a mental illness (NHS, 2018). The high prevalence of depression and anxiety in young people is often said to be a result of the lack of resilience among them. Similarly, Loretta Breuning, in her article Why I Don’t Believe Reports of a Mental Health Crisis (2014) argues that the escalating emotional distress experienced by millennials is, in part, due to over-reliance on mental-health services, which aim to alleviate natural emotional responses. She maintains that by depending on mental-health services individuals do not learn how to manage life’s disappointments themselves, and consequently often lack self-reliance.

Invariably, aspects of all the above scenarios will apply to some individuals, certainly not all, and generalisations can be dangerous. In this article, I will focus on what can be done to help students to self-regulate their learning and maintain a positive sense of wellbeing. Also, to identify environments and experiences that have negative effects, and how best to mitigate the consequences.

In the final analysis people, young and old, irrespective of culture or context, have to make choices and take action on how they respond to the demands that the external environment may throw at them – whether caused by their prior actions, the actions of others, or serendipity. Furthermore, they must fully realise that their ability to effectively manage internal perceptions and emotional states is a crucial part of self-regulation and maintaining wellbeing.

We know from extensive research that a whole host of physical, social and emotional experiences have massive implications for brain development, physical and mental wellbeing. For example, Swaab (2015) summarising the evidence, highlights: Children who are seriously neglected during their early development… have smaller brains; their intelligence and linguistic and fine motor control are permanently impaired, and they are impulsive and […]

Why Social-Emotional Leaning Matters More Than Ever

Why Social-Emotional Leaning Matters More Than Ever

Even before the pandemic, though, kids and adults alike were having a hard time coping with life and dealing with their emotions due to the wild world we currently live in. Teens are battling extreme dysregulation, and even kids are being hospitalized for their mental health at alarming rates.

For this reason, many experts are saying social-emotional learning is more important than ever. But why?

How Social-Emotional Learning Helps Children

Social-emotional learning has become quite the buzzword in recent years, and for good reason. These skills help people develop and utilize skills that help them cope with emotions and socialize with others — skills which seem to be lacking anytime you turn on the television or read the newspaper. Furthermore, these skills can help people overcome distressing moments and deal with challenges the world throws at them, which I think we can all agree applies more than ever.

According to the team at Understood.Org, a nonprofit focused on helping children with learning differences find success, there are five types of social-emotional skills children utilize in their daily lives. These skills include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, interpersonal skills, and decision-making.

Self-awareness skills help children identify their emotions and recognize their strengths. By labeling emotions, children can accurately convey what they’re feeling to peers or adults without throwing a tantrum or harming themselves. They can also recognize their strengths and remind themselves of these strengths during challenging times, which is a part of a healthy growth mindset.

Closely connected, self-management skills can help children learn to regulate their own emotions when they feel distressed. This can help kids avoid impulsive or harmful behavior, and it can help them refocus their attention towards their goals. Then, decision-making skills can help them make decisions informed by their emotional awareness while also helping them connect possible consequences to their actions.

Social awareness skills help children show empathy, compassion, and an appreciation for diversity. Then, interpersonal skills help children communicate with others, resolve conflicts, and work cooperatively. Together, these skills can help children make friends and build lasting relationships with their peers.

With strong social-emotional skills, children can build positive relationships within their lives and face nearly any daily challenge that comes up. This can ultimately help children flourish in all aspects of their lives.

Ways To Foster Social-Emotional Skills At Home

As you can imagine, all of these social-emotional skills are important, but kids aren’t born with them. Therefore, we must help our children develop these skills at home as much as possible.

In many cases, mindfulness exercises can help children develop social-emotional skills and a deeper connection with their own feelings. In fact, the team at the multi-brand wellness retailer Standard Dose is now expanding their offerings just to help children hone their social-emotional skills. According to Standard Dose’s founder, the company “really wanted to provide tools to help nurture kind, confident, and emphatic humans who are equipped to navigate our changing world.”

Rooted in evidence-based techniques, their newly-launched Mindful Kids product line includes mindful games, gratitude journals, yoga flashcards, and other tools that encourage children to become aware of their thoughts, understand big feelings, and manage stress. These new, inclusive tools can help children foster understanding and awareness to help children cope with big feelings like loss, frustration, and anger — which the pandemic has only increased.

In addition to mindfulness techniques, the National Association for the Education of Young Children says there are many tools parents can utilize to help their children develop social-emotional skills at home.

For example, puppets are a great way to work through several social-emotional skills. Puppets can help children understand emotions, practice conflict resolution, and discuss complicated topics in a fun, engaging way.

Most importantly, though, parents can foster social-emotional skills at home just by modeling the skills in their own actions. Children love observing their parents and often learn a lot through just watching how adults act on a daily basis. Parents can use this to their advantage and model healthy coping skills when they experience difficult emotions and demonstrate empathy, conflict resolution, and compassion when interacting with others. Children can learn a lot just from seeing you do these small things.

Social-emotional skills are needed now more than ever. Luckily, it’s not hard for parents to foster these skills in their children and help them grow in all the best possible ways.