Addressing the mental health of today’s teens

Addressing the mental health of today’s teens

The pandemic has left the world’s teenagers more stressed and anxious than ever, challenging both their mental health and well-being. For help navigating these mental and emotional waters, we turned to Courtney L. Washington, PsyD, CSYAC, HSPP, clinical training director, Park Center, Parkview Behavioral Health Institute, for some much-needed advice and guidance for parents wanting to help.

What effect has the pandemic had on teens’ mental health?

The pandemic significantly impacted everyone’s mental health, causing increased levels of anxiety and nervousness. We all saw and/or experienced a lot of social isolation during this past year when stuck in our homes, unable to connect with each other, beyond a screen, on a basic human level. This separation can and did lead to higher levels of depression. Individuals could also experience the effects of trauma, which involves an increased hyper-vigilance and concern for people’s safety, simply because of how unsafe everyone has felt over the last 18 months.

What are some signs a teenager may be suffering from a mental disorder?

First, it’s important to keep in mind that psychiatric disorders look a bit different in children and teens than in adults. With that said, anytime you notice a general change in your child’s demeanor or functioning, outside of what’s typical for them, it’s critical that you pay attention to it.

For example, we often think of someone with depression as isolated, sad, withdrawn, tearful or crying. However, with teenagers, depression looks a bit different. Many adolescents’ depressive expressions can include aggression, acting out, talking back and defiance. You may even notice some children getting fixated or preoccupied with certain things like talking about the same thing over and over or worrying about germs and washing their hands. These could all be signs of anxiety disorders in teens and young adults.

It’s no secret that teenagers love to sleep, but when is it an indication of something more?

We sometimes see teenagers as defiant, lazy, or attribute their behaviors to their development, but that’s often not the case. Remember, any significant behavior change is usually an indication that something’s happening. Moreover, any shifts in their regulatory system like their sleep-wake cycles (oversleeping/unable to sleep) or changes in their food intake (overeating/under eating) is usually a symptom of something more. If parents or caregivers notice any of these, it’s vital that they check in with their teen and possibly follow up with a doctor or a mental health practitioner.

How can parents and caregivers go about addressing their concerns with their teen?

There are several different things parents and caregivers can do. Ideally, the first step they should take is to simply talk to their children – ask them questions and be sure to provide them with a safe space to share. In most cases, adolescents want to open up but often don’t feel heard in these situations. Usually, as adults, we think we have a plethora of worldly advice to offer, and sometimes we do, but that often overshadows what many teenagers might want or need to share.

I also think it’s developmentally crucial for children and teenagers to see their parents or caregivers struggle sometimes and be genuine about difficult things. Now, this doesn’t mean that parents and caregivers should rely on their children for emotional support because that’s not an appropriate boundary. However, it is acceptable for them to see you feeling sad or struggling while openly letting them know you are having a hard time. This helps illustrate how you deal and cope with challenging situations and that they are a natural part of life.

What other measures can parents take to help their teen navigate mental health challenges?

As previously mentioned, opening the lines of communication and having frequent conversations or check-ins about what’s happening in their life is the biggest step. It’s also important to be as honest and transparent as possible with them. If they’re not ready or willing to talk to you, try seeking additional professional assistance, or looping in another meaningful adult like a favorite grandparent, aunt or uncle. As long as they’re talking to someone, that’s what matters. Research shows that kids should have at least one meaningful adult relationship in their life to help keep them on a positive path.

5 Reasons Your Kid Might Be Performing Poorly in School

5 Reasons Your Kid Might Be Performing Poorly in School

If your child’s grades are slipping, there are a few things that could be going on. Here’s what you should know.

Let’s be honest: Parents often worry just as much or more than their kids about a bad report card.

If your child has repeatedly received lower grades in school, chances are you’re probably worried about the next report card almost as much as they are. It’s easy to worry about what poor grades could mean.

There are many reasons why your child may be having difficulty at school. Sometimes, it’s just a temporary issue, explains Amy Marschall, a licensed psychologist who works primarily with children and teenagers.

“There is a huge range of ‘typical’ development, so often a child will be a bit behind but then catch up without intervention,” says Marschall. “I was the last kid in my kindergarten class to be able to read. I just was not getting it, and within 2 years, I was reading at a 7th-grade level.”

However, there are things parents and caregivers can do to help, and early intervention can have major benefits.

“A lot of parents will tell me they had a gut feeling when the child was very young,” Marschall says. So, if you’re worried, a good first step may be to figure out why your child is having difficulty academically.

“If there has been a sudden change in your child’s performance; if they were doing well and suddenly began [having difficulty], look into stressors or changes in their life that might be affecting them,” suggests Marschall.

Stressors that might influence your child’s performance in school could include:

  • changes at home, such as the arrival of a new sibling or the separation of parents
  • a demanding schedule
  • puberty

Stressors rarely occur in a vacuum or without warning. For example, if your child is being bullied, you might notice that they seem particularly distressed or sad about going to school — in addition to getting poor grades. They might even try to fake being sick just to stay home.If they’re experiencing troubles at home, you might notice that they no longer seem to be reaching their academic potential. They may also lash out more at home, throwing tantrums or behaving defiantly toward family members. The good news is, intervention or treatment can help improve your child’s mood and school performance. For some kids, the problem with school isn’t academics. Instead, they have difficulties with social situations or controlling their emotions.

Emotional dysregulation

Some children take longer to learn how to control their emotions or resist impulsive behavior. This can lead to temper tantrums and outbursts.

Of course, it’s normal for young children to experience temper tantrums or meltdowns when they’re toddlers — they don’t call them the “terrible 2s” for nothing. But most children learn to regulate their emotions by the time they enter kindergarten.

There are many reasons why your child may be having difficulty at school. Sometimes, it’s just a temporary issue, explains Amy Marschall, a licensed psychologist who works primarily with children and teenagers.

Kids Don't Always Have to Share

Kids Don’t Always Have to Share

My two-year-old started crying minutes after my oldest son unwrapped his birthday presents. He wanted to play with his brother’s newest haul of toys as soon as they came out of their boxes, but his sibling firmly refused his requests. And while I was disappointed that my oldest child didn’t want to share, I couldn’t blame him either. There could be nothing more annoying to a child than being forced to give your toys away to anyone mere minutes after receiving them.

Not sharing with a friend or family member goes against everything that I learned as a child, though. If someone I knew wanted to use something I was using, I understood I should give them a turn without question. As I saw this scenario play out between my children, I asked myself, “Do kids always have to share?”

I took this question to parenting psychologist, best-selling author, and mother of four, Dr. Heather Wittenberg. She explained that instead of forcing children to share, parents should teach the behavior over time. But she admits that for many parents, that can be easier said than done.

“It’s actually more difficult than potty training because it’s lifelong,” she says. “Sharing is one of the most complex human behaviors, and many folks never get the hang of it.”

Raising young people who consider the well-being of others is one of the reasons that Wittenberg believes in teaching children to share. She offered some tips on how parents can put the practice into action.

Why it’s important to teach kids to share

Sharing falls under the umbrella of the essential social-emotional skills children need to learn to help manage their emotions, feel compassion toward others, and make and keep friends. And while sharing helps promote empathetic behavior in children, Wittenberg says it occasionally clashes with a child’s need to protect their boundaries. It’s a skill that parents have neglected over the centuries because it can teach children at a young age, particularly girls, that pleasing others is important.

“You can’t truly ‘force’ someone to ‘be nice’ or to care or empathize,” she explains. “You can force them to give up their boundaries and insist they share, even if it feels really wrong to them. But that teaches the wrong lesson, doesn’t it?”

How inclusive early learning benefits children, families, communities and the workforce

How inclusive early learning benefits children, families, communities and the workforce

An inclusive early learning environment doesn’t just benefit children with disabilities or special health care needs — it also benefits their classmates, families and the community as a whole, including employers.

In an inclusive classroom, children with physical and developmental differences learn and play side-by-side with typically developing children. Both thrive as a result: kids with challenges in speech or eating expand their vocabularies and try more food simply by watching and participating in activities with their peers, while their classmates learn empathy, acceptance and the value of individuality from a young age.

When early learning staff are able to offer inclusive classrooms, they also help reduce the epidemic of preschool expulsions. Children are expelled from preschool at rates three times higher than any K-12 grade, according to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services data, and many of those expelled are children with disabilities and challenging behaviors. Those expulsions have been shown to have devastating consequences for the kids: greater risk of academic failure, dropout and incarceration. For parents, lack of inclusive care for their kids can cause them to drop out of the workforce, further straining family resources.

What’s an inclusive classroom like for the students?

One of the biggest advantages of being in an inclusive classroom from an early age is that it becomes second nature for children to accept a wide range of abilities. Most children at Northwest Center’s inclusive downtown Seattle early learning center start out in the infant room, says Katrina Caron, director of Early Learning.

“It’s what they know — that there are kids with different abilities,” she says. “It just becomes part of the classroom. It allows for a lot of open conversation.” For example, Caron says that many children enrolled at Northwest Center Kids use feeding tubes, and their classmates often ask questions. NWC Kids teachers answer at the appropriate developmental level for the kids, she says, responding with something along the lines of, “This child eats differently than you do, but they’re still at the table and enjoying being with friends.” When answering questions are a natural part of the school’s environment, Caron says, it’s a way for teachers to educate kids naturally.

Amy Bender, Early Learning Operations director and IMPACT Program supervisor at Northwest Center, shares another common question.
“What I love about kids is they’re not shy and they’re going to ask, ‘Why is my friend in a wheelchair?’ ” Bender says. This is an excellent opportunity for a conversation, she says. If adults shy away from these topics, that can send kids the message that they’re taboo and they should avoid the child in the wheelchair. Instead, Bender says, answer kids’ questions honestly and in a manner that’s appropriate for […]

Do You Need What You Think You Need?

Do You Need What You Think You Need?

Do you ever wonder why you invest your time, money, or energy where you do? Like the clever song by Christine Lavin and The Four Bitchin Babes, do you ever wonder, “What was I thinking?” (The song is fun; consult your music source). There is a good chance that you were not thinking at all, that you were acting from impulses, whether generated from internal needs , states or events, or external ones.

Why might we want something we do not need?

The most straightforward response is that we think it might meet a need. For example, we may want to feel healthy. Some expert or media release or comment from a person you admire and/or respect might recommend x, y, or z as a shortcut to feeling healthy. You know in your gut that few solutions– products, activities, habits–could help as much as shedding the extra twenty pounds gained during the pandemic–and yet it seems easier to pop a pill or buy expensive training equipment or hire a coach than to do the hard work of examining how and why you put on the pandemic pounds in the first place. Were you reaching for food or drink to address physiological hunger? Or hunger for something else–perhaps a reward, a break from your activity or a sense of monotony, a shift in the feelings underlying your response to your routines or lack of them?

A Helpful Technique

Years ago, I learned a technique that helps allocate more control over the uses of our resources, whether time, money, or attention : Identify the need underlying a want and then find a healthy way to address that demand. The process may require a bit of patience, even delay of gratification, but those skills can be developed.

Two Examples

Following a painful divorce , I began fantasizing about buying a fur coat. My observing ego addressed my musing self, wondering what that was about. I had never before wanted a fur coat, despite acute discomfort during the Northeast’s freezing winters, and, besides, I strongly disliked the idea of killing animals for skins. Did I want literal warmth? Luxury? Protection? What might be missing along with that marriage ? I considered each possibility.

My wardrobe included selected layers that kept me warm even when shoveling snow. My self-care routines involved the right level of indulgence. Addressing risks and my level of tolerance for them had helped me find a combination of acceptance, insurance, and identification of a safety net I could call on. Instead, I was yearning to feel swaddled in hairy arms. I was missing warm touch , its comfort, and the reassurance of connection.

A few weeks after identifying the real yearning, an […]

How to make parenting decisions like a boss

How to make parenting decisions like a boss

(CNN)Caring for younger kids is often intensely physical, but with older kids, it can be intensely emotional. Why? Because there are just so many decisions to make, and in a world with a shrinking middle class, rising home prices, and a fiery social, political and natural climate, everything feels high stakes.

For those of us who are disorganized, inconsistent, suffering from extreme exhaustion, short on time, money and patience — or who just have school-age kids — Emily Oster’s new book, “The Family Firm: A Data-Driven Guide to Better Decision Making in the Early School Years,” aims to help in navigating the overwhelming pressures attached to parenting in the 21st century.

Do you start your kid in kindergarten on time, or wait a year so they’ll be the oldest in the class? (Starting a kid earlier means they might have slightly higher test scores someday…but predicts worse performance in school.) Extracurriculars? How many? How do you find a good school — and how does that affect earning potential? What’s a “good school” anyway? How much do parents’ careers affect things like test scores or obesity? How soon do kids need to learn to read?

The way to begin, she advises, is to understand your own values — and there’s a workbook to help decipher them. When a family faces a big choice, she suggests a method called “The Four Fs”: frame the question, fact-find, final decision and follow-up. Learning to make decisions both using data and using business models involves some up-front time, but it makes the process easier later.

Oster’s method is less about how to make the “right” decision than about how to make a decision well for your family. After all, the answers to certain questions — when to get your kid a phone or whether to send them to sleepaway camp — could vary among children, even within the same family.

CNN talked to Oster about making decisions in the age of snowplow parenting — in which parents try to remove obstacles rather than teach their kids to navigate them — as well as different ways to achieve a happy home.

CNN: You say that parenting in the 21st century is an exercise in “extreme logistical complexity.” What does that mean?

Emily Oster: When you cross that threshold into school-age kids and all of a sudden, your kids are doing things outside of school, you end up in a situation in which surprisingly much of your day is logistical management — scheduling activities, driving, figuring out when bedtime is or how much kids need to sleep.

I think in some ways that is different than it was than it was when I was a kid. There were fewer after-school structured extracurriculars and there was more unstructured free time — which may or may not be good but does not require the kind of logistical management that’s a hallmark of this era of parenting.

CNN: You say this is not about what decision to make, it’s about how to make it. Can you explain?

Oster: The questions that people face are really different, and the answers are likely to be really different, depending on your family, depending on which kid it is in your family, depending on all kinds of things. And it is hard to know if you made the right choice — that’s because for some of these decisions, we worry if I don’t do the right thing, there’s going to be some long-term bad thing that will happen. But you’re not going to find out about that until very long in the in the future. There’s no immediate feedback.

Children of toxic parenting open up about lifelong emotional battles

Children of toxic parenting open up about lifelong emotional battles

Lifetime scars: Toxic parenting can leave a poisonous legacy for children. (Unsplash/Chin Le Duc) (Unsplash/Chin Le Duc) Not all families are blessed with bliss. For people born to so-called “toxic parents”, the effects may persist a lifetime.

Toxic parenting. The term seems to be trending lately as many Indonesian parents learn to be better mothers or fathers by avoiding their own parents’ mistakes. From dominating their children to being verbally abusive, parents’ faults may have lasting effects on their children.

For some, such toxic behavior is the result of generational trauma or economic struggle. For others, it is the consequence of a bitter truth: that some parents have never grown up.

“Toxic parenting comes from ignorance,” psychologist Sani Hermawan said. “Parents refuse to learn the right parenting methods for their child, and they repeat the toxic patterns they learned from their own parents. They just imitate without consciously considering the long-term effects.”

“Instead of helping the child grow and develop, toxic parents prune them like a bonsai tree,” she continued, explaining the negative effects of toxic parenting on children. “This creates a child whose development is arrested. The child becomes insecure and prone to self-blame.”

Hard to look back

Mesach Albert Gunawan remembers the scene like it was yesterday. “One day, my mother took me to the market to pick out two blankets,” he said. “I asked her what they were for. She said, ‘They’re for your sisters.’”

A harmless act, until he noticed the finer details. Albert’s father had repeatedly cheated on his mother, and his mother always forgave him. That was until, one day, his father returned bearing news that he had had two daughters with a longtime mistress. A changed man: Mesach Albert Gunawan (right) and his family pose for a holiday photo. He has engaged in ‘remedial parenting’ for the past six years. (Courtesy of Albert Gunawan) (Courtesy of Albert Gunawan/Personal collection) “I don’t think my mother was angry or vengeful,” Albert said. “She just wanted to make sure those two girls were taken care of. They had no fault in this. They didn’t deserve to be abandoned by my father, too.”

Now 50 years old with three children of his own, Albert looks back on his family background with a hard-earned acceptance. But the human resources consultant has had to fight for his current peace of mind. He acknowledged a lifetime of “living the wrong way”, getting married for perhaps flimsy reasons and losing his own path as a father. Putting things right required a lot of soul-searching – something he fears not many are willing to do.

Legacy of ruin

Putri admits from the start that her parents forged ahead with marriage under less-than-auspicious circumstances.

“They didn’t marry for […]

Let Perfect Go and Build a Relationship With Your Child

Over decades of working with hundreds of families, as well as reading the child development research and conducting some of my own, I discovered the rather surprising and very exciting fact that everything develops—intelligence, physical abilities, emotional strengths, and habits that lead to well-being. Somewhat contrary to widespread beliefs, I came to see that there are no skills or attributes that can’t be developed, as long as there’s a big enough investment of time, patience, motivation, social support, and learning opportunities. And that includes parenting skills: You can learn to be the best possible parent for your child.

It’s All About Your Connection With Your Child

The foundational skill of good parenting is building a strong relationship with your child. That isn’t always easy. Your child might be constantly in trouble because of their anger, impatience, aggression, impulsivity, laziness, or problems with schoolwork. You might be worried about their social skills, learning problems, behavior, or mood swings. No matter the concern, what your child needs most from you is not your help toward perfect behavior or higher achievement, but rather your simple devotion, your unconditional love.

It’s when your child pushes your buttons hardest that they most need you to give them love and understanding. Even though you’re doing your best to help them do better, when you criticize, banish, or punish your child, they feel less lovable, less understood, and less connected to you.

Respond to What’s Good (Don’t React to What’s Wrong)

Most of the parents I work with think it’s their job to criticize their children when they’re doing things wrong or misbehaving. They think they’re being loving when they give their child a time-out or consequence for bad behavior. They’re focusing on what the child is doing wrong and reacting in the moment, hoping to help the child do better. It doesn’t usually work very well, especially with children with learning, emotional, or behavioral issues.

With time, attention, and a few basic strategies, however, you can learn to focus on what your child is doing right. Try to catch them being good. When your child realizes that you think they’re pretty amazing just the way they are—even though they know they’re flawed and imperfect—they can relax into the security of their connection with you. Only then can you begin to take care of any problems together.

How Can You Strengthen Your Positive Connection?

  1. Take good care of yourself. Make sure you’re getting what you need to keep yourself on an even keel. Pay attention to sleep, nutrition, exercise, social support, creative self-expression, and fresh air for yourself, just the way you do for your kids. When you feel healthy and strong, you respond more positively to everyone in your life, including your child.
  2. Be present, both physically and emotionally. Turn off your devices when you’re with your child. Listen—truly listen—to what they’re saying. Look for the hidden messages in what they’re doing, especially when they’re pushing your buttons. Don’t turn away from them or send them away from you at those times.
  3. Love your child just the way they are. Try to think of your child as perfect just the way they are. Don’t try to change them. Learn to reframe their annoying habits as indications of what it is they truly need.

What Is Attachment Trauma?

Attachment trauma comes from a rupture in the bonding process between a child and their primary caregiver. Its effects can last well into adulthood.

If you struggle with relationships, there’s a dominant cultural narrative that assumes there is something wrong with you.

But science offers us a more expansive view: Our relationship challenges may be rooted in what’s known as attachment trauma.

Attachment trauma is “a consistent disruption of physical and emotional safety in the family system. It is not what happens to you, but what happens inside you,” says Heather Monroe, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in Nashville, Tennessee, who specializes in treating relational trauma.

A child’s early life experiences shape their adult life, and the relationship with their primary caregiver is among the most important for their development.

If a child doesn’t have their early relational needs met, this can show up later in life in their mental health, relationships, and sense of self.

As we develop as children, we look to our caregivers for access to a variety of human needs, from shelter to affection. When those needs go unmet, some children can feel alone in highly charged emotional states.

Attachment trauma can occur when a caregiver is a source of overwhelming distress for the child. This is a form of relational trauma, which is trauma that occurs in the context of a relationship with another person.

It’s also closely linked with complex trauma, which is trauma from repeated events, such as ongoing emotional abuse or childhood neglect.

While conversations around terms such as “attachment styles” and “attachment theory” are growing in popularity, what is less talked about is how attachment trauma can affect how we move through the world physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Attachment trauma can be felt physically. “Relationships can trigger your nervous system to go into fight, flight or freeze,” explains Monroe.

Monroe, who is also a trauma educator, says relational trauma can be a constant, cumulative stress building up in the body over time in both visible and invisible ways.

Attachment trauma often leads to a “disoriented-disorganized” attachment — a pattern that, in turn, imparts an increased risk of further abuse and neglect.

In addition to relationship difficulties, attachment trauma is also linked to our overall mental health, according to a 2012 study.

“Your nervous system is constantly learning how to be in connection with people. And the biggest thing around that is, is it safe to be in connection or not? There’s all these overt ways that it can feel not safe, but also really covert ways that it can start feeling unsafe and shutting us down or revving us up,” says Monroe.

Monroe explains there are overt and covert causes of attachment trauma.

Overt causes of attachment trauma include:

  • divorce in the family
  • loss in the family, such as death of a parent or sibling
  • postpartum issues
  • physical neglect, such as going without basic needs, like food or water
  • abuse, which could be physical, sexual, or emotional
  • caregiver(s) facing a life threatening illness
  • caregiver(s) having a substance use disorder
The Importance of Developing Emotional Intelligence for Kids

The Importance of Developing Emotional Intelligence for Kids

Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” Mohsin Hamid

Navigating emotions is a complex activity and often guides one’s thought process and actions. According to researchers Peter Salavoy and John Mayer, emotional intelligence, or the capacity to assess one’s environment and understand one’s emotions and those around them, is a strong indicator of social awareness. As children explore the world around them, they are susceptible of being influenced to form new perspectives and adopt new behaviors. Kids that learn to connect their own experiences to those around them interact in a way that promotes a much safer and trusting environment. By teaching empathy to our children, we encourage a deeper self-awareness of how to cultivate strong relationships and appropriately respond to personal, interpersonal and external situations. Below, we have outlined some strategies, as well as their long-term benefits, that can support your child in developing a higher emotional intelligence and become a more confident and independent individual.

How We Can Help Kids Develop Emotional Intelligence

We can increase our child’s emotional awareness by encouraging open and candid conversations. Emotion coaching can help a young child deal with difficult emotions. By welcoming our child’s thoughts and concerns, we allow them a space to be vulnerable without judgment and build their emotional literacy.

Simply asking “why?” is an effective method of communicating with your child. This gives them the initial opportunity to both examine and dissect the situation independently and understand why they are reacting in a certain manner before receiving your input. This practice also strengthens their social skills, emotional intelligence skills as well as emotional awareness by encouraging them to take the thoughts and feelings of others into consideration while also learning self-control. Emotions can operate on a spectrum, and helping your children identify these layers can be beneficial to their self-awareness. Difficult situations and big feelings arise at any time in children. Your child’s ability to distinguish each different emotion, while also being able to articulate these feelings will help them develop mindfulness and a better understanding of people’s emotions.

It is also beneficial to take time to acknowledge your child’s successes and uplift them in times of failure. A child’s ability to pick up parenting cues is no easy feat! Children learn to communicate by watching and mimicking their parents and caregivers, so when you are communicating with another person, emphasize listening over responding. Pause for a brief moment and give your children the center stage. Approach social emotional learning with a growth mindset. Emotional skills are hard to learn and take time and patience.

We can also help develop our children’s emotional intelligence by encouraging them to be curious. Observing and being sensitive to many different environments and contexts can enhance one’s ability to adapt to unpredictable situations. Encourage your child to pay attention to how the world functions around them. Engaging in oral storytelling, writing or acting in a play can help your child experience life outside of their own shoes.

The most effective way to develop emotional intelligence in our children is to have them constantly question things by looking within. Give them the space and time to explore their environments and be captivated by even the simplest of things. Looking within helps kids understand different feelings and recognize emotions. Eventually the understanding of emotions can lead them to see other people’s feelings and develop empathy.

Emotional Intelligence Can Help Creativity

New research indicates that a high emotional intelligence can benefit creative performance, even during creative blocks. A child can increase their problem-solving skills exponentially by engaging in activities that promote the use of their imagination. By doing this, they will become more perceptive of patterns which will then allow them to think of innovative solutions in their daily life, ranging from school to playtime.

Why is gamified learning through creative learning activities important for early childhood education

Why is gamified learning through creative learning activities important for early childhood education

The pandemic has been especially disruptive for early childhood learners. Bright vibrant classrooms, games and activities with peers were replaced with computer screens as a mode of learning. These challenges necessitated the need to leverage technology and make learning engaging, meaningful and personalized. Many Ed-Tech companies operating in the PreK-12 segment took up the challenge, innovated and offered exciting options for learning which included simulations, animations, video-based learning and gamification of content.

Gamified learning is one of the most prominent trends which has been successfully implemented in early childhood learning. While it was being used even before the pandemic, this approach gained particular prominence during the lockdown. How is early childhood learning impacted by gamification you might ask.

Why is Early Childhood Important for a Child’s Overall Development?

The term Early Childhood encompasses the age group of children from birth to 8 years. This is a wondrous time of development and change. These years are marked by simultaneous and integrated growth in the physical, cognitive, linguistic, sensory and socio-emotional domains of a child. All these domains are equally important as they interrelate and overlap throughout a child’s development and their journey of exploring the world.

Here’s an interesting fact; did you know that the brain of a child under three years of age is super active? It makes almost 700 to 1,000 neural connections every second! These neural circuits support and build a child’s sensory, motor, and cognitive skills and control all their responses. During this time span, brain development is at its peak and grows to 90 percent of its adult size by between the ages of 3-5 years! Up till the age of 8 these capacities are rapidly strengthened.

Therefore, this period is critical for laying the foundations for logical and creative thinking, problem-solving, learning multiple languages, forming behavioral patterns, building motor skills, and securing emotional well-being. The skills and abilities developed during these years often predict a child’s future functioning and achievements.

Let’s explore the concept of gamified learning.

Early childhood research proves that children learn best through active, sensorial exploration and engagement. Game or play-based learning nurtures the physical, social, intellectual, emotional and creative abilities of a child. Therefore, gamification of learning and engaging young learners in creative learning activities is a powerful method of optimizing a child’s overall development.

Think about a game of Ludo, Snakes & Ladders or any other game or sport that young children play. The common factors in all of them are engagement, fun, a goal and the motivation to win.

When these factors are applied to learning, the result is ‘gamification’.

Gamification helps build the learner’s engagement, clarifies or strengthens concepts and skills through an activity-based, hands-on approach to learning.
Gamification of learning has also proven to […]

How Can Parents Better Help Kids With Picky Eating Habits?

How Can Parents Better Help Kids With Picky Eating Habits?

Forcing “picky eaters” to eat may not improve their attitudes or behaviors toward food. According to a recent study, creating a positive, supportive, and flexible approach to eating is more helpful.1

Researchers from Duke Health surveyed more than 19,000 American adults who identified as “picking eaters” or had symptoms of Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). They were asked to recall whether certain parent feeding strategies helped with their eating habits.

The study found that 39% of helpful themes reported by the participants related to a “positive emotional context” around food. About 40% of the responses deemed mentioned that creating a “structure around eating” was helpful.1

On the other hand, the participants said that being forced to eat or feeling like they made their parents angry by avoiding certain foods didn’t help.

While the survey examined a large sample, the respondents were 75% female, 25% male, and 89% White.

“Unfortunately, eating disorders have long been associated as an issue limited to adolescent, white girls,” Megan Carlson, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist within the multidisciplinary Eating Disorders Center at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, told Verywell. “But as we continue to learn, EDs truly do not discriminate between body sizes, types, ethnicities, gender identities, or social-economic statuses.”

Carlson added that researchers “need to better understand the nuances in presentation among diverse populations to improve screening efforts, diagnosis, and treatment for youth who may look different from what we as a culture think of as a ‘typical’ ED patient.”

Disordered Eating

The researchers wanted to use the study results to find strategies that could help people with ARFID, a fairly new eating disorder diagnosis. The condition was first included in The American Psychiatric Association’s 2013 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).2 The diagnosis is used when a person has an “eating disturbance” that causes them not to get all the nutrients that their body needs.

ARFID is not the same as other eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa because people with ARFID are typically not concerned with their weight or body image.3

Carlson said that people with ARFID often restrict their food intake based on sensory sensitivity or fear of negative experiences like choking or becoming ill.

Although picky eating can look different in various cultural contexts, she added, many parents fixate on how kids have strong preference for or aversion against specific foods rather than their relationship with food in general. It’s especially challenging for parents to navigate a busy schedule when there are other children in the household.

But encouraging kids to establish a healthy diet is similar to potty training, Carlson suggested. “Feeding and eating is often a behavior that we can address with consistent expectations, positive reinforcement, and a good deal of patience,” she said.

Is Picky Eating Always a Concern?

Many toddlers display some signs of picky eating as they try to assert some form of independence, according to Amy Reed, MS, RD, a pediatric dietitian at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Signs of food avoidance at an early age aren’t always concerning, but strong food preferences can become a concern if they cause malnutrition, developmental delays, or mealtime stress, Reed told Verywell.

She recommended the use of the Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding (sDOR), a tool that helps parents create a structure around feeding.4 The model suggests feeding a baby on demand to establish a more regular pattern before transitioning to a “meals-plus-snacks routine.”

While parents might not always see immediate changes in their child’s eating patterns, the researchers wrote, they can think of supportive feeding experiences “as planting seeds that will help build positive food memories, increase pleasure around eating, and decrease social isolation.”1

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