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Friday, March 7th, 2014
Want to build your brain? Want to nudge your child’s brain along? Brilliant New York Time Magazine science writer Dan Hurley says it can be done–at anytime and at any age. Did you see him on TV this week? He told Diane Sawyer about proven, no-gimmick ways to boost brainpower from his book Smarter. Today, he tells us:
“When I was in third grade, I still couldn’t read. My teacher told my mother, “Daniel is a slow learner.” But just three years later, in sixth grade, I earned straight As, and spent the summer afterward typing my first “novel.”
How did I do it? My best friend, Dan Feigelson, became obsessed with Spider-Man and other Marvel comic books and started reading them and drawing their own. Refusing to be elbowed out, I began flipping those pages, putting the words together with the pictures. Soon I was drawing and writing my own comics, and Feigelson and I even made a movie (with help from his dad) starring our invented characters.
It would be simplistic to say that reading Spider-Man made me smarter, but one thing is certain: The old myth that intelligence is forever fixed—that IQ is like a number tattooed on the soul—is dead. Whether already gifted or struggling, diagnosed with a learning disability or just wanting to do a little bit better, children and adults alike can significantly enhance their brain power, according to dozens of randomized, peer-reviewed clinical trials published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. During three years researching my new book, Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power, I found strong scientific evidence detailing exactly what works for increasing cognitive capacity—and what doesn’t work.
If you’re waiting for a smart pill, forget about it. Although stimulant medication for ADHD can help some children (and adults) focus enough to learn, they do not raise IQ. Nor do any foods or dietary supplements in otherwise healthy people, as I carefully document in my book. (Don’t shoot; I’m just the messenger.)
So what does work? You don’t need me to tell you that reading to your kids and assuring that they get a solid night’s sleep are good for their minds. Beyond the obvious, though, here are five lessons drawn from my book on 5 No-Nonsense Ways to Make Your Kids (and Yourself) Smarter:
1. Computerized Training
You have probably seen advertisements for Lumosity on television, claiming to offer science-based games to improve mental function. While we have all learned to take such claims with a Costco-sized container of salt, in this case the evidence is there. It’s not as proved as, say, insulin for treating diabetes, but it’s certainly not a scam. A recent study, for instance, found that children who had survived cancer “significantly increased processing speed, cognitive flexibility, verbal and visual declarative memory scores as well as significantly increased pre-frontal cortex activation” after playing Lumosity games for eight weeks. Another study of breast-cancer survivors found that playing Lumosity improved women’s high-level cognitive performance, clearing the so-called chemo fog.
For children and adults with ADHD and other learning challenges, psychologists offer a program called Cogmed, which trains an essential cognitive skill called “working memory.” Many studies published in peer-reviewed journals have found benefits, but a few have questioned how meaningful those gains really are. But compared to the countless kooky psychological interventions that get hyped in the press without any scientific validity whatsoever, Cogmed is legitimate enough that I am enrolling my own child in it. Dozens of other studies of computerized working-memory games have found significant benefits. It’s no panacea, but I consider it well worth a try.
2. Music Lessons
Piano lessons aren’t just a way to make your children hate you; they might also make your children smarter. A study published in February, involving 60 children between the ages of 5 and 6, found those who were assigned to music lessons showed significant improvements in IQ after just 12 weeks, compared to those who didn’t receive the music lessons. Another recent study found that children who received music lessons for 18 months showed increases in their memory.
Of course, as parents know, some children enjoy music lessons, and others hate them. My older daughter begged for a guitar and never practiced, then begged for a ukulele and never practiced. Those stupid instruments are still gathering dust in the corner of our dining room. But there is hope: The younger one says she’s ready. Check back with me in a year.
Physical exercise is the best-proved way to improve cognitive performance in both children and adults. Aerobic exercise is now considered a cornerstone of cognitive therapy in older adults, and resistance training to increase muscle strength has also been shown to help.
In children, a study published in January found that children with lower cognitive abilities improved significantly after a brief cardiovascular workout, while those with higher abilities showed little change. Another study, analyzing the combined results of eight previous studies, also found evidence of benefit.
Now you know why professional hockey players are such geniuses, right?
4. Mindfulness Meditation
How can sitting quietly and doing nothing make you or your child smarter? The cognitive benefit of mindfulness meditation is that it builds the ability to pay attention, to maintain focus. Studies by Michael Posner of the University of Oregon have found that mindfulness meditation not only improves attention but also increases the formation of connections between brain cells, and can even help young people quit smoking. A study published last year by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, even found that mindfulness meditation can increase test scores on the Graduate Record Exam.
My book opens with the story of two immigrant children, Danny and Julie Vizcaino, who were left behind a grade in elementary school and considered themselves “dumb” until a teacher started a chess club. In a couple of years, both of them were nationally ranked chess players, and both went on to graduate from universities.
Only a few studies have looked at whether teaching chess to children can actually enhance their mental abilities, but it’s a much better bet than having them play Sudoku, Scrabble or other word games—none of which have ever been shown to increase cognitive abilities. What’s special about chess is that it demands focus (like mindfulness meditation); that it requires careful, deliberative thinking; and that the level of play gets progressively harder as skills improve.
Whichever activity you choose, the most important thing is that you and your child understand that intelligence is flexible and can be increased. As Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck has shown, simply explaining to kids that their intelligence is malleable and depends on how hard they work will improve their grades.
I know, it sounds like something out of a Disney movie, but hey, I’m the guy who got smarter thanks to Spider-Man, so what’d you expect?”
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Wednesday, February 26th, 2014
Is your toddler driving you nuts? If so, that’s totally okay! You are among friends here. All of us have had toddlers who made us bonkers. But what you have that we didn’t is this new book, How Toddlers Thrive by Tovah P. Klein, Ph.D. (with a fun and reassuring foreword by Sarah Jessica Parker). Tovah is also the director of the Center for Toddler Development at Barnard College. Check out Parents editorial assistant Ruthie, who recently attended Tovah’s book party.
Tovah tackles the most common issues and gives you real-life research and advice you can put to use. First of all, parents need to understand how those barely-walking baby minds think. The skill they most need to learn at age 2 is not how to share a toy or pee on the potty, but self-regulation. That alone is the key to their future success, Dr. Klein says.
Other topics in the book include thinking like a toddler (which helps you tame them), and “cracking the code” on everything from eating/sleeping/peeing routines to tantrums to sharing/playing/being alone. She’s full of useful tips that will help you and and your 2- to 5-year-old.
I really like these 5 Tips for Toddlers Who Freak Out About Getting Dressed:
1. Prepare in Advance
Put out two outfits your child can choose from in the morning. They need to feel a sense of power.
2. Give Limited Choices
“Dress or long pants?”
3. Buy Fewer Clothes
The fewer clothes your child has to choose from, the fewer fights you will have with her. Plus, you’ll save money!
4. Let Her Dress Herself
Even if you’re in a hurry, take the time to let her put that sock on. She will feel so proud.
5. Make It a Game
Whenever a tantrum is about to erupt, put a pair of panties on your head to turn tears into giggles.
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Friday, February 21st, 2014
The title of this new book screams for attention: ADHD Does Not Exist: The Truth About Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. It’s so sensational that it turned me off at first. But once I dig into the author, Richard Saul, M.D.‘s arguments, I see he’s completely serious and legit.
As a behavioral neurologist who is certified in pediatrics, Saul has been seeing children and adults who think they have ADHD for 50 years. He believes that they do not have this disease. Instead, they have symptoms that can be treated. It’s a huge mistake to pop pills like Adderoll and Ritalin. People want a magic solution to get their kids–or themselves–to sit down and shut up. But these drugs are stimulants, and Saul says they lead to dangerous addictions.
He urges health care professionals and patients to dig deeper. One adult man complained that he could not turn off his television, computer and games, and he was going crazy. He was sure he had ADHD. Saul discovered he was only sleeping 4 to 5 hours a night and diagnosed him with sleep deprivation. Saul prescribed black out shades, a noise machine and a program that turns off all devices at midnight. The patient’s health dramatically improved.
The real conditions and disorders he diagnoses include vision and hearing problems, substance abuse, mood disorder, giftedness (kids need more challenge sometimes!), seizure disorders OCD, Tourette’s and Aspberger’s. He digs in and treats what is really wrong.
ADHD Does Not Exists is a wake-up call to get patients and professions off the Adderall and Ritalin. Saul acknowledges that attention and hyperactivity do exist. But there are so many better ways to tackle them than what we mostly see used today.
What do you think? Is ADHD a real disease or a catch-all excuse to put people on pills?
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Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
Put your phone down! That’s the message of the popular book and blog called Hands Free Mama: Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters. Author Rachel Macy Stafford wants us to power down and pay attention, and her awesome new book tells us how to do it, step-by-step. She says: “Our children are learning how to navigate life in a digital world by watching us. Through mindful technology use, children can learn there is a time and place for our devices. On the flip side, if we constantly have a device in our hand or our face in a screen, they will learn that the device takes priority over human beings and real life experiences. Their tech use is likely to resemble our tech use–so what we do with our device at the dinner table, while driving, or while waiting at a restaurants is likely what they will do.
One of my most effective strategies for maintaining healthy boundaries between real life and technology is to envision what will make my children feel fulfilled in the future. And it comes down to this:
If I want my children to be awed by sunsets in the future, I must take time to be awed by sights in nature now.
If I want my children to appreciate the joy of a screen-free Saturday afternoon in the future, I must take time to show them the joys of screen-free Saturday now.
It is my ultimate hope that my children’s childhood memories include me participating in their lives with open hands and attentive eyes. This means doing what I can now to be a hands-free parent as they grow.
Go Hands Free for a Specific Time Period Each Day
Living Hands Free does not mean giving up technology altogether, and it does not mean ignoring your job responsibilities, volunteer obligations or home duties. Living Hands Free means making a conscious decision to temporarily push aside distractions and give your undivided attention to someone or something meaningful in your life.
- I started my journey by designating time periods when I unplugged from my devices and connected to my loved ones. Because I was so dependent on technology, I had to start with short, 10-minute increments. Although that doesn’t seem like much, the results were profound. Here are some of the revelations I experienced during my initial Hands Free periods:
- A feeling of peace and contentment came over me when I was fully engaged with a loved one. I felt assured that I was exactly where I needed to be at that moment.
- Within minutes of spending time in meaningful connection, online activities and household duties suddenly lost their urgency. Emails, phone calls, dirty laundry and scrolling newsfeeds would still be there after I finished nurturing my relationships. But time with my loved ones was fleeting.
- Opportunities to connect to loved ones became more apparent. My Hands Free inner voice began to grab me and gently encourage me by saying, ‘Come on, put the phone down. Turn off the computer. You’re missing your life!” I realized that even in the midst of a busy day, there are countless opportunities to pause and connect with the people who matter most. I had just been to distracted to notice.
- Being constantly available to people outside my family and trying to stay current on all of the latest online happenings was sabotaging my ability to live and love. The only person who could protect my time was me. And to do so, I had to create boundaries between technology and life.
As a result of these positive effects, I was motivated to increase the duration of my distraction-free time increments. With each experience of loving connection, my ties to daily distraction weakened.
This week, incorporate a designated Hands Free Time Period into your daily routine. Turn off your electronics—phone, tablet, laptop, or whatever—and then put them in a drawer or lock them in your car if you have to. Do whatever it takes to disconnect from devices and initiate meaningful connection with a loved one at least once a day. Here are a few examples of distraction-free timeframes:
First thing in the morning
Right before naptime or bedtime
When children arrive home from school
From dinner time until bedtime
As you make room for these Hands Free Time Periods, pay attention to the positive results. What emotions do you experience when you step away from your devices to spend time with a loved one? Do you notice anything special about your loved one that you failed to notice before? Does the importance of your online activities decrease when you are engaged in a moment of loving human connection? Are you beginning to notice more opportunities to connect to what matters to you?
By shutting down your devices periodically each day, you are able to protect your time, strengthen your relationships and nurture your own health and well-being. Giving yourself a chance to notice the details that make life worth living is time well spent.”
Can you do it? Do you have any hands free rules in your house–for yourself or your kids?
What is your parenting style? Take our quiz to find out!
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devices, electronics, Hands Free Mama, Put your phone down, Rachel Macy Stafford, screen time | Categories:
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Friday, February 7th, 2014
If there’s ever a feel-good TV show, it’s the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. You surely know this, but you can catch this celebration of humanity tonight on NBC starting at 7:30 p.m. EST and airing until well after the kids usual bedtime. Oddly enough, the ceremony takes place in real time today in Russia at 11 a.m., so if you look online, you will see the highlights early.
Even more oddly, we have Sochi Winter Olympic Mad Libs for you and your children to print out for tonight. What’s more fun than describing ordinary things in super-wacky, adjective-filled ways?
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