The Body-Mind Connection Boosts Learning (And Makes Life More Fun)

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In my work with children and adolescents, I practice techniques to draw on the powerful and proven connection between the body and mind (see The American Psychological Association article for information on coping with stress and how to manage it for tips to boost mental and physical health). How we treat and inhabit our bodies can vastly improve mental functioning (and vice-versa) — from how we approach study habits to dealing with the mental stress of school, testing, and being a child and adolescent in today’s accomplishment-driven culture.

Some skills I incorporate into my practice (and encourage students to do on their own) include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Positive imagery exercises
  • Healthy sleep, exercise, and eating habits
  • Being physical and having fun with our bodies (exercise, play)
  • Getting in touch with sensory awareness
  • Breaking down academic successes and reliving them (we tend to remember the failures more than our triumphs)
  • Finding the connection between thoughts, emotions, and body changes (such as headaches, stomachaches, and back pain)
  • The power of positive thinking to inspire new perspectives

“Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”
― Alphonse KarrA Tour Round My Garden

Here’s a sample sensory awareness exercise I’ll assign students to help activate mindful thinking, and build upon their powers of observation:

  • On your route walking to school or an after-school activity (usually a route that you girl-blowing-dandelionare so familiar with you are probably preoccupied with your own thoughts while walking it) and instead of focussing on your thoughts, concentrate on noticing the details of your surroundings. What are the sounds, smells, sights you encounter? Do these sounds, smells, or sights make you think or feel anything? What? Parents can help guide younger children through this exercise. The result: mindfulness emerges, and we will become more in tune with immediate experiences rather than dwelling in distracting thoughts.

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[Parents] How To Help Your Kids Develop Social Skills

Illustration ©Megan Fisher

Illustration ©Megan Fisher

Children and adolescents often find it difficult to communicate with their peers or adults in an effective manner. Because school is the place your child spends the majority of his or her day, it is where he or she will develop social skills and acquire a social status or identity. Psychologists have written extensively about social status and its imprint on a child’s identity. Below is an excerpt outlining a general spectrum of social statuses:

“Some children are well endowed with social skills. They are popular and very well liked by all or most of their peers. Some seem to have a knack for making friends and getting along with others. They are very friendly and outgoing and always seem to be at ease around people. Other children are popular because they are on the school football team, play in a band, can draw very well or are really good-looking. Popular students are typically the leaders at school. They are self-confident and influential.

Many students are not really considered popular but are pretty well-liked by their peers and have a number of friends. This group of children usually comprises the majority of the students in a class. These likable children feel good about how they relate to others but may, at times, worry about what their classmates think of them. Some children are shy, quiet and timid. They may have one or two close friends but not a large group of friends. While other students like them, they do not get involved in many activities in or out of school. They tend to feel awkward or uncomfortable around people they don’t know very well. Shy children usually aren’t unhappy about how they get along with others but wish that they could feel more comfortable and be more involved. Some shy children become anxious in social situations.

Other students are ignored or unnoticed by their peers. No one really dislikes or likes them. These children are not the ones picked first for activities, but they are not the ones that are teased or bullied either. They are usually social adept. Some of these children don’t like being ignored but others don’t mind because they are more interested in solitary activities or prefer interactions with adults more than with peers.

The children who have the most social difficulty at school are those that are rejected by their peers. Other children really don’t like them and may not treat them well. Rejected children are those that are picked on, laughed at, talked about, teased and bullied. They are widely disliked, excluded from activities and may be ostracized by their peers.” – Candy Lawson, Ph.D. “School and Social Skills”

Does your child have difficulty approaching new groups of children?  Is it a challenge for your child to make friends due to his or her shyness?  Are social situations a scary prospect for your child?  Is problem-solving in the classroom or in everyday life an issue? If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then you might be interested in enrolling your child in a social skills class. Holly Reichlin, a colleague of mine who is a certified speech pathologist, educator, and learning expert in private practice, is running a Brooklyn-based social skills group for children of varying ages. Her social skills groups explore the nature of peer relationships through the use of plays, book making, and games designed to nurture verbal and non-verbal communication and social skills.

Groups can be an ideal way to address social skills in young people because they foster a supportive, collective, safe, yet simultaneous “real world” setting for children to practice adaptive social skills. Says Holly, “I’d like to see your children become detectives. Through a process of role playing and problem solving, they can unveil the mysteries of the social spectrum.” Social skills like confidence, curiosity, cooperation, and communication are essential to learning and go hand-in-hand with developing resilience, and scholastic success.

Holly’s social skills classes address children of different ages (5-8; 8-10; 10-13; adolescents) and distinct interpersonal needs. Please contact her directly for more information.

il_fullxfull.214758801Holly Reichlin is a certified speech language pathologist who has had a school-aged private practice in Brooklyn Heights for over 20 years. She has also been a teacher of the speech and hearing handicapped in the public schools for over 30 years.  She has collaborated with parents, teachers, school psychologists, learning specialists and counselors when treating her clients. You can contact her at speech@pegas.us

[Parents] No School = A Stressed Out Kid? Holiday Break Survival Guide

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They might not admit it, but kids (children and adolescents) crave structure. Though they might fuss and fight about the monotony of school, young people enjoy the stability and comfort of routines. (American Psychological Association). School — regulations and all — provides both structure and routine. “The holidays can be a very stressful time for everyone,” explains Sara Listas, LMSW. “With teens in particular, you might see an increase in ‘acting out’ behaviors. This might be due to unconscious anxiety that comes with a break in the routine. Adolescents might not be aware of it, but they know they are going to be out of school in an unstructured environment.” Even in my college lit class, my students like to sit in the same seats each session, and will tell their peers to move if someone sits in his or her spot.

So what happens when the routine is broken, even for a short holiday hiatus? Here are a couple tips to help parents ease the school-free days to come.

  •  Understand that a change in behavior (and often not a pleasant one) is not personal. As Sara Listas, LMSW explains, unconscious anxiety comes with a break in the routine.
  • Keep children and teens stimulated, mentally and physically. Of course they will want to sleep, hang out with friends, and do all kinds of unstructured activities, but try to plan outings that require active participation. Rather than focussing on saying “NO” to TV or video games, organize museum visits, playwriting and performances, cooking, craft projects, yoga classes or any type of participation in a team sport.
  • Encourage children of all ages to read and/or host book parties and salons to chat about what they’re reading.
  • Volunteer work during a holiday break is a fantastic (and philanthropic) way to keep teens engaged with the world (and help them build their college resume).
  • When visiting relatives, encourage children and teens to interview family members or look through mementos and keepsakes. An added bonus will come when students realize that history isn’t just a class, but an integral part of the human experience.
  • This recent New Yorker article disputes the reliability of brain games to improve attention (especially in young adults with A.D.H.D.) and boost I.Q. levels, but they are better than GTA 5.
  • Use the break to assess progress and create realistic goals. Often times, students (and parents) don’t realize how far behind they are until the end of a semester or time right before a holiday break. School reports and grades usually precede a break, so expect the results to come while you’re on holiday. If the results come as a total shock, don’t freak out. Breathe and reboot. Now is the time to strategize how to catch up. If a student is behind in more than one subject, divide and conquer. Remember, as a parent, you model behavior for your child. And chances are that if a student is behind and not telling you, he or she is overwhelmed and not sure how you will react.If a student is all caught up with his or her work, you may want to assess what to do with this time. Our achievement-driven culture tells us to ignore down time. But, I say, rethink what constitutes achievement. In fact, why not pose that very question to your child? The best academic success happens when students set their own goals and regulate their own motivation. Of course they might need some nudging, but the more agency they take in their achievement, the better the results.