How Focused Attention Can Help Our Kids Battle Stress and Anxiety

With focused attention we can actually change the physical structure of our brain.

In the midst of my worst moments of anxiety and panic, I would focus incessantly on the physical sensation and fear that it was something serious and harmful. But, as I learned over time from several experts, my attention was directed on the wrong thing. What if I could shift my focus to something else – something more interesting and positive?

As it turns out, scientists have discovered over the past several years the incredible power we have within ourselves to transform our brain, and therefore, our thoughts. In “The Whole-Brain Child,” author Daniel J. Siegel M.D. explains how the brain physically changes in response to new experiences. “With intention and effort, we can acquire new mental skills. …when we direct our attention in a new way, we are actually creating a new experience that can change both the activity and ultimately the structure of the brain itself.”

How does this work? Our new thoughts activate neurons in our brain, a process referred to as neural firing. This leads to the production of proteins that create new connections between neurons. Therefore with focused attention we can actually change the physical structure of our brain.

This entire process is called neuroplasticity, a very exciting new realm of science that experts are trying to learn more about every day. Because our brain can change based on what we experience and focus on, we can alter the way we respond to and interact with the world around us. We can even reduce negative patterns and form new, healthier ones.

How we can change our brain

A collection of scientific evidence shows how focused attention can reshape our brain, as Daniel J. Siegel points out. Brain scans of violinists, for example, show dramatic growth and expansion in regions of the cortex that represent the left hand, which is the main finger used to play the violin strings. Another study showed that the hippocampus, which is critical for spatial memory, is enlarged in taxi drivers.

The magic of focused attention is that we can use it to help get over negative emotions like fear. We can redirect our attention towards something that relaxes us.

“By directing our attention, we can go from being influenced by factors within and around us to influencing them. When we become aware of the multitude of changing emotions and forces at work around us and within us, we can acknowledge them and even embrace them as parts of ourselves – but we don’t have to allow them to bully us or define us. We can shift our focus to other areas of awareness, so that we are no longer victims of forces seemingly beyond our control, but active participants in the process of deciding and affecting how we think and feel,” Siegel writes in his book.

Fortunately, we have many effective tools to use to achieve more focus and create deep connections in our brain. We can use mindfulness meditation, yoga, Qi gong, breathing techniques, guided imagery, cognitive behavioral therapy, and even brain exercises to develop our focused attention. All of these approaches involve directing our attention to a specific object, image, sound, mantra, or even our own breath.

In addition, Siegel developed a whole new technique called “Mindsight” to become mindful of all our mental activities, reorganize them, and then re-wire our brain. It goes a step further than mindfulness because it’s not just about being present in the moment, but about having the ability to monitor what’s going on and then to make a conscious change. This can have huge implications for those suffering from stress and anxiety.

Ways for kids to practice focused attention

Teaching our children this special trick of focused attention can help them in so many ways throughout their lives. By being aware of their emotions and learning how to shift their concentration, they will be empowered and feel in control of their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. From an early age, we can start to introduce some fun ways for kids to build up their focused attention muscle.

  • Point out the positive. When faced with setbacks or unwelcome news, ask your children to find the positive in those situations. Paying attention to the positive rewires our brain for happiness and increases our awareness.
  • Play listening and conversation games. Because of all their technology use, our children are missing out on really important skills like listening and how to hold an in-person conversation. Play games like “whisper down the lane” or verbal memory so that your kids can improve their ability to listen carefully.
  • Creative arts. When our children are immersed in art – whether it be music, painting, writing, or drawing – they reach a state of flow, the sense of being completely engaged in an activity to the point of being in a near meditative state. When we are in a state of flow, we forgot about all our thoughts and lose track of time. Sign your kids up for an art class or music lesson, encourage them to spend time journaling, and bring out the karaoke machine to get them focused through creativity.
  • Mindful play. Choose toys and games that require your children’s full attention, such as spinning tops, dominoes, building a house of cards, brain teasers, or board games like Operation and Memory.
  • Breathing exercises. One of the most basic and commonly used meditation approaches is deep breathing, which has been found to help return our breathing back to normal and alleviate unsettling feelings of stress and anxiety. Practice breathing exercises with your children so they can learn how to do it on their own when they are stressed.
  • Yoga practice. Yoga offers so many incredible benefits to our children, including a time for inner focus and to connect to their bodies. Enjoy doing poses together as a family and showing your kids that they can tap into the skills learned during yoga throughout their day to address the pressures and stress they endure.
  • Enjoy nature scenes. Focusing on awe-inspiring scenes of nature – whether in person or through pictures and videos – can engage our children’s attention. Schedule some outdoor time, sit down and watch a nature show, or enjoy gorgeous photographs of our natural environment. Teach your children that just sitting quietly and staring at these images is relaxing and a helpful focus exercise.

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18 Simple Ways to Infuse Each Day With Learning

Teaching your child to love learning offers them a lifetime of discovery, far outside the classroom.

Teaching your child about World War II or how to do double digit addition is important. But those are limited facts and skills. Teaching your child to love learning offers them a lifetime of discovery, far outside the classroom.
Here are 18 easy ways to foster a love of learning in the midst of everyday life.

Read to them

Reading not only has physical and emotional benefits. There is concrete evidence that it helps brain development and academic growth as well. With so much possibility, reading is the perfect way to help kids fall in love with learning.

Let them see you read

While reading to your children has many benefits, letting them see you read shows kids that reading is forever. It’s not just for babies. It’s not just for school. Read in front of them (and Facebook doesn’t count).

Be outdoors

Time outside provides opportunities for fine and gross motor development, risk-taking, and exploring, all of which prove beneficial to learning. There is also a direct correlation between time outside and reduction of stress, confidence building, and exposure to different stimuli.

Sing, play, and listen to music

The brain benefits of music are numerous. Plus, music has the ability to bring joy, relaxation, and express ideas.

Relax

True learning goes far beyond grades in a classroom. Show them you believe that by spending time with your kids doing nothing much in particular except enjoying each other’s company.

Embrace what they love

Give kids the opportunity to explore the things they love. If your child is into trains right now, find books about trains, build a train, draw a train, watch trains at the train station. Allow your child to guide their learning through their passions.

Talk about learning

Let them know when you discover something new. “Wow, I never knew that popcorn could burn so quickly. I wonder why?” Kids need to see that we are always learning, even in the ordinary.

Ask questions

I know it feels like all we do is answer questions. So start asking. “How did that bird know I just put birdseed out?” or “Why are there police officers guarding the construction workers?” Questions are the foundation of learning.

Give them money

I know it can be painfully slow, but letting them pay at the store and count change is real life learning. If you use plastic for all your payments, talk about how that works, too.

Wonder

Encourage your children to think freely about things, without boundaries. Some of the best ideas started with wild wondering!

Play

School keeps kids busy learning good things. But there is not a lot of room for play in a regular day. Giving kids the opportunity to play with no agenda allows them to be better thinkers.

Ask random math questions

Math facts are foundational for good mental math, but kids don’t always want more schoolwork. Make math facts fun by asking them when you’re doing something else, like driving, hiking, or making dinner. Make it easy, fun, and short.

Keep reading picture books

Even as kids get older, picture books can provide unique opportunities for learning. Increased connection with the text, vocabulary, and a more sensory approach to reading keeps the experience enjoyable and beneficial.

Go places

Visit the sea or a mountain. Spend time at the free art museum or check out the historical house in town. Experiences make learning part of life and create schema, a personal framework for learning.

Create

Giving kids the chance to create through art, music, science, or any imaginative play helps them develop better thinking skills that translate far outside the classroom.

Enlist help

Helping with adult tasks gives kids new skills and shows them the need to learn throughout life. Cooking, taking pictures, changing the oil, and doing laundry all show kids that there is always something new they can do.

Fail

Often. Let them see that failure is part of learning. Recognizing failure as part of the learning process rather than an end to learning shows kids to keep going. Demonstrate that it’s okay, even good, to fail because it’s all part of the process.

Did I mention read?

It’s one of the simplest things you can do with endless possibilities. Read to learn, for fun, and for life.

How I Missed My Kindergartner's Color Deficiency

Roman’s perspective of the world was colored, literally, different, yet his outlook was unfazed.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
It was only two weeks into kindergarten when my son, Roman, brought home a coloring assignment, a cut-out owl, with a big letter F marked in red on the top of it. The owl was colored not brown, but green, adorned smartly in a graduation cap and gown, holding a diploma and donning wiry spectacles. Under the bitter mark was a lengthy and unsympathetic explanation of the grade: Owls are NOT green! With respect for the rules of writing, I use one exclamation point here, but Roman’s owl had not, one, but three of these dramatic punctuation marks, marks that typically need to be well earned when chosen over a simple period for ending a sentence.
I’m not undermining the importance of following directions and learning the motor skills and conventions of coloring in a kindergarten classroom, and if this had been a high school final exam, perhaps a math or a science or an English language test, my own instinct would have been to ask Roman why he didn’t try harder, why he didn’t get a better grade, explain that an F is not acceptable, as my overachieving parents would have done. However, my son seemed to be faced with a burned out teacher radiating indomitable meanness at this early stage in his education, a time when fostering success and enthusiasm about school is paramount. Even worse, I suspected something more significant.
I suspected that something was medically wrong with Roman.
As I held the crumpled owl in my palm that I had balled up in anger, a wooden knot rose up in my throat. I swallowed, slowly spread the owl out on my desk, and examined Roman’s beautiful work, that I had initially been critical of myself, his best effort. I put Roman’s folders back into his book bag, recalling the many times we’d played toddler games. I’d quizzed him like the proud mama I was. I’d held up flash cards and pictures for him to name. Animals. Shapes. Even letters.
And colors.
In toddlerease, he proudly named chinchillas, ostriches, and bearded dragons, from his book entitled, “My First Animal Book.” He could tell the difference between a puffin and a penguin which, at his age, I’m sure I could not – all the more reason he seemed too smart not to know his colors correctly.
But I figured he’d catch on eventually, didn’t sweat it.
Then I thought even further back, to images from my own childhood.
I recalled my own mother throwing up her arms at my father’s mismatched outfits. My grandmother noting how he had to read the position of the traffic lights, instead of the colors, green, yellow, red. My dad was colorblind, and I was certain, now, that Roman was, too.
Then I thought of how I’d failed as a mother the time I’d yelled at Roman for not picking up his toys from the lawn, remembered the time clearly. There was a brown baseball in plain sight and I was pointing right at it where he left it, along with numerous other whiffle bats and balls, lying on the grass.
“I don’t see it.” He shrugged.
“It’s right there in front of you,” I yelled in frustration.
And then I thought of how my own frustration might hinder Roman’s determination to succeed in school, throughout the year, if I didn’t hold back my urge now, to march into the principal’s office and have the teacher reprimanded for her intolerance to his unconventional coloring that was, to me, at least, so obviously indicative of a visual disability.
Instead of reacting, I poured myself a glass of wine. I gave Roman a hug and told him I liked his green owl, flattened out the paper and blacked out the F, the unkind words, too, with black sharpie marker. I put a sticker on it and pinned it on my office corkboard next to his baby pictures and snapshots of our family vacations.
How could I have missed this?
What kind of mother was I?
What kind of doctor?
I gave myself a little slack on my professional vocation, since I’m an anesthesiologist by training, not a pediatrician, not an ophthalmologist. But as a mother, I truly felt I’d failed.
I was determined not to create a bigger problem for my son, yet I wanted to help him. I’m aware that there is no cure for color deficiency, so my determination focused on ways to help him succeed, despite a possible disability.
I held back, instead of reacting negatively like Roman’s teacher had done, undulating waves of her criticism in our direction that crashed on the deaf ears of a developing child who still, after receiving the grade, could not understand what he had done wrong. There was no way he could visualize the clear distinction between the green and brown. I held back and I learned everything I could about the condition of color deficiency, which I had been calling colorblindness, incorrectly. I learned that up to eight percent of boys are color deficient, not possessing the correct number of cones in the inner eye needed to see shades of red and green colors as well as the rest of us can. I quickly researched the diagnosis, reading up on possible treatments which sadly, are lacking. In Roman’s case, color chart testing performed by his pediatrician confirmed that he was a deuteranope, or red green color deficient.
When I left the office I wrapped my arms around my little boy, handled my glassed eyes with tissues, trying to wipe away the uncertainty. He seemed more vulnerable, imperfect, yet I loved him more for his flaw, and I felt the intensifying urge to nurture and protect him. I realized that he’d face certain tasks that made his life much more challenging. I still felt guilty for my flood of emotions when I thought of how much worse it could be, how it wasn’t the most physically limiting disability he could face, and yet I smiled.
I smiled because mostly, it didn’t seem to bother him at all.
Roman’s perspective of the world was colored, literally, different, yet his outlook was unfazed. And as I took a moment to process the implications of his disability, I was determined to affect change in a positive way, a kinder and gentler way, when I explained his condition to his teacher. I thought of the thirsty bird in the famous Aesop’s Fable, who slowly raised the water level in the vase with each tiny stone it dropped into the vase with its beak. By solving the problem effectively and not knocking over the whole vase in the process, the bird quenched its thirst. Explaining Roman’s condition calmly to his teacher seemed to be a better way to try to prevent this from happening again in the future, than ratting her out to the principal would. And I knew that Roman would need to solve problems on his own one day, by labeling colors or asking for help.
She didn’t apologize.
This was disappointing, to say the least, yet I hadn’t created any additional tension that could affect Roman’s grades for the remainder of the school year. What was more important was the way I wanted my son to see me, not in tan or pale hues, not in shades of blonde or brunette or redhead hair, and not for the point of noticing the colors of my clothes, but to see the person I am. I wanted him to know that I would do everything in my power as a mother and as a doctor to help him. Even before doing so, I wanted him to see me as someone who would fulfill the Hippocratic Oath I took in medical school, one that applies as much to mothering as it does to medicine. I remained determined for him to see that my promise to him above all, is to do no harm.

Read These Favorite New Books After Your Kids Go to Sleep

If you’re looking for something to read, here are some favorite new books to put on your radar:

We may have lives that are chaotic and exhausting. The morning routine. Chasing kids. Working. Errands. Afterschool activities. The bedtime routine. Parenting never comes to an end.
Don’t let that stop you from sneaking in a little me-time. After the kids go to bed is the perfect time to crack open a book. If you’re looking for something to read, here are some favorite new books to put on your radar:

TheGypsy

The Gypsy Moth Summer

by Julia Fierro

In the long, sweltering summer of 1992, a gypsy moth invasion blankets Avalon, an islet off the coast of Long Island. Despite being an inescapable burden, the insects are hardly the topic of discussion. Leslie Day Marshall, the only daughter of Avalon’s most prominent family, returns with her black husband and bi-racial children to live in “The Castle,” the island’s grandest estate.
Hidden truths, scandals, and racial prejudices soon emerge in this many-faceted story about love, family, escape, and revenge. “The writing is lovely, and the story is compelling. It’s set in the 90s so it’s fun nostalgia, too,” says Jen from New Jersey.


LittleFiresEverywhere

Little Fires Everywhere

by Celeste Ng

After reading “Little Fires Everywhere”, Jessica from New York says, “The characters are so real. And I love the way that [Celeste Ng] explores issues of race, class, and privilege in a deep and meaningful way, without being heavy-handed or preachy.”
Picture-perfect Shaker Heights runs like a well-oiled machine. Elena Richardson embodies this progressive suburb’s image, playing by the rules and striving for the best. Things begin to unravel when she rents a house in the idyllic little bubble to single mother, Mia Warren, and her teenage daughter Pearl.
All four of Elena’s children are drawn to the rebellious mother-daughter pair, who ignore the status quo and threaten to upend the community. This instant New York Times bestseller explores motherhood, secrets, and the naivety of thinking that following the rules will keep you safe.


ATangledMercy

A Tangled Mercy

by Joy Jordan-Lake

“A Tangled Mercy” is an interweaving of two distinct, yet connected, narratives: the story of Harvard grad student Kate Drayton’s journey to Charleston, South Carolina, to find answers about her deceased mother’s troubled past, and the lost story of the Charleston slave uprising of 1822 – the subject of Kate’s mother’s research.
Inspired by true events, the book examines the depth of human suffering and brutality and our everlasting hope of forgiveness and redemption. “Joy Jordan-Lake’s ‘A Tangled Mercy’ is an incredibly compelling and meticulously researched historical novel that will have you thinking about it long after you turn the last page,” says Jane Healey, author of “The Saturday Evening Girls Club.”


TheGoldenHouse

The Golden House

by Salman Rushdie

The mysterious and eccentric newcomer, Nero Golden, and his three adult sons, each odd in their own way, take up residence at the Gardens, a cloistered community in New York’s Greenwich Village, on the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration. Soon after moving to the neighborhood, Nero is charmed by Vasilisa, a sleek Russian expat, while their young neighbor, René, is captivated by their mystique and quietly intertwines with their lives.
“The Golden House” is set against the backdrop of current American politics and culture, while beaming with the realism of a timely story of love, loss, and deceit. “It’s really delicious reading. It’s like [Salman Rushdie] has the English language on his leash and can will it to do what he wants. It’s incredible,” says Olga of Zuid-Holland from the Netherlands.


TheDesigner

The Designer

by Marius Gabriel

While Paris celebrates its liberation in 1944, Cooper Reilly’s life is falling apart. She’s stuck in an unhappy marriage riddled with infidelity. Unable to endure it any longer, she asks for a separation.
Suddenly alone, she finds a friend in a middle-aged clothing designer named Christian Dior. Hiding in a lackluster, decrepit fashion house seems counterproductive to the brilliance of his designs, so Copper urges him to take a risk while she takes one of her own – tipping her toes into the world of journalism.
“I was swept away by Marius Gabriel’s vivid descriptions of the Parisian fashion world – I could practically hear the rustle of silks. ‘The Designer’s’ evocation of Paris in the dying days of the war and the admirable spirit of the French people as they find their way again after years of occupation was simply enthralling,” says Sammia Hamer, Editor.


TurtlesAllTheWayDown

Turtles All the Way Down

by John Green

Azra is trying to be a good daughter. And a good friend. And a good student. She’s trying to make good decisions, even as her thoughts spiral out of control. She never meant to become tangled in the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett.
With a hefty reward at stake, and her friends eager to crack the case, she has nothing to lose. Or does she? “It’s one of the most realistic depictions of living with mental illness that I’ve ever encountered without being super depressing about it,” says Stephanie from Maryland.
What new books would you add to this list? Please share!

How to Guide Your Kid's Inventive Spelling

Encouraging your child to use invented spelling will help her become a successful student, even if the immediate results look disastrous.

Invented spelling – young children’s attempts to write words by recording the letter sounds they hear – has long been common in early childhood classrooms, but new research has brought it into the spotlight this year. A recent study suggests that engaging regularly in this analytical process is more effective at preparing children to read than focusing on word memorization.
What does this mean for parents? Well, for one thing, you can stop worrying that a note from your five-year-old that says, “U R A GRT MOM” means she’ll forever be reliant on spell check. Encouraging your child to use invented spelling will help her become a successful student, even if the immediate results look disastrous.
It also means you might struggle with how to best help your beginning writer. The following tips come from my experience as a kindergarten teacher and have passed the true test: I have a five-year-old inventive speller at home.

Take yourself back to kindergarten

As a proficient reader and writer, your brain works differently than a young child’s. You have a massive mental bank of words you read and write automatically. So it’s understandable if you’re out of practice at relying heavily on letter sounds.
It will be easier for you to help your early speller (and read what she writes) if you temporarily suspend your knowledge that the ending “shun” is often written as -tion or that care written without the “e” would technically be pronounced as the word meaning automobile.
Go back to the ABCs. Consistency between home and school is always helpful, so find out how your child’s teacher introduces letter sounds. Many teachers use a keyword carefully chosen to teach each one, as in this common phonics program. Instead of “E is for Elephant,” it’s Ed, to make the “short e” sound crystal clear. No xylophones or x-rays, either. The keyword for X is fox to teach the ending /ks/ sound.
For extra credit, watch this video clip to confirm you’re pronouncing each sound correctly when helping your child.

Set up for success

You can avoid some common pitfalls by being ready with supplies and ideas when your child wants to practice writing. It’s hard for new writers to plan use of space, so squeezing words into small areas will likely be frustrating. My son always chooses the tiniest scrap of paper, so I try to quickly swap it out for something with plenty of room.
Consider ditching the standard no. 2 pencil, also. Pencils break at the wrong moment and erasing can easily become a messy obsession. These nifty crayon rocks are a fun alternative. They come in a velvet bag, which makes them feel treasure-like, and have the added bonus of a shape that encourages a correct pincer grip. Many teachers also favor these felt tip pens, which slide easily across the paper.
It can be frustrating for everyone when adults can’t read what a child laboriously wrote. If you encourage a new writer to label an item in a picture or an actual object, you have a giant clue as to her intended message. Give your child a stack of large sticky notes and have her label things around your home. “Dangerous!” by Tim Warnes is a hilarious picture book about labeling that inspired my son to whip through an economy-sized pack of Post-Its.
There are many authentic contexts for writing lists, which are a logical next step after labeling. Suggest grocery lists, real or pretend menus, to-do lists, top 10 lists, and so on. You’ll have the list’s context to help you decipher each word. My son spent all summer getting ahead of the game and writing wish lists for Santa. A tad consumer-driven for my taste, but he was highly motivated to include as many sounds as possible so his message was legible.
Finally, if you encourage your child to attempt writing short sentences within a functional framework, the task feels worthy enough for him to see it through, and you’ll have something to go on when you try to read it. Encourage him to write thank you notes, signs, birthday cards or a caption to accompany a picture he drew.

Help, but not too much

So much of parenting is about striking the balance between giving help and leaving enough space for independence. Once your child gets the idea of saying words slowly and writing down letters for sounds she hears, let her go for it.
Constant correction or giving into to “How do you spell…?” requests quickly creates dependence. I find it useful to suddenly become very busy in another room when my son is trying to write something. When I’m out of sight, he trusts himself more.
At the same time, new writers need to maintain momentum. If your child is stuck on a sound, especially if it’s one you’re sure he doesn’t know yet, just supply it so he can move on. It’s okay to provide tips like how to spell the ending “ing” or “it takes s and h together to start shell” without lengthy explanations. My son often gets hung up on people’s names, which can be phonetic minefields anyways, so I just write them on a piece of scrap paper for him if he asks.
Like potty training, training wheels, and Velcro shoes, invented spelling spans just a short phase in your child’s development. I keep reminding myself to appreciate (rather, APRESHEAT) the window it offers into my child’s thinking. I know that, soon enough, the only notes I’ll get from him will be texts that he won’t be home for dinner.

The Best Predictor of Success, According to Science

We want to set children up on a path towards success later in life. What contributes to a person’s success in the long-term?

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!

I’m sitting on the sidelines at my five-year-old son’s soccer game listening to parents and caretakers yell out encouraging words to the players. It’s clear that, from the time our children are little, we want them to excel and reach their full potential. We want to set children up on a path towards success later in life.

What contributes to a person’s success in the long-term?

According to Dr. Angela Duckworth in her groundbreaking book “Grit,” one of the best predictors of long-term success isn’t talent or intellect (though these are also helpful for obvious reasons). It’s grit.

Duckworth explains that the highly successful have a kind of fierce determination that makes them incredibly resilient, hard-working, and focused on their long-term goals. This combination of passion and perseverance in high achievers can be described in a word as grit.

In “Grit,” Duckworth draws on studies she performed on teachers working in schools in tough neighborhoods, cadets facing the challenging environment at West Point, and finalists in the National Spelling Bee. She illustrates that level of grit is the one factor that predicted which study participants would excel in these demanding settings.

Duckworth also found that grittier kids are less likely to drop out of high school. Grit determines graduation rates more than the level students care about school, how thorough they are about their studies, and even how safe they feel at school.

Watching my son’s soccer team play, it’s clear that certain players are more naturally inclined with athletic ability than others, but Duckworth would likely caution me not to jump to conclusions about how the player’s talents will play out over time. She argues in her book that, as much as talent counts, effort counts twice as much.

Duckworth explains that effort applied to talent builds skill, and effort applied to skill makes skill productive in the form of achievement. Without applying effort to talent, talent only remains untapped potential (this would be the case for the talented kids on the team that later decide to quit soccer). Without applying effort to skills, a person produces and achieves less (for example, a child that might play fewer games may fail to move up the ranks in soccer).

Duckworth draws on the scientific findings of Stanford psychologist Catharine Cox to explain how IQ comes into play. Cox studied accomplished historical figures. She concluded that, as a group, the historical figures were smarter than the rest of us, but she also noticed that IQ mattered very little in distinguishing between the most and the least accomplished in the group. What did matter in separating the most from the least accomplished in the group was – you guessed it – grit.

The good news is that grit is not a fixed trait. It can grow over time, and Duckworth details in “Grit” the ways we can grow our grit from the inside out by connecting interest, practice, purpose, and hope to shape our long-term goals.

While observing the parents at my son’s soccer game, it’s clear that there are different approaches to the level of encouragement we give to our children. Some parents are very vocal about correcting children during the game and others are laid-back.

How do we best encourage grittiness in our children? Is it fostered by demanding high standards, or is it nurtured with loving support?

Though Duckworth admits that much more research is necessary for the area of parenting for grit, she suggests that parents and caretakers should be both demanding and supportive. She also recommends that we look at our own levels of grit. If we are raising our children in a way that makes them want to emulate us, our grittiness will likely show up in our children.

Another key point made in “Grit” is that before hard work comes play. Duckworth encourages allowing children to explore their interests. She points out that children of parents who let kids make their own choices about activities that they enjoy are more likely to develop an interest that is later identified as a passion.

In the end, the effort we apply to our potential might just determine our potential itself. Doesn’t that information make you feel grittier?

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12 Books that Reflect the Diversity of the World Around Us

I want my children to know that many kids look and live differently than they do. Books can help.

We know eating a variety of foods is healthy. Now that I have three children with various repetitive eating preferences, I often reassure myself with a classic tidbit of advice often delivered by pediatricians: Worry more about what your child eats over the course of a week than in a given day.

This principle is a helpful frame of reference in other aspects of parenting, too. What if you applied this concept to your children’s reading lives? How diverse is their weekly book diet?

In 1990, Rudine Sims Bishop, professor at Ohio State University, penned what would become an iconic essay in the world of children’s literature titled, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” In short, she argued that books reflect readers’ own lives and give glimpses into others’. Bishop warned how imbalances can warp children’s perceptions of the world. A predominance of mirrors makes it seem as though the whole world is the same. Exposure to only windows can leave a child wondering, “But what about me?”

One of the many unearned privileges of being a white family is that “mirror” books aren’t hard for us to find. If you’re a parent to a child of color, though, you’ve probably already thought about “the apartheid of children’s literature.” The good news is that there have been major initiatives in recent years to encourage more diversity in children’s books. Data shows 22 percent of children’s books published in 2016 as being about children of color or First/Native Nations. This figure is an improvement from the 13 percent noted at the start of data collection in 2002, but it still doesn’t come close to aligning with US population statistics.

I began thinking more about diverse books when we moved from San Jose, California, where we were regularly in the minority at the playground, to a small town in Maine. We love where we live – the view from our actual window is gorgeous – but I want my children to know that many kids look and live differently than they do. Books can help. These questions helped me stay tuned into balancing our family reading diet:

Do some of the books we read feature characters of color having everyday experiences?

I’m not talking about books about slavery and civil rights, although those are important titles too. Decades ago, books like “The Snowy Day” and “Corduroy” were unusual in that they showed children of color doing regular things like playing outside and shopping. Luckily, more such titles are hitting the shelves each year. Sometimes my kids bring up a character’s appearance or ethnicity, but mostly, we just enjoy the stories. Some of our family favorites include:

OverandUnderthePond

Over and Under the Pond

by Kate Messner

This story tells about a mom and son spending a peaceful day canoeing near their home. The descriptions of wildlife appeal to my kids and the nonfiction information at the end helps answer their questions.


MarisonMcDonald

Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash/Marisol McDonald y la Fiesta Sin Igual

by Monica Brown

Proud, Peruvian-Scottish-American Marisol is just about the most lovable children’s book character out there. She likes so many things that she can’t decide what kind of birthday party to have. She ends up doing it her way, as a soccer-playing pirate unicorn in purple high tops. The icing on the cake is a surprise Skype call from her grandmother in Peru.


JabariJumps

Jabari Jumps

by Gaia Cornwall

My kids are always amazed that Jabari wants to jump off such a high diving board at the local pool. Jabari makes the dive and the family celebration is priceless.


SparkleBoy

Sparkle Boy

by Leslea Newman

This is the perfect story for my son, who loves glitter and pink. Casey begs his parents and Abuelita to let him wear a skirt, sparkly nail polish, and jewelry. They agree, and when he’s teased at the library, his sister comes to his defense.   


NotNorman

Not Norman: A Goldfish Story

by Kelly Bennett

When a boy gets a goldfish for his birthday, he makes big plans to trade him for a more exciting pet. Before he can make it to the pet store, though, sweet little Norman proves himself to be a faithful companion.


ShoppingwithDad

Shopping With Dad

by Matt Harvey

A dad takes his daughter grocery shopping while Mom stays home to work, subtly bucking traditional gender roles. The errand turns into a hilarious adventure when the little girl sneezes and sets off a chain of events that upsets an entire display. Books about biracial families can be hard to find, so that adds to the appeal of this title.


Do some of the books we read broaden my children’s views of the world?

Of course, the books that broaden your kids’ perspectives will depend on your actual perspective. My family knows a lot about winter weather and lobsters, but not as much about city buses and chopsticks. These titles give us the chance to talk about the world beyond our little corner:

Beebimbop

Bee-bim Bop!

by Linda Sue Park

The catchy rhyming text describes how a family prepares and eats a traditional Korean meal. My kids love to join in when we read it and the recipe in the back even inspired them to request bee-bim bop for dinner.


OneGreenApple

One Green Apple

by Eve Bunting

Farah, a new immigrant, navigates a school field trip to an apple orchard. Eve Bunting sensitively portrays her cultural confusion and limited English, and the immediate kindness displayed by her classmates is touching.


Laststoponmaple

Last Stop on Market Street

by Matt de la Pena

This title is deservingly well decorated with awards. CJ and his grandmother ride the city bus route to help out at a soup kitchen. CJ – with all his complaining – is relatable, and the story gives us so much to talk about.


Thestoryilltell

The Story I’ll Tell

by Nancy Tupper Ling

We’re expecting our fourth child, so my older kids are well-versed in the arrival of babies. This mother’s bedtime story about her child’s adoption from China captivates them, though, and initiates conversations about the many ways families are made.


Rainbowweaver

Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora del Acoiris

by Linda Elovitz Marshall

In her village in the mountains of Guatemala, Ixchel wants to weave like her mother. Thread is at a premium, so she has to improvise. She ends up twisting up colorful plastic bags, cleaning up her village in the process. This fascinating story – with its factual roots – offers a new viewpoint for everyone in our family.


Thisishowwedoit

This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World

by Matt Lamothe

This book shares details of the lives of children in Italy, Japan, Peru, Uganda, Russia, India, and Iran, from what they eat for breakfast to what they play after school. It isn’t a new book concept, but this one is thoughtfully done. Whether we read just a few pages or the whole book, we all appreciate the diversity and the common connections.

Need more ideas for your family reading menu? Check out the following lists of diverse titles, including suggestions for older children: Where to Find Diverse Books from We Need Diverse Books and Books With Characters of Color from Commonsense Media.

We’ve selected these items because we want these great products to be on your radar! Parent Co. is an Amazon Affiliate Partner and we will earn a small share of revenue if you decide to purchase a product using one of these links. By supporting us through this program you are helping to keep the lights on and the banner ads off.

Picture Books That Teach Self-Confidence and Individuality

How do we talk to our children about being comfortable in their own skin? These books can help.

When I was growing up, being self-assured was always one of my biggest struggles. Not surprisingly, as a parent, it has been one of the hardest things for me to teach my kid.
All of us, adults and kids alike, at one point or another struggle with being confident in who we are and comfortable with the things that make us unique. To some extent, we all want to fit in, but sometimes we just don’t – at least not with everyone – and that’s okay. But it still doesn’t make it fun or easy to come to grips with.
My seven-year-old son definitely marches to the beat of his own drum. He is silly, loud, and extremely stubborn, but he is also sensitive and tends to get his feelings hurt when other kids don’t understand or accept him. He wants to have friends, and I desperately want that for him. More than that, I want him to remain true to himself and be okay with who he is, however goofy or off-center that may be.
How do we talk to our children about being comfortable in their own skin? How do we help them see how amazing they are in spite of what bullies or peer pressure may say? How do we build confidence and find a way to converse with them about this big, real life struggle in a way they can understand right now?
My solution to this (and to many of life’s other problems) is books. Kids of all ages genuinely love having someone read to them and with them. Don’t believe me? My husband’s years as a high school English teacher and mine as a school librarian beg to differ.
In his book, “The Read-Aloud Handbook”, Jim Trelease argues that children who are read aloud to from a young age learn to associate books with being loved and cared for. The act of being snuggled up with a book before bed (or at any time) promotes closeness and openness between child and parent. This, in turn, fosters a love of reading and promotes confidence in themselves as readers, in addition to developing their fluency and vocabulary.
Reading books together is a great way to connect with your kids on a level they understand. It gives you a chance to slow down your busy life and just be in the moment. This time also creates space for healthy dialogues, providing a much needed chance to talk and really listen to each other. And who doesn’t love an excuse for a good snuggle session?
Here are some of my favorite picture books that teach self-confidence and encourage individuality in our kids. They are wonderful conversation starters and just plain fun to read.
GiraffesCantDance

Giraffes Can’t Dance

Author: Giles Andreae
Illustrator: Guy Parker-Rees

This is perhaps my favorite children’s book of all time. In this stunningly illustrated story, Gerald the giraffe spends his life watching as every other animal in the jungle dances beautifully. They tease him because he, as a giraffe, cannot dance.
But what Gerald learns with the help of a friendly cricket, is that everyone – including him – can dance if they find the right music. Gerald wows the other animals when he emerges at the jungle dance with his amazing new moves. As Gerald says, “We all can dance, when we find the music that we love.”


 StandTall

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon

Author: Patty Lovell
Illustrator: David Catrow

Molly Lou Melon is small and not very graceful. She also has big teeth and a funny voice that sounds like a bullfrog. At her new school, Molly Lou finds herself the prey of the class bully. This doesn’t bother Molly Lou though. She follows her grandmother’s advice and stands up for herself.
This book is a great way to talk to your kids, not just about being self-confident, but also about dealing with bullies.


NakedMole

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed

Author & Illustrator: Mo Willems

Mo Willems is, hands down, one of the best children’s authors of this generation. He is funny and relatable. His stories meet kids where they are, but never talk down to them. This book is no different.
As you would assume, naked mole rats are supposed to be, well, naked. However, this book is all about Wilbur, a naked mole rat who secretly loves wearing clothes. Reading it is a funny, light way to talk to your young kids about being who they are and doing what they love, even if other people (or mole rats) don’t understand them.


TheDot

The Dot

Author & Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds

Vashti doesn’t believe that she is a good artist until one day when her teacher urges her to just “make a mark” on her paper. The teacher makes such a huge deal about the beauty of Vashti’s dot that it encourages her to make more dots – lots of dots! Vashti becomes more creative with her dots and her creativity inspires others to make their mark, too.


Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum

Author & Illustrator: Kevin Henkins

Chrysanthemum has always loved her name. At least she did until she started school and realized that not everyone thought her name was so amazing. The other girls tease her for being named after a flower and even encourage others to smell her.
Ultimately, Chrysanthemum overcomes the bullying thanks to the love and support of her music teacher and family. This is great book for kids with unique names, but really for any child who has dealt with being teased because they are different.


 

Spork

Author: Kyo Maclear
Illustrator: Isabelle Arsenault

Spork is neither a spoon nor a fork, and he doesn’t truly fit in with either group. He often feels left out from the other utensils. Spork tries to be just a spoon or just a fork, but nothing feels right until he finds his special purpose as a SPORK.
This book is as cute as it is clever. It could serve as a great resource for biracial families or families of mixed cultural or religious backgrounds.


ABadCaseofStripes

A Bad Case of Stripes

Author & Illustrator: David Shannon

Camilla is a girl who loves lima beans, but she worries that others won’t understand and make fun of her. She is so concerned about trying to please her peers that she comes down with a bad case of stripes.
The cure for her stripes is finally being true to herself and not caring what others think. This is definitely one of the longer, wordier picture books on my list, but it is wonderful for older elementary schoolers.


 HueysInTheNewSweater

The Hueys in the New Sweater

Author & Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers

Hueys are funny little creatures that are all very much alike until one Huey, named Rupert, decides to knit himself a sweater. Rupert loves his new sweater, but the other Hueys aren’t so sure about someone being different.
Eventually, Rupert’s sweater inspires other Hueys to be different as well. This book is short and sweet.


Not All Princesses Dress in Pink

Authors: Jane Yolen & Heidi E. Y. Stemple
Illustrator: Anne-Sophie Lanquetin

This book empowers girls to value their unique qualities. Being a princess and wearing a tiara doesn’t mean you can’t like to climb trees, play sports, or get dirty. Being who you are and doing your very best is the most important thing for any girl and the best way to reach your full potential.
Whether your daughter is a girly-girl or a rough and tumble tomboy, this book is a great, refreshing read.


Calvin Can’t Fly: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie

Author: Jennifer Berne
Illustrator: Keith Bendis

Calvin isn’t like the other starlings. All of his many, many brothers, sisters, and cousins are interested in finding worms and learning to fly, but Calvin only wants to read and visit the library.
When it comes time to migrate, he hasn’t learned to fly yet. In the end, it turns out that all of his book learning comes in handy. It’s a good thing that Calvin did all that reading despite what anyone said.


Tacky the Penguin

Author: Helen Lester
Illustrator: Lynn Munsinger

Tacky is a very odd bird. All of the other penguins are annoyed by his obnoxious clothes and weird habits. Until one fateful day, when Tacky, in all of his strangeness, saves the day – and the other penguins.
This is a fun book that is sure to get some laughs from your little ones, but it’s also a great story of about being yourself, no matter how weird or tacky you may be. Also, if your kids love Tacky, he has lots of other adventures to read about.


SPOON

Spoon

Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrator: Scott Magoon

Alright, so I may have a thing for utensil-themed children’s books, but I promise, this one is also fantastic! Spoon is the adorable story of a spoon who envies all of the other types of utensils and all the fun they have.
Later in the story, Spoon finds out how much the other utensils envy him! This book really highlights the fact that we all have a purpose and that it’s completely fine (in fact, it’s amazing) that we aren’t all the same.
Many kids struggle with being confident and happy with themselves. We need to find ways to encourage self-confidence and individuality as positive character traits in our kids.

Short-term action plan

● Go to your bookshelf (or the bookshelf at your local library) and find one of these amazing books or another great title. You can also order one from Amazon right from your phone.
● Find a time in your super busy week to read books with your kids.
● When the book is over, ask them what they thought about the story. Did they like the characters? Have they ever felt like any of the characters? What would they do if they were in the story?

Long-term action plan

● Make reading together a daily (or at least a regular) thing for you and your kids.
● Go to the local library or bookstore together and choose books for these reading times.
● Investigate more titles that help you engage in conversations with your kids about whatever it is they are going through.
● Read the books first to give yourself time to think through what kinds of questions or morals you might want to talk about with your kids.
● Make your reading time a special and ‘sacred’ time. Put away your phone. Get out the biggest, comfiest blanket in the house. Maybe even plan a reading date that involves lots of books, snacks, and a cup of cocoa.
● Reading with your kids is a valuable, memorable, and inexpensive way to spend time together. Don’t treat reading like homework, for you or your child. Have fun with it!

7 Picture Books That Help Kids Cope With Tragedy

These books deal with topics like fear, loss, and separation anxiety in subtle ways, but can serve as great conversation starters.

On Monday morning, I woke up to an alert on my phone that there was a shooting in Las Vegas. Horrifyingly unfazed by news that has become too commonplace, I went about my morning. I made breakfast. I packed lunches. I kissed the tops of wild-haired heads and sent them off on their school buses.

It was only when I sat down at my computer and checked the news that I completely unraveled. Watching the sickening story unfold, I was completely frozen in what can only be described as a zombified state. I stared at the TV, much like I did after the Sandy Hook shooting, completely unable to wrap my mind around the news.

The emotions were plentiful: fear, overwhelming sadness, confusion. How can this continually happen? How can we fix it? How do we even begin to discuss this with our kids?

Feeling completely at a loss, I started poking around to see what experts had to say about helping children cope with tragedies. Should we try to shield them from it? Should we bring it up? How do we discuss such heavy issues in a way that’s appropriate and won’t fill them with even more fear?

Every source I looked into said that it’s important to talk to our kids. According to the American Psychological Association, “Talking to your children about their worries and concerns is the first step to help them feel safe and begin to cope with the events occurring around them. What you talk about and how you say it does depend on their age, but all children need to be able to know you are there listening to them.”

In an article for Psychology Today, Amy Morin, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, said that “The conversations you have with your kids – as well as the conversations you avoid – will impact their core beliefs about themselves, other people, and the world in general.” She went on to add that “[e]ven your silence on the subject could lay the foundation for unhealthy core beliefs. When parents don’t acknowledge a tragic incident, a child might think, ‘My parents don’t talk about what happened because you shouldn’t talk about sad things.’ Ultimately that child may think sharing sad feelings is unhealthy.”

So how do we, as parents, breach a subject that even we find scary?

Mental Health America encourages parents of school-age children to allow them to express themselves through play or drawing. “As with younger children, school-age children sometimes find comfort in expressing themselves through playing games or drawing scenes of the tragedy. Allowing them to do so, and then talking about it, gives you the chance to ‘re-tell’ the ending of the game or the story they have expressed in pictures with an emphasis on personal safety.”

This idea of “re-telling” immediately made me think of children’s literature and how it can be a powerful coping mechanism, allowing children to see how characters respond to situations that they find frightening and then relating it to situations happening in the real world that children might be frightened by.

I put together a list of seven children’s books that are great ways to talk to kids about tragic topics, whether it’s something that’s horrific on a national level or something that hits a little closer to home. These books deal with topics like fear, loss, and separation anxiety in subtle ways, but can serve as great conversation starters.

 
 
ScaredySquirrel

Scaredy Squirrel

by Melanie Watt

Scaredy Squirrel does not leave his tree. There are way too many scary things in the great big world, like tarantulas, green Martians, sharks, and killer bees. Instead, Scaredy Squirrel sticks to a strict daily schedule and always has his trusty emergency kit (filled with things like antibacterial soap, Band-Aids, and a parachute) on hand. But when he suddenly finds himself in the big, scary unknown, Scaredy Squirrel discovers something amazing.


 

Swimmy

by Leo Lionni

Swimmy’s entire school of fish was swallowed by a tuna. Scared and alone, Swimmy wandered the ocean slowly noticing the beauty around him. That made Swimmy happy. Eventually, he found a school of fish that was just like his own. He wanted to play and explore with them, but they were afraid of being eaten by bigger fish. In the end, Swimmy figures out a way they can work together and stay safe.


ToughBoris

Tough Boris

by Mem Fox

Boris is tough and mean and fearless, like all pirates. But when his parrot dies, Tough Boris cries. With simple language and watercolor pictures that add a lot of rich detail (and a whole other storyline), this book is a great way to talk about feelings with children.


 InMyHEart

In My Heart

by Jo Witek

This is another great way to start talking to your kids about feelings. While Tough Boris is about how even tough guys can cry, this story is about how our hearts can feel so many different things. It can feel “strong and brave” one minute and “fragile and delicate” the next, and that’s okay!


TheInvisibleString

The Invisible String

by Patrice Karst

When a brother and sister are scared and want to be closer to their mom, she explains to them that they are connected by an invisible string of love that connects from heart to heart. She explains that no matter how far loved ones are away from each other, they’re always connected by this very special string. Whether kids are having separation anxiety or dealing with divorce or even death, this sweet story is very reassuring.


 Rabbityness

Rabbityness

by Jo Empson

Rabbit enjoys doing rabbity things, but he also enjoys doing un-rabbity things like painting and playing music. It’s the un-rabbity things that make him Rabbit, and make all the other rabbits in the forest happy. When Rabbit disappears one day, the other rabbits are so, so sad. Then they find some special gifts he left behind, which make them think of Rabbit while discovering their own un-rabbity talents. This is a great story to use when discussing loss with children.


 

The Heart and the Bottle

by Oliver Jeffers

Another story on dealing with loss, this one tells the tale of a very curious little girl. Her grandfather is pictured on every page with her as she curiously explores her surroundings. Then one day the chair he sits in is empty and he is gone. She puts her heart in a bottle to try and protect it, but suddenly everything seems so empty to her, until she meets a younger curious little girl who helps bring her heart back and make it lighter again. Incredibly poignant, the story ends on an uplifting, hopeful note.

Now, when those wild-haired girls step off of their school buses, I’ll have some help. We can curl up on the couch – a place that is safe and reassuring – and read a story to help us all start the process of understanding our feelings. We might not be able to understand everything, but at least it’s a start.

 We’ve selected these items because we want these great products to be on your radar! Parent Co. is an Amazon Affiliate Partner and we will earn a small share of revenue if you decide to purchase a product using one of these links. By supporting us through this program you are helping to keep the lights on and the banner ads off.

What Harry Potter Teaches Us About Mindfulness

Relate the strategies and techniques of mindfulness to the perennial favorite, “Harry Potter,” and you’ve got a whole new set of tools.

I’m a clinical psychologist who has worked extensively with children and young people. My patients come to me seeking help for prevalent mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression. I’m also a mum and a huge Harry Potter fan!

The struggle is real when it comes to explaining a concept like mindfulness to young children, and often to parents too. It may seem too abstract, too complicated, or too “hippy-dippy” to be effective in their lives with their very real and present problems – you know, the ones they came in to get actual, realistic help with? Uttering the words “meditation” or “mindfulness” is a quick way to see glazed-over kiddie eyes, and a flash of disappointment cross the parents’ faces while they mentally scroll the yellow pages for someone who is going to provide “an actual fix” for the presenting issue.

Perhaps part of the issue is the way we are communicating what mindfulness is, and the profession’s own difficulty in describing it. Another issue is that mindfulness has become such a trend in pop psychology (think coloring books) that it’s not deemed serious or academic enough to help in any real way.

I do think that as far as treatment plans go, mindfulness-related strategies hold the potential to help kids with a myriad of concerns, whether they be clinical presentations or simply as a way to live in a more positive, engaged way.

A simple way to explain mindfulness is to notice what’s happening right now. Notice what your body is doing. Notice what your mind is doing. Be present in the moment. It’s about paying attention in a specific way, on purpose.

This is not often a concept that reads well with young kids. But in re-reading Harry Potter for the umpteenth time (I’m not proud of the number), I began to notice some parallels between the Harry Potter stories and mindfulness strategies. I started to think about ways to explain mindfulness to kids using Harry Potter language (provided they’ve either read the books or watched the movies).

The following parts of the series do, I believe, teach us something about mindfulness strategies and techniques. There are so many strategies relating to mindfulness that it would be impossible to cover them all in one post, so I’m going to write about some of my favorites (and most effective, based on my own clinical population).

Contentment and gratitude

When Harry stumbles across an ornate, ancient mirror, the Mirror of Erised, on one of his nightly wanderings through Hogwarts, he sees an image of himself surrounded by both of his parents, smiling, happy, and most importantly, alive. For Harry, whose parents are both gone, this was a stunningly emotional moment. He tells his friend Ron to have a look and see his own family, but Ron sees himself as head boy and winning the Quiddich Cup. Confused, Harry comes to realize that the mirror reflects one’s deepest desires. Ron, who is constantly surrounded by his large family, deeply desires to stand out and achieve as his own person even more than his high-achieving brothers. Harry, who’s already famous, just wants his parents back.

Later, Professor Dumbledore confides in Harry that the most well-adjusted, content person would simply see an image of herself, as she is today, with no embellishments. What does this mean?

We spend the majority of our waking moments awash in thoughts of “What if” or “If only.” Regret, envy, and discontent follow us through our days, rendering us stuck and blind to the present moments that we are told to “cherish.” We’re not cherishing them, are we?

An important component of mindfulness is to be aware when our thoughts are going down these tracks, to stop and ask ourselves what are some things we are grateful for, to remind ourselves that the big and the small things matter. People find journaling a beneficial way to do this. Listing five things we are grateful for each day is a good place to start. Gratefulness leads to contentment when we see that our grass is just as green as the grass next door, we just have to water it! Think of thoughts as seeds, the ones we “water” (pay attention to) are the ones that grow. Water gratefulness!

Defusion techniques

Russ Harris, author of “The Happiness Trap,” talks about defusion as a way to detach or step back from our thoughts. The kids in Harry Potter learn to do this with the help of Professor Lupin and his Boggart, a dark, immortal, non-being who shape-shifts to take on the appearance of the darkest fear of whomever is closest to it.

As an example: Ron, Harry’s friend who is deathly afraid of spiders, gets confronted with the Boggart, which becomes a spider. His challenge is to picture the spider in a funny way, using humur as his weapon. He pictures it with roller-skates on and the Boggart changes into a clumsy object of fun. When Ron laughs, the fear is banished and the Boggart leaves him alone.

When our kids are learning to “defuse” from their thoughts, they can be taught to look at their fears from a distance. Their thoughts about their object of fear are not necessarily the truth, more a story that they are telling themselves. If they can look at the fear in another way (say wearing roller-skates), the story can change and their fear can shift. “The Happiness Trap” has some really good techniques for learning the skill of defusion. In the meantime, an effective question to ask is, “What are some other ways of looking at that?”

Mindfulness meditation

The Dementors are dark creatures who suck out your soul through your mouth. (Yes, this is a kid’s series, but when I write it like that it does seem a bit morbid.) In the Harry Potter series, Dementors bring about a sense of fear and hopelessness, much like the experience of someone going through anxiety or depression. After encountering a Dementor, one feels better by eating chocolate. I like this idea.

Practitioners who utilize mindfulness techniques teach us about “mindfulness meditation,” which focuses our whole attention on our sensory experiences. It may be leaving a piece of chocolate (yum!) or a raisin (less interesting but okay) in our mouths, and focusing our attention on that for a window of time, noting the taste, feeling, sensation, and so on. When our intrusive, worried “what-if” or hopeless “if-only” feelings come in (our Dementor thoughts), we are not to judge or pay attention to them (don’t water them!), but to let them pass us by, bringing our attention back to the piece of chocolate instead. People also do this by focusing on their breathing, but chocolate is yummier than air.

In starting to write this piece, I’m thinking of more and more examples of mindfulness in Harry Potter. I could go on all day! This is just a taste of the types of things mindfulness encompasses (besides coloring books!). It is really worth looking into, for both us parents and our kids. And Harry Potter provides a really good way to explain the concepts to them. Perhaps a good place to start is by reading a book about mindfulness (I recommend “The Happiness Trap” by Russ Harris) and then reading or watching (or re-reading or re-watching) Harry Potter with your kids. Mindfulness is truly a ground-breaking way to live in the moment and learn to let go of intrusive and unwanted thinking patterns.

As Dumbledore would say, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times…if one only remembers to turn on the light.”