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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Does Your Kid Have Constant Heel Pain? It Could be Severs Disease

Sever’s disease, also known as Calcaneal apophysitis, is the most common cause of heel pain in children.

I felt like the world’s worst mom. My sixth-grade son had been complaining about pain in his heel since starting soccer a month earlier. We were new to the area. He was shy and not overly interested in athletics. I thought he was just trying to get out of it, so I pushed him on.

It took his tears and a coach’s concern to wake me up.

That was the beginning of his battle with Sever’s disease, a condition that took him out of sports and out of gym classes for more than three years. His case was acute, far worse than most. Many kids can continue with athletics after therapy and treatment, but not him. He had to wait for the disease to run its course.

Along with the physical pain, he fought ignorance and the social repercussions of invisible illness. A substitute gym teacher accused him of faking it. His peers were too young to understand what they could not see. He needlessly suffered through medical boots, casts, and expensive orthotics ordered by a doctor who went by the book instead of treating our son as an individual.

It didn’t have to be so hard. Like many parents, we’d never heard of Sever’s disease. If we had been more educated, his experience might’ve been less painful, physically and socially. The more we learned, the more surprised we were at how common Sever’s disease is and how little most parents and coaches know about treating it.

Sever’s disease, also known as Calcaneal apophysitis, is the most common cause of heel pain in children. It’s not really a disease. It is an overuse condition that usually occurs during the growth spurt of adolescence, about two years before the onset of puberty. For most kids, that’s between the ages of eight and 13 for girls and 10 and 15 for boys.

This is how it happens: Children who are still developing physically have plates made of bone surrounded by cartilage on their heels where their Achilles tendons attach. Picture that piece of bone as an island in a sea of cartilage. The pain occurs when the tendon repeatedly yanks on that growth plate, causing inflammation in the cartilage. The only permanent cure is time.

Eventually, the cartilage turns to bone and the pain is gone for good. The worst pain usually lasts only a few weeks or a few months, but flare-ups can happen any time during the 18 months to three years it takes the cartilage to solidify. Knowing the root cause is essential in deciding how to treat it for the long-term. We didn’t know that.

The most popular articles that popped up in my internet searches addressed only the acute stage, as did our doctor, a sports podiatrist who came highly recommended by friends. We had no reason to doubt the doctor or question his approach to treatment. So when he recommended casting, we did it. When he recommended a boot, we did it. When he encouraged our son to return to sports with a duller version of the pain, we agreed.

Each time it flared up, this doctor prescribed the boot, again and again and again. Nothing seemed to keep the flare-ups at bay. The doctor’s final solution was an expensive pair of orthotics that did nothing.

It was an exercise in frustration and it led to confusion for us, the school, our son’s coaches, and his peers. Our son was becoming depressed, especially after we hit the two-year mark and the pain with activity was no less intense. We found no real relief until we ditched our doctor and found an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Rochester, who was known for thinking out-of-the-box.

What we learned is that not all cases of Sever’s disease respond to the same approach. There are several potential causes of the condition. Overuse in sports, a tight Achilles tendon, and bio-mechanical problems such as flat feet and high arches are common culprits, according to The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. Most often, the condition will improve with medication, physical therapy, ice, and a reduction in exercise.

Many kids can continue in sports if they pamper their heels and tendons a bit with stretching, shoe inserts, ice massage, and a reduction in the intensity of their training when the pain returns or becomes more intense. Some never experience that pain again.

Our son was not a typical case. He is tall and his bones grew faster than his muscles, tendons, and ligaments, the doctor said. With such a short Achilles tendon, there wasn’t much he could do to prevent that constant yanking. No amount of casting, booting, medication, or icing was going to make the pain go away. He needed to accept that activities involving repetitive walking or running would be off the table or a while.

His new doctor tossed the orthotics and prescribed simple, comfortable heel lifts to shorten the tendon while he walked, relieving the stress on his growth plates. He recommended physical therapy and daily exercises to stretch the Achilles tendon. Even the slightest gain in length would relieve his pain during daily activities such as walking to classes, he assured our son. He had to keep them up at home long after therapy ended, stretching the tendon three to six times a day.

It was that simple.

The lifts, therapy, and stretches created a new bounce in our son’s step. He knew what to expect and he finally understood that he was playing a waiting game. He knew that a full recovery was around the corner and that he just needed to bide his time until then. So he began lifting weights and working on his abdominal muscles, preparing for the day he could return to gym and sports.

In tenth grade, he joined the cross-country team again. This time, he finished the season pain-free.

4 Ways We Can Shift Our Language to Support Kids' Emotional Intelligence

Whether or not we validate our kids’ emotions will ultimately have an impact on their ability to manage those emotions well beyond the childhood years.

After years and years of teaching kids to “toughen up,” we now know that kids’ emotions matter (as they always have).

An increasing body of evidence suggests that kids do not misbehave because they’re bad. Rather, misbehavior is often a sign that your kid hasn’t yet learned how to express difficult feelings and emotions.

A kid who neither knows what anxiety means nor how it manifests in his body is more likely to go into a meltdown the next time he encounters an anxiety-provoking situation. Another kid will react differently. Biting, impulsivity, aggressiveness, hitting, and extreme shyness are also ways in which kids express their inability to deal with difficult emotions.

Emotions do not only affect how kids react, they also affect how they feel. It’s not uncommon for your child to develop a headache or a stomachache every time she has to go for a swimming lesson or just before school starts, if those are anxiety-provoking situations for her.

Why does strengthening kids’ emotional intelligence matter? Because kids’ inability to manage their emotions can create a domino effect in other aspects of their lives. The available evidence suggests that kids’ inability to regulate their emotions is associated with impulsive behavior, and impulsivity is detrimental for kid’s social, academic, and psychological development. Impulsive kids are more likely to engage in risky health behaviors in adolescence and even in later years.

The good news is that nothing is simpler than teaching kids about emotions. It’s neither a costly process nor does it require the intervention of a professional. In all fairness, however, teaching kids to manage their emotions is a long process and the results are not always visible at first sight.

Evidence suggests that parenting styles predict the development of kids’ ability to control their emotions. In other words, whether or not we validate our kids’ emotions will ultimately have an impact on their ability to manage those emotions well beyond the childhood years. Here are a few tips about everyday experiences you can transform into “emotion discipline” lessons.

What we tell our kids: Don’t cry, it’s nothing

  • What we should be telling them: I’m here/Tell me about it/ Crying will make you feel better/Do you want a hug?

We don’t help our children develop their emotional intelligence by invalidating their feelings. You’ve probably noticed that telling kids “it’s nothing” does not make them cry less. Instead of invalidating your child’s feelings, teach him that it’s okay to cry and then show him what he can do to feel better – tell someone, distract himself, ask for a hug – which will help develop his emotional intelligence.

Teasing kids about their fears does not make those fears go away. It simply amplifies the fears and leads to the development of other difficult secondary emotions.

What we tell our kids: What’s wrong now?

  • What we should be telling them: I know it’s upsetting. Do you want to talk about it?

Your kid will not know how to express her emotions if she does not know what those emotions are. There are many age-appropriate and easy-to-apply strategies to teach kids about emotions, and it’s never too early to start.

Indeed, the available evidence suggests that even the youngest kids benefit when we take their emotions into account. When we put our kids’ emotions into words and propose appropriate ways to express those emotions, we help them develop their emotional intelligence and teach them that they can manage even the most difficult emotions.

Bear in mind, however, that the strategies that work with your two-year-old will not necessarily work with your eight-year-old. While infants and toddlers often need our intervention to help them adopt appropriate strategies, older kids are capable of and need to be taught to identify effective emotion regulation strategies they can use by themselves.

What we tell our kids: You made me angry

  • What we should be telling them: I was angry because…

Yes, you have a right to be angry at your child’s behavior, but you can choose how you react.

Strengthening your children’s emotional intelligence is about teaching them that they too are responsible for their reactions. Put differently, teaching your child emotional discipline is about teaching him that yes, he will “get baited,” but he can decide whether to take the bait or not.

What we tell our kids: Why do you make me yell at you?

  • What we should be telling them: I’m sorry I yelled at you when I was angry. I will try and yell less.

Your kid is not responsible for how you react to his or her behavior, you are. We all lose it sometimes and do things we regret, but blaming our kids for our guilt only makes it harder for them to learn how to manage their emotions.

As in many other areas of raising kids, how we react to our emotions teaches kids how to react to theirs. When we shout and engage in “adult tantrums,” we teach our kids that throwing a tantrum is a valid response to emotions. That doesn’t mean that we should always be “perfect” parents. It simply means being able to recognize and apologize for our reactions when necessary.

Ultimately, the ability to understand your kid’s signals and respond in age-appropriate ways that minimize distress can help him develop emotion regulation skills. For instance, some studies suggest that distracting young kids from distressing situations can teach them to integrate “walking away” within their repertoire of emotion-regulation skills and thus help them develop the “self-control of emotion.”

Everyday life provides multiple opportunities to teach kids about emotions. Even simply commenting on emotions when reading a book or watching TV together – “he sure looks angry,” “why do you think she’s frowning?” – can go a long way in teaching your kid about emotions.

Your Kid Wants a Tattoo or Piercing? Don’t Freak Out, Talk.

Tattoos and piercings are not new by any means, but studies show that more kids are getting them even at younger ages than in the past.

For the first time ever, the American Academy of Pediatrics decided to review the incidence of youth tattoos and piercings in depth.
Led by Dr. David Levine, a general pediatrician and professor at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, and Dr. Cora Breuner, an adolescent medicine specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, the new AAP report highlights the potential health risks and social/emotional consequences of tattooing and piercing in adolescents and young adults.
Tattoos and piercings are not new by any means, but studies show that more kids are getting them even at younger ages than in the past. According to the Harris Poll in 2015, about 30 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo, up from 20 percent just four years before.
Tattoos are especially popular among younger generations, with nearly half of all Millennials sporting one. According to the Pew Research Center, about a quarter of 18 to 29-year-olds have piercings in locations other than their earlobe.
This may not be a big deal for some parents, especially those who have their own tattoos and creative piercings. But for some parents, it becomes an issue to add to the long list of parenting dilemmas. Permanent body art may not even be on their radar if nobody else in the family enjoys that form of expression or if their cultural or religious beliefs consider the practice taboo.
We have two choices: forbid our kids to get tattooed or pierced and risk that they do it anyway behind our back (and possibly get hurt or regret it), or initiate an open dialogue and work with our kids to guide them to the best decision possible.

Identifying why your child wants it

The first step is to explore your kids’ goals and motives for wanting a tattoo or piercing. This conversation can lead to a simple answer, like they just want to show off their artistic flare. Alternatively, the conversation could open the door to issues you were not aware of.
According to the Harris Poll, people typically get tattoos because it makes them feel: sexy (33 percent), attractive (32 percent), rebellious (27 percent), spiritual (20 percent), intelligent (13 percent), employable (10 percent), and healthy (9 percent).
If your daughter wants a tattoo at age 15 to feel sexier, then a red flag may go up. You could broaden your conversation to her reasons for wanting to attract more attention, her current sexual activity, and the feelings she has about her own body.
If your son wants a tattoo to feel tougher or more rebellious, you may want to explore his level of anger and aggression. Is he having trouble making friends in school? Has he displayed signs of bullying?
If your child wants to ingrain the name of a significant other on their skin, you may need to talk to them about the level of commitment involved and the possibility of future heartbreak.
Finally, if they are doing it for spiritual reasons, what is the message they want to communicate, and why now? Should you be concerned about the influence a religious leader or spiritual mentor has on your child?
We need to take the time to listen to our children’s reasons so that we can help guide them. The answer may be very simple and positive, like they want the word “peace” on their body because they wish for world peace. It’s hard to argue with that.

Addressing your concerns

Talk to your children about exactly what getting a tattoo or piercing involves. They may be so set on it that they haven’t thought through some of the possible risks or downfalls.
For starters, the AAP report addresses the possible job market repercussions down the road. Some employers may frown upon visible tattoos in the workplace, which can limit your child’s job prospects and success. In a 2014 survey of nearly 2,700 people, 76 percent thought that tattoos and/or piercings had hurt their chances of getting a job, and 39 percent thought employees with tattoos and/or piercings reflect poorly on their employers.
While your child may be many years away from getting their first job, it’s important to talk to her about how a tattoo or piercing can impact her life in the future. Ask her to consider the risk involved, taking into account that life dreams should take precedence over a potentially rash, trendy decision in her teenage years.
Consider a compromise. Suggest that your child get a tattoo in a place that would not be visible on the job. Piercings are a bit more challenging. Clearly, a tongue ring could hinder one’s speech, and other piercings on the face in particular may motivate an employer to choose another candidate.
Tattoos, moreso than piercings, are pretty permanent. When you talk to your kids about getting a tattoo, be sure to bring up the fact that this commitment is not easily erased. Laser removal can also be costly – up to $300 per square inch of treatment area – and may only be partially effective.
Plenty of people have admitted regrets that you should bring to your child’s attention. According to a survey, nearly a quarter of people with tattoos say they regret getting them because they were too young, their personality changed, it no longer fits into their lifestyle, they chose someone’s name with whom they no longer associate, it was poorly done, or it’s simply not meaningful to them anymore.
Perhaps most important, weigh the health risks associated with tattoos with your child before he goes ahead with it. The most serious complication from any form of body modification is infection.
Other health concerns related to tattoos include inflammation, abnormal tissue growth like keloid scars, and vasculitis, a rare inflammation of the blood vessels. Body piercings have also been associated with pain, bleeding, cysts, allergic reaction, and scarring. Tongue rings, meanwhile, can cause tooth chipping.
Once you’ve openly discussed the pros and cons, give your kids some time to ponder their decision. Ask them whether they feel it’s really worth it, all things considered. How will the tattoo or piercing enhance their life? How will it hinder them? Are there alternative forms of expression they would be happy with, such as creative fashion choices or changing their hair color and style?
No matter their decision in the end, at least you sparked a mature conversation that will bolster their respect for you and remind them of your genuine, loving interest in their life. When something more serious comes about, they will know they can turn to you, which is, of course, more important and lasting than any tattoo or piercing.

How Babies Uncovered the Mystery About Our Common Fear of Spiders

A fear of spiders is something we are all born with, according to a new study.

Ghosts, skeletons, and vampires may give us the creeps this Halloween, but a fear of spiders is something we are all born with, according to a new study.
This fear, technically called arachnophobia (as the 1990 movie by the same name made famous), can cause crippling anxiety for some people and impact their daily life. For years, scientists have been trying to figure out why so many people are afraid of spiders, even in places where they hardly ever come in contact with them. While some experts assumed that we learn this fear from our surroundings as children, others believed it was innate.
Now scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences discovered that the fear is quite real and, in fact, hereditary. During their research, the scientists showed pictures of spiders along with more typically pleasing images, like flowers and fish, to a group of six-month-old infants. The scientists noticed that the children’s pupils dilated significantly when they looked at the spiders. Dilated pupils are a typical measure of the fight-or-flight stress response. The average pupil dilations were 0.14 mm when viewing the spiders, but only 0.03 mm for the flowers – a considerable reaction.
Remarkably, past studies found that babies did not have this same reaction when shown pictures of rhinos, bears, or other typically dangerous animals. This latest research, therefore, proves that babies as young as six months felt stressed out from looking at spiders long before they could have been taught to have this reaction from their parents or through experience.
The research team went on to conclude that arachnophobia has evolutionary origins. There is a part of our brain that causes us to identify certain objects as dangerous so we can react quickly in order to survive. This inherited stress reaction ultimately led to humans associate spiders with fear and unpleasantness, and that we must avoid them at all costs.
According to evolutionary biologist Gordon H. Orians in his book “Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare”, many responses to our environment throughout history have been rooted in our survival mode. These experiences led to some of the ingrained, instinctual fears that are genetically programmed in us today.
Other common fears include snakes, microbes, pointed objects, leopard spots, rugged terrain, and eyes. Maybe it’s time to stop singing the “itsy bitsy spider” song to your littles, and definitely don’t dress up like a tarantula for Halloween.
In all seriousness, though, it’s crucial to understand where certain fears stem from so that we can address them properly with our children. Talk to your kids about their worries; if they bottle them up, it will only get worse. Let them know their concerns are common and that others experience them, too. Show that you understand what they’re going through by sharing your own personal anxiety stories, and reassure them that you’re there to support them whenever they become frightened.
It may take some simple distraction techniques to help kids overcome their fear instincts. If it becomes so bad that their fears interfere with their daily life, you may want to talk to your pediatrician.

Solving the Addiction Crisis Begins With Breaking the Stigma

The stigma around addiction has enormous consequences, not just for our health care system, but how our entire culture views addictive behavior.

This article is the second in a 12-part series about the U.S. addiction crisis. In the interest of compassionate conversation and eliminating stigma, we’ve chosen language that’s cultivated by the Research Recovery Institute and hope it inspires you to as well.
The U.S. drug crisis is impacting everyone, from young children to first responders to librarians. In grappling with this overwhelming life-or-death problem, we may have overlooked one group – drug users – and the way our language generates stigma that only fuels the epidemic.
In his report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy argues for a “cultural shift” in how we approach addiction. “For far too long,” Murthy writes, “too many in our country have viewed addiction as a moral failing.” The consequence of this definition is an “added burden of shame that has made people with substance use disorders less likely to come forward and seek help.”
The way in which addiction is framed has enormous consequences, not just for how our health care system treats addiction, but how our entire culture views addictive behavior.

“Choice” has consequences

When addiction is framed as a choice, drug treatment is not a medical necessity, but an elective procedure. Historically, that has meant that drug treatment and recovery programs were prohibitively expensive for many people.
Prior to 2014, only one in 10 addicts sought treatment. That low treatment rate was certainly related to limited access to care. It was also related to the stigma that those in the healthcare profession held toward addicts. One study found that healthcare workers have lower regard for their addicted patients than patients with other conditions.
The choice model doesn’t only impact treatment options for addiction. The phrase “war on drugs” suggests that drug abusers are bad guys who have taken the wrong side. Sentencing laws group drug users alongside others deemed to have moral failings sufficiently poisonous to require removal from society.
“Choice” makes it simple to deny treatment to or promote the incarceration of people who elect to become addicted. The choice metaphor has also allowed anyone who hasn’t made the same choice to ignore the problem. Choice implies blame, and this blame has helped us avoid taking any societal responsibility for the drug crisis.
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Parent Co. partnered with Aspenti because they know that carrying the weight of the addiction crisis is everyone’s responsibility.

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How the disease model reduces stigma

The disease model of addiction shifts our national focus from blame to recovery. Under a disease model, addicts are not immoral. They are ill.
Under the Affordable Care Act, addiction treatment became an “essential benefit,” meaning that 2.8 million people suffering from addiction now have coverage. That coverage – especially in states that accepted Medicare expansions – is almost certainly saving lives, as it now covers not only inpatient detox, but also counseling and medication.
Under a disease model, addicts are not criminals. They’re citizens in need of assistance. Portugal, faced with similar drug problems as the U.S., redefined addiction as a disease both medically and legally, expanding medical treatment and decriminalizing drug use. Rather than jailing drug users, Portugal brings them to hearings with social workers.
When drug users are not afraid of arrest, they are also more likely to seek treatment. Now, the rate of drug-related death in Portugal is six per million. In the United States, it’s 312 per million.
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The language of addiction

Efforts to replace the language of choice with the language of disease are already improving access to treatment. But this is not the only language that needs to change.
We don’t talk about heart transplant patients as being “dirty,” but we do talk about drug addicts that way. We don’t talk about cancer patients “relapsing” when their cancers return, but addicts relapse all the time. We don’t demand that people suffering from cancer apologize for their cancers or that people who have had a heart transplant apologize for their diseased organs, even if these people exhibited many dangerous behaviors that contributed to their health problems.
The very word “addict” is a problem. We don’t describe people with cancer as “cancers,” or people who have had heart transplants as “heart transplants.” When we use the word “addict,” we reduce a person to an illness. That term creates stigma despite efforts to view addiction as a medical problem.
Look back to the preceding paragraphs and notice the use of “addict,” and “drug abuser.” Although those paragraphs argue for a compassionate response to addiction, they unintentionally heap blame and shame on people suffering from it.
The Recovery Research Institute‘s Addiction-ary promotes more specific and compassionate addiction vocabulary. Taking its cue from mental health advocates who have shifted the national conversation from “the disabled” to “people with disabilities,” the RRI advocates “person-first” language.
Terms like “abuser” and “addict” define a person in terms of addiction. This definition generates stigma that leads to lower quality care and even discourages people from seeking treatment. Changing our vocabulary to person-first language can help reduce stigma by textually reminding ourselves that people suffering from substance use disorders are just that: people. Not “junkies” or “abusers” or “addicts.” People.
The RRI also advocates avoiding language that implies blame. Instead of “lapse” or “slip,” the RRI recommends more medically-appropriate terms like “resumed” or “recurred.”
Using person-first, blame-neutral language is a good start. Yet one of the greatest challenges comes from a word we probably don’t even think about: “drug.”
The word “drug” is stunningly unspecific. Culturally, it carries many negative connotations, whether the subject is “illicit drugs” or “drug companies.” The word is so stigmatized that many will often reject drugs even when they would be medically beneficial.
Part of better addiction treatment and recovery is greater specificity. Instead of “drug,” the Addiction-ary suggests “medication” when referring to a properly used drug, and “non-medically used psychoactive substance” when referring to illicit or improperly used drugs.

Treating substance use disorder as a moral issue

Addiction is a moral issue, but not for people with substance use disorders. When our society views substance use disorder as a sign of a flawed moral code, we absolve ourselves of any societal obligation to help.
Murthy describes addiction as a “moral test,” not for people with substance use disorders, but for all Americans: “Are we as a nation willing to take on an epidemic that is causing great human suffering and economic loss? Are we able to live up to that most fundamental obligation we have as human beings: to care for one another?”
Person-first. Blame-neutral. Drug-free. Choosing our words more carefully and demanding that media, healthcare, and research organizations do the same will help decrease the stigma of substance use disorders and pave the way to recovery.
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Parent Co. partnered with Aspenti because they know that carrying the weight of the addiction crisis is everyone’s responsibility.

 
 

New Study Shows That Even Infants Can Learn the Value of Hard Work

Findings suggest that infants even as young as 15 months may be able to learn the importance of effort by seeing adults try hard.

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

I don’t often use four letter words, but when I do, you can bet it’s because I’m trying to figure out driving directions without a GPS (when my phone dies, naturally), attempting to assemble something with confusing instructions (which is every gift my children have ever received), or going for a run (a habit I take up every two years or so before remembering why I much prefer power-walking). In the midst of these challenges, I tend to get so frustrated that I nearly forget my attentive three-year-old is in tow until I hear his little voice ask in earnest, “What’d you say, Mommy?”

“Oh nothing, honey, I’m fine,” I say, and I take a deep breath and try to reset.

I feel awful when he sees me lose my cool, convinced that he and his younger brother are absorbing all of my stress and learning to become easily frustrated individuals themselves.

But a recent research study, published in the journal Science, suggests that bearing witness to my bumbling efforts may be actually helping my children learn the value of hard work and the pay-off of persistence.

Researchers at MIT designed and conducted an experiment in which a group of infants observed adults performing tasks (removing a toy frog from a container and a key chain from a carabiner) and then were given their own task to work on. Half of the babies watched the adult accomplish the task efficiently, while the other half saw the adult struggle for 30 seconds before accomplishing it.

When the babies were then given their own task (turning on a musical toy), researchers found that the babies who’d watched an adult struggle tried harder to succeed by pressing a button that appeared as though it should turn the toy on. These babies pressed the button almost twice as many times as the babies who’d seen the adult succeed without difficulty. They also pressed it twice as many times before giving up or looking to the adult for help. Researchers also showed that babies put forth more effort when the experimenter directly engaged with them, using their names and making eye contact.

These findings suggest that infants even as young as 15 months may be able to learn the importance of effort by seeing adults try hard. Researchers have not yet studied how long these effects last, but they say their findings still hold a helpful message for parents.

“There’s some pressure on parents to make everything look easy and not get frustrated in front of their children,” says Laura Schulz, a professor of cognitive science at MIT, quoted in Science Daily. “There’s nothing you can learn from a laboratory study that directly applies to parenting,” she says, “but this does at least suggest that it may not be a bad thing to show your children that you are working hard to achieve your goals.”

It makes so much sense. How can kids learn that success requires hard work if their parents, whom they model their behavior after, hide all of our efforts and make everything look easy? That’s just not reality.

So, while my process of completing tasks, solving problems, and achieving goals may not always (or often) look pretty, I do always finish what I start, and that sense of determination is something I do hope to pass on to my children.

After reading this study, I think I’ll start being more honest with them about the effort it takes to succeed when they ask why I’m red in the face and clenching my hands in frustration. (As for the F-bombs, I’m not sure that has scientific evidence.)

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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Recent Study Says These 3 Things Can Raise Kids' IQ

Many factors affect kid’s IQ, including their genetics and environment. But a 2017 analysis identified a number of things that can help raise it.

Most parents think their kids are pretty smart. We watch with delight as our kids learn to engage us with their curious baby eyes and expressions. We marvel in their ability to learn new skills. Sure, other people’s kids learn these skills, too, but we can’t help thinking our baby is the cleverest and maybe the most beautiful to boot.
By school age, though, the differences in children’s abilities begin to show. We get feedback about our child’s abilities when we are exposed to a larger pool of children. Maybe, like me, your little Einstein didn’t get selected for the special enrichment class for gifted children. Or perhaps your child’s class report comes back with grades in the average range and not above average.
There are many factors that affect children’s IQ, including their genetics and environment. A 2017 analysis identified a number of things that can help raise children’s IQ. The analysis was extensive and only included high quality research trials of typically developing children aged from preschool to pre-adolescence. Thirty-six studies met the stringent criteria for the analysis, of which 18 had significant research outcomes.
Studies included in the analysis targeted five potential methods of increasing children’s IQ. These methods were multivitamin supplements, iron supplements, iodine supplements, learning to play a musical instrument, and training. Executive function training helps develop skills such as memory, impulse control, and flexible thinking.
The analysis determined that only three of the methods targeting IQ actually raised children’s IQ. These were:

Multivitamin supplements

The analysis found that multivitamins can help improve IQ, but only when given to children who are vitamin deficient. There were no benefits for children who showed no signs of deficiency.

Iodine supplements

Iodine was also successful in helping raise IQ, but only when given to children deficient in iodine. Again, there was no benefit to children with adequate levels of iodine.

Learning to play a musical instrument

Learning to play musical instruments has been repeatedly shown to develop executive function skills (memory, impulse control, and flexible thinking). The analysis found that learning to play a musical instrument raised children’s IQ.
Iron supplements and executive functioning did not show consistent and reliable results in the analysis. This means they cannot currently be considered to help raise IQ.

What does this mean for parents?

If you are concerned about your child’s IQ or you notice inconsistencies in your child’s academic performance, it’s important to remember that IQ continues to develop over time and can fluctuate due to a variety of factors.
In an interview with the BBC Professor Joan Freeman, a developmental psychologist who specializes in gifted children, said, “Given different environments and opportunities, IQ can develop and grow. Something as simple as a bad cold can make IQ go down temporarily.”
Also, IQ is not the only factor in success or personal earnings. The tests only measure a person’s cognitive ability, and being successful is about much more, says Freeman:
“IQ tests don’t measure other qualities, such as personality, talent, persistence, and application. You might not have a high IQ, but if you have a gung-ho personality, then you may use what you have more effectively than someone with a high IQ…. I regard IQ like a muscle. You may be born with the muscles of an Olympiad, but if you don’t use them, they will diminish.”
If you would like to help your child increase their IQ through supplements, examine your child’s diet as a first option. It can be hard to get children to eat a wide variety of food. If you decide to check you child’s iodine and vitamin levels, consider whether the stress of those tests is worth it.
Iodine can be measured with a urine test, but vitamin levels often require a blood test. Many children find blood tests distressing and even traumatizing. As a parent and a mental health professional, I would prefer to give my child a multivitamin tablet and see if it helps rather than have them undergo a blood test. Always discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.
Learning a musical instrument is a natural option for many families who enjoy music. If music has not been a part of your life, you may not know where to start. There are many ways to immerse your child in music. Schools offer music programs with instrumental lessons. Consider enrolling your child in a school that has a robust music program or, if you can afford it, private lessons.
Children under the age of five can have difficulty learning an instrument due to a range of factors, including their size and developmental capacity for regular practice. Consider instead exposing them through playing different types of music in the home, experimenting playfully with musical instruments, or attending an early learning music group with other young children as an entry point.
Your child has many qualities of which their IQ is only one part. Remember that IQ alone will not determine how successful your child is. Qualities such as persistence, parental support, encouragement, and age-appropriate opportunities will also raise IQ and support future success.
These things also happen to lie at the heart of good parenting.

New Science on Parents' Baby Talk May Transform How Kids' Learn in the Future

The data collected will help researchers understand what kind of speech keeps a baby’s attention, which could improve how we teach them.

Would you believe that the silly phrases you babble to your infant, like goo-goo, gaa-gaa, and coochy-coochy-coo, could hold the key to how we teach our children in the future? This bizarre ritual of baby talk is a common part of the early days of parenthood and, as ridiculous as it may seem, there is an essential reason for it.

Infant-directed speech – (IDS) as it is referred to in the scientific world – is when parents raise the pitch of their voice, slow down their speech, and repeat phrases when talking to their babies. For years, experts have noted that these vocal changes are important for children’s language development and help the babies recognize who their parents are. Now an additional attribute of our voice – called timbre – has been found to also play a major role in how we communicate with our babies.

Timbre is the tone “color” or unique quality of a noise we use to differentiate between the sounds of various people, animals, and instruments. Instead of being a distinct pitch or loudness, it’s the unique collection of frequencies produced by the sound. Timbre is what gives sounds attributes like being scratchy, smooth, nasally, breathy, or raspy. It’s how we can tell apart individual singers even if they’re singing the same note in the same song. Each person’s voice box has a one-of-a-kind timbre.

It was recently discovered that mothers, no matter what language they speak, alter the timbre of their voices when talking to their babies. A research team lead by Princeton University neuroscientists set out to observe the vocal cues that parents use during baby talk, without even realizing they’re doing it, to see if this impacts early language development.

To conduct the study that was published in Current Biology, the researchers recorded 12 English-speaking mothers while they played with and read to their seven- to 12-month-old infants. They also recorded those same mothers while they spoke to another adult. When parts of the recordings were analyzed using a special computer program, the researchers found that the mothers consistently shifted their timbre depending on whether they were talking to adults or to their babies. The computer was even able to discern baby talk from normal speech based on just one second of speech data recorded.

Next the researchers looked at 12 mothers who spoke nine different languages, including Spanish, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, German, French, Hebrew, Mandarin, and Cantonese, to see if this result worked for other languages as well. They found that the timbre change was consistent for all the mothers, no matter what language they spoke. Although only mothers were part of the study (in order to minimize the range of audio frequencies analyzed), researchers expect that the same results would occur with fathers as well.

This groundbreaking research has the potential to shift how we educate our children in the future. The data collected will help researchers understand what kind of speech keeps a baby’s attention, which could improve how we teach them. The study revealed that changes in timbre may denote a universal form of communication that mothers instinctively engage their babies  with to support their language development.

The researchers anticipate that the unique timbre used by parents could help babies learn to direct their attention to their mother’s or father’s voice from an early age. This could lead to improving speech recognition software designed to teach language and communication skills. By tailoring virtual speakers on these programs to mimic the timbre of the parents’ voices, the children may engage more effectively. These programs could help babies learn to segment words, understand meanings of simple words, and break speech into different parts.

Essentially, timbre is a way for infants to understand the expression of emotion based on the musical characteristics of the voice and the interaction with a parent’s emotional state. Imagine your baby listening to educational programming that uses virtual teachers like robots or cartoon characters that imitate your voice. That could really have a major impact on your child’s learning experience.