All movements and thinking activities that children engage in help to develop the network of brain cells that are so crucial to learning and coping in life. We can create new connections in our brains throughout our lives but during childhood this is crucial for their state of learning readiness and ability to meet academic demands.
The brain is composed of a left and right side – called right and left hemispheres. It may be that we develop a preference for using either side to function but rather than encourage a decided dominance of a particular hemisphere, it is far better to balance the brain. We need the specialised areas of both hemispheres to function optimally – especially in school. With this in mind, we should try hard to provide opportunities that will promote development of both brains in our children.
What kind of activities does your child gravitate towards? TV, computers, video games and texting will wire the brain in a certain way. Art, music, sport, messy play will result in other areas being wired. What is needed is a variety of activities to help the brain’s left and right sides develop equally and be able to communicate efficiently.
The left hemisphere predominates when we are using our right hands and right side of our bodies, speaking, reasoning, or working out a maths or science problem. You will be helping the development of this brain when you get your child involved with:
- You can play with numbers, for example having the child learn to count by jumping up and down a flight of steps; call out a number and ask the child to tell you what number comes before or after it; introduce shapes and have them cut out different paper shapes; teach quantity in the kitchen.
- As soon as a child is speaking his home language well, introduce a second language. Teaching songs, rhymes and simple phrases is a good beginning.
- Install a love of reading. Children simply must have stories read to them.
- Once children are older and can read, play a dictionary game: give them the first three letters of a word and have them find words with those letters.
- Play with science concepts. For example, ask children how water turns into ice and back again; what makes wood burn? What is wind? Where does our water come from? Explore the environment: have children draw everything they can find in the garden, including insects and discuss their discoveries with them.
- Introduce them to music: if at all possible, let them learn to play an instrument. Studies have shown that music appears to accelerate language development, speech and reading skills.
- If learning an instrument isn’t possible, at least play music in the home with chances to move to the rhythm, beat out the rhythm on homemade drums and learn the words of songs. Be sure to include a variety of music – including classical.
The right side of the brain is specialised for control over left-hand and left side of the body, imagination, intuition, understanding the ‘big picture’ and more. Activities that encourage right brain development include:
- Telling stories and hearing stories read or told out loud.Understanding content through tone of voice and speech inflection is an important part of comprehension.
- Dealing with feelings: talking about the child’s own feelings and how others feel; watch a film together and talk about how events affected the child and you. Ask for suggestions how the story or ending could be changed and how that would affect feelings.
- Encourage children to engage in fantasy play. Playing make believe is a very important part of childhood.
- Study the faces of other people and try to guess their feelings. This can be done with ‘emoticons’ too, but looking at people when you are out and about can be fun and enlightening too.
- Use music to discuss feelings. How do different pieces of music affect feelings?
- Use art to express feelings: blank pieces of paper with paint or crayons stimulates imagination and the release of emotions. Don’t overdo the colouring-books.
This list provides some examples of the many activities that can be used to help whole-brain development. Spend some time on the internet to lengthen the list, and then enjoy the time spent with your child. Your brain will benefit too!
Children aren’t born with fully developed personalities. They do show an emerging personality by the age of 4 years and this continues to develop throughout their growing years. At birth, however, they possess the raw material of personality, called a temperament. This will become moulded by their experiences in their families and the larger world (school and friends) into their eventual personality.
Most of us feel that children’s personalities can be shaped by either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ parenting. There are studies that show this to be only partly true. Not all children are affected in the same way by good or bad parenting. Some seem to be immune to bad parenting styles and behaviours, while others can be seriously harmed or helped by actions of their parents (or caregivers).
A study by a team at the University of Utrecht, published in Psychology Bulletinin August 2016 and written by Christian Jarrett at BPS Research Digest, looked to see how temperament was affected by parenting style and subsequently influenced personality development.
The idea was to see how ‘bad’ or ‘good’ parenting styles resulted in positive or negative behaviours in children, depending on four different aspects of temperament. The four temperament characteristics were: impulsivity; signs of early conscientiousness; negative emotionality (the tendency to experience predominantly unpleasant emotions – something displayed by AA Milne’s Eeyore character); and a hard to define combination of all three which could be called a ‘difficult temperament’ and shows up in behaviours like screaming in a shopping mall or other inappropriate place.
The study found that the children rated during their infancy with negative emotionality were the most affected by parenting style. These children are most susceptible to bad parenting and can be easily hurt by it. Good parenting, defined by warmth, how much parents made their children feel comfortable, accepted and approved of and loving control (guiding behaviour by helping children think through things and teaching them to behave responsibly rather than autocratic, harsh discipline) helped these children hugely.
Children with negative emotionality who are exposed to bad parenting can internalise behaviours in the form of anxiety, depression and self-harm, or externalise in the form of aggression, delinquency, drug abuse and so on. In contrast, susceptible children exposed to good parenting would externally show empathy, community involvement and positive feelings about other people. Internal effects would be succeeding at school, good language, reasoning, memory and other forms of intellectual development.
The researchers found that impulsivity and effortful control didn’t have much effect on whether children were negatively or positively affected by parenting styles. Interestingly, the negative emotionality that made children most susceptible to hurt by wrathful, neglectful parenting also allowed them to really be helped by kind, consistent parenting. The vulnerability cuts both ways. “The very quality that appears to be a frailty in children may also be their strength, given a supportive parenting context,” the authors write.
This study was based on a relatively small sample size so cannot be taken as absolute fact. It is nevertheless an interesting glimpse into the way in which parenting helps shape personality and certainly carries a valuable message into the best ways of helping children who during their infancy seem to have been born ‘difficult.’
Parents and teachers alike will agree that children who struggle at school usually feel bad about their academic abilities. Most of them will certainly have some emotional problem related to the learning difficulty.
While this is probably considered to be a ‘known fact’ amongst educators, another fact, gleaned from practical experience, is that the priority seems to be on the diagnosis and remediation of the learning difficulty or disability. The need to address the emotional aspects takes a backseat.
The way emotions and learning difficulties or disabilities interact is a complex subject and not always easy to unravel. Essentially, there are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- Emotional distress may be caused by learning difficulties.Learners who fail to thrive at school may suffer from anxiety, depression, loneliness and low self-esteem – especially regarding their academic abilities
- Learning difficulties may aggravate social and emotional functioning.If a child struggles with mental processing that is severe enough to cause a learning problem, they may experience problems in nonacademic areas as well. This typically shows itself in behaviours that don’t conform to the child’s social environment. The result is escalating emotional concerns such as feelings of being misunderstood, sadness and anxiety – all on which may already be present because of the learning problem.
- Emotional issues can disguise a child’s learning disability. This may happen if the child resorts to defiant behaviours such as ‘acting-out,’ distracting behaviours such as being the ‘class clown’ or complaints about physical ailments.Adults’ focus might be on the undesired actions and the learning difficulty could be overlooked.
- Emotional issues may aggravate learning difficulties.Constant failure to succeed at school may lead to stress or feelings of inferiority which can intensify the learning problem. A child who, for example, consistently struggles with certain academic tasks may decrease the child’s ability to pay attention and concentrate on the work.
- On the other hand, a child with learning difficulties who enjoys good emotional health may find it easier to cope with challenges. This can enhance school performance.
This last finding emphasises the importance of ensuring that children with a learning difficulty or disability are well supported emotionally and socially. On the positive side, parents and teachers usually do try to understand the complexities of the interaction between emotional functioning and learning difficulties. Most do try to ensure that the help the child receives is not limited to academic remediation.
Content for this post was based on an article entitled ‘Understanding children’s hearts and minds: Emotional functioning and learning disabilities’ written by Jean Cheng Gormon and available at: www.idonline.org/article/626292/?theme=print.