Loneliness In Kids Who Learn and Think Differently

Kids who learn and think differently aren’t the only ones who can feel lonely or “apart” from other kids. Most people feel that way at some point.

But research shows that kids who learn and think differently are more likely than their peers to struggle with loneliness. And they often have a harder time dealing with those feelings when they have them. Learn more about loneliness and kids who learn and think differently.

Why kids who are different might feel lonely

Kids who learn and think differently might feel lonely for many reasons. For starters, they’re more likely to be bullied or left out. They can have a hard time making friends or connecting with people. And struggling in school and socially can make kids feel bad about themselves.

They may feel like nobody understands them or their challenges. And they might even withdraw. Kids with certain challenges are most likely to feel left out and isolated. These challenges include trouble with:

The difference between being lonely and being alone

Some people like spending time alone. That goes for kids and adults. As long as they have the ability to make friends and connect with other people when they want to, being alone is a preference, not a problem.

Being unhappy when alone doesn’t necessarily mean someone is lonely, though. Having a hard time entertaining yourself and feeling bored aren’t the same thing as feeling socially isolated.

Also, loneliness isn’t always about being alone. Some kids feel isolated even when they’re with others. They feel like nobody around them shares or understands their challenges. There’s nobody to connect with.

How loneliness can impact kids

When kids go through the occasional lonely spell, it usually doesn’t have a lasting impact. Feeling lonely all the time is different, though. It can affect kids in lots of ways. And it can lead to other difficulties.

Kids who feel lonely might be:

More likely to have low self-esteem. They might feel like others are rejecting them. Kids might lose confidence in themselves and eventually believe they have nothing valuable to offer.

Less likely to take positive risks. Trying new things can build confidence and lead to new interests and skills. But kids who are already feeling rejected and vulnerable may not want to take this leap. They may be afraid to call attention to themselves and risk failing.

More likely to be sad, disconnected, and worried. Kids deal with loneliness in different ways. They may keep their sadness inside and pull away from others. Or they may become angry and act out. The combination of negative emotions and isolation can lead to depression and anxiety.

More likely to engage in risky behaviors. Teens may drink, smoke or vape, use drugs, vandalize property, or do other risky things if they think it will help them feel accepted.

There are many ways to help your child handle feelings of loneliness. First, don’t force your child to become more social or to make lots of friends. Instead, work on building self-esteem. Help your child find interests that lead to meeting new kids who like similar things.

Keep an eye on signs of depression, too. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your health care provider if you have concerns. And if your child has ADHD, read about the connection between ADHD and depression.

By: Kate Kelly

Source: Loneliness in Kids Who Learn and Think Differently | Understood

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Critics by Rachel Ehmke

If your child is struggling to make friends, there are ways to help. First, try to figure out why. Some kids need help with social skills. This is common for kids who are immature or have ADHD, autism or non-verbal learning disorder. Other kids are anxious. They may feel overwhelmed in new social situations or big groups.

Kids who are depressed often want to stay in their rooms. They may interpret things negatively and doubt others want to see them. Finally, some kids may have a hard time fitting in because they have different interests.

If you think your child is lonely, ask them. Start by describing a time when you have felt lonely. If they don’t want to talk, try again in a few days. Don’t push them.

If your child says they are lonely, try to be a good listener. Show that you’re listening by reflecting back what they’re saying: “It sounds like you’re having a hard time.” You can also say supportive things like: “That sounds tough. Would you tell me more about that?”

Once you know more, you can try to help. For kids who need practice with social skills, you can break things down into small steps. Then you can role play them with your child. For kids who have a hard time putting themselves out there, acknowledge how they feel. Then remind them that they’ll probably have a good time once they’ve made the effort. Give them lots of support and praise for doing something tough.

Some kids tend to misunderstand interactions. You can give a reality check: “What makes you think he’s mad? Are there other explanations?” For kids who interpret things negatively a lot, pointing it out each time can help break the pattern.

Finally, help kids find a group or activity that is interesting to them. Many kids find success online, where there are lots of virtual groups for kids with specific interests. Getting excited about something will help them feel more confident, too.

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The Hidden Costs of Living Alone

A place setting for one: A light green plate on a green woven placemat with a knife and fork sitting on a plaid napkin. A half-full glass of wine sits by the plate.

In ways both large and small, American society still assumes that the default adult has a partner and that the default household contains multiple people. If you were to look under the roofs of American homes at random, it wouldn’t take long to find someone who lives alone. By the Census Bureau’s latest count, there are about 36 million solo dwellers, and together they make up 28 percent of U.S. households.

Even though this percentage has been climbing steadily for decades, these people are still living in a society that is tilted against them. In the domains of work, housing, shopping, and health care, much of American life is a little—and in some cases, a lot—easier if you have a partner or live with family members or housemates. The number of people who are inconvenienced by that fact grows every year.

Those who live alone, to be clear, are not lonely and miserable. Research indicates that, young or old, single people are more social than their partnered peers. Bella DePaulo, the author of How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, reeled off to me some of the pleasures of having your own space: “the privacy, the freedom to arrange your life and your space just the way you want it—you get to decide when to sleep, when to get up, what you eat, when you eat, what you watch on Netflix, how you set the thermostat.”

The difficulties of living alone tend to lie more on a societal level, outside the realm of personal decision making. For one thing, having a partner makes big and small expenditures much more affordable, whether it’s a down payment on a house, rent, day care, utility bills, or other overhead costs of daily life. One recent study estimated that, for a couple, living separately is about 28 percent more expensive than living together.

These efficiencies are an inherent feature of sharing costs with other people, but the barriers to living alone, for those who want to, would be much lower if housing (and health care, and education) weren’t so expensive. Moreover, the types of housing that are most commonly available for one person typically privilege privacy over togetherness, but the two don’t need to be mutually exclusive. DePaulo has studied communities where single residents have their own spaces, but also plentiful shared areas with “the possibility of running into other people.”

If you need to, say, move heavy furniture or get a ride somewhere in an emergency, your neighbors are easy to reach. More such options would make solo life easier. Many who live by themselves are effectively penalized at work too. “Lots of people I interviewed complained that their managers presumed they had extra time to stay at the office or take on extra projects because they don’t have family at home,” Eric Klinenberg, the author of the 2012 book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone and a sociologist at NYU, told me.

“Some said that they were not compensated fairly either, because managers gave raises to people based on the impression that they had more expenses, for child care and so on.” And if many workers who live alone end up making less money, as consumers they face less favorable pricing options than other shoppers. Buying larger quantities of food at the grocery store is usually cheaper, but as DePaulo pointed out, people who live alone might not get through perishable items quickly enough.

(She wishes more stores would let people buy only as much of something as they please, instead of locking them into certain packaging sizes.) Even when a consumer good such as paper towels can’t spoil, people with a small home might not have the space for a stockpile. The bias against solo consumers runs deep: Recipes are rarely written for a single diner, and DePaulo said that she has heard from single people who have had trouble booking restaurant reservations for one.

Also, some aspects of travel, particularly lodging, are much more expensive, per person, for single people. These all may seem like small annoyances, but in practice they are regular reminders that American society still assumes that the default adult has a partner and that the default household contains multiple people.

More concerning, some health-care protocols are essentially built on the assumption that a patient lives with someone who can support them. Certain medical procedures require patients to be dropped off or taken home by someone who could stay with them. A friend can fill this role for people who live alone, but they may not want to make a burdensome request or share sensitive information about their health.

In the Facebook group that DePaulo created for single people, some members have reported paying a driver from a ride-hailing service extra to pose as a friend or just forgoing a procedure entirely. And people who live alone don’t always get to take full advantage of government policies. For instance, the Family and Medical Leave Act, a (fairly meager) law that protects some workers’ jobs if they take unpaid leave to look after a loved one, covers care only for spouses, children, and parents. A person who lives alone and doesn’t have a spouse might want to look after a sibling or close friend, but the law doesn’t cover that.

According to the Pew Research Center, the share of American adults who aren’t married and don’t live with a romantic partner has also been growing, having jumped from 29 percent in 1990 to 38 percent in 2019. Many of these people live with others, such as their parents or other relatives, and some of these disadvantages apply to this group as well, depending on whom they share a home with. They may not be able to get a ride to the doctor from a homebound older relative, or may get treated differently at work if they don’t have a child.

Some of them might want to live alone, but can’t afford to do so. And many single people, whether they live alone or with others, constantly face the stigma associated with not being partnered. “It’s oppressive, always getting pitied,” DePaulo said. “People have bought into the ideology that having someone is better—[that] the more natural, normal, superior way of being is being coupled or having a family.”

She sees this norm in the political rhetoric around virtuous, “hardworking families,” and thinks that this cultural default can to some extent be blamed for the ways in which American society has been slow to adapt to people who are single or live alone. She also attributes the slowness to “cultural lag”: In the future, lots of Americans are going to live alone—tens of millions already do—and eventually, society will, with hope, catch up.

By Joe Pinsker

Source: Living Alone in the U.S. Is Harder Than It Should Be – The Atlantic

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Critics:

Loneliness is an unpleasant emotional response to perceived isolation. Loneliness is also described as social pain – a psychological mechanism which motivates individuals to seek social connections. It is often associated with an unwanted lack of connection and intimacy. Loneliness overlaps and yet is distinct from solitude. Solitude is simply the state of being apart from others; not everyone who experiences solitude feels lonely. As a subjective emotion, loneliness can be felt even when a person is surrounded by other people.

The causes of loneliness are varied. Loneliness can be a result of genetic inheritance, cultural factors, a lack of meaningful relationships a significant loss, an excessive reliance on passive technologies (notably the Internet in the 21st century),[3] or a self-perpetuating mindset.[4] Research has shown that loneliness is found throughout society, including among people in marriages along with other strong relationships, and those with successful careers. Most people experience loneliness at some points in their lives, and some feel it often.

The effects of loneliness are also varied. Transient loneliness (loneliness which exists for a short period of time) is related to positive effects, including an increased focus on the strength of one’s relationships.[5][6] Chronic loneliness (loneliness which exists for a significant amount of time in one’s life) is generally correlated with negative effects, including increased obesity, substance use disorder, risk of depression, cardiovascular disease, risk of high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.Chronic loneliness is also correlated with an increased risk of death and suicidal thoughts.

Medical treatments for loneliness include beginning therapy and taking antidepressants. Social treatments for loneliness generally include an increase in interaction with others, such as group activities (such as exercise or religious activities), re-engaging with old friends or colleagues, and becoming more connected with one’s community. Other social treatments for loneliness include the ownership of pets[11][12] and loneliness-designed technologies, such as meetup services or social robots (although the use of some technologies in order to combat loneliness is debated).

Loneliness has long been a theme in literature, going back to the Epic of Gilgamesh. However, academic coverage of loneliness was sparse until recent decades. In the 21st century, some academics and professionals have claimed that loneliness has become an epidemic,[13] including Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General of the United States. However, this claim has been disputed, with critics arguing that loneliness has not increased, but rather only academic focus on the topic has.[14]

Loneliness has long been viewed as a universal condition which, at least to a moderate extent, is felt by everyone. From this perspective, some degree of loneliness is inevitable as the limitations of human life mean it is impossible for anyone to continually satisfy their inherent need for connection. Professors including Michele A. Carter and Ben Lazare Mijuskovic have written books and essays tracking the existential perspective and the many writers who have talked about it throughout history.

Thomas Wolfe‘s 1930s essay God’s Lonely Man is frequently discussed in this regard; Wolfe makes the case that everyone imagines they are lonely in a special way unique to themselves, whereas really every single person sometimes experiences loneliness. While agreeing that loneliness alleviation can be a good thing, those who take the existential view tend to doubt such efforts can ever be fully successful, seeing some level of loneliness as both unavoidable and even beneficial, as it can help people appreciate the joy of living.

For many people the family of origin did not offer the trust building relationships needed to build a reference that lasts a lifetime and even in memory after the passing of a loved one. This can be due to parenting style, traditions, mental health issues including personality disorders and abusive family environments. Sometimes religious shunning is also present.

This impacts the ability of individuals to know themselves, to value themselves and to relate to others or to do so with great difficulty. All these factors and many others are overlooked by the standard medical or psychological advice that recommends to go meet friends, family and to socialise. This isn’t always possible when there is no one available to relate to and an inability to connect without the skills and knowledge on how to proceed. With time a person might become discouraged or develop apathy from numerous trials, failures or rejections brought on by the lack of interpersonal skills.

As the rate of loneliness increases yearly among people of every age group and more so in the elderly, with known detrimental physical and psychological effects, there is a need to find new ways to connect people with each other and especially so at a time when a whole lot of the human attention is focused on electronic devices, it is a challenge.

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Don’t Teach Your Kids To Fear The World

If you are a parent, your greatest fear in life is likely something happening to one of your kids. According to one 2018 poll from OnePoll and the Lice Clinics of America (not my usual data source, but no one else seems to measure this), parents spend an average of 37 hours a week worrying about their children; the No. 1 back-to-school concern is about their safety. And this makes sense, if you believe that safety is a foundation that has to be established before dealing with other concerns.

You can see the effects of all this worrying in modern parenting behavior. According to a 2015 report from the Pew Research Center, on average, parents say children should be at least 10 years old to play unsupervised in their own front yard, 12 years old to stay home alone for an hour, and 14 to be unsupervised at a public park. It also shows up in what parents teach their kids about the world: Writing in The Journal of Positive Psychology in 2021, the psychologists Jeremy D. W. Clifton and Peter Meindl found that 53 percent of respondents preferred “dangerous world” beliefs for their children.

No doubt these beliefs come from the best of intentions. If you want children to be safe (and thus, happy), you should teach them that the world is dangerous—that way, they will be more vigilant and careful. But in fact, teaching them that the world is dangerous is bad for their health, happiness, and success.The contention that the world is mostly safe or mostly dangerous is what some psychologists call a “primal world belief,” one about life’s basic essence.

Specifically, it’s a negative primal in which the fundamental character of the world is assumed to be threatening. Primal beliefs are different from more specific beliefs—say, about sports or politics—insofar as they color our whole worldview. If I believe that the Red Sox are a great baseball team, it generally will not affect my unrelated attitudes and decisions. But according to Clifton and Meindl, if I believe that the world is dangerous, it will affect the way I see many other parts of my life, relationships, and work.

I will be more suspicious of other people’s motives, for example, and less likely to do things that might put me or my loved ones in harm’s way, such as going out at night. As much as we hope the dangerous-world belief will help our kids, the evidence indicates that it does exactly the opposite. In the same paper, Clifton and Meindl show that people holding negative primals are less healthy than their peers, more often sad, more likely to be depressed, and less satisfied with their lives.

They also tend to dislike their jobs and perform worse than their more positive counterparts. One explanation for this is that people under bad circumstances (poverty, illness, etc.) have both bad outcomes and a lot to fear. However, as Clifton and Meindl argue, primals can also interact with life outcomes—you likely suffer a lot more when you are always looking for danger and avoiding risk.

Teaching your kids that the world is dangerous can also make them less tolerant of others. In one 2018 study, researchers subjected a sample of adults to a measure called the “Belief in a Dangerous World Scale,” which asked them to agree or disagree with statements such as “Any day now chaos and anarchy could erupt around us” and “There are many dangerous people in our society who will attack someone out of pure meanness, for no reason at all.”

They found that people scoring high on this scale also showed heightened prejudice and hostility toward groups such as undocumented immigrants, whom they stereotypically considered a threat to their safety. This study was conducted among adults, but it is easy to see how these attitudes would migrate to their kids. This is similar to the argument made by the writers Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt in The Atlantic in 2015, and in their subsequent book, The Coddling of the American Mind.

Lukianoff and Haidt contend that when parents (or professors) teach young people that ordinary interactions are dangerous—for example, that speech is a form of violence—it hinders their intellectual and emotional growth. It also leads them to adopt black-and-white views (for example, that the world is made up of people who are either good or evil), and makes them more anxious in the face of minor stressors such as political disagreement.

And to top it all off, negative primals don’t even help keep people safe. Researchers writing in the journal Psychology & Health in 2001 showed that a general state of fear can actually make a person less likely to take threats seriously (a self-defense mechanism to control our fear) and undermine precautionary behavior (by degrading the ability to address danger rationally).

It is not in young people’s interest that we instill in them negative primals. In so doing, we might harm them by making them less happy, less healthy, and more bigoted toward others. To break this pattern, parents—and anyone who interacts with children—should instead work to cultivate a sense of safety. Here are three rules to help you get started.

1. Heal thyself.

Parents might feed their kids negative primals because they hold such views themselves. This is easy to do in a world where we are bombarded with news and information, which studies have linked to distress, anxiety, and depression—even when the news is not specifically negative. And research shows that many parents pass on their anxiety to their children. One way to allay our own fears is simply to look at the facts.

Being a kid in America has never been safer. Since 1935, the number of childhood deaths between the ages of 1 and 4 fell from 450 to 30 per 100,000. It has fallen by nearly half just since 1990, and the decreases in other age groups are similarly impressive. Use this knowledge to counteract the media’s relentless focus on fear and danger. You might even print out a chart on declining childhood mortality (such as the one linked above) and put it on the fridge as a reminder of how good your kids have it.

Grown-ups want to teach young people how to stay safe in the face of threats. However, the research is clear that a blanket attitude of fear can actually make them less able to do so. If you want to offer a child a warning to make them better prepared, focus on one specific danger they might face and how to deal with it. Instead of saying, “People will try to take advantage of you at college,” say, “If someone is trying to get you to drink too much, avoid that person.”

When you do need to bring up a threat, make sure you keep it in proportion. For example, I don’t want anyone to be mean to my kids any more than the next parent. They know this. But it doesn’t help them for me to say that hostile words inherently make them unsafe. Social conflict is unavoidable, and making them fear it as an existential threat amounts to giving them a negative primal, rendering them less resilient.

3. Counteract negative primals from outside.

Almost every day that my daughter was in high school, she was taught about the dangerous world—about bad people, dangerous forces in nature, and a bleak future for our country. She told us about the gloom and doom each evening at dinner, and my wife and I could see her growing pessimism. So we set about deliberately countering the scary narrative. We didn’t sugarcoat the threats; we simply tried to be specific about the kind behaviors we witnessed, and ways that the world was safer and more prosperous today than in the past.

It was our way of sharing our genuine belief that on the whole, most people are good and things are getting better. Working hard to avoid instilling a fear-based primal belief in kids is good. But really, we should all be able to do better than that, and try to cultivate a positive primal belief that can truly improve their lives. For that, I turn to the words of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. “Through Love, one has no fear,” he wrote in the Tao Te Ching.

Instead of teaching our kids fear primals, let’s teach them love primals, which neutralize fear and put something good in its place. Let them know that people are made for love—we all crave it, and we can find something lovable in just about everyone we meet. We don’t always give it or accept it, because we make a lot of mistakes, but love is what all our hearts desire. If you want to give your children a rule to live by, this one is a much safer bet.

By Arthur C. Brooks

Source: Don’t Teach Your Kids to Fear the World – The Atlantic

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How Parents Can Encourage Their Child’s Joy

One of the unexpected delights of being a parent is having a front row seat to seeing a child’s joy—whether it’s excitement at zoo, the experience of riding a train, or just getting a slushie on a summer day. “Most children have a huge capacity for joy,” said Maureen Healy, a child psychology expert and author of the book The Happiness Workbook For Kids.

“Some children are born with challenges that make it difficult for them to experience joy, because of the environment or biological reasons, but most children are joyful.” As a parent, one of the struggles is finding a way to help your children retain their capacity for joy even as the difficulties of life get in the way.

Supportive relationships are essential

To help maintain your child’s capacity for joy, one essential component is helping them develop supportive relationships. “You need to have someone you can talk to,” Healy said. “For an adult, a supportive relationship is, ‘who would you call at two in the morning?’ It’s the same thing as a kid: ‘Who can you talk to when you are feeling bullied?’

As Healy notes, children will often internalize the bad circumstances around them and think that it’s their own fault. “You need to have another supportive relationship,” Healy said, someone who can offer comfort and a different perspective, one which can help them recalibrate what is going on in their life.

Help your child lean into their strengths

Another component of helping your child retain their joy is helping them embrace their strengths and offer unconditional acceptance of their interests. “Developing their strengths is part of joy,” Healy said. “I’ve had parents who have said to me, ‘I have a guitar player, but I wanted a doctor.’ You want to do your best as an adult to unconditionally accept and encourage them.”

One way to do that is by letting your child participate in making decisions about what they want to do or how they spend their time, such as choosing their own extracurricular activities—even if those activities are unusual or unexpected. “Allow your child to be a voice in participating and finding their joy,” Healy said.

Set an example for getting through tough times

When the tough times hit, it’s important to set an example for your kids of what it looks like to get through them. As Healy suggests, it’s important to not always sugarcoat life’s challenges, but to be honest about the fact that sometimes life can be really hard and that there’s not always much that you can do about it other than persevere as best you can.

By: Rachel Fairbank

Source: How Parents Can Encourage Their Child’s Joy

Critics By Eric Barker

Happiness is a tremendous advantage in a world that emphasizes performance. On average, happy people are more successful than unhappy people at both work and love. They get better performance reviews, have more prestigious jobs, and earn higher salaries. They are more likely to get married, and once married, they are more satisfied with their marriage. So looking at the science, what really works when it comes to raising happy kids?

Step 1: Get Happy Yourself

The first step to happier kids is, ironically, a little bit selfish.Extensive research has established a substantial link between mothers who feel depressed and “negative outcomes” in their children, such as acting out and other behavior problems. Parental depression actually seems to cause behavioral problems in kids; it also makes our parenting less effective.And this is not merely due to genetics.

Step 2: Teach Them To Build Relationships

Nobody denies learning about relationships is important — but how many parents actually spend the time to teach kids how to relate to others?

(Just saying “Hey, knock it off” when kids don’t get along really doesn’t go far in building essential people skills.)

Step 3: Expect Effort, Not Perfection

Note to perfectionist helicopter parents and Tiger Moms: cool it. Relentlessly banging the achievement drum messes kids up. Why? Dweck explains: “When we praise children for the effort and hard work that leads to achievement, they want to keep engaging in that process. They are not diverted from the task of learning by a concern with how smart they might — or might not — look.”

Step 4: Teach Optimism

Want to avoid dealing with a surly teenager? Then teach those pre-teens to look on the bright side. Author Christine Carter puts it simply: “Optimism is so closely related to happiness that the two can practically be equated.”

She compares optimists to pessimists and finds optimists:

  1. Are more successful at school, work and athletics
  2. Are healthier and live longer
  3. End up more satisfied with their marriages
  4. Are less likely to deal with depression and anxiety

Step 5: Teach Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a skill, not an inborn trait. Thinking kids will just “naturally” come to understand their own emotions (let alone those of others) doesn’t set them up for success. A simple first step here is to “Empathize, Label and Validate” when they’re struggling with anger or frustration.

Step 6: Form Happiness Habits

We’re on step 6 and it might seem like this is already a lot to remember for you — let alone for a child. We can overcome that with good habits. Thinking through these methods is taxing but acting habitually is easy, once habits have been established. How do you help kids build lasting happiness habits? Carter explains a few powerful methods backed by research:

  1. Stimulus removal: Get distractions and temptations out of the way.
  2. Make It Public: Establish goals to increase social support — and social pressure.
  3. One Goal At A Time: Too many goals overwhelms willpower, especially for kids. Solidify one habit before adding another.
  4. Keep At It: Don’t expect perfection immediately. It takes time. There will be relapses. That’s normal. Keep reinforcing.

Step 7: Teach Self-Discipline

Self-discipline in kids is more predictive of future success than intelligence — or most anything else, for that matter.

Yes, it’s that famous marshmallow test all over again. Kids who better resisted temptation went on to much better lives years later and were happier. What’s a good way to start teaching self-discipline? Help kids learn to distract themselves from temptation.

Step 8: More Playtime

We read a lot about mindfulness and meditation these days — and both are quite powerful. Getting kids to do them regularly however can be quite a challenge. What works almost as well? Playtime isn’t just goofing off. It’s essential to helping kids grow and learn.

Step 9: Rig Their Environment For Happiness

We don’t like to admit it, but we’re all very much influenced by our environment – often more than we realize. Your efforts will be constrained by time and effort, while context affects us (and children) constantly. What’s a simple way to better control a child’s surroundings and let your deliberate happiness efforts have maximum effect? Less TV.

Step 10: Eat Dinner Together

Sometimes all science does is validate those things our grandparents knew all along. Yes, family dinner matters. This simple tradition helps mold better kids and makes them happier too.

Parents of disabled children ‘still not happy‘ with care provided by Dudley Council Express & Star

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Psychologist: College students can help us improve children’s mental health care | Opinion NJ.com – The Jersey Journal

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How To Maslow Before Bloom, All Day Long

Morning meetings are a good place to start, but what you really need is a toolkit of strategies to meet your students’ social and emotional needs all day long.

“Maslow before Bloom”—we hear it all the time. The idea that educators should meet students’ basic needs for safety and belonging before turning to challenging academic tasks is one that guides the work of many schools.

In this era of high-stakes testing and inflexible curricula, that’s not as easy to do as it sounds. The need to do 45 minutes of preplanned reading instruction, followed in lockstep by 45 minutes of math, leads many teachers, especially newer ones, to conclude that they simply don’t have the time to plan for brain breaks, or to check in with students regularly to make sure they’re feeling OK.

Research indicates that’s a mistake, though. Child psychiatrist Pamela Cantor told Edutopia in 2019 that “when we’re able to combine social, emotional, affective, and cognitive development together, we are creating many, many more interconnections in the developing brain that enable children to accelerate learning and development.” Making time to integrate social and emotional learning into academics, in other words, is a better way for schools to achieve their goals than a focus on academics alone.

This year, that will take some extra preparation and thinking. Prioritizing personal connections and students’ ability to manage their emotions was hard enough in physical classrooms, but it will be harder during distance and hybrid learning. Most of the strategies here—a toolkit drawn from high-quality research and from the experience of successful teachers—can be integrated into both physical and virtual classrooms throughout the day.

Welcoming Students

It starts before students enter the room: Taking a few minutes to personally greet every student at the beginning of the day, or the beginning of each class in middle and high school, can bolster students’ feeling that they belong to a community of learners. A 2018 study showed that positive greetings at the door increased academic engagement by 20 percentage points, and decreased disruptive behavior by 9 percentage points—adding as much as “an additional hour of engagement over the course of a five-hour instructional day,” the researchers said.

When students are working at home, there’s no door to stand in, of course, but you can create a short daily video to say hello, or use a tool like Zoom—which has a virtual waiting room feature—to queue kids up and then welcome them to class one by one. Alternately, you can adapt the 5×5 strategy—in which a teacher spends 25 minutes talking to five students for five minutes each—using the phone or video meetings via Zoom or Google Meet.

Once students are in your classroom, taking a few more minutes for non-academic chat involving all students can build a vibrant community, while giving you a window into whether each student is emotionally prepared for academic work. Students might discuss things like a question of the day—What’s your favorite pizza? or If you could have a superpower, what would you pick?—before describing how they feel by naming their personal roses and thorns, or by dropping a simple thumbs up, sideways thumb, or thumbs down into your chat feature.

Your Social and Emotional Toolkit—Use It All Day

Getting off to a good start primes students for learning, but the need to regulate emotions, find inner calm, and be socially connected will crop up throughout the day—just as it does for adults. Your toolkit of social and emotional strategies enables you to check in with students and help them self-regulate, recharge, and reconnect throughout the day.

If anyone tries to tell you that giving students a short break is wasting time, you can share the research supporting breaks: Students lose focus over periods of direct instruction—for elementary students this starts after about 10 minutes—so shorter lessons with brain breaks in between boost a student’s ability to stay on task and allow for better consolidation of recently learned material.

To shake students out of a rut, longtime Edutopia contributor Lori Desautels uses brain breaks that get them out of their seats, like giving them each two small Dixie cups and some water, and having them pour it back and forth from cup to cup a few times—then having them close their eyes and keep going for 30 seconds to see who has the most water left at the end. There’s, um, some cleanup required.

If kids have been focused for a long time, try a more involved, more intensely kinetic break that works at home or in the classroom: A H.Y.P.E the Breaks video from Hip-Hop Public Health can help students learn a little dance choreography and get in lots of movement. You can take advantage of the power of dual encoding by sneaking some content into your dance routine—Code.org has a dance party coding tutorial that links dance steps to coding algorithms, for example. Alternately, you can just give kids time to sit, relax, and chat happily with their friends.

Part of building your social-emotional and well-being toolkit is having a tool for all occasions. When kids are feeling antsy, Desautels recommends using focused attention practices to help them regain their calm. Try different ways of focusing on breathing, such as inhaling for four beats, holding for four, and then exhaling for four, or visualizing colors as students inhale and exhale—if a student is upset, for example, they might exhale red.

There is some lingering controversy around mindfulness, but the research is increasingly clear: According to Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California’s surgeon general, mindfulness helps to regulate the parts of the brain associated with the stress response, and is “associated with reduced levels of cortisol and other stress hormones” while positively influencing “the physiological indicators of an active stress response, like blood pressure and heart rate.” Burke Harris uses mindfulness with kids as young as 3 years old.

At Codman Academy in Boston, second grade teacher Lindsey Minder leads her students in a guided mindfulness activity after lunch: “The impact of the mindfulness practice is really this general sense of them being more comfortable and confident with themselves and their varying needs,” Minder says, “and decreases in anxiety around academic work.”

In high school, teacher Aukeem Ballard incorporates a mindfulness activity in his classes once a week for four to seven minutes—a guided focus on breathing followed by a brief reflection with a partner. You can instead opt for a shorter activity used more frequently: Middle school administrator Michael Ray recommends that students regularly relax by kneading play dough or oobleck, both of which can be made cheaply at home.

Periodically, your toolkit will get a real test when a student becomes frustrated and lashes out. Resist the temptation to jump to a punishment, if possible. Instead, try to seek out the underlying causes and teach the child how to return to calmness. Sometimes, just asking a student if they want to step out and get some water may be enough to de-escalate. A more proactive strategy is to set up a peace corner in the classroom—a non-judgmental, dedicated spot in the room where students can go to spend a few minutes either calming themselves down or naming and describing their feelings on a prepared form.

Never Give Up on Recess

It feels like recess is constantly under siege from the pressures of overscheduling, but play is a powerful, natural opportunity to de-stress, connect socially, and give the brain vital time to process and consolidate learned information.

The pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom says that recess should be scheduled for 45 minutes to an hour every day, rather than the more common 20 minutes. That’s not always possible, of course, but it does reinforce the importance of giving kids free rein to play. And the American Academy of Pediatrics reminds us that unstructured play is essential to kids’ well-being.

School systems tend to give up on recess by high school, but the way our brains process information—and the need for deep social connections—doesn’t change. While brain breaks and movement breaks may look different at different age levels, they’re still needed. That’s why Montpelier High School in Vermont initiated MHS Unplugged—as in, unplugging from the curriculum, and from screens. In this 15-minute break, kids can practice an instrument, play outside, do a little art, play cards. It’s a brief chance for them to have some say about what they do.

You may face pressure to focus on academics, but putting Maslow before Bloom isn’t antithetical to learning—research demonstrates that it’s a way to support better learning. Build a toolkit and use it judiciously throughout the day, in accordance with your read of your students. Using Maslow regularly will help them to Bloom.

Source: How to Maslow Before Bloom, All Day Long | Edutopia

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