Talking about tricky stuff with kids
In the 1960-70s, researchers at Stanford University embarked upon the, now famous, Marshmallow Study. They went to the university child care centre to study children’s’ ability to hold back. They devised a task where a child was left in a room with a marshmallow (or biscuit or pretzel if they preferred). The child was told if they wait and don’t eat the marshmallow, the adult would give them two marshmallows when the adult returned. The adult then left the room. There are lots of very funny YouTube clips about the sorts of things that might have ensued whilst the adult researcher was out of the room. Years later, the researchers returned to the study and found out that those who waited for the return of the researcher/adult and received the extra marshmallow, had better life outcomes, fewer issues with being overweight and scored better in high school exams. The researchers are still following this group of, now adult, children and are doing further research mapping their brain activity.
Of course, the Marshmallow study does not mean that your child’s future will be determined by a marshmallow. There are a multitude of other confounding variables that were not accounted for over all of those years form kinder to adulthood. However, people seem to like the idea that those who are patient and hold back will be rewarded on their life journey.
It’s that time of the year. University and other tertiary education institutions are gearing up for another influx of new students. Togas and silly hats may dominate the landscape of our university precincts as the more academic of the next generation step up to take their sought-after places in the hallowed corridors of learning.
Parents who may be sending younglings off to tertiary education for the first time, might be a little worried. Parents’ worry may be affected by their own recall of events from when they, themselves, first left home for academic pursuits (that is, given their recall has not been affected by poor brain-care habits over ensuing years). Parents may be both excited for their young adult children and a little apprehensive about the hi-jinks they may be exposed to and/or engaged in.
I’ve heard it said on more than one occasion –
“Talking to kids about their feelings is just the latest hocus pocus, mushy, hippie fad!”
The journey from primary to high school can have a number of tricky obstacles to negotiate along the way, but it’s easier with some understanding. It’s handy to have some practical understanding of the differences between primary and high school and it’s really important to understand the social aspects of the transition.
There are a number of obvious practical and physical differences between high school and primary school. High schools are generally much larger than primary schools and there’s a difference in the physical layout of the school. Instead of having one classroom for the entire year, classes are usually spread out over a campus and timetabling can mean students may have to go from one end of the campus to the other very swiftly. It’s very rare for two consecutive days to have the same subjects, teachers and classes. Many students worry about getting lost or not being in the right place at the right time.
I’m sure if you have ever played a computer game or console game you know that they can be great fun and a handy distraction. Like anything fun in the history of humankind, though, there is the potential for life to get out of balance if too much of our time is dedicated to one source of enjoyment. Until they are old enough to curb urges and delay gratification (jobs linked to the brain’s cortex), children need parents to act as their cortex. Until children fully develop a cortex of their own they need limits set on their exposure to all things that might compete with living a happy and healthy life – they need some limits on gaming time.
In all of the years I have been in clinical and forensic practice with young people, I have never seen a young offender who has been convicted of a violent crime solely because they played too many computer or console games. Child development is much more complex than that! However there is perhaps a more frequent or common concerning trend and that is where gaming starts to interrupt a happy, healthy and social life for the individual or their family.
“Your child needs help” they said. “Something is not right with him” they said. “Maybe you should take her to see someone”. That’s all very easy for other people to say, but how do they know? How do you know if your child has a problem and if your child does have a problem? How do you find the best person to help them? Surely it takes more than just “seeing someone”?
Yes, there are some days when we could all use someone to talk to about our worries, fears or problems and children are no exception! In terms of taking your child to see a psychologist, there is a general rule of thumb that can assist. If your child’s problem has persisted for some time and is starting to get in the way of them having a happy and regular life, then it might be time to consider getting them (and you) some extra help.
A biopsychosocial look at mental health during the adolescent years including: Brain development, Identity formation, Risk taking – substance use, self harm, Relationships, Socialising and social media, Counselling, parenting and support. A framework for understanding what might be going on for her.
Shona Innes, Senior Clinical & Forensic Psychologist 499 Hargreaves Street (Corner Myrtle & Hargreaves Sts) Daytime: Saturday 23rd August 11-12.30 or Evening: Wednesday 20th August 6.30-8. Cost: $45. Limited places available. Phone Irene or Alicia 5443 2284 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to secure your place with a payment.
The world is not always a predictable place. Sometimes it can be just cruel and awful. This week, the incident involving the Malaysian Airlines passengers flying above the Ukraine has been a terrible example of the unexpected side of the people of our world. Our special wishes need to be extended to all of those who are some way involved or related to those who lost their lives in the tragedy.
News of such a tragedy usually starts to flood our heads and our homes via screens or over the sound waves. Often, the updates are accompanied by graphic pictures on the television and in the papers. Special updates interrupting normal viewing or listening habits. Our conversations and our tones of voice change. So, it is important that we are mindful of our children’s responses to these kinds of events. The way that we react can affect the way that they react and how they learn about the world and coping when tragedies occur.
As the amazing human brain develops, it moves from a pretty primitive state of jumbled up nerve networks, through to a very complex series of coordinated networks over the years. The first networks that come on board start to link our senses to our brains – we can start to see and hear. As we age, our biology and our growing experiences connect pathways and we are able to do things that are more complex – so complex that some of our brains can even master algebra, fly fishing or a baking a sponge cake.
Our brains also start to become more efficient. We start to prune back the pathways we don’t need so that we can become more efficient at what we do. At about age 25, the pathways in our brain are covered in an insulating substance called myelin, which essentially stops messages leaking out on their journey along the pathways and we get even more efficient at the things we practice. Some things even become automatic.
So, as we journey through life, we are taking information into our brain and trying to work out where it should fit. In essence we make a set of rules, core beliefs or schemas upon which we build up our bank of ideas about how the world works and what is going to work best for us. The rules that govern our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are buried deep within our brain. Each of us has a unique bank of rules because we all started with varying biology and then from the very get go, we all began to experience the world differently.