Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Icon

From Distress to De-Stress: helping anxious, worried kids (Part 1 of 2)

Teach­ing kids how to relax.

Con­sid­er this vignette:

-Rox­anne: (agi­tat­ed and loud­ly) I can’t stand this freakin book!

-Teacher: Rox­anne, you need to take it easy. Just calm down! Try to relax.You need to fin­ish your read­ing.

-Rox­anne: (to her­self) Right easy for you to say, teacher. But very hard for me to do. What do you mean calm down? I feel like my head is going to explode.

-Teacher: (see­ing no response) Well if you can’t set­tle down, maybe a trip to the office will help you!

Some kids are so agi­tat­ed that even if they know how to relax, they can’t. If you think about it, calm­ing down when you’re upset is the hard­est time to do it! Oth­er kids can’t calm down or relax because they don’t know what that feels like. Teach­ers, occu­pa­tion­al ther­a­pists, phys­i­cal edu­ca­tion teach­ers and par­ents need to actu­al­ly teach chil­dren (of all ages) how to get them­selves into a phys­i­cal state of being relaxed. This doesn’t hap­pen auto­mat­i­cal­ly. If it did, there wouldn’t be so many adult yoga class­es!

Set­ting the men­tal and emo­tion­al stage for suc­cess.

Teach­ers who want to reduce stress and increase learn­ing know that get­ting kids into a pos­i­tive mind­set will do both. They say things and do things that con­nect kids to the secu­ri­ty of past pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences. A boat in the har­bor is not like­ly to be tossed onto a rocky shore if it is teth­ered to an anchor set firm­ly into the sandy ocean floor. Sim­i­lar­ly, kids whose minds are re-unit­ed with the feel­ings asso­ci­at­ed with pre­vi­ous suc­cess­es will be less like­ly to floun­der in an anx­ious or dis­tract­ed state.

Con­sid­er this inter­ac­tion:

The teacher says to the class Do you remem­ber this? (holds up test tube filled with red flu­id; a visu­al prop). Turn to your study part­ner and tell each oth­er one thing we learned about this liq­uid yes­ter­day.

Now raise your hand if you want to say what your part­ner just told you.

Paired shar­ing has the fol­low­ing ben­e­fits:

  • enhances social inter­ac­tions that the teacher can mon­i­tor and guide
  • increas­es infor­ma­tion trad­ing which pro­motes mutu­al inter­de­pen­dence
  • allows the anx­ious child a chance to rehearse a response before going pub­lic

Telling about some­one else’s idea reduces the pos­si­bil­i­ty of pub­lic shame and decreas­es stress. Hav­ing the choice to do it reduces the stress even more.

Cap­i­tal­ize on the rela­tion­ship between learn­ing and feel­ings.

It is clear that emo­tions and learn­ing are linked. Why is it that most of us remem­ber where we were when the space shut­tle Chal­lenger blew up, or where you were on 9/11? Why does the smell or tex­ture of cer­tain foods make us remem­ber cer­tain places or events in our lives? Research tells us that pos­i­tive thoughts enhance learn­ing and mem­o­ry; neg­a­tive thoughts get in the way.

Here’s a scene from a class­room in which the teacher under­stands the con­nec­tion between state of mind and learn­ing. Kids, I would like you to close your eyes (there­by reduc­ing stim­uli and putting chil­dren out of pub­lic view) and think of a time when you learned some­thing very well and felt proud about it. This could be some­thing aca­d­e­m­ic, like frac­tions, or it can be some­thing you learned to do, like a hob­by or a sport. When you get that thought in your head, sim­ply raise your index fin­ger a bit and I’ll know you’re con­nect­ed to that time and the feel­ing you had when you learned to do that par­tic­u­lar thing.

Now, open your eyes and tell us (solo or in shar­ing pairs) what it was that you learned and how it made you feel. The teacher asks the kids what was going on (place, peo­ple, tim­ing) that made this such a pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence. Kids can also be asked to write this, or draw a pic­ture of the event as the first step in the new assign­ment.

The teacher con­tin­ues: Today we’re going to learn some­thing new (anx­i­ety ris­es). We’re going to learn about ________. I want you to tell me, based on that pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence you just recalled and/or talked about, what would make learn­ing this new mate­r­i­al suc­cess­ful for you? She gives the stu­dents the choice of say­ing the answer, telling a class­mate, or writ­ing a para­graph about it.

By build­ing the new activ­i­ty on this foun­da­tion of com­fort, the teacher hopes to lessen the stress that can be gen­er­at­ed when tak­ing kids into new ter­ri­to­ries.

Humor enhances learn­ing and mem­o­ry

Tal­ent­ed teach­ers know that stu­dents hang on to words in a joke because they want to hear the punch line. They also know that humor, in the form of fun­ny sto­ries, puns, lim­er­icks or car­toons can increase a student’s enjoy­ment of the activ­i­ty. Stu­dents who enjoy learn­ing are less anx­ious, less threat­ened and more like­ly to retain and apply what they learn. Teach­ers who spend time putting the lid on a fun­ny student’s com­ments or antics may be miss­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty to use that jester as a col­lab­o­ra­tor. Teach­ers need to remem­ber that sar­casm and ridicule have no place in the safe class­room. It may appear that at stu­dent can take the barbs tossed at him or her in class, but that’s often an erro­neous assump­tion. That stu­dent is using up psy­cho­log­i­cal ener­gy cop­ing with the ten­sion cre­at­ed in such inter­changes. Teach­ers also need to think about the col­lat­er­al dam­age they do to the kids (espe­cial­ly the anx­ious kids) who are watch­ing and hop­ing that they’re not the next tar­get of this teacher’s ver­bal pot-shots. That stu­dent may not want to come to class, and cer­tain­ly won’t want to come to see that teacher for extra help after school, where there’s no chance of escape if the teacher starts to tease.

In the sec­ond part of this arti­cle, to be post­ed next week, we will explore addi­tion­al ideas such as the need to focus on process, not prod­uct.

Jerome SchultzJerome J. Schultz, Ph.D., is a clin­i­cal neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist and is on the fac­ul­ty of Har­vard Med­ical School in the Depart­ment of Psy­chi­a­try. He served until recent­ly as the Co-Direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Child and Ado­les­cent Devel­op­ment, CCAD, a mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary diag­nos­tic and treat­ment clin­ic which is a ser­vice of the Cam­bridge Health Alliance, a Har­vard Teach­ing Hos­pi­tal. Dr. Schultz is the Con­sult­ing Neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist to the New­ton, MA, Pub­lic Schools and the Bin­na­cle Tech Foun­da­tion. He serves on the Edi­to­r­i­al Advi­so­ry Board of Aca­d­e­m­ic Psy­chi­a­try, and The Pro­fes­sion­al Advi­so­ry Board of The Learn­ing Dis­abil­i­ty Asso­ci­a­tion of Amer­i­ca. Dr. Schultz lec­tures exten­sive­ly on the rela­tion­ship between stress and learn­ing, espe­cial­ly in youth with spe­cial needs.

Relat­ed arti­cles:

- Stress and Neur­al Wreck­age: Part of the Brain Plas­tic­i­ty Puz­zle
- Mind­ful­ness and Med­i­ta­tion in Schools for Stress Man­age­ment

Leave a Reply...

Loading Facebook Comments ...

5 Responses

  1. Wow! Any­thing that encour­ages somat­ic sens­ing and intel­li­gence is a boon for today’s edu­ca­tion.

    May I sug­gest we look care­ful­ly at the terms we use when embed­ding relax­ation cues,e.g. the dif­fer­ence between

    think about a time when…
    vs
    visu­al­ize a time when…

    The for­mer ini­ti­ates dif­fer­ent neur­al cir­cuits than the lat­ter, no?

    I find using sen­so­ry per­cep­tion terms helps peo­ple young and old make a con­nec­tion back to the world of sen­so­ry inte­gra­tion.

    Bra­vo for rais­ing this issue on Sharpbrains.com!

    Synap­ti­cal­ly yours,

    M.A. a.k.a. Dr. G.

  2. Senia says:

    Great arti­cle. I love instruc­tion­al arti­cles that spell out even to the detail what to say. I real­ly like that. It feels use­ful and imme­di­ate­ly usable.
    Best,
    Senia

  3. wingspouse says:

    Won­der­ful sug­ges­tions. I nev­er thought about how use­ful pair­ing could be. I’ll use that next time I teach cre­ative writ­ing — pair­ing stu­dents will work won­der­ful­ly. Height­ened pride, love, anger or depres­sion is so impor­tant when writ­ing and it’s the hard­est thing to explain.

  4. Dan Abshear says:

    I sug­gest you fac­tor in more thor­ough­ly the eti­ol­o­gy for such chil­dren. There is a lot of child abuse out there, and I am a vic­tim myself. My anx­i­ety reached a lev­el out of fear that I did not eat, and was placed in a hos­pi­tal for spilling key­tones dur­ing star­va­tion. It goes beyond behav­ioral mod­i­fi­ca­tion which is what I took as the apex of your post.

  5. M.A.: Jerome is now trav­el­ing out of the coun­try, so let me answer your excel­lent sug­ges­tion — indeed, to encour­age some­one to “think” about some­thing is like­ly to result in dif­fer­ent process­es than ask­ing to “visu­al­ize”.

    Senia and wingspouse: thank you for the feed­back — I agree, Jerome did a great job at link­ing research with very spe­cif­ic imple­men­ta­tion ideas.

    Dan: thank you for shar­ing your expe­ri­ence. If I can answer on behalf of Dr. Schultz, I’d say that he wasn’t try­ing to address all prob­lems for all peo­ple, but sug­gest guide­lines to help a good num­ber of stu­dents. Of course, spe­cif­ic prob­lems, and spe­cif­ic clin­i­cal con­di­tions, require pro­fes­sion­al and tai­lored diag­nos­tics and inter­ven­tions.

    Regards

Leave a Reply

Categories: Health & Wellness

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

All Slidedecks & Recordings Available — click image below

Search for anything brain-related in our article archives

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters, and more, SharpBrains is an independent market research firm and think tank tracking health and performance applications of brain science.