Sun’s Out, Shoes Off: Why Barefoot Is Best

It’s summer! Time to kick off your shoes, feel the grass beneath your toes, bury your feet in the sand, and do the scorched-foot tiptoe-dance on your way into the pool.

As the weather heats up and boots get shoved to the backs of closets, those pale feet that only a short time ago were in socks and closed shoes suddenly emerge on the scene, sporting new pedicures and refusing to be constrained by more than a flip-flop. For kids, running around with nothing but dirt, rocks, and grass underfoot is a time-honored summer tradition; the extra callouses and scrapes are just a small price to pay.

Continue reading “Sun’s Out, Shoes Off: Why Barefoot Is Best”

7 Things: Harvard Psychologists Identify Positive Parenting Points

Positive Parenting

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Recently, psychologists from Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project (MCC) produced a list of seven concepts successful parents tend to consider when raising caring, compassionate, ethical children. The MCC exists to: educators, parents, and communities raise children who are caring, responsible to their communities, and committed to justice.

It’s a pretty wonderful group of folks who truly want to see our kids be the best versions of themselves they can be. Both scientists and parents partner together to foster kindness and a commitment to the greater good. Let’s take a look at their seven research supported “guideposts” for positive parenting.


1. Work to develop caring, loving relationships with your kids

Sounds obvious, but it’s important. If we want to pass on important concepts to our kids, they need to trust us. The more you express love and demonstrate that you care tremendously about them, they will feel closer to us. In turn, they will be more receptive to learning what we have to teach them.

How can we do this? The folks at MCC suggest planned, regular time together that includes meaningful conversation. Ask questions! The can be basic and simple, but in the end, these questions signal to our kids that we are interested in them and care about them. Try these on for size:

  • What was your favorite part of the day?
  • What was the hardest part? Why?
  • What did you learn today?
  • What is something nice someone did for you today?


Model love...get love back.
Model love…get love back.


2. Be a strong moral role model and mentor

We will be our kid’s first super hero. Before they learn about Wonder Woman and Superman, we will fill those roles. They will look to us, especially as we live into the first guidepost, to discern what is right and wrong, what is moral and amoral. We will be their moral hero. They will copy what we say and what we do. We’ll see them try out the faces we make, our body language, and our manner of speaking. Their eyes will always be on us. We must try to give them something positive to emulate.

How can we do this? Reflect on how we speak, how we treat others, and the model we are building for our kids. MCC advocates the following:

Pay close attention to whether you are practicing honesty, fairness, and caring yourself and modeling skills like solving conflicts peacefully and managing anger and other difficult emotions effectively.

Obviously we aren’t angels 24 hours a day. We make mistakes, but these can occasionally be used as teaching moments, too (depending on the subject at hand). Here are some suggestions from MCC:

  • Engage in community service and include your little ones when appropriate.
  • Be honest – Talk with your child when you make a mistake that affects them
    about why you think you made it, apologize for the mistake, and explain how you plan to
    avoid making the mistake next time.
  • Talk things through with friends – do you have someone with whom you can talk with when things may prove challenging? It’s great to be able to have a dialogue with a fellow parent who might be able to provide a different perspective.


3. Make caring for others a priority and set high ethical expectations

We live in communities. Life on our planet is really about interacting with others. We are, by and large, social creatures. Learning at an early age how to practice empathy and compassion is very important when trying to raise kids that will care about others. With our first two guideposts in place, we are in a good place to help these little ones develop and understanding of these concepts and and put them into practice in their world.

How can we do this? Help our children live into the commitments they make – even the most simple commitments. Making their bed…practicing kindness with a sibling…sharing toys with others…these are all basic commitments we can help them realize.

We can help them stand up for important principles like fairness and justice, and always encourage them to be respectful. Here’s MCC’s list to help with this guidepost:

  • Consider the daily messages you send to children about the importance of caring. For example, instead of saying to children “The most important
    thing is that you’re happy,” you might say “The most important thing is that you’re kind and that you’re happy.”
  • Prioritize caring when you talk with other key adults in your children’s lives. For example, ask teachers and coaches whether your children are good community members in addition to asking about their academic skills, grades, or performance.
  • Encourage kids to “work it out.” Before letting your child quit a sports team, band, or a friendship, ask them to consider their obligations to the group or the friend, and encourage them to work out problems.


Opportunities to interact with others and practice kindness are great - like a Kindermusik class!
Opportunities to interact with others and practice kindness are great – like a Kindermusik class!


4. Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude

Have you ever gotten proficient at a skill without opportunity to practice? Most likely…no. And friends, putting these concepts into practice is a skill. Ensuring that our kids have ample opportunity to exercise these skills in the real world and not just as ideas in their head is key. When you are at the store, have your child thank the cashier and the bagger. At a restaurant? Let your little one order, complete with please and thank you. Take every chance to express gratitude, to demonstrate compassion. MCC’s list of suggestions includes:

  • Help with chores around the house. This should become routine. Praise uncommon acts of kindness. Expect routine – these actions will more likely become ingrained.
  • Make caring and justice a focus. Start conversations with children about the caring and uncaring acts they see in their daily lives or on television and about acts of justice and injustice they might witness or hear about in the news, such as a person who stood up for an important cause or an instance of sexism or racism. Ask children how they see these actions and explain why you think these actions are caring or uncaring, just or unjust.
  • Expressing thanks. Consider making expressing gratitude a daily ritual at dinnertime, bedtime, in the car, or on the subway. Encourage children to express appreciation for family members, teachers, or others who contribute to their lives.


5. Expand your child’s circle of concern

It’s a simple concept, really. If we’ve been successful with guideposts one through four, our children will already have a great foundation in compassion, caring, and empathy. Normally though, this readily extends to the close circle of trusted adults – immediate family and close friends. The idea here is to help our kids care about those outside the circle, thereby expanding it. We want our kids to be compassionate and empathetic with the new kid in class or someone that might look different than they do, whether that be, for example, race or ability.

How can we do this? MCC states:

It is important that children learn to zoom in, listening closely and attending to those in their immediate circle, and to zoom out, taking in the big picture and considering the range of people they interact with every day. Children also need to consider how their decisions impact a community. Breaking a school rule, for example, can make it easier for others to break rules. Especially in our more global world, it’s important, too, for children to develop concern for people who live in other cultures and communities.

Here are some specifics from MCC:

  • Encourage children to consider the perspectives and feelings of those who may be vulnerable, such as a new child at school or a child experiencing some family trouble. Give children some simple ideas for taking action, like comforting a classmate who was teased or reaching out to a new student.
  • Use newspaper or TV stories to start conversations with children about other people’s hardships and challenges, or simply the different experiences of children in another country or community.
  • Emphasize with your child the importance of really listening to others, especially those people who may seem unfamiliar and who may be harder to immediately understand.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]positive parenting[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

6. Promote children’s ability to be ethical thinkers and positive change-makers in their

Kids care about ethics. They might not know the term, but ethics enters into their lives pretty early one. How often have you heard a young child talk about what is fair and not fair? Have you had a discussion with your own child about how they might have been mistreated by another child? What about telling the truth, even when it’s hard? They know. They want to learn. They have a desire to understand how human interactions work. They quickly understand that their choices have an impact on others. So how can we promote ethical thought in young kids?

We can help them work through the ethical puzzles that occur in their lives. MCC uses this example – talking through a situation in which a child is deciding whether or not to invite a new friend to a party when their best friend might not like the new friend. We can help our kids understand how to handle bullying when it rears its ugly head.

The key here is to use the open channels of communication and moral center we have created by employing the previous guideposts.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

7. Help children develop self-control and manage feelings effectively

We’ve talked about this one here at Minds on Music before. Helping our kids develop self-regulation and self-control are key to navigating the journey from toddlerhood all the way to puberty and beyond. If our own challenges can’t be managed successfully, it will be next to impossible to view the world through compassionate eyes. We’ll be overcome by our own ego. If we help our children develop a skill set to manage their own emotions and moderate their interactions with the world, they will more readily understand their place in it. We can aid them as the move through Piaget’s Preoperational Stage, characterized by the struggle to see things from perspectives other than their own.

How can we help them? By teaching our kids to label their feelings, to talk about them. It’s so important that kids learn that feelings, even feelings like anger and sadness are okay. The challenge is in how we express those feelings, how we process them. Some ways are much better than others. From the MCC:

A simple way to help children to manage their feelings is to practice three easy steps together: stop, take a deep breath through the nose and exhale through the mouth, and count to five. Try it when your child is calm. Then, when you see her getting upset, remind her about the steps and do them together.

Practice with your child how to resolve conflicts. Consider a conflict you or your child witnessed or experienced that turned out badly, and role play different ways of responding. Try to achieve mutual understanding—listening to and paraphrasing each other’s feelings until both people feel understood. If your child observes you experiencing a difficult feeling and is concerned, talk to your child about how you are handling it.


Positive Parenting at its Best

This is proactive, positive parenting. It takes time to employ, but the benefits are long-lasting. I have often told our kids that my main goal is to make sure they make it to adulthood alive. My 14 year-old likes to jokingly quip back when i ask him to do simple things (like turning out a light), “Don’t tell me how to live my life!” I return with, “That’s literally have my job.”

“What’s the other half?” he’ll ask.

“Telling your brother how to live his.”

We laugh. We’re lucky to have a positive relationship. But really, whether our sons realize it or not (and I’m pretty sure they do), what we do as parents goes far beyond making sure they make it to adulthood alive or simply telling them how to live. We try our best to be positive models. We have tried to help them develop a sense of right and wrong, of compassion and empathy. We have had and continue to have discussions over dinner about ethical issues and how to treat others. Hypothetical situations are great conversation starters. Sure, the content of the discussions has increased in complexity as they have gotten older, but we did our best to have age appropriate talks at every point in their lives. When we take the time to practice these guideposts, our kids have the potential to develop as caring, compassionate individuals. And that’s the MCC’s goal, to make caring common. It’s a pretty good goal for all of us.

For more from the MCC, click here.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][class_finder_form css=”.vc_custom_1500605090553{padding-top: 20px !important;padding-right: 20px !important;padding-bottom: 20px !important;padding-left: 20px !important;}”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Kindermusik Reviews: The Beginning of Life

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The Beginning of Life is beautifully composed, feature-length documentary written and directed by Brazilian film maker Estela Renner. Traveling across the globe, from her native Brazil, Kenya, China, and a host of other locales, Renner takes the viewer on a rich journey into the world of the developing child. [/vc_column_text][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

The Official Trailer for The Beginning of Life

[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=””][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Renner and her crew interview researchers, educators, parents, grandparents, and children from a diverse background, culturally and economically. Most challenge the long standing idea that children are born as a blank slate – the tabula rosa. Dr. Alison Gopnik of the University of California turns the table on this notion:

One of the things that we know is that babies are the best learning machines in the universe. Even philosophers and psychologists and psychiatrists thought that babies were irrational; they were egocentric; they were amoral; they didn’t understand cause and effect; they couldn’t take the perspective of another person. And in the past 30 years our science has taught us that everything is exactly the opposite. Instead of thinking of them as blank slates, really their the best scientists and the best learners that we know of…

– Alison Gonik, PhD

Current work in the field of child development tells us children are born with a natural proclivity for research. They form what are best described as experiments to test the world around them. How will physical objects respond when dropped? If I do it again will the same result occur? How will my parent respond? They build understanding of their surroundings through constant collection and processing of data.

Renner stitches together images of children exploring their world through every sense. Sights, sounds, textures all become fodder for “guesses or hypotheses” about how everything around them works.[/vc_column_text][blockquote cite=”Alison Gopnik, PhD”]We often say toddlers have trouble paying attention. What we really mean is they have trouble not paying attention. [/blockquote][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

A child enjoys playing with a piece of cloth in the wind.
A child enjoys playing with a piece of cloth in the wind.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]As you watch this documentary, one can’t help but notice the diversity of the subjects of all types. Renner certainly spent a good deal of time in her home country, but she also made a very successful effort to include underrepresented populations and viewpoints from several cultures. The world somehow seems smaller after watching this film and we learn that the desire to compassionately care for children knows no borders.

One of the most touching segments involves a set of grandparents in China who help raise their granddaughter while her parents work. The grandfather sings to the little one in Mandarin as she leans against her grandmother. Pedro Lima’s score artfully accompanies his song. The grandfather states:

The happiest moment of my day is when my granddaughter calls me grandpa when she wakes up. And when we eat together and she asks me to hold her and to eat on my lap.

This plays into the expressed notion that it does indeed take a village to raise a child. One researcher tells us that children are raised by individuals, not institutions. It is the interactions children have with the people around them that help shape who they are and how they, in turn, interact with their world. The things that have the greatest impact cost nothing. Words…talking to babies, to toddlers…literally help the brain develop and helps them increase their understanding of life, and words are free.

beginning of life
Grandpa sings to his granddaughter.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The Beginning of Life delivers its message – the importance of investing time in nurturing a child in the all-important initial years – with solid science and skillful direction, resulting in an elegant film, abundant in scientific information easily understood. As you bounce from English to French to Portuguese to Italian to Hindi to Spanish, it’s difficult to not draw a comparison to what it must be like for that infant taking in unknown sounds and working to understand what they mean. Is it possible this was intentional? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Regardless, it does remind us that no one country, no one culture has a monopoly on honest interest in seeing our most important resource cherished, loved, and provided for. We are truly in this together, and the opportunity this film affords all who watch it is a tremendous one. The opportunity to hear from Chinese grandparents and Kenyan orphanage workers and Indian children is invaluable.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Renner deftly weaves interviews with respected researchers, scientists, and even Raffi Cavoukian, the beloved Egyptian-born, Canadian children’s entertainer, with parents, grandparents, and the children themselves. The film holds the viewer’s attention with beautiful visuals and wonderful information that may change the way society looks at the importance of these early years. When we spend time with our children as they enter our world, when we make it easier for families to take time off from work to be part of the initial acts of the play of life, everybody wins. Raffi said it best:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][blockquote cite=”Raffi”]”When you pay attention to the beginning of a story, you can change the whole story.”[/blockquote][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The Beginning of Life is currently streaming on Netflix and can also be watched on Youtube for $1.99. Do yourself a favor: grab some popcorn and your favorite beverage, set aside an hour and a half, and watch this documentary. You’ll be glad you did.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Can you Spoil your Baby? Probably Not

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]How many pictures of newborns have you seen in the moments after the little one arrived in the world? I’m talking about a specific category of photos – the beautiful shots of mothers holding their babies for the first time – that all important skin-to-skin contact. Medscape tells us this:

…newborns who are placed skin to skin with their mothers immediately after birth make the transition from fetal to newborn life with greater respiratory, temperature, and glucose stability and significantly less crying indicating decreased stress. Mothers who hold their newborns skin to skin after birth have increased maternal behaviors, show more confidence in caring for their babies and breastfeed for longer durations.

Makes good sense. But what about once your home? Can you spoil your baby by holding her too much? Wendy Wisner over at Scary Mommy brings us the results of some long term studies that indicate there really isn’t a downside to holding your baby too much. Let’s look at the science.


Health Benefits

It’s clear from scientific studies that lots of skin to skin contact with the mother is very beneficial for preterm infants. This includes increased grey matter, decreased hyperactivity, and in the long term, fewer absences from school. The study published last December by the American Academy of Pediatrics followed a group of premature infants for twenty years. That’s long term. These subjects even made more money at their jobs than the control group!

But what about full term infants? Can we hold them too much? Is that spoiling them?


Go Ahead – Hold that Crying Baby

Holding that baby will help the little one in many ways – but it also has benefits for you! Check out this info from Baby Science:

So holding a baby close against your body doesn’t just feel good; it’s critical to a baby’s development. And this critical baby-cuddling isn’t just something a parent decides to do; it’s actually biologically triggered by the baby. One international research team showed that an infants’ smell is enough to trigger the brain’s reward system in potential cuddlers. Researchers exposed a group of fifteen mothers and fifteen women who had not given birth, to odor extracted from the pajamas of two-day old infants. All the women underwent MRI brain scans done while being exposed to the odor. In all the women, but more so in the mothers, the reward center in the brain showed enhanced activity.

At the doctor’s office? Did your baby just get a shot? Obviously our instinct is to hold that infant close to help sooth her. And it works – skin to skin contact is a painkiller! In a 2000 study also published in the AAP, 30 infants were pricked in their heels. The results were remarkable:

“Crying and grimacing were reduced by 82% and 65%, respectively, from control infant levels during the heel lance procedure. Heart rate also was reduced substantially by contact.”


Those are some big numbers.


You Just Can’t Hold a Baby Too Much

The research is clear. The physical and emotional health benefits of holding your baby are tremendous. Study after study tell us that holding your baby when he is fussy or experiencing pain is a good thing. Period. Wendy Wisner says it better than I can:

…it turns out there is basically a treasure trove of scientifically backed-up data out there to prove that there is absolutely no way you can spoil a baby. Zero. Zilch.

In fact, almost all of the research points to the fact that not holding your baby enough could have negative ramifications in terms of health and development.

I almost wish I could go back in time and present all this data to the people who criticized me for keeping my babies in my arms or strapped to me in a baby carrier 24/7. But in all honesty, I’m pretty sure I was like most new moms out there — too exhausted and brain-fried to do much arguing or researching.


Kids Need to be Kids

Kids be kids

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Author and early childhood education expert Nancy Carlsson-Paige makes the case for authentic educational experiences, less concerned with assessment and more concerned with experiences that give kids what they need – opportunities to be kids.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Taking Back Childhood

Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige knows a thing or two about childhood development. For 30 years, she trained teachers at Lesley University and is critical of educational models that focus on standardized tests. Dr. Carlsson-Paige’s focus can be found right in the subtitle of her book: A Proven Roadmap for Raising Confident, Creative, Compassionate Kids.  But how do we do this? In her acceptance speech upon receiving the Deborah Meier Award by the nonprofit National Center for Fair and Open Testing, she said the following, published in the Washington Post:

I have loved my life’s work – teaching teachers about how young children think, how they learn, how they develop socially, emotionally, morally. I’ve been fascinated with the theories and science of my field and seeing it expressed in the actions and the play of children.

So never in my wildest dreams could I have foreseen the situation we find ourselves in today.

Where education policies that do not reflect what we know about how young children learn could be mandated and followed. We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively — they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent. But in this twisted time, young children starting public pre-K at the age of 4 are expected to learn through “rigorous instruction.”

And never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would have to defend children’s right to play.

Play is the primary engine of human growth; it’s universal – as much as walking and talking. Play is the way children build ideas and how they make sense of their experience and feel safe. Just look at all the math concepts at work in the intricate buildings of kindergartners. Or watch a 4-year-old put on a cape and pretend to be a superhero after witnessing some scary event.

But play is disappearing from classrooms. Even though we know play is learning for young kids, we are seeing it shoved aside to make room for academic instruction and “rigor.”

– Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige


Play: Let Kids Be Kids

Dr. Carlsson-Paige reminds us that some of the most important competencies can’t be tested.[/vc_column_text][blockquote cite=”Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige”]”Self-regulation, problem solving ability, social and emotional competence, imagination, initiative, curiosity, original thinking — these capacities make or break success in school and life and they can’t be reduced to numbers.”[/blockquote][vc_column_text]Letting kids be kids, letting them experience the world through interaction with peers in a safe environment, supervised by caring, trained educators is incredibly beneficial as children develop. Where can we find these opportunities? Often, in many districts, even at the kindergarten level, the school day is rigidly structured, with little time for creative play, and that, as Dr. Carlsson-Paige points out, is one of the three things young children need:

Time and Space for Creative Play

Feeling of Security

Strong Meaningful Relationships with Adults and other Children


Love Above All

This is key. I know – it sounds like a line, but love is empathy and caring in action. Kids learn how to interact with others by actually interacting with others. And in those interactions, especially starting from age two, they begin to understand empathy and caring. Social and emotional coaching from trusted adults guides kids through this development. When you see one child sharing with another…when you see one child helping another up after he tripped, you are seeing love in action.

If young children don’t receive these experiences that positively shape their developmental progress in school, where can they find them? Where can they experience all three of Dr. Carlsson-Paige’s legs that support the table of childhood? Kindermusik fits the bill. Here are 10 benefits of enrolling:

Benefit #1: Kindermusik gives your child that unique head start you’ve been looking for – musically, cognitively, and academically.

Benefit#2: Kindermusik inspires a love of music from an early age with songs, instruments, and activities that are just right for each age and every stage.

Benefit #3: Kindermusik enhances every area of your child’s development – we are so much more than just music!

Benefit #4: Kindermusik gives you the time and the tools to enjoy quality time with your child – in class and at home.

Benefit #5: Kindermusik Home Materials let you take the music, fun, and learning with you all week long, wherever you go.

Benefit #6: Kindermusik classes provide a happy social outlet for your child and a valuable support network for you.

Benefit #7: All Kindermusik activities are research-proven and giggle-approved, and all are supported by a developmental and musical focus.

Benefit #8: Kindermusik lays a strong foundation for future success in school and in formal music lessons later on.

Benefit #9: Kindermusik is something you and your child will use every day – at home or on the go!

Benefit #10: Kindermusik offers a comprehensive program with the potential for positively impacting your child from newborn all the way to 7 years of age.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Check out Dr. Carlsson-Paige’s book. It is a research-based, compassionate approach to guiding the development of children, written by a veteran collegiate educator who is also the mother of two successful, artist sons.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Science Center Stage: Music Improves Brain Development in Children


[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]We talk often about how music impacts our lives in countless ways. With our little ones, we focus on the positive effects of music as children grow – specifically development in the language, social, emotional, fine and gross motor, and cognitive domains. All of these domains are controlled by that mysterious organ – the human brain. Science tells us that the brain LOVES music and responds in wonderful ways. Dr. Boyle shares recent research on the topic in today’s post. 

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Music is like an intangible vitamin for the brain. It’s not just listening to music that’s key; participation in musical activity unlocks accelerated brain development. When adding movement to the equation, benefits increase.

Movement + Music

As we move and increase our heart rate, the brain receives more oxygen. Research indicates that improved oxygenation of the brain improves cognition. Adding music into the equation lights up important areas of the brain, which have already been primed with physical activity. While listening to music, parts of the brain responsible for motor skills, emotions, and creativity glow when viewed with magnetic resonance imaging.


What’s Going on in There?

Think of it this way – taking part in musical activities is like a “work out” for the brain. Here’s what’s going on:

  • The visual, motor, and auditory cortices are activated.
    • When these areas are activated regularly through music, they are strengthened. That strength can be applied to other tasks.
  • Increased activity in the corpus callosum – the pathway between the brains two hemispheres.
    • This allows for information to travel throughout the brain more efficiently.

All of this can lead to greater executive function and problem solving skills. While recent research in neuroplasticity tells us it’s never too late to change established brain function and learn new things, it certainly is highly beneficial to start musical activities early. Birth to age seven is such an important period in brain development; music’s benefits on the brain are particularly impactful during this time.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Oliver Sacks, author and neurologist, wrote extensively about the impact of music on the brain. In this video, Dr. Sack’s became the subject of his own research. He had himself scanned while listening to different music – specifically to see if his love of Bach’s music would show up on MRI scans. His emotional response to Bach was actually observed on the screen![/vc_column_text][vc_video link=””][vc_separator][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]So…don’t wait! The brain knows what it wants…music music music! Get your young ones started early. Listening is wonderful. Partaking in musical activities is better. Involving the body and having a parent join in on the fun is the best! Find a Kindermusik class near you and start building those neural connections today![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

It’s Self-Regulation, not Self-Control


[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In Dr. Stuart Shanker’s recent book, Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life, he presents parents and caregivers with a new way of looking at behavior challenges in some children. Often, it’s about self-regulation, not self-control. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]We’ve all been there. Your kid is running around with seemingly endless energy; nothing we say seems to help the situation. We get frustrated. We might insist that the child control himself a bit better. The reality is that some kids are not equipped to simply control their behavior. They lack the ability to respond to the request to “control” themselves. What they need is a process – a process that allows them to digest their surroundings, identify stressors, and how they fit into the social world around them. They need to understand the concepts of self-regulation. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Self-Control vs. Self-Regulation

What’s the difference? Self-Control is all about the moment and the individual. Self-Regulation is about interfacing with the word around us. Really, we are talking about proactive vs. reactive strategies. Dr. Stuart Shanker, a distinguished research professor of Philosophy and Psychology at York University in Toronto, and author of Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life, explains the difference this way:

There is a profound difference between self-regulation and self-control. Self-control is about inhibiting strong impulses; self-regulation, reducing the frequency and intensity of strong impulses by managing stress-load and recovery. In fact, self-regulation is what makes self-control possible, or, in many cases, unnecessary. The reason lies deep inside the brain.

– Dr. Stuart Shanker

Dr. Shanker approaches self-regulation through the five domains of childhood development: biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and prosocial. According to Dr. Shanker, understanding how these developmental areas overlap and mesh allows for a deeper awareness of what is happening in our kids’ minds. We then can aid them in building a greater sense of self-awareness and empathy.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Dr. Stuart Shanker, author, psychologist, and professor

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Self-regulation is less about consequences for poor behavioral choices particularly when they are not in a head space to digest them. When a child is wound up and full of energy, the limbic system (survival brain), the part of the brain responsible for emotion and drive, is directing the show. Trying to address challenging actions when the limbic system is in charge is like telling a first-time skydiver to relax. From Dr. Shanker:

…children are only able to develop and use “cognitive competencies” if their arousal has been reduced; and we accomplish this by identifying and reducing their stressors and soothing rather than badgering the child when he is hyper-aroused. In other words, by practicing Self-Reg. What Self-Reg teaches a child is a foundational set of skills: not just how to deal with a deluge when it happens, but more important, how to prevent the deluge in the first place, by recognizing when they are becoming over-stressed and why, and what to do about it.

– Dr. Shanker

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]This is good science, but it also makes good sense. Think about the last time you were emotionally worked up. Where you receptive to criticism or even constructive advice? Of course not. So why are we expecting the same response from our children? Giving our kids the tools to be self-aware allows for self regulation, and in turn, makes self-control possible.

Children’s entertainer, Raffi, has a great song about self-regulation. It’s available as a free download over at Dr. Shanker’s website.


Take a look at Dr. Shanker’s book, released this past June. It contains a wealth of information for positive, proactive parenting and would be a welcome addition to any library.

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Self-Reg banner image © Stuart Shanker and The Mehrit Centre[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

ADHD – An Adult Perspective on the Journey


[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]According to a 2011 report from the Center for Disease Control, the rate of ADHD diagnoses was 11% in children ages 4 to 17. When I was that age the diagnosis rate was about 3% – 5%. If you want to do the math, I’m 43. Recommendations on how to treat the disorder have changed over the years, and we’ll get to that. But first, I wanted to share my experience, as someone who has dealt with Attention Deficit Disorder his entire life. [/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]I always had attention issues. Growing up, the only places these issues didn’t plague me were music class, choir, and band. Everywhere else, I had all the classic symptoms: loss of time, easily distracted, constant talking, and the strangest for me – hyperfocus. Hyperfocus manifested itself quite strongly, and I didn’t know what to call it or how to talk about it until years later. When I had moments of hyperfocus, the world around me seemingly slowed down, my heart felt like it was racing, and my periphery narrowed.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]I was never diagnosed as a child. It was my wife, a public school music teacher, who first suggested that I have myself screened. She witnessed many moments of distraction, loss of focus, and even hyperfocus, which seems counterintuitive to the name of the disorder and its other symptoms. Throughout my undergrad and masters degrees, I was able to use various coping mechanisms in class to overcome ADHD challenges. I’d sit in the front row, constantly ask questions, and borrow friends’ notes, take them home, and retype them. All of this worked until I started my doctoral studies. I finally caved and sought help.

Dr. Boyle speaking to an audience at a recent concert

I’ve often been asked what ADHD (I never experienced the “H” part) felt like. This was my best description: if a thought started at the back of my head, and found completion as it moved to the front of my head, I felt like there was a bundle of straws going in every direction between the back and the front, preventing the thought from making the journey efficiently. In my case, I was diagnosed at age 36, and my doctor and I decided to try a medication. The first day taking the meds I went to the library. It was as if all those straws were lined up in perfect parallel. Those thoughts that were getting lost? They now had a clear path from onset to realization. In the past, I’d get a few pages of notes after a three hour visit to the library. That day? I took 35 pages of well organized notes that stuck in my head in perfect order.

This was the right choice for me. I don’t need to take the medication every day, only when I need it. That usually is when I need to do in-depth, complex reading.

My wife calls them my “do the dishes” pills. She says I notice things that need to be taken care of much more readily if I have taken one on a given day. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Current CDC Recommendations

The CDC now recommends behavior therapy as the first line of treatment in young children. It is beneficial for parents with children who have been diagnosed to learn as much about ADHD and to go through parent training in behavior therapy. The CDC states:

“Children who have ADHD act in ways that are often challenging for parents. Children may forget things they are told, be overly active, and act before thinking. They might not be able to get positive attention the way that other children can; they tend to misbehave and might be punished more frequently than other children. Even if children with ADHD really try to follow rules, they might not be able to. This can have a negative impact on their self-image, and cause them to give up trying or to act up more often.

A therapist skilled in behavior management can help parents understand how ADHD affects their child. Parent training in behavior therapy is used to help change problem behaviors by building parenting skills, improving the relationship between parents and their child with ADHD, and helping children manage their own behaviors.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Music and ADHD

But what about music? This is, after all, a music education blog! Well, a recent ADDitude article, the online magazine offering strategies and support for the ADHD community, provided the following:

Music strengthens the areas of the brain that, in the child with ADHD, are weak. Music builds and strengthens the auditory, visual/spatial, and motor cortices of the brain. These areas are tied to speech and language, reading, reading comprehension, math, problem solving, brain organization, focusing, concentration, and attention issues. Studies indicate that when…children with ADHD learn a musical instrument, attention, concentration, impulse control, social functioning, self-esteem, self-expression, motivation, and memory improve. Some studies show that children who have difficulty focusing when there is background noise are particularly helped by music lessons.”

It makes good sense that these experiences start at an early age. And research supports that. Get them involved from birth. The impact music has on the brain is tremendous.
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Sharlene Habernyer, the author of the above referenced ADDitude article, provides a list of strategies she used with her son, Brandon, a child diagnosed with ADHD. Here are some of them:

  • Start group music lessons. When he is about 18 months old, find a group music program for your child.
  • Dance to the music. Movement for an ADHD child is a must! In fact, movement is an indispensable part of learning, thinking, and focusing. As a child moves to different cadences and rhythms, his physical coordination and ability to concentrate improve.
  • Draw what you hear. Many ADHD children are creative and in search of creative outlets. Drawing or doodling engages motor skills, organizes the brain, and stimulates artistic juices. After a busy day at school, and before your child jumps into homework, give her paper and crayons, put on some classical music, and let her draw.
  • Read music books. I’m a strong advocate of reading to your children every day. Reading builds focus, concentration, vocabulary, speech and language, and writing skills. I read many books to our sons, some of which were associated with music: Swine Lake, by James Marshall (a great book to introduce your kids to the ballet Swan Lake), and Lentil, by Robert McCloskey.
  • Start private music lessons between the ages of five and seven. If you are a parent with ADHD, take music lessons along with your child.
  • March in the morning. Children with ADHD usually have a hard time attending to tasks during the busy morning hours. Every morning, play marching music (John Philip Sousa tunes are great) and march from activity to activity — getting dressed, making beds, eating breakfast, brushing teeth — with feet moving and arms swaying.
  • Sing your way to school. Teachers want students to be ready to learn when they come to class. So, on your way to school, sing in the car or play classical music.

So…what are you waiting for? Kindermusik provides experiences that benefit every child. And the more you are involved, the better! [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]