Guest article by Stacey Colino for iVillage
Help Your Kid’s Become a Better Learner
At the start of a new school year, you may feel like a spectator who’s simply cheering your child on. After all, his brainpower is largely out of your hands, right? Wrong. The truth is there’s a lot you can do to boost your kid’s ability to learn and reach his potential. “Children are born with their brains hardwired in a certain way, but parents have a tremendous influence on the development and shaping of their child’s brain and the connections that are being made inside,” says child educational psychologist Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D., an associate clinical professor of psychology at UCLA and author of The Power of Your Child’s Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success. The key is to give your child’s brain the TLC it needs and deserves. Here are 20 ways to do that.
Sign Up Your Kid For the Breakfast Club
Your mama was right: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day – so make it nonnegotiable for your kids. Researchers at Ulm University in Germany found that high school students who ate breakfast had better visual-spatial memory and were more alert than those who skipped the morning meal. Likewise, a study from the U.K. found that a breakfast rich in complex carbohydrates helps kids maintain mental performance – particularly in the areas of attention and memory – throughout the morning. “A healthy breakfast with whole grains, fruit, low- or non-fat milk or yogurt and a protein-rich food – such as nuts, eggs or peanut butter – provides the body with key nutrients as well as with glucose, which is the main source of fuel needed by the brain and provides steady blood sugar levels, which can help a child focus,” explains Elisa Zied, M.S., R.D., author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
You know how your kids love to ask you why? Well, turn the tables on them and crank up their brainpower in the process. Ask them why they like certain friends as much as they do, or why they think certain rules exist, or what’s the best vacation they’ve ever taken and why it was the best. “Such questions will encourage your child to come up with novel ideas, which in turn will help to create new neural connections in her brain,” explains Reznick. Try to involve your kid’s senses in your questions – by asking what the ideal vacation spot looks like, sounds like and smells like – and you’ll engage and stimulate her brain even more.
Be Warm and Fuzzy – But Firm
“Research suggests that a warm, emotionally stable home, in which children’s decisions are monitored and age-appropriate rules and goals are set, is important for the development of executive cognitive function – skills involving planning, abstract reasoning, working memory and emotional regulation,” notes Nathanial Riggs, Ph.D., an assistant professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California. “Conversely, kids with punitive or harsh parents are at risk for problems with these skills during childhood.” The take-home message: Provide your child with rules and limits and guide him through decision-making processes – with love and compassion – so he can learn to anticipate the long-term consequences of his choices.
Make Sleep a Priority
If your child doesn’t snooze enough, he or she may lose precious brainpower. “Sleep impacts every aspect of a child’s cognitive functioning, including attention, memory, problem-solving and decision making.” says psychologist Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., associate director of the Sleep Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Take Charge of Your Child’s Sleep. “Studies have shown that children who don’t get sufficient sleep are more likely to do poorly in school and be identified as having learning difficulties and/or attention problems.” Set a consistent bedtime and wake-up time for your child, enforce an electronic curfew (no TV, computer or other device) two hours before bedtime and create a relaxing bedtime routine to set your child up for enough good quality shut-eye every night.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Leuven in Belgium found a U-shaped curve in people’s ability to multitask throughout their lifespan: At the ages of 9 and 11, kids struggled to perform a task that required naming items in certain categories while walking; young and middle-age adults did much better. There’s a reason for this: While kid’s brains are undergoing full-throttle development, it’s easier and more efficient for them to focus on a single task rather than try to juggle several. “The research shows that when kids multitask, many do everything worse,” explains Reznick. Make a no-TV-while-doing-homework rule, and encourage your child to focus his attention on the task at hand before moving on to another one.
Put Omega Power on Your Side
Whether it’s because of their anti-inflammatory or anti-clotting effects, or the way they improve signaling between nerve cells, this much is certain: Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for the brain. Research at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine found that when healthy boys ages 8 to 10 took daily doses of 400 or 1,200 milligrams of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – the primary omega-3 fatty acid in gray matter – they experienced changes in the activation of areas of the brain that could potentially promotie improvements in attention, memory and other aspects of cognition, says the study’s lead author Robert McNamara, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “It’s critical that children get DHA in their diets to support brain development. Supplementation with fish oil (1 gram of EPA + DHA daily) is one option, and several foods are now fortified with DHA.” Incorporate them into your child’s diet regularly.
Get Your Kid Off the Coach
Regular physical activity is beneficial for every aspect of a child’s health – and brain function is no exception. A recent study at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta found that when sedentary, overweight kids ages 7 to 11 put in 20 or 40 minutes of exercise a day, after 13 weeks they experienced improvements in executive function and ability to do math; what’s more, MRIs revealed that important areas of their brains became increasingly activated. (Their sedentary counterparts experienced no such increases.) Meanwhile. research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that kids who are more aerobically fit perform more accurately on cognitive tasks requiring attention and control in response selection. Sign up your kid for the sport of her choice, make playground trips a regular part of the day, schedule family bike rides on weekends – anything to keep her active.
Play Stimulating Games Together
Whether you play “I Spay” or “Geography” on a long car trip, do challenging puzzles at home, or play card games involving memory or board games requiring strategy or abstract reasoning skills, you’ll be doing your child’s brain a favor. “Playing is how kids learn early on,” Reznick says, and all of these games will help your child’s brain forge new neuronal connections. A hidden perk. Playing them together will help you appreciate different aspects of your child’s intelligence you may not have noticed.
Read more helpful tips on iVillage.com.
About Dr. Charlotte Reznick PhD – specializes in helping children and adolescents develop the emotional skills necessary for a happy and successful life. She is a licensed educational psychologist and Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at UCLA. Dr. Charlotte is the creator of Imagery For KidsTM: Breakthrough for Learning, Creativity, and Empowerment and is the author/ producer of several therapeutic CDs for children, teens, and parents. An international workshop leader on the healing power of children’s imagination, she maintains a private practice in Los Angeles, California.
A special thank you goes out to Charlotte, for bringing us this fabulous information contained in her newsletter, so please make sure you check out her site… Visit here: www.ImageryForKids.com and sign up for her newsletter while you are there!
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