If your family is pushing for perfectionism at school, you and your kids already need a brain break.
Take a time-out from stress, add fun and games to the mix and consider advice from a seemingly unlikely source: actress Goldie Hawn.
Known as “Go-Go” to her grandchildren, Hawn is the author of “10 Mindful Minutes” (Penguin, 2011) and the founder of a nonprofit group to promote social and emotional learning and self-awareness.
Research links self-control with more success in school. The ability to bounce back in the face of a low grade or a snobby classmate also helps kids be more hopeful and less stressed out.
Hawn’s foundation has turned its program into a curriculum for schools. Basics that you can implement at home include:
• Give your brain a break. Stress interferes with learning. Try focused breathing, meditating or listening to music.
• Strive to narrow your focus to what you see, hear, taste or smell, instead of bombarding all of your senses at once.
• Be kind to others to boost your spirits. Random acts of kindness make the giver feel good.
• Use a traffic-signal concept to teach children to think before reacting: At red, stop and sit quietly. Yellow: Think about what you can do to make yourself feel better, such as talking to a grown-up or focusing on your breathing. Green: Pick one of those things to try.
Other ideas from Hawn’s book may sound silly, but their purpose is to get your child to relax, understand his emotions and pay attention to details. An eye for specifics will help in reading, writing and other schoolwork. Hawn’s ideas include:
• Talk about things your child used to be afraid of but got past, such as swimming or riding a bike.
• Be sure your children have quiet time. Living with constant noise is hard on the brain.
• Play I Spy on the way to school or the grocery store, or in your backyard. Ask your child to look around as if seeing everything for the first time. Have her pick an object and describe it for you to guess.
• Put objects such as leaves and rocks in a bag, then pull out one and make as many observations as possible about it. Put the objects back in the bag, shake them out on the floor, then tell your child to find the object you were holding.
• Dance together, jumping and bouncing. Ask your child if she feels happy, and how her body feels when her brain gets a boost from exercise.
Another proponent of de-stressing kids is Christine Carter, Ph.D., a sociologist at the University of California at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. The author of “Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents” (Ballantine, 2011), Carter finds that students are more successful in school if they are optimistic and have what she calls a “growth mindset” instead of a “fixed mindset.” This refers to the view that natural abilities and talents are just a starting point for growth and success.
Parents can help cultivate a growth mindset in these ways:
• Praise your child’s effort and the process, not just the outcome. It’s better to say, “You must have put in a lot of effort” rather than, “You are so smart.”
• When your child makes a mistake or fails, ask what he learned and how he would apply that in the future.
• Show your child that you value learning and improvement, not perfect performance.
• Talk openly and honestly about mistakes you have made, and what you learned from them.
Carter, who says children need to be taught “feeling words” such as “anxious,” “frightened” and “lonely,” teaches an online class for parents worldwide at raisinghappiness.com.
Email Betsy Flagler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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