Guest Blog by Alyson Lippman – Helping our children grow healthy brains

This is one mom’s perspective on Dr. Mazius’s  most recent ed talk. I say that because Dr. Mazius manages to fit neurological anatomy, psychology, sociology and parenting all into one talk so we likely all walk away remembering different highlights.

In past EdTalks, Dr. Mazius has addressed happiness, stress and learned behavior. Next time he will address empathy. The focus last week was on how we can help prevent mental illness by helping to teach our children executive functioning.

Dr. Mazius has done extensive research and also works with children in his own psychology practice. He has found that the two most common major stressors that kids face, when mental illness typically surfaces, include school pressure and screens/social media. He offered five executive function practices that, starting now, before they are teens, can really help our children!

  1. Attention. Kids need to have selective attention, meaning that they need to know what it is important to pay attention to. This includes self-awareness. As much as people think they can multitask… it is a struggle! So, what is important to focus on? We can help our children develop this sense of self and selective attention.
  2. Time awareness. If you say you’re leaving the house in five minutes, do the kids know that this is soon or do they keep playing and neglect to start putting on shoes and jackets? If you say they can play for one more hour, are they done in ten minutes, thinking it’s been an hour? We can start to have these conversations with our children, marking time, noting awareness of time.
  3. Emotional identification and self-regulation. Can your child name their feelings, regulate and manage their feelings? Mine either! But it’s possible. Do they know the difference between anger and sadness, anger and frustration, anger and exhaustion? If they can name it, then they can bring it down through breathing, walking away from tension. It canbecome automatic but they need our help.
  4. Goal setting/planning/flexibility. We can help our children set short- and long-term goals and stick to them. “After school I’m going to do my homework, eat a snack and take a shower.” We can help them plan and accomplish this and praise them when they do. “I’m going to go out for the basketball team.” We can help them set this goal and work toward it. “My friend hurt my feelings at school.” We can help set goals for interpersonal interaction, including role playing.
  5. Social problem solving. Does your child know how to be a good friend, to make personal connections? Do they demonstrate empathy? Are they reflective about what they do? We can have these conversations, use these words.

Children are capable of metacognition: thinking about thinking. We can help them get there. Since this requires abstract thinking, not all children are developmentally able to do all of these things on their own. We can help facilitate it, model it, talk about it and praise the behavior when kids are practicing it.

I asked, “I have 3 kids at different ages, with different needs. How do I fit this all in?”

Dr. Mazius answered, “You just do because it’s important in your child’s development and mental health.”

Other ideas include:

  1. Place a post-it note with reminders in a part of your house you use daily (i.e. cereal cabinet, fridge door, next to the sink) for you to talk about time, ask your child to identify their feelings, set a goal and make a plan.
  2. Design a family whiteboard where each family member (including parents) can write a feeling and a goal for each day or week.
  3. Model, model, model. Talk about your feelings, your goals and how you are working toward them. For example, “Today I felt frustrated at work because my boss and I weren’t communicating well. I think she was having a bad day because of an earlier meeting. I emailed to set up a meeting in the next two days, and I will make sure I talk this out with her.” (Attention, empathy, feeling-naming, time and social problem solving all in one scenario!).

None of this is easy for parents, yet when mental health is at stake, prevention is worth it and it’s never too late to start working on these essential life skills.

2 thoughts on “Guest Blog by Alyson Lippman – Helping our children grow healthy brains

  1. This is a great post. I am so glad we are a school where people talk about these issues and provide resources and support. These issues are real and starting younger and younger, and parents and teachers can help create habits and perspectives around these issues which make our children healthier humans!

  2. This is such a great post, Alyson! I agree that it’s so incredibly important AND that it’s a challenge to fit one more thing on our to-do list as parents. I love the idea of modeling the behavior we want, and I also love the post-its idea. Nothing like a well-placed post-it to keep you on track!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *