Closest Center:

Find a Center
 

Success

Error

Parenting Tips

The Effects of Bullying on Our Children

Sep-15, 2021

A boy sitting alone and isolated while a group of friends looks at him and laughs.

Schools should be a happy place for children. At school, children spend time with friends, learn new things, practice skills, and participate in fun activities. But for many of our children, school can be a place of tension and dread. Children who experience bullying at school do not have the same experience as their peers and do not get the most of out of their education. What's worse, children who participate in social media can also experience cyberbullying at any time, meaning that there is no safe space away from their tormentors. Is bullying an inevitable part of growing up or can it be stopped? What are the effects of bullying on our children? How can we counteract all this negativity?

What is Bullying?

When we talk about bullying, we're talking about behavior that falls into three categories. Bullying is defined as:

  • Unwanted verbal or physical aggressive behavior, such as threats, challenges, or intimidation.
  • Observed or perceived power imbalance, when a child is made to feel inferior to other students or treated as less than by their peers.
  • Repetition or high likelihood of bullying behavior, not a one-off situation that can be apologized for and forgiven. Bullying is a persistent behavior.

With the rise of internet usage among young people, cyberbullying has also become part of the conversation. Cyberbullying refers to any actions which could be categorized as bullying but done online. Cyberbullying is often more anonymous than in-person bullying and can be much more targeted. According to reporting, cyberbullying occurs more often to female students, disabled students, obese students, and students who identify as LGBTQ.

About 1 in 5 students over the age of 12 experience bullying in some form. According to reporting from students, bullying occurs to children by other children who are more physically dominant, from a more affluent household, and/or have more social influence. Bullying seems to establish a pecking order, where the bully finds a target who they perceive to be weaker or less than themselves.

Bullying and Distance Learning

Distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been very difficult for our children. Feelings of isolation, loneliness, and confusion are pervasive. However, students have also reported that they are being bullied significantly less than they were pre-pandemic. These rates are also lower in schools where social distancing, smaller classroom sizes, and extra monitoring have been implemented. Quite simply, less social interaction between students has worked to cut down on in-person bullying.

But what about cyberbullying? Has the schoolyard tough just moved their torment online? Surprisingly no. While cyberbullying rates have not changed significantly, they have lowered as well. It suggests that there may be some correlation between in-person interaction and online activity. Self-reported instances of being a bully have also dropped. Experts speculate that living through this pandemic together has encouraged students to be more empathetic to one another.

Since 2016, many schools had been reporting a troubling increase in bullying due to the political climate. Children were parroting talking points they heard on TV or from their parents, targeting fellow students with mockery and chants, and exhibiting crueler behavior. It has been widely researched how children emulate the behaviors of adults around them and learn from example. In terms of this bullying epidemic, the pandemic has curbed a dangerous trend for the time being. Child experts have called on parents to recognize this situation and try to educate their children to keep instances of bullying to a minimum as life begins to return to pre-pandemic norms.

The Harmful Effects of Bullying

Bullying is a threat to the health and safety of our children both in the short term and the long term. So much so that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) actually monitors and studies rates of bullying and its effects.

Attitude changes are one of the first symptoms of bullying in a child. Depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and isolation have been reported in victims of bullying. There are also physical consequences as well. Children may develop unhealthy eating patterns, wet the bed, become sicker more often, or develop psychosomatic illnesses. As you can imagine, a child who is the victim of bullying suffers not just emotionally or physically, but academically as well. Bullied children are more likely to be truant, stay home sick, or use other tactics to avoid attending school. They may start performing worse on tests, stop doing homework, and disengage with learning all together.

But what about for bullies? Interestingly, bullies also suffer due to their behavior. Children who exhibit bullying behavior also tend to perform worse academically and are more likely to be truant. Bullies also have an increased risk of substance abuse and difficulty maintaining social relationships. Whatever the bully thinks they might be getting out of harassing others, they are doing more harm to themselves.

The good news is, with mental health counseling, both bullies and their victims can overcome this cycle of trauma. Those who go without treatment report issues with relationships, self-esteem, and physical health. Children who are bullies in school often grow up to maintain toxic, abusive behaviors towards themselves and others into adulthood.

Given everything we know about bullying, it's no wonder that the CDC considers it to be a health crisis. Being bullied doesn't build character. Being a bully doesn't make you stronger. Abuse hurts the abused and the abuser. And we as parents must help to break this cycle.

What You Can Do

As much as we would love to protect our children 24/7, the fact is that we can't. And considering rates of bullying tend to rise as children age and become more autonomous, we're even less likely to be physically present to stop behaviors when they happen. So what can we do?

When it comes to cyberbullying, you must report. Many places are introducing new laws regarding cyberbullying, in part because of more tangible evidence that can be submitted in court or to the police. Familiarize yourself with the local laws where you live regarding cyberbullying. Make sure your child knows how to report abusive behavior on the apps they use. Almost every program that allows peer-to-peer communication has reporting capabilities, and they often rely on self-monitoring from users before they take action. Also encourage your kids to stop online abuse when they see or hear it happen, even when they aren't the target. As mentioned earlier, bullies rely on their social standing in peer groups to get away with their bad behavior. Your child can use their influence for good, to establish for their friends that such behavior is not tolerated in their circle.

If you see behavioral changes in your child, you may want to rush to their defense and raise havoc at their school. But this may only make your child more of a target. Remember this: you, your child's teachers, the school's administrators, and your and your child's friends are all a team. Work together with the people in your child's life. Create a network of support, not just for your child but for all children. Investigate what your child's school does to prevent bullying. Identify with your child where they feel the most safe and happy at school so that you can help pinpoint where and when this bullying behavior is happening.

No child wants to feel singled out, isolated, and made less than for who they are. We should be building each other up, not tearing each other down. When it comes to bullying, you may never be able to stop someone determined to say something hurtful to your child. But you can educate yourself, empower your child to speak up for themselves and others, and foster an empathetic atmosphere to combat the harmful effects of bullying.


Why Boys Should Read Books About Girls

Mar-08, 2021

A boy reading a book under the covers with a flashlight

Is there such a thing as a "boy's book" and a "girl's book?"

To many people, the answer to this question is "Yes, of course! Girl's books are about girls." This is a very damaging statement, and sends a very negative message to boys and girls alike. Not only does it devalue literature written about girls, but it prevents boys from connecting to stories that they would probably love reading. The Harry Potter series has been one of the most phenomenal franchises in recent years, with girls and boys alike swept up in the fantasy of the wizarding world. But what if the series was called Hermione Granger? Would it have had the same critical acclaim and appeal?

When it comes to reading, there is a definite gender gap that appears as students progress through elementary school. Teachers, librarians, and authors have struggled for years to get boys to stay interested in reading as they grow up. Studies have shown that boys tend to read slower than girls, demonstrate lower reading comprehension than girls, and value reading less than girls do, with almost 40% of boys describing reading as "boring" and "no fun."

Does that mean we should give up on reading as an activity for boys? No way! Lots of boys love to read, and all boys benefit from strong language arts skills. If your son struggles with reading, the key is to find the kind of material that they will enjoy. First of all, don't discount the many forms of reading that aren't what we would think of as traditional children's or YA books. Graphic novels, magazines, comic books, newspapers, and articles all contribute towards building reading skills and sparking the imagination.

We can also be mindful of the subject matter we choose for our boys to read about. Fuel natural curiosity by providing reading material on topics that interest your child. Find material written about the hobbies your son enjoys, the sports they participate in, or the projects they create. Reading can be an extension of these interests.

Another factor which may discourage boys from reading is parents deciding what their boys should or shouldn't read. Recently, several female authors have gone on record saying how parents can discourage boys from reading books about girls. Librarians, teachers, and bookstore employees have also encountered this issue. And as they are quick to point out, a story about a cat isn't written to be read by cats, so why should a story about girls be only for girls?

While many, many children's books are written about boy protagonists, YA novels for tweens and teens have mostly female protagonists. And while this shift reflects readership, since most readers in that age bracket are female, it can further discourage boys from reading if parents don't even consider suggesting these books for them.

The challenge for us as parents, when choosing materials to suggest to our sons to read, is to find material, fiction or nonfiction, which aligns with their interests, and use that as an opportunity to break negative stereotypes and our own preconceptions about what a "girl's book" or a "boy's book" can be. To get you started, we've compiled some books to add to your son's reading list, based on interest.

Sports

  • Sisters: Venus & Serena Williams by Jeanette Winter (Ages 3+)
  • Players in Pigtails by Shana Cory (Ages 5+)
  • Maime on the Mound: A Woman in Baseball's Negro Leagues by Leah Henderson (Ages 6+)
  • Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win by Rachel Ignotofsky (Ages 10+)

Outerspace

  • Look Up! Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Astronomer by Robert Burleigh and illustrated by Raul Colon (Ages 4+)
  • Caroline's Comets: A True Story written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully (Ages 5+)
  • The Care and Feeding of a Black Hole by Michelle Cuevas (Ages 8+)
  • 5 Worlds Book 1: The Sand Warrior by Mark Segel and Alexis Segel, illustrated by Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockafeller, and Boya Sun (Ages 9+)

Superheroes

  • The Princess in Black by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Phan (Ages 5+)
  • The Adventures of Jo Schmo by Greg Trine and illustrated by Frank W. Dormer (Ages 6+)
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World (A Squirrel Girl Novel) by Shannon and Dean Hale (Ages 8+)
  • Zita the Spacegirl Trilogy by Ben Hatke (Ages 9+)

Happy reading!


Should Kids Play Outside During Winter?

Dec-28, 2021

A young girl on a sled sliding downhill while her father watches

Wintertime can be a very special time for families, when we enjoy time off from work and school, celebrate holidays together, and share uniquely wintery activities that just aren't possible or as fun at the other times of year.

However, wintertime can often lead to stagnation. Days are shorter, temperatures drop, and there's definitely an impulse to cocoon ourselves on the couch with a bowl of popcorn, a mug of cocoa, and shut out the world until Spring. But if we do that, we're not only missing out on what makes winter so special, we're also doing a disservice to our kids. Kids need physical activity all year round, and they can't get it without being let outside to play, no matter the season.

But why is it so important that our kids get daily exercise? Is it just to control their body weight, and counteract the effects of couch sitting and popcorn munching? Though physical activity is most often linked in pop culture to weight loss and weight management, the truth is that staying active has a wide variety of benefits, both for kids and adults. Just as weight is not the only indicator of good or bad health, physical activity can have only a minor connection to a person's weight. When it comes to child development, the positive effects of physical activity are various.

Children over 6 years old should have at least 1 hour of physical activity per day. Their bodies are developing every day, so physical activity helps them build strong bones, muscles, nervous systems, and vascular systems. Physical activity also increases flexibility, stamina, balance, fine motor skills, and posture. All this activity is good for the brain as well as the body. Not only does physical activity improve cognition in kids, but is also linked to self-esteem, mental health, and socialization.

With so many various benefits for your child, there is no reason to limit their physical activity at any part of the year. So, why do so many parents keep kids in the house for much of the winter months? What are the risks associated with outdoor activity in cold weather?

Many parents avoid extensive time outdoors with their kids due to fears of illness. Cold weather has always been thought of as causing the spread of germs or a weakened immune system, so much so that we've dubbed common nose and throat infections "colds." So, is this reputation scientifically true? Yes and no.

Studies suggest that being cold does weaken the immune system. So yes, when our kids walk around with their coats undone or underdressed for the season, it does make them more likely to catch a cold. However, this is an easy fix, and all the more reason to encourage activity when children are outside to keep their heart rates and body heat higher. Cold air is also drier than warm air, and breathing in dry air over time can affect the body's ability to fight infection. Room humidifiers or taking a hot shower after prolonged exposure to cold, dry air are good ways to counteract this effect.

Another reason that winter is associated with colds is because we tend to go outside less often. Germs are more likely to be spread indoors than outdoors, so the longer you're inside, the more likely you are to get sick. Additionally, in wintertime we tend to get less sun, which is a vital source of Vitamin D. Absorbing sunlight through the skin helps keep our immune system in check and fight fatigue and general achiness.

As long as proper precautions are taken, outdoor activities are essential to a child's health in the wintertime. Plus, there are so many unique wintertime activities you don't want to miss out on!

Firstly, we know that not every area experiences winter the same way. In many places in the US, the temperature does not drop enough to form ice and snow. However, there are places most of us can visit close by in wintertime that do. So, if you're in a place which doesn't usually experience below freezing temperatures, maybe plan a trip for the family and create new memories!

Here are some of our favorite wintertime activities in snowy or icy environments!

  • Snow painting
  • Frozen dreamcatchers
  • Snowball fights
  • Snow-based desserts
  • Ice block building

And here are some activities you can do at any temperature!

  • Creating bird feeders
  • Window painting
  • Bonfires
  • Winter gardening
  • Flashlight tag

So, will you be encouraging your kids to spend more time outside this winter? Be safe and have fun!


How To Deal with a Temper Tantrum

Nov-30, 2020

crying child, child being comforted, temper tantrum, family

It's one of the hardest things for a parent to deal with: the temper tantrum! Whether it's in public or in private, at the dinner table, the grocery store, before school, or at bedtime, they are a major cause of stress for parents of toddlers and preschool aged children. Kids have meltdowns for many reasons, and it's an unavoidable part of their development. While this may be an unpleasant reality for parents, the truth is that children don't enjoy having tantrums, either. As a child becomes self-aware and autonomous, they will encounter many difficulties and, not knowing how to deal with them, they break down in a mixture of anger and sadness. As adults, it's our job to learn why temper tantrums happen, how we can help our kids avoid being pushed to their breaking point, and how to modify their behavior to discourage future meltdowns.

What causes temper tantrums?

While the specifics of what exactly triggers a temper tantrum can change with age, experts agree that the root of tantrums is the child not getting what they want. Babies signal when they need attention by crying, but as a child begins to be more aware, they understand that there are other ways to communicate. However, pre-verbal children lack the proper communication skills required to accurately convey how they feel, and the frustration of not being understood can lead to a meltdown. As children age, they become better at communicating their needs, but encounter the frustration of their desires not being met. As children age more and begin to be more independent, frustration can manifest when they are unable or not allowed to do things on their own. Even elementary aged children can experience tantrums from time to time when unable to process their emotions, or if they feel that throwing a tantrum will get them what they want. While the occasional tantrum is unavoidable, properly dealing with and anticipating the behavior is the best way to limit the number of meltdowns your child has, and to teach them that it is not the way to get them what they want.

What NOT to do when your child has a temper tantrum!

While it may seem counterintuitive, showing comfort to our children when they have a temper tantrum is actually not the best way to respond. Remember, the child is frustrated, not sad. The tears are just a side effect. We've all seen how a tantruming toddler can squirm away from our hugs and kisses, how grandpa or grandma intervening with affection can make their meltdown even worse. This is why. Comfort is not addressing the issue at hand. A child who is sad or scared absolutely needs to be shown love and affection. But a tantruming child does not. It is not the response they are looking for and can be confusing and compound their frustration. Instead, seek to comfort the child after the tantrum has passed, when they have a better grip on their emotions. Generally, they will seek out your comfort at that point, since they are exhausted and maybe even disoriented. That's when you can give them the stability of your love and care.

The biggest mistake a parent can make is give a tantrum positive reinforcement. This can include giving in when the child has been told no, offering a bribe for good behavior, or even an excess of attention. All of these reactions teach the child that screaming, crying, and causing a scene are the fastest way to get them what they're after. It also undermines a parent's authority when they say one thing and do another. Remember, our children are learning EVERYTHING from us. They have no frame of reference other than the media they consume. This means that the standards we set are the only ones they understand. One-time exceptions don't really mean anything to a 2-year-old. It can be very, very difficult sometimes not to try everything when our kids are acting out or melting down, especially in public. We feel embarrassed, maybe even ashamed. But every time you give in, imagine the number of tantrums your child will ever have multiplied, because you have reinforced the behavior with a reward. If we are strong, firm, and follow the correct methods, we will only have to deal with these difficult moments a few more times in our life before our child learns better behaviors.

The BEST things to do when your child has a temper tantrum.

The most effective method in nearly every situation is to ignore the tantrum. Children cycle through emotions quickly, and if the tantrum isn't getting the result they want, be it a cookie, a toy, or just attention, they will eventually come back to the parent for comfort, as we discussed earlier. Experts suggest acknowledging tantrums after the fact, but referring to them in the past. If the tantrum is over something rules related, like bedtime or cleaning, the same advice applies. Remember, tantrums do not get children out of their obligations, we just wait until they have regained control of themselves and then move forward. Positive attention at this stage can be helpful, praising the child for calming down and regaining their composure. As they age and gain experience, they will understand that a temper tantrum does not yield any positive results, and all it does is make them feel bad.

As parents, one of the best things we can do for our children is avoid situations that cause temper tantrums. And no, that doesn't mean giving in to your child's every whim! Instead, we need to anticipate their needs, and try to think the same way they do. A great way to do this is to understand and communicate how they view time. Giving a child "five more minutes before bed" or "fifteen more minutes in the park" is meaningless if they cannot tell time. Instead, use concreate examples, like "Once this TV show is over, it's time for bed," or "Two more laps on your bike around the park and then we're leaving." These are concepts that your child understands, and they won't feel surprised when it's time to move on to the next activity.

Being keenly aware of your child's eating and sleeping schedules will also help avoid tantrums. Kids are always more prone to emotional outbursts when they are hungry or tired, so try to avoid potentially triggering activities before lunch, dinner, naptime, or bedtime. Remember, don't use sweets or snacks as a bribe. Instead, use snacks before an activity, like a serving of cheese crackers before going to the grocery store. The idea is to empower your child and give them a feeling of control to hold onto. Consider giving them options to choose, making lists, and other ways to make them feel like participants, not bystanders. This will also help them to feel more autonomous, and be less discouraged when things don't go their way. Our children's minds are constantly changing and developing. When we do whatever we can do think like they do and support them as they grow, the happier they will be!


Improving Your Child's Concentration Skills

Sep-07, 2020

learning at home, girl and mother, learning to read, elearning, stay at home learning

As a parent, you have probably struggled in the past to focus your child's attention. While children can be very intensely focused on one thing at a time, their attention tends to wander from activity to activity. This can prove extremely difficult when trying to convey information or when conducting education. Forcing a child to concentrate beyond their attention span can lead to fights, tears, and lots of frustration from all parties involved.

According to child development experts, children tend to be able to focus their attention for between 2-5 minutes per year of age. This means that a 3-year-old attempting to begin to learn their letters and numbers will only be capable of focusing on a task between 6 and 15 minutes at a time. While this can at first seem very inadequate, what's important to remember is the at-a-time aspect. That is, just because your child can only focus on practicing their letter shapes in short bursts, it doesn't make them incapable of learning throughout the day. We just need to adjust our thinking and our approach to learning!

The first step is integrating learning in different ways. Approaching the same concept from multiple angles keeps the learning fresh and exciting for a young child. Are they tired of trying to trace the letter A? Let's get up and go on a letter A scavenger hunt around the house! Incorporate counting into snack time. Can you count to 10? Then that's how many grapes you get! Have a queue of short learning videos prepared on YouTube or a children's album loaded in the CD player or downloaded into your phone. Let your child lead you in their own education. As we've discussed before, kids want to participate and be helpful, so make them feel as if they're doing a great job!

Another way to keep your child focused and to improve their attention spans is to learn their rhythms. Firstly, make sure your kids are getting the recommended amount of sleep and rest so that they are fully capable to focus without yawning or dozing off. Next, keep track of your child's energy levels. If they crash after lunch or go into a 3 p.m. mania, don't force them to sit at the desk and count. Take advantage of the quiet time to teach behavioral skills or demonstrate caring with stuffed animals they share a bed or nap area with. Dance around with your kids when they're bursting with energy. By mirroring your child in this way, you are supporting their feelings, helping them listen to their body, and making the most out of every day by taking full advantage of the times when they are calm, focused, and alert.

Lastly, once you are determined your child's rhythms and patterns, start to construct a schedulearound it and begin to enforce it. It's never too early to learn to be responsible, and having a set plan for what you expect your child to do throughout the day will help you both stay focused. Communicate often, and help your kids understand more complicated concepts like planning ahead and delayed gratification. As your child ages, they will grow into being responsible and managing themselves by following your example.

Here at Best Brains, we believe in listening to our students and following their lead. Our one-concept-at-a-time curriculum is designed to maximize your child's attention span and present learning in a way that is best for them. Click here to learn more!

Tags Study Tips