Psychology of Children

Understanding your child’s random episodes and tantrums

Ever felt helpless when your child cries uncontrollably and without any apparent reason?

Oh my god, why is this happening again?

I bet this runs through your mind when your child throws one of his crazy episodes. Before we touch on the topic of understanding children’s tantrums, we would need to explain a little about the anatomy of our brain.

The Downstairs Brain

Most of us have only heard of the left and right brain. Did you know that there is also something called the upstairs and downstairs brain?

Imagine that your brain is like a house, with both a downstairs and an upstairs. The downstairs brain includes the brain stem and the limbic region, which are located in the lower parts of the brain, from the top of your neck to the bridge of your nose. These lower parts of your brain are responsible for basic functions, for innate reactions and impulses for strong emotions. They relate to feelings like fear, flight, anger, fight. In essence, your downstairs brain takes care of your basic needs.

The Upstairs Brain

Your upstairs brain is completely different. It’s made up of the cerebral cortex. Unlike your more basic downstairs brain, the upstairs brain is more evolved and can give you a fuller perspective of your world. This is where more intricate mental processes take place, like thinking, imagining and planning. Whereas the downstairs brain is primitive, the upstairs brain is highly sophisticated, controlling some of your most important higher-order and analytical thinking.

Now that you understand parts of a brain, let’s touch on the topic of why does my child cries uncontrollably?

As much as we want our kids to grow up and mature, there are two important reasons why maintaining a certain amount of expectation is required.

  1. While the downstairs brain is well developed even at birth, the upstairs brain isn’t fully mature until a person reaches his mid-twenties. In fact, it’s one of the last parts of the brain to develop. The upstairs brain remains under massive construction for the first few years of life, then during the teen years undergoes an extensive remodel that lasts into adulthood.
  2. The blocker – the amygdala. The amygdala is about the size of an almond, residing in the downstairs brain. Its job is to process something quickly especially anger and fear. In most situations, our daily actions call for our brain to think before acting. There are very few occasions whereby we are in danger and hence it calls for quick thinking. The problem with children especially is that the amygdala frequently fires up and blocks the stairway connecting the upstairs and downstairs brain.

In our next few posts, we will be sharing with you the type of tantrums and the strategies to tackle episodes and tantrums. Stay tune!

 

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What type of tantrum is my child having? An analysis of the different types of tantrums in Children

Types of tantrums

The dreaded tantrum can be one of the most unpleasant parts of parenting. Whether it takes place in private or worse in public, it can, in the blink of an eye, turn your child into the most unattractive and repulsive being on the planet.

Most parents are taught that there is only one good way to respond to a tantrum: ignore it. Otherwise, you will be communicating to your child that tantrums equal giving in to my wants and she will wield it against you in the future.

But did you know that tantrums can be classified into two different types?

Upstairs tantrum: Dealing with a mini terrorist

An upstairs tantrum occurs when a child essentially decides to throw a fit. The key word is she decides to. She makes a conscious choice to act out, push buttons and terrorize you till she get what she wants. She is doing this well knowing that she is able to instantly stop the tantrum if she wanted to. The reason she can stop is because she is using her upstairs brain at the moment. She may look like she is losing control. But you can see that she is making very purposeful actions, well aware of her behavior and definitely working on getting what she wants with the strategy she has in mind.

For parents who recognizes such a tantrum, you are left with one clear response: never negotiate with a terrorist! An upstairs tantrum calls for firm boundaries and a clear discussion about the appropriate and inappropriate behavior. A good response in this situation would be to calmly explain: “I understand that you want that toy, but I don’t like the way you are acting. If you don’t stop now, you won’t be getting that toy and I’ll need to cancel your playdate this afternoon, because you are showing me that you are not able to handle yourself well. It is important to follow through on those consequences if the behavior doesn’t stop.

If you refuse to give in to upstairs tantrums – regardless of the age of your child – you will see this form of behavior reduces. Since these tantrums are intentional, children will stop returning to such behavior when they learn that it is ineffective and often backfires.

Downstairs tantrum: Dealing with a baby

A downstairs tantrum is completely different. Here, a child is so upset that he is no longer in control to use his upstairs brain to regulate his behavior. In this moment, the stress hormones are flooding his little body such that virtually no part of his higher brain is fully functioning. As a result, he is basically incapacitated, incapable of regulating his own emotions.

When your child is in this state of dis-integration and a full-blown meltdown, a completely different approach is called for. Whereas a child throwing an upstairs tantrum needs a parent to quickly set boundaries, an appropriate response to a downstairs tantrum is much more nurturing and comforting.

The first thing a parent needs to do is to connect with the child and help him calm himself down. This can be accomplished through a loving touch and soothing tone of voice. Or, if he has gone so far that he is in danger of hurting himself or others or destroying property, you may have to hold him close and calmly talk him down as you remove him from the scene.

We once had an incident in the lab. There was a special boy who had a complete meltdown because he was upset with his brother. He went around the lab trashing and throwing anything that was in his way and even landed a robot on an instructor’s face. It took us almost an hour of coaxing. Boy was it hard, but the boy finally calmed down and everything was back to normal. And well, it happens. Patience is key.

You can experiment with different approaches depending on your child’s temperament, but what is important is that you help soothe him and steer him away from the chaos bank of the river. There is no sense in talking about consequences or appropriate behavior. He simply can’t process any of that information when he is in the middle of a meltdown.

Once he is calm, remember to still respond to the issue using logic and reason. Once he is in a more receptive place, you can also talk about the appropriate and inappropriate behavior, and about the possible consequences. You can and should still maintain your authority – that is crucial – but to be done in a more appropriate time. And your child is more likely to internalize the lesson because you are teaching it when his brain is more receptive to listen and learn.

Well I hope you don’t experience another of your child’s meltdown, try differentiating your child’s next episode.

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When do kids start to develop thinking?

When do kids start developing thinking skills?

As your child goes into her third year, you will see a big jump in your child’s thinking skills. She starts to be curious with almost everything around her. She starts to appreciate humor and jokes. She will be able to come up with solutions to solve more complex challenges. And she will be able to empathize, putting herself in other people’s shoes. She knows they have thoughts and feelings that are different from hers and she can imagine what these thoughts and feelings might be. She may give you a hug when you are sad. You may see her help another child who is struggling.

For parents out there, this is a period of time where you may want to spend more time with your child as they are beginning to understand things, i.e. the how and why. Remember, kids grow fast!

Build your child’s logical thinking skills

As children get closer to age 3, they begin to understand how things are logically connected; for example, that you need to eat in order to grow. They use their increasing language skills to ask questions about what they see, hear, and experience in the world. That’s the reason it seems that every other word 2-year-olds speak is “Why?” The ability to think logically—to put 2 and 2 together—is critical for thinking through problems and being successful in school and life.

What you can do:

Don’t answer your child’s questions right away. Cultivate the habit of your child directing her own learning in order to develop an exploratory environment for your child. Ask first what she thinks the answer is. This gets her wheels turning and thinking.

Remember to listen carefully to her response and acknowledge her ideas. This is something parents usually forget or gets impatient about.

You can then offer the correct answer. For example, if he says he thinks it gets dark at night so people can sleep, you might respond: Yes, it is easier to sleep when it’s dark, and then go on to explain as simply as possible about the sun setting and rising each day.

Ask lots of questions during your everyday play and routines. As you go through your day together, ask your child “why” questions. Why do you think the leaves fall from the trees? Why does it snow? This gets your child’s mind working and also lets her know that you are interested in and value her ideas.

This form of learning is celebrated by many child psychologists and is important particularly in the Asian culture that we live in. Although Singapore is a highly progressive country, our roots has conditioned as to defer to authority from a young age and hence we are told to listen than to question.

As parents, we should embrace a child’s inquisitive mind and allow them to explore as much as they can while they are growing so that they would be expose to the world around them. Or, perhaps try Coding next time!

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Education for Special Needs Children in Singapore

“My child has ADHD”. 

This is something that is totally unheard of in the early 1980s. However, as our society progresses, parents are more informed and well-aware of the mental well-being of their children. 

Singapore’s growing inclusivity towards children with special education needs (SEN)

In the recent years, Singapore is growing into a more inclusive society with encouraging attempts at allowing children with special needs to receive as close to mainstream education as possible. This is made despite the differing educational requirements resulting from learning difficulties, physical disability, or emotional and behavioural difficulties. The opening of Pathlight School in 2004, the first autism-focused school in Singapore that offers Singapore’s mainstream academic curriculum together with life readiness skills a prominent example.

As the demand for such special education (SPED) schools in Singapore grows, three new schools for students who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will be set up over the next few years. One of the new schools would be Pathlight’s third campus. The new schools will aid in improving the accessibility of special education, helping to ensure that children with moderate-to-severe special education needs will be able to receive a quality education in Singapore. 

Due to the higher needs and greater amount of resources needed in SPED schools, six of such schools in Singapore have lowered their fees by at least 25% for Singapore citizens since January this year. This allows families of children with special education needs (SEN) to have access to a more affordable education for their children.

What are the types of specialised education services that children with SEN require?

Students with mild SEN enter the mainstream schools has they have the cognitive abilities and adequate adaptive skills to learn in large-group settings. However, those who have moderate to severe SEN require more intensive and specialised assistance in their education, thus are more suited to attend SPED schools. 

There are currently 19 Government-funded SPED schools run by 12 Social Service Organisations (SSOs). 

As children with SEN often are unable to cope with the mainstream education system, SPED schools tend to focus more time on Co-Curricular Activities (CCA) and Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) to deliver these children a holistic and comprehensive education. Through adapted programmes suited for the varying needs of a child, many SPED schools aim to deliver balanced curriculums within structured and authentic environments that promote dignity, meaning, and independence.  

Apart from special education schools (Sped schools) run by the MOE, there are several privately-run schools or therapy centres with very good teaching and therapy facilities. Examples are therapy rooms, hydrotherapy pools, vocational education programmes, society-integration programmes, and even training for jobs. These programmes have allied health professionals, such as psychologists and counsellors, who work closely with them.

Early intervention is key to helping your child reach his full potential. Choosing the right school-fit for your special needs child is also an extremely important and delicate decision as a parent. So, as parents, take your time to do your research and choose wisely!

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Inside a human brain – How to nurture your child’s brain?

Our brain is a fascinating creature. It is actually “plastic” or moldable. This means the brain physically changes throughout the course of our lives, not just in childhood.

What molds our brain? Experience. When we undergo an experience, our brain cells become active, or “fire”. The brain has not millions, but billions of neurons, each with thousands of connections to other neurons. The circuits in the brain are activated based on the nature of our mental activity, ranging from seeing or hearing to more abstract logical thoughts or reasoning. When neurons fire together, they grow new connections between them. Over time, the connections that result from firing lead to “rewiring” in the brain.

This means the more experiences and particularly new experiences a child obtains; the new connections take place in her brain. Nature has provided that the basic architecture of the brain will develop well given proper food, sleep and simulation. Genes, of course, play a large role in how people turn out, especially in terms of temperament. But findings from various areas of developmental psychology suggest that everything that happens to us – the music we hear, the people we love, the books we read, the kind of discipline we receive, the emotions we feel – profoundly affects the way our brain develops.

In other words, on top of our brain architecture and our inborn temperament, parent have much they can do to provide the kind of experiences that will develop a resilient, well-integrated brain.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Encourage your children to try out new activities
  • Promote exploratory play
  • Change your approach to teaching to encourage exploratory learning

Right now, your child’s brain is constantly being wired and rewired, and the experiences you provide will go a long way toward determining the structure of her brain.

So, get your child to learn a new skill today!

Let’s get these brain cells firing up!

Love, The Lab Team

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Cognitive Stages of Development and Intellectual Growth of Children

How do kids develop their intellect?

All children go through a series of developmental and intellectual growth stages. One of the most famous theories is that of Piaget’s.

The Piaget’s theory explains that children undergo four stages of intellectual development, from infancy through adulthood. This includes thought, judgment, and knowledge.

The Piaget’s four stages of intellectual (or cognitive) development are:

  1. Birth through ages 2 years old
  2. Ages 2 to 7
  3. Concrete operational. Ages 7 to 12
  4. Formal operational. Adolescence through adulthood
Sensorimotor Stage (Birth through ages 2 years old):

Your child understands the world through senses and actions. As these toddlers don’t yet know how things react, they are constantly experimenting with activities such as shaking or throwing things, putting things in their mouths, and learning about the world through trial and error.

Preoperational Stage (Ages 2-7 years old):

Young children are able to think about things symbolically, understanding the world through language and mental images. Their thinking is based on intuition and still not completely logical. They require adult intervention to guide them in grasping more complex concepts such as cause and effect, time, and comparison.

As the child is unable to conceptualize abstractly and needs concrete physical situations, experiential learning methods and environments are best for children at that age to grasp said concepts.

Concrete Operational Stage (Ages 7 – 12 years old):

At this time, your child can demonstrate logical, concrete reasoning independently. The child’s thinking becomes less egocentric and they are increasingly aware of external events. They understand world through logical thinking and categories.

Adolescents who reach this fourth stage of intellectual development should be able to think independently and logically use symbols related to abstract concepts, such as algebra and science. They can think about multiple variables in systematic ways, formulate hypotheses, and consider possibilities. They also can ponder abstract relationships and concepts such as justice. They understand world through hypothetical thinking and scientific reasoning.

Although Piaget’s theory has been fundamental and adopted by several learning institutions around the world, psychologists have found the age ranges for the above 4 stages to have been accelerated over the years. As technology improves over the years, classroom and learning management tools have evolved dramatically. From a chalk and whiteboard to touch-screen interactive TVs, it has definitely made learning more fun for our current generation.

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Discover your child’s learning style and behavior

Young children tend to have very short attention spans. To fully engage them and maximise their learning potential, parents and teachers alike need to understand the different ways that children learn and introduce things that they like in the teaching process. Remember, every child is unique! It is important to take time exploring which learning styles your child prefers and cater to their learning needs. Even biological twins living in the same living conditions and environment are drastically different and unique in their own ways.

Primary Learning Styles of Children and the Different Methodologies to tackle them

While every child has one or more learning styles, they do have something in common. Children share a liking for simplicity. Using simple vocabulary and short sentences in lessons would facilitate the understanding of children. Additionally, children are able to follow lessons more closely when they are given practice time, and when someone can demonstrate the steps to perform a task to them. 

At the end of the lessons, doing recaps and summaries of the lesson content would help children to consolidate all the knowledge they have. It is also important to praise and compliment them so that they would be motivated to do better.

So, do try the above learning methods on your child. 

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The Psychology behind Fear – Coronavirus (COVID-19)

TOKYO, JAPAN – JANUARY 31: A passenger receives a temperature check before taking a flight bound for Wuhan at Spring Airlines’ check-in counter at Haneda airport on January 31, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan.

As a parent, you can’t help but worry about the safety of your children. So, it’s natural that as stories about the novel coronavirus that started in China flood the news, you worry about whether your child could be at risk. As tens of cases become hundreds and hundreds become thousands, the profound uncertainty and the fear of a deadly pandemic is inevitable.

 The Psychology behind Fear

Fear is a powerful and primitive human emotion. It alerts us to the presence of danger, and it was critical in keeping our ancestors alive.

It can be uncomfortable and crippling, and in moments like this, it is more so than not.

Fear is healthy but over-doing it is not.

Fear is hardwired in our brains, and for good reason: It is like an internal home alarm system to alert us of danger. Feeling fear is perfectly normal. The capacity to be afraid is part of normal brain function. In fact, a lack of fear may be a sign of serious brain damage.

However, it comes in many shades and some are partly imagined. Our brain is a highly efficient creature. We get scared because of what we imagine could happen. Some neuroscientists claim that humans are the most fearful creatures on the planet because of our ability to learn, think, and create fear in our minds.

The more scared you feel, the scarier things will seem.

This process is called potentiation. It causes you to enhance the current emotions you are feeling. Your fear response will be amplified if you are already in a state of fear. When you are primed for fear, even harmless events seem scary.

The facts

As a matter of fact, influenza infects millions of people every year and kills thousands. Every year, doctors and public health officials talk about ways you can keep you and your loved ones from catching the flu. Those precautions can also help keep you safe from coronavirus, as it seems that the two illnesses spread in similar ways.

  • Make sure everyone washes their hands! Using soap and water and washing your hands clean under the running tap does the trick.
  • Encourage healthy habits, like eating a healthy diet, exercising, and getting enough sleep. This helps keep your child’s immune system strong.
  • Teach children not to touch their mouths, eyes, or noses with their hands unless they have just washed them. This is easier said than done, I admit. Make a game out of it — have them itch with their knees instead. Carry tissues for wiping mouths and noses and throw out used tissues promptly.
  • Teach children to be careful about the surfaces they touch when you are out in public. Little hands seem to instinctively reach for everything around them, so you’ll need to be creative. Bring things for them to hold instead or hold hands with them.
  • Wear a mask if you are sick and stay at home.

Again: try not to panic. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around. Check reliable sources for updates, follow these tips, and call your doctor if you have any questions.

Stay safe everyone!

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