Thursday, November 8, 2012

Brain Rules for Baby: Empathy

Brain Rule: Start with Empathy

The premise of this chapter was the fact that more than  80% of couples experience a huge drop in marital quality during the transition to parenthood.  This then effects a newborn's developing brain and nervous system.  I feel very luckily that overall I think my husband and I must be in the 20% here.  Other than a major fight the night I gave birth which unfortunately continued the days following I don't think we've had a drop in marital quality.  If anything I feel our son has strengthened our relationship.  Once my husband got over that initial shock, which caused our fight, that "holy crap my life will never be the same," we've been good.  I think this may be different if we were not a military family since so much of our day to day lives with each other would have changed.  My husband however has been away for much of my son's life thus far which although difficult, having my son gives me something to keep me occupied while he is gone and also gives us someone to work for.

The most important factor in creating a buffer against the common relationship pit falls is to be aware of them.  When you see yourself going down a negative path, stop, reflect, and make a change.  I think my husband and I are really good at doing this.

The best place to start when something is wrong is with empathy.  My husband is far better at this than I am.  It is very natural for him to react in this way.  Apparently, I need to start working on my own ability to do this as the book claims: Choosing to empathize is so powerful it can change the developing nervous systems of infants whose parents regularly practice it.  Woah, that's some heavy stuff!

According to the book, there are 3 key ingredients of empathy:

Affect detection – recognize the change in the emotional disposition of someone else
Imaginative transposition – transpose what you observe onto your own psychological interiors – try on the perceived feelings as if they were clothes, then observe how you would react given similar circumstances

Boundary formation – realize at all times that the emotion is happening to the other person, never to you. (This is the area I think I need to work on the most.  When something is making my husband or son upset I will take it very personally.  I have a hard time stepping back from the situation and becoming fully engage with the other person's feelings without letting mine get in the way.  I did the same thing as a teacher.  I can now see what a difference separating out my feelings can make.)

Basically, in order to improve all relationships, whether that be with a child, spouse, student, etc, one must demonstrate an empathy reflex. 

There are 2 simple steps:
1. Describe the emotional changes you think you see. (i.e. "Son, you sound like you are very frustrated.)
2. Make a guess as to where those emotional changes came from.  (i.e. "I think you are feeling so frustrated because you are really hungry and dinner isn't ready yet."

When I first read this book my son was still an infant but even then I would quietly whisper in his ear the steps for empathy.  It was amazing how he would calm himself.  It just goes to show you how much your energy/mood effects your child.  I try hard to instead of getting upset when my son is crying figure out what the cause is, label his feelings, and relate to them.  I'll admit though, at times, it can be difficult when he just won't stop screaming to even listen to me.  I try to be as patient as I can be since I know in the end it will help him to better regulate his feelings.

Although I think I'm doing a good job with the empathy reflex when it comes to my son, I am still working on it when it comes to my husband!  Hey, you can't win them all.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Brain Rules for Baby: Pregnancy

Ok, so apparently it took me a few months to get back to this blog.  At first I was really busy preparing for my son's first birthday party (more on that to come) and then the morning/all day nausea and exhaustion of my pregnancy set in.  We are expecting baby #2 in early March and he or she has completely knocked me off my feet!  Thankfully, at nearly 20 weeks I am finally feeling better, wahoo!  Yay for the second trimester.  This pregnancy gives me even more of a reason to reflect on everything I read in Brain Rules for Baby:How to Raise and Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five by John Medina.  I finished it back in May and now can't even remember all of the main points.  I'll blame it on the "pregnancy brain".  I'll be referencing my book as I recap and reflect.

To get started, there are five main sections of the book: pregnancy, relationship, smart baby, happy baby, and moral baby.  I will respond to each section at a time, copy the key points, and reflect on them.

Pregnancy: Brain Rule - Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby

In the first half of pregnancy babies want to be left alone. 
Turns out that nausea and exhaustion I was having is likely due to the fact that our ancestors needed to avoid natural toxins in exotic or spoiled foods in the wild so the nausea kept them on a bland, boring diet and the exhaustion was to keep women from engaging in physical activity risky enough to harm the baby.  Basically, during that first half of pregnancy, your body and baby are doing whatever is needed to be "left alone" aka survive in the womb.  I'm excited to be leaving this part of my pregnancy.

Don't waste your money on products claiming to improve a preborn baby's IQ, temperament, or personality.  None of them have been proven to work.
With my first pregnancy I didn't bother with any of these products.  I didn't even think twice about them and won't this time either. However, although they are not proven to make any real change in the baby they could have an effect on the type of sensory information the baby is perceiving and processing.  Read on.

In the second half of pregnancy, babies begin to perceive and process a great deal of sensory information.
While reading, I was surprised by how much the author downgraded the prenatal products because although they might not improve any areas of the baby's development they are better than many of the other sensory information the baby could be taking in.  If I had to choose between my child listening to Mozart in the womb or the yelling from Teen Mom, I'll choose Mozart.  That being said I'm not going to hook up headphones to my belly with Mozart every single day. I will, however, be conscious that my baby will be picking up on all of this sensory information.  He or she can even smell the perfume I wear!  How cool is that??  Having a background in child development I was aware of this sensory information during my first pregnancy and was scared to death with the overload my baby would be getting while I was in my classroom all day.  I was teaching at a struggling school with a particularly difficult class.  At times, I had to raise my voice (yell) at the class and was constantly stressed throughout the day with all that I was expected to accomplish with my students.  I was worried what effect this would have on my sweet little boy inside.  I was so happy that summer break came right before I hit 8 months pregnant and my sensory-loving baby could enjoy his last few months in the womb in a more relaxed environment (aka my quiet house on the couch).  This time around I am excited because I am far more relaxed and always using my calm, nurturing voice with my toddler. During my first pregnancy I was always joking that my son wasn't going to recognize my voice when he came out because it would be sweet and loving and not that of a stressed out teacher going bananas. I feel like this little one is experiencing a much different mommy in the womb and that makes me happy.  Who knows if it makes a difference but what we do know is that once that second half of the pregnancy hits the baby is very aware of his or her environment.

Brain boosters at this stage: gaining the proper weight, eating a balanced diet, exercising moderately, and reducing stress.
This point just seemed obvious.  We all know that these things are going to help our baby's development.  The tricky part is following through with them.  Now that I don't want to barf when I see or smell vegetables, I am working hard on the balanced diet.  I've never been much of an exerciser however, what I can easily do this time is make sure to take a good 20-30 minute walk each day with my little man.  It can be as simple as that.  Finally, my stress this time is greatly decreased although I must admit I am way tireder this time around!  I know I can reduce my stress even more by going to bed earlier (which is exactly why I am heading to bed as soon as I hit publish!).  A 10pm bedtime is far better than a 12am one...especially when you have a toddler who likes to get up at 5:30am most morning.  If you are doing all of these things you'll naturally gain the proper weight when pregnant so that is not something to be concerned about.

Pregnancy WrapUp
Although I found this section to be an enjoyable read it really didn't tell me anything I didn't know already or bring any great incite to my thinking.  Fortunately, that was not the case for the remainder of the book so be sure to check back to read about the other sections.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Put Those Parenting Magazines to Good Use!

Wait! Don't throw away that pile of parenting magazines you were "going to read someday" but never got around to doing it and now can't stand them laying around your house.  I've got something else for you to do with them!
Just a small selection of my all too massive pile.
As I mentioned in my first post, this blog will be a random mix of teaching ideas...this one comes from my desire for more "reading" material for my son with real people, not cartoons.  I've been reading in parenting magazines (sort of ironic) that baby/toddlers should "read" books with real images, in particular images of people, real people.  You may have read this also and wondered, "Ok, so where do I get a book like that?"  I love how parenting magazines will throw out tidbits like this but totally leave you hanging.  There are a *few* books out there that fit the bill, my son is particularly a fan of the Babyfaces Pack by Roberta Intrater.
Other than this series - which I bought using my Scholastic teacher points by the way :)  - there really isn't much else out there.  In fact, I could only find one of the Babyface books on Amazon, you have to buy them through Scholastic. 

While cleaning (trying to clean) the house today I glanced at my rather large pile of parenting magazines that I've promised myself I will get around to reading (some day) and I realized jackpot!! I have a whole collection of real people images right under my nose.  I thought about my sons like, er obsession, for magazines (ok so all he does it rip them to shreds but he loves every minute of it) and realized  I could kill two birds with one stone.  I'd cut out a ton of images from my stored up parenting magazines and create a book (magazine) for my little love bug.

After searching the house for some scissors, I got to cutting.  While flipping through just one magazine I realized you really only need one to complete the project.  There are so many photos in each magazine. I never realized how stinkin cute the kids are on those pages!!

Before making a book, I made some "flashcards" to test out my son's reaction. 
I love the baby reading the book!!
He was pretty excited:
I loved the one he is holding because it reminds me of him:
You can see my trusty laminator in the background (I had to dust it off before using it, poor thing has been all couped up since I stopped teaching). After cutting out the pictures, I placed them on cardstock and ran them through, viola! I LOVE my laminator.

Next, I made a little book.  Cut the cardstock in half, laminated, whole punched, and put on some rings.  It was that easy. A few of the pages:
 Seriously, how adorable is that little guy?  He even made my love bug smile!
 Speaking of my love bug, how do you think he liked his new book?
We took it in the car with us on the way to Gymboree and there was no fussing!  I'm thinking I may just keep it in the car for now on...

Don't have a laminator?  Not a problem!  You can just use sheet protectors:
I especially like the shots on the second page because they show lots of different emotions.  It's a great way to talk to your toddler about how the child is feeling and why they might be feeling that way.  Giving a word to the child's expression/feeling is also important so that your child can start to label his or her own emotions.  Stay tuned for more on that topic in an upcoming post - I'm just finishing up a fabulous book, Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina, and I can't wait to share what I've learned.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Getting Started

My first teacher blog post!  I've been playing around with blogging the past year with a personal blog I created to keep family and friends up to speed with the going ons of my sweet little family but I never thought about creating a teacher blog till now. To be honest, I didn't even realize there was a whole world out there of awesome teacher blogs and now that I've found them...I want to join the club. I just finished my first school home.  I recently realized I spent less time in a school this year then I have since I was two years old.  So what have I been doing at home the past year?  Caring for my love bug born last July 16 (on my birthday!). 
 He hasn't been much of a sleeper and has kept me so busy the past year I rarely thought of what I left behind when deciding to become a stay-at-home-mom. To help me get out of the house and get some of my teacher energy out, I did some volunteering at my previous school, organizing and running a Math Competition.  I was content with this until about two weeks ago.  Just as my friends are counting down the days till the end of the school year I am longing to be back in the classroom.  So why don't I just go back?  It's just not as easy as that.  Although I miss teaching, I've grown to love spending so much time with my little man and can not imagine being away from him so much if I were working full-time. In addition, my husband is in the military and away often.  He is about to leave us for six months and then again for a few months at the beginning of next year.  We live far away from all of our family and close friends so I wouldn't have that support system if I went back to work.  I also want to be able to go visit our family when my husband is gone and be available when he is home. So here I am...looking for a way to get out all my pent up teacher ideas. 

This blog will be a mix of things I've done and created during my five years teaching, new activities and lessons I make for my friends and family who are teachers, and some fun things I do with my number one dude.

I'll start with an oldie but goodie.  Since it's the end of the school year, I'll share one of my favorite end of the year activities.

My ____________ ABC Book

While this activity can be done any time throughout the year and for any subject, I prefer to keep it till the end of the year and have student title it My "Third" Grade ABC Book.  This way students can pick words from all subjects and any topic we learned that year.

Instead of writing the definition for each word, I had students use the word in a sentence that would allow the reader to infer the definition.  For example, adaptation - An adaptation that a cheetah has is that it can run really fast so it can catch its prey. Or, circumference - I measured around the circle to figure out the circumference. This took some modeling and guided practice but the students got it and it was a lot more meaningful then simply writing a definition.

I wish I had taken a few pictures of the work my students did this year.  They really turned out great.  To snatch a copy of the book for yourself click on the image below:

I hope you'll travel with me on this journey of learning to be a stay-at-home-teacher whether you are a teacher who teaches in the classroom, a teacher who now teaches at home (like me!), a teacher who does both (rock on!!), or a mom who is just looking for some ideas to do with her children.  Thank you for stopping by!