May | 2013

17th

Friday

Using summertime to accelerate your child or adolescent’s development

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Great parents take advantage of summertime to help their child ramp up to their next challenge in the fall or to fill in skill gaps. After working with youth for over a decade using advanced behavioral science techniques, I have begun to recognize some of the most effective and scientifically based ways parents can strategically utilize summertime. All of the following ideas are based on the idea that you want to help your child develop skills so they can overcome and even master previously frustrating challenges. Too many parents run to medication, instead of investigating what kind of mileage they can get from the very best behavioral science.

Here is a brief list of credible ways to accelerate development, not in any particular order:

#1-If your child has focusing or attention problems, consider using a credible non-medication-based, and scientifically cutting-edge program called Cogmed. Used by over 40,000 people, in over 30 countries, Cogmed is a computer game that was developed by Swedish neuroscientists who discovered that a person’s ability to focus (known scientifically as Working Memory) could be improved long-term. In other words, even after the 5-week Cogmed protocol is completed, its effects have been shown to be durable. Research has shown even at the one year mark improvements still remain (versus medication where one it is not taken benefits disappear immediately).

Cogmed goes to the root of focusing/working memory problems whereas medication simply tries to muffle symptoms by modifying biochemistry. And yet psychiatrists continue to treat working memory problem by medicating children even when the best first line of treatment is to use a non medication based approach if the problems is mild or moderate. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics now considers Cogmed a evidence-based approach. If you know someone whose child is medicated for ADHD-like problems, the best things you can do is to let them know they have another option. Cogmed can be used with medication as well, and they can amplify each other’s positive impacts.

Final note about Cogmed as a “scientific giant”: While there are many computer games that tell you they will improve focusing, there are none that have the research-based that Cogmed does. Check out their research here: http://www.cogmed.com/research. Cogmed is so impressive that high-performance athletes and Air Force pilots are now using it as a part of their regular training. Many parents with students at BASIS and University High, to prepare their students for more intense curriculums, have their children do Cogmed in the summer. I have used Cogmed with over 60 families and the results have been quite impressive. I recently wrote a blog about Cogmed: https://www.doctorbrunner.com/evaluating-scientific-credibility-in-an-age-of-misinformation-lessons-from-a-new-non-medication-based-adhd-treatment-called-cogmed/

#2-Honestly evaluate your child’s “psychological vital signs”. Be honest about whether they have some problems with anxiety, anger, sadness, low self-esteem, poor body image, etc. If they do, or you are not sure, use the summer as a time to consult a child specialist who could even within one or two meetings give you a strategic plan to ensure your child’s problems are taken care of. Too many parents think their children will “grow out of” a particular problem. You know the saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. I’m amazed at how quickly people will take their child to the dentist her pediatrician by how long it takes them to bring their child to a psychologist or therapist. Often, it is years! Meanwhile, it is becoming quite normal for top athletes or business leaders to have a professional coach with expertise in behavioral science to help them perform at their best. Most often I am in the role of “coach” as well.

#3-Accelerate your child’s strengths or areas of giftedness/exceptional talent. Much of my work is with parents of higher performing/talented/gifted children where their parents want me to give them parenting tips to ensure their child remains on an accelerated track developmentally and/or academically. Or in terms of their character. In one or two meetings I can identify 10-20 precise ways a parent can help their child put their foot on the accelerator so that child even further develops their areas of strength. Many people use the summer for giftedness, so they can qualify for the school’s gifted program or consider taking high school AP credit. This is a great time low-pressure time to do this.

#4-Have your child strengthen their skills in their weakest areas using a sequential week by week and measurable approach. You can either ask your child’s current teacher or future teacher for summertime materials so they get a head start. Remember, no matter how advanced your child is it is often their weakest area that will give them the most trouble and hold them back from having a higher sense of self-esteem at school. Always be asking yourself, “What is my child’s weakest area?”, and make sure you are addressing this by helping them develop skills to fill in these gaps. If their weakest area has to do with their character, you can consult a child psychologist who is an expert in development to design in one meeting a character building curriculum. In one meeting you can plan a summer!

#5-Utilize a year-round academic program such as Kumon, which we have here in Tucson Arizona. Kumon is very structured and sequential week to week academic skills program that can help your child accelerate their strengths and or fill in their academic skill gaps. What is great about Kumon is it is self-paced and so it can be adjusted to your child’s levels in each area. You can think of a program like Kumon on as a way of augmenting whatever your child’s school provided during the year. In fact, some parents will have their child attend Kumon on year-round.

#6-Writing or reading is often an underdeveloped area for boys. Consider having your son choose a few books they will complete over the summer. Allow them to choose books on subjects that they are passionate about. You might read along with them and get into deeper discussions about their area of passion which will also enhance your bond with them. After they read about sharks, plan a trip to go see some.

#7-If your child has social skills problems, enroll them in summer camps that intentionally teach social skills. Many children with Autism or Asperger’s, or who are socially awkward develop new relationships and learn critical new skills that minimize the chances they will be bullied at school, next year. The most credible scientific literature clearly indicates that social skills problems are best corrected via group work, not individual therapy. There are often both local social skills camps as well as nationally renowned camps such as Talisman based in North Carolina.

#8-“Round off” your child’s personality and skill set over the summer. Too many parents will narrowly over focus on developing their child’s skills in one area. For example, if their child is good at dancing they will forget that they should also be developing other skills along the way. The problem is, if that child burns out on dancing or stops it, then their social network and self-esteem (sometimes) will be drastically decreased suddenly. I believe too many children are growing up as “hyper specialist” in one sport or hobby. It is fine for your child to have one passion they focus on, but always have them developing a few other interests as well. In other words, focus on continually “rounding them off” one example of how you might do this is, over the summer, have them attend the camp in something that they would never otherwise explore. Examples include a fine arts camp, or for girls an outdoor camp.

Summer is surely a time to allow your child to relax. But your role as a parent is also to prepare them for their next academic and/or social stage by honestly assessing their current intellectual, emotional, and social skills. Be honest about where their skill gaps are and look to fill those in during the summer.

Remember, behavioral science experts with child specialized training can be used as a coach for those functioning in the normal or exceptional range range or a therapist to treat clinical problems. Do not think in narrow medical model terms about what a psychologist can do, look around, and wake up to the reality that the best parents don’t put fires out once they have become clinically significant alarms. Rather, they most often prevent those fires from occurring by catching problems early and heading them off. A behavioral scienstist can help you do that within a meeting or two, and save you immense amounts of time, money, and heartache!!!!

My favorite work is often when we are preventing those problems, and helping that child reach their True Potential.


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