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Rewire your child’s brain to improve their wellbeing

Rewire your child's brain to improve their wellbeingWhether we like it or not, we are training our kids’ brains is for optimal performance in the classroom, on the field or on stage … and, more importantly, for life.

Wellbeing is a bit of a buzz word at the moment and it’s something I take quite seriously as a teacher and a parent. Even our best and brightest kids (especially our high-achieving, good souls) get tripped up by things like social pressure or anxiety. This is an epidemic across Australia and the world.

I graduated with an Honours Degree in Psychology in 2003 but the world has learned more about the human brain since the 1990s than in all the time combined before! So I’ve have to update my knowledge. I’ve been doing the research and readings (so you don’t have to) and I’ve just finished the first six contact days in a Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing which focuses on the research looking at humans who flourish; the psychology of people who are truly successful and fulfilled in the truest sense of the word.

Bottom line: We (and our kids) are most productive when we are not miserable.

Funny that! Optimal brain function involves a lot of good neurotransmitters and positive emotions (and not I’m talking about positive thinking or the ever-elusive “happiness”). So with that in mind, I am going to share some research-informed practices to improve our own and our children’s wellbeing and brain function.

Mental Fitness exercise — 3 Good Things

Good Things is a relatively simple and short evidence-based exercise to rewire the brain. Negative Bias (our and our teenagers’ stunning ability to focus on the worst of a situation) has useful evolutionary roots. Our brains try to predict the worse possible outcomes in order to avoid them. Very helpful when trying to avoid being eaten by predator; a little bit counter-productive if over used in the comfort of our own homes.

I once read that “Anxiety is the shadow of intelligence” and to that I say — we need to learn where to stand in the sun to reduce the size of the shadow we cast.

Three Good Things is just that. Name three good things about the moment or day.

1. I’m in my pyjamas while writing this. I love my new robot pyjamas

2. When I didn’t have a pen, Mark gave me one

3. Rice ball for lunch!!!

This is an excellent activity to do with yourself in trying to rewire or create new habits in the brain. Start with the little things (“Jack was hilarious at lunch today” or “rugby practice”). After a few days, three things will easily flow into six. At the end of each day, this is a nice way to review the earth’s rotation before sleeping. Better than the loop of, “Man, I really should have told that guy where to go …”

Parents, this is an easy way to engage your kids in a conversations about school. Role model this first. Warn your kid! Teenagers, in particular, can be very suspicious.

With my kids, I start with one challenging event in the day to give my girls the opportunity to share their worries. The key is to spend three times as long discussing the positive over the challenging. The 3:1 Positivity ratio has been proved to be productive by Barbara Fredrickson and confirmed by other psychologists.

I generally aim for one social good thing (“Having lunch with people I like at work”), something personal (“I learned a new poem today”) and something a bit more mundane (“I’m wearing my pink flamingo socks that nobody saw but I like”). At first, my daughter and stepson coat-tailed on my ideas but that’s not a problem — it’s a starting point. After a few weeks, I had to fight to get a word in edgewise about my good things!

I can’t explain just how enjoyable this is and how much it has improved our experience of bedtime. We always end on a high note! My daughter and I are so much closer because we’ve shared our woe and our joys. Every. Single. Day. Then one night my daughter’s third good thing after her friends and watching a video at school was “this”. This! Us talking about our days. The proof is in the pudding.

Early days, be prepared for “I don’t know” and “lunch” but don’t lose your cool. Both are expected. The second one is a very acceptable answer. Cheerlead and ask follow ups (“What was the best part of lunch?”). Many boys and girls will struggle with this at first. But like any habit, it will get easier with practice.

I liken it to burpees. Burpees might never feel natural but after doing three every day for a week, you can suddenly do more. And focussing on the positive is as good as burpees are for your heart.

Three good things: simple, quick and evidence based. So on that note, what are your three good things today?

And maybe I should go do some burpees.

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