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Parents Zone

A quick method to calm down young children

October 2023

Source: Pediatric Behavioral Therapist, Yip Wai Lun

 

Many times, as parents, when we see our children experiencing negative emotions like anger, tantrums, or extreme unhappiness, we often want to quickly resolve the situation by saying things like, “Don’t be so angry!” or we may scold them, sometimes even yelling, “Shut up right now!” or using a countdown like “One! Two! Three!” to command them. Some parents may try to reason with their children, saying, “We shouldn’t behave like this; we should stay calm.” However, these methods are not always very effective. Why is this the case?

 

It turns out that this is closely related to the structure of our brains. Understanding the brain’s structure can be very helpful in parenting. If we are familiar with two specific parts of the brain, it can aid us in disciplining our children. The first part is called the amygdala, which is a pair of almond-shaped clusters located in the posterior part of our brain. When we are startled or feel threatened, the amygdala sends signals that prepare us for either a fight or flight response. The amygdala operates on a reflexive level.

Another part is called the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for our flexibility and empathy. However, the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex cannot function simultaneously. The development of a child’s prefrontal cortex takes place from around the age of two to over twenty years old before it fully matures. Only then can they understand your reasoning and consider your thoughts and feelings.

 

As a result, most of the time, children are primarily influenced by the two amygdalae. This is why you often see children experiencing various emotions, becoming easily agitated, and prone to tantrums.

How do we stop the amygdala from functioning? This is very important. The way we make the amygdala stop functioning is by helping children express their emotions, especially when they have negative emotions. As parents, we should help them speak out, for example, saying, “I can see that you’re very unhappy,” “I can see that you’re very disappointed,” or “You seem very sad.” Because when you express and describe their feelings, their prefrontal cortex will send soothing messages to their amygdala, causing the amygdala to stop functioning immediately.

 

Whatever you do, don’t react negatively! When you see that your child is emotional, express your own personal feelings as a parent: “I’m really angry!” “What you did is not right!” or “I feel upset!” Doing this will only stimulate the child’s amygdala and make them more resistant. So the first step in disciplining children is not to control or teach them, but to first connect with their emotions and then readjust.

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Parents Zone

Being a parent can be stressful; it’s important to manage anxiety promptly

October 2023

Source: Psychiatrist Dr. Wong Chun Yin

 

As parents, we have to juggle work and family responsibilities. Under significant stress, it’s easy to experience anxiety. Anxiety is a natural, built-in response, and it can protect us when our lives are threatened. However, excessive worry can lead to physical discomforts like a racing heart, stomachaches, muscle tension, rapid breathing, headaches, trembling hands, sweating, or frequent urination. If not addressed in a timely manner, it can lead to more serious emotional issues and can also affect family relationships.

 

Here are three ways to reduce anxiety symptoms. First is practicing relaxation through deep breathing, using diaphragmatic breathing. Inhale slowly through your nose for a count of 4, letting your abdomen rise for 2 seconds, then exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of 4. Pause for 2 seconds and repeat this process 5 to 10 times.

The second method is muscle relaxation exercises. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, gently close your eyes, and relax all your muscles. Start by shifting your focus to your feet, tense the muscles in your feet for 10 seconds, and then release. Proceed sequentially, tensing and relaxing the muscles in your legs, arms, neck, and facial muscles.

 

Lastly, there is imagery relaxation practice. In a quiet place, close your eyes and imagine a comfortable setting, visualizing what you see, hear, smell, and feel for 5 to 10 minutes. Gradually return to the present reality.

 

Additionally, it’s important to cultivate a positive thinking pattern in your daily life. Try to see the bright side of things at all times rather than dwelling on unhappy thoughts constantly, which can reduce the chances of developing mood disorders.

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Parents Zone

Apart from during reading, can parents utilize dialogic techniques in their everyday lives?

October 2023

Source: Educational psychologists, Shum Ka Man and Tang Wai Yan

 

The techniques used in dialogic reading, including questioning and the subsequent interaction between parents and children, can actually be applied and practiced not only in reading but also in everyday life.

 

For example, during playtime or when encountering something new while out shopping or seeing objects around, these questioning methods can be applied. As for the steps, we engage in a conversation and exchange with the child. For instance, if we are playing with trains at home, parents can use a questioning approach like, ‘When we’re on transportation, what do we usually ride?’

 

These methods can encourage children to express themselves more and foster greater interaction with their parents. Besides play, children often enjoy drawing. During the process of drawing, you can also employ dialogic reading techniques. For example, ask questions like, ‘What is the content of this drawing?’ ‘What is this?’ ‘When did you see this? Could it be related to the playground equipment we saw at the park last week?

These are actually just a part of the dialogic reading techniques, and there are some additional tips for dialogic reading. For example, deliberate pauses are important for us. Sometimes, parents may be a bit impatient and expect an immediate response after asking a question. However, we should give children some space and time to answer gradually. Children need time to organize their thoughts and sentences. If we remember the techniques of dialogic reading, they can help us be more patient in our everyday conversations with children.

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Parents Zone

What is interactive reading? What are the techniques and steps for engaging in interactive reading with children?

October 2023

Source: Educational psychologists, Shum Ka Man and Tang Wai Yan

 

Interactive reading is when parents and children engage in reading through conversation. The main difference between interactive reading and traditional reading aloud lies in the fact that traditional reading aloud often involves parents telling stories to children or, in some cases, parents’ intention to teach children to recognize words, focusing primarily on word recognition. However, the advantage of interactive reading is not just about word recognition; it aims to foster a positive parent-child relationship and help children express themselves through conversation.

 

In interactive reading, children take on an active role, where they can ask questions and guide the conversation through these questions and answers, thereby enhancing their reading comprehension skills. When parents engage in interactive reading with children, they should consider what questions to ask and what steps to follow. There are various ways for parents to ask questions, and we teach them a prompting framework that includes five different question types, abbreviated as ‘CROWD.’

 

C stands for Completion, where questions can be posed in a fill-in-the-blank manner. R represents Recall, encouraging children to remember what happened earlier in the story. O denotes Open-ended questions, allowing children to speculate about what might happen next. W represents Wh questions, covering the six Ws: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Finally, D stands for Distancing questions, which prompt children to relate the story to their own life experiences, asking how the story connects to their daily lives.

Interactive reading also follows a framework called ‘PEER.’

The first step is ‘Prompt,’ which refers to the types of questions asked. The second step is ‘Evaluate,’ where after asking questions, you can provide responses to the child. ‘Evaluate’ involves giving positive encouragement to the child, such as praising them when they answer correctly, saying, ‘You did a great job; you listened very attentively.’ If they answer incorrectly, it’s still important to encourage them, saying, ‘You tried very hard!’ and then attempt to find the answer together in the book.

 

Next is ‘Expand’ (E), which means expanding on what the child says. If a child’s response is brief, you can add adjectives or other details to make the sentence richer. Finally, there’s ‘Repeat’ (R), where after listening to the story, the child repeats the story, which can help improve their oral language skills.