Get Big

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One of the things we always encourage the kids in group to do in a lot of different ways is to "get big" during times of adversity. Getting big means to take a perspective beyond the immediate challenges that allows you to see the positive in a difficult situation. Sometimes a bad situation is a gateway to a new and unexpected opportunity, and most often it is nothing more than a chance to grow through life experience and develop a residual compassion for others. 

This week I am in the CCMC neonatal intensive care unit with my newborn son, but in the moments where I'm able to get big I am grateful for the extended family that is Kids Cooperate.

Gideon is Here!

Gideon Rye Morgan-Weintraub

Gideon Rye Morgan-Weintraub

Gideon is Here!

Aaron's son Gideon was born Wednesday evening. Aaron is taking a few days to be with his family so all individual sessions are on hold but groups will be held as usual with the rest of the team. 

If this isn't nice, what is?

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Good morning All,

My wife is due in the next few weeks, and if she goes into labor close to group my facilitators are all set to take over and create great conversations and learning moments. Speaking of which....

Feeling at ease is better than feeling stressed. Right? It's something we can agree on. There is even a separate word for the positive excited kind of arousal in the body which is "eustress", so regular old stress is just universally bad. 

Stress is bad for your health too. 

  • Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
  • Seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
  • Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually.
  • The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.

So in the spirit of good mental hygiene, we are talking about stress and learning three ways to pull ourselves out of a stress tailspin. 

1. Rate your stress. Not all problems are the same size and not all stress reactions are equal. Take a moment to step outside of yourself and compare your problem with the level of stress you are feeling. Do they match up? Look to the body for clues. We will be talking about the physical response to stress. 

2. Focus on an object. Stress is nearly always a reaction to anxiety about the future or memories of the past. By focusing on a sensory experience that is immediate you bring yourself into the present. What dies the object feel like, smell like, look like?

3. Look around. Notice your context. Look at the faces and body language of the people around you. If you are the only one stressed out there is a good chance it is in your head, and that you are future or past focused. Loop back around to steps one and two.

Can't wait to hear the ideas the kids generate about what works for them!

Why Play?

You may have noticed that when you pick up your child from groups he or she is smiling and perhaps out of breath with a flushed face. This is from playing. "But what," you might ask, "does this have to do with social skills?" The answer is "everything".  Play is a child's work. It is how they process and integrate new sensory, cognitive, and emotional experiences into the schemas that structure and understanding of the world around them.  Play is an integral part of the Kids Cooperate process because it affords the opportunities for what we call " interventions in context ".

Play is a child's work. It is through imaginative play that children process and integrate the social and cultural information that they experience. The social learning that happens during play lays the foundation for social communication and emotional regulation skills that become important for getting and keeping a job, and maintaining close healthy relationships throughout life. 

The imaginative games that children play equip them to read and intuit the feelings of others, laying the groundwork for the development of authentic empathy. For children on the autism spectrum, the ability to take the perspective of another is one of the most important challenges.

Cognitive development progresses through stages of grouping information, or schemas. As new information is encountered, it must be fit into an existing schema or a new schema can be developed. For example, the "cat" schema may include house cats, lions, and tigers, but when your child sees a weasel with catlike paws and whiskers, they must process and integrate that it does not fit into the "cat" category.

April is Autism Awareness Month, so it is worth mentioning that for children on the autism spectrum, imaginative and cooperative play may not come naturally. Adults can scaffold play by including neuro-typical children, interactive manipulatives, a well organized environment, visual supports, and a consistent routine.

An example of how prosocial behavior is supported by cooperative play can be seen in a simple game of "hot and cold". One child must hide an object and then encourage the other child to locate it by encouraging them with "hot"as they get closer to discovering it and "cold" as they get further away. This interaction requires perspective taking (I know something my friend does not), social exchange (I offer verbal prompts which affect my friends movements), and central coherence or situational appropriateness (I can give hints but should not reveal the answer because it would ruin the game).

Children process their experiences through imaginative play. You can support your child's development by engaging them in make believe! Remember to let your child take the lead in setting up the scenario and be flexible about rapidly shifting rules and roles.

Playground Powow

Good morning All,

We encourage the kids to bring in ideas of games and activities that they will enjoy sharing with their group friends. We pride ourselves on incorporating those ideas and helping the kids to feel ownership of the curriculum. But the suggestion we get most often is the one we will never take. Why?

The most requested activity across all of the age groups is to use the playscape. I always say no, because by intentionally excluding that wonderful resource from our toolbox, something wonderful happens. Your children make playdates, with friends, on their own.

We have made a conscious decision to draw a metaphorical line across which the playground is outside of Kids Cooperate, which opens the opportunity for kids to easily and conveniently bridge their social interactions from Kids Cooperate to the outside world. One of the biggest challenges we face is helping the kids to take what they have learned during the highly scaffolded social interaction in groups and apply it to other contexts. When your child asks, "can I go to the playground with _____" that is exactly what they are doing.

I encourage you to build in a little extra time into your schedule when the weather is nice after your child gets out of group so that when they ask to play on the playground with a friend you can say yes. Take a minute to appreciate what an important mark of progress this represents!

thank you!

(S)TOP

I read an article this weekend that suggested that repeated frustration, rather than exposure to violent images could be responsible for the violent behavior associated with video game playing. What is interesting about this is that it points to the importance of resiliency, and developing strong emotional self regulation techniques throughout all areas of life. Here is a link to the article: http://goo.gl/KVUWSR
 

For example, in sports, players may lose a game as a result of a bad call. "When people feel they have no control over the outcome of a game that leads to aggression" he said.P

"We saw that in our experiments. If you press someone's competencies, they'll become more aggressive, and our effects held up whether the games were violent or not."

In order to foster resiliency and emotional intelligence we learn many different techniques, which are all the same at the core. Increase awareness of your emotional landscape, find a cognitive heuristic that helps you to slow down and take a breath before reacting, practice practice practice.

Here is an example of the S.T.O.P technique (from http://zenpsychiatry.com/stop/):

(S)top when you realize you're about to get hijacked by your reaction, (T)ake a breath, (O)bserve what is going on in your body and not just your head and finally (P)roceed once you've done all this. 

The Duchenne Smile

This week we discussed "Mind Hacks", the idea that we can make our lives happier, smarter, and awesome-er by understanding a little about neuroscience. The middle schoolers learned how to consistently win the game of Rock Paper Scissors by understanding the psychology behind the patterns people throw. We learned another mind hack, how facial expression sends powerful signals to the brain. A frown uses a muscle called the corrugator, which some studies show activates the amygdala, the portion of the brain responsible for coping with stress and danger. When scientists temporarily paralyzed the frowning muscle using botox injections, depressed people recovered faster. Conversely, a genuine smile which crinkles the eyes as well as mouth called the "Duchenne Smile" after the neurologist who studied it can increase feelings of joy, affect the immune system, and improve performance on cognitive tasks. An interesting fact is that the brain can spot a fake smile using only the mouth (the Pan Am smile) and it does not have the same positive effects.

Keep Smiling!

Happiness

To avoid danger, our brains have developed to notice and remember negative things easier and more persistently than positive ones. That means that we must make a conscious effort to focus on positive things in our lives, in fact science tells us a 5:1 ration is needed to feel happier. 
 

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