30th August, 2017
bookbhook wishes Anuradha a very happy birthday. We are sure you will receive loads of love and gifts on this special day. Here’s a small birthday gift from our side. After all, a book is the best possible gift. And in today’s busy world, bookbhook is the best possible option to reading a book.
Hope you are able to take the time out to read this handcrafted book summary of Mind in the Making-The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs. Hope this short book summary sparks new ideas and thoughts as a parent, bringing up the next generation. Enjoy this read and Happy Birthday once again, Anuradha.
PS: We will take this page off on 1st September
Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs
400 pages; Average reading time 5 hours 40 min
This bookbhook summary will take not more than 10 minutes
We are connected 24/7 with the world around us. This makes life complex, distracting and stressful. This holds for adults as well as children. For children especially, we try to help them imbibe different skills in sports, studies and performing arts. One area that gets neglected in this race to build a multi-dimensional individual is helping children learn life skills. Life skills, unlike your child’s tennis class, does not require expensive equipment to learn. While there is no age to learn life skills, adults need these skills as much as children do, it helps to begin early.
The seven essential life skills are:
1.Life skill of Focus & Self-control:
Research confirms that attention skills play an important role in knowledge acquired in the early years, playing a big role in the child’s later success. Focus comprises of being “alert”, “oriented” and “concentrated” despite multiple distractions.Focus and self-control involve the following executive functions of the brain:
- Cognitive flexibility is the ability to adjust to shuffled or changed demands and priorities.
- Working memory is the ability to hold information and process it at the same time. An example would be relating what you are reading right now (information) to an earlier book that you read (processing of information).
- Inhibitory control is the ability to resist something that the mind wants to do right now and instead focus on doing what is more appropriate. A child making the effort to study while there’s his favourite show on TV, is an example of inhibitory control.
In 1968, a Stanford University professor, Walter Mischel, carried out the now well-known Marshmallow Test. In the test, four year olds were presented with the choice of getting to eat one marshmallow immediately versus waiting for some time and then getting two marshmallows. Left with this choice, the professor observed the behaviour of the kids from a different room. Some children gave in to the temptation of immediately having one marshmallow while others understood the benefit of the additional marshmallow for delaying their temptation. This delaying of temptation was done by avoiding the hot stimulus-the marshmallows. Some children closed their eyes, some turned their backs on the marshmallow and some engaged themselves in make -believe games. Mischel got in touch with these kids a couple of decades later, when they had reached their midlife. He found that the children who had controlled their urge and waited in order to get two marshmallows at the age of four, had better success rates in achieving their goals. His conclusion was that focus and control are important skills that need to be inculcated and developed in children so that in their adult years, they are better able to stay true on their goals and are able to manage disappointment and frustration better.
The skill of developing focus and control is controlled by the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is one of the last parts of the brain to develop. And it is for this reason that younger children have that much more difficulty in staying focussed as compared to people in their late teens and early adulthood. Focus and control can be strengthened in children using some of the following suggestions:
- Integrate focus and control into everyday activities like playing guessing games and puzzles.Popular games like Simon Says are games that promote inhibitory control.
- The author uses “lemonade stands” as a metaphor to help identify a strong interest for the child e.g. a sport, a performing art or just setting up a lemonade stall during vacations.
- Restrict television to shows that help children pay attention, and definitely do not allow passive background TV to run, while the child is doing something else.
- Promote cognitive flexibility in children by playing games where the rules keep changing as the children advance from one stage to another.
2.Life skill of Perspective Taking:
When you take your anger out on your computer which is refusing to start up, you show weak sense of perspective taking, or empathy.In an exercise that the author regularly does during her workshops, she asks the participants to write down a terrific and a terrible experience from their lives. In most cases, the author says, the terrible experiences are recounted with far more emotions than the terrific ones. Perspective taking almost always from my point of view, and not the others involved.
Perspective thinking is complex as it requires processing of current situation, our view of the situation, keeping in mind the other person’s views and how that person feels-all at the same time. Research studies that mapped the brain to functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) show that a part of the cortex-the part of brain where complex thinking happens-lights up when people think of others (and their thoughts and perspectives).Perspective taking is a true social-emotional-intellectual (SEI) skill and requires the following abilities:
- Inhibitory control-the ability to control my feelings so that I can understand others’ perspective.
- Cognitive flexibility-the ability to see the same scenario from different frames.
- Reflection-the ability to think through both my own and others’ feelings and thinking.
Perspective taking is not considered as a top skill for children, given its complexity, but researchers have found that younger children are better able to adapt to major changes like entering kindergarten school and have better reading ability, when they exhibit stronger perspective taking.Perspective taking can be developed in children in terms of better people sense by following some of these suggestions:
- Being empathetic with children helps them build better people sense. Reacting to tantrum with “You seem to be really upset about something” instead of “Stop this tantrum” helps the child understand that you are trying to look things from his perspective-something that the child also starts building over time.
- Help the child (especially younger children) feel understood by repeating the child’s words or action and tuning in with the child by saying empathetic statements like “I know how that feels.”
- Help children play pretend games-pretend games help build perspective taking. Use role play oriented questions like “What would you have done if you were in the story character’s place?”
3.Life skill of Communicating:
The hippocampus of the brain is connected to the limbic system-the emotional part of the brain. Research has shown that even one or two days old babies are able to recognise their mother’s voice. Infants have better developed auditory sense than visual sense during their first few months. This makes the role of parent speak and parent look very important tools to help develop the child’s communication skills.
Parent speak: Stanford University professor Anne Fernald conducted studies where she asked mothers to speak to their babies in parent speak or infant directed speak. Commonly we refer to this as speaking baby singsong or Fernald also discovered that mothers speak to their babies in a voice that ranges across two octaves. The key question was did the babies communicate with their mothers because of the octave or because of the parent speak gibberish? It turns out that the pitch in the parent speak helps babies communicate better with their mothers.
Parent look: While using gibberish parent speak with infants, parents also exaggerate their expressions-mouth contortions, animated eyes. Researcher Janet Werker found that mothers’ facial expressions while talking to their babies show three levels of emotions-oochie using pursed lips to show love, wow with raised eyebrows and mouth wide open to show amazement and, joy. Looking at the baby allows it to follow the mother’s gaze and this attempt at focus becomes its guide to learning the language.Parent speak and parent gesture help babies focus their attention to comprehend what the mother is trying to communicate, thereby helping develop the baby’s communication skills over the next few years.
Children can build communicating skills using the following suggestions:
- Enable an environment for the child where words, listening and reading are encouraged.
- Use parent speak, parent look and parent gesture with the child as much as you can.
- Go beyond necessary conversations and create opportunities for extra talk with the child, including story-telling as well as story listening. These stories can be about the parent’s life or it can be about the child narrating a story from his day at school.
- Reading with the children, using parent talk and parent look, helps children focus on the words thereby strengthening their communicating skills.
4.Life skill of Making Connections:
For children, making connections is about categorising all that they see into similar, same and different categories and more importantly, figuring out the relationship between these categories. These relationships can be the usual relationships e.g. all dogs hate cats or unusual such as using different shapes to create an art.Making connections requires the executive functions of the brain like working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility.Children have inborn capabilities like object sense(physics),space sense(geometry) and number sense(math). These sense are precursors to the domain knowledge as shown within brackets.
Elizabeth Spelke of Harvard University has done research studies that prove that infants too possess these sense, within a month of their being born. She calls these as core cognitive capacities, something that the infant knows much before it is taught concepts of physics, geometry and math.As children start learning to communicate, they start making connections where sounds start standing for words and words connect to people, places and things.Making connections becomes a core part of the executive functions of the child’s brain. Making connections requires remembering multiple rules at the same time, inhibiting an automatic response, cognitive flexibility and Reflection is the difference between creating usual connections and unusual connections (creativity).
Given that we have definitely moved from an industrial economy to a knowledge driven economy, making unusual connections will be a key life skill for our children. There is research evidence to show that learning of arts has a positive impact on cognitive life. Learning a performing art like music, drama, painting, dance helps improve the child’s focus (life skill 1) and also leads to increased levels of motivation thereby helping improve overall cognition.
Parents can help children build stronger levels of making connections skill by trying out the following:
- Do not punish for mistakes; instead help children see mistakes as part of learning.
- Help develop their object, space and number sense by carefully curating their toys and games and helping them with more opportunities of pretend play.
- Describe quantities in different ways and build their sense of space using games like hide and seek, treasure hunt.
- Build a sense of numbers by giving them family chores that involve counting and measuring and giving them optical illusion puzzles.
5.Life skill of Critical Thinking:
Critical thinking is about looking for the knowledge that will help us in making choices and taking decisions. Like other skills, critical thinking is more developed in early adults than in children, but that does not mean it is not important to strengthen this life skill in children.Critical thinking requires all the other life skills like focus, perspective taking and making connections. It, however, goes a step beyond the combination of other life skills by requiring the children to reflect, analyse, reason, plan and evaluate.
Critical thinking needs the executive functions of the brain as well an ability to theorise & establish causality. The knowledge that is important to be able to think critically comes in children from learning from others as well as the children’s ability to analyse and reflect.Direct experiences, driven by curiosity, help children build their knowledge base, which then is used for critical thinking. The causality way of thinking emerges from scientific thinking process of establishing a theory and then testing it to derive connections, both usual and unusual.
Parents can help promote scientific thinking in children by helping them focus on the evidence, gather new evidence and then asking the children to interpret that evidence using some of the following suggestions:
- Promote the child’s curiosity by not jumping in to help the child when he is stuck.
- Help the child reach out to others to learn from-friends,family,neighbours
- If there is TV viewing involved, then convert the TV viewing into a critical viewing exercise by asking questions like “What’s happening and why?”
6.Life skill of Taking on Challenges:
Harvard University researcher Jack Shonkoff has worked on the impact of stress on children and concluded that the duration of the stress and the child’s options in terms of talking about it with a trusted relationship, determine whether the stress will leave a positive or negative impact on the child.Stress happens when the body needs to respond at a level beyond its auto mode level of functioning. The brain goes into an overdrive and releases adrenaline and cortisol hormones to take on the immediate challenge i.e. the stress causing impulse.
A research study shows that developmental care involving skin to skin holding, calm feeding experiences and soothing environments help infants fight stress better. Such developmental care enhances the left frontal part of the brain which leads to better executive functions of the brain as the infant grows up.
Carol Dweck of Stanford University has demonstrated that her seminal work on fixed and growth mindset (bookbhook has earlier done a summary of Carol Dwecks’ Mindset) is relevant for children too. Parents can help children develop a growth mindset as against a fixed mindset when they take on challenges. Some suggestions include:
- Parents should not shield their children from everyday stress and help them in responding to the challenges by asking questions that help children see the stress in the growth mindset frame.
- Parents need to manage their own stress well and ensure that children do not see their parents as “jumpy” or “volatile”.
- Praise the child’s efforts (I like how you repeatedly kept looking for the missing piece) rather than his personality (You’re so smart!)
7.Life skill of Self Directed and Engaged Learning:
How do children stay motivated and engaged while learning? The brain of an infant does not come fully wired, it develops with the experiences of life as the infant grows up into an adult. These experiences are learnings and it is through learning that children realise their potential.
Having a trustworthy parent-child relationship helps the child enhance his desire to learn. When the child is not stressed about making mistakes, learning becomes fun.Children’s desire to learn is sharper when the parent helps them with setting up their goals and helps them work towards those goals. Infants, in their evolutionary need to master their environment, do not wait to be told that their next goal is to turn on their back or walk on two feet. But beyond nature, there is a strong role that nurture plays in helping children learn. Nurture requires encouraging the child’s desire to explore & helping him plan better.
While in our adult lives social, emotional and intellectual learnings can be arranged in separate boxes, the children need to learn all three at the same time. Asking children to being accountable for what they do is an example of social, emotional and intellectual learning happening at the same time.Children remember experiences that are meaningful and purposeful. Parents need to nurture children towards more practice i.e. engaged learning experiences rather than passive experiences like watching TV.
Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs is a book that has lots of exercises and tests to help you understand the concepts better.
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