Building strong, healthy friendships from young

How do we help our kids build strong, healthy friendships? It begins by teaching and helping them to understand what constitutes a good friend. Here are 3 essential traits:

1. Trustworthiness

Talk about words that define ‘trustworthy’, and actions that influence whether we trust a person or not (e.g. lying).

To help your child understand the importance of being someone trustworthy, you can play-act different scenarios; this will allow them to experience the impact of their actions. You can then ask follow-up questions to reinforce how important it is to be trustworthy.

2. Forgiveness

It can be difficult for children to understand this; it’s far too easy for them say “I don’t want to be friends with (name) anymore because he/she did (insert action here).” On the flip side, children are either unaware that they may have hurt their friend, or be afraid to admit a mistake.

Disagreements do happen; it’s vital that we teach them to work out the conflicts on their own and to forgive each other.

Note: instead of instructing your child to solve the problem and to forgive/ask for forgiveness, help your child determine if the relationship is worth the effort. This will help to motivate the child in resolving the conflict and retaining the relationship.

3. Graciousness

Children may be unsure of how they should interact with others who are not like them. Encourage your child to be open to potential friendships with various personalities; being gracious to everyone regardless of their popularity and personality is an important life lesson.

As the famous saying goes, “Don’t draw lines (between people). Draw circles and be inclusive.” You can brainstorm with your child ways to help others feel included in different social situations.

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Learning in the internet era

Future of Learning

If examinations challenge learners to solve problems the way they are solved in real life today, the educational system will change forever. It is a small policy change that is required. Allow the use of the internet and collaboration during an examination.

If we did that to exams, the curriculum would have to be different. We would not need to emphasise facts or figures or dates. The curriculum would have to become questions that have strange and interesting answers. “Where did language come from?,” “Why were the pyramids built?,” “Is life on Earth sustainable?,” “What is the purpose of theatre?”  Questions that engage learners in a world of unknowns. Questions that will occupy their minds through their waking hours and sometimes their dreams.

Teaching in an environment where the internet and discussion are allowed in exams would be different. The ability to find things out quickly and accurately would become the predominant skill. The ability to discriminate between alternatives, then put facts together to solve problems would be critical. That’s a skill that future employers would admire immensely.

In this kind of self-organised learning, we don’t need the same teachers all the time. Any teacher can cause any kind of learning to emerge. …

We don’t need to improve schools. We need to reinvent them for our times, our requirements and our future. We don’t need efficient clerks to fuel an administrative machine that is no longer needed. Machines will do that for us. We need people who can think divergently, across outdated “disciplines,” connecting ideas across the entire mass of humanity. We need people who can think like children.

Relaxation is Good For Your Mind

Find yourself flooded by to-do lists that never end? Too busy to even indulge in your hobbies? Maybe it is time to take a step back and have a look at your life. Is it all work and no play?

Life is not all about work and not having time to relax. In fact, overworking can cause undue stress, which can result in physical and health problems such as heart disease and depression.

Relaxation rejuvenates your mind and body, so set aside time to do something that you like and enjoy. Making time to relax energises your mind and body.

Furthermore, after a fun and rejuvenating break, you will feel refreshed and be ready to take on any challenges at work. So it does pay to have fun!

Relaxing is not a treat, but something that you need to set aside time to do regularly!

Take that holiday escapade

It is time to put words into action, and take that vacation that you have been wanting to take, but never gotten around to doing so.

  • One day or one month, it is still a vacation

    You can take a week and set off to explore a new city, or go on a weekend getaway to a nearby island resort. Even a short Sunday picnic at the beach with friends and family will help you tremendously to unwind and relax.

  • Make sure your vacation is work-free

    Before you take off for your escapade, be sure to plan well in advance. Finish up whatever work that you can, delegate your responsibilities and arrange for colleagues to cover your duties at work. With that, you can enjoy your break in peace.

  • Force yourself to stop thinking about work while on vacation

    As long as your plans are in place, you have nothing to worry about and should be able to enjoy your vacation to the fullest!

Manage your time

A common complaint is that we just simply cannot find time outside of work to relax and have fun. More often than not, it is just a case of poor time management.

  • Do not procrastinate

    It is important to prioritise your tasks, and finish the most important things first. Do not put off doing something because more work will soon pile up.

  • Keep track of how you spend your time

    Create an activity log over several days and identify where you waste the most time. It could be time spent going through your spam e-mails or aimlessly browsing online. Rectify that, and soon you will find that you have a little more time each day for yourself.

  • Plan out your activities

    Always block out time for personal relaxation first before jotting down all other obligations and appointments in your calendar.

The little things in life

Sometimes relaxation is not just about taking that long-awaited vacation. All you need is just a few minutes a day to enjoy the little things that will brighten up your day.

You will be amazed at how much difference something as small as listening to your favourite music will help uplift your spirits and enrich your life.

Or you can start now by taking a few minutes off, sit back, let your mind wander, and relax. All you need is just that little extra rest to inject the freshness back into your life.

The Difference Between Praise and Feedback

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Parenting these days is patrolled by the language police. Sometimes it seems like the worst thing you could ever say to a kid is “Good job!” or the dreaded, “Good girl!”  Widely popularized psychological research warns about the “inverse power of praise” and the importance of “unconditional parenting.” The incorrectly phrased, indiscriminately doled out pat on the back can, we learn, undermine a child’s inner motivation to learn and achieve, promote a “fixed mindset” that will cause her to shrink from taking on any kind of challenge or effort, and maybe even destroy her sense of self worth.

The anxiety is such that parenting blogs circulate actual word-for-word scripts for parents to use in such difficult situations as the sidelines of a swim meet, or after a music recital. There are long lists of forbidden words and phrases, too.

What are these researchers really getting at? Are the particular words we use to talk to our kids so important? And how do we convey positive feelings without negative consequences?

Process Praise

Some of the most prominent psychologists behind all of this talk about talking are Stanford University’s Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset, and Edward Deci and Richard Ryan at the University of Rochester, whose research the education author Alfie Kohn relies heavily on in his books including Unconditional Parenting. Both Dweck and Deci are theorists of human motivation, but they emphasize very different perspectives on praise.

Dweck’s studies have focused on the effects of “process praise,” which means praising effort or strategy: “You must have worked very hard on this painting!” This is opposed to “person praise,” which labels people with phrases like, “You are really good at painting!” “You must be a genius!”

The idea is that reinforcing effort contributes to children’s beliefs that they can get better at things if they try, the vaunted “growth mindset.” But praising traits feeds the belief that talent is fixed, which makes kids less willing to take on new challenges that might expose them as less naturally able.

Most of Dweck’s research has focused on process praise given by strange adults interacting with children in a research study environment. But in a recent study, her team coded videotapes of parents praising their one to three-year-old children. They found that the greater use of process praise with these very young children predicted their later desire to take on new challenges, which in turn influenced these children’s math achievement seven years later, in fourth grade.

“Kids are thrilled by the idea that they can grow their brains through their effort and strategy,” Dweck says. “Praising strategy and focus and improvement gives them actionable information and a reason to try hard.”

Praise and Personhood

Simple, right? Not so fast. Writers such as Kohn have condemned all praise, including Dweck’s “process praise,” as little more than “sugar-coated control.”

The idea is that parental praise is manipulative, intrusive, and undermines both children’s intrinsic enjoyment of what they’re doing and their own internal sense of whether they are, in fact, doing a good job or trying hard.

Kohn cites Deci and Richard Ryan, and their colleagues including Guy Roth and Avi Assor at the University of the Negev in Israel. All of them have found in a series of studies that when parents express any kind of “conditional regard,” it harms young people’s developing autonomy, causing them to feel pressured to achieve, to feel shame if they don’t, and to suppress negative emotions and experiences. Conditional regard includes positive reinforcement, the practice of offering praise in exchange for desired behavior.

“If you tell your kids, ‘You’re a good boy for taking out the trash,’” they may feel that if they don’t take out the trash, they’re not worthy of your love,” says Deci. “You need to express that you love them and approve of them no matter what they do.”

Verbal rewards are a pretty central weapon in the parenting arsenal, especially when it comes to academic achievement. Deci and his colleagues found that offering your warmth and approval in exchange for academic achievement does work, in the sense that it causes young people to be more invested in trying to do well in school. But it’s a devil’s bargain that backfires emotionally in the form of “maladaptive self feelings.”

The controversial recent book The Triple Package, coauthored by “tiger mom” Amy Chua, purported to explain why certain ethnic groups tend to outperform others in education, occupational status and earnings. Two of the three traits the authors describe are a superiority complex accompanied by insecurity—a pretty good description of what researchers say can be the outcome of too much conditional parental positive regard.

Praise VS Feedback

Parents are not perfectly controlled Siri-like bots but human beings with positive and negative emotions that are going to arise in response to specific actions by children. So is there any way to channel and communicate your sincere feelings to your kids without doing lasting harm? Surprisingly, despite their differing views on praise, Dweck and Deci tend to agree on the right course of action.

When I ask Dweck about the “sugar-coated control” idea, she says, “I basically agree that we overpraise.” Her intention in talking about process praise is to redirect this impulse more constructively. Instead of mindlessly kvelling over every finger painting or math test — or even just telling kids to “try hard!” — her recommendation is to get more involved with what a kid is doing. “Appreciate it. Ask questions. If we see that a child is using interesting strategies we can ask about them. Talk to them about their thought processes, how they can learn from mistakes.” Encourage your child to actively seek both positive and negative feedback in order to grow and improve.

Deci says something similar. In addition to assuring children of your continuous love and regard, “You want to understand what your child is thinking and feeling, to be respectful toward them. Asking questions is a far better idea than giving praise”—or criticism for that matter.  The idea is to support the development of a child’s autonomy by taking his perspective.

If you’re on the sidelines at a soccer game, it’s easy to pull out some pre-scripted phrase like “I love to watch you play!” or “You’re a natural!” It’s harder to watch your kid so you can tell her, “When you made that pass in the second quarter, I could see that you’ve been practicing your footwork a lot,” or to take the time to ask, “What was your favourite part of the game?” and really listen to the answer.

Providing helpful, detailed, encouraging feedback and appreciation requires paying attention to what kids are doing, and listening to what they are saying. This takes time and energy. Dweck says what she sees all too often are time-pressured parents who reach for a quick sugar fix instead. “We are a praise-addicted culture. I don’t think parents are going to stop praising.”

Kids’ learning ability is in their DNA

You may think you’re better at reading than you are at math (or vice versa), but new research suggests you’re probably equally good (or bad) at both. The reason: The genes that determine a person’s ability to tackle one subject influence their aptitude at the other, accounting for about half of a person’s overall ability.

The study, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, used nearly 1,500 pairs of 12-year-old twins to tease apart the effects of genetic inheritance and environmental variables on math and reading ability. Twin studies provide a clever way of assessing the balance of nature versus nurture.

“Twins are like a natural experiment,” said Robert Plomin, a psychologist at Kings College London who worked on the study. Identical twins share 100 percent of their DNA and fraternal twins share 50 percent (on average), but all siblings presumably experience similar degrees of parental attentiveness, economic opportunity and so on. Different pairs of twins, in contrast, grow up in unique environments.

The researchers administered a set of math and verbal tests to the children and then compared the performance of different sets of twins. They found that the twins’ scores – no matter if they were high or low – were twice as similar among pairs of identical twins as among pairs of fraternal twins. The results indicated that approximately half the children’s math and reading ability stemmed from their genetic makeup. A complementary analysis of unrelated kids corroborated this conclusion – strangers with equivalent academic abilities shared genetic similarities.

What’s more, the genes responsible for math and reading ability appear to be numerous and interconnected, not specifically targeted toward one set of skills. These so-called “generalist genes” act in concert to determine a child’s aptitude across multiple disciplines.

“If you found genes for reading,” Plomin said, “you have over a 50 percent chance that those same genes would influence math.” That’s not to say specialized brain circuits don’t exist for different tasks, said Timothy Bates, a psychologist at the University of Edinburgh who was not involved in Tuesday’s study.

“If those ‘squiggles on a page’ the young child encounters are math or prose, different brain systems, with different genes, are involved in learning to decode them,” he said. The new study just illustrates that these genes build on a more general foundation of learning ability, he said.

The finding that one’s propensities for math and reading go hand in hand may come as a surprise to many, but it shouldn’t. People often feel that they possess skills in only one area simply because they perform slightly worse in the other, Plomin said. But it’s all relative. “You might think you’re a little less good at math, but compared to everybody in the world, you’re pretty good at math,” he said.

That’s great news for those who came out on top of the genetic lottery, but what about everyone else?

“We don’t want to pit nature vs. nurture,” Plomin said. “But for parents who still think kids are a blob of clay that you mold to be what you want them to be, I hope this data – and there’s tons of other data like this – will convince people to recognize and respect individual differences that are genetically driven.”

He sees parallels to obesity: People can no more control a genetic predisposition that causes them to struggle with arithmetic than they can control an inherited tendency to put on pounds. That doesn’t mean nothing can be done to bring those students up to par – it just might take more effort. Plomin suggests individually tailored educational approaches could help, in which students could learn at different rates using different techniques, potentially assisted by the growing role of technology in the classroom. Finland consistently dominates international education rankings, and Plomin points to its strategy as a good example.

Finland has decided to do “whatever it takes” to bring every child up to a minimum level of literacy and numeracy needed to survive in the modern world. In practice, this has meant reducing class sizes, trying alternative learning approaches, and spending hours outside of class with any student who needs it.

Plomin also points out that genes don’t predetermine performance. Appetite is just as important as aptitude, he said. “The brilliant mathematician – that’s all they do for decades, they just think math and work on math,” Plomin said. “It’s not like it comes to them with a flash of inspiration. It’s really a long, long process of thinking about these things.”

The study results show that attitudes about learning are out of date and need to change, Bates said.

“Just as we no longer blame mothers for schizophrenia, we should be humble when blaming schools and parents for not every child learning is as quickly as we’d desire,” he said. “The implications, I think, are that children really do differ at very deep levels in how easily they learn.”

Does practice really makes perfect?

Does practice really make perfect? It’s an age-old question, and a new study from Rice University, Princeton University and Michigan State University finds that while practice won’t make you perfect, it will usually make you better at what you’re practicing.

Practice makes perfect

“This question is the subject of a long-running debate in psychology,” said Fred Oswald, professor and chair of psychology at Rice and one of the study’s co-authors. “Why do so few people who are involved in sports such as golf, musical instruments such as the violin or careers such as law or medicine ever reach an expert level of performance?”

The study, “Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education and Professions: A Meta-Analysis,” reviewed 88 previous studies (more than 11,135 total participants) published through 2014 that investigated relevant research on practice predicting performance in music, games, sports, educational and occupational domains.

Within each domain, the researchers averaged the reported results across all relevant studies. They found that “deliberate practice” – defined as engagement in structured activities created specifically to improve performance in a specific field – explained 26 percent of the variance in performance for games, 21 percent for music, 18 percent for sports, 4 percent for education and less than 1 percent for professions.

“Deliberate practice was a strong overall predictor of success in many performance domains, and not surprisingly, people who report practicing a lot generally tend to perform at a higher level than people who practice less,” Oswald said. “However, perhaps the more important contribution of our study is that no matter how strongly practice predicted performance in our findings, there was always statistical room for other personal factors to predict learning a skill and performing successfully, including basic abilities.”

Oswald noted that significant amounts of research have already identified basic abilities as also being important to predicting performance, but some researchers tend to minimize them and consider practice as the sole determinant of performance.

The researchers conclude that while practice will not make perfect for all people, it will make almost everyone better. “Other factors matter as well, but even so, no one says that practice will ever hurt you; but be careful if you are walking tightropes,” Oswald said.

The research paper will appear in an upcoming edition of Psychological Science.

10 Daily Habits That Will Actually Make You Smarter

You might be under the impression that intelligence is a fixed quantity set when you are young and unchanging thereafter. But research shows that you’re wrong. How we approach situations and the things we do to feed our brains can significantly improve our mental horsepower.

That could mean going back to school or filling your bookshelves (or e-reader) with thick tomes on deep subjects, but getting smarter doesn’t necessarily mean a huge commitment of time and energy, according to a recent thread on question-and-answer site Quora.

When a questioner keen on self-improvement asked the community, “What would you do to be a little smarter every single day?” lots of readers—including dedicated meditators, techies, and entrepreneurs—weighed in with useful suggestions. Which of these 10 ideas can you fit into your daily routine?

1. Be Smarter About Your Online Time

Every online break doesn’t have to be about checking social networks and fulfilling your daily ration of cute animal pics. The web is also full of great learning resources, such as online courses, intriguing TED talks, and vocabulary-building tools. Replace a few minutes of skateboarding dogs with something more mentally nourishing, suggest several responders.

2. Write Down What You Learn

It doesn’t have to be pretty or long, but taking a few minutes each day to reflect in writing about what you learned is sure to boost your brainpower. “Write 400 words a day on things that you learned,” suggests yoga teacher Claudia Azula Altucher. Mike Xie, a research associate at Bayside Biosciences, agrees: “Write about what you’ve learned.”

3. Make a “Did” List

A big part of intelligence is confidence and happiness, so boost both by pausing to list not the things you have yet to do, but rather all the things you’ve already accomplished. The idea of a “done list” is recommended by famed VC Marc Andreessen as well as Azula Altucher. “Make an I did list to show all the things you, in fact, accomplished,” she suggests.

4. Get Out the Scrabble Board

Board games and puzzles aren’t just fun but also a great way to work out your brain. “Play games (Scrabble, bridge, chess, Go, Battleship, Connect 4, doesn’t matter),” suggests Xie (for a ninja-level brain boost, exercise your working memory by trying to play without looking at the board). “Play Scrabble with no help from hints or books,” concurs Azula Altucher.

5. Have Smart Friends

It can be rough on your self-esteem, but hanging out with folks who are more clever than you is one of the fastest ways to learn. “Keep a smart company. Remember your IQ is the average of the five closest people you hang out with,” Saurabh Shah, an account manager at Symphony Teleca, writes. “Surround yourself with smarter people,” agrees developer Manas J. Saloi. “I try to spend as much time as I can with my tech leads. I have never had a problem accepting that I am an average coder at best and there are many things I am yet to learn… Always be humble and be willing to learn.”

6. Read a Lot

OK, this is not a shocker, but it was the most common response: Reading definitely seems essential. Opinions vary on what’s the best brain-boosting reading material, with suggestions ranging from developing a daily newspaper habit to picking up a variety of fiction and nonfiction, but everyone seems to agree that quantity is important. Read a lot.

7. Explain it to Others

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough,” Albert Einstein said. The Quora posters agree. Make sure you’ve really learned what you think you have learned and that the information is truly stuck in your memory by trying to teach it to others. “Make sure you can explain it to someone else,” Xie says simply. Student Jon Packles elaborates on this idea: “For everything you learn—big or small—stick with it for at least as long as it takes you to be able to explain it to a friend. It’s fairly easy to learn new information. Being able to retain that information and teach others is far more valuable.”

8. Do Random New Things

Shane Parrish, keeper of the consistently fascinating Farnam Street blog, tells the story of Steve Jobs’ youthful calligraphy class in his response on Quora. After dropping out of school, the future Apple founder had a lot of time on his hands and wandered into a calligraphy course. It seemed irrelevant at the time, but the design skills he learned were later baked into the first Macs.

The takeaway: You never know what will be useful ahead of time. You just need to try new things and wait to see how they connect with the rest of your experiences later on. “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future,” Parrish quotes Jobs as saying. In order to have dots to connect, you need to be willing to try new things—even if they don’t seem immediately useful or productive.

9. Learn a New Language

No, you don’t need to become quickly fluent or trot off to a foreign country to master the language of your choosing. You can work away steadily from the comfort of your desk and still reap the mental rewards. “Learn a new language. There are a lot of free sites for that. Use Livemocha or Busuu,” says Saloi (personally, I’m a big fan of Memrise once you have the basic mechanics of a new language down).

10. Take Some Downtime

It’s no surprise that dedicated meditator Azula Altucher recommends giving yourself space for your brain to process what it’s learned—“sit in silence daily,” she writes—but she’s not the only responder who stresses the need to take some downtime from mental stimulation. Spend some time just thinking, suggests retired cop Rick Bruno. He pauses the interior chatter while exercising. “I think about things while I run (almost every day),” he reports.