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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Are you raising nice kids? A Harvard psychologist gives 5 ways to raise them to be kind

Earlier this year, I wrote about teaching empathy, and whether you are a parent who does so. The idea behind it is from Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist with the graduate school of education, who runs the Making Caring Common project, aimed to help teach kids to be kind.

I know, you’d think they are or that parents are teaching that themselves, right? Not so, according to a new study released by the group.

About 80 percent of the youth in the study said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”

Weissbourd and his cohorts have come up with recommendations about how to raise children to become caring, respectful and responsible adults. Why is this important? Because if we want our children to be moral people, we have to, well, raise them that way.

“Children are not born simply good or bad and we should never give up on them. They need adults who will help them become caring, respectful, and responsible for their communities at every stage of their childhood,” the researchers write.

The five strategies to raise moral, caring children, according to Making Caring Common:

1. Make caring for others a priority

Why? Parents tend to prioritize their children’s happiness and achievements over their children’s concern for others. But children need to learn to balance their needs with the needs of others, whether it’s passing the ball to a teammate or deciding to stand up for friend who is being bullied.

How? Children need to hear from parents that caring for others is a top priority. A big part of that is holding children to high ethical expectations, such as honoring their commitments, even if it makes them unhappy. For example, before kids quit a sports team, band, or a friendship, we should ask them to consider their obligations to the group or the friend and encourage them to work out problems before quitting.

Try this
• Instead of saying to your kids: “The most important thing is that you’re happy,” say “The most important thing is that you’re kind.”
• Make sure that your older children always address others respectfully, even when they’re tired, distracted, or angry.
• Emphasize caring when you interact with other key adults in your children’s lives. For example, ask teachers whether your children are good community members at school.

2. Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude

Why? It’s never too late to become a good person, but it won’t happen on its own. Children need to practice caring for others and expressing gratitude for those who care for them and contribute to others’ lives. Studies show that people who are in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate, and forgiving—and they’re also more likely to be happy and healthy.

How? Learning to be caring is like learning to play a sport or an instrument. Daily repetition—whether it’s a helping a friend with homework, pitching in around the house, or having a classroom job—make caring second nature and develop and hone youth’s caregiving capacities. Learning gratitude similarly involves regularly practicing it.

Try this
• Don’t reward your child for every act of helpfulness, such as clearing the dinner table. We should expect our kids to help around the house, with siblings, and with neighbors and only reward uncommon acts of kindness.
• Talk to your child about caring and uncaring acts they see on television and about acts of justice and injustice they might witness or hear about in the news.
• Make gratitude a daily ritual at dinnertime, bedtime, in the car, or on the subway. Express thanks for those who contribute to us and others in large and small ways.

3. Expand your child’s circle of concern.

Why? Almost all children care about a small circle of their families and friends. Our challenge is help our children learn to care about someone outside that circle, such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn’t speak their language, the school custodian, or someone who lives in a distant country.

How? Children need to learn to zoom in, by listening closely and attending to those in their immediate circle, and to zoom out, by taking in the big picture and considering the many perspectives of the people they interact with daily, including those who are vulnerable. They also need to consider how their decisions, such as quitting a sports team or a band, can ripple out and harm various members of their communities. Especially in our more global world, children need to develop concern for people who live in very different cultures and communities than their own.

Try this
• Make sure your children are friendly and grateful with all the people in their daily lives, such as a bus driver or a waitress.
• Encourage children to care for those who are vulnerable. Give children some simple ideas for stepping into the “caring and courage zone,” like comforting a classmate who was teased.
• Use a newspaper or TV story to encourage your child to think about hardships faced by children in another country.

4. Be a strong moral role model and mentor.

Why? Children learn ethical values by watching the actions of adults they respect. They also learn values by thinking through ethical dilemmas with adults, e.g. “Should I invite a new neighbor to my birthday party when my best friend doesn’t like her?”

How? Being a moral role model and mentor means that we need to practice honesty, fairness, and caring ourselves. But it doesn’t mean being perfect all the time. For our children to respect and trust us, we need to acknowledge our mistakes and flaws. We also need to respect children’s thinking and listen to their perspectives, demonstrating to them how we want them to engage others.

Try this:
• Model caring for others by doing community service at least once a month. Even better, do this service with your child.
• Give your child an ethical dilemma at dinner or ask your child about dilemmas they’ve faced.

5. Guide children in managing destructive feelings

Why? Often the ability to care for others is overwhelmed by anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings.

How? We need to teach children that all feelings are okay, but some ways of dealing with them are not helpful. Children need our help learning to cope with these feelings in productive ways.

Try this
Here’s a simple way to teach your kids to calm down: ask your child to stop, take a deep breath through the nose and exhale through the mouth, and count to five. Practice when your child is calm. Then, when you see her getting upset, remind her about the steps and do them with her. After a while she’ll start to do it on her own so that she can express her feelings in a helpful and appropriate way.

Courtesy: Washington Post / Image Design by FreePik

Friday, March 24, 2017

People Who Seek Mental Health Help Choose Therapy Over Medication

It may be because patients don’t understand how these drugs work.

People who seek professional help for mental health conditions like depression or panic disorder are more likely to accept and follow through when talk therapy is prescribed, rather than medication, according to a new meta-analysis of previous research.

The report, published by the American Psychological Association, found that patients were as much as three times more likely to refuse or not complete their recommended mental health treatment if it took the form of psychotropic medicine, such as antidepressants, instead of psychotherapy.

The effect was most dramatic for people with depression and social anxiety, who were twice as likely to refuse medication, and people with panic disorder, who were almost three times as likely to do so.

The analysis consisted of 186 studies on more than 17,000 patients, 8 percent of whom refused the recommended treatment plan. In addition to treatment refusal, the studies measured whether or not the patients completed their plans.

The study authors say that the analysis did not take into account the reasons why patients refused or dropped out of their treatment plan but they have some theories. Patients may feel that therapy takes a more in-depth approach as a way to tackle the complexities of mental health disorders, according to the researchers.

Some patients may also struggle to understand how medication works or what it does in the brain, causing them to avoid it.

“Psychotropic medications may help a lot of people, and I think some do see them as a relatively easy and potentially quick fix, but I think others view their problems as more complex and worry that medications will only provide a temporary or surface level solution for the difficulties they are facing in their lives,” co-author Roger Greenberg, a professor at SUNY Upstate Medical University, said in a statement.

It’s worth noting the analysis didn’t find a significant difference or rate of dropout for patients who took medication in combination with therapy. Experts say that a combination of therapy and medication is often the most successful way to treat mental health issues. Psychotherapy has been found to help people manage the environmental factors that could exacerbate a condition while medication can help with the physiological, chemical effects in the brain.

Again, the authors didn’t research the motivations of the patients who refused medicine, so it’s difficult to conclude why they made their choice, but there’s no denying the stigma facing those who take mental health medication is prevalent. It’s a stereotype mental health advocates are working to dismantle in the public eye.

In the end, keeping patients involved and engaged in treating their condition is preferable to their abandoning the effort entirely. And ultimately, seeking any treatment is better than not seeking it at all.

Courtesy: Huffington Post

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Pakistani organisation releases music video celebrating Down Syndrome children

KARACHI: As the World Down Syndrome Day is celebrated around the globe, Karachi Down Syndrome Project (KDSP) – a non-profit initiative that focuses on awareness and therapy pertaining to this genetic disorder – has launched a music video 'Aao Humaray Saath Chalo' aimed to spread knowledge and acceptance in the country.

Ali Hamza lends his voice to the song, which is penned by famed Urdu poet Zehra Nigah. The music video is directed by Amaan Ahmed.

In addition, various popular celebrities of the Pakistani entertainment industry, including Bushra Ansari, Sarwat Gilani, Javed Sheikh, Ahsan Khan, Momal Sheikh, Anoushey Ashraf, and Sheema Kermani, have shown their support for the cause and appeared in the video.

Watch the video at the end.

KDSP, which was founded six years ago by Ali and Parveen Allahwala, aims to create an all-inclusive society, wherein everyone is tolerant and accepted regardless of ability, gender, caste or creed. It was set up when the Allahwalas, following the birth of their daughter Aleha, were told that she had Down Syndrome, and couldn’t find any helpful or informative platform to better understand, and consequently, bring up their child.

Forced to travel abroad at that time in search of Down Syndrome-related institutes, the couple then brought to Karachi the required information and training strategies on their return and founded KDSP – a one-stop place for all solutions regarding the genetic disorder.

The parents had started with 15 families who came together to improve the quality of their children’s lives; they now have 200 families on board. Every year since 2014, KDSP has made efforts to widen the level of awareness for Down Syndrome via videos, songs, and photo shoots.

In line with its goals, the organisation works to help and guide people with chromosome 21 through physical, occupational, and speech therapy, expanding public space, improving the quality of life, arts and crafts and yoga classes, and a push for welcoming these children in all schools.

Speaking to geo.tv, KDSP's Hamidah Walli said that while the institute works for both children and adults having the Down Syndrome, its present plans comprise a collaboration with the UK’s Down Syndrome Education International for discussions and workshops geared towards teachers of various schools in Karachi.

“Mainstream schools don’t accept children with Down Syndrome. Last year, when we had six schools, we conducted a training session for teachers on inclusivity. This time around, we have 15 schools,” Walli stated.

The executive, who is the Allahwalas’ classmate and has a one-year-old kid with Down Syndrome, added that early intervention is a crucial factor in brain development of these children, since the first three years after birth are very important for every child.

“My own kid could not have been where he is if not for KDSP’s help,” Walli noted.

To understand how imperative it is for such an initiative to exist in Pakistan, statistics suggest that one of every 700 children born has Down Syndrome, Walli mentioned.

It is in this context that KDSP has also joined hands with the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) to set up a central clinic targeted at medical solutions for people with Down Syndrome.

“Some issues need to be ruled out at the start; these are related to heart, lung, and thyroid. Since there was no health institute offering such programmes, we will be launching ours on April 1, 2017.”

Courtesy: Geo News

Having Kids Means Less Sleep For Women, But Not For Men

New parents often talk about the toll a newborn can take on their sleeping habits, but as it turns out, it may not be so bad—if you're a man, that is. If you're a woman, having kids can wreak havoc on your sleep schedule, according to a new study.

Researchers from the American Academy of Neurology and Georgia Southern University analyzed data from a survey that asked 5,805 Americans how much they slept each night and how often they felt tired over the past month. For every child a woman 45 and under had, she was 50 percent less likely to get six hours of sleep or more per night. Only 48 percent of moms in this age group got seven hours or more, compared to 62 percent of women without children. On average, women with kids felt tired for two weeks out of every month, compared to 11 days for those without kids. No such pattern existed for men.

These results don't really come as a surprise, since women in heterosexual relationships still do the majority of housework and are responsible for child care. But the study has huge implications, since sleep affects everything from your memory to your chances of getting sick. Plus, some research suggests women need more sleep than men.

“I think these findings may bolster those women who say they feel exhausted,” study author Kelly Sullivan, Ph.D., said in a press release (as if we needed data to prove that). “Getting enough sleep is a key component of overall health and can impact the heart, mind, and weight…. It’s important to learn what is keeping people from getting the rest they need so we can help them work toward better health.”

Courtesy: Glamour / Image Design: FreePik

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Watching birds near your home is good for your mental health

Watching birds near your home is good for your mental health

People living in neighbourhoods with more birds, shrubs and trees are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and stress, according to research by academics at the University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology and the University of Queensland.

The study, involving hundreds of people, found benefits for mental health of being able to see birds, shrubs and trees around the home, whether people lived in urban or more leafy suburban neighbourhoods.

The study, which surveyed mental health in over 270 people from different ages, incomes and ethnicities, also found that those who spent less time out of doors than usual in the previous week were more likely to report they were anxious or depressed.

After conducting extensive surveys of the number of birds in the morning and afternoon in Milton Keynes, Bedford and Luton, the study found that lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress were associated with the number of birds people could see in the afternoon. The academics studied afternoon bird numbers - which tend to be lower than birds generally seen in the morning – because they are more in keeping with the number of birds that people are likely to see in their neighbourhood on a daily basis.

In the study, common types of birds including blackbirds, robins, blue tits and crows were seen. But the study did not find a relationship between the species of birds and mental health, but rather the number of birds they could see from their windows, in the garden or in their neighbourhood.

Previous studies have found that the ability of most people to identify different species is low (eg Dallimer et al, 2012), suggesting that for most people it is interacting with birds, not just specific birds, that provides well-being.

University of Exeter research fellow Dr Daniel Cox, who led the study, said: "This study starts to unpick the role that some key components of nature play for our mental well-being".

Birds around the home, and nature in general, show great promise in preventative health care, making cities healthier, happier places to live".

The positive association between birds, shrubs and trees and better mental health applied, even after controlling for variation in neighbourhood deprivation, household income, age and a wide range of other socio-demographic factors.

Recent research by Dr Cox and Professor Kevin Gaston, who are based at the Environmental Sustainability Institute at the Penryn Campus at the University of Exeter, found that watching birds makes people feel relaxed and connected to nature (Cox and Gaston, 2016).

The research is published in the journal Bioscience and was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council as conducted as part of the Fragments, Functions, Flows and Ecosystem Services project.

Courtesy: Exeter UK 
Photograph: FreePik

Friday, March 10, 2017

This Pakistani is developing a video game to fight stigma around mental health

Haider Ali Shishmahal is a teacher, writer, and Fulbright scholar.  He studied human development and Psychology at Harvard and has also learned game development.  He is the owner of Cyberjack Studio.  His game, Diagnosis, combats the stigma of mental illnesses through he magic of gaming.

In an interview to IGN Pakistan, when Mr. Shishmahal was asked what motivated him to start video game development, especially in the context of his professional teaching background , he said how games are distributed to large numbers of people at the click of a button is what inspired him to create Diagnosis.

According to Mr. Shishmahal, Diagnosis was basically envisioned as a sort of game where Theme Hospital meets Stardew Valley. The protagonist is a psychiatrist who diagnoses other characters suffering from mental illnesses. The core mechanic is that the player does that by talking to the characters and referring to a disease and statistics manual (DSM). It’s a 2D game that’s being made on Unity for the PC and we intend to distribute it over Steam. We want to take what is a serious topic and inject some humor and lightheartedness into it to make it a feel-good kind of a game. We don’t want you to feel bad or sad about these characters but rather to be able to relate to them.

He further added that he wants to have a social impact and really want to combat the mindset that encourages the idea that people can’t learn from games. From time to time, we read about how games are destroying us and leading us to violence and profanity. While certain games might do that, all games don’t. Games are just a means of communication, they are an art form and it depends on the player and maker of the game. Everyone takes away something different from a game; Diagnosis is about helping people and talking to them. It’s about connecting people with people, and people with ideas.

Team Diagnosis understands that a lot of gamers have very specific preferences when it comes to what types of games to play and they are excited that they may draw in people who otherwise don’t play games.  They even want to pitch this game to hospitals and academic institutions. They are adding certain elements such as item quests or romance quests that aren’t necessary in an educational game about mental illness but will make the game all the more interesting. Instead of having to talk in third person, they are also working out how they can get a romantic scene going. They want people to get involved with the characters and if they fall in love with the character they will want to continue playing the game and find out what becomes of that character. Furthermore, it’s not an educational game where you learn English or counting; you get to learn about mental illnesses, so that uniqueness will certainly help the game.

Diagnosis is still in the development phase since the summers, so the game right now is a rough prototype. Mr. Shishmahal hopes that if Diagnosis gets funded, they could get the game made within a year and a half, however if they don’t it could take more time, maybe three years, because people must do other things to make money. Fortunately, most of his team members are willing to invest as much time as necessary, if it’s required to make the game better.  Once launched, the game will be available for users at a price of $16.99 (approx PKR 1800).

Mr. Shishmahal believes that this game has the potential to reach anywhere between 1-2 million players. The game could impact an unbelievable number of families, and change their lives. He hopes that it becomes a dinner-table conversation topic, or one that is discussed between friends while having tea or coffee. He wants to give this game to people, who are too shy or afraid to discuss a very sensitive topic such as mental health, a platform to speak about mental illnesses. So, while someone suffering from schizophrenia won’t be able to talk about it directly, they could talk about one of the characters in that game who has schizophrenia, and maybe through that conversation, they’ll get the courage to talk about their own problems.

Diagnosis is currently in development, and Mr. Shishmahal needs your help in making his dream come true. You can support his studio by visiting this link.

Interview Reference: pk.ign.com

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