Power of conversation between parents/caregivers and children

The Brain-Changing Power of Conversation

Interplay between parents and children ignites the brain and boosts its response to language, spurring lasting literacy skills

February 14, 2018
Young girl smiles up at her mother
For parents, daycare providers, and early educators, new research describes a simple and powerful way to build children’s brains: talk with them, early and often.
A study in Psychological Science shows how conversation — the interplay between a parent or caregiver and a child — ignites the language centers in a child’s brain. It’s the first study to show a relationship between the words children hear at home and the growth of their neural processing capacities — showing, in effect, that how parents talk to their children changes children’s brains. 
Don't just talk to your child; talk with your child. The interaction, more than the number of words a child hears, creates measurable changes in the brain and sets the stage for strong literacy skills in school.
This new work — led by Harvard and MIT Ph.D. student Rachel Romeo, with coauthors at both of those institutions and the University of Pennsylvania — builds on what researchers have long known about the connections between “home language environment” and children’s cognitive development, literacy and language growth, and verbal ability.
In the wake of a 1995 study that found a dramatic gap in the number of words heard by high- and low-income children — the so-called 30 million word gap — much attention has been given to efforts to enrich kids’ language exposure. But recent work has added nuance, showing that it’s not so much the quantity of words children hear as the quality that matters.
The new findings replicate that behavioral research on quality over quantity and extend it by showing the effects in the brain. “Specifically, after we equate for socioeconomic status, we find that the sheer number of words spoken by an adult was not related to children's neural processing of language, but that the number of conversational turns was,” says Romeo. “And that neural response, in turn, predicted children's language skills. It really is the quality of language exposure that matters, over and above the quantity of words dumped onto a child.” 
What Parents and Early Educators Should Know
  • From infancy, parents should look for chances to have conversations with their child — even if it's just responding to coos or gurgles. 
  • Conversational interplay between caregiver and child is enough to transform the biology of kids' brains. The quality of these exchanges is more important than the quantity of words children hear.
  • Conversation drives literacy skills and cognitive development across all socioeconomic levels, regardless parents' income or education. It's a powerful, actionable, and simple tool for all parents to use.

The Science

Researchers used highly faithful audio recorders — a system called Language Environment Analysis (known as LENA) — to capture every word spoken or heard by 36 4–6 year olds from various socioeconomic backgrounds over two full days. The recordings were analyzed to measure the number of words spoken by each child, the number of words spoken to each child, and the number of conversational turns — back-and-forth exchanges initiated by either adult or child.
Comparing those measurements with brain scans of the individual children, the analysis found that differences in the number of conversational turns accounted for differences in brain physiology, as well as for differences in language skills including vocabulary, grammar, and verbal reasoning.
Read the MIT News story for a fuller summary of the research. (Authors on the paper include Meredith Rowe of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, whose behavioral work has shown the importance of parent-child interplay; Martin West of HGSE, and senior author John Gabrieli of MIT.)

The Takeaways

The “conversational turns” are key here, the researchers say. Conversational interplay — a verbal version of the serve-and-return caregiving that helps kids thrive — “involves not only a linguistic exchange, but also a social interaction that we know is crucial to cognitive development as well,” Romeo says.
This work suggests how important it is that caregivers “not just talk to your child, but talk with them,” says Romeo. “Even from infancy, we can consider children to be conversational partners. Obviously, a ‘conversation’ looks very different with much younger children: with infants, it might be taking turns exchanging giggles or coos; with toddlers, it might be repeating and expanding their sentences; and with older children, it might be asking ‘who, what, where, and how’ questions.
“Either way, it seems to be the interaction that best supports children's language skills and the underlying neural development.”
"Obviously, a ‘conversation’ looks very different with much younger children: with infants, it might be taking turns exchanging giggles or coos; with toddlers, it might be repeating and expanding their sentences; and with older children, it might be asking ‘who, what, where, and how’ questions. Either way, it seems to be the interaction that best supports children's language skills and the underlying neural development."
Importantly, this research finds effects across all socioeconomic levels. “We found that the brains of children from lower-income families benefitted from conversational interplay just as much as the brains of children from higher income families,” says Gabrieli, the Grover Hermann Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at MIT and an investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. Conversing often with one’s children is “strikingly helpful” regardless of income and educational background, he says. As Gabrieli told the MIT News Office, “It’s almost magical how parental conversation appears to influence the biological growth of the brain.”
Gabrieli, Rowe, and other researchers are exploring ways to make these findings — and the actionable takeaways about the importance of conversation — accessible to all families. “Part of this is public health communication, but I expect that more direct forms of support will be needed to promote this and help parents change conversational habits,” Gabrieli says. “It is hard for all of us to change any habit."

Helping Kids After a Shooting

Helping Kids After a Shooting

 • Try and keep routines as normal as possible. Kids gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school.
• Limit exposure to television and the news.

• Be honest with kids and share with them as much information as they are developmentally able to handle.
• Listen to kids’ fears and concerns.
• Reassure kids that the world is a good place to be, but that there are people who do bad things.
• Parents and adults need to first deal with and assess their own responses to crisis and stress.
• Rebuild and reaffirm attachments and relationships.

From the experts at Understood -- "What should I do when my child says 'I'm dumb'?"

Link to Understood article

Experts Weigh In: “What Should I Do When My Child Says ‘I’m Dumb’?”

Mark your calendar again! Monday evening - nationally recognized educator presenting on Building Resilient Communities and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

This event is definitely worth coming out for!  Please come to the Kittery Community Center next Monday evening. Sue Mackey Andrews is a nationally-recognized expert in building resilient communities and children.

To learn more about how stress affects the health of our youth go to  ACEs - Adverse Childhood Experiences or to take the ACE quiz.  There are additional resources on the ACEs page of this blog.

Mark your calendar! State of Our Kittery Youth - Presentation and Discussion

Monday, January 29th 
6 PM 
Kittery Community Center
Free and open to the public

Childcare available for ages 5+ (please register for childcare jdurgin@kitteryschools.com)

Sponsored by the Kittery Youth Committee and the Kittery Community Center

The Great Kindness Challenge 2018

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the 
second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.

Henry James

The Mitchell School is participating in The Great Kindness Challenge again this year.  It is one school week (January 22-28) devoted to performing as many acts of kindness as possible. Developing the habit of kindness has the power to increase tolerance, unity and respect for all.  This is the fifth year that our school has proudly participated in this proactive, positive, nation-wide bully prevention program.

You will see one of the checklists below in your child's red folder on January 22.  We have many fun activities planned for the week.  Keep scrolling; links to videos, songs, a booklist, and more information about The Great Kindness Challenge are shared below. Thank you for supporting this initiative in our community. 

We welcome any and all participation from parents, caregivers, and community members.

                    (YouTube videos -- be ready to close out of the advertising pop-ups)

Kind-Hearted Hand - The Great Kindness Challenge Theme Song  

Kind-hearted Hand song WITH lyrics 

Kindness Matters! Easy Ways YOU Can Make Your School a Kinder Place!  (This is a good way to introduce the Great Kindness Challenge to your students)  
Advertisement from an insurance agency in Thailand --  Thai Good Stories by Linaloved 

Children's Books

Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch - Eileen Spinelli
John’s Whistle  - Lili Ferreiros and Sonja Wimmer
The Lion and the Mouse - Bernadette Watts
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters - John Steptoe
Because Amelia Smiled - David Ezra Stein
Each Kindness - Jacqueline Woodson
The Invisible Boy - Trudy Ludwig
The Kindness Quilt - Nancy Elizabeth Wallace
Have You Filled a Bucket Today - Carol McCLoud
The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein
The Golden Rule  - Ilene Cooper

More about The Great Kindness Challenge from their website:

Because Kindness Matters

The Great Kindness Challenge is proudly presented by Kids for Peace, a global 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Kids for Peace was co-founded in 2006 by Danielle Gram, a high school honors student and Jill McManigal, a mother and former elementary school teacher. What started organically as a neighborhood group of kids wanting to make our world a better place, has grown into an interconnected network of young peacebuilders worldwide.

In 2011, the elementary school that Jill’s children attended asked Kids for Peace to help create a more positive, unified and respectful school environment. As a result, The Great Kindness Challenge was designed and piloted with three Carlsbad, California schools. Because of our innovative approach and wildly successful results, word spread, and a kindness movement was born!

At the heart of The Great Kindness Challenge is the simple belief that kindness is strength. We also believe that as an action is repeated, a habit is formed. With the Great Kindness Challenge checklist in hand, students have the opportunity to repeat kind act after kind act. As kindness becomes a habit, peace becomes possible.

The Great Kindness Challenge is a grassroots movement that is making our schools, communities, and world a kinder and more compassionate place for all. Working together, we joyfully prove that KINDNESS MATTERS!

Team Kindness

Our team is joyful, tenacious, committed and kind. In true grassroots fashion, our big-hearted team consists of mostly volunteers who work passionately around Jill’s dining room table. We have one simple goal: to create a culture of kindness for all.

Winter Fun Guide 2018

Mitchell School parent, Peggy Meyers, has put together a fabulous Winter Fun Guide for Families First and has given us permission to share it with Mitchell School families.  It is a list of fun activities in the Seacoast area that are free or low-cost.  Check out the great spots for sledding, hiking, snowshoeing, skating, and so much more.  Thank you Peggy!

Winter Fun Guide 2018

Children and lying

A recent article in The New York Times is interesting material for those of us raising children.

"The key to fostering honest behavior, Professor Lee and his colleagues argue, is positive messaging — emphasizing the benefits of honesty rather than the drawbacks of deception."  (Stone, NYTimes) 

Some wonderful books about honesty would include The Empty Pot by Demi,  Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie by Laura Rankin, and The Honest-To-Goodness Truth by Patricia McKissack.

Link to article below: Is Your Child Lying to You? That's Good

CreditLeo Espinosa
Should parents be troubled when their kids start to deceive them?
Odds are, most of us would say yes. We believe honesty is a moral imperative, and we try to instill this belief in our children. Classic morality tales like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and “Pinocchio” speak to the dangers of dishonesty, and children who lie a lot, or who start lying at a young age, are often seen as developmentally abnormal, primed for trouble later in life.
But research suggests the opposite is true. Lying is not only normal; it’s also a sign of intelligence.
Kids discover lying as early as age 2, studies have found. In one experiment, children were asked not to peek at a toy hidden behind them while the researcher withdrew from the room under false pretenses. Minutes later, the researcher returned and asked the child if he or she peeked.
This experiment, designed by the developmental psychologist Michael Lewis in the mid-1980s and performed in one form or another on hundreds of kids, has yielded two consistent findings. The first is that a vast majority of children will peek at the toy within seconds of being left alone. The other is that a significant number of them lie about it. At least a third of 2-year-olds, half of 3-year-olds and 80 percent or more of children 4 and older will deny their transgression, regardless of their gender, race or family’s religion.
Children are also remarkably good at lying. In a series of additional studies based on the same experimental model, a range of adults — including social workers, primary-school teachers, police officers and judges — were shown footage of kids who were either lying or telling the truth about having committed a transgression, with the aim of seeing who could spot the liars. Astonishingly, none of the adults (not even the kids’ parents) could consistently detect the lies.
Continue reading the main story
Why do some children start lying at an earlier age than others? What separates them from their more honest peers? The short answer is that they are smarter.
Professor Lewis has found that toddlers who lie about peeking at the toy have higher verbal I.Q.s than those who don’t, by as much as 10 points. (Children who don’t peek at the toy in the first place are actually the smartest of all, but they are a rarity.)
Other research has shown that the children who lie have better “executive functioning skills” (an array of faculties that enable us to control our impulses and remain focused on a task) as well as a heightened ability to see the world through other people’s eyes, a crucial indicator of cognitive development known as “theory of mind.” (Tellingly, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is characterized by weaker executive functioning, and those with spectrum disorders such as autism, which are characterized by deficits in theory of mind, have trouble with lying.) Young liars are even more socially adept and well adjusted, according to recent studies of preschoolers.
The psychologist Kang Lee, who has been researching deception in children for more than two decades, likes to tell parents that if they discover their child lying at age 2 or 3, they should celebrate. But if your child is lagging behind, don’t worry: You can speed up the process. Training children in executive functioning and theory of mind using a variety of interactive games and role-playing exercises can turn truth-tellers into liars within weeks, Professor Lee has found. And teaching kids to lie improves their scores on tests of executive functioning and theory of mind. Lying, in other words, is good for your brain.
For parents, the findings present something of a paradox. We want our children to be clever enough to lie but morally disinclined to do so. And there are times when a child’s safety depends on getting at the truth, as in criminal cases involving maltreatment or abuse. How can we get our children to be honest?
In general, carrots work better than sticks. Harsh punishments like spanking do little to deter lying, research indicates, and if anything may be counterproductive. In one study, Professor Lee and the developmental psychologist Victoria Talwar compared the truth-telling behaviors of West African preschoolers from two schools, one that employed highly punitive measures such as corporal punishment to discipline students and another that favored more tempered methods like verbal reprimands and trips to the principal’s office. Students at the harsher school were not only more likely to lie but also far better at it.
Witnessing others being praised for honesty, meanwhile, and nonpunitive appeals for the truth — for example, “If you tell the truth, I will be really pleased with you” — promotes honest behavior, Professors Lee and Talwar have found.
So does a simple promise. Multiple studies have shown that children as old as 16 are less likely to lie about their misdeeds, and the misdeeds of others, after pledging to tell the truth, a result that has been replicated widely. The psychologist Angela Evans has also found that children are less likely to peek at the toy while the researcher is out of the room if they promise not to. Curiously, this works even with children who don’t know the meaning of the word “promise.” Merely securing a verbal agreement — “I will tell the truth” — does the trick. By the end of infancy, it would seem, children already grasp the significance of making a verbal commitment to another person.
As for those childhood morality tales, you might want to skip the more ominous ones. Professor Lee and others have found that reading stories to children about the perils of deceit, such as “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and “Pinocchio,” fails to discourage them from lying. Reading them the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, on the other hand, in which truthfulness is met with approval, does reduce lying, albeit to a modest degree. The key to fostering honest behavior, Professor Lee and his colleagues argue, is positive messaging — emphasizing the benefits of honesty rather than the drawbacks of deception.
You can also simply pay kids to be honest. In research involving 5- and 6-year-olds, Professor Lee and his colleagues attached a financial incentive to telling the truth about a misdeed. Lying earned children $2, while confessing won them anywhere from nothing to $8. The research question was: How much does the truth cost? When honesty paid nothing, four out of five children lied. Curiously, that number barely budged when the payout was raised to $2.
But when honesty was compensated at 1.5 times the value of lying — $3 rather than $2 — the scales tipped in favor of the truth. Honesty can be bought, in other words, but at a premium. The absolute dollar amount is irrelevant, Professor Lee has found. What matters is the relative value — the honesty-to-dishonesty exchange rate, so to speak.
“Their decision to lie is very tactical,” Professor Lee said. “Children are thinking in terms of the ratio.” Smart kids, indeed.
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