Sunday, November 6, 2011

Raising Kids for Heights of Success: Four Must-Have Skills to Teach Your Kids Now

Raising Smart Kids – Four Must-Have Skills to Teach Your Kids

If you are starting to read this article you are most likely a parent - a concerned and an involved parent at that.  Another brilliant observation one would make is that you are looking for the secret recipe to raising a smart, genius and a highly skilled super-child - the recipe that parents of Tiger Woods and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame must know, of course. Parents, your search ends today.  Here are the four “must-have” skills that every parent should know and teach their child regardless of the field the child chooses to excel in:

  1. Creativity – You cannot force a child to be creative. But you can provide the right environment for her to develop the skill on her own. Don’t shrug your 4 yr old off when she starts off on her stream of questions.  Pay attention, look into her curious eyes and respond with an answer or be honest that you don’t know but would help her find it.  Play memory or pattern games while driving them to school. Give them time for free-play and to be silly – it’s an important part of learning to be creative.

  1. Persistence – Learning a new skill is generally “boring” for kids or at least not as fun as watching TV or playing Nintendo.  Key is to constantly remind yourself and your child that fun starts when they start using the skill – be it swimming, basketball, music or algebra. It’s critical for you, as a parent, to be persistent and sometimes that’d require you to be tough and not let your child give up.  Teach your child to manage failures. It’s as important for a child to taste small failures as it is for her to relish successes. Failures teach kids to be mentally strong – a highly desirable trait that goes hand in hand with being persistent.

  1. Confidence - Instill confidence in your kids from early on. Give them exposure to public speaking. Don’t make all their decisions for them. Don’t interfere or take sides when kids are fighting unless of course there’s risk of injury. Let them resolve minor conflicts themselves but do show your support.  Self confidence requires being comfortable with ones physical appearance as well.  Teach them portion control but don’t deride them if they happen to be overweight.

  1. Sports Skills – Sports is not only the best way for kids to get physical exercise, it’s also a fun way to learn the skills we’ve discussed so far. Focus, team spirit, competitiveness, problem solving and the list goes on and on.  But you as a parent must decide if your goal is to make your child the next Tiger Woods or use sports as fun way to get physical exercise and learn some important skills along the way. Like it or not – you must make that choice.  Be ready to become a Chauffer for your child with weekends and evenings at the Swim meet or at the Basketball court across town if you want your child to have a shot at being the next big sports star. There’s no short cut.  No one has ever become a sports sensation by taking 30min weekly lessons during the summer. 

Raising kids to grow up to be highly successful adults is not an exact science . Amy Chua, the author of controversial bestseller “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” advocates taking a tough-parent approach. It might have worked for her kids but may not work for yours. It doesn’t encourage creativity – one of the most critical skills along with persistence that your child must learn.  Teaching kids new skills the “right way” takes a lot of hard work and patience and that means you need to hit the floor yourself and show some passion.  Eat healthy food yourself if you want your child to eat healthy.  Go play Basketball with your friends and show your child what a fun sport it is.  The “right way” is not essentially the easy way but no one ever said raising a child for success and greatness was a piece-of-cake.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Food for Thought ... And Body

We talked about nurturing healthy eating habits in kids in one of my earlier blog articles. Today let's focus on diets that target development of specific physical attributes and functions.

Food for brain
A healthy diet is absolutely essential along with mental exercises and games in order for kids to develop strong cognitive abilities. Essential Fatty Acids and antioxidants are the key ingrediants of a brainy diet. Salmon is a great natural source of Omega-3 fatty acids, although it might not be too easy to get the kids to like Salmon but there are some great receipes available on the internet which you can try out. Berries (Blueberries, Strawberries ...) are a great source of antoxidants. Not to mention peanut butter - unlike Salmon, kids generally love Peanut Butter and it's full of Vitamin E as well as Thiamine aling with Essential Fatty Acids.

Food for skin
Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin A, C and E are absolutely essential for a healthy skin. The usual suspects - Salmon and Berries - work for skin as well. Carrots contain Vitamin A and are great for skin and actually are known to provide natural SPF protection. Sweet Potatoes are a great source of Vitamin E and C - both of which are needed for a healthy skin. Remember, healthy skin doesn't come from use of creams and lotions alone - it's what you eat; although creams and lotions can help keep skin moisturized.Yogurt and other dairy products are good source of Vitamin A as well. Yogurt mixed with Walnut crumbs can actually be used to massage the face for exfolation - there's your home-made cream.

Food for height and growth
Kids grow in spurts and the rates are different for girls and boys. It's important to note that growth rate slows down after kids reach puberty. Keep in mind that height, like other biological traits, is largely heriditary but we can definitely maximize what heridity has in store for our kids. Make sure your kids get sufficient Proteins,  Vitamin D and Calcium - protein being the most critical element followed by vitamin D to absorb the calcium for the growing bone mass. Atleast one egg a day for breakfast with cream-cheese on bread is a healthy breakfast that kids would actually enjoy. Low fat milk, Greek Yogurt, Whole grain bread and soybean are an absolute must during growth spurts. And yet again - Salmon , a great good source of Vitamin D. 10-20min daily exposure to sunlight is essential for kids to get enough Vitamin D. A well balanced diet is important but does not substitute for a good regimen of daily exercise. It's important for kids to be actively engaged in sports such as basketball, volleyball and best of all swimming along with stretching exercises on daily basis.

Food to build immunity
The best way to boost your child's immunity is to not over-protect her from germs and provide her a stress free and loving environment at home. It's a medically proven fact that stress lowers immunity significantly. Also, kids need atleast 9 hours of daily sleep in order to keep a healthy immune system. As for the diet, food rich in Vitamin A, C, essential minerals such as Zinc and Selenium, and essential fatty acids are key ingrediants for a healthy immune system. Carrots, Spinach, whole grains (bread, wheat tortilla), strawberries, leafy greens and nuts should be included as part of a balanced diet. Avoid processed foods, such as boxed cereals, canned food, cookies, frozen pizza etc. as much as possible - these foods actually lower the immunity.

It's a long list of food items but you don't need to include each of these on daily basis. For example, having couple of servings of Salmon over a week along with a daily snack of nuts is all you need as far as Essential fatty acids are conerned. The key is to include as much as possible of each of the above listed food items over the week. But if the goal is to focus on, say growth and height, increase protein, calcium and Vitamin D intake at the cost of some reduction in Fatty Acids, for example. The most important point is to NOT force any of these on your kids and rather enjoy the same food with them. Kids learn by watching you - so eat heatlhy yourself and watch your kids follow your foot steps.

Monday, September 20, 2010

And You Thought Keeping Kids Safe Was Simple - Well You Were Half Right

Article first published on Technorati
Safety First – it’s a common phrase but we ignore it all the time. You sit in the plane and ignore all the safety instructions from the air hostess - don't we all? It’s complacency, the enemy of safety. The best way to make people safe is to teach safety habits when they are young. Once something becomes a habit or a second nature, you don’t have to worry about complacency creeping in. Let's review some common-sense ways of teaching kids some basic but very important safety habits. The list below is focused on injury prevention and safety from strangers:
  • Do not talk on your cell phone when you go out for a walk with your kids. No one said it was easy.
  • Look before you cross a road - every time and make sure your kids do the same. Most of the grown-ups don't follow this rule themselves as they think they don' t need to.
  • When you are driving your kids, make sure to show good driving habits. Again, don't be talking on the phone while driving, atleast not in front of the kids. When you stop at a stop sign explain why you did so to your kids.
  • As for safety from strangers, make sure they know how to get in touch with you in case they get seperated from you in a crowded place. They should know your cell number and they should know who to ask for help. For little kids, it makes sense to put your cell number on a paper and put it in their pockets when you go to crowded places.
  • Play "Lost" at home where you pretend that they are lost and they need to figure out a way to contact you. Play the game often enough so it gets engrained in their heads.
  • Walkie-talkes are fun, cheap and a great way to ensure you can communicate with your kids in case they get seperated.
Being able keep a calm head in case of an emergency is an extremely useful skill not only for safety but for overall success in life. Calm head can think fast. Some people are naturally calm, and other have to learn it but it's worth it. Again, best way to teach is to practice it yourself.

One key point I'd like to make is that, concept of safety is important but at the same time being over protective of your kids is not right either. Follow and teach all basic safety habits but at the same time let them explore and gain confidence in thier abilities. Confidence is key to a calm head which in turn is critical to safety.

So yes, keeping kids safe is simple ... but not that easy !

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fast Thinking Creative Kids

I'm not a big fan of putting kids in one of those Bee contests - Spelling Bee, Geography Bee etc. unless ofcourse they themselevs enjoy doing so. Don't get me wrong - preparing for all these contests does help but does it guarantee future success? I think not. One thing that we know DOES get close to being a sure shot way to success is having a sharp and creative mind. I've talked a lot about this topic in my previous posts and we focussed on three skills - Memory, Strategic thinking and fast information processing. Since I have already talked about Memory and Strategic thinking lets look at fast information processing as a skill.

Well, as a grown up I'm sure you have been in meetings at work where we come up with new issues and problems to solve and  there's always someone (let's call her Jane) who is able to come up with some interesting and pratical options almost instantly. And there you are, like me, still trying to digest the problem statement. So what happened? Well, here's how Jane does it:
Step 1: She pays attention to the discussion and understands the problem statement very quickly
Step 2: She analyzes all the numbers and details in her mind  and comes up with rough sketch of the attack plan
Step 3: She digs deep into her memory and uses past experiences, any readings or discussions with people to come up with possible solutions to the problem.

By the way, all of this happens in seconds. I on the other hand would take a few minutes to simply understand the problem statement and then I'd either need my notes or old emails to get access to the information I need. Bottomline - access to information. Unfortunately we can't do a Google search inside our brains. So how do we develop this skill in our kids. As always, I'd propose some very easy and common sense ways:

- Memory is one thing but being able to recall the facts fast is another. Play a daily game with the kids to recall the events from thier day in school but they only get seconds to think.

- Get them to learn to focus. When you ask them to do something (join for dinner, for example), say it clearly but say it only once. If the response back is "What?", tell them to go back and think what you just said.

- Play games such as saying a pattern of letters or words, followed by some funny gibrish to get them to loose thier focus and then ask them to repeat the pattern you said earlier.

- Although I'm not a big fan of Wii, DS or computer games, it's ok to look for games that need focus and attention to detail in order to win.

- Play games like Pictionary where you have to come up with creative ways to describe a picture in a limited time.

- Give your kids some down time atleast on the weekends when you let them do whatever they like, except TV ofcourse. This "whatever" time is key to developing creativity.

- Last but not least, encourage kids to join after-school programs, such as, Destination Imagination, where kids learn to work as a team on interesting projects and solve unexpected problems that come up on the way.

The key is to keep the brain "exercised" and be able to recall events fast. It's no different than training a muscle. Folks I'm no doctor or scientist but I know from experience that it makes sense and works. Great thing is that it's all in fun and when kids are having fun they learn the most. Besides, you get to have a nice family time with the kids. And there are no side effects whatsoever.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Anger Management Tips for Parents and Kids

Article first published as Anger Management Tips for Parents and Kids on Technorati.
Anger brings out the rawest of human emotions in us. Kids are no different. Kids get frustrated and angry as we do. Anger is generally an “uncontrolled” emotional reaction . Well, can it be made “controlled” and productive reaction? This is the theme of one of the recent articles on anger management published on CNN. There have been multiple articles published on “anger management” that talk about teaching breathing techniques etc. to kids. That’s all fine but I’m not sure if it’s practical to expect a 6 or 7 yr old to learn breathing techniques, in my opinion as a parent. The CNN article by Dr. Mark Epstein discusses some practical ways to manage anger in kids but the real answer boils down to one sure shot way – practice what you preach. It’s very difficult to control your anger when your 9yr old daughter is crying incessantly over some silly band that she lost. To you it’s literally silly to cry over it but it’s analogous to an adult stressing over losing his/her iphone at a restaurant. But if you as an adult scream at every thing that goes wrong – you cannot expect your kids to react differently when things get out of control for them. And for kids pretty much every thing is out of their control and on top of it their sense of control is underdeveloped – a lethal combination. Let’s look at some common-sense ways you can use with your kids if you really want them to grow up as smart, healthy and happy kids:
• If the child is angry, don’t overreact – stay calm and also do not disengage by just going to another room

• Show your kids that you can keep your emotions in control – show them how you actually controlled yourself in a situation which could have gotten worse if you had lost your temper.

• Teach kids to write about how angry they are with you or someone else – they can do this when their angry spell is over. They can send an email to their parents or friend on why they were angry

• In some cases, it’s important to let the child know that you mean business. Again, shouting and empty threats don’t work. The best way is to take away privileges without any harsh words. But this needs to be done selectively – choose your battles otherwise this approach will loose its effectiveness.
It’s not going to be easy to practice these seemingly simple guidelines when your child is going through one of those days and you are getting late for an appointment. But remember, you are teaching kids one of the most important skills of their life that only you can teach – how to keep a calm head when things go out of control. Calm head is a key trait of successful people. This also means parents need to learn this skill themselves first. And that just makes me angry !!