behavior · children · cognition · education · emotion · mental health · play · Social

How Playing Superheroes Can Stop Bullying

red robot hero pose at windowEspecially with the increased output of Hollywood superhero movies these days, it can be easy to think of them as nothing more than shallow entertainment. However, the powerful storytelling and archetype of the superhero is something that appeals to many of us on a deeper level; it teaches us about standing up for those in need. My husband and I used this archetype recently with our own kids.

My elder son and daughter attend the same preschool, and unfortunately there was an increase in bullying behavior recently. This is developmentally typical for this age, and it also provides a good opportunity for learning how to deal with bullies in the “real world.” Kids have to learn how to respond to mean or bullying behavior, just like they need to learn how to say no when a friend wants to play house or play fight and they don’t (and don’t get me started on how adults need to learn the difference between bullying and roughhousing! That is for a later post). Kids who are not the target of bullying also need to learn how to respond when they see it. Often they will ignore it so as not to become a target themselves, or they will join in. It does not mean they are malicious kids, they are simply trying out behaviors they see.

But we asked our kids to go a step further, and not just ignore but try to help.

When we heard this was going on, we sat down with them and talked with them about why the behavior wasn’t okay, were they targets, were they participating, and did they feel safe. Then my husband told them, “You are both very strong, and I want you to try something; I want you to stand up to anyone you see picking on a kid in your class who may not feel strong, who is getting bullied. I want you to support them, even if they are not your best friend. Can you do that?”

My daughter nodded her head in understanding, but my son, who is only 3, wasn’t exactly sure what Dad meant. My husband tried to explain it again, but started getting more complicated in his wording, and I could see Keir’s eyes start to glaze over in confusion. But I realized my husband was describing something very familiar to our son.

“We want you to be a superhero,” I interjected. My son loves superheroes (and bad guys like Darth Vader, but it’s hard to have one without the other). His eyes lit up. My husband immediately caught on to where I was going.

“That’s right. Superheroes stand up to bad guys and bullies and protect their friends, even people who are not their friends,” he explained. “Even if nobody else is, in fact because nobody else is, they stand up for those who need help. Can you be like a superhero?”

green lantern duckie hero toyMy son seemed frankly a little shocked by the idea that HE, a little guy, could be a superhero in real life. But he also seemed willing to give it a try.

By reading stories and playing superhero (and bad guys), both my kids understood what it meant to stand up to bullying and supporting and defending your friends without even really “knowing” it . The hero archetype is a valuable one; through reading about it and playing one we learn to be brave for ourselves and others, and that sometimes we fight the battles nobody else wants to.

The next morning, I helped my kids bundle up against the cold morning, saying, “all right, let’s get our superhero outfits on.” As they trundled out the door to school with their dad, I called out, “good luck, little superheroes!” At pick-up that day, I asked the usual questions – what did you work on? Who did you sit with at lunch?

My daughter answered, “I asked [kid often being bullied] to play with me, and [kid who often bullies] to sit with me at lunch.”

I think she’s embodied being a compassionate superhero better than I have. But then, she and her brother play/practice being superheroes a lot.

 

 

anthropology · brain · children · education · health · learning · mental health

Attention Disorder or Not, Children Prescribed Pills to Help in School – NYTimes.com

English: Adderall
Doctor’s are prescribing Aderall to kids without ADHD (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I find this article in today’s New York Times extremely disturbing:

When Dr. Michael Anderson hears about his low-income patients struggling in elementary school, he usually gives them a taste of some powerful medicine: Adderall.

The pills boost focus and impulse control in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Although A.D.H.D is the diagnosis Dr. Anderson makes, he calls the disorder “made up” and “an excuse” to prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children’s true ill — poor academic performance in inadequate schools.

“I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.”

via Attention Disorder or Not, Children Prescribed Pills to Help in School – NYTimes.com.

Sadly the doctor is correct that many schools refuse to change a child’s environment to improve academic success, namely that they are cutting out activities like recess and P.E. in order to make more time for studying.

However, P.E., recess, and just getting outside for a quick breath of fresh air have all shown to also be extremely effective ways to improve attention and academic success. Yet because these activities are getting cut out of the school day, doctor’s feel like they must prescribe these incredibly strong, brain-chemistry changing medications to growing brains, many of these drugs with strong side effects .

I have no problem with using these drugs for what they were originally intended for, but prescribing them basically as “performance-enhancing” drugs just seems unethical to me. We frown upon athletes and grown-ups in the business world from taking speed and other kinds of drugs that are supposed to improve performance (other than coffee of course, that seems pretty much like a must-have for adults), but it’s okay for students so they can do well in elementary and middle school? To put in mildly, yuck!

I hope other people will be as outraged as I am and stand up for a child’s right to recess and P.E., and actually NOT studying from time to time, rather than encouraging giving them strong medications in order to perform well on standardized tests.

 

children · education · happiness · health · learning · play

Play is a crucial part of learning

Great article from The Atlantic about how squeezing recess and playtime out of education is a really bad idea:

Play is important for the emotional, social, cognitive, and physical development of children. In addition to being critical for general health and a preventative against overweight, play develops life skills for children and communication skills among peers and family members.

But because of over-scheduling, over-supervision, lack of appropriate play environments, and too many entertaining screens many children have less access to play time and play spaces than children in the past.

Children living in poverty experience these barriers and more, according to a recent clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Underprivileged children often have less access to recess and school-based creative arts, music, and physical education programs. Additionally, the socioeconomic stressors on poor families often conspire against parents having the time, energy, or skills to engage in play with their children.

Poor children’s access to outdoor play spaces may be compromised by the safety of their neighborhoods and the decrease in parks and open spaces in urban areas. Children who are unable to play outside tend to spend more time on screen-based activities such as watching TV or playing video games. Excessive screen time takes a huge toll on mental and physical health and academic achievement

Many urban schools have replaced recess and purely recreational after-school activities with academic enrichment activities to help close the academic achievement gaps between lower-income children and their more privileged peers. While improved academics is an important goal, the report emphasizes that the developmental role of play should not be forgotten and the benefits of play should not be traded off in favor of academics.

According to the report, play’s benefits extend to psychological well-being. Play provides an opportunity for a student to shine in areas that are not strictly academic and thus contributes to the child’s personal sense of pride and belonging in her school environment. This has the potential to discourage truancy and encourage children to remain in school to complete their education

Twenty-eight percent of schools with children in the highest poverty levels have no recess at all. This impacts a population of children who already have limited opportunities for creative experiences and social play, especially since research that has shown that physical education periods and recess enhance a child’s readiness for academic pursuits during the school day. They suggest that the elimination of these pace-changing opportunities may in fact be counterproductive for academic success.

More at Recreational Play Can Be Far More Important Than Academics