Improve Response Inhibition

Who's Turn Is It? 94

 

Response inhibition is the ability to cease or delay an action and to be able to reflect rather than display impulsive behavior. Simply put, response inhibition helps individuals to stop and think before acting. It also helps one to ignore outside interference. This skill allows a child to plan and display appropriate behaviors. Response inhibition is imperative in tasks such as maintaining safety, problem solving efficiently, and behaving in a socially appropriate manner. This skill is also needed for focusing on the task at hand, rather than reacting to other situations in the environment. Follow our recommendations below to improve response inhibition.

Home and School Situations Requiring Response Inhibition

  • Raising one’s hand before answering a question in class
  • Waiting for one’s turn to play in a game or to speak during a conversation
  • Ignoring distractions while working on homework
  • Putting a helmet on before getting on a bike
  • Reading the directions before starting an assignment
  • Being patient with a younger sibling
  • Completing a long, multi-step task
  • Waiting in line at school or at a store
  • Keeping oneself from falling back asleep in the morning
  • Not talking back to one’s parents when upset

Hints and Strategies to Improve Response Inhibition

1. Have your child think about their answer to a question a few seconds before they verbalize the answer. Teach your child to count to 10 before acting. Practice this by counting together out loud before making a decision.

2. Arrange for your child to play games with other children that require them to wait for their turn. An example of a game that involves patience can be “Chutes and Ladders.” An example of a game that involves both patience and concentration, (when counting the number of spaces to move) can be “Trouble.” “Chess” can also be helpful to improve concentration and patience because the game requires the player to be constantly thinking about their next move.

3. Take a break. Let your child take a break from a situation that is upsetting to them. Doing so will keep your child motivated, as well as keep them from growing upset and irritable. Your child may tend to become angry or upset, and possibly give up on a difficult assignment if they are being forced to complete it all at once. For example, if your child has to write a lengthy paper, giving him/her a 10 minute break will allow them to remove him/herself from the stressful situation and begin with a fresh start again after the break. Model the same procedure by showing your child how you take a break to handle a difficult or frustrating experience. Display your own strategies by walking away but later returning to solve a problem.

4. Model response inhibition for your child. Talk to your child about the strategies that you use to exhibit response inhibition and self-control and then model these strategies. For example, you may tell your child, “I really would like to watch TV… but I know I have to clean the basement first.” This will help show your child how to develop a form of response inhibition and structure.

5. Review homework assignment directions with your child so that they know what to do before starting. Discuss what needs to be done and help show your child how to follow the directions. If a teacher assigns a worksheet, have your child read the instructions to you and discuss them, rather than allowing your child to dive in without reading.

6. Encourage your child to play puzzle-based video games. Examples of puzzle-based games include the following: “Bejeweled,” “Tetris,” and “Bubblicious,” in which your child can earn bonus points by delaying a first response. Many of these puzzle games will reward patience when the player is able to combine a number of shapes that match or create a larger pattern rather than simply pairing the first two that fit with each other. Most importantly, ask your child to describe to you how (s)he can earn the maximum number of points; engage in a discussion about how inhibiting or delaying an action results in a higher game score.

7. Encourage high levels of activity during leisure time. Children who struggle with response inhibition often find themselves in trouble due to too much movement. Encouraging your child to exert him/herself when it is appropriate may help in getting your child to sit still when necessary. Teach your child basic yoga, meditation, or breathing techniques. Learning one or more of these strategies can be very useful for children who act before thinking. Regular practice of one or two small techniques is something that can be used in a situation where the child tends to respond quickly and get into trouble. Teaching one or two yoga stretches may be particularly helpful for children with movement-based response inhibition difficulties. For example, learning the “mountain” and “sun salutation” poses (which essentially consists of standing with one’s hands extended above the head and breathing) can be very useful for delaying actions. Further information about a number of yoga poses can be found on http://yoga.about.com.

Games and Activities That Can Practice Response Inhibition

“Choose Your Own Adventure” Books – Encourage your child to read any books in the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series, which will allow him to recognize how each decision made can lead to a distinct consequence.

Playing board games (e.g. “Trouble,” “Chutes and Ladder,” “Candyland”) – These, or similar games, will allow your child to practice waiting for their turn to play, while other players count spaces or play out their own turns.

“Dance Dance Revolution” and “Guitar Hero” – Both of these games enhance response inhibition in that the player must really concentrate and think about which note to play or square to step on in order to achieve success.

“Simon Says” – The traditional game of “Simon Says” will allow your child to practice delaying an action until the appropriate cue is heard.

Freeze Tag -Playing freeze tag with your child or having them play this game with friends or siblings will encourage the stop-and-start action of appropriate behaviors as well as the delaying of impulsive action.

Reading with a partner – Read with your child, alternating turns, to allow for practice in waiting for one’s turn and patience.

Websites and Articles on Response Inhibition

LearningWorks For Kids: The premier resource for executive function information, offering a detailed explanation of response inhibition, tips for parents, and activities to improve this skill.

Education.com: This site offers examples and techniques for parents to use when helping their children to develop self-control.

Illinois Early Learning Project: This site provides tips for instilling impulse control in their children, as well as links to other informative sites on related topics.

National Association of School Psychologists: This handout describes important step-by-step strategies and skills for parents and teachers who are hoping to teach self-control skills to children.

Books on Response Inhibition

Cooper-Kahn, Joyce, Ph.D. and Laurie C. Dietzel. (2008). Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House. [Chapter 11]

Cox, Adam J., Ph.D. (2007). No Mind Left Behind: Understanding and Fostering Executive Control–The Eight Essential Brain Skills Every Child Needs to Thrive. New York, NY: Penguin Books. [Chapter 9]

Dawson, Peg, Ed.D. and Richard Guare, Ph.D. (2009). Smart but Scattered. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. [Chapter 11]

Kulman, Randy, Ph.D. (2012). Train Your Brain for Success: A Teenager’s Guide to Executive Functions. Plantation, FL: Specialty Press, Inc. [Chapter 7]

Richard, Gail J. and Jill K. Fahy. (2005). The Source for Development of Executive Functions. East Moline, IL: Lingua Systems.

Schwarzchild, Michael. (2000) Helping Your Difficult Child Behave: A Guide to Improving Children’s Self-Control-Without Losing Your Own. New York, NY: Authors Guild.

 

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How Can I Help My Kids Develop Better Social Skills?

Today, I wanted to share with you a great article I found on LifeHacker which talks about how you can help your kids develop better social skills:

“… Your children’s social development will be a critical part of their success and happiness as they get older—even more important than their academic skills or intelligence. (Also, no one wants to be that parent who’s raised “Mean Girls”-like bullies.) You have a chance now to greatly influence your kids’ social intelligence and teach them things even we awkward adults are still perfecting, like how to build friendships and deal with rejection. They’re important lessons we all keep learning, and the sooner we start, the better.

The Social Skills All Kids Need to Learn

It seems like some kids (or people of any age) are more naturally socially adept than others—you know, the kind of people others gravitate to and for whom making friends comes easily. Don’t worry if your children don’t fit that mold or aren’t winning any popularity contests. Like any other skill, social skills can be learned, and, besides that, “being social” or outgoing isn’t the end goal in itself.

What is important, however, is that kids are able to form meaningful bonds with others, can empathize and interact with others appropriately, and have the skills to adapt in uncomfortable situations. Unfortunately, as the University of Memphis points out:

Many students do not know how to handle interpersonal social situations that involve following directions, holding a proper conversation, listening, giving compliments, proper behavior during transition times, teasing, bullying, or just “hanging out” with friends.

Those are basic skills we want all kids to be able to have. Depending on your children’s ages, they might also need more specific social skills.

Skills for Preschool and Elementary School Kids

Vanderbilt University found the top 10 social skills kids need to succeed in school, based on surveys of 8,000 elementary teachers and two decades of classroom research, are:

  • Listen to others
  • Follow the steps
  • Follow the rules
  • Ignore distractions
  • Ask for help
  • Take turns when you talk
  • Get along with others
  • Stay calm with others
  • Be responsible for your behavior
  • Do nice things for others

These might seem like social skills promoted just to turn out “nice girls and boys” who earn the “gets along with others” check on their report cards, but they’re fundamental behaviors that help kids succeed (not just survive) in a world that emphasizes social norms. The goal isn’t just to make them cooperative, but to hone their social GPS so they can both advocate for themselves and care for others. (Heck, we probably all know a few adults who could stand to learn many of these skills too.)

Social Skills for Pre-Teens and Teens

Older kids, in middle school and high school, have more complex social skills to learn, thanks to growing peer pressure and that simply awkward period called adolescence. It’s a time when they’re becoming more independent, but everyone’s forming cliques; when they’re making big decisions about who they are and what they want to be, but also might start to care a bit too much about what others think.

  • Set personal goals
  • Identify and change self-defeating behaviors
  • Be assertive about his or her needs
  • Have feelings for others
  • Handle anger constructively
  • Resolve conflicts peacefully

It’s easy to say a toddler should learn how to follow directions or a young adult should know how to be assertive; it’s another to know how to best help them do that. So let’s look at a few strategies.

Model Social Skills

The first place we learn social skills, of course, is at home, and what we do as parents is more important than what we say. As All I Really Needed to Learn in Kindergarten author Robert Fulghum says, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”

Modeling positive social skills includes showing confidence ourselves when we relate to others, being friendly to strangers, offering to help others, and also treating our kids with respect (no matter how much they might be pulling at our last straw). Dr. Laura Markham writes on Aha! Parenting:

Teach your child that people are important. All parents have to choose their battles, so put up with messiness and dawdling if you must, but teach your child consideration for others. Model it for him early on, praise it, help him brainstorm to solve peer problems, and don’t let your child intentionally or unintentionally disrespect another person. It you can’t confront it as it happens without embarrassing your child, be sure to talk about it later. As kids get older, you may need to be very explicit about insisting that they acknowledge adults in their presence, as well as other kids. Often preteens and young adolescents need to be reminded of this, and to be given coaching on how to handle interactions that feel awkward to them.

The funny thing about being a parent is it forces you out of your shell and can help you become a better person through analyzing your own behaviors and attitudes. In a great article summarizing research on children’s social skills, Auburn University professors Jacquelyn Mize and Ellen Abell write:

Parents of these socially competent children endorse interpretations of social events that encourage resilient, constructive attitudes (Mize, Pettit, Lindsey, & Laird, 1993). Rather than making a statement such as, “That’s a really mean kid!” they may say something like, “Gosh, maybe he’s having a hard day.” They make constructive attributions such as, “Sometimes kids just want to play by themselves,” rather than expressing a sentiment like, ‘They’re not very nice if they won’t let you play.” These parents avoid defeatist comments such as “Maybe they don’t like you,” and offer instead suggestions like, “Maybe they don’t want to play that, but there might be something else they think is fun.” Such positive, constructive statements encourage children to take an optimistic view of others and themselves as play partners. They reflect an upbeat, resilient attitude toward social setbacks and the belief that social situations can be improved with effort and positive behavior.

Don’t Label Shy Kids

If your kids are naturally shy or feel insecure, try not to label them as such or try to force them out of their shyness. Instead, if your child is socially anxious, Dr. Markham recommends empathy and a problem-solving approach:

Don’t label your child as shy. Instead, acknowledge his feelings and point out that he can overcome his fears. For instance, “Sometimes it takes you awhile to warm up in a new situation. Remember Billy’s birthday party, how you held my hand all through the games? But by the end, you were having lots of fun with the other kids.”

Teach your child effective strategies for dealing with shyness. The general rule of thumb is to accept the nervousness that comes up as a part of normal life that affects most people, reassure yourself that you’re ok anyway, and focus on others rather than yourself. For instance, remind your child that she doesn’t have to be interesting, just interested, and teach her to ask other kids questions and listen to their answers. Brainstorm with her how she might handle a situation that makes her nervous.

Another reason not to label young people as shy is it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I was told I was shy as a child, when really I think I was just naturally quiet and introverted. Having that label, though, led to me feeling tense and anxious during social situations—true shyness, which often starts out as a reinforced habit.

Give Plenty of Opportunities to Practice Social Behaviors

Kids learn social skills first from you, but then to a large degree from their peers. The more chances kids have to interact with others, the better.

That means supporting and encouraging kids’ friendships—even if it means you become Dad Taxi Service or have to spend playdate time, as Louis CK laments, with kids and parents you couldn’t care less about.

Kids also will learn crucial skills from simply playing with you. According to Dr. Mize and Dr. Abell, the research suggests that children whose parents frequently play with them have more advanced social skills and get along better with their peers. It’s especially true if you play with them on their level, following their lead and in a “peer-like” way:

Children benefit from this type of play for several reasons. From balanced, responsive play with a parent, children may learn many of the skills commonly displayed by the socially competent preschoolers described earlier. In addition, when parents are responsive to children’s play ideas, children may come to feel that they are good, effective play partners and thus are eager to play with peers. Finally, fun, balanced parent-child play may instill that positive outlook toward others that makes children look forward to play opportunities with people outside the family.

Parenting Science has a few social skill activities you can do with your kids (school-aged and teens) based on research—and they’re actually fun games like charades.

Relax

All that said, chances are your kids are learning positive social skills the way most of us do, simply as we go along and through trial and error. Don’t worry or try to intervene too much unless there are serious signs of social trouble (for example, if your kid’s teacher warns of discipline problems). Most kids are insensitive (or even unkind) or socially clumsy sometimes.

Here are some signs that your child might need more social coaching(from you and/or teachers):

  • Lacks at least one or two close mutual friends
  • Has trouble losing or winning gracefully
  • Doesn’t show empathy when others are hurt or rejected
  • Acts bossy or insists on own way a lot
  • Can’t seem to start or maintain a conversation
  • Uses a louder voice than most children
  • Seems constantly ignored or victimized by other children or constantly teases or annoys other children

In those cases, you’ll want to take a more active approach to helping your kids with their “interpersonal skills.” Otherwise, just keep playing with your kids, being a model of social grace, and helping them build their relationships.