Sunday, 8 March 2015

Board Exams And The Teenager Brain

Supporting your young teenager during the ‘tussle’ of board exams and cricket world cup fever

By the time the child appears for the 10th or the 12th board the child is now a young adult and literacy is not the goal but complete education. So by this age your youngster would have inculcated certain required life skills like focus, concentration, and ability to stay away from distractions. The human brain goes through two phases of intense development, one stage is the period between birth and 6 years and the next stage is when the thinking brain or the executive brain develops and this is rapid between the age of 11 to 21 and beyond.
The thinking brain is that part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex and it is the only difference between the apes and us! So the thinking brain can perform and should perform executive brain functions, it is called executive because these are functions that youth will require in their career and life. So impulse control, ability to defer gratification, self-regulation all come under this category of executive brain functions. And these will all be tested because the board exams are clashing with the World Cup matches.

So now is the right time to test if your child is ready for executive brain functions and has his/her upbringing and education helped nurture his/her  brain or just their memory! With the cricket fever at its highest pitch will it impact your child’s learning, performance or will you and your child be able to swing this problem like  a googli and strike a six for performance?

·         So the child knows that there will be important matches during a particular exam- prepare ahead- plan ahead, study ahead.
·         The temptation to watch the match will be there- have self control- self-regulation and maybe decide that the child can take 15 breaks of his/her choice.
·         The child has his/her mobile phone, internet and will be tempted to cheat and watch it on that while showing you that he/she is studying well, tell the child ahead of time that this is also the test of his/her ‘smart brain’ – impulse control the ability to defer gratification which means to know that something is available within easy reach but to not take it because you care for your own success.
·         Remember there will be many world cups but this is your only chance to win the board exams. If young children’s executive brains understand this then the motivation to score well in spite of the matches will be an intrinsic goal and not have to be monitored by parents and schools.

So is your child equipped with executive brain functions? Time to examine your youngster’s  ‘brain feed’ to check if it is brain antagonistic or brain relevant.

Parents want smart children and teachers want smart learners. Then if the aim is same lets focus on that body organ that can achieve this goal for us- the brain. All learning and memory is in the correct functioning of the brain. Did you know that the brain can be taught to learn? And did you know that during exam time there are certain practices that can actually destroy the learning and memory capacity of the brain? These are called brain antagonistic practices.
So lets understand how to ‘brain feed’ and how the brain can be taught to learn. It is called RAD learning.
R= Reticular activating system, A= amygdala and D= Dopamine
Reticular activating system simply means stimulus for the eyes, the less stimulus for the eyes the more they will droop, blink, and faze out, unable to concentrate, unable to focus. So, it is important during learning and exam time to use flash cards to revise, these flashcards can have relevant paragraphs, diagrams and acronyms. As each flash card changes the retina gets its stimulation and the reticular activating system sends positive stimulus to the brain. These days there are many apps available that also help them do this in a jiffy. studyBlue is a fantastic app that allows kids to prepare memory cards from their notes to test themselves, it also helps them see 30 of the top cards created by others and helps them compete with peers and check scores. cheggFlashcards, another app also has similar features

Amygdala is a small almond shaped part in our brain. It is on the left and right brain and it is the emotional checkpoint of the brain. All information, stimulus, learning that we receive through any of our senses has to pass through the amygdala. So it is like a security check of our brain. The minute it perceives any danger, threat or stress then the amygdala shuts the brain down immediately and then the brain triggers the primitive brain that can have only 3 reactions- Fight, Flight or Freeze. Flight means you want to flee from the situation at any cost, you don’t want to face it. Children will fake illness, cry, and fall sick to avoid exams if stressed out. Fight means resorting to aggression, violence against others or oneself to avoid facing the situation. Taking drugs, cheating, not wanting to appear for exams, running away from home, reaching school late are all signs of fight behavior and the last is freeze- also called brain fog- wherein everything that the brain knew is suddenly not recognized or remembered. The child just freezes unable to speak, think, understand, or react.
To avoid brain shut down, the amygdala needs to be deactivated during exam days, and this can be done in a variety of ways-
a.     Chamomile tea is good and calming, mothers should drink it! Because a calm mother will automatically calm the child.
b.    Avoid ‘hyperness’ creating words or facial expressions or tone of voice when referring to study time or exams. The amygdala will catch on and send the brain for a shutdown.
c.     Help children do deep breathing, yoga during exam days. Avoid foods with high salt and sugar content.
d.    Take brain breaks during studies. Important that the brain takes a break every hour for at least 15 minutes of maybe TV time, or just simple relaxing.

Dopamine- it is a chemical that the brain thrives on. Most drugs taken by drug addicts have a high content of dopamine. No we are not asking you to give drugs to your child. Dopamine is naturally released in our brains when we are happy and positive. So if you do what is given above then it does not trigger amygdala but instead triggers dopamine in the brain which will help your child’s brain become alert and focused which means better learning, retention and memory. All leading  to exam success.

So RAD learning is the secret ‘brain feed’ for every child during exam time. It does not cost much but its impact is on the emotional and cognitive health of your child.
RAD learning is a brain compatible practice every family should adopt during exams. After brain antagonistic practices will destroy the very organ that is required during exams. It would be like ‘running out’ your own team player!

If parents want their teenager to become a smart adult then it is time for parents to appeal to the teenage brain and for more such ideas check the work of Elkhonon Goldberg,(wikipedia) on

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Keeping Children Safe During Holi

Here are some tips from Shalini Ahuja of  to keep our children safe this festival season:

Adult supervision at all times is important. Do not leave children alone.
Educate children, friends and family on using safe, non-toxic colours.
Since the floor will be wet, instruct children to be careful while walking or running.
Water balloons should be avoided.
Water balloons and pichkaari should be used away from the face, especially the eyes and ears.
If you have to travel on Holi, make sure that the windows of the car are closed so that balloons/ colours are blocked from coming in.
Make sure the driver is not under the influence of ‘bhaang’ or alcohol. Surveys have shown that road accidents increase by 30-40 percent during Holi, so please drive carefully.
Safe Baby recommends using gel colours instead of powder colours to protect the skin since they are easy to remove. Also, gel colours do not get blown into the eyes of young children.
Do not let children put any colours in the mouth.
If colour goes in your or your child’s eye, wash with plenty of water and do not rub the eye. 
If a large drum is used to store water for Holi, make sure children do not lean into the bucket. Being head heavy young children can fall into it.
Make children wear full sleeves clothes and long pants to protect the sensitive skin of the child.
Apply oil or cream all over the body to prevent the colours from sticking on the skin. Oil the child’s hair before she goes down to play Holi.
Safe Baby recommends that parents have a list of emergency contact numbers ready. This list should include phone numbers of your pediatrician, closest hospital and ambulance. This list should be saved on your mobile phones or kept in a place where it can be found easily.
Have a safe Holi.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Female Heroines For Our Girls!

Dear Friends,
This Week I have a guest blogger Vandana Mohal Dewan. As a parent and as a professional she is passionate about removing Gender Bias in our parenting and teaching.

Female Heroines For Our Girls!

By Vandana Mohal Dewan

Amongst the many ways I can introduce myself, one of the happiest and also one of the proudest way I do so is when I say I am a mother of two absolutely gorgeous kids. Of course this is a mother’s pride speaking!

My son Arjun is 11 and daughter Maahi is a 4 year old. Apart from the obvious difference of gender, the two are as different, to use a cliché, as chalk and cheese. While sonny boy is gentle, sweet, adjusting, easy going, sporty, deep thinking, empathetic, emotional, just and adjusting; Maahi on the other hand is head strong, competitive, loving, strong, hardy, feisty and fearless. I, obviously, love both of them, although honestly Maahi due to her head strong nature, does drive me up the wall leading me to do Google searches about at what age I can put her in Military school, so that they can make her more malleable, or make a competent soldier out of her since all her traits are complementary to what a good military officer is expected to have!

Having said that I feel extremely happy that my daughter is the way she is. I want her to be a tough kid, because unfortunately she has inherited a world where females have to be quite tough to survive and hold their own. They have no other option but to excel and beat the boys at everything, to be able to get an equal place in this world.

But, I wonder sometimes how will my daughter and other girls really achieve this. I say this because when I look around, I see a complete dearth of female role models. What I see on the idiot-box, I think a very apt definition of the TV, are soaps that have pretty, decked up women, plotting revenge on someone, while shedding onion-cutting-induced tears amongst the assortment of the colourful pots and pans in the well-lit kitchen. They do all this while being subservient to their male partners, observing fasts and pandering to all their whims. Equality of gender just does not figure in the soap-world. This of course is the Hindi telly; the Western soaps are too risky; the content is too sexualised for young kids! Movies too portray women as mere showpieces, with a few exceptions like a Mary Kom or a Queen.

Now if I look at animation films or even cartoons, again equality isn’t what I see. I see a pink-clad Minnie Mouse preening and blinking her heavily mascaraed eyes at Micky. The clubhouse is called Mickey Mouse clubhouse. So a boy is a hero. I look at Chota Bheem, where Chutki, once again clad in the ubiquitous pink and her beauty enhanced by some dark long eye lashes and pink lips, plays second fiddle to the male lead. Examine the hugely popular Harry Potter or Percy Jackson; the title itself conveys who is the lead and what is his gender. If we see Harry Potter, he is the hero, while Hermione Granger, despite being the sharpest “witch” still plays second fiddle to Potter and is the girlfriend of Ronald Weasley, a good-at-heart, yet a bumbling average bloke. Why on earth will someone like a Hermione fall for Ron, is beyond my comprehension?

If we look at fairy tales, most have a very strong theme of the damsel in distress waiting for her knight in shining armour to come rescue her so that she can finally live a happy life – Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Snow-white etc. Where female are the protagonists they aren’t positive, Goldilocks is a thief!

Look at how education is imparted to kids. When we teach children grammar somehow or the other, gender roles are clearly etched out and they do take root in the child’s mind. “My mother is cooking, My father is going to the office.” The father is always the tough guy, the most important person in the family while the mother is, well secondary.

Call it political correctness or adjusted gender–role representation, the two forces in our children’s lives -- their Mum and their Dad -- need to be seen playing more complementary roles. No one is better than the other, but the two combine to make a safe, secure and loving environment. Of course, here the dads can also pitch in playing the role of an equal partner, but well that's a topic for another article!

And this adjustment is required globally, not just India. Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg in her book ‘Lean In’ captures some very touching aspects of this girl vs. boys or women vs. men roles as society sees them and as they exhibit socially. She makes an observation that when a little boy is aggressive, we say he knows his mind, but if a girl does so she is called pushy. And when they grow up, the same two people will be judged differently, the man will be called successful and knowing his mind, the woman “a bit political”, “too aggressive” or worse “not a team player”. The book is peppered with many such examples and the interesting thing the book throws up is that we women only a lot of times hold ourselves back and do not make enough efforts to realise our true potential and that's why we need to ‘Lean In’. This link captures more of these points

Females/young girls need to feel empowered. They are in desperate need to have their own “heroines”. While its alright that they see themselves as pretty princesses, just like my baby girl does, they should, however, not have a mental picture of themselves as that imprisoned princess, who needs to be rescued by a knight. They should mentally feel liberated and not bound. And if they do feel imprisoned, when they imagine a knight doing the rescuing act, they should be able to have a choice of the knight’s gender in their mindscape!

Children, particularly young girls, need to have more of Mary Koms as the HERO! I feel authors, particularly those who write for young children, and educators in general should attempt to show a balanced picture to all kids. We can possibly start by digging out stories of our own heroines, Rani Laxmibai, Razia Sultan, Laxmi Sahgal, Kalpana Chawla, Sunita Williams or even corporate honchos, singers, sportswomen, military officers someone like Wing Commander Pooja Thakur!

All humans begin making visual connects very early in life and if we are able to cast such strong female characters in popular literature, cinema and other art forms both boys and girls will picture the quality called heroism from a gender-neutral prism! And that possibly will a step in the direction of a more equal world for both our girls and boys!