Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Stress and motivation in learnig - how stress affects your child's brain and learning

BRAIN-based learning is the informed process of using a group of practical strategies based on sound principles derived from brain research. It aims to help children learn according to how the brain learns best - naturally. It is a borderless approach to learning, crossing and drawing upon multiple disciplines such as chemistry, neurology, psychology, Sociology, genetics, physiology and nutrition. This holistic and multidisciplinary approach increases the learning potential of every child.

How stress affects your child's brain and learning
Good stress (eustress) helps learning by motivating problem solving. For your child to experience eustress, stress has to be occasional or intermittent. There must be enough rest between challenges. Your child has to feel the ability to overcome the problem and that he is still in control.

There are levels of good stress ... it is best to ensure that your child experience low stress when he is learning new information and not to be worried if stress levels rise during a test as it can help performance. However, try not to allow this stress to escalate to become bad stress.

Bad stress (distress) is when your child feels that he has a problem he doesn't want, can't find answers to, loses control
over circumstances or stress periods are protracted and constant. Bad stress increases and prolongs cortisol release and can damage neurons in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for emotions and memory in learning. Too much cortisol is also associated with reduced immunity and tense muscles resulting in headaches. All these will negatively affect leaming.

Stress can come in different forms - parental and peer pressure, violence (family violence or school bullies) and poor support Babies can experience stress too. Leaving a baby to "cry it out" increases stress levels. Not providing enough stimulation such as touching and a sense of security will affect the connectivity of a baby's brain, affecting learning.

What you need to know to help your child

  • Share the responsibility of supporting and motivating your child. Studies suggest that peer or school environment is as or more powerful an influence on your child's learning. Work closely with your child's teachers, encourage mentoring and guide your child's friendships.
  • Increase. their sense of safety at school and in the home. Encourage them to talk about their feelings such as fears, worries, hopes.
  • Make your child feel accepted, at home and at school. Perceived increase in social status in school can have a very positive impact on learning.
  • Allow outlets for stress such as writing journals, dance, art and crafts.
  • Give your child lots of reassurance, encouragement and constructive feedback.
  • Hold, cuddle and comfort your infants to increase a sense of security and to reduce stress and encourage mental development.

How to motivate your child using brain-based learning principles

Many parents offer rewards or "carrots" for good behaviour or performance. This is a well accepted method made popular by a branch of study called behaviourism.

Brain-based learning theorists suggest that parents consider other ways when motivating their child to learn. Providing
rewards may work to a certain extent, but may fail to encourage the child to learn because she wants to and may result in stereotypical, low risk and low creativity behaviour.

It may also create a dependency on rewards, whereby in the absence of a tangible reward, the child may be unwilling
to learn or perform.

Brain-based motivation and discipline suggests these alternative strategies to offering rewards.

  • Meet your child's needs. Know what is important to your child at his age. For example, your four- to six-year-old child would need a lot of security, acceptance and predictability. A teenager may value peer acceptance, autonomy and independence. By understanding your child's needs, and meeting them, you would have a much easier time motivating them to learn.

  • Let your child feel that he has a choice and some control over his learning. This will help him feel valued and empowered. For example, ask your child "would you like to learn Maths or English now?"

  • Support and encourage curiosity. Be aware of opportunities to learn as your child expresses curiosity in various subjects. Support her by providing her with all the different sources and medium for learning about the subject, e.g. books, CDROM, videos.

  • Support your child even if you are not too interested in the subject yourself. Do not belittle their choice of subject for curiosity, e.g. Hollywood celebrities, aliens. The process of learning and finding information is more important than the content.

  • Share success stories such as how people have succeeded against all odds. Take a walk through a revered institution of learning to motivate older children.
  • Mark success and achievements with emotions and cheers, even a little party. This stimulates endorphins (feel good hormone) that further boost learning and motivation.
  • Affirm and reinforce to your child positive beliefs about their capability. I help them overcome any negativity they may have about themselves and work to bring out the positive.
  • Provide acknowledgements, for achievements such as praising them appropriately in front of people they value. This will further boost their self confidence and spur them to want to perform.
  • Be a role model. If you are enthusiastic about learning, it will rub off on your child.

Brain-based motivators aim to help your child learn by making him feel that he is learning because he wants to. This is thought to be more life long and personally meaningful.

These motivators usually do not cost any money while a love of learning is simply priceless !

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