Healthy Heart and Mind
Over the weekend I facilitated a presentation called What Happens Next: Navigation Exceptional Students to Success. The focus of the discussion is to help give parents a starting point on what they need to know in order to support their exceptional thinker. At the end I always ask the participants to give me feedback on the presentation, which helps me to ensure I am meeting participants expectations.
Later that night as I was reading the responses, under the section what did you learn today that you did not knew prior, one parents wrote “Seeing and supporting my child as a whole.” This comment stuck out to me a lot, often parents can be so focused on supporting their child in their academic needs that other important needs of their child are missed. One key component that many adults overlook in supporting exceptional students is the power of thought.
Last week, I talked about the mental health connection and children and youth. The conversation on mental health is on the rise in our society but this discussion usually circulates around adults. Children and youth are impacted by mental health just as an adult. Students with learning disabilities (and another exceptionalities), are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues, in relation to their academic challenges. A child’s self-esteem and self-concept can be greatly impacted, and here is why.
Children build their self-esteem and self-concept through comparison. Comparing the skills and talents on the playground, in the classroom even at home with siblings. At the same time, learning disabilities become more apparent in school age children, on average by grade three it becomes apparent to teachers. As the concept for learning disability is abstract and difficult to comprehend for many children (and adults), these young learners can attribute their learning challenges as a problem with themselves. Internalize thoughts Jamie can read better than, I can what is wrong with me?
This kind of thought is what Dr. Caroline Leaf calls a toxic thought. Dr Leaf is a cognitive neuroscientist who's has spent three decades investigating the mind, body connection. Some of her notable work discusses how the mind controls and impacts the physical structure of the brain, or in a simple text our thoughts have a great impact on how our brain works.
Quick Brain Science Lesson:
Neruoplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself to create new neural connections. Dr. Caroline Leaf is a cognitive neuroscientist whose work has demonstrated the power of thoughts and our brain structure. Dr. Leaf frequently discusses the mind brain connection, and how the mind controls and impacts the physical structure of the brain.
Imagine one car driving on a freshly smooth paved road. One car is not going to damage the road. Now imagine that road becomes busy and is always occupied with buses, trucks, cars, even bicycles all riding up and down the road. Over time the high volume in traffic will begin to wear away on the road causing cracks, potholes reshaping the road. This is similar when it comes to toxic thoughts. One thought may not be damaging but when there are multiple thoughts that replay over and over in our minds it begins to create new brain structure. Our thoughts impact our emotions, emotions dictate our actions and actions become our habits. What kind of habits do we want to instill in our kids?
When a child says, “I am not good enough” or “I can’t do it”, these are words that should not be ignored. Instead, as adults we should help teach the children and youth around us how to be more mindful in our thinking. Helping students to become aware of toxic thoughts and change them to positive thinking is the first step to reshaping their minds and their future. Navigating a student to success goes beyond reading and writing skills. Every student needs to know regardless of their exceptionality there are #NoLearningLimits to what they can achieve.