Resilience is the ability to overcome difficulties and return to a homeostatic state, i.e. return to a state of balance, in the face of adversities – and it can be developed from childhood. In our adult life, resilience is important to overcome life’s obstacles in a clever and kind way to yourself.
The story Fatima, from Truth and Tales, tells the life of Fatima, the main character who goes through many hurdles but always picks herself up and dusts herself off to continue on her path. The story doesn’t talk about resilience in itself, but it’s one of Fatima’s predominant traits, showing how she handles hard times, tragedies and frustrations while persisting to pursue her goals at the same time.
Let’s understand more about resilience? We have based our article on several materials from Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child.
Resilience can be defined as “a good outcome in the face of adversity”. Linda C. Mayes is a professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology in the Yale School of Medicine. Linda defines resilience as the “ability or set of capacities for positive adaptation, allowing you to keep in balance”.
We are all born with the ability to be resilient, but since it’s a skill, it needs to be developed. Resilience is built over time just like our brain’s architecture is formed. It’s an individual skill, but it requires interaction between people and the child and the overall community. Resilience needs several factors in order to be developed: responsive relationships, safe community, qualified parents or legal guardians, healthy diets, etc.
To understand the development of resilience in a more precise way, let’s imagine a seesaw whose base, which is usually fixed in the center, can now move and slide to the left or to the right. On one side of the seesaw, there are protective experiences and skills to face challenges (which help us overcome periods of stress); on the other side, there are adversities.
Resilience is evident when the child’s health and development tend to yield positive outcomes, even when a load of factors is piled on top of the adversities side of the seesaw. Over time, the cumulative positive impacts of our life experiences and our ability to face challenges are able to move the position of the seesaw’s base, which starts to slide closer to the adversity side, making it easier to reach positive outcomes.
The most common factor for kids to develop resilience is by having at least one stable and committed relationship with their parents, caregivers or other adults. These relationships provide the base, protection and everything that is necessary to develop the responsive ability according to the moment’s need. This alleviates the kids’ halt in development.
They also build key abilities – such as to plan, monitor and regulate behaviors – which allow children to respond adaptively to adversities and, still, prosper. This combination of supportive relationships, the development of adaptive skills and positive experiences are the foundations of resilience.
Kids who handle difficulties well are usually resilient to adversity and have strong relationships with important adults in their family and in the community where they live. Resilience is the outcome of a combination of protection factors. Alone, not even individual traits or social environments can guarantee positive outcomes for children who go through long periods of toxic stress. It’s the interaction between biology and the environment that builds the kids’ ability to handle adversity and overcome threats and guides them towards a healthy development.
The abilities related to resilience can be strengthened at any age. The brain and other biological systems are more adaptable in the beginning of life. While its development establishes the bases for a wide range of resilient behaviors, it’s never too late to build resilience.
Activities that promote health and are age appropriate can significantly improve the chances of recovery of an individual whose experiences are stress-inducing.
For example, regular physical exercise, stress-reducing practices, and activities that actively build executive functioning and self-regulating skills improve both children and adults’ ability to handle, adapt to, and even prevent the adversities that can happen throughout life.
Adults who strengthen these skills in themselves may even serve as role models and show healthy behaviors in a more effective way to their kids, thus improving the next generation’s resilience.
In the face of the mishaps that occurred throughout Fatima’s life – which is a character from one of the Truth and Tales’ stories – many people can interpret that she is a poor thing persecuted by bad luck and a victim of so many tragedies. However, Fatima demonstrates a lot of power and wisdom by facing and overcoming these obstacles. Her ability to bounce back from all the challenges, despite the pain, exhaustion and adversity, is the result of resilience.
Stories that are filled with challenges and frustrations are important for kids to have contact with adversity without living them in their own skin. This helps to prepare them to face challenging situations in the context of their own lives.
Text: Luisa Scherer
Translation: Mariana Gruber
Many things we go through during our childhood mark our memories, and the first day of school can be one of them, to the kids as well as to the parents.
The school adaptation stage involves not only knowledge related to education and relationship building but also lots of learning and development for the kids.
Everything is new and, to many families, their kids’ going to school means the experience of living in a context different from before, which used to be formed only by the small nuclear family and friends.
Considering all this transformation, it’s not just the kids that go through the process of adaptation. Parents also face emotions they hadn’t experienced before.
In this article, we are going to share a few essential tips on how to prepare for the first time going to school. Keep reading!
The pedagogue Paula Strano, one of the founders of the platform Read the World (freely translated from “Ler o Mundo”), talked about the importance of also understanding the adult side of school adaptation (more specifically the mother’s) in an article published by the magazine IstoÉ.
“The process brings great expectations, mainly because of the mothers, who we should strive to understand and be welcoming so that it all runs smoothly, in the best possible way. I mean the best possible way because each adaptation process is unique, each child has their own time and this is the first important issue of this reflection.”
Family therapist and co-owner of Blueprint Mental Health, Michele Levin, in an interview to Healthline, also explained this process for the parents.
“It’s normal for parents to have a tough time transitioning themselves when their kids begin kindergarten. For a lot of families, this is the first time experiencing losing some control.”
Therefore, the difficulties may be relative to their worries about their kids facing this new reality or to their insecurities about how this process is going to be. The therapist explains that some parents may need more support than others to adjust to the change. In this sense, if you’re a parent or caretaker who’s experiencing this situation and relates to it, the first and foremost thing to do is talk about this subject before anything else.
Talking to other parents who are going through the same thing and understanding how the school dynamics work are some measures that can make parents feel safer and calmer at this moment.
With young kids, it’s worth taking them to the school before the first day of class so that you can participate by showing them around the place, playing with them and getting to know some of the school employees without the pressure of having other kids around and classes about to begin.
When classes in fact start, keep in mind that your kids may still not have developed their notion of time completely. Sentences like “mommy is right here, we’ll see each other later” may mean nothing to little kids, due to the simple fact that they don’t understand the meaning of “later”. They can only understand that their parents aren’t with them, and that scares them.
According to Luiza Elena L. Ribeiro do Valle, who is a psychologist and Master in School and Educational Psychology, “early childhood education is a stage of great learning skills development because, in this period, the emergence of neural connections speeds up a lot, creating the personality that is going to ineradicably keep impressions… Which can be good, right? Little kids absorb changes easily and repeat behaviors like social mirrors. We hope they see humanism, collaboration and mutual support, including between parents and the school,” she explains.
We must also remember that children only start to understand the sequence of week days clearly between the ages of 4 and 5. Therefore, if your kids are younger than that, it’s not worth talking to them about school before it happens, because they probably won’t understand it. It could cause unnecessary anxiety and do more harm than good.
Going to school is a big change in younger children’s routines. New relationships are created with their classmates, teachers and other school employees, relationships that didn’t exist before.
Kids also start living in a new environment with very different rules from the ones they were used to and this transition can be different according to each child.
Cisele Ortiz, psychologist and coordinator of the Avisa Lá Institute, in São Paulo, in an interview to the Portal Nova Escola (freely translated to “New School Portal”), suggested that there isn’t a set amount of time for this transition. “Overall, the initial period of adaptation lasts between one or two weeks, but it depends on the kid, the family and their previous experiences related to the separations we face in life.”
Saying goodbye in school is usually hard, both for the kids and the parents. Many adults wait for the kid to be distracted before leaving the place, but this can cause the little ones a lot of discomfort.
Cisele even explains that saying goodbye is fundamental to the adaptation:
“As hard and painful as it is for both, building a relationship with your children based on trust and honesty is always better. The clarity of saying goodbye is healthy and necessary.”
The younger kids’ adaptation to school varies according to each one, but parents need to know that, at first, it may be necessary for them to stay with their kids in the classroom. It could be the whole day or just half of it: this need is going to be determined by the child. You let your presence peter out as your kid starts to feel more and more confident.
“In preschool, children are eager to make friends, they can communicate well and have more autonomy,” explains Cisele. Their adaptation is usually smoother and it can be done in small groups of two to three kids to make their integration easier. All the same, the presence of their families shouldn’t be dismissed. On the first few days, they can help the little ones acquaint themselves with the place and with the pace of the activities.
The ideal is finding the middle ground between saying goodbye like it’s a big event and sneaking out during the adaptation period.
Marcia Tosin is a psychologist who specializes in behavioral psychotherapy and the founder of the “Neuro-compatible” Movement, an activist movement for child development that gathers parents and professionals interested in the ideal conditions for the human brains to develop and function.
It’s based on science: Evolutionary Psychology, Anthropology and Neurobiology. In her Instagram, which has more than 800 thousand followers, Márcia says we don’t need to trick kids, but it’s also not necessary to perform a farewell ritual.
“… The helplessness reaction felt by the children is due to a really old brain’s answer which destabilizes without the reference figure, and not because they weren’t “warned” that you would leave.”
Marcia proposes an exercise to better understand how our brain works: imagine that you, an adult, is going to have an invasive surgery. Despite knowing that only 0,9% of the people who undergo this surgery die, your brain says that you are going to be a part of this statistic. This happens because our brain’s compass is always pointing at risks. Your doctor may flood you with useful information and tell you many things to try to calm you down, but the limbic system works alone and leads you towards the worst result.
Another example is when we are alone at home and hear a noise. It may be completely riskless, but our brains warn us that it could be a predator.
“It prepares you for the worst: it takes blood away from the extremities so that if the predator rips out your hand you don’t bleed to death; it raises your hairs so that you look bigger; it increases your blood flow in the regions that you need it to fight or flight; it secretes sweat so that you’re more slippery and in order to stabilize your temperature; you’ll get more breathless to increase your oxygen disposal. We have a body that acts before you think.
The first couple of times kids stay in the school alone, this system is triggered – therefore they cry. This system works regardless of what parents say. School adaptation exists to calm this state of response. There isn’t only one model of school adaptation, but it’s necessary to know that this system exists. It’s not “whining” or lack of frustration.”
In terms of the parents’ nerves or anxiety being a hindrance to their kids’ adaptation to school, Marcia explains that it does not in fact get in the way – quite on the contrary, it protects it. “We have to believe that parents suffer from leaving their kids and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
If kids cry constantly when it’s time to go to school, or if there are other signs of extreme anguish, parents need to be cautious. Marcia Tosin used her Instagram account to talk about this issue.
“You shouldn’t attribute ‘problem’ causes to these behaviors. It would increase parents’ guilt. They are simply little people who need more time to form attachment and feel safe in this transition.”
Pedagogue Ana Paula Yazbek, writer of UOL’s Portal Papo de Mãe column, also wrote about the subject.
“Each kid and family experience this period in their own way. There are children who get very excited on the first few days and that, as they realize that being in school means being away from home, start to refuse to go and feel strange. Others may seem unaware of their surroundings, as if they’re only waiting for the time to go home. There are also kids who display an eagerness for new experiences and who pay very little attention to their family when they have to say goodbye.
Dubiousness is inherent to the adaptation process. On the same day there could be progress and setbacks in the safety felt by both the kids and their parents; it’s up to the institutions to offer support so that the trust bond is established progressively.”
When it comes to bigger kids, the adaptation may also require some care since they feel insecure and miss their parents the same as the younger ones.
Reminding children that you can go back to school to pick them up or call them so they hear your voice are measures that can be reassuring and calming for them during this adaptation period. Bringing an object to school that smells like their parents for when kids are missing them can also be helpful.
When questioning about your kids’ school day, pay attention to the answer, because they may point towards issues your children are facing during the adaptation.
The period of school adaptation is laden with challenges since it’s extremely important for kids’ learning and development. Both the parents and the school are fundamental to this process and, in this sense, must be aligned with each other and in constant conversation.
Kids can be both extremely excited and anxious at the beginning of school. To help the little ones handle these emotions, our main tip is a lot of conversations (for children older than 4) about the new routine.
These talks may arise in spontaneous moments such as during parent-child play times, for example.
Another tip is that parents visit the school before the first day of class to get to know the environment and which activities and timetables will be planned for the first day. It’s also important to meet the school’s team and not just the teachers, since many employees will be able to offer support to the kids during the adaptation process.
And about communicating with your kids, the Ministry of Education Portal shared some tips for parents to deal with the experience of the first few days of school:
What family members can check with their kids about the care they received in kindergarten:
• Ask the names of the teachers and other employees;
• Ask the names of their closest friends;
• Ask them what they enjoyed doing the most that day;
• Encourage them to tell and narrate some situations they went through there;
• Which songs did they sing or listen to;
• What did they do on the play time;
• Which paintings, drawings, sculptures did they make;
• Which book did the teacher read;
• Which story did the teacher tell;
• What are they learning, among others.
What family members can observe directly in the child about the care they received in kindergarten:
• Note the kids’ behavior when they arrive at the institution (joy, shyness, crying).
• Note daily and carefully while you’re talking to the kids – their looks, their gestures, their speaking and their reactions may help to evaluate their physical and emotional states.
• Note the kids’ reactions to seeing their classmates, this may show how they’re getting along with their class.
• Note the productions and the materials they bring from the institution.
Talking about school and how important this childhood experience is may help kids feel more comfortable on the first day of school. Try telling them how your first time going to school was, talk about other kids who are close to them and have lived through this moment.
If possible, take your kids to get to know the school before the first day of class, because that way your kids will already know a little of the new environment. Explain that feeling insecure and fearful before going to school is common.
Allowing the kids to be a part of the process involved in going to school, such as taking them to buy school supplies, may also be useful in order for the little ones to have a pleasurable moment that’s related to school.
Arriving early on the first day of school and taking the kids to the classroom conveys security. Also, reassure them that within a few hours you are going to be together again.
Many things can happen throughout the adaptation process or even after that. And that’s okay, it’s normal! Something very common is for the kids to start crying and screaming by the school entrance, refusing to go to class, when they were already adapted. If this happens, talk to the teachers and, if necessary, restart the school adaptation process. This gives your kids more confidence.
Text: Débora Nazário
Translation: Mariana Gruber
The word empathy has gained a lot of popularity in the last few years and, because of this, you must have heard of this expression. However, despite its new-found popularity, have you ever wondered what it means?
Have you ever questioned how is it possible to develop empathy and from which age does it start to manifest?
We can feel empathy in several situations from an early age. When we come across completely different realities from ours, such as when we see someone being insulted by someone else or going through a situation that causes someone some kind of discomfort, we feel empathy. You can do this exercise and try to remember situations that made you feel empathy.
According to the University of Cambridge’s dictionary definition of empathy, it is “the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation”.
The Greater Good magazine, from the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) from Berkeley, published an article in which it pointed out that “emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling”.
Feeling empathy is an emotional and cognitive experience. The emotional components of empathy are the first to emerge in the human being. Babies immediately start to reflect on the emotional states and the facial expressions of the people around them. Thanks to mirror neurons, babies as young as 18 hours usually show some response capacity regarding other babies in danger. We don’t teach babies how to do that; they are born programmed to map other people’s experiences onto their own brains and bodies.
According to Lawrence Kutner, North-American child psychologist and author of six books, kids as young as 2 years old might see their mothers crying, for example, and move to offer her what they have in hand, such as a toy or food. However, in the face of this action, it isn’t clear whether the 2-year-old kid recognizes their mother’s feeling as she cries.
The author writes, “By the time a child is about 4 years old, he begins to associate his emotions with the feelings of others. While one child says he has a stomachache, some 4-year-olds may come over and comfort him. Others, much to the bewilderment and horror of parents and teachers, will walk over to the child and punch him in the stomach.”
“Yet in each case the healthy child is demonstrating his empathy for the one who is ill. The aggressive child does not know what to do with the skill he’s been developing. The other child’s pain makes him feel uncomfortable. Instead of running away or rubbing his own stomach, as he might have done a year earlier, he feels frustrated and lashes out.”
1. “Empathize with your child and model empathy for others.”
Children learn empathy both from watching us and from experiencing our empathy for them. When we empathize with our children they develop trusting, secure attachments with us.
Those attachments are key to their wanting to adopt our values and to model our behavior, and therefore to building their empathy for others.”
2. “Provide opportunities for children to practice empathy.“
Children are born with the capacity for empathy, but it needs to be nurtured throughout their lives. Learning empathy is in certain respects like learning a language or a sport. It requires practice and guidance.
Regularly considering other people’s perspectives and circumstances helps make empathy a natural reflex and, through trial and error, helps children get better at tuning into others’ feelings and perspectives.”
3. “Expand your child’s circle of concern.”
As parents and caretakers, it’s not only important that we model appreciation for many types of people. It’s important that we guide children in understanding and caring for many kinds of people who are different from them and who may be facing challenges very different from their own challenges.”
4. “Help children develop self-control and manage feelings effectively.” Often when children don’t express empathy it’s not because they don’t have it. It’s because some feeling or image is blocking their empathy. Often the ability to care for others is overwhelmed, for example, by anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings.
Helping children manage these negative feelings as well as stereotypes and prejudices about others is often what “releases” their empathy.”
He reached these definitions based on research done by the Harvard Medical School. These studies also present the existence of a social brain, which can be explained as parts of the brains that interact in order for us to engage with one another.
The psychologist explains that the social brain isn’t made of one small part of the human brain, since varied parts of the brain interact to perform the functions involved in social coexistence. The term “social brain” encompasses several active parts that cover the entire human brain. These active parts are implied in the actions we execute when we interact with other people.
According to the researcher and author, these three types of empathy directly related to the social brain are paramount for communication in different types of environments, whether that’s at work, at home or in school. “When two people are in such a state, giving each other their full attention, it creates a feeling of well-being and makes space so that exchanges can happen, since they’re feeling safe and supported,” he states.
The author reiterates that our ability to truly connect with people, regardless of the situation, is extremely important for us to understand what others are telling us and what they feel. In order to improve this connection you need to know how to listen to others and ask questions.
Daniel Goleman states: “I literally feel your pain. My brain patterns match up with yours when I listen to you tell a gripping story.”
To reach this conclusion, the doctor created a program that taught other doctors how to concentrate and breathe deeply through the diaphragm in order to observe interactions. “Suspending your own involvement to observe what is happening allows you to interact with “conscious awareness”, without being completely reactive”, affirmed Dr. Riess.
She states in the research that if a doctor notices she is feeling annoyed, for example, it may be a sign that the patient is also feeling disturbed.
Michelle Borba, an educator, parenting child expert and author of more than 20 books, in an interview to Revista Crescer explained that “the last scientific discoveries have shown that the ability to be empathetic positively affects healthy and finances, brings happiness and contributes to the satisfaction that relationships offer, in addition to increasing the ability to overcome adversities in the future. Empathy also prepares kids to live in a globalized world and provides them with a boost to do better career-wise.”
In her book Unselfie, Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, the author dedicates an entire chapter to the importance of kids being in contact with literature.
According to her, “Books have the power to transport kids to other worlds and transform their hearts. Books can be portals to understanding distinct universes and points of view, helping our kids to be more open to differences and to cultivate new perspectives. We always feel what the characters feel. It’s like walking in their skins – emotionally, at least – identifying ourselves with their discomforts and feeling their pains. (…) That is why we need to find time for kids to read and put them in contact with books.”
By reading or listening to stories, kids can broaden their perceptions regarding their own lives and, therefore, experience empathy. Our app Truth and Tales also shares this vision since it encourages kids and adults to perceive themselves more and more. By doing so better, we can also see others more easily and, that way, be more empathetic.
Written by Débora Nazário
Translated by Mariana Gruber
Empathy is popular right now and we can see it being mentioned in several lectures of the most varied genres. People claim it’s the “skill of the future”. Despite many talking about empathy, however, in practice, most still confuse it with sympathy.
As it was said in the article above, we feel empathy when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes – when we are able to see the situation from someone else’s perspective. It’s the ability to experience the same feelings as others.
Sympathy, on the other hand, isn’t a shared experience. Sympathy concerns our own feelings from our own judgment of a situation. To feel sympathy is to express that, despite not knowing what the other person is going through, you feel for them.
For empathy to occur, a connection between two people is indispensable, whether they know each other or not. In a world where online connection is getting easier and easier, physical ones are getting lost. We advise, therefore, that you spend some quality time with your kids away from screens and the internet.
Truth and Tales, our original app, develops empathy through interactive kids stories. This is done through the customization of the main characters, which allows kids to choose the character’s skin, eye and hair color, the hairstyle, the clothes, the accessories, etc.
Kids could come up with the craziest combinations, but they usually put together characters whose physical traits are similar to themselves. That makes it easier for kids to put themselves in the character’s shoes, thus developing empathy.
The information that classical music is good for babies has circled the web and parents’ group chats. But are the benefits real? We do not know whether it is classical music specifically. However, a study by the Geneva University Hospitals has proved premature infants have better brain development when they listen to a specific type of music.
Premature babies who were exposed to music in intensive care units developed their brain networks more effectively, leading to a functional brain architecture more similar to term newborn babies.
In some areas of infant brains exposed to music, larger development was detected. This had an impact on sensory perception, on attention mechanisms which are helpful to the learning process related to cognitive and perceptive development, on affective and emotional processing, and on cognitive and behavioral responses.
The study was developed by researchers from the University of Geneva and published in June 2019 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), one of the world’s most-cited scientific journals.
Overall, 45 babies participated in the research: 16 term newborn babies (i.e. babies who were not born prematurely) and 29 preterm infants, newly born in the ICU environments of the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG).
Of 29 premature babies, 15 were in the control group which had no music intervention and 14 were in the one which had.
According to the article “Music in premature infants enhances high-level cognitive brain networks”, written based on the study’s results, premature babies exposed to a certain type of music had significant enhancement in the development of their brain networks in relation to the preterm babies who had no contact with the music.
The brains of premature babies are not fully developed yet because of their shorter pregnancy period. For this reason, babies need to spend some time in an ICU incubator to continue developing.
Despite simulating the environment of the uterus, incubators are found lacking in terms of development. According to Petra Huppi, the professor leading the UNIGE’s Faculty of Medicine’s research and head of HUG’s Development and Growth Division, “The brain’s immaturity, combined with a disturbing sensory environment, explains why the neural networks do not develop properly.”
The premature babies from the study had contact with music composed exclusively for them. The specific instruments that were used, such as a harp, bells, and a pungi, had already produced brain and behavioral responses in premature newborns in a previous study.
The music was divided into three tracks in order to adapt to the babies’ vigilance state: one that helped awake the babies; another which interacted with them while they were alert; and a third one that helped put them to sleep.
Written by Luisa Scherer
Translated by Mariana Gruber
Music can evoke distinct sensations in each one of us. Some songs allow us to relive our memories and can take us back to our childhood, meanwhile others make us feel excited regardless of the situation. Sometimes we may even feel nostalgia when listening to a specific song or band, and we may even remember people who are no longer around us.
Considering these sensations that we are all familiar with, have you ever wondered how the act of listening to music is processed by our brains?
“… Each time we listen to a musical pattern that is new to our ears, our brains try to make an association between any visual, hearing or sensory sign. We try to contextualize new sounds and, eventually, create these memory links between a particular set of notes and a certain place, time or set of events”.
This explains the fact that we associate music with moments and people.
Daniel also states that music has a direct connection to our brain and stimulates the production of the so-called happiness chemicals, such as serotonin, endorphin, dopamine, oxytocin and prolactin (the latter in pregnant women).
She writes that “once the sound is transmitted by molecules through the air, it reaches the eardrum, which vibrates in or out, according to the breadth and volume of the sound it receives as well as its frequency – that is, whether it is low or high. However, at this stage, the brain receives incomplete information, without a clear understanding or what the noise really represents – whether it is a voice, the wind, machines, etc. The final result, decoded in the brain, represents a mental image of the physical world, which is generated by a long chain of mental events”.
Carolina explains that the first process of this chain is the “characteristics extraction”, when the brain only perceives music’s basic characteristics through specialized neural networks. “In this stage, the sound is decomposed into basic elements such as frequency, timber, its location in space, intensity, among others. This occurs in the peripheral parts of the brain. The second step occurs in the upper parts of the brain, when the newly-acquired basic information needs to be integrated, therefore obtaining a complete perception.”
Carolina states that musical activity involves almost all brain regions as well as neural subsystems.
“When a song is emotionally touching, structures from the instinctive regions of the cerebellar vermis (a cerebellum structure that modulates the production of dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters and its release by the brainstem) and the amygdala (the cortex’s emotional processing’s main area). In musical reading, the area used is the visual cortex. The act of following along with a song is able to activate the hippocampus (responsible for memories) and the inferior frontal cortex. For music execution, the frontal lobes are activated – the motor and sensory cortex”.
In an interview to the newspaper O Globo, psychologist Daniel Levitin shares that recent studies have reinforced the notion that listening to music “improves physical and brain health, increases the immunological system function, promotes social bonding even without the presence of other people and improves general well-being”.
“Actually, we use music to regulate our moods throughout the day, even if we don’t do it intentionally. We choose different songs for working out and having dinner, or relaxing before going to sleep. The neurochemistry of these feelings and moods was attributed to music’s ability to modulate the levels of dopamine, endorphins and opioids in the brain. For example, techno tends to increase stress hormones (cortisol, ACTH, prolactine, growth hormone and norepinephrine), while meditative music reduces them significantly. On the other hand, listening to music we like may affect our well-being hormones”, he explains.
The physician and researcher Mauro Muszkat wrote an article in which he shows that music can act as an improving factor for diseases like depression or Alzheimer. Through this statement, he instigates art-educators, musicians and teachers to carry out an exercise of child observation and, along with them, to participate in a “process of language construction, in order to find answers to the kid’s struggles and for their inclusion, both educationally and socially”.
“Music can’t be understood without taking into account the subjectivity, the playful engagement and the transitivity which characterizes art. Music, in any of its dimensions, be that aesthetic, therapeutic or ritualistic, involves the perceptual motor and executive brain functions. Feeling and processing music imply the analysis of the physical and acoustic signs of the air molecules vibrations (sounds) and its decodification in a subjective and complex cultural system. Therefore, physical signs transform into emotional states that reflect expectations, tension, rest and movement as well as cause fluctuations in our endogenous physiological rhythms such as heartbeat, respiratory rate and brain electrical rhythms”, he explains.
“Listening to music also affects the functioning of our brain. The physiological alterations due to exposure to music are multiple and range from the neurovegetative modulation of variability patterns of heart rate endogenous rhythms, respiratory rhythms, cerebral electrical rhythms, and sleep-wake circadian cycles to the production of several neurotransmitters linked to rewards and pleasures and the pain neuromodulation system. It also intensified linguistic abilities”, he writes.
“For people whose cognition is declining, music can facilitate the activation of highly plastic neural networks, which are involved in episodic autobiographical memories in individuals with brain malfunctions. Therefore, the benefits of music are already widely known for many international groups, due to its ability to evoke emotions and bring back hidden memories”.
Mauro also explains that kids are not the only ones who benefit from listening to music; teenagers do as well, as music acts as a helping factor to them during the difficult transitioning stage, in which they encounter “changes that are not only hormonal but also neurobiological, as well as changes in impulsivity, motor agility and periods of oscillating moods and boredom”.
Written by Débora Nazário
Translated by Mariana Gruber
According to an article about neurodevelopment and musical education, the human brain goes through four main stages of structural development.
The first one happens during fetal development, during pregnancy, where the formation of billions of cells occurs in order to form the brain’s structure.
The second stage is soon after the birth and in the first few years of life with the emergence of connections between the cells, which create the brain’s “mind maps”, responsible for sight, language, hearing, etc.
The third stage happens between the ages of 4 and 10, during which every new learning reorganizes and reinforces the connections between the cells of the human brain. And the last stage happens after the age of 10, when the brain is still able to undergo physical changes and learns and memorizes information throughout its life.
In other words: half of the brain’s formation stages is during childhood, when the best “conditions” for learning are presented.
Another common concept in neuroscience is the “windows of opportunity”, periods in which kids appear to develop each type of intelligence more easily, making each stimulus and development more efficient. It’s worth remembering that such windows are not fixed and definitive, they are simply estimates.
Taking into account the windows of opportunity, we can mention here some types of intelligence which are developed more easily during childhood and how to stimulate them.
Our app Truth and Tales, for kids between the ages of 5 and 10, has many activities that can stimulate the four types of intelligence mentioned above.
The interactive stories stimulate the Linguistic or Verbal intelligence by telling stories in rhymes; the Musical intelligence by the soundtrack and some sound identification games with musical notes; and the Logical-Mathematical intelligence by problem solving games using drawings and representations.
The audiobooks also stimulate the Linguistic or Verbal intelligence for the same reason as the interactive stories; and they also stimulate Musical intelligence due to their soundtracks.
The exercises from Move It-Move It, that restore kids to their homeostatic state, stimulate their Body Kinesthetic intelligence through movements interpretation and motor activity games. .
We highlight here the soundtrack of the app itself, which covers the entire Truth and Tales’ experience: from the menu to the activities. Knowing about the effect of music on kids’ brains, we asked qualified professionals to create a soundtrack especially for the app. Its musicality makes the entire experience even more special.
You must have heard this sentence before: “the human body is a perfect machine”. But did you ever stop to think about what guarantees our perfect functioning considering how complexly we are built? When we feel goosebumps on our skin from the cold or when we sweat after practicing physical activities, these are physiological responses whose goal is to keep our body’s internal temperature in balance. It is through this matter that we can touch on the subject of homeostasis, which acts on maintaining the balance of our body’s functioning.
The human body needs to be in balance in order to guarantee its functioning.
In an interview to UOL, Nicolle Queiroz, a cardiologist and professor of the Medical School of the Universidade de Santo Amaro (Unisa), in Brazil, explains that sweat, for example, is part of a mechanism called homeostasis, which is responsible for regulating body temperature so that all body functions happen seamlessly.
Professor Kelvin S. Rodolfo from the University of Illinois starts an interview with Scientific American by explaining what homeostasis is according to the word’s meaning. “Homeostasis, from the Greek words for “same” and “steady,” refers to any process that living things use to actively maintain fairly stable conditions necessary for survival”.
The term was coined in 1930 by the physician Walter Cannon. His book, The Wisdom of the Body, describes how the human body maintains steady levels of temperature and other vital conditions such as the water, salt, sugar, protein, fat, calcium and oxygen contents of the blood. Similar processes dynamically maintain steady-state conditions in the Earth’s environment.”
“All vital mechanisms, despite their diversity, have only one function: to keep the life conditions of an internal environment constant.”
Ismar states that we must understand homeostasis as an organism’s tendency to maintain its internal conditions always within normal or physiological parameters. According to their position on the evolutionary scale, living beings may present a bigger or smaller ability to adapt to their environment.
“Each moment in which there is a tendency to imbalance, the homeostatic mechanisms will show up in order to ensure regulation or the return to normality. This applies, among others, to the regulation of the body’s pH as well as to thermoregulation and circulation,” he writes.
Homeostasis acts mainly in the functioning of the nervous and endocrine systems. The nervous system coordinates bodily functions and the endocrine system indicates “what must be done” for each organ.
If a system is under conditions that provoke alterations, it then faces instabilities – and its tendency is to act in order to combat such alterations. Homeostasis has a fundamental role in this process.
Professor Kelvin S. Rodolfo also mentions the importance of the human body’s temperature control processes. “For example, the human body uses a number of processes to control its temperature, keeping it close to an average value or norm of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the most obvious physical responses to overheating is sweating, which cools the body by making more moisture on the skin available for evaporation. On the other hand, the body reduces heat-loss in cold surroundings by sweating less and reducing blood circulation to the skin. Thus, any change that either raises or lowers the normal temperature automatically triggers a counteracting, opposite or negative feedback . Here, negative merely means opposite, not bad; in fact, it operates for our well being in this example. ”
He emphasizes that “homeostatic reactions are inevitable and automatic if the system is functioning properly, and that a steady state or homeostasis may be maintained by many systems operating together. For example, flushing is another of the body’s automatic responses to heating: the skin reddens because its small blood vessels automatically expand to bring more heated blood close to the surface where it can cool. Shivering is another response to chilling: the involuntary movements burn body tissue to produce more body heat.”
Kelvin S. Rodolfo explains furthermore that oscillation is a common and necessary behavior of many systems and that they themselves promote such oscillations above and below the equilibrium level.
Homeostatic systems evolved throughout the years to help the body maintain its ideal functions in different environments and situations. But beyond that, according to an article published in 2013 by the National Library of Medicine (National Center for Biotechnology Information), a group of scientists theorized that homeostasis mainly provides a “quiet background” for cells, tissues and organs to communicate with one another. The theory proposes that homeostasis makes it easier for organisms to extract important information from the environment and to transmit it between different parts of the body.
Moving slightly away from the explanations of homeostasis in the body, professor Kelvin S. Rodolfo says that homeostasis has also found useful applications in the social sciences. “It refers to how a person under conflicting stresses and motivations can maintain a stable psychological condition. A society homeostatically maintains its stability despite competing political, economic and cultural factors. A good example is the law of supply and demand, whereby the interaction of supply and demand keeps market prices reasonably stable.”
Written by Débora Nazário
Translated by Mariana Gruber
The body needs to return to homeostasis when it encounters a stress factor. When we think about this stress factor, we usually think of a flu that weakens our bodies or makes it feverish in order to combat an infection; or we think of a freezing-cold day and clothes that are not warm enough, thus our bodies shiver uncontrollably in order to generate heat and avoid lowering its temperature.
However, there’s also psychological stress: when we are overloaded or concerned about something. Our bodies have a series of responses in the face of stress and each person reacts differently. Some people sleep, others crave sweets; some lose all appetite, others feel constipated – or need to visit the toilet five times a day. All of this is our body showing us that there is an imbalance that may be emotional.
Kids can also be stressed and have responses such as a lack of appetite, sleep deregulation or irritability. You need to stay alert and seek the help of pediatricians and therapists in case one of these warning signs is identified.
Truth and Tales, our children’s well-being app, relies on some activities that may help kids return to their homeostatic state. The interactive stories and audiobooks are Teaching Stories, ancient stories structured in a way that improves neuroplasticity and provides space to develop finer skills, such as focus and attention.
We also offer physical activities that integrate the body and mind and help restore homeostasis. In a playful and fun way, kids are given space to notice their bodies and their feelings, placing their attention back on themselves.
Childhood is a time during which we learn a lot and cognitive development is being constantly stimulated when we are little. Stories with humor in them also have an important role in this development.
Each new stimulus children receive makes them explore the world, their senses, and, therefore, learn and interact with their environment. Reading stories is a way to stimulate these learnings.
In this article, we explained that reading stimulates the growth of white matter in the brain, which is a set of nervous fibers in the brain that help it to learn and function.
Researchers Olufolake Orekoya, Edmund SS Chan and Maria PY Chik, all from Hong Kong Baptist University, wrote the article “Humor and Reading Motivation in Children: Does the Tickling Work?”. In this article, they explain how reading and, mainly, literature with elements of humor can be beneficial to children’s learning.
They present a two-year investigation about learning and teaching children’s literature done by five universities with elementary school students. It reveals that most children prefer reading books that make them laugh.
The results also showed that what makes children avid readers are books with funny stories. The study reported what were children’s preferences when it came to reading, which goes from funny stories to adventurous ones, fantasy and others.
Children are easily adaptable to the bond in humor and creativity, both of which help cognitive development. As children grow up and become more cognitively mature, they may appreciate different forms of humor present in the stories.
The article states that “humor appreciation is closely related to cognitive development”. “When a child is engaged in humour appreciation, he or she intends to finish a problem-solving exercise to identify and unfold the incongruity hidden beneath the humour stimuli.” (Zigler, Levine, & Gould, 1967)
“Literature confirms the benefits and significance of humour for school learning socially, cognitively, affectively and behaviorally since it facilitates playful learning environment, lessened learning anxiety, stimulated students’ learning motivation, and deepened teacher-student relationship (Davies & Apter, 1980).”
“When children read humourous texts, they engaged in a ‘cognitive play’, ‘where words and concepts are used in ways that are surprising, unusual, and incongruous, activating schemas with which they are not normally associated’ (Martin, 2007, p. 109; Shultz & Robillard, 1980).”
According to Rod A. Martin, reading as a cognitive activity possibly activates “positive emotion of mirth (i.e. enjoyment), leading to enhancement of creativity, memory and social virtues that include: sense of responsibility, helpfulness and generosity) (Martin, 2007).”
John Morreall, who is a PhD in Philosophy and Emeritus Professor of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, evaluated three traditional theories regarding laughter and humor: the Theory of Superiority, the Theory of Relief and the Theory of Incongruity. Based on these theories, he put forward a new one which claims that humor is cognitive play.
John explains that “not all laughter is about persons, and so there need be no comparison of persons”, as it was stated in the Theory of Superiority of humor. He says “we may be amused by a stage comedian doing a perfect impression of some movie star without comparing ourselves with that comedian or the movie star. And even if we do compare ourselves with persons about whom we are laughing, we need not judge ourselves superior to them. They may make us laugh by surprising us with unexpected skills that we lack.”
“After two millennia in which the Superiority Theory was the only widely accepted account of laughter, the Relief Theory and the Incongruity Theory emerged in the 18th century. According to the Relief Theory, laughter operates like a safety valve in a steam pipe, releasing built-up nervous energy.”
This theory, however, started to be questioned. The act of speaking and the elements of humor in said speech didn’t seem to require emotions. In addition, some experiences of fun also rely solely on the element of surprise. The Theory of Incongruity was one of the most widely accepted in the twentieth century, since it stated that “humorous amusement is a reaction to something that violates our mental patterns and expectations.”
After considering the theories of humor mentioned above, professor John Morreall wrote that there are four insights. “First, humor is a cognitive phenomenon – it involves perceptions, thoughts, mental patterns, and expectations. Secondly, humor involves a change of cognitive state. Thirdly, that cognitive change is sudden. And fourthly, amusement is pleasurable.”
To these four insights he added others:
“ 1) Humor is a nonserious activity in which we suspend practical concern and concern about what is true.
2) Humor is primarily a social experience.
3) Humor is a form of play in which laughter serves as a play signal. Coining the term shift for a sudden change, we can say that humor involves the enjoyment of cognitive shifts.”
Putting all these ideas together, he presented the following theory of humorous amusement:
Laughter makes people experience a cognitive shift and “their playful disengagement and their pleasure are expressed in laughter, which signals to others that they can relax and enjoy the cognitive shift too.”
Brian David Boyd, professor from The University of Auckland in New Zealand, explains that laughter, although it is often triggered by words, is in itself pre-verbal and non-verbal.
According to an excerpt from his article, “laughter and sobbing are ‘the ﬁrst two social vocalizations that children make’; unlike speech, they are relatively involuntary, socially contagious, and with a consistent emotional valence; like other primate social calls they do not require ﬁne articulation but only an ’alternation of the presence and absence of vocal sounds, superimposed on relatively more stable mouth postures,’ and their motor activity depends on mid-brain and brain stem circuits rather than the higher speech centers.”
This confident sharing of expectations that happens in verbal communication is essential for social play. This also happens in games and activities, so that there is as much room as possible for the unexpected.
“Shared expectations that allow for surprises that catch us off guard, that simulate risk and stimulate recovery, are the key not only to play of all kinds but also to humor. In jokes we are often primed for surprise, but despite our actively seeking to anticipate an unexpected resolution, the punch line still takes us unawares, but in a way that allows the tripping up of our expectations to be followed by a swift regaining of balance.”
The article also says that “our very recognition that we share such expectations makes our amusement socially binding in the way that physical play, through its dependence on the less novel expectations of ritualized behavior, also serves to unite.
If a would-be joke does not take us by surprise, if, as we say, we see the punch line a mile off, we will not ﬁnd it funny. On the other hand, springing a joke with insufﬁcient preparation can also ruin it.
But if our expectation has been primed, if we know a joke is coming, and we still ﬁnd the punch line takes us by surprise, it will be even funnier: it resembles exactly the relationship between the keen general expectation of play, and the acute particular surprises animals, including humans, especially enjoy in play.”
At last, in his article, professor Brian brings up a question asked by the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett: “What advantage could Homo sapiens gain from laughing? Why would laughter and humor have evolved as behaviors that matter so much to us?”
His answer was the following: “Laughter, by signaling our pleasure in cognitive play, invites and encourages us to prepare playful surprises for one another. Playing socially with our expectations reinforces our sense of solidarity, our recognition of the huge body of expectations we share; it trains us to cope with and even seek out the unexpected that surrounds and can extend these expectations; and yet it can offer a ﬁrst more or less playful warning to those who diverge from them in ways we reject.”
Written by Débora Nazário
Translated by Mariana Gruber
Now that we already know the role humor has in stories and children’s preferences for funny tales, here are some reading recommendations!
Truth and Tales, the app we developed, has many stories that are full of twists and humor! They are Teaching Stories, which you can learn more about here. The Teaching Stories usually make use of lots of humor in order to develop a certain level of preparedness to the unexpected as well as give the stories a special touch!
The Truth and Tales story called “The Child and the Dragon” presents several funny characters and dialogue, in addition to twists and turns the reader never sees coming!
Download the app and try reading, playing or listening to our stories!
Spatial vision is a well-known term for those who develop games and apps, or even amongst education professionals, but it is still rarely discussed outside these fields.
Spatial vision starts to develop when we are babies. Elizabeth Spelke is a psychologist and researcher of Harvard’s Laboratory for Developmental Studies, and she has studied children’s cognitive development since 1980.
In an article published in 2020, she stated that babies can distinguish between changes in angles and shapes in drawings. Through gestures, the little ones can also learn to develop a sense of geometry.
We spoke to Vânia Cristina Pires Nogueira Valente* about how spatial vision manifests and is improved through games.
*Vânia Cristina Pires Nogueira Valente is vice-coordinator of the Media and Technology Post-Graduate Program – Professional Masters – from FAAC/Unesp and a lecturer in Graphic Representation. She is also a professor at the Faculty of Architecture, Arts and Communication from Universidade Estadual Paulista Júlio de Mesquita Filho, and author of the book Desenvolvimento da Visão Espacial por Games Digitais, (freely translated to “Spatial vision development through digital games”).
According to Vânia, spatial vision is a set of abilities. It’s a skill which isn’t innate – in other words, no one is born with this skill, it’s instead developed throughout life.
“Spatial vision isn’t a gift, it’s something you develop just like you learn how to write or ride a bike. Spatial vision can be improved and developed and increasingly sharpened. This skill involves imagining objects and three-dimensional things and conceiving a kind of construction in your head.”
“For example, Waze is a two-dimensional map, but you can imagine the road and the corner where you will turn. The process of converting from 2D to 3D means you have a well-developed spatial vision skill. Or, when you imagine dice and see them turning in your mind: that’s spatial vision working.”
The professor states you need to develop cognitive skills before developing spatial vision. “It’s necessary to have quick thinking, a notion of distance, response speed and reflex. That is why in contact sports, in which you need to reach a goal and calculate the time to get rid of the opponent, such as football, there are several skills that are developed, and all of this helps to develop spatial vision.”
“Many of these skills, such as quick thinking and reflex, are also developed by games such as shooter games, in which the players have to get rid of their opponents and, in order to do that, they need to think quickly.
Vânia mentions the game Overwatch in her book as an example of action games that also stimulate the skills necessary for spatial vision development. Games in which there’s speed usually require response speed. Many of them also contain several elements on screen that players need to pay attention to. All these elements develop skills that lead to the improvement of spatial vision, according to Vânia.
“I like some more specific games, like Minecraft, in which you can look at objects from different points of view. You can navigate around the space, the game’s environment, and you see the same object from different positions: from the top, head-on, and from the sides. That allows the brain to put together 3D objects based on these views. I mention Minecraft to my students to exercise their spatial vision skill,” she explains.
The benefits of spatial vision development provide several necessary skills for many professions, according to Vânia.
“In my case, since I teach engineering, design, and technical drawing, students need to draw objects, projections, blueprints, aerial and front-view drawings and therefore need their spatial vision skill very well-developed.”
“I used to notice in my lessons how easier it was for students who played games or practiced action and contact sports such as football than it was for the others. Professionally it is very important to have a well-developed spatial vision, and so is for our personal lives.”
Vânia remarks that spatial vision is also extremely important for driving, since, in order to drive the vehicle, the driver’s attention must be on several places and they have to calculate the space, speed, etc.
Written by Débora Nazário
Translated by Mariana Gruber
Now that we’ve seen that many electronic games help to develop spatial vision, a question may arise: what about kids and violent games? This subject has been openly discussed since video games gained traction as a source of entertainment, at least 20 years ago.
Of course, the later violent games are introduced to kids, the better. But playing this type of computer game or video game isn’t necessarily making kids violent. Behavioral change in kids never stems from one thing only, albeit that doesn’t exclude the possibility of violent games being a trigger for aggressive behavior. That depends on how much time this kid plays every day, if there’s open dialogue between them and the parents, if their older siblings also play these games and even the kid’s personality.
Even specialists disagree when it comes to this subject. There are those who defend that electronic games do influence kids’ behaviors and those who defend that it isn’t something defined by one factor only and that there is a series of events, not an isolated one, which may lead to this type of behavior.
To this day, when it comes to this theme, it is hard to find an article which has reached a verdict. Most likely because there are many issues involved: the parents’ participation in the kids’ lives, the relationship between the kids and their caretakers, social-economical, gender, and personality issues, and so on and so forth.
One common ground between them is in relation to screen time according to the kid’s age. Several Pediatric Associations and Councils around the world recommend no screen time at all for kids under the age of 2. From this age forward, the recommendation starts with 30 minutes and increases along the age range.
Another common ground is in regards to kids who isolate themselves in electronic games, which is a warning sign. Kids who usually play on the computer and video games but take part in other activities and hobbies have a different relationship with electronics than kids who isolate themselves in the computer and in video games. If your kids are isolating themselves, you can: give them more attention, offer another type of activity, take them out, ask them about their friends, etc. Also, help them with whatever they need.
Outro consenso é em relação às crianças que se isolam nos jogos eletrônicos, que é um sinal de alerta. Crianças que costumam jogar no computador e videogame, mas que fazem outras atividades e hobbies, têm uma relação diferente com os eletrônicos das crianças que se isolam no computador e videogame. Se seus filhos se isolam, vale dar mais atenção a eles, oferecer outro tipo de atividade, fazer mais passeios, perguntar sobre seus amigos e etc, e ajudá-los no que for necessário.
A 2010 analysis from Harvard Health Publishing, from Harvard University, gathers articles from specialists from both sides of the coin. Some articles, more recent at the time, argue that “much of the research on violent video game use relies on measures to assess aggression that don’t correlate with real-world violence”. Even more important than that, “some studies are observational and don’t prove cause and effect.”
According to this document, “Although adults tend to view video games as isolating and antisocial, other studies found that most young respondents described the games as fun, exciting, something to counter boredom, and something to do with friends. For many youths, violent content is not the main draw.”
“Boys in particular are motivated to play video games in order to compete and win. Seen in this context, use of violent video games may be similar to the type of rough-housing play that boys engage in as part of normal development. Video games offer one more outlet for the competition for status or to establish a pecking order.”
Our point is: it’s not the end of the world if your kids play violent electronic games. If that’s the case and you do have some concerns, do the basic:
* For example: 7-year-old kids playing a teen-rated video game is undoubtedly inappropriate. If this happens, research similar and fun alternatives to offer your kids, in exchange for the first option. For instance, if they’re playing a shooting game, find a paintball alternative, in which the mechanics are the same, but there isn’t as much violence.
On the other hand, it is very common for teenagers between the ages of 13 and 14 to play mature-rated video games. Is it ideal? No, but forbidding them from playing only makes them feel outraged, in this case. To evaluate this case, take into account your kids’ particularities such as maturity and sensitivity to some themes and talk to them about the game’s content (guns, violence or any other theme you find inappropriate for them. At their age, an open dialogue is better than taking the game away from them).
Truth and Tales’ stance: we don’t recommend that kids under the age of 4 consume any screen content. For more details, we recommend reading this post: “Kids and exposure to screens: how far is it okay?”
When we offer to help someone or look at someone else with compassion and decide to do something about it, we are practicing genuine kindness.
Such acts which can go unnoticed in our day-to-day lives are beneficial not only to others but also ourselves. Do you know that feeling that you feel after you do something kind? It’s part of the effects caused by genuine kindness in our brains.
In 2018, a group of British researchers from the University of Sussex stated that acts of generosity activate brain regions associated with reward.
The study analyzed 1,150 participants whose brains were scanned through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) throughout a 10-year period, but the analysis had a particular aspect: it compared between altruistic and strategic giving – i.e. attitudes aimed at getting something in return or receiving some kind of recognition.
“This major study sparks questions about people having different motivations to give to others: clear self-interest versus the warm glow of altruism,” said the research leader Dr. Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn in a statement released right after the study was published.
He continued, “The decision to share resources is a cornerstone of any cooperative society. We know that people can choose to be kind because they like feeling like they are a ‘good person’, but also that people can choose to be kind when they think there might be something ‘in it’ for them such as a returned favour or improved reputation.”
The researchers found out that “strategic decisions showed greater activity in striatal regions than altruistic choices”, which are those from which nothing is expected in return. The striatum acts on nondeclarative or implicit memory, which is the subconscious memory and certain skills such as riding a bike or ice skating. In other words, activities we do “without thinking”.
On the other hand, “altruistic giving, more than strategic, activated subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC). Studies showed that “the mean gray matter volume of this “subgenual” ACC (sgACC) cortex is abnormally reduced in subjects with major depressive disorder (MDD) and bipolar disorder, irrespective of mood state.
Ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) is involved during generous decisions and is responsible for differentiating between these two types of kindness. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex participates in the processing of risk and fear, since it plays an important role in the regulation of amygdala activity. The vmPFC is also important to inhibit emotional responses and to the process of decision-making and self-control, in addition to being involved in our sense of morality.
In other words, people who practice genuine kindness activate more of the part of the brain that regulates the amygdala – thus maintaining stress levels in balance. By practicing genuine kindness, the brain also operates in regions that, if rarely active, are related to depression and bipolar disorder. Therefore, after such analyses, the researchers concluded that it’s much more pleasurable when we act in a selflessly kind manner.
By researching about the effects of kindness in our brains, we came across the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, a non-profit organization that invests resources into turning kindness into something widely practiced by people, whether at home, in school or at work. This initiative is based on scientific research that proves we can live better by practicing kindness.
Other proved functions that involve practicing kindness:
Kindness Increases the Love Hormone:
Oxytocin, the love hormone, is released when we practice acts of kindness. This release helps to reduce arterial pressure and to improve the heart’s overall health – Natalie Angier, The New York Times.
Half the participants of one study felt strengthened and more energetic after helping others. Some reported that they also felt calmer and less depressed – Christine Carter, UC Berkeley, Greater Good Science Center.
The authors of the study recruited 115 undergraduate students who presented high levels of social anxiety. These participants were split randomly into three groups for an intervention that lasted four weeks.
One of the groups was encouraged to carry out acts of kindness; another group was exposed to social interactions; and the third group got no instructions, all they were asked to do was to keep a record of their routines. The results showed that a greater reduction in the desire to avoid social interactions was observed amongst the individuals who were encouraged to do acts of kindness.
“The main goal of social anxiety treatment is to increase involvement in social situations, which socially anxious individuals tend to avoid. The exercises of social exposure may be improved by encouraging anxious individuals to focus on loving actions. Therefore, opening the door to a neighbor who’s pushing a baby stroller, thanking the cashiers at the grocery store for their help or offering coffee to a colleague can be good ways for them to start their social exposure,” reported the professor.
Professor Lynn Alden also explained that acts of kindness may help someone who is socially anxious face the fear of being negatively assessed by others, promoting more positive perceptions and expectations of how people will react to them.
“We discovered that any kind act seemed to have the same benefit, even small gestures such as opening the door to someone or saying “thank you” to the bus driver. Kindness doesn’t need to involve money or long efforts, although some of our participants did that. Kindness didn’t even need to be “face to face”. For example, acts of kindness can include donating to charity or adding a coin to someone else’s parking meter when you notice it is blinking. Studies by other researchers have suggested that it is important for the kind act to be done by and of itself, and that it doesn’t look coerced or for the giver’s own personal gain. Aside from that, everything counts”
Oxytocin, a hormone produced through emotional heat, acts in the reduction of the body’s levels of free radicals and the inflammation of the cardiovascular system. This way, it slows aging at its root. Free radicals and the inflammation of the cardiovascular system play an important role and we can therefore say that kindness is also good for the heart.
Some scientific journals have already published studies about the strong link between compassion and vagus nerve activity. The vagus nerve, in addition to regulating the heart rate, is also responsible for controlling the body’s inflammation levels.
One study analyzed the Tibetan buddhists’ meditation and found that kindness and compassion help reduce body inflammation, probably due to their effects on the vagus nerve.
These analyzes are present in the book “The Five Side Effects of Kindness: This Book Will Make You Feel Better, Be Happier & Live Longer” written by Dr. David R. Hamilton, who has a PhD in Organic Chemistry and worked in the pharmaceutical industry for several years developing drugs for treating cardiovascular diseases.
Written by Débora Nazário
Translated by Mariana Gruber
All this information refers to genuine kindness. “Genuine” means pure, real, true. It’s important to take this into consideration because no one can demand acts of genuine kindness from others. These actions happen spontaneously, from the heart.
⚠️ Dear parents: being an example really is a way to show kids how doing good is good for you – however, forcing this type of situation is not the solution.
If you are not having a good day, don’t force yourself to do anything that you don’t want to do in order to “be a good example for your kids”.
This won’t be good neither to you nor to your little ones. In addition, avoid demanding good deeds from your kids. No one is going to stop being a good person just because they didn’t hold the door to let someone in.
Allow these qualities to manifest of their own accord, without effort or encouragement. The beauty and the benefits of genuine kindness are in letting it manifest itself spontaneously. Don’t worry about “being kind” or “teaching your kids to be kind”. There is kindness inside everyone, you must simply perceive it and allow it to manifest.
The term cognitive development is frequently used by therapists, doctors and educators. We have also used those two words together in a lot of content published here in our blog. But do you know what it means?
In an interview from December 2019 for the Maria Cecília Souto Vidigal Foundation — which has worked for the cause of early childhood and the first stages of child development since 2007 — doctor Drauzio Varella explained a little about cognitive development.
“We are born with our entire neurological equipment set up, but not ready: our brain is a miniature of the adult brain, i.e. morphologically speaking, the shape is well-established. However, what allows for the development of cognitive activities isn’t brain shape but the neurons. It is the links between them, because it is through them that information is communicated, through these established connections. If you stimulate these connections with games, made-up stories and by reading to children, they will start to develop their cognitive ability based on the stimuli of synapse formation, which is the interaction between neurons,” he explained.
In order to explain these connections that happen in our brains a little further, we will present three core concepts of early childhood development, developed by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child from Harvard University.
These three concepts show how the advancement of neuroscience, molecular biology and genomics offers a much more thorough understanding of how our first experiences are built in our bodies and brains, for better or worse.
The experiences lived by children during their first years of life have a lifelong impact on their brain architecture and development. Genes represent the diagram to be performed, but experiences shape the process that will define whether the brain will build a strong or weak foundation for learning, behavior and health throughout their lives.
During this important stage of development, billions of brain cells called neurons send electrical signals that communicate among themselves. These connections build the circuits that establish the brain’s basic architecture. Circuits and connections are multiplied quickly and are strengthened by their frequent use.
Our experiences and the environment we live in determine which circuits and connections will be used more. The most frequently used connections get stronger and become permanent, whereas rarely used connections disappear through a normal process called pruning. Simple circuits are built first, forming the foundation upon which more complex ones will be built later.
It is through this process that neurons build circuits and connections for emotions, motor skills, behavior control, logic, language and memory. All of this happens during the early stages of development.
With repeated use, the circuits become more efficient and connect to other areas of the brain more quickly. Despite originating from specific areas of the brain, the circuits are interconnected and there cannot be one type of skill without others that complement it. It is similar to building a house, everything is connected, and whichever comes first builds the foundation for what will come later.
A solid architecture of the brain is shaped through the serve and return interaction between the child and the adult. In this game of development, the neurons create new connections in the brain as the child instinctively makes face expressions, sounds, and gestures, and the adult reacts in a very significant way and with a focus on the child’s action.
This starts quite early in life, when babies try to express themselves and the adults interact by calling the babies’ attention to their faces or hands. This interaction shapes the foundations of the brain circuitry upon which all future development will take place.
The serve and return interaction helps to create connections by means of the neurons from all brain areas, establishing the emotional and cognitive skills that children need to live. For example: language and literacy skills are formed when a baby sees an object and the adult utters its name. This builds connections inside the baby’s brain between the specific sounds and their corresponding objects.
Later, adults show to kids that such objects and sounds can also be represented by marks on a page. With the adults’ constant support, children learn to decipher the writing and, then, to write themselves. Each stage is built from the previous one.
Ensuring children’s caregivers are involved in the serve and return interaction from their first few months is to promote the construction of a solid foundation in the brain for learning, behavior and health — for the rest of their lives.
Learning to deal with stress is an important part of healthy development. When we experience stress, our response system is activated, the body and brain become alert, adrenaline takes over and heart rate increases, as well as the stress hormone levels.
Stress is relieved when children get the nurturing support they need from an adult. Their bodies react to the adult’s response and slow down, returning to homeostasis in no time. In severe situations, such as continuous abuse and negligence or when there is no nurturing adult to soften the impacts of stress, the response to stress remains activated. Even when there is no apparent physical damage, the prolonged lack of care and attention on the part of the adults is able to activate the stress response system.
The constant stress response activation overwhelms the developing systems. As a result, there are serious long term consequences for the children, and this process is known as toxic stress. Over time it results in a stress response system that is permanently on alert.
Science shows that the prolonged activation of stress hormones during early childhood can reduce the number of neuron connections in these important regions of the brain in a period that children should be developing new connections. Toxic stress can be avoided if we ensure that children grow up and develop in warm, reliable and stimulating environments.
When questioned about early childhood development and lifelong health on The Brain Architects Podcast by Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, the center director, Dr. Jack Shonkoff, explains that one of the new science’s most important messages compels us to connect the brain to the rest of the body. “Because what happens early on is not only important for learning and social and emotional development and school achievement, but it’s an important influence on your physical and mental health for the rest of your life. .”
Jack also says that there are no perfect brains or immunological systems. “How we grow up, how we learn, what our health is like is related to the interaction between how we are individually wired to begin with and what our life experiences are about. And the important part of our life experiences, the most important, is the environment of relationships that we grow up in. And then also of importance is the physical environment in which we grow up. How safe is it? How protected or exposed are we to toxic substances in the environment, lead, mercury? How much space do we have to move around? So all of these things together, interacting with how everybody is unique from a genetic point of view results in a wide, wide range of normal development.”
In order to understand how pedagogy explains cognitive development, we talked to Carol Mota, who is an educator, clinical psychopedagogue, and author of the book “Autism in Children’s Education: an Outlook on Social Interaction and School Inclusion” (loosely translated). She explained that play is the best way to stimulate this development.
“As children play, they are continuously learning. When they play by exploring a specific toy that involves spatial or sensory matters, for instance, their logical thinking and memory are stimulated,” she said.
“While playing amongst themselves, they are also learning a way to engage with others, which in turn expands their cognitive processes. We need to think that, even though cognitive processes exist, they don’t expand outside a cultural context of social interaction. It is by interacting with others, with an interactive exchange between pairs, between children and adults, that kids take ownership of new skills,” explained the educator.
Carol highlighted that, more than games that stimulate logical reasoning, what is key and most important is the social interaction that happens during these moments.
“Social interaction and interactive exchange: that is how we are going to approach these matters in a more significant way. As we interact, communicate and talk to each other, we need to reflect about our behavior, we need to think about which answer to give to specific questions. When we reflect and formulate questions, our cognitive processes are active and it is in this dialogue between me and the other person that these processes expand, and that cognitive development starts to emerge.”
“It is through play that children will learn how to use their bodies, from the contact with different languages that may involve music, visual arts, etc. Therefore, children will get to know others and the world through several different perspectives, which helps to develop cognitive skills,” said the psychopedagogue.
Written by Débora Nazário
Translated by Mariana Gruber