Tag Archives: research

New Year New Habits

New Year resolutions are as much a part of the holiday season as baubles, gifts and tinsel and millions of us will soon be noting down our promises for the upcoming year. According to a study by the University of Scranton, 45% of Americans made resolutions last year yet only 8% were successful in achieving their resolution. So why is it that so few people manage to commit to their resolution?

Well, often it’s due to the unrealistic expectations people place on themselves. Don’t make your resolution a revolution: it won’t work.  It’s sometimes easy to get carried away when making our new year plans as we tend to focus on all our flaws and promise ourselves that next year will be different. Our negative brain bias forces us to remember the more negative aspects of our lives and looks, and so we swear to make changes- more exercise, less eating, more gratitude, less spending, more productive, less stress. And this is a good thing…when done rationally. When we make resolution after resolution with grand, sweeping claims to change, we are setting ourselves up for failure as there are too many demands and too much pressure. We are creatures of habit- but old habits. Once a habit is embedded and becomes part of our daily rituals, it’s usually there to stay- whether we like it or not. But getting to the point where a new behaviour becomes automatic is quite easy if we go about it the right way.

Less is more

Stanford Professor BJ Fogg’s expertise lies in creating systems to change human behaviour, or as he calls it, “Behaviour Design.” For over 20 years, he has studied human behaviour and on his site tinyhabits.com he states that throughout his research, he has found the following:

Only 3 things will change behaviour in the long term:

  1. Have an epiphany
  2. Change your environment (what surrounds you)
  3. Take baby steps

Now, as far as I’m aware, an epiphany isn’t always available. But what is more promising is that the other two factors are completely in our control and are most successful for forging new routines. Fogg’s ‘TinyHabits’ method and online program helps people ‘tap the power of environment and baby steps’ by asking participants to follow 3 easy steps when making a new habit:

  1. Make it tiny- simplify! Rather than trying to commit to doing 100 push ups a day, just commit to 1 or even 3 if you like living dangerously.
  2. Connect it to something you’re already doing. Setting an alarm or writing copious amounts of post-it notes as a reminder to perform your new habit can be quite laborious, and let’s face it, keeping up with setting an alarm is a habit in itself. Fogg’s research indicates that anchoring a new habit to a pre-existing routine is central to success. Some habits we have are pretty ingrained and we tend to do them on autopilot with very little effort or motivation, so it makes sense to utilise these rituals as a trigger. Fogg advises that the best way to start a new behaviour is to ‘put it *after* some act that is a solid habit for you, like brushing teeth or eating lunch.’ So if for example you want to practice more gratitude in the evening, focus your intention by saying “After my head hits the pillow, I will think of 1 reason to be be grateful” or if your resolution is to show more affection for your children, then commit to a ritual like, “After my son walks through the door, I will hug him for 10 seconds”.
  3. Celebrate it! In his fascinating Ted Talk, BJ Fogg asks his audience to practice a tiny habit of his choosing: flossing one tooth. The, he tells his audience to acknowledge their success by performing a little victory dance or something that reinforces their ‘awesomeness’, like a Judd Nelson style ‘fist in the air’ or shouting out “Bingo!”. By rewarding our effort and success in completing our new habit, we are much more likely to repeat it in the future.

Process over Product

Planning and goal setting is also essential. But how we view our goals can make the difference between success and failure. How many of us have hoped to start a new habit by focussing on the desired outcome: a slimmer waistline, less anxiety, more money. It seems obvious that in order to motivate us to do something we should focus on the finish line, right? Well, no. In a study by the University of California, researchers found that people who visualized the process of reaching their goals rather than just the end product were much more likely to stay motivated.

What if?

Ok, so we know how to form a habit and what will help us stay motivated but what if we start to stray? Once the excitement of starting something new has worn off, how do we stay focused and committed to our cause? Research into implementation intentions suggests that using an ‘if…then’ prompt can also make a habit more ‘sticky’, especially when anchored to a pre-existing ritual. So rather than telling ourselves, “I’m going to write in my gratitude journal every night’ change it to, “If it is bedtime, then I will write 3 things into my gratitude journal’.  This can also be used when we are faced with obstacles, such as being too tired or too busy. So again, we can try to fortify our commitment by proposing solutions to any barriers that we regularly put up and tell ourselves, “If I am too busy to write in my gratitude journal, then I will think of 3 things after I get into bed.”

Habits are hard, especially when we already have so many demands placed on us. Time is of the essence and energy is depleted beyond repair. But new healthy habits will give us more time or energy or money if we are able to stick and commit.

5 steps to stick and commit:

  1. Make your habit simple.
  2. Anchor it *after* a pre-existing ritual.
  3. Celebrate.
  4. Visualise the process not just the outcome.
  5. Use ‘If…then’ to stay on track.

Merry Christmas and ‘Habit’ New Year!

Thank You Lighthouse Institute!

Lighthouse Institute, an Australian attachment and trauma informed ‘Knowledge Centre that draws on 21 years of practice at Lighthouse Foundation, recently visited us at Pathways to deliver their trauma informed training program. Lighthouse Institute has been commissioned to provide attachment and trauma informed training programs across the country to support organisations working with those who are taking part in the difficult process of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The 2-day program was delivered by Helen Lenga, a qualified psychologist who has specialist training with children and families and who has over 30 years experience working in the field of trauma as a psychotherapist, trainer, consultant and supervisor.

Along with attendees from Kids Matter, Good Start, Bush Kids, Kids ELC and Stellar Lives, we were fortunate enough to attend four sessions concerning trauma and trauma informed practice, including ‘Understanding Complex Trauma and Trauma Informed Practice’, ‘A Trauma Informed Approach to Understanding Grief and Loss’, ‘Understanding Psychosocial Development’ and ‘Understanding and Working with Trauma Based Behaviour’.

The vast wealth of knowledge and advice that Helen was able to share with us will indeed impact on the way we work with services, parents, children and communities in the future. We would like to thank Helen, Lighthouse Institute and all of the attendees for making the event so informative and invaluable.

New Study Reveals SEL Program Increases Literacy and Numeracy Skills and Decreases Behaviour Problems in Early Childhood.

Researchers at New York University have found that a Social and Emotional Learning Program aimed at decreasing behavioural problems in order to increase academic competencies has improved the reading and mathematic skills among low income kindergärtners and first graders.

The importance of SEL programs in the curriculum has always been met with contention due to the often conflicting demands of the education system: academic intelligence is often held in higher regard than emotional and social intelligence as universities and employers make offers based on students’ academic performance rather than their wellbeing and social skills. With so many time constraints dictating the content of the curriculum, educators are often forced to prioritise their time teaching the material that will ultimately lead to positive academic outcomes for students and reaching their appropriate level as opposed to their optimal social and emotional wellbeing. Researchers at New York University’s Steinhardt Department have conducted a study that finally illuminates the correlation between increased  social and emotional skills and improved academic performance, concluding that the implementation of an SEL program to curb behavioural issues and promote self-regulatory practices ALSO benefits students reading and math skills as students utilise the SEL strategies to improve their focus and engagement in daily classroom activities.
In their study, researchers at New York University selected 22 schools from low-income neighbourhoods and randomly assigned 11 of them to the SEL program INSIGHTS and the other 11 to a supplemental reading program. All in all, 435 children across 122 classrooms participated in 10 weekly sessions, with parents also receiving training concerning child management strategies throughout the 10 week period to provide consistency in the approaches being adopted inside and outside the classroom.

The Results
The results of the study provided convincing evidence of the benefits of a universal SEL program, not just on self-regulation, but for improving children’s academic development. Children who took part in the INSIGHTS program demonstrated:
INCREASED math achievement;
INCREASED reading achievement;
INCREASED sustained attention;
DECREASED behavioural problems.

A NEW APPROACH TO BOOST LITERACY AND NUMERACY
The findings suggest that schools would benefit from implementing a SEL program to boost literacy in young students rather than the common low-dose supplementary reading programs, as SEL programs enable students to develop attention and behavioural skills that are required to engage and focus in daily classroom activities. Additionally, this research reinforces the link between focus and function as the study concluded that SEL programs help students develop and practice the self-regulatory skills that they need to engage in daily numeracy activities in the classroom. This evidence has never been more necessary in our early years education; with research after research telling us that children who fail to develop basic literacy and numeracy skills by an early age are much more likely to drop out of school (Hernadez 2011; Duncan 2011), early childhood intervention could dramatically impact upon the education outcomes of students from low socio-economic backgrounds.
The findings from the study once again highlight the many benefits of implementing a Social and Emotional Learning program that works with students, educators and families within schools and communities.

To read the full journal, click here

Communication is Key to Improving Relationships with Culturally Diverse Students and Families.

Since 1983, the Harvard Family Research Project has helped to develop and evaluate strategies to promote the wellbeing of children, youth, families and their communities. One component of their complementary learning research focusses on family and community involvement in education in the form of FINE: Family Involvement Network of Educators; a network of people interested in promoting strong partnerships between schools, families and communities. An important question that the network have discussed as part of their ongoing research is how to better prepare teachers to work with culturally diverse students and their families and the skills that educators need to develop to do this successfully.

teaching is communicating with parents

 POSITIVE CORRESPONDENCE

Sherick Hughes, Assistant Professor in the College of Education at the University of Toledo, states that ‘teachers must come to understand the real life experiences of the families and children they teach…to set up plausible situations to give families a legitimate voice in their curriculum and unit planning… [to] encourage teachers to take the spiritual lives of families seriously as a key point of connection.’ Hughes further acknowledges that it is difficult for teachers to build rapport with families as they are not always able to go out into these diverse communities and make the necessary connections. She therefore advocates three family-specific alternatives for teachers to utilise at least once during the school year to build better relationships with parents and carers:

1. Call each child’s family with positive information regarding their progress;

2. Email each student’s family during the school year with positive information;

3. Through email, mail, or student delivery, send a positive message via audio or audio/visual medium regarding each student.

INVOLVE PARENTS

Eileen Kugler, a speaker and trainer on building community support for diverse schools, further reinforces Hughes’ advice to teachers to build relationships with families using positive information and states that they also ‘need to identify nonthreatening opportunities to welcome parents with diverse backgrounds to the school. At the end of a unit of study, teachers can invite parents into the classroom so the students can share their achievements with them. As opposed to the stereotype of not caring, parents frequently feel left out, just waiting to be asked to be involved.’ Communication is therefore essential for teachers, including planning and using opportunities to engage positively with families.

RAPPORT NOT RITUALS

Although teachers are deemed as being exceptional communicators when it comes to delivering information to their students, it can be a different story when it comes to delivering information to parents and carers. According to Bonnie Rockafellow, the Education Consultant for the Michigan Department of Education, teacher education needs to include more interpersonal communication skill building to ensure that teachers are able to effectively build rapport and share meaning with families. This is most evident in parent-teacher conferences, an opportunity for teachers to communicate and engage face to face with families. Rockafellow videotaped several parent-teacher conferences and through her analysis of the interactions she concluded that in each conference a ‘ritual played out. Most often the teacher presented the information she had prepared and at the end of the timeframe the teacher would ask if the parents had any questions, and then close the conference. The result of the conference was most often a reporting of the school’s information rather than an opportunity for teachers to meaningfully engage with families and listen to their suggestions and comments.’ She ultimately identifies a key opportunity for teachers to engage with families with meaning.

The FINE research and evaluation of strategies for improving the preparation of teachers to work with culturally diverse students and their families is vast and resourceful; identifying opportunities for teachers to examine their own attitudes and connect with those who ‘think and look differently’ than they do.

If you would like to read more about FINE, visit the Harvard Family Research Project at http://www.hfrp.org

Families with kids aged 2-5 years wanted for a screen time study

Screens, we all have many of these. It wasn’t that long ago that our main concern was how much time kids spent watching TV, now kids are using computers, iPads, Mobile Phones and of course the old standby, TV.

Deakin University wants to study how much screen time kids aged between 2 and 5 years spend looking at screen as well as how much time is spend on other activities. In addition they are interested in parent’s attitudes to allowing children to use various devices.

If you are a parent or carer of children between the age of 2 and 5 years old click on the link below to apply.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/healthykidsdeakinsurvey

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact project staff at healthykids@deakin.edu.au or 0392446278.