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We talk a great deal about mental fitness and brain health as they relate to adults, but what about the children in our lives? Are there steps we can take with our youth to aid the development of their brain health? By helping to strengthen their mental fitness, we can ensure that they’ll be on the right track for a lifetime of success.
While it’s never too late to start challenging your mind, it can also be said that it’s never to early to begin. In this article, I want to look at ways you can proactively challenge the minds of young people – think of it as mentally getting them on their toes and keeping them there!
I’ll start by saying that I’m a little concerned about young people today. They have all of the technological advances in the world, but this can be a negative as much as a positive. Good old-fashioned make-believe, book reading (the ones where you physically turn the pages!), and workbooks are becoming more and more rare. I’m definitely not saying that we should take technology OUT of our children’s lives. Far from it! The pros far outweigh the cons and the last thing we want is for our youth to be left behind when it comes to technology.
However, there are things we can do to aid the development of their minds and strengthen their mental fitness. Below are a few such ideas, and, as you’ll notice, they’re simple, inexpensive, and even fun.
- Ask your children to make up stories for you. Creativity is something that needs to be strongly encouraged. When they’re really small, you can even begin the story and ask them what they think happens next. When my girls were really young, a lot of our car trips would involve such stories. One of us would get the ball rolling, then everyone else would join it. Oh the tales we told!
- Take library trips once a week or every other week. We always made a big day out of it. Library Day was something we all looked forward to. We’d have lunch out. During lunch, I’d ask each of my daughters what sort of book they were hoping to find. They’d talk about the things they liked reading about the most, favorite authors, favorite types of characters, and so on. It piked their interest and made the library trip more of an adventure. When we got out of the car at the library, they’d practically run into the building! On the drive home, they’d talk (sometimes all at once!) excitedly about the books they’d found and as soon as we got home, they’d change into something comfortable and find their favorite reading spots. I wouldn’t see or hear from them until supper!
- When reading a book to a small child, occasionally close the book, look at them, and say, “What do you think happens next?!” It gets their creative juices flowing and makes the whole experience more exciting.
- Make sure your children eat a healthy diet, lots of fresh air, plenty of sleep, and engage in regular physical activities.
- When watching television with your kids (whatever their ages), ask them questions such as, “Why do you like this character (individual)?,” “Why do you think she did that?,” “What would you have done?”
- Watch educational television – The History Channel, Animal Planet, The Discovery Channel, etc. When a new place, animal, even, or individual, is brought up – encourage them to learn more. My youngest daughter (Stephany) and I are hooked on these educational networks. We’ll often talk about shows we’d seen and things we’ve learned. I’ve noticed that, like me, when something interests her, she’ll do her research and learn more about it.
- This one is something the adult has to master, rather than the child. Learn to have a two-way conversation. Many parents seem only capable of one-way conversations. This doesn’t encourage the child to think or have any sort of confidence in their own voice. Allow your child to voice his or her own opinions and never interrupt. As the adult, your main objective should be to allow and encourage the child to FIND their own voice, not mimic yours’.
- Set a limit on the amount of time your child spends playing games or using social networking. Maybe it’s because I spend so much time thinking about, reading about, and writing about mental fitness and brain health – but I’ve come to think of the main social network as “Brain Rot,” at least when it comes to kids. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to incorporate thinking, creativity, and mental fitness into a young person’s life. You just have to be consistent.
- Finally, keep the following word in mind: CHALLENGE. Find ways to regularly challenge (without frustrating!) you child. A word of caution, be sure you never expect too much or ask more of them than their age (or ability) is able to give. Countless children have been discouraged by overly aggressive parents (how many have left a sport they once loved because dad or mom made it a nightmare?).
Always realize that it’s about the process, not the result. If your child works on a math problem, for example, and comes up with the wrong answer, don’t have a melt down! Working on the problem is mentally challenging and they’re reaping the benefits. Simply, calmly, help them find where they made the wrong turn and help them find their way. If you push too hard and if you are overly critical, your child will suffer greatly. The type of parent who criticizes their child’s 98 on a science test, for example (“Why did you miss two?!?!?!? I never missed two!!!“), does more harm than they may ever know.
Challenge… but don’t condemn. Light a fire underneath the child for learning… but don’t burn bridges by frustrating them. Lead… don’t shove. Basically, just remember, it’s about THEM, not YOU.