Middle born children do best

9827914according to the latest research.

As a first-born this comes as a shock!

All the research I have seen so far suggests that it is the first-born who tend to be outstanding in their field, natural leaders, and more intelligent to boot!

The youngest children have a reputation as being more creative but there wasn’t a lot of research about the middle child.

A few years ago economists in Norway found that middle born children were less likely to go to prison than their siblings but that was it.

In a book; “The secret power of middle children” psychologist Catherine Salmon and writer Katrin Schumann suggest that we have had it all wrong and that it’s the middle born ones who have all the advantages.

Rather than look at research regarding birth order they looked at middle-borns in their own right. They suggest that middle children are excellent negotiators and justice-seekers and are more successful at effecting change. They also claim they have stronger friendships and longer marriages as well as more fulfilling careers.

Squeezed by their siblings middle children learn to be independent and adaptable early on and to think outside the box. They also seek to achieve compromise and value fairness.

The authors claim that first-borns work on strategies to establish authority whilst last-borns go for the sympathy vote.

Middle children however have more capacity for empathy and are good listeners.

A French study of undergraduates showed that middles were more trusting and co-operative. Other studies show that they may be more generous and concerned with social harmony, care more about injustice and distrust power and authority. They are also likely to make better parents – although they can have disparate styles and be either more permissive or more authoritarian.

Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, John F Kennedy, the Dalai Lama,  Charles Darwin, David Cameron, Tony Blair, both the Beckhams, and Nigella Lawson, were all middle children.

For me the problem with studies like this is that there are lots of middles (and first-borns for that matter) who aren’t outstanding and identifying people in the public eye as examples isn’t necessarily comparing like with like.

And now the film of the book 

Original version published 2011

What sex is your brain?

What sex is your brain? Ever wondered what sex your brain is?

Try these  6 short tests and get a report comparing you to others.

The tests include a test of empathy ie assessing NVC through facial expressions.

If you are wondering what might influence your brain sex watch these linked YouTube videos on the influence of testosterone on your developing brain and the effect it can have on your work performance. http … Read More

via EI 4u

What doesn’t kill you makes you

The news that Ed Balls is using his wife’s name for his kids so that they don’t get bullied is perhaps understandable.

Of course he had a reputation as a bit of a bully himself as one of Gordon Brown’s enforcers and he may have been bullied himself as a child (bullies often were).

He says he only used his “challenging behaviour” with people he knew could stick up for themselves – like Gordon Brown (who has a bit of a reputation in that direction himself) and Tony Blair – and denies he treats people as badly as he was treated.

But is he really doing them any favours? Could a little adversity help you to become better adjusted as an adult?

Studies at the University of California have shown that when children respond to hostility or bullying, whether face-to-face or on-line, in kind they are liked more and earn more respect from their classmates and teachers according to a report in The Times.

Whilst not pleasant experiences the children remembered them more vividly than friendly events. Trying to placate your enemy doesn’t seem to pay whereas giving as good as you got earned higher ratings for maturity and social competence.

No-one is saying it is a good thing to have a lot of people hostile to you, and children no-one disliked were the best adjusted, but the research suggests that rather than ignoring bullies or people who dislike you, or trying to placate them, or even being completely unaware of them, it is better to confront them.

Similar results have been found by researchers at Strathclyde University. Children who are good at standing up to bullies, whether for themselves or others, are better at resolving problems without conflict, are more emotionally literate, and better at taking other people’s perspective.

In other words they display the emotional intelligence skills of self-awareness, self-control, empathy, and managing relationships.

Updated from post originally on EI 4u May 2010

Emotional Intelligence and empathy

Emotional Intelligence and empathy In an earlier post about Emotional Intelligence and marshmallows I referred to the findings of a Demos think-tank report which reported on an increase in social mobility between the end of WW2 and the 1970s followed by a period of stagnation up to 2000.

Amongst the three traits that were most important for children to improve their social lot was empathy – the ability to be sensitive to other people, to read their emotions and understand non-verb … Read More

via EI 4u with permission

Only emotionally intelligent teachers need apply!

Would-be teachers need “emotional intelligence” (EI) as well as academic ability according to the education secretary Michael Gove.

Gove also said that  there are academically bright people who “can’t teach for toffee”.

Then there are some who “aren’t the brightest but have the EI and spark to engage a classroom”.

The government previously said that teachers should only be drawn from the top-tier  with no funding for 3rd class graduates. And isn’t it only right that teachers who are responsible for developing EI in schools should be emotionally literate themselves?

The government is planning a shakeup of teacher training with more emphasis on learning in the classroom (the end of “death by Powerpoint” training). The teachers and lecturers’ union ATL is against it as they don’t believe teaching is a craft but a profession which requires a strong theoretical base before classroom teaching starts.

Gove also intends to reform Ofsted (the source of the idea that all schools should have a rubbish teacher. See: “Every school should have one”). Ofsted will no longer assess schools on equality, community cohesion, and children’s spiritual development. The inspections will be limited to 4 key areas: teaching standards, leadership, pupil behaviour, and achievement.

The changes will be brought in next year and mean  that Ofsted will no longer spend time on the peripheral, some might argue politically correct,  issues introduced by the Labour government and schools will no longer be rated on them.

As Gove says; “we need to refocus inspection on the principal purpose of schools improving teaching“.

Original post on EI 4u November 2010

Emotional Intelligence in schools – only half a story

Last April I wrote about the SEAL programme. There was a national strategy and the government was planning to spend £millions to embed the social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL) in the curriculum and culture of primary and secondary schools.

Will Culver at the University of Greenwich, in a letter to The Psychologist last April, queried whether they had the emphasis on the right things.

He argued that by definition Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the management of your own emotions and other people’s emotions by understanding all the components of emotions and their consequences.

Yet the majority of the SEAL material focuses on behaviours associated with EI rather than cognitive aspects, even though the effectiveness of Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is well understood (and supported by the NHS as the treatment of choice amongst talking therapies for anxiety and depression).

He also said that although the (then) Department for Children, Schools and Families’ guidance booklet states how important it is for children to believe that they can learn, there seem to be few resources devoted to the importance of thoughts and beliefs in shaping behaviour and emotional intelligence.

If Culver was right it seemed a shame to spend so much money to address only the behavioural aspects of EI and overlook the more reflective development of self-awareness and empathy which is critical to the development of emotional intelligence.

SEAL is still around and there are many school web-sites singing its praises. However the national evaluation, found on the (re-named)  Department for Education’s web-site, suggests that the outcomes have not been as good as expected (See summary: Research Brief DFE-RB049 published October 2010).

The programmes “had failed to have a positive impact” and “had not produced the expected changes“. In fact just the opposite it seems as it had reduced the trust and respect  for teachers, reduced the liking for school, and failed to provide support. On the other hand it had given pupils more autonomy and influence. So not all bad?

The report acknowledged that earlier SEL programmes typically had more monitoring and sufficient financial and human resources as well as a more structured and consistent approach-  which they recommended for SEAL programmes. They also suggested that it was down to the “will and skill of staff”.

There are some programmes around however which seem to be based on RET or CBT. For example in an article headlined “Pupils bounce back with happiness lessons” The Times reported on a US based programme called Resilience which “is giving children the emotional intelligence to handle their lives”.

Originally designed to help combat depression it is now used to develop confidence and well-being and is also being offered to parents. It teaches children how to deal with complex emotions and difficult situations.

And the programme came to the UK last year when a team from the University of Pennsylvania ran a 6 day course in “Resilience Skills for teenagers”  at Wellington College near Crowthorne, England,  aimed at teachers, mentors, school managers and governors.

Based on an  original post in EI 4U and updated

Emotional intelligence and marshmallows

If self-awareness is the first building block in emotional intelligence, self-control and awareness of others’ feelings, or empathy, come next.

And one of the most popular stories now reflecting a cornerstone of emotional intelligence is the experiment carried out by Walter Mischel at Standford University in the 1960s using marshmallows to measure self-control.

David Schenk, a writer on genetics, claims that the case for genetic predisposition is overstated and that if you practise hard enough you can even become a genius. In the same article he cites the marshmallow experiment as an example of how children can learn to develop self-discipline.

Another similar story that caught my eye appeared in the international edition of USA Today (one of the few “English” newspapers you can get on Eastern European airlines). The headline said “The secret of school success. Want your kids to master books? First they need to master themselves. Fortunately new research is finding that self-control can be taught.”

The story was about programmes teaching self-regulation in American schools and at the heart of it was a description of the famous marshmallow experiment run by Walter Mischel in the 1960s. The story also criticises some modern parenting methods as undermining the development of self-regulation.

Then in November 2009 both the Observer and the Sunday Times picked up on the findings of a Demos think-tank report. The Sunday Times headline was “Bad parents kill prospects of working class”. It reported on an increase in social mobility between the end of WW2 and the 1970s followed by a period of stagnation up to 2000.

The report identified three traits that were most important for children to improve their social lot. These were: the ability to concentrate and stick with tasks, self-regulation – whether someone can control emotions and bounce back from disappointment, and empathy – the ability to be sensitive to other people.

The report went on to say that the best form of parenting to inculcate these characteristics was “tough love” ie setting clear rules and boundaries, instilled by discussion and affection. And the marshmallow experiment was cited as a predictor of success in life. The report also described disengaged and emotionally callous children and also suggested expanding the role of Health Visitors to provide supportive parenting.

The Observer took a similar tack with “Tough love breeds smart children”. This article contained a number of statistics and found that among the 9,000 families it tracked for the survey only 13% used a tough love approach combining discipline and warmth.

Although the research found that it was the style of parenting, rather than income or social background that developed the 3 character traits referred to above, this approach was more common in wealthy families and where parents were married. The parents’ level of education was also an important factor as was breastfeeding until 6 months.

The report also claimed that these soft skills, or character capabilities, had become increasingly important in life and were now 33 times more important in determining income for those who turned 30 in 2000 than for those 12 years older.

And in advance of a report from the think tank Demos the Times published a piece about the importance of self-control and empathy in children and included a description of Mischel’s now famous marshmallow test.

Mischel has been monitoring the lives of dozens of his subjects since he started the marshmallow experiments at a nursery on the campus of Stanford University, California, in the 1960s. His findings have proved so compelling that 40 of his original subjects, now in their forties, are preparing to undergo scans in the hope of answering a perplexing human question: why are some of us better than others at resisting temptation?

“Brain imaging provides a very exciting and important new tool,” said Mischel, who now works at Columbia University in New York. By examining the differences between the brains of subjects who turned out to be good at controlling their impulses and those who wolfed down the marshmallow the moment it was offered, researchers hope to come up with new ways of teaching the benefits of delayed gratification.

This post originally appeared on EI 4U May 2010

Stress and poverty definitely not good for children

Researchers at Ohio State University have been looking at stress and health for 30 years and can show that being chronically stressed wears down your immune system and makes you  more likely to become ill and disease-prone.

They also found that children who had difficult childhoods eg through being abused or neglected, could develop hyperactive stress responses which could kick in later in life making them more vulnerable when subject to stress as adults.

And at the Pittsburgh Mind-Body Centre their research shows that early childhood experiences of stress or poverty influence the chances that we’ll develop chronic diseases as adults – whether or not we have a poor diet, don’t exercise, drink in excess, or smoke.

Cardiovascular disease is a case in point. If the family rented rather than owned a home, if the parents didn’t go to college or had less prestigious jobs, then the children’s own cardiovascular health was more likely to be compromised in adulthood – regardless of how successful they became and how much they had achieved on their own as adults.

A year ago it was reported that more than 20% of American children were living in poverty, more than most industrialised nations and the highest level in America for 20 years.

The non-profit Foundation for Child Development has tracked children’s overall quality of life since 1975 using 28 indicators of well-being, according to an article in the September issue of Monitor on Psychology published by the American Psychological Association.

The foundation predicts large increases in the levels of child poverty with as many as 1/2 million children becoming homeless this year. Even if the economy recovers the impact of the recession on the poor children of today could be profound. They face an increased risk of engaging in violent crime, illegal drug use, and of experiencing chronic health problems such as obesity.

Research shows that “children who slip into poverty, even for a short time, suffer long-term setbacks even when their families regain their economic footing” according to the foundation’s president psychologist Dr Ruby Takanishi. And it is worse for children under 10 years of age who, in addition to suffering from health problems such as asthma and anaemia, are more likely to experience negative educational outcomes.

Through lack of mental stimulation and increased stress and their brains may not develop in the same way as children from higher income families. Last year research at the University of California, Berkeley, found a difference between high and low-income children. In 9 and 10 year olds from poorer homes their EEG readings showed less pre-frontal cortex brain activity compared to children from higher income families – even though there was no neural damage nor pre-natal exposure to alcohol or drugs.

As long ago as 1995 research showed that the average vocabulary of 3 year-olds from professional families was twice as large as that of 3 year-olds on welfare. Since then other research has confirmed that poverty affects children in other ways as well as in language skills including poor impulse control, poor working memory, and poorer selective attention.

These results have been attributed to the impact of stressful home environments and lack of parental education in poorer homes. There is evidence that memory ability is related to the amount of parental nurturing.

And there are programmes in place such as the Tools of the Mind curriculum, developed at Metropolitan State College at Denver, which helps children control their impulses and control behaviour so that, for example, children learn to be good listeners.

Another intervention, at the University of Oregon; Parents and Children Making Connections Highlighting Attention, trains children and parents in sustained concentration and impulse management, which enables people to learn new skills more effectively, by making them more aware of their own bodies, attention, and emotions, and how to focus on one thing at a time.

The Oregon researchers have found their programme improves IQ, message comprehension, and social skills and leaves the parents less stressed. They have produced a DVD for parents, teachers, and policy-makers that explores brain development in children. It’s available at www.changingbrains.org.

Those of you familiar with the concept of emotional intelligence will recognise common features in these programmes such as self-awareness and self-control. I have another post on this; “Emotional Intelligence, self-control, and those marshmallows”

Another factors is how often you move house.  Moving frequently as a child can have long-lasting effects on their well-being as adults.

A study of 7,000+ American adults by the University of Virginia, published in The Journal of Personality & Social Psychology (Vol 98 No 6), found that the more they had changed cities or neighbourhoods as children, the more likely they were to report lower satisfaction and well-being. They were also more likely to die younger.

And yet more evidence from researchers in Holland who have come up with the first real evidence that early nutrition effects future health (BBC news: Future heart health “shaped by diet”).

A report in the European Heart Journal looked at the impact of the 1944-45 famine in the Netherlands. Women who were between 10 and 17 at the time were followed up in 2007.

Those who had been severely affected by the famine and who survived on 400-800 calories a day had a 27% greater risk of developing heart disease than those who had sufficient food.

The British Heart Foundation said it demonstrated the need for children and young adults to have healthy diets to protect their long-term health.

Originally posted on EI 4U

It doesn’t mean they are bored

if they are yawning. They could be showing empathy with you.

Researchers have found that very young children and those with autism don’t contagiously yawn.

They tested 120 typically developing 1 – 6 year olds and 30  6 – 15 year-olds with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) to see if they would yawn in response to seeing other people yawn. (Child Development Vol 81 No 5).

About 50% of adults yawn contagiously but in this study only typically developing children aged 4 and older reliably yawned when they watched others yawn. And across all ages the children with autism were less likely to yawn compared to their same-age peers.

The researchers believe that contagious yawning might reflect empathetic feelings and that very young children and children with ASD experience these feelings less than older or typically developing children.