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Critical Thinking: How to Develop It at Home and at School

What is critical thinking? It’s a way of reasoning and questioning things to help us make better decisions. We’ll explain what critical thinking is and how you can improve it daily. You’ll also learn how to boost a child’s critical thinking at school! Andrea Garcia Cerdan explains below.

Critical thinking

What is critical thinking? It’s the ability to think clearly and rationally, and understand the logical connection between ideas. Critical thinking allows us to think independently and reflexively.

Thinking critically requires the ability to reason and learn actively, not passively. This means taking an active approach to learning information, rather than just letting the information reach you.

People with developed critical thinking skills question ideas and thoughts and don’t take everything they hear as fact. They work to get a rounded view of an argument or idea, research and thinking reasonably about each possibility, and welcome a contradictory view. They don’t see an argument as something negative, but rather a chance to grow and learn.

Characteristics of a critical thinker:

  • Understands the connections between ideas
  • Determines the importance of these ideas
  • Recognizes and creates valid arguments
  • Identifies inconsistencies and reasoning errors
  • Approaches problems consistently and systematically
  • Reflects on their own beliefs, thoughts, and values

Critical thinking is a great decision-making tool, but that doesn’t mean that we always have to think critically because not every decision is important. Think about it: you could think critically about whether you’re going to eat salmon or chicken, but probably not a life-changing decision. When you’re in one of these situations where you have to make a decision, it’s better to be intuitive than critical. You’ll save time and psychological resources that you could be using to solve another problem.

How can you boost critical thinking?

1.Don’t believe everything you hear

The first step to improving your critical thinking skills is to evaluate the information that you receive on a daily basis. Before doing something based on information that someone else told you, do your own research! Think about the problem and what possible solutions may be. Need some help coming up with answers? Maybe you want to improve your creative thinking as well! You have to decide for yourself what you want to do and what you believe is best, and evaluating all of the possibilities is a great way to do that.

2. Define you goals

What do you want to do? What’s your goal? How are you going to make it happen? Knowing what the goal is is an important part of creating a plan to get it done.

3. Research

We’re constantly being bombarded with information which can sometimes be overwhelming, but this constant information can actually help you make better decisions. When you’re faced with a problem or decision that you’re not sure about, look online, ask a forum, read a book, watch a documentary, or get in touch with someone who might be able to help you. Look at different opinions and arguments and look at it from all sides. The more information you have, the better prepared you’ll be to make a good decision.

4. Don’t assume that you’re always right

Everyone loves being right. It makes us feel like we know everything and can be a mood booster. But thinking that other arguments and ideas aren’t valid closes our eyes to other points of view. Your thoughts, ideas, and beliefs are just one possible solution, but there are other equally valid ideas that you should get to know and respect. Open your mind to other perspectives.

5. Don’t complicate things

There is a line of thinking that’s often used in scientific research when they’re trying to figure out which hypothesis is correct. It’s called Occam’s razor, and it’s the idea that when there is more than one possible answer, go with the simpler one until proven false.

6. Divide the problem into parts

When you’re faced with a difficult problem, try to break it up into smaller, more manageable parts. You’ll find it easier to evaluate and take on each different part of the puzzle on it’s own.

Developing Critical Thinking in the Classroom

One of the most important things that we can teach our children is showing them how to think, argue, research, and make their own ideas and opinions about diverse topics. Learning to do this as children will make it easier to do as adults, when the decisions and topics are more serious and have potentially serious consequences. Learning to how to question things and not believe every word they hear, read, see, etc. will help them make their own decisions in the future.

So, how can we help develop critical thinking skills at school?

1. Group work

Working as a team helps children learn to think. When they’re surrounded by classmates and have to work together to talk about their ideas and thoughts, not only will they be exposed to other ideas, but they’ll have a chance to form their own opinion.

2. Let them use their creativity

Creativity is a skill that we have since birth, but using it more helps us develop and strengthen it. Learning to use creativity to solve problems can help us come up with ideas that we might not have thought of before, which is why it’s so important to use in a classroom. Instead of giving kids instructions to something, let them try to figure out how to do it on their own. Give them space to problem solve and use different theories to get the job done without a specific plan.

3. Don’t run to their aid right away

Children will get used to having things done for them. If they try to do something and ask for help, you might be inclined to solve the problem for them, which will inhibit their ability to problem solve on their own. It’s better to let them struggle and think of the answer on their own rather then run in and save them right away. For example, if they’re having trouble with a math problem, ask them questions to help them figure it out on their own.

4. Have brainstorming sessions

Brainstorming is a great way to help develop critical thinking. It helps the child reason and see different possibilities and points of view. Ask them questions like: “What is the book about? or What do you think you’re going to learn in this chapter?

5. Compare and contrast

A great way to help students learn to think critically is to let them compare and contrast the information that they have available to them. It can be about anything-books, hobbies, favorite x. You can do the same thing with a pro and con list.

6. Ask them questions

Asking questions helps students reflect and apply what they’ve learned to a real situation, which will help them consolidate the information and create an informed response. You can ask things like: “Do you agree with this? Which option do you think is better? Explain why you think this happened. Try to avoid questions with a yes or no answer and make them think and develop a response.

7. Let them debate

Debated are a great tool to help students reflect and thinking about a topic and develop opinions about what they’re learning.

A good way to promote critical thinking is to let each child defend an opinion. Do you think we should have uniforms at school? Break the kids into groups or assign each one a side to take and let them debate.

The video below will give you some more great ideas to improve critical thinking. Check it out!

 

Did we leave you with questions? Leave us a comment below! 🙂

 

This article was originally written in Spanish by Andrea Garcia Cerdan

8 Way to Show Support to an Alcoholic As You Work Through Family Therapy

Your loved one has worked hard throughout their treatment program to learn better ways to manage their addiction. Now, they are asking you to attend family therapy sessions to work through the issues that are associated with their alcohol abuse. While some people find the prospect of sharing their struggles in a counseling session a little nerve-inducing, this is an important opportunity for you to show your support. In fact, just being invited into your loved one’s therapy program is a gesture of honor since it means that you play an important role in their life. As you take this important journey with your loved one, use these strategies to promote effective family therapy sessions that allow everyone to benefit from healing their relationship.

Family therapy

1. Come with an Open Mind

Views regarding family therapy can differ among members of your group. If you have never been in counseling before, then you may have misconceptions regarding what will happen. For example, some people think counseling sessions are designed to point out where people are going wrong, but this is not the case. During your family counseling sessions, your loved one’s alcoholism and current treatment plan will be discussed. You will also have a chance to talk about how their behavior has affected your life. However, the main purpose of every one of your sessions will be to find solutions for the challenges that you face together. Having an open mind allows you to fully take in the lessons gleaned from the topics you explore in your sessions.

2. Share Your Feelings

Baring your soul to a stranger can feel odd at first. However, you should keep in mind that family counselors have heard it all. They are not there to judge you. Instead, their role in the session is to try to help by staying neutral as they guide you and your loved one through exercises and conversations that help you work through your challenges. Be willing to open up about how you feel, and remember that it is okay to ask for time to compose your thoughts when you are dealing with a painful topic. Anger, guilt and even sadness are all normal emotional responses to an alcoholic’s recovery. Addressing these emotions is important for being in a place where you can offer your loved one your full support.

3. Acknowledge Their Experiences

When your loved one was in the throes of alcoholism, it is likely that you had vastly different life experiences. This sometimes makes it hard to connect with your loved one as they go through recovery. For example, you may feel as though they were living it up while you were trying to keep your household together. Meanwhile, they may describe the pain of knowing that they were no longer in control of their drinking. Acknowledging that your loved one may have felt something emotionally that wasn’t obvious to you at the time is a powerful way to let them know that their feelings are valid.

Family therapy

4. Work on Improving Your Communication Strategies

Families often struggle with breakdowns in communication that contribute to angry outbursts and hurt feelings. Substance abuse contributes to communication issues because your loved one may have been using their drinking to avoid having to actually talk about the things that bothered them. Learning to communicate effectively takes time, and your counselor will guide you throughout the process. For instance, they may have you work with your partner to develop listening skills that stop the cycle of never fully resolving any issues. Be patient as you learn to communicate together, and know that the extra effort will pay off when you can work through a conflict together using positive language that shows respect for both of your opinions.

5. Prepare Mentally

Alcoholism sometimes influences painful events to occur in families. Domestic violence, infidelity, and other addictions may all coexist with an alcohol problem. As a family member of someone who drinks, you may have dealt with painful experiences in the past that will be brought up in your sessions. Be ready for this, and know that painful emotions must sometimes rise to the surface before you can fully find healing.

6. Be Consistent with Your Attendance

It sounds so simple, but just showing up to your sessions regularly makes a big difference in your loved one’s recovery. When you commit to attending family therapy, you let your loved one know that their well-being and your relationship are priorities that are worth working hard to protect. Make sure to plan your counseling sessions so that you do not have interruptions from work or other obligations. If you must miss a session, let your partner know as soon as possible so that you don’t let them down.

7. Do Your Individual Work

With so much focus on your loved one’s alcoholism, it is possible that some of your issues may have been overlooked. It is common for personal situations to arise during family counseling that need to be addressed in individual sessions. Although it can be upsetting to suddenly discover that you are dealing with low self-esteem or problems with codependency, finding ways to overcome your personal challenges helps your family as a whole.

8. Follow Through at Home

Being a perfect partner in your family counseling sessions and forgetting everything you learned once you get home is ineffective for your partner’s recovery. Make sure to remind each other to use your communication strategies when conflicts arise and avoid tempting your loved one by keeping alcoholic beverages around. Finding ways to minimize stress will also ease the process of healing together. Should an issue arise that you are not sure how to address, bring it to your counselor in an upcoming session. This way, minor issues do not have time to fester into major problems that affect your relationship.

Showing support to your loved one is important for their recovery, and attending family counseling sessions provides you with guidance to overcome the adversities you face together. By making it a priority to show up, contribute and follow through on what you learn together, you can rebuild your relationship while helping your loved one to stay sober.

 

Pathological Liars: How to Identify, Help, and Prevent It from Happening

Telling the occasional white lie doesn’t change who your are and it doesn’t make you a bad person. However, there are some people who relate to the world solely through lies, who feel the need to lie for no reason. These people are called compulsive or pathological liars, and below you’ll see how to identify one, and how to help them if you do.

Pathological liars: What is a pathological liar?

Aside from some ethical and moral problems, lying isn’t really a problem. The problem takes shape when telling a lie is out of our control, when we need to lie to feel good. This is a type of addictive behavior. Pathological liars might not even know when they’re telling a lie, and probably won’t recognize that they’ve lied.

What is a Mythomania?

Mythomania, or a pathological liar, is a person who lies, hides, or exaggerates the truth without thinking and without gaining anything form it. The aren’t able to control it and they can’t stop. Mythomania can be related to several personality disorders including severe ones like psychopaths. Pathological liars are subconsciously looking for attention and admiration from those around them, and are hoping to get people to look up to them and think they’re “cool”. This is the reason most of their lies are personal lies. They lie for the sake of lying, without thinking about the consequences of what they say.

Why do compulsive liars lie?

In general, people lie or tell “half-truths” to benefit them in some way, whether it be about coming home before curfew or not breaking the priceless vase. This is why lying is a reinforcing behavior. It clearly keeps us from getting into deeper trouble, so why not tell a lie and get out of it?

The negative effects from lying may or may not ever happen, as others may never even find out about the lie. They may also find out much later, which loses some of the negativity and makes whatever punishment that comes later seem much less important. However it happens, it’s very probably that this lying behavior happens more than once.

Aside from trying to avoid negative consequences, these people lie to get attention and affection. They exaggerate, embellish, or make up a “reality” that they’ve created in order to seem more interesting. However, this only works in the short-term, because with time, people around them will start catching them in lies and distance themselves.

1- When a pathological liar is caught in a difficult situation, they get stressed.

2- They use another lie to “solve the problem”, and their stress subsides, reinforcing their behavior. On one hand, their stress subsides, and on the other, their problem “disappears”

3-Through this reinforcement (or “benefits”) (getting attention and avoiding uncomfortable situations), this lying behavior becomes a habit over time.

Compulsive liars are generally insecure and have low self-esteem. They aren’t very social, and they don’t know how to talk to people without lying. They don’t feel interesting enough, which is why they alter reality to make themselves look better.

They are addicted to lying. They can’t stop lying even if they wanted to, or it will leave them to feel defenseless. Over time, this addiction will become stronger and stronger, and their ability to control their behavior will become more and more difficult.

How can you tell if someone is a pathological liar?

Your friend who likes to embellish his stories isn’t necessarily a pathological liar. Lying pathologically is an addiction, they lie constantly because it’s a habit that they do without realizing it.

We usually catch on to these lies because things don’t quite add up or they seem too far-fetched, but when you confront the liar, they’re cool and collected, not nervous. They might be inexpressive and control their actions. If they look nervous, they’re not a pathological liar.

These people don’t lie to reap benefits or keep something from happening, but it’s possible that their habit started this way (and the subconscious search for approval). They lie systematically, without any apparent reason, which is another way to tell a simple lie from a pathological liar.

Some common aspects of pathological liars are:

  • Lies are believable and may have truthful elements. For example: a person has stomach flu but may exaggerate and tell a co-worker its a serious illness like cancer.
  • They tend to always show the person lying in a positive light.
  • Pathological liars can continue to lie for long periods of time. People who have long term affairs tend to start lying and may become pathological due to the pleasure of keeping the secret.  

How can you help a pathological liar?

How can you help a compulsive liar? It’s not as easy as you might think, because part of overcoming any addiction is recognizing that you have one, and pathological liars don’t recognize their problem. Trying to get them to change or bringing them to a psychologist won’t help, because if they don’t think they have a problem, they won’t want to get treatment.

It’s important to show them that you know that they have a problem and try to get them to understand that overcoming their addiction will improve their quality of life. Once they are able to recognize that they have a problem, you can try to have them see a professional, but be careful not to push them.

How can you keep your kids from becoming pathological liars?

This disorder generally starts in adolescence, which is why it’s important to teach your children good values.

It is especially important to raise their self-esteem and talk to them kindly. Tell them when they’ve done a good job and reinforce their good behavior. Remind them that having people like them isn’t the most important thing, but that having morals and treating others nicely can go a long way.

If anyone you know tends to lie a lot don’t rush into any conclusions, remember to always be objective and never push anyone into getting help when they don’t want to.

Hope you enjoyed the article, feel free to leave a comment below.

Understanding Your Brain and Stress: What Happens When We’re Stressed?

It’s time to talk about our good ol’ buddy stress. For most of us, it seems to cling to us all day every day, no matter how many times you try to part ways. It’s just become a part of us, so much so that we might feel weird or empty without it. But what is stress? What exactly does stress do to our bodies, to our brains? Why is it such a good thing to have sometimes, but other times seems to overwhelm us? It’s time that we learn more about the delicate relationship between our brain and stress.

Understand your brain and stress

Check your understanding

How much do you know about stress? Take this short quiz to find out!

1. Stress is inevitable.
  • These days, it may seem like we can't avoid stress. Often times, what you think is stressful now you probably won't think is stressful in the future. Try looking at the things that stress you out in a different perspective, or look for ways to make your life easier!
2. People can choose whether or not to be stressed.
  • As you'll learn in this article, stress isn't a switch you turn on and off. Stressful situations spark many complex reactions within your body and cause physiological changes so that you're equipped to handle the stress. While we can manage it, we can't choose whether or not to be stressed.
3. Exercise is a good stress reliever
  • While it may be hard to fit it into tight schedules, exercise is great to relieve stress! It releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins, and lifts your mood for the day. And even better, it clears your mind so you can be more focused and productive in the workplace.
4. Stress is a good for when you need to be motivated
  • When talking about reaching deadlines or a set goal, some stimulating stress can be good for you. It may provide you with enough to get though the day, or to be a little more productive. But pay attention to how you feel- frustration, irritability, and anger can be signs that you're experiencing too much stress.
5. We'd all be bored without stress
  • Stress has become such a big part of our lives that we might feel empty without it- but we don't have to! Think about all the things you could take time to enjoy without the stress of all your responsibilities. It's very possible to do, so start looking for ways you can de-stress!

The biological mechanisms of stress

When we experience a stressor, it sets off reactions in our body to help prepare us to handle it. For example, let’s say you’re camping in the woods for the weekend, and you’re just about head to the tent for the night. All of a sudden, you hear a loud crash, and you turn around to find a huge bear looking through your stuff!

Seeing the bear stimulates your hypothalamus to release two hormones, called corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) and arginine-vassopressin (AVP)CRH travels down to the anterior pituitary and stimulates the release of corticotrophin into the blood stream. Once corticotrophin reaches the adrenal cortex (a gland on top of the kidneys), the adrenal cortex increases the production of cortisol and other hormones called catecholamines. 

Surely this must sound very complicated, but here’s the basic idea. Seeing the bear stimulates the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis, which eventually causes the production of the stress hormone known as cortisol. This hormone causes many changes in our body so that we can properly deal with our stressor.

Your body and stress

AVP rushes to the kidneys and tells it to make less urine and bring more water back into the body. It also sends signals to our blood vessels to constrict, which raises our blood pressure and allows the oxygenated blood to go where its needed. Cortisol limits the amount of insulin production so that less glucose is stored. It then sends all the glucose it can to the rest of the body, so that it has immediate energy when it goes into the “fight or flight” response. Finally, catecholamines such as epinephrine (adrenaline) work with cortisol to get the heart pumping more blood, faster.

Different types of stress can have different impacts on our body. When stress is prolonged, it can have detrimental effects. Here are just a few:

  • Cortisol suppresses the immune system, so the longer cortisol stays in your system, the more at risk you are of getting colds, infections, cancer, food allergies and gastrointestinal issues.

  • The longer your blood vessels are constricted and your blood pressure is elevated, the more at risk you are for vessel damage and plaque buildup. In other words, you’re much more likely to have a heart attack the more you’re stressed.

  • Cortisol can cause weight gain in many ways. One way is because of the high levels of glucose in the blood and the low levels of insulin. This means other cells that need the glucose can’t get it, so they send signals to your brain to tell you you’re hungry. As a result, you overeat, and the unused glucose is stored as fat.

Your brain and stress

Stress can change neural networks

Prolonged periods of stress can cause increased branching in the amygdala– the fear center of the brain. This means that small, less stressful situations can cause huge rises in cortisol levels. Conversely, the hippocampus– which is responsible for learning, memory, and controlling stress- deteriorates and weakens our ability to control our stress.

Stress can shrink your brain

Studies with rat brains have shown that stress can also cause your brain to shrink. Fewer connections between neurons in the prefrontal cortex inhibit our ability to make decisions and judgments. And because the hippocampus deteriorates with prolonged stress, it can make it harder to learn and remember things.

Stress can be detrimental to mental health

Serious mental health problems can arise from stress because of the chemical imbalances cortisol can cause. Because cortisol can make us feel tired after a while, large amounts can have us feeling low in energy or depressed. In other cases, stress activation can lead to severe feelings of anxiety. In many cases, it can actually influence our personality, causing us to be more irritable, hostile, angry or frustrated.

Since stress is such a big part of our daily lives, its more important than ever to take precautions to protect our brain and our body. For tips on how to reduce your stress, click here.

False Memories: Can You Trust Your Memory?

We often don’t think about the accuracy of our memories. We just assume that they’re exact and precise, because it’s something that we experienced. But the reality is, our memories are very susceptible to change. Research is showing that our memories can be manipulated by introducing new or different information. This can be from an authority figure, or simply just by talking to your peers. Although this can be helpful at times, false memories actually poses a problem for our justice system. 

False memories: What are they?

Why do false memories occur?

Imagine you pass by someone when you’re walking down the streets of Times Square. You only see them for a split second, but you see them wearing a green t-shirt, black sneakers, and a blue hat. Now just hold on to that thought- we’ll come back to it later.

We’d like to think that our memory is like a video recorder, accurately recording our experiences. But our memories are actually very prone to suggestion. Here’s why: every time we recall a memory, it gets changed based on our mood, goals, or environment. If we don’t remember something that happened to us or that we saw, our brain fills in the missing information. This seems like, and sometimes is, a helpful tool, but sometimes it can have serious consequences. We all know “that” person who tells the same story just a little bit differently every time. The fish was THIS big, kind of thing. A false memory is a misguided recollection of an event or experience.

False memories can happen in a lot of ways. Introduction of new or different information is one way the perception of events can change. This can be in the form of a question, or discussion with a peer. Knowledge you already have and other related memories can also change your perception. For example, if you were to recall your fifth birthday party, the memories of your friend’s birthday party might influence how you remember your own. And of course, over time your memories begin to change. Misinformation can become a part of your memory, and that version can actually grow stronger and more vivid.

How do we know that memory can be altered?

Remember the person you walked past on the street? Now answer this question (without scrolling up): The person was wearing a green hat, but what color were their sandals?

If you were to scroll back up, you will find that their hat was blue, instead of the green stated in the question. Also, you might notice that the person was wearing black sneakers, not sandals. How did you do? If you fell for the tricks, then you can see how easily our memories can be altered. By wording the question with a new or different fact from the original scenario, your memory changed to fit the question. This is how researchers study false memory, by introducing new or different information to something you may have experienced.

Another way our perception of events can change is just by talking to the people around us. Take the video below, for example. In this study, participants viewed a video of a store robbery, and then discussed what they saw with each other. After a few minutes of discussion, each of the participants were asked to recall what they remembered seeing in the video. What they found was that most people were actually talking about things they didn’t actually see themselves. They were given information by their peers, which led them to be misguided not long after an experience.

Are false memories a good or bad thing?

False memories can be as harmless as you thinking you saw your phone in the glove compartment, when it was really in the back seat of the car. But many times, these false memories can have serious consequences.

The idea of false memories arose in the late 1980’s when psychologists started using memory recovery techniques. Soon after, parents started reporting instances where their children wrongly accused them of childhood sexual abuse. The problem was that these accusations were typically coming from an adult daughter in her 20s and 30s, soon after she started therapy. Therapists justified the Freudian idea of repressed memories– saying that they didn’t remember the events because it was too traumatic for them. But many experts say that the idea of repressed memories has been proven false, which sparked a lot of controversy and debate.

Psychotherapists believed that they could recover repressed memories by inducing hypnotic states with sodium amytal. This is what happened to 19-year-old Holly Ramona, who accused her father of sexual abuse shortly after beginning her therapy for bulimia. Holly recalled that she had vague flashbacks of a man forcing her to perform sexual acts when she began therapy. But according to other therapists, Holly didn’t know it was her father until the doctors had told her about it after she was in the hypnotic state. Expert psychologists who study memory say that “repressed memories” are in no way supported, especially for sexual abuse. Holly’s father eventually came to sue the therapists that worked with his daughter and won the lawsuit, but not before losing his entire family.

False memories can also be a problem when it comes to eyewitness testimony. Since DNA testing became available, The Innocence Project has worked to exonerate wrongfully convicted prisoners. In 75% of the DNA exoneration cases, faulty witness testimony was found to be the cause of wrongful conviction. But it’s not that these witnesses lied under oath with a secret vendetta, it’s because they were misinformed. Misleading information they may have been exposed to, like a misleading question, could have changed their perception of events. The witness, unaware of the change, can easily recount the wrong information as their own experience, sending many innocent people to prison.

False memories can also do some good, by helping those who have had traumatic experiences. Researchers are working on methods to replace traumatic memories with less anxiety provoking ones, to allow the person to cope with their experiences better. This is similar to narrative exposure therapy, which is a type of talk therapy designed to help people learning how to live with PTSD.