Joy vs Fun

October 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

I know a young man that shared a book with his wife. The book was called, All Joy and No Fun- The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. Now I’m going to tell you right off that I have not read the book. I have a basic issue with the premise, however.
First of all, fun is transient. Joy is long-lasting. I associate joy with the spiritual part of us. This is just my opinion, of course, but if we pursue fun, we keep needing more. It’s like an addict who needs increasing amounts of drugs to satisfy a need. But joy fills us without us having to make a huge effort.
It is my understanding that most religions believe that God created us in His image. Since God is spiritual, that means the important part of us is spiritual. We can carry spiritual joy with us into the next world. I’m pretty sure the fun activities stay here.
So about children. Yes, they are a lot of work. But they can be really fun, too. I believe raising children is the most important job a person can do. Bar none.
I wrote a song about parenthood when my children were little. It’s not serious at all, so even if it’s a little weird, I’m going to put the words down here.

Fingerprints are everywhere,
Toys are up and down the stair,
Everywhere I look there’s work to do!
Putting things back in their place,
Washing little hands and face,
And walls with pictures hung up with glue!

I would like a little break-
Just a moment I could take
to sit and read a book without a noise!
Maybe visit with a friend,
Talk of nothing to no end,
Without being plagued by girls and boys!

Every time they’re in the door,
Coats and book bags on the floor,
Every day I have to say, “Now hang them up!”
Eating everything in sight,
Never go to bed at night,
“No time to waste, it’s getting late, now hurry up!”

Just when I can take no more
Slamming in and out the door,
I’m about to lose my mind, I know!….
They come and give that little hug
That always gives my heart a tug,
They think of something nice to do
Without being asked to,
They share a smile and wash away
All the worries of the day,
And what else can I do but love them so!!

I can’t put the melody in there, but you get the idea. The love flows. And all we have to do is let it in.


September 29, 2018 in Uncategorized

My husband and I drove to Iowa last weekend to celebrate our grandson’s sixth birthday. I helped with the party Saturday morning, and having eight extra children in the house wasn’t as wild and crazy as I had feared it might be. It was my birthday, too, but, let’s face it, it was more important to celebrate his. The bounty of being a grandma is the best thing ever.
We used to live in the same town back in the 1980’s, so we called a couple who had been great friends to see if we could visit with them. They told me they were going to their friends 60th birthday, but if we wanted to stop by at 7, they would visit with us.
When we arrived, I saw my friend inside, but she wouldn’t come outside to visit. My husband pushed me into the room, and I resisted, because, after all, it was someone else’s party. The people were actually singing “Happy Birthday” at that moment. Then I noticed that all of the people were facing towards the door…towards me. They were singing “Happy Birthday” to me!!!
I hadn’t had a surprise birthday party since I was in 7th grade. I didn’t suspect a thing, but apparently, my husband and his brothers, my daughter, and several friends had been busy planning for over a month!
His brothers got into it, because all three of us wives were born the same year. It was clearly a good year! The party was to celebrate all of our birthdays. My two sisters-in-law just didn’t show up until a half hour later. (That’s why they weren’t included in the same birthday song.)
It was amazingly wonderful to see friends I still love even though we moved from the area in 1990. That’s 28 years ago!!!!! I can’t believe I can throw numbers like that around, but it was like no time at all. The affection was still there. It made me think about how connections between people are so important.
I gave up a high school reunion to go to my grandson’s birthday, but it turned out that I gave it up to touch base with wonderful friends. The friends were just different than those I went to high school with. No matter how many material possessions a person has, they cannot compare to the importance of friends.
Connections stay with us and give our lives meaning.
We’ve moved a lot in our 40 years of marriage, but the small town in central Iowa is the place I feel most at home. It was purely coincidence that my son-in-law got a job nearby in Ames, but it had the effect that my daughter and her family are within a nest of extended family and friends. My grandson is starting school in the same school district that my husband attended all the way through, and my daughter attended for elementary school.
The bounty of having connections is that they provide a safety net as we walk the tight rope of life. No kidding. When I’m working with children who suffer with anxiety, we “weave” a safety net out of the names of friends and family that care about them. They work on learning to trust other people to help. They are not alone.
Children (and adults!) suffering with depression work on weaving themselves into a similar net. They are an integral part of the net, making them important to others, therefore a vital human being. (Of course, they were vital before, but this helps them recognize it!)
I am not a huge Shakespeare fan, and I certainly don’t pretend to be any expert in interpreting what the man had on his mind when writing. But the story of “The Tempest” intrigued me. I studied it as part of studying Baroque music, while earning my music degree. The main character, Prospero, and his young daughter had been dumped on an island because the Prospero was a duke and his younger brother thought it would be a great idea to get rid of his brother and be the duke himself. Prospero and his daughter lived, however, and Prospero developed his great powers of magic. After twelve years, Prospero causes a huge storm (tempest) that causes his younger brother and those on a ship with him, to crash and end up on the island.
A lot happens, but the brothers make up, and Prospero goes back to Italy. I like to believe that no matter what wonderful things he could do, his life was not filled until he went back to live within society. What are great gifts for but to help humanity?

Talking PC

September 15, 2018 in Uncategorized

I remember seeing the movie Arthur back in the 80’s. I thought it was hilarious! When I saw part of it again several years later, it wasn’t funny anymore. Alcoholics aren’t funny. As a society in the 80’s, we were too underdeveloped (myself included) to realize alcoholics are not a source of comedy, but we know it now. We are maturing as a society.
I’ve heard many complaints about which comments are “PC” and how we are supposed to know. Some say that the others are just being too sensitive.
I love to go back to the comment made by Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. We can’t guess at what another person is feeling until we walk a mile in their shoes. That’s probably a lousy paraphrase. It’s been a very long time since I’ve actually read it, but I think the meaning is there.
We can’t know what someone else is feeling, but when we are in a position of privilege, we have a responsibility to not make fun of people not in that position. If we are wealthy, we should not make assumptions or make comments about people who have little money, because we do not understand things such as what it’s like to fix Ramen again because payday is still five days away. (Been there. Done that.)
If we are white, we should not make assumptions or make comments about people who are not white because we don’t have to face the indignities they endure every day (the profiling, the facial expressions, the assumptions of diminished worth).
If we are smart, we should not make assumptions or make comments about people who are less intelligent because they have gifts we do not have.
Last year, I worked with a young boy who was bullying other boys. He would say mean things, and it took us a long time to work through that. I remember one day sitting there and telling him “It doesn’t matter.”
He would say, “[name] sucks. He can’t run fast at all. I can beat him in a race without hardly trying.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“But he’s SO slow!!! I hate it when he gets put on my team!” (etc., etc.)
“It doesn’t matter.”
“And [name] is so dumb! He can’t do anything right!”
“It doesn’t matter.”
This went on for a while, until I turned it around to explaining that every person is important. We all share the earth together. I asked him if there were anything that he could do to help the one boy run faster or be a better team member in some other way.
The next week, when I visited the school again, the teacher said that the boy I had been seeing had stopped bullying one of his previous targets. He had become a mentor instead. Of course, I had been working with him for probably two months before something clicked for him, but I still did a happy dance.
Now we’re working on trying not to beat up anyone else that’s bullying his new friend. One step at a time….

Television-Brain Connection

September 15, 2018 in Uncategorized

This week one of my interns was dealing with a small boy with behavior problems at school. Interviews revealed that he hadn’t been sleeping well. He told her he’s been having nightmares.
He’s six years old, and among other things, his parents let him watch “The Living Dead.”
Parents!! We have the ability to recognize that the story we are seeing on television or in movies is make believe. It’s all done with make-up, and no pain is involved. Children, on the other hand, do NOT have this ability. Even if we tell them it’s make believe, they do not have the ability to believe that dead people don’t walk around eating other people. No wonder he couldn’t sleep! Then he couldn’t learn in school, either
In fact, a couple of years ago, I worked with a TEEN who believed that everything he saw on TV was true. He suffered with terrible insomnia! His cognitive ability was lower than most kids his age, but still. I would have thought that he knew better. We can’t assume that our children are processing information in the same way we are.
Generations ago, the phrase, “You are what you eat” became popular. I would like to expand that idea to “You are what you watch, read, and listen to.”
Children absorb so much, and they have little or no filters. Personally, I don’t believe that material about dead people eating people is worthy of anyone’s attention, but at least adults can make their own decisions. Children voice their opinions, but that does not mean that they have the ability to weigh all of the parameters involved in opening up their brains to the presented material.
Parents have the responsibility of making sure children get healthy food, healthy programming, healthy everything as much as possible. I realize that fulfilling that responsibility is more difficult when you’re tired, and when the number of decisions you have to make for your child seems to climb into the hundreds in a single day. That’s one reason I also believe it takes two adults to raise a child. I encourage single parents to partner with each other for parenting support. It’s so tremendously difficult for one adult to take on the task by themselves!
But back to the topic at hand….. Some children can’t even distinguish between real characters and cartoon characters. They don’t believe real people are cartoons. They believe the cartoon characters are real. Their brains have a lot of developing yet to do!
For example, if you have a dog, you may be one of those families that say things like, “He thinks he’s human, just like us.” Dogs often seem to have a “personality,” but they don’t think they are human. They do not have the capability to perceive a living thing at a greater level of development or capacity than themselves. They think you are another dog.
They don’t understand “human.” They understand other animals, but since you are clearly their family, you are just funny-looking dogs.
Children process things through their own level of development as well. Please try to look at what you are letting your children watch on television, in video games, in movies, in books, in the music they listen to, with a critical eye. Is this going to give them nightmares? Is this teaching respect for themselves and others?

Watch for symptoms in children

September 3, 2018 in Uncategorized

This week has been filled with preparations for the upcoming school year. An intern I’m working with and I gave a presentation about symptoms of mental health problems to teachers for professional development. Children are not immune to emotional problems. We need to watch them for symptoms of things such as depression, anxiety, or inattention.
When we see symptoms in our children, it is wise to pay attention, but not panic right away. First of all, consider the obvious possible explanations of variations in behavior before turning to diagnoses such as depression or anxiety.
First check if the child has been sleeping well. That doesn’t mean that they go into the bedroom at the proper time, or even laid down in the bed with the light off. Many times when a parent brings a child to my office, the parent says the child sleeps enough. Then the child will admit that it takes him a long time to fall asleep, or many she wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. A lot of events can affect one’s ability to sleep, but if sleep is interrupted chronically, it’s best to take a closer look.
Both anxiety and depression can impact the quality of sleep. It’s a good idea to check with children in the morning. Ask them how they slept.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog, insomnia was one of the long-term effects from the brain injury I had as a child. I didn’t see it as a problem. I would wake up at 4:00 in the morning, turn on the light, and read until it was time to get ready for school. Unfortunately, I shared a room with my older sister. She didn’t find it humorous when I kept turning on the light at 4:00 in the morning. I was moved to a bedroom in the basement where I couldn’t bother anyone.
Anyway, lack of sleep can be cumulative over time.
Another area that has become more and more important to me over the last three years or so is nutrition. Forgive me if I repeat myself, but it’s important to know that a lot of those chemicals we need to fight anxiety and depression are made in the gut, not just the brain. If the gut is not the correct environment, the neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine cannot be manufactured. Then we are depressed…or anxious.
I now recommend to all patients that come see me that they keep a food diary for at least a month. They then note when they have good days and bad. What works for one person might not work for another, but after reading three books on psychoneuroimmunology, (isn’t that a cool word!!??), I believe that most people would benefit from taking probiotics. Please note, however, that neurobiology is not my field of expertise. I’ll share more of what I learned in the future, though! It’s actually pretty interesting.
The reason I got into learning about the gut what that I had a patient that began exhibiting symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in her mid-thirties. Typically, Bipolar Disorder “rears its ugly head” in the early twenties. I always allow for exceptions, but because she suffered from depression that then morphed into mania, a doctor diagnosed her with Bipolar Disorder and prescribed medication for it.
I never like to contradict another professional, but having sudden-onset Bipolar Disorder at that time in her life would be unusual. I suggested tests for other explanations.
To make a long story at least a little shorter, it was discovered that she had Hashimoto’s disease—an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid. With her thyroid medications as well as NO gluten, her Bipolar symptoms are gone.
It took a while to figure out the gluten connection, and again, the same would not necessarily be the case for everyone. I am certainly NOT suggesting that actual Bipolar Disorder does not exist!! I am saying that in some people, symptoms that appear to be a mental health disorder might actually be something else.

Keeping love alive

August 23, 2018 in Uncategorized

Good morning!
When I wrote yesterday about taking charge of creating happiness in our lives, it made me think of how we also think of love as something that happens to us. People feel like they have no control over love. A couple who have been married for several years might feel like the love has gone out of their marriage because they don’t feel that warm glow anymore. Well, love is a noun describing a deep attachment, but it is also a verb. We may not have a lot of control over the warm glow itself, but we do have control over a verb. We can chose to keep the love alive in our relationship. The amazing part is that if we chose to love, we can re-create that glow.
Living with another person is difficult. We all have our own preferences, and we’re never going to find another person with the same exact preferences. I don’t really think it would be healthy if we did. There are so many situations that just don’t matter, though. For example, a toothpaste tube left uncapped, a toilet seat left up, a dishwasher stacked the “wrong” way…what do those things matter compared to being a good parent, being a supportive spouse, or being a moral person? Perhaps the same person who leaves the toilet seat up also takes care of getting the car fixed. In other words, for every negative thing that occurs, there is at least one positive thing, if one makes the effort to find it.
When your spouse or significant other does something that riles you, I suggest you take a moment to think of something kind they have done recently. My husband and I have been married for over forty years. We don’t have all the answers! All I can offer is that as a psychologist, I know focusing on the positive is important for mental health. It can also be important for keeping relationships alive.
My husband and I have very different personalities, but honestly, I think we’re both better people than we were when we first got married.
Early in our marriage when he did something that drove me nuts, I learned that if I pictured him gone, at first that seemed a positive thing. But when I pictured him with another woman, oof! That was worse than whatever was driving me nuts. He is a good man and a good father. When there was something negative, I took a moment to picture him curled up with our girls in a rocking chair, reading to them. Of course, after a few minutes, he would fall asleep, and the girls would be crawling over him. The memory never fails to bring a smile to my lips.
There will be times when a person you live with drives you crazy—not in a psychological way, of course. But working on a relationship means keeping the big picture in the front of your brain. Don’t let one tree spoil the forest.
When people are drowning in chores like laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc., it can be very difficult to keep the romance alive. It is important for both parties to make an effort to do so, because our lives are richer when we share them with another person who is important to us.
In the Baha’i Faith, marriage is called A Fortress for Well-Being. Life is difficult. We are healthier and happier if we have someone to help us hang on during the tough times and to celebrate with us when we make it through.
My life is better with my spouse, even though there may be times that I forget that. I have to remind myself what is really important in life.
My life is also better with my extended family. Even though my siblings and I have divergent political beliefs, we still love each other. We live far apart, but work to get together at least once a year. I am happy when I’m with them because they are more important than politics.
If we keep families together, we can keep countries together, and we have a shot at world peace.

The pursuit of happiness

August 23, 2018 in Uncategorized

Summer is drawing to a close. Teachers (and thus, psychologists working in the schools) go back to work next week. For the last several years, this has caused the onset of depression for me. I love my work, but since moving to Minnesota in 2003, I’ve struggled with the 6-month winters.
I love Minnesota, but I get cabin fever by the end of January. It might be because I was raised in the southern part of Iowa. We actually had spring in March. You know, when spring is supposed to come. Native Minnesotans encourage me to try one of the many winter sports in an effort to have a positive relationship with winter. I tried several. That’s probably a story unto itself, but let me just say I am less than adept at winter sports.
Last year, we had three snows in October, and still had a snow day in mid-April. The length of the winter was particularly difficult, and I was talking about retiring early, let me tell you!
We can’t always run away from our problems, though. So my husband and I have worked hard to set up things that will help us get through the winter with happier moods. (Apparently I share my unhappiness with him.) We’ve (he’s) built raised beds with a lattice background. I put the flowers in, and they are wonderful, but I know they won’t be around in the winter. Therefore, we bought several birdhouses and painted them bright colors. They are hung between eight and ten feet off the ground. I’m hoping the snow does not get that high.
We also installed a huge fountain with lights. (Yes, I helped with that.) The sound is peaceful, and we’re going to run some windshield-washer fluid through it to keep it running down to around 10 degrees above zero. [Note: We put netting over it to keep the birds out, so they won’t get sick. We installed a heated birdbath for the birds.]
And that’s another thing. I get a great deal of enjoyment out of watching the birds at birdfeeders, so we hung four of them up to be able to see from different windows. I used to keep birdfeeders years ago. I don’t know why I never got them out when we moved to this house.
In the winter, I tend to not go anywhere after the sun goes down…except home from work. My husband and I have resolved to go to events at least once a month during the winter months. That may not sound like much, but believe me, with our schedules, it’s a great start.
I realize you might not care about my difficulty with winter, but I wanted to make a point about dealing with things we don’t like, but can’t get away from. It’s a good idea to spend some time figuring out what makes you happy. Then you can work to surround yourself with whatever it is. Too often, we treat happiness as something that might happen to us…or not. Taking an active role in getting things that make you happy into your life gives you some power. You can impact your own happiness instead of waiting passively for it to occur.
This is also a good idea for your children. Help them figure out activities that make them happy. Their first idea might just be asking for more toys, but you can help them realize that more toys won’t make them happier. It’s really more specific than that. Trust me, there are a lot of wealthy people who have a lot of toys, and they are no happier than those of us who are not wealthy.
I have a great niece who started showing pigs at 4-H projects when she was about eight years old. She does not live on a farm. She was given the opportunity by a neighbor who had pigs. You might be surprised to know that I used to have no idea what showing pigs was. I’ve seen her do it now, though, so I at least know what it is. She’s good at it. She’s gone to national competitions for it…and won. Now at the age of 13 or so, she’s still into showing animals, and her passion has spread to her cousins who are now all involved in 4-H projects.
They are learning responsibility. [Did you know the pigs have to be walked twice a day???? This is on top of their school activities.] These children are polite, courteous, and well-behaved. They have found a wholesome activity that involves the entire family. And they have found…happiness.
You’re welcome to give it a try!

Why? Why? Why?

August 15, 2018 in Uncategorized

I can’t believe it’s been a week since I last wrote! I’m trying to work up to at least two blogs a week, but obviously, I am not there yet!

I describe right-brained learners in my book, but I have another example I want to share. I hope you will excuse my telling a story about my grandson. I know grandmothers can be tiring, and since I think being a grandma is the best thing ever, I fear I might be the most tiring of all!

In the book, though, I mention how right-brained learners need to know where they are going before they can take the first step. That scene from one of the Raiders of the Lost Ark series where Harrison Ford steps into nothingness over a deep crevasse only to have a bridge suddenly appear??? That would not be the right-brained processor. “Let me know where I’m going, and why it’s important, then I’ll take a step.”

My grandson is five years old. He will start kindergarten in the fall (next month!), so my daughter is working on his letters with him. He loves story time before bed, but the rest of the day, he prefers moving….Even if he’s playing with his trains, he will play for a few minutes, stand and jump, jump, jump, then sit back down to play some more. He’s known colors and shapes for a long time, but has shown absolutely no interest in learning his letters. The lessons have not gone well.

That is, until about a month ago. He was complaining once again, and finally looked at his mother and asked, “Why do I have to learn the letters?”

She gave him a look of disbelief, and answered, “So you can learn how to read!”

He stared at her with wide eyes….a look of disbelief that was way more impressive than hers had been.

“I GET TO LEARN HOW TO READ?????!!!!!!!”

“Yes! When you learn your letters, you can learn to read words, and then you’ll be able to read books by yourself!”

Since that day, he has been working diligently to learn the letters and sounds. If my daughter can’t work with him, he asks for PBS shows that teach reading skills. Amazing. How many times have we, as parents, just expected our children to figure out on their own why we’re doing something, or simply expect them to do it because we tell them to? I know, explaining takes time, and time is a precious commodity. But efforts you can manage in the small amount of time you have will likely have a surprising pay-off.

I believe my grandson will probably be a right-brained learner, which is all right even though schools don’t often work well for right-brainers. My daughter is the queen of right-brained learning. We used Tinker Toys and Legos to get her through chemistry, and it worked! Also, her husband is an engineer, so he understands the right-brain process. You know, “What do you mean, read the directions?? I’ll just figure it out.” Right-brained folks are the ones who look at the picture, then they know how the puzzle works. They learn by taking things apart and putting them back together (hopefully). The interesting thing is that my grandson is adopted. He’s got the perfect family!

Most children learn best by doing, and honestly, I believe elementary schools are generally better at providing that opportunity than middle or high schools. Science labs are “doing,” but although they could be interesting or even fun, I’m not sure that I often made the connection to what I was supposed to be learning. Connections are difficult, and they are the most important things with which parents and teachers can help children.



Tressa Reisetter has a new book out for parents:

Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain.

Here’s the link:

Villages for Parents

August 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

I was at a summer school session last weekend, and I met a woman who was getting an advanced degree in marriage and family therapy. I admire her so much! She is in her late forties and has two children whom she is raising alone. She has had to work full time while going to school, and supporting her family.

Her children have been very supportive of her, even though it puts more housework on them, and they don’t get to have her around as often. This has been a dream of hers, and her children have worked beside her, helping her to achieve it.

So how did she get such amazing children?

Well, when they were younger, she taught Baha’i children’s classes in her home one day a week. That’s like Sunday school for Christians. They worked on developing virtues such as generosity, kindness, and patience. The mom worked on developing virtues in herself as well.

As her children got older, she has maintained her connections in her faith-based community. This community has become the “village” for her children.

The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is true. In previous decades, multiple generations stayed in the same vicinity. Sometimes they were even in the same house. This provided a build-in support system for young parents.

These days, young families often move out on their own, taking jobs in cities far from their familial base. When they have children, parents can become isolated, exhausted, crabby, and depressed. Even with two parents, the energy it takes to raise happy children can be overwhelming.

I can remember many days when my husband got home from a hard day of teaching. He needed to rest, but I said, “I need a break. You are primary parent for a while.” He never complained (almost). I just needed a break, even if it was cooking dinner without interruptions. In order to keep a positive attitude towards your children, it is vitally important that you have the energy required. It takes a lot.

It is important for parents to develop villages for themselves as much as for their children. Faith villages are a good option, whether parents are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Baha’i, or any other religion. The important part is the network of people with whom you, as parents, feel a certain amount of commonality. Villages can also be generated from common interests. For example, single parents who enjoy taking their children swimming might meet other parents would also enjoy swimming. Personally, I believe faith-based communities work well because there’s already a sense of love and acceptance, as well as the basis of the Golden Rule. All religions (of which I am aware) have some sort of quote in their Holy Writings that says to treat others how you would like to be treated. But you are your own individual, so I’m confident you can find someone to bond with. The important thing IS to bond.

This is particularly important for single parents. There are plenty of other single parents out there who would also benefit from working on developing a support system. Perhaps you and another single parent could find apartments close to each other. Maybe there’s already another single parent living near you. It might even save money to share a place, but it would be a really good idea to make sure you get along well first.

I used to plan that if I won the lottery, I would build or refurbish an apartment building for single mothers and their children. Daycare would be on site, and each family would have to be involved with helping to provide various services such as daycare, picking things up at the grocery store, etc.—things that a spouse is often asked to do. Even though I don’t buy lottery tickets, I think it would be a good idea!


Tressa Reisetter has a new book out for parents:

Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain.

Here’s the link:

Talking Helps Reading

July 25, 2018 in Uncategorized

In Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain, I note that the brain is not pre-programmed to learn to read. I want to expand on that a bit today.
Humans are programmed to communicate. We are very social beings, even if some of us prefer to interact with a few people, and some prefer to interact with many people. The number of languages being used in the world today is astounding…all stemming from the need to explain our needs and thoughts to others. When humans are born, their hearing is the most advanced of all senses. We are already listening to the sounds around us, using sounds to make meaning out of the new world. Vision is way behind!

At the neuropsychology conference in San Diego that I attended earlier this year, a paper about what parts of the brain are used during reading was presented. [For reference, it was “Universal brain signature of proficient reading: Evidence from four contrasting languages,” written by J. Rueckl, P. Pas-Alonso, P. Molfese, and many others.]

The authors were interested in what parts of the brain were used during reading, and if that changed with different languages. They included brain scans from people reading Spanish, English, Hebrew, and Chinese. The scans were amazingly similar. In fact, the “similarities outweigh differences, especially with respect to print/speech integration.”

The individuals utilized the visual parts of their brains as well at the auditory areas in all four languages.

Why would people use auditory areas to read? Apparently, since language begins with listening and copying what others say to us, our auditory processing is physically integrated with our understanding of the printed word. That is likely one reason why phonics is so important for learning to read, and is associated with strong reading skills.

We need to train children to associate auditory information with the symbols they see. It might also be the reason that I find it difficult to read when music is playing. As a musician, the music I’m hearing takes precedence over my auditory association with the words I am reading.
The authors of the paper found that less skilled readers could be differentiated from skilled readers by “the degree of print/speech integration in key LH [left hemisphere] circuits.” They went on to conclude that early speech and motor deficits in children made them more vulnerable to reading disabilities later.

Conclusion: Talk to your children…a lot. Use words at their level, but also words that you might feel are too difficult for them. That will help them progress in auditory language, which could help them be better readers later.
A child’s own speech also is associated with their ability to read later.

Note: when doing research with humans, we can never say there is a causal relationship. We can’t say “this causes that” because humans are so complex, there is no way to make a clear cause. We can say, however, that people who did “this” had a statistically more common occurrence of “that.” It’s all about relationships!

So we can say that children who learned to talk later than their peers had a higher occurrence of reading problems later on. Tests that measured children’s receptive (incoming) language and those measuring expressive (outgoing) language were both associated with reading outcomes. Strong receptive and expressive language was associated with strong reading.

Parents were asked to rate their child as an early, on time, or late talker. Then the children were given a test for reading words accurately. (They did not have to know the meaning.) The early talkers scored highest, the on time group was in the middle, and the late talkers had the lowest scores. Keep in mind these were large groups of children. There are always exceptions, but as a group, the early talkers were also better readers.
What we can take from this is that parents need to talk to their children, even from a very early age. And they also need to take time to listen. That isn’t always easy because young children are not necessarily efficient communicators and parents are busy. But time spent listening, even if it doesn’t seem like the child is saying much, is extremely important. They are developing important skills. Grandparents can really help here!

If your children are older, don’t give up. Children are resilient, and it is not impossible to make up for lost time! Reading opens many doors for all folks who are lucky enough to have that ability. Give your kids or grandkids the keys!


Tressa Reisetter has a new book out for parents:

Getting to Know Your Child’s Brain.

Here’s the link: