From our own experience during sessions and from feedback we have received from children and their parents/guardians, we have put together some tips for helping your child get the greatest benefit possible from Neurofeedback Training.
(1) Talk to them about why they are here
Sometimes children can be a little unclear about why they are coming for Neurofeedback Training. Although we chat to them during sessions about what’s going on and what’s happening, we have found that if children know the basics of why they are here, we can help them to understand what is going on and this, in turn, can help them to perform better.
We try to stay away from clinical words like ’treatment’ or ‘therapy’ (we rather the word ‘training’); instead we focus on the fun side of doing something a bit different. We use the analogy of having a ‘Super Brain’ when explaining Neurofeedback Training to children. Here is an example of a simple description that may help you in your explanation of Neurofeedback Training to your child:
‘Neurofeedback Training helps to teach your brain how to be a ‘Super Brain’! Super brains can do things like get their homework done all in one go/ get to sleep easier/not worry all the time/pay attention in class etc. (whatever may be relevant to the individual child). Lots of people do the training, even footballers like those in AC Milan and Chelsea! (a nice point for any football fanatics). You’re going to be able to control what happens on a computer screen by concentrating and using nothing but your brain. As you get better at it, your brain is becoming more and more like a super brain.’
(2) Arrive well rested
Try to ensure children get a good night’s rest the before each Neurofeedback Training session. It is a workout for their brain and a good sleep the night before is essential. We understand people’s lives are hectic and sometimes they arrive a bit tired. We can adapt the difficulty of the training to compensate for this, but (as with all training!) the more energy they have going in, the better.
(3) Neurofeedback Training Schedule
Research has shown that a regular training schedule results in more effective Neurofeedback Training. Please read more about committing to your appointment times here.
(4) Help them to be motivated
The training is not a passive experience, far from it! Changing brain function requires a lot of focus, effort and motivation. It can be quite abstract and bewildering at the start, and it can be frustrating. Bear in mind, all of the Actualise staff have been through this process, having done at least 10 sessions each, so we understand that it can be difficult! However, as they move through sessions and learn from the feedback, the whole process will become clearer and easier to understand for both you and your child. We will discuss this during sessions but once the children are encouraged to be motivated to change and open to try, they will make the most out of the training time.
One of the systems we have in place to help keep the motivation levels up throughout sessions is a simple token reward chart. Children earn stickers for hard work, effort and good behaviour which they can then cash in for little prizes. Prizes are discussed in the second session by finding something the child values, and that you (parents/grandparents/guardians) are happy to provide. If it is something they value, children are more likely to keep motivated and keep working hard towards their rewards. Examples of rewards could be:
– 10 minutes extra TV/iPad/X-Box time, a prize from our drawer (e.g. pencil)
– 30 minutes extra TV/iPad/X-Box time, a bar/can/crisps, a muffin from the canteen, etc
– stay up late on Friday/Saturday night, watch a DVD at home, a gift (agreed) from the toy shop
– a trip to the cinema, a trip to McDonalds
We encourage children to choose for themselves whether they want to carry tokens from week to week, or cash them in directly. We particularly encourage them to allow tokens to accumulate, to show them that putting in hard work now can have rewards later on.
One very important point to note: once you agree prizes with your child, they become non-negotiable. This is an important part of consistent reinforcement.
(5) During Sessions
We appreciate children may find the Neurofeedback Training process quite strange and may be nervous. For this reason, we have a comfortable seating area with a sofa and magazines in the clinic room for whoever accompanies children to sessions. This allows children to be comfortable in the knowledge that you are in the room, while still having their independence for maintaining focus and attention during their sessions. Attention to the feedback is of utmost importance so we ask those who are in the room to be as quiet as possible while we are recording at the beginning of each session and once the training has begun.
(6) Keep a Diary
Primarily we want to change the way your child’s brain works in order to make their life better. We term these changes as changes in ‘behaviour’ (meaning behaviour in the broadest sense; feelings, emotions, general day to day activities etc.). These changes can be very subtle and become part of everyday life quite easily. For that reason we encourage you to keep a diary of your own behaviour, taking note of subtle changes you may observe. This gives us a nice timeline of change across sessions and allows us to compare your behaviours now to what they were like before. These observations can be small things you feel are changing.
Example: ‘X’ happened today. Before, he/she would have reacted in ‘Y’ way. I noticed today they reacted in ‘Z (a new)’ way.
The input of others around you is also very valuable, particularly if they do not know about the training. Keep note of both your own observations and those mentioned to you by others. A few sentences a day is plenty. A basic summary of ‘How I got on today’ is perfect. Teachers, grandparents and other parents can provide very useful, objective feedback.
We have received some advice from an esteemed American Psychiatrist colleague of ours who suggested ‘a well-oiled brain is ready to learn!’. We do not offer advice on dietary changes, but this suggestion that upping the intake of ‘brain food’ such as Omega Fish oils to fuel a healthy brain may be useful.
(8) Ask questions
We want our clients to feel comfortable asking questions if there are things about the training you do not understand or would like to know more about. We will do everything we can to make sure your questions are answered satisfactorily. We appreciate this technology and technique is complicated but we will do our best to ensure you are happy with the explanations we give and that the information we give is up to date and accurate.
(9) Reinforcing Positive Behaviour
Neurofeedback Training is based first and foremost on reinforcement. In other words, when the brain moves to a more efficient way of functioning, we provide a reward (e.g. the movie will play) immediately. This is an essential part of reinforcement: it is immediate, it is linked to a specific event, and the individual understands this connection. Furthermore, when the brain works in a less efficient way, nothing happens (i.e. there is no punishment, just a lack of reinforcement).
General behaviour should be reinforced in the same way outside of our sessions. Neurofeedback Training will make changes in the way the brain works, and this in turn will change behaviours. In the same way as we reinforce better brain function, we encourage you as parents/guardians to reinforce/reward the resulting positive behaviour changes. In particular, we encourage you to do this quickly, consistently and frequently, and to make sure your child understands why they are being rewarded. Make sure you link the reward to the improved behaviour. Finally, when you set reinforcement ‘deals’ with your child (e.g. if you do your homework by 7pm, you can have 20 minutes on the iPad), make sure they are very clear and are enforced fairly. That is, make sure you follow up on the reward, and make sure your child keeps to the alloted reward. Consistency and clarity are key and we are happy to provide resources for teachers to ensure a degree of consistency is maintained around the target behaviours.
(10) Encourage them to enjoy it!
They are controlling a computer with just brain power (which is pretty cool, if we do say so ourselves). It’s the closest thing to having ‘The Force’ as you can get! Our staff are friendly and approachable and we try to make it as pleasant an experience as possible. Selfies in our caps are welcomed and encouraged, and we have Facebook and Twitter pages if you choose to share their new powers with the world! Enjoy your time with us and they’ll give Darth Vader a run for his money.
(11) What you, as parents, can do.
As the people from whom your child takes their lead in life, you can have a very strong influence on their progress through Neurofeedback Training. In relation to this, we tend to think about our children in a certain way (e.g. Tom is the quiet one, Aoife is the funny one, James has always been a worrier, etc.). As they journey through Neurofeedback Training, a child can begin to behave differently, generally much more positively. We ask you to be flexible in how you see and treat your child, and allow them the space to change the way they behave, think, act and feel. Encouragement from their parents/guardians/ grandparents/teachers, as well as the freedom to change, will make a dramatic difference to the benefits they derive from their time at our clinic.
As their brain begins to change the way it works, their behaviour is likely to begin to change as well. Some changes can be subtle and easily integrated unnoticed into everyday life, so we ask you to be vigilant. Here, you can have a very positive influence. We encourage you to positively reinforce any new behaviours/positive reactions you see in your child, regardless of how small they are.
These kinds of behaviour changes vary from home to home; for some children, not picking on their younger sister is a huge step forward, for others, brushing their teeth without being asked can be new and welcome. Remember, a behaviour change can be the absence of something (e.g. no tantrum before bed/handing back the iPhone without a fuss) rather than the presence of something. Being reinforced/praised for these kinds of changes helps create a positive reinforcement cycle, leading to an increased likelihood of these behaviours continuing.
Most importantly, we ask you to be consistent and fair in your reinforcement of behaviour. Always praise/reinforce as soon as you can after a behaviour has occurred, and be sure to help the child understand why they are being reinforced. In the same way, if reinforcement is withdrawn, make sure your child understands why this is happening, and it is the behaviour that is the problem, not the child themselves.
Finally, enjoy this journey with your child. They are making huge changes to their brains (not to mention controlling a computer with their mind) and these changes can have very positive repercussions for their future. We are aiming to help your child realise their true potential, and your journey with them starts here – so enjoy!