Nurturing Tenacity in Children with special guest Dr. Sam Goldstein

In this episode of the Brainy Moms parenting podcast, Dr. Amy and visiting co-host Sandra Zamalis interview the renowned Dr. Sam Goldstein, pediatric neuropsychologist and co-author of the book, Tenacity in Children: Nurturing the Seven Instincts for Lifetime Success

Dr. Sam shares the importance of focusing on a child’s strengths and assets in order to build resilience and tenacity. He talks about the 7 instincts that lead to tenacity (or grit) and how parents can impact the development of those instincts to give their child the biggest chance of success. This episode is full of insights and information about the brain from a pioneer in the field of child psychology.

Read the transcript and show notes for this episode:

EPISODE 123
Nurturing Tenacity in Children with special guest Dr. Sam Goldstein

Dr. Amy Moore:

Hi and welcome to this episode of Brainy Moms. I’m Dr. Amy Moore here with a very familiar voice now, my visiting co-host Sandra Zamalis from LearningRx. She’s filling in for Teri while Teri is out this week. Sandy and I are so excited to introduce you to our guest today, Dr. Sam Goldstein. Dr. Goldstein is a licensed psychologist, a school psychologist and a board certified pediatric neuro psychologist. He has authored, co-edited or co-authored over 50 clinical and trade publications, three dozen textbook chapters, nearly three dozen peer reviewed scientific articles and eight psychological and neuropsychological tests. Since 1980, he is served as the clinical director of the neurology learning and behavior center in Salt Lake City, Utah, and he’s the author of the books Raising Resilient Children and Raising a Self-Disciplined Child, and he’s here today to share tips for parents from his new book, Tenacity in Children.

Sandra Zamalis:

Welcome Dr. Goldstein, we are so honored that you’re with us today. Before we talk about Dr. Amy and my favorite topics in resilience and tenacity, can you tell our listeners about you, who you are, how you spend your days and what you’re passionate about doing in the world?

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Sure. This is the abbreviated version.

Sandra Zamalis:

Of course.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

I grew up in New York City, I thought I would be a famous rock and roll musician and then realized that wasn’t to be my destiny, although I am still involved in music. I’ve written three musicals with Graham Russell from Air Supply.

Sandra Zamalis:

How cool is that?

Dr. Amy Moore:

That’s so cool.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Our new one dead certain is now in development, and our first one A Wall Apart, about three brothers in the Berlin Wall in 1961, played off Broadway, in New York as well. So I have two passions. I progressed through school and decided I would be a brain researcher studying brain chemistry, and then in 1976, I decided I liked people better than rats. So I shifted into working with people, and then I decided I like kids better than adults, and I came out to Salt Lake City to finish my doctoral work, because I had been studying how rats learn to pay attention, what draws their attention, and how and why? I started studying that and children, met Keith Connors, who’s very well known as sort of the father of ADHD assessment.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Came out here, liked it out here, had the opportunity when I finished my doctorate in school psychology to pursue further studies in neuropsychology, and then start this clinic, we’re in our 41st year, we see 500 or 600 children a year, and a few 100 adults. About half have brain injuries, the other half have some pretty significant challenges. I did a TED Talk about our clinic, if you go to my website, you can click to it. It’s just called the Power of Resilience. It’s a fascinating population I’ve had the privilege of working with, I learn something from them every day. These are very complicated kids sort of Job from the Bible, as it were who faced great challenges.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

I started writing mostly textbooks, and then had the opportunity to write my first trade book of what was then called hyperactivity in children, and wrote a number of other trade books and then had the opportunity to join forces with Robert Brooks who was at Harvard, who’s since retired, and this represents our 14th book together, and the glue that holds us and the attraction that brought us together is we’d reached a point in our careers, where we realized that we were spending all of our time, fruitlessly trying to fix what was wrong with children. We began to realize that the more liabilities a child possesses, the more important their assets become, and we were doing just the opposite. The more liabilities they possessed, the more focused we were on fixing what was wrong.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

We looked at the longitudinal research that demonstrated those who fared well under adversity were not necessarily those who had the most treatment. Medicine, school intervention counseling, but rather those who had other assets that Bob coined, islands of competence, something that carried them through. We began writing about it our first book, Raising Resilient Children, the first trade book, where now we’ve done three textbooks on the science of resilience. Resilience is about functioning well over time, and the first book we titled Raising Resilient Children, is sort of a compilation of what the research taught us and our publisher at the time, didn’t want us to use that word in the title because no one knew what it meant.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Now it’s a very common term, resilient this, resilient that. Estee Lauder has a makeup called Resilience. The word is so widely used, who knows exactly what it means anymore, and we wrote a number of books about resilience, ad then we realized, knowing what to do didn’t equate to doing what you know. The key component to doing what you know was possessing the maturity and self discipline to stop and consider the circumstances and make good decisions and use experience to guide your behavior. Again, I had done a lot of work with ADHD in a number of textbooks and tests. So we then focused on how parents can help children develop self discipline, it’s biology is not destiny, may affect probability but genes express themselves based on the environments they’re in that they don’t express themselves independently.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

That’s where we were for quite a while, and then suddenly we realized that we just were not paying enough attention to the biology. I began looking at the research on instincts. Now, when I refer to instincts, I’m not referring to a bird building a nest for the first time, or a salmon swimming upstream sort of a blind behavior without any understanding, I’m talking about behaviors that have a genetic underpinning but develop in the presence of a push from the environment. A child may have all the genes to speak, if no one speaks to them, they won’t talk. A child may have all the genes to socialize, if not given the opportunity to do it, they don’t know how.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

So genes for complex human behavior can’t operate without a push from the environment. We began studying these and identified seven, that we feel and that’s what we do in the book is explain in a palatable way to the lay public, to parents why we think children are endowed with optimism, with motivation, with empathy, with a sense of fairness and responsibility, with a sense of altruism, that you see young children exhibit these behaviors. Any push from parents, and what we’re proposing is that raising children isn’t about taking a blank slate, a tabula rasa, and in scribing what you think children need to know, but rather, the creation of opportunities for children’s genetics to blossom. Yes, some children find it easier to exhibit some of these than others, but it’s in all of us, and for some children slow is fast enough, we have to work a little bit harder at it.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

So that’s the seven instincts, we write about three more in the book as well, and just one last thing, the term tenacity. I have to be honest, that tenacity is a word we chose. Part of the reason we chose it is because there were no other books with a title tenacity. We searched, we didn’t want another book with a title resilience, and we didn’t want to take somebody else’s thunder. We didn’t want to take emotional intelligence. We wanted to find a word that we could use as an umbrella under which we could put these instincts. So tenacity in itself implies the grit, the drive, and we felt it fit because it’s the grit, the drive, the self-determination, to be self-disciplined, to operate in a resilient way, to overcome adversity. So that’s why we chose the word, but the word itself has no meaning in genetics per se.

Sandra Zamalis:

Okay, so my first question was going to be can you differentiate between tenacity, resilience and self-discipline for the lay reader? But I’m hearing you say that tenacity is just part of resilience as a whole, or is it its own entity?

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

I wouldn’t say that. So let’s try and simplify it. Resilience is the ability to continue functioning as well as you can or optimally under adversity. Resilience is not an outcome, it’s a process. You don’t really know if someone’s going to be resilient until you put them in an adverse circumstance and see how they fare. Resilience seems to be driven in part by genetics. Some people are just more optimistic, in part by immediate family experience, and in part by the mind. We have a mind, we’re lucky we only have one mind. Imagine if your heart had a mind and your liver had a mind, it would be chaos inside your head. Why we have a mind is unclear. How the mind evolved no evolutionist can explain it. It’s not Like an ear or a nose, you’re either aware of yourself or you’re not. I don’t know how you can be half aware.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

So the mind then creates a schema, a way of looking at experiences, and that’s what feeds resilience. Functioning well under adversity. It’s bio, psycho, social. Biology, psychology, social experience. Self-discipline, the best way I can explain it is taking the time to open a window between experience and response to make a good choice. I’ll tell your listeners something that maybe most people don’t know, the middle of the brain gets information about the world a few milliseconds before the front of the brain. The middle of the brain deals with the world emotionally, the front of the brain rationally or logically. To use a Star Trek analogy, the front of the brain is Mr. Spock, it’s all logic. The middle of the brain is Mr. Worf, the crazy cling on, all emotion.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Babies are born cling ons. Most two year olds look like they have bipolar disorder but they don’t, they just deal with the world emotionally. Maturation is about giving the front of the brain time to learn to regulate emotion, a few milliseconds. The term that the anthropologist Dean Falk used was brain dancing and I use it in the book. We all can brain dance under any little bit of stress, the front of the brain shuts down and the emotional brain takes over. So in a working way, self-discipline is a learned pattern of behavior, giving yourself sufficient time to consider a past experience, use that knowledge to guide present behavior towards a future outcome. Some children are very good at it, and some children we pathologize some of this. Children who struggle with it, we say, “Well, they have ADHD.” Really what we’re saying is they’re immature in developing the self-discipline needed to do what they know in a consistent, predictable, efficient way. That self-discipline.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Now comes tenacity. So tenacity, does have a Webster definition. It’s the perseverance, it’s the grit, to borrow another person’s term. It’s the inner strength, the conviction of one’s plans or ideas to stay the course. So even if we weren’t writing this book about instincts, if the book was just about grit, staying the course. The word tenacity does have meaning. So it’s what Bob and I call the essential triad of human development, which is our term. It’s learning to operate in a resilient way, developing the self-discipline to do what you know and do what you learn in a functional way, and having the inner strength, the inner conviction, the grit as it were, which is an interesting term to stick it out. But we’ve taken that term and said, “That grit, that sticktoitiveness comes from these instincts.” Which is our way of, I don’t have science to say, “Oh, yes, these contribute to tenacity.” But that’s how we’ve chosen to do it.

Sandra Zamalis:

Excellent. Okay.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Do you think as parents that, obviously, when you’re talking to families your goal is to give families the tools they need to help kids develop the skills that they intrinsically have. Right?

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Right.

Dr. Amy Moore:

I mean, I feel like for my own parenting skills I probably have my own work to do. What do you feel like is one of the main things with tenacity that a parent can start with even from an early age?

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

That’s a very good question. So of the seven instincts, and I’ll just mention them. I’ll tell you what we’ve done is put a descriptor in front of each to make it uniquely ours. So instead of just saying optimism, we say intuitive optimism, meaning you just know it. Instead of motivation, we say intrinsic motivation, not the reward someone hands you. Instead of empathy, we say compassionate empathy, not just appreciating your point of view, but interacting with you in a way that demonstrates I appreciate that. I really want to talk about simultaneous intelligence because that’s my favorite, we’ll come back to that. Altruism, again, not just giving of yourself but doing it in a genuine way without expecting anything in return.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Responsibility, we refer to as virtuous responsibility, and fairness we refer to as measured fairness. Because if you give all the time, as in Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, everybody knows that book, then you’re left with a stump. Sometimes you have to look out for yourself. Fairness isn’t about doing everything for everybody else, or altruism isn’t about doing everything for everybody else, but having a balanced view and that’s how we look at fairness.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Coming back to your point, the two things that I think are most important for parents of younger children, is this combination of optimism and motivation. Intuitive optimism. Young children think they can do anything, cook, clean, drive the car, they want to help, and we think it’s cute, but it’s a drive to be part of the group, to fit in. It’s how evolution has shaped us and they think they can do it. You and I, if we were learning to walk at 40 years old, and we fell down four or five times, we’re done. I was a really good skier. I haven’t been skiing in a few years, but I was a good skier, I tried snowboarding, I fell down four or five times, almost injured myself, I brought the snowboard back to the rental shop. Forget it. Young Children don’t do that they get up fall down, get up fall down, they have to have a certain level of optimism because development for our species takes so many years.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

So that’s part one. Part two, they’re intrinsically motivated. A two year old just wants to help there’s no payoff, they’re not asking for anything in exchange. But by the time they become somewhat acculturated, they do ask for something. We externalize the motivation, why did you do that? Well give me something. Watch them going off to school, young children going off to school are happy to go, why? Because they’re intuitively optimistic, I’m going to do so good there, and they’re intrinsically motivated. Oh, it’s going to be great. The words of praise I receive from the teacher, the smiley face on my drawing, that’s my motivation, I’m internally pleased by my contribution and what I’ve done. I think those two are the two most important early on, and you see it in every child. For some children who struggle to regulate their emotions or to learn or to socialize with others, you see that flame extinguished.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

I just spoke with a mother this morning whose child is very bright, but has very severe learning disabilities, and he just thinks he’s dumb. We talked about the fact that he couldn’t wait to go to school, and now when I asked him, “What do you like about school this morning?” He responded, “Nothing.” He’s seven, he’s going into second grade. Nothing. If your mom said you could stay home, what would you do? I would stay home. Why not? I don’t like school. Look at what we do. Right? So those two, for young parents I think are critically important.

Sandra Zamalis:

It’s funny that you say that because that was one of my favorite chapters, was the intrinsic motivation chapter. In fact, I even wrote down the quote that you had included from W. Edwards Deming that said that, people are born with intrinsic motivation, self-esteem, dignity, curiosity to learn and joy in learning and that it is our job as parents, teachers and caregivers, to ensure that these inborn qualities are shaped and reinforced in our children. I have this conversation weakly with parents in my office. When thinking of intrinsic motivation could you highlight the four needs that must be met and satisfied in a child in order for that intrinsic motivation to occur?

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

You put me on the spot because I’ll have to open the book to look at those four needs.

Sandra Zamalis:

I’m sorry, I can look for you.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Yeah, look for me, I’m happy to discuss them, but off the top of my head-

Sandra Zamalis:

So one was belonging. I know that was the top of my head. There was belonging, self-determination and autonomy.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Being able to do it independently.

Sandra Zamalis:

Competence was the third one, and purpose was the fourth one.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

In all fairness that wasn’t Bob and I, that’s not our theory.

Dr. Amy Moore:

[inaudible 00:19:53].

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

We’re from someone else’s theory. But it makes sense.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yeah, could you share more about that with our listeners, because really those keyed in for me. Like I said, I have this conversation weekly with parents because the flame has died, right, the flame has been extinguished, and that intrinsic motivation is gone, and it’s hard to know or pinpoint what happened along the way. So even just helping our listeners understand those four needs that have to be met in order for intrinsic motivation to occur.

Sandra Zamalis:

Or how parents can nurture that.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Right.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Well, so start with competence. Do you give your children the opportunity to engage in activities that they feel successful at, and then it becomes really quite complicated, because yesterday in my office, and I evaluate four or five children a week when I’m not traveling. I saw a 14 year old young woman who is a world class figure skater, and on top of that, she’s a wonderful singer, and has been accepted to one of the premier theater arts high schools in Los Angeles. The family is relocating from Salt Lake so she can participate in this program. This is a kid who’s very accomplished at lots of things, and yet, she comes in and tells me, “I don’t think I’m very good at things.” The instinct as a parent, is to want to say, “No, look at all the things you’re good at.” But she’s aware that, she knows that.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

If you came to see me, and told me you were depressed, and I said, “Well, look at all the things you’ve got going in your life, you’re not depressed.” You would say, “What a lousy counselor you are, you’re not listening to me.” So it isn’t such an easy process of just providing opportunities and then in a very linear way, the outcome of those opportunities is a sense of competence. Here’s a girl who’s very competent and yet, for some reason, the way she filters her experiences, I do think there’s a biology, but I don’t think biology is destiny, I think it affects probability. So I think the first step those needs is to understand your child’s temperament, and years ago, we would talk to parents about temperament. The slow to warm up child, the spirited child, we evaluated temperament.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Nowadays, when I pitched to one of my publishers, I want to develop a questionnaire on temperament, they said, “Why? It’s not a diagnosis.” So competence, offer your children opportunities to feel competent, and in one of our books we tell a story about a boy who no matter what success he had, he found a way to go around it. Well, you hit a home run today, well the picture wasn’t very good. You got an A on a test, oh is such an easy test. So I think you create opportunities for kids to feel competent. The other three, if you want to go through them, the need to be connected, to feel like you’re not completely isolated, and I think that’s really important, because we’re not salmon or snakes. We don’t live in isolation. We’re not bear cubs, we evolved in the company of others.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Autism is one of my favorite areas to research and the children to work with, because they struggle with that social pragmatic connection. They don’t predict how other people are thinking or feeling very well, they don’t socialize very well, and sometimes it’s very difficult to engineer experiences for them, where they feel connected. I have a wonderful picture a mom gave me about a month ago, of a birthday party and the family wanted to take a picture of all the kids, this was not this child’s birthday. He’s six, very bright with autism, he could lecture me about why Pluto’s not a planet. But he doesn’t have a clue about how to socialize. So they got to take this picture, and she shows me the picture and there’s the six kids surrounding the birthday kid sitting on this low wall, and then about four feet away on the other side is the kid I work with. This is where he sat down to take the picture, and he’s looking like this.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

So I think belonging and connecting, I just I don’t think there’s an easy tip or an easy way to do it, other than to start by observing. Does my child connect with other kids easily? Some children do it effortlessly, and other kids struggle with it, and when they do it effortlessly then it’s easy as a parent to say, “Oh look, what a great parent I am, see.” When they struggle it’s much more difficult to know. Remind me the other two.

Sandra Zamalis:

The next one was self-determination and autonomy.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Yeah, well, the self-determination is akin to tenacity. I want to do it myself, don’t do it for me. This morning, I am evaluating this little boy he’s seven with reading problems I mentioned, and his mom was sitting in with us, because I wanted her to how he goes about doing a variety of different things. It really opened her eyes. She hadn’t really been aware of it, but she just constantly wanted to do for him, and when she wasn’t kind of interjecting herself to try and help him, then he would turn and look to her. What should I say or What should I do? Some kids are the opposite. Some kids, don’t tell me I don’t want to know, don’t. Again, these qualities of personality, most parents don’t appreciate this yin and yang between nurture and nature. But when you look at the identical twin studies of twins separated at birth and reared apart, the Minnesota Project.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

So these were children who in the 1930s, 1940s were adopted at birth, they were identical twins, but they were separated. They don’t do that anymore but they did then. At the University of Minnesota beginning in the 1970s, some smart researcher said, “I wonder what happened to those kids,” and they went to look for them. There have been a couple of movies made, a documentary made, and it’s a little eerie, because probably 80% of these individuals are similar although they’ve never met. They dress the same, they marry women who look the same, they like the same foods. So that leaves 15% or 20%, and if you don’t understand the role of genetics and nature and nurture environment over time, then you’re liable to say there was a book that was written about 20 years ago and the American Psychological Association gave this reporter an award, suggesting that parents don’t matter, that it’s all in the genes.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

But this reporter didn’t really understand if I could influence 1% of the stock market, I wouldn’t be on this call right now, and if we as parents can influence 15% or 20% in the way our children’s genes express themselves, that makes 100% difference in the quality and course of their lives. People have a hard time understanding that phenomena in an algorithm, the 20% parents’ influence sometimes makes 100% difference in someone’s life. A parent with a child who has anxiety, who borates and belittles and harasses the child’s fears and shyness, will end up with a very different human being when that person transitions into adulthood than a parent who appreciates it, and begins to interact with that child in a way to help the child understand what it means to be a little anxious and to worry, and how to manage that. Or a learning disability, or any challenge children face or even no challenge. How we respond to our children makes a gigantic difference in how the quality of their lives progress. So I do think this idea of self-determination, there’s a biology to it, and there’s an experience to it.

Sandra Zamalis:

The last one was purpose.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

So, Bob tells a wonderful story about going to an elementary school. It’s in one of our earlier books, and he was a visiting school, and when he walked into the school, there was two kids sitting on a bench just waiting, and they had buttons on it says greeter. “What is this?” He said, “Well, everybody gets to be a greeter, and we’ve been waiting all day for somebody to come into the school so we could greet them. Can we help you? What can we help you with?” Everybody needs a purpose, and research that gives people purpose, studies on high school dropouts who are directed to mentor a younger child so they don’t drop out of school. It does as much good for them as it does for the child they’re mentoring. You give someone a purpose, you put them in a role of teacher, of coach, of supporter and it’s amazing how much it helps them not just helps everybody else.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

So one of my favorite interventions that I learned from one of the kids I worked with 30 years ago, a young girl with reading disability, and I worked with her when she was seven and then I didn’t see her for a couple of years and she was transitioning into high school, and her mother asked if I would reevaluate her. She came in and we visited and she said, “You know Dr. Sam.” They call me Dr. Sam, I go by Sam, they call me Dr. Sam. She said, “You know, I’ve learned to read so well that I can teach other people to read now.” I said, “Well, that’s interesting, tell me about that.” She was tutoring a neighbor’s child who was having trouble learning to read, and by this point in her career entering ninth grade, she read well enough, she could tutor a beginning reader.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Now it’s my standard advice, when I finished working with a child in therapy, let’s say a child with anxiety or worry, or a child who sees the world through mud colored glasses, feels more hopeless, or helpless, or a child is trying to learn to socialize. The last thing we do on their last visit is I ask them if they would write a note, make a picture, create a little book to help the next child I work with anonymously with a similar problem to help them see that there is a successful endpoint. I’ve had kids make books and I’ve got some of them here on my desk. I’ve had a couple of kids, send them away and have the Bound. How Dr. Sam really helped me and how we can help you, it’s my favorite one.

Sandra Zamalis:

I loves that.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Right. But it gives you a sense of not just success, but a sense of purpose. I’m helping others. So I hope that helps a little bit. In my career, I’ve always felt like most parents are good enough for most children, when they have some insight and understanding of what it is they’re trying to work with. So I’ve never been a fan of Sam’s seven steps to create perfect children. I tend to paint in much broader strokes, because just like classrooms, and when I’m when I’m consulting with schools, I very rarely tell teachers what to do. First, I try and understand how the classroom operates, and then I might make suggestions. So I’ve never been a big fan of here’s the seven things you must do to have a successful classroom, because I’m not sure that that’s right.

Sandra Zamalis:

Sure, but it doesn’t take into account individual dynamics as well. Right? Like what happens, what works one year might not work as well the next year.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Right, and you and I know that when you consult with teachers, some teachers are very behavioral, and if you talk about feelings with them, they shut off. Some teachers are very Rogerian, and if you talk about rewards and punishments and stimuli, they shut off.

Sandra Zamalis:

Right.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Now, the first thing I ask teachers is would you rather talk about feelings or behavior, because I think people are different.

Sandra Zamalis:

Absolutely. So I want to shift gears a little bit. The chapter that I was most intrigued by was unmeasured fairness. You talk about how some kids, many kids feel like life has been unfair to them, right? So they develop this whiny victim mentality.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Correct.

Sandra Zamalis:

So can you talk a little bit about the impact of adopting that mindset?

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Sure. Can I first lay a little foundation if we-

Sandra Zamalis:

Absolutely.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Okay. So keep in mind that up until maybe 5000 or 6000 years ago, we were all generalists. We lived in family groups, and everybody did everything, everybody helped out, and if I had something I shared it with you, you had something you shared it with. Somewhere along the way, we developed specialization. Somewhere along the way, we figured out, oh, you’re much better at making moccasins and I’m much better at hunting buffalo. So you’d make my moccasins and I’d give you some buffalo meat, and eventually, some of the things some people could do, were seen as more valuable than others, and you see the extreme today, athletes are paid a million dollars to play a game for two hours. Talk about fairness, right? So fairness is in our genes, and I joke sometimes that most of us think it’s fair, so long as we’re in the advantage.

Sandra Zamalis:

Right.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

But it’s in our genes. So in the book, we write about some animal research, the two macaque monkeys kind of can see each other through the plexiglass and they have to give the researcher a rock through a hole in the glass, and he gives them a grape. He gives each of them a grade, and then he gives one a grape, and he gives the other a piece of cucumber, and the monkey looks at the cucumber and eats it. He does it again, and this time monkey looks at the cucumber and puts it on the floor of the cage and steps on it, and then the third time, he does it again and now the monkey shrieks and throws it back out at him.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

I have three dogs, they’re sisters, and I do a little experiments with my dogs. No animals are harmed in my experiments. So they have favorite bones that you buy in the pet store, and I’ll sit them down Daisy, Dolly and Sugar, and I give two of them a favorite bone, and the third one gets a bone that otherwise they would eat. It doesn’t matter which of the three I give the unfavorite bone, the other two grab their bone and go off to their favorite spot, and the third one just sits there, looks down looks back at me, I should film it. It doesn’t matter which one, it’s like, “Are you serious? They got the other bone you’re giving me this?” One of them Sugar, who was the runt of the litter, she’ll just sit there and look at it and look at me and look at it. She will not take until I switch it back, and then she goes and she makes her needs known.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Fairness is an interesting phenomena. But again, if you look at the research with young children, they demonstrate a sense of fairness before you ever teach them about it. That’s the point. Why is fairness so important to us? We complain so much about it? It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. What’s our usual response to our kids?

Sandra Zamalis:

Life’s not fair.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Right. Maybe that’s not such a good response. Maybe fairness is what you make of it. So when a child adopts that view, Bob and I talk about mindsets, which by definition is a set of ideas that you filter your experiences through, and those filters are different for different people. So if I think you’re an adversary, and you bump into me, then my interpretation of it is you’re trying to provoke me. If I think you’re attracted to me and you bump into me, then my mindset is, “Oh, she really likes me.” But, wrong information is worse than no information, and we have a tendency to shift. Look, I can call you careful, someone else can call you slow, different interpretations of the same behavior.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

I think when kids reach a point, to use your term, where they have adopted the idea that life is not fair, the world is not fair, I’m not treated fairly, it’s a long road back. The goal is to not get to that point because once you see the world is certain way, then no matter what I say, you filter. So when your child comes home from school and tells you, “No one wants to be my friend.” You say, “I was just in school yesterday, and I walk past the playground on recess, it looked like you were playing with a couple of kids.” “They don’t want to be my friend. They’re not my friend.” The more you try and talk the child out of their decision, the more adamant they become, I have no friends.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

So you have to empathize, I’m sorry, you feel that way. Nobody likes to feel that way. Do you think there’s anything I can do to help you? No. Okay, well, if you change your mind, and you want to possibly explore, we can search on the internet, helping kids make friends, maybe we’ll find something that helps us there. I don’t want to All right, maybe tomorrow, we’ll see. But you can’t talk people, whether they’re five years old or 65 years old, out of their ideas. So what’s the message? Prevention. Much of what we’re doing with kids today is tertiary care. Much of what we’re doing from our special education programs, to be eligible, you have to be so much impaired.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

There’s no triage that takes place, to our mental health programs, to parenting programs. I’m not saying we have to mandate parenting programs, but everything we do is tertiary, after the fact. We don’t do primary, hey, let’s educate parents about temperament. So when their child is born, and the child’s behavior doesn’t meet their imagined expectations, BC, before children, they thought what great parents they’re going to have, or maybe secondary intervention.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Maybe we identify kids who are at risk, and begin supporting their parents before they have a diagnosis. But you understand, no system in our society is set up for that. Imagine billing your health care provider, I think my child is a little anxious. The doctor says he doesn’t have an anxiety disorder but he’s just a little anxious pay for his counseling. They won’t.

Sandra Zamalis:

Right.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Right. Imagine telling the school team, “My child’s acquisition of academic knowledge is about half the speed of what I see in other children.” The school team says, “Well, he’s not far enough behind yet to be eligible for services. So we’ll just wait until he’s far enough behind.” This makes no sense logically driven by financial resources. So my goal with these seven instincts is to educate parents out of the gate. These are the seven, find more, I’m happy to consider them, we didn’t. These are the seven critical human behaviors that make us who we are and we share them. Other species have them as well. We have language and we have one thing no other species seems to have. We can think one thing and say something else. Even as we’re talking, you’re thinking, what am I going to say next? How much time is left out? We’re probably the only species that can do that and language is the fuel that that drives that.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

These, I think seven instincts make us who we are, and if parents understand them from the beginning, I don’t think they need to go to a class, but I think they can create experiences, to nurture optimism, to nurture motivation, to help kids be empathic. One we haven’t talked about is simultaneous intelligence, which, if we have any time, I really want to talk about that.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Okay, so we need to take a quick break, and Sandy is going to read a word from our sponsor LearningRx, and then when we come back, let’s talk about simultaneous intelligence.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Right thanks.

Sandra Zamalis: (reading sponsor ad from LearningRx)

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Dr. Amy Moore:

We are back talking to Dr. Sam Goldstein, and you’re going to share with us your favorite of all of these instincts now.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

The reason it’s my favorite is because my guess would be that very few listeners understand intelligence in this way. Because we’ve been taught that intelligence is not malleable, not manipulatable, set in stone, driven by biology, not so much by experience, and if your child’s smart, they’re smart, and if they’re not smart, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. I’m going to burst that bubble, shatter that illusion. In fact, I don’t use the word intelligence much anymore, because for 1000s of years, intelligence was defined as how well you solve problems, not how well you could read, not how many years you went to school. The schools in their efforts to regulate how many kids they serve as gifted or talented, have added the component of achievement. What does reading ability have to do with intelligence? Not a whole lot.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

By the school’s definition, prior to 1800, there were no intelligent people. Because very few people could read, most people didn’t go to school but this makes no sense. Intelligence really is about critical thinking, how well you can solve problems. The term I use, I didn’t coin it, a neuropsychologist AR Luria, coined the term, who also was very involved in coining the term working memory. Luria said that, “Intelligence is about analyzing information in a simultaneous way.” Let me explain that, seeing how all the pieces fit together. Creativity is thinking outside the box. Intelligence is leaving no piece of information within the box unconsidered.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

I’ll give your listeners two examples. If I say two, four, six, eight, 10. You only need to know 10 to predict 12, it’s a predictable sequence. How about this one? Let’s see, which of you wins the prize today? One, three, six, 10, 15. What number comes next?

Dr. Amy Moore:

21.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Ah, Dr. Amy. Yes, 21. But in order to do that, you have to simultaneously appreciate the relationship of every number to every other number. If I removed one number in the sequence you couldn’t figure it out. If I give you 10 facts about an animal, and you randomly pick three, you might choose an animal that matches the three doesn’t match the remaining seven. Good simultaneous thinkers, intelligent people see how all the pieces fit together. As it was pointed out, part of the way to do that is to harness neuro psychological abilities, like working memory. So simultaneous, seeing it this way, some consider that a neuro psychological phenomena, I consider it the foundation of intelligence, and the good news is that it’s malleable and the research we write about in the book has demonstrated that you can teach kids to think critically like this, and it generalizes. Meaning you teach them with one set of information in one situation, and they can take what they’ve learned and apply it in other subjects in other situations, and their grades go up. It’s a fascinating phenomena.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

We have tried to do this for a long time with kids who are really developmentally delayed and didn’t have much success. Reuven Firestein had a program called instrumental enrichment, didn’t really work. But once you cross a level to where you have, within normal development, you can teach this kind of critical thinking, and kids do problem solve better, and their grades go up. This has been a challenge for us is generalization. So you teach somebody how to do it in one circumstance, and it doesn’t always generalize to another circumstance. If I teach you to read, that generalizes, because now you’ll read in every class. If I teach you a game to facilitate divided attention, you’ll get better at the game, but the challenge is for you to then be able to take what the skill you’ve learned to play the game and apply it to divide your attention in other circumstances. I think we’re getting better and better at it, the program, the LearningRx, clearly, they’re making an effort to look at whether doing those kinds of things facilitates, and how much it facilitates. But I think-

Dr. Amy Moore:

Can be like a transfer for sure.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Transfer. Right. But I think we’re getting better and better and better at it. 20 years ago I would have said, “No, it’s false advertising.” We haven’t yet really demonstrated it, but now increasingly we are demonstrating it, especially with this idea of simultaneous intelligence. So I would encourage parents even when children are two, to begin giving them opportunities to problem solve, to think critically, to not answer every question for them, to create circumstances where, how do you think we’re going to do this? We have too much stuff and the box is too small, what are we going to do?

Dr. Amy Moore:

We call that invitations to learning.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Invitations. Right. Because I had parent yesterday that told me, asked me, “So what do you think is wrong with my son?” I said, “Well, what’s the question?” The parents said, “Well, we got in the car and he told me there wasn’t a ladder tall enough for him to climb to the moon.” I said, “What a great thinker.” That’s not a problem. I said, “That’s really good thinking.” She didn’t know what to say to the kid. I said, I would have asked, “Well, what do you think we can get you to the moon? How far do you think it is? What do you think?” Right. Critical thinking.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Yes.

Sandra Zamalis:

My mother’s response to questions like that was, well, let’s research that.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Right. I asked my grandkids off the wall questions, with my kids, I used to play the really big question game and I’d ask, where does the universe end? All kinds of things like that, and I play it with my grandkids. So I asked him, “Isaac, do to Eskimos eat ice cream?” I thought he would ponder it a while and he said to me, “Not only do they eat ice cream, they have a special way of making ice cream.” I said, “What?” Of course, he grabs my phone and he Googles it, which is what the future of education is about. I have a project. I’m calling inside out schools, and I haven’t gotten the website up yet, but we’re asking, what will schools be like in 50 years? My term is inside out. The teachers will be engagement coaches, not fonts of knowledge and that we’ll create environments where kids can motivate themselves to learn, not that we have to create kind of the motivation or the incentive for them.

Dr. Amy Moore:

I love that.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

I’m happy to participate. Have you participated?

Dr. Amy Moore:

I’d love to.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

We’re going to have to change how we educate children because I have everything I need in my phone in terms of factual knowledge, and I think the early grades, preschool, kindergarten first, second, third, where we’ve emphasized the acquisition of rote knowledge, basic reading, basic math. I’d rather emphasize the acquisition of critical thinking and problem solving ability and start reading when you’re in second grade. Research shows that you could start in second grade, and by fifth grade, they’ll read just as well as kids who’ve been reading since they were preschoolers. My two cents worth.

Dr. Amy Moore:

No, I mean, we work with children all the time, who didn’t have the foundation, the auditory processing skill foundation, and so it doesn’t matter how old you are. We can still create that foundation and teach you to read.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Right, and when I explained to parents is as a neuropsychologist, and this may be helpful, I look at ability, knowledge and skill. So abilities are hardwired, not that biology is destiny, it just affects probability. If you’re coordinated you’ll learn athletic skills faster. If you have better working memory, or associational memory, you’ll learn academics faster. But slow is fast enough. You can be average and do fine. Second thing I look at is knowledge, and knowledge is anything you learn by experience. As we’ve talked about, it’s anything you learn. Language, socialization, you use your abilities to acquire knowledge.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

The third thing I look at is skill, and skill is a verb, skillfully reading or skillfully socializing, and all kinds of things affect skill. In the work you and I do, Amy, that’s the rub, we can measure ability, we can measure knowledge if kids participate, but understanding the variables that either make them more or less skillful engaging the task we want, that can be challenging. So reading is acquired knowledge. I can teach somebody to read at age 40, even if they’ve never read before, but auditory processing is more of an ability. Certain levels of complexity and thinking is more of an ability. If at age 18 you didn’t understand physics, at age 40 I can’t teach you physics. Does that make sense? Right?

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

What we’ve mixed up and parents mix up is the difference between acquired knowledge and ability, and then skill. What we’ve been talking about, for example, some of what these kinds of programs do, critical thinking, or what LearningRx tries to do, is to provide variables that enhance skill. They’re now making you smarter, they’re helping you more efficiently manage the knowledge you possess for a better outcome, and there’s a lot of room for a better outcome.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Absolutely. So, Dr. Goldstein, you shared with us that you had a different title for your book than you originally had submitted to your publisher, and it was about the unholy trinity. I would love for you to share that with us. It’s at the very back of your book, if readers want to read that section. But I know that that’s your heart too, you want to share that unholy trinity for parents to understand.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Sure, in doing this research, excuse me, for my throat here. In doing this research, we came across three instincts that I think helped us survive. You understand Homo sapiens, our human species, probably 60 or 70,000 years on this planet. But Homo erectus, the earliest humans on this planet, existed for at least a million years in Africa, why they didn’t leave Africa, who knows. But they existed there for a long time, and survival depended on a number of other instincts. One, belief. You had to believe when the sun went down, it would come up. You had to believe you would eventually find shelter, food, water. You had to believe that big animals wouldn’t eat you. We were the prey.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

So belief is in our genes, and beliefs a valuable ally in the absence of fact. When you put facts on the table, and people close their eyes to it, and you see what’s happening, for example, with the science or non-science of COVID and vaccines today, you see what a model it makes. Belief served us well for a long time, and it still can serve us well, and we’re not talking about religious belief here. But you can see how belief that my politics is better than yours, my religion is better than yours, my skin color is better than yours, my height, my weight, my whatever. You can see how it’s creating this gigantic tension and animosity in our society, belief.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Two, fear of difference. We are afraid of difference. There’s an argument now, do we teach children to “be racist” and racism has taken on such a broad definition, it’s hard to know exactly what that word means anymore. But I would argue that there is a genetic predisposition not to be racist, or to discriminate, but to be a little uncomfortable around difference. Because for a long time, you didn’t go anyplace different. You drank from the same water source, you ate the same foods, and you didn’t venture across the valley to the tribe on the other side because they might kill you. We have a fear of difference, and that fear of difference kept us alive. Now that fear of difference, from my view, creates terrible problems. Why? Why are we so afraid if somebody’s skin color is different? Why are we so anxious or fearful if somebody’s ideas are different?

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

I think maybe parents instill it in their kids, maybe the society and culture nurtures that, but the question we have to ask is, why are we doing it? Why does it happen? Again, I’m not a biological determinist, but I think fear of differences in our genes, kept us alive. The third one, the Bardeen Fox term, as I mentioned, brain dancing. Any of us at any given moment could respond aggressively to a real or perceived threat. You see what’s happening, how, as we talked a few minutes ago, how people shut off the front of their brains and allow the middle of their brains to dictate these horrible behaviors towards each other for almost no provocation for absolutely no reason.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Now, I’ll challenge your listeners. This is a pretty somber way perhaps to end. But I’ll be optimistic at the end, but I’ll challenge your listeners, turn on the news tonight, go to a news website, read the newspaper. I challenge you to find some adversity happening in the world that in one way or another is not influenced by one or all three of those qualities, qualities that kept us alive for millions of years today seem to be out of control, it’s too much of a good thing causing problems. I will argue equally, look in those news sources for good news. For things happening that were good, or things people did, and I’ll bet you could find every one of those seven positive instincts at work. Optimism, responsibility, empathy, fairness, good things come from those. I will argue bad things, not completely, but bad things come from the other three.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

I think if we’re going to survive, not just five years or 10 years, but 50,000 or 100,000 years, we’re going to have to do a better job of appreciating and managing those seven, by managing those three bad ones by using the genetics that we have, whether God gave it to us or not, to our advantage. We are preparing children for a world that none of us will see, we’re preparing children for a world that we can’t even define. When I was a kid, the things that I was exposed to sure were more than what my parents were exposed to, but the world is changing so fast. Can you really define what life will be like 30 years from now? Not COVID. I mean, the last thing we needed with everything else going on in the world is a pandemic.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Right.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Okay, fine. So God says, “Here have something else that’s going to give you a problem. Let’s see what you guys do.” But how do you prepare someone for a world that you really can’t define? What will technology be like? What will life be like? What will schools be like? We really don’t know. I think the solution lies in looking backwards in an effort to look forward in an affirmative way, look backward at the good things and the positive instincts that got us where we are, and understand and appreciate how we move forward by not forgetting those, and I think we have forgotten those.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Fantastic.

Sandra Zamalis:

I think that’s a great way to wrap up.

Dr. Amy Moore:

I do too.

Sandra Zamalis:

I have to tell you, I promised Amy I would tell you. So I’ve been looking for a book to give the families that come in to our centers, because like I mentioned, one of the biggest issues that parents talk with me about it’s that intrinsic motivation. They want their kids to enjoy learning again, and I really love your book. So I’m going to be giving that to the parents that come to my center for consultations is just a helpful tool. There’s just so much good information in there that can really give them the bigger picture, the overview of really what the goals are in our parenting journey. So thank you for I’ve enjoyed reading it and I really enjoyed talking with you.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

I very much appreciate that and we made some swag-

Sandra Zamalis:

Oh, we’ve swag.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

Yeah, we have this logo of the seven instincts. We made some swag and you send me your address and I’ll send you a bunch of swag. There’s key chains and stickers.

Sandra Zamalis:

I love my swag.

Dr. Amy Moore:

Game on.

Dr. Sam Goldstein:

I’m happy to send you swag, and I’m happy to send you others other books of ours, if you think they might be helpful, we can talk about that another time.

Sandra Zamalis:

That would be wonderful.

Dr. Amy Moore:

All right, so we are out of time and need to wrap up, but this has been just enlightening and educational, and I’ve really enjoyed our hour with you today. We’ve been talking to Dr. Sam Goldstein, who has promised to come back and talk about other issues. Maybe we’ll have an entire episode on one of your specialties. So if you would like to connect with Dr. Sam and learn more about his work, you can visit samgoldstein.com. We’ll also put his social media handles and link to purchase his book, Tenacity in Children in our show notes.

Dr. Amy Moore:

So thank you so much for listening today. If you liked our show, we would love it if you would leave us a five star rating and review on Apple Podcasts. If you’d rather watch us, this is just a reminder that we are on YouTube, and follow us on social media @thebrainymoms. So look until next time we know you’re busy moms and we’re busy moms, so we are out!

Connect with Dr. Sam Goldstein and learn more about his work:

Websites
www.samgoldstein.com

https://tenacityinchildren.com/

Facebook 
https://www.facebook.com/doctorsamgoldstein

Twitter 
https://twitter.com/DrSamGoldstein 

 

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