Tips for the new school year

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For parents and kids alike, the new school year can be exciting and full of new opportunities. It can also be a source of stress and frustration. Parents are inundated with papers to complete and return, upcoming events to record, check writing, meetings, coordinating schedules and rides, after-school activities, etc. For students, it can elicit feelings about being successful, accepted, supported, and safe, popularity and fitting in, with who will they eat lunch or what will they eat, what to wear, how will they get to school, etc.  The lists are never-ending.

IF you are a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of parent and IF that works for you AND your kids, then great. You can stop reading now. For the rest of us…I hope you find something that will help you with the summer-to-school transition.

So what can parents do to help minimize all this emotion?

  1. Acknowledge it. First, we have to take our heads out of the beach sand for a moment and realize that this is a transition and it is coming up quickly. Also acknowledge this transition can be hard on us and our kids. Ignoring it won’t make it so.
  2. Prepare your mind. Make a list of all the things you know will be changing and coming your way. Get it out of your head and onto paper. This may help to relieve the internal mental churnings and allow you to observe the list and think about possible solutions for each item. For example…
    • If you know that the paperwork trail is overwhelming to you….maybe you can think about creating a place for all school forms to go so they don’t get lost.
    • Or if you know that the busy schedule gets you stressed, plan to take a little time each day to relax or exercise or do some other actviity that helps you reduce that stress so you can be more present and positive.
  3. Sleep. I don’t know about you but our sleeping patterns change in the summer: later nights lead to later, slower mornings. Decide whether you need to start going to bed and getting up a little earlier each day as you get closer to that first day of school OR will you bite the bullet and just get up early for that first day, struggle for a few days/weeks and let your body adjust to the new routine? Whatever works for you, but make the choice.
  4. Healthy Meal Planning. The new school year may also bring changes and challenges to meal planning. You can do a little prep work here too.
    1. Think about what worked in the past.
    2. Research and save recipes and meal ideas that are healthy easy, and quick in a file or on pinterest for easy access.
    3. Use a whiteboard to write the meal options/ideas for the week
    4. Create a snack bin
    5. Put out veggies (and fruit) after school. Kids will pick at it as they walk by.
    6. School lunch… discuss with your kdis about making healthy choices
    7. Bag lunch…. find creative and healthy options so they don’t get bored.
    8. Share dinner time responsibilities. This is great if you have older kids but younger kids can help out too.
  5. School supplies. Getting all those supplies can be expensive and stressful for some. My daughter loves shopping and organzing her supplies, my son hates it. Here are some things we do…
    1. Make a organized list.
    2. Get in a mindset of fun
    3. Get creative…my daughter likes to color coordinate classes. The best part is that it helps with organization all year long.
    4. Re-use…whether it’s from last year or a hand-me-down, if it’s in good shape why buy more?
    5. Set your priorities… what is more important to you? time or money? Shop accordingly.
    6. If you are able, buy backpacks and supplies for local children who cannot afford it.
  6. Homework.  It’s coming, why not prepare for it. Create a space that is welcoming and conducive for homework…quiet, well-lit, distraction-free, and comfortable.  Allow your kids to help create and decorate the space.
  7. Visualize a great year. What does it look like? What does your student want out of this year? Talk about it and set some goals. Create a vision board or a sign to serve as a reminder and motivator.
  8. Talk about fears and anxieties. Discuss steps that can be taken to reduce the anxiety so your student can feel more in control and prepared. Also make sure perspectives and expectations are realistic. Help your children develop tools to handle real life. Plus, always get professional help when needed. Here are some other ideas to consider…aikido blog
    • exercise routine
    • tutoring
    • school guidance or other services
    • academic coaching
    • therapists
    • health and lifestyle coaching
    • activites and interests outside of school

What do you do to help with the school year transition?

please share your ideas

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You are a good mom

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This week I met with a friend for coffee. During our time together, we began talking about our kids, like any mother eventually does. Her kids are much younger than mine, so her stories brought back old memories…both good and “bad”.

In the telling of her stories, I could see in her eyes: joy, fear, guilt, frustration, anger, hope, confusion, love…all those emotions our children elicit from us on a daily basis. It reminded me of a time when a stranger made me cry.

Many moons ago, I took Jordan to lunch at Applebee’s after picking her up from preschool.

NOTE: I was a fairly new mom and parenting didn’t always feel natural for me. I struggled emotionally.  I was a task-master. I loved working and struggled with being a stay at home mom. I did (and still do) not like to be uncomfortable, physically or mentally. To me, obstacles need to be overcome, a solution to be found. Well, in parenting all of these traits can be counter-intuitive and make parenting (and life) that much harder. My true person has not changed but I worked really hard to adjust my mindset and grow into being a better, more balanced parent. and, by the way, I am still working on these traits so I can be more accepting and present.

So, we are at Applebee’s. I am sure I encouraged 3-year-old Jordan to order for herself, we were playing games, and/or I was asking her questions and showing genuine interest in her and her day. I know I was praising her for actions and behaviors (I love psychology so THAT I knew to do).  I don’t really remember all the nitty-gritty details. But a man came over to our table and said to me “YOU are a good mom.”

Even now, as I hear that memory in my head, I cry. How nice it was to hear a kind word from a stranger who had no ulterior motive or any pressure to do so. It is not very often someone compliments us. When that compliment is about something you feel so in adequate or insecure about, it makes it that much more meaningful and emotional. Mothers are rarely complimented. Shamed, yes. Judged, yes. Praised? Hardly ever.

The memory of this kind man is one of the most important memories I hold onto. It helps me through hard times with my kids. It reminds me that I do have some natural parenting skills or instincts. It is the kindness I need, when no one else is offering it.

I didn’t get a chance to tell my friend what a good job she was doing with her children (and she truly is). She is a natural mother, although it may not always feel that way to her. So I sent her an email and explained to her what I observed in our conversation and told her that she was a good mother. She seemed very appreciative. I know she will hold onto those words in tough times. They will help her build self-trust.  I know this because I have been there. I am still there.

It is SO important to be kind and give words of encouragement and positive feedback, to our friends, family, co-workers, even strangers; maybe especially strangers. None of us hears it enough. We get plenty of judgement, name-calling, put-downs, and negative feedback. Hell, check out social media if you don’t believe me. But in real life there is not enough encouragement, empathy, and kindness.

On the flip side, giving a compliment can bring up some deep-seated emotions. I know I got emotional when I told my friend she was a good mom. When I want to say “thank you” to a soldier, I get so emotional that I can’t get the words out. I know their family’s pain and the sacrifice they made. I grew up with it, so it brings up some strong feelings from my childhood. One day I will find a way to get the words out. For some people, this type of emotion is scary and something they avoid at all costs. But in the end, you both will feel better. It is a win-win.

So if you see someone doing a good job, tell them. If you see a mom being a good mom, tell her. If you see a mom struggling , be supportive maybe give her a compliment on what she is doing well. It will help her more than you ever know.

Compliments are good for the soul for both the giver and the receiver.

Why not make a committment to compliment one stranger this week?

See how it goes.

I would love to hear your story and I am sure others would to.

 

The Case for Coaching Teens

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Many people ask why I am focused on coaching teenagers. My answer is easy. I like teens, their energy and outlook on life, and I want to see them be successful. To me, they are mini-adults with a zest for life! I gain as much from them as much as they learn from me.

High school students are under an enormous amount of stress to perform by teachers, parents, colleges, coaches, peers, and themselves, and yet, many do not have the emotional tools to handle the level of stress they are experiencing. For these students, developing resiliency and a growth mindset is very important so they can interpret mistakes as opportunities, instead of fearing them or considering them failures.

I recently attended a seminar with Suniya Luthar, PhD, whose “research involves vulnerability and resilience among various populations including youth in poverty, children in families affected by mental illness, and teens in upper-middle class families”. She reports that a caring adult relationship is a strong protective factor for drug and alcohol misuse in high school students. This is consistent with the messages I learned in my teacher-training program and the experiences I had as a teacher.

In many cases, health and wellness (or lifestyle) coaching can provide that supportive relationship, while helping this population achieve their personal goals. Parents and teachers tend to be in an authoritative position, but coaches are not and therefore receive less resistance.

Coaches have no motives other than to support our clients and help them overcome obstacles and find success. We do not tell our clients what to do; we help them find what works best for them. This is powerful for an emerging adult, who wants independence but needs more tools, experience, and confidence making decisions, asking questions, and reflecting on their learning.

Kids do well if they can.  Provide the tools and the support and watch them flourish!

 

Meeting Zelda

“Zelda is a Storyteller,
Drum and Rattle Maker,
Creator of Personal Shields,
Keeper of the Ancestor Doll and Creator of the
Sacred Dream Circles.”

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This week my friends and I went to Circles of Wisdom in Andover, MA because there was a native american artist displaying and selling her creations, Zelda Hotaling. What was just a fun trip to check out rattles, drums, and dream catchers on Saturday afternoon, turned into a personal journey and connection to a wise mother and the importance of friendship.

Zelda was the jovial, beautiful woman with long hair, blue eyes, and a deep connection to her purpose in life.  Once we got talking to her, we couldn’t stop. She told us cool stories about the events that led up to her retirement and the creation of her 7 foot Sacred Dream Circles, something she usually gets paid to do.

Each of us was drawn to an item in her store and because it was the day before Father’ssign
Day, we decided to buy these items for our respective husbands. We asked about each item and she gave us a story and a suggestion for its use. HOWEVER, she told us they were NOT for our husbands they were ours and we needed to stop giving ourselves away.  (ain’t that the truth)

 

Each time we would be ready to leave, something or some comment, would bring us back to Zelda. She showed us how to give a massage with her shell rattles and we had a ceremonial singing circle with drums, rattles, and a very special turkey feather.

The most special gift she gave to each of us was a comment. Apparently, out of the blue, she would make a statement, either out loud or quietly in one’s ear, that was exactly what that person needed at that time. It was like she could read our deepest needs and then gave us the gift of healing. Without going into private details…it was amazing for each of us. Many tears fell that day.

When we left, after promising to come visit Zelda’s Sacred Dream Circles and have a girls weekend at her place, we all just looked at each other and hugged and laughed in the hall. What a gift this day turned out to be. We lost time in that space with Zelda…3 hours had passed since we walked in.

There are so many wonderful people and beautiful teachings in this world. I was so glad to have been able to share this experience with my friends. I think Zelda was as drawn to us as we were to her.

Had I gone there alone I probably wouldn’t have talked to Zelda as much; not because I wouldn’t want to, but because I tend to get shy and reserved in new experiences. I wouldn’t want to bother her (but that’s another issue). I sink into the background and observe….soaking it in. With my friends, I was pulled in and benefited from their adventurous personalities. I definitely learned that I could be a little more outgoing in these situations. I also know to honor myself and, if that is who I am, so be it.

Doing this with friends was so much more fun than alone anyway.

Maybe THAT was the real lesson.

 

 

Kids Do Well If They Can

I am not going to write much on this but I was having a discussion with a friend about kids behaviors and this article came to mind. I studied it in my teacher training program and I put it into practice when I was teaching. It is such a great thing to keep in mind…

KIDS DO WELL IF THEY CAN

It is NOT kids do well if they try.  Think about it, it is easier to be bad than to feel stupid.

 Here is the article written by Ross Greene, PhD kids_do_well_if_they_can

This video also addresses this…he has many more but this is a good starting place.

Caring Relationship

Caring Relationships….are one the best protective factors for children who the face the high pressures and demands of parents, school officials, and society.

Boston Calling

I recently attended a talk by Suniya Luthar, Foundation Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University and Professor Emerita at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Dr Luthar has spent years studying resilience and vulnerability in children from many different populations.

The consistent message is that those children who have a positive caring relationship with a parent, teacher, or any adult have a higher resilience, less depression/anxiety and less destructive behaviors. Certainly there are other factors and just having a caring parent does not guarantee your child will never do drugs or have a bought of depression but it does make the case that we, as adults, need to do more to demonstrate how much we care, speak more kindly, ask how we can help, and reduce our criticisms and unreasonable expectations of our children.

This is also a call to educators to reach out and practice compassion, empathy, and non-violent communication. Ask your students how you can help. Reach out to a student who seems withdrawn or one whose grades are decreasing. Sometimes just saying ” I notice you have been quiet, how can I help?” Letting them know you care could make a HUGE difference in their lives. I have experienced the power of those words and how they can truly turn a student’s behavior around if they feel supported and know that you want to help them…that all is not lost.

Dr Luthar also explained that “bad” comments have a much greater effect on children than “good” comments. So it takes 3 positive comments to balance out the negative effects of 1 critical remark.

As parents, it is so easy to constantly harp on grades, chores, room cleaning, etc…that we forget that this constant nagging can be detrimental to the child and our relationship. I would suggest that we learn to change HOW we say things.

At the Parker School, where I taught last year, we always started our feedback with warm feedback (positive) then transitioned to cool feedback. Even then the cool feedback was discussed in such a way that the student or fellow teacher felt supported and not attacked or criticized.

Recently, I have tried to back off the nagging of grades with my son. He felt that I was constantly criticizing him because I was addressing some chronic low performance. A friend suggested I back off and I did. When I did address it, I put my “coach” hat on and tried to ask questions and give him choices. I asked how I could help and when he was going to speak to his teachers instead of telling him what to do. Same outcome…different emotional triggers.

I think my new stance is working better. We have less outbursts, fewer fights and he has admitted to not putting in the effort he should… which is a HUGE step. It doesn’t mean he is going to change right now but the admission in a calm manner was progress. Baby steps!

Dr Luthar has TONS of articles and research on her website. I highly suggest you check it out.

We don’t have to be the bad guy in our kids’ lives and we don’t have to bully them to get them to do what we want or to do what they need to do.  Helping them rebound from mistakes is huge. Remind them that mistakes are learning lessons and we can always make a fresh start.

Say…

“I Love You”

” I am here for you”

“How can I help?”

“What do you need me to do?”

“Tomorrow is a new day”

“I’m sorry. I was wrong.”

Remember, no parent is perfect. YOU are NOT perfect. We ALL have something we could be doing better; some way that we can also grow and make progress. Life is a journey. Don’t stop evolving!

 

Happy Parenting!

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Character

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we stand behind you

This week my daughter had to make some tough decisions. Her hockey team expected her, her softball team had expectations for her,  I was harassing her, and who knows what else was vying for her immediate attention.  Everyone had an opinion of what she should do and everyone felt they should be a top priority.  How could she possibly make everyone happy, including herself?  She can’t. How did she handle it….with grace, maturity, and integrity.

No one, but my daughter, knew or even considered that she may be in a tough position. None of us took into consideration that she had more going on than we knew about.  I didn’t ask her and I didn’t respect her decision (not sure if anyone else did either). While the judgements poured in (from me), she stood her ground. She made a decision and she stuck with it.  She did the best she could given the circumstances. In the end, she exhibited the confidence and internal strength to stand up and say…

“You dont know what I am dealing with at the moment nor do you know all of my commitments. No matter what others are saying, they do not know either….Start trying to be fair and understand that I have reasons for things that I decide to do. Let me express my values and character instead of chosing it for me.”

I was stumped…and in awe.  This is what we have raised her to be. Someone who can make decisions that are right for her and not because of being pressured and judged by others. She is willing to take responsibility for her actions. She is defining herself. She is handling the pressures and the expectations of being a multi-sport athlete in a highly demanding academic environment.  On top of all of that,  She has integrity, grit, empathy, and a strong sense of what is right. What else could I possibly ask for?

Who cares what others think? They don’t know the whole story and really it’s none of their business.  We should all be trusted to make our own decisions since we are the ones who will have to live with the consequences.  Isn’t this inner strength the key to fighting peer pressure.

As an adult, I have been in this position as I am sure many of you have.  It’s so important to feel like you have choices and that you know what’s best for you; no matter what others say about you. Don’t worry about what others think. Their judgement means nothing in the grand scheme of life. On the same hand, do not judge others who may not agree with you or don’t make the same decisions as you. It is a two-way street of trust, respect, and empathy.

Life does not come wrapped with a pretty bow. It’s messy. Each mess is unique. Let each person have their journey.

So…

Be careful how you judge.

You may not know the whole story.

So to my daughter, I am sorry I didn’t trust you to make the right decision. I know you will do what’s right and I know you will make mistakes. That’s life. That is part of learning. Thank you for reminding me of that.   🙂

 

 

What do you need from me?

This week I was attended the Coalition for Essential Schools Fall Forum in Portland, Maine. As an emerging teacher in the progressive teaching movement, I was delighted to be able to learn from, and meet, some incredible people who are truly making a difference in education reform and, more importantly, in the lives of children.

One session I attended was titled “Unconditional Positive Regard: How to Radically Care About Your Students”. This seminar was led by Alex Shevrin of the Centerpoint School in South Burlington, VT.  Not only was the topic important to me but Alex led the class in an engaging way that is consistent with how I am learning to teach. Now I, the teacher, was the student and I could see the benefit in how I am leading my lessons. Some seminars followed the lecture approach and I was bored or inattentive. Alex’s class was refreshing and engaging. But I digress.

There is no way to share all that we discussed and learned but I did come away with a very important phrase or sentence….What do you need from me? This simple, yet powerful, sentence, offered by a high school student who was also attending this seminar, has become a part of my daily vernacular.

For example…

  • from teacher to student: What do you need from me to accomplish this assignment?
  • from parent to child: What do you need from me to be better organized?
  • from friend to friend: What do you need from me to help you get through this rough time?
  • from a corporate to employees: What do you need from me to be efficient, effective, and/or successful in your role?

I think “What do you need from me?” provides four things:

  1. It allows or provides the space for the student, or the person in need, to self-advocate and to be given permission to think about their needs and how they would like to solve their own problem(s). It helps teach thinking, self-reflection, and problem-solving strategies.
  2. It requires this same person in need to accept some responsibility for their needs. By asking someone in need this question, it expects them to work on problem solving instead of passively expecting others to think for them or to fix the problem for them. This can be a powerful skill and one that not everyone has mastered.
  3. This question requires the teacher (or the parent or friend) to accept some responsibility to help. As a teacher, I feel this question holds me responsible to help the student based on their needs, not mine. By asking, I am communicating that I know I am a piece of the puzzle and have some part to play in this matter.
  4. It also communicates that I am not going to tell you what you need nor am I going to guess what you need. That would be presumptuous on my part. We can work together on this.
  5. Finally, this phrase lets the person know you care. It says “I care. I want to help. Tell me how I can help you. Tell me how I can help you in a way that is meaningful.”

Such as simple question but it exudes so much meaning. Try it…

So…What do you need from me?

Is nice always nice?

Very nice girls getting their "don't mess with me" on

Very nice girls getting their “don’t mess with me” on.

When is being nice, not nice?

The other day I asked a group of students “What are your greatest strengths?”  I did not expect profound answers; I know that they are still figuring things out. What struck me was the difference in answers between boys and girls.

The boys answered with words describing sports, abilities, and inner strengths. The girls answered “nice” and “polite”. When I first saw this, my heart sank. It is not that I don’t value being nice and polite, I think they are very important traits. I totally think we need more nice in the world. But many times girls and women are nice/polite to gain acceptance and they give themselves away. They are not incorporating into their self-awareness that they need to be nice and polite to themselves. If they are putting others feelings first and putting themselves and their own needs second, that is not a good thing.

Where do they get this? Why the difference? Remember the old saying “Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, that’s what little boys are made of”. Boys are made of adventure, fun, play, and distraction. “Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of.” Girls are nice, polte, sweet, and pretty. Hmmm? Truly, I should not have been surprised…it was typical of traditional gender roles.

Many families and cultures still hold these gender stereotypes as the norm. They do not value the girls for what they can accomplish, they value girls for how they make themselves and others feel. This is especially true in male-dominated cultures/societies. This is sad to me that in 2016, some girls are still not being raised to identify and honor their natural, inner strengths. Ask my daughter what her strengths are and she may never shut up…but that’s a whole ‘nother issue.  🙂

It is important to let all of our children know that they have strengths and weaknesses. It’s normal and it’s what makes each of us unique. They do not have to be perfect. No one is perfect. Teach them to honor and use their strengths. It’s okay to have weaknesses, they can work on them, but they don’t need to be identified by them. In order to teach them not to compare themselves to others, we must model that behavior. We must honor and love ourselves if we want them to love and honor themselves. We should also encourage them to find their passions, their strengths, their hearts.

Also, we need to make sure that we are not looking for our self worth from others. We will be sorely disappointed. We must find our worth in ourselves. We will never find happiness in someone else, that comes from within and manifests in our actions, thoughts, and words.

On top of this, we must all learn how to set up healthy boundaries with friends, family, and co-workers. It is important to balance our needs with the needs of others. Doing for others, without regard for our own health and life, can lead to negative consequences like depression and low self-esteem.  It allows others to take advantage of us and our good nature. Some people will take advantage of others on purpose, while other people may not realize they are doing it. Boundaries allow us to establish clear definitions of behaviors that we find acceptable, actions we are comfortable with, and that our time and energy are of equal importance.

Want to read more about this? Before I started writing my blog, this article presented itself to me.”Being Too Nice Can Contribute to Depression

So at the end of the day, I was hoping the students would look at themselves to see what they are good at.  I wish I could go back and tell the girls that I saw creativity, artistry, storytellers, strong-wills, outgoing personalities, great fashion sense, inner strength, risk-taking, compassion, and good communication skills.

I hope they see these things too.