Sunday Morning Shout Out

The season is upon us.  Before you think I am talking about the holidays, think again.  I am talking about cold and flu season.  I am talking about the various “’plagues,” that are commonplace in many schools.  There are times when you wish for a bubble for you and your family.  There are times when you can’t get past it.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to shore ourselves up for the cold, flu, and “plague season.”  There are the tried and true tips: frequent hand washing, covering your face and mouth when you sneeze and cough, avoiding direct contact with someone who is sick, avoiding touching your face or eyes -as to avoid transmitting germs and sickness, eating for health-whole foods -as opposed to processed food and junk food, which decrease our bodies’ immune system, lots of rest, exercise, stress management, etc.  The medical community advocates for flu shots being the number one preventative measure a person can take.  Others like Dr Mark Hyman would disagree.  Vitamin C, big kettles of chicken soup, garlic, and a whole host of other more natural remedies are lauded by more holistic folk.  Every family is different in their approach.  Our favorites are airing out the house, frequent hand washing, whole foods, and pre and probiotics.  What are yours?



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Holiday Activities

Holidat Tradition OrnamentSomewhere between Pinterest idyllic and reality, there is what we hope to establish in our home during the holidays.  For many, it is a time of increased togetherness.  The children are off from school and perhaps you are off from work for an extended period of time.  Perhaps you are a stay at home parent and you are always “off.”  Or perhaps, no such luck, you have to work increased hours over the holidays because of the kind of work you do.  Regardless of your exact situation, I am sure that some of what you are hoping for during the holidays is a sense of familial togetherness, fun, new memories; and meaningfulness. –More on that in a moment.

Rest assured, even the plans and holiday idylls that do not go as planned can be of lasting memory.  We still talk of the “Pink Eye Christmas” when we recall memories of Christmas past.  Our daughters had an awesome case of conjunctivitis, that was worsened by an allergic reaction our youngest girl had to eye drops.  She had a distinct resemblance to Rocky Balboa after a hard fight, that Christmas!  We still laugh at the Christmas mouse, from growing up.  As teenagers, my siblings and I had a mouse run across the floor during our Christmas meal.  A fond new memory is from a few years back when our girls received a package of pacifiers or “bobos” from Santa and the Bobo Fairy.  She had come about a year prior, when our daughter gave up her bobo.  This is how they found out their mother was expecting their little brother.

Somewhere between your holiday idylls and the bickering that arises when all the children are home together for an extended period of time; the pulls and demands of time, money, and limited energy reserves; and the unexpected that is all but a guarantee in life, is a chance for some great times together.  The folks at the great website “Parent map” offer 15 great ideas for making the most of your time together during the holidays.  From game nights by the Christmas tree and volunteering as a family to great craft ideas and journaling suggestions for recording the year’s highlights, there are some fantastic suggestions here.  Wishing you togetherness, laughter, fun, new found memories, and meaning this holiday season! Happy Holidays!

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Sunday Morning Shout Out

Sports BanquetA few weekends ago “The New York Times” re ran a great column in their “Motherlode” feature.  In Lisa Hefferman’s column “Our Push for ‘Passion’, and Why It Harms Kids,” Hefferman discusses one of today’s parenting trends, finding your child’s passion.  While best intentions may drive this and it may seem innocent, this modern parenting quest has many potential negative consequences.

Are parents charged with finding their child’s passion?  The best intentioned parent wants their child to find things they are good at and enjoy.  From cheer and hockey, to soccer and dance, we all like seeing our kids do things they enjoy.  We feel pride over their routines, goals, recitals, etc.  This is all so very good and normal.  Yet like many things in childhood and society today, this normal event has become supercharged.  While childhood is a time of exploration, many of today’s parents are looking for a hobby, an instrument, a sport to define their child and give both their child and them purpose, status, etc.  It seems this goes right with the adult sense of being overly busy, as the definition of normal, purposeful, and routine.

As adults, it seem like our “crazy busy” is lamentable, but a crutch that makes us okay in our peers eyes.  If our children aren’t into 25 activities and are allowed to enjoy a slow childhood at home, they are more the exception and sadly the oddball for many.  It also seems like we are often hoping to help our children through their childhood, by defining a piece of who they are early in life.  There’s no doubt that a sense of self, talent, efficacy helps one thrive, but are we the ones who should define this or should it be our children?  While society at large may drive this force, there’s no doubt that visions of college applications years down the road are also part of this phenomenon.  We are told colleges accept students with “passion”.  If they begin at four years-old, we may think we are helping them and ourselves with their collegiate future.

The columnist’s stance and mine are that this is harmful more than helpful for several reasons.  When children work at their “passion” six days a week after school, what about other interests that go undiscovered?  If we have decide soccer is it for them, what about their natural curiosity in bugs, guitar, designing costumes, doing art, etc. etc?  Their time is spoken for because of their “passion,” leaving little room or time for what may be other interests and life’s truer passions.  This drive for passion is expensive and consumes time.  Children naturally have interest in many different things.  If we are to get all the equipment, pay for all the lessons, send them to all the camps for their “passion,” we spend whole lot money on things that can be better spent.  How about saving for college, their future, and our future with some of this money?

There is the other side of the time piece.  Not only are they losing time to find out what truly interests them, they may be losing their childhood.  Children today are overscheduled, overcommitted, and over involved.  There are so many great things that come from unstructured play and more peaceful family time.  As parents, let’s help our children explore their interests.  Yes, passion may come from some of these interests.  But let’s let it be defined by them, instead of us.  Money, time, and childhood are at stake……

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Sunday Morning Shout Out

It’s not easy being a child today.  While this may always have been the case, today’s children live in a hyperactive world.  Between meeting the demands of Common Core and the umpteen activities they do, children can face a great amount of stress.  A normally docile acts out.  An energetic child is sluggish and out of sorts.  These are all ways children show stress.  Fortunately, parents can help their children combat stress in many different ways.

The article “Helping Kids Cope With Stress,” from the “Kids Health” website  offers some great tips to parents.

The first tip is to “notice out loud” when a child seems stressed.  for example, when Johnny seems stressed, put it to words. “Johnny, you seem mad about what happened in gym yesterday” or “Susie, you seem like something is bothering you.”  When parents do this, their concern goes far in helping children feel armored to fight stress.  Children often feel alone and consumed by their stress and worries.  Show them they are not alone and you are there with them.

Along with this, parents should actively listen to their children when they tell us what is wrong, without adding judgment or without rushing them along.  Ask open ended questions to get them talking about their worries.  “Jilly, what is stressing you out?” “Tell me what happened in class.” “What did you do after your coach said that to you?” It then helps to dose them with a great deal of empathy.  This sounds like a no brainer, but in the heat of the moment parents are often at their wits end or flooded with their own feelings-anger, stress, distraction.  Feeling understood and listened to, helps your child feel supported by you.

Parents can also help our children put a label on their feelings and help them think of things to do. Children, especially small children, may lack the words to express their feelings.  This is probably why they start with I have a headache or stomachache, instead of I feel overwhelmed by homework; I am tired; I am upset by all the attention Baby Sammy is getting instead of me, etc.. Early on, children are able to describe a belly ache or a head ache. By helping children identify and label their feelings, parents help them increase their emotional awareness. “Susie, you feel overwhelmed by all the homework you have this year. You’d like more time to play.” “Joey, you are saying you are sad because you miss spending time with me, now that the baby is here.”

After having increased emotional awareness with your child, help them develop an action plan.  Help your child think of what to do when stress arises.  Parents may need to start the brainstorming session, but ask them for their ideas. – When Johnny comes up with ways to deal with not forgetting his homework, that’s pretty powerful stuff. Help him follow through.  Maybe he isolates the problem. His folder never comes off his desk once homework is completed.  He tells you he needs to place it right in the bag, after you check it Of course, right.  When children come up with the solution, they gain confidence and feel empowered.

In the article, parents are reminded that sometimes they just need to listen and help them move on. Sometime, it only takes a sense of being heard, to feel better. Listen and help your child find something fun and relaxing to do.  Do not give a problem more attention than it deserves.  Also, a child may not need to talk about it or want to talk about it.  They just need parent to be there for them and ready to listen if they want to talk to us about it.  Be loving, patient, and present to them.

Lastly, parents may need to actively step in and minimize stress in their children’s lives.  If the morning is pure chaos, what is our role in reducing it?  Does everyone have enough time to get ready? What can be done the night before to make for a smooth morning routine?  Did everyone have a healthy breakfast, to provide them the right nutrition to start the day? Are your children getting enough exercise at home? How about activities? Today’s children need more downtime and less scheduled time.  It will not wreck their college application for them to forgo competitive swimming at seven years-old or five day a week, travel soccer.  Childhood is brief.  By teaching health stress management skills now, parents are helping their children for a lifetime.

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Sunday Morning Shout Out

We all know connection is key to relationships.  Whether we are stay-at-home parents or working parents, the hustle and bustle of day to day living can erode our connection with our children.  When they are not in our presence, they orient themselves to other people, places, and things.  In the article “Staying Connected With Your Child,” Dr. Laura Markham, Ph.D. offers some great tips to reorient them to “planet family” and stay connected to them.

When children are not in our presence, they orient themselves to others or other ideas.  This can include daycare providers, teachers, friends, and/or pop culture, electronics, etc.  If we want to be the principle influence in their lives and parent well, Markham states we need a good connection.  Otherwise, we may be headed for behavioral issues.  She encourages us to think of connections and connecting as preventive maintenance.

Markham offers the following suggestions to connect to our children:

  • Place a premium on relationships in our family. If you place value on connecting with your children, your children will place value on it as well.
  • Acknowledge relationship and separation: It may seem self-evident, but it is important to greet and say good-bye to our children in their presence. These acts are like the bookends in connection.
  • When you reconnect, consciously refocus your attention. It may be tempting to pick up your cell phone when your child walks on the door. It may be hard to not check your Facebook status or avert your eyes from what you are watching on television. You may find it hard not to dwell on the meeting you just left , or the fact that you don’t know what’s for dinner yet. But Markham states that those first few minutes of reconnecting are key and to do it right, you need to put other things completely aside.
  • Until you reconnect, keep distractions to a minimum. Along with what was just said, focus on your child-not your phone, not the television, not the ten other things on your to-do list. For your children, encourage them to reconnect upon returning home. If they come back from a sleep-over, insist they spend time with their family before calling up or texting a friend. Parents, wait to have company until you have connected with your arriving child.
  • Attune to your child’s mood. Markham states that to truly connect, parents need to acclimate to their child’s mood. If your child is in a serious mood, become serious with them.  If your child is silly, become silly with them.  This helps reconnection occur quickly.
  • Connect on their level.  For parents of toddlers and preschooler, reconnecting on their level means literally getting down to their level and have eye-to-eye contact with them.  For older children, this means being in the same room with them.
  • Floor time. Just as we made “floor time,” an important part of our time with our children as babies, Markham says “floor time,” is needed at every age. During this time, our only goal should be to be completely present with our children for a snuggle and talk. This is quality time, not to be used for directing or shuffling them off to somewhere, but listening to what’s on their hearts and mind.
  • Welcome your child’s babyself: Your little person may behave wonderfully at daycare or school, only to “lose it,” upon seeing you. See these emotions for what they are. Your child has been brave enough to get through the demands of the day. In our comfortable presence, they feel free to let down their guard. When the emotions flow like this, hug them, scoop them up, snuggle with them, and let them be their “baby self,” so we can guide them, teach them, and simply be with them.
  • Remember the five to one ratio. Markham reminds us for every poor interaction we have with our children, we need five positive ones to connect with them and sustain a positive relationship. Let the numbers speak and seek to positively connect with your child all the time.
  • Do repair work along with preventative maintenance. Markham says if we are not our children’s supportive base, they will probably seek this from their peers. I f we want our children to have us as their base, we may need to repair it. Maybe you have no idea how to connect with your children or time and daily stressors have left your relationship frayed. By making a conscious effort to address the stress and disrepair, start anew; and connect and reconnect with our children, we can go miles in having a great relationship with our children. Markham’s website is a great place for tips on how this subject, and many other important parenting ones.

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Sunday Morning Shout Out

friendshipEarly friendships are a trademark of childhood.  While they can bring great joy, they can also bring challenge and even great sorrow. In childhood we learn to negotiate this process.  The article “Helping Elementary Schoolers Deal With Social Conflict,” from the PBS Parents website, offers some great tips for children and parents alike.

The experts from this article say that parents should teach their children how to handle social conflicts, rather than solving their problems for them. Here is a brief recap

  1. Expect your child to respect everyone and treat them with non-hurtful behavior, but respect their right to not necessarily like everyone or want to be their best friend.  Respectful behavior means treated classmates civilly.  If a classmate, rather than a friend, comes to your child’s lunch table and says hello or asks a question, civil means your child is expected to say hello back and answer their question.  Civil means no meanness.
  2. Role model the behavior you want to see in your child.  If you want your child to be inclusive, you need to exemplify that by who you talk to at their school or in your life.  If you do not want them to gossip, refrain from this yourself.
  3. Don’t get over invested in their social life or as the article puts it, “dig for pain,” if something bad happens to them socially. Parents often experience two simultaneous things when their child is hurting or in trouble.  It can be very painful to see your child experience pain like this for the first time or to see them inflict pain like this for the first time.  It may also bring up their own pain or bad memories of school.  Additionally, it may put a parent into Mama and Papa Bear form.  This article encourages parents to focus on teaching their children how to handle the issue in a proactive way, to not over analyze it, and not become overly involved.
  4. What can you do then? You can teach them to learn to speak directly.  “Emma, you hurt my feelings when you would not let me sit with you.”  “ Hunter, I am sorry I hurt your feelings when I did not pick you for the game.”  Even at this early stage in the game, you can begin to realize their goals are not necessarily your goals, when it comes to friendships and so many things. Accepting this is important and helping them capitalize on making and reaching good goals on the social front and other fronts -so important. Yet with this, it is important to be open about what you see in friendship dynamics (and your rights as a parent). You can congratulate a behavior in them or a friend or criticize a behavior in them or a friend, without criticizing a friend or them.  For example, it is okay to express disappointment that Suzie did not give out invitations to everyone for her party, but only a select few.  This will help them begin to analyze dicey and good friendship dynamics, by seeing you model this for them. This is different than saying Suzie was so selfish and inconsiderate to not give everyone at school an invitation for her party.
  5. Teaching them to solve problems independently is the ultimate emphasis, and something that can be considered separately.  If your child comes home upset from school or a play date, you can ask them what happened and the following questions: “What did you try?”; “How did it work?”; and “What else could you try?” Give them time to respond to help the answer come from them.  When you do this, it helps parents get out of the routine of always telling their children what to do.

Let’s face it.  We are not always around to tell our children what to do.  We need to equip them with the skills to make good decisions on every front.  When they are equipped, a new behavior takes a hold, along with a sense of confidence and pride.

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Sunday Morning Shout Out

This past month “The Atlantic” ran a great article about a disturbing trend that is occurring across America’s college and universities entitled “The Coddling of the American Mind.”  Authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt looked at how across the nation, college students are looking for emotional protection from words and ideas they don’t like.  In effect, this negates true debate, discussion, and educational takeaways from the classroom, and possibly even increases anxiety around sensitive topics, counter to their aims.  It helps to look at this whole phenomenon more closely , ask what is driving this trend, and why is those damaging to higher education?

Currently colleges and universities can be perceived as places where professors and students are walking around on their educational tiptoes. This is evidenced by professors being asked to not bring up certain terms or discuss certain works of literature, in the event that a student has experienced a trauma around the concept.  For example, the authors give the example of how Harvard law students asked their professors not to discuss rape law, lest a fellow student was raped.  At another university, students suggested that The Great Gatsby not be read, lest some students would be harmed by its portrayal of misogyny and physical abuse.  It is further illustrated by professors being trained to be on alert for microagressions.  These are small words or actions that seem to be innocuous, but are then later thought of as a kind of a violence nonetheless.  Lastly and perhaps so strangely to anyone who went to college and university during a previous time, professors are being told to issue trigger warning or alerts if something they teach in a course may illicit strong emotional response.  Professors are being asked to watch their words and their students words, so no one goes away feeling harmed after class.  The slightest, most accident slight can be met with punishment for them or for a student.  What happened to higher education being a place that scintillated your senses and provoked thought?

The authors state that this trend is being led by students who want protection for their emotional well-being and punishment for anyone who undermines it.  But what has driven this attitude?  The authors discuss that some see this as an outgrowth of political correctness gone too far.  They also speculate that it is a generation who is use to such protection across the board, often having helicopter parents that did the “protecting,” prior to college and university (and may still do so).  They point to the great and increasing tides of political polarization that characterize are country right now.  When people of disparate viewpoints are in the same space, there is often verbal sparring.  But there is also downright hostility.  They discuss how college students today are not just digital natives, but what they call “social media natives,” and how this sense of power and voice from online forums, Facebook and the like, have help change the power structure between professors and students, giving students the upper hand.  They suggest that some individuals’ interpretations of US Federal antidiscrimination laws may make them feel more discriminated against or harmed by words than in any other generation.  Lastly, they point to the increased rates of self-reported anxiety on college campuses and how campuses in some ways really are becoming more emotionally vulnerable places.

These events are of course damaging to higher education.  When the exchange of ideas is limited, so is the degree of learning that occurs.  When we demonize the discussion and exploration of controversial topics, we diminish what can be gained by discussion and insight.  This may also serve to increase the serving of anxiety and depression that those who do not want to discuss these issues face, by creating a large, general uneasiness about the subject in general.  It also contribute to a general overall hostility on campuses when there is anxiety and disagreement over what should be discussed –what’s appropriate, and what might “harm” students as they learn. In my estimate, we are going backwards rather than forwards here.

The authors argue that Department of Education should release colleges and universities from the fear of unreasonable investigation and sanctions by applying the Davis Standard for discrimination cases.  This basically asks colleges and universities to show a long entrenched pattern of harassment and discrimination, as opposed to one offense, that interferes with a student’s ability to access education.  They implore colleges and universities to do everything possible to balance of freedom of speech, while making every student feel welcome.  They say they must abolish the use of trigger warnings across campuses and borrow a quote from the American Association of University Professors who call this a threat to intellect challenge and both “infantilizing and anti-intellectual.”  Lastly, they state while there is great value to teaching culturally sensitivity on college campuses, there is also great need to teach students what to do when other individuals’ thoughts conflict with their own.

Lukianoff and  Haidt state that by teaching tenets of cognitive behavior therapy a student learns to look at something that angered them, how their thoughts might be distorted around the issue, and applying “evidence” to counter their distortions, they can then look at their beliefs and feelings more concretely and fully.  This would go far in reducing anxiety, intolerance, and hostility that runs high and sweeps fast on many campuses.  Difference of course is present beyond colleges and universities, and is part of work, community, and political life.  How better off we would all be if we accept these differences, allow meaningful debate, fully examine issues, even if we disagree with all their sides, and truly discuss, debate, and learn.  Fear breeds further fear, anxiety, misguided feeling…not learning…. Fear and learning such as this translates to a great damage to our higher learning, the workplace, community, and democracy at large!

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