Come and Get It!

“Come and get it!” When was the last time your family heard those words?

The case for family meals has always been strong, but with music lessons, ball practice, dance class and work schedules prior to the pandemic it was challenging to sit down and enjoy a meal together. However, as families are staying home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, this is an opportune time to reset our routines.

Incorporating mealtime into your new normal – and making it a family ritual – can be a routine that is reassuring for everyone during this unsettling time. But, there are lots of other reasons to make it a priority.

  • Family meals provide time to plan and connect with one another. It’s the “check in time” you and your kids can count on each day to share information and news of the day and coordinate upcoming activities.
  • Eating family meals builds the moral and emotional foundation of your family. It’s a time to offer support, give extra attention and express your family values to your children.
  • Mealtime offers families the chance to work together as a team. Menu planning, grocery shopping, food preparation and cleaning up after a meal are opportunities for everyone to work together, contribute and have an ownership in the meals.
  • A family who eats together enjoys more nutritious meals, too. Kids eat more fruits and vegetables, more calcium-rich foods and less high-fat, highly sweetened foods. They’re more likely to meet their needs for fiber, iron and vitamin E, too.
  • Children who eat with their families improve their communication skills and build their vocabularies. Even the occasional bickering session among siblings builds communication skills.
  • Children do better in school when they eat more meals with their family. Teenagers who eat dinner four or more times per week with their families have higher academic performance compared with teenagers who eat with their families two or fewer times per week.
  • Family meals provide structure, stability and feelings of belonging. Research shows that five or more family dinners a week are associated with lower rates of smoking, drinking and illegal drug use in adolescents when compared to families that eat together two or fewer times per week. Kids are also less likely to be depressed and less likely to have eating disorders.

It’s time to call the family back to the dinner table and spend quality time together. Here are a few tips for making it happen:

  • Set a goal. Start with having two meals a week together and build from there.
  • Use the weekend to plan menus for the upcoming week’s meals. Keep it simple. Family meals don’t have to be elaborate.
  • Review everyone’s schedule, find out which nights everyone can commit to family meals, follow through and make the meals a priority.
  • Don’t do all the work yourself. Get the family involved. Determine who can do what to help.
  • Take a break every now and then. Pick up take-out or order in. It still counts as quality time spent together.
  • Ban TV and cell phones during meal time and spend at least 20 minutes at the table as a family.
  • Have questions read to ask to initiate conversation at the table. Here are a few to get you started: What is something interesting, fun or difficult you did today? What’s on your mind today? What are the things you are grateful for today? Do you have any questions about what’s going on in the news? What do you want to do tomorrow? How are your friends or classmates doing? What was your best success of the day?

For more ideas and tips on how to pull together regular family meal time, review this FAQ from The Family Dinner Project at 

It’s proven. A family that eats together stays together. Family mealtime is the super glue that binds a family together. Let the words, “Come and get it!”, bring your family back to the dinner table and connect each of you in ways that has long lasting effects for everyone even beyond a pandemic.

P.S. Often I get asked by readers if they can reprint my posts. The answer is, “Yes!”, but please give credit to me as the author (Kathleen Nelson-Simley of KNS Learning Solutions) and kindly email me a copy of the reprint. I really think this is one of those posts you will want to share with your parents, grandparents and other guardians.

This is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

You have likely heard this phrase before as you have begun any number of ambitious tasks: “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

I’ve never run a marathon before (a 5K is my limit), but I have friends who have. I listen to them talk about what they endured while training for a marathon. I hear stories about what it is like to actually run 26.2 miles. The common theme I hear in all their stories is…marathons are hard. Really hard.

The race is a mental rollercoaster. You can feel unstoppable for miles, and then, out of the blue, your legs stop working. You can feel so many highs and lows over a four+ hour time period. At points you are cruising, passing people and smiling, and at other times, you are ready to pull yourself out of the race altogether.

Even though you are exhilarated and filled with pride (and relief!) for crossing the finish line, in the back of your mind, you’re already evaluating what you could have done differently. You think about all of the details you neglected in your training and the mistakes you made in your race.

Whether you realize it or not, you are running in a marathon right now. A pandemic marathon. Unfortunately, you didn’t have the opportunity to adequately train for it and your race has no set finish line. Pacing yourself and reserving all the energy you will need – physically, emotionally and mentally – to finish the race will be important in the days, weeks and months ahead.

Here are some expert tips and ideas to help you stay in the marathon and cross the finish line, not just as a finisher, but also a medalist!

Make time for yourself. Much of the personal time you had as part of your daily routine – commutes, time alone at home or social time with friends – isn’t available right now, especially if you have kids at home. Be intentional about creating space to recharge and decompress. Maybe it’s taking a shower or bath, walking around the block alone (or with your dog), designating time to read or simply zoning out after the kids have gone to bed.

Create a plan. Create a plan for the day or week that you’re in. Ask yourself, what can I accomplish this week? What are some things I can do that would bring me enjoyment? What do I need to care for myself? For my family? Establishing short-term, attainable goals gives you focus and clarity. It gives you something to anticipate and look forward to. It helps you see what is possible and reminds you there are things you can control.

Prioritize healthy choices. The added stress and lack of structure we are all experiencing right now can make it easy to slip into habits that feel good in the moment, but detrimental in the long term. Make sure you are eating properly, getting enough sleep and creating a routine that includes physical activity. This doesn’t mean pressuring yourself to get into tip-top shape, not eating ice cream or binging your favorite shows. It does mean being thoughtful and intentional about how you are treating yourself and your body.

Set boundaries. With 24-hour news channels and social media outlets you have so many sources of information throughout the day that it becomes easy to stay in an activated fight or flight response. This can be exhausting. Set aside times to check news and updates. Set up a buffer before bedtime to ensure healthy sleep. If you have friends or family who only want to talk about the pandemic or anything and everything negative right now, practice some emotional distancing. You can always reconnect when things calm down and the news becomes more positive and optimistic.

Reconnect with things you enjoy. Think proactively of things you can do with your time at home. Get back in touch with hobbies or activities you enjoy, but rarely have time for. Maybe there’s a new skill you would like to learn. What is one thing you have been wanting to do, but could never find time for because you were rushing between work, home, kid’s activities and other obligations? Try it. Do it. Enjoy it.

Be realistic and kind to yourself. Perfectionism and the coronavirus don’t mix. Avoid burnout by setting realistic expectations and giving yourself grace if you can’t meet them. Practice forgiveness and self-compassion. Remind yourself that these are unprecedented times and you won’t have all the answers. There’s no playbook for this. Accept that no one is perfect and you are trying your best. Cut yourself some slack.

When you practice self-care, you are filling your emotional, social and physical tank putting you in a better position to offer comfort and care to others when they need it most. Our children and family members, colleagues, friends or students may need us to help them get to the finish line in their own marathon race. Running the race beside others or stepping out of your own race and being on the sidelines to cheer others on might be what you need to do.

Tomorrow’s free one-time only webinar, “Preventing a Second Pandemic: Mental Health Crisis”, will offer many more tips and ideas on how you can practice self-care and extend care to kids and families during this unprecedented time. Our team of experts from notMYkid will bring a jam-packed hour of solid information and solutions you can immediately apply to your life – both personally and professionally.

The webinar is almost to capacity with limited seats available. If you haven’t registered yet, I highly recommend you do NOW!

A marathon isn’t easy. Roadblocks are inevitable. Some things are out of your control. But, as any marathon runner would advise, it’s better to have a plan and stick to it, than to have no plan at all. Patience, diligence and pushing through the challenges WILL get you to the finish line and the reward at the end will be more than just a medal around your neck.

I look forward to seeing you in tomorrow’s webinar!

P.S. Please forward this post and webinar invitation on to those you love and who are struggling right now with self-care. It may be the best gift you could give them right now.

Preventing a Second Pandemic

I recently saw a meme on Facebook that had been shared by thousands of people. It was a fictional story of a child asking his grandparent, who was a child during the 2020 coronavirus, what that scary time must have been like. The grandparent shares that he doesn’t recall the fear or anxiety, but only remembers that it was a wonderful time at home with his loving family.

Sadly, many families and children across the nation will not think back to this time so fondly. From a loss of employment or cuts in pay, increased stress in relationships, food insecurity, unreported physical/emotional abuse, uptick in substance use, to a loved one’s death without proper closure, the list of damaging stressors goes on for some families.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times in previous blogs, the coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything we have ever experienced. Consequently, there’s no way of knowing what the long-term emotional effects of living through it will really be on families.

One thing we do know, however, is that the incidence of mental health increases when there are traumatic events in our life, especially during childhood. So, let’s be honest. COVID-19 has been a stressful and traumatic experience for ALL of us. We have all been negatively impacted by it in some way or another.

But, unlike many other stressful events in our life, this one is ongoing and open-ended. There is no end point to it. The longer it continues, with little to no light at the end of the tunnel, the more likely stress will build up over time – creating a perfect storm for negative emotional, mental and behavioral reactions from any one of us, including kids. If kids were experiencing an ever-changing crisis with no other red flags, it would be hard enough to manage. But, other factors make the current situation for them even more alarming from a mental health standpoint.

For one thing, the sudden loss of all things normal can be incredibly destabilizing for kids right now. A child’s environment can stabilize his or her life. But an environment filled with uncertainty and drastic departures from routine can leave them reeling and increase emotional distress and behavioral disruption. The lack of structure and normalcy can overwhelm their already-limited coping skills.

The daily support systems many kids depended on to thrive and survive has also been disrupted and disbanded. Peers and adults who served as positive role models, mentors, coaches, cheerleaders and counselors to kids outside of their homes every day are void or limited. An increase number of kids report feeling more isolated and deserted right now leading to added emotional and mental stress.

And, even when kids do return to their daily in-person activities of school, afterschool and other extracurricular activities, the likelihood of existing strict public health protocols could still have an adverse effect on their mental health. Stressors carried into the classroom can impair their learning and developmental growth and make it impossible for them to concentrate and learn during the school day.

The bottom line is…We have to approach our current situation with kids and families differently from other traumatic events because never before have we seen all of these significant risk factors simultaneously and lasting with no end in sight.

For the past month I’ve been writing about the importance of preparing a response to your students’ emotional and mental needs during this time of physical isolation, as well as when they return to your school or community-based program. Anticipating their needs now will better prepare you with a thought out, timely, calming and non-threatening response to their needs.

I promised to offer you opportunities to learn from some of the best national experts who could help you think through and plan for your response. Last week’s webinar on “How to Bring Restorative Practices to Your Students” was one of those opportunities. The response to it was overwhelming – to say the least. Based on the feedback I received, I think I can speak for the hundreds of you who attended the webinar that it was thought-provoking, spot-on and an approach many of you believe is very beneficial to use with your kids.

I am going to offer you another learning opportunity that I believe will be just as eye-opening and timely. I am bringing together some of the best national experts on mental health wellness with kids and families in a free webinar next Thursday, May 21, from Noon-1:00 pm EST.

I am proud to be able to host this webinar for you. It’s a webinar that has been offered nationally in the past few weeks and fills to capacity each time it is held. The panel of speakers featured in the webinar are some of the best in the field when it comes to working with youth and families, having the most up-to-date information on mental health concerns and offering helpful and practical ways you can proactively support families and kids (maybe even your own) on mental health wellness during this pandemic.

Registration will open on Monday, May 17. Contact me to receive the registration information. Register early to ensure your seat because if history repeats itself it will fill up quickly.

When you receive the webinar invite, pass it along to parents and families you serve, colleagues, your own family members or people you know who are worried about someone they love or are personally struggling themselves. We ALL need to be well equipped with the best information so we can best care for ourselves, our loved ones and those we serve. It may just prevent a second pandemic – a mental health crisis.

How Restorative Circles Can Help Students Tell Their Stories

At some point, students will return to school, community-based programs and extra-curricular activities. When they do they will come with many questions, concerns and experiences on their minds and in their hearts. Giving your students the opportunity to tell their stories in an atmosphere of safety, trust, respect and equality will be vitally important.

Restorative practices can cultivate a culture of community in which all your students feel they belong and are seen, heard and respected – increasing the chances they will feel comfortable sharing their stories with you and each other.

Circles are the foundation of restorative practices. Restorative circles proactively build the trust students need to safely risk self-disclosure, authenticity, confrontation, empathy and care. Circles develop the relationships and skills students need to support one another and collectively address the challenges they face.

Circles are exactly what they are called. Students are arranged in a circle shape so that everyone can see every face without having to lean forward.

Sitting in a circle is a fundamentally different experience than sitting in rows or meeting across a desk. When we are in rows there is generally someone standing in front who is commanding our attention. Clearly, this is the person who is in charge and who has the answers and to whom the group is accountable to. When we are meeting with someone who faces us from behind a desk we instinctively know the authority and power belongs to that person.

When we sit in a circle we experience a stronger sense of community. Every person in the circle shares responsibility for its functioning. There is a “leader” in the circle, but each person still takes the lead each time it is their turn to speak.

You can use restorative circles with elementary to high school aged students for a wide variety of purposes, such as relationship development, conflict resolution, healing, support, decision making and information exchange. Depending on your intentions, restorative circles can take shape in two primary ways:

1. Proactive Circle

Proactive circles are preventative in nature and are about giving students the opportunity to get to know each other and establish positive connections, including agreements about how they should treat each other. Proactive circles include community building activities that are facilitated – giving each person the opportunity to speak uninterrupted and be heard by the other members of the group. Proactive circles provide an opportunity for building trust, authentic listening, empathy and conflict resolution skill building.

2. Responsive Circle

Responsive circles are typically utilized after proactive circles have been established and routinely used. Responsive circles address incidents that result in harm, conflict or a change in the community that needs to be addressed. This circle uses specific high-quality questions to explore the impact or effects resulting from a challenging circumstance or event and move toward making things right.

There’s tremendous power in using restorative circles to set things right when there is conflict or harm done. Restorative thinking is a significant shift from punishment-oriented thinking. Students who are invited into restorative dialogue are sometimes confused by the concept of “making things right.” It’s a new concept and approach for many of them. They are most accustomed to punishment being the default response to the question of, “What can we do to make things right?”

It is said that “children learn what they live.” When they learn that problem behavior demands a punishment-oriented response that is how they will live. Restorative practices invite a new and different way of responding to problems, conflicts and harm. Learning this new way is best done by kids personally living it through restorative circles.

In tomorrow’s webinar, “Bringing Restorative Practices to your Students”, Bill Michener will introduce you to restorative practices, including the concept of circles. He has hands-on experience using circles with students in an afterschool program and alternative suspension program, as well as with his own staff. He has trained school districts and juvenile justice systems nationally on using restorative practices, including circles, for the past 4+ years. There isn’t anyone else I have met in my national work that has such a well-rounded experience in using and training restorative practices than Bill Michener. The added bonus Bill will bring to tomorrow’s webinar is his deep understanding, passion and love for kids.

It’s for all these reasons I invite you to join Bill and I in tomorrow’s free one-time only webinar!

Let me leave you with this final thought…You won’t be able to “restore” a community until you have first built it. The longer your students are physically separated from one another the more likely you will need to re-build your community when they are back together again. Creating a new environment for your students where they can safely share their experiences, challenges, feelings and thoughts about living in a pandemic world will be one of the first important tasks at hand for you. Restorative circles can help you not only build this kind of environment for your students, but also sustain it over time. Once you accomplish this, then be ready to listen to your students’ stories.

P.S. Are you interested in watching a re-play of the “Bringing Restorative Practices to Your Students” webinar that was live on May 7? No worries! You can watch the webinar re-play HERE!