Are You “Winging It?”

One of the biggest challenges I have had to overcome as a blogger is knowing what to write about every week. I value my followers, like you, and I want to write about what is important to you and the work you do with kids and families.

In my early days of blogging I discovered the importance of having a well thought out plan. At the beginning of every new year, I strategically plan what my blog topics will be every week in the coming year. The process starts with brainstorming at least 52+ topic ideas, writing each one on a sticky note and plastering them on my office wall. Then, the hard part begins – choosing the final 52 topics and arranging each one by the week it will be featured.

Like all previous years, this is how 2020 started for me. I had my weekly blogging plan and was faithfully following it every week…until…the coronavirus hit in mid-March. I remember sitting at my computer on Monday, March 16, and staring at the screen for what seemed liked hours without typing one word.

For the previous six weeks I had written about the most effective strategies research recommended to delay the onset of risky behaviors with middle school students. I had already written about four of the five strategies – idealism, normative beliefs, personal commitment and parent/adult attention – and was scheduled to write about the final and fifth strategy – bonding. I ended up not writing anything on that Monday. I didn’t write anything on Tuesday, March 17, either. Then, on Wednesday, March 18, the day I was scheduled to post my blog, I forced myself to sit down at my computer and start typing. The post ended up being titled, Shake Up.”

In the blog post I somehow found a way to write about my scheduled topic of “bonding” while also linking it to what was going on in the world at the time. However, that was the last topic I wrote about that was in my original plan for 2020.

Recently, I went back to re-read the blog posts I have written since March 18. When I read the posts the three weeks following March 18 it brought back memories of the stress, anxiety and confusion I was experiencing at the time. I remember “winging it” when it came to writing my blog. I had no plan from one week to the next and found myself floundering and reacting to what was currently happening in the world. But, in hindsight, it’s of no surprise. We were all “winging it” at that time.

Fast forward to April 22 and things began to change. I began to get more clarity and focus. The future was by no means crystal clear, but it was becoming more obvious that COVID-19 was going to stick around long-term, closures were going to last for months, “going back to normal” was now history and physical isolation and sheltering at home would take its toll on kids and families.

I had a renewed vision for how I could respond and it required me to make changes, explore new options, learn new information and step outside of my comfort zone. I put the original blog plan for 2020 aside and committed to creating a new plan. Out came the sticky notes again and a new schedule was created on my office walls.

I was no longer “winging it” when it came to writing every week. I had a plan and I was writing again with an intention and a purpose. And, it all started with my blog post, Will You Respond or React, on April 22. Here is an excerpt from that post:“Anticipating and preparing for the issues and needs kids and parents will have when they walk through your doors again is one of the most important things you can be doing right now. Now is the time to get yourself, your staff and your organization ready to respond. If you don’t think or plan ahead now, you will find yourself in a state of reaction later. What you do in the days and weeks to come will determine whether you respond or react. Take time to learn all you can about the immediate and long-lasting effects living through this pandemic can have on kids. Stretch the limits of your abilities and engage in learning new methods and skills that will better serve your students and families. Push the boundaries of your creative capacities and “think outside the box” when it comes to new programs, curricula and services you may need to offer. Be ready to re-think, re-learn, re-evaluate, re-flect, re-invest and re-spond.”

Ten weeks have passed since this blog was written. During this time, I’ve written ten new blog posts and hosted three webinars with the intention of helping you anticipate the needs of your kids when they return to your school or organization and developing a plan on how you will respond to those needs.

As I wrote in my April 22 post, “What you do in the days and weeks to come will determine whether you respond or react.”

So, I must ask…What have you done these past ten weeks to prepare for your kids? The time is getting closer, or perhaps it’s come already, for the day when you will be reunited with your kids either in-person or virtual. Is your response plan ready?

If there’s one thing I have learned since March 18, it’s the importance of having a plan – even if it’s a revised plan. I’m reminded of this every day as I look at my wall of sticky notes and each week a new blog post is written. Today, I remove another sticky note after I publish this blog post, asking…

Giving you ALL my best,

Kathleen

P.S. If you’re wondering how you can address the multiple needs your kids will have because of COVID-19 in the most cost-efficient and effective way, tune in to next Thursday’s free webinar at Noon EST. Registration opens on Monday, July 6. Message me if you would like to receive the webinar invitation.

P.S.S. I will also be hosting Part 2 of the webinar, “How to Bring Restorative Practices to Your Students”, with national trainer, Bill Michener, on Thursday, July 23, at Noon EST. I’m currently looking for guest panelists for the webinar who have successfully integrated restorative practices into their work with kids. Might this be you? Message me!

The Best “Welcome Back” Gift You Can Give

Do kids experience trauma? Can the effects be long-lasting? Can trauma be treated? Can kids be happy again after experiencing trauma? The answer to all of these questions is, “Yes”!

Trauma is actually quite common among kids. In a groundbreaking research project called, The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied over 17,000 participants in the San Deigo, CA, area. Participants were given a questionnaire asking if they had experienced any difficult childhood events, such as a death in the family, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, parent imprisonment or similar events. Surprisingly, this study found that over 50% of all kids experience at least one traumatic event before the age of 17! It’s important to note that the study was conducted on primarily white, middle-class participants. In areas where there are high amounts of crime, poverty, or drugs, the incidence of trauma in kids can be as high as 100%!

I have to wonder then…If we surveyed ALL elementary, middle school and high school aged students today, what percentage of them would report having already experienced a traumatic event in their life?

I think the percentage would be much higher than 50%. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was close to 100%.

Why wouldn’t this surprise me? Because we are ALL experiencing life with COVID-19.

A traumatic event can be defined as exposure to actual or threatened injury or death. COVID-19 is all of that – for all of us – even kids. COVID-19 has threatened our sense of security, safety and life.

Any experience can be traumatic when it triggers a stress response and is difficult to understand, process or cope with. The COVID-19 pandemic exasperated stressors already present in families, as well as created new stressors where none existed previously. Families have been struggling with so many uncertainties. Will I keep my job? Where will the next meal come from? Will we have enough money for the next rent or mortgage payment? How can I access and afford healthcare if I need it?

Sometimes we tend to think of trauma as a single event. However, for some kids, trauma can be recurring, such as being bullied day after day, witnessing frequent intense arguments, experiencing abuse in the home or seeing repeated violence in their neighborhood, the media or online. With families sheltering at home 24/7 for months, it has been almost impossible for some kids to escape the recurring traumatic events happening within their home.

As you prepare to welcome kids back to your school or organization you should expect each of them to be in a different stage of recovery from the traumatic experience of living with COVID-19. All of us respond to trauma in different ways.

Many of us show resilience and won’t develop long-term emotional, mental or physical problems after experiencing a traumatic event. Some of your kids will not have succumbed to the traumatic experiences, risks or hardships of COVID-19.

There will be other kids whose traumatic experience with COVID-19 will diminish greatly the minute they walk through your doors and into an environment of familiarity, structure, safety and support. However, there will also be kids walking through the same doors who will bring traumatic experiences from COVID-19 with them.

Having a trauma-sensitive environment or community your kids walk into on the first day and every day thereafter is so important. A trauma-sensitive community helps kids overcome negative feelings of a traumatic experience and diminishes the severity of it long term.

Trauma can cause feelings of disconnection for kids and it can undermine their overall success. Creating a trauma-sensitive community in which all your kids feel safe, welcomed and supported is important and requires you to build it on the following principles:

  • Trustworthiness and transparency
  • Peer support and mutual self-help
  • Collaboration and mutuality
  • Empowerment, voice and choice
  • Consideration, recognition and provision for cultural, historical and gender issues

Creating this kind of a community doesn’t happen quickly or easily. It requires care, commitment, collaboration and consistency by everyone in your organization. It is critical that kids feel safe and connected in all parts of your organization and not just in one program or with one teacher or staff person.

What kind of a community will your kids walk into when they come through your doors again? Will they feel safe, welcomed and supported by everyone in your organization? Welcoming your kids back to a trauma-sensitive community is one of the best “welcome back” gifts you can give all of them. It’s also one of the best gifts your organization can invest in.

Giving you ALL my best,

Kathleen

P.S. How Trauma-Informed Schools Help Every Student Succeed is a great article about what being a trauma-sensitive and informed school/organization means and requires. I encourage you to give it a read. Note in the article how integral restorative practices are to any trauma-sensitive approach. If you didn’t attend the webinar, Bringing Restorative Practices to Your Students, I hosted in April you will want to watch the replay of it. I would also recommend you reach out to the webinar presenter, Bill Michener, the national independent licensed trainer of restorative practices, to discuss how you can incorporate restorative practices into your trauma-sensitive community.

How Well Would You Pass the Test

If you were asked to identify up to 14 different vaping devices hidden in plain sight among a classroom of students, how confident are you that you could identify all of them? Would you know what to look for?

When you read or hear that kids have new ways to hide their vaping habits anywhere they go, including in school, at home, in public places, it’s true. Kids are vaping in plain sight and most adults don’t even know it.

If you are a parent who has been sheltering at home with a middle or high schooler these past months, vaping could be happening right under your roof without you even realizing it. If you are a teacher, coach, youth worker or anyone who engages with adolescents, you could also be unaware of the vaping that is taking place right in front of you.

I’m hosting a free webinar tomorrow from Noon-1:15 pm EST, called, “Youth, Vaping & E-Cigarettes: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.

If you’re wondering if it would be worth your valuable time or you will learn anything new by registering for the webinar, I highly encourage you to take this test to help you make your decision…

The Today Show on NBC featured a story last October where they put parents and teachers to the test to see if they could find vaping devices that were in plain sight among a classroom of high school students. Take a moment to watch the featured story by clicking on the image below and see how many of the hidden devices you are able to identify.

So, how many of the hidden devices were you able to identify? Did you do “as well” as the parents and the teachers did in the story? If so, then maybe your decision as to whether you should register for tomorrow’s webinar on youth and vaping has been made.

I look forward to seeing you in the webinar.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Every January I turn to the Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey results to see what the national trends were with adolescent substance use over the past year. Since 1975, the MTF study has been conducted annually by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

I’ve seen a lot of trends with different substances over the past 30+ years of reviewing MTF studies – trends that primarily showed a decrease in use while other trends raised some concerns.

This past January I read the summary of the 2019 MTF survey which involved about 42,500 students in 8th, 10th and 12th grades enrolled in 396 secondary schools nationwide. I was a bit more prepared for the 2019 results than when I read the 2018 report a year earlier. From 2017 to 2018, increases in adolescent vaping were the largest EVER recorded in the past 43 years for any adolescent substance use outcome in the United States! So, not surprisingly, from 2018 to 2019, the vaping continued its dramatic increase.

Vaping involves the inhalation of aerosols (sometimes including nicotine) using battery-powered devices such as e-cigarettes, “mods,” Juuls and e-pens. Starting in 2017, the MTF study asked about the vaping of three specific substances – nicotine, marijuana and just flavoring. Here’s a quick summary of the trends seen in vaping all three substances from 2017 to 2019:

  • Only vaping “just flavoring” showed significant decreases in 2019 in all three grades.
  • Over the two-year interval from 2017 to 2019, 30-day prevalence of vaping marijuana doubled or tripled in all three grades. For example, it rose from 4.9% in 2017 to 14.0% in 2019 among 12th graders.
  • Vaping nicotine also showed sharp increases over the same interval, with 30-day prevalence more than doubling in all three grades, rising from 11.9% in 2017 to 25.5% in 2019 among 12th graders. Given that nicotine is involved in most vaping this presents a serious threat to the hard-won progress we have tracked since the mid-1990s in reducing cigarette smoking among adolescents.

These survey results were concerning to me in January, but they became even more concerning when COVID-19 hit our country in March. In the beginning of the pandemic, it was believed young people were not at risk for the virus and if they did contract it, would likely experience few complications because of it. But, as time went on, an increasing number of serious coronavirus cases, involving young people, were being reported.

This is when it struck me that our adolescents ARE at serious risk for the coronavirus, especially those who vape or smoke. Numerous studies indicate that vaping, like smoking, inflames and damages the lungs. If teens have underlying lung damage from vaping, and get the coronavirus on top of that, the outcome is not going to be positive.

With the pandemic keeping many of us sheltering at home these past three months, it put teens who vape in a difficult predicament. How could they continue to secretly vape while at home 24/7? How could they access vaping products? Unfortunately, kids who were willing to work hard could still get vaping products, and for some, this meant leaving the house and potentially exposing themselves to COVID. Just being isolated during the past months has increased anxiety, stress and depression for many of us and for adolescents, its enough of a reason for some to start vaping or use more than they were before.

For other teens, COVID-19 has been the catalyst for them to quit vaping, whether they wanted to or not. However, the question remains to be answered, “Will they resume vaping when they leave their home and are among friends again who still vape?”

Even more concerning to me is whether parents know when their child is vaping. Parents and other adults kids are living with will continue to be on the front lines in the months to come and in the best position to recognize if their child is vaping. The question is, “Do they know how to identify vaping use?” Kids have become so savvy and secretive in their vaping practices that even I, a substance use prevention professional, might not even be able to identify when it’s happening.

As you prepare your response and readiness plan for the return of kids to your schools and programs, you need to address two things: 1) You and all your staff need to be prepared to recognize vaping among kids and 2) Help parents identify vaping use with their kids at home.

I feel so strongly about these two things that I want to be of help to you in addressing them. So, mark your calendar for a free webinar I am hosting next Thursday, June 18, from Noon-1:15 pm EST, called “Youth, Vaping and E-Cigarettes: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” I was an attendee of this webinar in January and I learned SO MUCH! I know you will, too. Registration for the webinar opens on Monday, June 15. If you would like to receive the registration email in your Inbox on Monday, please message me at kathleen@knslearningsolutions.com. Plan to register early as there is a cap on the number of participants for this webinar. And, be sure to share the invitation with your staff and the parents of your students!

COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon and vaping among adolescents isn’t likely going to decrease quickly either. So, if you want to reduce kids’ risk for the coronavirus one of the best things you can do is keep them from compromising their lungs by vaping. It starts by registering for next week’s webinar and learning the good, the bad and the ugly of vaping. I promise…it will pay off.

A Summer Like No Other Summer

I’m a day late with my blog. But, for good reason. I just returned from visiting my 88 and 89-year-old parents who still live on the family farm and who I haven’t seen or been with since COVID-19 hit in early March. I had to quarantine for 14 days before my visit due to my dad being a dialysis and cancer patient. After spending fourteen days alone in my home, followed by three days in the beautiful, quiet, peaceful countryside, I am more relaxed, focused and energized than I have been for a long time. It’s actually been a life-impacting experience for me.

The serenity of the family farm

Time was the gift I was given during my quarantine at home and visit to the farm. Being free of interruptions and distractions for 17 days, gave me the time to think about things that typically get pushed aside in my mind because I’m moving on to another task or I’m rushing off somewhere. I had numerous “a ha” moments these past several weeks. One of them came just a few days ago when I turned my calendar from May to June.

It struck me that moving from May to June is usually a time when we think of the end of a school year and the beginning of summer break for kids. There’s typically a feeling of excitement and anticipation making this transition. There might be plans for spending time in the pool or on the beach with friends, going to the ballpark for games, attending county fairs, visiting amusement parks, participating in summer camps, taking vacations and enjoying outdoor parties – just to name a few. Summertime means less structure, more time with friends and less adult supervision for kids. It’s a welcomed and fun time of the year for many kids and adults alike.

But, transitioning from May into June this year didn’t bring me that same kind of excitement and anticipation of summer like it normally does. After thinking more deeply about it I realized that summer break actually started 2 ½ months ago for kids and parents. It’s no wonder the normal feelings associated with moving into June weren’t there for me.

With the shutdown of schools, afterschool activities and extracurricular activities in early March, due to COVID-19, kids have been experiencing free and unstructured time since then. However, the time has been spent primarily in their home with family and not with friends. Adult supervision in the home has likely varied depending on whether parents were quarantined or working from home. Studies also indicate kids are already reporting an increase of boredom, anxiety and stress over the past several months.

Why is this so concerning, especially today, on June 4? Because summer hasn’t even officially started yet and the normal concerns of summertime with kids could very well have started months ago. Historically, summertime means an increased likelihood for kids to be exposed to substance use. Research has shown for many years that alcohol and drug use among adolescents significantly increases during the summer months. Studies show that during the months of June and July, teens are more likely to begin experimenting with drugs and alcohol. By the end of August, nearly one million teens will have tasted their first drink of alcohol. On an average summer day, approximately 4,500 youth will smoke cigarettes or marijuana for the first time.

While the risks of substance use and experimentation is possible any time of the year with kids, the drastic increase during the summer months can be contributed to several factors:

· More free and unstructured time

· Less adult supervision

· Accessibility to substances in the home

These factors have been present in most kids’ lives since mid-March and could continue for an additional 2 ½-3 months, inceasing the risk even more for substance use. With COVID-19 restrictions expected to continue and many typical summer activities being canceled, life isn’t going to change much for kids from what it is or has been. So, if kids are reporting being bored, anxious and stressed now, how will they be feeling in the months to come? And, it doesn’t help that some of the reasons kids give for using substances under normal circumstances is because they are bored, anxious and stressed.

Common sense and experience tell me we need to prepare for a spike in substance use with kids this summer unlike what we see during normal summertime. As you prepare a readiness response plan for the return of your kids to school and other activities in the coming months, it will be important to consider implementing proven substance use prevention and intervention approaches or at least re-evaluate the practices you were using before the pandemic. What worked prior to COVID-19 may not be what’s most effective now.

In some ways, it’s hard to believe it’s already June, and in other ways, it seems like the last few months have lasted forever. I’m sure it feels that way for many kids and parents, too. The extended “summer break” they are experiencing, coupled with all the current challenges and stressors of COVID-19, could make for a summer like no other summer. The challenge for you and I is…”How can we make it a summer free of substance use?”

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 https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/resources/faq. 

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!

Interact With Your Kids Using a Restorative Lens

There are so many unknowns living through the current pandemic. I’ve never had more unanswered questions in my life than I do right now. Just when I get an answer to one question another unanswered question comes to mind. Perhaps you’ve had a lot of unanswered questions, too.

Lately, I’ve been wondering about the effects physical isolation will have on kids’ relationships with their peers. I also ponder what the impact will be for kids who have been physically disconnected from the daily routine of school and afterschool activities where they learn how to get along with others, gain a sense of belonging and community and build supportive relationships. While texting, phone calls, social media apps, FaceTime and Zoom can help to fill kids’ need to socially connect with others, does technology meet all of the emotional and mental needs a face-to-face, in-person connection can provide? Even so, when we open our doors and welcome kids back, what physical restrictions will we need to adhere to and how might they continue to influence a sense of community among kids and their overall well-being?

We can let the unknown lead us around in circles, only to come back to the same unanswered question, or we can seek possible answers by tuning into our own common sense, instincts and life experiences.

One thing I do know for sure is that as humans we are hard-wired to connect with each other. Just as we need food, shelter and clothing, we also need strong meaningful relationships to thrive.

Kids will experience some negative effects of being physically isolated during this pandemic. The longer it continues, the greater the effects will likely be. Some kids will come out of physical isolation experiencing little to any negative effects. Other kids will not. The problem is we can’t predict which kids will fare better than others. We really won’t know who they are until we are back together in-person again. One thing I believe we can accurately predict is the kids who are negatively impacted will self-identify themselves through an array of “acting out” behaviors.

Anticipating this and preparing for it now can help you better respond to your kids as soon as you are reunited with them. Being ready to offer a supportive, caring, empowering and safe environment for all of your kids will be vitally important. One proven practice I highly recommend you consider using to create this kind of environment is restorative approaches.

Restorative approaches are about building community and strengthening relationships. They are based on the premise that when we feel part of a supportive community we respect others in that community and become accountable to it. When put into practice effectively the effects of restorative approaches can be profound. Studies show kids experience greater safety, a sense of belonging and build stronger relationships from restorative approaches which results in more cooperation, responsibility, respect and learning.

Restorative practices are based on the following principles:

  • Acknowledge that relationships are central to building a community.
  • Build systems that address misbehavior and harm in a way that strengthens relationships.
  • Focus on the harm done rather than only on rule-breaking.
  • Give voice to the person harmed.
  • Engage in collaborative problem solving.
  • Empower change and growth.
  • Enhance responsibility.

In a nutshell, using a restorative approach means you care more about creating a community built upon kindness, mutual respect and compassion than on consequences.

Restorative approaches may be a new concept to you or perhaps it’s something you have already been using in your work with kids. No matter if you have no experience or lots of experience with restorative practices, I want you to meet Bill Michener. He is the only independent trainer of trainers of restorative practices through Restorative Solutions, Inc. Bill was also a trainer for four years through the International Institute for Restorative Practices training staff in juvenile justice funded programs, school systems and community-based youth programs. He also started a successful, first ever, Alternative Suspension Program centered around restorative practices. His extensive training experience, coupled with his passion for and hands-on experience using restorative practices with kids, is invaluable.

I am inviting you to meet Bill and learn more about restorative approaches in a one-time webinar on Thursday, May 7, at 11:00 am EST. Mark your calendar and reserve the time! Registration for this free webinar will open on Monday, May 4, with limited seating available. Contact me to receive the registration announcement.

While the coronavirus is a medical issue, a large part of what we all are experiencing is a social and interpersonal crisis. Being consciously aware of this and seeking ways to being relational with our kids now and in the future becomes even more important. Develop a resilient response by considering how you can interact with your kids using a restorative lens as you navigate this crisis together.