Caring for Ourselves and Each Other During the Pandemic

Ashley is an elementary teacher who logs onto Zoom at 7:45 am every morning. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays she teaches 20 seven-year-olds virtually until 11:45 am. Her Thursdays are packed with online meetings and her Fridays are for virtual one-on-one student assessments.

She has never been as tired as she is this school year. Her eyes hurt, her back hurts and her hands and wrists hurt from constantly typing. She gets frequent headaches that can only be minimized by taking a nap, but she doesn’t have time to take a nap.

Ashley is one of many teachers who are facing a new set of challenges brought on by the pandemic. They are being asked to not only teach in new and innovative ways, but also help with technology and computer problems, chase down students who aren’t logging on for class and take care of their own children and families.

As with Ashley, there isn’t a part of a teacher’s job or week that hasn’t changed because of the pandemic. Teachers are facing more stress than ever before. There are teachers who are teaching virtually and feel like they are working nonstop. There are teachers who have returned to in-person instruction, where they face a much higher risk of contracting COVID-19, which adds to the stress. Many teachers have had to switch back and forth between in-person and online learning often with only a few days’ notice which creates another kind of stress.

 
 

The level of stress teachers are experiencing right now is unprecedented and, honestly, not sustainable. They have been operating in crisis mode for almost a year and are living day-by-day on depleted levels of energy. Many teachers say their psychological well-being is suffering in ways they have never experienced before. For the first time in their life, many teachers are having to see a therapist. Unfortunately, this can create additional stress.

Therapists don’t always have evening or weekend hours to accommodate a teacher’s work schedule and teachers don’t necessarily have the time – or spare money – for weekly appointments. Even more exacerbating is finding a therapist and then having to wait months before there is an open appointment time. The National Council for Behavioral Health reports that 52% of behavioral health organizations have seen an increase in the demand for services and 65% having to cancel, reschedule or turn away patients.

In a recent USA Today article (January 2021), Carly, a high school teacher and mother of three, brings to light the challenges many teachers are facing today. She splits her time between working on campus and remotely from home. Her two youngest children are in elementary school and need adult supervision with their own online schooling.
 
Carly keeps a color-coded daily schedule to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. But, of course, things do, including taking care of herself.
 
Prior to the school year starting, she never missed her weekly appointment with her therapist. She called it her “maintenance” – it kept everything in her life running smoothly. That changed in September when she found herself juggling an impossible burden: educating students in a pandemic while guiding her own family through the crisis. Since then, she has canceled more therapist appointments than she has kept. With everything going on, she said, “it’s much harder to justify giving myself that hour every week.”
 
She isn’t sleeping. Before the pandemic, she suffered migraines every few months and called in sick on those days. Now, she has one a week, an increase she attributes to stress. She makes herself work through the pain as there aren’t enough substitute teachers to go around. She’s exhausted. The idea of taking a day off for mental health is more work and causes more stress than just pushing through it herself.

As in Carly’s school district, there simply aren’t enough substitute teachers to meet the need in many districts. Substitutes are typically retired teachers and for districts using any hybrid or in-person model, the risk of coronavirus exposure poses a heightened threat. For schools that are remote, getting a substitute set up for online learning poses its own set of logistical challenges – getting a Zoom, transferring it over and making sure the substitute is comfortable navigating online learning software. For many, that burden factors in when determining whether to call in sick.

Consequently, all of these challenges have left many teachers, like Carly, responsible for their own self-care. While there’s a wealth of expert self-care advice available, we all know that with any advice, it’s easier said than done. Practicing self-care assumes that we all know what we need to care for ourselves and we have the resources necessary to do it. These are some big assumptions. For some of us, just doing anything for our self, by our self, can be the greatest challenge to overcome. Sometimes what we most need is not self-care, but rather community care.

The concept of community care isn’t to eliminate self-care. If you’re able to practice self-care, that’s great. Just don’t forget about the people around you. Community care asks us to take the initiative to show and give compassion to each other, especially when we are struggling with the same issues. We all still need human connection and need to give and receive love.

So, if you are a teacher who can relate to Ashley and Carly or you have a colleague who is struggling with the demands of being a teacher right now, try shifting your thinking to community care. Be willing to accept the care and compassion of others while also extending it.

No matter if you are a teacher or working in another profession, here are four ways you can practice community care:

    • Check in on each other. Just a genuine, “How are you doing?”, can really help a fellow teacher feel supported and more connected to the people around them. Vulnerability can be hard, so you may need to open up first to show you are sincere. If someone tells you they are struggling, let them know they have your support and if you can’t talk then, that you will reach out soon. When you follow up, make sure to listen to what they need; some people may need help finding resources while others may want some time to vent with someone who gets it.
    • Express gratitude. Practicing gratitude is a great way to give yourself a more positive outlook. Try to name three things you are thankful for each day. Extend gratitude to your coworkers. Thank them when they do something to help you out or make your day a bit easier. It’s a win-win for both of you. It will boost your mood while making others feel appreciated and noticed and help you all feel more connected to your community.
    • Take time to laugh. Humor can be an effective coping tool during stressful times. Don’t be afraid to lighten the mood by sending memes or sharing a funny story – just be mindful of your timing and audience.
    • Pay attention to nonverbal cues. A lot of people have trouble opening up about how they are feeling and others may not even realize that they are struggling if their mind is constantly focused on work. If you are at school in-person, you can probably pick up on which of your colleagues are having a harder time than others. Typical body language varies, but if you notice a change like less eye contact or moving or talking slower, it’s worth bringing up. If your school is virtual, think about who you haven’t heard from lately that you may have expected to. Reach out to those individuals – there’s no need for anyone to suffer alone. If you aren’t comfortable doing so, mention what you have noticed to a colleague that they are closer with or a supervisor.

Even as we become more attuned to the needs of each other and try to respond to them, self-care will continue to be necessary. We still need to clean, feed and clothe ourselves, move our bodies more, drink water, make dental appointments and see therapists. But, doing things together and for each other creates a sense of belonging which is also one our basic needs. It reminds us that we weren’t meant to walk these paths alone, but to learn from and care for one another as we find better ways to live through the pandemic together.

I Know That Already

I remember the day my high school age son insisted that he already knew what I was talking about when I was telling him about the risks of riding in a vehicle when the driver has been drinking alcohol. It wasn’t the first time we had an exchange like this between us. As is the case with most high school age kids, he claimed to know “everything” about the subject, as well as most every other subject we talked about.

I also remember the frustration I felt that day with my son. In his mind, he knew what he needed to know and wasn’t interested in what I had to say. He shut me down and shut me up. It seemed like a losing battle and a battle he won.

As parents and educators, we can teach and teach and teach our kids what we think they need to know to become well-adjusted, healthy and successful individuals. But many times, it can feel like our teaching falls on “deaf ears”, especially as kids move through middle and high school. During this time, the tables can turn and they believe they know more than you. Roles reverse and now you become the student and they are the teacher.

It might seem easy to accept this role reversal and avoid the frustration of beating your head against the wall with your kids. But, in the short and long-term, it’s not the most effective way of dealing with the situation.

The day my son said to me once again, “Mom, I know that already!”, I had an instantaneous “Ah Ha!” moment. I turned to him and said, “I know that you know this already. But, what I am most interested in is what you are going to do with what you know. That’s what I care about.”

His lack of a response back to me is something I also remember about that day. I threw him a curve ball. The way this exchange had gone between us in the past was different this time.

It was different because I sent him two new messages in the exchange. First, I acknowledged that he knew something. I avoided the battle of who knew more than the other. Instead, I let him know that I believed he did know something (just not everything!). This acknowledgment kept the conversation open between the two of us.

The second thing I did that was different was I turned the focus from “knowing” to “applying”. Research shows that you can know a lot or “everything” about something, but how you apply it to yourself and to your life is very different. Simply “knowing” does not mean “doing.” Turning knowledge into personal application is a process that takes time. So, be persistent and patient.

At some point, we need to pivot our interactions with kids in the direction of application. Asking things like, “What does the information you have or know mean for you?”, or “How are you taking what you know and applying it to yourself?” are questions you can ask your kids to transition the conversation to an application level.

Pivoting our conversations in this way is especially important when it comes to preventing risky behaviors. Information-only programs or approaches are important, but it can’t be the only approach when kids move through the middle and high school years. This is when we need to transition to an approach that challenges kids to take what they already know or are still learning and begin applying it to themselves and their future. When done effectively, an approach like this can feel very personal to kids and create a sense of mutual respect and care between you and them and create an even stronger outcome at the end.

When I pivoted the conversation with my son that day to one of application, it resulted in being one of many positive conversations I had with him over time. It ended the battle of “who knows more than the other” and turned his response of, “Mom! I know this already!”, into open conversations that resulted in both of us learning from each other.

How Many Times Do I Have To Tell You

“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times.”

Have you ever had this said to you or even said it to someone yourself? This statement is usually said in annoyance and frustration after saying something repeatedly to someone.

But did you know there are times when having to repeat yourself is a necessary and even effective communication strategy with students?

Anyone with kids understands the power of redundant communication. How many children will clean their room the first time a parent tells them to do it? Or even the second time?

If you want a specific message to stick in the brains of kids they need to hear the same consistent message over and over and over from you. Repetition in communication is a tool you should use intentionally with your students.

The idea of communicating a message over and over again isn’t new and its roots are in advertising and marketing. “Effective frequency” is a term used to define the number of times a person needs to hear an advertising message before responding to it. Different experts have different ideas for what that magic number is. The most agreed-upon is probably the “Rule of 7,” which suggests consumers need to hear a message seven times before they will consider taking action.

Applying the “Rule of 7” to the messages you want to have sink in with your students is something to carefully consider, especially if you want them to take certain actions.

The first thing you need to do is determine what the most important messages are you want to have sink in with your students. It’s better to have fewer messages communicated as long as the messages are the most effective at getting the desired behavior you want from your students.

For example, if your goal is to keep your students from engaging in risky behaviors, it is important you are communicating proven, research-based messages. Communicating just any prevention message over and over will likely not reap the results you are hoping for.

The next thing you need to determine is who the most influential messengers of each message will be. The more adults a student hears the same message from validates the message and increases the likelihood the student will believe it and act on it.

Stop and think about how many different adults in one day an adolescent is in contact with who can communicate an important message. A parent, bus driver, carpool driver, custodian, classroom teacher, school administrator, coach, afterschool staff, friend’s parent, adult sibling…the list goes on and on.

Once you determine who the most influential messengers are make sure they are all communicating the same message consistently. An inconsistent message repeated over and over can sometimes do more harm than good.

Now, let’s go back to your goal of keeping your students from engaging in risky behaviors…If your prevention message is delivered by one teacher in your school or organization through a specific prevention curriculum or program and the teacher or the program doesn’t reinforce the same message at least seven times over, then you are not likely getting the best return for your investment. Rather, having more people delivering and reinforcing the same prevention message in multiple ways, in addition to the teacher and the prevention program, increases the likelihood of meeting the “Rule of 7” and getting the behaviors you want from your students.

If you are worrying your students are going to tune you out if they hear the same message repeated too much, don’t worry. They aren’t paying nearly as much attention to your communication as you wish they were. You are likely to get tired of hearing yourself repeat the same message over and over before they do.

So, the next time you find yourself thinking or saying, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times,” to your students, don’t be annoyed or frustrated. Just smile and pat yourself on the back. You are doing what you need to be doing.

Teen Nicotine Vaping Leveling Off, But Still Remains High

For the first time in its 45-year history, the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study of adolescent substance use was stopped prematurely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The MTF survey is conducted annually by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). It is conducted with students in 8th, 10th and 12th grade across the U.S. who self-report their substance use behaviors over various prevalence periods: daily, past 30 days, past 12 months and lifetime. The survey also documents students’ perceptions of harm, disapproval of use and perceived availability of drugs. The survey results are released the same year the data are collected.

From February 11 through March 14, 2020, the MTF survey investigators collected 11,821 surveys in 112 schools before the surveying stopped with the closure of schools nationwide. While the completed surveys from early 2020 represent about 25% of the sample size of a typical year’s data collection, the results were gathered from a broad geographic and representative sample, so the data were statistically weighted to provide national numbers.

The MTF study is one our most credible national studies offering a yearly snapshot of adolescent substance use. I turn to the MTF study to see what the usage trends are each year. I’ve seen a lot of trends with different substances – trends that primarily show a decrease in use while other trends have raised some serious concerns.

Since the prevention of risky behaviors, specifically vaping among adolescents, was one of the topics many of you indicated as being the most important to you in the survey I conducted in last week’s blog, I thought it would be helpful to offer a summary of the 2020 MTF survey data with you today. I believe it can help set the tone and direction you and I take in our prevention efforts throughout the year.

One of the most important findings of the 2020 MTF survey is that levels of nicotine and marijuana vaping did not increase from 2019 to early 2020, although they remain high.

In the four years since the survey began including questions on nicotine and marijuana vaping, use of these substances among teens have increased to markedly high levels. From 2017 to 2019, the percentage of teens who said they vaped nicotine in the past 12 months roughly doubled for 8th graders from 7.5% to 16.5%, for 10th graders from 15.8% to 30.7% and for 12th graders from 18.8% to 35.3%. In 2020, the rates held steady at a respective 16.6%, 30.7% and 34.5%.

In the report of 2020 MTF results, NIDA Director, Nora D. Volkow, M.D., stated, “The rapid rise of teen nicotine vaping in recent years has been unprecedented and deeply concerning since we know that nicotine is highly addictive and can be delivered at high doses by vaping devices, which may also contain other toxic chemicals that may be harmful when inhaled. It is encouraging to see a leveling off of this trend though the rates still remain very high.”

Past-year vaping of marijuana also remained steady in 2020, with 8.1% of 8th graders, 19.1% of 10th graders and 22.1% of 12th graders reporting past-year use, following a two-fold increase over the past two years.

Survey results also showed that reported use of JUUL vaping devices (also known as e-cigarettes), which contain nicotine and were previously the most popular brand among teens, significantly decreased from 2019 to 2020 among the older two grades. In 10th graders, past 12-month use of JUUL vaping devices decreased from 28.7% in 2019 to 20% in 2020 and in 12th graders, it decreased from 28.4% in 2019 to 22.7% in 2020.

Overall, investigators concluded nicotine vaping for 10th and 12th graders remained steady, despite decreases in use of JUUL, because teens moved to use of other vaping device brands, such as disposable, single use vaping devices.

Yesterday, my local school district – Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) – announced they were joining 250 other school districts around the country in suing JUUL Labs, Inc. for allegedly creating a highly addictive product and targeting young people with fruity and minty flavors and easily concealed pods. Called a mass-action litigation, the LPS lawsuit will be consolidated with lawsuits from 22 states in a California federal court. The lawsuits seek monetary damages to help schools with prevention efforts, such as vaping detectors, supervision, counseling and education efforts. (Read More about the mass-action litigation.)

In the meantime, what do these findings mean for you and me and our work with kids?

  • We need to personally recognize the harmful effects of vaping. It is not a safer option that cigarette smoking.
  • We need to use proven, research-based prevention strategies to address vaping and other substances with adolescents.
  • We need to equip parents with the tools to recognize and address vaping use with their children.
  • We need to advocate for more research on vaping and its adverse effects and more regulation of the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes to kids.

Investigators are working with schools to deploy the MTF survey early this spring to gather 2021 data that will reflect substance use during the COVID-19 pandemic and related periods of social distancing.

In the meantime, let’s all do the prevention work we need to do for the sake of our kids.

P.S. Are you a high school guidance counselor or know of someone who is? In collaboration with a renown national prevention research organization, I am seeking input from guidance counselors for a major prevention research grant proposal we are preparing that will target high school seniors as they transition into post-secondary life as a young adult. Click here to learn how your input can earn you a ticket to be first in line for participation in the study and receive free programming and incentives to enhance your local prevention efforts should it be funded..

Get First In Line for Prevention Research Study

In collaboration with a renown national prevention research company, I am seeking input from high school guidance counselors for a major prevention research grant proposal we are preparing that will target high school seniors as they transition into post-secondary life as a young adult.

We are proposing to develop an online substance use prevention program targeting high school seniors and their parents in the spring semester of their Senior year. The transition from high school to young adult life is a high risk period for increased substance use. Reaching students at this time and before graduation to help prevent or reduce substance use is vitally important.

The content of the online program will focus on substance use, but will also talk about the transition they are about to make and the choices they will encounter at that time.

Although the target is long term prevention of substance use, we expect there will be short-term benefits even before graduation (such as reducing use and/or negative consequences of use during prom or graduation), that high schools will find important.

We are planning to recruit high schools / school districts nationally to participate in this study. The grant would cover all the costs of the program for the students, along with all necessary training of staff.

We expect that once a school decides to participate, we would most likely be working with guidance counselors to implement the program at their school. 

At this time, we are in need of input by high school guidance counselors to help us determine the best strategies and incentives to secure their participation in the study, the participation of high school seniors in the actual prevention program and ideas on how it can integrate and enhance their prevention efforts locally.

This feedback is crucial in not only preparing a fundable proposal, but carrying out a successful project after it is funded.

Are you a high school guidance counselor and would you be willing to participate in a brief online focus group to offer this important feedback?

Participating in the focus group does NOT require you to participate in the study if it is funded. It simply extends you and your school the first opportunity to be one of the limited number schools involved in the project.

I am offering two online focus group opportunties for you to participate in. They will be held Thursday, January 21, at 2:00 pm EST and 3:30 pm EST.

If you are interested in participating in one of the two focus groups, email me as soon as possible at kathleen@knslearningsolutions.com. Please tell me which focus group you want to join in (2:00 pm EST or 3:30 pm EST). I also need you to provide me your name and the name and address of your school, along with a phone number and email address you can be reached at. I will send you the log in information for the focus group of your choice by Tuesday, January 19.

This is a very exciting opportunity to make a difference in the world of prevention research, future prevention programming and in the lives of your students! I hope you join me in this endeavor

I Know

It’s Wednesday morning, December 16, and in just a few hours you will receive this message in your Inbox.

As I wrote in last week’s post, my 89-year-old father had major surgery last Tuesday. He was initially doing well following the surgery, but he experienced a serious setback over the weekend. Fortunately, he is back on track and we are looking forward to a dismissal in the days to come.

Through it all, my priority has been making sure my dad knows he can count on me. I want him to know I am in his corner advocating for him and his healthcare needs and cheering him on through the setbacks. It has required much of my time and attention this past week of which I was more than willing to give.

As I lay in bed this morning, I realized that in the midst of all that has been going on with my dad, I had not written today’s blog. I wondered what I could write or say with the little time I had.

It didn’t take long for an idea to come to mind. It’s something I’ve been wanting to say for quite some time and now seems like the best time to say it to you…

I know this past year has not gone like it was supposed to go. You miss the “normal” ways you do what you do. You miss seeing those you work with or serve in-person. You miss hugs, gentle touches and seeing the smiles behind the masks.

I know you have had to learn new ways to do what you do. All the technology you have had to learn to use has been confusing and frustrating. And perhaps you have had to learn all of this, alone, within the confines of your home.

I know you have experienced your share of major distractions while doing your job whether it be from home or on-site. You have had to figure out how to care for your infant or toddler or supervise your school-age children’s remote learning – all while trying to be a great employee yourself.

You have been worried. I know you have been. The worries have been endless. You’ve been worried about how you were going to pay the bills if you were furloughed or lost your job. Worried about keeping a roof over your head or putting food on the table. Worried about contracting the coronavirus. Worried about those who did contract the virus and those who lost a loved one because of it. Worried about the well-being of the students, families or clients you work with. Worried about the family and friends you were unable to see or care for in-person. There’s been so many worries.

I know you’ve been discouraged. Maybe you are still discouraged. You wonder when, or even if, life will ever feel normal again.

I know you are tired. You are physically, emotionally, mentally and socially exhausted. It’s been a long and daunting year.

You’ve experienced loss. The loss of routines, social activities, relationships, employment, or even the loss of loved ones. I know it’s why you have felt sadness or grief.

It’s been a really challenging year for you.

I don’t know your whole story, but I want you to know I still understand. I care.

I believe in you. You have talents and gifts that are important and appreciated. Your worth is immeasurable.

Give yourself credit. You have made it this far into the pandemic and while it hasn’t been easy or without its challenges, you are still here, fighting and pushing forward. So please, don’t give up. You’ve got this!

Please also know that I am here for you. I’m in your corner. And just as I am for my dad, I am committed to being an advocate and cheerleader for YOU. You can count on it.

My wish for you today is that you find moments of joy, gratitude and love during the holidays. May you find some respite in the weeks to come and start the new year with a refreshed body, mind and spirit.

Thank you for being YOU and for making a difference in your corner of the world.

Happy holidays!

P.S. Thank you for all the well wishes for my dad. I truly believe it’s why he has overcome so much this past week. I want you to also know that I will be taking a 2-week respite myself and will not be writing my blog during this time. But, I will be back with my first blog of 2021 on January 6!  Cheers to a new year and a new beginning!                       

Giving the Gift Back

It’s Tuesday, December 8, and I’m sitting in a coffee shop right now writing this blog with a lot on my mind and my heart.

My 89-year-old father is having major surgery to remove a kidney and the ureter attached to it due to tumors inside the ureter. He has bladder cancer that has spread into the ureter. When he was given the diagnosis a few months ago, he was given two options…do nothing or have surgery. He chose the second option and so today the surgery is happening.

As my Dad’s health partner, I’ve sat in hospital waiting rooms during numerous surgeries as we have journeyed through a multitude of health issues together these past 18 months.

But today, the waiting is different. My mind is in a different place than it has been in the past.

So, if my blog seems a bit disjointed and my thoughts appear random, let me ask for your grace and understanding upfront. I’m writing from my heart and not so much from my head today.

In my recent parenting blog series, I’ve talked about the influence a parent can have on their own kids through their own modeling of behavior and how we tend to parent the way we were parented. The title of last week’s blog, , speaks directly to this overall message…

How you parent is a gift that will keep on giving in the years to come. Make it a gift worth opening and keeping.

Sitting in this moment of time and space right now, knowing my Dad is in a high-risk surgery, I find myself reminiscing about him as my father over the years.

Last week’s blog explored four different parenting styles and revealed that authoritative parenting is the most effective style to use as a parent.

Fortunately for me, my dad was an authoritative parent. The qualities describing authoritative parenting describe my dad. And, every proven benefit for kids who have an authoritative parent, I received them.

I’m by no means a perfect parent and as much as I think my dad is, he, too, would argue that he isn’t.

Parenting isn’t always perfect. Much of the time it’s a guessing game and a whole lot of experimentation. Sometimes we get it right and other times we don’t.

I’m lucky enough that my dad got it right most of the time.

Sitting here today in the coffee shop and thinking more deeply about my relationship with my dad, I realize that he is still parenting me as much as he did when I was a young child.

He continues to be an authoritative parent. He is nurturing, loving and caring. He encourages open discussions and provides wisdom and guidance. He still has high expectations of me and doesn’t hesitate to express them. While he doesn’t set boundaries and rules for me anymore, I am keenly aware of how his quiet influence guides most everything I do. I respect him and his opinion of me matters just as much as it ever did – if not more.

My dad has not quit being a parent to me despite his age or fragile health. The saying, “Once a parent, always a parent”, is so true.

No matter what today’s outcome is with the surgery and recovery, my dad has given me one of the best gifts in life he could ever give. The gift of parenting. I received this gift on the day each of my two children were born. Little did I know at the time, that I opened this gift from my dad on both of these occasions. Not only did I keep the gift, but I have used it every day since then with both of my children.

Now, the time has come for me to give the gift back to him, as together, we parent each other.

With My Dad Before His Surgery

P.S. Thank you for letting me share my story with you. I know that not everyone is blessed with a parent as a positive role model or an aging parent who is capable of being the positive parent they have always been, so I do not take for granted this blessing in my life that I call, “Dad.”

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Because I said so!”

“Whatever you want.”

“I really don’t care.”

“Let’s talk about it.”

Which of these phrases most resonate with you and the way you were parented as a child?

If you are a parent, which of these phrases do you most say to your own child?

If you’re a parent and you’re like me, you probably find yourself saying things to your child that you heard your own parents say to you – whether it’s intentional or not. Research shows that we are more likely to parent based on the parenting style we grew up with.

There are four parenting styles researchers have identified as being common among parents:

    • Authoritarian
    • Permissive
    • Uninvolved
    • Authoritative

Each style takes a different approach to raising children and can be identified by a number of different characteristics. Each style has also shown to have different effects on children.

I’m going to summarize each of the four parenting styles, and as I do, think about which style most describes you as a parent or how you were parented as a child:

Authoritarian Parenting

    • You believe kids should be seen and not heard.
    • When it comes to rules, you believe it’s “my way or the highway.”
    • You don’t take your child’s feelings into consideration.

Do any of these statements sound like you? If so, you might be an authoritarian parent.

Parents with this style are typically less nurturing.

Authoritarian parents believe kids should follow the rules without exception. Expectations are high with limited flexibility and they demand obedience with little negotiation possible.

Authoritarian parents are famous for saying, “Because I said so,” when a child questions a rule or expectation. They make the rules and enforce the consequences with no explanation and little regard for a child’s opinion. They only allow one-way communication and any attempt to reason with them is usually seen as backtalk.

Stern discipline and harsh punishment are common with authoritarian parents. Authoritarian parents are invested in making kids feel sorry for their mistakes and making sure the child understands the parent is in control and has the authority.

Children whose parents have an authoritarian parenting style tend to:

    • Have an unhappy disposition.
    • Be less independent.
    • Appear insecure.
    • Possess low self-esteem.
    • Perform worse academically.
    • Have poorer social skills.
    • Be more prone to mental health issues.
    • ​Be more likely to engage in substance use and other problem behaviors.
    • Have worse coping mechanisms​​.

Permissive Parenting

    • You set rules, but rarely enforce them.
    • You don’t give out consequences very often.
    • You think your child will learn best with little interference from you.

Do any of these statements sound like you? If they sound familiar, you might be a permissive parent.

Parents in this category tend to be warm and nurturing.

However, permissive parents are more like friends than parents to their child. Communication is open and they encourage their children to talk with them about their problems, but they offer limited guidance and direction and let their children figure problems out on their own. They tend to only step in when there is a serious problem.

Permissive parents mostly let their children do what they want and have the attitude of “kids will be kids.” They are lenient and do not like to say, “no”, or disappoint their child. They set very few rules and boundaries and they are reluctant to enforce them.

When permissive parents do use consequences, they may not make those consequences stick. They might give privileges back or allow a child to get out of a grounding or time-out early.

Children of permissive parenting tend to have the worst outcomes as they:

    • Cannot follow rules.
    • Have the worse self-control.
    • Are at high-risk for engaging in delinquent and other problem behaviors.
    • Possess egocentric tendencies.
    • Encounter more problems in relationships and social interactions.

Uninvolved Parenting

    • You don’t ask your child about school or homework.
    • You rarely know where your child is or who they are with.
    • You don’t spend much time with your child.

Do any of these statements sound familiar? If they do, you might be an uninvolved parent.

This group of parents offers little nurturing.

Uninvolved parents use no particular discipline style. They do not set high standards or firm boundaries for behavior. They give their child a lot of freedom, let them do what they want and generally stay out of their way. Communication is limited, and as a result, they have little knowledge of what their children are doing or who they are with.

Uninvolved parents are indifferent to their children’s needs and uninvolved in their lives. They adopt an attitude that the child can raise themselves.

Some parents may make a conscious decision to parent in this way. While for others, being an uninvolved parent, is not intentional. Some parents simply lack knowledge about child development and are unsure of what to do. Sometimes a parent falls into this category because they are overwhelmed with other problems, like work, paying bills, managing a household or dealing with their own mental or physical health issues.

Children raised by uninvolved parents:

    • Are more impulsive.
    • Cannot self-regulate emotion.
    • Encounter more delinquency and addictions problems.
    • Have more mental health issues, such as suicidal behavior.

Authoritative Parenting

    • You put a lot of effort into creating and maintaining a positive relationship with your child.
    • You explain the reasons behind your rules and expectations.
    • You enforce rules and give consequences, but also take your child’s feelings into consideration.

Do any of these statements sound like you? If those statements sound familiar, you may be an authoritative parent.

Authoritative parents are warm and nurturing.

They are supportive and provide their children with autonomy and encourage independence while also having high expectations and rules that have been clearly stated.

Authoritative parents enforce boundaries and discipline by having open discussion, providing guidance and using reasoning.

This parenting style is also known as the democratic parenting style. Communication is important to authoritative parents. They take their children’s opinions into account by allowing their kids to have input. They validate their children’s feelings while also making it clear that the adults are ultimately in charge.

Researchers have found kids who have authoritative parents:

  • Are more independent.
  • Achieve higher academic success​.
  • Develop good self-esteem.
  • Interact with peers using competent social skills​.
  • Have better mental health — less depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, delinquency and alcohol and drug use​​.
  • Exhibit less violent tendencies​​.

Few of us fit neatly into one single parenting style, but rather raise children using a combination of styles. So, don’t fret if there are times or areas where you tend to be permissive and other times when you are more authoritative. Think of the four styles as a continuum instead of four distinct ways to parent. We need to think about our children and what they need from us at specific points in time. For example, while you might not typically adopt an authoritarian parenting style, there might be times in your child’s life when that style is needed. And sometimes, our parenting is a mix of several styles and we don’t clearly fall into one distinct category.

What is important to know is that the studies are clear – authoritative parenting is the most effective parenting style. While it is easier for children when both parents practice the authoritative style of parenting, some research shows that if at least one parent is authoritative, that is better for the child than having two parents with the same, less effective style.

But even if you tend to identify with other parenting styles more, there are steps you can take to become a more authoritative parent. With dedication and commitment to being the best parent you can be, you can maintain a positive relationship with your child while still establishing your authority in a healthy manner. And over time, your child will personally reap the benefits of your authoritative style and will very likely parent their children some day in the same way.

How you parent is a gift that will keep on giving in the years to come. Make it a gift worth opening and keeping.

 

Make Every Day Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It always has been. I love watching Thanksgiving Day parades on TV. I love the aroma of pumpkin pie and turkey roasting in the oven. I love the feel and sound of family gathering. I love the crisp cool air that fills my lungs and the crunch of dried leaves under my feet when I go for a walk after eating too much. Everything about the holiday I love.

2020 has given all of us our share of challenges – most of them due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been more unknowns than knowns, more sadness than joy, more conflict than peace and more doubt than hope. 2020 has been a difficult year.

There have been other years similarly challenging for me, but for different reasons. 2014 was one of those years. In fact, it was so challenging that it was the first time I was dreading my favorite holiday. Even though I knew I was going to celebrate Thanksgiving in all the ways I love and with the people I love, there was something missing that year that diminished my usual excitement and passion for the day.

I remember waking up on Thanksgiving morning and forcing myself to think about all I was thankful for in my life. It seemed like the right thing to do given it was a day of giving thanks. But, it was really hard to do. For so long I had only focused on what was going wrong in my life and not on what was going right.

It was a struggle, but by the day’s end, I had a list of what I was thankful for in my life.

I went to bed that night and prayed. I gave thanks for all the blessings on my list. Within moments of ending my prayer, I felt different. For the first time in a long time, I truly felt grateful. It wasn’t just words of thanks I was saying. I really FELT thankful. I cried. It had been a long time since I cried tears of thankfulness.

For me, every day since then has started and ended with a grateful heart. I think deeply and reflect on the blessings of the day – from the smallest to the biggest. No matter how bad the day may have been, I challenge myself to come up with at least five blessings. Some days it’s harder to do than others. But, there hasn’t been one day when I couldn’t generate a list of five blessings.

My life challenges have not disappeared because of this new daily practice. What has changed, though, is how I view them. I can now see how many of the challenges have become some of today’s greatest blessings. And, just as my challenges have multiplied over the years so have my blessings!

Since 2014, I have also come to understand and appreciate my favorite holiday even more. Thanksgiving Day isn’t about watching parades, preparing a special meal or the gathering of family and friends. It’s really about having a grateful heart and giving thanks. That’s what was missing for me on Thanksgiving Day 2014.

Thanksgiving Day will be tomorrow. Maybe it’s a day you are looking forward to or one you are dreading. No matter how you will or will not be celebrating Thanksgiving this year, remember this…

If there’s one thing the pandemic can NOT take away from your Thanksgiving Day in 2020, it is the opportunity to give thanks and have a grateful heart! Generate your list of five blessings tomorrow and every day thereafter. Try and make every day Thanksgiving Day!

Wishing you a safe and healthy Thanksgiving holiday!

P.S. Thank you for doing what you do out in the world! I’m confident you are on alot of other people’s list of blessings – just as you are on mine.

Do the Math

Starting at a very young age my son loved country music and even more so, loved to dress as a cowboy. He was the proud owner of cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and a big belt buckle by the age of two. His outfit was always pulled together with blue jeans and a button-down shirt. He refused to dress any other way.

Until…

He was in the 1st grade.

In 1st grade, my son started playing soccer on the playground with his classmates during recess. Every day, during every recess, he would play soccer.

Each day I would pick him up after school and we would make the short drive home. It was just the right amount of time to hear about his day. Most of the time, the talk was about how many goals he made that day playing soccer.

One day, however, the conversation about soccer took a slightly different turn. When he got into the car, he insisted that we go shopping for new clothes for him. More specifically, he wanted me to buy him sweat pants to wear to school.

I was taken by surprise with his request. In the past, I had tried to get him to wear sweat pants, but with no luck. So, I was curious to learn more about why he had changed his mind about wearing them now.

So I asked him why he so desperately needed sweat pants. His response was, “I can’t play soccer very well in jeans. EVERYONE who plays soccer at recess wears sweat pants, so I need them, too.”

The logical side of me could definitely see how wearing sweat pants would be better than jeans when playing soccer, but I was struck by his statement that EVERYONE who plays soccer wears sweat pants.

I made a few quick decisions that day in the car driving home from school. First, I decided I wasn’t going to rush to the store to buy him sweat pants. Secondly, I decided to give him a math assignment. I asked him to go back to school the next day and count how many soccer players were wearing sweat pants and how many weren’t. Once he reported the numbers back to me the next day I promised we would re-visit the conversation about buying sweat pants. I told him that I trusted his excellent math skills to get an accurate count.

The next day after school my son couldn’t wait to get into the car to give me his sweat pants report.

“Mom! I counted how many people were wearing sweat pants playing soccer today!”

“Great,” I said, “How many were there?”

“There were 6 who were wearing sweat pants,” my son replied.

“How many were not wearing sweat pants?” I curiously asked.

“Nine”, my son quicky answered.

“So, there were 6 who were wearing sweat pants and 9 who were not wearing them,” I summarized.

“Yes, Mom! Now can we go buy some sweat pants?”, my son insisted again.

“Well, not until we talk about this some more,” I responded.

I reminded my son how he said he needed sweat pants because EVERYONE who plays soccer at recess wears them. However, according to his count, NOT EVERYONE was wearing them. In fact, I helped him to see that there were actually more soccer players that were not wearing sweat pants than those who were.

I helped him to see that what he perceived to be true the day before really wasn’t true. By doing the math he was able to reveal the truth.

Perceptions drive our behaviors. What we perceive as being normal or acceptable is likely to influence what we do. It doesn’t matter how young or how old you are either. Perceptions influence all of us – every day. But sometimes our perceptions about what is normal or acceptable or popular are wrong.

I’m sure you have heard something like this from your child more than once, “But, everyone’s doing it. I’m the only one who isn’t!” At some point, your child will believe they are the only one who isn’t wearing the latest fashions, staying out late, having a cell phone or having access to social media. The need to fit in and be accepted grows in importance with kids the older they get. The pressure to do what they think everyone else is doing increases.

The question is, “Are your kids right? Is everyone really doing these things?”

Starting in the middle school years and through high school more kids will begin to experiment with alcohol, cigarettes and other risky behaviors. If we look for kids who are participating in these behaviors, we will find them. So, will your kids.

For example, what would catch your attention most – six teenagers walking down the sidewalk smoking cigarettes or thirty teenagers behind them who aren’t smoking? Without doing the math, we are likely to focus on the six who are smoking and quickly conclude that a lot of kids are smoking cigarettes. We might even believe a majority of kids are smoking. Your kids aren’t going to stop and do the math either. They are likely to come to the same conclusion as you.

What’s the danger in coming to this conclusion? Research shows the sooner a child perceives everyone their age is smoking, drinking or doing other risky things, the more likely they will do the same. Why? Because your kids’ perceptions will drive their behaviors.

And, the sooner you perceive your child is the only one who isn’t doing these things, the more likely you are to relax on your rules and expectations for your child and give in. Why? Because your perceptions drive your behaviors, too.

The problem is most kids and parents are wrong on what they think everyone is doing, especially when it comes to risky behaviors. The reality is a majority of kids do not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or engage in risky behaviors. According to the 2019 National Monitoring the Future Study, conducted by the University of Michigan, 92% of 8th graders, 82% of 10th graders and 71% of 12th graders had not used alcohol in the past 30 days. Chances are your kids aren’t any different than their peers nationally or even locally. A majority of them are doing what is right and normal. They are NOT engaging in risky behaviors.

So, the next time your child says, “Everyone else is!”, don’t believe them so quickly. Look around. Ask questions. Talk to other adults and parents. Do the math.

Chances are your kids are already doing what everyone else is doing. Don’t expect anything different or less.

If you’re wondering whether my son got the sweat pants he asked for, the answer is, “Yes!” But, I bought them with the understanding between him and I that he was getting them because they are easier to play soccer in and NOT because everyone who plays soccer wears them.

Buying the sweat pants also ended the days of my son dressing as a cowboy. From there on, his life became focused on doing what he needed to do to become the best soccer player he could be. I would like to believe the sweat pants in 1st grade contributed to his soccer achievements over the years – making the varsity high school soccer team as a freshman, playing college soccer, and eventually, becoming the youngest varsity high school head soccer coach in Nebraska at the age of 22.

But, more importantly, I hope the memory of those sweat pants remind him of the importance of still doing the math when he thinks he needs to do something he perceives EVERYONE else is doing.