Filling Some Big Shoes as a Grandparent

Some of my fondest memories growing up are those of my grandparents. Coming out of school at the end of the day and seeing my grandpa waiting to drive us home was always a fun and welcome surprise! I can still hear our screams when Grandma would pop the cork on a bottle of her homemade root beer before serving us root beer floats. In the summer they would sit through the heat and humidity and applaud and cheer as they watched us swim and show off our new swimming skills and tricks. I think about how they hosted all of us grandkids for overnight stays and made it look so easy, even though it was chaotic, loud and messy. I could go on and on and on about all the wonderful memories I have of my grandparents.

Over the years I have come to appreciate the important role my grandparents played in my life. There was no place safer and more fun than Grandma and Grandpa’s home. They offered a buffer zone of security, affection and attention. They had tons of patience and oodles of time to play games and go places with me. When I was naughty and being scolded by my parents they would smile and wink – reassuring me they still loved me.

In past blogs, I have written about the importance of positive parent-child relationships in the social and emotional development of children. There are countless research studies and statistics that highlight the many benefits that come from strong parent-child bonds. What isn’t always recognized, however, is the positive impact that a close relationship between a grandparent and grandchild can have on the happiness and wellbeing of the entire family. Simply put, having grandparents around is good for everyone.

Unfortunately, not all children grow up with grandparents who are actively engaged in their lives. And, just as not all parents are positive role models for their kids, the same can be true with grandparents. In these instances, any older positive adult can play the role of grandparent in the life of a child. So, when I use the word, “grandparent”, it can mean a blood relative or someone who isn’t. What is important is that every child has a positive relationship or bond with an older adult who they look to as a grandparent.

Living through the pandemic this past year and being physically separated and isolated has made us realize just how important a healthy connection between a grandchild and his or her grandparent is and how beneficial it is to both sides of the relationship. It will come as no great surprise to learn that most grandparents feel happier spending time with their grandchildren. However, it is more than just a good feeling as it can have huge benefits for their psychological health. The closer the bond, the stronger the anti-depressive benefits. A study at Boston College found that “an emotionally close relationship between grandparent and grandchild is associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations.”

A positive connection between grandparents and grandchildren can benefit both in many ways.

Grandparents truly impact their grandchildren’s lives.

Studies show that as many as 9 out of 10 adult grandchildren feel their grandparents influenced their beliefs and values. A child’s perspective of what constitutes a healthy, normal relationship is shaped by the relationship he or she holds with a grandparent. Through regular contact, a sense of emotional intimacy and unwavering support, children can experience what a true, positive relationship should look like.

Grandparents offer an affordable childcare option.

Oftentimes grandparents play a vital role in raising their grandchildren. Some are custodial grandparents who have taken over the parenting role entirely. Some provide free or less costly child care for their grandchildren while parents are working. Other grandparents fill in the gaps when parents are incarcerated, serving in the military or struggling with substance use or other mental health issues.

Grandparents have a great amount of experience.

Grandparents are a valuable resource because they have so many stories and experiences from their own lives to share. Children are more likely to listen to grandparents even when they are not listening to their parents or other adults. Research shows that hearing stories about family members overcoming hardship can actually help children become less discouraged when they face hardships. Whether they are informative, humorous or tragic, or told at bedtime, around a campfire or kitchen table, hearing stories about our own grandparents’ lives can teach us important life lessons.

Grandparents are teachers and students.

When grandchildren and grandparents have a close relationship, they can expand each other’s knowledge base. Grandparents have a wealth of life experiences and knowledge to share with their grandchildren. Likewise, grandchildren can also teach their grandparents a lot by keeping them up to date on current news, trends and technology and help them learn new skills and knowledge.

Grandparents connect us to our heritage.

Grandparents help to connect their grandchildren to the past. Children understand more of who they are and where they come from through their connection with their grandparents and the traditions that are passed down to each generation. Traditions help children feel secure, give them a sense of family identity and let them know that they are a part of something larger than the individual.

Grandparents provide a sense of security.

Especially during tough times, having an extra layer of support can make a big difference in a child’s life. Studies have shown that close grandparent-grandchild relationships during the teenage years are associated with less behavioral and emotional problems and fewer social difficulties with peers. Grandparents offer an extra ear when kids need someone to talk to. Sometimes children find it easier to open up and share their difficulties and problems with their grandparents.

Grandparents provide unconditional love.

Many grandparents report that they weren’t prepared for the overwhelming surge of unconditional love they felt with their newborn grandchild. While parents are the most important source of unconditional love, parental love can sometimes be complicated. It tends to be all bound up with hopes and expectations and ambitions for their children. The love of a grandparent is a little simpler. Grandparents have usually lived long enough to know that our lives seldom go in a straight-line trajectory toward success and without making mistakes along the way. We all falter and fall back, and at those times, we need a little extra love and encouragement. A close relationship with grandparents helps grandchildren grow in confidence. It makes them feel worthy. It makes them feel loved – no matter what.

In summary, there are many benefits for a grandparent and a grandchild when a positive relationship forms between the two of them.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the relationship I had with my grandparents and the positive influence they had on my life. It’s been on my mind a lot because…

I became a grandparent for the first time on Monday!

I’M A GRANDMA! WOO HOO!!!

Amidst all the joy that comes with earning the title of, “Grandma,” I am also overwhelmed with the sense of responsibility it brings. I want to be the kind of grandparent to my grandson as my grandparents were to me, but the shoes feel SO big to fill!

In past blogs 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 blog, The Gift That Keeps on Giving, speaks directly to this overall message…How you parent is a gift that will keep on giving in the years to come.

Well, the same is true with grandparenting. We tend to grandparent the way our grandparents did with us. The modeling of positive behavior from one generation of grandparents to the next is one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids and grandkids.

I have been fortunate to see how the gift of grandparenting keeps on giving from one generation to the next in my own family. My father learned how to be a grandfather from one of the best – his father. I witnessed my dad doing many of the same things as a grandfather to my two children, as my grandpa did with me. I realized this week just how much of a positive influence my dad had on my son when I learned he and his wife named my new grandson after him. Having their son be the namesake of his great grandfather is a powerful gesture of the love and respect they have for him.

Being a grandparent may come with some big shoes to fill. But, having role models who have shown me how to wear the shoes and grow into them will eventually create a perfect fit for me and give me a pair of shoes that someday I can pass on as a gift to my grandkids. In the meantime, let the fun of being a grandma begin!

REFLECT: Think about the positive ways your grandparents have influenced your life. If your grandparents are still living, take the time to tell them how they have impacted your life and what you appreciate the most about them. If you are a grandparent or hope to be someday, what did your grandparents do that you would like to also do with your grandkids? If your job is working with kids, find ways to engage and support their grandparents in your work or programming.

Here’s a blog you may have missed or want to read again that adds more perspective to today’s blog:

Giving the Gift Back

Preparing for the Transition Into Summer

It struck me that moving from March to April last week means we will soon be winding down the school year and gearing up for summer break.

This is usually a time when we begin to feel the excitement and anticipation of summer. Kids begin to dream about and plan for their favorite summer activities – time in the pool or on the beach with friends, going to the ballpark for games, taking vacations, attending county fairs, visiting amusement parks or going to summer camps. It’s a time of year that offers kids a new routine – time away from school and more free and unstructured time. It’s a transition that is usually welcomed by both kids and adults alike.  

For many of us, summer break can’t come soon enough. It’s been a long and exhausting school year for everyone – teachers, parents and kids alike. But, for some, it might feel like summer break started last March and hasn’t yet ended.

Kids who have been able to return to school in-person may be more ready and excited for a summer break than kids who have been learning virtually this school year. For kids who have been learning at home this year, the idea of summer vacation may not bring the same excitement or anticipation it usually does. It may be the continuation of a similar routine they have been in for the past year.

While life begins to move to some normalcy for many, it brings its own challenges – even for kids, and, even during summer break. Re-entry or the transition into normal summer activities may cause anxiety or fear for some kids who have been socially isolated or disconnected this past year. Some families may not have the resources or financial means to provide extracurricular activities for their kids during the summer which could extend the free and unstructured time at home to be even longer.

Preparing students in these final months of school for the transition into summer will be important. There are a lot of great ideas you can find online of projects and activities you can do with students at any age to facilitate this transition. Here are a few of my favorite ideas to help you get started:

Wall of Transition

Designate a wall in your classroom, school or organization and have students fill it with thoughts, words, poetry, song lyrics, photos or images about their celebrations, challenges, strengths and hopes from the past year, as well as their upcoming summer. Add to the wall every week until the end of the school year. You can prime them beforehand by asking questions like:

What did you learn about yourself this past year?

What was your greatest achievement this past year?

What people or experiences did you miss the most?

What is one positive habit you started that you want to continue?

What has made you happy?

What do you hope for this summer?

If you could choose a book, movie, or song that most resembles your life right now, what would it be?

Box of Affirmations

Have students write affirmations to themselves. It can be a letter, short note or just a few words. It needs to be positive, encouraging and affirming. You may need to give them some examples to get them started. Another twist on this idea is to have your students write affirmations to each other. Place the affirmations in a box for each student. On the last day of school, give each student their box of affirmations. If you start this activity now and do it several times a week, they will have 30 to 40 positive thoughts or validations they can read each day during the summer.

Summer Bucket List

When the routines and structures of the school year end some students may find that summer downtime is boring or depressing. Have each student make a bucket list of things they would like to do or accomplish during the summer. You can also help them by brainstorming, as a group, summer activity options or ideas for rainy days. Encourage students to use the summer break to also delve into their interests, passions and strengths.

Emotional First Aid Kit

Creating an emotional first aid kit with students is critical so they end the school year with a plan and some security in case they experience loneliness, sadness or despair over the summer. Here are some points to have them think about in planning their own tool kit:

  • Who are two people you trust that you are able to connect with during the summer break?
  • Are there adults you will see over the summer who support you and share in your well-being?
  • Do you have their contact information?
  • Have you established a safe place where you can go if you are fearful, worried or anxious about anything?

Having a summer that provides opportunities for social activities, connections with friends and family, self-care and good ‘ole summer fun is something we all deserve and need – even our kids. The more we can help them plan and prepare for a positive summer experience, the more they will look forward to it and will more likely achieve it. Better yet, ensuring our students have a positive summer experience also increases the likelihood they will return in the fall with a more refreshed and optimistic outlook for what we all hope is the return of a normal school year.

 

I Wonder

I will confess. My blog is coming to you a day later than usual. It’s the first time in a long time I’m publishing my blog late.

It’s interesting that even though my blog deadline is a self-imposed deadline, not meeting it really bothers me. I guess it’s the side of me that needs to follow through on goals, do what I say I’m going to do and give 110% effort on everything I do. Lately though, I’ve found myself falling short of these things. I’ve been in a funk and it’s one that feels somewhat familiar to me. It’s the same funk I remember being in at this time last year as I was transitioning into a life with COVID-19.  

As an increasing number of citizens are getting vaccinated and more states are seeing a drop in positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to coronavirus, we are beginning to see some forms of pre-COVID life return. More states, including mine, are lifting many of the restrictions we have been living under for over a year now. Whether it’s the right thing to do or the best time to do it, is up for debate. Regardless, it’s happening.

For the last 12 months we have yearned for what’s happening in some of our states today. We have yearned to be told we can send our kids back to school safely. We have yearned to visit our loved ones in nursing homes or assisted living centers. We have yearned to attend sporting events. We have yearned to worship in-person. We have yearned to return to the workplace with our colleagues. We have yearned to eat in a restaurant, exercise at the gym or attend a concert. We have yearned to take the family vacation we had to cancel. We have yearned for the day when we can meet in-person and not virtually.  

Many of the things we have yearned for are now happening or are available to some of us. And, yet, we aren’t all reacting to it with the, “WOO HOO!”, we imagined we would.

As much as we all struggled to transition into a life with COVID-19 a year ago, some of us are struggling to transition into a life where COVID-19 isn’t controlling everything we do, and eventually a life without COVID-19. Transitions are hard. Switching up routines can be challenging. Changing habits requires time, motivation and effort.

I am in a time of transition. I am being challenged to re-think the way I have lived my life this past year with COVID-19. I’m reflecting on what I’ve been doing, how I’ve been doing it, who I’ve been doing it with or without, where I’ve been doing it and how it might all change – again.

I wonder…

    • Will having more in-person interaction drain or build my energy level?
    • Will virtual meetings be of necessity or something of convenience?
    • Will I protect my calendar with white space or fill it up to be as full as it once was?
    • Will I dread having to dress up and leave my home or look forward to it?
    • Will I continue to wear a mask, even if not mandated, or banish them?
    • Will my social skills be more like…riding a bike – a skill, that once learned, is never forgotten…or more like…playing an instrument at a high mastery level – a skill that if not practiced regularly over time diminishes or is completely lost?
    • Will some relationships I had continue to be important in my life, be less important or not important at all?
    • Will I live life with more gratitude or resentment?
    • Will I say, “I love you,” more often or let it go unspoken?
    • Will I adapt my new routines back to some of my old routines? Will I go to the gym three times a week? Will I get up early and attend worship in-person?
    • Will resuming family gatherings be something I look forward to or dread?
    • Will I have become more self-minded or community-minded?
    • Will I continue practicing good hygiene habits or slack on them?
    • Will technology play an even bigger role in my daily life or will I set personal limits or boundaries?
    • Will I continue doing most of my shopping online or will I return to in-person retail shopping?
    • Will I continue keeping my closets organized or my yard in pristine condition or say, “To heck with it!”
    • Will COVID-19 become an excuse or still a valid reason?

Yeah. I’ve been wondering a lot about how I will live life in a post-COVID world someday. Maybe you have been, too. While we are by no means fully there and won’t be for a good long while, the shift towards it is beginning. And, as the transition continues, it will shake up the life we have settled into this past year.

All of this reminds me of the blog I wrote on March 18, 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, entitled, “Shake Up.” I started it by writing:

“We’re living through a very difficult time right now. Anxiety, stress, isolation and fear of the unknown seems to have invaded many of our lives in a short period of time. The coronavirus has shaken up our lives. It has shaken up our routines. It has shaken up our jobs. It has shaken up our investments and bank accounts. It has shaken up our social calendar. It has shaken up our families. It has shaken up our relationships and connection with others. I’m going to be honest. I wonder what this “shake up” means in our lives…”

It’s interesting how a year ago I was in the same state of wonder I find myself in today.

I think what I am struggling with now is seeing how the “shake up” we experienced a year ago HAS really changed our lives and will continue to into the future. Just as we experienced anxiety, stress and fear of the unknown at the start of the pandemic, we are experiencing some of the same feelings as we transition into a life of unknowns out of the pandemic. We are experiencing a new “shake up” and while it isn’t as abrupt as the one we experienced a year ago, it is still a shake up, and one that still leaves me to wonder.

As we move through this time of transition, perhaps it’s the words I wrote at the end of my blog on March 18, 2020, that we all, including me, need to be reminded of:

“Your world may be shaken up right now, but you will get through it. Practice patience. Grant yourself grace. Relax. Focus on what and who is important to you. Stay connected with loved ones. Take one day at a time and have faith that time will figure all things out.”

Lessons Learned: Writing the Narrative

Cue this week in March a year ago when our lives were abruptly put on hold and we were restricted from leaving our homes and seeing our loved ones. It feels like yesterday AND a lifetime ago. No matter who you are or where you live we all had to stop and face the unexpected and unknown challenges ahead of us.

Little did we know the challenges would continue into the same week a year later.

This past year forced us to endure a lot – isolation, uncertainty, hopelessness, fear, loss, insecurity, grief, frustration and loneliness.

On the flip side, this last year was also transformative. It forced creativity and flexibility and a new way of thinking, doing and being. We adapted and we learned.

 

Slow down.

I remember removing scheduled activities, meetings and obligations from my calendar and watching it go from being a page of solid black to a blank, white page. I can’t recall seeing my calendar that empty for a long, long time. Going from a 100 mph pace to 5 mph (if even that) was a shock to all of our systems. It seemed almost impossible to do at the time, but we did it. For me, I came to appreciate the “pause” in my life and am now grateful for the time. It serves as a reminder for all of us to protect our time and leave some white space on our calendar.  

Expect change.

The only certainty is uncertainty. We have learned, not only to accept change, but to expect it. We need to always have a plan, but be prepared to change and ditch those plans. And we need to embrace the surprises and detours along the way for not all change is a bad thing.

Go with the flow.

For those of us who are routine people and who thrive with a schedule and daily “check off” lists, we felt  “lost in the desert” when the pandemic struck. Without a roadmap, we were aimlessly roaming in ways that were unknown and uncomfortable to us. I will always be a routine-kind-of-person. The pandemic didn’t change this about me. But, the pandemic did teach me that sometimes if life takes you in a different direction or throws you off course, you just have to go with it and not fight it.

We are resilient.

Learning to homeschool, work from home and connect with others safely – are just a few of the many ways we creatively pivoted and transitioned during the pandemic – all showcasing our true perseverance and resiliency.

Notice and appreciate the little things.

I remember how I felt when…noticing an uptick of couples taking walks and being in conversation with one another, seeing parents and kids playing outdoors and having fun, finding toilet paper and hand sanitizer on a store shelf as if it was like finding a nugget of gold, receiving a “how are you doing” phone call instead of a text message from a friend, realizing I have all the ingredients on hand to make my favorite recipe while being quarantined…It was the little things that we noticed and appreciated in ways we never had before that made us happy.

Count your blessings.

We were all deprived of so much this year and experienced hardships in ways that we couldn’t imagine. But, COVID-19 was even harder on those who have less than us. Counting our blessings – big and small – and trying to help others in any way we can is one of the most important things we can do – pandemic or not.

The internet can be life-sustaining.

Enjoying virtual concerts, happy hours, tours, worship, book readings and tutorials sustained us in ways we may never be able to comprehend. I am much more mindful now of the internet being a blessing than being an evil.

It’s okay not to be okay.

Most everyone has not been okay this past year. Understanding this has helped me accept my own not-okayness and realize I’m not the only one struggling. Knowing we are not walking alone through darkness offers us comfort, peace and strength.

We need community.

If nothing else, I think we can all walk away from the past year with a deeper understanding of one, undeniable basic need we all have – to be in community with others. I doubt we will ever take it for granted or underestimate its importance in our lives from here on.

These are just a few of the many, many lessons we have learned these past twelve months and with the pandemic still in force, there are more lessons to be learned. Generations from now, plenty will have been written about the highs and lows and lessons of the past year, but we will be the ones who actually lived it. We each have the power to shape the future narrative about the past year. We will influence whether the narrative focuses primarily on the challenges we experienced or the lessons we have learned because of them.

So, I ask you:

What would your narrative of the past year most focus on? The good or the ugly?

What are the lessons you have learned from the challenges you faced?

How will you take the lessons you have learned and use them for the greater good in your own life and the lives of others?

What do you want future generations to learn from your experience?

Now, grab a pen or pencil and begin writing your narrative. You have it within you because you have lived it.

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!