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.

The One Thing Most All Parents Have in Common

A number of years ago an inner-city organization gathered middle school aged youth together weekly who had one thing in common with each other – their mothers were incarcerated.

The community-based organization offered tremendous support and programming to these kids. My association with them happened when they chose to bring the program to the kids. As the trainer of All Stars, I spent time with them their staff on how to effectively deliver the program and adapt it to the special needs of their kids.

All Stars offers the opportunity for kids to think about and imagine the best future for themselves. It challenges them to consider what they need to do and not do to achieve their best future and create a road map on how they will make it happen. They identify the four things they most want and least want in their best future. They commit to a reputation they most want and don’t want in their future. They write personal and voluntary commitments to what they will and will not do when it comes to risky behaviors in their future. All Stars is not about the past or even about the present. All Stars is about the future. It gives kids hope for their future and a pathway to get there.

At least four times during All Stars, kids are asked to share what they are thinking, planning and committing to in their future with at least one important adult in their life. The kids can choose who this adult is for them. For kids who do not have an adult in mind, time is taken by the All Stars teacher to help them identify one.

Most kids will choose a parent to talk to in All Stars. Other kids will choose a grandparent, an uncle or aunt, a teacher, coach or friend’s parent. It doesn’t matter who the adult is – as long as it is someone the student chooses.

When it came time for the group of kids whose mothers were incarcerated to have their first All Stars conversation with an adult, the organization’s staff asked them to do something additional. Along with choosing their one adult to talk to, the kids were asked to also have the same conversation with their mother. Essentially, the students were asked to have the same conversation with two different adults – one they choose and the other being their mother.

Every month the organization provided van transportation for the kids to travel together to visit their mothers in prison. During All Stars, each student needed to show the staff person they had their All Stars conversation worksheets with them and ready to share with their mother before they got into the van to make the trip.

On four separate occasions, the students talked with their mothers about their future plans and intentions and asked their mothers for advice, feedback and support using the conversational questions provided by All Stars. They talked about the things they wanted in their future – like education, achievement, acceptance, respect and fun – and the things they didn’t want – like addiction, conflict, loneliness and disease. They visited about the reputations they wanted and didn’t want and what their intentions were when it comes to drinking alcohol, using tobacco or marijuana, being sexually active or fighting in their future.

Each time the kids made the 2-hour trip back home in the van, the staff listened to them talk about what their mothers said to them. Based on what they heard, the staff knew something special was happening during these visits.

When All Stars was over and the conversations connected to the program ended, 95% of the mothers asked for similar guided conversations to continue with their child. In fact, the community organization had never received more thank you notes from the mothers to anything else they had done than when they did All Stars.

In one of the notes, a mother wrote:

“Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to talk to my son about his future. I not only heard what he wants or is thinking for his future, but he also heard what I want for him. I did some awful things in my past that I now regret. But just because I have done bad things in my past does not mean I want the same for my son. I told him this. I want him to have something different and better. I want him to have the best. I may not be able to give him the best, but I want him to know I expect and want it for him. The conversations we had during All Stars was the first time I was given the opportunity to express this to him without judgment from anyone else. Thank you for not forgetting that I am still his mother and for letting me still be his mother.”
 

Sometimes when we work with parents we can become judgmental. I know I have been. We can be quick to evaluate a parent as being a “good parent” or a “bad parent” based on what they have done or not done. Honestly, most of us would probably not think of incarcerated mothers as being “good parents” based on our own criteria.

But, the staff at this community organization saw it differently. They knew something that I believe many of us need to be reminded of…

Even parents who have messed up in their past or even in their present, really don’t want the same for their own kids. Not all, but at the core of most parents – from the best to the worst and every one in between – is the desire to want the best for their kids. They really do desire something better for their own kids than what they have or had for themselves.

The challenge for parents is overcoming the belief that they CAN expect and express something different or better for their kids without being a hypocrite. Breaking through this barrier is critical for parents and giving them the permission and the opportunity to do it is so important.

Another challenge for parents is not always knowing HOW to give their child something better. Research shows that most of us parent the way we were parented. Recognizing that parents may lack the knowledge, skills and resources to do what they really want to do is critical in our work with parents. It’s important for us to give them the tools they need and empower them to use them.

All Stars was the catalyst for empowering the incarcerated mothers to express their desires and expectations to their kids in ways they were never able to do before. The fact that 95% of them wanted the conversations to continue tells you and I how important and meaningful it was to them.

But let’s be honest…the experience for these mothers happened because the staff at the community organization broke down the barriers and set aside any judgment based on what they knew to be true…

Most parents really do want the best for their kids’ futures – even incarcerated mothers.

P.S. If you want to learn more about how All Stars can be the catalyst for empowering your students to think about and plan for their future AND empowering them and their parents (or other important adults) to talk about it, download the or visit the ! Feel free to also me. I would love to visit with you!

 

To Tell the Truth or Not

“Miss Kathleen, did you drink alcohol when you were my age?”

I froze in my tracks the first time a student asked me this question as I was teaching an alcohol and drug prevention program years ago.

I didn’t know how to answer the question. In fact, I have no recollection of how I answered it – if I did at all.

Whether you are a parent or someone who works with kids, one of the most challenging situations we can be faced with is when kids want to know what we did when we were their age – specifically when it comes to risky behaviors.

Kids are naturally curious. It should be no surprise they would be curious about our past. Most of the time, they are looking for another person’s experience to help them determine what their own current or future actions might be.

Here’s the dilemma you face:

If you DID drink alcohol, smoke or other things that were risky when you were their age and you share this with them they could see it as an excuse or permission for them to try it, too – even if you experienced negative consequences, talk about how bad it was for you or did it just once or twice. Kids already think they’re invincible and nothing bad will happen to them. They could see you as someone who did it and turned out just fine years later which affirms their belief about themselves. Worst yet, they could see you as a hypocrite if your expectation is that they not do the same things.

If you DID NOT drink, smoke or engage in other risky behaviors at their age and you share this with kids, they might think you don’t understand them, can’t relate to their situation or they won’t believe you.

It seems neither response is better than the other and no response isn’t a good option either.

So, what’s the solution? What should your response be?

Here are some helpful suggestions:

1. Don’t overreact by getting mad, defensive or ignoring the question.

2. Treat the question as an opportunity to talk with your child about your expectations of them. Ask them a question back to start a conversation. Ask, “Why is my past behavior important to you?”

3. Ask, “Will what I did or didn’t do years ago make any difference to the decisions you are going to make?” If your child answers yes, ask how.

4. Be sure to note to your child, “It’s important to me to help you figure out what your future is going to be like. My experiences, whatever they were, are not likely to help you do that. You can have or be whatever you want in your future. I want you to get the best future you can possibly get and to help you do what it’s going to take to get it because you deserve it. That’s my commitment to you.”

5. If you choose to disclose information about your past behavior, be sure to do it in a one-on-one conversation where you can help your child process it in a way that is helpful to them.

6. Don’t glamorize your past behavior. Speak about the negative consequences your past behavior may have had on your life or future and what you wish you would have done differently.

7. Take their question as an opportunity for you to express your expectation of them when it comes to engaging in risky or other behaviors. Remember the rule of thumb when it comes to setting expectations: You get what you expect. So, expect the best for your child.

Most importantly, keep the conversation focused on your child and not on you. Their future can be anything they want it to be.

Just because you may have done something when you were their age does not mean you’re a hypocrite by expecting something different for your child. Don’t let your past influence what you want for your child or anyone’s child. If you want something different or better, then expect and express it.

The real truth is…Your past is your past. Your past does not need to be your child’s future.

P.S. This is my fourth blog post in a series of blogs I am writing on parenting. I’ve had a lot of requests from my followers as to if they can re-print my articles. You are more than welcome to re-print or share them with your parent friends and family, the parents you work with, the parents of your students or others. The only thing I ask is that you give credit to me as the author: Kathleen Nelson-Simley of KNS Learning Solutions. Thank you!

Walk the Walk

Have you ever told your child to eat a food that you were not willing to eat yourself?

Have you asked your child to not use their cell phone at a time when you did not use yours?

Do you expect your teenager to not exceed the speed limit when they are driving, but you do?

Has your child ever questioned you on why they have to do something that you don’t do and your response to them was, “Because I said so! That’s why.”

I’m guilty, guilty, guilty and…GUILTY…on all four counts!

The saying, “Your actions speak louder than your words,” rings so true when it comes to effective parenting. What you say to your child is important, but what you DO is even more important.

You are an important influence on your child. Your child is watching and listening to you. They can recognize when your actions align with your words and when they don’t. And, when they don’t, they will be quick to call you out on it.

One of the most important ways you can influence your child’s behavior is to not only talk the talk, but walk the walk. You must do what you want your child to do by consistently imitating the actions you expect from them.

It’s hard to do – day in and day out – over the course of years. There will be times when you just talk the talk without walking the walk. I did and I even knew better.

Just remember…when you can talk the talk AND walk the walk more times than not, the more positive influence you will have on your child over the years.

And, if you think your child’s friends might have a stronger influence on your child than you do…the truth is… they do influence your child, but so do YOU!

The influence your child’s friends have is different from your influence. Your child’s friends are more likely to influence everyday behavior, like the music they listen to and the clothes they wear. As a parent, you can influence your child’s basic values and attitudes and the issues related to their future.

You can influence the IMPORTANT things in your child’s life. The things that matter most to their long-term success and happiness.

Research shows that a parent as a positive role model will have more positive effects on a child than any other variable.

This is SO important, so let me say it again…

Research shows that a parent as a positive role model will have more positive effects on a child than any other variable.

And the stronger your relationship is with your child, the more influence you will have. That’s because your child will value your good opinion, advice and support. In fact, it’s more likely that when your child becomes a young adult, they will end up with values, beliefs and behavior similar to yours.

There are many ways your actions as a parent can have an overall positive influence on your child, but the following behaviors are critical for you to model, especially if you want to reduce the chances your child will engage in risky behaviors:

Be involved in positive activities. It’s easy in today’s busy world to say, “No thank you”, to opportunities for being involved in your community or your child’s school. Taking the time to be involved in positive activities shows your child how important being involved is no matter how busy they might be. Find positive activities you can do together with your child. Kids who are involved in positive activities are less likely to become involved in risky behaviors.

Encourage positive and open communication. Kids who have good communication with their parents have a better chance of avoiding risky behaviors. Good communication isn’t something that just happens in families; parents make it happen. Modeling good listening skills, speaking with encouragement and respect and sharing your feelings shows your child how to positively communicate with you and others. Establishing good communication early on sets the stage for better communication in the teen years when it is most critical. (If you didn’t read my blog post, The Talk About It Chair, last week, check it out. It offers great tips on modeling good communication with your child.)

Make positive choices. The choices you make not only impact you, but also your child. Someday, they may be in the same predicament and think to themselves, “What did mom or dad do when they were in this same situation?” It’s not enough to tell your child what the best choices are to make. You must show them how to make the best choices.

Set an example about alcohol, tobacco and other drug use. How much and how often you use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs is related to how much and how often your child is likely to use. Give serious thought to whether your behavior could be having a positive or negative influence on your child. Be willing to change or seek help, if needed.

The bottom line is…If you want to be a parent who positively influences their child you must be their positive role model. I’m sure this isn’t the first time you have heard it. The challenge is to take what you hear and know and do it. There will be times when you do it right and other times when you don’t. Give yourself a “pat on the back” when you do it right and when you don’t, use it as a learning experience on how to do better the next time. You do not have to be a perfect parent all the time to have a positive influence on your child – just most of the time.

So, go forth, and walk the walk.

The “Talk About It” Chair

Years ago, I picked my 2 1/2-year-old son up from daycare and heard from his teacher that he had bit another toddler earlier in the day. Now, in defense of my son, he had been bitten by this other little boy numerous times leading up to him biting back. Even so, I knew I had to talk with him in a way that a 2 1/2-year-old could understand about why biting is not acceptable and what behavior I expected of him in the future. We drove home from daycare talking about everything else regarding his day other than the biting incident.

When we got home, I went to sit in a rocking chair in our living room and invited my son to come and sit on my lap. He climbed up and settled in. As we began to rock in the chair, I told him that he needed to tell me what he did to the little boy in daycare. He looked at me with tears forming in his eyes and said, “No, Mommy. I don’t want to.” I calmly encouraged and reassured him. I told him I just wanted to “talk about it.”

After a bit more nudging, he began to tell his version of what happened. I listened as I held him and rocked. When he was done, I told him it was his turn to listen to me. First, I thanked him for telling me what happened. Then, I told him what I expected him to do differently the next time something like this happens to him. I checked to make sure he heard and understood what I said. When he confirmed with a, “Yes, Mommy”, I told him we were done “talking about it.” He got off my lap and ran off to play. We never talked about the incident again.

I really didn’t think much more about this particular interaction with my son until another incidence arose that required us to “talk about it.” Like the last time, I asked him to sit on my lap in the rocking chair and the conversation unfolded like the one before. Except, this time…

When the conversation was over he got down from my lap, looked at me and asked, “Mommy, is this the ‘talk about it’ chair?”

I was speechless. I didn’t realize that’s what the rocking chair meant to him. So, my fumbling response was, “Yeah, I guess it is the ‘talk about it’ chair!” He ran off saying, “Ok, Mommy!”

There were many more conversations with my son, and eventually my daughter, in the “talk about it” chair over the years. And, as they outgrew sitting on my lap, the “talk about it” chair became whatever chairs were nearby. It didn’t matter which chairs we sat in. They knew that when we sat down to “talk about it” the experience would be similar to all previous conversations.

I would love to tell you the “talk about it” chair was a well, thought-out parenting strategy on my part. But, it wasn’t. It just happened…accidentally.

Isn’t that how parenting really is, though? A lot of times it just happens accidentally and in the moment – with no pre-planning or thought on our part. Sometimes we accidentally get it right. Other times, we accidentally get it wrong.

I’m thankful I accidentally got it right with the “talk about it” chair.

The “talk about it” chair established a sense of trust and respect between my kids and me. It let them know they could talk to me about anything on their heart and mind and sometimes, even confess when they did something wrong before I even knew they had. I couldn’t always promise our conversations would end without a consequence. But, I could promise they would have the opportunity to talk as I listened and that I expected the same back from them.

Little did I know how important those “talk about it” chair conversations set the stage for the adolescent years when the conversations became more challenging with my kids. As with any teenagers, the older they got, the harder it was to keep open communication with them. But, having a foundation of positive communication before the teen years carried us through the difficult years. It still wasn’t easy, but it was easier.

Establishing positive, open communication with your child early on reaps so many benefits. It leads to greater cooperation and feelings of worth for your child. It builds a stronger relationship between you and them. It makes using other parenting strategies, especially parental monitoring, easier and more effective. It forms the basis of good communication with other people as your child grows into an adult. It reduces the chances of them engaging in risky behaviors. The list of benefits could go on and on.

Every child is different and how you create open communication with each one might vary. However, there are some basic communication strategies research has found as being important and effective with all kids – especially when they are used early on. If you are wondering how you can establish positive communication with your child, then take a moment to learn more about these basic strategies by reading, Six Effective Communication Strategies to Use With Your Child.

Let it be clear…I am NOT a perfect parent. There were numerous times I accidentally got this parenting gig wrong. It’s when I had to put myself in the “talk about it” chair – openly admitting to my child what I did wrong, committing to what I need to do differently next time and asking for their forgiveness and patience. It was the hardest thing I had to do. I knew that if it was what I expected my children to do in the “talk about it” chair with me, I needed to be able to do the same with them.

The “Talk About It” Chair

The “talk about it” chair is still in my home even though my kids are all grown up and have homes of their own. It continues to be a reminder of all the conversations we had during their early years and the conversations that moved to other “talk about it” chairs as they grew older. It is also a reminder of that one time, after getting home from daycare with my 2 1/2-year-old son, I accidentally got it right as a parent.

Nurturing Never Happens in a Rush

One of my most favorite conversations to have is about parenting. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been doing it for 31 years and I know how hard it can be, but equally, how rewarding it can be.

I’ve been thinking a lot about being a parent lately. My first-born just turned 31 years old and my daughter recently became a new 28-year-old which has left me wondering, “Where has the time gone?” In hindsight, the parenting years seem like they have passed by so quickly and yet, when I was in the “thick of it”, I could see no end in sight.

If parenting was hard for me years ago, I can only imagine how hard it is for parents today. If you are a parent yourself or work with parents, then you know first-hand that parenting isn’t easy. However, no matter if you were an active parent years ago like me or are one today, the research on the most effective parenting strategies hasn’t changed much over time. All the parenting books and articles I was reading years ago were telling me to do a lot of the same things parents are being told to do today.

Simply put, there are some parenting strategies that have survived the test of time and one of those is the importance of creating a nurturing and loving relationship with your child. It is so important that some researchers call it the “super-factor” of parenting. The earlier you have established this kind of relationship with your child, it makes using the other parenting strategies that are important easier and more effective.

For many people the term, nurturing parenting, conjures up childhood memories of our parents and other adults caring about us with their compliments and their actions. We knew on some level that we were being nurtured when our parents told us they loved us, took time to listen to us and showed interest in our thoughts and feelings, comforted us when we were hurt or sad, laughed with us when we were happy or acting silly, played with us and set rules and guidelines to keep us safe. We knew we were loved. We were being nurtured.

All children need to feel important, loved and connected. Unfortunately, some children grow up not having a nurturing or loving relationship with a parent. For these children, having a nurturing relationship with another adult, such as a grandparent, aunt or uncle, teacher, coach or maybe even you, can be just as important and beneficial.

Good nurturing starts with an attitude and a deeply held belief that warmth is critical for success as a parent. It involves loving looks, friendly conversations in a warm and caring voice, smiles, sharing feelings, encouragement, empathy, empowerment and unconditional acceptance and love. Nurturing adults also give the gift of their time and attention.

A healthy, nurturing relationship with your child is built through countless interactions over the course of time. It requires a lot of energy, work and consistency with no one “right way” to do it. The outcome is what we all need to be working towards, but how we each achieve it will vary from family to family and from child to child. Here are some suggestions to get you or other parents started in discovering how to become a nurturing parent:

Express love and pride often.

Write notes of encouragement, praise and love. Slip them into the child’s lunchbox, backpack or under their pillow.

Remember the power of appropriate touch. Give a loving hug, comforting hand squeeze or pat on the back.

Give your undivided attention when children are talking. Stop what you are doing, look directly at the child and listen attentively.

Ask questions of interest about their activities, school day or friends.

Attend their activities not because you have to, but because you want to.

Eat meals together and use the time to talk about each other’s day and activities.

Spend time one-on-one with each other and do something they would enjoy.

Turn the TV off and silence all phones at least one night a month and do something fun together.

Tell them how much you appreciate them.

Draw attention to their talents and good behaviors.

Teach them to do new things.

Read to or with them.

Nurturing children is about the way we love them…the way we bring them up. If you’re a parent, there isn’t a greater compliment that you can receive from your children than to hear them say, “My parents really care about me. They really love me. They are there for me through the good and bad times.” That’s what nurturing is: love, caring and steady support through the good and bad times. Lots of love given freely. No, “I’ll love you if … or I’ll love you when …,” just “I love you.”

P.S. This is the first of a series of parenting blogs I will be sharing in the coming weeks. If you are a parent in the “thick of it” right now and can’t see no end in sight, I hope the blog posts give you helpful tips you can use, the reassurance to keep doing what you do and the empowerment to do what is sometimes hard to do. I encourage you to also share them with your family, friends, colleagues or clients who might need that one idea, reminder, or “pat on the back” to do what they need to do as a parent.

You

The response to my blog last week about personally experiencing surge capacity depletion was quite overwhelming – to say the least. My gut feeling told me I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling and apparently it was right. It’s comforting and reassuring when you know so many other people in all parts of the world are on the same journey with you.

After reading last week’s blog, a friend and past client in Belfast, Northern Ireland, wrote:

“Many thanks for this – it just summed up how me and many colleagues are feeling. Thank you so much! It arrived at just the right time. I have shared it with my team and please know they appreciate it also.”

Thank you for trusting me by sharing your own personal stories of surge capacity depletion. I am truly humbled.

Lately, I’ve been doing an extra amount of reading about self-care and preventing burn out and I’ve come across a number of tips and insights. I’ve slowly and diligently implemented them into my daily life and routine and have already seen a positive difference in my energy and overall health.

Given how many of you expressed a depletion of energy and feelings of burnout this past week, I thought I would pass along to you some of the information I have found beneficial to me…

Burnout happens when you have been under excessive and prolonged stress. It happens when you feel overwhelmed and unable to keep up with all the demands of your life. After a while, you begin to lose the interest or motivation to do even the smallest things that need to be done. Burnout drains your energy and sometimes results in feeling helpless, hopeless, cynical and even resentful of the people and things in life you love the most. If left unchecked, it can result in a downward spiral that is very hard to get out of.

Practicing self-care is one of the best things you can do to prevent burnout or to get yourself on an upward spiral towards a healthier and more balanced life. “Self-care” encompasses just about anything you do to be good to yourself. It’s about knowing when your resources are running low and taking a step back to replenish and recharge.

When your schedule is full of appointments and commitments to provide care for other people it can be hard to find ways to care for yourself. One of the biggest barriers to practicing self-care is the feeling that you are being selfish when you do. Taking care of yourself and your health is not selfish. We need to participate in behaviors that contribute to our own survival and health so we can be healthy and available for others. Similar to being on an airplane, where you have to put your oxygen mask on yourself before you can help other people, you need to tend to caring for yourself before you can help other people. Taking time out of your day for you, for “me time” and to relax or de-stress is important. And, if you experience guilt by practicing self-care or feel like you are being selfish when you do, then think of it in terms of a “healthy selfishness.”

Self-care is a necessity – not a luxury.

One of the best things you can do on your self-care journey is to check in with yourself on a regular basis. Ask yourself, “What do I need right now to be the best me?”

Having a toolbox full of self-care tools you can pull from is important. Make sure you have at least three stress management tools you can do that you don’t need anyone else or anything else for. It could be as simple as cuddling a pet, reaching out to a friend, meditating, listening to music, practicing mindfulness, journaling or turning to a spiritual community.

Here are some other ways research has found you can prevent burnout through self-care:

1. Exercise

It’s no secret that exercise can relieve stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can lower the symptoms associated with mild anxiety, improve your sleep and ease your stress levels. If you’re not an avid exerciser, simply going on a walk can help you stay focused and solve problems more efficiently.

2. Get More Sleep

This might sound obvious, but it wouldn’t be if everyone got enough sleep. Deep sleep is restorative. Researchers believe that during sleep, cerebrospinal fluid flushes out toxic wastes, thus “cleaning” the brain. The National Foundation for Sleep recommends that adults clock between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. It’s also important to limit the amount of screen time before turning in. Scientists recommend that you stop using your devices at least 30 minutes before bed. Setting an alarm to remind you to start winding down can be an effective way to get more sleep.

3. Unplug

The very technology that is connecting us right now may also be doing us harm. It’s unrealistic to completely get rid of our “screened” technology, but there are health benefits to reducing your screen time – like improved mood, more time to try new activities and improved physical health. Schedule time each day to put down your phone or computer and shut off the television. Try reading a book, meditating or using your phone to actually call someone. If you can safely meet someone in person, even better.

4. Give Back

Stop expecting satisfaction from your job. Take it from me, burnout affects even the most passionate workers, as much as it does those who are in a job simply for the paycheck. If you’re no longer satisfied by your work, try volunteering or giving back. COVID-19 may have complicated matters, but there are ways to volunteer online or safely in-person. Starting a new hobby or investing time in your family and friend are also good ways to fill the void left by your job.

5. Honor Your Small Needs

You–and your body, mind and spirit–have needs that occur throughout the day. Self-care is about honoring all the small daily moments that need your awareness. By taking care of the small things, you prevent them from compounding into big things. Here are a number of small daily moments and needs you can address to sustain your physical, emotional and mental health:

Don’t skip meals because you’re busy. Make time to eat a meal and make it a healthy one. It will help you and your brain work better.

Stretch throughout the day. Our bodies become tense and immobile by holding the same position all day. Take five minutes to stretch.

Breathe. If you really pay attention, you would be surprised by how little you likely breathe or how incomplete your breaths are. Take a moment to take some deep breaths.

Laugh! Is there a person who makes you laugh every time you talk with them? Is there a comic strip that makes you laugh most every time you read it? Is there a movie or TV show that you find yourself laughing at no matter how many times you watch it? Do the things that you know will almost guarantee a deep belly laugh for you!

In the midst of a global pandemic, the need to care for your own health — all aspects of it — is of the utmost importance. Let’s face it…Navigating this new normal isn’t easy. But, the one thing you do have control over and can navigate right now is YOU. So, take a step back and honor what YOU need. Make YOU a priority. Make and take time for the things that keep YOU healthy, inspired and joyful. YOU will be a better worker, a better parent, a better partner and a better friend because of it, but more importantly, YOU will be a happier and healthier person.

And, remember there is absolutely nothing selfish about taking care of YOU!

The Pitfalls of a “Grab the Bull by the Horns” Pandemic Response

It’s great to be back after taking some time off. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I’ve taken a full week off from work, and at the same time, I can’t remember the last time I felt such an overpowering need to take a break from work.

But, then again, it’s no surprise. Living through a pandemic these past seven months has been crazy challenging, right?

I feel like I’ve had two distinct pandemic experiences. The first four months marked my “Grab the Bull by the Horns” pandemic response. I was positive! I was energized! I was hopeful and optimistic! I accomplished more around my house during the early months of the pandemic than I have in a long time. I was Ms. Energizer Bunny!

I also began a brand-new workout practice at home and was cooking and eating healthier than I had for a long time. I was on fire with goals and productivity and can-do-it-ness. I was grateful for my health and the health of my loved ones; grateful that I had a job and one that I passionately love; grateful for the birds outside my office window and blooming flowers that brought color during a dismal time.

Then came part two of my pandemic experience, from mid-July to the present, which I call my Ennui pandemic response. This phase has included increases in forgetfulness, disorganization, irritation and fatigue. My daily workout practice dwindled to once a week and my healthy cooking was degraded to take out dining.

Turns out, this Ennui pandemic response is a real thing. I recently read an article that said many of us are experiencing what experts call “surge capacity depletion.” According to journalist, Tara Haelle, surge capacity is “a collection of adaptive systems – mental and physical – that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters.” But as Haelle observes, our surge capacity isn’t endless; it has to be renewed. She asks, “What happens when you struggle to renew it because the emergency phase has now become chronic?”

Research shows that restless sleep patterns, feeling distracted, having difficulty concentrating or being easily irritated are signs your surge capacity is depleted and you need a break.

So, I took a break.

Many of us need a break, but the coronavirus doesn’t. And, that’s the problem. The pandemic is still with us and the uncertainty of when it will be over continues. Our stress is compounded because we know it’s real and dangerous and threatening, but at the same time, it feels vague and somewhat nebulous. Yet, we are fully aware of its presence in our lives.

So much about our lives has been altered by the virus – how we work, learn, teach, socialize, shop and so much more. The reality is that these lifestyle changes are very real and will have a lasting impact.

The problem is…there isn’t a good answer or a good solution right now to the current situation. Haelle suggests strategies like lowering our expectations for ourselves and accepting what she calls “ambiguous loss” – loss that’s unclear and lacks a resolution. She also suggests engaging in activities – both new and old – that we find life-giving and focusing on slowly building our resilience bank accounts back up.

If I’m going to survive this season of pandemic – being the Type A overachiever that I am – then I’m going to have cut myself some slack without guilt. In normal times, I get a lot done and I have a pretty good amount of energy, enthusiasm and optimism. But, as we’ve all said again and again these last few months, these are not normal times.

I’m also rebuilding my resilience bank by rededicating myself to simple, daily practices that I know are good for me like getting enough sleep, exercising, drinking more water, limiting my work hours each day and spending time with friends and family. I may not succeed at maintaining this precarious balance, but being determined as I am, I will surely give it my best effort. And, isn’t that the best any of us can do right now?

I am sharing my pandemic experience with you because I know I’m not alone in this. Many of us are simply burned out. We, especially the “Grab the Bull by the Horns” kind of people, surged with the best of them and then we utterly depleted ourselves. Maybe you are one of them. So, if you are in a state of ennui like me, do what you need to do to take care of yourself. Give yourself some slack. Grant yourself patience and grace. Do what is life-giving, energizing and resilience-building for you. Do the little things each day that will maintain or build your surge capacity.

When you take care of yourself, you are a better person for others – your family, your co-workers, your friends and your students. If you find yourself at the bottom of the well and depleted, try not to respond with a “Grab the Bull by the Horns” response and just push through it. Rather, “grab the hand” of someone you trust and who can help you wrangle your way up again. You deserve it and so do those who love and need you.

P.S. If you would like to read more about surge capacity depletion and ways you can build your capacity reservoir, read the full article by Tara Haelle.

Turning “Nobody” Into “Somebody”

Early one morning in 2018, a “twitter challenge” caught my eye. It was from a principal in Missouri. This challenge struck a chord with me. It seemed like a valuable activity. When you are aware of a good idea, I’ve learned that it’s good to go ahead and implement it if you are able. Don’t wait! Don’t procrastinate! So after I finished the morning announcements that day, I asked all our students to get out a sheet of paper and write down the name of one adult they trusted – someone that they could talk to if they needed. I told them that if they could not think of one, they could write “nobody.” I collected all the papers and we began putting our data into a spreadsheet.

Out of about 500 students, we had 38 who wrote “nobody.” That’s 38 too many! We want every student to feel connected in our school, as I know you do in your school. We want every child to have an adult they feel comfortable talking to.

I made a slide show of the pictures of our students that wrote “nobody.” We watched this slideshow at our faculty meeting the next week. There were no names attached to any of the pictures and we did not discuss who taught these students. We viewed these pictures in complete silence. It was a sobering moment – one that I will not soon forget. When it was over, I told our teachers, “It is my hope that if we do this activity again in a few months we won’t have any students who write “nobody.”

That evening, the activity inspired me to tweet about it. There were a number of people on Twitter who asked me what I was going to do with the data we generated. One person responded, “What are your next steps?” That left me feeling a bit convicted. Showing the pictures at the faculty meeting was a good activity, but it was not enough. The fact is, some of our kids don’t feel sufficiently connected and we don’t want to just hope they get connected. We don’t want to leave it to chance. So, yesterday, I gave the list of these students to our counselor and I emailed our teachers asking them to connect with her to “adopt” a student on the list. This isn’t a formal process, but it reflects our faculty’s commitment to ensuring that every student in our school has an adult advocate. We don’t want any student falling through the cracks. That is our goal. Every kid is important. Every kid matters. And they need to feel it.

This story was shared by Danny Steele, a principal at a high school in Alabama, in his blog that I first read in 2018 and recently read again. It was just what I need to hear and be reminded of, especially right now.

Research has always said that there is nothing more important in a child’s life than having a positive and stable relationship with a caring adult. The influence just one positive adult can have on a child can be life changing. It offers the child a sense of security and inclusion, enhances their resilience and coping skills, protects them from risky behaviors, contributes to higher achievement and so much more.

The bottom line is… kids are far better off short-term and long-term when they have an adult they trust, respect and care about and believe they can talk to about whatever is on their heart and on their mind. This is true in life outside of a pandemic, but even more so during a pandemic.

Kids of all ages are currently grappling with a wide range of emotions – anger, frustration, disappointment, anxiety and sadness – just to name a few. The ways in which they process these emotions and the experiences they have had these past six months will be greatly influenced by whether they have at least one “secure base” to turn to.

So, I have to ask…

Are you that one “secure base” for your kids?

Do you have a positive, caring, stable relationship with ALL of your kids?

If you surveyed the kids you work with, would some of them say they have “nobody” to talk to?

No matter how you answered these questions, one thing is for certain…we can’t leave relationship building with kids to chance. As Danny stated in his blog, “We don’t want to just hope they get connected.” If we do, we risk some kids having “nobody” to connect with. We need to be intentional about connecting every child with an adult and have a plan on how we are going to make it happen.

If you need some help creating your plan, here are a few proven ideas and resources to get you started:

  1. Make relationship-building a priority in your daily virtual or in-person gatherings with kids, especially throughout the first two weeks of school. Implement ongoing structures and practices, such as welcoming the kids at the door, holding daily check-ins or offering advisory time with a counselor, teacher or other staff person. These kinds of rituals can be informal, regularly scheduled or a combination of both.
  2. Gather information weekly or even daily about how your kids are feeling or the experiences they are currently facing. Use this online survey as it is, or add or eliminate questions, to check in with your students.
  3. Give just 5 minutes of your time to chat one-on-one with kids. It can make a big difference. Click here for a sample agenda and questions you can ask in even a brief encounter with a child.
  4. Identify resources and practices that build a sense of community and encourage relationship-building – like writing postcards, doing interest surveys, having group chats and encouraging partner or team projects – and create a plan on how you will integrate them into your work. Use this checklist to identify other simple relationship-building strategies you can use in your interactions with kids.
  5. Replace punitive discipline with practices that focus on healing and inclusion and give students a voice, such as restorative practices, peace rooms and de-escalation strategies. This comprehensive guide focuses on how you can use Circles as a proactive measure to build trust and community and includes sample activities and lesson plans you can use with your kids.
  6. Identify kids who may have fallen through the cracks and who have “nobody” to talk to. Generate a list of all the kids you work with. Place a yellow dot next to the kids with whom you have a positive, trusting relationship with already. Place a red dot next to a child you don’t have a relationship with. Make a plan on how to reach out to your “red dot” kids. This relationship mapping strategy can also be done organizationally or school-wide. Click here to learn how you can do relationship mapping with staff in-person or virtually.

As we are all in the midst of a global pandemic and faced with the challenges of how to effectively do our work with kids, we must all center and remain focused on the things that matter most. At the most basic level, it is our human nature to want to feel loved, be valued and be connected with others. If you tune in to meeting these basic needs of all your kids, you will be doing the most important work you can do with them right now.

You can’t afford to let even one kid fall through the cracks believing they have “nobody” to talk to. One kid who believes this is one too many. Danny Steele sums it up well, “Every kid is important. Every kid matters. And they need to feel it…It is my hope that in a few months we won’t have any students who write ‘nobody.’”

Now, go forth and turn the “nobody” into “somebody” for your kids and be ready for that “somebody” to be YOU!

P.S. Last month I was scheduled to do a live online masterclass, “How to Have a Positive Influence on Your Kids Years Later,” when a last-minute emergency forced me to cancel it. Many of you were registered for the class. With your blessing, you gave me permission to record it later and then share it with you. (Thank you for your grace and understanding!). I want to share the recording of this masterclass with all of you today as it offers more insight and tips on how you can be that ONE adult who has a positive influence on kids’ lives. I hope you invest the time to watch it. It could make a difference in the life of just one kid.

“How to Have a Positive Influence on Your Kids Years Later” Masterclass Recording

How to Overcome the Balancing Act Between the Negative and the Positive

Picture this scenario… Kathleen, a third grader, is working hard on her math assignment and asks for your help. You review her work and your eyes are drawn to one of the 20 multiplication problems: 5 × 6 = 35. You note her mistake and continue scanning for other errors. You note two more incorrect answers before giving the assignment back to her. You ask her to correct the three wrong answers.

Now, hang on to this picture for a bit…

In last week’s blog I wrote about the importance of establishing standards of behavior with students in the first days of the new school year. The topic prompted a good number of emails to me.

The most asked question by readers was, “What are consequences I can use online when students aren’t living up to the standards of behavior?”

I understand why this question would quickly come to mind when you think about managing students’ behavior, especially if virtual learning is unchartered territory for you. Typically, we don’t worry about the students who will live up to the standards. They aren’t our problem. We worry more about the students who won’t live up to them. They are the ones who create challenges, chaos, stress and frustration for us.

You do need to be prepared to address problem behavior when it happens – even online. You can’t avoid it and ignoring the behavior won’t help.

I would encourage you to think about what the normal consequences would be to certain negative behavior if you were meeting in-person. Common consequences are verbal warnings, re-direction, “timeout”, giving an apology, making a phone call to a parent, one-on-one meeting with teacher, counselor or administrator or removal from the group. Think about how you can adapt these consequences to work in a virtual world. Many of them can work with thought, creativity and integrating restorative justice methods into your approach. For recommendations on how to use restorative practices when dealing with problem behavior online, download this resource, Responsive Restorative Practices & Remote Learning.

I hope this answers the question for those of you who inquired.

However…

When thinking about using standards of behavior effectively with students, you need to also ask yourself this question, “What can I do to help my students live up to the standards of behavior online?”

If you want to have more positive than negative behavior from your students, you need to focus more on what they are doing right or is expected of them, than focusing on the negative or what they are doing wrong. Unfortunately, research has shown that teachers often tend to punish students for problem behavior more than they praise them for appropriate behavior. This lopsided approach can have a negative effect by fostering even more problem behaviors. More times than not, the behavior you pay more attention to influences the behavior you get more of.

So, pay more attention to the positive. It will be there. Remembering to do this might be difficult, but it’s so important. It starts with you recognizing positive behaviors when they are happening and then praising and reinforcing them.

Studies show that praise and reinforcement is a powerful and effective behavior management tool (even more than giving material rewards) and one you can use virtually with students. We all value being praised and recognized when we are doing good. It inspires us to work harder and do better. It nurtures our self-esteem and confidence. And, for students, it can boost their learning and increase their academic success.

Try to follow these three steps when using praise and reinforcement with your students:

  • Show your approval using words and actions to express your satisfaction.
  • Make sure the student understands exactly what he or she did to deserve your praise by specifically describing the positive behavior.
  • Give a reason as to why their positive behavior is important. Tell them what the outcome of their behavior is or will be.

Offering praise and reinforcement in this way lets students know what behavior is expected of them, that it’s important and it’s valued by you. It will increase the likelihood of them repeating the behavior again. It also sends a message to other students who want your attention and affirmation. They will learn what behaviors to imitate to get the same reinforcement and recognition from you.

In the same way, positive reinforcement can decrease problem behaviors. When a student is not living up to a standard or exhibiting negative behaviors, use this opportunity as a teachable moment for them and all the other students. Let the student know what they are doing that is inappropriate, but more importantly, what behavior is more appropriate from them instead. When you redirect a student from an inappropriate to an appropriate behavior like this the other students also learn what is unacceptable behavior.

Trust yourself and believe that you can minimize problem behaviors and increase positive behaviors with your students online using standards of behavior. It just requires you to be attentive, look for more positive behaviors than negative and praise and reinforce them when they happen.

Now, let’s go back to that picture of you and Kathleen that I asked you to hold on to…

When you reviewed her assignment looking for only the wrong answers and your feedback to her was only on what she had wrong, you missed an important opportunity with her. You missed the chance to offer Kathleen praise for the 17 answers she had correct.

Know that it’s never too late to take go back and praise and affirm a student for doing something right, including Kathleen.

P.S. Are you a parent who is struggling with your child’s behavior right now? Please know that many of the same tips in this post can work with your child at home. Just remember this…catch your child being good more than they are being bad. When you do this enough times over consistently you might be surprised at the outcome you get.