Social Emotional Learning Skills by Grade Level: Part III

As discussed in parts one and two, social emotional learning (SEL) skills have become an even greater focus now that students are limited in their opportunities to socialize, collaborate, and communicate with peers in person at school. By the time students reach middle school, the basic foundational skills for social-emotional intelligence are in place. Preteens and teenagers are now ready to face greater obstacles and challenges, especially with regard to peer relationships, stress, and self-motivation. To meet new benchmarks, students in middle and high school must learn to deal with more significant academic struggles, greater peer influences, ever-changing teenage social dynamics, and their own personal growth and development at the same time. Below is our continued list of specific grade-level SEL standards for middle schoolers and high schoolers.

Middle School

Students should begin to recognize circumstances and situations that cause extra or unnecessary stress; they should begin to adopt strategies to help with motivation, stress management, and task completion. Middle schoolers should begin to recognize the benefits of strong self-advocacy skills and how to best utilize the resources and supports that are at their disposal. For instance, if schools offer after–school homework help, students who know that they struggle to complete assignments on their own should take initiative by signing up for the club/program and making a point to attend.

Since learning to set goals in elementary school, middle schoolers should now be equipped to assess the validity of their goals so that they may make more informed, realistic, and specific goals moving forward. They should also be able to determine why they were able to reach success or not, i.e., What helped them to reach their goal? If they didn’t reach it, then why not? What prohibited them from finding success? By middle school, students should not only be able to recognize other people’s emotions, feelings, or perspectives, but they should be able to surmise why they feel or think that way. In this sense, they’re activating the ability to take another’s perspective that they learned in elementary school, then further expanding on that by making inferences.

Preteens not only recognize cultural differences, but they should begin to acknowledge how certain cultural differences can result in some peers being ostracized or bullied. They should then be able to begin to find ways to combat or address the bullying and/or to make others feel included and recognized. Middle schoolers should be well-aware of group dynamics and what it takes to ensure the success of the group. This includes assigning roles, taking responsibility, sharing the workload, cooperating with others, etc.

Students in the middle school grades should be aware of negative peer pressure, what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like. They should also be able to come up with ways to combat negative peer pressure in non– confrontational ways and under various circumstances. Preteens should be considering their decision-making in terms of others. Before making an important decision, they should consider not only how they will benefit from their choice, but how it could impact others as well.

High School

High schoolers should begin to understand how expressing one’s own emotions/feelings can have both positive and negative impacts on others. For example, as young adults, they need to know that positivity begets positivity, especially when emotions are running high. High schoolers will also have developed the ability to multitask by this point. However, more than multitasking, HS students should be able to shift back and forth between various tasks and under wavering conditions or circumstances. For instance, if completing a chapter review for English, a high schooler may need to answer a phone call or walk the dog to then return to the chapter questions later. Perhaps they need to maintain focus on several different homework assignments while working from a bustling coffee shop.

Students in high school should be able to capitalize on their strengths and think creatively when facing a challenge. This ability connects with problem-solving skills and ingenuity. We can’t all be great at everything, but in what way can we use our personal/individual strengths to make challenging tasks easier? This is key for college and career readiness. High schoolers should also be thinking about setting goals for the future after graduation. College is not the “end all be all.” But if college isn’t their plan, then what is? Young adults need to recognize how important it is to find a path, take steps to follow that path, and evaluate their progress, preferences, and goals as they go. If they want to take a gap year, what do they hope to accomplish during that year? If they are going to study abroad, how will they decide on a program and pay for it? What skill set do they plan to use for supplementary income while in or out of college?

High schoolers should be capable of showing respect for those with opposing or differing viewpoints, even if the opposing side is argumentative, dismissive, rude, etc. It is important to maintain a level of self-control even when others are not. Just because someone has a different opinion doesn’t mean they are wrong or right in their convictions. As young adults soon to be out on their own in the adult world, it is critical that high schoolers recognize how we must all be concerned about the well-being of all people; we may all be different races, but we’re all part of the human race. Therefore, we can positively contribute to our communities by advocating for human rights.

High schoolers should be able to assess their ability to actively listen and explain how active listening helps with conflict resolution. They should also be able to demonstrate leadership abilities within group contexts without dominating or overtaking the goal of the group. Young adults should also be prepared to demonstrate knowledge of social norms and appropriate behaviors between and among various cultural groups. They should recognize certain expectations and norms when interacting with authority figures, children, elders, etc.

Thus, we have completed our three-part series on SEL skills by grade level. The following series will serve best as a helpful resource rather than a scare-tactic of sorts. We all develop in our own ways, but it’s important we be mindful of these skills by grade level. If your child or student seems behind on any of these, consider the ways in which you can empower them.

Social Emotional Skills by Grade Level, Part II

As discussed in part one, social emotional learning (SEL) skills have become an even greater focus now that students are limited in their opportunities to socialize, collaborate, and communicate with peers in person at school. We all know that academics are just one facet of education; the SEL skills that students learn and develop when in school are just as critical. Some might even argue that these “street smarts” are more important or beneficial than the “book smarts” we acquire in school. That said, distance learning and virtual schooling have certainly created various obstacles for students when it comes to developing and growing their SEL skills. Below is our continued list of specific grade-level SEL standards.

Later Elementary Grades (4-5)

Students in 4th and 5th grade should be able to assess a range of feelings and emotions connected to specific scenarios, circumstances, and situations. In other words, they should be able to thoroughly describe how they feel and precisely what made them feel this way. Students should also be able to maintain control of certain behaviors and/or emotions that might interfere with their focus. For example, if they are feeling stressed about their homework, they should choose to turn off the television and put the phone away until they finish their assignments. Students should be able to articulate interests, goals, and the ways in which to develop the necessary skills to achieve those goals.

Students in the later elementary grades should be able to list the necessary steps for goal setting and future achievement while monitoring personal progress throughout the process. In other words, they should be able to take an active role by tracking growth and taking steps to improve along the way. Students should also begin to understand social cues that demonstrate how others are feeling during certain situations. Students should be able to not only recognize others’ perspectives, but specifically describe another’s perspective or stance as well. They should be using phrases like, I understand what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling that way. I might disagree with you, but I appreciate your point of view. That’s not how I interpreted it, but I can see how you may have experienced it differently.

Students should be able to engage in positive interactions with people from different backgrounds and those with different opinions and beliefs. In the late elementary grades, students should begin to understand various cultural differences between groups, i.e., they should acknowledge that not everyone celebrates Christmas. 4th and 5th graders should be able to describe various approaches to meeting new people and maintaining friendships while forging new friendships with peers in different social circles.

Students should begin to demonstrate self-respect and how to show respect to others, even during conflicts or disagreements; they choose their words wisely as to not offend others in the heat of the moment. Elementary schoolers should begin to understand different social cues and behaviors of others and how they might impact one’s decision making. Once reaching the late elementary grades, children should be able to brainstorm various options for solving a problem and anticipating the different outcomes depending on the situation. Finally, 4th and 5th grade students should be able to identify needs in their school/local environment and perform duties to contribute to these communities. For example, if the cafeteria floor is covered in trash, they will take it upon themselves to help clean up after others.

As said in the last piece, if your child or student falls short in any area mentioned above, don’t panic. Consider how you can help and empower them. In our final part of this series, we’ll cover middle school and high school benchmarks.

Executive Functioning and Distance Learning: Part II

Distance learning has been hard on everyone, but even more so for families dealing with the challenges associated with executive dysfunction. In part one, we discussed the basic background of executive functioning skills, the effects of having executive dysfunction, and the way in which educators can implement strategies even during hybrid or distance learning. Now it is time to look at executive dysfunction from the parent perspective. What does it look like at home, outside of the classroom or separate from academic tasks? What are some strategies and methods parents can implement at home to help children who struggle with executive functioning?

Executive Dysfunction in the Everyday

Deficits in executive functioning are sometimes more subtle when children are at home or not engaged in a learning task. This is why executive dysfunction is easier to spot from an educational or clinical perspective. For parents, it may seem like your child is constantly interrupting you or trying to talk over others. This might not indicate a lack of manners. It could, in fact, be associated with a lack of executive functioning skills. Impulse control, thinking before acting, and processing someone else’s words before responding are all skills attributed to executive functioning.

Similarly, if you notice that your child has difficulty retaining one or two instructions at a time, or if she cannot follow directions that she has just heard or read, then she may be experiencing some form of executive dysfunction. What seems like a disregard for rules or instructions could actually be an attentive issue and/or an issue involving working memory, both of which are associated with executive functioning.

A child may also struggle with following processes, even after repetition or reminders. Furthermore, metacognitive skills, such as learning how to study, learning how to take notes, and knowing how to synthesize new information with prior knowledge, can also be a struggle for children with executive dysfunction. However, there are methods that parents can use at home to help strengthen these necessary skills.

Strategies to Use at Home

Model certain processes for your child and provide him with visual reminders. For example, if you are encouraging your middle schooler to start doing his/her own laundry, help him/her through the process by doing it together the first few times. Talk and walk them through the steps very specifically and consider using labeled and categorized sorting bins to remind them to separate whites from darks. Put a sticker or little post-in note in the laundry room as a reference for how to set the machine for certain loads. Use specific, ordered language when walking them through the process, such as “first, next, finally or last.” Any process, whether it’s laundry, getting ready for bed, or getting dressed in the morning should be modeled, specific, and consistent.

The level of support that you need to provide to your child with the above-mentioned processes should be tapered over time. You may need to actually do the laundry while they watch, initially. Then, slowly withdraw your level of support as they get comfortable completing the task independently. 

When your child makes a mistake, use it as a teachable moment. Without scolding, talk through their thought process—or lack thereof—and ask them specifically how they could have gone about things differently. Consider providing your own example of a time you did something similar and how you fixed the problem. Children with executive dysfunction should see that everyone struggles and faces challenges, but that growth involves using those errors as learning experiences. Ask metacognitive questions like: What made you do that? What did you think was going to happen? Why did you react that way? How could you have done it or reacted differently? What did you learn or realize from this? Give him time to process and ponder these questions.

Inject some fun into the challenge of developing or strengthening executive functioning by incorporating age-appropriate games, activities, or challenges. Matching games are great for developing working memory. Other card games help children practice impulse control, rule following, strategizing, organizing, and quick-response. Parents can also use music to help foster executive functioning skills. Use songs that have repetitive sections or songs that can be sung in rounds to practice coordination on a more complex level. Singing in rounds also prompts children to practice listening and using working memory. I Spy and word searches help children work on selective attention and practice reducing visual distractions.

Essential Building Blocks for Reading Comprehension

Many of us don’t actually remember learning how to read. We may remember sitting on our kindergarten carpet squares, picking out new picture books at the school book fair, or feeling the excitement of turning the final page of a book read independently for the first time. Those fond memories are certainly associated with the skills one must acquire in order to first learn to read; however, we cannot necessarily remember the actual process of learning how to comprehend the words on the page. Thinking about it now, reading almost seems like an innate skill, as though reading just happens. If only that were the case…

Struggles of Reading Comprehension

Sadly, reading comprehension can be a labor intensive task for many young learners. Some children can fool us on the surface; they may learn to read fluently, briskly, and accurately, as though they are natural-born readers. However, reading fluency and comprehension do not always go hand in hand. Children may acquire the necessary skills to read clearly and accurately, but, try as they might, these same kids may simultaneously struggle with the ability to digest or comprehend a text. So, if it is not a natural or innate skill, what goes into reading comprehension anyway?

Part of the reason why reading comprehension can be a struggle for many learners is the fact that the process involves a compilation of other complex skills. Such foundational skills necessary for children to begin to master reading comprehension include: fluency, phonemic awareness, accessing prior knowledge/making connections, vocabulary, syntactical rules/conventions, working memory, and attentiveness. With that being said, let’s look at strategies for how to build each of these foundational skills.

Fluency Strategies

Review sight words and high frequency words regularly. Turn fluency practice into a game by setting timed records, racing against the clock, and matching spoken sight words with word cards. Practice pronunciation by modeling and rehearsing. Use clap period stops and snap comma pauses to improve punctuation recognition.

You can also repeat readings to help with word recognition. Be sure to always read aloud to and with your child. Model and practice reading with expression. Give your different characters a “voice” while reading aloud to your child. Preview or expose children to the new or unfamiliar words before giving them the reading passage. And finally, utilize poetry, nursery rhymes, and songs to practice fluency

Phonics Strategies

Use photos/images to match objects with corresponding beginning sounds. Practice sorting words into “like” sound piles using word cards. Create a word wall in your child’s bedroom or playroom. Play “blend bingo” using bingo cards and corresponding images of words that include each consonant blend.

You can also use Scrabble tiles to “build” sounds. Or even use rhyming strategies to group/categorize words. Try playing “which one of these is not like the others?” using word cards. And finally, use tapping, clapping, or any other kinesthetic method for sounding out words.

Background Knowledge Strategies

Expose your child to a variety of text types and different genres to create a repertoire of background information. Incorporate alternate media, such as movies, art, news, television, etc. Teach new words in categories to help solidify new terms with prior knowledge. Practice word mapping to build connections.

Also consider comparing and contrasting words and concepts while reading. Preview new texts or frontload unfamiliar information using references or just casually discussing the topic. Use KWL charts to track knowledge of new concepts/topics. Utilize picture books, regardless of age, to pair images with new words. And finally, take virtual field trips.

Vocabulary Strategies

Instruct children about specific vocabulary terms, but make sure that the new words are connected to something they are currently reading, seeing, hearing, or learning about. It is important to avoid teaching vocabulary “in a vacuum.” Vocabulary words taught at random or with little context or connectivity to prior knowledge is not likely to make it into a child’s lexicon.

Pre–teach new vocabulary terms by relating them to concepts and terms that your child already knows. Then, when she encounters the word in a text, she will have prior exposure to the word and some sense of understanding.

Utilize root word instruction and practices. This might include creating root word charts with examples, opposite T-charts, visual word tree trunks with various prefixes and suffixes. Practice making new or nonexistent words using roots as a silly way to grasp root word meanings. Also consider using synonyms casually when speaking to your child.

Create a word web wall and add to the web as you make connections between new words. And finally, emphasize context clues while reading aloud; model how to actively engage with new words by making comments like, “I wonder what this might mean in the sentence given the surrounding information…”

Syntax Rules and Conventions

Ask your child to rearrange the words in the sentence, but maintain the same meaning. For example, given the sentence “You can watch a show after you have finished your homework.” Your child should rephrase by saying something like, “You must finish your homework before you can watch a show.”

Demonstrate different ways in which sentences can be combined, separated, or punctuated. The key is to show them that, even with variations in sentence structure, the phrases mean the same thing. Try modeling the process of summarizing a short excerpt or sentence. Then explain how paraphrasing is slightly different. Practice this process aloud together.

Exaggerate the purpose of punctuation while reading aloud to emphasize each punctuation mark’s function. Provide examples of how punctuation can drastically change the underlying meaning of a sentence. One favorite example is, “Let’s eat, Grandma!” vs. “Let’s eat Grandma!” And finally, find fill-in-the-blank reading options, where children are provided with word banks or suggestions on each page, but must use the context of the story to correctly complete each missing word.

Working Memory and Attention Strategies

Purposefully chunk down larger sections of text while reading aloud. Then ask clarifying questions or practice summarizing the section before moving to the next passage or chunk. Ask your child to make predictions while reading to practice recalling and utilizing details that have already been mentioned in the text.

Plan for engaging questions while reading. Parents should preview the text and think about ways in which to connect the details to other aspects of a child’s life. Ask critical thinking questions as well, such as, “Why do you think the character did that?” “What do you think she meant when she said…?” “How would you have reacted differently if you were in the story?”

Sketch a visual timeline of events while reading. This doesn’t have to be a detailed, moment-by-moment recollection; you can use bullet points on sticky notes, a small white board, or index cards with events 1-3 on them. Be sure to deliberately emphasize the use of transition words, especially when focusing on chronological summaries.

Listen to an audio version of the text while following along with the physical book. When reading together, once you reach the bottom of a page, ask your child which detail stands out to her the most. If she’s unable to recall a significant detail, encourage rereading. And finally, remove all distractions while reading, including background noise, cell phones/screens, etc. You can also find texts with larger print, reduced text per page, and print with extra space between paragraphs to help children visually focus on one aspect of the text at a time.

Understanding and Resolving The Cycle Of Abuse

Do you find yourself returning to the same abusive relationships time and again or choosing abusive partners over and over?  Do you find yourself returning to your parents all the time seeking advice, guidance, validation, or support, only to be continually disappointed? You likely have poor self-esteem and you are likely quite emotionally vulnerable.  Here’s why and what you can do.

Self-esteem

Self-esteem is an outcome of being valued by our parents when we were growing up.  Our self-esteem is actually rooted as far back as our parents’ mate selection.  Hopefully, our parents chose each other believing each possessed the appropriate emotional maturity and practical skills necessary to rear a child.  Beyond that, being valued by our parents is demonstrated by reasonable prenatal care, planning for childbirth, postnatal care, and the ongoing efforts to meet our needs in a caring and loving environment.  As we are consistently and reasonably loved and cared for, we develop a sense of security and value in ourselves.

In the absence of our parents’ emotional investment in us and/or their lack of appropriate care, or worse, our exposure to neglect, abuse, or harm, we may have an incomplete sense of security, value, and worth. In view of an incomplete sense of security, value, and worth, we are insecure and may inadvertently spend considerable time and energies seeking the validation and sense of worthiness we never received.

Further and without a sense of worthiness, we may come to accept relationships and circumstances that unfortunately only contribute to greater worthlessness.  In the face of this greater worthlessness, we may continue to engage in more self-defeating attempts at validation from those incapable of reasonably meeting our needs.  Thus, a conundrum is created in that the more we try to meet our needs through persons less capable of providing for our needs, the more harm befalls us.

The person who has unmet needs to be reasonably valued from before childhood and on may have impaired judgment when it comes to their own mate selection and sources of validation.  These persons require support to endure their insecurity as they learn to set boundaries, discriminate between reasonable and unreasonable partners, and learn to meet their own needs.

By way of example, lack of being valued or validation creates a thirst to quench the dry well of insecurity.

Imagine a woman setting out across the desert with no water. Eventually, she is overcome by the sun’s heat and an increasing thirst. With her clothes in tatters, she pulls herself through the sand looking for an oasis.  In the distance are palm fronds which provides hope to her.  After almost dying of thirst, the spring of hope induces a desire to drag herself to the oasis.

Now at the oasis, she comes across a small shallow pool of liquid. Without thinking and with a need to quickly quench the driving thirst, she submerges her head into the shallow pool and sucks back the liquid. With the thirst barely quenched she can finally taste the liquid from which she seeks relief. At that moment she realizes she is drinking camel urine.

While camel urine may briefly sustain the thirst-quenched person in the desert, it hardly provides for lifelong sustenance. The point of this story, hopefully, will show understandably how vulnerability can lead to self-defeating solutions.

The strategy to overcome these circumstances is to seek new supports typically from agencies or professional persons trained to help people sustain themselves in an emotional drought whilst they learn to take care of themselves and fill their own reservoir in the company of other nurturing individuals who take legitimate interest in others for the sake of the other’s well-being.

If this article rings true for you and you wish to change the direction of your life and circumstance, seek counseling.  You may find that that counseling is best delivered through agencies or individuals who are trained and have a working knowledge in helping people who have been subject to abuse or neglect.

Given a history of abuse where you may not have been appropriately nourished, there are few things as satisfying as learning to nourish yourself to then make more reasonable choices for love and affiliation with other people who themselves are truly caring.

Dealing with School Drama at Home, Part I

Home schooling

While the middle and high school years are most notably fraught with drama, elementary-aged children are also seeing their fair share of peer disputes and social squabbles. More often than not, drama that occurs during the school day makes its way home with students. Like gum on the bottom of a sneaker, a social issue with a peer tends to latch on and attract more dirt and grime throughout the day, only to become an even bigger issue later on. Since the prevalence of peer issues truly reaches all age groups, it is important that parents have plenty of strategies and tools to utilize when drama rears its ugly head.

Avoid fueling the fire or taking on the emotional burden. This is easier said than done because, of course, as a parent, your instinct is to defend and protect by immediately taking your child’s side. However, this instinctual defense mode could simply cause your child’s emotions to become even more dramatic. Instead, use these conversations as an opportunity to diffuse the situation simply by listening. Merely talking about the issue can bring about a level of comfort, so act as the sounding board, not the hype girl.

Try not to downplay your child’s feelings with phrases like, “Everyone deals with drama,” or “It’s not that serious.” Your perspective is helpful, but not when it serves to discredit or minimize your child’s feelings. As adults, we can easily forget how these moments in school felt like the end of the world.  Compared to our real world drama we get to experience in adulthood, these quarrels may seem like nothing, but to your child, they are a big deal. Therefore, it is important that they feel heard.

You want to be sure that you are not pressuring your child about maintaining or discontinuing a friendship one way or another. It is perfectly helpful for parents to give advice when it comes to friendships, but oftentimes, you may find yourself saying things like, “You two have been friends for years, why let something like this ruin that?” Or, “Our families have known each other since before you were born, you should really try to work this out.” You must allow children to make their own judgment call when it comes to friendship drama; you also want to avoid minimizing their feelings by simply telling them to work it out for your own sake. Furthermore, just because the “close family friends” scenario is convenient, it does not mean that your children are naturally going to get along with your friends’ children.

Help them take their minds off of the drama by expanding their circle to include new peers and activities. Ask about neighborhood friends, after-school activities, weekend extracurricular opportunities, and clubs they may want to join. Sometimes a little “friendship break” is all it takes to breathe, regroup, and reset the relationship. In the interim, it is helpful for children and teens to have different options for socializing—casting a wider net ensures that drama can be avoided simply by socializing with other peer groups from time to time.

Want to Help Your Teens? Make Their Lives Predictable

Establishing consistent routines at home for your teen may generate pushback, but it could also set him or her up for future success.

Researchers at the University of Georgia found teens with more family routines during adolescence had higher rates of college enrollment and were less likely to use alcohol in young adulthood, among other positive outcomes.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“If we’re going to make a difference in our lives and in our family members’ lives, we have to make a difference in the everyday,” said lead author Allen Barton, an assistant research scientist at the Center from the Family Research and the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “Routines play an important role in making that happen.”

Researchers analyzed data collected from more than 500 rural African American teens beginning when they were 16 and continuing until they were 21.

The teens whose primary caregivers reported more family routines – such as regular meal times, consistent bedtimes and afterschool schedules – reported less alcohol use, greater self-control and emotional well-being and higher rates of college enrollment in young adulthood.

Researchers also analyzed biological samples from the teens and found that those with more family routines during adolescence showed lower levels of epinephrine, a stress hormone.

The benefits of family routines generally persisted even after the researchers took other factors into account such as levels of supportive parenting, household chaos and socioeconomic status.

Routine, consistency and predictability, the research suggested, are powerful influences on a teen’s life.

“We often lose sight of the mundane aspects of life, but if we can get control of the mundane or the everyday parts of life, then I think we can have a major impact on some bigger things,” Barton said. “These findings highlight how you structure your teen’s home environment really matters.”

The research has important implications for family-centered interventions, Barton said, including focusing more attention on increasing predictability and positive routines at home.

“The big takeaway is to help your child navigate the teen years, make their lives predictable,” Barton said. “There has been a lot of research about the importance of routines for healthy development with young kids. These results are some of the first to show that even with teens, it appears routines are similarly powerful.”

The paper, “The profundity of the everyday: Family routines in adolescence predict development in young adulthood,” is available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1054139X18304130?via%3Dihub

Additional authors are Gene H. Brody, Tianyi Yu, Steven M. Kogan and Katherine B. Ehrlich from the University of Georgia and Edith Chen from Northwestern University.

Right from the Start: Investing in Parents and Babies – Alan Sinclair

It is widely accepted the earliest months and years of a child’s existence have the most profound impact on the rest of the lives. Attachment theorists believe the early bonds and relationships a child forms with his/her carer(s) or parent(s), informs that child’s ability or inability to form successful and healthy relationships in the future.

Alan Sinclair’s ‘Right from the Start’ is the latest in the Postcards from Scotland series of short books, which aim to stimulate new and fresh thinking about why us Scots are the way we are.

In my previous book review in the Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care, I commended the author of ‘Hiding in Plain Sight’ (another book in the same series) Carol Craig for her ability to write succinctly and accessibly about a complex subject matter. I feel the same way about Alan Sinclair’s writing in this book.

The premise of this book, put simply, is laying out the bare truths of how good and bad us Scots are at parenting as well as having the appropriate supporting systems in place for parents and carers of our most vulnerable children.

A consistent thread throughout the book is the author arguing that by investing in parents and babies ‘from the start’, governments and the surrounding systems who support children and families can relieve the heartache of tomorrow in the form of poorer outcomes in education, employment and in health.
The book begins by acknowledging the UK’s position on the UNICEF global league table of child well-being, ranking 29 of the world’s richest countries against each other. The UK is placed 16th, our particular challenge being a high proportion of young people not in work, training or education. Although the league table did not single out the devolved nation of Scotland, the author describes the UK as a ‘decent proxy for Scotland’.

The first 1,000 days

The author goes on to explore the theory of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. This theory suggests this is the most significant indicator of what the future holds for them. He touches on child poverty, which we know from well-cited research can lead to adversities in life, but he also mentions too much money can be an issue as well.

This point is explored more deeply later in the book’s in a chapter titled: ‘Is social class a factor?’. The author is effective at challenging the popular rhetoric that it’s the least educated and most poverty-stricken parents in society who are most likely to neglect their children. He talks about the longitudinal study, Growing Up in Scotland, which tracks the lives of thousands of children and families from birth to teens. Amongst many other findings, the survey shows 20% of children from the top income bracket have below average vocabulary; it also finds problem-solving capabilities are below average for 29% of this group. This proposes child poverty is only a small indicator of the child’s developmental prospects.

Where the Dutch Get it Right

The most intriguing part of the book from my point of view is the comparison the author makes between raising a child in Scotland versus the Netherlands (which ranked first in the UNICEF league table). In Holland, pregnant women have visits from a Kraamzorg, an omnipresent healthcare professional who identifies the type of support required. Post-birth the Kraamzorg plays a very active role and can typically spend up to eight hours a day supporting the new mother in her first week of childcare. The Kraamzorg also becomes involved in household chores including shopping and cooking. And it doesn’t stop there. The Dutch system includes Mother and Baby Wellbeing Clinics, which support families from birth to school age and have been doing so effectively for the last century.

On reading how the Dutch system operates, it’s hard to not make comparisons to the system here in Scotland (and the wider UK) within our NHS where mothers are wheeled in to give birth and very quickly wheeled out again to free up bed space. I exaggerate slightly here and I do not want to discredit the incredible job hard-working NHS staff do, but I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling envious of the Dutch system and thinking they’ve got something right, in comparison with Scotland. This was neatly summarised at the start of the book in a quote from a Dutch woman who had spent time living in both Holland and Scotland when she said: ‘In Holland we love children. In Scotland you tolerate children.’

But it’s not all bad. As the author remarks himself: ‘Scottish parenting is not universally awful: if we were we would not be almost halfway up the global table of child well-being’ (p. 12).

The penultimate chapter explores some real-life examples of parents who are struggling and striving to succeed in bringing up children with some success despite the odds stacked against them. I found the author’s injection of such human stories among the explanation of evidence useful as it allowed a chance for the reader to reflect on how all this is applicable in everyday life in Scotland.

To me, there was, however, a glaring omission in these stories: a voice from the LGBT community. Gay adoption in Scotland was legalised almost 10 years ago in 2009, and at the same time the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulation 2009 came into force allowing same-sex couples to be considered as foster parents. It would have been interesting to hear from this historically marginalised part of our society what the experience has been like and how different, or similar, this was from the other stories included in this chapter. Are they arguably better equipped as carers of Scotland’s most vulnerable children given their own life experiences of being marginalised?

The book ends with the author setting out his vision for a better future for Scotland’s children where they have better life chances and are fully nurtured. It’s clear we have some way to go but reading this book makes you feel a glimmer of hope that could, one day, become a reality.

Busy Parenting: Spending Time With Kids Is About Quality Not Quantity

Social engagements, playdates, extra-circular activities, meal preps, homework, school drop off and pick up, bath’s, medical appointments, cleaning, washing clothes, work hours – parents face a lot of activity on a daily basis. It makes you wonder where that village is when you need it, right?

Most parents are utterly exhausted by the end of the day. Spare time on the weekends is often used to recoup and preparing to do it all again the next week. You may even try to practice self-care and soak your tired feet in some apple cider vinegar and have a glass of wine. And, it’s usually an even rarer treat if you find an unused minute on the calendar to spend one-on-one quality time with each of your children.

This conundrum of life demands conflicting with parenting desires causes many parents a tremendous amount of guilt and anxiety. As parents, we often wonder if we are spending enough time with our children to foster bonds and positive development. It turns out that it’s more about what you do than how often you do it.

Here are five ideas to help you achieve this quality time with your children:

Create Opportunity Within Everyday Activities That Already Exist

While it’s the quality, not quantity, of time that’s most important, you’ll find that the more time you share, the more opportunities will arise for that quality time. The most obvious opportunities are actually within the activities of daily living that occur each day.

We all have to eat meals, right? But, how often is that meal a grab and go your separate ways to the television or bedroom or spent with everyone on some electronic device? Seven days of meals where all family members sit down at a table without ANY distractions isn’t likely feasible for working families.

Set aside as many days as you can, making at least one night of the week family meal night at the table without electronics. Use this time to meaningfully communicate with each other and discuss the events of the day or week. Highs and Lows is a great game to play; each person tells what the best part of their day was (the high) and what the worst part was (low.)

Chores provide another opportunity for meaningful conversation as parents can team up with a child to wash dishes, fold laundry, do yard work, and such.

Even commutes can work as meaningful bonding time. As you take your child to and from activities and school, just turn the radio off and shut down electronics. Ask your child questions that aren’t a yes or no answer about wherever you’re headed.

Prepare A Meal Together

Plan ahead a day that you’ll do the meal. Give your child input on what’s to be cooked. Go to the grocery store together to acquire all the ingredients just for this special meal. Take the opportunity to teach your child about the ingredients and how to shop for them. Prepare and serve the meal together. Make them as much a part of the process as safely possible. It’s a fantastic opportunity to teach your child a life skill in cooking and make them feel productive and included through choice.

Plan Routine Special Outings For The Family

You can schedule these events routinely on your calendar as your budget allows, and it doesn’t always have to be something extravagant. It can be simple and inexpensive like a monthly trip to the park, zoo, or local museum where parents can directly engage with children about what he/she sees and take advantage of teaching and learning opportunities.

Maybe your child is a foodie? You can schedule a meal out to try new foods together. Talk about the culture behind the food and all the things you both liked and didn’t like afterward. Maybe your child likes sports. You can attend anything from a free youth game to a professional sporting event and have tons to talk about during and after the game.

Give Each Child A Date Night

Just as you would a spouse date night, schedule one night to take your child out to a place of his or her choosing. The two of you can get dressed up together and paint the town red. Write it huge on the calendar! Setting aside a day or night that’s just your child’s will strengthen your bond and make the child feel extra important, seen, and heard.

Create A Bedtime Ritual

You’re tired, but set aside 10-15 minutes each night to create a routine activity that you and your child will do every night before bedtime.

This can be as simple as reading one chapter in a book each night. You can set up a puzzle and commit to doing 10 pieces each night. Perhaps you want to say a prayer with your child or sing songs together. It can even be as simple as the two of you picking and laying out clothes for the next day.

Such rituals not only provide bonding moments, they also can help establish a healthy bedtime schedule that will serve to help your child’s concentration and immunity. Need more ideas? Author Karen Stephens, director of Illinois State University Child Care Center and instructor in child development for the ISU Family and Consumer Sciences Department, outlines some great ideas for establishing a bedtime routine in her article.

In closing, remember that these activities aren’t about how much money you spend on your child, how long the activity lasts, or where it takes place. It’s about the uninterrupted, undivided attention you give each child during each opportunity. It’s about having an open line of communication between you and the child. It’s about the substance behind the time, not the time itself. Challenge yourself to look for both and create these moments as often as you can.

Teaching Self-Advocacy at Home Pt. II

In part I, we discussed how parents can introduce the concept of self-advocacy with the use of sentence frames, conversation pointers, and self-reflection. Once children begin to understand their needs at home and school, self-advocating becomes much easier.

Self-advocacy is all about speaking up. 

Listening is also a primary part of getting the information that you need. Therefore, when instructing children on how to voice their needs, parents should be sure to stress the fact that listening is a key component of self-advocacy. Whenever children ask a question, voice a concern, or seek a response, they must be prepared to listen and absorb the information that they receive. Parents can discuss how eye contact allows other people to recognize that they have your attention.

Additionally, body position and nodding are obvious cues that you are engaged and listening. All of these practices demonstrate active listening skills and help children fully absorb or comprehend the response or information that they are getting. When children ask a question, they should be able to paraphrase the response and formulate a follow-up or clarifying question if necessary. This demonstrates whether or not they were actively listening.

As young learners, children are just beginning to understand themselves as students, which means that their learning needs are somewhat unknown to them. Parents can ask questions like, “What are you good at?” “What do you often need help doing?” “How do you feel that you learn best?” and “When do you think that learning is the most difficult?” Answers to these questions will vary and change as children develop skills for managing their academic progress, but the ability to self-reflect is an essential component of self-advocacy.

Again, practicing sentence frames and hypothetical scenarios can help put children at ease when it comes time for them to advocate for themselves when their parents are not there to speak for them. Remind children that they can and should ask questions when they are confused about something, especially at school.

Parents can also coach children on how to ask direct and specific questions. As opposed to, “Is this good?” or “Is this right?” Children should practice zoning in on concepts that are true roadblocks. In narrowing in on the specific question or need, children will obtain a more specific and helpful response.

Parents should encourage children to vocalize their confusion, stress, worries, or desire for help readily. The whole purpose of school is to seek and gain knowledge and experiences that propel them forward. In this sense, the more children ask, the more they will know.

Explain to them that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. For exceptionally shy children, encourage them to speak to the teacher or adult off to the side or one-on-one, instead of in front of the whole class. This will ease them into the concept of self-advocacy by removing the peer attention and anxiety that speaking up in a full classroom may bring.

For children with IEP or 504 accommodations, parents should be especially clear with children about requesting their accommodations and supplementary aides. Of course, this comes with practice and familiarity with their own educational plan, however, children with specific learning needs benefit greatly from their ability to take an active role in vocalizing these needs.

Even Toddlers Care What Others Think

By the time toddlers are forming two-word sentences, they are already aware that they may be judged by others, behavior that previously wasn’t believed to emerge until years later, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Our research suggests that by 24 months old, children understand that their behavior can be positively or negatively evaluated by others,” said lead researcher Sara Valencia Botto, MA, of Emory University, in a study published in the journal Developmental Psychology.

Previous research has documented this behavior to be clearly evident in 4- to 5-year-olds but this study suggests it may emerge much sooner, according to Botto.

Botto and her colleagues conducted four experiments involving 144 children between the ages of 14 and 24 months using a robot toy.

In the first experiment, the researchers demonstrated in front of a toddler how to use the buttons on a remote to operate the robot and then either observed the child with a neutral expression or turned away and pretended to read a magazine.

When the child was being watched, he or she displayed more inhibition and embarrassment when hitting the buttons on the remote than when the observer was not paying attention, according to the researchers.

A second experiment added positive and negative feedback. This time, the researcher used two remotes during the demonstration to the child. When using the first remote, the researcher smiled and said, “Wow! Isn’t that great?” and when using the second remote, she frowned and said, “Uh-oh! Oops, oh no!” When it was the child’s turn to hit the buttons on his or her own, the researcher either watched the child or looked away at the magazine.

“The children pressed the positive remote significantly more while being watched and used the negative remote more when not being watched,” Botto said. “This behavior is like older children who behave well and do good things while others are watching and misbehave when no one is paying attention.”

The third experiment served as the control. In it, the researcher gave a neutral response of, “Oh, wow!” when demonstrating how to use the two remotes and again, alternated between observing the child or looking away. Results showed that the children no longer chose one remote over the other depending on the attentiveness of the experimenter.

“This shows us that in experiment two, the children were paying very close attention to the positive and negative reactions of the researcher before making a decision of which remote to use,” Botto said.

The last experiment involved two researchers sitting side by side, using one remote. One experimenter pressed a remote, smiled and said, “Yay! The toy moved!” while the second experimenter pressed the same remote, frowned and said, “Yuck! The toy moved!” Once the child had the opportunity to operate the remote, the researchers alternated either watching or turning their back to the child.

The children were much more inclined to press the remote when the positive experimenter was watching, according to the study.

Across all four experiments, the researchers saw no difference in responses based on the gender of the child.

“Our study offers strong support for the idea that very young children are much more attuned to their surroundings and others’ responses than previously thought,” said study co-author Philippe Rochat, PhD, of Emory University. “This is an important milestone in our understanding of human social cognition and development. Further research needs to be done to examine if even younger children – those under 14 months – could be sensitive to the judgments of others.”

“Our concern for reputation is something that defines us as human. We spend resources on make-up and designer brands, are terrified to talk in front of an audience and conform to many of society’s standards because we are concerned with how others will evaluate us,” Botto said. “We believe our findings get us closer to comprehending when and how we become less or more sensitive to other people’s evaluation, and it reinforces the idea that children are usually smarter than we might think.”

Helping Your Kid Transition Back to School

As we help our sons and daughters get ready to return to school, let’s reflect on our own readiness to promote our kids’ best emotional development during the school year. Consider these dimensions:

Responsibility:

Resist the urge to become the homework police. Let them take responsibility for homework; let them approach it in their own way. Assignments might not get done as well as we’d like, but limiting ourselves to only a simple reminder allows children to build a sense of personal agency. Beyond that rests between them and their teachers (see June 2014).

Brain development:

Neuroscience has revealed the centrality of adequate sleep in consolidating the day’s learning — athletic and academic — especially the night before a performance or important test (see Sept/Oct 2014). And be alert to the risks of bright screens before bedtime (see June 2018).

Resilience:

It builds each time kids encounter and survive moments of ordinary childhood adversity. Rarely rescue by delivering their lunch or the schoolwork they left behind that morning; they’ll survive. And rarely fight their battles for them with classmates or teachers — just offer empathy and a strong vote of confidence that they will find ways to work things out (see November 2011).

Self-esteem I:

It develops in part when they do for themselves all that they’re capable of doing, rather than depending on us to find their sweater, solve their math problems or tidy up after their snack. Insist they get themselves out of bed on school mornings, dress and gather their belongings, and leave the house on time (or face the school’s consequences if they show up late).

Self-esteem II:

Feeling authentically worthy develops through being loved and validated for qualities of good character and simply for being a valued part of our lives, not for earning certain grades or demonstrating athletic prowess. Show delight just to greet the kids at the end of the school day, without racing to ask, How was the test? (See The New Self-Esteem).

Humility:

Help them understand that they aren’t the center of the universe, that their individual wants and needs (like homework, practice or a friend’s slumber party) cannot always trump the needs of others (like family dinner time, a sibling’s piano recital or grandma’s birthday party). Our kids do well to learn that they’re no better or no less than any of their classmates…and that respectful behavior toward their teachers must be unwavering.

Teaching Self-Advocacy at Home Pt. I

Self-advocacy is an essential skill for children to master, not only for their education, but for basic functioning and socialization throughout life. Parents can help children foster this necessary life skill by providing them with specific tools and practices to ensure that their voices are heard and understood—and the earlier children begin advocating, the better.

Self-advocacy is all about vocalizing one’s needs. However, the key to teaching children how to advocate for themselves starts with helping them to recognize their own needs. It is difficult to ask for help when you don’t know what exactly you need help doing.

For the major part of many children’s lives, parents accommodate a child’s every need. Often times, parents are there to swoop into the rescue before their children even know that they need something. To begin teaching self-advocacy, parents will want to introduce the concept in small steps by encouraging children to first recognize then vocalize their needs.

Ask your child if he or she knows or recognizes the sensation of hunger or thirst. What does it feel like if you are starting to get hungry or thirsty? Do you hear your grumbling tummy? Do you feel agitated or restless? If you’re hungry, but I haven’t offered you a snack, what can you do to make sure that you get what you need? Similarly, ask your child to describe what it feels like when they are too hot, too cold, or need to go to the bathroom. Do you see goosebumps? Do you start to feel clammy or sweaty? Does your skin pigment, fingertips, lips change color? Does your tummy hurt or feel funny? Do you get jumpy or distracted?

These questions may seem overly simplistic; however, the idea behind such basic conversations is that your child begins to actively recognize what his or her body needs and when. These types of questions are especially important for children with autism because of the tendency to struggle to make observations.

Children on the spectrum may find it difficult to sense time or communicate frustration or other emotions. They may also experience an inability to perceive unsafe or harmful situations, which makes it difficult for them to distinguish their wants from their needs. Therefore, when children are aware of their needs, they can begin to vocalize them. This is especially important when children head to school and no longer have a parent to accommodate their every need at the drop of a hat.

Parents can then begin to instruct children on how to appropriately ask for what they need. Practice using sentence frames for different scenarios and discuss the difference between “I want” and “I need.”  Talk about how to distinguish between an emergency or an immediate need and something that can be met or accomplished later or eventually.

Discuss instances in which your child should politely say “no thank you” versus vehemently saying “no!” Instruct your child about the appropriate occasions and means of getting someone’s attention, interrupting a conversation, or asking a personal question.

By role-playing certain scenarios or conversations, parents can begin to prepare their children with positive communication skills and self-advocacy tools.

Emergency Drills in School: Info for Parents

It may seem fairly obvious, but, like most procedures, a school’s method for evacuation in the case of a fire is a thoroughly planned and practiced drill. Most schools must complete multiple fire drills throughout the yearsome announced and some unannounced to ensure that procedures are followed even when school staff is not expecting the drill.

What happens during a fire drill?

Obviously, procedures vary from school to school. However, most of the following protocols apply when completing a fire drill:

  • When the alarm sounds, students quickly line up to exit the classroom in an orderly fashion. While we want to get students out swiftly, we do not want to risk injury in the meantime from pushing, shoving, tripping, etc.  
  • Each teacher will have a planned route to lead students out of the building. Typically, the closest stairwell and exit to that particular classroom will be utilized to evacuate students. The only exception might be when multiple classes are converging. In this case, the school will have assigned an alternate evacuation stairwell and exit so that hallway traffic keeps moving promptly.
  • Depending on when the drill is taking place, your child’s evacuation plan will be different from teacher to teacher and class to class. It is important that your child knows of the designated evacuation stairwell and exit method in each of his classes. In the instance when your child is unsure of where to go, teachers and other school staff have been instructed to scoop up “stragglers” on the way out of the building.
  • Once evacuated, teachers and staff will move students to their designated locations, at least 50 feet from the building, and take roll to ensure that all students present are safe and accounted for. Teachers will also alert administration of any students that they may have been scooped up on the way out.
  • Students will have likely been instructed to remain silent during the entire duration of the drill. This ensures that any important messages or directions from adults are heard and that order is maintained throughout the procedure. It also helps teachers move students quickly out of the building since children are not socializing or missing important instructions.
  • It is probable that school officials or fire marshals are present throughout the year to ensure that the school’s fire drill procedures are seamless and appropriately conducted according to laws and regulations.

What exactly is a reverse evacuation?

A reverse evacuation drill, aptly enough, is exactly as it sounds. When conditions outside the building are more dangerous than inside, students will be moved indoors to a predetermined safety zone. This type of situation might occur if physical education classes were outside for class when a sudden thunderstorm moved in, or if there was a minor threat in the neighborhood like a loose animal or fire nearby in the community. All of the same expectations would apply for a reverse evacuationstudents should remain quiet and follow their teachers’ instructions to move quickly indoors to safety.

What happens during a shelter in place?

A shelter in place is a procedure, previously known as “code blue,” which requires increased safety precautions in and around the school building. The most frequent use of shelter in place is if there is a medical emergency or a non-threatening police matter that requires a student to be removed from the school. If, for instance, a student had a seizure in class, the school might go into a shelter in place so that hallways are clear for paramedics and other emergency personnel and the student has privacy during their health situation.

Protocol for a shelter in place requires teachers to sweep the halls to bring stray students into the nearest classroom, limit hall passes, send attendance to the main office, and close the classroom door. Instruction continues, as there is no immediate threat. The main purpose of this practice is to restrict traffic in and around the school.

What happens during a lockdown?

A lockdown, previously known as a “code red,” means that there is imminent danger in or around the school itself. Most recently, because of the startling rise in gun-related school violence, many people refer to a lockdown as an active shooter drill.

When a lockdown is issued, teachers quickly sweep the hall outside of the classroom door and immediately bring any stray students into the room. These might be students returning from the bathroom or lockers; either way, the goal is to recover any student from the hallways.

The teachers will instruct students to move SILENTLY to an area in the classroom that is out of view of the doorway and windows. Teachers will lock the door, pull the shades, turn off the computer and promethean screen, and maintain silence as long as necessary. The point of locking down is to make each classroom appear as though it is empty. In the event of a genuine lockdown, not a drill, administrators or law enforcement will instruct students and staff when it is safe to lift the lockdown. Until teachers receive the “ok,” students and staff remain silent and hidden.  

What happens during a drop, cover, and hold drill?

In the rare event of a sudden earthquake, teachers will instruct students to drop, cover, and hold. This means that students will quickly take cover under their desks. They will drop to the floor, pull their knees up to their chests if possible, and cover their heads with their hands in a crouched ball under the desk. If near a window, students will be instructed to crouch in the position with their backs to the window. This drill is typically practiced once per year to ensure that students know the procedure if there was ever a risk of an earthquake in the area.

What happens during a severe weather drill?

This protocol is followed when there is a threat of severe wind and weather, including a hurricane, tornado, etc., in the immediate area. Following the same evacuation guidelines as a fire drill, students will leave their classrooms in a swift, yet orderly, fashion and relocate to their designated shelter zone. Most schools have several severe weather shelter areas, typically on the ground level, in an interior hallway, away from windows. These zones are usually solid, reinforced areas of the school where students and staff are best protected from severe weather.

Once students reach the designated zone, they will be asked to sit or crouch on the floor with their backs against the wall. Again, students will be asked to remain quiet so that instructions can be relayed easily if necessary. Administrators will continue to watch and listen for weather updates or changes in the storm until the threat has passed.

Rekindle that Friendship and be Friends with your Spouse Again

Many courtships start because of attraction and lust, while genuine feelings and emotional intimacy in relationships grow over time. The passionate beginning of a relationship is filled with fireworks, but if you really want your marriage to last you and your partner need to be friends as well as lovers.

When you think about doing your favorite hobby or sharing a secret, do you think about doing these things with one of your girlfriends/the guys, or with your husband/wife?

Having a spouse as a best friend is something most partners dream about when looking for their soulmate. But, after many years of marriage, you may start to feel like you’re losing sight of the friendship you used to have.

If you want a long-lasting, healthy relationship, you need to learn how to bring friendship back in your marriage. We’re looking at 7 ways you can rekindle a friendship with your spouse.

  1. What Makes a Good Friend?

Before creating a deeper bond of friendship with your partner, you must consider what actually makes a good friend. Some common qualities people look for in friends include:

  • Having fun together
  • Showing support
  • Good communication skills
  • Shared interests
  • Ability to work as a team
  • Loyalty
  • Encouragement
  • Love
  • Enthusiasm
  • Shared Values
  • Forgiveness
  • Trustworthiness
  • Reliability

By narrowing down the most important qualities of friendship you will have a better idea of what areas you excel at and which areas you need to work on as a couple.

  1. Create Common Interests

It’s healthy to have separate hobbies and interests than your spouse. It’s what makes you unique. But, is there a point where separate hobbies become separate bedrooms?

As drastic as that sounds it drives home a strong point: relationships are about doing things with someone you love. This, of course, covers living together, sharing in your daily routines, as well as other naughty aspects of marriage. But, it also means sharing hobbies, passions, and interests.

Many couples enjoy taking classes together, be it language, cooking, or dance. Love rollercoasters? Why not get a season’s pass for a local amusement park, or head out to the local jazz club and spend a night of romance hearing some local musicians over a glass of wine?

You can help deepen your emotional intimacy in relationships by developing mutual interests with your spouse.

  1. Date Night

Have you heard enough about the importance of date night, yet? Well, here’s one more reminder. Date night can do wonders for couples communication, romance, friendship, and sexual chemistry in your marriage. If you aren’t making date night a regular part of your week, you ought to.

Scheduling a weekly date night is an excellent opportunity to work on communication, to express appreciation for one another, to woo one another, and to bring romance and friendship back together.

  1. Laugh Together

Want some romantic ideas that will deepen emotional intimacy in relationships? Laugh together! Studies show that laughter, as well as giving many health benefits, can also do wonders for your relationship.

In one study, 71 couples told the story of how they met. The couple’s laughter that occurred during the storytelling process was recorded and analyzed. The results show that the proportion of the time spent laughing simultaneously with their spouse was positively associated with the relationship quality and closeness.

Simply put: Laughing together makes for happier, closer relationships.

  1. Take an Interest in Each Other’s Passions

One of the main things that make couples friends as well as lovers is that they take an interest in each other’s passions, hobbies, and interests.

If your partner enjoys sports, why not sit down and watch a game with them or ask them to teach you about the sport? You can also attend a sporting event together or go out and play it yourself. Even if it isn’t your usual cup-of-tea, your spouse will appreciate that you took an interest in their passion.

And who knows, it may just be your new favorite hobby!

If your partner loves the water, schedule an aquatic activity together such as jet-skiing, surfing, or take scuba-diving classes as a couple. If your partner loves art, go to your local art museum. If they like outdoors, go hiking. Does your spouse love music? Learn an instrument so you can create your own musical duo.

Taking an interest in the things your partner is passionate about will make them feel special. It shows them that you both like and love them enough to spend your time doing the things they enjoy.

  1. Reminisce

Reminiscing is a fun way to spend your time together. You can look back fondly on how you met, what each of you felt during the courtship process. You can talk about your proposal or relive fantastically dirty times together. But most importantly, you can remember what it is that made you click in the first place.

Consider why you started pursuing one another. What were the common interests and hobbies that made you friends in the first place? Once you discover these you can make an effort to rekindle that friendship. Go back and recreate your first date or pick up an old shared-hobby that used to make you both happy.

  1. Be Nice

Some of the most romantic ideas are often the simplest. If you want to deepen your friendship with your spouse, be nice.

People often feel they can be more comfortable with their partners and therefore, do not use manners and niceties as much as they would when out in public or with someone new. But, why should you give your spouse less of your kindness than you would to the barista at your morning coffee house?

Don’t be overly critical of your spouse, cheer them on in their goals, compliment them, express appreciation, say “Please” and “Thank you”, and go out of your way to look for ways to be helpful, romantic, or loving to them.

Remember how excited you use to be knowing that you got to spend the rest of your life with your best friend? Don’t let that fire go out. By changing your perception, working on communicating, creating a weekly date night, and taking an interest in each other’s hobbies you can make your partner your best friend.

Tough Conversations: A Tool for Parents, Part I

The “Courageous Conversations Compass,” a tool for ensuring that conversations around race and culture are productive in the workplace, was designed and shared by Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton to promote courageous yet respectful dialogue.

Public school personnel, especially Montgomery County Public School teachers, are probably familiar with both Courageous Conversations and Singleton and Linton’s compass. I personally have encountered instruction or reference to the compass on several instances during professional development classes and trainings, staff meetings, and parent conferences.

What began as a tool for the education realm has evolved into a helpful resource for several different types of conversations requiring courage, honesty, and perspective-taking. For struggling parents, an understanding of the compass and the philosophy behind its methods could certainly help facilitate communication with their teens.

What is the compass?

The compass, pictured below, is a visual, symbolic reference point that participants use to assist in communicating when conversations and viewpoints are not only difficult, but divergent. The four points of the compass, which help to identify from which perspective a participant is entering the conversation, are moral, intellectual, emotional, and relational. When we speak to others, especially about controversial or deeply personal topics, we typically go into the conversation with a certain mindset. The axis from which we enter a conversation depends on our experiences, values, beliefs, and opinions.

Additionally, we may enter a conversation from a combination of two or more points on the compass; it all depends on our thought processes pertaining to the specific topic of discussion. For example, on the very relevant topic of violence in schools, the discussion can quickly morph into a debate, which can then digress into an all-out argument. The reason that a controversial conversation like this would escalate quickly is because participants are entering the conversation from several different points on the compass.

For instance, a family member of a victim of gun violence would likely enter the conversation from an emotional standpoint—the topic resonates with their feelings because of their personal experiences. These feelings will conflict with or push back against a person who enters the conversation on the intellectual axis because it is hard to separate logic and emotion objectively. Therefore, the person who enters from an intellectual standpoint may try to use statistics, data, or trends to argue that guns do more to protect or defend people than to hurt them. However, this is a futile attempt for the intellectual if trying to persuade or counter a person’s emotional viewpoint. Likewise, people entering from the emotional axis will tune out the statistics—a statistic does not account for their lost loved one.

While this is just one example of how we enter the compass, the true value of the conversation strategy is that it allows us to recognize and reflect on why we may converse, debate, or argue the way that we do. It also allows us to gauge how and why another person would express themselves in such a vastly different way. The compass allows us to see, not only where we are coming from, but where the “other side” is coming from. At the root of this method is a deeply reflective practice in perspective-taking.

The compass shows us that neither opinion is incorrect or invaluable; instead, it highlights why we disagree when it comes to such contentious topics. So how can we utilize this tool when speaking with our teens? Read ahead to learn how to implement methods for productive conversations using the compass.

 

Absent Parent Returns, Active Parent in Turmoil

After parental separation, a consistent relationship between child and both parents is best. A parent entering and leaving a child’s life can be disruptive for the child and for the life of the other parent. Some folks may feel that upon being absent for some period of time, the absent parent should not be allowed back into the child’s life.

In some situations, the active parent has remarried and the new partner has formed a meaningful and significant attachment to the child. The re-introduction of the absent parent, therefore, threatens to not only cause emotional turmoil to the child, but maybe a perceived threat to the relationship between child and new partner. Needless-to-say, there can be a tangled web of intense feelings on all sides.

Generally speaking, the social science literature supports the notion that children fare better in the long run with secure attachments to both parents. This is true even in the face of many parental difficulties, but assuming that neither parent is outright abusive. In the case of an absent parent wanting to re-enter a child’s life, it may be difficult to determine what is best for the child.

Hence the decision may rest upon the clinical judgment of an assessor. The challenge in assessing these cases is separating parental issues of anger, jealousy and the like, from the needs and interests of the child. At times it is parental issues that require more management than the child’s renewed relationship with the absent parent.

In the event it appears that the relationship between child and absent parent will be re-established, certain precautions and structures can be put in place to allay concerns, facilitate the process and provide safeguards. Pre-meeting conditions can include:

  1. Abstinence from alcohol or drugs where a parent is known to abuse such substances.
  2. Drug testing for a parent known to abuse drugs.
  3. Counseling for the above, if at issue.
  4. Anger management if anger issues are identified.
  5. Attendance at a parenting course.

Then, with regard to a process for facilitating the relationship between absent parent and child:

  1. Consider a counseling process where the counselor meets the absent parent alone. This meeting or series of meetings is to establish motive and also to provide an opportunity for education as to the needs of the child in question.
  2. Concurrently there should be a meeting or series of meetings with the same counselor and the active parent and partner to discuss and prepare them, followed by a meeting with the child to discuss concerns and issues. The purpose of counseling is not to curtail the process, but to continue to discuss and develop strategies to manage change in view of concerns.
  3. Finally, the child meets with the absent parent under the auspices of the counselor. Several future meetings can occur with the counselor or under supervision through a designated supervision center if considered necessary.
  4. Then assuming all goes well, visits can progress to unsupervised.

Hence the issue may not be withholding the relationship rather than facilitating it through a safe and structured process. If the absent parent abides by the process, benefits to the child can significantly outweigh the loss of this parent-child relationship. If the absent parent proves incapable of meeting the requirements and abiding by the safeguards, then there are supports in place to help the child and family adjust.

If the absent parent refuses to follow the processor gets into trouble along the way, the process can be modified or even ended. These situations are balancing acts with no easy solution. The challenge is to manage the process as delicately as possible. The above process may help.

Mindset Matters: Positive Parenting

Growth mindset is a very hot topic in the educational realm today. A basic explanation for a not-so-basic, metacognitive concept is the fact that people can improve their achievement, motivation, and even their intellect by adopting a growth mindset and strategies that correspond to such a mindset.

In classrooms, growth mindset is used as a tool to deliberately activate and strengthen neural pathways by targeting areas of need using strategies that students already utilize in other areas. While that sounds like a mouthful, students as young as kindergarten are learning about metacognitive practices and the importance of grit and reflection.

Besides a strictly instructional focus, growth mindset can positively impact any endeavor, whether it be a cognitive or physical goal. That said, parents can implement basic growth mindset principles at home to boost self-confidence, motivation and effort, as well.

Parents can start with themselves

This means that, prior to encouraging your child to invest in adopting a growth mindset, parents must be ready and willing to look critically at their own mindset. As an educator, I initially felt that I fully understood growth mindset. However, it was not until I investigated my own mindset that I realized my tendency to lean more toward a fixed mindset—the polar opposite of what I was trying to teach my students.

As long as I can remember, I have considered myself to be an English-minded person—comfortable in my literary bubble where language as a means of expression was my primary academic strength. On the contrary, math is something that I have never grasped—ever. In my mind(set), I had absolutely no chance of improving my knowledge of mathematical concepts, so why even bother? Thus began my self-fulfilling prophecy instigated by my very fixed mindset.

The point here is that we adults cannot simply talk the talk; we must walk the walk and lead by example when it comes to growth mindset. Parents can model grit and determination by attempting something intentionally challenging. Golf not your strength? Consider a family outing in which you all take a golf lesson, or simply play a round of mini golf to infuse some fun into a personally difficult sport. Perhaps you are a notoriously disgraceful cook. Read a new cookbook or research a few fool-proof recipes to demonstrate to your children that planning, effort, and reflection can start the ball rolling on growth mindset and its ability to improve achievement.

Parents can model positive self-talk

Not only is this good for boosting self-esteem in adolescents, but optimistic affirmations help to strengthen one’s growth mindset. Much like my self-fulfilling prophecy involving poor math performance, negative internal dialogue lowers motivation and one’s expectations. When we put ourselves down, we are essentially self-sabotaging. Parents should be careful when discussing their own weaknesses as to not pass on these negative mindsets and behaviors.

This is not to say that parents should claim that they are amazing at everything—acknowledging areas of need is a huge part of developing a growth mindset. However, we should be teaching children that our weaknesses are not destined or written in stone—we can and should always be working towards improvement and personal growth.

Parents can celebrate failures

To clarify, parents should not praise failure that results from laziness or lack of effort. Instead, explain that a job well done will sometimes still result in disappointment, but this does not mean that strides weren’t made toward success. When we try and don’t succeed, we learn a little bit more about the task or goal and how we might readjust and attempt again after some reflection and strategizing. The key here is for parents to stress that to try and fail is not shameful—it’s the lack of the attempt at all that cripples our growth.

Conflict Resolution: Who Started It Doesn’t Necessarily Matter!

Remember in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy began her stroll down the Yellow Brick Road? Eventually, she came upon a fork in the road. There she stood, unable to determine which way to go until the voice of the Scarecrow came from behind. With arms folded one over the other and fingers pointing out in opposite directions, he said, “some folks go that way (pointing in one direction), and others go that way (pointing in the other direction).”

Sitting between parents in a high conflict situation with regard to custody and access issues is like watching the scarecrow. However, with separated parents they are both pointing at each other, each blaming the other for initiating and maintaining their conflict. In many instances, both have contributed to their mutual conflict and hence both feel justified at incriminating the other. Regardless of who started it, in many instances, it is clear, they both maintain it. As a concept, this is known as circular causality.

The issue of determining who started the conflict takes on significant meaning for separated parents. They hold a belief that by determining who started it and affixing blame, the alternate parent will not only be vindicated, but their position with respect to a solution of the actual custody/access dilemma will take precedence. To this end, parents in high conflict entrench themselves in their position, behaviours that actually contribute to the very conflict from which they seek relief.

The mediator, assessor or parenting coordinator appointed to relieve the conflict, normalize relations and facilitate the children’s development between separated parents obtain a history of the situation. The purpose is not to determine and ascribe blame, but to understand the dynamics and behavioural specifics of the conflict that continue to keep it alive.

The goal of intervention, be it mediation, assessment, court order or parenting coordinator is to interrupt the sequences of behaviours leading to circular causality, in favour of creating new behavioural sequences that promote healthy relationships and the child’s reasonable psycho-social development.

This is a challenge. Parents in high conflict are reluctant to let go their position, present with a strong need to be vindicated and often do lose sight of the long-term needs of their children. In many cases, this situation is exacerbated by lawyers who are more apt to fight their client’s cause versus facilitate agreement even in the face of differences of opinion.

Children who fair better with regard to psycho-social well-being, have at least one parent who is able to forgo a determination of “who was right and who was wrong”, in favour of developing agreements to act reasonably and structure custody and access arrangements that facilitate all pertinent relationships.

Where parents are seemingly unable or unwilling to cease their role in the battle, they are advised to attend with a Parenting Coordinator, a parenting expert empowered to act as arbitrator. One thing is certain, separated parents continuing to behave in their usual manner will likely continue to live in conflict and hence rear children who in turn will experience distress.

However, if parents agree to heed the direction of the Parenting Coordinator and let go the need to determine who was right and who was wrong, they have the opportunity to escape the trap of circular causality and move forward to healthy and constructive living.

Given the history of conflict, the loco parentis will likely begin with no faith or hope. However, faith and hope are not prerequisites for success; only commitment to following through as directed. Faith and hope can develop over time, the result of behavioural action.

Anxiety in Children: How Can You Help?

Mental health issues amongst children are becoming more and more common, and this is a trend that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. If you’re a parent or caregiver, it’s a good idea to become familiar with signs of mental ill-health, and think about how you might be able to help.

The first step is to recognize the symptoms. While small experiences of anxiety are a natural part of life, it’s important to recognize when it’s becoming more prevalent, and when it’s having a negative impact on a child. Symptoms might include an irrational and ongoing sense of worry, an inability to relax, general uneasiness and irritability, as well as difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating or sudden, unprovoked feelings of panic. Anxiety and depression are not always obvious in children and symptoms can vary significantly depending on the child. Because of this, it’s really important to involve professional medical help if you’re worried about someone in your care.

The second step is to work out if and how to talk about it. Simply letting them know you care can make a big difference. You might like to share a story about times you’ve experienced anxiety. This can be an avenue into a discussion around anxiety, and can provide an opportunity to ask if they have similar worries.

If you’re going to try to help a child with anxiety, there are a few key things to avoid as they can end up being accidentally unhelpful. Avoid phrases like ‘just relax’, or ‘calm down’ as they can escalate the feelings of anxiety and make the child feel like they are doing something wrong. Also consider and be aware of situations that might exacerbate your child’s anxiousness, for example being in loud, crowded places could evoke feelings of uneasiness or panic. It’s important that you can find the balance between understanding and supporting what your child might be going through and acting as a self-assigned counsellor – don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you need to.

The next thing you can think about is how to empower your child to deal with particular triggers. For example, if your child is feeling anxious about a certain event – an exam, public speaking at school, or an upcoming sports game, you may be able to talk with them about whether you can help them to practice or prepare in a way that they might find helpful.

Perhaps practicing a speech in front of you could help them to pinpoint what it is about the experience that’s making them feel anxious. You can’t promise that they’ll ace their presentation or win their sports day, but you can help them practice what they’re concerned about and provide them with tools to manage the anxiety they may feel in these situations. You don’t want to create further anxiety-inducing situations though, so make sure your child is happy to try this out, and mix it up with fun activities too. Revisiting things that they are familiar with and good at can help to develop a sense of capability and foster self-esteem.

When dealing with anxiety, this three-step breathing exercise can be used as a tool to interrupt anxiety as it builds, and it is something you can practice together.

  • Step 1: When you feel tension and anxiety building, stop and close your eyes and take a slow, deep breath in through your nose for 6 seconds.
  • Step 2: Hold it for 2 seconds, then slowly breathe out through your mouth for 4 seconds.
  • Step 3: Repeat this as many times as necessary, gently bringing your focus back to the breath.

If you’re worried about your child, or someone close to you, it’s important to get the advice of a qualified healthcare professional. Anxiety and depression are illnesses that often benefit from a range of treatment options, and often professional support is key to management and recovery.

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