HELPING CHILDREN BE THE BEST VERSION OF THEMSELVES

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It’s that time of year ….Parent/Teacher Conferences!  As a teacher, I valued the time spent with caregivers to share information about their learner,  while gaining insight into my young student’s life at home.

Some parents were visibly anxious during these meetings, and no matter how carefully I chose my words, there were tears.  I always had a box of tissues handy.   For some, this was the first time learning that their precious 6 or 7-year-old was having  difficulty in the world of  “school”.

It was my job to help a caregiver get past the pain of struggle, and look forward with support and a plan to get their child where they needed to go – and to avoid comparing their child to others.   No matter where they “ranked” in the classroom,  I wanted my students to be proud of their hard work and effort that would bring them continued gains.  It was my job to help the caregiver see the unique gifts their child offered even in the midst of  struggles.  For children who struggle,  comparing themselves to  others can be  a recipe for disaster.  These are the children who will shut-down,  become class clowns, and begin avoiding the hard work that makes them feel defeated.  IT was my job to make sure these children were challenged enough to make important gains, while not overwhelming them to the point of defeat.  I needed their  caregivers to be on our side, to be cheerleaders in this game of school – where so many children’s gifts get lost as they try to be like someone else – to please their parents, or teachers.

One of the saddest parent/teacher conferences I had, was when I was teaching Kindergarten.  I had a child who  was lagging behind their peers in many ways, yet expressing themself through Art was a strength.  They  loved creating. In discussing this with the parent, I was dumbfounded when they told me that the pictures the child were bringing home were terrible, and they ripped them up and put them in the trash.  They were not worthy of being hung on the refrigerator.  My heart broke for this child, yet  knowing this made me work harder to help this young child find their bright light.

All children will shine if we let them do it in their way, in their time – with support and guidance from those who love them best.   Don’t waste time and energy worrying about how your child compares to anyone else  – don’t give your child the message that they should be like someone else – love them as they are.  For in that love your child will become the best version of themself.

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SOCIAL MEDIA AND HATE

Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 9.39.43 AMThe past few weeks in our country has raised the issue once again, of the effect social media can have on people.  Those who struggle with mental health issues are finding support to take hatred to the furthest extreme.  I don’t know what the answer to such hate is, but there is much we can do to protect ourselves, and our children from hatred spewed out on  social media…. keep kids off it.    It is an addiction that is having severe negative effects on the fabric of our society.   I can’t imagine the effect it is having on developing brains of children.

There are those who will argue that technology is here to stay so we need to learn to use it well.  And I agree,  so if you can’t/won’t teach your child how to use it – which in my mind means monitoring often and being allowed to be on all their social media sites with them – which to me would be pretty labor intensive – then don’t give them access.  OR you could argue that it could be used as a teaching tool to expose kids to differing viewpoints – but there is so much hate out there right now – are you ready and willing to teach young kids about that??  Wouldn’t it be nice if all social media came with a built-in mental health advisor??

But the bottom line – how much time is social media taking away from real-time interaction with those we love?  How much is being on a device interfering with forming strong secure attachment with your children – which in turn help to create emotionally healthy adults?  AS a parent/caregiver…..how much time are you NOT really tuned in to a child because you are texting, scrolling, etc.  Even as an adult I am put off when those I love are distracted from being present in what we are doing  – when suddenly a  person texting is more important than our real life engagement?…  AND I AM GROWN UP AND MATURE….(sometimes) – what is this doing to kids??

Think about it – tune in to real people in real-time – and tune out the hatred that is being spewed across social media.  We will all be better for it.

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Simple Gifts

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I spent some time with my daughter and her family today.  When I first arrived at their home,  my five-year old Granddaughter gave me a quick hello and then disappeared into another room.  A few minutes later, she reappeared and handed me a paper folded in half.   It was a picture of the two of us – out for a walk.  She explained that I had my purple sweater wrapped around my waist.  We are both smiling – there is green grass and blue sky.   I thanked her and placed it in my purse so I wouldn’t forget it.  She was pleased.  It is now on my refrigerator;  a place of honor for what it represents.   It reminds me of the simple pleasures.     It reminds me of an innocence that gives freely and quietly.   No strings attached.  Simple, quiet, easy – yet in my mind – it speaks volumes.  Thank you Z.  I love you.

Spend some time with a kid if you can.  If you listen and pay attention they will always remind you of the important things in life.

BACK TO SCHOOL

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I have three grandchildren off to school this year. I checked in with my daughters to see how things went and was relieved to hear that the kindergarteners and first-grader headed out happy and excited, and came home the same way.  The first-grader shared that his teacher said  their classroom is like a family – where they all  care for one another.  What a beautiful tone to set for learners.

As a retired teacher, I know what kids need to be successful, and it’s so much more than academics.

So send your child off to school with courage.  Send them with joy and send them with positives.   And when they come home feeling discouraged or rejected, build them up.  Teach them that no one can bully them or make them feel less than……unless they allow it.  Teach them to speak up, and speak out – for they are worth it.  Teach them that their voice is just as important as anyone else’s voice.  Teach them that to gain respect, they must be respectful.    Teach them that sometimes things are difficult, but that’s OK.  Set a goal, work hard and never give up.  Teach them that there are always people to turn to when things get tough – find those people.

Communicate with your child’s teachers if you have concerns.  Respect their time but know that good teachers want to know if your child is struggling, and they will work with you to help your child.

Your child needs to know that you will always be there – to listen, share, and support.  So as you send your little ones out to navigate without you, know that you are still their most important teacher and they still need you to fill them up with all that is needed to be independent, self-reliant and confident to navigate their world without you.

 

 

BEING INTENTIONAL

 

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This week I have been doing some guided meditation and realize the power of intent.   As we grow up, we often lose track of our desires.   In the business of children, jobs, social activity, and just being a “grown-up” with all the responsibility  that entails, it’s easy to lose our dreams and lose our self.

Meditation is a great tool to help us reconnect with ourself,  and it’s a valuable tool for children as well.  It helps keep us centered and stay connected to our  body, mind and spirit.  There is a lot of research that supports meditation for improved health – both physical and mental.

The focus of one of the meditations I recently practiced  was on intention.  What a great thing to teach our children.   We should all have dreams and desires, but without being intentional  about those dreams,  they can become fairy-tales.

When I was teaching, I was in my element. Each day was filled with effortless intention, as I was doing what I felt I was always meant to do.   Now that I am retired I find the same effortless satisfaction in writing.  However through my meditation, I realized I haven’t been very intentional about it!!   So, I  have created my best writing space, which meant a few hours of thought about how that would look, sorting, organizing and cleaning out.  It’s something I should have done long ago!  It’s my own sacred space.  Does your child have their own space that helps to support their desires and dreams??   Namaste.

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Mr Rogers – Champion of Kids

 

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I recently went to the movie, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”,  a documentary on the life of Fred Rogers.  It left me feeling both uplifted, and sad.   It was uplifting to be reminded of the work that Fred Rogers did that had such a positive impact on so many children and families,   yet sad that there aren’t more like him today.    Sad because there are “Mr Roger’s ” doubters;  people who  blamed his work for creating children who are entitled.  I believe  these folks don’t understand the depth of his work, children,  and the strong need we all have to be loved “just for who we are.”

Fred Rogers provided a voice for children, and understood that they are impacted by things that happen in their small world, as well as things that happens in the  bigger world. He  gave them a platform to grapple with whatever it was they were feeling.     He understood that children need to feel that there will always be an adult in their corner, and that no matter what they are feeling, someone will be there to listen and help them through.  His message was always one of care,  love and respect for children.  He knew the importance of listening to these young voices.   We could all use some “Mr Rogers” in our world today.image.png

 

 

SUMMER REGRESSION!

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School’s out, but don’t let the long break from school derail all the academic gains your child made this year!   Kids do regress if they don’t do any reading or writing activities during the long summer break, so to help prevent that, here are some ideas:

  1.  READ and READ some more.  Take your child to the library, and find books that they can read so they can continue to practice.  The children’s librarian can be a great help.
  2. If they are beginning readers, and are hesitant, keep it simple.  Echo reading is a great way to get them engaged without frustrating them, and helps them with fluency.
  3. I read, you read – take turns.  As you model, this helps with fluency and expression.
  4. If your child comes across words they don’t know ask them what strategies they know to figure out unknown words.  They should use picture clues, (yes …this is not cheating!), skip the word and read to the end of the sentence and then reread the sentence having their mouth ready to say the first sound in the word.  Often using the context will help them figure out the word.  This also teaches them that it’s ok to skip words and reread, and to always be thinking about what would make sense. Look for little words in big words.
  5. Go to the library each week for new books, and introduce them to fun series.  Your librarian can help if you don’t know what is available for kids your child’s age.  Also, check to see if your library has a summer reading program.  These can be motivating  to keep kids reading.
  6. Don’t forget to write.  Have your child keep a summer diary.  Writing helps with reading skills, and vice-versa.   Consider having a bedtime diary.  Your child writes you a note just before bed and puts it on your pillow.  You answer it so when they wake up in the morning, they can read it.  This is fun if done in a journal format so it builds.
  7. Consider writing letters or cards and mailing them to a friend or relative.  Relatives that you know will write back are the best!
  8. Have your child create lists if you are going shopping and when in the store, have them read around the store.
  9. Be sure to let them see you reading and writing and don’t forget to read to them!  Even older kids like being read to, and you can read them books that may be too hard for them, that teaches them science, social studies or math concepts.  This also helps with vocabulary development.
  10. Create a fun place in their room where they can keep books, paper, pens, crayons, etc.   Great for a rainy day!
  11. Most importantly, have fun with reading and writing.  Don’t worry about what level your child is and if you see them getting frustrated back off and follow their lead.    Love them as you enjoy some great summertime reading together!  Marvel if they are beginning to communicate through writing.  Correction is not the focus – but the message is!  If kids feel criticized and corrected as they are learning new things, they may shut down, and shut you out.  Follow their lead and delight in their unique abilities!
  12. If your child is reluctant, or simply doesn’t want to do any reading/writing – you may try making it part of a routine that comes before some things that you know they love.  My Grandkids are on summer break, and before we swim, we do some reading.  I think I love it just as much as they do!  It’s exciting for me to have my six-year-old Grandson reading to me!  I know the practice will help him as he begins first-grade in the Fall.
  13. Don’t ever compare your child to others – marvel in what it is that they can do and pay attention.  What may seem like nothing to you is a GREAT BIG DEAL to a young child who is just beginning to unravel the marvelous world of reading and writing.  What a gift you can give them by being with them on this journey!

Happy summer and happy reading and writing!

Reading Rockets is a great source for book ideas!

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Listen With Your Heart

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One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is to listen to them with an open heart.  When I was teaching first grade, I found that many issues a child dealt with could be easily solved by listening with an open mind and heart.

Children need to have someone who will always be on their side.    That doesn’t mean that they always get want they want.  What this means is that the special people in their lives will put down whatever they are doing if they are in distress, and be with them to help them solve their issue.  This is done through careful thoughtful listening,  often referred to as “active listening”.  Often times, younger children  show their distress by acting out, and they may just need someone to set boundaries, keep them safe and love them through their tantrums.

The art of listening and parenting evolves as your child grows.  It should never be static.  As humans our wants/needs and abilities to communicate change over time, but one thing remains the same.  We all long for authentic loving communication with others.  We all have the need to be heard.

As your child leaves toddlerhood, and begins to be able to communicate with language, the art of listening  is critical to help them to continue to grow their language, and  learn to trust  others and themselves. When you  are really listening to  someone, you are with them. You are making eye contact, facing them, (leaning in) and you are quiet.  You give the speaker a chance to say what they need to say.  If you don’t understand, you ask questions for clarification.  You paraphrase what you think the speaker is saying to check  for understanding.    Once the speaker verifies that you do indeed understand  what they are saying, then you can offer support, advice, etc as needed.  Often all the child needs is to know that someone hears them.  They may need a hug, a smile, or they may need to be told why it is that they can’t do, have etc whatever it is they are seeking.  Don’t give advice unless they ask.  Usually you can lead them to a thoughtful conclusion by asking leading questions.  How empowering for a child to be able to solve issues they may have!!

IF you find that you are worn out with active listening because it always ends up with your child begging for something, then you need to shift the conversation.  Sometimes you need to just say “no” and move on.  If you pay attention, you will learn quickly when a situation calls for active listening and when it calls for a short, sweet response.   Even “no” can be said with kindness.

Last week I had the opportunity to spend time with my Granddaughters who are 4 and 2.  I learned much in listening and conversing with them.  My four-year old (she is four going on 20)  is going to take me to the nail salon when she learns to drive.  When tucking her into bed at night I said , “good night, I love you”, to which  she replied….”good night my love”.   I keep playing that over in my head and it brings a smile to my face every time.     The two-year old is becoming very skilled in asking for what she needs.   She was able to communicate her needs in times of stress (potty training)  and times of play and joy!  “Blow bubbles with me Grandma.”  When a two-year old asks you to blow bubbles, take some time and blow some bubbles.  It really is quite magical.

The art of listening will help both you and your child.    As you are practicing, you learn patience, kindness and SO much about your child.   You will also learn about yourself if you pay attention to how it is for you when you are working on being  an active listener.    Do you find yourself wanting to rush to resolution….do you find yourself wanting to check your cell phone…..do you find yourself uncomfortable with your child’s pain…..do you find yourself wanting to minimize your child’s feelings…..do you find yourself not even hearing what your child is saying as your mind is off somewhere else???  Notice these things and work on your skill. We are all works in progress – all the time!  But the benefits of really listening are well worth the effort!    Your child learns acceptance, compassion and trust.  For no matter what they have going on they are learning that someone will be there to help them through it.  Once they hit their teens, you will be glad this trust has been established.    One of the greatest benefits of all is that  your child is learning valuable skills to help them in all of their relationships as they move forward in life.  Our world needs some compassionate communicators.  It starts at home.

 

 

Being Healthy in an Unhealthy World

IMG_3818 Seeking Health for Ourselves Helps our Children

I am just recovering from a nasty bout with a stomach bug.  Four days later, and 3 pounds lighter,   I am beginning to feel human again – warning…..this is NOT an easy way to shed excess pounds….which I am sure will return as soon as I am 100%.  Being this sick  reminded me about all the important things I should be doing to remain healthy.    In search of  my best self,  I have been reading The Healing Self,  by Deepak Chopra and Rudolph Tanzi.  The focus is the importance of mindbody on your health.

I think about our world as it is today, and feel it to be a very unhealthy place where our mind is constantly bombarded with negative images and messages.  The effect of this in addition to stresses that we face in our daily lives, can certainly lead to some very negative impacts on our bodies.  How we deal everyday will affect not only our own health, but our loved ones as well.  Children learn from the adults around them and they are affected by stress and negativity, just as adults are.  Home is the best place to teach children how to care for themselves – body and mind – together.

The amazing body of ours is super intelligent (according to Chopra way smarter than our brain) and will do its job if we treat it well – barring any genetic issues.  But our damn brains so often get in the way …I know mine does.  Last time I checked in with my Doc my BP was not good – and related directly to anxiety I was experiencing.  This was a wake up call to me to get in touch with my body – be aware – notice it, and slow down to breathe and release stress and anxiety, and make sure I do more of what brings me peace every day.     There is a lot of good and beauty in the world – this is not fake news.

I am always  on a journey for better health,   and  mindbody work done by healers such as Deepak Chopra make sense to me.  The healing benefits of some of the oldest practices, such as yoga and meditation in addition to Western medicine,  work to take care of the whole self.

When I was a teacher, taking time  out of our busy day to be still, take some deep breaths, stretch, and center ourselves helped us to be our best selves.    Taking a few minutes throughout the day to do these simple things could be the difference between leaving feeling refreshed, renewed and cared for…..or leaving frazzled, exhausted and spent.  Everyone benefited!

My wish is that when I leave this planet, it’s a healthier place for my children and Grandchildren and that perhaps I have taught them a little bit about what it takes to be the  best version of themselves.  I know that I learn much from them about life and am reminded about the importance of laughter, joy and unselfish love.  They are some of my best medicine!  Sing, dance and jump up and down for joy.  Your body will thank you.

 

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Keeping Children Safe

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WE are all mourning the loss of innocent children who woke up on Valentine’s Day, thinking it was just another normal day.  WE are all angry and frustrated and looking for answers.  WE can’t imagine the pain these families are feeling.  We can only look on and seek answers so it won’t happen again and again and again.

Apparently our President thinks we can keep children safe by reporting people we think are mentally unstable.  You, Mr President, are mentally unstable if that is your answer to the horrific killings of innocent children in Florida.  This person’s mental state did not kill children.  A gun did – and while he allegedly fired this gun, if he had not had access to this weapon he could not have killed innocent children in this manner.  TO blame this act of violence on others not reporting the alleged shooter to the authorities is unconscionable. It sounds as if this young man was known to be troubled, yet there are those who felt it was fine for him to own a weapon.  WHY?

I worked in an educational setting for 18 years. I worked with first graders, and sadly, even at that young age there are children who have mental health issues.  There are families who struggle to find support and access to all that is needed to combat whatever it is that ails their child.  IT is not easy to find help for troubled children.  Our mental health system is failing them, and our educational system is failing them, and has been for a long time.    AND it’s not the fault of one person, or persons – it’s the fault of our Government not willing to work together to protect innocent victims from gun violence,  not valuing our youngest members and not providing the best early education programs, not supporting access to mental health programs and not supporting families in need.

Think about mental health of our children  as you pull money from education and medicare and Medicaid Mr President.  AND think about gun laws.  IF you are a parent reading this, don’t feel too comfortable that your child is OK….for others are not.  WE should all work for a better, safer world for all our children.  pexels-photo-326580.jpeg