It’s OK to Get Upset

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As long as I have been a part of the early childhood education world, the following phrase has been a part of it: You get what you get, and you don’t get upset. 

I don’t know when parents and educators started using this phrase, but can we please stop?

Not only is it dismissive to the child aka you’re feelings don’t matter but more and more research indicates the importance of teaching children how to express and handle their emotions. When we teach children about their emotions, we give them the power of expression and self, and we start letting them know their mental health and well-being are just as important as their physical well-being.

I understand what the phrase is trying to do; it’s saying, whatever happens, it’s going to be ok, but to blatantly and repeatedly tell children they cannot get upset is ridiculous; it’s also not human.

We get upset. I get upset. One day years ago, when I was teaching four-and-five-year-olds, it was my day to be at the school early and open the classroom. On these days, I made a special stop at Starbucks and bought an expensive splurge drink. A parent who was in a rush asked if they could leave their child with me.  Even though I wasn’t clocked in yet and not even in my classroom, I was in the kitchen of the school enjoying my last moments of quiet before the crazy day began; I said yes. 

While in my hazy, still sleepy, somewhat-annoyed-that-the-parent-had-just-done-this-state, and trying to keep an eye on the kid while I got what I needed for the classroom snack that morning, I set my coffee down on an uneven surface and the entirety of my specialty, splurge coffee spilled on the floor. 

It wasn’t even 7 A.M. My once-a-week splurge lay on the floor (and I now had to clean it up). And I had a 4-year-old standing next to me. I vividly remember telling myself silently, “Don’t cry. Do not let this child see you cry over a spilled coffee.” Honestly I wanted to have a tantrum.

So why didn’t I have a tantrum? Well, I came close, but I didn’t because I had learned how to process and handle strong emotions. We need to teach our children that it is OK to be upset when something negative happens, but how you respond that matters.

When I was teaching and passing things out, I would always shorten it to “You get what you get.” There was always at least one child in the class who would then say, “and you don’t get upset.” When that happened, I would look at them and say, “It’s ok to be upset when you don’t get what you want; what’s important is how you handle it.” Pay attention to that second part – it is OK to get upset when you don’t get what you want.

I have been performing in theater and music nearly my entire life, which means there are countless times I didn’t get the part or the solo I auditioned for and wanted. Do you know how many times I was upset I didn’t get the part I wanted? EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Of course I was upset! But here’s what I didn’t do. I didn’t go on social media and bash everyone involved with the show. I didn’t scream and throw things. I didn’t swear off doing theater ever again. 

I talked to a friend or my mom. I went and did something I enjoyed like reading a book.  I took a walk and listened to music. I enjoyed a glass (or two) of wine. I took a bubble bath. The point is I found ways to work through my disappointment and move on. These are the skills we need to be teaching our kids. Go ahead and have your disappointment, but let’s figure out the best way to handle it.

There are times I cried and times I didn’t. There are times it took me a few weeks to get over the disappointment and times it only took a few hours, but I was still upset every single time; because I’m human. 

Is it appropriate for a ten-year-old to cry because their sibling got the last green Jolly Rancher?  In most cases, no; but they are allowed to be bummed out about it. Is it appropriate for a five-year-old to have a tantrum because their best friend got the sticker they wanted at circle time? Probably not, but if they do, we can use it as a teaching opportunity to find other ways to express disappointment.

It is rarely a healthy option to tell kids “Don’t cry” because it is another way of telling them their emotions are not valid, but sometimes it can be hard not to roll our adult eyes and think, “Really? He’s crying because Godzilla is no longer on Amazon Prime?” (And yes, my son did this. So what I like to do instead is say, “It is ok to be upset, but Is this situation worth your tears?” Phrasing things in this way makes children slow down and evaluate their responses.

We can help our children process big emotions and disappointments by using phrases like:

  • I see you’re really upset right now. Would you like some space?
  • This seems to be making you sad. Do you want to talk about it?
  • It is ok to be angry, but it is not OK to hurt people or things.
  • You seem worried. Would you like me to sit with you?
  • I am not sure what is bothering you, but I am here if you want to talk.

The more we as adults recognize and discuss emotions, the more our children will understand them. Like language and social interactions, children learn about handling emotions from the adults surrounding them.

If a child grows up in a house where anger is considered “bad,” they may have trouble processing feelings of anger because they believe it makes them bad. We must also avoid assigning emotions to genders. For example, if children hear that crying and whining is what girls do and boys should be strong and fearless, then we are assigning weakness as feminine, but we are telling our boys that they have to be brave all the time. 

Fear is another normal and completely biological response in many situations; fear is what kept our early ancestors alive. They needed to know when to run, when to fight, and when to hide too, survive. 

Emotions need just to be emotions—all normal and all OK.

Children should be learning self-awareness and understanding of their own emotions, regulating and controlling those emotions, learning to understand what is essential and what is not (AKA is this situation worth your tears?), and reading and understanding emotions in others. 

We do this when we allow children to see our emotions and emotional process and demonstrate how to handle disappointing and upsetting situations. Teaching emotional intelligence puts our children in the driver’s seat of their mental well-being and teaches them how to problem-solve and self-soothe. 

So, teach your kids you get what you get, and you CAN get upset. But also teach them that a tantrum over a Jolly Rancher probably isn’t worth the energy spent, and if you take the red one, at least you still got candy! More importantly, you’re helping them process their emotions and how to handle things independently so that when they are thrity they don’t have a melt down over spilled coffee.

The Power in Positive Phrasing

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One of my son’s favorite books is “No, David!” by David Shannon. We read it all the time. I like to jokingly put his name in the book, and while it is funny, it also hits a nerve for him and me too. That’s because we can both see him as the character in this book, a little boy who has trouble controlling his emotions and actions and, as a result, hears the word “No,” a lot. 

The funny thing is I know that that is the least effective way to communicate with him and to get him to do what I need to be done. I’ve read all the research on positive phrasing; as a teacher, I had that skill down almost to perfection. I even counseled other parents to use it and explained the benefits behind it. As a mom, though, easier said than done.

When you place a negative in front of a phrase, the child doesn’t hear the negative; they hear the action. So “Don’t run inside” becomes “run inside.” Now, I am not saying children hear this and automatically think you are telling them to run in the house, but the negative gets washed away; it’s not effective.

Positive phrasing, in all communication, is more likely to yield the results you’re after. But why? Well, first, it’s more pleasing to the ear and the mind. “Please walk inside” is more compelling than “Don’t run!” Second, when we phrase things positively, we are more likely to speak in a calm voice than yelling or a scolding tone. A calm voice is more likely to garner attention.

Experts say if you want your children to listen quietly and calmly, don’t yell. When you yell, they begin to shut you out and begin to shut down. When you speak calmly and quietly, you show respect, which begets respect, and they are also forced to listen to hear what you have to say.

You may still get surly looks and crossed arms when you talk quietly, but I guarantee they are listening. 

Telling your child what you want or expect instead of what you don’t want sets up clear guidelines; it tells your child exactly what is expected. If you say, “Don’t run,” it leaves room for them to interpret that as ok well, I can still skip, jump, hop, cartwheel, or crawl. If you say, “You need to walk when inside the house,” there is no room for interpretation. It’s cut and dry.

Trust me, I know this is a difficult skill to conquer, especially of late when we’ve all had way more “quality” time with our children than ever before, but it does work. And I need to remind myself of that from time to time too. But just try it, write your self post-it notes or reminders around the house so you see them and can remember it in the heat of the moment. 

Try taking a deep breath before responding to your child’s behavior. It will help you stay calm and it gives you a chance to phrase what you need to say in your head first.

Take some time and think of all the things you say “no” to in a day and see if you can flip them into positives.

Instead of:

  • Don’t leave your laundry on the floor.
  • Stop playing with your food.
  • Stop hitting your brother.
  • We don’t draw on the wall.
  • Don’t dump all your toys out.
  • Don’t talk back to me.

Try:

  • Please put your laundry in the basket
  • I need you to eat because you are making a mess.
  • You need to keep your hands to yourself.
  • Crayons and markers are used on paper.
  • Please clean up your toys when you’re finished.
  • You need to speak respectfully to me.

Phrasing things positively doesn’t mean you are saying yes to everything; it means you set up clear expectations of what is expected and acceptable. 

Save “No” for moments of danger. Then it should be said in a loud, firm voice. Yelling “No” or “Stop” right before a kid touches a hot stove or steps off the sidewalk as a car barrels down will give them the jolt to potentially stop the dangerous choice. 

When children hear no all the time, it loses its polish. Think of “No” as your boy who cried wolf. If it happens all the time, no one is going to listen to it. If you save it for moments of import, your child will not be used to hearing it, so the novelty will grab their focus. 

My boys are fans of the new movie “YES DAY” and have watched it at least twenty times in the last few weeks. The concept is that for one day, the parents say yes to anything the kids ask (within a set of parameters, of course).

They have asked me to have a Yes Day on more than one occasion. So far, the answer is a no… but we’ll see.

The Story of My Exhaustion

A year plus into this COVID pandemic, and I know I am not the only parent feeling burnt out, exhausted, worn down, and even hopeless at times. I am already dealing with depression; I was first diagnosed at 23, long before becoming a mama. I have always had good days and bad days. I have experienced great weeks and horrible months, but this year has been a challenge all its own.

I went into the pandemic, like most of us, I think, believing it would be a month or two at most. I mean, who could have predicted this past year? It is quite literally unprecedented! I vividly remember the conversation with the director of the private preschool I worked at, offering me the furlough option and me feeling grateful.

My two boys, aged 5 and 8, had been out of school the past two weeks, and I was paying nearly half my salary for them to have full-day childcare. Not working was also going to be a struggle. Still, I knew I couldn’t sustain this momentum financially. At least if I were furloughed, I could collect unemployment until things got rolling and I could get back to work.

Work at the time was also bizarre; so many parents had pulled their children; there were way more teachers in the building than kids! I gratefully accepted the furlough option, though terrified, and took myself to Target – mask still weren’t a thing yet – it feels forever ago!

My plan in Target was to stock up on craft, science, and toys to keep my kids entertained for the next several weeks – HA! I was going to be the Mary Poppins of Moms… and I was, for about two months.

Then I began to feel restless; the stress of not knowing when or if I’d go back to work, the idleness of not leaving my house, and being home all day with two small children was wearing me down. Not to mention the initial virtual schooling began, and that was stressful for all!

I decided to start this blog so I had somewhere to channel my energy. Then I started freelance writing; long story short, I decided to stay home and work freelance rather than go back to teaching. Here I am, a year later, still at home with two kids.

If that weren’t enough to stress one out, my depression was bearing down on me; many days, I felt like someone had laid a heavy blanket on me, and I couldn’t get it off. I was gaining weight, and I was miserable.

I knew I had to make a change, so I contacted my doctor last August; we switched my antidepressants, thinking this would help my mood and help me lose weight. I even signed up for a weight loss program and followed it religiously for weeks. My weight continued to go up, and I continued to stay depressed.

By December, I could barely get my work done, I was in a haze all the time, and you guessed it, still gaining weight and still depressed. At one point in January, I took myself to get a COVID test because I just felt so horrible and lethargic (no cough, no fever), but I didn’t know what else to try.

The test was negative.

I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. Then in a matter of three weeks, I gained 10 pounds. That was the final straw. I had been exercising almost daily; this was not normal.

I called my doctor, made an appointment, and had bloodwork done. Two tense weeks later, I found out I have Hypothyroidism. More specifically, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. An autoimmune disease where your body begins to attack your thyroid.

Do you know what three of the symptoms of Hashimotos’ are? You guessed it, depression, fatigue, and weight gain.

My doctor immediately put me on thyroid medication. He told me to change my diet overnight, a Mediterranean-style diet with no gluten, soy, or dairy.

I was overwhelmed. I was relieved. On the one hand, I was expected to make all these changes to my diet and lifestyle, to take medication daily, but on the other, it wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t causing my symptoms. I wasn’t just fat (as a doctor once told me when I was 18) or lazy or too depressed to be a good mom. I was sick.

I jumped in with both feet, determined to feel better. It’s been six weeks, and I have lost 5 pounds and counting. I’m not as depressed, I feel some hope, I’m sleeping better, and I have more energy on most days.

I chalked so much of what was going with me to the pandemic and being home all the time, but that was just a layer; my body was telling me something was wrong, but the signals got lost, or I didn’t want to see them.

I still miss my friends, although many are vaccinated, and I will be soon too! I miss performing in and attending live theater and singing karaoke. I miss dining in restaurants and vacations and taking my kid’s places.

But I finally have been able to lift part of that heavy blanket off, and I feel hope. As I sit in my library with the windows surrounding three-quarters of the room all open and look at the fresh flowers, I bought myself yesterday sitting on a bookshelf, and I don’t feel quite so tired anymore.

This past year has changed me as it has changed every one of us. I am still going to wish I had more energy. I am still going to wish I could be a better mom. I will have to work hard every day to control my diet, exercise, and take my medication to stay healthy. But I’m not exhausted anymore, and no matter what else happens as this pandemic goes on, I can say to myself now, “I’ve got this.”

Humanity for our Teachers

I want to give a shout-out to all the educators who have been working tirelessly since last spring to ensure our children had a safe place to learn, whether virtually or in the building.

While my situation allowed me to leave the classroom and stay home with my children, I realize that is not the case for many, and I understand how fortunate I am.  I spent a mere two weeks teaching and trying to juggle childcare for my children before I was furloughed and then eventually decided to stay home.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot put myself in the shoes of anyone out there still navigating the work and childcare battle, but I know it is hard. I spent years struggling with finding subs when my kids were sick, and I had no one to watch them because their father was a full-time student.

I spent years being the one who missed work because it cost less for me to stay home than it did their father.  I’ve felt the unsurmountable stress of finding a babysitter for the weekend or evening school event.  And, I’ve been home, extremely ill with two small children because I didn’t have anyone to drop them off or pick them up, or when I lived in Chicago, the drive was too far.  

Since I switched to writing full time, I have had my calls interrupted by my kids.  I have had my work stopped because there was a nerf battle going on in the basement, or someone fell outside during recess and was injured.  I have had days where I’ve been interrupted so many times to help with school work I eventually gave up on what I was writing for the day.

I have cried in frustration too.

I understand the plight of the working parent.  But I also understand what our educators have been going through.  And many of these educators are also working parents.

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People are constantly worried about kids falling behind; I admit I have had my moments too, but then I stopped and asked myself, “What are we so afraid of them falling behind?” 

Math scores?  Reading tests? Arbitrary numbers and statistics that we are told our children need to meet to be the best.  We’re continually telling ourselves and our children that they have to be the best.  And again I questioned, the best at what?

I want my children to be the best at being human, being kind, empathetic, helpful, compassionate, and understanding, and that starts at home with parents and caregivers.  

We can start by showing educators compassion and understanding.  

I believe my son’s 1st-grade teacher is a saint as I watch and listen to her daily try to wrangle 17 first graders to pay attention to a screen, to help them one at a time to navigate through which button to push or link to click and she never sounds impatient or mad. 

Do I think most children would do better in a physical classroom? Of course. My son with severe ADHD would benefit significantly from being hands-on in a school, but it has not been an option where I live nor for many around the country. 

As an educational advocate, I also understand that the playing field isn’t equal, and virtual schools make it even less so for some.  My heart aches daily for the children going hungry or being abused and who lack the school building’s safety to come to for eight hours a day and may miss getting a warm meal, or any meal at all.

I feel for the children with shaky or no internet access, whose parents can’t or won’t help them with their work, or who are struggling without the aid of tutors, mentors, and that special human touch of an in-person caring teacher.

But much of this is out of my control. And every teacher I know who is virtual is aching to be with their kids again; they just want to ensure it is safe both for them and their students.  So what is this country doing yet again to its teachers?  We are throwing them under the bus.   

I know personally, first hand more teachers than I could count, I’ve listened to their stories, I heard their fears and concerns, I watched them struggle as they too learn new technology, new ways to create and present lessons, new ways to engage children over a screen, new ways to teach.

How often in your career have to been asked to throw away 85% of what you know and, in a few short months, been told, figure out a new way? Oh, and it better be perfect because if not, we’re judging you and then going to bully you?  I hazard to guess you’ve expected to do that zero times.

But somehow, it has become ok to bully teachers because they are not perfect.  Somehow, once again, it is the teacher’s fault that our child is not “the best.”  Somehow we are again blaming schools and educators for everything wrong with society.

And people wonder why there is a teacher shortage.

I get sick to my stomach when I see comments like “go back to work,” “stop being lazy,” “you need to do your job.”

If you think teaching 20 kids over a screen while simultaneously not losing your cool, trying to offer individualized instruction, and trying to make sure something you are presenting sticks, then please, by all means, try it.

Oh, and add to that the hours you spend off-screen planning lessons, adapting them for online and hybrid learning, grading and assessing work, answering parent emails and phone calls, and attending meetings on how to continually better the system that has been evolving day after day.

My older son’s third-grade teacher is buying science experiment supplies, driving around to each child in her class’s home this weekend, and delivering the materials so every child in her class can participate.  She also dropped off goodie bags and supplies before the school year began and before winter break.

Teachers.  I applaud you.  I support you.  I respect you.

The thing that really gets me, though, is that my kids HAVE learned this past year.  They have advanced academically and picked up skills they didn’t have a year ago, and I would assume that my kids aren’t the only two who have learned new information and skills.

So what exactly is there to be angry at teachers about?

They have also learned adaptability, flexibility, problem-solving, computer skills, creativity, resourcefulness, how to think outside the box, patience, acceptance, and that life doesn’t always go as one would like.

In my opinion, valuable skills.

The truth of COVID life is, many careers have had to switch to a virtual setting, but I don’t notice anyone giving other professions a hard time or calling them lazy as they perform their work from home.

Yes, children need socialization, we all do, and this has been extremely challenging; I miss my friends and all the things I used to do too, but why does society think that everyone gets a free pass except the teachers?

Why and when have we, as a country, stopped valuing what they do?  

Why are we supporting hundreds of other industries that have been effected, but the industry that produces our most valuable resource has been vilified?

Frustration is high, but people are also scared, and the last time I checked, people have a right to feel that way.  This has been a scary and unprecedented time in our history.

It seems insane to me that a medical condition has become political, that so many refuse to believe what science says. Still, this is new and scary, and information comes from a thousand different places, so maybe I do get it.  You have people who still believe vaccines cause autism.  They don’t.

I do not claim to have the answers, but I know that being kind goes a long way.  Perhaps in place of fear and blame, we could try compassion and support because, in the end, above all else, that is what I hope my children learn from this experience; not multiplication or that the first word of the sentence needs to be capitalized but to rally in a time of confusion and fear instead of tearing one another down.

I hope they learn how to be human.

Music & Multiculturalism

Music is a powerful tool. It evokes emotions, memories, cheers us up, provides energy, or allows us to wallow if that is our mood.  

Music has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My parents played instruments growing up, my sisters and I played instruments and studied music, and I studied music as an undergrad.  

Music surrounds us even when we don’t realize it. The birds singing in the trees is music. The hum and rhythm of the fish tank or dishwasher or the absent-minded whistling and humming we may do when working and thinking are music. 

 I am a huge supporter of arts and art education, and every year that I taught PreK, in addition to daily music and activities, I included a unit focused on music. Music is an incredible teaching tool, particularly when it comes to teaching our children about diversity and multiculturalism. 

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

If you asked me to name my favorite musicians or composers, my immediate response would be Bon Jovi, Mozart, Ella Fitzgerald, Queen, Idina Menzel, and Rodgers & Hammerstein. That is a somewhat varied list, but those are just my TOP musicians.

Suppose you asked me to name music I enjoy and listen to regularly. In that case, I’d say classical, mostly piano and cello music, Broadway show tunes, country music, jazz standards, classic rock, 90’s rock, Edith Piaf, and choral music (particularly Rachmaninoff).

Then, I listen to other music types at various times just because I feel that vibe or want to hear something outside the box for me.  

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

The point is music is hugely varied and can take us to many places and encourage us to learn more about the artist, the period, and the culture.

Music can be a window into other cultures for children and we should encourage them to learn more about those cultures.  

Some music you can introduce to your class or children at home includes the following dance types:

  • Salsa
  • Ballet
  • The Hora
  • Irish Dance
  • Russian Dance
  • Country Line Dancing 
  • Hip-Hop

Play some videos and using a YouTube, or watch a tutorial to learn the basic steps with your child, and dance along! Children LOVE to dance, so play anything with a good beat, and they are sure to bop along!

My 6 year old has learned almost all of Michael Jackson’s live Billie Jean performance from simply watching and attempting to learn the steps!

Disney 2018 – Pro Latin

Riverdance 2009

Next, tie that music in with books related to the culture and music they stem from. As you read through the books, you can branch-off based on your child’s questions or topics while reading.

As a final tie in, introduce your child to various instruments from different cultures. This can be through visual aids such as computers or books, or if you can get your hands on some instruments or see a live performance or demonstration even better!

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

The more you expose your child to different types of music, the more you expose them to different cultures. It provides windows of opportunity to learn and experience, and it begins to create an understanding that all cultures have something unique to add to the human collective. 

Inspiring Books for Teachers

Teachers have been a topic of interest of late. Many are preparing their classrooms both virtual and face-to-face and some have already begun teaching for the year. I spent 14 years teaching and I remember the joys, frustrations and excitement of preparing a classroom for a new group of learners. All teachers are facing a new set of rules this year as they embark on the 20/21 school year and first and foremost, I want to applaud them and thank them for all that they do each and every day for our children.

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Second, I want to say, I know the struggle of keeping the fire alive day after day when faced with a difficult student, a challenging set of parents, a lack of funding for curriculum, lack of support from administration. Sometimes the, “Why do I do this?”, creeps in. This school year I know many teachers are facing a new set of worries, frustrations, complications and fears; yet they return because they love the children and they love to teach.

I decided to share some books that have inspired me most or helped me most as a teacher. Some are fiction, some are “How To” and some are reflections on education and society. Each one has helped me or motivated me in one way or another as a teacher and if you are an educator reading this I hope they can do the same for you!

The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers can Learn from Each Other

I believe this book should be required reading for ALL educators, and it wouldn’t hurt parents to read it either. The title subtitle says it all, what parents and teachers can learn from each other, because it should be a collaboration. We have become increasingly parent against teacher in this nation instead of working together to provide the framework our children need to succeed. I see the degeneration of the parent-teacher relationship now more than ever as countless people sit behind their computers and complain that teachers “need to get back into classrooms and work.” The community has lost connection with teachers, what they do, the hours “off the clock” they are still working and and instead respect for teachers has been replaced with contempt by many.

Teachers have somehow become the be all end all solution to every problem, every child has. I have had many fortunate collaborations with parents in my career that resulted in positive and on going relationships. I also had those who wanted to blame me for every problem their child was having, you can’t win them all. But if we worked together, kept the lines of communication open and on both sides worked towards what is best for the child, I bet we’d see amazing results!

Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World

First I love A. J. Jacob’s writing, it is real, funny sarcastic and you actually learn something to boot! If you haven’t read one of this books, please do, they’re wonderful What I love about this book is that I WAS the kid who’s parents’ owned the complete encyclopedia set and I did sit and read it. I have loved learning and reading as long as I can remember and I haven’t stopped yet! This book is a funny reminder that we simply can’t know it all even when kids think we do.

It is important to be honest with children if you don’t know the answer to something and then take the opportunity to discover the answer together! I have often, both as a teacher and a parent, stopped what I was doing to look something up on the internet, or grab a book off the shelf so that a question could be answered. By admitting we don’t know everything, we show kids that it is OK not to have all the answers but that there are always ways of finding them!

We Need to Talk About Kevin

This book is one of the most powerful fiction books I have ever read. I have rad it twice so far and will probably read it again. I recommend this book to ALL teachers and parents, especially parents of boys. I will not delve too much into the plot, but I will say this piece was an eye opener on mental health in children. The first time I read it was before I had children and in today’s day and age I think this book is even more releavnt.

It is also an important reminder that as an outsider to everyone’s life but your own, you have no idea what another parent or family is facing or dealing with. Judgement hurts us all, it creates barriers, us vs. them. Unless you are living the life, you have no place to make assumptions on why a child behaved a certain why, or what a parent is facing personally. Thorough my experience as a teacher and my education I have been privy to things in children’s homes no one would ever guess. While none of us are perfect, mistakes are made, bad decisions chosen, do your best to reserve judgement on a child or family that doesn’t seem to make sense to you and instead find out in what ways you can help.

Teacher Man

If you are a teacher and you haven’t read this book yet, you should. Frank McCourt, was that teacher, the Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society teacher, the one that got his students. This book is powerful and shows just how much a teacher can give of themselves to their career and to their students. It is also an insider look into the fact that teachers, believe it or not, are humans like everyone else out there. That teachers have their ups and downs, professional disappointments, vices and personal problems.

You Can’t Come to My Birthday Party

This has been the single most transformative book to my career as a teacher. I read this and spent half a semester of grad school implementing this in the Pre-K room I was assistant teaching in at the time. I read this, and a light bulb went on.

We have all heard little kids say these things:

You can’t come to my birthday party!

You can’t come to my house!

You can’t play with my anymore!

It’s how children try to handle conflict and disagreements, by attempting to wield the little power they have or think they have. This book centers on helping children solve conflicts appropriately by giving them the tools to do so. It places the teacher in the role of mentor not judge or decision maker, but instead empowers children to make decisions regarding disputes together and in their own words. Since I first read this I have employed it every classroom I have worked in and have trained other educators on the principles and methodology as well.

A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, Power

A Call to Action is a reminder that there are many out there without the same access to education as those of us in more affluent countries and communities. It is a reminder than in many parts of the world and within many religions it is considered taboo to educate women and girls. This book was a reminder to me that we need to continue to encourage our girls to break the barriers of male dominated careers and help them know that they have the same rights to be an astronaut, doctor, member of the military, engineer, professional sports player and whatever else their heart might desire.

I temper this by saying, our young boys need to support to, just often in a different arena. We have to stop telling our boys they need to be “tough”, that they “can’t cry” and we have to allow our children both boys and girls, the opportunity to express themselves, follow their interests and be whoever it is they want to be. Cue the next book….

This is how it Always is

This book gave me goosebumps up and down. Not just because as a parent, it is hard to imagine what it would be like if my child were transgender, I know I would love either one of mine just the same, but what internal struggles would I have? It also affected me because of the way the education system failed this child by just not understanding and making their life so much harder.

This is a fictional story, but LGBT children and their families have been facing these struggles for a long time. These children don’t know where they belong, they often feel forced to hide part or all of who they are, and LGBT teens are one of the largest groups of individuals who commit suicide. This book is a reminder that while we can’t always understand what a child is going through, or know how to help, and it may even make us feel uncomfortable, but as the caring adults in their lives we need to find ways to let them know that we are indeed there for them and that we love them and that we wil be there to help them figure it out as best we can

The End of Education

This book is an insightful and critical look at how education has changed over the decades. While published 25 years ago in 1995, it still offers relevant insights into the modern education system, the changes made for the worse for both children and educators and insight into why and how we need to fix and rectify the American education system.

There have, of course, been many other books throughout the years that have impacted me one way or the other, but these are the ones that have been the most influential. Being a teacher is a hard job, being a parent is a hard job, let’s all remember to treat each other with respect. While we may hold different opinions on the current schooling situation we can still maintain that mutual respect needed to do what is best for our children. Stay Well!

Back to School Tips!

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The countdown to back to school has started, in some states, children have already returned. Regardless of whether your child is attending in person or virtually, things look a little different this year, but there is no reason it cannot be a fun and exciting event! In typical years, many children have anxiety and frustrations about the returning school year: no one wants to let go of the summer fun! This year both you and your child may be facing some extra emotions and obstacles, but that does not mean the new school year should be dreaded. Here are my top tips on how to make the start of the 20/21 school-year a positive one!

Back to School Shopping!

Every child loves back to school shopping: new clothes, new materials, new backpack. Even if your child will be attending school virtually this fall, there is no reason they can’t have a snazzy new outfit for the first day! They will be connecting with their friends again, meeting their teacher for the first time, and just like adults who work from home, getting dressed makes you feel better about yourself and makes you more productive! Giving your child the chance to pick out a new outfit and dress up is a guaranteed way to make them excited about school.

Talk to Them

Children have worries and fears just like we do, and even if your child seems completely relaxed and ready to go back, they most likely have a concern about something. It could be having to wear a mask all day, or their sport season being postponed, or how are they going to talk to their friends if they have to stay 6 feet apart? If your child is attending virtually, maybe they are concerned because their computer skills are lacking or they had a hard time reading the content in the spring, or perhaps they’re sad they still won’t see their friends face to face.


You can’t force a child to talk to you, but you can let them know the doors of communication are open. Asking a simple question like, “Hey, do you have any concerns about school you want to talk about?” lets your child know you are there to listen. Validate that it is ok to feel nervous or anxious or mad and that you are willing to listen if they decide they want to talk about ANYTHING.

Prepare Them

This year will present a new list of challenges, so send them into battle prepared for success. Teach them how to wash their hands adequately and express the importance of it. This is important for little ones as well as teens who might brush it off. As the mother of two boys, my favorite response to asking them to wash their hands post-bathroom is, “But I didn’t touch anything.” For little kids, have them sing the ABC’s or Happy Birthday Twice through. Post reminders in the bathroom with pictures or invest in a timer or a flashing light to make it fun.

Go over mask-wearing, the proper way to wear it, and why we wear it. Treat it like any other article of clothing that is required for school like shoes or a shirt. Buy them masks that they want to wear! This can be an opportunity to let them express their personality. Assure them that all the other children will be wearing one too, so while it may seem odd at first, it will eventually just be another part of getting ready for school.

Play Time!

Get them outside and playing! Regardless if your child is attending face to face classes or virtual classes it is A LOT of sitting. Children in elementary school need AT LEAST 1 hour of active play every day. If they haven’t had the opportunity to run around and burn off some energy in an after care program or with a sitter, let them play when you pick them up. In fact, make it a rule that they play! Homework can wait, their brains need a break and their bodies need exercise.

Fun and Simple Outdoor Play Options

Baby Pool or Sensory tub filled with water, plastic measuring cups, large eye droppers, rubber ducks (or other floating animal) and small plastic watering can

Backyard scavenger hunt: provide them with a list of things to check off or find

Bikes, Trikes and Skateboards – if you have a safe area for them to ride and play then use it!

Sprinklers – While it’s warm enough hook up a sprinkler to the hose and let them run free

Hopscotch, Jump ropes, Bean Bag Toss, Ladder Golf, Soccer Ball (speaks for itself)

Create an obstacle course using ropes, stepping stones, a balance beam, log or 2 x 4

Beach Ball Challenge, how long can they keep it in the air!

Give Them Space

Give your child a dedicated area to work, especially if they will be doing virtual schooling. Consistency is key, so create a space for them to work and make it theirs (at least while they’re working). Make it comfortable and quiet, and add little touches that make it more personal such as a picture of their grandma, some figurines of their favorite toys, or a poster of their favorite movie. If you have the room to create an area in their bedroom, I highly suggest it, just make sure what’s in their room won’t be a distraction from their work! The idea is to provide a safe and consistent space where your child can get their work done with little to no interruptions.

Office Hours

If, like many parents, you will be working from home with your kids also home, set office hours. This can work with children ages 5 and up, but it will take some practice and consistency. Set your office hours for 2-3 in the morning and 2-3 in the afternoon and explain to your children that you are working. This is an interruption-free time, emergencies excluded (their brother taking their nerf gun is not an emergency). Create an office hours sign that you can hang near your workspace to let your children know you are not to be disturbed. Keep in mind, that this doesn’t mean the house will be silent. Instead teach your children how to use a respectable volume in their voice while playing. They are going to need reminders at first, probably for a week or two. Remain firm, consistent but not harsh. If you are going to be on a call or Zoom chat, give your children a heads up that you will be doing so, so there are no unexpected surprises. In-between your office hours lavish your kids with the attention they need and want. Play a game, go for a walk, or make and eat lunch together. You need to take a break just as much as they need some mom or dad time!

Expect the Unexpected

None expects the Spanish Inquisition, and no one expected COVID or for it to last this long. Be ready and willing to remain flexible. If your son is having a really rough day and could use some extra snuggles, cut your office hours short that afternoon. When your daughter has come home on the 5th day of school and lost her 3rd mask, don’t yell and berate, this is new for her too. If your kids consistently say they’re bored after school, look at what toys they no longer play with an consider investing in some new outdoor gear. As families, we have already spent the last six months adapting the way we do things, how we function as a family and how we are navigating this thing called life, and we will continue to adapt. You’ve Got This! You Are an Amazing Parent.

Goldfish vs. Animal Crackers: How to teach young children about elections

The 2020 United States Presidential election is looming a mere three months away. And when I say looming, this is probably one of the most controversial and historical elections in U.S. history. As the 2016 election taught us, surprises can happen, and polls can’t always be believed. Regardless if you vote red or blue, teaching children the importance of elections and how the government works is key to creating generations of future voters. In all the years I taught preschool and pre-kindergarten, if there was a major election, I held a class election.

Now before you gasp and wonder, did she really polarize the children into two political camps? Yes, I did, sorta, but they weren’t democrat vs. republican; they were Goldfish vs. Animal Cracker. The only way for children to understand something is for it to be relevant to them. While I encourage reading children books about presidential and governmental figures, elections, and who can forget School House Rock videos, most of it will go over their heads, especially in preschool. Planning, implementing and carrying through on a classroom election, or if you are a parent reading this, a home election is a guaranteed way to educate children on politics without getting into the controversial nitty-gritty.

The concept of an election is actually quite simple to teach to children. You let them know there are two choices and each person gets to vote for one of those choices. The one with the most votes wins. Of course, as adults we know it is much more complex than that, but this is how you start. Teaching about elections not only gives young children a chance to learn about something some adults might consider beyond their scope, but it incorporates math, logic, and social emotional development. How does it feel if your choice won vs. if your choice lost? It teaches children we can hold different opinions but still remain friends and work together.

Each time I taught this unit I divided the class in half. One half was team Goldfish and the other was team Animal Cracker. The children had campaign meetings, created posters for their candidate, designed the election box and the ballot. Then, the children would “campaign” by visiting other classes and asking them to come and vote on election day. You can scale this activity down within your household and invite your relatives or close friends to vote via email.

Providing children with the opportunity to have a choice empowers them. And while the selection of snack may seem minor to you, it can be major to a preschooler! You can also extend this concept into voting about what toys to put out in a center, voting on the theme for a class party or voting about what book to read. For parents, you can host family votes on what movie to watch, what to order for take-out night and what board game to play! Once the concept of voting is introduced it can be used over and over again. Children will also learn about disappointment because no matter how much you want it, your choice will not always be the winner.

Engaging children in heavy political discussions and discourse is useless and not developmentally appropriate, although if you discuss politics at home, they are sure to overhear some of your opinions. This is not the time to preach and convert them, but you can use it as a way to say, “Mommy and Daddy don’t like “X” because of “ABC” or vice versus, “I like “Y” because she believes in “ABC” and so do I. It is important to explain to children why you feel a certain way, this will help build their cognitive development as well as a social and moral understanding of what it is important to you and your family.

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No matter what happens in the November election and how uncomfortable your Thanksgiving dinner, virtual or otherwise may be, there is nothing wrong with teaching young children the importance of voting and how the political system works. Remember, one day soon they will have a voice and they will be making the decisions so why not start the preparations now?

Immortality Complex

We’ve all seen the numbers of COVID-19 cases fall and then rise again. At the beginning of this crisis, the majority of people becoming infected were in the 40+ range. Typically those in the younger age gap were the immune-compromised; however, recently, that’s all changed. Several states report that the majority of coronavirus cases spread and contracted in the last month have been from those in the 20-35 age group. As I read these reports and numbers, I began thinking about adolescent brain development and how it plays a role in this shift.

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Teenagers and young adults have what is referred to as an immortality complex. They are still so close to childhood that adulthood responsibilities and death seem too far away to become a reality. Many young adults who have just finished college and have joined the workforce face little to no responsibilities outside of their job and paying their bills on time. Life is a big game at this point. They are healthy and young and have that belief that nothing is going to harm them.

This stems from the fact that the brain is not fully developed until the mid-’20s for women and men may not develop fully until the age of 30. The specific part of the brain that requires more development at this point is the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is the portion of our brain that develops our personalities and allows us to consider and anticipate consequences. You will always have risk-takers and the more adventurous at any age. However, the fact that brain development is still underway is why we see more cases of drunk driving, drug use, engagement in dangerous stunts and dares, and, most recently, the flaunting of COVID-19 recommendations and the crowding of bars and restaurants. Essentially, those 30 and under could be considered adolescents in terms of brain development.

Some young adults have acknowledged the risks but have said, in so many words, “So what?”. They believe that even if they contract the disease, they will be fine. Psychologist, David Elkind, termed this phase of development, “Adolescent Egocentrism.” They think only of themselves and not the potential harm they may cause others through their actions. By the end of June, many states were reporting that the majority of new cases were under 40, while the older demographics saw a drop in cases. These younger individuals becoming infected are also being hospitalized. I know of two people, personally, who are were behaving responsibly and still contracted the disease and ended up hospitalized. But even if someone is not contracting the disease, or even doing so mildly, they are potentially passing it on to others who may not be so lucky.

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None of us want to be in this situation, the recent re-shutdowns and back in place restrictions are stifling for all of us. But it is imperative that we continue to follow the orders of our local and state governments. Stay home, wear a mask, and engage in social distancing as much as possible. The biggest struggle many are facing right now is schools being closed. It is without a doubt a hardship; I am there with you; my children will be schooling virtually through December. But, when you have the young adult population unable to properly follow social distancing and mask guidelines due to unfinalized brain development, do we actually expect high schoolers, let alone, kindergartners to engage in these safe practices?

We can discuss what is going on with our children and teens until we are blue in the face. We should be talking about these things with our little ones. But expecting children, the most naturally social of our species, with young and still developing brains to follow suit when young adults are proving they don’t possess the ability to is setting up a situation bound to fail.

Stay safe and Healthy and encourage those around you to follow social distancing guidelines so that we can all phase back into normalcy.

Choices in 2020 (and I am not talking the election)

Children & Choices

Choices. It’s an oft heard word in the realm of child hood development. Give you child choices. And it’s true, you should. You child has so little control or power over anything that happens in their lives that allowing them to have or make choices from time to time can be a powerful boost to their self-esteem and sense of worth. They are told when to play, when to stop playing, when to bathe, when to eat, when to go to bed, when it’s time run an errand, when it’s time to go to school when it’s time to leave school and the list goes on and on and on and on. In most scenarios, they need to be told what, how and when to do something because you are the grown up and they have no self regulation. So much pressure to constantly do what other, larger people tell them to do can create a volatile situation in their emotional system. But what if you could take some of that vim and vinegar out of their system by simply allowing them choices each day?

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You’re Doing it Wrong

I can hear many of you now, “But I give them choices and they never decided and it always backfires…” Guess what? You’re doing choices wrong. I used to do it wrong too. When I first started working with children I didn’t understand the power of choice and I made mistakes, a lot of them. Now I have the wisdom of a lot of years in the classroom, a lot of books read, a lot of continuing education courses take and a lot of experience with small children. You may be thinking, “There’s a right and wrong way to give choices?” Yup. There is. If you have read this far and are thinking, “Children should do what they’re told because I am the grown up. End of Story.” then this post is may not be for you, although I encourage you to read it anyway.

Realistic Choices

The number one thing you need to know about giving a child a choice is that it needs to be realistic. Sounds simple, no? Yet giving children unrealistic choices is one of the biggest parenting faux pas done daily. If you tell your child to put their coat on or they are not going to school today then you have just screwed yourself. Are you truly willing to keep them home for the day because they refused to put a coat on? My absolute favorite is when parents threaten that Santa wont come if their child doesn’t listen. Really? Are you really going to follow through with no presents on Christmas morning? I consider myself a tough cookie mom and even I won’t go that far. Parents, you cannot present an option to your child that you are not 100% willing to follow through on because the second you don’t follow through, they have your number. If you threaten to turn the car around if they continue bickering in the back seat then you better turn that car around should another argument begin. If you say you are leaving the store is they keep whining about the cookies you won’t by, then you better be prepared to leave a cart full of groceries and walk out. Each time you don’t follow through with a “threat” your child logs that in their brain. If you repeatedly do it, they know you are full of bluff and have no reason to believe you, which does nothing but spell trouble for you.

Limit Options

Providing a child with too many choices is overwhelming. As much as possible limit their options to two and no more than three choices. Asking a 4 year old what they want for snack is akin to opening Pandora’s box. Instead say, for snack today you can have a yogurt with fruit, or crackers and cheese which would you like? Once the choices have been given that’s it, no negotiating. If they whine and plead and throw a tantrum, let them, Once again if you give in they will smell blood and know they can pull that same trick over and over and over. A a few tantrums in the beginning is much better than a life time of stress because you taught your child they can walk all over you.

Just to clarify, this is not the same as using food for reward/punishments’ which should NEVER be done, this is saying these are your options, if you are hungry and want a snack then you will choose one. Same goes for choosing anything else, clothing, toy to take to grandmas, or a book to read at bedtime. If a matter is time conscious, such as getting dressed in the morning then set a timer and let your child know that they have until the timer goes off to make their decision, otherwise you will be the one choosing.

Pick Your Battles

Simple advice but true. Not everything needs to be done an exact way. Let go of some of your need for control. If he wants to wear red plaid shorts and a lime green shirt to school, let him. Who really cares? Plus you are giving your child the opportunity to express himself creatively. If she wants to play the trumpet instead of the flute then support her and buy yourself some earplugs for the first year or two! Some nights let them pick their own dinner, some days let them watch the extra TV show. By allowing them these small bits of choice and power their need to exert full control will relax. A child’s reaction to feeling no control is a tantrum. Think about how you feel when your boss dumps task after task on your plate with little to no input from you… it feels pretty lousy doesn’t it?

By no means should tantrums be accepted as OK behavior, but they ARE normal. Do not get mad at them for having one. Stay as calm as possible and ignore them. It will stop. I promise. Through a tantrum a child is trying to gain your attention. At this point they don’t care if it is negative or positive. DO NOT FEED THE ATTENTION MONSTER. When it is over you can talk to them about their strong emotions and brainstorm together better ways to handle it. If they are being destructive or harmful then say in a firm tone that even though they are mad “hitting, throwing, kicking etc.” is not acceptable.

To sum it all up, this is what parents need to remeber:

  1. Make Choices Realistic
  2. Be Prepared to Follow Through
  3. Limit Options to 2 or 3
  4. Pick Your Battles
  5. Tantrums Happen, Don’t feed the monster