September 2020 Archives

 

          Can you remember a day when you played so intently with a friend that you forgot about the time? A game or a fantasy re-enactment without electronics or fancy toys, perhaps just a few sticks or some chalk or a beach full of shells and storm-tossed treasures?

          The pandemic and quarantine have left many of us in a state of grief: we are mourning the loss of "normal" life and still struggling with the "new normal" of masked/socially distanced existence (with hands red from so much washing to boot!). Play can be an antidote to that grief when it engages our bodies and minds and souls in creative activity.

          Losing track of time while engrossed in an activity - a phenomenon called "flow" by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi - is a treasured happening in my life. For me it usually happens when playing music with friends, sailing, or sitting in my backyard reading. For some it happens when meditating, or building a model, or working on an art project. When was the last time you experienced "flow"?

          The art of playing may be endangered in our culture. The rise of electronic games, social media, and pre-packaged "play events" has left little time for just "going outside to play." Maria Montessori said play was "the work of childhood." For all of us it is the activity we do with our friends, the laboratory for social learning that is lifelong and ever evolving.

          Do you play with your children? Have you used "family game nights" or "mother/daughter bike rides" as a way to alleviate the tensions of isolation? Do you play with your friends? Do you miss that opportunity for sharing and laughing and joyful banter?

          Creativity is a tool that greatly helps us during the pandemic. Try thinking "outside the box" when planning safe ways to be with others. Here is one thought: have your family write a humorous play about the pandemic and then put on a performance you can share electronically with family members at a distance. Possible?

Take some time to just "play" - with a child, with a friend, with a group of friends. You do not need many props - perhaps a kite to fly, or a Zoom call, or a bag for treasures, or a guitar to accompany your singing (while masked and distanced in person). The medical research is clear: losing oneself in playful/artistic/social activities leads to longer lives and healthier lifestyles, even in the midst of this worldwide health crisis. What are you waiting for?

 

 


          As parents we know well the rhythm of past summers: August rolls around, kids get bored, and suddenly we are shopping for school clothes and buying notebooks and pencils. This has probably not changed much for most of you - although school outfits seem a little less necessary in the age of sweatpants and other comfy clothes for sitting in front of a computer screen!

          Some of my advice about going back to school is the same as always:

·        Start working toward an appropriate bedtime at least two weeks before school starts. Remember, children and teens need 9-10 hours of sleep to fully function.

·        Start establishing routines for daily activities that involve cognitive challenges and paper-and-pencil tasks: read a book along with your student; get out some practice math sheets; do some cooking together and double the recipe to practice fraction skills; watch a documentary together and discuss the facts presented; go on a nature walk and start a "naturalist's calendar" of what you see each time you go out; set aside "training the brain" time each day.

·        Create spaces that help to organize activities: Where will Johnny do homework? Where does the bookbag go after school? What needs to happen to make a room a suitable learning environment?

·        Start a chore list: Here's a new motto for you: "nobody lives rent free in this house!" Chores create community-centered and family-centered consciousness and provide opportunities for positively helping other family members.

·        Practice appropriate rituals for saying goodbye, saying hello when returning home, and going to sleep. Especially during the pandemic, we might best never take for granted the benefits of loving words with our loved ones.

NOW - what's different for 2020 and the likelihood of at least some on-line learning?

·        Do what you can to upgrade your Internet access and computer capability. There are numerous free resources for help here: just Google "Free Resources for NYC Families" and get connected before school begins. Contact me if I can help out with this (johnscardina@hotmail.com).

·        Be sure to create the "time and place" requirements for virtual schooling. These may be the same as you always had but now may be changing due to best Wi-Fi access in your living space and the quietest spaces when younger siblings are home.

·        Set up a schedule - like we educators do in school - and do your best to stick to it on the home "virtual school" days. Teachers know the value of routine in the classroom, and when you need to be in "teacher mode" you can certainly benefit from predictable times for various activities.

·        Be sure everyone is getting enough physical activity, sleep, social time, and spiritual support. This is especially true for you as a parent: you have a lot to manage these days!

·         Be as civic minded as possible. This is a national election year: set the right example by voting and letting your children know the value of democracy in action. Also support those social causes that are dear to you. We are tasked as citizens to create each day the kind of country we want to live in, so be your most inclusive/just/generous/activist self in living your values.

Finally - and most importantly - let's be sure we realize that we are all in this together, but we have vastly different access to resources. Our families do not share the same advantages when it comes to computer equipment, income, housing space, and childcare. City Island needs to be a "beloved community" (as Martin Luther King Jr. used to say) and embrace all of its members. This is a time to be generous where you can help others, compassionate with everyone, and courageous when facing challenges.


Habits are shortcuts for our brain: activities that we do automatically and thus don't use up a lot of brainpower. Bad or good, habits are part of our make-up, and if you want to change one you must replace the habit you want to change with a new habit. It's not about "stop doing that!" but more about "let's do this instead."

A full day in the summer can have many parts. Remember, you want to engage all parts of yourselves: we seek physical as well as cognitive as well as emotional as well as spiritual well-being.

Kids love charts. They often love to compete with one another and with their parents. Here is a simple way to ensure that you and your children are getting enough activity of many types this summer. Just put a check in the box for each day you complete the activity and total things up at the end of the week:

Habit Grid for Johnny:

 

M

T

W

TH

FRI

S

Su

TOTAL

Run

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get 9 hours of sleep

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cook something

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Call someone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pushups/Situps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Create a game

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worship/Meditate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sing/Draw/Dance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other activities?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TOTAL

 Check = 1 point

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have a family meeting and set up your own set of activities. Try it for a week. See how each family member does and set a bar for a desired number of points each week. Have a competition (friendly, of course!). Keep going - these activities will help each of you as we enter the new world of summer 2020 during a pandemic. What are you waiting for?

 

Having trouble talking to your children about race? Here is a link you might find helpful. Let's all work for a more just society.

https://www.savethechildren.org/us/charity-stories/tips-teach-explain-racism-to-children?smtrctid=AAF8we&cid=Email:::Donors_0_12_Month:060820


            Marc Brackett, in his book Permission to Feel, explores a variety of topics related to emotional health. Check him out: there is much good material on his website (www.marcbrackett.com).

Here are some quick take-aways I have put together that you might find helpful when dealing with your own feelings and those of your children:

·         All feelings are just feelings - not facts or truths.

·         Feelings are not permanent - they change over times.

·         You cannot get in trouble for what you feel - you only get in trouble for what you say and do with those feelings.

·         Naming your feelings can be helpful: instead of "I feel bad" you might explore a little deeper: am I actually sad? ... angry? ... worried?... anxious?

·         Ranking your feelings on a 1 to 10 scale can be helpful (10 being the most extreme expression of that feeling, 1 being the least expression of that feeling). Then you ask yourself and your child: what would make this better?

·         Feelings like anger and hurt are often expressed as reactions - immediate and unthinking actions. We hope for the gift of time - even just a moment! - so that we can breathe, think, and create a response. Responses often reflect our "better selves" and create less emotional havoc.

·         Taking everything personally is a difficult way to live - believe me, I know!

·         If your child (or you) is not a talker, sit down and try some other ways to communicate what is inside: draw a picture, mold some clay, act out the feeling, make up and sing a song, make a face, act like the animal version of your feeling.

·         If things get too "hot" have everyone take a time out. If you need to settle down - or apologize for your own outburst - give yourself a time out. It actually works wonders!

·         Forgive and then forgive and then forgive - yourself, too!

·         Try to end the day with hugs and humor - I guarantee that it will help you sleep better.

 


          Family members are learning a lot about one another these days. Each of our personality strengths and quirks have been witnessed over and over again, and a newfound appreciation for teachers and workplace colleagiality  have helped us realize all we have lost during this pandemic. The loss may be the opportunity for a haircut, a chance for a quick cup of coffee with a friend in a favorite local shop, or an ability to earn a living in a gig economy that is unforgiving when we don't (or can't) show up. It is as real a loss as a death of someone we love, and grief has moved into our homes as we struggle with this new reality.

          We have three realms to attend to as we look to take care of ourselves, those we love, our communities, and the world at large: the physical realm, the emotional realm, and the spiritual realm.

Many of you have already established family walks, bike rides, on-line Zumba  classes, yoga sessions, and daily exercise goals. We are eating together more as a family and sharing the responsibilities for shopping and cooking and cleaning up. We are getting more sleep. Keep it up: it matters.

Emotions are pulsing through our households. All feelings can be welcomed: a feeling is just that, not the truth or a permanent state of affairs. Feelings we deny erupt later as anger or depression that seems to come out of nowhere. Feelings we accept and talk about and deal with (breathe, count to five, take a moment, get outside) move through us so that other feelings that are more positive can take their place. Grief is inevitable and needs expression, moving through stages that at times take us by surprise: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, acceptance, and meaning. You are fine one day and a mess the next day: our feelings come in waves. Let's be compassionate with each other as we allow our emotional intelligence to deal with each feeling as it comes, surrounded by the love and care of others.

We are also spiritual beings. The practice of worshiping together with our faith brethren cannot happen right now, and being in touch with a power greater than ourselves doesn't need a holy place to visit anyway. In times of crisis like this pandemic a spiritual practice is important: daily prayer, reading sacred texts, meditation, or simple sharing gratitude with our loved ones for what we have. Here is where we can look for meaning in all of this: what will we learn and how will we grow from this experience? Let's not look back with longing or look forward with fear: what can we do right now to make sense of our lives?

Everyday we face a choice: will we live each moment as an expression of love or as an expression of fear? Our loved ones will look to us for compassion, patience, and guidance, and we must realize that we are often much stronger than we think. This too shall pass, and we can be change agents to ensure that the "new normal" that comes next is more compassionate, equitable, and loving than what we have left behind.


 

 


Times are challenging right now.  Anxiety is a natural reaction to uncertainty about the future, and uncertainty has become a fixture in our daily lives.

Here is a simple math fraction that can explain anxiety:

                    Anxiety =           ___Risk____

                                                     Resources

This has great appeal for me: we can reduce risk to make this fraction smaller, but we can also increase our resources to do the same thing. As we are moving forward, here are our challenges:

·        How do we accurately assess risk? Let's use clear medical evidence rather than social media posts. Let's each be well-informed and follow the guidelines provided by organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Let's also be clear with our children that we are doing what is necessary to be safe and healthy. Children can handle risk when they see us doing the best we can to acknowledge our fears, learn all we can from the best sources to handle the situation, and apply our knowledge to our family life with confidence and love.

·         How do we increase our resources - as individuals, as family members, as local community members, and as citizens of the world?

Here are some simple ideas to develop our resources:

·        As individuals we can take time each day to check in with our own gratitude list: what are five things I am grateful in my life right now? Gratitude reinforces our own inner resources. Stay focused on what is right in your life.

·        As families we can share our gratitude lists and also take advantage of this time we are home together. Let's return to family rituals that have sustained families for time immemorial: shared meals, reading aloud together, time spent in nature, shared responsibility for meal preparation, engaging in artistic endeavors, prayer and spiritual practices like grace before meals, shared readings from the books of our faith, and recognition of goodness in one another.

·        Our communities include many individuals with many more needs that we are dealing with ourselves. Let's check in with our neighbors and see how we can share our riches and strengths. Families that engage in service to others grow in resilience and unity. Be safe but be present as much as is possible in your community: humans can maintain social distance and still promote connectedness. Make a call, send a text, write a note, bake a cake - stay connected.

·        Our global community is in turmoil. Let's realize that nationalism does not promote well-being for all. I am reminded of the bumper sticker that states, "God bless the whole world - no exceptions." As we celebrate our own family heritage and our diverse communities with people from around the world, let's remember that when we are face-to-face with one another we realize that we are all one species.

We are certainly experiencing a "new normal" as we deal with this pandemic. Anxiety can be managed by reducing risk and increasing resources. When we look back on these days, will we focus on the fears that we felt, or will we celebrate the ways in which we grew as individuals, families, and communities in spite of our fears?

The Importance of Family Rituals

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          We live in a world of fast-paced interactions. If someone doesn't respond to a text within a few hours, we are already making up a script in our heads about what's wrong! Transactions are quick and to the point, and novelty and efficiency take precedence over tradition and quality time.

          All cultures have rituals which create "sacred space" that is separate from day-to-day living. Many of us have faith practices - a church service, a seder, prayer vigil, a period of fasting, meditation at home, or the shared silence of a Quaker meeting- that allow us to move into that space-time limbo and experience deeper connections: connections with the Divine, the universe, our loved ones, and ourselves. However, as fewer and fewer families participate in organized religion, perhaps we can create family rituals that allow for a break from the mundane and a chance for shared connections.

          Some of these probably already happen in your home: grace before meals, family prayers, the tooth fairy moment, the special birthday breakfast, or the annual trip to a favorite vacation spot. Perhaps more such events - rituals - could be established to honor and support family values. These might include:

·        Community Service Day: plan a special day each year to engage in community service as a family. Everyone can participate - no child is too young to be there! - and there can be a sense of giving back to others. Returning to the same place of service each year can build long-lasting relationships with the folks there. Have a family sharing circle over dinner that night and discuss what you learned from serving others.

·        Communing with nature: pick a place of natural beauty close to home and plan to spend a day each year at that place. Make it a day of no electronics and special activities that engage each family member: making and flying kites, a nature scavenger hunt, a silent period of observing the wildlife, or a family hike or bike ride. Have everyone keep a journal - of words, pictures, or even found objects - and share what that day meant to you.

·        Communion with local history: draw a circle with a fifty-mile radius from your home and look up all of the historical sites within that circle. Once a year, plan a family trip to one locale and learn more about your local history. Let each family member take turns choosing a place to visit, and have the children share what they learned at school the next day.

·        Fundraising for a worthy cause: research which non-profit organizations support your family values. Plan an all-day family fundraiser: it can be as simple as a yard sale or as complex as a "mini-Olympics" for the neighborhood or a puppet show displaying your family's creativity. Take photos of the day and send it to the organization you are supporting: you may appear on their website!

Humans yearn for connection, and rituals provide special opportunities for that connection to grow. Here are four ideas: I am sure you can come up with many more. What are you waiting for?

 

 

            I was having dinner with our friend and told a story: during Common Core testing in public schools children often a) had more recess time outdoors and b) were allowed to chew gum during the testing. The reasoning here was clear: physical exercise, fresh air, and an outlet (like chewing gum) for fidgeting would enhance student performance during high-stakes testing. So - my rejoinder has always been: if it works for high stakes testing, might it work all of the time in the classroom? Why not use "best practices" every day?

            The key here is self-regulation of the energy inside each of us and well as the sensory systems that allow us to interact with our environment. In their important book How Does Your Engine Run?, occupational therapists Mary Sue Williams and Sherry Shellenberger explore these issues and come up with good suggestions for parents and teachers in managing self-regulation.

            Each of us already has a toolbox of self-regulating behaviors when we are supposed to be sitting still or being focused. I chew gum whenever I drive. Some adults twirl their hair, chew on plastic coffee stirrers, hum or talk to themselves, rock their leg, suck on an arm of their eyeglasses, or doodle on a piece of paper. Children usually fidget at their desks, get up when they are supposed to stay seated, put things in their mouths, poke their neighbor, rock back and forth, make strange noises, and call out. These actions are all similar in effect - they allow us to live in our body at that moment - but some are more appropriate to the situation at hand than others.

            Some children need oral stimulation, like gum or a chew toy. They can handle some food textures - like crunchy or chewy - but not others. They can chew on clothes or a blanket to soothe themselves.

            Some children need to be active, and they may need a "sensory break" from being still. Taking a note to the school office or doing some simple calisthenics in the middle of a homework session or a long class period can be quite helpful. (Research suggests that the average middle school student can sit still and pay attention for no more than 11 minutes without needing some physical activity. Many middle school teachers know this and vary their class activities accordingly.)

            Some children have tactile needs. You may have to cut the labels out of their clothing and only but certain kinds of clothes that don't cause pressure or restrictions. (My grandchild  hated to wear a belt for a long time and wanted to wear only sweatpants to school.)

            Some children can listen to music when doing schoolwork. Others need complete silence and may need headphones to concentrate. Going to the mall or being in a crowd with a lot of noise can be quite difficult for some children.

            As you can already discern, all of these issues occur for adults, too. We adults have just learned to use "socially acceptable" ways of managing our energy and senses - something we call a "sensory diet." The task then becomes developing a sensory diet for our children.

            Pay attention to energy levels in your child throughout the day. Using the metaphor of "how does your engine run?" note when the engine is running too fast, too slow, or just right. Model activities with them that produce "just right" energy and see what happens.

            We are all organisms that do our best to live in the world. Look up sensory integration if this intrigues you and get a sense of how to better regulate your own energy as well as that of your child. Pay attention to what already works for you, what already works for your child, and what the "hotspots" are during the day. Learning about ourselves and our children will allow us to be pro-active and not just reactive in our lives.

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2020 listed from newest to oldest.

November 2019 is the previous archive.

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