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Raising Kids Who Bounce Back

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I believe that there is a continuing revelation of truth in the world - that we are always going to find new ways to be authentic. Our children's development is a form of continuing revelation: they will grow and teach us who there are, what they need, and how they will live in this world.

 

I also believe that children - with the right nurture and the right environment - naturally grow into goodness. That being said, life presents challenges, and thus we need to talk about how we help our children - and ourselves -  deal with setbacks - the concept of resilience.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity with positive

  outcomes and optimism. We all need it - but how do we develop it? Here is a list of qualities that we can nurture in our children to develop this "bounce back" skills:

·        Learn how to have positive relationships.

·        Cultivate a good sense of humor.

·        Develop an "inner compass" and learn right from wrong.

·         Encourage independence in age-appropriate ways.

·         Model and cultivate a love of learning.

·        Model and develop flexibility

·        Look for self-motivation in things they are passionate about - baseball, painting, gymnastics, reading - even if these passions would not be your first choice for them.

·        Honor and applaud competence - self-esteem is based upon competence, not self-praise...

·         Make your home a place of creativity.

·        Model and nurture perseverance: learn a new skill with your child.

·        Recognize spirituality in yourself and your child: how do you practice as a family respect and awe for the divine?

A major challenge to resilience that many parents ask about is bullying. Let's first talk about what bullying is:

1. Bullying is aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions.
2. Bullying involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time.
3. Bullying involves an imbalance of power or strength.

It is also important to know that bullying is not teasing (between friends with no power differential and with a goal of humor and not aggression) or a random unkind act (which is regrettable but can be addressed as a single incident).

So what can we do to stop bullying?

1)                 Teach children to use their words first and ask for what they want.

2)               Empower children to a) find common ground with others; b) seek positive cohorts who can be allies in positive activities; c) walk away from bullying situations toward friends and allies; d) remain calm and confident, and e) (when all else fails) ask for adult help.

3)               Avoid solving the situation for children when is first arises - instead use Fay and Cline's Love and Logic formula (respond with empathy...pause... "what can you do about this?"...pause... "I love you, you are a competent child, I am sure you will figure this out"...walk away.

4)               Letting us know at school if nothing has helped and all three criteria for bullying (listed above) have been met.

 

Here is the text of a Good Housekeeping "sidebar" on resilience (December 2010 issue, page 124) that staff writer Jacqueline Nochisaki put together after interviewing me:

 

Four simple moves that'll nurture a bounce-back kid from John Scardina, a school psychologist and parent educator in City Island, NY:

 

 GIVE YOUR CHILD THE REINS: When your child is talking about a tough situation, let her finish, then say, "This must be really tough." Pause. "What are you going to do about it?" The key here is to show you are tuned in by acknowledging the pain she is feeling,

 

 CAST A VOTE OF CONFIDENCE: As your child formulates a plan, give her a boost by saying, "I see someone who is caring," or "...strong," or "...good at x, y, z." Reflecting her assets back to the child helps her realize she is capable of handling the situation, tough as it may be at first. "Say, 'I know you can handle this, but if you need help let me know.'"

 

 CREATE A GRATITUDE LIST: Help a kid going through a tough phase count his blessings and cultivate optimism: Have your family write up and post a gratitude list of five to ten things to be grateful for. The message: These good things in life are here to stay, regardless of challenging situations. When your child is feeling low, remind him to check the list

 

 CALL IN THE PROFESSIONALS: If your child has a rough patch and experiences sleep or appetite disruption or lethargy, or if you notice a change in relationships with family or friends, it may be time to have a therapist step in. Ask your pediatrician, family practitioner, religious leader, or school guidance counselor for references.

 

As always it is my privilege to work with you and your families.


Growing up with Dick and Jane as my school reading book main characters - Dick usually building something and Jane watching with her hands clasped behind her back - gender modeling was pretty straightforward. Those who did not conform with the male and female stereotypes - and those were the only choices our culture seemed to offer - stayed out of sight if they wanted to avoid the pain of stigmatization and punishment.

We now understand that gender - a cultural construct that assigns roles to individuals - and sex - a biological trait based upon anatomy and physiology - are different. There is a continuum - a spectrum (like the rainbow, in fact!) - of gender possibilities, and our assigned gender (what was recorded on our birth certificates) need not be the same as our identified gender. Some of us - called "cisgender" - have our gender expression aligned with our sex. Some of us - called "transgender" - have a gender expression that is not the same as our sex. Can our culture be big enough to embrace both types of individuals?

Children can often be gender fluid, and our role as parents can be to provide the opportunity for exploration of many ways to be our authentic selves. How we dress, what toys we choose, what sports we pursue, and what arts inspire us can all be free of "one story" gender stereotypes. Some of us will also have children who have "girl brains" and "boy bodies" or "boy brains" and "girl bodies" - and thus we will need to find the tools and love and compassion to help these individuals find their own ways of being authentic.

In the end, all parents can treat all children in the following ways to help make our families gender-inclusive:


  • say "I love you" often;

  • learn as much as you can about gender issues;

  • work for equality and inclusion;

  • become a protector and an ally of all children;

  • listen;

  • document your child's awesomeness;

  • decorate their room as the child sees fit;

  • use gender-inclusive language that avoids binary gender-bias (like "children" instead of "boys and girls" and "friends" instead of "ladies and gentlemen").


         Each of us strives for authenticity - to be our true selves and to do our best work with the gifts we have. All individuals deserve the chance to pursue their dreams and goals - you do, too!



      There is a lot of news these days from different political and cultural points of view about holidays, statues, and the various ways in which national heroes and patriotic events can be seen in a new light by having a new perspective. How do we really feel about Thanksgiving, Robert E. Lee, the Declaration of Independence, or Christopher Columbus?

We as parents want children who can think critically - they will be making life-and-death decisions in their teen years as they learn to drive, face the widespread use of drugs and alcohol, get involved in intimate relationships, and vote. It is never too early to develop critical thinking skills - and remember, a young person's brain doesn't fully develop until age 24, so you can make a difference in their lives for quite a while.

We as a nation want young people entering the work force who can take on multiple perspectives and make wise and deliberate decisions. Letting young people lock into one ideology, one point of view, or one idea about how life should be lived leads to fundamentalism and intolerance. Our schools and our faith communities do best when we present multiple points of view, looking at how we are connected rather than how we contradict one another.

We as a planet need a global perspective on how our actions affect everyone alive today as well as the generations to come. Deciding to support the fossil fuel industry in the USA while other industrialized nations are moving toward independence from fossil fuels represents a different approach to meeting the needs of all people. Is the already epidemic rise of childhood asthma in the USA related to the dangers of unregulated emissions here at home?

SO - what can a parent do?

·         Look for ways to discuss holidays with your children that include multiple perspectives: How did Thanksgiving turn out for the indigenous peoples of New England? How can we look at the historical facts, face the difficult choices our ancestors made, and still maintain the spirit of gratitude and family that we cherish about this holiday?

·         Look at patriotic events with your children in wholistic terms: When the Declaration of Independence says "all men are created equal" do we make sure our children understand that this phrase only pertained to white men of European descent who held property? How did women and people held in slavery and indigenous people benefit from this document? (Hint: they didn't...) This was an historic event to be sure - thus our July 4th fireworks! - but it didn't change the world for many people living here.

·         Find ways to engage your children in your own process of political discernment: When someone says "don't dump on the Bronx" but is in fact not talking about garbage but human beings, we can point out how political rhetoric can be inflammatory in ways we would not allow our children to speak? Encourage them to look at candidates with you and practice the skill of making an informed choice when voting. Your children may have a perspective about a candidate that can inform your own voting patterns. They will be voting soon enough - and don't we hope for an informed electorate?

 

If, as John Dewey said, the goal of education is to build a new world, then we need to be educators who open our children's minds and hearts to the multiple possibilities our future world can embrace. 

Friends - this is a revised version of the letter I wrote on 9/11/01. I certainly had hoped it wouldn't be needed so often, but that has not been the case. May we all find ways to develop alternatives to violence in ourselves, our families, our schools, our communities, and our nation.

 Talking With Children About Difficult Events

·         Remain available to talk about what is happening. Accept all questions, even if they are repeated over (and over!) again.

·         Be honest. Give facts at an appropriate level for your child's developmental level. Be willing to say "I don't know" if that is indeed the case.

·         Acknowledge feelings - your own and your child's. Unsettling events bring up lots of emotions for us - fear, anger, worry, despair, hope - and that is how it should be. Talking about feelings helps everyone.

·         Let your child know there are people who can help out in difficult situations. Become people who can help. Find ways to help those in more need than you. Helping others creates hope for all.

·         Limit television viewing of news: vivid images can be quite disturbing and can cause long-lasting discomfort.

·          Use drawing as a way to get disturbing images out of your child's mind: have them draw the image and then rip up the picture. This works especially well with nightmares.

·         Recognize that headaches, stomach aches, and sleep disturbances all accompany anxiety and uncertainty. Let your child know that these are natural reactions to stress and will pass soon.

·         Let your children be kids: when they are ready to just go out and play with their friends, let them do so.  Help them - and yourselves - come to terms with this "new normal" in our world.

 

We parents know that kids have "radar" - if there is turmoil or tension in the home or in the community, children pick up on the emotionality. All of us can have trouble articulating our lack of ease when things are tough, and children have even more difficulty understanding where these feelings come from.  Instead we see more stomach aches, more whiny behavior, and more fights between siblings. (With adults we see road rage, blaming others, addictive behaviors, and general acting out, right?)

Our world's tension - especially after events like the Charlottesville violence or the Barcelona attack - has seeped into our psyches. Some psychologists have said that, since 9/11, we have suffered from a generalized anxiety disorder as a nation. Fear trumps love for most of us much of the time, and "the other" - perhaps a person of a different color or race, a person from a different socioeconomic class, or a person with a different gender expression - can be greeted with suspicion rather than acceptance if we are not careful to check in with our initial reactions. (Remember Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink? Our first reactions are often not representative of the person we want to be - or think that we already are...).

We are also seeing more depression and anxiety amongst our children. This leads to general unhappiness, poor school performance, anger issues, and a tendency to give up on those positive goals that are worth working for.

So - since we parents create the emotional climate on our homes, what can we do to provide a healthy home environment for our children that allows them to go to school as healthy peacemakers rather than unhappy troublemakers?

1.       Be clear about your values as a family: For some of us with a faith tradition to follow, this is easier: what does my church or temple or mosque say about love and fear? For those of us who do not have a faith practice - which is a large portion of the USA population these days - our lifestyle and home need to project the values we choose and perhaps we need to be more explicit. In the absence of the Bible or the Torah or the Koran in our daily lives, how explicit are we with our children about what is important? So - a suggestion: have your family choose a precept or slogan each month: "be patient with those who are different from us" or "practice random kindnesses with strangers" or "make a new friend from a very different background from our own"? (I have borrowed this from the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio). Post the precept around the house and check in at dinner every day as to how it is going. Change starts in small ways...

2.     Learn to be a peacemaker yourself: Many of us grew up in households where racism, sexism, classism, and ageism were part of the normative culture (such as the 1950's in my case). We need to unlearn some of these old attitudes - even as we profess new beliefs - and understand that we all can be racist/sexist/classist/ageist at various times. So - a suggestion: take a workshop like the Alternatives to Violence Project or Undoing Racism to explore your own beliefs and to learn how to promote tolerance and inclusion in your own life.

3.     Be sure that your child's school is teaching peacemaking skills: Ask about programs that promote upstander behavior through bully prevention training  and healing circles through restorative justice practices. Did you know that the NYC Department of Education is exploring restorative justice training for all schools to reduce violence and suspensions? So - a suggestion: ask your child's teacher if they would like to know more about such programs and have them contact me. I would be happy to be a resource person as we strive to prepare the next generation to be more loving and tolerant than we have been ourselves.

4.     Do something about changing the world: Volunteer with your kids - pick up the trash on your street - make a donation - choose whatever irks you about "things as they are" and decide to make a difference.

 

Let's have a good school year - and let's help our children become the peacemakers we sorely need today.

     Children's brain development is a constant process - neurons don't know anything about summer vacation. There has been much good research about the benefits of year-round schooling (three months in school, one month off from school, repeat, etc.)  yet we as a culture seem to be wedded to our present school calendar (which was started to help families in farm families deal with planting and harvest times - go figure). So - ten weeks off - how do we keep the learning process fresh and vital?

     Here are some ideas that might be helpful:

1)            Read everyday: make frequent trips to the library, have lots of books around, and make sure there is an equal amount of reading time as there is screen time (or at least a healthy fraction...). Have a family read-aloud book that everyone will enjoy, and sit together every evening you can and read together. Be a good role model and read in front of the kids - even if it's a magazine or a newspaper. Some families might pick the Bible to read together, others might pick the Chronicles of Narnia series, still others might pick Pretty Little Liars. The activity is more important than the content - reading is a habit you want to nurture.

2)           Do some everyday math: Pay your kids for vacuuming the carpet by the square foot (and have them measure the whole house while they're at it!). Have them weigh the recyclables every week and see if you can improve your family efforts to be green. Cook with recipes that you can double - or half - and teach fractions naturally. Help them learn money skills when at the store.

3)           Have you and your child pick one new activity to try over the summer - playing the guitar, painting,  jogging, sailing, birdwatching  - and do it with them. There is good research on the Suzuki method of music instruction (where a parent and child start together as beginners playing the violin) that the learning rate improves when learning a new skill with a parent.

4)           Keep a journal of summer activities - be transparent about how summer learning will help in school and use either a journal for each child or a family calendar that tracks summer activities on a daily basis. Journals can work with younger children, too - they can draw pictures and use inventive spelling to make captions. Send the journal in to school for show-and-tell in the fall - teachers will appreciate your efforts.

5)           Realize that you, too, can be a lifelong learner and a role model for a lifetime of exploration. What are you waiting for?

  1. Don't have them do chores - they expect you to pick up after them, don't they?
  2. Bail them out with their teachers - you know your child better than the teacher, don't you? Johnny couldn't possibly act that way...
  3. Be inconsistent about consequences - who can keep track of all those details? Did I ground her for one day or two? Oh, just forget it...
  4. Make them their own special foods for dinner - who doesn't want their own chef and server at home?
  5. Allow them to use poor manners with other adults - hey, life is too short to be formal, isn't it?
  6. Allow their friends to be impolite and fresh with you - you want their friends to like you, don't you?
  7.  Forget about them giving gifts for others in the family at holiday times and birthdays - they're just kids, right? They'll figure that out someday..
  8. Allow them to repeat inappropriate jokes and comments at home without correcting them - they are just trying to fit in with their friends...
  9. If their friends have a new game system or the latest phone, just get them one, too - you make good money, so why shouldn't your kids have the best?
  10. Save a lot of money for your retirement, because spoiled kids grow into spoiled adults who really won't want to take care of you!

What are Quakers "for"?

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Edward Burrough, an early convert to Quakerism, described what Quakers are "for" in 1672, writing that:

 
"We [Quakers] are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
 
These words seem especially relevant today as we seek to educate our community to be informed skeptics of arbitrary power and discerning judges of character and intention.

Who are the people in our schools that we send out into the world on graduation day as they "commence" the next stage of their lives? Do we produce graduates who will only be successful in conventional ways (money, achievement, power) or do we produce individuals who will be beacons in troubled times, helping those around them to find comfort in truthfulness and courage in doing "the next right thing" in their lives.

Once you have joined a Quaker community, you will see that there is much to be celebrated and many good people whose good works have been of value to all. Yet we must remain vigilant in our application of the testimonies to our everyday lives:

·         Do I value the simplicity of straightforward speech and uncluttered perception so that I can focus on what is really important?

·         Do I seek true peace in my life, not just the absence of war but the presence of compassion and non-violence?

·         Do I maintain my integrity in all I say and do?

·         Do I create community, even with those of different faiths or political views?

·         Do I practice equality in my acceptance of others, providing not just the same gifts to each person but instead the specific gifts each person needs to have equal access to the "good life"?

·         Do I give back in service through an acknowledgement of my own privileged position in the world, recognizing how my path has been made easier from day one by the gifts of others?

·         Do I practice stewardship in my care for others and for the planet, realizing that "best practices" are not dictated by government regulations but instead by individual choices of conscience?

In the words of George Fox, a founding member of the Religious Society of Friends:

"Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you."


The third week in February - in addition to our children being off from school - was the winter Congressional recess. This is a time when members of Congress return to their home constituencies and hold town meetings. It is a favorite form of citizenship participation in government for many of us - we can speak our mind to our representatives directly and in person.

 

Why not consider having a "family meeting" - your version of a "town meeting" - in your home? You can help you and your children find your voice - a civil and appropriate voice that discusses issues in a calm and respectful way - and develop important skills like listening, self-expression, compromise, and problem-solving.

 

Family meetings can be used for many purposes:

·         to solve family problems of living together (like who gets to use the bathroom first in the morning or who leaves the empty milk carton in the refrigerator and doesn't put milk on the shopping list);

·         to propose new family rules (like "no electronics at the dinner table" or "no skateboards in the house");

·         to reinforce family values (like "everyone can speak their mind if the tone is respectful and civil" or "this family gives to charity and believes in community service");

·         to check in with one another (you all might share your schedule for the next period of time and adjust chores and activities if one family member is especially stressed);

·         to plan family activities (like the next vacation or a visit to a museum);

·         to enjoy one another's company!

 

Here are some useful ideas for setting up regular family meetings in your home:

·         Pick a regular time and stick to it (like the second Sunday of the month for dinner).

·         Rotate who's in charge of the meeting (and perhaps have that person plan for a special dessert to share) - anyone five years old or up can chair a meeting with some guidance and practice.

·         Have a "family meeting agenda items" white board in the kitchen so any family member can bring up something for discussion - that way, if something comes up amongst the kids, you can say "put it on the agenda" and you can discuss this next time.

·         Begin each family meeting with a round of sharing: a simple routine might be going around the table and sharing one thing that went well today, one thing that didn't go well today, and one thing each person is looking forward to tomorrow.

·         Have simple rules for sharing: use a "talking stick" to prevent interruptions, be vigilant about no put downs, give each person the right to pass, and consider all ideas until you get to the feasible and constructive ones.

·         End each family meeting with a round of appreciations: each person goes around the table and expresses one thing they appreciate in each family member who participated in the meeting.

 

One important point: for me, families are not "democracies" but hopefully more like "benevolent dictatorships" with Mom and Dad having final say. Nonetheless, you will soon see the benefits of treating your children as valued members of the family community and all of you will become better creative problem-solvers.

 

Like any skill, having a successful family meeting will take some time. Stick with it and all will be well - you will be helping your children to develop important life skills.

 

 

 

 

This election season seems especially filled with anxiety - how can we remain calm and civil when the issues are so polarizing and the attacks so personal? Here are some tips for you - which you can share with your children - to help us all find some serenity and sanctuary amidst the daily cycles of  election news drama.

1)    Realize that some anxiousness is necessary: evolutionary biology tells us that our body needs to be put on alert to deal with a situation that might be dangerous. (There are no more saber-toothed tigers, but sometimes we react as if one is about to attack us!) I want my child to be anxious about crossing City Island Avenue when there is a lot of traffic - that heightened state of awareness is a good tool for keeping safe and vigilant. Then, when we reach the other side, we can take a breath and resume our usual level of awareness.

2)   Anxiousness becomes a problem when everyday situations begin to be perceived as dangerous, thus creating a "fight or flight or freeze" response that doesn't need to be engaged. Take time for yourself to sort out whether a situation - real or imagined or anticipated - warrants a sense of danger and hypervigilance or just "keeping an eye" on things. Practice thinking through a potential difficulty until the end when your child feels anxious - "if I don't know whom to sit with at lunch, I will feel some stress, but I can sit by myself and bring a book to read and see if anyone joins me...next time I can plan ahead and invite a friend to sit with me at lunch..." Rarely do our worst fears become realities - as Mark Twain said, "I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which have never happened."

3)   Maintain the important family activities that settle us down and relieve our stress and anxiousness: eat dinner as a family; have family game nights; worship and play together; visit with relatives and friends. The simple relationship-based comforts that families and friends can provide are a powerful antidote to stress and anxiety.

4)   Get physical exercise - for yourself and with your children. Our bodies are primed to release "feel good" endorphins when we exercise - take advantage of this simple way to relieve stress. We all have access to nature - there is true healing available in watching a sunset, taking a walk to the beach, and riding a bike through the woods.

5)   Maintain an attitude of gratitude for what you do have - be it health, family, a home, or a friend. Always focusing on what you are missing will leave you miserable - and it will be your own fault!

 

SO - turn off the news, be with those you love, practice the gift of democracy as an informed citizen and voter, and keep that anxiety in check.

 

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