Recently in city island Category

Let's face it - conflict is inevitable. We all cannot get what we want the way we want it all of the time, and thus our needs and wants and personalities will collide. SO - let me suggest that the goal is to handle conflict well so that:

  • we maintain mutual respect;

  • we look for win-win (rather than win-lose or lose-lose) solutions;

  • we restore domestic tranquility - life is too short to stay in the fight!

Here is a valuable technique - which I first learned from Mary Pipher's book Reviving Ophelia (which is still a must-read for parents of daughters) - that can achieve these goals. Thesandwich technique has praise as the top piece of bread, hope as the bottom piece of bread, and your criticism as the "fixings" of the sandwich.

Here's a scenario you might relate to: you come home from a long day at work to find the kitchen full of empty jars and boxes, a sink filled with dishes smeared with tomato sauce, and a half-empty gallon of milk on the counter. This is the result of a pasta-cooking event led by your son and his football buddies. You want to get dinner started, and now the kitchen is a mess. How to proceed?

PRAISE: Hey John, I really appreciate how you take care of your buddies and share our home with them. You are a good friend to them, and I enjoy having your friends at our house.

CRITICISM: I do feel, however, that cleaning up after yourselves before I get home is an important part of our shared family agreement. Today's mess in the kitchen is just too much for me to deal with right now, and it needs to be cleaned up before I make dinner.

HOPE: I hope we can continue to respect our common spaces in the house and take care of one another. I know you can be a kind and conscientious kid, and I believe this won't happen again.

Let's look a bit closer:

  • Praise that is specific, helpful, and true opens up the listener's ears and heart and helps our message to get through to others.

  • Criticism that looks at the "directly observable data"  - like the dirty kitchen - and avoids labeling - like "lazy" and "slob" - is most likely to get good results.

  • Hope in the message getting across suggests faith in the other person and a positive attitude when looking ahead.  

So - why not give it a try?

          Most of us who are parents and grandparents remember well the issues that arise as a new school year begins:

·        What will I wear the first day?

·        Who will be my new teachers?

·        Will my friends still like me?

·        How can I possibly pass Algebra II/Physics/AP History???

(We might also remember that many of issues are issues of privilege: how many students in our country and around the world have limited access to new clothes, poorly staffed schools, peer groups dominated by gangs, and few opportunities for advanced courses?)

In the midst of this very natural angst there are also opportunities for new goals, new experiences, and new challenges for growth. But - as always - "chance favors the prepared mind" (to quote Louis Pasteur). How do we prepare ourselves and our students for the new beginnings that come each September?

·        Start adjusting the home schedule before the first week of school: wake-up times, meal times, and bed times can be quite flexible in the summer. Many of us need to slowly adjust to the school day, homework time, and fall sports schedules.

·        Set goals for the new school year: have your child pick one new activity they will try this year and hold them to that choice. Suggest grades or specific achievement points for various school classes that hopefully can be attained, and write those down as a "pledge" or "contract" to be reviewed at Thanksgiving (or after the first grading period). Making a team, running for an office in school, and learning a new skill or musical instrument all would apply here.

·        Make your home "school-friendly": be sure there are appropriate spaces for doing homework, knowing that these spaces will need to change as your child grows up and has different needs. Have appropriate healthy snacks available for after-school munching. Try to have your home be a welcoming space for your child to do school projects with other children.

·        Have a family "screens" policy: screen time is here to stay, but parents can still set the standards for screen use at home. Have clear policies about dinner time (no screens and phones for parents, too!), multiple screen usage while doing homework (multitasking is a myth!), and how you will collect screens before bedtime (eliminate those 2 am texts!).

If we do not provide values and structures for our children the culture - which is based upon social media and consumerism - will fill in the void. We have a responsibility to raise our own children, and that takes time and effort.



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?

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 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.


          The end of the school year and the advent of summer vacation can be a cherished time in the life of a child. I can still picture in my mind being 9 years old, on the last half-day of school, coming home at noon and realizing that I could play baseball every day until September. I was sitting in front of my house, my baseball mitt and a brand new ball in my hands, waiting for my friends to arrive. I can still feel that sense of joyful anticipation, with a wide-open sense of possibility.  It is, in fact, a feeling I still yearn for over fifty years later.

          Parents may celebrate the end of the school year too, but there are also challenges for working families: child care needs, camp costs, and the logistics of getting everyone from one activity to the next. How can we make the most of this time, given the realities and stresses of our lives? How can we join our children in this celebration of summer, even in the midst of our daily responsibilities?

          Here are some hopefully helpful ideas to ponder for a joyful and productive summer vacation:

 S - spend time together that's unstructured: "wasting time"

       sitting outside together may be just what you need...

U - upbeat attitudes are contagious: there's more time
       to share positive thoughts and feelings...

M - making time for what we value remains important: read

        more, learn more, do community service, make art...

M - memories come from "stupid life stuff": activities like

        sidewalk art or a water fight can be the most fun...

E - enter into the natural world every chance you can:

      we live on an island - get out there!

R - remember that life is a journey, not a race: slow is

       better than fast, so we can stop along the way...

T - thank the universe every day for all of your gifts: an

      attitude of gratitude is contagious...

I - invest in the future by making goals now: read books

     together; learn about birds; start a children's garden...

M - meet new people and make better friends with those you

     know: we all need a community of caring individuals...

E - enjoy your kids - they grow up fast, you know!



The Morris Junior Sailing Program and School Success:
Why having your child learn to sail can help in the classroom, too
Learning to sail is a complex activity. Sailing uses all part of the brain, engages visual, auditory, and tactile/kinesthetic learning styles. Sailing also develops resilience, cooperation skills, and a sense of environmental awareness. Here's why you should enroll your child in The Morris Junior Sailing Program:
• Current brain research suggests that activities that engage both sides of the brain - the language-oriented left hemisphere and the spatially-oriented right hemisphere - lead to better overall brain health. Sailing involves the language and sequencing of maneuvers (like tacking and jibing) as well as the spatial awareness of you, your sails, your boat, and the surrounding waters. You are constantly switching sides, using each hand on the tiller, and re-orienting yourself in space-time. You are also making lots of decisions, a process which engages the pre-frontal lobes (the last part of the brain to fully develop).
• Visual learners are always monitoring the scenery, tracking the boat and its movement through the water. Auditory learners are engaging crew members with commands, listening for the wind and the luffing of the sails, and maintaining vigilance for auditory aids to navigation. Tactile/kinesthetic learners feel the wind on their face, move their bodies across the cockpit
when the move the tiller, and experience the physical thrill of gliding through the water on a wind machine.
• Resilience is a vital skill for life-success: the ability to bounce back from adversity with positive outcomes and optimism. Sailing provides multiple chances to bounce back - from a poor tack, from a dropped winch handle, or from a wrong way maneuver on the tiller - and provides an immediate opportunity to "get back on course."
• Cooperative learning is an increasingly valuable learning skill in our inter-connected world. With two students in each boat, there is an on-board classroom for teaching how to communicate, how to get along, and how to work together to achieve a goal.
• A love of the natural world is a gift you can give to your child through sailing. In an era where children are spending more time indoors using computer/screen devices, sailing is the perfect opportunity to get outside, be active, and enjoy this beautiful planet.
So - what are you waiting for?
Morris Yacht and Beach Club member John Scardina is a school psychologist, parent educator, and child development specialist who lives on City Island. He is a certified sailing instructor (American Sailing Association) and the owner of his beloved 30' sloop Sunbow. Check out his website
© John Scardina 2011

Join an ongoing and free-wheeling discussion of the joys and pains of parenting led by Teacher John (parent, grandparent, school psychologist, parent educator). Learn to stop yelling, get what you want from your family life, and create opportunities for your children to become responsible, loving, and independent.  Eight sessions - once per month - from 7:30 til 9:00 PM at the City Island Community Center (190 Fordham Street). $20.00 per session. Contact John Scardina @ 718-885-9305 or through his website


Dates: Monday, October 18th

            Tuesday, November 16th

            Wednesday, December 15th

            Thursday, January 20th

Tuesday, February 15th

Monday, March 14th

Wednesday, April 20th

Thursday, May 19th  

The P.T.A. is proud to sponsor parent presentations by certified school psychologist, parent educator and City Island Resident John Scardina:


How to Make Your Home into a Learning Laboratory: Executive Functioning Skills for Home, School and Life

Where: P.S. 175- The City Island School

When:  Thursday, January 21st -

             geared for parents of K-5th graders

            Thursday, January 28th -

            geared for parents of 6th -8th graders

Time:   7Pm -8Pm plus additional time for Q & A

Suggested donation of $5 to PTA of P.S. 175

Light refreshments will be served

No child supervision will be provided

For more information or questions contact:

P.S. 175 PTA at 718.8851097 or

Free Seminar on City Island

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Holiday Stress/Holiday Joy

Simple Ideas for Parents to Create Healthy Family Celebrations

A FREE Parent Presentation by John Scardina

John Scardina is a certified school psychologist and parent educator with over three decades of experience working with children. He is delighted to be living and working on City Island.

WHEN: 7:30 PM

            Monday, Dec. 14th

WHERE: City Island



             190 Fordham Street

             City Island, NY 10464

QUESTIONS: call 718-885-9305 or e-mail  


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