Recently in communication skills Category


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.

 

 

We live in a challenging time. Our children may overhear politicians, peers, and even family members speaking to one another in language that is divisive and hurtful. They may hear things that are overstated or simply not true. How, then, do we model the behavior we hope to see in our children - respect, honesty, and civility?

 

Respect is the right of every individual. We can always find common ground with another, in any dispute, even if that common ground is simply being human. Humility and honor are ways of showing respect - no one of us is better than, we are equals. Everyone is worthy of dignity. We respect our children when we avoid shame, ridicule, threats, and punishment but instead provide opportunities for restitution, forgiveness, and future growth.

If Johnny drops a glass full of lemonade, instead of saying something like: "You clumsy child! Now I have to clean this up. Grow up!"

we can come up with appropriate consequences in a respectful way by saying something like: "I will deal with the broken glass so you don't cut yourself, and then you need to get some paper towels and wipe up the lemonade. Everyone makes mistakes; let's think about how you might do this differently next time, OK?"

 

In terms of honesty, here are a few tips:

·         Try to tell the truth with your children - if they cannot handle the information (about a family member's illness or a difficult situation) tell them that the adults are doing what they can to take care of the situation and you will fill them in later.

·         Avoid words like "always" and "never" - they are rarely true, and tend to close doors in an argument or conflict.

·         Hold yourself to the highest standard - our integrity is a valuable part of who we are and can be thrown away with a lie or a cheat or a steal. Let your children know how you work on rigorous honesty and ask them to do the same.

 

Civility - manners, politeness, courtesy - is a basic currency in how we communicate with and treat one another. It is not "political correctness" but common sense. We all know the Golden Rule - "treat others the way you want to be treated" - but let's also think about what some are calling the Platinum Rule - "treat others the way they want to be treated". We can do even better if we follow Immanuel Kant's advice: "act in any situation the way you would want every other person to act". If we spend some time thinking about the implications of this - with our own actions and those of our children - we may see some startling results.

 

This is all just good human decency. As Dorothy Law Nolte says in her poem "Children Live What They Learn" (© 1972):

 

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with 
fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel 
shy.
If children live with 
jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with 
shame, they learn to feel guilty.


If children live with encouragement, they learn 
confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to 
love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn 
generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have 
faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Let's be sure to create a better world, shall we?

 

 

 

Here are five things every parent would do well to remember about teachers:

1)      Teaching really is "rocket science" - and brain science, too! There is research-based practice that goes into good teaching, and teachers strive to be up-to-date in the "best practices" of their field.

2)     Teaching is a calling as well as a profession. We educators feel "called" to do what we do: to provide a service to the next generation - education - that is more important than money or power for our children's future happiness.

3)     Teaching demands rigorous preparation for each day in the classroom. Today's young people - "technology natives" who have grown up with the Internet, cell phones, and social media - won't do well with old lesson plans and rote learning.

4)     Teachers are humans too - and we appreciate affirmations, respect, and constructive comments on how we are doing.

5)     There is a "learning triangle" - parent/teacher/student - and we must do our share as parents to compliment what is happening in the classroom.

 

AND - here are five things every teacher would do well to remember about parents:

1)      All parents want the best for their children, and sometimes this blinds us when faced with the necessary discipline that teachers must administer.

2)     Parenting is the most important work many of us will ever do, and thus we can all use the help and support of one another on this journey.

3)     We live in a culture where shame, embarrassment, and sarcasm are common in the media - we parents don't want this for our children, and our classrooms need to be safe havens that are free of these unnecessary challenges.

4)     Parents are humans too - we appreciate affirmations, respect, and constructive comments on how we are doing.

5)     There is indeed a "learning triangle" - parent/teacher/student - and we must do our share as teachers to compliment what is happening in the home.

 

Wishing everyone a great start to the school year...!

  

 This is the handout for a recent set of workshops I am giving for parents and children. The activities include family drawings, designing dialogues to deal with conflict, and group problem-solving sessions to develop resilience. The workshop centers around three basic concepts: Respect, communications, and resilience.

    RESPECT: how do we treat each other?

"It's fair to say that if you don't teach your children to honor you, you'll have a very hard time teaching them anything else."

Wendy Mogel, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee

Questions to ask yourself about respect:

           Do you allow your children to interrupt you?

           Do you have a designated place at the table?

           Do your children consistently argue or contradict your words?

           Do they talk back to you in public?

•           Do you give your children enough opportunities to help out and be responsible?

           Do they respect your privacy? Do they enter your room or take your things          without asking?

Remember: it is your home, and you are in charge. Your children need a parent, not a friend.

COMMUNICATION: How do we express ourselves to one another?

"What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart....To arrive at a mutual desire to give from the heart, we focus the light of consciousness on four areas: 1) observations; 2) feelings; 3) needs; 4) requests."

Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

Script for "Language of Life" communication:

           OBSERVE WITHOUT JUDGMENT: "I see in your family picture that you have a concern about the invasion of the privacy of your room by your brother."

           EXPRESS YOUR FEELINGS: "I have that issue, too, and I feel disappointed           when I find things missing from my office that turn up in your room."

           EXPRESS YOUR NEED: "I need you - as well as your brother - to respect the privacy of everyone's belongings in this house."

           MAKE A REQUEST: "Can we set up a family discussion tonight to talk about this with the entire family?"

Remember:  it's better to stay connected than to be right. Use non-violent communication to

find win-win solutions for your family.

 

RESILIENCE: How do we respond to challenges?

"Every word and action can send a message. It tells children...how to think about themselves. It can be a fixed mindset message that says: You have permanent traits and I'm judging them. Or it can be a growth mindset message that says: You are a developing person and I am interested in your development."

Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

 

            Develop resilience by changing your approach to life from fixed to a growth mindset:

                        Fixed Mindset:                                 Growth Mindset:    

                        Intelligence is static...                     Intelligence can be developed...   

                        Look smart at all costs...                  Remain curious and humble...

                        Avoid challenges...                           Embrace challenges...

                        Give up on obstacles...                    Persist in the face of obstacles...

                        Effort is fruitless...                           Effort is the key...

                        Ignore negative feedback...            Learn from negative feedback...

                        Feel threatened by the                   Find inspiration in the

                              success of others...                          success of others...       

                        Lose interest if things are hard... Get motivated if things are hard...

Parents can be examples of either mindset for their children. Wouldn't we want those we serve and love to see life as an unfolding adventure rather than a process of protecting themselves from the trials and tribulations of the world? And how can you build resilience if you always give up too easily (i.e., "That's not for me"...."I just don't have the talent"..."I'm too (old/tired/busy) for that")?

Remember: People who live long and productive lives never stop learning from their mistakes and continually work on themselves and their skills.

___________________________________________________________      

Parenting is the hardest job many of us will ever do. Be gentle with yourself and enjoy the journey.

 

It is my privilege to work with each of you.           

 

In peace,

Teacher John

 

 

The Tantrum Mantra: Do nothing!

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New research by Michael Potegal and James Green confirms what many of us childhood therapists have known for years: it is useless to try to reason with a child having a tantrum, and it is also in fact counterproductive. Sound familiar: trying to reason with your screaming three year-old, and finding the tantrum getting worse and you getting angry yoursel

 

The new studies show that every tantrum has an arc - from yelling and screaming to whining and crying - that seems universal. In addition, the emotions behind the tantrum are complex. Anger (easy to spot!) and sadness (usually masked at first) are there throughout, and the goal is to get past the anger and into the sadness. Once the child is sad - crying, whimpering, now looking for affection - the tantrum is reaching its end. Now we might find a chance to talk and reassure.

 

Why not reason with the child during the anger stage? Their brains are already "full" - they are in fact overwhelmed as well as being overwhelming - why add more information?


Tantrums are a typical part of a child's development. Don't fret: they end and we all move on!

So give this a whirl: here's the link for the NPR story about this research:

 

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/12/05/143062378/whats-behind-a-temper-tantrum-scientists-deconstruct-the-screams

 

In peace and with humility,

 

Teacher John

What's Your Mindset?

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In her book MINDSET: THE NEW PSYCHOLOGY OF SUCCESS, Carol Dworkin talks about fundamental differences in the way we approach the world - through school, work, and relationships - to either maximize our development as people or remain stuck in our present life situation. She presents two worldviews - the "fixed mindset" and the "growth mindset" - that represent these approaches to life:  

                        Fixed Mindset:                                 Growth Mindset:    

                        Intelligence is static...                     Intelligence can be developed...   

                        Look smart at all costs...                 Remain curious and humble...

                        Avoid challenges...                           Embrace challenges...

                        Give up on obstacles...                    Persist in the face of obstacles...

                        Effort is fruitless...                           Effort is the key...

                        Ignore negative feedback...            Learn from negative feedback...

                        Feel threatened by the                   Find inspiration in the

                              success of others...                          success of others...       

                        Lose interest if things are hard...  Get motivated if things are hard...

Parents can be examples of either mindset for their children, as can teachers for the students in their classrooms. Wouldn't we want those we serve and love to see life as an unfolding adventure rather than a process of protecting themselves from the trials and tribulations of the world? And how can you build resilience if you always give up too easily (i.e., "That's not for me"...."I just don't have the talent"..."I'm too (old/tired/busy) for that")?

Quaker schools embody the growth mindset. Human development is seen as the :"continuing revelation" of our gifts as we "grow into goodness" and build fulfilling lives, day by day.

SO - Try new experiences (the opera, NASCAR, a yoga class)...learn a new skill or hobby (the violin, welding, sailing)...read about people who can be role models (Michael Jordan, Mother Teresa, the Quakers)...ask yourself "what would (my role model) do in this situation?" and see if you can act in a positive way, too...learn to give and receive feedback with compassion and acceptance.

People who live long and productive lives never stop learning from their mistakes and continually work on themselves and their skills. How about trying on a "growth mindset"?                         


This book is a gem: a practical and hands-on approach to human relationships that stresses connection and empathy over "being right" and "getting what you want." Rosenberg comes from the violent streets of Detroit and knows the value of language in getting out of tight situations. A student of Carl Rogers and a proponent of peace education around the world, he is a beacon of hope for me in laying out his approach to what some have called "authentic" conversations.

Rosenberg lays out four main steps toward compassionate dialogue:

·        Observation: what you see, presented without judgment or emotion.

"I see that there has been a disagreement between you and your brother."

·        Feeling: what you feel, presented with ownership for the emotion and free from blame or projection.

"I feel disappointed in myself as a parent in not being a more effective role model for you two when I engage in arguing myself."

·        Need: what you need from the situation, making yourself vulnerable to another while clearly expressing your own incomplete ability to change a situation.

"I need a chance to talk with you both so that we can come up with ways

 to improve this situation."

·        Request: a statement that truly asks without demanding, keeping the focus on enhancing both yourself and the other person.

"Will you both come sit with me in an hour so that we can work on this?"

 

Sounds simple, eh? Recent experiences of my own suggest otherwise, since I have been educated in the language of blame, denial, and projection. I can already see that this will be a life-long process, yet I remain excited by the chance to enhance my relationships with others and promote more peaceful interactions in this world.

 

Changing how we speak and relate to one another takes time, and this book is a wonderful companion on this journey. I recommend it highly to you.

 

In peace and with humility,

Teacher John

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