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      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.


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"?                         


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