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     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!


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.

 

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...!

  

We live in a time when racial tension is everywhere. Our children - who, as research has suggested, are well aware of the privilege of whiteness at an early age - learn from us adults on a daily basis. How we openly address issues of race - and live our truth in our daily lives - can help ensure that the next generation of adults can do better than we did in addressing racial injustice.

Here are five things you can keep in mind:

1)    You can model and demonstrate diversity and inclusion in your own life. Are all of your friends from the same racial group? Do you have diverse people as friends - real friends - with whom you share a meal, travel, go to the movies, hang out in the living room? Encourage your child to do the same - reach out to others, learn how different homes represent different cultures, and celebrate the mix of cultures and religions that makes us an enriched society.

2)    Take advantage of teachable moments. When children realize that not all races are not represented equally - in the media, in government, and in positions of visibility and stature - let them know that in earlier days in the USA many groups of people were seen as the "other" and as a potential menace to society: Irish, Italians, Chinese, etc. By talking about these differences - accepting color and avoiding the hypocrisy of "color-blindness" - we can come to true understanding of one another's experience. Kids can understand this as well - we are not "the same" but we are entitled to equal access to the benefits of our society.

3)    Accept the fact that "the talk" you have with your child is dependent upon your racial status: for whites it's about sex and being safe from pregnancy and disease, for people of color it's about talking to the authorities and staying alive.

4)    Realize that the biggest affirmative action program in the history of the USA - the G.I. bills after World War II that provided mortgages and education for returning G.I.'s - created the white middle class in the 1950's that many of us benefited from growing up. Whites have a long history of helping themselves with government assistance - why do we balk when this is about people of color?

5)     Remember that important conversations with our children can be difficult but necessary, The "status quo" is unacceptable to people of color - and morally untenable for all of us -   and our children have the opportunity to make things better.

 

John Dewey, an influential American educator of the 19th and 20th centuries, said that the goal of education is "to build a new world." May we help our children to do just that. 

      Every fall families with children in school face the same challenge: how to transition from the days of summer vacation to the days of school bells and homework. For families with working parents going back to school may be a relief - childcare for the summer can be quite daunting and expensive - yet the addition of school anxiousness, new teachers, and academic rigor provides new territory for everyone.

     Some tips to remember:

·        Check in with yourself: am I able to relax? Take a deep breath? Be calm in the face of change? We parents set the tone for back-to-school: will it be well-planned and calm or hectic and last-minute?

·        Make sure all health needs are taken care of beforehand: school can be at the "cutting edge" of experience for your child, and we all want to be in our best form when starting a new endeavor.

·        Go over all of the paperwork you received over the summer, and make sure all forms are filled out and ready to go.

·        Check that list of supplies again: no one wants to be the only child without the specific pencil box/calculator/notebook that was requested by the teacher!

·        Check for any dress code requirements before you go shopping: it will avoid a lot of fights and trips back to the store. Help your child pick out that special outfit for the first day and maybe have a special outfit for yourself as well: it is indeed a special day for everyone!

·        Set up a family calendar (large whiteboard calendars with dry-erase markers work well) that is color-coded for each family member. Keep track of how busy everyone is going to be!

·        Be sure you have re-established bedtime and wake-up times - don't wait too long!

·        Make a plan for lunches: make them the night before if possible. Children who are old enough to make their own lunch should do so, and perhaps also make lunches for younger siblings. Remember: responsibility at home reinforces responsibility in school and leads to responsibility in life.

·        Start to minimize TV time: most of us watch too much TV in the summer, so begin that transition now.

·        Have a designated homework place and a schedule for after-school/HW time. Proper prior planning prevents poor performance.

·         Make a resolution with your child for the new school year: "I will not yell in the morning" might accompany "I will follow my own morning checklist without your help." Put the resolutions on the fridge door and keep track of how you are doing.

·        Remember: childhood (and, indeed, life) is a journey, not a race.   

Blessings on the new school year!

 Here is the handout from a talk I am giving tomorrow on the challenges for parents when we watch our children struggle with developmental issues:

1.     Welcome: it's good to talk about our roles as parents

2.   Quaker beliefs: growing into goodness/minding the Light in each of us/ integrity in word and deed/experience life on life's terms

3.   Freud - a healthy adult is able "to love and to work"

4.   Developmental tasks to be accomplished:

·        experience my gender and my sexuality...

·        learn the difference between being assertive and aggressive...

·        learn to be more independent...

·        figure out the person I want to be using the traits of the person I am...

·        learn to live in the middle and not be too big or too small...

·        learn to be a critical thinker...

·        establish and maintain healthy friendships with peers...

·        come to terms with my changing body..

5.    Good parenting versus overindulgence: what does overindulgence look like?

·        No firm limits and expectations

·        More concern about child's feelings than family needs

·        Parents emotionally overattentive

·        Too much authority too soon

·        Children expect to have things done for them

·        There is too much emphasis on perfection

6.   Research on overindulgence in children:

·        Poor development of conscience

·        More aggression and non-compliance

·        Lack of assertion skills

·        Lack of self-confidence

·        Less concern for others

·        A sense of entitlement

·        Overly dependent on parents

·        Feel "too big"

7.    Good parenting versus overindulgence in the face of challenges:

·        Separate your pain from your child's pain.

·        Avoid "interviewing for pain" (Thompson).

·        Praise appropriately.

·        Set limits and stick to them.

·        Realize that you are the parent (not their friend).

8.   Respect your child's ability to handle the situation:

·        Empathy: "That must be very hard..."

·        Pause - allow them to experience your kind attention.

·        Turn it over: "What are you going to do about it?"

·        Affirmation: "You are a smart/brave/honest/caring individual. I am sure you can handle this."

·        Keep the door open: "Let me know how this goes."

9.   Raising our children to be adults we'd like to have as friends: what are the qualities of my friends that I admire...

It is my privilege to work with you and your families.

Given all of the uncertainty and worry that being a teenager (and raising a teenager!) can entail, sometimes it's good to know what's supposed to be happening during the adolescent years.

1)      experience my gender and my sexuality: What's it like to be a male or a female in this society? In my school?  In my own body?

2)    learn the difference between being assertive and aggressive: How can I stand up for myself and still respect the boundaries of others?

3)    learn to be more independent: How can I make my own decisions without simply reacting against the rules of adults?

4)    figure out the person I want to be using the traits of the person I am: What are my strengths? What am I good at doing? Where do I want to be in ten years?

5)    learn to live in the middle and not be too big or too small: Am I "right-sized" in my dealings with others? Can I avoid being overdramatic (too big) or invisible (too small)?

6)    learn to be a critical thinker: Can I make sense of the world around me, using my thinking skills to make good decisions?

7)    establish and maintain healthy friendships with peers: What do I look for in a friend? Am I a good friend?

8)   come to terms with my changing body: In a culture that idolizes only certain types of bodies, can I become comfortable in my own?

 

Quite a list, no? As adults, how do we measure up on these tasks? With all humility and good faith in human nature, may we promote these skills in ourselves and our loved ones.

 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

 

 

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