Seven Lessons for the First Day of School – and for Life

How can I help my child survive in a world I have so little control over?

One: Be Yourself

Will I fit in? Will I like my teacher? Will my teacher like me? When you’re feeling stressed about a situation, the best thing to do is “Be yourself.” In the age of social media, we have become obsessed with the image we are presenting and how many “likes” we are getting. The greatest freedom comes from not needing the approval of others, of being your own person. People will respect you more and like you more when you’re not trying to be liked.

Two: Keep on hoping

Every fall, kids buy their new school supplies full of hope that this is going to be the best year ever. They really want this to go well. They are so willing to make it work. Even kids who have not had a great experience of school have this hope. Keep on hoping. Never become cynical. Every year is a new one. Every day is a new one. One day at a time. At the end of a bad day, press the reset button. Go back with a positive attitude.

Three: Accept the things you cannot change

Every parent needs “The Serenity Prayer” and every child should be taught it:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

You might be able to change out of a bad teacher’s classroom, but you can’t change a bad teacher. You can change small things about your child’s school, but the school system will take generations to change.

Change out of bad classrooms if you can. Change out of bad schools if you can. Participate in the life of your local school, and support organizations working for school reform.

If you can’t do any of these things, then bloom where you are planted.

Four: Practice positive self-talk

Change the loop of negative self-talk to positive self-talk. Teach your child to use positive affirmations. These are simple statements that can change a person’s life because they change the way a person looks at life and at themselves. “I am a good person.” “I am capable.” “I am lovable.” “I am going to have a good day.”

Five: Act. Don’t react

Decide to be your own person and have your own attitude. Don’t live your life in reaction to other people. Don’t behave badly just because other people are behaving badly toward you. If you get a bad teacher, don’t let that person bring you down. You are always in control of your own attitude even though the teacher seems to have all the control. Don’t let someone else’s negativity ruin your day. Put up a force field, a firewall, a shield over your heart. Don’t let toxic stuff in. The only person you can control is yourself.

Six: Don’t let others define you

You are not your grades. You are not your report card. School only works on and measures a small part of you. You are much bigger and better than school will ever know because they only see a small part of you. You have value as a person apart from your performance. You are loved and you are lovable. School doesn’t measure that.

Seven: Resilience comes from being loved

No matter how much we screw up, no matter how inconsistent we are, our kids keep on loving us. Where does this ability come from? It comes from a child’s natural resilience. Kids have an incredible ability to bounce back – especially kids who are loved and supported through hard times. When a child is supported through tough times, they are better able to face the next tough time. Experience teaches them that they can handle it and that they are loved unconditionally.

Life is full of “First days.” In fact, every day is a first day.

 

The Elephant in the Classroom – Teacher Mental Health

Our institutions are only as healthy as the people who work in them.

“My teacher is always yelling at us.”

Imagine spending six hours of your day under the gaze of an adult with mental health problems. Unfortunately, this is more common than we think.

Children can be greatly affected by the mood of their teacher even if they are not the target of the teacher’s anger or yelling. Children pick up on the moods of adults and can either absorb or mirror those moods. They might try to make the adult happy with compliant behavior or react with disruptive behaviour.

A Deeper Look at Teacher Stress

Teacher stress is directly related to the dysfunction of school. An estimated 40-50% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. They see the excessive work load, the behaviour issues, the lack of support from a rigid institutional culture and cannot, in good conscience, participate. This is a reasonable response.

Unfortunately, it does nothing to help school culture or the climate of classrooms. Many of these teachers may have had the fresh perspective schools need. Those who remain may not even see the dysfunction, or, if they do, are willing to live with it and thereby become active contributors to it.

Most teachers go straight from university to teaching – from one side of the desk to the other. They have spent their whole lives in school, and whatever the dysfunctions are, those are a teacher’s normal.

Teachers suffer from social isolation as they spend most of their day with children and only have brief interactions with other adults who are living the same way. They can end up living in a closed world where reality becomes whatever they determine it to be. This is the environment we send our children into. It can become very toxic.

What is the solution?

We need to make school more human and more humane. We create institutions to serve our needs, and when they no longer do this they have become dysfunctional. Teachers suffer and students suffer.

Schools have become top-down, closed environments that are very resistant to any kind of critique – much less any kind of change. Schools need to learn and practice compassion and mindfulness.

We have standardized testing for literacy and numeracy, but we never test for happiness or mental well-being. If kids feel happy, safe and relaxed, they will learn better. When they feel depressed, threatened and stressed, they cannot learn.

We need to create schools where children are happy to go – where teachers are happy to see them and have the emotional energy to meet their needs.

What can parents do?

  • Connect to teachers about more than your child’s issues. Get to know them as people. Ask them how it’s going, what their stresses are, compliment them on the things they do well. Teachers need more adult conversations.
  • Speak up if you feel your child is being affected by your teacher’s mental health.
  • Advocate for anonymous wellness surveys in your school, and see that the results are taken seriously.
  • Suggest mindfulness training for administrators, teachers and students.

This is not about bashing or criticizing teachers. They are victims of the system too. They are suffering human beings who are not working to their full potential. Many would describe themselves as “just getting by” or “surviving.” This is not a healthy situation for kids to be spending their day in, and teachers don’t want it to be this way either.

As we become more open about mental health, one of the places we need to look is our institutions and the ways we ignore the elephant in the classroom.

 

Anger is not Rudeness

Being angry is not being rude. Anger is an emotion. Rudeness is intentional offence. Disagreeing with what you say is not “giving attitude.” It is a difference of opinion.

Children have as much right to their feelings and opinions as we do.

Sometimes we accept our own anger and opinions as legitimate and shut down our children’s. We come to believe that unquestioning obedience is a virtue. We may have learned this from our family of origin. We certainly learned it at school where unquestioning obedience to authority is totally expected.  

We want to raise children who are capable of expressing their feelings and opinions. Unquestioning obedience is not good for one’s personal development nor for a democratic society. We need people who have the courage to talk back and say what they really think and feel – in healthy, constructive ways. Anger can be a motivator for personal change and social change. 

Feelings can be messy. That’s OK. 

We are comfortable with the light end of the emotional spectrum, but we often have a problem with the “dark” end. We deny difficult feelings like anger – both in ourselves and in our children. Repressed anger will come out in other ways. In males it comes out as emotional numbing, addiction and high-risk behaviour. In females, it comes out as depression. Boys act out. Girls act in.

We need to listen to our own anger and that of our children. Anger is a message from the soul: A boundary has been violated. An expectation has not been met. Something needs to change. Children learn how to deal with anger by watching us deal with ours.

3 Questions to ask yourself about your own anger:

  1. Do I express my feelings in healthy ways? Remember the “Don’t freak out rule.” When you freak out, you send a message to your children – don’t bring me your “stuff” because I won’t be able to handle it. I will freak out and make the situation worse. 
  2. Am I aware of my own emotional state?  Do I let my feelings about something else (my boss, my job, my life) affect my functioning with my children? Do I let my child’s anger trigger my own repressed anger?
  3. Is this the best time to talk about this? Is my best self going to come out right now or am I likely to say something hurtful? Children hear with their hearts. “Mom’s mad. I’m bad.” Take a time out and come back to it later.

Anger can lead people to say rude things and do things that hurt others. The freedom to express your anger ends where the rights of others begins. Say what you feel. Control what you do. You can’t hit your little brother. You can’t call me names.

10 Ways to help you and your child express their anger in healthy ways: 

  1. Use “I messages.” Talk about how you feel. Don’t attack the other person.
  2. Cry (especially relevant for older boys)
  3. Hit something (not a person and don’t break things)
  4. Move (walk, run, ride your bike, play basketball)
  5. Express yourself through art: draw, play an instrument, write
  6. Breathe
  7. Listen to music
  8. Count to 10 (out loud so people know to stand back)
  9. Walk away
  10. Take a time out and come back to the topic when you’re not angry

Finally, at the end of a bad day, rebuild the interpersonal bridge by making nurturing contact with your child. The next day, push the reset button. No grudges or references to the past.

Anger is like a storm that passes. A storm can nourish life or it can be destructive. Which one it will be depends on how we respond.

Transitioning – The Mother of All Battles

Having counselled hundreds of families over the years, here is the top 10 list of problem-causing times in the day. 

  1. Coming off screens (In fact, this one is often related to all the rest)
  2. Waking up and getting out of bed
  3. Getting out the door in the morning
  4. Getting ready for bed
  5. Falling asleep
  6. Coming to the table for dinner
  7. Leaving to go somewhere
  8. Leaving somewhere to come home
  9. Starting homework
  10. Mondays (or the first few days back after a longer holiday)

What do all of these moments have in common? Each one involves a TRANSITION from one area of focus to another. Research shows that boys find it harder to transition between tasks than girls do. Boys are more prone to hyper-focusing which makes disengaging from an activity much harder.

10 Things you can do to prevent battles?

  1. Give warnings: “We’re leaving in 15 minutes…We’re leaving in 10 minutes…We’re leaving in 5 minutes.”
  2. Allow for delays: If you know you have to be out the door by 8:15, make it very clear that you have to be out the door by 8:00!
  3. Mental rehearsal: “This is what’s going to happen today.” Walk your child through events the way you want them to go. Let kids in on the plan. They want to know what is going to happen.
  4. Anticipate transitions: Know what your family’s “problem times” are and be ready to manage them rationally – without letting your emotions take over.
  5. Discuss the problem: Talk about the “problem times” when everyone’s in a good mood, not in the heat of the moment, and have a plan. Keep revisiting and tweaking the plan if it’s not working. It’s a family issue, not just a Mom and Dad issue. Nobody likes fighting.
  6. Physical re-directing / Minimal talking: With younger children, simply take them by the hand and lead them where you need them to go. No need for a narrative, lectures or giving reasons. With older children, lead – don’t follow. Be the first one with your coat on, out the door and in the car. They will follow.
  7. No transitioning with the phone or tablet still playing: “I’ll hold that while you get your coat and shoes on.”
  8. Watch for natural breaks:  TV has half-hour and one-hour intervals – screens are continuous. Find the natural breaks in the game. Some games cannot be paused. Your child means it when he says, “I just have to kill one more guy.” Ask, “How much longer?” and decide if that will work. With YouTube videos, look to see where the slider is at the bottom of the screen. If it’s too long, tell the child to move it forward.
  9. Use a timer: Some kids simply do not have a strong sense of time. What does 15 minutes mean? A digital timer that counts down works wonders. It provides the child with a visual indicator of time passing. 
  10. Unplug WiFi: “If you can’t control yourself, I will have to control you for you.” As a last resort, turn off the WiFi.

Remember empathy on the one hand – you know what it’s like to have to leave something you’re enjoying. But remember firm and fair as well. Life has its demands, and sometimes we need to be firm and fair about what needs to happen – for the good of everyone.

We Can Change the World by Changing the Way We Raise Boys

Parenting is not just a personal project to make sure my own kids turn out all right. It is a social project that can change the world.

Parenting is about the little things we do, but it is also about the larger ideas we hold to be true. In fact, the two are connected. The tips, tricks and strategies we use are influenced by the bigger ideas we hold. These core beliefs can be those that were passed on through our parents or those we have chosen for ourselves.

One of the biggest ideas that informs our parenting is our idea of gender.

Many of the problems we see in the world today can be traced back to the way we raise boys.

  • we build women’s shelters and offer self-defense classes for women
  • we build prisons that are filled with men
  • we watch corporate CEO’s (mostly men) turn a blind eye to the environmental damage they are causing
  • we accept food banks – largely used by women and children
  • we watch men start and carry on the business of war

But we never look upstream and ask where all this is coming from. It comes from a system that is perpetuated by the way we raise boys.

Most men operate on two emotions – anger and fear. The emotion most repressed is the desire for love – transformed into a futile search for sex and power. Boys and men are seldom given the opportunity to practice behaviours that girls and women take for granted:

  • touch
  • crying
  • empathy
  • nurturing behaviour of all kinds

Around the world, women were and are oppressed. Men are repressed.  Women are denied access to political and financial power. Men have been denied access to their own emotional lives.

In the past 50 years we have changed the way we raise girls. They are becoming stronger, more confident and well-educated than ever before. A big idea that found its way into parenting. One problem remains: they can’t find men they want to marry.

As girls and women have surged forward, men and boys have pulled back. They have retreated into cyberspace – mainly video games and pornography. We are losing a generation of boys.

For thousands of years, men ruled the world. That is quickly coming to an end. Women are moving into positions of power and having an influence on culture they never had before. Women in the West have surpassed men in educational attainment levels and employment levels. Men are confused, angry and frustrated. They feel they have lost something.

What can we do differently?

Encourage boys in non-traditional jobs. This is not just an ideological goal. It is an economic necessity. Women make up 77% of those working in healthcare and education – two of the fastest growing job sectors. Men make up 73% of those working in heavy industry and manufacturing – two of the fastest shrinking job sectors. Globe and Mail, 2017

Modelling, allowing and encouraging emotional expression.  Boys and men have deep emotional lives, but are socialized to repress them. This could be reversed by parents, teachers and role models of all kinds – with words and hugs.

When men take care of children, the world will change. Children allow us to live out our natural empathy, nurturing behaviour and joy. Men who take care of children are more well-rounded people.

Men do not have to give up their masculine nature. They have to redefine it. They don’t need to be warriors for territory and power over others. They can be warriors for peace, the environment, social justice and equal rights.

Men do not need to become more like women. They need to become more fully human, more in touch with who they are, free to achieve their human potential, including the full range of emotional expression.

Social change happens one person at a time. When we change the way we raise boys, we will change the world.

 

Marijuana, Stress and School….. It Takes a Village

When I started teaching over 30 years ago, some kids would smoke pot on weekends with their friends. As time went on, kids began to smoke pot near school grounds during school hours. In the last five years or so, kids started coming to school high in the morning and staying high all day.  

All behaviour is logical. What is the logic behind this behaviour? Kids are medicating themselves for stress, and the source of the stress is school. 

I received the following email from a concerned mother:

“The number of parents in my neighbourhood whose boys all started smoking pot at the grade 8-9 transition is heartbreaking and nobody wants to talk about it or for anyone to know, but at the same time we all feel helpless. I feel like its time school started to be recognized as part of the issue as it does take a village.”

Most schools have smoking areas – designated spaces for kids to smoke which are technically off school property, where school administrators have decided to give up on the battle against smoking, or, to put it another way, have abdicated their responsibility to be part of the village that we need to help raise our teenagers. Smoking areas become convenience stores for marijuana and other harder drugs. 

But closing down the smoking area wouldn’t really get at the root of the problem. Kids are self-medicating for stress, and they would just find other places to use. The deeper question is why are these kids hurting so much? Having worked closely with thousands of teenagers over several decades, I have seen one major factor change kids’ lives:

Kids need to connect with adults who really care about their welfare. Not professionals keeping “professional distance” from kids. Walk through any school and you will find teachers at their computers. You will see few adults interacting with kids. When they do, it is often for punitive reasons. We need adults who are willing to connect with the whole child – head, heart and hands. Guest speakers and “Wellness Days” are not enough. Kids need mentors.

School is a class system. There are first, second and third class students. The first class students are those for whom the system works and who benefit from the rewards it offers. (These students often go on to become teachers.) Second class students just pass through the system unnoticed. They don’t cause trouble. They don’t talk back. They don’t like school, but they put up with it. Finally, there are the kids for whom school does not work. They are called lazy, bad or defiant when really they are just being honest. They hate school and are not afraid to say so. They act out or drop out. 

A growing number of kids find school a competitive place where you either have it or you don’t. You are constantly being judged for your performance in subject areas that don’t interest you. One size fits all. No accommodations are made for learning differences. You must “get with the program.”

What can parents do?

  1. Show this article to your child’s teachers and school principal and challenge them to discuss the topic at their next staff meeting – to get involved in kids’ lives – to be part of the village.
  2. Listen to your child. Don’t lecture, punish or shut them down. They need someone they can talk to. Don’t close the door. Always be on the side of your child. Consequences for misbehaviour are fine, but not at the expense of your relationship.
  3. Encourage your kids to find mentors wherever they can – coaches, teachers, relatives, tutors – anyone who cares about kids. I have seen many kids’ lives turned around by the influence of just one caring adult.

Adolescence is a time when kids break from their parents in order to discover their own identity. Parents want to help, but often feel shut out and helpless. It’s not the fault of the parent. It’s the nature of the developmental stage. This is another reason we need a village – other adults who will step in and care.

Difficult child. Interesting adult.

When you’re feeling frustrated about your child’s behaviour, just remember, your difficult child is going to grow up to be an interesting adult.

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Wayne Dyer said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Qualities that are difficult in a child might serve him well as an adult. 

  • Stubborn = strong-willed, sets goals and works toward them
  • Defiant = is confident enough to speak honestly to authority figures
  • Disorganized = is more interested in the big picture, not a details person
  • Doesn’t listen = focuses well on his own projects, is able to ignore distractions
  • Argumentative = intelligent, passionate, excellent verbal skills

“Difficult” is in the eyes of the beholder. A difficult child is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be understood.

All behaviour is logical. What is the deeper meaning behind the difficult behaviour?

  • I want more freedom and control in my life. This doesn’t mean letting them have everything they want. It means giving them more freedom and control – within boundaries.
  • I feel that no one “gets” me. What does it mean to “get” a child? It means to feel empathy for them. It means to really listen to what they’re saying and take them seriously.
  • I have energy I need to burn off. Get outside. Move. Exercise.
  • I’m bored. I don’t feel challenged. This is especially the case with highly intelligent children.
  • I need more attention from Mom and Dad. Some children need more attention than others – within the same family. If they can’t get it in positive ways, they will get it in negative ways. Give to each according to their needs. You cannot spoil a child with love.

We think of children as difficult when they do not behave in ways we like. We need to provide them with two things: freedom within structure.

The 4 F’s of discipline:

Few: Your list of rules should be short. These are your non-negotiables, your battles worth fighting. Put them up on the fridge door. Review them periodically.

Fair: Talk about these rules as a family. What are the logical reasons behind them? Let your kids participate in this discussion rather than decreeing from above. Decide in advance what the consequences will be – ideally with buy-in from your kids.

Fast: When a rule is violated, follow the “Act, don’t yak!” rule. Simply impose the consequence. No need for long sermons or lectures. Make sure the consequences have a reasonable time limit (for example, one day without the iPad), so that you can start fresh again.

Firm: Listen to the push back then let it go. It’s my job to set boundaries. It’s your job to push back against them. We’re both doing our job.

The daily struggle to meet the needs of a “difficult” child will be just that, a daily struggle. Take one day at a time. At the end of a bad day, rebuild the interpersonal bridge by making nurturing contact with the child. The next day, push the reset button – no grudges or references to the past. Most of all, have a sense of humour. Maybe you don’t even have a difficult child – maybe you’re a “difficult parent.” lol

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10 Tips for Talking with Your Son

Mother and son with remote control

 Mother: “How was your day?”         Son: “Fine.”

Boys, especially adolescent boys, sometimes find it hard to put their thoughts and feelings into words. It’s not that they don’t have complex thoughts and deep feelings; it just takes longer for them to formulate them into words.

Boys can feel overwhelmed by the verbal ability of adults, especially mothers and female teachers who generally find it easier to articulate their thoughts and feelings. They shut down because they just don’t feel they can keep up.

Here are some strategies to help mothers talk to their sons:

1.  Keep it simple.  The fewer words you use the better. Some mothers feel the more ways I say it, the better it will get across. The opposite is true. The more ways you say it, the more overwhelming it becomes and the boy shuts down. “He doesn’t listen” might mean “He has chosen to stop listening because there are just too many words, and they have become white background noise.”

2.  Give time.  Ask your question and wait. Don’t rephrase it. Don’t embellish it. Don’t offer possible answers. Allow the boy time to process what you’ve asked, to formulate his answer and then express it. These three steps take time. The question you ask after school might not get answered until bedtime.

3.  Give space.  Boys talk better when they can move around. This might mean rolling around on the floor or tossing something up in the air over and over again. That’s OK!

4.  Be quiet.  Boys are comfortable with silence. Sitting quietly with a boy creates a vacuum which he can fill. Silence gives the boy a chance to initiate topics that are important to him – that you may not even have thought to ask about.

5.  Practice non-verbal communication.  There are other ways of communicating with boys besides talking. One of the most powerful is doing something together. Girls relate face-to-face. Boys relate shoulder-to-shoulder. Drawing. Lego. Cooking.

6.  Eye contact is not necessary.  “Look at me when I’m talking to you.” Women find eye contact promotes connection. This is not so for boys. Boys find eye contact invasive and threatening. They prefer to look away or be doing something while they are talking. The best conversations often happen in the car because there is no eye contact.

7.  Be ready for his “talking mood” moments.  Boys will talk when they are ready. Be available when this happens. It can happen when you least expect. Grab onto these moments. He may not be ready to talk when you are. You be ready when he is.

8.  Avoid “stress talk” moments.  A stressed female wants to talk. A stressed male does not want to talk. In moments of high stress, emotion dominates over logic and the conversation is not going to be very productive. Better to say, “We’ll talk about this later when we’ve both calmed down.”

9.  Verbal redirecting versus physical redirecting.  When a young child is hyper-focused or overstimulated, words do not register. Parents increase the amount of talk (verbal re-directing), it doesn’t work and the parent becomes more and more frustrated. Sometimes it’s best to just take the child gently by the hand and lead him where you need to go (physical redirecting).

10.  The don’t freak out rule.  When our kids tell us something disturbing – something they did or saw or simply thought about, don’t freak out. You want your child to feel free to tell you anything. When we freak out, we send a message to our kids. “Don’t tell me anything that might upset me.”

Why do men and boys find it harder to express their feelings than women and girls do? The reasons are found in both nature and nurture. To help our boys express their feelings, we need to understand their unique ways of communicating. 

 

I never knew I was stupid until I went to school

Stupid is a very broad term for kids. In their minds, it includes their academic performance but also their behaviour and level of social acceptance.
1b-stressed-high-school-boy
Before I went to school, I just lived my life. I liked myself. Life was good. When I went to school, everything became about levels and scores and grades. Everyone started measuring my performance and comparing me to others. Now I’m the stupidest kid in the class. I’m stupid because I don’t know the answer, but I’m also stupid because I get in trouble.
 
By the second or third week of school, the honeymoon ends for too many kids – especially boys. I have had a number of calls and emails from mothers who have just received their first “call home” of the year. Their son is “having trouble.”
 
It’s never the school or the teacher who is having trouble – it’s always the boy.
 

All behaviour is logical. If you put a squirmy boy in a room and ask him to sit still for long periods of time holding a pencil, he is going to react. His behaviour is normal.

His behaviour appears as a problem for two reasons – the environment is not hospitable to his nature and the expectations of the adults around him are not realistic. “He should be able to sit still and focus on a worksheet for 15 minutes.” No he shouldn’t. The yardstick I suggest for a child’s natural attention span (for things they are not particularly interested in) is their age in minutes. If a child is interested in the task (think video games) this attention span can go up to hours.
 

Kids’ academic performance suffers when they are frustrated and stressed – not being able to move, not being accepted for who they are and how they naturally act.

When boys cannot move in appropriate ways, they will move in inappropriate ways.
1b-kinderboys
Liam was bored and frustrated by a morning of worksheets, so standing in line, he playfully pushed the boy in front of him – just to have some fun, human connection, stimulation, anything! He ended up standing in the office while the principal called his mother to report on his “bad behaviour.”
 
“Is he standing there with you now listening to this?” asked the mother.
“Yes,” replied the principal.
“Well, I don’t think it’s appropriate that he be subjected to this humiliation.”
“Well, he’s just got to learn that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated,” replied the principal.
 
He will learn that, and he will learn some other lessons as well: I am bad.
This place doesn’t work for me. Everyone else (especially the girls) seem to be able to do all this. I must be stupid.
 
Adults like to say the child is “making bad choices.” Young boys are naturally impulsive. They act first and think later. The impulse control center develops later in boys than it does in girls – thus making girls appear more compliant.
 
The other place where the “trouble” comes is in reading and writing – skills which generally develop later in boys than they do in girls. When boys have trouble with reading and writing, they compare themselves to others in the class and conclude “I’m stupid.”
 
The solutions are simple:
  1. Allow squirming (if it’s not negatively affecting anyone else)
  2. Allow standing up while doing school work
  3. Create opportunities for movement
  4. Anticipate and manage impulsive behaviour
  5. Understand the developmental differences between boys and girls
  6. Show empathy and compassion for boys who are struggling in school
  7. Don’t shame, punish or medicate normal boy behaviour

Here’s a simple idea! One School Council made this their fundraising activity.

Stationary Bikes in the Classroom. CBC The Current

bikes-classroom-20160309

 

Four Promises to Myself for a New School Year

There are a couple of things I want to do differently this year. Now is the time to decide what they are.

shutterstock_303844640

1.  I will not let homework ruin our family evenings.

Life is too short to let homework ruin my relationship with my kids. If I had to bring home that much work from work, I wouldn’t be happy doing it either. My child is right. They’ve put in 6 or 7 hours at school. Why should they have to do another hour or two?

Show empathy. Don’t take the side of school. Be on your child’s side – literally. Many kids work better with an adult sitting beside them redirecting their focus. That’s OK. They haven’t developed “regulation of attention” for things they find boring. They will. 

In case of emergency, download this tip sheet: Homework Tips for Extreme Non-Compliance

2.  I will use this change of routine to change our family’s routine around screen time.

During the summer, I let a lot of things go. I forgive myself. With the new school year starting I have the chance to re-introduce some limits.

Researchers recommend a maximum of one hour for a single session of game play and a maximum of 2 hours of screen time for every 5 hours of free time. That might boil down to an hour before dinner and an hour after dinner. Homework must be done first. No screens a half hour before bedtime. No screens in bed. Be firm, fair and consistent. Discuss these limits at a family meeting (dinner) before school starts,

Download this template which I’ve posted previously. Video Game Schedule. Edit it to suit your own situation and post it on the fridge door.

3. I will keep the spirit of summer alive.

Why does going back to school mean not having any more fun? Life doesn’t need to be binge and purge. Let’s have some kind of fun every day – however small! We still have our weekends. Every weekend I will do something fun with my kids and something I enjoy myself – however small!

Adults talk about having a healthy work-life balance. Kids need a healthy school-life balance. For children, life means play – and play doesn’t have to just mean screen time. It can also mean getting outdoors. Fall is a great time for hiking or biking local trails. Google “trails in your town.”

4. I will not let school define my child.

I will not let test marks, report cards or teacher comments make me think my child is somehow a failure or I am somehow a failure. My child is not a “student” to me. This is my baby. I love him no matter what. There is no judgement school could pass on him that would make me love him any less. He is perfect. School measures people with marks and “comments.” I only have one way of measuring my child – by how much I love him. 

I work with many kids who have been “labelled.” There is nothing wrong with having a child’s cognitive exceptionality identified, but no label or assessment can sum up a child’s nature.  All children are gifted with a unique nature. Honour the nature of your child.

What Your Child Means When They Say “I Hate You!”

When children become angry and frustrated with us, it usually has to do with issues of power and control.

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We are always trying to strike a balance between controlling and managing our children on the one hand and giving them the freedom to decide for themselves on the other.

All children are looking for autonomy. They want to be their own boss. This is a good thing. We want to raise children who are self-starting, self-directing and self-regulating. How do we get there? By giving our children freedom of choice and the responsibility that comes with it.

All behaviour is logical. A parent’s job is to try to figure out the logic behind a particular behaviour.

When kids say, “I hate you” it could simply mean they feel a loss of power and control. In this situation all they have left is their “attitude” – which they express through words and actions.

Viktor Frankl, the great Austrian psychologist who survived the concentration camps of Nazi Germany said,

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

This is what kids are doing when they say “I hate you.” They are choosing an attitude that will leave them with some remaining sense of power and control in a situation where they feel they have none. It can be seen as a positive and healthy reaction to the limitations they honestly feel.

The only question parents have to ask is: Are the limitations I am imposing on my child reasonable – or are they arbitrary? Are they for the benefit of the child, or am I just satisfying my own need for power and control?

Barbara Coloroso suggests three questions parents can ask themselves when deciding to say yes or no:

  1. Is it harmful to yourself?
  2. Is it harmful to someone else?
  3. Does it violate a moral code?

“I hate you.” Big words for big feelings.

These words are not to be taken as an overall assessment of your relationship. They are the child’s way of dealing with strong feelings. The wise adult needs to understand what’s behind these words, not punish them, fear them or feel guilty about them. Your child doesn’t hate you. Your child loves you and feels safe enough to tell you what they really feel.

What is the appropriate response?

“I can see you’re angry. I understand your frustration, but this is a decision I have to make.”

When the child has a meltdown on the kitchen floor or runs into their room and slams the door, we just have to wait until the storm passes. Let the child have their feelings. There is nothing to be cured, stopped, solved or punished. It’s messy for a while, but it will pass. Deep down the child knows you care.

But the most important fundamental question remains: Are your limitations fair and reasonable or are they an arbitrary exercise of your own power and need for control? Could you just as well have said yes or arrived at some kind of compromise? Freedom teaches responsibility. Excessive control teaches learned helplessness and passivity.

 

 

What is the one thing all men want?

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Men want what women want – love. Love does not mean sex. It means connection. Where does the myth come from that “men only want one thing” meaning sex?

It comes from the way we raise boys.

Boys start out as touchers and feelers and lovers. Over time, they slowly learn to shut all this down.

Girls and women are permitted, even encouraged, to be nurturing. The words “male” and “nurturing” are seldom used together. Boys and men are raised to be uncomfortable with touch, with their own feelings and the feelings of others.

As they grow into adolescence, all desire for love, connection and touch become reduced to genital sex. This is how you show love, and you can only “do it” with women. All other expressions of nurturance become suspect.

Sebastian Junger, in his book, Tribe: On Homecoming, says the thing men value most in war is not the pleasure of killing other people but the pleasure of close connection with other men. Men bond in battle in a way they bond nowhere else. Soldiers report that their main goal in combat is to protect and take care of each other. He believes the high rate of PTSD and suicide among veterans is caused by the loss of deep connection upon returning home to the isolation all men experience in North American culture.

A panel of five authors who have all closely studied the life of Donald Trump and each written a major biography about him was asked “What really motivates Donald Trump? What is he looking for?” All five authors answered the same way in one word – love. He was raised by an emotionally absent father, sent to an authoritarian military school at an impressionable age, and has been looking for attention, affirmation and love ever since.

To say that men are only interested in sex is like saying women are only interested in hair and make-up.

Men have as broad a range of interests as women do, but they share one deep core need with women – the need to connect. And not just with women, but with other men and their own children.

When this need is not met, men’s lives are reduced to a lonely, harsh world of one upmanship. They turn to work, money and possessions to find meaning. They numb themselves with video games, alcohol and drugs.

We need a men’s liberation movement lead by men who are able to express love in all the ways women do. Men need to claim their capacity for nurturance.

Media and popular culture depict men as violent, irresponsible, sex-obsessed predators. Men need to talk back to these images of themselves and redefine what it means to be a man – kind, nurturing, loving.

When your son shows sensitivity and nurturing behaviour, honour it. It is not weak or feminine. It is one of his greatest strengths. It’s what will make him resilient. Shutting down emotions and acting tough do not make a person stronger. They make a person weaker.

 

10 Things Every Boy Would Like to Say to His Mother

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1. I love you

I don’t say this in words because I don’t think words have that much power. I prefer actions. When I do something nice for you that means I love you. Usually I just think it or feel it and that’s enough for me. I forget that you want to hear it. Sorry about that. I’ll learn this when I get older. In the meantime, trust me – I love you. How could I not? You’re my mother!

2.  I need to move

Don’t always be worried that I’m going to hurt myself or break something or make you look bad by being so squirmy. I need to move, and my movements are not always predictable. That’s the way I’m made. Work with it. I’m not going to bang into anything or anybody. Stop worrying. Enjoy my need for movement. It’s how I enjoy life. It makes me happy to move.

3.  Don’t freak out

When you yell, I get scared and nervous. When I tell you something and you yell, it reminds me not to tell you things. I keep them to myself because I’m afraid you’ll freak out. I want to be able to tell you everything, but I need you to be able to handle it without scaring me. When you’re stressed, I get stressed.

4.  Sometimes you talk too much

You’re better at words than I am. Words take me a bit of time and energy. I like short sentences. I can take that in. But sometimes you talk in paragraphs – many paragraphs – and I just can’t take all that in. At the beginning, I think I know what you’re saying, but after all those words come out, I’m not sure what the point is anymore.

5.  Sometimes I need to talk back

I want to be my own boss. This doesn’t mean I’m bad or stubborn.  You’re your own boss. I want to be like you someday. I don’t talk back unless I feel there’s a good reason. Don’t shut me down. Help me to be honest, and help me to think through my anger. I will need to talk back to people in my life when I don’t like what they’re doing. Let me practice with you.

6.  School is boring sometimes

Don’t worry when I say this. It doesn’t mean I’m going to be a failure. It’s just how I feel. I’ll learn to deal with it, but it’s nice to be able to say it out loud. I can’t say it at school. Don’t try to talk me out of this feeling or convince me that I’m wrong. Just listen.

7.  I need to hug and snuggle

I don’t always ask for it, and I don’t even know sometimes that I need it, but I do. Like I said before, words don’t have that much power for me. Actions – especially touching –  is super powerful. That’s how I know I’m loved. That’s how I know I’m worth something. Words can lie. It’s hard to lie with a hug.

8.  Don’t criticize my video games

I don’t criticize your interests or hobbies. I like to see when you are passionate about something and know a lot about it. That’s how video games are for me. Let me tell you about them. They’re interesting and fun. I will admit that sometimes I do need help getting off them. They just pull me in and I can’t do it myself.

9. Take care of yourself

When you’re happy and healthy, Mom, I feel more happy and healthy. I love to hear you laugh. It makes me relax. When you take care of yourself, it’s like you’re taking care of me somehow. When you focus too much on taking care of me, you seem worried and stressed, and I feel like there’s something wrong – either with you or me. I’m not sure.

10. When I act like I’m embarrassed by you, don’t take it seriously

I might not admit it, but there is a part of me that likes when you do things that nobody else does. I feel like adults are all acting the same way sometimes, and at school, all the kids have to act a certain way. When I see you being different or standing up for something, it makes me happy. It’s you being you – and it makes me realize that I can be me.

 

 

 

Redefining Masculinity

In the age of Donald Trump, the question of strong positive masculinity has never been more relevant.

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Donald Trump represents a form of masculinity from the past that is slowly dying. It values aggression, competition and humiliation of others to gain power and control (also known as bullying). Donald Trump is a “strong” man because he shouts, attacks those who disagree with him and seems to be incapable of compassion or self-criticism.

Boys need strong positive men in their lives who model what’s next in their development. Mothers can model many things, but they simply cannot model mature masculinity.

In the past 50 years, women have completely redefined what it means to be female. One of the main ways this happened was through the power of role models – women who had the courage to step outside their gender stereotypes. We need men who will do the same.

Women went through a collective discussion of what it means to be a woman. Men need to do the same among themselves. Many men have been left confused and sometimes angry in the wake of feminism. Donald Trump represents a nostalgia for what men once were. When he says “Make America Great Again” he means “Make America White and Male again.”

The Trump phenomenon represents a teachable moment. When we watch him on TV with our children, we could discuss openly what is wrong with his message and his tone. It is particularly important that fathers be involved in this discussion because boys need to hear from Dad what he thinks makes a good man.

20 Characteristics Of A Strong Man

  1. He has his own set of values and shares these with his children.
  2. He is seen acting according to these values.
  3. He reflects on his experience and is open to learning from his experience.
  4. He takes responsibility for his commitments (marriage, children, and job).
  5. He is socially engaged.
  6. He models respect for all women.
  7. He models respect for all people (including those of different races, cultures, and creeds).
  8. He puts relationships ahead of material possessions.
  9. He spends time with his wife.
  10. He spends time with his children.
  11. He pursues his own interests.
  12. He is connected to the natural world and leads his children there.
  13. He pays attention to his own elders and passes on what has value.
  14. He prepares to become an elder himself someday.
  15. He laughs and has fun.
  16. He takes care of his own health.
  17. He is affectionate.
  18. He is comfortable in his own body.
  19. He is comfortable with the bodies of his children.
  20. He enjoys nurturing touch.

From Raising Emotionally Healthy Boys by Michael Reist

This is the best website for the project of redefining masculinity!

Good Men

Also check out…

Spur Festival 

Redefining Masculinity

Saturday, April 9 @ 5 p.m.

Al Green Theatre at the Miles Nadal JCC

750 Spadina Avenue

Spur

A panel discussion with 

Michael Reist

Rachel Giese

Jordan Peterson

Jeff Perera

Bardia Sinaee

Masculine 2

How to Manage Your Child’s Gaming

Don’t let video games ruin your family life or your relationship with your child. Don’t give games that much power.shutterstock_179625212 (2)

Family relationships can be damaged by screen time. Evenings are spent nagging and yelling and often end up in a silent standoff where one side wins but nobody wins. It’s like a bad video game.

What are many parents honestly feeling about video games?

  • I feel like I’m losing my connection with my child
  • I feel like I’m losing control of my child
  • I feel that other aspects of my child’s life, like school, are suffering
  • I feel like our family life is suffering
  • I’m worried about the long-term effects of gaming

If we’re really honest, we might also add:

  • Screens are a great way of occupying my child while I get other things done
  • I don’t understand the attraction of video games myself
  • I like Candy Crush, Pinterest and Facebook

These feelings are all valid and the concerns are real, but they can end up clouding our vision about what needs to be done.

Video games are here to stay. They are a feast of what the male brain loves – looking and moving through space (visual-spatial skill). We need to decide what our relationship with technology is going to be, and we need to help our kids do the same. Screens are not evil. They just require a conscious response.

What’s the problem?

  • letting emotion rule over logic
  • communication
  • balance
  • shared parenting

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What’s the solution?

1. Adopt a logical approach. No nagging, shaming or yelling. Too much of anything isn’t good for you. Nobody would argue with that. Balance your technology diet the same way you would balance your food diet. Experts recommend a maximum of one hour at a sitting for intense interactive screen time and a maximum of two one-hour sessions for every 5 hours of free time. If your kids are doing less, that’s even better.

2.  Communication must be open and democratic. Have a family meeting where you discuss the issues when everyone is feeling good. (See fact sheet below). Come up with rules and consequences that everyone buys into and post them on the fridge door. Have an evening schedule and post it on the fridge door – a central communal location where there are no power struggles – just the agreed facts for all to see. 

3. Why does this seem to be a particular issue for mothers? “It’s my Mom who’s always going on about it. My Dad doesn’t care.” Dad needs to be on board. Boys need positive male role modelling around the issue of self-regulation. It’s not fair to make Mom the policeman who ends up having all the arguments. Kids need firm, fair, consistent boundaries – from both parents.

4. Most of the arguments around video games revolve around coming off. This is called transitioning, and males find it harder to do than females. Boys hyperfocus. They need lots of warnings and transition time. The plane is flying high and fast, and it needs a long runway to land and come to a stop. If the plane just won’t come to a stop, then turn off the WiFi. (See the article below on hyperfocusing).

5. If not video games, then what? What is your family’s lifestyle going to be? We can normalize certain activities like going outside. What is your family’s normal? If parents don’t decide, Microsoft, Sony and Apple Corporation will decide for you. When they do come off the video game be ready for the boredom cry! You can fill the vacuum yourself, or you can challenge your kids to fill the vacuum themselves. Remember, that vacuum use to be called life.

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Stick to the Facts

Here are some facts you can use at your family meeting. There are 7 for each side of the argument. Let’s be fair – video games are not evil. Show respect for your child’s interests, and remember to have a sense of humour!

7 Good Things About Video Games

  • Gaming is a valid social activity
  • Video games are stories. More people use video games than books, movies and television combined. The stories may be formulaic, but so are most movies and TV shows.
  • Video games relieve stress
  • Video games provide an emotional outlet
  • They exercise the visual-spatial regions of the brain
  • They can contain excellent graphic art
  • Educators are increasingly using games and “game theory” in education

7 Bad Things About Video Games

  • They shorten attention spans for non-visual stimuli
  • They do not exercise language development (speaking, reading and writing)
  • They take away from opportunities for movement and exercise
  • They take away from opportunities to experience nature
  • They can take up large blocks of time
  • They take away from family time
  • They can be addictive

Here is a sample schedule created for a 12-year-old boy who was playing about 4 hours each night. He has karate on Monday and piano on Wednesday. The schedule was agreed on by everyone. Feel free to copy and edit this document for your own use.

Download Video Game Schedule

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The Future of Gaming

In 2016 gaming will take a huge leap forward with several major corporations launching full immersion virtual reality games for the mass market. For a preview, look at these two sites.

Playstation

Oculus

Hyperfocusing

Here is an interesting article on the connection between hyperfocusing, ADD and gaming.

Healthline

Parenting Resources

For more parenting strategies around the gaming issue, read:

Raising Emotionally Healthy Boys

Raising Boys in a New Kind of World

Share this article on your social media or forward it to any parents you know.

Neurodiversity: The New Normal

We have learned to talk about cultural diversity, gender diversity and biodiversity. Now we can include the term neurodiversity.

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People diagnosed with autism have challenged us to stop talking about “having” autism as though it was a disease. We now talk about the autism spectrum – which we are all on to some degree. We could apply the same approach to ADD/ADHD. We all have issues with regulating attention.

There are lots of ability spectrums we could put ourselves on. We are moving away from talking about “disorders” that we “have” or “don’t have” – like diseases – to just talking about the way we’re made. There is no one way that a brain should function. All brains are different, and there are many ways of being smart.

There is no such thing as normal.

When we talk about normal, we are simply talking about the largest part of the bell curve – the percentage of a population into which the greatest number fits.

Standard_deviation_diagram.svgSchool is designed for kids in the middle of the bell curve. The most successful students are those who fall into the normal range in the two areas school rewards most – math and language. They are the ones who get called smart and get to think of themselves as smart. They are not better. They are lucky.

“I’m the dumbest kid in the class.”

I hear this line from some of the most intelligent kids I work with. They can talk about politics, music, history, computers, video games or relationships at an incredibly sophisticated level. They are knowledgeable and skilled in many areas, but they struggle in school where language and math are the main indicators of intelligence and success.

We know about multiple intelligences, but we don’t honour them equally.

Multiple-intelligence

What can I do as a parent?

As parents, we are in a unique position to honour the whole child, not just their “word smarts” and their “logic smarts.” We know where their strengths lie, and we cannot let the assessment of school be the final word. Our child is more than the grades they get on tests and report cards.

Encourage your child’s personal interests and abilities through extra-curricular activities or independently. Adopt a strengths-based perspective rather than focusing on remediating weaknesses. Wherever they end up in life, let it be because their strengths were honoured rather than their weaknesses judged.

How could school be re-arranged to honour neurodiversity?

  • Identify each child’s learning style and modify teaching and assessment accordingly
  • Open up the curriculum to focus on more than math and language
  • Give just as much importance to the arts and hands-on activities
  • Give children more opportunities to move around
  • Give children more opportunities to experience nature (If only in a playground redesigned to be a natural setting rather than a concrete slab beside a large lawn)
  • Move away from standardized testing as a way of measuring success and failure
  • Allow children to specialize in their areas of strength (We don’t have to be good at everything)
  • Address the emotional well-being of students, not just their academic acheivement

Forward this article to any parent, teacher or administrator you know who is concerned about kids. (See the share buttons at the bottom of this post).

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Here is the latest book on neurodiversity

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Here is a must-visit website.
Some of you will already know the great children’s singer Raffi!

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Here is an incredible blog written by a 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. Have a look at some of his posts.

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     DON’T MOURN FOR US

by Jim Sinclair

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Here is the text of a presentation given by Jim Sinclair at the 1993 International Conference on Autism in Toronto, addressed primarily to parents. In it he challenges us to think differently about all labels.

How To Talk To Kids About Terrorism

During times of crisis people reveal who they really are. We are living through such a crisis right now as terrorism spreads around the world, and we see the whole spectrum of responses – from empathy and kindness to hatred and fear. Where do we fall on this spectrum? Our kids are looking to us to make sense of it all.

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A tiny minority of Muslims would identify themselves as radical jihadists, and yet Muslims around the world and in our own communities are being attacked or discriminated against just because they look like the terrorists shown on TV.

In school, our kids learn about people who helped slaves in the last century, who helped Jews escape the Nazis, who marched in the civil rights movement. We honor people who were on the right side of history. We shake our heads in disgust at those who were cruel and close-minded. We are living in a time when we are being asked to make similar choices. What side of history will we be on? Will we hold on to our principles of empathy and kindness or will we succumb to the fear of the mob?

Compare terrorism to something kids understand – bullying

Taping a fight.

Kids experience their own version of low-level terrorism. It’s called bullying. What is bullying? The use of fear and intimidation to gain power and control. This turns out to be a good definition of terrorism. To talk to kids about terrorism we could talk about it as bullying on a global scale. The world is like a giant schoolyard, and the terrorists are like the bullies.

There are a couple of things we know about bullies that are also true of terrorists. If we remind our kids and ourselves of these things, the bully is no longer so scary.

  • They have suffered in some way
  • They feel a lack of power and control in their lives
  • They try to make themselves feel stronger by making others feel weaker
  • The bully is the weakest kid in the schoolyard
  • The bully wins when all the other kids live in fear
  • The bully wins when the kids who see it don’t say or do anything

We need to respond to terrorism the same way we respond to bullying. We can punish the bully, but we need to understand the bully as well. We need to look at the causes. Where are all these bullies coming from? If we had this many bullies in a schoolyard doing this much damage, we wouldn’t just keep sending them all to the office. We wouldn’t equip all the kids in the schoolyard with weapons to fight back. We wouldn’t punish all the kids who look like the bully. We would start to ask deeper questions. We would start listening to them. We probably should have started doing that long ago.

Responses to terrorism

  • Justice for those who are oppressed thereby alleviating the situations in the world that create terrorists
  • Peace-making through words as a solution to conflict in the form of multi-lateral negotiations
  • Love of one’s neighbor no matter what their race, creed or gender
  • Empathy and respect – even for bullies

What do adults tell kids to do about bullying? Use your words not your fists. We need to take our own advice. Bombs are not the answer. Every time a bomb is dropped in the Middle East, it creates a hundred new terrorists.

What can I say to my child about the Muslim religion?

The Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths all descend from one common ancestor – Abraham –  who lived around 4,000 years ago. All three religions see Abraham as the first person to establish a relationship with Yahweh, God or Allah – three names for the same “person.”

Use the metaphor of a tree

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If we think of it as a family tree, it started with the Jews (who believed that God made a special covenant with Abraham), then a new branch formed from that central trunk called Christians (who believed that Jesus was the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for) and then another branch grew from the same central trunk called Muslims (who believed that Mohammed was the last in a line of great prophets that included Abraham and Jesus). These are the three great monotheistic religions (those who believe in one God) in the world today. They are all branches of the same tree. They have their roots in the same earth, and the branches are reaching for the light of the same sun.

All three groups are seeking truth. All three groups preach the power of love, peace and justice. Throughout history there have been people who have used all three of these beautiful religions to justify violent actions, and that is happening again right now.

We can talk to our kids about terrorism by comparing it to bullying. We can also model for our kids a way of dealing with bullies – showing empathy and not letting emotions rule over reason. If we don’t do these things, we run two risks – the risk of letting the bully win and the risk of becoming bullies ourselves.

Too Many Kids Are Suffering At School

Where are empathy and compassion in our schools?

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This recent e-mail is typical of the hundreds I get from distraught mothers. 

“Today was not a good day and the reason for my email. We were called to the school where he had overturned pretty much everything.  It was like we were looking at someone else’s child.  And he kept repeating he was a “bad boy.” It was heartbreaking. I was not aware that his teacher is not able to remove him from the room. Instead they are trained to remove the entire class…We are really struggling to find the right course of action for him.  The school is going to have a speech pathologist come in to see if he is struggling with language and speech.  We have made appointments to have his hearing & sight tested just to rule it out.  My gut tells me there is a disconnect with his classroom teacher and maybe a combination of him struggling with worksheets and more structure.  I really don’t know, all we know is this is not the boy we see at home.”

The only thing missing from this e-mail is the recommendation that he be put on medication. I’m sure that suggestion will be made eventually. The solution is always a technical one – professional specialists or medication. It is never a human one. This five-year-old boy needs empathy and compassion. He needs to be held. No one is listening to the mother’s “gut.”

Are teachers to blame for this situation? It’s more complicated than that. We all know there are good teachers and bad teachers. A good teacher has empathy and compassion. You feel for the child, and you act on those feelings. A good teacher doesn’t let institutions get in the way of their humanity.

Unfortunately, teachers become the product of policies, systems and procedures that they feel compelled to follow. Teachers have imbibed more than anyone the central lesson of school:

“Do what you’re told, and don’t talk back.”

Fear keeps people silent. Parents fear their child will be disadvantaged somehow if they speak up too much. Teachers have even more fear.

Students and teachers at The College School for brochures and the website.

They live under the shadow of administrators whose goal is to make the school look good. Administrators, in turn, obey their own superiors. It is a completely top-down system where no one is allowed to talk back, where we are all just following orders.

Kids have no organization to represent their interests – other than mothers and fathers. Teachers do, but even this protection comes at a cost. Teachers are given strict instructions from their unions about what they can and cannot do or say. They are constantly coached about how to protect themselves.

Over arching all these systems of control are professional governing bodies with the power to discipline teachers. At any moment a teacher can be accused of any number of things and submitted to a ritual of public shaming made even more efficient by social media. Fear rules teachers lives, and kids are the ones who suffer.

“If a child comes toward me crying, I was instructed to put my hands in the air.”

Are you saying we should get rid of accountability and transparency? I am saying we need to balance them with humanity – with empathy and compassion. Systems are set up to serve us and safeguard us. When they begin to hurt us and hurt our children, we need to do something we weren’t taught how to do in school – talk back.

Amanda-Whiteman-2

Half of all new teachers leave the profession within the first five years. They report that the culture of school is just too oppressive. There is no tolerance for creativity or innovation. There is no place for human connection. Empathy and compassion are not just ignored; they are frowned upon. And this is the environment into which we send our kids. They can’t quit in the first five years.

What is the solution? Individuals. In the age of conformity and herd behavior, we need individuals who will stand up and speak out – teachers, parents and administrators who will talk back to systems based on fear and have the courage to connect authentically with children.

Advice for administrators

Question policies and procedures that are not kid friendly – that are put in place on the advice of insurance companies to avoid litigation. Schools can practice due diligence without shutting down our humanity.

Advice for unions

Do more than protect teachers’ interests. Protect children’s interests too.

Advice for professional governing bodies

You were set up to “protect the public interest.” Don’t just protect the interests of the fearful public, but the compassionate, progressive public as well.

Advice for teachers

You have as much freedom, humanity and compassion as you claim for yourself. Do not let fear, instilled by systems and institutions, rule your decisions.

Advice for parents

Keep talking back to school – teachers and administrators at all levels. You can be a powerful voice for children’s rights – your own child and all children. Listen to your gut. Always be on the side of your child.

How Do I Motivate My Child?

Psychologists tell us there are two kinds of motivation: intrinsic (coming from inside) and extrinsic (coming from outside). Extrinsic motivation usually takes the form of rewards or punishments. It works with little kids who sometimes need an incentive to do things they don’t see the value of.

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We need to help our kids move from external motivation to internal motivation.

How do we do this? By letting go. When kids reach an age when they are able to see the consequences of their actions, take a step back. Let them begin to take charge of their own lives. We teach responsibility through freedom and natural consequences.

Many parents get stuck in the time-honored technique of external control known as nagging.

“I have to push him.”
“I’m always ‘on him’ about getting things done.”

This might be good preparation for an assembly line worker or a galley ship rower, but it’s poor preparation for adulthood. Employers want adults who are self-motivated, self-directed and self-regulating. No boss wants someone they have to be ‘on’ all the time.

People become what they are perceived to be. We can instill a negative narrative, “You’re lazy and need to be pushed” or a positive narrative, “You’re a capable, responsible person who knows what needs to be done.”

Things you can say to your child to promote self-directedness:

  • “It’s your choice.”
  • “You decide.”
  • “I trust your judgment.”
  • “Let me know if you need any help.”

Natural consequences are the best teacher. When kids are young, they are not always able to see the consequences of their actions, so we protect them. That’s the way it should be.

But many parents carry on this protective role too long, so kids never learn how to accept responsibility for their own actions and take charge of their own lives. In our attempt to protect our children from negative experiences, we rob them of some of life’s greatest lessons.

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Homework and studying are the two biggest battle grounds where the issue of motivation is played out.

Option 1: Natural consequences. If I don’t do my homework or study, I will fall behind and possibly fail. (Sometimes failing is the necessary prerequisite for learning to take greater responsibility.)

Option 2: Nagging. The child shuts down and turns off. The parent ends up wanting it more than the child does. When we push too hard, the result can be counter-will. “I’m not going to do it because it’s what you want me to do.”

Nagging is rooted in our need for control and fear – fear that my child will fail. When we try too hard to control, our fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need to trust our kids and give them loving support. Love sees the best in a child, not the worst. People become what they are perceived to be – capable, responsible, trustworthy.

Talking Back to Perfectionism

The perfect body, the perfect house, the perfect child.

Perfectionism affects all of us, and it is taking its toll on our children, our relationships, our health, our politics and the environment.

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Many children suffer from perfectionism. They stress about getting it right, about being the best, about not disappointing Mom and Dad. The other form perfectionism can take is underachieving. If I don’t try, I can’t fail.

Where do our children learn perfectionism?

Perfectionism used to be fueled by organized religion which held up a model of perfection that no one ever felt they could achieve. We were all sinners from birth.

Today consumerism has taken over the job of defining perfection. You are what you buy, and you will be judged by what you buy. You will also be judged by how you look (which can be improved by what you buy).

School also teaches perfectionism. Kids feel that their performance is constantly being evaluated, and the standard is 100% which no one ever achieves.

Finally, if we’re really honest with ourselves, they can pick up perfectionism from us – parents who are victims of the same epidemic.

Perfectionism is driven by shame and fear.

Humans are social animals and one of the ways we keep each other in line is through shame. Like school yard bullies, we criticize, mock and degrade anyone who falls outside our social norms. More subtle forms of shaming include gossip and all the little judgments we pass on each other every day.

This is where fear comes in. We fear that the same kinds of judgments will be passed on us. And so the illness begins. Fit in at all costs. Perfectionism is really about conformity.

How do we talk back to perfectionism?

Here are some things we can say to our children, but we need to believe and practice these attitudes ourselves!

  • Dare to be different. There is no one right way to be (weight, appearance, intelligence, personality). It is OK to be different. In fact, it is good to be different.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. There will always be people with more possessions, intelligence, whatever. It doesn’t matter.
  • The only person you need to compare yourself to is yourself. Are you growing, learning, changing for the better?
  • Your value as a person does not depend on your performance or your appearance.
  • You do not have to accept the judgments (real or imagined) that others pass on you.
  • Talk back to media images of perfection: beauty product ads, home renovation shows, bridal magazines – the list is endless.
  • Avoid shaming language: How could you? What were you thinking? Is that the best you can do?
Perfectionism and procrastination

Perfectionism can lead to procrastination – rooted in fear that the outcome will be less than perfect. “Any job worth doing is worth doing poorly.” As a perfectionist, when I first heard this, it drove me crazy. No way is that true! The older I get, the more I see the truth in it. It lets the perfectionist off the hook. It calls the perfectionist’s bluff. Just do it. Don’t use the fact that it might not be perfect be an excuse for doing nothing. Do something – even if it’s not perfect.

 

 

Beyond Fundraising

Schools need parents to create change

As we begin a new school year, parents will receive newsletters from school with information about what’s going on, what’s coming up and maybe even an invitation to participate in some way. My advice – get in there!

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Schools are like dysfunctional families. They exist in a kind of bubble where they create their own reality and come to believe in their own definition of “normal.” Dysfunctional families behave better when visitors are over. What schools need are more visitors from the outside world – reality checks – and parents can be that.

No shame and blame

In every school there are great teachers and every board has its great principals, but there are still too many dysfunctional situations. Schools need to be challenged – not attacked and criticized – but spoken to in a rational, adult way about the choices they are making – about technology, about rules, about so many aspects of our kids’ day-to-day lives.

Here is a list of questions I have received from parents:

• Why are they learning from blurry, disconnected photocopies instead of textbooks?
• Why are they watching Disney movies in grade 3?
• Why do they take away recess as a punishment?
• Why are they so quick to suggest medication for my son?
• Why is EQAO causing so much stress?
• Why are kids not allowed to run or use a ball at recess?
• Why does our playground look like an abandoned parking lot?
• Why is my child still being bullied even after I’ve reported it?
• Why does my child say he hates his teacher?
• How can I get my child to like school?

Parents “hand their kids over” to the school system, and then feel shut out. Too many parents do not feel welcome in their schools or feel like they are simply being tolerated or patronized. Others simply keep quiet out of fear of repercussions for their child.

Parent councils too often are just token illusions of involvement. At the monthly meeting, parents are told what is going on in the school, but they are seldom asked for their input, and any input they do give is seldom acted upon. Parents come out in September eager to have an impact on their child’s education, and within a few meetings realize that this is just going to be about fundraising.

Parents need to be part of the discussion about how money is spent, curriculum priorities and school culture. What makes a great school? Ownership and a common core vision. This can only happen through meaningful discussion and participation.

The principal dictates what happens in the school and the teacher dictates what happens in the classroom. Too often our schools resemble small dictatorships. They need to become more democratic. That means more parental input at the local level.

Have meaningful discussions

• In every school there are great teachers who feel the same way you do. They are often parents themselves. Get to know them and support them.
• Get to know your child’s teacher on a personal level and have meaningful discussions about education and child development.
• Get to know your principal on a personal level and have meaningful discussions about school culture.
• Get to know other parents and find out what their concerns are.
• Discuss issues of concern to you – issues relating to your own child as well as issues affecting the whole school.
• Attend parent council meetings and make sure important core issues get discussed.
• Look for follow up on these discussions – what has changed?
• Challenge items on the agenda that are trivial or don’t really create change.
• Does your school use social media? Is there a way you can open up discussion there?
• Don’t be afraid to say what you think. There are many parents who feel the same way you do.
• Don’t allow yourself to be written off as a crazy parent. The vocal parent is sometimes isolated and ignored.
• Adopt a thoughtful, patient, intelligent, respectful approach – and don’t go away.

THINK before you speak. Is what I’m going to say…

T     Thoughtful
H    Honest
I      Intelligent
N     Necessary
K     Kind

If it meets these criteria, then speak. It is the only way things will change.

(In many American schools, parents have been incredible agents of change – transforming individual schools and whole school districts. Rent the 2012 movie “Won’t Back Down” with Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Holly Hunter. (It’s on Netflix) Based on real events in California, it shows how parents can change schools.)

“I don’t want to go back!”

Let’s not forget what we learned this summer. We learned who our boys are without school.

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If we were lucky, we saw our boys as they are in nature. We saw our boys as they are with unstructured play. They may have complained about boredom at times, but we had the chance to see them as relaxed kids who were free and natural and happy. We have to remember that this is who our boys really are.

The great educational theorist, John Holt, said, “In school, we do not see children as they are. We see them as school reveals them to us.” This past summer we got to see who our boys really are. They love to move, they love to have fun, they love to laugh, and they love to have the freedom to be themselves with all their spontaneous, wonderful energy!

Now it’s time to go back into “the system.” Let’s remember that it is a system; it is not a natural environment. Some kids manage OK in school; some actually like it, but for many – especially boys – school is not a pleasant place. A.S. Neill asked the fundamental question, “Do we make the child fit the school or do we make the school fit the child?” In our school system today, the child is expected to fit the school. “Sit still, be quiet, and do what you’re told.” We must work to make the school fit the child. Eventually our schools will become more boy-friendly. Parents will become more active in advocating for change, and teachers will become better trained in gender differences. But we’re not there yet. So how can I help my child this fall?

7 Tips for transitioning back:

1. Mental rehearsal. Talk about the first days of school. Talk through the routines of morning and dinner time, of homework time and bedtime. Part of this will be a discussion about how can we manage these times better than we have in the past, but just as important is the mental rehearsal. When children have a mental picture of how a process will “look,” they will find it easier to comply.

2. Get to know your child’s teacher as a person. Don’t wait until there are problems. Establish a positive rapport early on, so that if you do need to talk to the teacher about anything more serious, you will be talking to someone you know and get along with.

3. Always be on the side of the child. When your child expresses frustration, boredom or anxiety, don’t try to talk your child out of their feelings. Just listen. “I hear you.” Let them keep talking. That is how they work their feelings out. Do not take the side of the school against the child. You are always the child’s number one ally, providing coaching and strategies but most importantly affirmation – best expressed in the form of a hug!

4. Have a routine. Have backpacks and clothes ready the night before. Do homework at the same time and place every night. Bedtime rituals such as a bath, pyjamas, teeth brushing, reading with Mom or Dad are all visual and tactile cues that signal it’s time to “come down.”

5. Have a family policy around screen time. No electronics until homework is done. No electronics in bed. Recharge devices overnight in Mom and Dad’s room. Two one-hour sessions of screen time would be a reasonable maximum between getting home and bedtime.

6. Read to your kids! The printed word still rules at school. Only 21% of children in grade 3 report that they read together with a parent on a regular basis. Reading together is bonding and stimulates the parts of the brain that screens don’t.

7. Keep summer alive. Just because we’ve all gone back to the institutional routine, we don’t need to let that rule our lives. We can still have fun. We can still get out in nature. Every week end (and maybe some evenings too) can be a “little summer” – a chance to be free, spontaneous and relaxed. Stress is the number one issue in kids’ lives and the greatest obstacle to learning. Let’s keep summer alive during the whole year.