Difficult Topics, Easy Action Items, Elementary School, Parent Tips, Parent-Child Communication, School Advice, Social Life, The Happy Student Podcast

The Happy Student Podcast #91: Story Time: Using Stories to Decrease Fears

Getting kids to tell you stories about their day has numerous benefits! Better conversations, better relationships, and kids who feel comfortable coming to you when they need help. If you focus on positive questions, then you also get practice looking for the goods. And if you ask questions that are in line with your family motto, like “How were you kind today?” you show your kid that you value kindness and encourage them to act kind every day. Stories can also help kids develop better memory and it helps them make sense of their experiences, which can help reduce anxiety. But getting kids to open up to you about their day can be tough. Fireborn’s got some tips!

CHECK OUT THE EPISODE BELOW: 

[smart_podcast_player]

IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT…

Ways to get your child to open up about their day:

Change the question you are asking so that it naturally primes your kid to answer with more than one or two words. Instead of “How was your day?”, some options include:

  • What was the best part of your day?
  • What was the hardest or most challenging part of your day?
  • How were you kind today?
  • What did someone else do today that was nice?
  • In what way were you brave today?
  • What did you do today that was inclusive?
  • You can ask questions like what was the worst part of the day today or what was your least favorite class, I just prefer to focus on the positive stuff because our brains naturally focus on the negative stuff, so I like to give my brain more practice looking for those positives.
  • Try playing two truths and a lie, where your kid tells you two things that did happen that day and one thing that didn’t and you have to guess which one didn’t.
    • Gamifying the conversation like this may make your child more excited to participate.
  • You can get your kids to tell you more stories by telling them more stories yourself. This teaches your kid what kind of answer you are looking for when you ask how their day was.

Asking these types of questions encourages kids to specifically remember events that happened during the day and to tell you about those events.

Asking better questions leads to better conversations, better relationships, and kids who feel comfortable coming to you when they need help. If you focus on positive questions, then you also get practice looking for the goods. And if you ask questions that are in line with your family motto, like “How were you kind today?” you show your kid that you value kindness and encourage them to act kind every day.

You can get your kids to tell you more stories by telling them more stories yourself. This teaches your kid what kind of answer you are looking for when you ask how their day was.

What’s really great about asking these good questions or teaching kids how to respond with stories is that it gets kids to think about specific events that happened and to tell you about them, which helps your kid develop their memory muscles.

When we tell our story, it gives us time to reflect on what happened and make sense of it in a way that we may not have if we didn’t take the time to think about it again. So telling stories of our experiences helps us understand our past experiences, which then informs our present experiences as well. As your kids get older, the stories they tell and the meaning may get more complex.

Sometimes kids have bad experiences and don’t like to think about them, which makes talking about them very difficult. But the way we make sense of those experiences is through talking about them. Kids need to be able to tell their story about what happened so they can make sense of it and move on. You can help them tell that story too if they aren’t able to. The more your child can integrate and understand their scary experiences, the more experience they will have overcoming challenges in the future and the happier, less anxious they will be.

Resources:

Siegel, D. & T. Bryson. (2011). The Whole-Brain Child.New York: Random House.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode! Comment below or send us an email!

HERE’S HOW TO SUBSCRIBE & REVIEW

Want to be the first to know when a new episode is released? Click here to subscribe to The Happy Student on iTunes!

Podcast reviews are important to iTunes and the more reviews we can receive, the more likely we will be able to get our podcast and important messages in front of more parents! I would greatly appreciate if you clicked here and left a review letting me know your thoughts on this episode!

Social Life, The Happy Student Podcast

Helping Your Kid Make Friends with Dr. Emily Anastasio

School is a safer, happier place when you have friends. It’s no wonder that parents worry if their child is making friends. When their child seems to be overly pushy, constantly texting friends, or perhaps wants to be friends with someone who doesn’t seem to want to be friends with them, that can be really difficult for parents as they try to figure out how to best help their child. Neuropsychologist Dr. Emily Anastasio joins Fireborn to talk about how to help your child with these friendship dilemmas.

making friends

making friends

CHECK OUT THE EPISODE BELOW: 

[smart_podcast_player]

IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT…

Friends are super important to a happy academic and social life. School is a much safer, happier place when you have friends, making it much easier to thrive there. So it’s no wonder that parents worry about how their child is doing making friends.

It’s important to consider the stage of development the child is in to know how much you need to do.

  • At 3 years old children are transitioning from parallel play when they play alongside other kids to interactive play with the other children. These children are in the preoperational stage of cognitive development as they develop imagination and the ability to think about things symbolically. They aren’t really thinking logically yet.
    • If you don’t want your 3-year-old playing with a certain child, keep it simple. Suggest that your child asks to play the game he/she likes with another friend.
    • It’s a good learning experience at the age of 3. It’s all a matter of exploration at this age.
  • With an older child, you can talk to the child more about what they like about this other child. Talk about it in a nonjudgmental, curious way. Children are exploring friendships all the way into high school and will be in and out of relationships with other children, and that’s normal.
    • There’s always the possibility that your child can be the good role model for another child.

Are there specific things parents should do to help their children make friends?

  • First, ask yourself do I need to help my child make friends because children make friends naturally as long as they are around other children.
  • It’s often best if social skills instruction comes from a therapist or a social skills group leader rather than the parent because it can have a negative impact on the parent-child relationship.

Should parents push their kids to make playdates?

  • It’s best to simply encourage it as an option that you support. You can recommend that your child hang out with some friends.
    • The difference between pushing your child and encouraging your child to make playdates is that encouraging your child is more open-ended and nonjudgmental.
  • It is a good idea to invite friends from different aspects of your child’s life to gather and play at the same time.

What do you do if your child doesn’t seem to want to hang out with friends?

  • It depends on the age of the child.
    • Children who are in the preoperational stage are still somewhat young to seek out playdates. At this age a more casual meetup is ideal.
    • For older children have a more in-depth discussion to try to see if they can articulate something that’s holding them back. Otherwise, seek professional help.

What if your child is texting his/her friend too much and being too pushy about hanging out, can you help in this situation?

  • Before you start worrying about the need to address this, make sure your child is actually texting too much and it’s negatively affecting their social life.
    • Your child’s frequent messaging may be the new normal.
      • According to research, 1 in 3 teenagers reported texting over 100 text messages per day.
        • This roughly estimates to 10 minutes of verbal conversation.
      • Create phone free zones at home like the dinner table to establish reasonable, but firm limits on cell phone usage.
        • This helps foster more mindful phone usage.

Should you direct your child towards good influencers?

(This is really a matter of opinion.)

  • Don’t try to push your child towards good influencers. Children are very intuitive about things like this and know that it is not genuine.
  • This can also send the wrong message to your child that certain people are more preferable to friends because of grades, parental status, etc. You can’t assume that they understand your reasons for doing so.
  • It’s not likely to work because that’s not how real relationships work.
  • Try to give your child plenty of opportunities to meet as many different people as possible and learn from them. It’s great to have a diverse group of friends.

The moral of the story is we mostly have to let kids figure this friendship stuff out on their own even though it is really tough. Some things parents can do that aren’t too pushy or intrusive are talking about what kinds of games you could invite your friends to play with you, organizing informal meetups at the playground, teaching kids how to be mindful with their technology, and just giving them as many opportunities as possible to interact with as many other kids as possible so they can determine who they want to be friends with. If your kid asks for help definitely discuss it with him open-mindedly, but if he doesn’t, remember to encourage instead of push!

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this episode!

HERE’S HOW TO SUBSCRIBE & REVIEW

Want to be the first to know when a new episode is released? Click here to subscribe to The Happy Student on iTunes!

Podcast reviews are important to iTunes and the more reviews we can receive, the more likely we will be able to get our podcast and important messages in front of more parents! I would greatly appreciate if you clicked here and left a review letting me know your thoughts on this episode!

Free Play Means Creative Thinking
Elementary School, Great for All Ages, High School, Middle School, Parent Tips, Social Life, The Happy Student Podcast

Free Play Means Creative Thinking

Unstructured after-school activities where kids just get to play is great for kids to develop creative problem solving skills and communication skills. Free play is also great for helping kids relax, fighting anxiety, and reflecting and storing all the information they learned that day. Often kids don’t get enough free play in their lives, so if you find an after-school activity just for play, that’s a great way to help your kid have more fun, be a kid, and learn some really important skills that often get missed out on at school and in other after-school activities!

Finding the right after-school activity can be hard. What if your kid isn’t doing enough extracurriculars? What if she’s doing too many? Does he really need to be doing any at all if he doesn’t want to? In this post, we talk about why after-school activities are great for your kids, how to figure out if your kid is doing too many, and what to do if your kid isn’t interested in them at all.

Why are after-school activities beneficial for kids?

  1. Socializing
  • If the activity is something your child is interested in and what the other children are interested in, then it can help build friendships.
  • Having healthy friendships is important to academic success. If kids feel secure in their relationships and that they have friends, they don’t need to waste time at school worrying about their social lives.
  1. Free Play Means Creative Thinking
  • Free play after-school activities help kids develop creative problem solving skills and communication skills.
  • It also will help kids relax, fight anxiety, and reflect and store all the information they learned that day.
  • Often kids don’t get enough free play in their lives, so if you find an after-school activity just for play, that’s a great way to help your kid have more fun, be a kid, and learn some really important skills that often get missed out on at school and in other after-school activities!
  1. Deep Dive & Deliberate Practice
  • After-school activities can help kids take a deep dive into learning a skill and then work on deliberate practice to help them improve that skill.
  • Deliberate practice: where your child is figuring out where her weaknesses are and working to improve those areas.
  • Once kids learn what deliberate practice is, they can use deliberate practice in other areas, like studying.
  1. A Break!
  • After-school activities provide a break from schoolwork.
  • Breaks can then help them be more productive later, instead of trying to ‘power through’, which isn’t actually a thing according to neuropsychologists.
  1. Teamwork & Strategy
  • Some after-school activities build teamwork and communication skills as well as help develop strategic thinking like “What’s the other team good at? How will we defend against that?”

Why are after-school activities beneficial for parents?

  1. It can help your child develop some important skills, like the ones mentioned above.
  • Your kids develop these skills in a safe environment.
  • These skills include some that the child does not get during a traditional school day.
  1. Your child will be more productive when they come home.
  • This break can help reduce the amount of fights over starting homework.
  1. If the after-school activity is at school, you don’t need to interrupt your day to go get your child to bring them home or to the activity.

What should parents consider when organizing after-school activities for kids?

  • This activity should be almost entirely your child’s choice. If your child is unsure what they want to do, come up with 3-5 options based on their personal preferences.
  • It’s also important to think about how many after-school activities your child is participating in and how long they each go.
    • If your child is constantly exhausted and needing a rest, but not ever able to get one, then he’s probably in too many after-school activities, especially ones that aren’t free play.
    • Fireborn recommends that your child be getting home by 5 pm four days a week until high school.
    • To figure out if they are in too many or too few activities, ask the following questions: Do your kids have time to do their homework? Do they have time to rest? Are they bored? Do they have a ton of energy? Where is that energy coming from? Do they simply have a ton of energy or is it because they are anxious? Do they need to do more active activities or do they need more time to relax? Is my child stressed by the after-school activities or looking for more stimulation? Especially for younger children, you want a good mix of structured activities and unstructured, free play/relaxing activities.

What should parents do if their kids really don’t want to do any after-school activities?

  • If your child does not want to do it, it’s probably best not to force them.
  • You want to think about why your child doesn’t want to do any after-school activities.
    • Is it because they need some quiet time at home after an over-stimulating day at school?
    • Or are they worried about bullying? If they are worried about bullying, find an activity they can get involved in where there aren’t any kids that are teasing your child already and where you kid has the opportunity to meet new kids in a less scary way (think individual sports, like chess, tennis, or swimming).
  • Find an extracurricular activity that your child’s friend is also doing. Have your child try the activity for a week or two. After two weeks, you can circle back and decide if it’s time to find something else to do or something your child wants to continue .
    • Just getting kids to go once to see it’s really fun is often all they need to want to keep going.

You can learn more on The Happy Student Podcast Episode #52: Figuring Out After-School Activities!

[smart_podcast_player]

social life
Difficult Topics, Social Life

Is Your Kid a Future Olympian?

With the Olympics finally in full swing, we watch as athletes perform tasks that we could only dream of imitating. They can swim across a pool in under half a minute, jump higher than a giraffe with only the help of a pole, or run the length of a soccer field in under ten seconds. These athletes have dedicated their lives to their sports to earn the privilege of representing their country in the Olympics. It is hard to imagine now, but most of these athletes started their craft as a child. The parents of these athletes enrolled their children in their respective sports not knowing that years later they would be watching their children on the Olympic stage.

75% of families have at least one child participating in sports. Parents will enroll their children into sports with high hopes that perhaps their children can be the next Gabby Douglas or Missy Franklin. However, studies show that this is highly unlikely. Only 2% of young athletes will receive the highest ranking in their sports. In fact, parents may be harming their children when enlisting them in a sport. Research has found that although sports can have a plethora of benefits for children, there are also negative impacts that parents need to be aware of.

Organized sports provide many health benefits that are not only physically beneficial, but are also psychologically beneficial. Teenage athletes are less likely to have suicidal thoughts, smoke, and use drugs. First Lady Michelle Obama also understood the effects that physical activity can have for children, which is why she began her “Let’s Move!” campaign. She urged every child to exercise for sixty minutes a day for at least five days a week, six out of eight weeks, which is slim in comparison to the average of seven and a half hours per day children spend in front of an electronic device. However, only 42% of elementary-aged children engage in this amount of physical activity. The First Lady’s mission was to help end the childhood obesity epidemic sweeping the country. One in every three children will be affected by obesity. Obesity can cause health risks, academic difficulties, and self-image issues. The Centers for Disease Control found that physical activity can prevent many of these issues. Additionally, those who participate in sports are also more likely to eat healthier.

bigstock-Children-Playing-Soccer-Footba-115642766.jpg

Physical activity including sports tends to have an impact on athletes’ mental health. Male athletes are less likely to carry guns compared to males who were non-athletes. Girls that engage in sports are less likely to be depressed, more likely to excel academically, and exude more self-confidence. Multiple studies prove that when teenagers are engaged in sports they are happier, have higher self-esteem, and are less anxious. Physical activity including sports is highly beneficial for young children’s development.

Being on a team can affect children’s social behavior. It is a perfect opportunity for children to interact with others in their age group. A team can be a support group for those dealing with issues. Study shows that athletes on a close knit team are less likely to show symptoms of suicidal behavior. Teams can help instill life values. Children can learn how to cooperate with others because “there is no ‘I’ in team.” Losing a game or making a mistake while playing helps teach children what to do in situations when things do not go as planned. Teammates can help each other in ways that parents and teachers cannot.

Surprisingly, sports have negative effects that not many people focus on. Studies have concluded that when children overspecialize in a sport they tend to drop out of that sport  in their adolescent years. By the time a child is fifteen years old, between 70% and 80% have dropped out of sports.

Continue reading “Is Your Kid a Future Olympian?”

Toxic Social Situations
Difficult Topics, Middle School, Self-Advocacy, Social Life, Stress Management

Toxic Social Situations

Middle school, as we all know, is an awkward time in kids’ lives, particularly with peers. And high school is not known for being a walk in the park socially either. Kids worry about being popular, being left out, saying the wrong thing, wearing the wrong outfit – the list goes on…

Imagine the following scenario:

You (well, middle school version of you) walks up to a couple of girls, who then turn their back on you. You maybe try to say hi, but then they walk away from you. So you walk away and try to be friendly again later, only for the same story to play out. Sound familiar?

As middle schoolers, we naturally internalize this behavior as indicating that something is wrong with us. And then we dwell on it and put ourselves down and enter this terrible feedback loop because we approach the next social situation with trepidation instead of confidence.

As parents of children who are going through this situation, and dealing with issues we did not have to (namely cyberbullying), we need to teach our children that it really “isn’t you (your child), it’s them (the bullies).”

That is hard when ‘everyone’ (in the eyes of your child) thinks this other person is amazing. But I suggest talking to your child about:

  • how this other student may be a bully,
  • how your child is wonderful (in specific and sincere ways, as usual),
  • how this other person behaved badly,
  • how upset you are that someone else made your wonderful child feel so bad,
  • how it was wrong of that person to behave in such a manner,
  • how your child should act in the future. 

And how should your child act in the future?

According to Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, one of the best ways to manage stress is “Active avoidance of triggers” (2015). In this situation, the other student(s) is the trigger of the bad feelings and social anxiety. Therefore, one of the best ways to deal with it is to avoid that person. Stop trying to hang out with her. Find other people who treat you well. When your friends want to hang out with that person, you can find something else to do (or give a second chance – just not too many second chances). 

Another strategy to try at the same time is to help your child find something he is really good at: a sport, school, a specific subject in school, playing an instrument, coding, drawing, building robots, volunteering, and so on… It is even better if you can help him pursue this skill with others. As Dr. Ginsburg explains, people feel better and less stressed when they contribute to the world, when they feel as though they have a sense of meaning, and when they are “surrounded with thank yous rather than condemnation” (2015). Helping your child find that sense of meaning through an after-school activity will help him find other friends and feel confident and maintain his self-esteem during those uncomfortable, and perhaps toxic, social situations.

My favorite activity is volunteering because it helps solidify a sense of self: I am a good person. Which can then help your child when confronted by “mean girls” because she can say to herself, “They just hurt my feelings by turning away from me. That is not something a good person does. I will go find other people like me to hang out with.” But all of the activities help your child define herself, can bolster self-esteem, and help your child deal with the hardships associated with growing up.


Resources:

Davis, P. (2016). Personal communication.

Ginsburg, K. (2015). Building resilience: Preparing children and adolescents to THRIVE. Learning and the Brain Conference: Boston.

cyber bullying
Difficult Topics, High School, Middle School, Parent-Child Communication, Social Life

Fireside Coffee Chats: Cyberbullying

 

Protecting our children from cyberbullying entirely is just about impossible. At some point, they are going to run across some sort of digital antagonist. However, by communicating effectively with our children, we can help them deal with cyberbullying so that they do not internalize the hurtful messages.

In the second episode of Fireborn’s Fireside Coffee Chats, Fireborn spoke with Carson Davis, who was once the victim of cyberbullying, and her mother, Executive Functions Coach Paige Davis, to help us understand cyberbullying and to figure out what we can do to combat it.

 

Difficult Topics, Middle School, Parent-Child Communication, Social Life

Should I Talk to an Adult?

What constitutes “cyberbullying”? So many online activities. So many in fact, researchers have found it difficult to accurately define the term. Without a usable definition, how are we supposed to create effective interventions? Given bullying’s prominent place in the media (and based on conversations with researchers who study bullying), effective interventions are currently few and far between.

Emily Weinstein, a doctoral candidate at Harvard Graduate School of Education, recently published her research on cyberbullying. She used a website, A Thin Line Campaign, to “help define the line” between normal adolescent online social mishaps and cyberbullying. She found six recurring “digital stressors” (with the caveat that there are still others as well), three of which teens told the victim to “get help” (and therefore was crossing the line into cyberbullying):

  1. Impersonation (hacking into the victim’s online account and posting mean or embarrassing information about the victim).
  2. Mean and harassing attacks
  3. Shaming and humiliation

Should I Talk to an Adult?

However, for the other three situations, the victims were not advised to seek the help of an adult:

  1. Breaking and entering (a friend or significant other breaks into your phone or social media account, sees who you are friends with, potentially deletes contacts, reads messages, looks at photos…).
  2. Pressure to comply
    1. Pressure to send a “sext”.
    2. Pressure to provide access to social media accounts (e.g. “Give me your Facebook password. I gave you mine.”).
  3. Feeling smothered (bombarding the victim with texts: “Where are you?…???…Why haven’t you texted me back… and so on. Or requiring the victim to “check-in” with the other person every hour or so).

Continue reading “Should I Talk to an Adult?”