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The Power of Thank You

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Have you ever heard the phrase you catch more flies with honey?  Besides being a pearl of wisdom, this old adage speaks to human nature.  It tells us that we get more of what we want by being kind and sweet.  What if that honey wasn’t just about being kind and sweet?  What if that honey was being grateful and what we wanted to gain was a greater sense of happiness? 

Teaching children to be grateful for the things they have can actually make them happier.  When children appreciate and are thankful for what is given to them they feel content, whole, fulfilled.  These feelings then lead to greater sense of well-being and happiness.  On the other hand, when children are not grateful and instead seek to have more, they often are left with a sense of longing and emptiness.  They create a pattern of never feeling satiated and that there is never enough to help them feel better. 

Therefore, teaching children a sense of gratitude is paramount to happiness and success.  Does it go beyond teaching them to say thank you?  According to parent.com the answer is yes.  Parent.com gives us some great tips for teaching gratitude:


  • Work gratitude into your daily conversation.  "We're so lucky to have a good cat like Sam!" "Aren't the colors in the sunset amazing?"  Set up a routine talking as a family for what you are thankful for.  This normalizes the process of gratitude and shifts the conversation from what is wrong or what you don’t have to being thankful for all you do have.
  • Have kids help. Giving children chores around the house that are suitable for their developmental level is extremely helpful for them to learn gratitude.  Children can be appreciative when they realize what it takes to run a household.  Simple everyday things can do the trick.  Such chores as feeding the dog, transferring the clothes from the washer to the dryer, pulling weeds, or putting your plate in the dishwasher can go far in teaching this lesson. 
  • Find a goodwill project.  This doesn’t have to be taking on a big project.  It can be taking clothes to Goodwill, taking canned food to the food bank, or helping a neighbor with their yard work.  Its important to talk about why you are doing it and why you are thankful for what you have. 
  • Encourage generosity.  Giving to others is powerful.  Encourage sharing what you have with others.  If you do not have much, encourage sharing your time, energy, and creativity.  Again, speak directly to what you are doing and why. 
  • Insist on thank-you notes.   For little ones, this can be you writing the note and they drawing a picture or signing their name.  For older kids, carve out time for them to do this and make it personal.  They should address it to the person and specifically thank them for the item they received.  Teaching children to write thank you notes of gifts can be a powerful lesson. 
  • Practice saying no. Children who never hear the word “no,” never learn to have self-discipline.  If children are granted all their heart desires they will have a hard time appreciating what they have as they learn to expect the next toy, cookie, or video game.  

Growing Minds

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The power of having a growth mindset

“I can’t do it.”

“It’s too hard.”

 

We hear these statements from children throughout the day.  It’s not only a comment about the difficult task at hand, it is actually an opportunity to teach children about resiliency, how to take on challenges, how to make mistakes, and how to have a growth mindset.  Having a growth mindset and teaching children how to solve problems leads to greater success and future ability to solve problems. 

Carol Dweck of Stanford University asserts that teaching children that intelligence is not a “fixed” state helps them understand that through effort they can grow and become successful.  This gives them a sense of control in their world.  Intelligence is not something that you are just born with and you are lucky or not in the brain department.  Instead, working to teach children to adopt a growth mindset will help them be more successful and more resilient.  A growth mindset asserts that intelligence is not solely innate and that you can increase your capacity, “build your brain”, by working to learn new things.  It encourages taking on new challenges in spite of potential failure.  The state of mind promotes flexibility and engagement.  A fixed mindset teaches children to care about being “smart” or “not smart.” This mindset inhibits learning and discourages taking learning risks, because if you can’t do something right away, the child equates it to not being smart.  It’s not safe to try something that might be difficult.   

What we know as adults is that no one becomes successful without work, risk, and failure.  Making mistakes is a part of life and teaching children this is a powerful lesson.  It is essential to teach children that life is full of challenges and indeed it is important how we tackle these challenges and how we bounce back from hardship.  The message becomes practice makes better not practice makes perfect.  Look for progress, not perfection.

Steps to fostering a growth mindset in children: 

  • Praise the process and effort, not the product.  Say to children, “Wow, you worked really hard on that project” as opposed to “your project looks great.”
  • Create and model a culture of making mistakes and learning from them.
  • Help children identify when they have a fixed mindset and move them to a growth mindset.
  • Model resilience and problem solving.
  • Give children the opportunity to solve their own problems.

 

A man's mistakes are his portals of discovery. - James Joyce

 

Cultivating Happiness

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An introduction

Recently several teachers and myself attended a wonderful conference in San Francisco called Learning and the Brain.  This particular brain conference focused on social-emotional learning and what we know about the brain.  Self-regulation, cultivating happiness, and attention were large pieces of interest.

The process of cultivating happiness in children isn’t as elusive as once thought.  What we know is that people who are happy have four key elements.  These are having a growth mindset, a sense of gratitude, living in and embracing a culture of kindness, and having self-discipline. 

Although, many people would agree these are wonderful traits to have in a social context what I find most intriguing is their impact on brain development.  Children’s brains have great plasticity.  Their brains are changing and growing and are very malleable at this young age.  David Walsh says, “the neurons that fire together, wire together.”  Simply speaking, the repeated connections we make create long lasting effects in brain development.  If we help children’s neurons fire with these four elements in mind, their brains are going to create a tendency to do be this way as they age. 

Mental health professionals have known for years about this phenomenon but have never given it such specificity.  We know that when a brain is traumatized it “rewires” itself.  Part of trauma work is getting the brain to wire itself back into a more calm state of existence.  People who have experienced trauma are more hyper-vigilant and have a higher sensitivity to environmental stimulus.  We know that people who have long histories of depression have a tendency to think depressively and we work to rewrite the cognitive tapes they tell themselves.  With enough practice the depressed individual can think more positively. 

Therefore, the link can be made that the four elements of having a growth mindset, feeling gratitude, embracing a culture of kindness, and having self-discipline can greatly effect brain development.  Having these neurons firing together and making connections can make a more functional and hopefully happier adult.   Stay tuned for more details about each of the four elements in the coming Crier J

Jonathan


Resilience: personal resiliency builders & environmental protective factors

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From Winter 2011-12 Caller

Personal Resiliency Builders

Relationships
Service
Life skills
Humor
Inner direction
Perceptiveness
Independence
Positive view of personal future
Flexibility
Love of learning
Self-motivation
Competence
Self-worth
Personal faith in something greater
Perseverance
Creativity
 

Environmental Protective Factors

Families, schools, communities, and peer groups that:
Promote close bonds
Set clear, consistent boundaries
Teach life skills
Provide caring and support
Set and communicate high expectations
Provide opportunities for meaningful participation
 
(Adapted from Resiliency in Schools: Making it Happen for Students and Educators, Nan Henderson and Mike Milstein, Corwin Press, 1996)

 

Resilience: How We Foster an Important Life Skill

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A roundtable with counselors Kate Grant (Upper School), Kristin Ogard (Middle School), and Jonathan Weedman (Beginning and Lower School)

From the Winter 2011-12 Caller

What is resiliency?

Jonathan: Resiliency (or resilience) is the ability to bounce back from hardship, which is part of life. Things happen all the time. Resiliency is about what you do, or what’s around you that helps you bounce back and move on.
 
Kristin: When I talk about resiliency with kids, they look at aspects of their personalities: Do I have a sense of humor? Is the glass half full or half empty? Am I able to try something else when my approach doesn’t work? It’s crucial for students to know which attributes they possess so they can use them when they’re stuck.

Is resiliency an innate trait?

Jonathan: Research dating back to the ’50s tells us that resiliency is built in. Some of us get it quicker than others, but eventually we all figure it out. Our goal as counselors is to teach children specifically how they’re resilient now and what they’re good at so that they can use those tools here at Catlin Gabel, and in college and their work lives. Just like we teach math and writing and reading, we teach resiliency skills. There are two kinds of resiliency builders: our innate, personal traits, and the things and people around us, what we call protective factors. With both those components in place, we can handle every hardship we encounter.

What we can do as a community to help children recover from hardships?

Kristin: Our first job is to recognize their strengths and nurture them, and the second job is to put in place the external factors that support our children. When you consider the big picture, focusing on strengths is more effective than focusing on what’s wrong or a person’s weaknesses. We can all overcome adversity.
 
Jonathan: When life coach Dr. Kathy Masarie spoke here she talked about the idea of the fragile “teacup kid.” Many kids have a sense that you get what you need from life, and everything’s going to be fine. But you have to go through hardship to be resilient. So I spend a lot of time helping kids understand that it’s a normal part of life and help them understand how they handle hardship--so when those difficulties come, they don’t fall apart.

Kristin, how do you teach Middle Schoolers about resiliency?

Kristin: We begin with every 6th grader figuring out his or her personal resiliency traits, and then their parents do the same exercise at home, and then they compare the responses. Back at school, we fill out a worksheet on “What are my strengths and how can I use them here at school when I get stuck?” The students put it in front of their binder for the whole year as a focus and a reminder of their strengths.

Kate, do we have that kind of training in Upper School?

Kate: We talk about resiliency in the 10th grade health class, and there’s a lot of self-reflection that goes on in Upper School. In English classes, there’s the “Who Am I?” essay and the sophomore “Embarrassment” essay and reflection on the writing process as a way to improve. In a way resiliency is filtered through different parts of the Upper School curriculum and, of course, in the college process. We want students to know they can grow and change and gain a new perspective. The faculty talks a lot about how to foster resiliency and to support its development.
 
Jonathan: In the Lower School we trained all the teachers in the resiliency curriculum, we have a bulletin board about it, and we talk to kids individually to pinpoint how they’re resilient. Recently a 5th grader helped me rewrite the resiliency builders so that kids would understand it better. It’s about really making it live here every day. When a child has a conflict or a problem, I always start our conversation with, “How do you bounce back?” or “How are you resilient?” Or I’ll say, “I notice you use your humor a lot. That’s a great way to bounce back.” Or “I notice how flexible you are. That’s a great way to be resilient.”

Is resiliency connected with bullying and victimhood?

Kate: It’s a huge part of our bullying discussions. It’s about how you keep going in life. You’re always going to face people who might push your buttons even if they’re not fighting you or hitting you: it’s often more subtle. But you do have to come up with your own resources, take a breath, see what you really feel and think, and decide how to react in the moment and in the future. We teach our students on both sides—both bullies and victims—how to get help from adults and how to think about their behavior.
 
Kristin: My students and I think about non-defensive strategies for responding to verbal put-downs—like using humor or ignoring it, always being honest and assertive. A genuine response to someone making fun of a sweater would be, “Oh, I like this sweater. My grandmother made it, and it’s important to me.” So they’re being genuine back, and not defensive, which tends to just stop the teasing.

Do you see kids building confidence when they learn how to cope?

Jonathan: A great example from a few years ago involved one 5th grader who failed a test and was very upset, but I knew he was a really positive guy. So I said, “What can you say that’s positive to bounce back from this?” And he said, “Well, you could say that it’s a practice, because I’m not taking a real test until 6th grade, and I guess I’m learning, because I’m here to learn.” After only 10 minutes of talking he said, “I feel so much better!” And I said, “Now you know what you need to do.” He came back a week later, and said, “I used that again! It really helps!” We know our kids really well, so we can talk to them specifically about how they can bounce back.
 
Kristin: In 6th grade we start out talking about superheroes, and their resiliency factors—Transformers, and the ability to be invisible or fly. Then we shift our focus to famous people who are resilient, and next we talk about resilient people they know personally—like their parents, coaches, or grandparents. In the last part, we talk about our own resiliency traits.
 
Kate: It’s important for parents to support their children’s resiliency. Kristin has this expression, “Don’t interview for pain.” Instead, support the growth and the lessons they’ve learned.
 
Jonathan: The biggest thing parents can do is interview for resilience. So when a kid comes home and says, “So-and- so was mean to me,” instead of saying, “That must have been horrible! Tell me more about it!” you say, “What do you want to do about that?”
 
Kristin: And that empowers them. They’re getting a subtle message from you that you believe they can take care of it.
 
Kate: What we know about brain research is that you can train your brain to think differently. So if you have enough practice, instead of thinking, “Wow, I’m just a dork,” you can think, “This experience was hard, but it can really help me.”
 
Jonathan: It’s super-important for parents to model their own resiliency for their kids. Parents can say, “I had a really rough day today. So I called my best friend, and now I feel so much better.” Or, “I’m just going to be flexible and change how I operate.” Kids pick up on everything we as adults do. They don’t miss anything.

Can resiliency be confused with just letting kids fail?

Jonathan: Sometimes failure is a part of the process. But we don’t just let kids fail and say, “Too bad.” We say, “Okay, so that didn’t work out. Let’s talk about how you bounce back from that.”
 
Kristin: Sure, there can be failures, but we also have protective factors in place. When things fail, it’s important to examine what you can try differently. And then you try again.
 
Kate: To keep it in perspective, most of the situations our kids encounter are not life altering, but their attitude toward them may be. So when they run into something difficult, they’re better able to say, “This is really awful. But I do have some inherent strengths to deal with this.” People can turn even small failures against themselves if they aren’t interpreted in a way that helps them think, “Ah, this is an opportunity for me to learn something.”

What do we do well as a school to build resiliency in our students?

Kristin: Oh, we’re great at protective factors! For one, we started the Freshman Toolkit, which is great for students in a vulnerable time. (See the article in this issue on Freshman Toolkit.) We also have C&C advisers, who track kids carefully.
 
Kate: We have a small student-to-faculty ratio, so students can learn from thoughtful adults and older students. When we have freshman and sophomore trips, we take upper-class students along so they can model self-reflection.
 
Jonathan: Our teachers use their first names, which speaks to adult support and mentoring. Opportunities for meaningful participation are also protective—like Experiential Week in March, student council, the outdoor program, service, and Campus Day. It’s also good that we set high, but not impossible, expectations for our students. That gives them a message that we know they can do it, and we know we can support them in that. And we all teach important life skills.
 
Kate: During Experiential Week, students who haven’t had the sense of shining in other areas get to shine in their own areas. They develop some sense of their own strengths and worth.
 
Kristin: We have a huge playground at school, if you will, with ways for kids to discover their strengths. And we do a really good job of celebrating them.
 
Kate: What’s important is that we give students more than one chance. Students are not known by one action here, but by a lot of different actions. Adults are always waiting for a kid to make the right decision here, and that helps them think, “I did make a mistake, but I can get beyond that.”
 
Kristin: I’m working with a student right now who is not resilient in many areas, but she excels in the arts. We jump on those moments immediately to reinforce and praise our kids— because that’s where the shift takes place.

So if they feel successful, it becomes easier to carry on.

Kristin: When they see evidence of what they can do one day, and we praise it, there’s the suggestion that they might be able to do it again tomorrow.
 
Kate: I was struck once by what a student’s mother had written in his application to Catlin Gabel. She wrote, “I hope that my child will have enough growing self-confidence and enough successes to appreciate the success of others.” We wish that for all our students.
 
Kristin: I have to keep coming back to the importance of resiliency, because research shows that when you’re focused on something that’s positive and strength based, you will shift more quickly in that positive direction.
 
Kate: A part of this is taking responsibility for what you could have done differently in a difficult situation, because it helps you both realize that it wasn’t just that other person. We have to help kids feel strong enough to both take care of themselves and optimally to take care of each other, if they can. We want to help them recognize an inherent strength that’s different from all the other things going on in their lives.

Does the focus on resiliency tie into overprotectiveness?

Jonathan: Yes, because we’re seeing products of what happens when kids are super-overprotected: they fall apart when they go to college on their own. It’s instinctual for parents to feel they should protect their kids, but there’s a balance. It’s not about protecting them from every single thing, but it’s also not just about throwing them out there on their own. Unlike the ’50s, when you could go out and ride your bike . . .
 
Kristin: “See you when the sun goes down!”
 
Jonathan: Often kids feel like that they can’t leave the house, because something bad’s going to happen to them. They pick up on this message of “I can’t do anything, and the world is not safe. If no one gives me the tools to deal with it, then I’m not able to deal with it.”
 
Kristin: “And I’m not effective. I’m a victim.”
 
Jonathan: So now we need to check in as a society and a community to say, “Whoa! Overprotection was not the answer. Completely throwing them out there on their own was not the answer. What is the answer?” The answer is to let kids fail a little bit, and then we’ll show them how they’re resilient, so they can learn from that.
 
Kate: Sometimes, when kids are down, I ask them if anything, even something small, has changed for the better. Then we explore what inside them allowed them to change.
 
Kristin: One of my students had a great sense of humor about her skills. She said, “Oh, I am so half-empty, I think of everything that way.” But she could laugh at herself, and she was very flexible—so even if the day looked horrible, she could make the shift and move on.
 
Jonathan: It’s really not about having about all the personal resiliency builders. It’s about having a few of them, and knowing what you can use.
 
Kate: And it takes the focus away from being stuck. Since our brains are plastic—especially when we are young—we can learn to shift how we think about things. So we can start early on having kids think they have some agency in life and can think about a situation in a different way, instead of thinking “The world is out to get me.”
 
Jonathan: If you’re faced with adversity and say, “Here are all these things I know I can do. I’m doing something,” you feel empowered. This approach works from everyday little things to big, tragic things. And any time someone feels like they can do something, they feel less desperate, less down, less miserable.
 
Kate: To me, the whole point is that life presents challenges to us all. It’s going to throw everyone some curveballs. So in the same way we educate our students to figure out a math problem or delve deeply into literary analysis, we want to be able to teach them how to live in a way that will sustain them. To me, resiliency is a huge piece of that learning.
 
Kate Grant has served as CGS college counselor, US dean of students, and counselor since 1997. She holds an MEd in counseling and consulting psychology from Harvard University and an AB from Smith College. Kristin Ogard has been teaching and counseling for more than 22 years. She came to CGS in 2001 and received her MA in counseling psychology from Lewis & Clark College. Jonathan Weedman joined the Catlin Gabel community in 2008.
 
More on personal resiliency builders and environmental protective factors

 

Tis The Season

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 Tis the Season

 
The holiday season can be a stressful time for parents, children, and the entire family.  With the rush of holiday parties, present purchasing, decorating, and all the numerous activities that happen during this time, it’s hard to remember the basics.
 
Routine is crucial.  Saying, “it’s the holidays!” is the best response to breaking any routine.  Such events as bedtime, eating healthy, avoiding exercise are quick to go out the window.  However, more than ever, keeping a consistent routine is important for children and families.  This isn’t to say we don’t have more things to do but it should never usurp our family routine.  Children do best when they have prediction in their lives and although they would love to stay up later, it might not always be to their benefit.
 
In order to avoid being attacked by the holiday grizzly bear, consider the indicators of stress for you, your family, and your children.  If you can identify stress early on you can avoid meltdowns, getting sick, and other general struggles.  Signs of stress in children might be problems sleeping, an increase in irritability, low frustration tolerance (getting angry easier), not wanting to eat, complaining of stomach pain or headaches.  I encourage families to think about stress on a scale of 1-10.  A “10” is the most stress your family has ever been under and “1” is virtually no stress (yeah right!).  When you start to feel that your family is around a “6” on the stress scale start some distressing activities. 
 
There are a million things you can do to reduce your family stress and you know what works best for your family.  Here are some ideas:
 
  • Avoid the curse of the “Perfect Holiday.”  As one parent recently told me, “I would love to have a Martha Stewart Christmas tree, but I know that’s not going to happen so I am just letting it go.”  Nothing is ever perfect and we can’t expect the holidays to be any different.  Just know that there will be ups and downs and that some plans will work out and others will not.  Notice the simple things.  I just had a very excited second grader stop me in the fir grove to show me his wiggly tooth.  We sat for a couple minutes and talked about how losing teeth is so much fun!    
 
  • Take a big deep breath.  Taking time to relax and breathe can be invaluable for reducing your stress.  The effect that deep breathing and muscle relaxation has on your body can not be disputed.  Take time for that hot bath, vegging out in front of the television, taking a nice long walk, or listening to your favorite music.  Not only will this help you cope with stress but it provides a great model for your children to learn to cope with stress.  If you have a 2nd grader, talk to them about their Emotional Tool Bag or as one student calls it her “Cope Kit.”
 
  • Do something as a family that is all about having fun and not about getting anything DONE.  Go to Mt. Hood and have a snowball fight or go sledding for the day.  Head to the Oregon Zoo or drive around and look at Christmas lights.  Make sure the family knows the only goal is to have fun, not to get something done, buy one more present, or attend one more social engagement.   
 

Kathy Masarie MD speaks about resiliency: a podcast

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Dr. Kathy Masarie spoke at a Catlin Gabel parent community meeting in November 2011 about the courage it takes to foster resiliency in children, and how parents can model autheticity, honesty, and self-care. Click on the audio file below to hear her presentation (1 hour, 21 minutes).

Audio: 

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The Upswing of ADHD

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The Gifts of ADHD

A parent recently came to talk to me about how she has moved through a wonderful journey of worrying about her child who has ADHD to feeling that in many ways it is a blessing.  It is my belief that parents go through a series of steps when they learn their child may have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).  In the beginning, parents may feel a sense of denial or panic.  Some parents may feel alone or become amazing information seekers.  Either way there is often an initial struggle while coming to terms with what the diagnosis means. 

 
Once the initial shock is over, I often see parents enter another step where they are working to perfect the systems for
managing ADHD.  They become excellent planners, problem solvers, educators, and in some cases excellent medication managers.  In this stage, parents often learn how to manage the diagnosis.  They cope with the struggles and figure out how to make the most of out of each and every day.  They quickly become knowledgeable about what works or doesn’t work for their child. 
 
The final stage of accepting this diagnosis is an understanding that although there maybe struggles and frustrations, there are actually many bright spots about the diagnosis.  People with ADHD tend to exhibit great creativity, enthusiasm, innovation, and empathy.  Although sometimes a frustration, the hyper-focus aspect of the disorder can prove to be a great strength as well.  I have seen amazing things created out of this hyper-focus.  One only needs to see an elaborate city made of Legos to know this to be true.  When a parent can see the wonderful benefits that come with this diagnosis they can truly accept their child for who they are.  Reaching a point where you see this diagnosis as a gift is an empowering step to make.  We all have our parts to play in the world and we all have gifts to share as well.    

ADHD Awareness Week!

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We are not alone

October 16-22 is ADHD Awareness week. Although medical and mental health professional know lots about the disorder, many families dealing with ADHD feel that they are alone. With proper education and networking with others this no longer has to be the case.

About ADHD

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics “attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder limits children’s ability to filter out irrelevant input, focus, organize, prioritize, delay gratification, think before they act, or perform other so-called executive functions that most of us perform automatically.” It speaks to reason that many children exhibit this form of distractibility. However, ADHD causes distress and impairs the child’s ability to function and learn academically. The symptoms of ADHD are excessive, pervasive, and persistent. Although many of us are distracted from time to time, living with ADHD can be quite overwhelming. 

What we know about ADHD is that it does not discriminate and affects people of all ages, races, genders, intellectual ability, and socio-economic backgrounds. The CDC reports that in 2011, 9.5% of children in the United States had been diagnosed with ADHD. Diagnosing ADHD is a complex process that should not be entered into lightly. It requires looking at variety of symptoms that cause impairment in major life areas and have persisted for a minimum of six months. A good diagnosis relies on variety of tools that might include observations across a variety of contexts, the implementation of screening tools, and ruling out other issues that might appear like ADHD such as Sensory Integration Disorder.

Treatment Options

Treatment for ADHD is a continuum from least restrictive to most. Often times, the first round of treatment is taking an inventory of what behavioral strategies can be employed and educating the child on ADHD and strategies for coping with the deficit. Changes to the environment or adding tools to the child’s repertoire might also be helpful. Using a collaborative process and taking stock of what works for the child and what doesn’t work is a good strategy. If these approaches are not making enough difference a behavioral plan might be created to help the child be successful. External rewards can be given to help motivate the child and help them use the tools being coached. An additional approach can be medications helping stimulate the executive functioning portion of the brain. The most typical and successful form of treatment is a combination of these methods.      

ADHD Awareness Week is an opportunity to reduce stigma and to learn the facts about the disorder and how it affects the community. Log onto www.adhdawarenessweek.org for more information.  

Learning Community at Catlin Gabel

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By Allen Schauffler & Jonathan Weedman

From the Spring 2010 Caller
Community is not an elusive quest at Catlin Gabel. It is the granite cornerstone of our foundation. We can reach back into the school’s earliest history and find references to community woven throughout Ruth Catlin’s writings. In the mid and late 1960s, when the influence of the Black Mountain College group among the faculty provided foundational ideas about community, the school as we now know it took shape. Ideas about community have come from many sources since then, but those two influences are the driving forces behind what we teach and model today. From Beginning Schoolers, where community is taught and experienced as concrete cause and effect, to Upper Schoolers, where community becomes an internalized and essential ingredient for living, its teaching is intentional and direct. Beginning with the littlest children, both in the classroom and outdoors on the playground, one can hear the mantra “Be Safe and Be Kind” over and over. In the Lower School that mantra becomes the essential question when a child is learning behavioral expectations.
 
By definition, a young child enters Catlin Gabel as a somewhat egocentric being. It is the primary job of the preschool to lead a child from the exclusive notion of “me” to the seed of understanding about what “other” might mean. The underlying philosophy behind this is that we strongly believe that the learning of content cannot begin and is meaningless unless there is a firm foundation of social conscience. As we watch children progress through the developmental stages of play and learning, the move from being merely a cooperative player and learner to a truly collaborative being is crucial to success at the school. In order to thrive as an experiential and process learner, one must be internally driven to be open to the riches that flow from the ideas and experiences of others. The goal is for children to embody, “I am made better by those who surround me.” Taking this as a given, then, we begin with simple guidelines that ease children into the experience of being a group learner.
 
Raise a Quiet Hand and Hand on the Arm are the first lessons for a preschooler. These teach that interrupting another person, whose ideas are important to one’s own and the group’s learning and understanding, is rude and unkind. Stop, Look, Listen, and Respond is the behavioral expectation when someone speaks your name. Speaking to someone is not an idle behavior; it demands respect. When the conundrum of group problem solving emerges in the classroom or on the playground, younger children are often befuddled by what to do. Talk, Walk, and Squawk provides an accessible place to hang one’s hat. First you try to talk to the person or group. If that doesn’t work, you can try walking away. If the problem persists, you must squawk to the nearest teacher or grown-up, who can help untangle the issue by providing vocabulary coaching and by scaffolding a conversation. But first, the child must have tried to talk. These simple mnemonic devices provide easy and accessible tools for young children as they wind their way toward a deeper and more practical understanding of community. This also sets the foundation for successful problem solving; a fundamental element of a fruitful community.
 
As children move through the grades we use both implicit and explicit interventions to further set the stage for community development. We teach kindergarteners the fundamentals of working in a group and how to get along with others. They are taught to discover if the choices they make are wise and ask themselves, is it safe? Is it kind? Is it honest? Is it fair? A good problem solver is a good community member, and from this early stage of their academic career children are taught the steps to problem solving, through stories, coaching, or through a tool called Kelso’s Wheel, a list of strategies for conflict resolution. Learning to be a good friend is also imperative as a kindergarten Eagle. Children spend time Fishin’ for Friends and discussing the components of good friendship, such as empathy, taking turns, problem solving, sharing, and helping each other. In fact, children learn that being a good friend helps their classroom and ultimately the entire community work well.
 
In 1st grade and onward through the Lower School, children are surrounded by messages of community and being a good community member. Through service, tradition, and class instruction children learn that being a community member is a requirement of Catlin Gabel. Children donate time to the Oregon Food Bank, host a food drive during Harvest Festival, and implement programs about sustainability such as the recent “1 oz. Campaign,” a plan led by 5th grade students to reduce our school waste. Children celebrate their community each week by attending Community Meeting, where they sing songs, read poetry, and celebrate holidays such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The Lower School shares community through its traditions, whether it is the rolling of the oat cake or partnering 4th graders with 1st graders as school buddies. Finally, classroom instruction is an explicit form of teaching community. First graders are taught about community, making choices, and healthy and unhealthy play, as well as using helpful and not hurtful words. Second graders learn the value of diversity, friendship, and conflict resolution. They discuss resiliency and the characteristics that help them “bounce back” from hard times.
 
In addition to the children of Catlin Gabel, a parent body that embraces the school and its ideals is imperative for successful community building and to further solidify community engagement. We encourage parents to participate across the school in official and unofficial capacities, carry over classroom lessons to home, and serve as extended eyes and ears of the faculty while supervising children on the playground and on class trips. Elected Parent Faculty Association representatives for each grade strive to relay communication between parents and teachers. Unofficially, parents celebrate community with their children by attending Friday Sing in the Beginning School and Community Meeting in the Lower School. They volunteer across the school in a variety of capacities and are essential for successful completion of fundraising initiatives, conferences, and special events. Engaged parents model to children the emphasis on community and demonstrate a desire to make it a stronger and better place. Parents are asked to help each other’s children, to intervene in conflicts, and to help children understand that every adult at Catlin Gabel is there to support them.
 
We know from experience that children who have achieved compassion for others and have absorbed and live these ideas of relationship make a firm and constructive community. A child can achieve almost anything when he or she has internalized community and can use it as both a cognitive and behavioral tool to contribute toward future good. Each June, graduating seniors who started at Catlin Gabel between preschool and 1st grade are invited to come to the Beehive “lifers” ceremony with their parents, teachers, and other community members. We sing together, and each senior gives the younger children in attendance a piece of advice or talks about something he or she learned at Catlin Gabel. Inevitably, the advice and the important experiences they speak of are centered on their understanding of what this community is about and the way it has shaped their experience and, more importantly, has shaped them as young adults. We hear statements like, “be kind to your friends: they will be with you for a long time” and “take care of your business, and if you have trouble there is always someone there to help.” They say things like, “there is life beyond homework” and quite poignantly “being a friend and keeping a friend is the most important thing you will learn at Catlin Gabel.” It’s always exciting to see those early lessons in community come full circle.
 
Preschool teacher Allen Schauffler has been at Catlin Gabel for 42 years. Jonathan Weedman is the Beginning and Lower School counselor at Catlin Gabel. He has worked with children, youth, and families in the Portland area for the last 10 years.  

 

Friendship Skills

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Photo by Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo

Just like learning reading, writing, and math children must sometimes learn the art of making friends. Making friends is a complex social skill which can take lots of practice. The main friendship making skills according to Elaine K. McEwan are:

Conversational Skills

  • Meeting New People
  • Introducing two people who don’t know each other
  • Starting a conversation (entering a group)
  • Listening to a conversation
  • Keeping a conversation going
  • Waiting your turn to say something
  • Ending a conversation

     

    Skills for Interacting with Peers

  • Sharing
  • Compromising
  • Handling being teased
  • Saying No
  • Joining a group
  • Letting people know what you think and believe even with disagreement
  • Handling peer pressure
  • Giving a compliment
  • Accepting a compliment
  • Apologizing
  • Playing group game or activity
  • Handle being left out
  • Handing someone asking you to do something you cant because you don’t know how
  • Seeking Help from Peers
  • Asking a question
  • Saying Thank You
  • Keeping a secret
  • Disagreeing

    Skills for Controlling Emotions

  • Identifying and expressing emotions
  • Handling other peoples anger
  • Handling your own anger
  • Handling other people’s failure
  • Handing your own failure
  • Handing losing
  • Expressing affection
  • Dealing fear
  • Rewarding yourself
  • Using self-control
  • Handing embarrassment
  • Accepting no

     

    Consider these skills when talking to your child about making friends. Explain, model, and practice the skill together. Once you feel they have a good grasp on the concept encourage them to go into the "real world" and give it a shot! Be sure to debrief with them afterwards and offer specific advice to help them hone this skill set.

Google, Smoogle!

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Photo by crirez

 

 

In the last few weeks, the 4th grade class was blessed with their Catlin Gabel email accounts. Not only does this allow your student to communicate via another medium it also gives them the opportunity for added responsibility. With enough preparation and planning children can learn to use the internet in safe and productive ways.

Transparency is of utmost importance when talking about the internet and/or computer usage with children. Regardless of what boundaries you decide are appropriate for your family, complete informed consent is important for all family members. Let your children know that you will be periodically checking their conversations over email and that you will be checking the history on the computer browser. The second most important component of establishing boundaries around internet usage is consistency of structure. No matter what you decide, make sure the rule applies at all times with no exceptions. The final component for setting up internet guidelines is to start early! The younger your children are when you set up these family internet rules the better. Normalizing such guidelines will make it easier for them when they reach adolescence and are given more online freedom. Be sure to let your children know the timeline and that these rules can be reviewed and more freedom maybe granted when you feel its appropriate based on their trustworthiness and maturity level. Here are some general internet usage tips for home.

1.Transparency. It is important to be completely up front with your children about the fact that you want to know what they are doing and where they are going when they are on the internet. Tell them you are monitoring their usage to ensure they learn to make the right choices.

 2.Understand what your child is doing. In addition to monitoring your child’s internet behavior, you should also work to understand what your child’s activities are. Find out what they are doing online and why they are doing it. The more you know what your child is doing and the more you discuss it, the better the chances that your child will trust you and share his/her online life with you. This is the time to build that foundation of trust while your child is just beginning to explore online life.

3.Locate the computer in a public place. The computer they work on should be in a public place of the house at all times. This allows you to casually view what they are viewing. Children who have laptops and have access to wireless connections should never be allowed to use their laptops alone in their bedrooms. Limit online access to times when parents are around.

4.Teach your children to never give out personal information. This includes his/her name, the names of friends or family, address, phone number, school name (or team name if he/she plays sports). Personal info also includes pictures and e-mail addresses. Children should ask permission before sharing any information online. Passwords are secrets. Your child should never tell anyone except a parent or guardian his/her password.

5.If it doesn't look or feel right, it probably isn't. Trust your instincts and teach your kids to trust theirs. While surfing the Internet, if your child finds something that they don't like, makes them feel uncomfortable or scares them, make sure they know to turn off the monitor and tell an adult.

6.Know all user names and passwords for your child’s email account. Let your child know that you will have access to their email and that you will periodically review what they are sending and receiving.

7.Restrict your child from using web-based emails accounts (Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, etc). Access to these types of email accounts prevent you from being in control. They have the power to change their passwords which could prevent you from viewing what they are sending and receiving.

8.Review internet history often. Let your child know that you will be reviewing the history of websites they are visiting. You should know where your child is at all times, in the real world as well as the virtual world.

9.Use online filtering systems to help your family avoid unwanted websites. Google Safe Search is such a tool and can help reduce the amount of inappropriate websites returned in a search.

10.Discuss email etiquette. Teach your child respect for the internet and email. Email can create an imaginary buffer between people and the real world. Children should be taught that how we speak to someone in real life should be the way they communicate in email.

11.Establish home rules for internet safety with your child and post them next to the computer. Discuss what the rules are and consequences of not adhering to those rules. Ideas for rules can be the amount of time spent on the Internet, time of day your child is allowed to be online, use of certain websites, downloading software, personal information that can be posted, what to do when coming across inappropriate material.

 

 

 

 

Bouncing Back From Hard Times

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Photo by Olly Bennett

Resiliency is defined as our ability to "bounce back" from adversity. In my work in nonprofit mental health, I have been amazed to see how people are able to overcome intense trauma. It didn't take me long to realize that there has to be something psychological that help people over come difficulty. According to Nan Henderson, a renowned resiliency expert, we are "hard wired" to be resilient.

Parents and educators can build a child's resilience by reminding them that they are hard wired for bouncing back and in fact we can specifically point out for them how this happens. Whether it be about suffering an emotional blow from a friend or a big family change, children can learn to identify their individual personality traits which allow them to work through hard times and come out the other side stronger. As they grow they will learn to rely on these "protective factors" to help them cope.

 

According to Nan Henderson PERSONAL RESILIENCY BUILDERS or individual protective factors that facilitate resiliency are:

  1. Relationships -- Sociability/ability to be a friend/ability to form positive relationships

     

  2. Service -- Gives of self in service to others or a cause

     

  3. Life Skills -- Uses life skills, including good decision-making, assertiveness, and impulse control

     

  4. Humor -- Has a good sense of humor

     

  5. Inner Direction -- Bases choices/decisions on internal evaluation (internal locus of control)

     

  6. Perceptiveness -- Insightful understanding of people and situations

     

  7. Independence -- "Adaptive" distancing from unhealthy people and situations/autonomy

     

  8. Positive View of Personal Future -- Expects a positive future (Optimism)

     

  9. Flexibility -- Can adjust to change; can bend as necessary to positively cope with situations

     

  10. Love of Learning -- Capacity for & connection to learning

     

  11. Self-motivation -- Internal initiative, inner motivation

     

  12. Competence -- Is "good at something"/personal competence

     

  13. Self-Worth -- Feelings of self-worth and self-confidence

     

  14. Spirituality -- Personal faith in something greater

     

  15. Perseverance -- Keeps on despite difficulty; doesn't give up

     

  16. Creativity -- Expresses self through artistic endeavor

     

Adapted from the book, Resiliency in Schools: Making It Happen for Students and Educators by Nan Henderson and Mike Milstein, published by Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA (2003, revised ed.).