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Trouble on the Tire Swing - Solving Problems at Catlin Gabel

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The other day, a few girls approached me asking for help with a conflict they were having with a couple of boys on the playground.  The girls explained they had asked the two boys for a turn on the tire swing, but the boys said “No! Today it’s our turn”.  The girls reported that they had tried to talk it out with the boys, but the boys had just ignored them and kept on swinging.  I felt empathy for the girls’ trouble, but truth be told, I was excited to have an opportunity to coach some students to use the Beginning and Lower School steps for solving problems. Here is how we teach students to solve problems at Catlin Gabel:

  1. Stop and Cool Off
  2. Talk and Listen to Each Other – Consider both perspectives on the problem
  3. Brainstorm Solutions
  4. Pick the Best Solution  - Is it safe?  Is it fair?
  5. Make a Plan and Go for it!

Helping children to calm themselves when they are upset is the first, most important step to take before attempting to understand or to solve a problem.  In the simplest terms children, or adults for the matter, don’t think logically or rationally when they are upset.  When intervening we use quiet tones and words to reassure that we will help.  We coach kids to take slow deep breaths and do so ourselves, knowing children will often take cues from us and match our behavior naturally.  Once emotions are regulated, we’re ready to make sense of what happened.

Fortunately for me, the tire swing kids were fairly composed and we moved directly into talking and listening to each other.  As it turned out, the boys had been watching the tire swing for days, waiting for these same girls to finish so they could have a turn.  The girls, unaware that the boys were waiting, used the swing all recess long, several days in a row.  On this day, the boys had rushed to the swing, gotten their first and felt as though they were entitled to use the swing the entire recess as the girls had done before.   After hearing the boys, the girls understood and wondered why the boys hadn’t asked for a turn when the girls were using the swing. The boys explained their belief that the swing ought to belong to whomever got to it first.

The kids were able to brainstorm a few solutions, but the intervention went awry when it came time to choosing a solution that was fair to all students on the playground.  The boys couldn’t get past how the girls had used the swing all recess long the day before.  They had gotten their first, and didn’t that mean they were entitled to the swing all recess as the girls had done?  They couldn’t integrate the idea that on any given day, many students besides the girls might want a turn on the swing.  They had a hard time considering other perspectives and showing empathy for the girls.  Frustrated, the boys gave up and stormed off, leaving a very pleased set of girls to the tire swing.

I don’t mind sharing a failed intervention, because it highlights the very complex set of skills that are required to solve problems: calming ourselves when we’re upset, expressing our feelings and needs, truly listening to someone else’s feelings and needs, generating multiple solutions, considering multiple perspectives when choosing a solution that is fair.  When we stop to consider how much we struggle with these skills as adults, we begin to understand how challenging it can be for kids to solve problems.  This failed intervention gave me good information about the skills with which those boys needed help: empathy and perspective-taking.

When there is a problem, the adult reaction is often to jump in and be the judge.  We listen to both sides, make a determination and hand down the decision.  We do this because it’s faster, but it doesn’t teach kids how to solve problems on their own.  Helping kids to navigate this process takes time.  As they learn these skills they’ll need our help less in the future.  This after all, is the ultimate goal.




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 the answer is yes. 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


Resilience: personal resiliency builders & environmental protective factors

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From Winter 2011-12 Caller

Personal Resiliency Builders

Life skills
Inner direction
Positive view of personal future
Love of learning
Personal faith in something greater

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).


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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 for more information.  

The Bullying Intervention Plan

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What happens to the bully?


Okay, so my kid is resilient and they have an abundance of tools for combatting verbal bullying. They are confident in themselves and they know what they are good at and how to be the best they can be. What about the kiddo who has been doing the bullying behavior? 
The first step to dealing with the bully is to understand that often the bully is a victim in disguise. The person doing this dominating behavior often feels that they have been slighted in some way and this is their way of gaining back power they have lost. Kiddos who tend to dominant other children often experience an array of insecurities. In order to feel better about themselves, they bring others down. Understanding this is imperative in handling bullying behavior. The bully needs help too. 
Once an offense happens, the first step is problem solving. The children involved meet with a teacher or me to work out what happened. If needed, apologies are given and a plan is put in place. Depending on the situation, parents are contacted and informed of the situation. If Vicki is involved then parents are always contacted. If an offense happens again and a pattern is identified that child meets with the counselor. A plan is put in place tailored to what the core issue may be. For example, if a child is dominating other children because s/he have a hard time controlling their anger, emotional regulation techniques are taught. Once again, parents are kept in the loop. If these coaching sessions are unsuccessful the Vicki is informed and an outside counseling referral is given. If ever the issue enters the discipline realm, such as a hit or physical altercation there is usually a parent conference and the child is sent home.
The over all goal of this bullying intervention plan is meant to support the “victim” as well as the “bully.” The child who is the target of dominating behavior is given tools to strengthen self-esteem and improve resilience. The kiddo doing the dominating behavior is given interventions to address the underlying need to dominate. The goal is to support all the children in the dynamic so that the problem can be unraveled.   

Freedom of Speech: A psychological principle?

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by Jonathan Weedman

According to Izzy Kalman and Brooks Gibbs, both professionals dedicated to eradicating bullying from our schools, the concept of freedom of speech is the solution to verbal bullying.  We have all heard of “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.”  In fact, freedom of speech is the “constitutional version of the sticks and stones principal,” according to Gibbs and Kalman. 


The psychological concept that people’s words cannot and should not hurt us is a wonderful principal that teaches children that they can choose not to allow words to affect them negatively and diminish their sense of worth.  In fact, this skill is essential in teaching children how to be resilient.  Just because another child says something mean to them does not mean they have to feel badly about it or take it as a reflection of their own self-image.

Too often children are given the message from society that they should be hurt by other’s words.  As a result, all slander becomes a deep emotional wound.  What we want children to learn is that they are amazing and strong in their own right and no one can take that away from them.  This social skill will aid them in becoming emotionally healthy adults who can bounce back from hardship and not allow others to dictate how they feel about themselves. 

Of course there are exceptions to every rule and freedom of speech is no different.  Freedom of speech does not protect words people use that can cause objective harm.  It is illegal to yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theater because this can cause people to panic and trample each other.  Freedom of speech also does not protect against threats of violence.  No one is allowed to threaten physical harm.

The intervention for verbal bullying is paradoxical.  For example, if a child responds to hurtful words by trying to get that person to stop and deny their freedom of speech, the aggressor may want to do it more.  Instead, if the child understands that their aggressor has the right to say whatever they want AND s/he has the right to not be hurt by it, soon the aggressor becomes bored and runs out of things to say.  This skill can be taught and modeled and children can learn not to be victims to verbal bullying.  This is what we teach at school.  


Second Graders as Superheroes

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How two teachers helped their students celebrate their unique brain strengths

By Zalika Gardner '90 and Herb Jahncke

From the Winter 2010-11 Caller

See 16-minute video below for more

For most people, classroom learning means reading, writing, math, and social studies— skills and facts. It’s easy to overlook some of the more fundamental questions bouncing around in a student’s mind: Am I good? Who is better? Will I be strong in math? Will I ever learn to spell? And the all-important: Am I smart?
We saw how our 2nd grade students were already thinking about their own thinking, wondering how they fit into the classroom community, discovering their strengths, and worrying about their weaknesses. We began to wonder: what would it be like if the students learned about themselves in a way that celebrates who they are, and accepts them, imperfections and all? What would it be like if a major focus of learning allowed students to learn about themselves and how their brains work?
When we consider the development of the brains in our boys and girls, we have an overall idea of what to expect when they enter the classroom. As we get to know our 2nd graders, we are able to more specifically identify their unique brain strengths and challenges. We know who needs some extra time to think about a concept before being able to apply what he or she learned. We know who works more successfully with a pair of headphones in a quiet spot. We know who needs to move around in order to listen and learn. We know who thinks deeply and makes connections that many others will miss. We know our students and we help them to know themselves. When they are able to identify what they need to help them learn best, they are empowered to take responsibility for their own learning.
While everyone has a unique perspective on the world, we all have some basic commonalities in the way our brains function when we learn. The All Kinds of Minds approach, led by a national nonprofit institute, helps break these commonalities into specific, observable phenomena that are most relevant for learning and help us better understand the infinite diversity of individual profiles. All Kinds of Minds provides a neurodevelopmental framework that allows us to observe and identify the unique strengths and challenges present in each child’s mind.
When we explain to the students what we see about how they approach tasks, this helps them learn about their own learning. When we infuse them with optimism about their unique ways of thinking, we help demystify how their brains work. We replace the worry and misinformation children tend to attach to their challenges with specific information and observation, supportive recognition, and tailored intervention. When learners are clear on their strengths and recognized for their affinities, they are much better able to sustain effort and identify growth.
What does that look like in the classroom? In 2nd grade we want the students to recognize that everyone is different, and that’s actually a really great thing. Some students can think numerically and solve math problems quickly. Others in the class may be challenged by writing. Some may be reading challenging chapter books. Our goal is to help them understand who they are and how they learn. We also want them to learn who the other individuals are in the classroom and how they learn. Our journey towards learning about the individuals in our community begins with the work of Howard Gardner, who proposed the existence of multiple intelligences. We all know that people seem to possess particular affinities and strengths. After all, adult careers generally are not “be good at everything” endeavors but rather the practical application of specific strengths. There is a reason we are teachers rather than accountants or electricians or astronauts. While certainly “nurture” or the combination of people, events, and experiences in our environment play a role in our adult successes and choices, clearly “nature” provides different brains with innate strengths that affect our school success, from academics to relationships.
Theorists have further refined this thinking by adding to the idea of intelligences evidences of different styles of learning. Some learn best by hearing, some by seeing, and many by doing. Some learn best in quiet and some with a little background noise. Some learn easily through pictures and diagrams, some learn well by words and explanations, and some will remember best when given the opportunity to move or doodle. In our pursuit of best teaching practices we tackled readings on attention, memory, social skills, and learning, and all continued to raise the question: What if we not only acknowledged the unique composition of learning strengths in our classrooms but actually taught children to recognize the presence of these differences as the “norm?” What would it mean to help children look at their strengths as a means to contribute to their community, and their challenges as opportunities to grow?
Metacognition, thinking about your thinking, is a novel concept to most 7- and 8-year-olds. Yet we’ve found that they are ready to start thinking about themselves, their brain strengths, and areas for growth. As we were thinking about how to teach these ideas to the students, we pooled our collective brain strengths to plan and design a project that would help them better understand themselves and how they learn.
It’s OK (cool even) to be different. This was the big idea that we started with in 2nd grade in our exploration of ourselves. We looked at our outsides, including the colors of our skin, eyes, and hair, recognizing that we are all a mix of dark and light shades of brown. We also looked at the globe and discovered that skin color, along with the rest of our outside features, comes from our ancestors and where our families are from in the world. As we studied ourselves we also considered that there is so much to know about people that you “just can’t tell by looking!”
We can tell how different everyone is with one look around the classroom. Some students are reading curled up in a corner, and some are most comfortable working at their desk. Some writers find that words fairly leap onto the paper, while others work very hard to fill the page. Some mathematicians like numbers and calculations, while others enjoy geometric shapes. Some kids live for soccer at recess, while others prefer to gather in the library around a board game.
Since our main objective in the classroom is to learn, we want the students to think about how they learn best. Taking ideas from Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, and the principles from All Kinds of Minds, we work with students to discover ways our brains are wired for thinking and understanding the world. For example, one person may have a “words and language” brain strength which makes reading a pleasure, and an activity sought out during quiet times. Another individual may have a “numbers and logic” brain that loves to solve puzzles, play with numbers, and think mathematically. Other strengths we explore include problem solving and creative thinking, friendship, music, nature, body movement, and drawing, design, and construction. We all have these brain strengths to some degree, though one or two tend to be super strengths for us.
Our students, after considering this list of brain strengths, identified their own super brain strength, their super power. Of course, when you have a super power, you really need a superhero identity. And a cape (you really need a cape when you have a super power!). The students created their superhero identities based upon their brain strength, designed their superhero logos on capes, and illustrated comics about their superhero identities. Taking what they learned about physical features, affinities and brain strengths, we invited families and friends to join us in celebration of a lot of hard work and learning. Everybody in 2nd grade loves this project. It’s fun, it’s active, and it involves some serious thinking.
Now the students are able to use their strengths to help others, and to get help when working with a brain strength that presents more challenges for them. They are beginning to find their place within our community, and understand that there is strength in differences and in knowing who we are. We are strong as individuals, but together we are stronger.
Having explored the idea of differences, affinities, strengths, and challenges, we hope the answers to those internally asked questions sound something like this: “So what if I can’t do everything brilliantly? I have brain strengths that I know and can use to help negotiate my weaknesses. I can engage with and give to my community while both acknowledging and working on the shortfalls that bring me pause. I am free to hold both wild successes and repeated failures in the palm of my hand knowing that of course, my journey will look different from others and yes, I am smart.”  

4th and 5th Grade Boys Group!

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Facilitated by Stephen Grant, LCSW



 Helping Boys Connect Through Physical Challenge and Strategic Storytelling
Ten Week Group For 4th and 5th grade boys!
With Stephen Grant, LCSW
BAM! Groups encourage boys to accept broader perspectives on what it means to be male and helps them build the relational skills they need to become healthy young men. Each group session utilizes storytelling, a group physical challenge, and conversation. The group will culminate with an outdoor adventure involving a significant man in the lives of each participant.
Boys can expect the group to be fun and active!
About the Group Leader
Stephen has worked with children and families since 1992 as a therapist, group leader, and parent coach. After years of working with children in Portland Public Schools, Stephen currently provides counseling support to children, adolescents and families in private practice. Stephen is also a co-author of BAM! Boys Advocacy and Mentoring: A Guidebook for Leading Preventative Boys Groups.
Location                                      Time:                               Cost:
Catlin Gabel                                  Wednesdays                     $250 total    
Date: January                                3:15 - 4:15 pm                       
Please contact Jonathan Weedman, Lower School Counselor at to register for the group.



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.  


Relational Aggression

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What is it and what to do about it
Photo by sanja gjenero
Relational Aggression- any behavior that is intended to harm someone by damaging or manipulating relationships with others (Crick & Grotpeter, 1998)
Relational aggression is not an easy behavior to combat with children. It is often under the radar of the adults. Each child plays both roles of victim and aggressor making it sometimes hard to know what to do next. However, the consequences of such behavior can be damaged friendships, poor class cohesion, and injured self-esteem. Coaching children on how to be direct and honest communicators and how to problem solve for the good of the community is essential for tackling this issue.     
Why do people act aggressively?
1. Power- many people are looking for power when they act relationally aggressive. They think by asserting their power they will gain more friends or feel better about themselves.
2. Self-esteem- some people put others down to pull themselves up. Many times people who act this way have poor self-esteem and are desperate to feel more confident with who they are.
3. Control- feeling out of control can be an unsettling feeling. People will find many ways to gain control when they feel they have none and social manipulation can be such a tactic
4. Social bonding- unfortunately some people seek social camaraderie and gossiping about someone or putting down another person is one way of gaining social status. 
What does it look like?
Relational aggression can take on many forms. It is a complicated phenomenon and is sometimes hard to spot. Here are some common forms of relational aggression:
  • Gossiping
  • Taunting
  • Harassment
  • Exclusion
  • Giving the silent treatment
  • Lying
  • Spreading rumors
  • Secrets
  • Betrayal/Manipulation
  • Bullying
It is important to remember that relational aggression can appear different in boys and girls. Girls tend to be more social in their aggressive ways (gossip, rumors, and secrets) while boys are more direct in their aggression (taunting, harassment, exclusion).
What we can do about it?
1. Building a sense of community via tradition and social norms.
2. Specific classroom lessons about community, friendship, problem solving, etc. The Lower School counselor visits classrooms regularly to address these issues.
3. All staff and faculty are trained in our conflict resolution curriculum
4. Broad rules like “be safe, be kind.”
5. One-on-one coaching and/or counseling.
6. Guest speakers about the topic.
1. When you hear stories of aggression don’t jump to conclusions.
2. Gather information and listen actively.
3. REALLY listen to your child. Know that bullying is a symptom of something             greater.
4. Intervene when you see it happen on the play ground, at birthday parties, etc.
5. Teach your children direct communication and problem solving skills.
6. Remember that this is not your problem to solve.  
7. Expose kids to outside activities where they will meet children outside their school.
8. Avoid slipping into the victim/perpetrator mentality.
9. Avoid “interviewing for pain” (i.e. “Who hurt you today?” and other leading questions).
10. Move towards conversations that let your child know that you trust they can handle the situation – but may need coaching. “So what can you do?” “Who can you go to for help?”
11. The goal is to empower our children to handle these situations in healthy ways.
A recent conversation I had with a group of girls really highlighted how this kind of behavior can run out of control. Two of the girls had made a comment about another child’s academic performance to a group of classmates. That group then participated by sharing this with not only the rest of the class but also with the child herself. The child became very upset and hurt. She didn’t feel like she could say anything and just started to avoid and shut down. 
Luckily, because of the community surrounding the children at Catlin Gabel the information did come to light and it could be addressed. In the end, the child was able to stand up for herself and ask for an apology as well as a modification of behavior. You could literally see her lighten up with empowerment. You could also see the recognition from the other girls about what had transpired. They weren’t being purposely malicious. Once they recognized their error they were quick to apologize and are now working to repair their relationships. 
Part of growing up is exploring power in relationships. While no one can guarantee your child will not be part of relational aggression, we can share our commitment to work to empower our children to have strategies to deal with these incidents in healthy ways.

Children and Body Image

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by Jonathan Weedman

If you ask a 5-year-old what dieting means you are likely to get a variety of responses. Most of us would like to believe that a 5-year-old would say, “What are you talking about?” or the wonderful “I don’t know.” However, it seems that research is telling us that in fact we might hear something like, “A diet is when you don’t eat.” Research from Florida State University indicates children as young as three years old think about their bodies and how they compare to their classmates. 

Here at Catlin Gabel, it would appear we are no less victim to this potential research finding. In the last several months I have had numerous conversations with teachers, parents, and children about body image. In my previous work experience I was very accustomed to talking about body image with adults and adolescents. Never did I image I would be talking about body image to children as young as five years old. 

How children begin to have body image concerns is getting new attention in the research arena. From my experience children are like sponges. They soak up all experiences around them. Like most human beings, once they soak up the data, they attempt to make sense out of this information. However, young children lack the full cognitive ability to make sense out of this information. As a result, they create “cognitive tapes” of what might be an explanation. The tapes can be incorrect or at the very least overly concrete. 

For example, imagine you and your family are sitting around the dinner table. It’s after the holidays and you decide you want to lose weight you put on during the holiday season. You say to your partner, quite benignly, “I really need to stop being so lazy and get to the gym so I can lose this holiday weight.” You and your partner move through the conversation never imagining that your little one is picking up on the information. As an adult, we think about this information, analyze it, and then decide what make sense to us from multiple angles. We plan a sensible and healthy diet and we focus on being healthy in the coming months. The child hears this and thinks, “Lazy is bad and fat is bad. I don’t want to be lazy or fat.” They go to school the next day and see their friend at the table next to them feeling tired. They say to that friend, “You are tired because you are fat.” No malice or ill will is being expressed here, merely a connection s/he has made. 

What can we do?
First and foremost, our body image affects our children’s body image. We must learn to be careful about what we say even in the most simplistic form. Comments about our own or other’s bodies should not be centered around the negative or weight. We should be aware that what we say is being heard by our children and often times interpreted in child-like ways. 

Be careful in talking about dieting or about being lazy. Instead, focus on being healthy and talking about what that means. An article in the International Education Journal suggests that young children learn about foods that are healthy and unhealthy but they have little understanding of the context of what it means to be holistically healthy. What makes a person healthy is much more than just how much they weigh or what foods they eat. The article goes on to suggest that programs in schools could benefit from a more holistic understanding of health.

Finally, it’s important to pay attention to what kinds of media our children are exposed to and use this as a teaching opportunity. Media comes in all shapes and sizes including television, books, movies, music, and magazines. Open a magazine and you will see the modeling industry flooded with women who weigh 23% less then an average woman. And yet, these women are held as the standard for what is beautiful. We see retail stores called, “1, 3, and 5,” and television is constantly parading stories in front of us about childhood obesity. Depictions of body image are everywhere. Even children’s books often portray physically bigger characters as lazy or slow. 

We can not keep our children from being exposed to media entirely, nor would we want to. Instead, use media as a learning tool for your children. Talk about these forms of media and teach them that health is a broad array of characteristics, and that bodies do indeed come in all shapes and sizes. 

Here at school we have started to address these issues. We talk about media literacy as early as first grade and do several lessons on body image in fourth and fifth grades. The health curriculum has been expanded to talk about health as a variety of factors and that you really can’t tell if someone is healthy by looking at their body shape. In a recent health lesson we discovered that children as young as second grade knew what a BMI (Body Mass Index) was and what could be considered a good or bad BMI score. Our goal is for children to have a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and good nutrition. Their ability to participate in activities (physically and mentally) comfortably is a good indicator of this.


The Shifting Seas of 5th Grade Friendships

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Helping Your 5th Grader Navigate Changing Friendships

5th grade is a time of many changes for children. Not only do home work demands increase, but suddenly there are emotional, social, and intellectual changes occurring as well. Socially, this becomes a time when children begin the process of separation and individuation and start to try on a variety of new roles. Their peer groups take on a greater importance and they themselves begin to try on a variety of new personalities and interests. You may also find your 5th grader playing with different forms of power in their social relationships. 

Photo by Salva Barbera

Talking with them and previewing these changes can be very powerful. Start by asking them about their friendships. Find out who they are hanging around with and what games they are playing. If their friendships have not yet shifted, let them know this might happen and brainstorm with them ways to adapt to this change. Preview  with them what this might be like and have them generate ideas as to what they will do if they want to move to a new social group or seem to be struggling with their current friendships. They may choose a new activity, start playing with a new kid, or find a teacher to help them negotiate these shifting seas. This process will not only help them understand that this is a normal part of 5th grade, but more importantly, there are multiple ways and solutions to coping with these changes.
As your child begins to play with forms of social power, you may need to talk with them about the appropriate use of this power. Children of this age need to understand that they have a social responsibility to wield this power appropriately. This, in fact, becomes the time of shifting from “just because I can doesn’t mean I should.” Talk with your child about your family values and what you believe to be important. Share with them your expectations and what kind of leader you wish them to be. Always help them see there are multiple solutions to any problem and now they have the obligation to pick the one that serves the greater good.   


Friendship Skills

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friendship skills

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.