Three Basics – relief for students and families schooling from Home

This  link will take you to a  great article for parents and students who are schooling from home and might feel stressed about covering all of the CONTENT they feel their schools are requiring.

I appreciate the focus on three basic skill sets for staying abreast of learning so that you are prepared to re-enter an educational system at any time : literacy, numeracy and skills that help you get along with yourself and others.

Summary of some helpful hints for staying sane and connected in uncertain times

Many  of us have now been physically isolated within our homes and with our families  for at least three weeks. 

Some of us also continue to be out in community providing essential services, at the grocery store shelving food, at the cash register, bagging groceries, answering  law enforcement calls, fires, other safety calls, and many of us continue to do the essential work of providing health care, checking in patients, assuring and treating people who are sick.

Whatever your situation at this time, the New Normal of the COVID 19 pandemic  has brought forth many new circumstances and has probably evoked big emotions in yourself and in those you live with more and more intimately.

So this post is a summary of  some of the essential messages for those of us caring for children.

  1. Just like the adults in their lives, children are surely having many big emotions. With routines and schedule disrupted, far less physical social contact with friends, peers and teachers, and far greater contact with family members, children are undoubtedly having many new and strong feelings. Help children find positive ways to express feelings such as fear, sadness, loneliness, anxiety.. Every child has his or her own way of expressing emotions. Sometimes engaging in a creative activity, such as drawing or telling a story to an adult or stuffed animal,  can facilitate this process. Children feel relieved if they can express and communicate their feelings in a safe and supportive environment. Adults can help them identify different feelings and the range of those feelings. Recognizing the difference between uncertainty, anxiety, fear, terror can be helpful and finding ways to move down the intensity ladder can give everyone a sense of control and calm. Noticing and addressing anxiety before it becomes fear is helpful and a good skill to practice.
  2. Children  and youth depend on the adults in their lives to keep them safe and reassured. Keep children close to their parents and family, if considered safe, and avoid separating children and their care givers as much as possible. If a child needs to be separated from his or her primary carer, ensure that appropriate alternative care is provided and that a social worker or equivalent will regularly follow up on the child. Further, ensure that during periods of separation, regular contact with parents and carers is maintained, such as twice-daily scheduled telephone or video calls or other age-appropriate communication (e.g. social media). If your children are with you, answer their questions as honestly and factually as you can. Reassure them that even though the immediate future is uncertain, you, the adults will always be there to look after them, to stay informed, to keep them safe. The children need to be able to trust you to make wise, informed decisions and keep them safe, well and guided.
  3. Maintain familiar routines in daily life as much as possible, or create new routines, especially when children must stay at home. Eat at regular times if possible and maintain a routine for sleep. Getting sufficient sleep is critical to maintaining a steady mood and strengthening your immune system. Provide engaging age-appropriate activities for children, including activities for their learning, playing, socializing and being outside in nature.  Where possible, encourage children to continue to play and socialize with others within the family. This can include taking greater responsibility of pets, brushing, playing with and walking dogs and cats and teaching them tricks, taking care of their food, water and litter boxes. Taking care of anything living that depends on you, including watering a houseplant, tends towards better mental health. Providing a service that others depend on gives a sense of meaning and control.
  4. During times of stress and crisis, it is common for children to seek more attachment and be more demanding on parents. Discuss COVID-19 with your children in an honest and age-appropriate way. If your children have concerns, addressing them together may ease their anxiety. Children will observe adults’ behaviours and emotions for cues on how to manage their own emotions during difficult times. 
  5. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of your family. Provide good modeling for your children. Take time to read, to journal, to work in the garden, to tend to the house, to rest, to talk with friends. Tell your children you are going to take a break, a ‘time out’ to take care of yourself so you can be reliable and pleasant.  Set the timer. Don’t work longer than you have intended. Take a break. Notice what helps you maintain a stable and steady mood. 
  6. Resilience is the ability of an object to return to its original shape after a big change of shape. Imagine a rubber ball. If the rubber has maintained its resiliency, it will regain its shape even after it has been squished or flattened. It is a goal to regain your shape quickly after being squeezed, squashed, flattened. Little disappointments, as well as big and threatening surprises, can bend us out of shape. What helps you return quickly and fully to your original shape, your original mood? Try to expand your tolerance for disappointments, frustrations, surprises. These are uncertain times. Practice returning to your normal mood quickly. Be flexible and resilient. Create some practices that help you maintain your flexibility and commit to them. Just being outside for 15 minutes can change your mood. Get the sky over your head as often as possible, and over your family’s heads. Build time together outside into your daily routine. Nature can heal and reassure.

Safe and Sane Tip # 6

Tools for Tuesday – physical and mental health tips – parent newsletter # 6

To protect our individual health it is important to :

  • Maintain a safe physical distance from people other than those who live in your immediate household. Do not get closer than 6 feet (the length of a cow or two calves, or to be safe, the length of a small car!) to neighbors or friends or anyone unless you live in under the same roof.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds – the amount of time it takes to sing the ABCs song if it is unfamiliar to you or time how long it takes to sing a favorite song  you’ve been wanting to memorize or teach your children.
  • Clean areas that are touched often in your home – door knobs, drawer knobs, the kitchen table – with regular household cleaners.
  • Avoid sharing personal items like towels, and wash towels and dishcloths often.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue or into your elbow to avoid spraying droplets on others.

These practices will help keep you safe, healthy and alive. 

During these times of disruptions and uncertainty, it is also important to make your mental health and your children’s mental wellbeing a high priority. 

To stay sane,schedule time to be outside and engage with nature. 

In the time of the COVID-19 virus we need to avoid people, not nature. We feel compelled to go out because we are social beings. Being locked up and isolated is against our nature. Growing research states a firm connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, depression and anxiety.  

Therefore during this time of schooling at home, be sure to schedule plenty of time outside. 

  • Take a walk around your neighborhood. Notice how the trees are changing. Look for signs of spring, tiny bits of green emerging, snow drifts melting, ditches running, branches changing color as the sap rises and buds swell. Listen for birds. See what they are doing. Ask your child to count how many different kinds of birds she sees and to describe how she knows they differ.
  • Wave to your neighbors and smile but keep a distance – remember, the length of a cow or horse or small car between you and people you don’t live with in the same house.
  • In your own yard, trace the outline of a small square or circle anywhere on the earth. Have your child notice what happens within that space over time. Are there ants, butterflies or spiders visiting the area? Are there twigs, leaves from last year or green plants coming up? Does the earth change over time? Does it seem dry, wet, solid or crumbly? Check the area several times a day and every day for a week or longer. Take notes – good practice observing and writing. Make a short video. Make a book about this space in nature. 
  • Help your child find a comfortable and safe spot outdoors, perhaps under a tree where he can watch the birds and/or clouds over time.
  • Again, planning time outside and paying attention to nature and will provide helpful breaks during on-line learning, will provide non-screen time, and most importantly will encourage your child to find peace and sanity outdoors and to learn about nature and the species with which we share this earth.
  • Put a chair or blanket outside and read outdoors with your child. This creates a healthy association with the two activities together.


Building a Positive Emotional Climate – Routines

Building Positive Emotional Climates for Learning
and Living Together Well

Keeping our wits about us is not easy task especially now as we shelter in place,cut off from so much of the life we have known and wonder about the impact COVID-19 will have on our lives. Keeping it together however will allow us to organize and survive the coming months from a place of power and kindness.

Your children are looking to you for guidance and reassurance. In these uncertain times we all need a practice that helps us stay grounded, aware, intentional. For some of us it will be meditation, for some prayer, reading, ritual, pausing, or simply routines.

In this article we will focus on routines that add order and a sense of control in your household. Co-creating and following simple routines will help you use your time in a fulfilling way and will contribute to the overall sense of physical and emotional, mental wellbeing.

Below are general recommendations for routines during these challenging times.

• If you have routines already in place do all that you can to protect them. If you don’t yet have routines, establish a schedule and stick to it. Write the schedule down, set the timer, stick to the schedule, review it in the morning and reflect on it and revise it in the evening.

• Co-create timetables and routines with everyone in the household. Even very young children need to have a say about the timing of their days We all need a sense of control in these times when we have so little control of much that is important to us: our health, our safety, our jobs, incomes, the future, the shape of our lives post COVID-19.

• Having choice is foundational to being responsible. Give children age appropriate choices. For a 3 year old ask, do you want to have breakfast on the red plate or the green plate? For the 10 year old, ask do you want to start with writing or math today? For the 15 year old, do you want to start with exercise or schoolwork this morning?

• Create predictable spaces. Provide each child with a reliable spot to do his or her schoolwork. Ask the child what would make the space a good place to learn. Having pencils and paper, a pair of scissors, art supplies and a space for books, will help create order and a sense of regularity. If it is not possible to dedicate the space solely to the child’s study, organize all of the supplies and books into a box that can be decorated, and packed and repacked when it is necessary to move spaces. This will help the child feel in charge and responsible for materials and learning.

• Provide a space where the child can go to be alone: a cushion in a comfortable corner, a certain step, a spot in the back seat of a car, a place under a tree. If everyone in the household has a place to go to be alone, to read, to journal, to daydream, to rest, everyone will feel they have permission to be alone, to choose to isolate, to become comfortable with their own company. Make these breaks or pauses a part of the family culture and model taking time alone when you need a pause or a break or a time to reflect.

• Remember, children’s capacity to focus is developmentally determined. A general rule of thumb is age times two, so a 4 year old can be expected to focus for 8 minutes and an 8 year old about 15 minutes to 20 minutes. 22 minutes seems to be about the maximum time any of us can focus! Plan time accordingly. Get up to have a drink of water. Step outside and check the weather, walk around the house once. Stretch and swing your arms. Change the way you are engaging with the material. Change from reading silently to reading aloud or identifying words to look up .

• Limit screen time. Be firm. We all need limits on our intentionally addictive devices. Children and teens need your help to limit their use of social media. Model the behavior and self-regulation you expect from your children.

• Self-reflection is a major component of critical thinking. Ask questions that require reflection. What did you learn today that surprised you? What did you hear that you don’t believe? What are you looking forward to today? What did you not understand and what can you do to get the information you need? Who did you help today or who helped you? What made you calm today?

• At least once a day, focus on gratitude. At dinner or breakfast name aloud what you are thankful for and why. Do a few rounds of things you are grateful for and be sure everyone adds at least one thing. Don’t comment on others thanksgiving. See if you can notice what happens in your body when you share things for which you are grateful Chemicals are released in response to thoughts. You can choose what you focus on. Focusing on gratitude is an invaluable practice and habit that will build a positive emotional climate in your family and is an excellent tool for building resilience.

• Be intentional and practice. All of these tools are invaluable skills for life. Use this unusual time as an opportunity to purposefully build habits and skills that will make you and your family more resilient, intentional, kind, and positive.

Tool # 4 Navigating Emotions

Navigating feelings

Self-regulation is a goal of being a full and  mature human. We all have the capacity to integrate our thoughts and our feelings to life full lives and experience the full and glorious range of emotions in our ‘beautiful and broken world.’

Self-regulation can be a bit tricky. We have long over valued ‘being rational ‘ and demonized emotions. ‘Self-regulation’ is at risk of being simply shutting down emotions, pushing them under the rug until they suddenly explode in harsh words and hurt feelings or we withdraw and loose connections and caring.

There are ways to recognize feelings early on and use them to motivate and energize yourself and others, to embrace and enjoy life fully, to build a positive emotional climate.

As described yesterday, the first skill is to recognize the feelings and understand the source.

If the feeling is unpleasant which is how we might describe a  feeling we have when our needs are not being met,  we may need to create a pause between the trigger and the reaction. Each feeling causes a fairly predictable reaction. Unless you want that emotion to be in control you need to develop skills to maintain the control yourself and to be able to access and blend thoughts and feelings.

When your child spills her cup of milk on the bed at the end of a long day and starts crying and hitting her brother, it is difficult to not also lose your temper and start yelling too.

When you find yourself worrying over and over about the same possibility in the future, or heading into a no-win argument with your partner, child, or mother, once you recognize and become aware of what is happening, you can choose to interrupt the chain of thoughts and feelings and influence the outcome.

Say aloud, “I recognize this is not a helpful path we are on, I am going to take a ‘time out’ and  get myself a  glass of water and step outside so I can navigate my feelings and calm myself down. I will be back though, in 2 minutes when my mind and body are calmer.”  If you  leave without assuring everyone that you are coming back  (and set a time), you can make those you leave feel very anxious, abandoned, scared, especially a child.

Then move. Get up, shake a little, pay attention to your body. Go outside, get a glass of water, listen to the sounds in the room or outside, check the sky for the weather. Whistle a tune, do something to bring yourself into the present moment. If you notice your thoughts returning to the argument, or problem stop, get some more water, shake some more, stay in charge of your thoughts and feelings.

The earlier you interrupt the chain of thoughts and feelings the better! Once the chemicals produced in response to the emotions get started, they flood the brain and the body and it gets harder and harder to change your mood.

Also when we are tired, hungry, or thirsty it is much easier for our brains to ‘hijack’ going from a cool 1 to a hot and angry 10 in a matter of seconds! This is just a biological reality. Anticipate these states for yourself and your children and avoid them if possible.

Stay aware. Notice where your feelings are going and where your children’s feelings are going and interrupt the flow as early as possible.

Once you are back in control of your emotions, return to the situation and if you need to clean up the split milk you can do so with greater kindness and more forgiveness after you have taken a pause and navigated your emotions. The child probably did not mean to spill the milk. Accidents happen. Build your child’s trust in you to be a dependable, kind, self-regulated and helpful person they can turn to, even when they make a mistake.

If you’ve left an argument, return to the person and continue the conversation, or not. If you return to the argument you can do so with a calmer, cooler head and probably with new thoughts and solutions. Otherwise you can choose to set a time to discuss the problem later if it remains an issue.

Learning to navigate feelings, like a sailor navigates a sailboat, utilizing the wind and the currents, expertly setting the sails to catch the wind, and using the rudder to skillfully arrive at safe harbor, is a skill set that improves with practice. In the coming days we will explain and explore these skills.

Think about what kind of person you want to be for your children, your family and your community during these times of uncertainty. Be the kind of person you will be proud of being.