All Families Invited

 
goodman-annabel-85x85-CV-FT-final.jpg

I remember the very first book I purchased as a new school counselor. It was 2009 and I bought Enemy Pie by Derek Munson. I planned to use this book as bibliotherapy for my classroom guidance lessons on friendship. Over the course of that year and the ten years that followed, I stocked up on more children’s books that I could use to teach about certain topics- feelings, divorce, grief, bullying, acceptance, anxiety, self esteem, and so much more. I believe in the power of books as an outlet for children to relate to which is why I wrote All Families Invited.

That’s right! My very first children’s book comes out next week! All Families Invited celebrates different types of families. I read a fascinating article (https://ifstudies.org/blog/1-in-2-a-new-estimate-of-the-share-of-children-being-raised-by-married-parents) that said based upon 2016 data collected by a National Household Education Survey that only 50% of high school seniors live at home with married, birth parents. Of course, I’ve seen this shift in demographics in the ten years I worked as a school counselor and yet I am often surprised by the limiting language that is often used by schools such as “father-daughter” dances or “mother-son” breakfasts.

The premise behind my book is not to diminish the relationship between a father and daughter but rather to open the door for more inclusive language for children whose bonds are with someone other than “dad” or “mom.” Someone might ask, “so what’s the big deal? it’s just the name of a dance,” to which I would respond “yes, and if the name really isn’t important than why not change it something more inclusive?” I would guess that many schools who have designated dances as mentioned above would certainly be okay if a student whose family composition is different were to bring grandpa or a stepdad but what adults often fail to understand is that children are the ones left explaining their situation. “Are you bringing your dad to the dance next week?” asks one child. “No, I’m bringing my uncle,” responds another child. Developmentally children are curious right? Why is the favorite question a young child likes to ask so in this scenario imagine these are the why questions? “Why aren’t you bringing your dad?” “Why doesn’t your dad live with you?” “Why did your parents get divorced?”

I believe so much in the power of role models and for many children it is their mother and father but that’s not necessarily true for all children and as the above referenced study mentions just because a child lives at home with two married birth parents in second grade doesn’t mean that his family composition will be the same as a senior in high school. There are many reasons to account for the differences and it’s important for adults in school communities to be mindful of the changing family structures and work to create more inclusive language.

Where can you purchase my book?

It’s available online at Amazon AND if you have a favorite independent bookstore like I do, they should be able to order you a copy even if they don’t carry it on their shelves. Just ask!


Shy or Highly Sensitive?

I recently read The Highly Sensitive Child by Dr. Elaine Aron. Before the book begins, there is a survey for parents to answer “True” or “False” to characteristics of their child. Some of the statements on the survey include:

  • startles easily

  • doesn’t enjoy big surprises

  • seems very intuitive

  • doesn’t do well with big changes

  • prefers quiet play

  • feels deeply

  • notices subtleties (something's been moved, a person looks differently, etc)

I think what fascinated me the most about this book is how often the term “shy” gets thrown around when actually, based upon the research Dr. Aron writes, the child is highly sensitive. Since I work with school-aged children I thought I’d describe how a typical school day might affect a highly sensitive child.

First, for parents of kindergarteners I bet you can attest to the transition period that happened during the first days, weeks, and even months of school. Transitions are hard for kiddos in general; they thrive on routine but especially hard for highly sensitive children who need to know what to expect. Showing your child the setting ahead of time is incredibly helpful. This is why most schools offer back-to-school days for students and families to walk around the school, see where classrooms are, where the lunch room is, etc. If your child takes the bus helping them know where they’ll get dropped off at school and where to catch the bus are important transitions as well.

Second, the classroom can sometimes be overstimulating for highly sensitive children. Working with your child’s teacher to help identify ways to self-regulate during overstimulation times is important. Many teachers have reading nooks or sensory corners where children can take breaks and over time develop strategies to regulate their emotions.

And the last point I wanted to share is about naming emotions and normalizing them. If you bring your child to a classmate’s birthday party at a jump house and notice tears, name that feeling. “It seems like you’re feeling scared. It’s okay to feel scared when you’ve never been in a jump house before. I know that sometimes I feel scared the first time I do something new.” In this example, you might also add a recommendation that Dr. Aron talks about which is tapping into a familiar experience. “This is your first time going to a jump house but you’ve been on a trampoline before at Sam'’s house and I remember at first you felt nervous but then you found it fun.”

I’d be happy to connect you with other resources or talk with you further about school transitions. And for parents of high schoolers, college is a big transition too and I do a lot of work with students preparing for that transition.

My Letter to College Admissions Officers

The recent college admissions scandal has generated lots of discussion. I chose to focus on the point that I know best as a mental health counselor- this process is taking a toll on students’ mental health.

Dear College Admissions Officers:

I write this letter from the perspective of someone who works with lots of high school students and sees how your acceptance process leaves students perplexed at best and suicidal at worst. I started undergrad 18 years ago and sure there were times when I felt frustrated during the process but I still got to be a teenager. In my downtime I’d listen to Jewel’s latest album, go to movies with my friends, and watch Dawson’s Creek. My admissions experience was quite a simple one because of the privilege I was afforded. So why am I concerned?

I am concerned for the mental health of our students. Do you know that the prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision making, planning, and judgement, starts developing at age twelve and isn’t fully formed until mid-late twenties? The excessive scheduling of sports, music lessons, and tutoring means either a still-functioning teenage brain has to manage that OR a parent steps in. When I was in high school, the “talk” was to find something you’re good at. I liked writing so I did that and I also liked helping people so I volunteered at the hospital after school. Now, it’s simply not good enough to have one thing you’re good at, you must have many. You must be popular but kind, athletic but well-rounded, make good grades but also volunteer and if you’ve already founded your own nonprofit or learned four languages then WOW! Is that picture that I just described really attainable? Where is there time in that picture for self-care? For the recommended 8-9 hours of sleep? For time to connect with friends and family that doesn’t involve a screen? 

I don’t know if you realize this but the competitive nature of college admissions means that students now associate asking for help with failure and struggling with a mental illness as a sign of weakness. When I missed school because I was sick, I’d call up my friend on her land line and asked her if I could I borrow the notes that I missed in class. During 11th grade, two of my closest friends tutored me in calculus because I was so confused. Do you think that same mentality happens now? Sometimes yes, but I think you would be shocked to hear that students don’t share their notes now because “tough luck that person was sick. They should’ve stuck it out like I did.” Can you imagine how it feels to be struggling with depression and feel totally alone because society tells you it’s a weakness? Don’t you think that everyone would benefit if there wasn’t this mentality of “taking away from me in order to give to someone else?” 

Not that you’ve asked but I’d love to offer you some possible essay topics for those applications of yours. 

·     What do you do for self-care?

·     What would you give up for someone else?

·     If a camera crew followed you around all day, would they see that you are the bully, the bullied, or a bystander? If you are a bystander, would they see you stand up for the kid who’s bullied or turn away and act as if nothing happened because it doesn’t affect you directly?

If you ever want to trade places for a day, give me a call. I think you’ll find the issues facing teens today very eye opening.

Teaching about Mistakes

I often have parents of young children ask me how to talk about mistakes in a way that is developmentally appropriate. I wanted to share two of my favorite children’s books.

First up- Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg. This creative board book helps children see that a bent piece of paper can be something to celebrate because the bent corner is actually the beak of a penguin. It’s colorful design and three-dimensional aspect makes it a fun book to explore with children.

Then there’s The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken which looks at how an artistic imperfection can spark inspiration. It’s beautifully illustrated and will resonate with any child (or parent) who has experienced a meltdown when drawing. “I didn’t want that circle to look that way,” can lead to tears but Luyken helps kids understand that the circle can be easily turned into something different.

And finally a great read for supportive adults is The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey. Her book encourages parents to let their children experience failure so then they can problem solve for themselves solutions. Here’s an article about Lahey’s book written by Julie Lythcott-Haims author of How to Raise an Adult:

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/23/books/review/the-gift-of-failure-by-jessica-lahey.html

What does a healthy relationship look like?

Our teens learn about relationships from what they see around them which includes adults in their lives as well as through the media. Too often, movies and shows portray love in a way that is unhealthy. So what does a healthy relationship look like? To answer that question, I’ve turned to one of my favorite resources, One Love Foundation. Here are their 10 signs of a healthy relationship:

-Comfortable pace

-Trust

-Honesty

-Independence

-Respect

-Equality

-Compassion

-Taking Responsibility

-Loyalty

-Communication

For more information, check out the great resources listed on their website here: https://www.joinonelove.org/signs-healthy-relationship/

What we can learn from Children's Books

Some of you may not know this but I’m self-publishing my first children’s book this spring which celebrates different types of families. The world of children’s book authors, illustrators, and readers is a special one and I spent most of January checking out some great books. Below are some of my favorite children’s books that have special messages for all of us.

Moon by Alison Oliver- Moon is the story of a young girl who forgets what it’s like to be wild and free. She has a strict schedule of school, homework, music lessons, and tutoring. Her schedule resembles many students I work with. In this beautifully illustrated book, Moon meets Wolf who shows her how to be playful and spontaneous. This story reminds us all the simple pleasure of play and the amazing sense of freedom that can come from being present in the moment.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson- There are many reasons to feel different. This book reminds us that it’s hard to take that first (often vulnerable) step to let others get to know us.

The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros- It can be hard for children to understand what happens to family members and other loved ones who are affected by dementia. This book helps to explain what happens to memories by using balloons as a metaphor.

Isle of You by David LaRochelle- Adults, teens, and children can all relate to needing a place that helps take your mind off of school, work, and other worries. This book combines creativity and guided imagery to take you to a special place when you are feeling sad, mad, or worried.

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall- This book celebrates being true to yourself despite what others may think or say.

Support your local independent bookstore by checking out these great reads!

Using Winter as a Time for Self-Reflection

Do you hibernate in the winter? Is your goal each cold, rainy (or snowy) day to leave school/work as soon a possible and find comfort in your sweats and blankets? While it may be true, that we retreat indoors when the weather is blustery, it doesn’t mean that there’s not ways to reconnect. Use these dark days of winter as an opportunity to self-reflect and reconnect with yourself. Not sure how to do that? Here are some ideas:

  • Organize/re-organize your bookshelf. Chances are you’ll read a book or partly read a book then shove it on the shelf. What if you find a book that you’ve never read? Or perhaps a book that is your favorite and want to read again?

  • Start a puzzle. Adults often forget the power of puzzles. Not only can they be relaxing but they also involved spatial awareness and creativity. Puzzles can also be communal. Leave your puzzle out on a table in the middle of your house and watch as other family members pass by and complete a few pieces along their way to the kitchen.

  • Try a new recipe. Perhaps you love to cook and you’ve got all of these great food blogs or chefs you follow on Instagram. Find a new recipe to try. If you are not the cook, maybe now is the time to learn a simple meal or bake a simple treat.

  • Get crafty. Whether it’s with a hot glue gun or a needle and thread, ignite your creativity and create something new. Much like cooking there’s a sense of satisfaction in having a finished product. If you’re really handy, maybe now is the time to check off the to-do list of repairs.

Why is it important for adults to take time to self-reflect, to inspire creativity, to try something new? Because it’s good for your mental health AND for those of you that are parents, it’s an excellent way to model for your children that connecting can happen without a cell phone or WIFI.

Go on and give it a try!

Setting Intentions instead of Resolutions

As 2018 comes to a close, I’ve heard people buzzing about their New Year’s Resolutions- sleep more, take more vacation days, lose weight, use social media less, etc. I’m not against making resolutions or setting goals but I’d like to reframe the way we talk about resolutions. In my mind, resolutions are lofty, abstract goals that are often hard to follow through with and leave people feeling bad about themselves. What’s fun in that?

I once had a student who came back from winter break and said, “I’ve made a resolution not to gossip anymore.” My response went something like this, “Wow, it sounds like you have a desire to be more mindful of how you talk about others. I wonder what your ‘no gossip’ resolution looks like. What’s your first step towards that resolution?” This student just sat and stared at me. I think she was hoping I’d say, “Congrats, what a great resolution.”

Why setting an intention is different? An intention encompasses many different situations and I think doesn’t leave someone feeling “less than” if their goal is not achieved. For example, let’s say your intention for 2019 is to be more present. Some days you might focus your intention to be more present at work, other days it might be with your family or yourself. You can also notice when you forget about your intention. “Man, I really zoned out at that parent meeting today. Next time I need to jot down more notes to help keep my mind from wandering.” I also like using the word “intention” because it’s flexible and adaptable and I think that’s important. No one can predict what 2019 might hold so by setting an intention you allow yourself that flexibility to accept what you cannot control.

Here’s to wishing you a healthy and happy 2019 and may your intentions for the year guide you to take care of yourself and others.

The Pressure of Being a College Athlete

Recently I read the book What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan that recounts the life and suicide of college athlete, Madison Holleran. I found it fascinating and couldn’t put the book down. Many of the comments that Maddy made throughout the book were reminiscent of what I’ve heard as a high school counselor- the pressure to perform, the allure of a name brand school, feeling trapped and unable to quit something that you don’t love doing anymore, etc. Reading this prompted me to dig deeper into research done specifically on perfectionism and college athletes.

Elison and Partridge (2012) published an article in the Journal of Sport Behavior that looked at the relationships of shame-coping, fear of failure, and perfectionism in college athletes. Their study found that female athletes tend to employ internalizing forms of shame coping (attacking self and withdrawal) more than males. One of the key highlights of this article for me was when the researchers said, “if shame is elicited by devaluation then shame and fear of failure can be lessened by reducing athletes’ perceptions that their shortcomings make them less worthy as a person” (2012). This got me to thinking how relatable that statement is to what I often see in terms of grades and personal value. Many students attach their self-worth to their grades. “If I get a B or a C, I am not a good person or unworthy” is often the negative self-talk going on inside their heads.

So how do we as parents and educators help? First, consider how you viewed your own success and failure? Did you tie your grades or success to your self-worth? If not, it’s important to share that with your child. You might say, “you know what I got lots of B’s or lots of C’s and while I might have wished they would’ve been A’s I also knew I tried my hardest.” You might also engage in a deeper discussion about personal values and how sometimes values aren’t measured by grades or trophies; they’re measured by how we treat people.

Know of a child or teen struggling with perfectionism or negative self-talk? I’d be happy to help!

Social Media as a Tool for Good

I first came across this article by Laura Clydesdale over the summer and then Girls Leadership posted it on their Facebook page recently and it reminded me that so much of the talk about social media to parents is that “it’s bad” and “something to be fearful of” and while the second statement may be true on some level, it can also be a powerful tool for good. I wanted to recap some of the points made from this article: https://girlsleadership.org/blog/help-girl-take-back-control-social-media/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=hq-fb&utm_campaign=0518-lc_rox-hq-tr&fbclid=IwAR1_vnM5DNLYBdsezPer9ZyJBhgHV2wED4NUF9gVG8ZXVgJSZed4CYXmnNE

A simple exercise that Dr. Lisa Hinkelman talks about involves asking your daughter 3 words to describe herself, 3 words a close friend might use to describe her, and then seeing how those words stack up to her image on social media. I might also encourage you as her mom or other loving adult to do this same exercise for yourself. What similarities do you notice? What are the differences?

So often, teenage girls (and adult women) want to portray what they think as the ideal. In real life, many teenage girls I’ve done this activity with have described themselves using these words: funny, kind, adventurous, athletic, creative, honest, etc. Those are all amazing qualities and yet with the exception of maybe adventurous and athletic, the social media profiles of those same girls don’t showcase their other attributes. Instead, with just the right filter and angle, their images highlight what’s on the outside, not the inside.

Need more help with some conversation starters about social media, check out: www.mediagirls.org for some great tips.

Written by Kathleen Goodman

Written by Kathleen Goodman