Posted on Leave a comment

Where are we going to go? The struggles of family homelessness in our country and states…

“Where are we going to go?” This is the question an eight year old girl asks her mother night after night as they navigate homelessness in Shante Norton’s Where are we going to go? The story is told from the child’s perspective as she tries to find normalcy in school while her family floats between shelters and even sleeps in their car at night. Coming to school exhausted from trying to sleep all night in a cramped car does not make learning easy. Only when the child eventually confides in her school counselor can the family truly get the help they need to get back on their feet again. 

The statistics on homelessness among young families in our country are startling. According to a 2018 report from the National Alliance to End Homelessness, almost 60,000 families in the United States are homeless on any given night (retrieved from https://endhomelessness.org/resource/family-homelessness-in-the-united-states-state-by-state-snapshot/). One in thirty children will experience homelessness each year, and 51% of those children are under the age of five (retrieved from https://www.doorwaysva.org/our-work/education-advocacy/the-facts-about-family-homelessness/). In my state alone of Oklahoma, almost 4,000 people are counted as homeless every night. Obviously, homelessness is a threat many of our families are facing every day. 

Some families are caught in cycles of chronic homelessness. Specifically, “People With a mental illness can experience cycles or iterations of homelessness where they move chaotically through various forms of tenuous housing and periods of living on the street. They do not undergo a steady pathway or career from a more stable to less stable housing situation” (retrieved from https://www.ahuri.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/2990/AHURI_RAP_Issue_39_Cycles_of_homelessness.pdf). In other words, they have not developed skills to be self sufficient and just move from one temporary place to another. 

Just basing this opinion off of personal observations, I have noticed that we are so good at reaching a hand out to those who let us know they are experiencing hardship. The mother in Shante Norton’s Where are we going to go? Was embarrassed by their situation and refused to ask for help, which made it difficult to assist them in the beginning of the story. What we need to do a better job as a collective that works with these families is intervening on behalf of the chronically homeless and equipping them with the skills needed to sustain more permanent housing and employment situations. While COVID 19 has made many of these programs more difficult, a quick google search found an extensive list of non profit agencies that offer classes on the likes of budgeting, food preparation, organizing, job interview skills, etc. As a community, it is important to share these types of programs with those who may need it, as well as advocating for continued funding so that we can put a true dent in homelessness. 

Sources

Doorways. The facts about family homelessness. Retrieved from https://www.doorwaysva.org/our-work/education-advocacy/the-facts-about-family-homelessness/

National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2018). Family homelessness in the United States: A state by state snapshot. Retrieved from https://endhomelessness.org/resource/family-homelessness-in-the-united-states-state-by-state-snapshot/

Posted on Leave a comment

Dealing with Stressful Moments: 5 De-Escalation Techniques for Avoiding the Meltdown

You can see it coming…you’re out, running errands, and you’ve been in the busy grocery store just a smidge too long. The music is blaring over the loudspeaker, there are people pushing and shoving all around you, and the small behaviors that you have been noticing in your children over the past several minutes are becoming more and more frequent. 

Both of you are red-faced, overstimulated, and the little things are about to result in a very public display in a very public place. 

We’ve all been there…no judgment. But, how can we take what we’re learning about stress and its effect on the family and make these moments much less frequent? Let’s take a look…

5 De-Escalation Techniques for Parents

Remove yourself from the situation.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can offer is to give yourself permission to take a break. 

When I have had a stressful day at school, it is hard to handle the baggage my own children come to me with at the end of the day. I give myself permission to go on that run to burn off stress or lock myself in my bedroom and take some deep breaths before engaging. The moments when I say things I regret are much less frequent this way…you are NOT a bad parent for needing a break. You are a normal human with the need to decompress frequently to stay regulated.

Re-evaluate your “non-negotiables”.

Crisis Prevention Institute (2020) argues that it is wise to examine what you insist upon as non-negotiable. For example, if your child has a meltdown over showering before bed, is it really that important that they shower right then? Or can they get up and take a shower in the morning after a full night’s rest?

To read the article in it’s entirety, please visit https://www.thelilyjoproject.com/2021/04/13/dealing-with-stressful-moments-5-de-escalation-techniques-for-avoiding-the-meltdown/

Posted on Leave a comment

The Long-Term Effects of Stress on Your Family…What Can You Do About It?

As I turn the aisle in the grocery store, I see you, sweet Momma. Your face is drawn and tired as one child is crying out of exhaustion from a busy day of errands, while the other (carefully placed in the cart to minimize destructive behavior while shopping) begins to pull things off the shelf, waving them in your face before dropping them into the cart. 

We’ve all been in your shoes, about two seconds away from a total meltdown. 

The truth is that many parents around the world are living at a pace that is unsustainable. We are cramming way too much into our already short days, and our families are paying the price from the added stress. 

The SCAN organization (2020) writes, “Every family reacts different to stress, but some of the most common effects include:

  • Arguments, fighting and other poor communication skills.
  • Fatigue, health problems and general exhaustion because of busy schedules.
  • Confusion (especially in children) about relationships with other family members.
  • More dependence on food, alcohol and other substances.”

So, what can we do to alleviate the stress our families are experiencing? Here are 5 key strategies to help battle the harmful effects of stress on your family.

To read the article in full, visit https://www.thelilyjoproject.com/2021/04/06/the-long-term-effects-of-stress-on-your-family-what-can-you-do-about-it/

Posted on Leave a comment

Teaching Your Kids to Recognize Signs of Stress: 5 Practical Tips

“Sometimes my skin gets burning hot and my jaw and fists feel hard as rocks (Garcia, 2017).” In her picture book Listening to My Body, Gabi Garcia narrates the main character noticing sensations in his body as he becomes nervous, excited, angry, etc.

When teaching young children to improve coping skills, it is imperative that we teach them how to notice when their body is sending them a signal that stress is becoming overwhelming.

So, what might your child notice is happening in their body as they become stressed? Sweaty palms, increased heart rate, ringing in ears, flushed cheeks, becoming short-tempered, etc. are all signs that the stress being experienced is becoming detrimental to your child’s physical and mental well-being.

How do we teach our children to listen to their bodies? In Some Days I Flip My Lid, Kellie Bailey (2019)  writes, “The trick, she said, was to notice and see when I start feeling mad or shake in my knees. She told me to notice when my eyes start to close, and then…breathe on purpose right through my nose!”

To read the article in it’s entirety, visit https://www.thelilyjoproject.com/2021/03/29/teaching-your-kids-to-recognize-signs-of-stress-5-practical-tips/

Posted on Leave a comment

Tackling Depression in Children

By Brandy Browne

woman looking at sea while sitting on beach
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

According to the CDC, over 1.9 million children are suffering from depression worldwide (CDC, 2020, retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/features/anxiety-depression-children.html). With that number likely to be inflating due to a year of social isolation, trauma such as death or illness of loved ones, and loss of normalcy, what can a parent do to help tackle depression with their littles?

5 Strategies to Tackle Depression in Children

  1. Use children’s books to facilitate conversations with your children. A personal favorite of mine is Meh by Deborah Malcolm. I have used this pictures only text with clients of all ages to open conversations about persistent sadness with them. The story walks through a young boy’s experience with being pulled into the darkness and finding his way back out again through pictures that transition from bright colors to shades of gray and black and finally back to brightly colored pictures again. 
  2. Soak up that vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to chronic depression in children and adults alike. Aside from spending time outdoors every day, eat plenty of vitamin D fortified foods (mushrooms, egg yolk, fish, etc.). 
  3. Strive to keep your bedtime routine as consistent as possible. Fatigue definitely has a powerful effect on the body’s ability to regulate emotions. A child that is not well rested will definitely struggle to shake off persistent sadness or anxiety. 
  4. Find an outlet…creative endeavors or exercise can be great outlets to fight off depression. According to idontmind.com, “Most of the time, we have our eyes on the end result and ignore the actual process of creating. But the process is where the benefits are. The process is where the healing is” (retrieved from idontmind.com/journal/6-creative-outlets-for-your-mental-health). 
  5.  Reach out for help. Talk to your child’s pediatrician or counselor. Additionally, working through a mental health issue in your child’s life can leave parents feeling incredibly isolated, which in turn has a detrimental effect on the parent’s mental health, compounding the problem. Reach out to friends and family, possibly seek out a local support group, etc. One example of such a group is a group that I moderate for The Lily Jo Project on Facebook. The Lily Jo Project is an international nonprofit that empowers children, teens, young adults, and the adults who work with this population to better their mental health. The group is called Kid’s Mental Health Lockdown Resources, and you can join here https://www.facebook.com/groups/kidsmentalhealthlockdownresources. We would love to have you! If nothing else, having a great support system to vent to and ask for ideas from will be beneficial. 

Children’s Texts that Tackle Depression

  • Meh by Deborah Malcolm
  • The Color Thief: A Family’s Story of Depression by Andrew and Polly Peters
  • The Princess and the Fog: A Story for Children with Depression by Lloyd Jones
  • A Flicker of Hope by Julia Cook
  • Catching Thoughts by Bonnie Clark

Final Thoughts

While depression in children can be overwhelming and scary for families, symptoms can be managed if parents are intentional about creating a healthy lifestyle, based on recommendations from your child’s medical team. Pediatricians, counselors, and parents can work together to create a plan of balanced nutrition, rest, and therapies that will benefit the child and minimize the stronghold depression can have on one’s life. 

Sources

CDC. 2020. Anxiety and depression in children: Get the facts. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/features/anxiety-depression-children.html

IDontMind. 2020. 6 creative outlets for mental health. Retrieved from www.idontmind.com/journal/6-creative-outlets-for-your-mental-health

Posted on 1 Comment

Peeking Inside the World of Bestselling Children’s Author, Julia Cook

By Brandy Browne

Tattle Tongue, My Mouth is a Volcano, Ricky Sticky Fingers…sound familiar? These are just a few of international children’s author Julia Cook’s 121 titles available to children, parents, and educators. Julia Cook takes the issues that plague parents and teachers today and spins them into relatable stories for young children to help them become problem solvers that will grow through these issues. I sat down with her to pick her brain, and here are the thoughts she shared with us…

Brandy: Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Julia: Both of my publishers that I work with in the U.S. are educational publishers, so a lot of parents and teachers will say, “You know, we need a book on this topic” or “Have you ever written a book on this topic?” So, then what I will do is I will start research…I just did one on recess. I got on Facebook, and I said, “What are your problems at recess? Tell me…if I write a book on recess, when a kid gets done reading it, what do they take away?” Then, I’ll start with the takeaways. Then, I also do research…first level, second level, third level. You do a Google search, and you read that article. Then, you search the references. Then, you do that research and search those references as well. Finally, I put all of that info together and try to weave it into a fun story that, you know, every child can see themselves in the book. That’s the goal. 

Brandy: Going back to the recess project, I noticed on your facebook page that there is a book about recess coming out soon! The early childhood educator in me loves that because recess can be a really challenging time for some kiddos. What can you tell us about that project?

Julia: First of all, they (teachers and parents) sent a list of all the things they want in the book or that work in the book. One of the things that came out of that was the Buddy Bench. So, you have a Buddy Bench, and that’s a place you go if maybe you are kind of afraid to talk to people. Maybe someone else is too, so you can just go there and talk to people. Or, a Calm Down Tree. If you feel like you are all stressed out, go run and touch the Calm Down Tree. And, recess is a time where we don’t want it to be so structured. This is the place we let our kids practice the social skills that they have and find out which ones don’t work and why. Conflicts are going to arise. That’s a great teaching place for that to happen. We want our kids to be safe, but also want them to practice..(pause)..recess is practice for life. The book is Herman Jiggle, It’s Recess, Not Re-stress.

Brandy: I love that! Over the weekend, with my daughter, Grace, I read Herman Jiggle, Say Hello because she suffers from some pretty crippling social anxiety. I love that you have books that address topics like that. In the beginning, she was like, “Oh Mom, this is a little kid book!” But, as we started reading it, she could see herself in there.

Julia: Thank you. That’s the beauty of it. We have certain social skills we want to teach kids, and in order to teach them, we have to get into their worldview. The books are really a vehicle to take those skills into their head. The beauty of it is, you know, kids don’t come with instructions, so we can do the research and model what the parent should say and do, what the teacher should say and do, and what the kid should do. They all have a kind of a recipe. You have the problem, a couple solutions, then you try the solution, and tell if you are successful. They want us to wave our problem solving wands and solve their problems for them (waving a fun pink and purple wand here…color me impressed, she literally had a magic wand on stand by), but if we do that, they will live with us when they are thirty. (Emphatically) In our basements. We don’t want that to happen. We want to get the wand and have them learn to wave it themselves. Although that book is written for six, seven, and eight year olds, your ten year old has been six, seven, and eight. She has the same eyes. The concept is that they are people books. If you write a really good book, it doesn’t matter what age the reader is. 

Brandy: You tackle some really big issues in your books- anxiety, depression, bullying, etc. What advice would you give parents that might be struggling in these areas with their children?


Julia: Right now, everything is even more magnified due to the pandemic. They sense our anxieties. Just like when your child was a baby, if you were holding them and you were anxious, it affected them. So, try not to air your anxiety feathers in front of your kids. I think anxiety has to do with predictability. I like to have kids write down everything that is stressing them out on a piece of paper. Then, draw a circle on another piece of paper. They look at their list…if they have control over the thing they are stressing out about, it goes inside the circle. If they can’t control it, it has to stay outside the circle. They focus their energy on the things that they have control over. Another thing that has worked for kids is anxiety recipe cards. So, they have a worry..What if Mom doesn’t pick me up on time? What happens? Well, you wait for a while. Then, you call. They talk through that process and write it on the card. Then, the card goes inside their recipe box that they keep in their backpack. So, they don’t have to have that worry up here (motions towards head). And, you know, it’s really easy for us to play it down, and say, “Oh, don’t make that big a deal of it.” Lots of times we think that if we act like it’s a big deal, it will make it worse. I’m on the fence with that because I think it’s really important to look at your kid and say, “I can only imagine how worried you must be.” Don’t say you know how they feel because you don’t. You say I know how worried you must be. And just by validating that- (I interject: That’s huge.) Yes, huge! Also, a lot of anxiety has to do with increased sleep deprivation. So, if your kid is not getting good enough sleep, anxiety and depression are going to go through the roof. You want to make sure they don’t have any electronics in their room, or anything that will wake them up. Sometimes, it works to have a little worry doll. You tell your worries to the doll, and put it under your pillow. Then, you can just relax. And, if it is severe anxiety to the point where all the other things don’t work, then that’s the time you sit down with your pediatrician and say, “You know, how do we help my child?”

Brandy: I love how you incorporate notes for parents at the end of your books. Do you have any thoughts of writing any books for parent and teachers in the future?

Julia: (Pauses) Um, that’s not my favorite thing to do. I thought about maybe kind of doing a, My Child is Struggling with _______, and they fill in the blank. Like a recipe book, and have the tips in it. That might be something I might graduate to doing someday. 

Brandy: I know that I am a better teacher and writer and person in general when I am around people that lift me up and that I can glean those ideas and positive influences from. I am a huge proponent of finding your tribe. Who makes up your tribe? Who are the first people you run ideas by?

Julia: (Smiles) Kids! I’ll write a story, and then when I’m at a school, I’ll say, “Hey, I have a brand new one…can I try it on you?” And then, I’ll read it to them with just the words. I’ll watch their eyes. If their eyes light up, then I know I’m on. If their eyes don’t light up, then I have a lot of work to do. (Laughing) The little neighbor kids are so tired of me because they are the only kids I can find right now! My grandkids don’t live by me, so yeah (shrugs). I have teachers and four or five people on my speed dial I’ll call. This time, I put on Facebook, I sure would like to read this to five people, and I think I got something like 250 people say, “I’d love to hear that!” I didn’t get time to answer everyones, but it was very nice to be able to do that. It doesn’t do you any good to read a book that you can’t use. 

Brandy: We live in such a digital society. It’s so easy for the keyboard warriors, and people are often unaware of how much power that their words have. How do you handle negative comments, and what advice would you give your young audience, or even their families in this area?

Julia:  First of all, I listen to the negative comments. I would read Amazon reviews and get ten great ones and one terrible one. I’ve learned to weed them out. I can read a comment, and if it’s their stuff that’s causing them to you know…(pauses)…like this one lady got the booger book, and said, “This is the grossest book ever. How could I possibly read this to my kids?” Well, I mean, its on boogers. So that, to me, is more her stuff. But if I got one that said, “This book is not kind to children of color…” The original Making Friends is an Art had a blue color. I started off talking about, well, the whole brain in my brain was when you mix all the colors you get brown. I was going on about how all the colors have different things, and when you put them all together, you get brown. And brown has all these things. He’s a great friend. So, I made brown the hero at the end. BUT, I started off the book saying, “I’m brown. I don’t have any friends. Nobody likes me.” And, you know, a child would read that and say, “Well, I’m brown too.” Skin color never entered into my thought process bubble. The illustrator is African American. But when I heard that, I was like, well, we need to change it. So, we messed around with it and we changed it, but it still just did not work with kids. It was almost offensive to some kids. I was in Bulgaria, and I had this lady reach out to me. She said, “I’ve been asked to get behind the Ban Making Friends is an Art book because it’s racist, and I wanted to know why you’re racist. Then, I went to your website, and you’re anything but racist. Why would you put this in print?” And I actually called her, and I said, “Because I’m an ignorant white woman who didn’t even realize my words were harmful or hurtful. We have to take it off the market…the premise of the story is a good story. What do I need to do to fix it?” She looked at the art, and the pencil that was brown actually had white arms. I never noticed that. And instead of talking about all the things brown doesn’t have in the beginning, it now starts out, “I’m brown. I’m the luckiest pencil in the box. Let me tell you why.” It empowers children of color. It empowers white children too. It empowers everyone who reads it…I have this thing that if I write a book and it doesn’t work for all kids, it won’t work for any kids. And if I screw up, it is never intentional. Everybody makes mistakes. I use it to teach kids that it’s what we do with those mistakes that matter. You know, it would have been easy to say, “Well there’s already 50,000 in print, and it’s doing well” versus oh my gosh, let’s fix this book.  So, you’ll see in the beginning, Katie Smith wrote me a letter and I wrote her back, thanking her for having enough courage to say this book isn’t working. The whole point of these books is to enter the worldview of a child and teach them to be better and to make your job easier. We totally revamped the book and made it the second edition. Now, it’s a book I’m really proud of. The point is you have to listen to the content and the feedback. Feedback is information that helps you grow, and who doesn’t want to grow? It’s criticism, but sometimes that’s how people give you feedback, and you have to understand, looking at it now from their perspective, they have every right to say and do those things. I’m really proud of this book now, and I use that to teach kids about making mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, and it’s what you do after that mistake that matters. Mistakes help you grow. 

Brandy: You have so many great stories, the lessons are so relatable to children. Do you have a favorite? Is that even possible? (Laughing) 

Julia: Um, Judgmental Flower talks about how to be a friend and how to make a friend. (Holding up Making Friends is an Art) This, now, I’m proud of this one. A Flicker of Hope is on suicide prevention, but it doesn’t say suicide. We have a new one coming out called Will You be the I in Kind? That’s going to be way up here (motions up with her hand). That one will come out in August. In June, we’ll have the book called Great Things Come to Those Who Wait, which is on patience. August will be Will You be the I in Kind, and the recess book will come out October 1st. And then, there’s activity books as well. I have my own TPT store, Julia Cook EnCore (https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Julia-Cook-Encore) . Those are by me, and those are different ideas than are in the activity books. 

Brandy: That was another question of mine. What are some big upcoming projects of yours? What goals are you working on?

Julia: I just finished a 24 book series 0-2 and 3-5 on social emotional learning and a little bit of math in there too. It will be published to Random Penguin China, but I believe it should be available in the United States soon. They are centered around the zodiac animals of the Chinese New Year. They rhyme, and they have mathematics, and they have social skills, and they have a parent piece in the back. 

Brandy: How long does it take you to publish a book? You usually release in bundles, and you have put out so many books! What is that process like? Julia: The writing process takes a couple months with the research. Once I have the research, I can write them sometimes in a day, sometimes in a half an hour, because the words just kind of come out. The illustration phase takes about ninety days. Then, the printing phase takes ten weeks. If you put them out too fast, people are like, “Oh man, another one…” (laughing) I don’t want to ever feel like that. They all look different because I don’t want to be a cookie cutter author. Kids keep having issues, and with two publishers who work side by side, that’s very rare. Most of the time, you have one publisher, and then if you don’t like them, you go to another. They are very competitive like that. In China, however, the more publishers you have, the more successful you are. That’s a different market. For the United States, I am fortunate to have two educational publishers that are nonprofit, so when the books make money, it goes back to help underprivileged kids, teachers, and parents. They aren’t a commercial make a lot of money type of publisher, and I love that. I don’t want to do too many, but I think I have 121, so that’s a lot. We’ll keep doing them as long as it works. It’s fun…I love it. 

My Takeaways

I had my own takeaways from my interview with Julia Cook. First, I was so impressed with her commitment to taking issues that children are facing and weaving stories from a child’s worldview to give them strategies to problem solve. Also, from someone who occasionally struggles with accepting criticism, what a way to take something that could have turned so ugly (it being implied that a book had racist undertones) and turn it into an opportunity for growth, then using that growth opportunity to drive conversations to make positive changes in the world. Finally, I am so excited for the world to get to see what Julia is working on for the fall! Undoubtedly, more great material that will facilitate problem solving skills in our children…for more information on Julia and her current work and upcoming projects, visit https://www.juliacookonline.com/ . Parents and teachers can log on and request school visits, parent workshops, or even send her a message. I sent her a message, asking for an interview, not even sure if she would receive it because of the volume of messages she must receive, and I had a response within a couple hours. Her website is a great resource!

Posted on Leave a comment

Differently Wired, Part 3: Leaning Into Our Strengths -“What Is” not “What Should Be”

By Brandy Browne

It is fair to say that parents of differently wired children are presented with documentation of their children’s weaknesses far more often than parents of typically developing children are. Rather than leaning into their strengths, there is great focus placed upon any perceived weaknesses. Parents of atypical children sit in meetings with school officials that design plans to minimize the disruptions that go with difficulty self regulating, as well as addressing any academic weaknesses. We attempt to “fix” atypical children into being “normal.” The teacher in me struggles with this revelation. If I see a student that struggles with math, I attempt to address the math weakness. However, I can definitely see how this course of action conveys the message that if you don’t “get it,” you aren’t normal, and not normal is “bad.” Thinking of it that way is enough to break this early childhood educator’s heart. 

In the final chapters of her book, Reber discusses the importance of being a powerful advocate for our children. “Cultural change-maker Jess Weiner likens her advocacy style to negotiating a car sale- she knows what she needs and her job is to get the other person to give it to her. She suggests language such as ‘My goal in having this conversation with you is to come up with a solution for my child to be successful in this class. I’m asking you to work with me on that solution. Here’s what I’m proposing. What do you propose?’ This lets the other person know there is no other option in this scenario- we’re going to get to a solution” (p 202). There will be times that negotiations will be tricky…it often requires time, money, or extra resources that are difficult for many institutions to come by. However, in the best interest of our children, we have to become comfortable enough with confrontation that we continue to advocate for what is best for them. 

Finally, in an ode to the popular meme “Find your tribe and love them hard,” Reber argues that we absolutely must stop wasting our time on people that are committed to misunderstanding us. She declares, “Here’s the thing. Spending time with people who aren’t OUR PEOPLE is exhausting. And when we’re raising kids who lie outside the window of ‘normal,’ we don’t really have the time or energy to help people who are never gonna get it. On top of that, apologizing, not just for our children but in front of them, is definitely not how we want to operate. Not only do our kids recognize what we’re doing (and I guarantee it doesn’t feel good to them), but we’re also reinforcing the idea that difference is bad- that it’s something that needs to be apologized for- which is the exact opposite of what we want to do if our goal is to change perceptions and foster acceptance” (p 215). Sometimes, these people will be our friends and family, who are filled with unsolicited advice. These moments are challenging. Often, their advice stems from being uncomfortable with what they do not understand. In these moments, it is our job to take a deep breath and remember that we know our children better than anyone. Take the advice for what it is, an attempt to make sense of an issue that they have never had to work through themselves, and move on. Choose to build your innermost tribe with people that not only “get it,” but choose to spread love and encouragement to those of us in the trenches. 

Posted on 1 Comment

A look inside the Ninja Life Hacks series with Author Mary Nhin

As an early childhood educator and family coach, I am always on the lookout for quality children’s literature that can help children develop critical social skills, such as confidence and resilience. I sat down this week with Mary Nhin, author of the up and coming Ninja Life Hacks series. With titles such as Anxious Ninja, Angry Ninja, and her new title, Forgetful Ninja, Nhin focuses on developing short, catchy reads with a few action steps that young readers can implement right away. For example, Angry Ninja has readers focusing on the power of deep breaths, counting slowly, and then naming what they are upset about calmly. Forgetful Ninja teaches young readers how to use acronyms, acrostics, and imagery to improve memory. Mary Nhin and I had the following exchange…

Question: Tell us a bit about your process as a writer. How long might it take you to complete a book start to finish? 

Mary: From conception of story idea to publishing, it usually takes me several months. Each story goes through several rounds of editing. 

Question: Where did your ideas for the Ninja Life Hacks books originate from? What was your inspiration? 

Mary: My books are based upon my experiences as a mother of three children.

Question: How do you envision your books being used in classrooms and in homes? 

Mary: I hope that my books provide comfort to my readers so that they know the feelings they experience are normal and are felt by other people, too. 

Question: Is there a book that you felt particularly challenged by writing? Something you struggle with as an adult? For me, I struggle with anxiety, and while it is challenging to write about those feelings sometimes, it is also therapeutic and serves as a reminder for me to use my coping skills as well. 

Mary: I am always challenged to write each story because I’m a recovering perfectionist.. (Hope you don’t mind, Ms. Nhin, but this phrase describes me perfectly…I might borrow “recovering perfectionist”…ha!)

Question: On the other hand, is there one that was particularly enjoyable to write?

Mary: I enjoy stories that are about grit, mental toughness, emotional intelligence, and entrepreneurial skills.

Question: Forgetful Ninja has three concrete steps readers can take to improve memory. Most other Ninja Life Hacks books do as well. What is your process for narrowing down the wealth of advice out there to a few, easy to implement steps for young readers?

Mary: Nice catch. I try to simplify and implement practical and memorable strategies for my readers. 

Question: What piece of advice would you give parents when sharing these books with children? Or just about tending to their child’s emotional needs in general?

Mary: I would say you’re doing a great job as a parent by providing and empowering your children with the resources. Now, sit back and allow them to fail forward.

Question: What can we look forward to in terms of projects in the future?

Mary: I just signed with a merchandising agent so I believe we have merchandise in our near future.

Final Thoughts

With over a million books sold internationally, Mary Nhin is definitely an author to watch. Parents and children alike will find her fun and relatable, and the teacher and coach in me loves the concrete and easy to implement action steps. Fun fact, she is also an Oklahoma girl like me! For more on her social emotional stories and her mission in general, visit http://ninjalifehacks.tv

Posted on Leave a comment

Differently Wired Part 2- Embracing What Is and A Call for Change

What happens when we let go and accept what is, rather than trying to be “normal?”  What drives us to need to fit in with our peers so badly anyway? Fear. Fear has us believing that standing out or being atypical is “bad.” Reber argues in chapter five that, “For us to do what’s best for our kids, we need to stop making decisions out of fear” (p 127). Fear to buck the “norm” and fear of our child “not being normal” or “fitting in” drives many decisions for those of us parenting exceptional children. Reber asks us to reflect upon the following:

  • How willing are you to question your own ideas of what you expected your child’s life to look like?
  • Where are you regularly coming up against your own parenting expectations not meshing up against current reality?
  • How might your own beliefs about the way things “should look” be keeping you stuck in moving forward to accept what actually is?

It’s okay to admit that we all have some form of expectations about what parenting will be like, and that accepting that that reality may not come to be is HARD. However, Reber argues that “when we parent from a place of insecurity and distance ourselves from who our child is in an effort to make ourselves feel more comfortable, we’re joining in a chorus of voices pointing out everything that’s wrong with being atypical” (p 106-107). Our goal here is to be firm in the truth…whether that is during a meltdown in the grocery store, during a parent teacher conference, or in the privacy of our home. If we expect to change the conversation regarding how the needs of atypical children are met in schools and society in general, then modeling that respect and acceptance of our own differently wired child’s needs is critical. It is difficult. It is not comfortable when you are being stared at in line at the register because your child cannot make a decision on what flavor bubble gum she wants and eventually melts down. But don’t our atypical children deserve a world where their needs are met with compassion and where opportunities are afforded to them at the same rate as their typically developing peers?

Another important piece of the reading that I took to heart was a piece of the fourth chapter that outlined ways that most schools are not set up to fully support exceptional children. It is no fault of theirs. Our public schools are full of people doing the best that they can with what they have. However, the way that public school is designed is FULL of possible triggers for any atypical child. Does your child struggle to work in groups? How do they respond when an assignment highlights the challenges that they face? Do they become overstimulated at times? Even a quiet classroom can stimulate a sensory sensitive child. My own child has done a beautiful job during distance learning with me, after some initial challenges in getting down a routine. She knows exactly what to expect each day, and we can alter plans if we need to if she is having a hard time getting a hold on her emotions. After Spring Break, we will be switching back to a full time in person model, and I am fully expecting and ready to embrace her on some tough days during this change for the last couple months of school. 

I feel like the pandemic has highlighted ways that our educational system has needed to change for a long time. The current system tries to fit square pegs into round holes, and for many, it doesn’t work. Other models, such as a virtual format that is more self paced, a hybrid model where some time is spent in a classroom and some time is spent in a virtual or homeschool setting, etc. meet those needs better. My hope is that we will have learned  from all the adapting we had to do during this time just to get instruction out to students and be able to fine tune a system that was in need of a tune up to be more inclusive for all. 

Posted on Leave a comment

Square Pegs in Round Holes- How Society Unintentionally Perpetuates the Idea that “Differently Wired” is “Bad”

By Brandy Browne

I was sitting in a small room in the back of our doctor’s office late last summer. The room was chilly, but I was not. My head was throbbing, and all of my children were bickering a bit. We were there for a consult for my eldest daughter, who routinely suffers panic attacks and has trouble sleeping. Our doctor looked at me and said, “You’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.” Sweet Grace is differently wired. I would hear that phrase again during the evaluation process with a psychologist the following month. When I scanned the table of contents for Differently Wired, I noted the third chapter is aptly titled, “Square Pegs in Round Holes.” I knew that I needed to read this book, both as a parent, and as someone who spends quite a bit of my time coaching other families with children who are wired differently. 

The author, Deborah Reber, discussed how she came to the title of Differently Wired after struggling to find a phrase that did not hold the same negative connotations that words like “disorder” hold. Whether our society is intentional about doing this or not, the language that we use to describe kids who process the world around them differently often insinuates that there is something wrong with them. Reber discusses how a couple memes that are constantly passed around the internet are hurtful to parents of children that have atypical children. For example, 

Your child’s success or lack of success in sports does not indicate what kind of parent you are. But having an athlete that is coachable, respectful, a great teammate, mentally tough, resilient, and tries their best IS a direct reflection of your parenting. 

For many, their child will never excel at team sports. The unpredictability of a game, sensory processing challenges, the inability to process rejection, etc. makes the world that is team sports very challenging. While these are important skills to cultivate in your child, seeing a child that does not display these abilities may not be a reflection of poor parenting, but rather a reflection of a child that has developed in an atypical manner. 

I remember agonizing over where my daughter should be placed one year. Someone that I’m sure meant well told me, “You need to request —. She won’t put up with that anxiety bull.” Instantly, I bristled. My face grew hot. I excused myself. Anxiety bull? Like it was something she was making up? Like she wants to be anxious? Who WANTS to have a panic attack rock their body? I’ve also heard, “She doesn’t do that with me. I don’t put up with that. She just needs to suck it up.” Or, “I don’t really buy into the anxiety thing.” As a lifelong sufferer of anxiety myself, I can attest first hand to the very real physical and mental challenges that living with anxiety brings. 

Our world, our schools, our workplaces, our churches, our everything…it is not set up to celebrate the square peg. I teach social skills classes. The idea is to help children gain the skills that they need to be successful in society. However, I do ALOT of celebrate who you are as well. Because our square pegs bring brilliant contributions to the world. As a parent, you are your child’s best advocate. Reber (2018) stresses, “Although admittedly, accommodating the needs of differently wired kids in such activities may involve more effort, time, and resources than many organizations can afford, that doesn’t make the outcome any less harmful or unfair for an entire generation of exceptional children. Some people call it ableism, a type of discrimination defined by StopAbleism.org as a ‘set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value (worth) to people who have developmental, emotional, physical, or psychiatric disabilities.’ In its simplest form, it boils down to normal equals good and abnormal equals bad” (p 61).  

In our world, one in five people are atypical, or wired differently. It is time to change the conversation. Our current system is one where parents of typically developing children can generally feel safe and secure. The same cannot be said for parents of children who develop atypically. If we want the next generation to grow into a kind, inclusive society, we must start by compassionately educating their parents, who, according to Reber, are “unwittingly supporting systems and norms that are excluding so many of us” (p 64). Simply put, they don’t know what they don’t know. It’s time to change that. I look forward to sharing my takeaways from the next chapters of Differently Wired.