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Howdy Partner: Parent/Teacher Partnerships and Making the Most of These Difficult Times

By Brandy Browne

Ready to throw your hands in the air or bang your head against a wall after months and months of mostly virtual learning? You are not alone! AJ Williamham (2020), reporter from CNN, reports on the many challenges parents are facing with distance learning, including being overwhelmed with platforms to access information, technology issues, and trying to juggle assignments for multiple children. “Keeping my nine-year-old on task has been the biggest challenge,” says Sareh Baca, a portfolio manager from Atlanta. “I get her set up and then jump on a meeting, and about 75% of the time when I go back to check on her she’s watching YouTube or playing video games. I’ve had to solicit her older sister to help but that doesn’t always end well, and she has her own work to do” (retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/08/us/distance-learning-problems-parents-trnd/index.html). In these frustrating times, it is easy to turn your frustration towards teachers and schools. However, I am proposing a different solution.

Background on me, for a moment. I am a teacher in my thirteenth year of working with elementary aged and early childhood aged children. Before last year, I had no idea how to work online curriculum or do much of anything besides utilize SeeSaw to communicate with parents and send pictures of their child’s work to them. Not only was I learning how to utilize online learning as a teacher, I was going back to graduate school myself, and my classes were all online. Then, the pandemic hit, and I added juggling the schoolwork of my three children (ages 5, 7, and 10…hardly independent) to the mix. When I say that I understand and relate to the frustration many parents are expressing, I really do! I am right there in the trenches with you every single day!

However, I have a unique perspective as well. I have watched my colleagues spend countless hours figuring out how to adapt their curriculum for young learners. I have listened to never ending discussions on how to make learning as engaging as possible without overwhelming parents. I have seen the tears of my friends as the tone on social media and in our communities turns increasingly negative. I have sat with friends as they made hard choices over which family to serve…their school and student family or their own. This pandemic has not been easy on anyone. 

Teachers want to support you during this time, but they need your support as well. How much could our children accomplish if we were working with each other, rather than against each other? What if we could walk out of this pandemic so much richer in experiences and relationships than when we walked in? I believe that is actually possible. However, it will definitely take working together. Try these strategies for enhancing the teacher family partnership.

4 Ways to Build the Parent/Teacher Partnership

  1. Carefully monitor your own attitudes about learning and education. This definitely goes both ways. Teachers cannot complain about the families they are serving and expect to have strong partnerships with them. Parents cannot constantly complain about how their child’s teacher is managing virtual learning in a pandemic with little to no training, and then expect said teacher to happily answer your email at any given moment of the day. Support each other! Children will be unstoppable with a large support system rallied around them. 
  2. Designate “quiet spaces” for students to learn from (and for teachers to record lessons from). This is hard. We are all busy. However, how focused can your child really be going down the road in the car with the radio going and siblings conversing? They need a quiet spot to work. Likewise, when I work from home, I require a quiet space to record lessons from and do live meetings on. A few interruptions are normal, but having a work zone in your home will greatly enhance productivity. 
  3. Manage expectations…do not expect your child’s teacher to be able to be at your beck and call every waking moment. He or she likely has a family that needs assistance with virtual schooling as well. GIve grace. Assume the best. Teachers will likely extend grace in return when a little extra time or support is needed to complete an assignment. 
  4. Praise each other publicly. Parents, do not get caught up in the online rabbit hole of parent groups complaining about how terrible these times are. Your experience is driven by your attitude towards your circumstances. Teachers, try not to read the comments on every teacher bashing post you come across, and instead focus on the relationship that you have with the families you work with. That is much more important, though this is difficult to do!

Final Thoughts

Few things are as important to your child’s educational experiences than the partnership between schools and the families they serve. In these unprecedented times, that relationship is more important than ever. 

Sources

Willingham, A. (2020). Parent’s biggest frustration with distance learning. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/08/us/distance-learning-problems-parents-trnd/index.html

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Practical Ways to Facilitate Conversations with Your Children

By Brandy Browne

Are you tired of having to wonder what is going on in your child’s head? Tired of “Nothing” or “I don’t know” when you ask them what happened at school or how they feel about something?

With children, it’s not about the question you ask, but rather HOW you ask it. This is something that I come across in my family coaching work over and over. If you want a short direct answer to a question, ask, “Do you want A or B?”. If you want to promote discussion with your child, however, the question needs to be more open-ended.

Jennifer Cafelle (2021), early education professional, outlines five key types of questions to ask children to get them talking in her article, 50+ Questions to Ask Your Kids to Get Them Talking. Here’s a closer look at these five types of questions, and how you can use them to promote discussion with your own children.

To read the article in it’s entirety, visit https://www.thelilyjoproject.com/2021/02/04/time-to-talk-practical-ways-to-facilitate-conversations-with-your-children/

photo of woman and girl talking while lying on bed
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com
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Let’s Talk about our Feelings: Building Emotional Intelligence in our Children

By Brandy Browne

As the hashtag #endthestigma circulated social media in recent years, a conversation torpedoed into a wonderful movement within the children of the world. What if children were not taught to bury their feelings, but rather to acknowledge and even celebrate them, both good and bad? What if, rather than attempting to nip difficult feelings in the bud immediately to avoid embarrassment (as if our child having a meltdown is a poor reflection of our parenting), instead we spent time being intentional about teaching our children how to handle disappointment and difficult feelings? What kind of world would that create?

To read this article in it’s entirety…visit The Lily Jo Project blog at https://www.thelilyjoproject.com/2021/02/03/lets-talk-about-our-feelings-building-emotional-intelligence-in-our-children/

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Practicing what we preach…modeling positive self talk for our children

By Brandy Browne

This morning, I had a powerful insight during an interaction with my daughter. I led a creative well being dance workshop with my kindergarten class this morning. Fridays are our days to have some fun social time, and I usually run lessons on mental health/social skills. Leading the dance workshop was a blast, and everyone was all smiles. During the lesson, I had my daughter snap a few pictures for me, so I could tag The Lily Jo Project, the amazing nonprofit that I am a part of, as I was using the workshop from their online learning platform. As she passed over my phone, so proud of her photos, I almost cringed. All I could see was the 10-15 pounds of weight that I would like to lose (a hormone imbalance has wreaked havoc on my body this year…migraines, fatigue, yo-yo weight, etc.). Then, my eyes met hers. Full of ten year old intuition, she was watching carefully for my reaction. I had a choice to make. I could either complain about my figure, or I could praise her profusely for her photography skills. I chose the latter, and here’s why. I would NEVER want her to look at a photograph of herself, and pick it apart the way I have been guilty of doing. Over the last few years, as she races to her teens and becomes much more body aware, I have needed to be especially mindful of how I refer to my own body in front of her. Rather than complain about my muscular thighs (I run 10-15 miles a week), I can talk about how those muscular legs of mine have carried me through a full marathon in 2020. I literally ran for over six hours on them. Those hips have held children on them for the last ten years. Those wrinkles around my eyes are from a life of laughter. Likewise, that wrinkle between my eyes is definitely from making that, “What are you doing????” face at children for over a decade…ha!

It seems harmless, right? That offhand comment you make about looking fat in those pants? It’s really not though, says Claire Mysko, CEO of National Eating Disorders Association. “Negative body talk in the family environment can lead to less mindful eating, more disordered eating, less body appreciation, and increased body dissatisfaction in children, which can persist into adulthood” (Bologna, 2020, retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-kids-hear-parent-criticize-body_l_5f36f2d4c5b69fa9e2fb7581). These kinds of negative self assessments of your body send a powerful (even if it is unintentional) message to your child that appearance matters more than character. Doesn’t sound so harmful now, does it?

It is not too late to make positive self image a focus in your home, even if you struggle in that area personally. Here are a few key strategies to hone in on…

4 Strategies to Build Positive Self Image

  1. Fake it til you make it…you may not love those muscular legs, but your child only needs to know that having muscles helps your body move in many different ways.
  2. Get in touch with your physical side by staying active. Exercise has a wonderful way on helping us remember what our bodies CAN do! It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you enjoy it enough to be consistent with it. Invite your child in on the fun. Make getting physical a family affair.
  3. Praise individuality…my youngest has wildly curly hair. It is often flying everywhere. However, her wild hair and sparkling eyes make her spirit shine through in everything she does. I praise it every chance I get. 
  4. Discuss moderation. Rather than using restrictive terms like “diet” embrace a “everything in moderation” attitude. 

Concluding Thoughts

I have been engaging in negative self talk about my body regardless of my weight, level of physical fitness, or overall health for at least two decades. That is not a legacy I want to pass to my children. It is my mission as their parent to guide their focus to healthy self image and building character, rather than focusing on some airbrushed image that is portrayed as “perfect” in the magazine. Beauty and talent comes in many forms, and that is definitely a message worth spreading in this world. 

Sources

Bologna, C. (2020). What kids hear when you criticize your body in front of them. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-kids-hear-parent-criticize-body_l_5f36f2d4c5b69fa9e2fb7581

Soster-Smith, R. (2015). 8 Body image boosting tricks every parent should know. Retrieved from https://afineparent.com/be-positive/positive-body-image.html

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There’s a book for that…Using children’s books to have difficult conversations

By Brandy Browne

Surely, as a parent, you have wondered what words to use to have a particularly difficult conversation with your children…often, just attempting to start a conversation that is not organically happening in the moment can be quite difficult. Events around the world or even happenings within your own communities and families can precipitate the need to have such conversations, as can the simple desire to mold your child into an open minded, resilient, kind human. 

Speaking from a parent and kindergarten teacher’s point of view, using children’s literature can be a great gateway into discussing current events and issues (as well as hard to tackle themes such as loss of a loved one, divorce, and social injustices) with children. Louise Derman Sparks from Social Justice Books (part of Teaching for Change) agrees, stating: “Children’s books continue to be an invaluable source of information and values. They reflect the attitudes in our society about diversity, power relationships among different groups of people, and various social identities (e.g., racial, ethnic, gender, economic class, sexual orientation, and disability). The visual and verbal messages young children absorb from books (and other media) heavily influence their ideas about themselves and others. Depending on the quality of the book, they can reinforce (or undermine) children’s affirmative self-concept, teach accurate (or misleading) information about people of various identities, and foster positive (or negative) attitudes about diversity. Children’s books teach children about who is important, who matters, who is even visible” (Keene, 2019, retrieved from https://vawnet.org/news/how-can-childrens-books-be-used-promote-social-justice-and-peace). Shades of People by Shelley Rotner is a powerful story to begin to open children’s eyes to the idea of “race.” The beautiful photographs illustrate all different colors of skin and types of hair, and asking open ended “what do you notice” questions will tune children in to the many different types of people that make up Earth. This conversation opens the floor for discussions on race and discrimination. Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport tells the tale of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and other important figures of the civil rights movement. Use stories like this one to talk about being an activist and catalyst for change. 

There Might be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi tackles the often elusive subject of mental health disorders, such as anxiety. She tells the story of a little dog who is afraid of the ocean, sand, lobsters, etc. However, when a wave takes his stuffed toy, he summons his courage to go out into the water to retrieve it. This type of story can be useful to share with a child learning to manage anxious tendencies. 

Monday, Wednesday, and Every Other Weekend by Karen Stanton tells the tale of Henry, who travels with his dog in between his mother and father’s separate homes. The many children transitioning between homes due to divorce can relate to the feelings of confusion that Henry and his dog feel about which home to call “home.” 

WIld About Us by Karen Beaumont talks about the unique attributes of wild animals, from elephant’s long truck to the big ears of his friend the monkey and why each is worth celebrating. The moral here is that all of us are unique and that is worth celebrating. 

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst enables children to process notions of loss and grief. In this tale, a mother tells her two children that they are connected by an invisible string (love). Love connects us all…even if we cannot see a loved one, we can still feel their love and presence in our heart. A comforting message for those grieving with the loss of someone special. 

Concluding Thoughts

Most importantly, children’s literature can prove to be a starting point for difficult conversations or tough to tackle themes, such as racism, discrimination, etc. These books do not replace the need for a conversation with children. Asking open ended questions to entice children to share their thoughts and answering their questions honestly must also occur. 

Sources

Keene, C. (2019). How can children’s books be used to promote social justice and peace? Retrieved from https://vawnet.org/news/how-can-childrens-books-be-used-promote-social-justice-and-peace

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Beating those stay at home blues…

By Brandy Browne

Even introverts may be feeling seriously deprived of social interaction these days. In order to mitigate the spread of supervirus COVID 19, many social gatherings have been cancelled or postponed, and many are staying home for fear of their own safety or for fear of those they love (I, for example, help care for my immune compromised father. I do not wish to give his body one more thing to battle…he has been through enough in the last few years.). Just because you know that it is better to stay in does not mean that you will not have times that are lonely or challenging for your mental health. According to the CDC, these “public health actions, such as social distancing, can make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety” (CDC, 2020, retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html). 

So, how do we meet our social needs while taking safety precautions? How do we protect the wellbeing of our family in this new normal? One mother I spoke with mentioned that they engage in many family friendly activities, such as movie and game nights, but it is still different, and occasionally, it is hard to get buy in from family that just wants to get out of the house. 

I recommend getting creative. I recently authored a book 120 Ways to Celebrate with Your Children All Year Long (see the Amazon link here…only $2.99…https://www.amazon.com/Ways-Celebrate-Your-Children-Year-ebook/dp/B08R8WWMHH/ref=sr_1_1?crid=G1D16BK8SRFL&dchild=1&keywords=120+ways+to+celebrate+with+your+children+all+year+long&qid=1611173897&sprefix=120+ways+to+%2Caps%2C169&sr=8-1), and it outlines 120 ways to bring the fun to your family routine. I spent some time researching several unique holidays and ideas to bond with your family, and I’ll outline five of my favorites below!

5 Ways to Bring the Excitement into Family Nights

  1. The first Saturday in February is Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast day, and I recommend celebrating in style. Hot fudge toppings, sprinkles, whipped cream, the works. It will be completely out of the ordinary, and your children will LOVE you for it! 
  2. April 28th is World Superheroes Day. Don your favorite superhero gear, and play superheroes all day! Bonus points for a superhero movie marathon…
  3. Play “High, Low, Buffalo” at the dinner table. Everyone shares a high point of their day, a low point, and just something they want to share. This is a great conversation starter!
  4. Try geocaching together. I had never heard of this until a couple years ago, but there are plenty of free apps to tell you where to go treasure hunting at, and my kids have a blast when we go!
  5. Have a Minute to Win It game night. Let each person come up with a different challenge for everyone to try…the crazier, the better. 

Concluding Thoughts

Hopefully, these are some new ideas that your family has not tried yet. There are plenty more ideas in my book, and with three children, I have definitely had to get creative. Please reach out in the comments section, my email (bbrowne1217@gmail.com), or on the UnStuck facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/UnStuck-108043424440195). I’d be glad to chat! Also, please reach out if you are battling mental health issues during this pandemic. This introvert has also struggled at times, and I would be more than happy to talk you through it and brainstorm with you. It takes a village, and I would love to be part of yours. #getunstuck2021

Sources

CDC. (2020). Coping with stress. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html

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Children Spell Love T-I-M-E

By Brandy Browne

Mother Teresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” There are no perfect parents, and there is no sure fire way to ensure that your children will become who you hope that they will be. However, all research shows that the key to helping build kind, resilient children who will grow into the next generation of world changers centers around spending quality time with our children on a regular basis. Dr. Daniel Siegel, best selling author and psychiatrist, and Dr. TIna Payne Bryson, best selling author and founder/executive director of the Play Strong Institute, articulate this fact in their 2020 book, The Power of Showing Up. “What’s the single most important thing I can do for my kids to help them succeed and feel at home in the world?” parents ask. The answer is simple, says Siegel and Bryson. “Show up for your kids” (Siegel & Bryson, 2020, p xiii).

But what does it mean to “show up” for our kids? It’s not enough to merely be there in physical body. I can sit beside my child and be present in body, but never really attend to him, being present mentally as well. If we want our children to feel at home in our presence, to know they are loved, and to develop the relationship that helps them grow and thrive, Siegel and Bryson (2020) argue that we must focus on the four S’s. First, our children must feel safe in our presence. They must know that they will not be placed in harm’s way. Mom and Dad should always be a child’s safe place. Second, they must feel seen. Tonight, that meant not retreating to the peaceful bed I wanted to lay on, and squishing in between two of my children on the couch giggling hysterically at silly videos they wanted to watch. Last night, it meant cuddling with my youngest and reading her a story, even though I was not feeling my best. It means that I have spent enough time with my oldest to know that she twirls her hair when she is nervous. My son begins to chew on his sleeve. My youngest clings to my leg. I don’t have to wonder what is going through their brains. We are in tune enough with one another that I know and therefore, I can respond in a way that helps alleviate the stress that they are feeling. Third, our children must feel soothed. When their world comes crashing down, they can have faith that we will be there to help them pick up the pieces. When my oldest is suffering anxiety, I must be her calming force through gentle touch and a soft voice in her ear, anchoring her back to her safe place. If I grow impatient and irritable, she does not feel soothed. Her anxiety grows more intense. Finally, our children must feel secure. They know that our love is unconditional, and that a bad day or moment cannot change that. 

So how do we do that, exactly? Simply put, we are intentional about creating regular opportunities to step into our children’s world. While I advocate for sharing your interests and passions with your children, children are not built to step into an adult environment. Their needs are different. They need multidimensional sensory experiences to make sense of the world. We must get down on their level. Our children learn who they can be, who they want to be, and who they are from their interactions with us. When we are intentional about planning for time for them, they become courteous and intentional in their relationships with others, a skill that will carry them the rest of their lives. 

We don’t have to be perfect. In fact, moments of imperfection can be great for meaningful discussions and learning opportunities. Our children will learn how to handle failure and moments that do not go the way we wished they had by watching how we handle disappointment. It’s okay to make mistakes, to have a bad day, but it is not okay to not show up. Show up, over and over, every day, good moments and bad. Those moments will be the cornerstones to a powerful relationship and healthy brain development in your children. Children spell love T-I-M-E, and it is an investment worth making for them. 

References

Siegel, D. & Bryson, T. (2020). The power of showing up: How parental presence shapes who our kids become and how their brains get wired. Random House.