Developing Grit: A Guide for Parents

Grit, as it pertains to behavior and motivation, has been a popular buzzword in the education world as of late. Perhaps the reason that it has taken center stage is the fact that today’s adolescents are overwhelmingly lacking in grit. Merriam-Webster defines grit as “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.Grit, however, is much more than sheer determination. Furthermore, grit should not be misconstrued as a trait of stubbornness. This characteristic is substantially more complex than the unwillingness to accept failure, and yet, it has a great deal to do with one’s failures. As Angela Duckworth, who’s garnered a following after her TED talk on grit, claims: grit should be defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

With such an emphasis on grit, or rather, the absence of it among today’s youth, it is an essential topic of discussion for parents. What does grit look like? What is the danger of an absence of grit? Since it is such a crucial attribute, how can we ensure that our children and teens develop grit?

A world without grit:

If we were to describe today’s young people in one word, including my own fellow millennials, our generation and those that have followed could be considered “soft.” Coddled, entitled, and sheltered also come to mind when I think about young people today. Some may not know it, but this “softness”—this inability to persevere or handle setbacks—is indicative of a lack of grit.

The unfortunate (and terrifying) truth is that many of today’s recent high school graduates, though perfectly capable applicants on paper, are abysmally ill-equipped to thrive on their own at the university level. Most likely, much of primary school was smoke and mirrors—students were given an A for effort, innumerable opportunities to reassess or resubmit assignments, and gratuitous applause. While it is important to reference the value of self-esteem, the pendulum may have swung too far in the direction of sensitivity.

Parents need to be aware of this lack of grit, because teachers, professors, and employers certainly are. What we are seeing now is that the slightest difficulty, obstacle, or discouragement renders today’s teens completely helpless—any effort or motivation that they may have had for their end goal becomes dashed by fears of failure the moment they sense anything less than perfection on the horizon. Teens are so used to unwarranted praise or the metaphorical “participation trophy” that they are incapable of picking themselves up by their bootstraps, getting back on the horse, dusting off to try again, and any other euphemism alluding to grit. We are raising the “1-and-done” generation, who would rather sell themselves short than experience a nanosecond of discomfort, failure, or rejection.

Without grit, teens become young adults that, while dutiful followers, will never risk failure for a leadership opportunity. They will choose predictable or comfortable stability over spirited, or self-determined, trailblazing every time. They will blame any setback or perceived rejection on the “powers that be” or anything outside of their control. They will consider any criticism as an attack, as opposed to an opportunity to reflect and grow with that knowledge. Students lacking grit become adults who only explore inside the box, and only play when the odds are in their favor.

One of the most “gritty” writers said it best:

“Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way…It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” J.K. Rowling

Read on to find out more about the correlation between grit and failure, as well as tips for encouraging grit at home and in school in Part II of Developing Grit: A Guide for Parents.

Monitoring Grades and Assignments: Tips for Parents

The rise of technology in the classroom has undoubtedly changed the way in which assignments are structured, dispensed, completed, and graded. With many assignments being posted, completed, and assessed through a password-secured online forum, it is no wonder that parents are left scratching their heads. Though the technology provides a sense of ease for teachers and students, parents may struggle to get their hands on tangible assignments, grades, and feedback.

There are a few tips that parents can employ to help to ensure that the digital classroom is an asset, instead of an obstacle, for families.

  • Ask your child’s teacher for “guardian access” to online forums like Google Classroom. This provides parents with their own means of logging into the virtual classroom. Guardian access also allows parents to set email alerts anytime a new announcement, assignment, or grade is posted. This means that parents receive notifications in real time, as opposed to having to wait for their child to bring home the new assignment or rubric. 
  • With the rise of available classroom technology, many schools are adopting a “paperless policy” for most class documents. If tangible copies of assignments and other classwork are preferred, consider printing the documents from home and reviewing them with your child. This strategy allows parents and students the opportunity to look closely and review the assignment or project together. Printing the rubrics or assignments also allows children to have a tangible copy at home, in addition to the digitally posted document. Parents can also print the graded work from Google Classroom to review the comments and suggestions that the teacher has left. 
  • With the option to print and review teachers’ comments, suggestions, and edits, an excellent practice is for parents and children to review the feedback while simultaneously going over the rubric. This allows children to see exactly how their errors translated into the grade that they received. Not only does it provide clarity by showing that a grade is not an arbitrary score, but it allows the opportunity for students to review and discuss their strengths and weaknesses. With the prevalence of reassessments and rewrites, students can also use this review as a starting point for their second draft or attempt at the assignment. 
  • If only the grades are showing up online, and the actual assignment or test is not coming home, ask your child if the tangible paper has been returned. It is possible that the paper copy, once returned, was shoved haphazardly in a binder or locker. Consider creating a “bring home” folder of all graded work. This can be a simple pocket folder in which your child keeps any returned graded work. This way, you can collect, organize, and monitor assignments for your child until he or she is ready to take on that responsibility independently. 
  • Often times, your child’s digital classroom includes a weekly or monthly calendar with due dates, PDF copies of handouts, class notes, and other key information. Parents can either print the calendar, or create their own in tangible or digital form. Transfer or copy all of the due dates onto your parent copy of the calendar and post the monthly assignments on the refrigerator or someplace else that is accessible. This provides children and parents with a constant reminder of approaching deadlines and other important school events.

Tantrums, Tears and Tempers: Behavior is Communication

As any educator will tell you, the behavioral component of teaching young people is one of the main aspects of the career that keeps us on our toes. From one day to the next, the behaviors and emotions that emerge can be as fleeting as a passing thunderstorm. Perhaps the ultimate display of student behaviors rears its head in middle school, when students’ hormones, egos, peer groups, and emotions oscillate on a new level. On days in the classroom where it feels as though I am extinguishing fires all day long, the one saving grace is this reminder: these unkind behaviors come from somewhere specific.

Anger is a secondary emotion. For preteens and teenagers, an emotional explosion or reaction can be like a screaming teapotsuddenly, we notice the steam and hear the shrieking, but what we perhaps did not see moments before was the bubbling that quickly became a rolling boil. A child’s temperament is very much the same in that, seemingly out of nowhere, an emotion can shift. Anger, especially, is an emotion that likely began as something else. Perhaps it grew from frustration, regret, disappointment, etc. Either way, anger is more of the reaction to the initial emotion or incident. Therefore, it is important for teachers to remember that this unfavorable attitude, behavior, or demeanor is coming from somewhere specific. The student himself may not even be cognitively aware of the origin of his frustration; however, a few quick observations can help educators mediate when emotions reach a boiling point.

What was happening right before the emotional outburst? If a teacher can recall the mood of the room or situation prior to a student’s tantrum, they are more likely to pinpoint how the situation escalated. Perhaps the student had just received a low grade on a quiz for which they had thought they’d thoroughly studied. Or maybe a peer took his or her pencil without asking. Even a slight tiff can be the cause of a major meltdown in the classroom. Furthermore, ask yourself if you have noticed anything that may have triggered the student’s response. Has this student been especially moody, withdrawn, or combative lately? Have you noticed a change in her peer group or level of interaction with peers? Have you spoken to parents or noticed a change in grades or motivation? Sometimes a bad day or bad week is just simply that—but other times, the behaviors can be prolonged or escalated.

Seek to understand. Once you have provided a moment for the student to cool off, either in the hall, at the desk, or in a quiet corner of the room, approach the student from the lens of seeking to understand. Too often “What’s wrong?” is met with a non-response or further frustration on the student’s part. Instead, ask the student: “What do you need from me?” or “What can I do to help you get through this tough situation?” A question like this works two-fold—you are showing students that you recognize their emotions/feelings, while also approaching the conversation by expressing your desire to help or fix the situation. When teachers ask students how they can help the situation, it also reminds students that they are not alone in whatever it is that they’re reacting to. This simple gesture can deescalate the tears and tempers quite quickly.  

Whatever you do, do not react. It’ll sound silly, but I occasionally have to remind myself that I am the adult in the room, which means that my students are looking to me for guidance. My tone, attitude, and behavior should be the constant in the room—the one that sets the mood and expectations of the classroom environment. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a room with 35 teenagers knows that this is much easier said than done. Remember that these are children with child-like emotions and reactions. Also consider the likelihood that the tantrum has nothing to do with you or your class—instead, it could be related to any number of stressors in that child’s life that you know nothing about. However, when tempers flare, take a moment to breathe before your approach the situation—never has gasoline been known to smother a blaze.

Family Team Time

It will come as no shock to most parents that a significant amount of time per week is spent running children from point A to point B and back again. What may be shocking, however, are the actual statistics surrounding the average family’s carpooling and chauffeuring routine. Research shows that, by the time children reach adulthood, parents will have spent almost 200 days behind the wheel running their kids from place to place.

Now, as much as educators, parents, and students embrace the notion of extracurricular activities, there are alternative ways to shape interests, take part in cooperative learning, build relationships, and experience new things. Perhaps it is time to consider putting a halt to the daily grindwith family team time.

Not to spoil the concept of extracurricular activities—as a teacher, I know that extracurriculars can truly changes students’ lives—but there are also some factors to consider when it comes to the many activities that children participate in. Clubs, sports, camps, classes—all of these activities add up, both monetarily and in terms of time commitments. For families with multiple children, the desire to keep kids consistently “doing” can prove to be a costly, time-consuming, and even stressful undertaking. Family team time, substituting extracurriculars with engaging family activities, could be a great alternative to try this winter. Simply put, family team time is anything that the family does together for enjoyment. Below are options to try in place of signing up for another round of extracurricular activities this winter

  • Considering our proximity to D.C.’s many museums, theaters, and other cultural hubs, there are countless engaging options for your family to experience together this winter. Especially as the holidays approach, options will be plentiful: festivals, concerts, plays, ballets, and other performances. Consider taking in a show, visiting a museum, or simply touring the neighborhood’s Christmas lights. Plan ahead by checking Groupon and other sites for deals on attractions, discounted events and performances, and student rates. Museum visits are a great free option to explore art and history with the whole gang—not to mention, they are a great place to escape from the bitter winter weather while still stretching your legs. 
  • Afternoon matinees can prove to be a wonderfully inexpensive way to get the family together for a few hours of entertainment. Another option is to have a weekly family book club, in which every member of the family reads the same book. Once a week, make some popcorn, get comfy in the living room, and discuss the recently read chapters. Once everyone has finished the book, consider renting the movie version, as many young adult and family novels have been adapted to film. After the movie, encourage a mock-film study, in which you talk about how the movie and the book are similar or different, and which one each person preferred. Then, allow someone else to choose the next novel/movie combination. Keep the weekly book talks going until everyone has had the chance to select a novel for the family. To save money, consider checking books out at the local library or purchase used books online. For struggling readers, consider an e-book or audiobook version so that children can follow along while listening to the book aloud. 
  • Ice skating, bowling, or an afternoon at the trampoline park can provide much-needed exercise when cabin fever starts to hit in the winter months. As opposed to chauffeuring each child from activity to activity, family team time allows for one trip, to one agreed-upon activity, all together as a family. Want to stay in? Try a competitive Top Chef-inspired cooking challenge, in which each member chooses a flavorful pancake topping, unique pizza toppings, or quesadilla fillings. An impartial blind taste tester is all you need to settle the sibling rivalry or family food feud! 
  • As opposed to hustling from game, to recital, to playdate on a busy weekend, consider volunteering as a family. Clean out the toy room and closets to donate to children in need. These gestures show children that the holidays are not only about receiving, but also giving. Decide as a family to demonstrate the spirit of giving by helping out at an animal shelter, soup kitchen, book drive, etc. After volunteering, discuss each family member’s favorite moment of the day—what was the best part of volunteering? What did you learn?   

This season, take a break from the constant flurry of extracurricular activity and give your family the gift of time together.

Constructive Feedback

Educators are trained to provide rigorous, engaging instruction, fair and accurate grades and assessments, and helpful criticism or feedback. As an English teacher, written feedback is a crucial aspect of the editing, revising and grading process. For students, the best way to ensure that our feedback is not going straight into the garbage is to make it as helpful as possible. While everyone has his or her own style of providing written feedback, below are a few solid Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to teacher feedback.

  • Try to balance the salty with the sweet—especially with younger or struggling writers. The writing process is complex, intimidating, and laborious for many young learners. When students are just starting out, a little encouragement can go a long way. This is not to suggest that feedback must only contain vapid or disingenuous fluff—not at all. The critical aspect of teacher feedback is what the students truly need. However, if we want them to invest in the time of reading, reflecting, and revising with the feedback we provide, we must be sure to draw them in as opposed to turning them off with only negative feedback. I not-so-fondly remember my own experiences where, even as an elementary student, my writing was more or less ripped to shreds by only harsh criticism. Yes, critical feedback is important, but we must also be sure to shed light on what the writer did correctly, as to provide a glimmer of enthusiasm, optimism, or positive reinforcement.

  • Focus your feedback on a few major takeaways from earlier instruction. For instance, if a main objective of the unit is that students will be able to support a claim with textual evidence and interpretive reasoning, then focus your feedback and critique around how successfully they attempted that objective. If introductions and conclusions were the focus, be sure to provide most of the feedback in that area of the paper. This not only makes your life easier by helping to focus the written feedback, but it also allows for students to hone in on a few significant writing skills at a time. The feedback will seem less tedious on your end, and less harsh from a student’s perspective.

  • Keep comments clear, but concise, by using highlighter functions or editing symbols in Google Classroom. One benefit to the abundance of technology that we educators have at our disposal is the fact that written (or typed) feedback can save teachers time, while providing students with comments and suggestions in real time. With the various digital platforms for students to submit writing assignments, students no longer have to wait for the return of tangible essays with handwritten feedback. Now students can simply login from home or school to view a teacher’s comments, critiques, and suggestions.

  • Use the editing or highlighting function in Google Classroom to note areas in a paper where students need spelling, punctuation, or grammatical revision. For students that need reminders, I may insert the first few missing commas. For others, however, I may simply highlight the areas in their paper where they are missing punctuation. This way, students will know where to include a mark, but must assess their own writing to identify exactly which punctuation mark fits properly in a given highlighted area.

  • Talk through the feedback to both put students at ease and answer follow-up questions that they may have. Like many things, sometimes our feedback can get lost in translation. If this is the case, consider setting aside a segment of class time where students can conference one-on-one with you about their specific feedback and suggestions. This allows students the opportunity to fully grasp the feedback to ensure that their plans to revise will in fact improve upon their first draft.

Equity

Equity, as far as the Oxford English Dictionary is concerned, is defined as “the quality of being fair or impartial.” Simple enough, right? Yet, at home with children and teens, the concept will probably require further conversation to teach kids not only what equity means, but what it looks like.

One way to begin teaching children about what it means to be equitable is by teaching them what is not equitable. Contrary to what many children believe, equity and equality are not synonymous. By this, we mean that equity does not signify that everyone receives the same thing, whether that be treatment, assistance, gifts, awards, allowance, etc. Instead, equity means that everyone receives the same level of what they need. Again, this concept could be difficult for children to grasp, especially when fairness becomes a point of contention.

When parents need to put the focus on equity, not equality, they can begin by explaining the reason behind certain parental decisions. For example, Alex is 6 years old and Abe is 16 years old. Both boys perform chores around the house for an allowance. However, because the stark age difference significantly distinguishes each child’s ability to perform certain chores, tasks and allowances will not be equal—but they will be equitable. Let’s look at the details: Alex, the 6-year-old, feeds the fish, sorts his laundry, and helps put groceries away. For these age-appropriate tasks, Alex receives $5 a week as his allowance. This amount is enough for Alex to buy a book at the school book fair, which he desperately wants.

Now Abe, the 16-year-old, completes chores for the family, as well. Since Abe is older, he is trusted with the responsibility of walking the dog every evening, mowing the lawn, and helping clean up after dinner. For these tasks Abe receives $30 per week, which he puts towards gas money. While this example is hypothetical, a scenario like this makes sense for explaining equity. Abe and Alex are both contributing to household chores. However, the level of work, and therefore the level of pay, differs to suit each boy’s needs.

Another way to explain equity to children is to use an example that they have likely encountered in every parking lot—the handicapped parking spot. Much like the school accommodations for students with special needs, handicap parking is an accommodation to ensure equity for drivers with disabilities. Obviously, handicap parking spaces are not equal to all of the other spots—they are much closer, more convenient, and sometimes larger. However, equality among parking spaces would mean that the parking lot is inequitable for drivers with special needs. Remember, children need to realize that equity involves everyone getting what they need. An able-bodied person does not need to park closest to the entryway of a building, but a handicapped person does. The designated spaces ensure that they receive what they need, which in this case is an unobstructed parking space that is close in proximity to where they are going.

Key takeaways for children and teens is that fairness, equality, and equity are not synonymous terms. Equity revolves around each person’s individual needs and circumstances. Remind your children that we may not be aware of a person’s individual needs. Therefore, if it appears that someone else is getting “special treatment,” consider the obstacles, limitations, or other factors that may be at play. What appears to be unequal is often equity at work.

Summer Safety Concerns

Schools are out, which brings children and teens outside. They are eager to enjoy the beautiful weather and all that summertime fun entails. For a fun-filled summer vacation free of avoidable injuries, expert tips can help prepare children and those of us working with children during the summer months.

Tips for pedestrians: Of course the obvious guidelines apply, like look both ways before crossing, hold hands with the little ones, listen for oncoming traffic, etc. However, now that the average American 5-year-old has his own phone, adults need to be especially cognizant of the distractibility that phones bring. For day camps or sleepaway camps, children and teens will likely have a smart device with them. While walking, especially in areas with heavy traffic, children should forego the phones. Babysitters, nannies, camp counselors, etc., must encourage walkers to be vigilant while walking. Not only is traffic an issue, but distracted walkers are more likely to incur injuries from stumbles or falls. Earbuds are an added distraction, as children are not able to hear what is happening in their surroundings.  

Tips for the heat/sun: Those of us working with children in the summer must be aware of the early signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration. Camps, pool days, sports—all of these activities can pose a threat when the temperatures spike. Adults cannot assume that children show up to these outdoor activities prepared for the sun. It is imperative to have sunscreen, water, snacks, and basic first aid items on hand.

Knowing the symptoms of heat-related emergencies is also essential. Children on the verge of heat exhaustion may exhibit an unusually flushed or pale face, profuse sweating with chills or goosebumps, clammy or cool skin to the touch, nausea, fatigue, or dizziness. Remove them from the sun or outdoors as soon as possible. Provide them with water and/or fluids with electrolytes and monitor them for faintness, vomiting, or diarrhea. Drinking plenty of cold water during the day is crucial, as well. While in the pool, children may neglect their thirst or need for water. Make sure that children are drinking plenty of water, not just swimming in it!

Tips for safe play: Summertime play can also pose issues if supervision is lacking. Even the most experienced bicyclists, roller bladers, and skateboarders must be cautious. Helmets and other protective gear are a must—no matter how confident the rider may be. Adults should always supervise these activities and ensure that children are wearing visible or reflective gear in the evenings.

Jungle gym and playground enthusiasts need to be monitored carefully, as well.

Experts say that, statistically, monkey bars are the most dangerous playground equipment due to falls. The CDC reports that emergency rooms see around 20,000 traumatic brain injury-related accidents each year caused solely by playground falls. Educators, camp counselors, and sitters must be vigilant while children enjoy the playground—and any indication of a head injury should be checked out by a doctor immediately.

Because of the possibility of bug bites and stings, adults working with children must be up to date on EpiPen training. In order to properly administer Epinephrine Auto-Injector to a child experiencing anaphylaxis, adults must be trained and familiar with each child’s individual allergy threats.

Finally, while no child should play with or anywhere near fireworks, each summer brings firework-related injuries. Even popular items such as firecrackers and sparklers can result in serious burns and other injuries—it’s just not a good idea.  

Positive Behavior Begets More Positive Behavior: Advice to Use at Home

I vividly remember being told things like: “Do the right thing, even when no one is watching.” “Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.” Or, “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” These go-to one-liners stayed with me, not because the deeper meanings sank in right away, but because it took experiences with others to see the impact that following—or not following—these adages had on myself and those around me.

As a middle school teacher, I find myself uttering these notions to teens and preteens regularly, but the truth is, these important messages should be instilled long before my 7th graders have reached my classroom. So, how can we school our children on these important, non-academic lessons before they reach the classroom?

Learn to deflect the “no” response and set the tone for future conflict resolution. This new favorite word seemingly begins as soon as children begin to speak. After “mama/dada” the word “no” becomes a frequent response to any question. Once children get a bit older, the cute “no” becomes a more defiant situation. For questions or statements that do not allow for yes or no options, remove the opportunity for children to respond with “no.” Phrase things in ways that provide children with choices: Would you like salad or peas? You can either take out the trash or fold your laundry. Would you like to stay up 15 minutes later or sleep in 15 minutes longer? Complete your homework now or lose screen time before bed.

The key is to provide options that lead kids in the right direction, while giving them a sense of agency as well.  

Encourage kind gestures, especially when others make it difficult. This is a challenging concept—even for adults at times. The instinct is to respond and react based on the behavior of those around you—if someone is cold or rude, it may subtly influence us to be standoffish. However, meeting rudeness with rudeness does nothing to allay the moment. Teach your child to challenge himself to rise above any perceived negativity from others. Positivity is often contagious, but in the off chance that the other person still does not reciprocate, your child can still feel good about the genuine attempt. Remind him that kindness does not have to be received before it is given—again, this notion is a hard pill to swallow. The more we practice the art of spreading kindness, the more intuitive and automatic it becomes.

Praise honesty, even when the truth is testing. Again, the instinct is to self-preserve, which means that kids may put themselves in the position of lying to stay out of trouble. This is totally understandable, as we have all likely fibbed to save ourselves from the truth. However, we have also learned that while dishonesty may temporarily alleviate the heat from the hot seat, it also creates bigger issues down the line. Teach your child that, even when owning the truth can be uncomfortable or damaging, it will never be as harmful as the lies you tell yourself. When your child gets into trouble, but remains honest about the situation, be sure to praise the honesty piece. Yes, she made a mistake, and that will be dealt with accordingly, but the optimistic view is that she owned her actions honestly, which exhibits maturity, morality and accountability.

The Rise of the Fidget Spinner: What, Where, When, and How

Anyone outside of the education realm, or who does not regularly interact with children, might assume that a fidget spinner is some sort of spaceship contraption or an obscure item found on the shelves of a home improvement store. However, teachers, parents and, of course, children know all too well what a fidget spinner is—and we know that you will likely hear one before you will see one. Silly dramatics aside, the fidget spinner has swiftly entered classrooms and become a staple in many pencil pouches. Before we purchase, shun, recommend, or loathe these gadgets, it is important to look further at the intended purpose.

What are fidget cubes/spinners/balls/blocks for?

The colorful, handheld, spinning, clicking, toggling, shifting devices were initially intended to serve a therapeutic purpose. Research of students (and even adults) with ADHD, autism, anxiety, or PTSD has shown that small, repetitive motion can alleviate stress, anxiety, or the urge to move. The handheld devices are also thought to improve focus, memory and attentiveness. Much like the concept of the stress ball, the fidget craze began as an attempt to discreetly busy the hands while centering and focusing the mind.

Where should they be used?  

If looking solely at their cognitive or therapeutic purposes, fidget spinners and cubes can be seen in classrooms, small group academic settings, or at a study/homework work session. Since the repetitive motion and occupation of the hands are said to alleviate stress and anxiety, children could also make use of them at the doctor’s or dentist’s office, in the car while running errands, or any other instance in which a child or teen may need to center themselves to assuage any stressors.

When should they be used?

Students should feel able to use them at specific times only—not the entire school day for any purpose. If students are nervous or stressed about an upcoming presentation, quiz, or assessment, a fidget toy can act as a much-needed distraction from the nerves. A child could also benefit from a spinner or cube when she recognizes that her focus is waning. The movement and repetition provides mindless movement for the hands, while allowing the mind to focus on the reading, handout, etc. Fidgets can also be used during a sudden need to expel energy. Since it is not always plausible to stand up, do jumping jacks, or stretch out in the classroom setting, a fidget toy allows for inconspicuous movement in order to placate the restlessness.

How should they NOT be used?

And herein lies the issue with the rise of the fidget spinner—too much of a good thing can become a whirring, buzzing, spinning nightmare. Since the therapeutic toy crossed the boundary into “fad” territory, it has become problematic in many classrooms and academic environments. When crazed middle schoolers created such a rapid demand for spinners and cubes, the market responded with what I’d call “spinners on steroids.” What began as a subtle, silent, handheld trinket now has flashing lights, sound effects, and stainless steel mechanisms for extra heft. Outside of the classroom, there is no problem with these fancy fidgets; however, the attention tool has now become a big distraction for many students. Whether one is fidgeting or not, the constant murmur and spinning can be heard and seen in the periphery. YouTube has exploded with fidget spinner “tricks” and competitions. Schools are having to either ban or temporarily confiscate the more boisterous students’ spinners, only to be met with the issue of deciding which students need them versus which students want them. The pendulum has now swung in the opposite direction for some preteens—now diminishing their focus and motivation, which conflicts with the intentions of these gadgets to begin with.

Bottom line—if it helps the child focus, relax, and release, allow it. If the spinners are beginning to spin out of control, leave them for recess or settings other than the classroom.

Stress Awareness Month: How Parents Can Monitor and Manage a Child’s Stress Level

Adults are all too familiar with the concept of stress—we live with it almost every day to some extent. Not so surprisingly, American children are sadly experiencing chronic stress as well. In fact, data indicates that pharmaceutical use for children with emotional disorders has risen to an alarming rate, as has the suicide rate for adolescents. We know from our own personal experiences that mounting stress has an enormous ripple effect on our day-to-day lives. Sleeping patterns, eating habits, productivity, social/emotional well-being—all of these factors are very much correlated to stress levels. If we adults sometimes find ourselves in the weeds when it comes to stress, how can we expect children to react to an increase in stress?

The solution to stress in children should not involve managing stressors once they have reached their peak, but rather helping children avoid getting to that point of eruption. Here are a few tips to help parents take a proactive approach to stress:

Pack the schedule with pockets of “downtime,” as opposed to more activities. Of course children yearn to participate, whether it be dance class, soccer practice, after-school camp, science club, etc. This enthusiasm should not be discouraged, but it is a parent’s job to manage a realistic schedule and to keep it manageable. Yes, things will pop up—parties or sleepovers or field trips will emerge from the woodwork. However, downtime is essential for children to maintain their mental health. Often times, a child or adolescent’s stress levels mount when they feel incapable of maintaining the balancing act. To avoid this, allow time in the family’s daily schedule to do absolutely nothing. These pockets of time can be used for anything—a school project, extra violin practice, reading, or simply relaxing. The key here is that the time is used to keep that overbooked sense of urgency at bay.

Explicitly discuss stress and where it comes from. The more your teen recognizes where and when his or her stress emerges, the better equipped he or she will be able to anticipate and circumvent the stressor. For instance, if procrastination or last-minute rushing is the catalyst, teach time management strategies and how to plan ahead.

Similarly, if you know your child’s stressors, help him or her to prepare for upcoming events that might cause anxiety or stress. If you know that your child despises the dentist, give him or her a heads-up about an upcoming appointment. Explain that nervous feelings are valid, but that the pros of going to the dentist far exceed the temporary uneasiness.

Think of outlets for stress. In the same way that we hit the gym to expel the stress of the day, allow your child to explore options to clear his or her mind and body of any angst. If a walk around the block the morning before an important recital keeps the jitters at bay, make that a routine. Or, bring a stress ball to the dreaded dentist appointment. When said event is over, celebrate your child’s bravery, tenacity, and composure.