National Stress Awareness Month

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April is National Stress Awareness Month. Stress is an unfortunate aspect of our everyday lives that everyone experiences from time to time. Truth be told, even simply thinking about how stressed we are can sometimes result in even more stress. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of stress is the fact that we should expect to experience it at any age. So, how can we combat this culprit without adding to the stress? How can we stop stressing about stress? Take a look below at some tried-and-true methods of managing your day-to-day stress.

Get a healthy handle on the family’s eating and exercise routines.

Too often, our schedules are so hectic that there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything. With all of the hustle and bustle, regular exercise and healthy eating habits are left by the wayside. Instead, we may opt for the “quick-fix” dinner options and neglect the gym all together. The unhealthy food and lack of exercise will undoubtedly leave the family feeling sluggish, unmotivated, and yes—stressed. Healthy eating jumpstarts motivation and provides the body with nutritious energy. This energy then motivates us to get out and get moving. Exercise is a proven method of managing stress because it releases endorphins—the body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals. Therefore, daily cardio is not only a method of fitness and weight management, but it is also proven to greatly reduce stress.

Partake in some spring cleaning to reduce the clutter.

April is the perfect month to handle the spring cleaning that you’ve been putting off. Studies show that unkempt or messy environments can contribute to a person’s stress level.  Something as simple as reorganizing your closet can alleviate unnecessary stress and anxiety. Not only will the lack of clutter and mess make you feel better, but it will also allow your morning routine to progress a little smoother.  

Get the family outside.

Now that winter has passed and the weather is improving, it’s time to enjoy the outdoors and get some fresh air. While you may not suffer from full-blown seasonal affective disorder, we can all relate to the notion of the “winter-time blues.” In fact, recent research has shown a strong link between vitamin D deficiency and symptoms of depression. This means that sunshine, one of the body’s main sources of vitamin D, can greatly improve mood by reducing stress.

Focus on the present.

Too often we dwell on the past or future. We perseverate, replaying our thoughts over and over again. We agonize over what we could have done differently, or what we must do next time. Instead of indulging in this act of self-torment, focus only on what you can control right now. It only compounds stress when we allow ourselves to worry about things that are out of our hands. Manage what you are able, to the best of your ability, and let the rest be. Of course, this practice is much easier said than done. However, it is helpful to take a moment, take yourself off of the worry-wheel, and focus solely on what is in front of you.

What NOT To Do When Students Are Stressed

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Seeing as April is National Stress Awareness Month, I thought it would be important to seek the child’s perspective on stress. As educators, we tend to see ourselves somewhat as ambassadors or liaisons between the world of academia and the youths that we are instructing every day. While we may think we know how to help students when they are experiencing overwhelming stress, it is possible that we greatly miss the mark sometimes, too.

In an effort to better understand how children respond to stress, I asked a simple question: What does NOT help you when you are experiencing stress? Here are the answers, “straight from the mouths of babes,” as they say.

Do not tell me that I’m overreacting.

When students were asked what does not help them in moments of extreme stress, many said the same thing, “Don’t tell me to calm down.” This is true for adults, too. Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down after being told to calm down. Students want to know that their feelings are validated. The initial “it’ll be ok, calm down” response is not only ineffective, but it also discredits what they are feeling in that moment. Instead, sometimes students simply want to know that they’ve been heard.  

Do not correct me.

Another unexpected response was the fact that students are not always seeking straight answers or constant perfection. In moments of stress, teachers or parents often want to alleviate the anxiety by removing the stressor or solving the problem for the child. While at times adult interference is absolutely necessary, sometimes it simply is not. When a student is struggling with a difficult concept or task, it is normal that he or she will experience stress. Working through the struggle independently is part of the process of learning how to self-soothe and persevere through the strife.

Leave me alone.

As adults, we know that sometimes, especially when the stress level is at its peak, we simply need some solitude. This is true for students, as well. As much as we may want to comfort or provide advice, students sometimes just want some alone time to decompress. Respect that.

Don’t tell me to manage my time better.

Similarly to tip number one, recommending that students practice time management and prioritization sometimes only adds more stress. Suggestions are great; however, often times, students are truly overbooked. Validating the stress that is attributed to their packed schedules and to-do lists shows that you understand and care about their emotional well-being. Time management is a great skill that comes with practice as children mature. However, sometimes we need to be mindful of the age-group and help students to taper back.

Don’t skip the reward.

No matter the age, students need to know that their hard work and stressful efforts have paid off. Whether large or small successes, it is important to pause at those achievements that didn’t come easily. Reward students with praise when you’ve recognized great effort and perseverance. Skipping the opportunity to praise a job well-done leaves students wondering if they’ve worked hard enough. We all know what it feels like to persist through stressful situations—recognition after the fact never hurts.

 

It’s Not Always What it Seems: Anxiety in the Classroom

 

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Anxiety is something that educators are seeing more and more of in our children. With countless theories on the causes of this rising diagnosis, one thing is for sure—anxiety affects every child differently. Because anxiety is such a complex condition that is unique to each person, the symptoms vary from child to child. In fact, the symptoms may even vary from situation to situation. For instance, a child with anxiety may display different symptoms in different situations throughout the day.  Anxiety may manifest itself differently from classroom to classroom simply because of the environment or different stressors present.

Because anxiety presents itself in many different ways, it is often hard to initially see or understand, especially in the classroom. With this knowledge, it is important that teachers take a closer look at different behaviors and tendencies. For instance, a child with anxiety may present different behaviors depending on comfort level.

Here are a few signs to look for in children who may be suffering from anxiety:

Eye Contact

A child with anxiety may be resistant to making eye contact, especially during one-on-one conversations. It is important for educators to be mindful that the lack of eye contact is not a defiant or dismissive behavior. Instead, direct eye contact may be intimidating or anxiety-producing because the child feels uncomfortable with the direct attention. This can often be closely related to a more specific form of anxiety called social anxiety disorder. Children who suffer with social anxiety disorder exhibit symptoms of anxiety when they feel that all eyes are on them. Especially in social situations, such as in a classroom, a child may be reluctant to participate, work with others, or even answer one-on-one questions because of the discomfort.

Inattentiveness

Similarly, a child with anxiety may appear aloof, inattentive, or “checked out” during classroom instruction. Again, this may be an anxiety disorder rearing its head. A child with generalized anxiety disorder is often consumed with worries, fears, or concerns about an aspect of his or her life. When children fixate on a concern or worry, they are likely unable to concentrate in the classroom. This is very different from a student that is simply bored or disinterested. Furthermore, the constant fixation and worrying often continues at home, making it difficult for children to refocus or “power down.” The GAD symptoms will often result in insomnia or restlessness.

Irritability

Sometimes due to the insomnia, students with anxiety may exhibit irritability at school, as well. Of course, when sleep is regularly disrupted by anxiety, a child may appear to be more fatigued or ill-tempered. This type of behavior is different from a child who is simply choosing to disrupt or defy. When anxiety takes over, the irritability is simply an outlet for the frustration and stress.

With this in mind, it is important for teachers to identify behavioral concerns that are separate from the anxiety disorder. Often times, taking a little breather or moment to get a drink of water will be enough to allow the student to reset and alleviate the stress.

Alcohol and Drug Awareness Month

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Since the late 1980s, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has spent the month of April educating the public on issues related to drugs and alcohol. This year’s theme, “Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use,” focuses on the important role that parents play when it comes to negative influences in children’s lives. For this year’s event, the NCADD has helped to organize a series of local, state and national events aimed at educating people about the treatment and prevention of alcoholism, especially among our youth.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence encourages the practice of open and honest conversations between parents and teens. For many different reasons, these conversations can be uncomfortable for both parents and children. Not only is trust involved, but issues pertaining to peer pressure and maturity also impact a teen’s decisions and mind set. Ultimately, you know your teen better than anyone—but it never hurts to have a few suggestions on how to broach the subject of the detriments of drug and alcohol use.

Start the conversation before you think it’s time to start the conversation

Whether we’d like to believe it or not, the average age at which a young person first tries alcohol in the United States is 13 years old. Yes, this means that the average 6th or 7th grader has tried—or at least been given the opportunity to try—alcohol. As astounding as this statistic may seem, it is essential that parents realize that curiosity about drugs and alcohol may begin earlier than expected, especially with easy access to internet information via personal devices. Begin openly discussing these matters early and often. If your child or teen knows that they can come to you openly about these topics, they’ll be more likely to seek your advice when the time comes to make the tough decisions.

Know what is going on inside and outside of your house

Technology has done wonders in terms of connecting and informing today’s youth. Unfortunately, this connectivity can be a double-edged sword. According to recent reports, over 50% of American children own a cell phone by the age of 6. With the rise of social media forums, teens can access and share information like never before. Therefore, stories and photos from last weekend’s party will hit the internet before you’ve even realized that your child may have hosted the party. Between Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram, today’s kids are able to document their every move. As the parent, it is your job to be fully aware of your child’s activities. Yes, privacy and trust are important, but parents must be aware of the possibility that drugs and alcohol are realistic temptations.

Be direct and honest about the consequences

As we all know, part of growing up and maturing into adults involves making decisions—which sometimes means making mistakes. This is part of the learning curve that we all experience throughout our lives. As the parent, you are fully aware of the lessons, morals, and wisdom that you’d like to instill in your child. Discussing the honest consequences of drug and alcohol use is a difficult yet important step in keeping the communication lines open. These conversations are not meant to scare, but rather to realistically inform about the dangers of harmful decision-making. Teenage brains are naturally curious, impulsive, and spontaneous. That said, teens will possibly make difficult decisions without the slightest bit of contemplation, especially about the severity of the potential consequences. Talk honestly about the dangers of drinking and driving—make sure that you child knows that there is always another (better) option. Prompt your child to think about everything that is important in his or her life—and be sure to highlight the fact that making poor choices could mean gambling all of these things away. As scary as it may sound, teens need to know that some mistakes, while unintentional accidents, are still too severe to be undone.
Even if you still think you have a few years before you need to have this conversation, consider using the NCADD’s “Talk Early, Talk Often” awareness campaign to introduce the topic with your child. It’s never too early to be proactive in shaping good decision-making.

Homework Time Made Easier

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Homework is simply a fact of life for today’s students. As early as kindergarten, children are bringing homework home from school. While homework has its many benefits, the majority of students would rather forget about the additional practices, projects, and papers. With such an aversion, homework time at home can be a real battle. Yet, it does not have to be. There are many tried-and-true strategies when it comes to alleviating the stress of homework.

Here are some of our favorites.

First and foremost, a key to easing homework stress is to make sure that the homework actually makes it home. Depending on your child’s age, it may be a struggle to simply keep track of the many worksheets that need to travel to and from school. Keeping your child’s work organized can make all the difference when sitting down to work. Try using a homework folder designated for nightly assignments. Use color-coded tabs or sticky notes to manage daily assignments and due dates. Staying organized is a significant start to managing the homework routine.

Set a Schedule

Set expectations by creating a homework schedule. Between the many afterschool activities and busy schedules that each family undoubtedly juggles, homework may become an afterthought. Make sure that your child knows when and where he or she should be completing homework each night. Set limits on the use of technology during homework time. Cell phones, television, and other distractions can make homework completion impossible, so it is best that these things remain off limits until homework is completed.

Break It Down

When homework has mounted to a seemingly unmanageable level, break the assignments down to avoid a mental meltdown. Especially during the middle and high school years, the amount of homework assignments can increase greatly. Staring down a mountain of papers can stress out both you and your child. If your child is unable to chunk the assignments into manageable pieces, help them out by creating an “order of importance” list. Arrange the work into a schedule based on difficulty and due date. This way, you and your child can prioritize the homework and alleviate any stress from the many assignments.

Promote Practice, Not Perfection

When it comes to difficult assignments, emphasize the importance of effort and completion, not necessarily perfection or 100% correctness. When homework becomes a frustrating tear-session for your child, explain that homework is meant to be practice. Too often, students stress over the need to answer questions and submit flawless assignments. Yes, that is the eventual goal, but homework is meant to provide practice—not display perfection. In fact, most homework assignments are intended to show the teacher whether or not students understood the content. Teachers also use homework assignments as a way to gauge the pacing of lessons or content. So, when the tears start welling, remind your child that homework is for practice.

Building Up Self-Esteem in the Classroom

i-741519_1280Social-emotional development is a key aspect of growth for children, especially during the teenage years. Questions, conflicts, and angst revolving around one’s identity are indicative of this tempestuous stage in life. Many adolescents, if not all, struggle with building self-esteem. As educators, we have the opportunity to not only teach, but to lead by example.

I, like many adults, can personally relate to my sporadically insecure and apprehensive middle schoolers. The braces, blemishes, and all of those other lovely aspects of my own adolescent years are fresh in my mind when I stand in front of my classes—their hesitant expressions are another reminder of how hard it is to be a teenager. However, two things that can lessen the blow of adolescence are a positive outlook and a resilient self-esteem.

Methods to address the insecurities change from day to day, and vary depending on the student. Obviously, what makes one student feel comfortable and confident may not be the key for another. Even so, there are ways to make a teacher’s classroom, instruction, and demeanor more conducive to building students’ self-esteem.

Be open about your own flaws or weaknesses

For the most part, it is common for students to expect perfection and level-headedness from their teachers to a certain degree. This is evident by the fact that they are shocked and humored when we miscalculate, misspell, or misconstrue something. They are even more shocked to see us scrambling through the mall in sweats and a baseball hat on a Saturday. While mildly embarrassing to us, these somewhat amusing instances are truly beneficial to building our students’ self-esteem.

Capitalize on these opportunities by shattering the belief that perfection is the key to high self-esteem. Yes, teachers are tasked with teaching our subjects, but we are not the “almighty keepers of the knowledge.” We are human beings that have flaws and make mistakes. Embrace these blunders in the classroom—they show our students that, just like teenagers, we adults make mistakes, too. This realization that everyone makes mistakes helps students accept their own missteps and build self-esteem.

Show your true colors

Learning occurs when students take risks in the classroom. Risk-taking is also a sign of confidence and self-esteem. If we teachers are not presenting our true selves, how can we expect our students to feel comfortable enough to show their own true colors? In order to foster these themes of confidence, honesty, and authenticity in the classroom, we must truly practice what we preach.

Beware, though, that adolescents have the uncanny ability to detect phoniness. They are observant, intuitive, and critical. Therefore, it is not the easiest task for teachers to wear all of the hats and still remain authentic in the classroom. All at once, we must maintain professionalism, provide engagement, and remain enthusiastic about the lesson, while also cracking down on behaviors and managing 30+ teenagers in a room. This can be quite a tall order; however, exhibiting your own confidence in the classroom is key to encouraging your students’ self-esteem. Just as parents should model good self-esteem at home, teachers should lead by example, as well.

Explain that “this too shall pass”

Another honest conversation that teachers can have with students in order to foster self-esteem involves discussions of the future. It is easy for anyone to get caught up or discouraged by difficulties happening in the here and now. This is especially true for teenagers. Teens are developmentally prone to “sweat the small stuff.” As a teen, I remember overreacting, dramatizing, and fixating on what turned out to be tiny non-problems. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but genuine discussions about how to look past our problems and put things into perspective will nurture a positive outlook.

As teachers, we know that personal connections can make all the difference with our students. Sharing anecdotes about my own struggles and slip-ups growing up allows me to relate to my students and relay strategies that worked versus those that didn’t quite pan out. Showing your students that you can relate to their insecurities is beneficial; showing students that you’ve shed your insecurities and built-up your self-esteem over time can be even more beneficial.

At the start of this school year, I hung two pictures outside of my classroom—my school photo from 6th grade and another from 8th grade. I don’t have to tell you that these photos are beyond embarrassing. My students know all too well that, since hormones run high and self-esteem runs low, these teenage years present plenty of challenges. By sharing your own weaknesses, exhibiting authenticity, and discussing your own fluctuations of self-esteem, teachers have the ability to lead by example and foster positive self-images in the classroom.

Tips for Middle Schoolers…Transition to Success

Tips for Middle Schoolers…Transition to Success

  1. Organization is one of the most important and necessary skills for being successful in Middle School.  Here are some tips:
    • Post your schedule inside your locker.
    • Color code your notebooks and folders for faster, easier class transitions. Example: Red notebook & folder for Math
    • Keep a small, magnetic dry erase board inside your locker to quickly write down after each class what books to bring home. Example: You leave math and know you have homework–write on your board math HW.
    • ALWAYS use your agenda.  You should be writing down any homework or upcoming tests/quizzes daily in your agenda. Do this before you leave your classroom before the bell.
    • A 3-ring zipper binder is a useful tool to hold pens, pencils, notebook paper and your agenda so that you are ready for every class. Note: D shaped binder rings tend to be more durable.
    • Get to know your locker combination and practice how to use the lock.  
  2. It is also important to communicate with your teacher.  If you do not understand something, wait for the appropriate time and ASK.  
  3. Do not spend too much time socializing in between classes.  Five minutes goes really quickly and tardies can add up fast. Several tardies can get you a detention. Use your lunch and after school to catch up with friends.
  4. Enjoy your time and get involved with clubs and other activities that are available.  Listen to what the teachers have to say and remember that being respectful can get you far.

Welcome to Middle School…Your Parent Guide

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  1. Check your child’s agenda book daily, and check not only homework, but completed homework on a regular basis.
  2. Keep lines of communication with school open. Don’t wait for school to contact you. Take the initiative.
  3. Get to know the teachers, keep in contact, and understand–regardless of what your child comes home and tells you–there is always another side to the story.
  4. Teach your child that every teacher is different, just as co-workers and bosses will be in life.
  5. Be prepared for change. Be prepared for the shock of academic and non-academic discussions in middle school about topics you never heard your child mention before.
  6. Tell administrators about teachers who make a positive impression. Do you enjoy being complimented? So do teachers.
  7. Reward positive accomplishments (agenda book completely filled in, perfect papers, etc.) on a weekly basis. A little goes a long way, and middle schoolers thrive on praise.
  8. Get involved. Research has shown that parents’ participation increases the child’s self-esteem, improves their academic performance, improves the parent-child relationship, and develops a more positive attitude toward school in both the parent and child.
  9. Ask your child to teach you at least three new things they learned each day! Listening is one of the greatest–and most neglected–skills of parenting. Don’t be too busy with the little stuff in life to miss the important moments with your child. When they tell you about their day, look them in the eye, and listen; really listen!

Be objective. Listen to your child’s teachers. Sometimes they may tell you things about your child you aren’t going to like or want to hear. But remember, your child at home is not necessarily the same child they see at school. You don’t have to take everything the teacher says as gospel, but make sure you really listen and consider their advice.