Self-Esteem: Building a Strong Foundation

qualities-795867_1920February is National Boost Your Self-Esteem Month. Boosting one’s self-esteem is something that everyone has surely dealt with at some point. Even adults struggle with issues of self-esteem and self-worth from time to time. For teens, self-esteem, or the lack thereof, can greatly affect social and emotional development.

Merriam-Webster defines self-esteem as, “a feeling of having respect for yourself and your abilities; a confidence and satisfaction in oneself.” I consider self-esteem to be closely related to comfort level—how comfortable am I with my person as a whole? The tricky thing about self-esteem is that it can take decades to develop a strong sense of self-worth. Even then, once achieved, the comfort level is not concrete or guaranteed to last. Perhaps the most interesting thing about self-esteem is its plasticity or fluidity. Similarly to happiness, self-esteem can and will fluctuate throughout one’s life. You can be a happy person, and still experience low moments in the same manner that you can be a confident person, but still have periods of insecurity or low self-esteem.

This fluidity is especially important when discussing self-esteem with adolescents. The important thing to teach teens about self-image and confidence is that it can and will develop as we age. Furthermore, there are strategies that we can personally employ to build self-esteem.

Exercise positive self-talk: At any point throughout the day, teens are conversing with themselves using “self-talk.” This internal dialogue that we all employ from time to time has the ability to sway our moods and affect our self-perception. Almost like a chain reaction, what we think influences how we feel, which then influences how we behave. A teen that engages in negative self-talk is setting a self-fulfilling prophecy into motion. When people constantly put themselves down about their appearance or abilities, they orchestrate their own obstacles. Instead, encourage your child to engage in self-praise. Model that behavior by engaging in your own positive self-talk. Ask your child what he believes is his best personal trait. Ask him if he has any hidden talents or unique skills. Simply discussing the positives can alter your teen’s self-perception.

Discuss reasonable expectations: Self-esteem is more often compromised when we experience some sort of failure or rejection. It is important to talk through these disappointing moments with teens. Let your child know that failure is an important part of learning and growing that everyone experiences. Think of these moments as setbacks, an opportunity to simply begin again with more knowledge this time around. Also discuss the idea that perfection does not exist—there is no perfect athlete, artist, or musician. The perfect face and body are fantasies, as well. The idea is not to encourage your teen to aim low, but instead to prepare her to expect challenges in life. The more prepared your teen is to face challenges, the less she will internalize a set-back as a personal failure.

Defuse negative energy from others: Self-esteem can be greatly influenced by peers and others’ perceptions. This is especially true for adolescents, when fitting in and being socially accepted becomes more of a priority. No matter how much we want to deny or ignore it, other people’s words can greatly affect us. During adolescent years, when teens are most vulnerable and sensitive to peer pressure, teasing and other unkind gestures can compound the negative “self-talk.” When we hear others saying negative things about us, true or not, we may begin to question ourselves. Am I stupid like they say? Am I ugly like they claim? How can I be better so that others will like me? These types of questions arise when we internalize the negativity that others inflict on us. While we can’t control what other people say, we can control how we react to them. Teach your teen to ignore the negativity and focus more on his own feelings. Encourage teens to focus on the opinion that matters most—their own.

A fascinating aspect of self-esteem is the fact that we have some authority over it. In the same way that we work out to build and maintain muscle mass, we can shape our self-esteem. Yes, it takes time. It can be a lifelong process, but everything worth having requires time and effort. Talk to your teen about self-perception and self-esteem. The earlier that a child begins to feel confident in himself, and learns to maintain and build that confidence, the better.

No Name-Calling Week: A Teacher’s Approach

 

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Many people are unaware of No Name-Calling Week. To be honest, I did not know about this week-long movement until recently. We educators, however, are all too aware of the name-calling that occurs regularly in our schools.

As a former teacher, I have been privy to the impact that name-calling and other bullying can have on an adolescent. As we’ve all experienced ourselves, when students mature into adults, they become less concerned with how others view them, the names others call them, or any rumors being spread. Thankfully, with age and maturity comes a secure sense of self and disregard for teasing, bullying, etc. For middle schoolers and teens, however, arriving at this notion of self-awareness and confidence can be a rough and seemingly endless road.

As teachers and educators, it is our job to be tuned in to the goings on in our classrooms and hallways. Now more than ever before bullying, whether cyber or otherwise, can have tragic outcomes. It is no longer a case of “toughen up,” “shake it off,” or “pay no mind to what others have to say about you.” Hormones, emotions, and peer pressures have the potential to brew the perfect storm of misery for a bullied teen. With consequences as serious as depression, school violence, and suicide, we cannot simply chalk it up teenagers being teenagers. We cannot simply ask victims to “brush it off.”

Even more difficult sometimes is the fact that adolescents may not come right out and say that they are being bullied. In fact, teens tend to think that “tattling” on the bully will undoubtedly make things worse–which is often the case. A keen awareness can sometimes make all the difference for a teen that is struggling with being bullied. These are some common indicators that a student may be a victim of bullying:

  • Unexplainable injuries such as scratches, bruises, etc.
  • Frequent health complaints such as headaches or stomach aches
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations, refusal to work in groups
  • Suddenly feeling sick, faking illness, or asking to go to the nurse regularly
  • Changes in eating habits, such as suddenly skipping meals or constantly asking to complete classwork during lunch
  • Lethargy, low-energy, or falling asleep in class
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or frequent absences
  • Depressed demeanor or frequent crying
  • Self-destructive behaviors or mentions of suicide

If you notice some of these signs in a student, make a point to discuss observations of the student with colleagues, guidance counsellors, and other adults. Bullying is often an embarrassing and sensitive point of contention for students–the last thing they may want to do is discuss their personal woes with a teacher. Gather as much information about the student’s behavior trends and peer groups first. Then approach the student or parent if necessary.

Too often, victims of bullying believe that no one notices or cares about their struggles. Teachers can shatter this notion by being a listener, advocate, or disciplinarian if need be in bullying situations.

Parents Play an Important Role in the Anti-Bullying Movement

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No Name-Calling Week is a holiday that recognizes the importance of acceptance while taking anti-bullying measures in schools and having honest discussions about the severity of bullying.

As an educator, I am all too aware of the impact that name-calling and other bullying can have on an adolescent. However, as we all know, teens are not exactly forthcoming about their emotions. Parents especially may be left in the dark in terms of happenings at school and with peers. Moreover, the accessibility of technology and smartphones has made it even easier for adolescents to bully one another. Snapchat, instagram, vine, and other social media forums are often laden with unkind, sometimes downright harsh, remarks and comments.

Whether you personally experienced bullying as a teen or not, you likely know of someone who has been affected by bullying. It is important that parents understand just how serious this issue can be for a young person. Hormones, emotions, and peer pressures create a breeding ground for insecurity. Bullies often exploit these already-vulnerable teens, making life significantly harder in and out of school. While teens may be intent on guarding their private lives from their parents, it is vital that parents know the signs of a bully and a victim.

Signs that your teen may be a victim of bullying:

  • Unexplainable injuries, or an attempt to hide or make excuses for odd injuries
  • Lost or destroyed clothes, phones, tablets, jewelry, etc.
  • Complaining of frequent headaches or stomach aches; attempting to miss school suddenly
  • Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating after school (often a sign that a child is avoiding lunch in the cafeteria)
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares; oversleeping at any opportunity
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, sports, or other extracurriculars
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations; skipping plans or ignoring invitations from peers
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
  • Prolonged depressed mood or talks of suicide

Signs that your teen may be bullying others:

  • Frequently in trouble for fighting or verbally attacking others
  • Sudden change of peer group
  • Noticeable increase in aggressive behavior
  • Behavioral and/or academic trouble at school
  • Impulsive, irresponsible, or reckless behavior
  • Overly concerned with popularity and new peer groups

Of course, you know your child better than anyone–and you know their level of openness with you. It is okay to have open and honest conversations about school that focus on social topics, as opposed to simply asking only about academics. While autonomy is a major part of teen development, there are plenty of occasions when parents can and should get involved. Cases of bullying are certainly one of those instances.

For more information on how parents can discuss issues of bullying and school violence with teens, visit the link below.

http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/bullying_tips_for_parents.page

 

Learning to Learn

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Learning is a never-ending process. Of course, as educators, we put learning at the forefront of everything we do in the classroom. We ask ourselves many questions regarding the learning that we are hoping to witness: How am I going to see that they’ve understood? What will I do if they don’t understand? Is this a measurable objective? How can I apply this lesson to the real world? Do they care to learn this? With all of these questions about learning, it is important that we teachers step back and teach how to learn.

Especially during the transition grades—entering middle school, high school, or college—we must prepare students to learn how they learn best. Arguably, the best way to do this is to provide students with strategies that they can test out and employ. One of the major obstacles that I faced in my education involved studying. I always questioned myself in that area—Have I studied enough? Did I study the right concepts? Is memorizing the same thing as studying?

Here are a few tips that educators can teach students with regard to learning and studying:

  • Teach students how to pace themselves. It is much easier to tackle small bits of information at a time than it is to cram. Waiting until the last minute to cram before a test is also a surefire way to create unnecessary anxiety. Remind students of due dates and test dates. It is also helpful to model the process of chunking the work into manageable pieces along the way.
  • Encourage students to ask questions. Depending on the age and comfort level of a student, this may be a struggle at first. You could also provide question cards. Have students anonymously write questions that they’d like to have answered during the review session. It is also a good idea to encourage students to jot notes down during a class review or study.
  • Teach students to embrace the flashcard. This may seem like a painfully obvious approach to studying, but flashcards truly have several benefits. Creating flashcards helps to imprint the information beyond the scope of a student’s short-term memory. Writing something begins to solidify a connection in memory. Flashcards also force students to focus on only the key points. Since the purpose is to contain the important information on a small index card, students practice narrowing in on the main ideas and take-home points of the lesson. Of course, flashcards are also very handy to quickly and conveniently review material.
  • Model the mnemonic device. As crazy as it may sound, the mnemonic device was one of my best study quirks throughout all of my years of education. Even in graduate school, mnemonic devices helped to retain information that I thought I could never simply memorize. This strategy can utilize anything from a rhyme, song, pattern of words or letters, alliteration, etc., in order to solidify the information and easily recall it when necessary.

Introduce your students to these learning strategies to help them strengthen their study skills and enhance their performance across a range of subjects. As my experience suggests, these strategies will serve them well for years!

Turning Conflicts into Teachable Moments

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Any instance where 30 or more children or teens are working in one room can have the potential to ignite a conflict. An educator’s initial instinct may be to immediately extinguish the fire, which in some cases, is absolutely necessary. However, another approach to address conflict is to highlight and dissect the moment. Speaking through a conflict certainly involves tact; however, the practice will benefit future interactions in the classroom.

Address the issue headfirst: A surefire way to allow conflicts in the classroom to escalate is to sweep them under the rug. When students feel unheard or misunderstood, frustrations build. As uncomfortable as a discussion may seem, the conflict will not dissipate until it is brought to light.

Set the expectation: As the adult in the room, it is vital that the teacher creates a safe space for conflict resolution to take place. Students need validation and acknowledgment of their feelings and opinions. Educators must practice impartiality and fairness for all students involved. If students do not trust the situation, they will not open the door to allow honest conversations.

Encourage introspection: Ask students to identify exactly what emotions they are experiencing—there is a big difference between frustration and resentment. Motivate students to think about the root of the conflict. Oftentimes, conflicts arise out of misinterpreted messages. Ask students to speak honestly and directly about what they are thinking and experiencing.

Seek common ground: Frame the conversation around end goals and ask students what they would like to see as a result of this mediation. How are the students’ desires alike? How can the group compromise to ensure that everyone is heard? Highlight the fact that both students have similar feelings—just different opinions of the situation.

Curiosity kills the conflict: Effect change in students’ mindsets by encouraging everyone involved to remain curious and open-minded. Headstrong stubbornness will only help to facilitate the conflict; it’s fuel to the fire, so to speak. Keeping an open mind and truly listening to the other person allows barriers and egos to come down. When students are genuinely curious about the other person’s perspective, empathy, understanding, and resolutions will begin to smother the fiery conflict.

Conflict in the classroom is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be an obstacle. Quite conversely, conflicts can be catalysts for learning opportunities and social and emotional growth. Embrace the teachable moments and know that every tough instance is an opportunity to advance our understanding of communication.

Give Thanks by Giving Back

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Give Thanks by Giving Back

The old adage “to give is to receive” may seem a bit convoluted to young children—especially since children are more inclined to care about their own needs being met. With Thanksgiving upon us, it is the perfect time to teach children about the importance of giving. Whether you give your time at a food bank, donate toys to needy children, or make greeting cards for the elderly or terminally ill, giving to others has countless positive effects.

There are many things that children can learn from giving.Giving back builds confidence and instills a sense of purpose. It is important for kids to learn that they can be agents of positive change. By volunteering and giving back to those less fortunate, children can see exactly how their own actions can have a great impact.

Children can gain a different perspective on life. Everyone is guilty of feeling sorry for themselves at some point. Children especially can get caught up on the idea that things are “not fair.” Giving back can be a very great lesson for kids—because they’re right—life is not always fair. Helping others in need is an eye-opening experience, and certainly a humbling one, as well. Yes, you get the warm feeling from the fact that you brightened someone’s day, but it’s more than that. In the day-to-day, we often forget to be grateful for the blessings we have. Kids are able to gain a new perspective on just how fortunate they are by helping others.

Volunteer work teaches social skills. Charity work and volunteer opportunities are often done in groups with others from the community. Volunteering with new “friends” allows children to introduce themselves, engage in conversation, ask questions, etc. The “teamwork” aspect of community service also encourages cooperation, problem solving, leadership skills, and listening skills. Whether kids are raking leaves for elderly neighbors, or organizing a coat drive for struggling families, giving back together allows children the opportunity to develop socially.

Giving back allows kids to explore their talents. Volunteer work can teach children valuable lessons about their strengths. There are always different charities and organizations that could use an extra hand. With the vast amount of work to be done, children can explore different roles while giving back. Perhaps your child is great at socializing and making people laugh during hospital visits. Or maybe your child has great leadership skills for helping at a youth camp. Possibly your advanced reader wants to read to young kids at a local shelter. No matter the task, giving back allows kids to show their strengths in the name of giving. Not only can kids practice developing their skills, but they can feel proud of the fact that their efforts are helping others.
Too often, children believe that their actions, beliefs, and opinions go unnoticed simply due to their age. By helping someone else, kids can begin to see that what they do does, in fact, matter.

Keep Your Cool When Things Are Not

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Keeping Your Cool When Things Are Not

The most rewarding aspect of educating young people can be the unpredictability of it all. Ironically, the most daunting aspect of teaching can be the unpredictability of it all. We plan, we practice, we arrange, we redirect, and yet every day in the classroom is a gauntlet of unforeseeable events. All educators will tell you that one of the best parts of the job is being able to work amongst all of the dynamic personalities that students bring to school. However, this can also be the most challenging aspect, as well.

Look at the bigger picture

Behavior management can often be a tall order, especially for novice teachers. Disruptions and disrespect will occur at some point. However, even the most difficult students have a reason for their behaviors. We may be unaware of the catalyst, but something certainly causes the waves of negative behavior that we encounter in the classroom.

Students arrive at school with a myriad of different emotions brewing. It is not always obvious how our students are feeling—or why. Teachers may not be privy to the happenings at home or the drama among peers. It is easier said than done, but teachers must try to remember that the student is not defined by his or her behavior—this behavior is coming from a specific place.

Use a behavior mishap as a teachable moment

When students misbehave, it is a typical instinct to reprimand or place blame. The truth is, behaviors stem from somewhere. Before rushing to judgments, consider a few things—What did the student do? What motivated him or her to act out? Was this an intentional action? Has he or she done this before? These questions can even be asked during a worthwhile conversation between teacher and student. When speaking with a student about behavior modification:

  • Speak directly, clearly, and objectively about how the behavior disrupted the classroom environment
  • Explain that he or she took learning time from classmates
  • Remind the student of the classroom expectations
  • Ask why he or she decided to disregard the expectation
  • Ask how he or she should have reacted in that moment
  • Show that you understand the student’s feelings or frustrations
  • Provide a reasonably proportionate consequence

A firm but calm response is the best approach to defuse a frustrating behavior moment. Again, this is easier said than done, but adding fuel to the fire by reacting is never a good strategy. Teachers will undoubtedly find themselves struggling to maintain their cool. Sure, it is human nature to react when provoked—but remember, something likely provoked the student’s behavior, too.

With that in mind, when the wheels fall off, remember this mantra: keep calm and teach on!

How to Deal With Frustration: Bad Day Remedies For Your Child

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How to Deal With Frustration: Bad Day Remedies For Your Child

We’ve all experienced different degrees of frustration at some point. Our boiling points can fall on a scale from spilled coffee or a flat tire, to a traffic collision or a serious health condition. Frustration is commonly defined as, “a deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs” (Merriam-Webster).  Knowing this, one could conclude that frustration is typically linked to a lack of control over one’s situation.

Frustration is not an emotion limited to adults, however. Newborns experience frustration, too. In fact, frustration in babies and children may be greater due to the fact that they have less control over what goes on in their world. So how can we teach children to recognize, cope with, and manage frustration? In the same way that we ourselves must deal with it.

Be Positive

Seeing the silver lining is not always easy to do in the moment, especially for youngsters. Because the concept of the future is not something that young children readily consider, it is especially difficult for them to see beyond this frustrating occurrence. Reassure your child that this frustration that they are feeling is a temporary emotion.

Ask them questions like, “Is this something that will realistically still be upsetting you tomorrow?” Or, “What can we look forward to when this frustrating moment is over?” Asking your child to look beyond the current “bad” situation will help him or her to recognize frustration as a fleeting and temporary feeling.

Ask and Accept

When frustrations arise, many children (and adults, too) are unsure of what to do with this emotion. When children are frustrated, have them ask themselves what exactly it is that is upsetting them. It may help to have them write down the events that instigated the initial frustration. By pinpointing the root of the stress, children can begin to understand how to better deal with a similar situation in the future.

Likewise, when reflecting on the day, most people will find that the catalyst of the frustration was something that was beyond their control. It is important for children to learn that things are going to happen that they cannot change. Sometimes, the only thing that we can control is our reactions to situations. This is especially difficult for youngsters, whose impulsive nature can sometimes get the best of them. Acceptance is a necessary part of managing stress and frustration.

Plan For Next Time

Perhaps the benefit of experiencing frustration is that it gives children a chance to learn something. When children look closely at their frustrations, they will begin to see that even little things, such as oversleeping on a school day, could have unforeseen consequences. A moment of frustration could teach them to set an extra alarm, study a few days in advance, tell the truth the first time, clean up after themselves, etc. Either way, talking about actions and their effects is a helpful way to show children how to be proactive in the future.
Avoiding frustration is impossible, but managing it is not. The sooner children learn to work through frustrating moments, the better equipped they will be at handling themselves in stressful situations.

Things I’d Like To Tell My 12-Year-Old Self: Observations From An Educator

Things I’d Like To Tell My 12-Year-Old Self: Observations From An Educator

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Times have certainly changed since my elementary school days. Granted, it was not that long ago that I was furiously memorizing times tables and MLA works cited formats. However, today’s youth is experiencing something that I didn’t recognize until my adult years: extreme stress. This year, especially, I’ve found myself repeating stress-relieving mantras to our students on a daily basis. From tears over B grades to pressures at home, my current students are slowly breaking my heart with their ever-growing worries and concerns.

Yes, I worried as a child—we all did at some point. But my students this year have been talking candidly about debilitating, sleep-interrupting, all-encompassing anxiety and stress. I’ve seen children break down in sobs, asking questions like, “How can I be better?” What I want to tell them in these moments has nothing to do with literary elements or plot diagrams. I want to tell them the same things that I wish I could tell my 12-year-old self when I felt stressed or lost.

You will not be the best at everything.

…But you don’t have to be. You will find that you are amazing at something—maybe even a few things. These are your passions—follow them, nurture them, be proud of them.

You will make mistakes.

…But your mistakes are your greatest teachers. You will learn more from your mistakes than you will from your successes. So use this knowledge and know that you will learn from your errors.

Your parents are always proud of you.

…Even when you fail, stumble, and struggle.

It’s okay to disagree with your friends.

…They are not always right, and neither are you.

People are going to be mean.

…But pay them no mind—it’s not you, it’s them.

Apologize when you mess up.

…And forgive those who apologize to you. Remember that saying sorry and being sorry are two different things—know the difference.

Life is not fair.

…So do not expect it to be. There will always be people who have more than you.

The only thing that you can control is yourself.

…Do not frustrate yourself with things beyond your control.

Trust yourself.

…You are capable of much more than you’d imagine. Take chances—you will likely surprise yourself.

Everything will be okay.

…It might not seem like it right now, but you will get through these tough times. The struggles will only make you stronger, so don’t give up.

Parent-Teacher Conferences: Advice from the Teacher for First-Timers

Parent-Teacher Conferences: Advice from the Teacher for First-Timers

Communication is Key

The start of a new school year brings many new experiences, not only for children, but for parents as well. For some of you, the parent-teacher conference may be one of these new experiences. According to the National Education Association, “research has shown that parental involvement is the most important factor in a student’s success in school.” Now, while the term “conference” may have an intimidating connotation attached, it is important for parents to understand the positive outcomes of parents and teachers communicating closely about a child’s educational development.

Parents’ and Teachers’ Goals Should Align

The old adage “it takes a village” certainly applies here. While parents or guardians undoubtedly know their children best, teachers’ observations are uniquely valuable as well. Consider the time we teachers spend with our students–we know their peer groups, their interests, their quirks, strengths and weaknesses, etc. That said, the parent-teacher conference allows both parties to get a glimpse inside the student’s habits in and out of school. It is often that both parents and teachers leave a meeting with new information about the child. Whatever the circumstances may be, the most important thing to remember at a parent-teacher conference is that everyone seated at the table is there for one reason–the child. Regardless of the reason for the conference, every person present has the child’s best interest in mind.

Prepare Specific Questions

In preparation for the conference, it is beneficial that parents come prepared with specific questions for the teacher(s). Teachers will also have prepared questions and conferred with colleagues about the child’s academics beforehand. In fact, before your parent-teacher conference, it is possible that there were one or two prior conferences about the child with teachers, counselors, and administrators.

When preparing questions, it is best to keep the focus on the child. Ask about how your child has been progressing or regressing on assessments. Ask to see upcoming assignments or projects. Ask about possible after-school opportunities for help with specific classes. Teachers will ask questions as well. We may want to know if your child has worked with a tutor in the past. We may ask about your child’s specific homework routine, or study habits. It may help us to know if your child typically shies away from asking for help. We may also ask about after-school or weekend activities that require a large amount of time and energy from the child. All of these questions simply paint a better picture about how your child approaches school work and education.

Leave With an Action Plan in Place

The worst outcome of a parent-teacher conference is that you leave the meeting asking yourself, “What was the point of that?” Of course, a teacher’s time is limited during the school day, but even a mid-day conference should bring about some sort of solutions and strategies for the student moving forward. At the close of the conference, both the teacher(s) and parent(s) should have established clear expectations regarding the child’s behavior, effort, assignment completion, etc.

It may also be beneficial to ask what your role as the parent should be moving forward. Depending on your child’s age, it may be appropriate to loosen the reins and place more responsibility on your child. After all, autonomy and self-advocacy are two skills that children must inevitably learn on their own.