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3 Things Parents Can Do To Help Kids Calm Under Pressure

Self-regulation is the ability to monitor and control our own behavior, thoughts or feelings altering them in accordance with the demands of a situation. While we often expect children to be well-modulated, it is most helpful when we teach them what being regulated “feels like”.

Whether you teach, love or parent children from pre-school to high school, having the “felt sense” of internal regulation is helpful at any age. Here are 3 simple activities to help students experience self-regulation.  RIGHT CLICK on the IMAGE to download for personal and professional use.

1. Talk with your children about the fact that we all have an engine inside us that revs up or calms down depending on what we are doing. When we feel excited, anxious or nervous our engines rev up. We need to be our brains “best coaches” by helping our bodies calm down.

2. Model for the child how to “coach” their brain.

Step 1: Help your child begin to notice his own escalation. “Let’s talk about what it feels like when you are in class and your teacher calls on you. What happens to your body? Does your heart begin to race? Do you think, ‘It’s my turn now, she’s going to ask me a question.’”

“In that moment, you want to coach your brain to be alert while your body remains calm. So when you hear your name called, take a big deep breath and turn toward your teacher so that you can hear what she asks you.”

Step 2: “When we feel anxious we tend to rush, so remember, go ‘Slow-Mo’. Slowing down and being present will help you to focus, think and respond.”

3. Practice. Role-play different scenarios. “What happens when…” How will we be our ‘brain’s best coach’? What will we say to ourselves? What will we notice about how our body feels? What will we do to remain alert yet calm?  Think about a time when you feel calm. How does your body feel then? That’s the feeling we are aiming for when we feel anxious or stressed.

Helping children begin to be mindful of the felt sense of the difference in feeling revved up or calmed down is the beginning to better self-control.

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70-play-hi-res-150x197Written for teachers, educators, and clinicians whose work involves playing, talking or teaching children who would benefit from better executive function and social-emotional learning skills, 70 Play Activities incorporates over 100 research studies into printable worksheets, handouts, and guided scripts with step-by-step directions, to empower children to learn and behave better. “With 70 Play Activities we aim to improve the trajectory of children’s learning by integrating the newest neuroscience with activities children love!” With over 70 activities designed to improve thinking, self-regulation, learning and behavior, your tool-kit will be full and your creative brain will be inspired to craft your own meaningful exercises. 70 Play Activities is available at amazon.com

 

How to Celebrate Your 2017 Holidays with Kids and Pets

As I was contemplating what to write my post about this month, (yeah, I think everyone gets writers block once in a while) I suddenly realized how quickly the holidays have descended upon us again!  And when I looked back over some of my old posts, I realized that not only has it been about three years since I have written about the holidays, but I have also never written one about Thanksgiving!  I decided to update my holiday article from three years ago, not only to add some important updates and edits, but also to include Thanksgiving and the things that somehow always seem to happen at that time of year.

For many of us, the Holidays are such an exciting time: family and friends gathering around, sharing laughs, some songs, sharing old memories, and creating new ones.  You spend weeks preparing for it, who to invite, how you are going to fit everyone around the tables, what you are going to serve….

You put so much time, energy and love into every aspect of this. You think of each adult and child (this one is vegetarian, that one may have a milk sensitivity) and you think you have covered it all. But have you?

Let’s face it, you can’t possibly plan for EVERY ‘surprise’, but you can take steps to keep any negative ones to a minimum when it comes to all the children that will be there and any pets as well.

Visiting Family:  As far as Thanksgiving goes, we have all heard thousands of times that that is the most traveled day of the year. This holiday is very synonymous with ‘Family.’  For many of us, ‘family’ also includes the family dog! So if you want to bring Fido along with you, please read my post How To Travel Safely For The Holidays With Pets AND Kids  This will give you quite a bit of information on everything from car and air travel to a helpful list of what to pack for your pup. And I will add one more tip that was not in that post… if you are planning to go away without Fido, make sure to book your reservations for him at your favorite boarding facility or dog watcher in advance. I do private in-home boarding in my house, and only take a limited amount of dogs…. and some of my regular clients booked me for the holidays as early as August!

So having covered the traveling with your kids and pets over the holidays, I have compiled a list …. starting with all the very pretty things that come hand in hand with the holidays, things that seem innocent enough, but can become a deadly hazard.

Ribbons and garland:

They seem pretty harmless, but a child watching us decorate may see us ‘drape’ a few strands of it around our necks for easy access to it while we put it up. While we see it as ‘convenient’; they may see it as a cool necklace or costume. A garland or ribbon wrapped around their necks may not be a great idea. For that matter, it might not be a great idea around yours either. I will add one more danger to it….. it is a sparkly hanging thing….. so how does the dog distinguish that from any one of their numerous pull toys? It is a recipe for potential disaster that is easily avoidable. Instead, grab a folding stack table and lay it across that for easy access.

One quick helpful hint…. while you decorate, put the animals in another room. Cats especially love ribbons, rubber bands, and anything else they can pounce on or play hockey with – at a minimum, you will save yourself the frustration of having to chase them around trying to reclaim your decorations, but you will also avoid the ‘worse case scenario’ of them swallowing them, which can get twisted up inside them, costing you thousands in vet bills or worse.

Candles and Scented Plug Ins

While candles do add to the ambiance, remember that small curious hands and tails wagging furiously in all the excitement tend to send any object on a coffee table into flight. Put those and any glass ornaments high up and out of reach. And those plug-in oils…. Make sure you unplug them before bed, and beware of when the oil runs dry because that is when they become a horrific fire hazard.

Poisonous Plants

Many people are aware that some Christmas plants may be poisonous…. But are you familiar with which ones are on the list? Although I knew some of them, after I started to do more research, I was surprised at how incorrect my own knowledge was! For example, I would have topped the list with the poinsettia…. After all, the name almost sounds like the word ‘poison’ .  But at the top of the list was the seemingly ‘innocent’ plant of Holly! Which is deadly unlike the  poinsettia which was listed as ‘not that bad’. So I will add a link here which provides some names, their dangers, and even some pictures to help you recognize what may harm your little one or your pet.

Children’s Interactions with Pets

As a dog trainer, I often hear, “I don’t understand…. My dog has never bitten anyone before!” It is very important to keep in mind that this is not your dog’s normal setting. With their heightened senses, the constant noises and the mouth-watering aromas of all the fantastic food being prepared can be overwhelming to them – and lets not forget the Football game playing on the TV at peak volume! My family was never huge into sports, but I have been to some Thanksgiving dinners where ‘watching’ the game can get pretty loud and boisterous! With all of this going on, your dog  may not react the way they typically do. Your pet may be a mild and quiet little thing, or generally pretty social and outgoing…. But just because you enjoy the hustle and bustle, don’t assume your pet will too.  A sweet child innocently reaching over to pet the dog while he is overwhelmed can lead to a bite.  They might be much happier having a quiet space away from it all. And if they tend to startle easily, or be a bit skittish, it is probably best to crate them, put them in another room, or possibly think of boarding them somewhere for the night.

The most important thing I need to stress here is that if you want to have your family dog with you, you must remember that he is ultimately your responsibility… so be aware of what his body language is saying at all times to ensure everyone involved is safe. If you are not sure what your dog’s body language means, please read my article Recognize a Dog’s Body Language Before Your Child Gets Bitten

There is one more important thing you will want to be aware of… if there are young children at your holiday gathering, keep an eye on them around the dog as well. One difference between Thanksgiving and Christmas is that Thanksgiving can tend to be a non-stop food-fest. The holiday is pretty much centered around families getting together and eating. Young children running around with food or snacks in their hands can be a potential recipe for danger on a few levels:

1.  Danger to your Pet.  Young children tend to drop things and keep going. There are certain foods that are not only potentially dangerous, but toxic to your pet. See Pet WebMD’s comprehensive list of holiday no-no’s for your pet.

2.  Danger to your Child.  Worse than a child  accidentally dropping their food and continuing on, is the child that realizes they have dropped it and goes back for it, just to find out it is already in Fido’s mouth. A toddler trying to reclaim their food from a dog who just received some seriously ill-gotten-goods can become a very high risk for a bite.

One suggestion I would make is to bring an exercise pen with you. My favorite one is the one without the door made by MidWest.  I like this one because it both opens and folds very easily, and comes in numerous heights depending on how large or small your dog is. You can fold into any shape you want, or open it up all the way to block a large entryway or doorway. It is a very versatile item.

Alcohol Consumption

More often than not, drinks tend to be all set out on one table. The bottles of wine and beer are right next to the bottles of soda. This is potentially a ‘free-for-all” for experimenting teens. I have been in recovery for a long time, and attend 12 step fellowships meeting regularly, and I wish I could say that I never see ‘members’ under the age of 21…. But I can’t. I am seeing more and more young people attending meetings. And when I listen to their stories, more often than not, they begin with drinking the ‘free-flowing’ alcohol served at their family’s parties. Make a separate table for the liquor, and designate one or two adults to serve.

And while I am on this subject, medicine cabinets are another very serious danger. We are in the middle of the worst opioid crisis the U.S has ever seen. Opiods are narcotic pain killers (Vicodin, Percocet OxyContin and Fentanyl) which suppress the central Nervous System. All of these medicines are highly addictive, and according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA)  ‘have led to more deaths in the past few years than car accidents, diseases and guns.’ In August, the US declared this epidemic a ‘National Public Health Emergency’. Has anyone in your family had surgery or dental work recently that required pain medicine? If you are not addicted to pain pills, then you probably think nothing of leaving the left over pills in the medicine cabinet. Years ago, when I was using, we had a name for pills that had labels on the bottles identifying them as narcotic or ‘May Cause Drowsiness.” We called them ‘party invitations’. Please go through your medicine cabinets and either get rid of them or lock them up!

Outdoor Safety

Even though it is cold outside, drowning accidents are not exclusive to summer only.  Make sure the pool out back is securely locked or gated.

One suggestion which may keep young kids, tweens, and teens all out of trouble and occupied, and allow parents to relax and have fun…. Set up a ‘babysitting’ scenario. Figure out how many of each group you are going to have, and ‘assign’ a child or two to each older child. You can even pay them a small fee for doing the service! Assign age appropriate younger kids to older ones.  Give a kid no guidance and too much freedom, you are asking for a bored kid to look for trouble, but assign them a responsibility, and throw in the possibility of some monetary gain, and more often than not, they will step up to the plate.

Sorry Mom’s and Dad’s, the dog needs to stay with you! Children and animals should never be left alone together unsupervised. If you can’t watch the dog, I do not suggest just locking him in a room. He could get very stressed out, and if someone accidentally opens that door and he charges out in panic, someone could get hurt. The safest place for your dog if you can’t watch him is in a crate.

Follow some of these guidelines or ideas, and avoid any future regrets. I have learned throughout my life that I much prefer saying, “I am so glad I ___“ than saying, “If only I ____“.

I wish everyone a happy, safe and healthy holiday season!!

 

How to Raise a Confident, Assertive Child

Let’s face it. It’s a tougher time to be growing up, and the data confirms it. Bullying is fiercer. Peer pressure is tougher. Kids are also more aggressive at younger ages. Girls are meaner. Of course we can’t always be there to pick up the pieces or help our kids stand up for themselves, nor should we. After all, the more our children see us as their rescuers, the more they learn to rely on us to solve their problems.

The secret is help our kids learn how to be more assertive and speak up for themselves. Here are seven ways to help your child learn to be respectfully assertive especially in those more difficult situations when they need to hold their own!

1. Model assertiveness

Be the model you want your child to copy. Don’t be meek. Stand up for your views even if they may not be unpopular. Let your kids know that even though you might feel uncomfortable, you always feel it’s best to stand up for your rights or the rights of others. Your child is watching your behavior and will copy. So ask yourself if you are an example of assertiveness you want your child to copy? For instance, do you speak up to your girlfriend who is pushing you to do something you may not want to do? Or what about holding your own to that relative who wants you to allow your young kids to watch that PG movie you feel is inappropriate?

2. Be a democratic household

Hold debates. Use family meetings. Listen to each child (it doesn’t mean you agree with them). When kids know their opinions count they are more likely to speak out and feel comfortable doing it.

3. Acknowledge your child’s assertiveness

Let your child know you value people who speak their mind. Reinforce your child’s assertiveness. “I like how you spoke up!” Encourage those confident, assertive behaviors in your child. Let her know you honor her opinions.

4. Find less domineering friends

If your child is a bit more timid and always hangs around a bossy playmate, provide him the opportunity to find a less domineering pal so he will be more likely to speak up and gain confidence.

Watch out for domineering siblings as well. Make sure your child has the opportunity to practice his voice and not be squelched by a brother or sister (or even other parent).

5. Provide early leadership opportunities

Research from the Girl Scouts of America says kids say their confidence in speaking up and leading others dwindles by the fifth grade. Kids also tell us they gain that confidence is by entering into activities, clubs, team building, etc. and the earlier the better.

So provide opportunities for your child to be a member of a team, take charge of a project or lead others. You might enroll your child in public speaking or theatre to build confidence in speaking in front of others!

Find a platform that fits your child’s passions, talents, and comfort level!

6. Teach your child C.A.L.M. assertion

Here’s a skill that I’ve shared with hundreds of kids around the world-and I do mean that literally. I’ve taught C.A.L.M. to kids in Taipei, Colombia, Finland, Malaysia, Mexico, Canada as well as hundreds of schools from coast to coast in the US. It is a strategy that boosts assertiveness, but also helps the child learn to defend himself to others and hold his own. It’s the basic skill to stop teasing, negative peer pressure as well as bullying and victimization.

The photo image on the right is high school students who are teaching the skill to elementary students in a near by school as part of their service learning project. The “cross age tutoring” model is also a fabulous way for children to learn a new new skill.

There are four steps to learning the skill. Each part is essential. You may need to help your child practice each of the four steps separately until he or she can comfortably use all four parts on his or her own.

4 Steps to Being Assertive and Staying C.A.L.M.

– Stay  Cool

If you get upset, ticked off, cry, pout you don’t appear as confident.

A – Assert

Teach your child a few comeback lines to say in different situations. “No!” “Not cool.” “Because I said so!” “I don’t want to.”

L – Look Eye to Eye

The best way to appear more confident is by using eye contact. If your child is timid or eye contact is difficult, suggest he look between the persons’ eyes on the spot in the middle of their forehead. I’ve also taught children on the autism spectrum to look behind (or through the person). The trick is to “appear” confident.

M – Mean It!

Teach your child the difference between how a wimpy and a strong voice sound. Then encourage your child to assert himself using a strong and firm tone–but not yelling tone–to get his point across.

7. Role-play “assertive posture and voice tone”

Kids learn best from seeing and practicing skills. So help your child rehearse assertive phrases like: “Stop it!” “No, not this time, thanks!,” “Hey, cut it out!”

Practice using the skill so your child has a firm-sounding tone and until your child has the confidence to hold his own without you. And when he does, congratulate yourself. You will have taught your child a critical skill that he will need to use in every arena of his life but now and forever.

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UnSelfie 140x210Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured.  UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours.  It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching!  UnSelfie is AVAILABLE NOW at amazon.com.

4 Things That Will Help Your Child Develop Early Reading Skills

Developing early reading skills in children ages 9-48 months involves enhancing cognitive skills such as sequential processing, simultaneous processing, focused attention, and inhibition.

Speaking with your child face to face, drawing attention to characters and actions on the written page and practicing how oral-motor sounds relate to phonemic representation, are skills we can model and teach through playful interaction. CLICK on the 4 Activities IMAGE below to download a printable version to help you keep these fun, yet meaningful activities front of mind.

Ages 9-18 Months, enhance visual tracking skills by reading picture books with your children for a few minutes daily.  Turn the pages of the books and use your finger to point out characters, movement, and action.  Talk about what the children see on the page.  “The doggie is running.”  “Where is he going?”

Ages 18-24 months, speak with your child face to face.  Children develop phonemic awareness by experiencing the kinesthesis of oral-motor movements.  When you speak with your child face to face and enunciate your words, your child watches how your mouth forms the sounds.  So sit face to face while you speak, playfully encourage your child to make the phonemic sounds with you,

Ages 24-36 months, reading fluency is correlated with rhythmic patterns and sounds.  When children are able to read with meter, the recurring pattern of stresses or accents that provide the pulse or beat of music, they become more fluid readers enhancing foundational skills that underlie comprehension.  As you read books like Dr. Seuss, enjoy the rhyme and rhythm.  “The more that you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Ages 36-48 months, sequential processing is a foundational cognitive skill that underlies both cognition and movement. We read, speak, play and even move in a sequential manner.  One step comes before the next.  So enjoy noticing and talking about patterns with your children.  Be it in the car, while cooking in the kitchen or on the playground, explore what you are doing in words and talk about what comes next.  “First we walk up the stairs, then we climb on the slide, then we slide down, Zoom!”

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bloom cover - 140x208Written for real parents with anxious, angry and over-the-top kids, Bloom is a brain-based approach to parenting all children. Taking its lead from neuroscience and best practices in early childhood mental health, it offers parents, teachers and care providers the words, thoughts and actions to raise calm, confident children, while reducing the need for consequences and punishment. The first book of its kind, it provides pages full of printable mantras you can carry with you, hang on your fridge or use in your classroom to raise emotionally competent kids. Stop second-guessing the way you handle misbehaviors, and learn why they occur in the first place. Bloom is available at amazon.com

 

 

Shame Nation: Choose To Be Part Of “The Solution”

It was July and I was at home when I got a call from my niece.  She and my sister were driving somewhere, and I remember this particular call because it went something like this…

    • “Hey Aunt Stef…you’ve got to check this out…it’s the funniest thing…You remember when we did that show Legally Blonde?  Well there’s this group of young kids, and I guess they did a performance of it too, only their teacher video-taped it and posted it on YouTube and oh my G-d Aunt Stef, it’s awful.  I mean it’s so bad it’s funny.  You’ve got to watch it.  Here let me text you some of it.” 
    • No that’s ok babe, I don’t need to see it”…
    • “Really Aunt Stef, it’s sooo funny, mom watched it and she thought it was hysterical.  I can’t believe their teacher posted this.  It went viral so fast it’s incredible.  Look I know it’s really long but you can fast forward through some of it, I’ll tell you where the funniest parts are”.
    • Honey…how old are these kids?”  
    • “I don’t know…I think they’re in middle school… Look Aunt Stef I’ve got to go, I just texted it to you…watch it later and tell me what you think. You’re going to die laughing…. I love you!!”

I didn’t check it out.  But I also didn’t tell her not to.  And that bothered me.  Something felt really wrong with this video. I was worried about those little kids…I was worried FOR those little kids.  How old were they.  How long had this been going viral, and how many people around the world were laughing at them.  I knew for a fact my niece and her friends at school were…and still, even though it bothered me…I said and did nothing.

When I look back at it now, I think it’s because my niece and her friends weren’t bad or mean kids. Actually quite the opposite. My niece is a gifted and talented young actress studying at a high school for the arts, and I am incredibly proud of her, but for a very different reason. I can say without a doubt that she is one of the nicest, kindest people I know, and she would NEVER deliberately hurt someone!  In fact, she feels things very deeply. Yet she missed this! She didn’t see the pain she and the other people watching and laughing over that video were causing.

How the heck did we get here??? To this place where we can sit in a room and make fun of someone who is not there to defend themselves and have no sense at all that our laughing at them could be hurting them.

That is EXACTLY what nationally recognized speaker, parent advocate, and Internet safety expert Sue Scheff explores with the help of journalist, YA author, and blogger Melissa Schorr in her newly released book Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate. Sue knows firsthand how devastating cyber shaming can be. In 2006 she won a landmark case for Internet defamation and invasion of privacy. Now a leader in the movement against cyber bullying, she focuses on teaching others how to avoid virtual cruelty and how to effectively react when it occurs. 

According to Shame Nation, psychologists point to several factors that have allowed online cruelty like this to flourish:

  • the anonymity of the Internet;
  • the distance, or lack of face-to-face contact, with a victim,
  • mob mentality run amok,
  • lack of gatekeepers and
  • lack of consequences.

Taken together these factors have become known as the “online disinhibition effect”, the notion that people behave far differently online than they would in reality.

But it’s more than that. It’s also due in part to our failure to instill empathy in young people, and Shame Nation explores this as well. Parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba, EdD, author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World makes a strong case that a decrease in basic empathy has created a culture ripe for online attacks. The inability to see those on the other side of the computer screen as people deserving of our compassion is a huge driver. Instead of feeling sad for their pain, we make it funny. We sit at home and watch the “People of Walmart” and laugh as people are publicly shamed. You don’t see or feel the hurt…it’s so far removed, it’s not “real”.

That was what happened with the middle-school performance of Legally Blonde.  My niece missed the ball on this one.  There was an opportunity to be an “Upstander” …not just a bystander…or worse, add to the teasing and humiliation, and she missed it.  But whose fault was that really?  If I’m being honest, it was mine

I’m the adult, I set the example. This means I and the other adults in her life need to know what’s happening out in the cyber-world so I can educate her.  So she knows what to look for to avoid becoming a victim…or inadvertently a bully.

And while we’re on this subject, I know some of you may be thinking “lock her in her room and for anything other than schoolwork, shut off the internet and all those damn devices” is the answer. But while it may sound good on paper, realistically, I can’t tell her to stay off-line. No-one can. For better or worse, this is a connected world we live in…all of us… kids and adults. Going off the grid is just not an option – and it won’t save her. As Nancy Jo Sales describes in her book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, “I spoke to girls who said, “Social media is destroying our lives.  But we can’t go off it, because then we’d have no life.”

So my niece is on the grid (and I am guessing if you are reading this, so is a child you care about), and she is not getting off any time soon – not as a child, and realistically not as an adult.  But I can help her. I can:

  • Teach her how to avoid trouble: give her guidelines for online sharing; show her how to protect her online identify and run regular checkups to make sure no-one is damaging her reputation
  • Teach her how to control a disaster if things go wrong: how to document, block, report and identify someone trying to harm her.
  • Teach her how to get support: to take advantage of resources like HeartMob and Crisis Text Line and Online SOS…and know there are systems in place providing help, from simple letters of support to full-on legal aid, if she finds herself a victim of a digital attack.

Because that’s what I learned from Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate

And finally, I can Teach her to be an Upstander. I can explain what that word is, why it’s important to stand-up for someone else.  And then I can apologize for not doing that…and for failing her and those kids. And that’s when I realized if I didn’t do something right at that moment, I would be failing them both again.

So I picked up the phone and called her.  And it was a difficult call. Because while it was about something she had done, in truth, it was more about what I hadn’t done. And my very sensitive niece brought up an excellent argument – one I’m betting every one of you will have to deal with at some point, because it’s really fundamental to the Upstander / bystander question:

  • “But Aunt Stef, I don’t think there’s really anything I could have done…there were millions of people…that post went viral”.

She had a point – but then again, that’s the battle every single person faces when they’re being bullied online.  They’re one person and it feels like they’re fighting the world. That’s what made this book so insightful, and so powerful, at least for me.  What do you do…what can you do…if you come up against this situation…  Whether you are living this or just witnessing this.  This was my answer…

“Well, hon, what do you think about this”…and I gave her an example I had read (thank you Sue) about a heavy-set middle-aged man who was being publicly humiliated.  All he did was dance at a local bar with friends, but someone captured it on video and posted it and the rude comments started coming in from all over.  Until two women in LA created a #FindDancingMan twitter campaign, said “I’d dance with that guy”, and created a movement that turned the shaming into a party of compassion.

    • “I’m not saying you have to create a “dancing man campaign” but do you think you and your friends could come up with something creative that might make those kids feel even just a little bit better?”

     

      • I don’t know…maybe”.

And just like that, this HUGE weight came off my shoulders.  She didn’t have to have an answer… that wasn’t the magic pill here.  She’s a brilliant kid with a big heart and this hit home.  I stood up for those kids…and for her …and I think when she has an opportunity, she will stand up for someone else.

It has to start somewhere…  That day, it started with us…

2017 Parent Empathy Pledge: Focus on the “Other” Report Card

Now that the fall semester is underway, it won’t be long until your child’s progress report arrives, revealing not only their academic proficiency, but their conduct report as well. Studies confirms that children today are more self-centered than ever—and it’s a big problem. It’s why I urge parents to recognize the importance of raising empathic kids, challenge them to teach their children about caring and kindness today, and then take The Empathy Parent Pledge which follows.

An Empathy Pledge for Worried Parents         

Do your kids really care about others? All parents want to be able to give a resounding yes without hesitation. Yet, if we’re honest, too many of us have to stop and think about it—and when we do, we often reach a troubling conclusion.

America is raising a generation of kids who can’t see past their smartphones and jam-packed schedules of “enriching” activities to notice the human beings in front of them who need kindness and friendship. (Real friendship, not the Instagram version.) In fact, studies show that today’s teens are 40 percent less empathetic than those of 30 years ago. Could it be that we’ve focused too much on grades and grit and neglected the other side of the report card—our kids’ ability to connect and get along with others?

To recognize this empathy deficit in young people in general is one thing. To see it in your own child is quite another.

If you’re deeply troubled by the realization that your kids don’t seem to care, you’re not alone. Over and over, researchers are finding that empathy is THE cornerstone for becoming a happy, well-adjusted, successful adult. Studies show without a doubt that possessing empathy makes you more likable, more employable, a better leader, more conscience-driven…and it even increases your life span.

Even parents who haven’t read the research instinctively realize that kids need the capacity to care. They’re living the problem. They know exactly how bad it feels. They deplore the endless duck-face selfies, the disrespectful remarks, the materialism, the unwillingness to help with chores, the elbowing-to-the-front competitiveness. And yet despite their best efforts, they simply can’t move the needle on their children’s behavior.

No parent wants to raise an uncaring child. Yet we feel helpless not to because we don’t raise our kids in a vacuum. There are very real forces out there crushing the empathy out of our kids: social media, the bad influence of kids whose parents don’t hold them accountable, our own tendency to helicopter parent. But there are some things we CAN control—and how we reward and recognize success in our kids is a great place to start.

That’s why I’m urging you to take the empathy pledge: This year I will pay more attention to the OTHER side of the report card.”

I’m referring here to your child’s literal conduct grade, yes, but not just that. I’m talking about whether your child is a bully or stands up for others, whether he snickers at mean-spirited jokes or denounces them, whether she works together with peers or undermines them, whether she shares what she has freely or hoards it.

Yes, academics are still the metric by which the world judges success. I get that and I’m sure you do, too. But this lopsidedness is beginning to change. In fact, some schools, including Harvard, are reshaping their admissions processes to reduce some of the academic pressure and encourage service, caring, and reflection.

I am hopeful that such moves to encourage empathy will multiply. We need to fan the sparks we’re seeing until they catch fire and spread. We need a national conversation about moving our focus to the other side of the report card. Like all conversations, it starts at home…and I can’t think of a better time to start than right now. There has never been a time when our children need to learn empathy.

A few tips to keep in mind as you take The Empathy Parent Pledge

Stop over-emphasizing straight A’s.

Your kids know when you value academic success over all else. When you harp on grades and test scores and rarely mention sharing, caring, and kindness, they get the message. (There’s a Harvard study that backs me up!) When your child walks in the door, what’s your first question? If it’s: “What grade did you get?” it may be time to ask: “What caring thing did you do?”

…And start talking up empathy.

Model caring behavior for your child (of course) but also talk about it. Explain what empathy is, what it looks like in action, and what she can do or say to express it. And tell her in no uncertain terms that you will be watching how she behaves toward siblings, friends, teachers, parents, and even strangers.

Don’t just listen to what they say; watch what they do.

Your child likely has two personas: the one he shows to friends and on social media and the one he shows to you and/or his teachers. Sure, he’ll tell you that he’s being kind and inclusive, but don’t take his word for it. Observe him when he isn’t aware. Listen to how other people describe your child. Help him develop a Caring Mindset so he does the caring thing without your reminders or presence.

Put kids in situations where they can practice empathy.

Empathy is a skill set, one that can be taught and nurtured at any age. Get kids involved in a service organization or just spend time baking cookies and, together, deliver them to an elderly neighbor. Make empathy-building a regular part of their life. You want to hardwire it.

When you see those traits like caring, kindness, and thoughtfulness…acknowledge it.

Don’t give your child money or “stuff” in exchange for showing empathy. (Talk about sending the wrong message!) Do praise her, hug her, or maybe even take her out for an ice cream date and tell her how proud you are to be the mom of such a caring child.

But don’t give your child money or “stuff” in exchange for showing empathy. It actually decreases altruism!)

Start putting pressure on schools to emphasize empathy.

It’s possible your child’s school no longer measures conduct at all—or at least it’s seldom mentioned in the classroom. If this is going to change, it’s up to you.

When parents band together, we have tremendous power. MADD, for instance, dramatically lowered drunk driving rates. When parents set out to bring up our nation’s math and science scores a couple decades ago, they came up. What we focus on gets done—so let’s focus on raising a generation of kind, caring, empathetic, successful kids. Here’s a pledge to help us all get started. Please pass it on!

The 2017 Parent Empathy Pledge

  • This year I will pay attention to the other side of the report card.
  • I’ll reward kindness. Caring. Sharing. Teamwork.
  • I’ll make it clear that while grades do matter, empathy matters too.
  • I’ll teach my child to encourage the classmate who struggles,
    • To cheer on the kid who missed the goal,
    • To pick the kid who never gets picked,
    • To make friends outside the “exclusive” group,
    • To sit with the kid who’s shy or awkward or different,
    • To comfort someone who is having a bad day,
    • To notice when kids are hurting and try their best to help,
  • And I, as a parent, pledge to raise an Unselfie who thinks “we,” not “me.”
  • I’ll set the right example for my child in all I do and say,
  • Because I can’t talk anyone into caring…I can only walk the path and hope they follow.

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UnSelfie 140x210Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured.  UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours.  It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching!  UnSelfie is AVAILABLE NOW at amazon.com.