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7 Ways to Teach Kids Kindness That Will Reduce Bullying

Last updated on February 8th, 2018 at 11:29 pm

For over three decades I’ve studied how to reduce bullying, but some of the best solutions come from students. One ten-year old told me: “I used to bully kids at my “old school,” but stopped when I got here.” “What’s different about this school?” I asked. “The kids,” he said, “they stick up for each other and let me know the very first day that bullying isn’t cool here.”

The students proved the latest data: bullying is far less likely to happen in classrooms and school cultures where kindness is the norm. Empowering students to work together to create a caring environment is one of the most overlooked strategies in bullying prevention. After all, bullying breeds where empathy lies dormant and aggression is tolerated.

Here are seven ideas to help children learn that kindness is the best way to reduce bullying from my new book End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy: The Proven 6Rs of Bullying Prevention That Create Inclusive, Safe and Caring Schools. Reducing bullying is not a quick fix, but a systemic, deliberate approach that includes the 6Rs of effective bullying prevention: Rules, Recognize, Report, Respond, Refuse, and Replace. But the foundation is always respectful relationships and a caring climate.

1. Assign friendly greeters. Every school has friendly, kind students whose skill set can be a powerful model for peers. Identify them to serve as student greeters who welcome entering students (“Hi!” “Glad you’re here!” “Have a good day”) at the school or classroom door. Then watch a positive change in just a short while as students began to look forward to the greeting. Parents can do the same at home by modeling and reinforcing their children’s kind statements and actions and encouraging their friends to do the same.

2. Form welcome wagons. New kids can feel the pain of exclusion and are more likely to be bullied. So, initiate a student “Welcome Wagon Committee” to greet newcomers, give them a school tour, pair them with “veteran” students and feel welcomed. Parents can cultivate empathy by asking children: “How would you feel if you were brand new? What would you want a peer to do for you? How can you do that for others?”

3. Initiate “stop bullying” clubs. Kid groups can be as small as two or as large as the whole school and meet before or after school, over lunchtime, or at home on weekends. Kids can work together to create banners, buttons and even YouTube videos that feature the concept: “Let’s stop bullying and be kind.” Encourage community groups (Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, scouts, youth ministries) to work with interested kids to boost kindness beyond school walls.

4. Set a “no put-downs” rule. I’ve visited many schools and knew instantly they were curbing unkindness: students made signs and displayed them at their front doors: “Unkindness is not allowed.” “This Is a No Put-Downs Zone.” The effect was potent! Establish norm that “our school or home stands for kindness” same in your Scout troops, athletic leagues and neighborhood.

5. Teach kids how to help peers. Over 13,000 of surveyed students said that the most helpful things peers can do for students who are bullied is to include and encourage them. Kids also say they need to know how to help. So, brainstorm ways to help and comfort others such as: Call the person to say you’re sorry. Text a note saying he didn’t deserve to be treated like that. Ask if she wants to have lunch together. Offer to help report the bullying to a teacher or parent. Let the peer know she’s not alone. Say: “Is there anything I can do?” “Are you okay?” If practiced often enough kids will use those prosocial skills at school and at home.

6. Stress kindness: University of British Columbia researchers found that children who perform small acts of kindness may help counteract bullying. The more aware kids are of ways to be kind, the most likely they’ll use kind behaviors. Brainstorm together easy ways to be kind that don’t cost a dime. Post the list, keep adding to it, and acknowledge kids’ heart-hearted efforts.

7. Give opportunities to be kind. Most important: encourage your children to be kind and then reinforce their efforts! Children who are given the opportunity to help others tend to become more helpful-especially if the effective of their kindness on those they helped was pointed out. So, describe the impact: “Kevin was so happy when you asked him to play.” “Did you see Sarah’s smile when you shared your…”

Bullying remains the most serious and underrated public health problem in our schools, often causing students physical and emotional distress and significantly impacting their learning performance. Respectful relationships are the ultimate antidote to bullying, and it’s up to adults to help children realize that kindness wins!

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Bullying-prevention and character expert Michele Borba, Ed.D. has spent the past three decades studying youth violence and bullying and worked with more than a million students, parents, educators, and law enforcement officials worldwide. The result is End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy: The Proven 6Rs of Bullying Prevention That Create Inclusive, Safe and Caring Schools. Based on the 6Rs: Rules, Recognize, Report, Respond, Refuse, and Replace, the book utilizes the strongest pieces of best practices and current research for ways to reduce cruelty and increase positive behavior support. Also included are guidelines for implementing strategies, nurturing empathy and caring relationships, collecting data, training staff, mobilizing students and parents, building social-emotional skills, and sustaining progress. The result is a proven framework that will reduce bullying, create safer more inclusive schools and produce more kind-hearted, empathetic children.  End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy will be available February 12th at amazon.com

Helping Kids Set Goals For The New Year and Keep Them!

Last updated on January 1st, 2018 at 02:45 pm

Do you know that goal-setting is one of the most highly correlated traits of peak performers and successful individuals? But goal-setting isn’t just for grown-ups.

Studies show that goal-setting can help kids gain the sense of discipline and that internal drive it takes to stay motivated to complete the tasks they’ve set for themselves.

And once they’ve learned how to set their own goal it shows in their performance as well as in their self-esteem! But there are other benefits for teaching goal-setting as well.

Benefits of Goal-Setting for Kids

  • You’ll see your child start a school project–without waiting until the last minute–and finish it.
  • You’ll find your child doing his chores–without your nagging–because he knows he has to do them in order to start on his homework.
  • You’ll discover your child thinking through the jobs he needs to do for the week and making plans to complete them.
  • You’ll also see your child’s confidence grow as he succeeds in the goals he’s set for himself.

The best news is that goal-setting is a skill that we can teach our children at a young age.

7 Steps to Teach Kids Goal-Setting

Here are simple ways to help kids understand what goals are, and why using them can enhance their chances of success.

Step 1. Define the term, “Goal”

One of the easiest ways to explain goals is to link the term to something children are familiar with such as hockey, soccer, or football.

You might say to your child:

“A goal is like a target or something you shoot for. A football player is aiming for a touchdown. A hockey or soccer player is shooting for a goal. Goals aren’t just for sports. Goals in life are something you shoot for to be more successful.  People set goals for things they want to achieve or get better at. Planning what you need to work on is called goal-setting. It’s a skill that will help you in school, at home, with your friends, or later in your job or as an adult. It’s a skill that helps you succeed.”

Step 2. Share Your Own Goals and Aspirations

To help children feel comfortable talking about goals, we parents need to share our own aspirations. So take time to share a few of your dreams and wishes and the resolution you plan to set for yourself like losing those extra pounds, learning to text, finally reading and finishing Moby Dick, taking that gourmet cooking class. Whatever!

The secret is to purposefully model goal-setting when your kids can watch or listen. In fact, modeling is such a simple way to learn the skill. All you need to remember is the formula for goal-setting: I will+ what + when and then teach it to your kids.

Goal Formula: I will + what + when: Goals usually start with the words I will and have two parts: a what and a when. The what explains what you want to accomplish. The when tells when you intend to accomplish it.

Then whenever an appropriate moment arises, put your goal into the language of the Goal Formula and model it so that you child sees formula in operation. For instance:

You walk in to the laundry room and find it piled high with dirty laundry. (No surprise in my house). It’s a perfect opportunity to model the formula. Tell what you hope to do, using goal language to your child: “I will get these clothes washed and dried by six o’clock” (what = washing and drying the clothes + when = by six o’clock).

The key is that your kid has now overheard you saying your plan.

REALITY CHECK: Studies find that kids are far more likely to adopt a new habit or skill if they saw it in action (instead of via the lecture or the worksheet). So reflect over just the last week. If you asked your child to describe your behavior would he add “She’s a goal setter!” or “He makes a list of what he aims to do.” or “She tells me what her plans are.” Bottom line: Are you a model of these steps to your child? If not, just tune them up in your own behavior so your child has a real example of goal-setting to copy.

Step 3. Help Kids Create Their “Dream List” 

Explain to your children that “goals start with dreams.” Then take time to discuss their dreams, wishes or aspirations. Next, provide paper and colored marking pens for each family member. Take turns writing or drawing dreams of what they wish they could “achieve or have or improve.” Reread the list and help your children select only dreams they actually have power to make happen.

Three crucial questions assure your child’s success. These questions help you determine if the goal is achievable for your child:

1. “Does my child have the necessary skills and knowledge to achieve the goal?”

2. “Does my child need much help from others to succeed at the goal?”

3. “Does my child have enough time to achieve the goal?”

If you answered “no” to any of the questions, you might want to help your child choose another goal.To achieve success the goal must be within your child’s ability and should be realistic. 

Help your child recognize that goal possibilities are endless. Here are 15 goal categories for kids to consider:

Goal Possibilities for Kids: Grades. Hobbies or interests. Friends. Exercise. TV viewing. Free time. Savings. Sports. Homework. School. Reading. Behavior. New Skills. Chores. New learning.

Step 4. Tailor the Goal to Your Child

First-time goal-setters need to see some immediate success. Have your younger (or first-time goal-setter)  set a goal that can be achieved at least within a week. Here’s a few goals children can achieve in a short time:

Short-Term Kid Goal Possibilities 

  • Finishing a simple school project
  • Reading a book (or a page a night)
  • Losing one pound
  • Writing all those thank you notes
  • Cleaning a closet
  • Raking the front lawn leaves
  • Learning how to address an envelope.
  • Practicing the piano 15 minutes a day (then increasing to whatever length)
  • Making his bed every day
  • Picking up her toys and putting them in the toy bin at 3 pm every day
  • Brushing his teeth without reminders.

Some children need to set even shorter goals: at the end of the hour, or a day. Set the length of the goal according to the time you think your child needs to succeed.

Step 5. Help Your Child Think Through Steps to Success

Once your child identifies his resolution or goal he needs to think through the steps to success.

The more children can think through their goal and identify what they need to do to achieve success, the greater the chance they will succeed.

These ideas help children learn to plan the steps they need to take in order to achieve their goals. Choose ones that may work best for your child.

Some kids need to write or draw all the steps. Other children can process this in their heads. Tailor the steps to your child’s ability and learning style,

1. Identify the what + when. First ask, “What do you want to achieve?” Help your child clarify his goal. Then ask, “When will you try to achieve your goal?” Here’s a few examples using the goal formula: “I will get 9 out of 10 spelling words right on my spelling test” “I will be one pound lighter on Tuesday.” “I will learn five math facts in 15 minutes.”

2. List what needs to be done. Ask, “What are all the things you need to do to achieve your goal?” Help your child write or draw a different task on index cards. When finished, reread the tasks and put them in order asking, “What should you do first, then second, and third…?” Keep arranging the strips in sequence, and then staple the packet together. Encourage your child to use the packet as he works on his goal. Each time a task is finished, your child tears off a strip until no more remain!

3. Gather your resources. Ask your child, “Who or what do you need to help you succeed in your goal?” Help your child list or identify all the needed resources. Suppose your child wants to increase his running time. He might list a coach to talk to about running techniques, his Dad to help him practice running, and his Mom to drive him to the track. On the “”What” or “Things” side he might include: an alarm clock to remind him to wake up earlier to get to the track, a stop watch to time himself, and graph paper to list his running times. Encourage him to hang up the page to remember his plan.

Step 6. Track Your Child’s Goal Progress

Write your child’s goal on paper and tack it up on the refrigerator or bulletin board. Tell your child each time he works towards his goals, you’ll mark the effort on the paper. Helping our kids see their goal progress motivates them to keep on trying.

  • Try visual reminders. Stickers or gummed stars are always colorful incentives for younger children to stick onto the page to check their progress. Point out the improvements and say: “Look how much closer you’re getting to your goal!”
  • Use a screensaver. Encourage tweens and teens to take a photo of their goal using their cell phone then keep it as a screen saver to remind them of their intention.

Step 7. Celebrate Family Goal Successes!

Nothing is more affirming to children than succeeding at goals they’ve worked hard to achieve. It’s the tangible proof your child interprets as, “I really did it!” and a great way to nurture your child’s self-confidence. As goals are achieved, celebrate them as a family. You might:

  • Capture the image: Photograph your child achieving her goal and framing it.
  • Victory log: Provide your child with a small notebook or journal (A Victory Log!) for your child to log each goal achievement.
  • Success dinner: Have a Victory Dinner where you cook your child’s favorite dinner and have a Victory Dinner.
  • Balloon pop: Take a dollar bill or a picture of an inexpensive prize and help your child tightly roll and insert it inside a large party balloon. Blow up the balloon and knot hte end. On the outside of the balloon use a black laundry pen to write or draw a goal your child wants to achieve. Tie string to the end and hang the balloon in a special place. Tell the child that the moment he achieves the goal, you will pop the balloon together. The prize inside will be his reward for his hard work. In the meantime, the blown baloon serves as a reminder to work hard at the goal.

Then, help your child set the next goal and the next and the next.

All the best for a happy, peaceful New Year!

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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.

Why You Should NOT Get Your Child a Puppy for the Holidays

Last updated on January 1st, 2018 at 02:46 pm

As a professional dog trainer, I deal with the potential physical dangers of kids and dogs interacting; which can range anywhere from a child being knocked down frequently by an untrained over-active pup to serious problems where the dog is not being child-friendly.  But there is another potential danger: an emotional aspect of my job that oftentimes goes unforeseen by well-meaning adults until after-the-fact. One that seems to happen most often during the holiday season… and that is the ‘impulse’ purchase or adoption of a live animal.

On the one hand… who can blame you? Who can resist the sweet innocent fuzzy face of a puppy? The adoption ads online strategically place the cutest fuzziest puppies first. The puppy stores place the most adorable ones by the window. Maybe you grew up with a dog, and all those fond memories come flooding back to you. Or, maybe you always wanted one as a kid, but your parents would not allow it… and all of a sudden, you feel you just HAVE to get one for your child at home, so they don’t grow up ‘deprived’ like you did!

The problem with these kinds of decisions is that they were made by the heart… even the most rational-thought-minded person can find themselves falling prey to this. But after the first few weeks, the ‘novelty’ wears offs…. And suddenly, that cute little fuzz-ball is wreaking havoc on your once quiet and smoothly run home! I had one client call me in total frustration, saying, “I sent three kids to IVY league schools, and I can’t get this puppy to pee outside!”  Or the other phone call, “I got a puppy this Christmas, and I am trying to get it housebroken, but the kids keep letting him out of the crate, he is chewing up everything I own, my kids are running away from it in fear…… this is SO not what I bargained for!”

I recently read an article that a friend of mine, Chad Mackin had written on this. He is a professional dog trainer as well as a fellow member of the IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals) and someone that I have a great deal of respect for, and have learned a lot from over the years. I found his article so appropriate, I asked (and was granted) his permission to share it with you. So here is a link to that article……

Everything Chad talks about I agree with 100%. There are, however, a few things in particular in his article that I want to highlight….

1.  Never buy or adopt a live animal as a surprise or a gift.

There is so much involved in puppy and dog ownership besides the initial purchase or adoption of the animal. There is the housebreaking process (which demands quite a bit of time, patience, consistency, and a bit of know how.) As a professional trainer, I always have the items needed on hand, but to get someone a puppy, wrap a bow around it’s neck and deliver it as a gift, and then expect the receiver to now buy the crate, exercise pen, food, dishes, leash, collar, training treats, stain and odor remover, paper towels, etc. is a lot. Then there is the total loss of all their free time. Long gone are the days when they could grab their coat and just go out. Now it is all about getting the pup on a routine. (Remember the comment I wrote about the client that complained she sent three kids to IVY league schools and can’t get the dog to pee where she wants it to?) And let us not forget the vet bills (boosters at 3 months, full set of vaccinations at four months, neutering or spaying at 6 mths to a year) and added expenses of boarding the dog while they go away, hiring a trainer, etc. For all of these reasons, surprising someone with a dog or a pup as a gift is never a good idea.

2.  Plan for a dog…. not just the puppy.

The second thing I wanted to highlight that Chad mentioned was that he (and I) are not trying to talk you out of getting a puppy. It is a wonderful experience… but make sure you are ready for not just the puppy, but the dog. What we mean by this is to do your research prior to getting the dog. I can’t tell you how many dogs end up in a shelter a couple of months after the holidays because the family ‘just didn’t realize he would get that big’ or ‘didn’t realize it would shed so much’ or ‘didn’t realize so much was involved in the training!’ Dogs are not born knowing how to act and behave in a human’s world. They must be taught, and everything you do with a pup is molding it for who it will grow up to become. Where do you begin the research?

Look at your family and their typical dynamics. Are they:

  • Outgoing or shy?
  • Active or sedate?
  • Loud and boisterous or quiet and reserved?
  • Fearless or more hesitant?
  • Outdoorsy (likes camping, hiking, fishing, etc) or prefer to sit and read?

Also, what does your typical day look like?

  • Are you at home most of the day or out most of the day (e.g. working in an office, etc.)?
  • Do you like vacationing locally, and can include the dog or do you prefer to travel to locations that would mean leaving the pup at home (which would require boarding)?
  • Do you like things neat and tidy, or are you okay with a bit of mess.

Other factors would include:

  • Finances (Bigger dogs cost more to feed, board, vaccinate, etc.)
  • Are there any allergies?
  • Do you own a house or live in an apartment (A dog that barks may be an issue for neighbors)

Once you have answered the above questions, now you have narrowed things down a bit and can start researching different breeds based on your needs. Some great resource books for learning about different dog breeds and preparing to be a new dog owner are:

3.  Make sure the entire family is involved in the final decision of which dog to get.

Why do I say that? I can explain this best by sharing a recent experience one of my sister’s and her family went through. The youngest had been begging for a puppy… specifically a Golden Retriever. My sister did not want a dog that large so they decided on a mix.  She also was worried about the housebreaking process, so she decided she wanted one about a year old.

It didn’t take long for the on-line search process to derail. When they found one that was local (that they could visit) they’d find out it had already been adopted. After this happened several times, they got frustrated and went from a planned decision into an impulsive one. They found a dog that was out of state, and adopted it sight unseen. They never got the chance to see how it interacted with all the family members beforehand.

Even though it was made clear right from the start that this was to be a ‘family’ dog, (my sister has two other children other than the youngest) from day one, it was obvious that the primary owners were my sister and the youngest. And the dog followed suit. He growled and shied away from my sister’s husband and the middle child, and ‘tolerated’ the presence of the oldest. He was not adaptive to their lifestyle; where they are very friendly and outgoing, the dog was territorial of his home, and possessive of my sister and my youngest nephew. This led to several bites on friends visiting the house… some of which were the kid’s friends. Eventually my middle nephew got bitten. The dog had to be re-homed. End of story.

But now you’ll see the emotional toll it can take on an entire family; my sister and one child were in tears, my middle nephew was left feeling guilt that it was his fault, my niece had separated herself so much from the dog already that everyone assumed she just ‘did not care’ and my brother-in-law was furious! In their case, it effected the emotional, physical wellbeing, AND safety of not just their kids, but other children as well. Anyone visiting the house unexpectedly was in potential danger.

So, what went wrong? Let’s refer to the lists above:

  • They wanted a dog smaller than a golden, so they had decided on a golden retriever mix, instead of researching what other potential breeds would be good for them.
  • They made the decision that the timing was right for a dog, and they were ready for the commitment, but when they looked locally to find a dog, once they got frustrated, that carefully thought out plan was abandoned, and the dog from out of state that the youngest had found on-line was flown in. Instant connection with the youngest and my sister, but no real connection with the rest of the family was ever established, and in the end, all of them paid for it.

So now they are puppy hunting. And yes, it happens to coincide with the holidays, but that just happens to be luck.  This time they’re doing things a little differently:

  • They’ve discussed their lifestyle: Outgoing, outdoorsy, social, and friendly. That rules out breeds that are aloof and weary of strangers (e.g. chow, ridgeback, etc.). So are breeds that are couch potatoes, not good with kids, and not good with other animals.
  • They have taken size into consideration, medical expenses, boarding expenses, etc. and decided which breeds would do well in this home.
  • The entire family is involved in picking out the puppy, and the entire family will make the decision…even if it means waiting a little longer. They’re choosing the right “dog” not just pup.

Need a bit of extra help deciding? My article What age should I get my child a dog and what should we get can give you quite a bit of information on which breed might be right for you and your family and also includes a link to a test that, based on your answers, can narrow down the choices for you a bit.

Just remember, any pup or dog you choose during the right time, the right circumstances, the right involvement by everybody, with the right research, may turn out to be the best pet you have ever had! Choose wisely, based on rational thought and not impulse, and every member of your family can have a wonderful bond with your pet for the rest of their lives. Trust me when I say it is so much better than the tears after-the fact!

3 Things Parents Can Do To Help Kids Calm Under Pressure

Last updated on January 1st, 2018 at 02:48 pm

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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How to Celebrate Your 2017 Holidays with Kids and Pets

Last updated on December 2nd, 2017 at 01:14 pm

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

Last updated on November 17th, 2017 at 11:34 pm

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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