Tag academics

What To Do About a Bad Report Card

writing fatigueHaving your kid come home with a poor report card can be challenging and upsetting. For responding to this I’d like to offer two perspectives and six steps.

Perspecitive #1: Though we all do it from time-to-time, freaking out is rarely helpful. This response is certainly understandable, especially if you believe your kid has dropped the ball. But, it rarely helps and often hurts both your relationship with your kid and the underlying problem (e.g., a kid hating school).

Perspective #2: The underlying issues are usually fixable, it just take properly understanding what has happened. Staying problem and solution focused can be very helpful. The following six steps are meant to help you in this regard. (These steps are not meant to be a sequential list.)

Step #1: Schedule a face-to-face meeting with the teacher or teachers. At this meeting discuss, at minimum, your kid’s strengths, what the teacher(s) believe has caused the poor report card, and a plan of remediation. Please read my blog entry “Eleven Important Tips When You Meet with a Teacher” to make the most out of this meeting.

Step #2: Figure out what constitutes success for your kid. We parents do well to focus on effort more than outcomes. Is your kid bringing it and getting Bs? If yes, that may be okay. Is your kid barely trying and earning As and Bs? If yes, that may not be okay.

Step #3: Determine what role homework plays in your kid’s grades. Is there too stressed student with booksmuch of it? Is your kid trying hard enough? Is your kid lying to you about what homework is assigned? Aspects of your assessment of the homework situation can be useful to share in the teacher meeting. Please read my blog entry “Seven Tips for Coping with Homework Hell” to get the most out of this step.

Step #4: Determine if extracurricular activities, sleep schedules or your kid’s social life are interfering with academic performance. If yes, the problem(s) may be easy to tweak if you’ve caught it/them early enough. (Searching with the word “sleep” above will list multiple entries regarding sleep.)

Step #5: Consider improving the quality of the relationship between you and your kid. If you are surprised by a poor report card, that may suggest that there is too much distance between the two of you. Spending one hour a week doing “special time” with your kid can be a fix (see Chapter One in my parenting book or articles on this blog site for more information on how to implement special time).

Step #6: Ask yourself whether a glitch in your kid’s mental health could be playing a role. If your kid seems depressed, angry, worried, stress out, hung over, or some other negative adjective, seriously consider having a good child or adolescent psychologist do an evaluation to get to the bottom of things. (See my article titled “What Does a Good Mental Health Evaluation Look Like?” to get the most out of this step. You may also find value in reading  character with key in head“Affording Mental Health Care” or Chapter 10 of my parenting book.) Part of this work-up may include an evaluation to rule out a learning disability.

Good luck and, on behalf of your future kid, thank you for your work on this!



Regarding Stress and Stress Coping: Adults and Teens Look A Lot Alike

teen girl pushing hand to headThe American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey came out this week. Since 2007, APA has conducted a national survey of the stress American’s experience. This year’s survey places a special focus on teenagers. The full report can be found here. Below are some key assertions and the data points within the survey that support them.

Like adults, teens feel overwhelmed by stress

• On a 10-point scale, teens report that ≤ 3.9 is a healthy amount of stress. However, they rate their stress to be a 5.8 during the school year and a 4.6 during the summer.

• The following is true of 1 out of 3 teens: they report that their stress has increased in the past year, they expect their stress will increase in the next year and they feel overwhelmed.

• Teens reported that one out of four of them feel stress at the highest levels (an 8, 9 or a 10 on the 10 point scale) during the school year.

• Adults report that ≤ 3.6, on the same 10-point scale, represents a healthy level of stress. However, they report their stress averages a 5.1. Moreover, 37% of adults report feeling overwhelmed in the past month, 1 out of 3 believe that stress is having a strong impact on their physical and mental health and 84% report that their stress stayed the same or increased in the past year.

Teens worry about the same sorts of things as adultscharacter burdoned by books

Both teens and adults report worrying the most about their vocational lives and financial matters. For example, these are the top stresses reported by teens: high school (83%), life after high school (69%), and their family having enough money (65%). For adults the top three stresses are money (71%), work (69%) and the economy (59%). (By the way, the fourth rated stress among teens is balancing their time, at 59%)

Teens experience similar symptoms of stress as adults

• Only 41% of teens report that they handle stress well, compared to 35% of adults.

• The top symptoms teens report experiencing secondary to stress are irritability (40%), anxiety (36%), fatigue (36%) and insomnia (35%). This is very similar to the profile reported by adults: irritability (41%), lack of energy or motivation (39%), anxiety (37%) and feeling overwhelmed (37%). (It’s also telling that 51% percent of teens report that someone tells them they seem stressed on at least a monthly basis.)

Teens commonly use the same poor coping strategies as adults

teen video game playing•The following are some of the top strategies for responding to stress that are traditionally ill advised, at least if used as a lead strategy: playing video games (46%), going online (43%), and watching TV or movies (36%).

• Teens report some behavioral responses to stress that also increase the risk of poor stress coping: eating unhealthy foods (26%), skipping meals (23%) and neglecting school (21%). Moreover, half of teens who report being under high levels of stress indicate that they don’t get enough sleep.

Tell me how teens’ potentially maladaptive responses to stress compare to adults’ (i.e., what follows in the next four lines are adult numbers):

√ 62% use screen time to manage stress (42% watch ≥ 2 hours a day of TV)

√ 17% exercise daily; 39% skipped physical activity because of stress

√ 38% have overeaten to manage stress; 30% skipped a meal because of stress

√ average 6.7 hours sleep/night; 20% report that their sleep is sound

• Moreover, these trends seem to be even more true among parents. That is parents, as compared to non-parents, report higher rates of eating unhealthy foods due to stress and sleep disturbance.

Stress management strategies work!

• Teens who are physically active report lower levels of stress (i.e., those who soccer character, coolexercise ≥ 1/week report at average stress level of 4.4–on the 10 point scale mentioned above– compared to 5.1 for those who don’t engage in that much physical activity).

• Teens whose body size is within expected ranges report lower levels of stress (i.e., those with a BMI of 18-24 report a 4.4 stress level, while those with a BMI ≥ 25 report a 5.2.).

• Teens who get healthier doses of sleep report lower levels of stress (i.e., those who sleep ≥ 8 hours a night report being at a 5.2 while those who sleep less indicate they are at a 6.5).

• Teens who report higher stress levels also report engaging in more sedentary behaviors than those who report lower levels of stress (e.g., 54% versus 24% surf the net to manage stress).

Take home messages

I have three take home messages this week:

missing puzzle piece#1: Parenting from the cross sucks. When our kids show needs (and when don’t they?), we tend to act like we have none; over time, this reeks havoc on us and them. (This is why self and relationship care is one of the 10 science-based parenting strategies I stress in my parenting book).

#2: There are plenty of things we parent-lunatics can do to promote stress management in our teens. For my top nine, see the blog entry I guest wrote on APA’s blog.

#3: Why suffer needlessly? Let’s treat ours and our kid’s mental health as we do ours and our kids’ dental health whenever there is a complication: see a pro. For a list of referral databases, click here.

Five Tips If Your Kid Gets a Bad Report Card

Many of us have been there: our scholar, our baby, our future Nobel Laureate comes home with a report card that makes us wonder what percentage of his or her genetic material we share. But, as in all painful events, opportunity abounds. Let me begin by defining “poor report card.” I take this to be one in which your child’s grades are significantly below what they should be if he or she extended sufficient effort; of course, this bar varies based on each kid’s academic potential. If your child comes home with a report card that you believe is below this bar, here are five tips to consider.

Tip #1: Diagnose the problem. Just like a fever can have many causes, so to can a poor report card. Is your child investing enough effort each school night? Is the curriculum too challenging? Might she or he be suffering from a problem in learning? Might the stress in your child’s life be exceeding his or her capacity to manage it? Is he or she getting enough sleep? Might your child be suffering from a psychological disorder (about 90% of youth do, at one point or another, by age 21)? How is his or her vision? Is too much work being assigned?  Getting help in figuring this out can also save a lot of time and consternation, especially if your plan to fix things doesn’t work right away. Even the evaluation choices can make one’s head spin. So, I’d consider not going at it alone and get some help.

Tip #2: Avoid bad mouthing the teacher. If your child gets the idea that singing to you about the teacher’s incompetence or unfairness will cause your expectations for him or her to be relaxed, expect for that song to soar to the top of the charts in your house. Even if you believe that the teacher is part of the problem, use the experience to teach your child how to interact effectively within such relationships (i.e., this is hardly going to be his or her last experience having to deal with someone with power over him or her exercising such in a manner that is less than ideal). You may also value reading my entry on having an effective parent-teacher conference.

Tip #3: If your child manifesting a compromised effort is a key factor, incentivize such. As behavioral psychologists have argued for years, we all do those things that we believe are in our best interest. Of course, many youth know not what is in their true best, long term interest (i.e., if we dropped their brains into a fully grown adult body we’d say that that adult has brain damage). So, we parent-lunatics, need to align what they believe is in their best interest what we know to be so. In my parenting book I’ve detailed a variety of decision trees for rewarding desired behavior based upon the severity and nature of the problem. As the issue of getting a kid to do something when he or she doesn’t feel like it is a common theme in parenting I have multiple blog entries on related topics and strategies. For example, click here, here, here, or here.

Tip #4: Make sure your kid is experiencing success with his or her competencies. Using one’s top strengths in important ways contributes to every human’s sense of personal efficacy. However, this is even more important for a child as self-esteem is in a formative period. And, double that for a child that is experiencing challenges in another major domain such as academics. Without this countervailing force one worries that a child’s self-esteem could go south, which is then associated with a number of unfortunate outcomes. (Chapter Two of my parenting book, Working Parents, Thriving Famiies, covers strategies for this in dept.)

Tip #5: Establish a communication system from school to home. You’ve had the experience of the report card being like Mystery Theatre and likely don’t want to experience that again. So, getting good information on a regular basis is important. This allows you to remediate problems sooner, when they are smaller, than later, when they are bigger. The information you want, at least, is: the day’s homework, when the next quiz/test is, what grades were returned that day and when any long-term projects are due. If your child is motivated and cooperative this communication could be managed by him or her directly to you. However, most of the time you will need the teacher to facilitate your getting the information in order to ensure that you have an up-to-date and complete picture. My preference is to start out on a daily bases and then cut back to a weekly basis once things are better (i.e., it’s easier to have too much structure and relax it than the inverse). Keep in mind that you may also want to know what behaviors your child displayed (e.g., raised his/her hand in class, respected adult authority, stayed on task, related well to other kids in the class). I’d lay out the mechanics of how to do this if I had space, but, once again, all the details can be found n WPTF 😉

Preparing Your First Time Student for the Fall

mom and daughter2I’d like to organize this post around five Q & As:

1.  Why should parents of rising preschoolers or kindergarteners be thinking about this now?

If no child or adult in your home is experiencing anxiety about the pending school year little preparation may be needed. However, if anyone is nervous a little preparation may increase comfort and reduce drama come the big day. When in doubt, it’s usually better to prepare, when that isn’t warranted, than the other way around.

2.     What are some things parents can do in the home to help prepare their young children?

The short answer: play and read together. The playing could be things like role playing (e.g., one of my fondest parenting memories is my eldest bossing me about the classroom, as my teacher, when we would play this game). It could also be drawing about the pending school year. Kids often use play to acclimate themselves to developmental challenges.

The reading could be acquiring related books on the topic and reading them to dadandsonyour child, maybe following such up with a discussion. I find the books at magination press tend to be helpful while I like how the scaredy squirrel books treat anxiety in general.

3.     Are their any field trips that can be helpful?

Probably the most useful thing you could do would be to take a trip, with your child, to the classroom; even better yet would be to meet the teacher and to talk about what the school year will be like. Many preschool and elementary schools are willing to make such a service available in August. If not, even driving to your child’s school and walking around it, or in it, can be helpful. Also, if your child will be taking a school bus for the first time, it can be a good idea to get permission to sit in a bus for a few minutes. (Meeting his or her actually school bus driver may not be possible. But, if it is, that could be a good idea as well.)

4.     Any other preparation that can be done?

The first preparation is an anti-preparation: avoid reassurances about the school year. But, if you must reassure, try not to overdo it. A reassurance indicates that there is something potentially threatening at hand. If you came to my office and I said to you: “don’t worry about getting lice here as I keep my office very clean” can you imagine how uncomfortable you could start to feel? A well intended, but sometimes unhelpful reassurance, could be something like “Don’t worry about going to school this year. You’re going to love it.” Instead, it might be better to say something like: “Guess what, you’re going to get to make lots of new friends in a few weeks!” But, you don’t want to oversell, less you create the impression that your pushing a lemon.

character students lined up in desksIt can also be fun to collaborate on school clothes and supplies. This needn’t break your bank. Just whatever you can afford. I think it’s also good to segue to your school time sleep routine the week before. (I’ve written multiple blog entries on sleep. Just enter “sleep” in the search engine above.)

5.     Will you be offering any other advice on this topic?

Yes. In the near future I’m going to do a blog entry on how to avoid separation drama on the first day of school. So, stay tuned.

The 10 Most Common Mistakes Good Parents Make

What follows I find, in my professional and personal dealings, to be the most common mistakes we parents make. At the end of each of them I’ve listed the chapter in my parent book Working Parents, Thriving Families: 10 Strategies That Make a Difference (WPTF) that offers an expanded discussion and specific strategies for dealing with each problem as well links to related blog posts.

#1: Imagining that there will be more time for the family next week.

One of the most important exercises I ask parents to do in my practice is “special time.” This activity, which is different from quality time, takes one hour a week. So, so many parents believe that it will be easy to “make” this time (there is no “finding” the time, only making it) each week only to learn that it is extremely difficult to do so consistently, an insight that is instructive.

When parents describe a week when they did not complete special time they stress how unusually busy it was. While there certainly can be exceptionally busy weeks, most of the time the only thing that rotates is what is causing the extreme busyness, not the extreme busyness itself.

See Chapter One, Complete One Hour of Special Time Each Week With Your Child in WPTF for more.

Related blog posts:

The Value of Unplugging

Conversation Starters for You and Your Teenager

#2: Parenting from a cross.

The research makes it clear that our collective parental self-care is often quite poor and that this causes significant stress on not only on us, but also on our partners and our kids. My experience is that the number one reason we good parents fall into this trap is because we are consumed by work and family duties. An image comes to mind: the oxygen masks having dropped in an emergency situation on an airplane and a woozy parent, who is not wearing an oxygen mask, is consumed by securing a child’s mask

See Chapter Seven, Take Care of Yourself and Your Relationship With Your Significant Other, in WPTF for more.

Related blog posts:

Six Tips for When You Lose It With Your Kid

51 Truths (As I See Things Anyway)

Effective Romance Helps Effective Parenting

Lions and Tigers and Vows, Oh My! 10 Tips for Taking Your New Year’s Resolutions from Oz to Kansas

#3: Praising poor performance.

The pervasiveness of this leaves me feeling confident that you could go to any youth baseball game in your community this weekend and likely hear examples of parents praising their kids for striking out, or making errors or for other kinds of poor performance. We know that facilitating our kids’ self-esteem is important. But our compressed and crazy-busy lifestyles sometimes cause us to use techniques that are either not helpful or that facilitate negative outcomes (e.g., self-entitlement).

See Chapter Two, Discover, Promote and Celebrate Your Child’s Competenites, in WPTF for more.

Related blog post:

Five Questions for Effectively Parenting Kids in Sports

#4: Trying to undo a kid’s pain.

One of my favorite quotes is by Kahlil Gibran in his great, little book The Prophet: “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” We good parents hurt worse when our kids hurt. So, we try to take it all away; if we are successful we limit our kids’ wisdom.

See Chapter Six, Promote Health Decision Making, Independence and Adaptive Thinking, in WPTF for more.

Related blog post:

•  Failure: An Important Part of  Psychologically Healthy Childhood.

#5: Missing the middle ground on discipline.

 It’s amazing how often the word “discipline” is equated with butt kicking. Actually, the root of the word is “to teach.” I would argue that the top outcome effective discipline promotes is our child’s capacity to do things well when he or she doesn’t feel like it. This is the psychological muscle group that best predicts success in our culture.

It is easy to wrap ineffective discipline strategies in truisms. The parent who is soul weary and disengages from discipline might say “you can’t make all their decisions for them. Kids have got to learn to make their own mistakes and to figure things out for themselves!” Likewise the harsh and unyielding parent (it takes less time to parent in this way than to discipline effectively), might say “kids have to learn respect and to do as they are told!”

To discipline well is one of the most challenging and time consuming aspects of effective parenting. As we are so, so tired and so, so overextended, it’s easy to miss the boat.

See Chapter Five, Practice Sound Discipline, in WPTF for more.

Related blog posts:

Six Reasons to Avoid Spanking

Seven Tips for When Your Child Refuses to do a Chore.

Top 11 Tips for Parenting Teens

#6: Enabling sleep deprivation.

There is an epidemic of sleep deprivation among our youth. The more researchers examine the consequences of this, the more we learn how impairing a lack of sleep can be across all the major domains of a child’s or teen’s life. Again, it is much, much easier to let this go than it is to ensure that our kids get enough sleep.

See Chapter Eight, Emphasize a Healthy Lifestyle, in WPTF for more.

Related blog posts:

Is Your Kid Getting Enough Sleep?

A Chronic Health Problems in Teens: A Lack of Sleep

Helping Your Child Get a Good Night’s Sleep

#7: Warring with other adults in a kid’s life.

My read of the scientific literature on divorce adjustment suggests that the two best predictors of child and teen adjustment to divorce are the number of changes that he or she endures (with fewer being better) and how well the parents get along. And, don’t even get me started on how important it is to a child’s education for parents and teachers to partner effectively. However, we parent-lunatics, often go to war with these other adults. The banners we fly as we march to battle usually articulate very important issues; however, we often don’t let ourselves be fully aware of the shrapnel our kids are taking.

See Chapter Nine, Establish Collaborative Relationships With Other Important Adults, in WPTF for more.

Related blog post:

11 Important Tips When You Meet With a Teacher

#8: Enabling excessive use of sedentary electronic pleasures.

Let’s face it, if our kids are plugged in they leave us the hell alone (and that’s good as we’ve got TONS to do) and they certainly seem to enjoy themselves. However, if a kid is doing this for more than two hours a day, it is very likely that she or he is missing out on important developmental outcomes (e.g., being physically active, developing skills for face-to-face interactions, learning academic material).

See Chapter Eight, Emphasize a Healthy Lifestyle, in WPTF for more.

Related blog posts:

Can Parents Trust Movie, Television and Gaming Ratings?

10 Tips for Parenting Your Progeny’s Online Life

10 Strategies if Your Child is Addicted to World of Warcraft

#9: Enabling a poptart-pizza-pasta diet and lifestyle.

Unfortunately, it’s cheaper and easier (e.g., more convenient, less hassles from progeny) to eat poorly than it is to eat well. I was at a restaurant recently with my eldest doing special time. As I was paying the check at the entry area an array of sumptuous bakery items was on display, to which I said “They look really good. But you might just as well inject a vile of glucose in your butt.” To which my eldest said “you say that all the time.” (My second eldest recently had a wittier retort: “but that wouldn’t taste as good.”) My saying this “all the time” to my kids is my way of howling at the moon as I find the marketing of unhealthy foods in our culture to be incessant.

Of course, it takes time and effort to ensure that our kids sweat and breath hard for an hour at least five days a week, even if the activity is fun (the guideline is actually for seven days a week, but I’m trying to be Dr. Flexible).

See Chapter Eight, Emphasize a Healthy Lifestyle, in WPTF for more.

Related blog post:

Kids’ Physical Activity: 7 Thinking Traps

#10: Excessive self-reproach, worry and lunacy.

At the end of the day we parents are shepherds, not sculptors. We often oversubscribe our kids’ outcomes to what we do and don’t do, to what we say and what we don’t say. While our efforts matter and make a big difference, so much of what happens in our kids’ lives is outside of our control (i.e., as they grow older the stakes rise and our control diminishes). Moreover, we are the best intentioned humans on the planet who work our butts off. And, every single one of us screws up on a pretty consistent basis. So, let’s cut ourselves some slack and have our self-talk be what we would have our kids’ self talk be, in the future, should they end up having kids…we can only hope that we can be there to see it, especially if we can simultaneously kick up our feet and enjoy a tasty beverage.

See the Introduction and Epilogue in WPTF for more.

Related blog post

We Parents are Lunatics

Signs that a Kid Needs Mental Health Services.

About 14-22% of children in the United States suffer from a diagnosable psychological disorder. Add 20% to that number if you include youth who suffer at sub clinical levels. However, only about 20% of these children get effective care. And, even when they get it they’ve often had to suffer for years first. This occurs even though the research on the effectiveness of child psychotherapies is very positive. What would we conclude about our culture if this were true of our childrens’ dental health instead of their mental health?

I’m writing this blog entry to try to review key indicators of when a child might benefit from mental health services. There are four primary areas of functioning that one can consider: relationships with adults, relationships with peers, academics and mood.

Relationships with adults: The key issue is whether the youth gets along reasonably well with adults. Of course this includes parents/parent-figures and teachers. But it also includes coaches, extended family, bosses, etc. If the youth is frequently in conflict or frequently avoidant or detached from any significant type of relationship with adults, an evaluation may be warranted.

Relationships with peers: Kids need to be able to form friendships, and get along effectively, with other kids who are doing well. For example, if a teen’s close friendships are primarily with those who often get into trouble, abuse substances, or are significantly symptomatic, a significant problem may be present. Likewise, if a child or teen is avoidant, aggressive, controlling or otherwise routinely rejected or ignored by most other youth, this is of concern.

Academics: This is one of the trickier areas to describe tightly. The central issue here is not grades, though grades consistently falling in the C and lower range would generally indicate that a problem exists (assuming that the teaching and curriculum are appropriate). The central issue here is the youth applying herself or himself when she or he does not feel like it.  Developing this psychological muscle (i.e., task persistence when internal motivation is required) is one of the most important developmental tasks of childhood. So if a child is not applying herself or himself, or experiencing significant turmoil or failure in academic pursuits, an evaluation is likely warranted.

Mood: The key issue is whether or not the youth is content. Happiness is great. Contentment is the bar however. If the child is consistently sad, angry or anxious for a significant portion of his or her waking day, this is signaling a need for professional attention. It is often the case that a parent may be confused regarding what a child or teen is thinking or feeling. Thus, problems with sleep, appetite, concentration, connectedness with the world or physical activity can be signs of a problem. (There may also be absences of experiences of joy, but more for kids with depressive disorders than anxiety disorders. )

As I write this blog, there are 42 ways that youth can be diagnosed with a mental health disorder. So, this is hardly a comprehensive post. However, if a child is getting along well with others, is doing well in school and seems content, that child may be fine. The only significant area I’ve left out is experiencing success in one or more extracurricular pursuits. While a lack of positive experiences in the latter area is not, by itself, necessarily indicative of a problem, a child who lacks for such experiences may be more vulnerable to attacks on self-esteem.

I hope you will share this blog post with those who could use it. If you would like to read about common myths about mental health services, click here. For ideas on how to afford care click here. And, finally, to find a lean-mean-healing machine in your neck of the woods, click here.

Three Key Ways Teachers Can Promote Resilience

As our nation begins transitioning back to school, and because teachers are one of our most important collaborators in raising our children, I thought I’d devote this entry to teachers.

In my years of working collaboratively with teachers I have become a big fan of the profession. Just as I find most parents love their kids more than their own lives, I find that most teachers are in the game because they wish to make an important difference in the lives of kids. Their primary motivation is not money–if so a teacher has had bad career counseling–it is mission. For this reason, I would like to offer the top three things I wish teachers would remember, or realize, when trying to teach our kids.

You have the power to make significant and life-long contributions to your students.

In case studies of children who have faced adversity, but who came out on the other side of it well adjusted, a teacher is often sited as having made a critically important contribution. Those benefited by the teachers’ gifts don’t necessarily recall the academic content that was covered, but they recall the human investment. “Mr. Roberts was the first one who ever believed in me.” “Mrs. Johnson reached out to me when I was at my lowest.” “Ms. Jackson never gave up on me even though I was a real pain.” As someone who both named his only son after a teacher, and who also teaches, I can tell you that it need not take much time and energy to have a tremendous impact. Sharing a lunch, writing a note, arranging for a little tutoring, etc. can make a mighty difference, though it may not be obvious. For instance, I once discovered that I student of mine had laminated a complimentary sticky note I attached to a report she wrote; I learned about this months later when she told me that she read it whenever she needed a boost.

You can serve a pivotal role in helping students to identify their strengths.

Their are at least two reasons why knowing one’s strengths is important: such is pivotal to the formation of a positive self-esteem and knowing one’s strengths aides in effective educational and vocational planning. That said, many kids (and adults) do not know their top strengths and may even find the concept foreign. Teachers have many opportunities to either mirror kids strengths back to them or to assist kids in identifying their top strengths. The former can happen simply by expressing thoughts you have about any special abilities a student is showing. It can also happen by putting a kid on display for a positive contribution. The teacher I mentioned I named my son after, upon having seen me perform in a school play, wrote my name on the board the next Monday morning; he noted it was there in order to recognize an outstanding performance. Though I probably sat their without much of an expression on my face, that simple gesture made my month.

Teachers can help identify top strengths by encouraging exploration of uncharted interests in a student’s life. Unimpeded, and assuming basic conditions for growth are in place, trees grow their branches around obstacles towards the light. Unimpeded, and assuming basic conditions for growth are in place, children grow their interests and behaviors towards their competencies. Teachers might also encourage students to fill out instruments which can aide in developing theories about their top strengths (e.g., the VIA Signature Strengths Survey for Children, StrengthsExplorer, etc.).

You can teach students that how we think has a much greater influence over how we feel than what actually happens.

As any case study of a famous, popular and wealthy person who committed suicide can illustrate, more determinative of mood is what we make of what happens in our lives, not what actually happens. As just one example, consider the script: crisis = pain + opportunity. A crisis is like a siamese twin. Resilient minds are not in denial about the pain that is attached to unfortunate twists of fate. However, they then go on to look for the opportunity that is always attached. Teachers can encourage their students to learn this truth by providing examples. This agenda could be incorporated into many lesson plans (e.g., in English students could read stories with this lesson; in history students could hear examples of this formula; in many academic classes satisfaction and new skill sets are borne out of the pain involved in certain mental pursuits, etc.). And, when bad things happen in students’ lives advisers can encourage, after the pain has been given its due, the search for the opportunity imbued within, perhaps while also providing personal illustrations.

In closing I salute you for your mission, especially when you execute it well on those days when no adults are watching and dialing it in would be all so easy to do. And, remember, if you have children who are not responding to your efforts, an army of qualified mental health professionals is dispersed across our country. To find such a person in your vicinity, click here.

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