Tag Archives: Thrive

School’s out!

No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks…

I remember how much fun it was on the last day of school both as a student and as a teacher.  It signaled that moment when the responsibilities of the school system could fall away into the background as we shifted our priorities and energies to other things.

School’s out for the summer!

The next day was often about sleeping in.  After weeks of assignments or marking, exams or report cards, rest became a priority.  It was nice to not have to worry about anything at least for a short while.  Soon enough, however, the question arose: “what next?”

What next?

Summer vacation for students is typically two months long.  While there are those who are content to sleep and relax for a large part of that time, there will always be moments when restlessness creeps in and challenges us to do something.  This is the struggle of many parents who hear that mantra “I’m bored”.

Summer expectations

The fact remains, just because students are out of school, doesn’t automatically mean that parents are off work.  In fact, even teachers are known to take courses and prepare for the next school year during the summer break.  Still, young children (and perhaps not so young children) need supervision and, all too often, parents are expected to be some kind of cruise director, determining what children will do during their time off.

At the same time, some parents (and perhaps some forward thinking young people) see summer as an important opportunity to learn and develop skills in alternative ways.  Released from the expectations of the formal school system, it becomes possible to explore different experiences.  Sports teams like baseball and soccer help to keep young people fit and teach sportsmanship and other important skills. Differently themed summer camps can have children making robots, learning to cook, exploring nature and more.  Family vacations can create space to explore new places and be family.  Job shadowing or taking on a summer job open the door to explore employment skills and routines while potentially earning a bit of money.

How will your family use this time away?

The opportunities over summer are limited only by our creativity.  How will you use this time off school?  In what ways do you hope that this time will be meaningful for the family?  What do you think the role of the parent is in planning summer activities?  What role should children play in entertaining themselves?  We would love to hear your thoughts.

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

Graduation Day

Today my kid graduates from secondary school.  There are many parents on my timeline who are acknowledging similar milestones for their kids.  To all of these young people I say Congratulations!

So how does it feel?

The important milestones in life are not celebrate alone.  Birth, entry and graduation from school, weddings, funerals – these are moments which affect families and communities as a whole.  At the centre of these events are individuals who are experiencing changes.  A child anxiously starting kindergarten, a teen wearing cap and gown as they say ‘good bye’ to the routines of high school, a spouse tearfully saying ‘good bye’ to their partner.  Simultaneously, there are those who are directly impacted by the ways life has changed for someone we hold dear.  In fact, a parent may remember far more vividly than the child that first day of kindergarten.  Whether we cried or didn’t, the fact remains, we all had feelings about that moment and these feelings matter.

Graduation Day

To watch our children step up to the platform and receive their diploma signals a significant shift in the lives of the family.  While the diploma might indicate that the child has achieved what is necessary to complete an education program, it also symbolises an expectation that the child has reached a new level of maturity.  When teenagers graduate from high school, the world assumes that they are prepared to make life-decisions.  With that moment, they are expected to decide what happens next.

What are the options?

Secondary school programming begins to explore the options with teenagers beginning in grade 10.  For some this is experienced with anxiety as they assume that failing to make the ‘right’ choice could somehow lead to a disastrous life.  In reality, for decades we have come to recognise that we don’t have to choose a single path: that we can walk a long and winding road, shifting and changing, remaking ourselves at each turn and still live a life we love.

What do you want to be right now?

For years, when asked what I wanted my child to be, I have said ‘happy’.  I believe that the best job in the world is the one that you love and provides you, at a minimum, with sufficient resources to meet your basic needs.  This is something that may change over the course of a lifetime and I would say that is OK.  Of course, this is my opinion.  I would love to hear others.

What do you think?

What are your priorities for your children?  What role do you think parents should play in helping teenagers make decisions after high school graduation?  How will you be there for your child as they navigate through the next stage of their life?

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

Finding Hope on Social Media

This past weekend, we celebrated Father’s Day.  This is our opportunity to give thanks to the men in our lives who make a difference.  While there were BBQs and gifts, dad jokes and beer in some homes, there were also places where celebration was hard.  Not everyone is blessed to have a good relationship with their fathers.  Not everyone has a father who is still with them.  Some fathers continue to mourn the loss of their child.

A not so happy Father’s Day

This morning I saw re-tweets shared by my teenager from Fred Guttenburg (@fred_guttenburg):

‘Dear America, Today I will begin Father’s Day by going to the cemetery to visit my forever 14 year old daughter Jaime.  It is over 4 months since she was murdered at school.  Today, I am too sad to focus on myself and so no need for Father’s Day messages for me.  Instead…everyone please post or tweet a very simple message that simply say’s “I commit to vote orange in November #OrangeWaveInNovember”’

Following the trends

More and more, I am acutely aware of the reality that young people can be inundated by social media trends and information which doesn’t paint a very good picture of this world.  How do you find good in the words of a father who mourns the loss of his child from a senseless school shooting?  What is hopeful about the Twitter trends: #IfIDieInASchoolShooting (which I previously discussed here) or #WhereAreTheChildren (which protests children being taken from those who are coming into the US looking for a brighter future).

Our teenagers have access to information, conversations and media which makes it painfully clear that world is not fair and robs them of the innocence that had been previously associated with being young.  Young people should bask in the knowledge that they have their whole lives ahead of them and yet, they are seeing too many examples of how this is not true or that what is ahead will not be overly amazing.

Looking Deeper

While these trends may be heartbreaking, it is important to continually dig deeper, to recognise that social media has given a space for voices to be heard – not solely the voices of the powerful but also those voices which could otherwise be easily silenced.  Through social media Fred Guttenburg has the space to encourage others to use the tools available to them to make meaningful change.  Through social media David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez and others are able to rally students to #MarchForOurLives.  Through social media we have heard women cry out #MeToo and #TimesUp.  Through social media we have heard the rallying cry #BlackLivesMatter and shown support for those grieving as we #PutYourSticksOut.

Navigating the Trends with our teenagers

Social media trends can feel overwhelming.  Compounding this problem for parents is that the medium can also feel new and foreign for us.  Still, it remains important for us to be aware of the kinds of information and stories to which our children have access through their various social media accounts.  Open conversation can create space to help all of us confront the anxieties of living in 2018 and open our hearts to hope for what is to come.

What do you do?

In our efforts to support our children through the images, conversations and uncertainty highlight by so many social media trends, what do you do?  Do you follow your children/teenagers on their social media accounts?  How do talk with your teenagers about what they are seeing on social media?  Where do you find hope?  How do keep from feeling overwhelmed by the content and/or the medium?

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/ and Follow us on Twitter @ThriveFamilies.

Learning the Basics

The education platform for the Progressive Conservatives included a commitment to “…focus on the fundamentals and that includes proven methods of teaching.” .  This includes the proposed scrapping of ‘discovery math’ as test scores for Ontario have shown a lack of improvement for this area.

What are the fundamentals?

While there are many who would agree that getting back to basics is important, few take the statement one step further and ask what the basics are.  What should students know and be able to do when they graduate from elementary school; from high school?  What steps are needed to achieve these goals?

Arithmetic vs. ‘Discovery Math’

There are generations of students who made it through a school system where arithmetic was taught by route.  Doing worksheet after worksheet of calculations to ensure that students knew how to add, subtract, multiply and divide.  These are important skills and continue to be included in the curriculum.  The change is that now students are encouraged to learn through manipulatives which also help to develop problem solving capacities.

Why does it matter?

Learning arithmetic by route may mean that, at least for a time, students are able calculate 12 x 9 without assistance.  In life, however, there are no worksheets asking people to calculate basic questions.  Instead there are problems that we have to solve that may ultimately lead to a calculation.  For example, someone may need to calculate how many tiles are needed for a new 12 foot by 9 foot floor, someone might want to tip 12% or someone may want to calculate how much food is needed for a dinner party with 12 people.  While 12 x 9 can be calculated using calculators, calculator apps or even a cash register for those who are cashiers, people need to have sufficient skills in problem solving to know what to calculate.

Who likes math?

Compounding the issue is that, for some reason, mathematics is one of the few things that people are proud to say that they are not very good at doing.  In fact, math anxiety is widely accepted as a reality for a portion of the population. This includes parents, grandparents, teachers and students impacting confidence levels across generations.

What do you think?

Whether we like math or not doesn’t change its value to the education process.  So, assuming it is necessary, who do you think should decide what aspects of mathematics are foundational skills necessary for learning?  What resources should be used to decide how these skills are taught?  To what extent would you be willing to review these skills in order to assist your children as needed?

Gender Neutral Dress Codes

I noticed the headline in my newsfeed: “School bans boys from wearing shorts, tells them to wear skirts”.  Yes, you read that correctly, you can check out the link for yourself here.

What are dress codes?

Generally speaking, dress codes are the standards established by an individual school and/or school board to define expectations about what clothing is appropriate for those attending.  It is common for dress codes to include stipulations about text and images on shirts or sweaters and define what length or style of clothing might be too risqué for the classroom.  Recently, such stipulations have been criticised as being far stricter for females than males because of society’s tendency to define female dress as ‘distracting’ for males.  I discussed this in response to complaints at Essex District High School in this post.

Gender Neutral

One of the ways to move beyond such criticisms is to seek to make dress code policies gender neutral – in other words, to establish the exact same standards for males as for females.  The challenge with this, however, is that the fashion trends differ by gender.  Boys tend not to wear short shorts or have to worry about their shirts revealing their bra straps, while girls know how to pull up their pants.

Uniforms

These are less of an issue for boarding schools or Catholic high schools in Ontario where uniforms are the norm.  (Note: Having taught in a Catholic school, I do remember having to instruct many male students to pull up their pants and tell female students to roll down their skirts after having rolled them up at the waist to make the required skirts shorter).

There are a variety of advantages to uniforms particularly when these come from a single source and are thus the same for each person.  It then becomes possible to define what people are expected to wear every day with little variation.  For Chiltern Edge Secondary School in Oxfordshire, that means trousers or skirts with shirts, ties and blazers, an appropriate uniform for those expected to end up in high powered business positions.

What do you think?

Is this gender neutral gone too far?  Would you allow your son to wear a skirt in order to feel cooler in the hot summer months?  Is it OK for females to wear trousers in the cold winter months?  Are these the same thing?  Why or why not?  For more reflection on gender neutrality check this post on the latest heir to the royal throne.

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

Failure

What is it?

At its core, failure is a lack of success.  Whether we like it or not, it happens to everyone.  Most toddlers fall down before learning to walk.  Few pre-schoolers learn to tie their shoes on the first try.  Not everyone has legible printing from the first time they pick up a pencil.  We all struggle to stay in the lines when colouring from time to time.

The challenge…

Unfortunately, in a highly competitive world, failure is often treated with distain.  We tend to hide our failures because we tend to link our value to our successes.  The more success we have, the more we feel accomplished.  Admitting failure, might rob our sense of self-worth.

Reclaiming failure as opportunity to learn

Still, we shouldn’t be afraid of failure.  When we fail, we have an opportunity to learn.  We might learn something about ourselves – including that perhaps there are things we are not so good at.  We might develop persistence – a willingness to try, try again.  Or we might simply learn that it is OK to let go and move on, we don’t have to be perfect at everything.

Everyone fails.  It took Edison some 10,000 attempts to create a lightbulb.  “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was rejected 12 times and J.K. Rowling was told “not to quit her day job”.  Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, dropped out of college after 6 months because of the financial strain on his family.  To fail is to be human.  As a result, failure is on the curriculum at Smith College as highlighted here.

Helping children accept failure

There is comfort in numbers.  When we are honest about our struggles especially with the next generation, they can then recognise that failure is not an end but can be an opportunity.  What is really important in life?  Will a single test, project, attempt at a sport or messy picture really destroy a person’s future?  What can be said when we look back on the past in regards to those moments that really made a difference?

When we ask our children to simply try their best and accept that there are areas in which they may struggle, we free our children to explore who they are, to be who they are.  This may mean that we discover our children don’t have the same abilities as we do.  This may mean they pursue areas that feel foreign to us.  This is OK.  As long as they know they are loved and supported, they will have the courage and strength to accept failure as a stepping stone to real success.

Want to explore this topic more?

Our next Thrive! Dinner will be June 3rd at Essex United Church beginning at 5pm when we will be making quesadillas and eating together and then breaking off in groups for parents, teens, tweens and children as we explore Stress, Anxiety and Failure in playful and meaningful ways.  All are welcome!

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

Anxiety

What is it?

Anxiety word cloud on a white background.

Anxiety is an umbrella term for intense, troubling feelings that can overwhelm someone at any time.  These feelings can be based in worry of what might happen in the future or fear in reaction to current events.  When these feelings become persistent or chronic, anxiety moves into the realm of a disorder that may require treatment.

How is anxiety experienced?

Among the most researched forms of anxiety is the presence of phobias – which are defined as a persistent and excessive fear of an object or situation.  We’ve seen phobias depicted in movies and television shows.  This has helped to normalise the extreme reactions some people have to spiders, clowns, heights, enclosed spaces, germs and more.  Whether as part of a drama or a comedy, we have become familiar with the emotional and physical reactions including extreme fear, racing heartbeats, shortness of breath, nausea and numbing that we now accept are characteristic of a panic attack.  For who have anxiety disorders these reactions can be debilitating, affecting the ways in which they engage with the world.

For children and youth, Kid’s Help Phone’s provides a simple breakdown of signs and symptoms of anxiety along with ways to cope with panic and anxiety here .

What can be done?

Research into anxiety disorders is growing as we gain more and more understanding of the importance of mental wellbeing.  As a result, through counselling, techniques can be learned to develop an awareness of anxiety and panic and thus take steps to minimise their impact on life.

Mindfulness

When someone begins to feel their body tighten, breath quicken and heart start to race, they are challenged to stop and look around.  Name 5 things they can see; five things they can smell; five things they can touch; five things they can hear and five things they can taste.  By focusing on their senses it becomes possible to reorient their awareness to practical things around them rather than the source of their anxiety.  This article highlights other mindfulness activities that can help reduce anxiety.

Distraction

If possible, when anxiety is felt, removing oneself from the situation – going for a walk, calling someone on the phone, going to a safe space can all be helpful ways of settling down and refocusing.

Breathing

Sometimes it simply helps to stop, sit quietly and breathe.  Counting as you breathe in and out, helps to relax the body before it completely tenses up into a full blown panic attack.

What can families do?

Anxiety happens in people of all ages.  As with everything else, it is important for us to know our loved ones and be open to recognising when symptoms become persistent and chronic.  It is vital to accept that it is not only OK but healthy to ask for help.  Indeed, accessing the right help can make a big difference in the extent to which anxiety becomes something manageable.

Local resources to assist children and teen struggling with anxiety disorders are available through the Regional Children’s Centre, Teen Health and Maryvale.

Want to explore this topic more?

Our next Thrive! Dinner will be June 3rd at Essex United Church beginning at 5pm when we will be making quesadillas and eating together and then breaking off in groups for parents, teens, tweens and children as we explore Stress, Anxiety and Failure in playful and meaningful ways.  All are welcome!

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

Stress

What is it?

According to this article in helpguide.org: Stress is our body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat.  When we sense danger – real or imagined – our body automatically responds with a ‘fight or flight’ reaction.  It is this reaction that pumps us with energy and helps us focus.  This response can actually help save us when faced with real danger, giving us the strength to fight back, the endurance to get away, and the focus to make the right choice.

Stress is what allows us to take on challenges in appropriate ways: Pushing us to put aside distractions and study; sharpening our concentration when we are under pressure to succeed; keeping us on our toes when we are performing.  Stress can be a healthy thing.

When should we be worried?

Unfortunately, our stress response does not have the capacity to determine whether its invocation is due to emotion or a physical life-or-death situation.  As a result, we can get stressed about relationships, work, school, conversations, impending assessments, what happened yesterday, what could happen tomorrow and so on.  The more we feel stress, the more our stress response kicks into gear and thus creates the possibility for long term health consequences including depression, anxiety, sleep problems, digestive problems, heart disease and more.

Looking for signs of stress overload?

How do we know when stress is veering into overload?  Unfortunately, it is hard for us to recognise this ourselves as it tends to creep up on us and feel normal.  Meanwhile, others might see changes and recognise that we seem more moody, agitated, overwhelmed, isolated or depressed than usual.  We may also show difficulties concentrating, memory problems, excessive worrying and negative thoughts.  As stress increases we become more susceptible to illness and we may even start to withdraw, procrastinate or use alcohol or other substances to self-medicate.

What about children and youth?

Stress is felt regardless of age.  If young people feel an increased sense of having to meet demands, are confronted with difficult situations or feel overwhelmed by their ‘to do’ lists, they too can develop stress overload.  It is important to know our children, to keep the lines of communication open and be prepared to recognise signs that children and youth may be overcome by stress.  Check out these articles for more information on stress in children and youth.

What can we do?

Some stress is natural.  Learning how to manage stress in our lives is important to maintain balance and physical and mental health.  Some common approaches include:

  • Connecting to others – a good laugh and an embrace daily is said to be good for the body, mind and spirit.
  • Learning to relax – put things into perspective and intentionally choose to not “sweat the small stuff”.
  • Play – opportunities to let loose and have fun can be healthy for all members of the family.
  • Practice healthy routines – proper nutrition and sufficient sleep can help create balance in life.

Want to explore this topic more?

Our next Thrive! Dinner will be June 3rd at Essex United Church beginning at 5pm when we will be making quesadillas and eating together and then breaking off in groups for parents, teens, tweens and children as we explore Stress, Anxiety and Failure in playful and meaningful ways.  All are welcome!

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual.

Twitter Trends

#IfIdieInASchoolShooting

I have to admit, I haven’t quite gotten the hang of tweeting yet.  Still, I have added @Thrivefamilies to the twitterverse because I know that this is where we can connect to teenagers and I expect my teen to help with this process.

One of the other reasons I have included Twitter as part of our social media presence is to monitor what is trending.  Via Twitter, it is possible for us to get a glimpse into the thoughts, struggles and hopes of teenagers.  To that end, my teenager asked me if I had noticed a hashtag that had grown in popularity this past weekend #IfIdieInASchoolShooting.

Using the Search…

For those who haven’t used Twitter, you can set your preferences to identify the most popular trends for a particular target area.  I focus on Canada.  It would seem my teen has a wider view and so, this morning I entered #IfIdieInASchoolShooting in the search.  The results made my heart break:

  • #IfIdieInASchoolShooting or any shooting, I want to be buried next to my brother.
  • #IfIdieInASchoolShooting I will be just one of the many kids who’s (sic) life meant nothing to our lawmakers. Just another statistic.
  • We, teenagers, are tweeting using #IfIdieInASchoolShooting. The saddest part about it? We have already had these thoughts – have already wondered if it will be our school next, what we will do if it happens to us, and how our community will (or will not) respond.

Why does it matter?

We live in Canada where gun control is far stricter than the US.  The odds of our teenagers falling victim to a school shooting is far lower than their American peers.  Still, they are watching members of their generation who, instead of feeling young and invincible, are genuinely concerned about the possibility of being gunned down at school.

We can tell our kids they are safe.  But they know that already.  What they are seeing is a world where life isn’t fair.  Where innocence is lost.  Where governments fail to protect.  Where big business is more important than lives.  They are witnesses to a symptom that the world is not as wonderful as the song claims it should be.

What can families do?

If our teenagers are following these trends, parents need to be courageous in our response.  We need to listen to their concerns and be honest about what is possible, what we can do to protect ourselves and support the efforts of their American peers to protect themselves.

While it is unlikely to happen here, it matters to some teens that it happens and that makes it worth discussing.  Conversation is always important, as is a willingness to support efforts our teenagers offer to advocate on behalf of those they see as vulnerable.  Our teenagers are reading #IfIdieInASchoolShooting.  It is up to us to engage them further so that they can find hope in the midst of a sad situation.

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/

Is it normal

It is easy to accept that there are physical circumstances which affect the mood, behaviour and temperament of teenagers.  This, after all, has been the norm for generations.  Parents may even remember when we were teenagers and how our expectations, priorities and interpretations of the world shifted sharply in ways that sometimes made us difficult to be around.

When to ask questions?

As our understanding of mental health issues continues to evolve (I wrote about this here), there is an expectation that parents and peers need to be aware of the challenges and changes of puberty while also being able to discern when teenage behaviour moves beyond the normal to the point of requiring help.  Being able to do this requires a level of attentiveness both to the behaviours of the teen in question and their peers.

If, for example, a particular peer group has a habit of staying up until the wee hours of the night texting or engaging with one another on social media, this may lead to sleep deprivation which would naturally lead to fatigue and extended sleep ins on the weekend.  If, however, that same teen who sleeps until Saturday afternoons has become distant and unengaged with peers, is not participating in social events with friends or family and seems tired all the time, it may be time to explore further if there is a physical or psychological reason for this behaviour.

What can parents do?

On the one hand, it is important to avoid jumping to conclusions.  Instead, consider the nature, intensity, duration and severity of the problem.

On the other hand, pride and denial can get in the way of accepting the possibility that our teenagers have a problem.  Ignoring the issue will not make it go away.  We need to be open the possibility that our teenagers need help to deal with the root causes of their behaviour.

Begin with conversation

If you are concerned, talk to your teenager.  Let them know what you see and why you are worried.  Try to be specific, using phrases such as “I’ve noticed you are not spending much time with your friends lately” or “I’ve noticed you have been sleeping a lot lately”.  Be sure to stay calm, say what you mean and be prepared to listen attentively and respectfully to their response.  It is important that participants in this conversation have a clear sense that we are in this together.  For more tips, check out this link.

When in doubt, talking with other parents can provide some insights and options.  We are not alone.  Just as teenagers draw from peer groups as they engage with the world, parents can also find support and understanding with other parents.  Thrive: A living manual for families creates space for all types of peer groups.  All are welcome to join the conversation.

Thrive! A living manual for families uses the tools of social media and food and fellowship to facilitate conversation about the blessings and challenges of being family today.  Check out http://stpaulstrinity.org/?page_id=2100 for more information or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ThriveFamiliesManual/