Don’t Bully Teachers

We as teachers talk to our students about kindness and respect all the time. We plan lessons, read books, and role play with our students about friendships and what to do if they encounter bullies. We have conversations with students who are struggling with being picked on or bullied, and we have conversations with students who are being bullies. We are surrounded by talks of socio-emotional growth, conflict resolutions, and standing up for oneself, and yet many teachers are bullied on a daily basis without the ability to do anything about it.

We have known many teachers and have experienced being bullied by the parents of students. As we wrote last week, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” (Stop Bullying). When we say teachers are being bullied, we are not talking about a one-time incident where a parent becomes upset and sends an unkind email or phone call. Although neither of these are the nicest things to send to a teacher, what we are writing about are parents who find fault with everything that the teacher is doing, send email after email of criticism, make call after call complaining, or say unkind thing after unkind thing. That is bullying a teacher, and that is, simply put, not ok.

The emails where our assignments or projects are criticized, our techniques, classroom management, or lessons are scrutinized, parent conferences where our expert advice is not only question and challenged, but demeaned, and the gossip and negative talk about teachers all have a detrimental effect on mental health. And unfortunately, there is not much we can do about it. Unlike another profession where a doctor can refuse to see a patient, an architect can refuse the project, or a chef can comp a meal and move on, teachers have a whole school year where they have to remain professional while being bullied. 

We hear a lot about what bullying does to children and adolescents, but we don’t hear much about what it does to teachers. It causes anxiety, loss of sleep, high levels of stress, affects mental health, it really hurts and brings teachers down. And yet educators persevere, talk and cry it out with teacher friends, and then do the same thing with their family at home. They show up for their students every day in the classroom and continue to plan lessons, activities, and projects. They put on a happy face, teach and love their kids because that is what teachers do. 

If you are a teacher who is being bullied this year please know that it is not your fault. You are trying your best and working your hardest. We know it is difficult, but try your best to leave school matters at school. Take a walk, workout, or do an activity that brings you happiness after school. Don’t check your email at home, you don’t want to feel sad or upset at home when you are in your safe space with your family. You do not deserve to be bullied because you are doing challenging and important work in our society. Your students love you and they appreciate all that you do.

If you are a parent and you have an issue, question, or are upset about something, please address teachers with respect. Take a breath before you write a scathing email. Ask for a meeting after a few days when you are calm. Approach the situation by thinking about what you tell your children to do when presented with a conflict. Remember, your children are watching you and your actions. If you are telling your children to be kind and respectful towards others, then you should likewise be kind and respectful towards their teacher. Children learn from your example, don’t be a bully.

Teachers are professionals in education. They deserve respect. They are also people with real feelings. Bullying teachers is not acceptable. 

5 Things Kids Can do in Restaurants that is Not Video Games

In recent years, we have noticed a trend while eating out at restaurants. Families are sitting down to enjoy a meal out and the children are given their tablet or a phone to entertain themselves with. It works perfectly so that the children do not make a disturbance in public and the adults get to enjoy a meal. It is a quick and easy fix. Parenting is a twenty-four-seven job, and being in public adds the scrutiny of society when kids act, well like kids, onto a very heavy plate. No one wants to get the stares and whispers from strangers about their kids, so a tablet in the hands of young ones allows them to be quiet and well behaved. We get it!

However, when a child is given a tablet out in public or in a social situation, they are losing out on learning social cues, practicing conversation skills, and engaging with others. Mealtime offers so many learning opportunities. When their focus is on a YouTube video or an app, they are zoned out of real life. They are not learning how to be bored and then how to entertain themselves. Kids need to learn these tools to thrive as adults, and when they are not taught any of these as children, then they do not have them as young adults or adults. 

We are not here to judge parents, however in the past decade, we have noticed the effects of technology on children in our classrooms. More and more children are entering school with less social emotional knowledge, they have trouble connecting with others, they struggle with focusing and paying attention, and they do not know what to do when they are bored.

When going to restaurants we recommend not having technology at the table. Instead try one of the following things with your children.

  1. Activity books: There are so many activity books available for children. Some have stickers, others have puzzles, and others combine both. These types of activities can be both done independently or with others. Kids will love to share what they are working on too.
  1. Travel Games: There are a lot of travel games that are the perfect size to take with you to restaurants. Travel games are small, compact, and easy to put away and carry. Kids love playing games and these provide entertainment for the whole family. 
  1. Small bags of Legos: Kids love legos. Pack a few small baggies of Legos to take to the restaurant and let them build different things. 
  1. Mats: Take your own mats to the restaurants. We love these Smart Mats because they are educational and fun. They also have different mats for different ages. There are also place mats for toddlers that are more play based. 
  1. Coloring Books: A simple coloring book is a classic restaurant go to. Coloring is both therapeutic and quiet and comes in many forms. 

We do feel that teaching children to sit through a meal without an activity is the ultimate goal. We also understand that restaurants can pose certain challenges and when you need a little something, we find these to be much healthier than a tablet or phone. With these activities, children are still able to interact with the family. When children are glued to a device, it’s a different story.

It might be difficult the first few times, it won’t be perfect, and you could get some stares from others, however at the end of the day you will teach your child how to converse, how to engage with others, and how to behave in a restaurant. With practice your child will learn to enjoy eating at a restaurant without a device.

We are not against technology. We think that life is about balance. Children need to learn about balance with technology, and it is up to us to teach them those skills.

5 Things Kids Can Do With Technology That is Not Video Games

Technology is a big part of the world today and we know it is here to stay. It comes with many positive and negative consequences and it can be really challenging to find the right balance when allowing children to use technology. Many times we get stuck in a routine of allowing our kids to be entertained by mindless video games because sometimes it is just easier. We understand that, and we are not here to judge or shame that choice. 

We’re not saying don’t ever allow children to play video games. But spending hours and hours on a mindless video game is not the best for a developing brain. However, there are ways to use technology that allows children to be creative and explore topics they are passionate about. 

  1. Drawing: Drawing is a great form of expression and creativity. It is also great for exploring colors, shapes, lines, and helps develop fine motor skills. Here are some great drawing apps to check out. 
  2. Reading: Reading is crucial for development and there are many ways technology can engage children in new books and help with the reading process. Scholastic recommends these 6 reading apps
  3. Animation: Animation is a wonderful way that children can bring their own stories to life. They can explore story elements and share their creations with family members near and far. Here are 10 animation apps that can be used at school or at home. 
  4. Photography: Giving children access to a camera can create great learning experiences. They can engage in real experiences while integrating technology. Here are some kid friendly photography apps for children to explore. Then create collages or scrapbooks together. 
  5. Video Editing: Making videos and mini movies is another way for children to be storytellers. There are some incredible kid friendly video editing apps for your aspiring movie maker. 

There is a theme with our technology suggestions, they allow children to create, tell stories, integrate real life and can include other people. When technology is used to connect kids to real topics and stories it can create conversations and bring up questions that truly engage them. We love technology and all the benefits it adds to our lives, however when children spend a significant amount of time playing video games, it can be very isolating and have a negative effect on real life interactions. When real life experiences and relationships are affected by technology, that’s when it is time to rethink the way children use it. The key to letting children use technology, is to find ways that it doesn’t impact real life interactions and can enhance their learning. 

Parent Guilt

Parent guilt is real. Making decisions about how to raise your child is difficult because it seems like every little thing has a tremendous impact on them. It starts at birth. Do you breastfeed or use formula? Should you use cloth diapers or disposable? Will they attend a traditional or Montessori preschool? Should they go to public school or an independent school? How much screen time should they have? How will you discipline? There are so many choices and decisions to make as a parent, and a lot of the time it can feel like you are making the wrong choice or if something does not go as planned you immediately blame yourself. It is sort of like you are damned if you do. You’re damned if you don’t.  

The guilt becomes more prevalent as children get older and have more activities, projects, and extra curricular. We try our best to do everything, be there for every event, help with every project, or go on every field trip, but the truth is you cannot do it all. The guilt that comes with the feeling of inability to be there for all these events is hard. And it doesn’t help to see the “perfect parents” on social media. 

Just know that every parent struggles, despite what it looks like from a few instagram posts. Parent guilt is real, but the truth is we need to stop blaming ourselves when we hit a bump in the road, when life throws a curveball at us, or when we cannot do it all. It is NOT your fault! You are trying your very best, and that is all that matters. How you handle the situation, your flexibility, and openness to change is important and more helpful than feeling guilty. 

As teachers, we have witnessed many parents cry when we have parent teacher conferences because they feel guilty that a struggle that their child might be going through is their fault. It is not your fault and teachers are not judging you for it. We bring up challenges or struggles that your child may be having to help you help them. All children need support for different reasons and it’s part of growing up.

Instead of feeling guilty for everything you think you are doing wrong, we challenge all parents to make more time for themselves. Create more downtime for the family. The best thing you can do for your child is to have a healthy mental state. Creating balance in your life will help your child develop into a more balanced person too. Give yourself permission to say no sometimes. You don’t have to attend every birthday party or every playdate. You don’t have to be there for every class party or volunteer at every luncheon. 

Parenting is hard and it has shifted in extreme ways over the last few decades. Over the years children have become the central focus of the family. Whereas before, children were members of the family, but life did not revolve around them. We feel a healthy family dynamic is one with balance where the children are cared for and the parents are also cared for. You’re going to make some mistakes and you won’t always know the answer. But keep in mind that your child will remember the memories that you make with them over a lifetime. Not that in kindergarten you forgot spirit day. Or that in third grade you could not make the movie night.

Teacher Guilt

Teacher guilt is real. It is something that we and many of our colleagues have felt at one point or another in our careers. Many teachers find it challenging to balance a personal life and still be able to fulfill all the tasks required for teaching. In many cases it is the mental well being of our teachers that ends up suffering. Which isn’t healthy for the teachers or the students. 

People who become educators are always seen and praised for their selflessness. It is as if teachers have to give up so much to be a teacher, and society praises them for it. Perhaps it is because historically, the majority of teachers have been women, and in western society women and mothers often have to sacrifice for their families, that teachers now have this stigma of sacrifice. 

How many times have teachers had to take a day because we were sick, or had a family obligation, or something came up but they felt bad for leaving the students? We can tell you that it happens often. Many teachers feel guilty for taking care of themselves, taking a break during the work day, taking a day, or even switching schools or careers. This teacher guilt is real, and we want to shift this mindset. We want to help change the narrative around teaching. 

The fact is that education is a profession. We go to school for many years to be teachers, and we should not be sacrificed for the sake of the children. It starts with teachers setting boundaries and saying they will not sacrifice themselves for their job. Teachers should be compensated fairly, given the resources they need for their classrooms, and given time during the day to complete the tasks required. If teachers continue to put in extra hours for free, spend their own money on their classrooms, and forego their personal lives, society will continue to control the narrative. It’s time we make a major change.

To our fellow teachers, just know that the children will be ok if you take a day or a few days off to take care of yourself. Your students benefit from your well being. And if you are unable to balance your life in your job, your school will be ok if you decide to leave the school or the profession. Like architects, engineers, and doctors, they will find someone to replace you. If your school isn’t able to give you what you need to be successful, it’s time to look for something that will benefit you and the life you want. Teachers are not volunteers. Teachers should not be putting their health and well-being at risk for the sake of a job.

Teachers need to stop feeling guilty. And society needs to stop praising teachers for their sacrifice, and instead praise them for their excellence in professionalism, and compensate them fairly.

Balancing Presents During the Holidays

The holiday season is in full swing and before you start fulfilling everything on your children’s lists, we think it is a great idea to consider the types and quantity of gifts that you give. It is no coincidence that there has been a huge following for Marie Kondo’s KonMari method and reconsidering the material things that take up so much space in our lives. There is an abundance of research to back up this method and many others that support the idea that “less is more.” 

We understand that it is really challenging to balance the amount of material things our children accumulate. It’s hard not to give them everything they want. It is also a challenge when we don’t have control over what other people buy our children. But it is our duty to do what is BEST for children. Research shows that having fewer toys can lead children to focus and engage in more creative and imaginative play. When we oversaturate our children, they end up moving from one activity to the other more frequently which does not allow them to develop focus, or appreciation for their things. When children have less, they learn to appreciate and care for what they have. 

Joshua Becker is the author of Clutterfree with Kids and he offers some great tips to manage your child’s materials all year long. In his book, he addresses the 10 most common clutter problems for parents. 

For now, we wanted to give some tips to consider during the holiday season:

The 4-Gift Rule

A wonderful trend we have seen going around is parents following the 4-gift rule: something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. 

Donate Used Toys

The holidays are a great time of year for children to go through their toys and donate toys they no longer play with. Doing this will make room for new toys that are gifted during the holiday season and teaches children the joy of giving to others.  Some families even place crates of toys under their Christmas for Santa to pick up on Christmas Eve. 

Gift Experiences Rather than Toys

Experiences with loved ones are often something that children will remember when they grow up. Gifting a play, musical production, lessons, or activity to children are a few ideas for larger gifts. For family members you can suggest they opt for an activity with your child instead. Movies, ice cream dates, or a museum are all fun activities that children will remember way more than a toy. 

Set Boundaries with Family Members

It’s okay to set limits with family members or friends that tend to buy your children a lot of material gifts. You get to set the rules for your child, and after you express your wishes and reasons for it, most people are going to understand and accept your boundaries. 

The holidays should be more about making memories and traditions with your family and less about so many material things. Of course we aren’t suggesting no gifts whatsoever, we don’t want our children to feel deprived. We just suggest that gifts are not the focus of the season. It is also important to understand the research behind development and being oversaturated with material items. Be mindful with your gift giving practice and model for your children the happiness that comes simply by spending time with loved ones and giving to others. 

Podcasts for Kids

Podcasts have grown exponentially in the last few years. Including the amount of shows made for children. Podcasts are a great way to engage children in conversation and learning. They can spark new interests and curiosities. Many are interactive and children can write in to ask questions or even submit their own stories. They are great for road trips, long flights, or even just driving around town on short errands. Some are great right before bedtime. Many podcasts are created to be enjoyed by the whole family!

Here are a few to check out with your children:

But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids Great for all ages. You can even record your child asking a question and send it into the show!

Ear Snacks A show about music, science, art, and culture that is made for kids and enjoyed by the entire family. 

The Past & the Curious Little known stories from history. Each episode has a silly song that goes with it!

Story Time Great for bedtime, these stories are short and comforting stories. 

Be Calm on Ashway Island This one is great for teaching mindfulness and breathing techniques.

What if World This takes listeners “what if” questions and turns them into wacky stories. 

Wow in the World NPR discusses the latest news in technology and science in a way that makes it enjoyable for kids!

Brains On  This series takes kid submitted science questions and answers them with experts.

Tumble Another science podcast that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

Story Pirates All the episodes in this series have been written by real kids!

Little Stories for Tiny People Stories and poems written for toddlers and preschool children.

Six Minutes Each episode is six minutes long, hence the title It tells the story of a girl named Holiday who was pulled out the ocean and does not have a memory.

Young Ben Franklin This podcast tells the escapades of a boy named Ben, who will one day become Benjamin Franklin.

The Alien Adventure of Finn Caspien This podcast tells about the adventure of Finn Caspien in outer space as he and others try to discover a place for humans to live.

We love podcasts for ourselves and our students too. There are many other podcasts for children, these are some of our favorites. Listening to podcasts with your child is a great opportunity for spending quality time together. They will also allow for discussions and conversations after listening.

How to Help Reluctant Readers Read

Reading is one of the most important things that children can do. Through reading, students gain a better vocabulary, spelling and writing skills develop, and reading comprehension improves. It does not matter what grade or reading level your child is at, setting time aside for reading is the best thing you can do to support them in becoming lifelong readers. 

Most children start learning how to read around the age of 6 or 7. Up until that point students are learning letters, phonics, and reading skills. In grades kindergarten through second grade, students are learning how to read. By the time they reach third grade, most children are reading independently and able to find books that interest them. 

There are many children who upon learning how to read, fall in love with it and will read everything and anything. However, every year in our classes, we encounter children who are reluctant readers. These children would rather do anything than read. They might be struggling with fluency or comprehension and therefore they believe that they cannot do it themselves. They might be distracted by other factors such as electronics, friends, or other activities. Or they simply might not have found their niche; what they love to read yet. 

Whatever the reason, there are a few things you can do as a parent to help reluctant readers become engaged readers. 

1) Start a Parent Child Book Club at home

Choose an engaging chapter book and read it aloud with your child. Take turns reading paragraphs or pages. By doing this, your child practices their own fluency and they are able to hear your pronunciation and enunciation of words. You can also ask questions as you read to help them with reading comprehension. These can be simple like, “What just happened in the story? What did the character mean?” Or more complex inferencing questions such as “What do you think will happen next? How did the character feel?” Spending time reading with your child will not only help your child become excited about reading, but it is a great way to spend quality time together.

2) Listen to Audio Books

Audio Books are a wonderful way to hook children into reading. Children love listening to stories, and by listening to books in the car or at home they can find an author, genre, or series they like. They can then find more books they are interested in reading that are similar to what they enjoyed listening to. Audible has many resources for kids. Their parent company Amazon, is also easy to navigate to find audio books. All You Can Books has many free audio books that work on different platforms. Scholastic Parent has many other audio book resources for audio books. 

3) Kindles

We have seen many children become discouraged by books simply by the size of the spine. They see a large book, and they immediately think that they cannot read that book because it is too big. They will not even consider reading it based on the size of it. That is what makes a Kindle an amazing tool. This basic Kindle is perfect for kids who are afraid of reading larger books, because they cannot see how big, or long, a book is. The Kindle also has other features that help readers such as text to voice, dictionary for unknown words, the ability to change the font size, parental controls, and a way to track how long children are reading. We love our own kindles, and think it is a great tool for children. 

4) Go to Libraries 

Libraries are amazing and free places to go with your child and explore. They can check out books to try out and if they don’t like them, you can return them and check more out. Libraries often have times for story times or activities designed to engage children, and we say take advantage of them. Talk to the librarians, who have a wealth of knowledge on books for children. They might have suggested books for age or grade groups that could help you out.

5) Find a Genre, Series, or Author

We believe that if a child is a reluctant reader, they simply haven’t found what they enjoy to read yet. Helping them find a genre, series of books, or author they love is paramount. Once they find what they enjoy to read, they will not want to put their books down.

6) Model Reading

If you have read our past posts, you know the importance of modeling. Children will learn more from what you do than what you preach. So, set time aside to read. Show them that reading is a fun and leisurely activity. When they read, take out your own book and read next to them. By showing them that reading is a big part of your life, they are more likely to read themselves.

How to Help your Child Manage Fears and Anxiety

There seems to be a rise in anxiety in children and young adults. According to the Center for Disease Control about 4.4 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with anxiety. This number is up from 5.5% in 2003 to 6.4% in 2011-2012. There are many contributing factors to the rise in childhood anxiety. Social media and the “Like Culture,” higher expectations put on them at school, practice with active shooter drills are some of the reasons cited by The Washington Post.

Anxiety can present itself in a variety of ways in children. According to the Anxiety Disorder Association of America children can lose their appetite, be irritable, have low self esteem, be sad or cry, have a loss of energy, have difficulty sleeping or concentrating, or not want to participate with friends or activities.

Anxiety in children is not uncommon and according to a Yale University study, research suggests that family accommodation plays a role in childhood anxiety because it does not allow children to face their fears. It means that when a child feels afraid or anxious about something and a parent consistently makes changes to accommodate the child without trying to address the fear, it could be feeding their anxiety. 

The Yale University study focused on treating the parents and giving them the tools and language to help an anxious child. The researchers in this study believe that when parents consistently provide accommodations to an anxious child, the message they are sending is that the child can’t do it on their own. They never learn the tools or get the confidence to cope, which can create bigger problems later on in life.

Fear and anxiety are complex and vary from one child to another. According to Child Mind Institute, “anxiety is the most common emotional problem in children.” When helping an anxious child, you may need to try several things before you figure out what will work for your child and family. If you are unable to come up with solutions on your own, don’t be afraid to seek professional help to give you and your child healthy coping mechanisms.

Here are some things to consider when helping your child manage fears and anxiety:

Validate their feelings It is important to value that what your child is experiencing is very real. Try to validate their feelings without poking fun at the situation. At times, it may seem that making light of the situation will help your child, but it is important to validate their feelings. 

Help them learn how to cope When your child is faced with a fear, do you jump in to save them or do you help them come up with solutions on how to overcome the fear? At some point, you will not be there to rescue them and that could cause even more anxiety in your child. If something is repeatedly coming up, consider sitting down with your child to discuss possible solutions. Then the next time it comes up, have the child try one of the solutions. Keep trying until you find something that works. 

Sometimes you need to push and sometimes you need to pull back This isn’t always cut and dry. You may need to try things out to see what is going to work for your child. If you feel something is too much for your child, pull back. But if there isn’t any progress being made, you may need to push a little further. Every child, family, and situation is different. Be patient and consistent. 

Be vulnerable with your child Children love when adults share their own experiences. Give your child examples of when you were afraid of something and how you overcame it. 

Most importantly, if your child is anxious, it’s important to know that you aren’t alone. Seek help when you need it. Reach out to family, friends, teachers, and medical professionals. There is also an abundance of resources available to help children and families. The Child Mind Institute is a great place to start. 

Let Kids Be Bored

Today’s parents often feel the need to plan out, have activities, and make sure that their children are entertained all the time. This puts a lot of pressure on the parents to make sure that kids are never bored. Boredom has become synonymous with bad parenting, but in reality, children need the time and space to be bored. And you are not a bad parent if sometimes your child is bored.

A recent study found that boredom can spark individual productivity and creativity. When a person is bored, they allow their minds to wander and daydream. This enhances creative thinking and problem solving. 

Boredom also allows children to be self reliant. When left up to their own devices they have to decide what they want to do. According to Lyn Fry, a child psychologist told  Quartz, “Your role as a parent is to prepare children to take their place in society. Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy. If parents spend all their time filling up their child’s spare time, then the child’s never going to learn to do this for themselves.”

Having to discover what you like to do when you are bored will also allow children to find what they’re really interested in. These interests could lead to passions or hobbies in their lives. However, if they are constantly going from one activity to another, they will never have the down time to figure out where their interests lie. Finding out what makes you happy is important for everyone, especially as children grow up. 

Let your child be bored and they might gruffle and groan for a bit. Stay the course, and  eventually they figure out how to entertain themselves. Whether it is playing with toys they forgot about, building forts out of pillows, writing stories, designing a board game, coloring and painting, or playing imaginative games, children will find ways to entertain themselves. Disconnect your child from all forms of technology, leave them alone, and you would be surprised at the creativity they can unleash.

We often model for children the need to multitask. We overschedule ourselves and our children. We constantly check our phones, email, social media, watching TV and are constantly staying connected. Start by modeling for your children an afternoon of zero technology and just sitting, reading a book, having a conversation with a partner,  or coloring. Show them that it is ok to not do anything sometimes. 

Do not feel bad for having a weekend where nothing is planned. Sometimes social media makes parents feel bad when they are not out at an immersive educational adventurous location. That is not real life, and no one will judge you if every once in a while you and your child do nothing. 

Boredom is good for a child’s development and for parents too. We all need down time. Finding the balance between our go-go-go lives and just being is absolutely necessary for all of us. 

We are here to say, “Let kids be bored!”