How to Talk to Kids About the News

Today’s children have access to more information than ever before. They see the news on TV or YouTube, have devices where the news is in the palm of their hands, hear and see the adults around them talking about current events, and talk with their peers. As much as you might want to, you cannot shield children from the realities of life. However, as they are better able to understand what is happening throughout the country and the world, it can be scary for some children.

Through the years we have had several moments in our classrooms where things occurred in society, and our students came to us asking questions or telling us their concerns about the news. When this has happened, we have always tried our best to assuage their concerns. In our discussion as a class, our students usually had many of their questions answered and their concerns were eased. Children want to know what is happening, they are very curious, and it is up to us to help them understand the world around them in an age-appropriate way. 

There are a few things to keep in mind when talking with children about current events,

1. Be honest: Children want honesty. Don’t lie to them. Stick to the facts and do not elaborate on rumors or speculations. 

2. Don’t share more than you need to: Kids don’t need to know every detail. Share what you think your child can handle, but there is no need to go into excessive detail. Kids aren’t always ready for everything

3. Preparation and safety: Let them know what you, their school, the government is doing to ensure their safety. Children want and need to know that they will be safe, and telling them about the steps you and others are taking to ensure safety is reassuring to them. 

4. Try to stay away from What-ifs: Children tend to ask a lot of what-ifs when discussing news, safety, and how to be prepared. “What if this happens? What if that happens? What if we do this?” Remind them that we cannot predict the future, all we can do is be prepared for it.

5. What they can do: Children like to know what they can do. Again, be honest and tell them a few things they can do to help or be safe themselves. This gives them something to think about instead of worrying.

6. Reassure them: Reassurance is critical. Make sure they know that the adults are taking the steps to ensure their safety and that they will be ok. 

We know that we cannot be sure what tomorrow will bring. The news makes everyone anxious, especially when it is coming at us all day long. Keep in mind that your children are watching you to see how you react to news and events. Try to remain calm and model responsible behavior for them. If it gets to be too much, turn off the news or devise and spend quality fun time with your children. Play games, watch some movies, take a walk, or do some art projects together. Children are children after all, and while they deserve honesty and real information, they should not be burdened or scared by everything that is happening in the world. As the adults in their lives, we have the responsibility of making sure that they are well informed, safe, and happy.

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. 

Bullying: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Bullying is a very serious issue and we feel it is something that no child should ever face. However it is important to understand what bullying really is and what it is not. 

In recent years there has been a trend to label any conflicts that arise between children as bullying. Whenever one child does or says something to another we will often receive an email, a call, or a classroom visit where the word “ bullying” is freely used.

According to Stop Bullying “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.” So, bullying is a repeated aggressive behavior toward another. An example of this would be a 5th grader who calls a third grader unkind things for a long period of time. Another example would be a 2nd grader, without special needs, who hits their classmate over and over again. When the behavior does not stop it is considered bullying. 

Bullying is not a child who calls a child a name once or twice. Bullying is not a child, who in frustration, pushes or puts their hands on another. We are not saying that either of these things are correct or acceptable. They are not ok, and the school should take steps to stop them from occurring again. However, they are not bullying. These are common conflicts that occur and should be handled with care and taken as learning opportunities. Children should be able to make learning mistakes without being labeled a “bully.” 

We know that it is hard for children to experience unkind behaviors from others. And it is really hard for parents to see children hurt or upset. Just know that all children will experience someone who doesn’t want to play with them, someone who says something mean to them, or a friend that betrayed their trust. These are hard growing pains of childhood and adolescence. They are also a necessary part of learning that enables children to navigate these types of challenges that they will have to face throughout their lives. 

As hard as it is, we can tell you that it doesn’t help children when parents and educators solve all of their problems for them. It does a disservice to real bullying situations when we over label things as bullying. We have to make it clear to our children what bullying is and what bullying is not. And when a situation is not bullying, we need to equip our children with the tools to navigate these challenging social dynamics instead of trying to step in and save the day. 

If your child comes to you with a social challenge, here are some things you can ask them:

How many times has this happened?

Have you told this child to stop the behavior?

Have you talked to your teacher about it?

Take some time to monitor the situation and if it does seem to be a repeated behavior that isn’t stopping, then contact the teacher. But if it is a safe situation, it is better for the child to talk to the other child to try to solve it, and if that doesn’t work, you can encourage them to talk to their teacher on their own. You can even email the teacher to give them the heads-up that your child will be coming in to talk to them, so that the teacher can make themselves more available. Children really love to solve their own problems when given the opportunity. It can be very empowering and help give them confidence. Many times, it’s just a matter of giving them tools on how to handle a new situation. 

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.

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!”

Make Time for Play

In today’s fast paced life, it seems that more and more children are being rushed through their childhood. Before they start school they are practicing flashcards, math facts, or sight words. Once they are in school they have homework, projects, and extracurricular activities. With so much on their plate, children have less and less time to play.

Fred Rogers, famously said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

Play is the business of children! It is what they should be doing more of. In children play is interconnected with creativity, problem solving, and social emotional learning. Essentially it is how they learn to be people. From infant through childhood, play plays a pivotal role in a child’s development.  

Play is often the heart of high quality early learning programs and can help prepare children for elementary school. There are different types of play that promote growth and development. When educators use the term play, people often think of free play, which is child initiated and child directed. Free play is a great way for children to practice social and self-regulatory skills and develop creativity. There is definitely a place for free play but it shouldn’t end there.

Research shows that guided play, which is adult initiated and child directed, is a powerful tool to incorporate play into curricula. One that does not compromise learning goals. Guided play gives kids autonomy, but also gives teachers some control over what they want the child to achieve. It makes learning engaging. 

While many forms of play are often used in early learning programs, which have been proven to be effective, these types of initiatives seem to be missing from the early years of elementary school. In many schools around the nation, kids enter kindergarten and are expected to complete worksheets, sit for long periods of time, and even take tests. They have less time for play, less time for art, and less time for music. There has been a drastic shift from the 1990s and Kindergarten now looks like what first grade was a few decades ago. According to NPR expectations are getting higher for school age children.

Jean Piaget wrote, “Play is the work of childhood.” Therefore we as their parents and teachers need to make sure they get to do more of what is most important for their development.

In the classroom play can take different forms throughout the different grades. In the younger grades, teachers can set up play learning bins for students to explore, have areas where students can pretend play, have puppets for students, and build in time for play. As students get older, play and learning takes a different form. Teachers can take students outside and play games to practice concepts, have lego stations, and use manipulatives.

Schools often take recess times away from students the older they get, but if you can take your students outside for extra play time, just for the fun of it. No matter what their age, children need playtime, and the curriculum will not be affected if you take a 15 minute break to play with your students, it will actually enhance learning.

Parents can do similar things at home. You do not have to have a fancy space in the home, all you need to do is give your child time to play. Give them a box, some markers, and tape, and they will design and create something. Give them space in the backyard, and watch them come up with a game. Invite a friend for a technology free playdate and watch them pretend play. Give children time and space to play, and we promise they will use it well. 

Book Recommendations for Parents and Teachers

There are many books on the shelves that offer advice and give insight into children, child development, parenting, and teaching. Through our schools and with our own personal curiosity of how to help raise children we have read many books that have become a big part of our philosophy on child rearing. 

We often read books, make connections with our students, and learn techniques that help us become better teachers. We also love sharing these books with the parents of children we know because children do not come with a guide book, and often parents feel like their child is behaving in a certain way or that they are the only parent going through a difficult stage when in fact it could be a very normal part of growing up. 

Books written by experts in the fields of psychology, education, or child development also open our eyes to things that we might not have known or thought about. It never hurts to learn a little bit more about children and how to help them grow up to be kind, independent, resilient adults.

Below is a list of books that we ABSOLUTELY LOVE. They are all easy reads, and come highly recommended. 

Voice Lessons for Parents by Wendy Mogul: Dr. Mogul writes and explains how parental language and voice is important. She offers techniques and examples for how to speak to your child at different stages of their development. 

The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogul: Here again Dr. Mogul offers parents a good road map to help raise children in a world of over abundance, overscheduled, and over protected children. She helps the reader see the importance of all types of experiences for children. 

 The Hurried Child by David Elkind: It seems that childhood is rushed more and more in our society, and David Elkind writes about why rushing children through their childhood is detrimental to their development. This book tells us why we need to slow down and let children be children. An oldie but a goodie!

Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky: Galinsky writes about 7 life skills that will help children reach their full potential in life and discover a passion for learning. The book is easy to read and offers a lot of techniques that families can use with their children in a simple manner. 

The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt: With anxiety, depression, and suicide rates rising, Lukianoff and Haidt trace these rates to changes in parenting, childhood, and education. Children have less unsupervised time, less child-directed play, overly fearful parents, and a new world of social media to contend with these days. This book lets the reader understand what is happening, and helps parents and teachers understand what they can do. 

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown: She writes beautifully about personal growth, imperfections, and self worth. If we want our children to be resilient through mistakes and failures, they need to see us live that truth, and Brené Brown helps adults see what we can be. 

UnSelfie by Michele Borba: Children today have less empathy than they did decades ago. Borba writes that our self absorbed culture, represented by the “selfie,” is to blame. She connects less empathy with bullying, less resilience, an inability to problem solve, and not having the skills to collaborate. She offers techniques to teach children empathy and help them begin to see the world less about themselves and more about others. 

Yardsticks by Chip Wood: This book describes child development of school age children. It is a must have for any educator or parent because it helps us see what is happening with children and how to better support learning. It describes what to expect in your child at each age, offers examples, and is very easy to read. 

We believe that these books are good tools to have in our collective teaching and parenting tool boxes. Books and experts in these fields are all good to learn from, however, don’t forget that ultimately you are your child’s parent, and you know them BETTER than anyone else. Don’t feel like you have to read all the parenting books. Remember life is about balance too, and you cannot feel bad if you just don’t have the time to read every book there is. And always know you are doing a great job by showing up for your child everyday!

What are some of your favorite books relating to raising balanced kids?