Living in the northeast I admit that winter is my least favorite season. It’s lovely to watch the first snowfall from the warmth and safety of my home, but after that if the weather pattern takes a turn like it has this winter I turn into a whiner—a big one. For many years I’ve thought that if I had a totem it would be a bear. Eat enough during the spring, summer and fall then when the temperature dips below 40, hibernate until the crocus crown the following spring.
The cold, snow and ice have disrupted almost every aspect in daily living ( like trying to get to my car without breaking my neck on the ice) including frequent delays and closings for schools. For many anxious children who I see in therapy these weekly changes in school routine have led to increased upset and agitation about going to school when it resumes. Because so much of anxiety is worry about the future, the “what ifs,” any change in their daily routine throws these kids a curve ball.
Here are tips to help your anxious child adapt:
I look forward to comments and questions.
When I read Jane Brody’s article, Head Out for a Daily Dose of Green Space, (NYT, 11-30-10), it brought back a rush of memories of growing up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, NY in the 1950’s. Though we lived in an urban landscape and had little money, my parents connected me to the natural world by utilizing the free resources the city had to offer.
Summers we walked, hiked, had picnics, caught tadpoles, learned about insects etc at Betsy Head, Prospect & Central Parks. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden was a wonderland for a little girl with its vast gardens and brooks and Coney Island & Brighton Beach were favorite haunts, along with the Canarsie pier where my father taught me how to fish. From Brownsville to Canarsie was about a 3 mile distance and we rode our bikes there, holding our fishing rods.
With no car, trains/subways were our main mode of transportation, and I remember that those trips felt like a wild adventure. We would pack up food and other supplies depending on where we were going and schlep four blocks to catch the el and might travel an hour or more to our destination. In winter we traveled to libraries & museums. The Brooklyn Museum, The Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium, in Manhattan were top picks.
Those memories are some of the fondest of my childhood and a photo taken by my mother when I was about five years old shows my father kneeling down pointing to a ladybug on his hand as my brother and I look on, is one of my favorites. Fast forward many decades and in today’s culture our techno savvy children are spending more and more time indoors often to their detriment.
Brody’s article cites recent research showing that children who spend most of their time indoors will lead to what Richard Louv, author of “The Last Child in the Woods”, calls “nature-deficit disorder” (I’ve read it and highly recommend it). Today’s children aged 8 to 18 spend an average of seven and a half hours a day using electronic devices and not only have they become dangerously sedentary, but have lost their connection to the natural world.
Studies in the article show that the result of this life style place children at risk for the following physical and mental conditions and disorders: obesity and diseases linked to obesity such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, vitamin D deficiency, stress disorders and anxiety, depression, and ADD/ADHD. "Dr. Daphane Miller, a family physician…with the University of California…calls them “diseases of indoor living."
The emotional benefits derived from heading outdoors is as important to your child as the physical ones, and just the act of slowing down to hangout with your child outdoors with no formal plan is a wonderful time for family members to connect. The National Wildlife Federation cites scientific research showing that children who spend more time outdoors in unstructured play are fitter and have less of a risk for diseases such as bone loss and heart problems, may have a reduction in ADHD symptoms, perform better academically and socially and are less likely to develop anxiety or mood disorders.
In the last two decades, childhood has moved indoors. The average American boy or girl spends just four to seven minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day, and more than seven hours each day in front of an electronic screen. Read the full article.
So, what can you do if your child wants to stay home most of the time and cuddle up to electronic toys? Get your child into the great outdoors, into your backyard and local parks. Introduce your child to local farms and ranches, visit national parks, hike in forests and go camping. Teach your child to fish in brooks, streams and rivers, spend time at the beach. Besides the physical and mental benefits of going outdoors, it’s important to teach children about preserving our beautiful, natural world. Make your time outdoors with your child fun and adventurous and eventually leaving behind his or her computer, Xbox, and cell phone may not be painful at all.
Oh, mom and dad, you have to turn off your cell too.
Please welcome Susan Mulcaire, the author of The Middle School Student's Guide to Ruling the World! a great resource for students to use alone or with help from parents. With humor and a spot on feel for how to engage students, Susan lays out how to become an organized student in a step-by-step easy to follow guide and tells why being organized is important for academic success. Links at the end of Susan's interview will take you to her site.
Thank you Susan for giving readers another tool in overcoming school stress and anxiety.
Can you give my readers a synopsis of your book?
The Middle School Student's Guide to Ruling the World! is a work habits, time management and organizational skills workbook for students in grades 6-8. Text, comics and graphics tell the stories of five "chronically disorganized" middle school students who find themselves in humorous, but typical situations as a result of their poor work habits, time management and organizational skills. The reader follows along with the characters, to learn practical skills and strategies to be an organized middle school student.
What prompted the writing of your book?
My son wasn't doing well in 6th grade. There was no issue with his ability to learn. He was a GATE student. But, he was forgetting his homework, losing worksheets, not following directions, doing the wrong homework page, etc. I was tired of nagging him about it. One day, in the middle of my usual meltdown over his grades, the look on his face told me that he wasn't being lazy, irresponsible or intentional — he just had no idea how to get organized. It also occurred to me that if he didn't learn how to organize, he could possibly underachieve for the rest of his academic life.
What did you do to help him?
I began looking for resources right away. I was so worried. I searched and searched but found no age-appropriate resources dealing strictly with work habits, time management and organizational skills. At that time, I was still practicing law, and it turned out that practicing law and going to middle school are remarkably similar pursuits. So, I took a swing at adapting legal case management principles to his sixth grade workload and it worked! I ended up putting the program into a fun, and age-appropriate, workbook format.
How is being a middle school student like being a lawyer?
In both occupations there's so much information and paperwork to manage. Like attorneys, students have due dates, deadlines and directions which must be followed — to the letter. Binders must be organized a certain way, both need a reliable calendaring system, and project/case planning skills. A lawyer's work is reviewed a judge. A middle school student also faces a judge: The teacher!
Do you address study skills too?
The book deals strictly with work habits, time management and organizational skills. Often these skills are lumped in with "study skills," usually as an afterthought. I believe they are equally as important, but should be taught separately, and independent of classic study skills, such as outlining, memorization and test taking skills. I see far more students in the middle years underachieve as a result of poor organizational skills - not because they can't outline a chapter.
What are some of the skills and strategies students will find in the guide?
Often well-meaning teachers or parents give a student a planner and think if the student would just use it, he or she will be organized. (I call it "The Magical Planner Syndrome") Yes, a planner is important. But a good organizational skills program must be comprehensive. I address binder organization, planner/calendars, group project management, study buds, taking "to do" notes (for due dates, deadlines and directions), how to use a rubric, self-advocacy skills, memory techniques (to remember your stuff every day), long term project planning, workspace organization, homework habits, goal setting, and more.
What are some of the benefits of your program?
Many students transitioning into middle school have little confidence in their ability to handle the increased workload and responsibilities. This program helps them get some sense of control over the process and their abilities. It takes away some of the anxiety they feel about starting middle school. Also, it is particularly frustrating for a parent to have a child who, but for their organizational skills, would be doing well in school. It cause a lot of tension at home! The program diffuses that tension. Instead of just guessing at a solution, or fighting over the problem, both parent and student have strategies to follow and incorporate into the student's daily academic life.
Boys or girls? Who struggles more with organizational skills?
My observation is that boys seem to struggle more from poor organizational skills than girls. Girls can struggle too — when I teach this class (I am also a teacher) there are always a few girls enrolled. But, the boys usually outnumber the girls by 3:1. I am a mother of boys, and I know that boys are not, by nature, list makers, and will not spend a lot of time fussing over organizational matters or small details. When I developed this program I geared it toward boys who need simple "on the fly" skills and strategies. If they have to make lists, color-coordinate, or label things, they simply will not do it. I designed the program to be easy to follow, and the skills easy to incorporate.
Home or School? Who is responsible for teaching work habits, time management and organizational skills?
I am a huge proponent of teaching study skills in middle school as part of a college readiness program. Organizational skills fit neatly under the umbrella of study skills. In a perfect world, a student would learn work habits, time management and organizational skills in 6th/7th, then traditional study skills in late 7th/8th grade. I believe our students would be better prepared for the demands of high school and, ultimately, college. In the meantime, if your school isn't teaching organizationals skills I recommend teaching them at home. The skills they learn will apply in middle school right on up through college.
Has this project been fuel for other projects?
Yes. I created an Instructor's Guide with sixteen lesson plans and activities for teaching a work habits, time management and organizational skills program in the classroom, so the program has evolved into a full curriculum. We also recorded supplemental audio podcasts that bring the characters and the lessons to life. I'm currently working on a book called Welcome to the University of Middle School! Lessons & Activities for Creating a College Bound Culture in Grades 6-8.
What has been the most rewarding part of the creation process?
It's often a lack of organizational skills that trip up a middle school student. Two major reports recently confirmed that failure at the middle level can have lasting and some times irreversible consequences, and that organizational skills are essential for academic success. It's rewarding to have written a book that can help address some of these issues. The curriculum has sold all over the U.S. and even overseas. The books were recently added to the recommended book lists for the Dallas Independent School District and that acknowledgment was rewarding.
It’s only a little over two months since school began and already I’m seeing children who are being bullied in school, or having school-aged clients talk about seeing others being bullied in their schools and fearing that might be them someday. In either case, these children are tense and anxious about going to school. Whether a child is a target of a bully or not, bullying creates the same kind of toxic atmosphere that second and third-hand smoke does. Though I have helped many children who were bullied in my practice and devoted an entire chapter to the subject in my book, I along with other mental health professionals and educators understand that preventing bullying will take more than a village.
In a New York Times, October 25, 2010 article by Sam Dillon, titled, "Help Stop Bullying, U.S. Tells Educators," Russlynn H. Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights states, "Folks need to wake up,…We have a crisis in our schools in which bullying and harassment seems to be a rite of passage, and it doesn’t need to be that way." Ms. Ali continues …"Harassment creates a hostile environment…so as to interfere with or limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school."
And bullying can begin early. In her New York Times article on October 8, 2010, titled, "The Playground Gets Even Tougher," Pamela Paul begins with a case of bullying in kindergarten. Michelle Anthony, a psychologist and author of "Little Girls Can Be Mean," who is cited in the article states, "Girls absolutely exclude one another in kindergarten…You don’t expect to run into…meanness in a 7-year-old." Paul cites these statistics: "According to a Harris survey of 1, 144 parents nationwide, 67 percent of parents of 3-to-7 year olds worry that their children will be bullied. Research indicates that their concerns are justified."
Susan Engel and Marlene Sandstrom in their July 22, 2010, New York Times article titled, "There’s Only One Way to Stop a Bully" write, "…our research on child development makes it clear that there is only one way to truly combat bullying. As an essential part of the school curriculum, we have to teach children how to be good to one another, how to cooperate, how to defend someone who is being picked on and how to stand up for what is right."
Please follow links in the article names to read them, along with another one by Riva Richmond titled, "Some Ways to Thwart an Online Bully."
Readers please use this blog as a forum to comment on your child’s school anti-bullying campaign or send along experiences, comments and questions.Warm regards,