Welcome to the 2017-18 School Year!

Welcome (to new Gilman Parents) and welcome back! It’s been great seeing you and your boys back at Gilman. I’m excited to get a new school year started. As the full-time lower school counselor it’s my role to look after the social/emotional well-being of our Lower School community.

It’s important for me to build rapport with all the boys so that if they need my support they will see me as someone safe whom they can trust. To that end, I keep an active presence at all of our grade levels. I’m scheduled to visit each homeroom once a cycle. During this time we’ll read stories and do activities related to social/emotional wellness — this may cover friendship skills, meditation and mindfulness, and character topics, among other subjects.

I’m also available to provide students support in a one-on-one setting or small groups. Teachers may refer a student to see me, a student may self-refer, or, of course, parents may ask me to meet with their son. While I am a resource to our students, faculty, and administration, I am also a resource for you. Please feel free to call, email, or stop by if you have any questions or concerns.

In addition to communicating through this blog,  I will be hosting coffees throughout the school year where we can talk in a casual setting. I will include a list of dates and subjects (where appropriate) below. These dates will also be available on the Upcoming Events page of this blog. Which brings me to a second way for me to communicate with you. Please check in from time to time or follow for notifications of updates. (The link is also included in the weekly parent email from Tammy Testerman)

I’m looking forward to the year ahead. If you have a concern but you’re not sure if it’s a counseling issue, please contact me, and we’ll figure it out together. My door is open!

Laura

 

Parent Coffee Schedule

September 28 (Thurs) – New Parents Meet the School Counselor, 8am-9am, Centennial Hall in Carey Hall

November 2 (Thurs) – All welcome! Is it Rude? Is it Mean? Or is it Bullying?  A Conversation about Children’s Behavior, 8am-9am, Centennial Hall in Carey Hall

December 6 (Wed) –  Subject Open or TBD, 8am-9am, Centennial Hall in Carey Hall

January 18 (Thurs) – Subject Open or TBD, 8am-9am, Centennial Hall in Carey Hall

March 27 (Tues) – Subject Open or TBD, 8am-9am, Centennial Hall in Carey Hall

May 1 (Tues) – 5th Grade Parents – The Social/emotional transition to MS and meet the MS Counselor, 8am-9am, Centennial Hall in Carey Hall

 

 

“I’m Bored…!”

“There’s nothing to do!” How many times have we heard that from a child or said it as a child!? It’s a common complaint usually heard more often during the long stretches of unplanned time that comes with summer.

When I was growing up, when my sisters or I said we were bored, I still remember my mother’s response. “People who say they’re bored are boring.” Mom was a wonderful, loving, fun woman, but she did not suffer our foolishness. Her message to us was that with all our tangible and intangible resources (creativity, imagination, energy, safety, nature, toys, etc.) there was no reason for us to be bored. And she was right a few minutes of lackadaisical questions back and forth between my sister and me. “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know. What do YOU want to do?” Sometimes it just started with us lying “bored” in the grass staring at clouds or up through the leaves. One thing would lead to another. A conversation would start. A challenge would be made or an idea expressed. And we’d be occupied for hours with some project or game.

One of my family’s fun memories was born out of boredom. It was a multi-family neighborhood summer picnic. Most of us kids were in our teens and early 20’s. There was definitely a lull in the activity. Someone picked up a beach ball and tossed it over the badminton net. Someone else picked it up and batted it back over the net. Someone else mentioned the volleyball scene in the movie “Top Gun.” Next thing you know we all were assigned nicknames (some Top Gun-themed, some not) that we remember to this day! Many ridiculous rules were agreed upon (like “random side switch!” or “Dr. Mesmer ball spin!”), and we played into the darkness that evening, laughing until our stomachs hurt. That was the summer that Estee Ball (named for the free with purchase Estee Lauder beachball!) was born. It was game born out of boredom (!) and played for years to come at family picnics!

It may take some patience and the ability to tune out some whining. Give your children a chance to be “bored.” Don’t step in. They’ve got boundless imagination and energy to tap into. You may be surprised by the results.

Here are a few pieces about boredom and children:

Children Should Be Allowed To Get Bored, Expert Says –BBC

What Happens When We Shield Kids from Boredom

Being Bored is a Luxury – and For Kids It Can Be Magical from The Guardian

This one is a little more in-depth about boredom, not just in children, and connections with mindfulness:

Is Boredom All Bad?

Have a boring weekend!

Laura

Manchester

We are faced once again with a tragedy. The terrorist attack in Manchester, England at a pop concert has us once again reeling. It’s normal to feel helpless and not know how to address this news with your children. I’ve attached a link to a CNN article about talking to children about tragic events.

How to talk to kids about tragic events – CNN.com

Briefly, limit your child’s exposure to news and social media. Particularly younger children can be confused when video clips are played over and over again and believe that the event is occurring over and over again as well.

Reassure your child that they are safe. This may feel difficult to do, since we adults may not feel very safe, but this is important. You can tell your child that all the adults (from parents to the government) are doing everything they can to keep everyone safe. And while events like this are tragic and frightening, they are in fact very rare.

Only give them as much information as they’re asking for and consider where they are developmentally when answering their questions. Some children may have lots of question and some may have none at all.

It’s ok to tell them that what happened has scared or worried you. You are role modeling real and legitimate emotions. But make sure that you are showing that you are managing those emotions. If you feel overwhelmed, step away or change the subject. If you’re emotions are too much, a child may feel responsible or that they have to fix things and that creates undue stress for a child.

Change the focus. Point out the acts of kindness and courage around these types of events. As Mr. Fred Rogers said “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

There’s nothing easy about these kinds of world events. Take your cue from your child as to what they need from you. And if you have any concerns about your child or questions about what to say or do, please don’t hesitate to call or email me. I’m here to help.

-Laura

This and That

Great Kindness Challenge 2017!

First off, we had a terrific Great Kindness Challenge the week of May 1. It was fun for all of us to spend a few days celebrating and putting the spotlight on kindness. Students started the week signing a Kindness Pledge banner that was later hung in the lobby. We had members of the Gilman community from other divisions greet the children each morning and read inspirational quotes throughout the day. Here are just a few:

  • “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” (Desmond Tutu)
  • “Nothing can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness.” (Leo Tolstoy)
  • “When words are both true and kind they can change our world.” (Buddha)

One of the most successful activities this year was the Kind-it Wall where students and faculty could write compliments and kind notes on sticky-notes and attach to the Kind-it Wall. It filled up quickly with so many positive thoughts! Parents hosted a Kindness Station on Wednesday morning where students could do kindness-related crafts and activities. Based on the Kindness checklists turned in, our students committed more than 3,000 acts of kindness! We’re looking forward to next year’s Great Kindness Challenge in February!

13 Reasons Why

On a more serious note, while this controversial Netflix series is not geared towards or appropriate for elementary school age children, if they have older siblings you may be hearing about this show about a high school student who commits suicide. I thought it could be helpful for you to see what was included in the Upper School newsletter:

The on-line streaming company, Netflix, recently launched a series titled 13 Reasons Why which is an adaptation of Jay Asher’s young adult novel with the same name. The 13-hour series navigates the aftermath of a high school student’s suicide as well as topics such as teenage depression, relationships, social media, bullying, sexuality, and sexual assault.  The program is rated MA for mature audiences and is not recommended for vulnerable or younger teens. There are several graphic scenes throughout the series and we would therefore recommend that teens who watch the program do so with the guidance and support of a parent or guardian. If you know that your son has watched the series, we recommend that you have a conversation with him to see how he processed it and if he has any questions. Below are some resources we hope will help. If you or your son have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact our school counselor, John Mojzisek (jmojzisek@gilman.edu), who is working on some in-school discussions as well.

https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources/school-safety-and-crisis/preventing-youth-suicide/preventing-youth-suicide-tips-for-parents-and-educators

https://fitzbetweentheshelves.com/2017/04/25/family-connection-resources-for-talking-to-your-child-about-13-reasons-why/

https://www.save.org/blog/tips-watching-new-netflix-series-13-reasons/ .  

Of course, I am available if you have any questions about this.

Take a Moment

Lastly, this is a fun but stressful time of the school year. If you or your child feels overwhelmed, you may want to try some mindful meditation. Throughout the year I’ve been working with most homerooms on different ways to practice mindfulness. You might ask your son what mindfulness is and how can you practice it. (Hopefully he’ll tell you mindfulness is about focusing on the here and now, and we’ve practiced it listening to a bell, focusing on our breath, and focusing on our surroundings, among other things.) In any case, enjoy the ramp up to the end of the school year and start of summer!

In the News!

I want to talk a bit about the many stressful events we’re hearing about on the news and in social media. I’ve been debating whether or not to write a post about this (it can be such a sensitive subject), but several parents have asked me about it. The reality is that the last few months have had an unprecedented number of news stories that have created increased levels of stress, regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum. In mid-February, the American Psychological Association (APA) reported that 57% of those surveyed said the current political climate is a “very” or “somewhat” significant source of stress in their lives. (http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/02/stressed-nation.aspx)

So adults are feeling increased stress. How do we make sure not to transmit that stress to our children? How do we (or do we at all) talk with our children about the ever-changing political landscape and current events?

Are you stressed?

The first issue is your stress. Are you overly stressed? Some symptoms include:

  • Being easily agitated, moody
  • Difficulty relaxing (body and/or mind)
  • Lower energy
  • Physical symptoms (including aches, pains, insomnia)
  • Inability to focus
  • Constant worrying or racing thoughts
  • Changes in appetite
  • Procrastinating

What to do

Some suggestions for managing stress:

Step away from the stressor (news and social media). I understand the draw of checking Facebook, Twitter, or whatever platform you use. FOMO (fear of missing out) can have a real effect on our behavior. We worry that we’ll miss the next breaking news story or development because we’re invested in what’s happening in our country. It’s ok to take a break. Make a conscious decision to do so. It will be ok.

Exercise and self-care. Make sure you are taking good care of yourself. Take a run or brisk walk – even if it’s just around the block. Make sure you’re eating well and sleeping enough. Or turn on some music and have a quick dance party – either alone or with your children.

Connect with people and laugh. Reach out. Call a friend, send an email. Share your concerns, but be careful that sharing doesn’t become an escalating gripe session – that could contribute to the stress.

Meditate. Meditation and mindfulness help the mind and body to relax, focus, and tune out some of the stress.

What Do I Say?

The second concern is how much to talk with your children about current events and what to say.

This is a judgement call for each parent to decide, but keep in mind where your child is developmentally. Younger children will have a difficult time managing too much information regarding current events, while older children may be interested and eager to engage about the news. I understand that with a single tragic event on the news it’s somewhat easier to shield your child from that news. With the election and recent world and national developments, the news is somewhat pervasive. It’s ok to talk with your child about events in the news and even your concerns and worries, but it’s important to reassure them that these are adult concerns and they’re going to be ok.

This can be an opportunity for you to talk with your child about your values and the values of your family. You can talk about why or why not the news event conflicts or reinforces your beliefs and values, again at a developmentally appropriate level. And if you feel change is necessary, perhaps talk about how individuals, groups, political representatives, government can bring about that change. Particularly with older children you can discuss with them how conflict is ok, in politics specifically but also life in general. What is important is how we manage the conflict.

If you feel your child is distressed, remind him that our country is a great place where we’re allowed to disagree, and we’re allowed to work for change. Also, see the above tips for parents and use with your child. Step away, do something fun and engaging with your child. Allow you and your child to be completely distracted (see my last post for some ideas!)

If you have questions, please feel free to contact me. I’m happy to talk with you about your specific concerns.

“How was school today?”

You’ve been waiting in the carpool line for a while. You’re looking forward to seeing your son. You haven’t seen him all day. You’re curious about what’s been happening in his life while you’re not there. He opens the door, throws his stuff in, hops in, and buckles up. You ask hopefully, “How was your day?” Response, “Fine.” You: “What did you do today?” Son: “Nothing.” or “I don’t remember.” Disappointing, right?

How do you get your child engaged in a conversation with you where he’ll share?

One tip is to do something with him. Let him use the time in the car to relax. Then find small activities to do with him. While he’s busy doing something he’s more likely to relax and engage. For example, have him help cook a meal. Start talking about the food you’re making, mention what your favorite food is, what is his most/least favorite food? What’s his most/least favorite food in dining hall? Who does he sit with? Do they like the food? What do you guys talk about? Are they your good friends? If not, who are your friends or who would you ask to be at your table? See? Now you’ve got him talking about his friends!

You can do this with almost any activity – take a walk around the block, play a card game, shoot some hoops or play catch.

 

Sometimes different, open-ended questions may elicit more of a response. Here’s a list of some conversation prompts that might help:

  1. What made you smile today?
  2. Can you tell me an example of kindness you saw/showed?
  3. Was there an example of unkindness? How did you respond?
  4. Does everyone have a friend at recess?
  5. What was the book about that your teacher read?
  6. What’s the word of the week?
  7. Did anyone do anything silly to make you laugh?
  8. Did anyone cry?
  9. What did you do that was creative?
  10. What is the most popular game at recess?
  11. What was the best thing that happened today?
  12. Did you help anyone today?
  13. Did you tell anyone “thank you?”
  14. Who did you sit with at lunch?
  15. What made you laugh?
  16. Did you learn something you didn’t understand?
  17. Who inspired you today?
  18. What was the peak and the pit?
  19. What was your least favorite part of the day?
  20. Was anyone in your class gone today?
  21. Did you ever feel unsafe?
  22. What is something you heard that surprised you?
  23. What is something you saw that made you think?
  24. Who did you play with today?
  25. Tell me something you know today that you didn’t know yesterday.
  26. What is something that challenged you?
  27. How did someone fill your bucket today? Whose bucket did you fill?
  28. Did you like your lunch?
  29. Rate your day on a scale from 1-10.
  30. Did anyone get in trouble today?
  31. How were you brave today?
  32. What questions did you ask at school today?
  33. Tell us your top two things from the day (before you can be excused from the dinner table!).
  34. What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
  35. What are you reading?
  36. What was the hardest rule to follow today?
  37. Teach me something I don’t know.
  38. If you could change one thing about your day, what would it be?
  39. (For older kids):  Do you feel prepared for your history test?” or, “Is there anything on your mind that you’d like to talk about?” (In my opinion, the key is not only the way a question is phrased, but responding in a supportive way.)
  40. Who did you share your snacks with at lunch?
  41. What made your teacher smile? What made her frown?
  42. What kind of person were you today?
  43. What made you feel happy?
  44. What made you feel proud?
  45. What made you feel loved?
  46. Did you learn any new words today?
  47. What do you hope to do before school is out for the year?
  48. If you could switch seats with anyone in class, who would it be? And why?
  49. What is your least favorite part of the school building? And favorite?
  50. If you switched places with your teacher tomorrow, what would you teach the class?

(list adapted from post by Leslie Means on her blog Her View From Home)

50 Ways to Say “Yes!” to Your Son

With spring break here, days getting longer and warmer, and summer just around the corner here are some simple ideas to connect with your son. Enjoy!

  1. Plan a meal together.
  2. Take a “nature walk” around your neighborhood.
  3. Look at the stars.
  4. Sleep in a tent in your backyard or in your living room.
  5. Sing together in the car to your favorite songs.
  6. Pick out some books together at the library, and read aloud to each other.
  7. Take him on a “date” – just you and him.
  8. Lie on the grass and find shapes in the clouds.
  9. Play ball.
  10. Recycle.
  11. Visit a museum. Let him lead the way. Talk to each other about what you see.
  12. Bake cookies together.
  13. Tell jokes.
  14. Row a boat or take a bike ride.
  15. Invite his friends over as a surprise.
  16. Have a dance contest.
  17. Take a walk in the rain. Splash in the puddles!
  18. Treat him the way you want to be treated.
  19. Walk on the beach and collect shells.
  20. Wash the dishes together by hand.
  21. Make a clubhouse together.
  22. Dance like crazy!
  23. Instead of driving to a nearby store, walk there together.
  24. Plan an imaginary trip.
  25. Write a story together.
  26. Turn off the car radio and all other devices in the car.
  27. Blow bubbles together.
  28. Make paper airplanes.
  29. Kiss and hug him.
  30. Plant a garden together. Let him pick some things he wants to grow.
  31. Go swimming.
  32. Clean the house together.
  33. Find a new recipe and make it together.
  34. Get up early and watch the sunrise.
  35. Make faces.
  36. Help him pick out old toys (in good condition) to donate to charity.
  37. Play with clay.
  38. Explore your neighborhood or nearby park. Let him lead the way. Bring a bag for collecting things.
  39. Listen to him.
  40. Have a lazy weekend morning where you have breakfast in bed and just laze around together.
  41. Laugh.
  42. Tell him a story about you as a child.
  43. Bake a cake together. Let him decorate it any way he likes.
  44. Have dinner by candlelight.
  45. Play cards.
  46. Get your cameras or smartphones and go for a photo journey through your neighborhood or a park.
  47. Take the dog for a walk together. (Don’t forget to pick up after Fido!)
  48. Ask him what he would love to do with you.
  49. Host a family yard sale together and donate the proceeds to the charity of his choice..
  50. Tell him what is great about him.

Welcome to the Counselor Chronicles!

Welcome to The Counselor Chronicles! This is a way for me to communicate with you about what I’m doing with the boys in the Lower School, topics related to counseling and parenting, and additional items I think you may find helpful. On the Main page I’ll post news and thoughts. The About tab gives a description of the LS counseling program and how I can be a resource to you and your sons, and under the Bookshelf tab I’ll post articles, books, and links I hope you may find interesting. Check back from time to time for new resources and news!

Practicing Mindfulness

This year I’ve spent a good deal of time in the classroom teaching mindfulness, which is the practice of focusing on what is happening only in the present, in the here and now. Mindfulness activities help to teach children and adults stress reduction, relaxation, focus, and concentration.

From an article on the benefits of teaching mindfulness in schools:
  • Mindfulness has become a leading social-emotional learning trend in schools, and a range of studies have shown it to have positive effects on students’ emotional health as well as academic outcomes.
  • Edutopia reports a 2014 Dutch study found students who participated in 30-minute mindfulness sessions twice per week for six weeks had lower stress levels, greater well-being and better behavior than their peers — and a 2015 study of students in high-poverty, urban middle schools that participated in mindfulness-based stress reduction had less stress and depression and an increased ability to cope with challenging situations.
  • On the academic side, a 2015 study found fourth- and fifth-graders participating in a 12-week mindfulness program had 15% higher math grades than their peers, among other things, and a 2016 study of middle schoolers in a four-week mindfulness program found participating students had significantly improved working memory capacity.  

(Tara Garcia Mathewson, Education Dive website)

Our everyday lives are filled with almost constant stimulation and probably even more so for our children. In our current culture it is rare to be asked to sit still and silent AND find that relaxing and enjoyable! It’s been interesting to watch my students as we try simple acts of mindfulness. For example, we’ve done listening activities where they have to listen to a chime as long as possible or count how many times the bell is rung, breathing activities where they’ve had stuffed animals on their tummies to help them focus on their breathing. As with most skills, for some students this comes quite naturally and for others it’s a struggle. I remind them that with practice, and I encourage them to practice at home and school throughout the day, I’m hopeful that mindfulness will become a useful part of their day that they will really look forward to.