Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How to Talk to Girls

In June 2011 ABC News reported that nearly half of all three- to six-year-old girls worry about being fat. In Lisa Bloom's book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, she reports that 15 to 18 percent of girls under 12 now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and 25 percent of young American women would rather win America's Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Even bright, successful college women say they'd rather be hot than smart.  Because of the way people typically respond to young girls (your hair is so pretty today, or I like that dress) she encourages people to consciously ask a girl what she is reading. What does she like and dislike, and why? There are no wrong answers. You're just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain. For older girls, ask her about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? You may get some intriguing answers. Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Model for her what a thinking woman says and does.  Perhaps if more people did that we would not have kindergarten girls late for school because they want to take a shower because their hair does not look good or fighting about a specific outfit.  Stop and think the next time you are tempted to give a young girl a compliment, is what you are about to say reinforcing her to become a contributing member of society or a grown-up Barbie Doll...

Monday, May 21, 2012

Techniques for Home, School, or Both

A goal for many students who worry a lot is to develop strategies to use when they start to feel anxious. When talking to students I like to use visuals to help coach them to develop a plan to lessen the difficult thoughts, feelings, and body response for themselves.  Since many anxious people have thoughts that ruminate on their worries, a useful first step is visualize a STOP sign and say "stop."  Since breathing is one of the fastest ways to stop the fight or flight response, I suggest they then take several deep belly breaths.  Finally we talk about other things to do to handle the anxiety.  They need options for home and school (also the car, etc). Usually children have several strategies for home - listen to music, read, go outside.  Many of our children have electronics that can hold relaxing music they can play in car or at home.  School is often more tricky.  They may be able to get a drink of water, roll their head, or use a stress ball.  Since I know the teachers, I can help them pick some ideas that I know will be okay with a particular teacher.  Sometimes I have the client take the plan with them, but I also have this form laminated that I can write on, and sometimes I keep what we discussed in their folder in my office so we can assess the next time if their plan is working.  Clients need to learn to implement their plan before the energy behind the anxiety is too intense.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

How to Keep Anxious Children Calm

It is very important that adults speak to children with high levels of anxiety in a calm voice. Even though parents and teachers might be stressed, talking too fast or acting nervous can cause the students with high anxiety to feel even more overwhelmed and uncomfortable. Adults must remember to speak calmly and not too fast. This will help the students to learn the information better, to feel more relaxed about asking questions, and to do their best on tests.  When counseling students that are very anxious, keep yourself calm and model desired behavior.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Testing 1-2-3, Testing 1-2-3

In my state mandated testing begins today for grades 3-5.  For a comprehensive look at the Pros and Cons of standardized testing check out this link:
In elementary school, there is more pressure on the teachers than the students.  The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented found
  1. Teachers and students feel a tremendous amount of pressure associated with high-stakes testing to produce high student test scores.
  2. The pressure felt by teachers associated with high-stakes testing results in drill and practice type of curriculum and instruction.
  3. There appears to be a consistent increase in test preparation activities in the period immediately preceding the administration of a test, ending abruptly following the test.
  4. Teachers generally perceive a top-down filtering of test-related pressure, beginning with central office administrators down to the classroom level.
  5. There is a clear feeling among most teachers that the focus on minimum standards and basic skills has diminished both the richness and depth of the curriculum and professional autonomy over curricular and instructional decisions.
  6. The pressure felt by high-stakes testing is greater in disadvantaged schools and results in more drill and practice instruction.
  7. There is a firm belief among teachers in both low-stakes and high-stakes testing environments that the pressure to improve student scores is steadily increasing.
As counselors, we need to support students and staff during this period of high stress.  It is important to pass along the belief that tests allow students to demonstrate what they have learned and for teachers to identify what needs to be taught differently or again to specific students.  It is important for overall school climate to foster an attitude of we are all in this together.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Supporting Mothers (and Fathers)

I am lucky to work in a school where 99% of the children live with their mothers.  My previous school it was less than 80%.  I collaborate with mothers every day at school.  We only have a few buses so most of our children are dropped off or walk to school.  We have several hundred parents come into our school every day.  They have to walk past my office to drop their children in either the gym or cafeteria.  This gives me lots of face time with parents.  I stand in the hall to greet children and parents any morning I am not tied up.  It is one of my favorite parts of the day.  Every day parents stop to catch up and almost every day one asks if they can talk to me for 5 minutes after they drop off their child(ren).  Since I don't start sessions or teaching until after our morning announcements this gives me 15 minutes most mornings to talk to parents who want to drop in.  Some mornings I have 2 or 3 lined up!  One of my frequent "customers" are mothers of only children or a concern about their first born.  For some, parenting is not intuitive and some do not understand how school work.  Since I am the parent of two children of my own, I feel very comfortable acting as a sounding board for parents as they try to figure out the best way to parent their children.  I feel that my working with parents maximizes the impact of the counseling program.  Many of these parents have more than one child and the parents in my learning community network a lot with one another; I like to think what we discuss may pay broader dividends.  Some time the parents just need an objective person to listen to them, others need information or resources.  Many times I recommend a book or check out one of our Family Resource Packs.  Other times I will offer to observe or talk to the teacher or child and get back in touch.  I believe most of the parents in my school see the counselors as a valuable resource.  I am always happy to make an appointment and prefer when I can talk to both parents together; however, some time being available immediately  for 5 minutes is what is most useful.  Children need parents with consistent routines, good role models, and lots of love.  I wish all the mothers in my school and any blog readers who are mothers a sunny and relaxing Mothers Day!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Staff Appreciation Week

It is very satisfying being included in "Teacher Appreciation Week."  Flowers, candy, markers, card, are all very nice.  I especially liked the beach bucket and shovel with card "We dig ____."  Of course the gifts were from parents but delivered by smiling children.  In kindergarten through second grade most children seem proud to be a "special friends" with the school counselor.  By third grade some students are not as comfortable coming to the counseling office and feel embarrassed.  I see some upper grade students before school because they don't want their classmates to know they need help. Meeting with the counselor seems to develop a negative connotation among their peer group despite our efforts to make it okay to ask for help.  It is very helpful when parents and teachers continue to "normalize" talking to the counselor as getting coaching or taking advantage of a resource who is a trained listener.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day is today!

Our staff is wearing green today to call attention to the mental health needs of children.  An estimated 15 million of our nation's young people can currently be diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Many more are at risk of developing a disorder due to risk factors in their biology or genetics; within their families, schools, and communities; and among their peers. There is a great need for school counselors and other mental health professionals to provide the best available care based on scientific evidence, good clinical expertise, and that takes into account the unique characteristics of the child.  This year’s theme is “Heroes of Hope."

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


Many of the students I see in individual counseling need help with decision-making.  For those in the lower grades I usually stick to a simple 4 step decision-making model.  By third grade I like to begin with a simple list of decisions and have them categorize them from 0=Not under my control to 5=Study it a lot.  This gets them thinking about the difference between very automatic decisions and ones they really need to think about.  I then use some model (depending on developmental level) of Win-Win Decision Making.  For children to use win-win they must realize that generally what they want, or the other party involved, is not going to please both in a conflict.  They will have to come up with an additional solution that will leave them both satisfied.  For some students we talk about how problems can be turned into goals.  Decision-making requires a child to assertively say what they want and collaborate with another person.  I frequently role-play with students how they could come to a win-win decision with peers and then encourage them to practice between sessions.  With my younger students I frequently send home a handout or talk to the parents about the decision making steps and how they can help their child practice.  Sometimes this involves encouraging the parents to give their children more opportunities to make some decisions and be willing to negotiate about choices within the family.  I also urge parents and teachers to think out loud so children get more exposure to decision-making and see how all decisions have consequences.  Decision-making is a very important life skill and one that often requires direct teaching before it is mastered.

Monday, May 7, 2012

What Parents Can Learn from Swans

Swans mate for life and both male and female take care of their young.  As a school counselor I work with students whose parents fight in front of them.  Elementary age children feel frightened when their parents fight.  According to some therapists it is actually good for the children to see their parents fight occasionally if the are fighting fair.  Yes I agree it is okay for couples not to agree and argue their position.  But most of what gets reported to me is not the "constructive fighting" but disrespectful words and scary behavior.  If parents cannot maintain control, I highly advise not fighting in front of their children.  Most students with parents who fight frequently in front of them are afraid their parents will divorce.  Worse yet are the children whose parents have already divorced and continue to subject their children to fighting.   Most children are resilient and can handle a rare blow up.  It is good for parents to admit when they did not conduct themselves with dignity and let the children know in the future they will control themselves better.  If they repeatedly break this promise, the children get disgusted and feel hopeless.  In consulting with parents, I encourage them to seek outside help if they can't model respectful problem-solving.

Asian-Pacific-American Month

May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month – a celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. A rather broad term, Asian-Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island).

The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.

Unfortunately May is a crazy busy month for schools so this particular group of students often does not get the same level of recognition as Black or Hispanic students.  However, as counselors it is important to promote celebration of diversity.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Mental Health Awareness

May Is Mental Health Awareness Month
This is the bulletin board our student services staff put up for the month of May to call attention to mental health.  It uses the "Bust It" theme from a special activity our school psychologist did with our upper elementary students several years ago.  The board has a variety of myths and facts about mental health and mental illness.
Do More for 1 in 4 is a call to action to help the 1 in 4 American adults who live with a diagnosable, treatable mental health condition and the fact that they can go on to live full and productive lives. This is the theme for this years month long campaign.

This year, May 9th marks the 7th anniversary of National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. Each year the event’s goal is to increase awareness about the importance of children's mental health, reinforcing the belief that positive mental health is essential to a child's healthy development from birth. There is a free colorful printable poster on the website.
We are encouraged to wear green or a green ribbon on Wednesday, May 9 to call attention to National children's Mental Health Day.  There is also a free lunch time webinar "Assessment and Intervention to Promote Resiliency in Children and Adolescents" being offered that day. Sign up at the web site noted above.

Our school division requires that we teach all fifth graders a lesson about serious mental illness called "Breaking the Silence: Teaching the Next Generation About Mental Illness."  The materials for this lesson (as well as a middle and high school lesson) are available free from the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill. Again the aim is to de-stigmatize mental illness.  The students are always very interested in this lesson.

We also send home information about these mental health awareness activities to parents and list the school student services staff as resources.

"Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all." ~ Bill Clinton