Sunday, June 30, 2013

Resources for Cyberbullying Lessons

There are two great free resources for counselors for lessons related to cyberbullying.  Check them out common sense media. and Committee for Children.  We use both at our school. The Common Sense Media lessons are linked to the common core standards.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Stand Up to Cyberbullying

Nice short video to use to introduce a growing need, online civility!

Emergency Plans

The government just released a new resource, Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans, check it out K-12 Guide

Monday, June 24, 2013

Teach Peace

Whoever You Are 
An excellent picture book to teach peace and equality is Whoever You Are by Mem Fox.  The book has a simple message of kindness, civility, and human compassion. We start our classroom lessons at every grade level with a lesson that celebrates diversity.  This book can be used in K-2. The illustrations are beautiful and very meaningful to the story. The book reminds children that we are all on the same Earth, and we are all connected. It is a great resource to promote a school climate that welcomes multiculturalism.  The book could easily be followed by a self-portrait activity or a group activity to show we are different but alike.  For a suggestion in linking this book to social justice check out Book Club blog.


Friday was our last day of school.  The part-time counselor and I tried to have a lunch bunch with the children at each grade level who were not retuning to our school in August.  We are very good about welcoming new students but honestly by the end of the year the exhaustion takes over.  The students did appreciate our efforts and it is definijley something worthwhile to plan for the last week.  I also made sure to see the students individually who had a really tough year, especially those who lost a close family member.  Children who experience trauma are very vulnerable at times of transitions.  It is important to have the opportunity to say goodbye even if it is only for the summer.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Executive Function Skills

School Specialty Inc. has a free white paper , “Executive Function Skills,” that explains how academic success is dependent on a student’s consistent time-management and planning skills. The paper provides details about the importance of focusing classroom instruction on self-regulation, self-awareness, goal-directed behavior, self-monitoring and flexibility to solve problems and aid students in developing a study plan, setting goals and developing action plans.  The paper explains the research in executive function skills and gives suggestions for the classroom.  The School Specialty web page has many excellent free resources that counselors could use.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Resiliency in children after a death

The death of a parent or sibling creates a period of stress and sadness for surviving children.  Research suggests that bereaved children are a vulnerable population, at increased risk for social impairments and other emotional problems.  Unfortunately grieving children have often lost (to death or the parent's own grief) the reliable presence of a positive, caring, and protective parent/caregiver. The resiliency research provides evidence that identifiable protective factors are involved in safeguarding those at risk while promoting successful development.  Protective factors can be individual based like a resilient temperament or a positive social orientation but they can also be broader.  A close bond to family, school, or community built on opportunities, skills, and recognition help children cope. Children must be provided with opportunities to contribute to their community, family, peers, and school.When studied grieving children expressed sadness, anger, and fear, and there was a theme of happiness. In talking to my students who are grieving I always take time to dwell on their happy stories.  The children get joy from sharing happy memories of the loved one who has died. As school counselors I think we must incorporate a strength-based approach into our interventions.  The children realize that other children are reluctant to discuss the person who died with them so it is vital the counselor listens and focuses on how strong and normal the grieving child is without discounting the range of emotions.  Remember to promote hope!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Kid's Grief Resources

There are several blogs that I recommend have useful activities and resources including Kids Grief Relief and Grieving Children.. Some of the published workbooks have useful activities.  One I have used is The Grief Bubble is a special workbook for children ages 6 and older who have experienced the death of someone special. The interactive format invites them to find expression for their thoughts and feelings, encouraging the exploration of their grief. A useful tool for parents, counselors, educators and other caring adults supporting children in grief.  Finally as far as regular books to read Sad Isn't Bad: A Good-Grief Guidebook for Kids Dealing with Loss has a positive message that I think is useful in counseling or to send home for a parent to read with their child.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Grief camps and support groups

Grief camps like Comfort Zone Camp, offer children a place where they can talk about a relative who died without feeling self-conscious or worrying about making classmates squeamish. There are a variety of camp formats.  There are day camps, weekend camps, and week long camps.  Some in our area have long waiting lists.  I often suggest to families that they explore the camp options and then talk to the child about whether they would like to try a grief camp.  Most of the students I have worked with the past several years have wanted to go back to camp again the next year.  Bereavement programs for children help them feel less ‘odd person out.’ 

In peer support groups, available for children ages 3 to 18, adults encourage conversation between children and let them mourn as they wish.  Many of the survivor groups like those offered through Life with Cancer are free.  Most of the groups incorporate some type of art therapy activities. Again most children appreciate the opportunity to talk to a peer with a similar experience.

But peer support groups are not counseling and therapy. If a child is still struggling 2-3 months after the death, counseling may be indicated.  Hospice centers are a good place to get help early on. They not only focus on the needs of dying patients, but also offer bereavement services for up to a year after the patient’s death. 

Often times a parent dealing with a death may need counseling or therapy too.   I had a parent/survivor of a death state recently "I am still trying to figure out what grief counseling is and if I need it?"  As school counselors we definitely need to be able to explain what grief counseling is and how and why a person may need to access it.  Children need at least one parent who is emotionally available to them.  In addition to telling families about services available for children, we may need to help them find out about services available to adults in the community.  Again hospice and Life with Cancer may be good starting places for parents who are grieving.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Caring Basket

 My part-time counselor and I just wrote what we hope is our last sympathy note for a child who lost a parent for the year.  We gather cards from the class, families of the class, and any staff who would like to contribute and get a nice caring or comfort basket to hold the items.  Depending on the age and interest of the child we include a few things to help occupy their time.  I bought my latest "friend" an origami kit because she has to travel for the memorial service. We also typically include a stuffed animal and something else that is cuddly, this time a beach towel.  Some of our families donate a gift card to the local ice cream shop or something similar. One of our older students liked basketball so the class all signed a new ball.  We also include at least one book on a topic the student enjoys.  All my students who have received these baskets talk about how they thought they helped.  For more ideas in helping children check out grief-in-children

Sunday, June 9, 2013

When classmates are told about death

o   I thought I'd share some of the things we have found helpful through the crisis we have dealt with this year as well as prior experience. It is important to establish one point of contact between school and family.  It is necessary to get the family's approval for everything the school wishes to do. The point of contact finds out on which days the child who has lost a family member will be in and out of school.  Teachers (and even front office staff) may need support depending on how close they were to the person who died or the children experiencing the loss. In most incidents all staff in a school should be informed at a brief emergency staff meeting because children may talk about the loss on the bus, etc. and teachers need to know the basic facts.  The counselor(s) (and others as deemed appropriate to specific incident) conduct a class meeting with the teacher participating  to tell students what the family has agreed can be shared.  The purpose of this meeting is to make sure everyone has the same information, has a chance to ask questions, and express their own feelings. With children it is important to let them know this is not time to share about their own experience with loss but someone would be available to talk to them privately later if they needed to talk.  The loss of a parent or sibling is very scary for the other children in the class but generally some will already know and it is important to stop rumors.  We try to contain sharing information to the child who has lost a family member's homeroom class, but sometimes for older students who share classes or everyone knows them so well all classes in a grade need a meeting.  As a general guideline, children are urged to be kind, quiet, caring friends. This is really about how to treat the survivor how you acted before the death.  Be nice, don't grab the child and hug him/her, don't ask questions but listen if the child wants to talk, show compassion in small ways by explaining what was missed, etc.  Our school chooses not to advise parents if children should attend memorial services, that is a family decision.  Generally the teacher, counselor, and administrator go to services conducted locally and we tell the class we are representing them.  Making a card, if they choose, is a way for the classmates to express sympathy. With family permission, classmates are offered the opportunity to make cards for a caring basket.  If time permits can do both sympathy and return to school letters. Keep in mind that sympathy cards can be very tough for very young students so it may be better to do "we miss you" cards.  Teacher screens cards for appropriateness and asks pupil services staff if not sure. Depending on the child we often include a stuffed animal or some other activity the greiving child may enjoy doing (i.e., book on topic child enjoys). If family approves, the administrator sends a letter home telling the parents of the class about the loss, what was said in the class meeting (kind, quiet, caring), and to contact a pupil services staff member with questions or if their own child needs support.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Keep the fires burning

Burnout or Compassion Fatigue?
We have 2 weeks left in what has been my most difficult year ever as a school counselor.  In the elementary school where I am the full-time counselor we have had to activate the crisis team four times to deal with a death in our learning community.  In just one grade we have had 3 parents die and we had a younger sibling die as well.  It has been really tough, especially since the last 2 deaths occurred within 2 weeks of one another.
I have been asked by parents if I am suffering from burnout.  Actually you know when it has been a tough school year when parents are worried about the counselor's mental health and coping ability.  I say no because I view burnout as stemming from a negative work environment caused by the schedule and other climate factors.
I do honestly tell them I am suffering from compassion fatigue.  Being the only mental health professional in a building full-time with back to back losses is tough.  I am fortunate that my part-time counselor, social worker, and psychologist are all excellent support.  Unfortunately we we without the help of our psychologist the last 2 crisis because she is on family leave.
Compassion fatigue is common in the health care and mental health business.  When care givers can't meet the needs of those who are suffering it leads to this overwhelming feeling of fatigue.  I am physically exhausted to the point my whole body aches. I am taking it easy on myself this weekend because Monday will be here soon.  I want to be available for the students and families who have suffered these losses.  Luckily now I know my beach vacation is within sight of the finish line.