Category Archives: mindset

Kids and anxiety

I was recently talking with a teenager that I volunteer with at Mostly Mutts, a local shelter for dogs.  In the course of our conversation, she told me that she is home schooled because she “has anxiety.”  What does it mean when we think and talk about anxiety this way?

When we talk about anxiety as something that we “have”, much like we might say we have blond hair or blue eyes, we are saying that it is something we have little control over.  At best it becomes something that we somehow caught like a cold or the chickenpox. And the trouble with that view of anxiety is that it becomes a condition that we just need to live with or treat until it goes away as mysteriously as it appeared.

In actuality all of our emotions are feelings in our body that we create based on our thoughts.  This is true of positive and negative feelings.  Sometimes these thoughts are so ingrained that they are practically unconscious.  Sometimes  they are either so common in society or in our minds that we accept them without question as the truth or  the  only way to believe or think.

But the good news is that with enough effort and insight we can unearth the message that is creating any feeling.  Once we understand the message or thought process we can change that process so that we can change the feeling.  I think you would agree that this is not only worth the effort, but also a much better plan than learning to live with fear or anxiety through various coping strategies or medication that numbs our feelings.

Here’s how to teach kids to challenge and change feelings:

  • Become an observer— Take the time to evaluate a situation where the response is anxiety or fear.  Ask the questions:
    • What happened?  “The teacher announced a test on Friday.”
    • What did you tell yourself about the situation? “I don’t understand the material.  I always do badly on tests.  I’m not ready.  I’ll probably fail…”
    • How did you feel?  “Worried, nervous, afraid, anxious…”
  • Challenge your thoughts– argue with them, make them prove themselves, be the devils’ advocate, don’t accept thoughts as the truth
    • “I understand a lot of the material and I can learn the rest by Friday.”
    • “I don’t always do badly on tests.  I have made some really good grades on tests.”
    • “I’m not ready… yet.  I know how to study and prepare for a test and and I can do it.  I have the time and the ability.”
    • “I won’t fail if I put forth enough effort.”
  • Create a plan— don’t just change your thoughts, change your actions based on your thoughts.  Plan to do what is necessary to be your best self and put forth your best effort.
    • “I’ll study 30 minutes every night”
    • “I’ll finish reading the assignment and doing the extra work.”
    • “I’ll ask for help on the things I don’t understand.”
  • Be vigilant and stay in control of your thoughts and your actions in order to stay in control of your feelings— It’s hard to stay anxious when we are occupied with other things.  Stay on track with the plan.  Keep working on it and reminding yourself that you are in charge of your thoughts.
  • Be patient and give yourself time–The thoughts that create anxiety have had a lot of practice and repetition.  It will take some time to replace them but eventually the new way of thinking will become the new habit.

 

Related Posts:

Teaching kids to manage feelings

3 ways to teach kids to tackle anxiety

Is your child a people pleaser?

 

End of School Year Special

Get all 7 Wyatt story books:

Wyatt Goes to Kindergarten

Wyatt Learns about Being Organized

Wyatt Learns about Winning

Wyatt Learns about Cooperation

Wyatt Learns about Friendship 

Wyatt Learns about Good Manners 

AND

Wyatt’s Book of Lesson Plans, Activities and Games

A $110 value for $95 (includes shipping)

 


 

teaching kids to manage feelings

A standard lesson that I taught every year as an elementary school counselor was recognizing feelings. It was a fun lesson. I’d bring in large cut outs of children showing mad, sad, happy or scared feelings and ask kids to guess how the child was feeling. We’d talk about body language and how  we know what someone is feeling.  We described feelings and came up with positive ways to show how we feel and negative ways to express the same feeling.  For example. a positive way to handle anger is to talk about it and a negative way is to hit someone.

This approach to teaching feelings is useful and gives kids a common language for expressing their feelings.  However, it is a basic classroom lesson and doesn’t really cover all the bases in helping kids manage feelings, especially negative ones.   What can we teach the child who needs anger management strategies or the child who is anxious and fearful, beyond how to recognize these feelings and positive ways to act them out?

Typical lessons on managing emotions teach kids to do things that redirect their attention or to do something that helps them calm down so they can regain control.  An example of redirecting is when you are angry, read a book or watch a movie and the feeling will go away.  An example of a calming technique is to count to 10 or take deep breaths.  These are good ideas but they don’t really get to the root of the problem and for some kids they simply won’t be effective.

What if we also taught kids to use self-talk to manage feelings that are uncomfortable, feelings that create problems for them or that ultimately interfere with living their best life?  Here’s what it would look like:

  • Recognize and observe the feeling-“I’m feeling angry because my heart is beating fast, my hands and teeth are clenched and I’m breathing fast.
  • Reflect on the mental message that created the feeling– “I’m thinking… I had the toy first and my sister shouldn’t have taken the toy without asking.”
  • Change the message to change the feeling-“What if I thought instead “It’s okay for someone else to play with the toy.  It’s okay for me to share the toy but I’d like to be asked first.”
  • Determine behavior and actions based on the new calmer feeling– “I can talk to my sister and tell her that I don’t mind sharing the toy but I’d like for her to ask me first.

If you are thinking that takes a lot more time and effort than just telling someone to count to 10 when they are mad… you are right.  On the other hand, you are teaching kids the vital life skill of how to manage feelings rather than letting feelings run the show. Understanding how thoughts create feelings rather than the other way around is empowering because it doesn’t teach a pat response to coping with a negative feeling. Instead it teaches kids how to manage their self-talk in a positive way that is applicable to any situation.  It’s also much more effective.  After all, how often have you seen a kid stop, count to ten and then handle anger appropriately?  How often have you done it?  See what I mean?

Sometimes simple isn’t better.

 

Related Posts:

3 ways to teach kids to handle anxiety

6 steps to manage test anxiety

Stressed out?

 

Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Cooperation

Wyatt wants to play Frisbee. Max want to build a fort and Callie wants to have tea party. How do the three friends reconcile their differences? Can it be done? When Wyatt doesn’t get his way, Max’s mother suggests he be the Superhero for the day. Join Wyatt as he learns how the magic of cooperation and compromise can bring the five friends closer together.

Wyatt the Wonder Dog -Cooperation Cover
Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Cooperation (Volume 6)

The power of ‘not yet’ in changing behavior

As I visit schools and provide training in DISC personality style to staff and parents, I’m often asked, “Can you change your basic personality style or is it just hard-wired in?”  The exciting news in all areas of human development is that we can change and grow in many ways. Personality style is no different.  We can change our perception.  We can change our behavior.  We can change our personality style.

However, it’s not always necessary to change our personality so much as it is to recognize and work in our strengths. Every personality style has strengths and areas of concern.

A high D personality style can be decisive and determined.  Or they can be bossy and domineering.

A high I personality style can be interactive and inspiring.  Or they can be impulsive and self-centered.

A high S personality style can be supportive and encouraging.  Or they can be passive and too compliant.

A high C  personality style can be conscientious and competent.  Or they can be paralyzed by details and insensitive.

I think you get the picture.  We all have the potential to maximize our strengths and be both a great leader and a great team-player but doing so means recognizing our areas of potential weakness and overcoming them.  There is always room to grow and change for the better.

Although much of Carol Dweck’s work on the growth mindset is around the area of improving academics, it is also relevant to improving behavior. Just as we can teach kids that their behavior is “not yet” optimal, we can also teach that there is always another chance  for change.  Just as kids can be taught that they can learn and grow academically, they can also be taught that they can learn and grow behaviorally.  Their daily behavior strengthens neural patterns making change and improvement easier and easier to repeat.

This is exciting news because we can help kids understand their potential for success. We can help kids learn to not only accept challenges but look forward to them because they mean growth.  We can help them understand that their behavior now is not yet optimal but that there is opportunity for improvement starting right now.  Notice as well that we aren’t passing out rewards, stickers, candy and toys to improve behavior.  Instead we are focusing on the intrinsic reward of growth and goal achievement. We are creating a positive vision for the future.  Most importantly we are preparing kids for the endless possibilities ahead.

Listen to Carol Dweck talk about the power of “not yet” over the tyranny of “now”.

 

Related posts:

How to create a better behavior plan

How do you change a child’s behavior?

How effective is your school’s ISS?

Parenting with Heart: Understanding your Child’s Personality Style

Do you sometimes feel that your children are speaking a different language?  Do you wonder how to motivate and inspire them?  In this eBook you will D-I-S-Cover your own personality style and how to speak the language of other personality styles to create a winning  environment in all the seasons of your family’s life.

parentingheart

Click on the link below to purchase the ebook:

Parenting with Heart: Understanding Personality Style

 

 Wyatt Goes to Kindergarten

Wyatt has never liked change, at least not at first.  Once he tries something new, he usually finds he really likes it.  Now that he is about to begin kindergarten, Wyatt is really worried.  Will he make friends?  Will he get lost in the new school?  Will he miss his mom?  Join Wyatt in his latest “wonder-full” adventure!Wyatt-kKindergarten_thumb
Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Goes to Kindergarten

 

Kids and risk-taking

Babies and toddlers naturally take risks.   Watch any toddler navigate through a room and every step is an invitation to connect with the ground.  They wobble. They stumble. They totter here and there while the adults excitedly cheer them on.  We instinctively know that they have to make mistakes and learn how to get up when they fall in order to master the challenge of walking.

Learning to walk is a good analogy for the many skills that children must master to step into the adult arena.  What if we had the same positive and encouraging attitude when students failed a test or missed a catch in a baseball game or were rejected by a friend? Learning anything new requires taking the risk of failing and it also requires learning from those mistakes.

Two things you can learn from mistakes

There are two parts to learning from mistakes.  The first and obvious part is  learning what to do differently so that you don’t make the same mistake again.  Toddlers correct their balance.  They learn to avoid that obstacle that tripped them up. Students can learn to study more effectively.  They can practice their catches or learn how to communicate better with a friend.

The second part is dealing with the feelings surrounding making a mistake. Falling can hurt but once the tears are dried,  it doesn’t keep toddlers from trying to walk again. Helping children recognize and accept negative feelings while moving past them after a mistake is just as important as learning how to avoid making the same mistake again. Children who learn coping strategies  can quickly recover and take the  risks necessary to continue learning.

Some of the new brain research shows that our brain is hardwired to naturally retain negative experiences and to pay less attention to positive ones.  For this reason, it’s important to be intentional about learning from mistakes while focusing on and celebrating positivism and success. There was great wisdom in the old technique of getting right back on a horse once you fell off.  The quick action overcomes the anxiety that can develop and fester the longer you wait to get back in the game.

When we don’t allow students to experience taking risks as young children, when we try to program every experience for success, we short circuit their learning.  Later in life if they haven’t developed the emotional strategies to  cope with failure, they either avoid anything that involves risks or take inappropriate and dangerous risks because they haven’t learn how to differentiate.

Just as falling is a necessary part of learning to walk, learning to cope with failure is a necessary part of learning. Allow  kids to take risks  and fail when they are young and the stakes are lower.  Teach kids to replace “I failed” with “I learned.”

 

Related Posts:

Four leadership lessons for kids

What is your child’s super power?

5 steps to growing up a confident kid

 

 Wyatt Learns about Good Manners

Wyatt is always wondering about something and lately it is how to get his friend, Max to change his bossy ways.  What can he do?  Join Wyatt as he considers some rather unusual options until he finally discovers that a heart to heart talk with Max can create a new friendship with an old friend. Wyatt_the_Wonder_Dog_Cover_Manners_Kindle

Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Good Manners

 

How effective is your school’s ISS?

Last week I was at a school doing some staff training on developing positive behavior systems based on understanding personality style.  I had a conversation with the principal about the role of ISS (in school suspension) and how effective it is as a deterrent to misbehavior. Most school personnel would agree that it is not very effective.  Sure it gets a child out of the classroom for a period of time and hopefully impresses the child with the fact that the behavior has consequences that are undesirable… but does it really teach a child how to behave differently?  So if it’s ineffective and difficult to staff (no one really wants this duty)… why don’t we do something else?

What if it were possible to use ISS time to teach better behavior skills?

Here are some ideas:

  • Create a worksheet that even the youngest child can complete about the behavior that landed them in ISS.  Use a comic strip layout with a box for each of the following questions:
    • What happened first?
    • What did I do?
    • What have I learned?
    • What do I plan to do in the future?
  • Young children can draw a picture in answer to the questions.  Older children can write about the experience.
  • The teacher in attendance reviews the sheet with the child.  This is a time for learning from mistakes, not a time for scolding for bad behavior.  Challenge perceptions and pat answers.  Encourage creative thinking and personal responsibility for feelings and actions.
  • Make the child a copy of the sheet for them to review later perhaps with their parents.  Keep a copy in the ISS room.  If the child is back in ISS for a similar behavior, have them complete a new worksheet, then compare it to the old one. Discuss what happened and why the old plan didn’t work.  How will the new plan make a difference?  What do they need to do differently?  How do they need to think differently?
  • Use a growth mindset and frame the entire experience as an opportunity to learn from mistakes rather than as a punishment to teach a child a lesson.
  • Before the child leaves, have them role play or act out how they will handle a similar situation in the future based on their answers on the worksheet.
  • Anticipate with the child what they will do when they encounter a similar situation again.  Frame it as a test of the plan that they have come up with.  Have them set an intention or a goal as to how they will handle it better.  Discuss how they will feel after they successfully handle the next challenge.
  • Rather than have children do busy work during any remaining ISS time,  have them read books on positive behavior.  For example, an excellent series on bullying is the Weird Series which has great suggestions for bullies, bystanders and victims of bullying.  Trudy Ludwig and Julia Cook write a number of books on improving behavior.  And of course, I also recommend the Wyatt the Wonder Dog books:)

Good behavior is often something we just expect that a child should understand.  After all, we told them the rules, right? Why can’t they just follow them?

What if we thought of behavior the same way that we think about math or reading?  We’d never give a child a book, explain briefly how words and sentences work together and expect them to pick it up and start reading.  We’d never tell a child how to add and subtract and expect that they could answer math problems right away.   Yet we expect that all children should understand and follow behavior rules.  Some children do manage to pick up how to behave without a lot of guidance just as some children seem to be born reading.  But most of us could benefit from some intentional teaching of behavior skills. By applying the growth mindset concept to behavior challenges, we can frame misbehavior as a chance to learn from mistakes and an opportunity develop better behavior skills.

Related posts:

How to create a better behavior plan

How do you change a child’s behavior?

Creating a growth mindset in kids

 

Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Cooperation

Wyatt wants to play Frisbee. Max want to build a fort and Callie wants to have tea party. How do the three friends reconcile their differences? Can it be done? When Wyatt doesn’t get his way, Max’s mother suggests he be the Superhero for the day. Join Wyatt as he learns how the magic of cooperation and compromise can bring the five friends closer together.

Wyatt the Wonder Dog -Cooperation Cover
Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Cooperation (Volume 6)

Developing self-esteem in kids

Back in my early counseling days we called it developing self-esteem in children.

While developing self-esteem is certainly important, turns out we might have gone about it the wrong way.

We told kids that they were special… everyone is.  We told them they were smart–geniuses really and so talented.  We told kids they were doing a good job and set up the environment so that failure was unlikely.  When failure and difficulties loomed on the horizon, we quickly intervened.  We gave everyone a trophy and a ribbon, just for showing up. We retrieved forgotten homework and lunch boxes, making the necessary extra trips. Unfortunately, we created such a rosy effortless world that kids grew up expecting life to be easy and problem free.  Who knew that making life too easy for our kids was actually creating a fixed mindset that would create problems as an adult?

I’m not pointing any fingers here. Every generation does the best it can with the information that it has.  I believe educators and parents alike truly try to create the best world for their kids. So how can we  learn from the past and apply the message of the growth mindset( found in Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: the New Psychology of Success) to our current work with kids?

What can we learn from the self esteem predicament of the past?

  • Self-esteem develops best from effort and achievement–We don’t feel good about ourselves just because someone tells us that we are special or that we are smart.  We feel good about ourselves  because we learn to achieve goals, to measure our progress and overcome obstacles.  It’s hard work.  Certainly the environment helps. Certainly having caring, encouraging adults in our lives helps. Role models point the way. I’m not discounting these things.  But self-esteem develops from a lot of factors and it takes effort on the part of the child.
  • Achievement is the end result of taking risks and putting forth effort– We all have different abilities and strengths but achievement comes from accepting challenges, working through failure and looking for the opportunity for growth in all we do.  Achievement often involves taking risks and not knowing the outcome ahead of time.
  • Feelings, both good and bad are part of life–Trying to make everyone happy all the time results in kids who don’t know what to do when things go wrong.  We’d do better to teach kids how to navigate through feelings rather than how to ignore them and stuff them.  Not to mention it’s not working.  The percentage of kids who report being depressed and/or anxious much of the time has skyrocketed.

What can we do today to help kids develop self-esteem?

  • Praise effort not ability–When we say, “Look how smart you are-you made an A!”  we set kids up to think they don’t have to work for the good grade.  We also set them up to think they must be dumb if they don’t make an A on the next test.  Instead, recognize the effort they put into the  result. When we say, “You studied hard for that grade.  I’m proud of you.”  we help them understand what is working and how to continue being successful.
  • Encourage kids to be kids and make mistakes–Childhood is the time to learn and we learn by making mistakes.  Certainly we don’t want kids to make dangerous mistakes but learning by falling down is how we learned to walk.  Sometimes mistakes hurt; physically, mentally and emotionally.  But that’s the point.  We not only learn from the mistake itself but from how to handle the consequences.  Take the opportunity presented to teach but not to preach.
  • Teach kids how to handle emotions— Stay with the feeling.  Think about the mindset that created it.  Talk through them.  Listen.  Listen some more.  Share your experience.  Model healthy ways to cope with feelings.  Sad and unhappy feelings don’t require a new toy or a piece of candy to cheer them up and make them go away (it doesn’t anyway).   By the same token, every win doesn’t have to be celebrated with cake and a party.  Just having someone to share a feeling, good or bad, can be enough.

Related Posts:

Positive Storytelling

How many positive comments does it take?

What if failure is really a gift?

 

Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Winning

Wyatt the Wonder Dog didn’t make it on the All Star baseball team and he feels like a loser.  All  his friends will be playing baseball this summer, while he and his pesky sister, Callie, visit grandparents at the beach.  How Wyatt learns to handle disappointment and failure will be an important lesson for the future.  Will he give up trying new things?  Will he have the confidence to try again?  Are there some things that take more practice and persistence to learn than others? Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns About Winning
Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Winning (Wyatt the Wonder Dog Books) (Volume 5)

Some other great books to develop the growth mindset

What do you do with an idea?  Kobi Yamada

Truly a fabulous book that you could create a zillion lessons from.  Besides creativity, it could also fall in the category of peer pressure or comparison, confidence, problem solving and growth mindset.  It is inspirational for kids and adults.  When the main character comes up with a unique idea, he at first doesn’t know what to do with it and tries to leave it behind.  But the idea follows him.  Once he begins to feed and nurture it, he begins to worry what others will think about the idea.  Will they make fun of it?  Some do but he persists in carrying the idea around until it finally not only changes his world but the world around him as well.

 

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

This book could come under the category of creativity, problem solving, failure and teamwork.  The main character is determined to create a most magnificent thing and tries lots of different options.  Frustrated she eventually explodes (not her finest hour) and takes a walk to calm down.  While walking she reviews what she has already created and not only gains new insight but other people discover her failures to be useful for them.  Lots to discuss here…