May - Repetition Builds Our Brains!
By Sue Freiheit
It has long been known that behaviours set up pathways in the brain, neural pathways, that become easier to access with time and repetition. This means that if we respond in a certain way, maybe involuntarily at first, the behaviour pattern may become automatic. This is great for piano players and athletes and may be beneficial in terms of behaviour if we teach our children wisely. This is why I’m always talking about the importance of modelling. When children observe behaviours, their brains create pathways for the behaviours which they then repeat more easily, and eventually, automatically.
Recently, and in a number of different settings, I’ve heard the advice, “If you’re mad scream into a pillow, or punch a pillow.” I’m so surprised by this and would strongly caution you against encouraging your children to do this. When we become angry our brain jumps to the “how do I act when I’m angry” pathway and doesn’t distinguish between a pillow and a person. The neural message is “scream” or “hit”… not a behaviour we want to encourage or have become automatic.
Instead, the message should be “stay calm” or “think clearly”. Counting to ten is great for people who have mastered relaxation techniques, but most of us aren’t there yet, so counting to ten is ineffective. We need to teach our children the long version before they can take the shortcut. The long version should be taught first when they aren’t angry and then used when they are angry.
To teach this, find your child when they are calm and ask them to lie face up on the floor, palms up at their sides. This is a submissive, non-threatening position. Tell your child to take a deep breath in through their nose. (In a real situation, where they are actually angry, they will have to exhale slowly through their mouth, but as their anger subsides they will be able to breathe out through their nose.) Tell them to give their shoulders a gentle shake and to wiggle their fingers. Have them relax their jaw and their eyebrows. Repeat these instructions many times. When they are able to maintain these conditions more easily have them whisper quiet messages such as, “I’m okay,” or “Everything is okay.” Ask them to imagine themselves dealing with the problem in a positive way, or to imagine the problem solved. At this point you may be able to have a calm, rational conversation with them, and work things out.
These neural pathways are the reason I am always stressing the importance of modelling. If children come home to parents who deal with anger or stress by yelling and making everyone around them nervous, this is how children will learn to deal with their own stress. If we model cursing and fist shaking when someone cuts us off in traffic, our children’s driving instructors will be in for an earful!
As you react to life remember that there are pliable little brains seeing and hearing all that you say and do, or don’t say and don’t do. You are forming pathways in their brains and strengthening ones in your own, so make good choices and maybe even try a little relaxation of your own.
April - Empathy and EQ!
In school, emphasis is often placed on marks, report cards, and academic progress. As parents we want to know how our child is doing academically, how they compare to other students their age, and what we can do to help them along if there are any concerns.
When my children were in elementary school I found it hard to avoid getting caught up in the “marks” aspect of learning, even though the counsellor side of my brain knows that isn’t what’s important. I know that every child develops at their own rate, but even though I know that it’s the process that is most important, I still got excited when my children moved up a level in their home reading books!
I also know that EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) is as important if not more important than IQ (Intelligence Quotient). In fact, EQ can be used to predict academic achievement, and children with a greater EQ appear to perform better academically.
Empathy is one of the most important aspects of EQ. Empathy has been described as an affective response to another person’s situation or as an awareness of the feelings of others. Children learn empathy at home, during sports, in the classroom, and anywhere social interaction occurs. As they get older they become less egocentric, and more empathetic.
Developing empathy in children can promote perspective taking, tolerance and compassion, but it can also make students better readers, writers, and communicators. Generally, the literature suggests that increasing empathy can provide students with the skills to improve communication and socialization and increase their academic success.
That’s why I love our school’s focus on doing the right thing even when no one is looking and, of course, our bucket fillers! We’re teaching our students to feel good about themselves, to think about others, and to feel the intrinsic rewards that come along with the virtues we’ve been practicing. With all of this in place, the doors are open to more successful learning!
Together, we are creating fabulous future citizens!
PS Try to remember empathy when someone cuts you off in traffic… especially if the kids are in the car! Model, model, model! ; )
March - Parenting!
One issue that school staff and parents face quite regularly is when two children approach us with an issue and both claim the other is lying. If they have opposing stories, then usually that means one of them, and sometimes both them, are lying. The great thing about elementary school, is that we can take advantage of these learning opportunities to teach the importance of owning our mistakes, and making things right. It's not about punishing, it's about teaching.
Similarly, when we phone home to share observations or information about an incident parents will often say, "My child would never lie to me!" Of course, we all know there is no guarantee that that our children won't lie, but in the moment our natural reaction is to defend our child. What might help, is to understand what your child might be thinking when they say "It wasn't me" or "I didn't do it".
First, children lie for different reasons:
- they might lie because they are embarrassed about their behavior
- they don't want to disappoint you or their teacher
- they don't see it as lying, but as exaggerating or altering the story slightly to lessen their part in it
In my experience, there is often little point in going back in time to try to figure out "who started it". A simpler approach, whether with siblings or neighborhood friends, is to look at the big picture. Try saying something like:
"Clearly, the two of you are having some trouble getting along. This is normal. It happens with siblings, with friends and it even happens with adults. I'm guessing that both of you may have made some mistakes here. Maybe one of you is more at fault than the other, but the important things is that we own our mistakes, apologize and learn not to do that same mistake again."
This might sound really fluffy, but children do respond to this. You could try adding something like: "Who thinks they might have something they would like to apologize for?"
As adults, we prepare, study, practice, take exams, fill out resumes, and go to great lengths to become skilled and knowledgeable for our careers, but when it comes to the most important job anyone could ever hope to have, we tend to just sort of fly by the seat of our pants. Parenting is the toughest, most rewarding, most challenging job we’ll ever have, and there’s always room to learn and improve our skills.
I’ve been sharing tips from the book “Secrets of Discipline: Twelve keys for raising responsible children” by Ronald Morrish, but I realize that getting parenting ideas from a book isn’t everyone’s first choice. The county, however, offers some great courses on parenting. The topics of discussion will be:
- Caregiving Education Series - 90 minute online sessions - 6:00-7:30
- Parenting Teens March 10
- Self-Regulation March 17
- Technology and Teens March 24
- Lunch and Learn Webinars - 60 minute informal webinars
- Calming Our Bodies March 11
- Settling Our Minds March 18
- Overcoming Avoidance March 25
- Drop-In Series - 90 minute workshops - 12:00-1:00
- Building Executive Functioning Part 1&2 March 15 & 22
- Parenting Strategies for Positive Mental Health Part 1&2 March 16 & 23
To see the flier click here.
To register for a session, follow the links found in the newsletter or visit: https://www.cyfcaregivereducation.ca/virtual-education
Visit their website for tip sheets, videos, and more! www.cyfcaregivereducation.ca
February - Do Overs!
What do you do when your darling child ignores you or refuses to listen? Well, I’m sure there are lots of strategies out there (and feel free to share – I’m always looking for new tricks!) but the one that saved my sanity was Ronald Moorish’s “Do Overs”.
He explains that simply telling a child what to do, or not do, isn’t enough. We need to “train” them. When they don’t respond the way you need them to, stop everything, get down to their level and tell them exactly how they need to respond. Then repeat whatever your request was.
I know, it sounds like a big, time consuming, pain, but it really works! Imagine if, instead of giving you a speeding ticket, a police officer said, “Okay, let’s go back to your home, and I’ll follow you here, and you will do the speed limit the whole way!” I’d rather take the ticket!
When my daughter was little a big thing for me was that she come when I called her. I wanted the security of knowing that if there was ever any trouble she wouldn’t hesitate or ignore me. When she didn’t come I would go to her, hold her hands, look her in the eye and say, “Mommy is going to go over there and call you, and you are going to come running over and give me a big hug. Okay?” Sometimes she would say “okay” and other times she would just nod, but she always came running.
My son was another story. With him I often had to repeat the whole thing two or three times, and instead of just telling him what I wanted him to do, I would tell him repeat the instructions to me.
With both kids, however, I didn’t have to go through the whole spiel for very long. Eventually I would just say, “Let’s do that over again” and they would do it.
The trick, once again, is that dreaded word consistency. It’s so much more effective if mom, dad, grandparents, sitters, etc. are all onboard.
For a better, more detailed description of this strategy, read “Secrets of Discipline: Twelve keys for raising responsible children” (ISBN number 0-9681131-0-9) by Ronald Morrish.
If you try it, I’d love to hear if it works as well for you as it did for my family!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
If you or someone you know is struggling financially, emotionally, or really in any way, Strathcona County Family and Community Supports (FCS) has a main intake line, which is designed to streamline referrals and make accessing support a simpler process.
- The number is 780-464-4044 or visit Strathcona.ca/wellbeing
- Free service
- Hours are Monday and Friday 8:30am-4:30pm and Tues-Thurs 8:30am-8:30pm.
- Modes of contact include virtual meets, in-person, or phone call, depending on situation.
January - Back to Routines!
Happy New Year! Welcome back to school and to familiar routines.
Getting back into a routine is often a chore, especially after a two week break. I’m sure the first couple of days back to school this year will have a few of our students feeling tired, grumpy, and reluctant to return. Knowing the routine, and the rules, however, is hugely important to kids.
They say that kids are like fish in a fish tank. When you first put the fish in the water, they swim around frantically, bumping into the glass. Once they know the boundaries, however, they calm down, and rarely hit the glass ever again.
Of course, kids are a little more complex than fish, and will continue to test those boundaries once in a while; some kids with more frequency than others. I’m sure you’ve heard it a thousand times, but one trick to reducing the frequency of the testing is consistency. The more consistent we are, the more secure our kids are in the boundaries, and the less often they’ll try inappropriate behavior.
Another great way to keep things running smoothly is to avoid the old “If… then” terminology. “If you do this thing you’re not keen on doing…then you’ll get this great reward.” Or, “If you don’t do this… then this will happen.”
There’s lots of reasons to avoid the “If…then”, but there are two main reasons. One is that the word “If” implies that they can do it (or not do it) if they wish. It implies a choice, where often there isn’t one. Like, “If you don’t stop hitting your brother…then…”
Second, the “thens” often lose their power. Have you ever heard, “Fine I’ll go to my room.” Or, “Ground me then, I don’t care.”
Obviously, we don’t mean to give them a choice, but our language implies it. So, use different language. Drop the “if” and just say, “You will stop hitting your brother.” Period.
Of course, if it doesn’t stop, then what?
Well, I’ve got some good tips for that age old problem as well, but I’ll save that for next month. In the meantime, you might be interested in reading a wonderful book written by an ex-principal and behavior consultant, Ronald Morrish. It’s called “Secrets of Discipline: Twelve keys for raising responsible children”. The ISBN number is 0-9681131-0-9. If you have the time, I highly recommend reading it.
Have a great January!
December - Holiday Stress!
As the Christmas season approaches we often find ourselves bombarded with Christmas advertising, canned Christmas music and a host of obligations that range from gift purchases to entertaining. This year there is added stress as people are separated from loved ones due to COVID.
For me, the anxiety of cooking that turkey and timing it so it’s actually done at the same time as the potatoes, actually blocks out a lot of the seasons commercialism. Lucky me! Well, I’m determined that this year will be different! I thought of planning amazing, fun activities, like sleigh rides and skating parties with beautiful bonfires like you see in Hallmark commercials, but I know that’s not likely to happen. I know that my kids don’t care what we’re doing, as long as we’re doing it together, so I’m going to keep it simple.
This weekend we’re putting up the tree and we're going to build a gingerbread house (of course I bought a kit from Costco!). Maybe we’ll go skating or for a walk through Strathcona's nature trails once or twice over the holiday, and if the weather holds we’ll go tobogganing. Most of all, though, we’ll just play together; Skip-Bo, Five Crowns and jigsaw puzzles are on our list!
I suppose I won’t be able to avoid that turkey, or painfully long line ups at Safeway, but I’ll try to be organized to avoid as much stress as possible. If the potatoes aren’t done when the turkey is… big deal. There are bigger things to worry about… and more important things to enjoy.
My hope, for all of our Wes Hosford families this year, is that you take a few minutes to relax, to enjoy your children, and to reflect on your blessings.
https://www.canada.ca/en/financial-consumer-agency/services/debt.html for help with Debt
A Safe Place (24Hr) -780-464-7233
Family and Community Services -780-464-4044
Victim Services - 780-449-0153
November - Why Read?!
Why do we ask you to include 30 minutes of reading each day in your child’s homework or bedtime routine?
Yes…we want them reading because the more you read the better you read. While every little bit of reading helps, scanning Twitter, or searching You Tube Videos, isn’t going to improve cognition. It’s not going to strengthen our brains. Reading novels or short stories, however, builds brain power the same way pumping iron builds muscles.
But… the best reason to insist that your children read, is that the act of reading increases the white matter in your brain. White matter is what carries info between the different regions of the brain’s grey matter. Building white matter helps information be processed more efficiently. Reading requires patience, diligence, concentration, and creativity. When we read we have to think and we have to make connections to our own lives and to our own experiences.
And… reading can also help to build empathy. When you read you relate to the character. You might be fearful for them, or sad, or be cheering them on. This can affect how your child interacts with others in the real world. Research shows that reading makes us more intelligent cognitively, as well as emotionally. Readers make smarter decisions about themselves and those around them.
So… reading improves:
-mental health (it can calm you, help you solve life’s problems, etc.)
-and so much more!!!!!
Thank you for engaging in your child's education by reading with them!
October - Grit
What Is Grit?
Grit is the quality that enables individuals to work hard and stick to their long-term passions and goals. It involves working through challenges, and maintaining effort and interest despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. Gritty people approach achievement as a marathon, with stamina the advantage. While disappointment and boredom may lead most people to give up, gritty people keep trying. Grit, then, can be thought of as a combination of character traits including self-discipline, resilience, perseverance, stamina, conscientiousness and self-control.
Why Is Grit Important?
Grit has been found to be a better predictor of success than Diploma Exam scores or IQ tests. There have been many studies that show the importance of self-discipline and resilience in achieving positive outcomes such as academic success, happiness, and overall contentment in life.
When children struggle with a task they may give up because they think they lack ability. It is important for students to understand that it is okay to feel confused when learning something new, and actually, it is expected. We can teach children that making mistakes or taking a long time to complete an assignment is a normal part of learning, not a sign of failure. We can teach them that having grit means that you choose to invest time and energy into a task. We teach them to be committed to the task and, over time, apply this learning to broader and broader life goals.
How Do I Encourage Grit In My Child?
- Talk about the power of attitude and persistence (Give examples from your own life. Talk to them about how you were able to succeed in life and the road blocks and challenges you faced AND how you overcame them.)
- Start with smaller problems and build / chunk their work into manageable bits (Ex. Start with clearing the table and work up to loading the dishwasher)
- Praise effort and work ethic, etc. and use character trait language such as: You've been working on your homework for twenty minutes. You're becoming really persistent!" or "I see you've ignored your phone while you've been studying. That is awesome self-control!" And avoid praising intelligence (this can harm motivation and performance and lead them to the mindset that success means they are smart / failure means they are dumb)
- Share the "why" not just the "what" meaning: share the relevance of the task (ex. "I ask you to do chores because it's my job as a parent to teach you the tools necessary to be a contributing member of society. In fact, it's a lot faster and easier for me to just do it myself, but then I wouldn't be doing my job. Plus, I love you enough to take the hard road by teaching you to do chores." As opposed to, "Because I'm your parent and I say so" or "Because I pay the bills" or "Because when you're under my roof you'll follow my rules" etc.)
- Teach your child to advocate for themselves; they need to learn to ask for help when they don't understand something and they need to learn that they may need to go for extra help sometimes, at recess or lunch
- Explain that they don't always get what they want in life and that's okay (ex. They won't get invited to play every game at recess, not everyone will want to be their friend, they won't always get a medal at the end of the season...)
- Read articles or books like "Outliers" by Gladwell that talk about the 10 000 hours of practice required to develop a skill or talent.
Talented people who don't know how to fail or struggle may not reach their potential. On the other hand people with no end of hard work and determination may be more likely to exceed their potential. Ability alone doesn't equal success; it takes a combination character traits like self-control, determination and conscientiousness.
When we give our children the gift of grit, we open doors for them!
Free Caregiver Series
Alberta Health Services, in collaboration with The Mental Health Foundation, is proud to offer FREE online programming for parents and caregivers of children and youth.
Social Skills Programs
The Learning Disabilities Association of Alberta, Edmonton chapter, is hosting social skills programs for children ages 8 to 12 years starting October 13 and teens ages 13 to 17 years starting October 9. For more information, check their website at https://www.ldedmonton.com/programs.
Strathcona County Fall Program Guide for Family & Community Services:
Walk in counselling services at Strathcona County:
Alberta Health Services Caregiver Series:
September - Welcome Back
My name is Sue Freiheit. I am the Assistant Principal and School Counsellor. You can reach me by emailing me at email@example.com or by phoning the school.
The following information may be helpful to share with your child.
Q: Why would I see the counsellor?
A: A counsellor is an adult who acts as your advocate. An advocate is someone who wants to listen to what you have to say and helps you come up with solutions. It does not mean I can solve the problems for you; it does mean that you have a safe place you can go to when you are not sure what to do.
Also, a counsellor can:
-make sure you’ve got all the right facts.
-help you express your needs and feelings.
-help you figure out what to do next.
-help you tap into your own strengths and resources.
Q: What sorts of things can I to talk to the counsellor about?
A: You may want to talk to me if you have any academic, or personal concerns. For example:
“I’m having trouble making friends.”
“I’m having a hard time paying attention in class.”
“My parents and I argue about homework.”
Q: How do I request to see the counsellor?
A: Let the office or your teacher know you need to see me and I will let your teacher know when you can come to my counselling office. Don't worry... no one else needs to know we are chatting!
Q: Is what I say kept private?
A: All information shared is considered confidential or private unless we have been given permission by you to share the information or if the information interferes with one or more of three legal restrictions: the student is planning to harm themselves or someone else; someone is harming the student; a judge or FOIP request occurs and records are subpoenaed.
I love to see new faces in the counselling office (masks and all!) and students are very welcome to pop by and say hello.