Communication is Important for Connection

Effective communication is the basic building block for strong family relationships.  From the minute that babies begin to utter sounds, they are learning how to communicate.  They are learning how to get the attention of others and how to get their message across.  From interactions with others (adults and children) they learn that communication is a two-way street. Parents are children’s first teachers of effective communication skills.

  • It’s important to monitor our non-verbal signals when communicating with children. Our facial expression, eye contact, and body position communicate how involved or interested we are in what they have to say.  Do we have a scowl or a smile on our face, is our body facing them or facing away while we do something else?  Are we towering over them, or at the same eye level?
  • Have meaningful conversations. Make time to talk with your child. What works for your family? Many parents make time to talk in the car while driving children from one activity to another. Dinner time and bedtime are other opportunities to listen to and talk with children. Try making a date with your child to spend one-on-one time.2 moms dinner
  • Ask open ended questions. When asking children questions, try to ask questions that cannot be answered with one or two words. “What went well today? What challenged you today?”
  • Listen for feelings. Listen for the feelings underneath the content. “Are you feeling frustrated or disappointed?” “It sounds like you felt sad.” “Wow – you sound excited”.  “It sounds like you feel ____ because_____ and you wish______.”
  • Invite expression of feelings using ‘I’ messages, rather than blaming statements. “I feel ______when _______because ______.”
  • Be careful about using electronics. Your child notices when you are looking at your phone or computer instead of him or her. Those devices are designed to be seductive and it can be hard to put yours away. Be intentional about modeling human to human connection. You are helping your child grow important brain connections with every interaction.
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Growing Community Through Better Communication Skills

Effective communication is essential for building classroom community. Being able to express feelings and thoughts effectively and respectfully, and being able to listen without interrupting or misinterpreting others are skills that need to be taught and practiced.

  • Effective communication begins with respect for the other person. Your non-verbal messages come through to children very clearly. When speaking, be careful of your tone, choosing words carefully.
  • Use “what” and “how” questions. While listening for the response, keep your attention and focus on the student speaking.
  • Invite your students to explore listening. There are helpful activities for listening in in Positive Discipline in the School and Classroom Teachers’ Guide that involve having students share when the other person is not listening and contrasting with how it feels when someone does listen. Practicing in pairs and then generating a class list of what listening looks like and sounds like is connection
  • Practice giving and receiving compliments. When your students are giving compliments to each other have them address the compliment receiver directly. “[Name] I want to compliment you for ______.” The receiver also responds with a name, “Thank you, [name].”
  • Use a talking stick to go around the circle in class meetings.
  • Invite your students to practice “I messages.” Have students generate a list of things that bother them in the classroom such as people cutting in line or borrowing things without asking, and then introduce them to ‘I’ messages – ‘I feel ___when ________ and I wish _________. Have them practice in pairs.  For younger students, you can use “bugs and wishes.” “It bugs me when people _____ and I wish______.” (See specific lessons in Positive Discipline in the School and Classroom Teachers’ Guide.)
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Self-Regulation to Grow Engaged Learners

As educated adults we know that to lead a healthy life we should eat fewer fatty foods, exercise regularly and get enough rest…but we don’t always do it!  That’s because we are all continually developing our self-regulation skills.  Your students are the same.  They may know what to do, but lack the self-regulation skills to always act appropriately.  You may have noticed that students who are unable to regulate their thoughts and actions find it difficult to make and keep friends, organize school work, and express feeling in appropriate ways.  Self-regulation is a skill that can be taught and practiced. When we explicitly teach and practice self-regulation skills in the classroom our students are better able engage in learning.

Here are are some ideas to build your students self-regulation muscles and increase the calm in your classroom:

  • Teach your students the “brain in the hand” so that they can understand how the brain works.
  • Explicitly teach self-regulation skills: deep breathing, counting to 10, walking, taking a time out.3 girls
  • Increase their emotional vocabulary. You can: use literature to help them name the feelings of characters, create a word wall with feeling words that grows over the year, teach specific lessons from Positive Discipline, RULER or Second Step.
  • Take regular brain breaks throughout the day in your classroom. Try making it a consistent and repetitive practice rather than just when it feels like your students “need” it.
  • Teach self-awareness activities to name and understand feelings and awareness of body sensations as a result of stress.
  • Use role-plays to practice expressing and managing emotions.
  • Use positive time-out or a “regulation-station”. Teach students to use the time-out space when they need to calm down. Use it as a prevention strategy, by helping them notice when they begin to feel dysregulated.
  • Notice when students use self-regulation strategies. “Susan, I noticed you walk away when you felt angry. You are learning to manage your feelings.”
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Growing Children Who Can Calm Themselves

Self-regulation is defined as the ability to manage your emotions and behavior in accordance with the demands of a situation.  It’s the ability to calm yourself when upset, to resist highly emotional reactions to stressful stimuli, and the ability to handle frustration and adjust to a change in expectation.  Children have varying degrees of self-regulation, depending on development, temperament and life experiences.  Self-regulation is a key ingredient in children’s school and life success. Building self-regulation skills at home will have a positive impact on your family as well as on your child’s future.

Some tools to help build self-regulation in children:

  • Model self-control.
  • Provide a predictable environment – schedules and routines allow children to feel safe.2 moms dinner
  • Ensure that transitions are carried out in a quiet, calm manner. Turn off the TV and read a quiet story prior to bedtime.
  • Read books with your child that focus on strong emotions and how to cope with them.
  • Help your child identify his/her feelings throughout the day. What does iit feel like in your body when you are calm? How does your face look when you are scared? Frustrated? Happy? Giving names to feelings helps children self-regulate. Daniel Siegel says, “Name it to tame it.”
  • Take pictures of your child expressing different emotions. Print them out and post them. When you notice your child experiencing an emotion invite him/her to match the feeling with the picture.
  • Create a space in your home for your child to calm back down. Ask your child to come up with a name for the space and think of things to put there. This positive time out space should have things which help your child regulate (favorite stuffed toy, coloring book, headphones, squishy ball, pillows). Your child can go their to self-regulate, and stay until he or she feels ready to rejoin the group.
  • When YOU are stressed, take a break: meditate, take a walk, exercise, etc. Your children learn from your behavior.
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Routines and Getting Ready for Back to School

In most families, summertime means a relaxation of schedules and routines. But…here comes the school year!  It’s time to get back into the swing of routines.  More than just getting everyone out the door on time in the morning, routines help young people develop important life skills.

  • Routines provide the external structure that children need while their internal structure (planning, organizing, evaluating) is still developing.
  • Routines allow some things to be ‘automatic’ (eventually!). Having agreed upon bedtime and morning routines eliminates having to make decisions about these things every day.  Expectations are clear, so parental nagging, reminding, coaxing, can be minimized.happy dad kid
  • Routines help children become more independent and gives them a senst that they are capable.
  • Routines can help children cope when unexpected events or life situations occur. The inner sense of safety and security provides them with the resilience to handle life stresses.

Hints for successful routines:

  • Build them in one at a time. Know that you as the adult will be the person doing the follow through. Over and over again. That is part of the process, so setting aside annoyance, frustration and resentment that this is hard work is helpful.
  • Invite your children to problem solve and construct some of the routines with you as is age appropriate. For a morning routine, you might start with when you or your children need to be out of the house and work backwards. First think about what has to happen and what order would be helpful. With young children this can be like solving a puzzle with you. It takes awhile, but also has them thinking in a different way.
  • Build a visual “map” or routine chart. After you and your children figure out what will happen, you can do a dress rehearsal in the middle of the day. Take pictures. Have your child arrange them in order on a large sheet of paper or hang them on a ribbon.
  • Let the routine chart be the boss. When your child gets distracted, instead of reminding him or her what comes next, ask, “What is next on the chart?”
  • Expect mistakes. It takes a lot of practice for children to organize their lives in a linear way. You will need to be the person who follows through. Again and again. Smile as you do it. They are learning from you!

More on routines for families.

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Back to School and the Importance of Routines

Routines in the classroom help students feel have a sense of order and stability: they invite a feeling of safety and security. Although setting up routines takes time and energy, once routines are established, you can simply refer to the routine it invites a sense of collaboration from students. “What is next on our schedule?” or, “What was our agreement about lining up?”

Some guidelines for setting up routines from Positive Discipline in the Classroom by Jane Nelsen, EdD are:

  • Focus on one routine at a time.
  • Involve students in developing the routine. Students are more likely to follow the routine if they’ve been involved in setting  it up, and have agreed to it.teacher reading to kids
  • It’s helpful to use visuals – charts or lists – that can be posted in the classroom, for reference.
  • Practice routines, especially at the beginning of the year, and periodically throughout the year. Sometimes we assume students know things that they may not.
  • Follow through with kindness and firmness.

Here are some tips to get you started in building your classroom routines:

  • Which routines? Classrooms are complicated. There are a lot of moving parts. We often expect kids to know what to do at school, and get frustrated when things don’t go smoothly. With a little bit of thought and planning on your part you can help your students be more successful in knowing what to do. Over time you may want routines for things like: attendance, signal for getting attention, distributing materials, cleaning up,morning entry, task, turning in work, coming in the classroom from recess or break, fire drills, drinks and bathroom, transitions in the classroom, putting materials away, noise level during work time, lining up, leaving the classroom, positive time out, and end of the day.
  • Teach: Once you have decided on the routines you want to implement, it is important to teach the expectations for each routine to your students. It is helpful to give students a chance to see the routine in action through role play. Be as clear and consistent in your expectations as possible.
  • Practice: Once your students have been taught the routine, they’ll need some practice! The more kids practice the more likely they will be able to follow the routine independently.
  • Pause and Reflect: It is important to pause and notice how the routine is working. When students are following the routine correctly stop and allow them to recognize what it looks like and sounds like if the routine is working. If the routine decide if the routine needs to be modified or if the class just needs more practice.

More on classroom routines. In addition, Scholastic has a whole collection of ideas about classroom routines from teachers.

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Classroom Jobs

School is finally out and the start of the new school year is a safe distance away. If you are like most teachers, part of your brain will be thinking about what little things you might improve in your classroom next year and those thoughts will be murmuring at you all summer. One of the things that you might want to think about is how to set up classroom jobs in the fall. Students do better when they feel like they are connected and that their contributions matter. It helps them feel capable. Meaningful work in the classroom helps build a sense of excitement, community and interdependence from the very beginning of the school year.

In general, students are capable of doing much to contribute to the classroom than we expect of them.  Get creative in thinking about jobs. Could it be a student who hands out the Band-Aids, monitors the classroom energy footprint, helps monitor the classroom agreements, or welcomes classroom guests? Could you step back a bit and hand responsibilities to students so that you are free to use time more effectively?  Of course, it won’t save time at the beginning as you take time for training. But that time will be an opportunity for community building as everyone learns new skills.

  • Start making a list of different kinds of jobs your students could do in your classroom.
  • Think about how you might get them involved in writing (or drawing) their own job descriptions. These can go in a notebook, so that when you rotate jobs, the new job holder has a list of what to do.teacher little boy
  • Help students understand how every job helps the classroom by asking questions. For example, “How would this job benefit our class?” “What would it take to do this job well?” “What would happen in our class if no one did this job?”
  • Use modeling and practice to teach jobs. It’s important not to assume that children know what they are supposed to do.
  • Change it up. Develop a system of rotating jobs, so that each child gets to do each job during the semester/year.
  • Pause and reflect. Reflect with students occasionally on how jobs are going. Revise job descriptions and responsibilities throughout the year.
  • Notice student success. Be specific (e.g.:  “I notice that all of you have remembered to do your jobs today; I noticed the ‘floor cleaners’ picked up all the paper from the floor – your dedication helps our community”)
  • Level up. Think about how meaningful work could be applied to school-wide jobs. Contributions to the whole school build school community.

For more ideas on student jobs check out the list in your copy of Positive Discipline in the School and Classroom Teachers’ Guide.

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Family Work

What have your children done to contribute to your family this week?  We aren’t talking about making their own beds or cleaning up their own toys, but helping out with the work that all families need to do: setting the table, walking the dog, vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom. True, as a parent, sometimes it is just quicker and easier to get the jobs done by yourself. But what is your child learning when you do all of the work? How will he learn the life skills and responsibility he needs to be independent? Your child may know that he is loved (because he is) but how will he know the sense of belonging that comes from having your contributions valued? How will he develop the sense of how capable he really is in life? If you don’t have a system for sharing family work, summer is a great time to start. Here are some tips:

  • Take time for training and work with your children until they can do the task on their own.
  • Provide child-sized equipment (broom, gardening tools, etc) to encourage involvement..
  • Brainstorm a list of all the jobs that are required to make a household run. That will include things that your children might not be able to do and it will increase their perspective. The list might include things like: Paying bills, buying grocer, putting gas in the car, earning money, doing the laundry, vacuuming, cooking 7 days a week, washing dishes, walking the dog, watering plants, taking care of the garbage and recycling, setting the table, kid cooking
  • Invite your children to choose 2-3 jobs each that are developmentally appropriate. Make a chart or use popsicle sticks in a jar to set up a routine about who does which jobs and when.
  • Make family work fun (sometimes anyway). Have a ‘chore time’ so everyone is working at the same time – sing or play music.
  • Rotate chores (if possible depending on children’s ages), to avoid boredom.
  • Be willing to trade. Sometimes kids just get tired of their job and want a day off. It is fun to be able to trade. “Don’t want to clear the table? Will you do my job of (cleaning the kitty litter/folding laundry etc) instead? Great! I’ll trade for today.”
  • Separate allowance from household work. Family work is something that everyone does because they are part of the family – not because they get paid. It is important to learn that we do things because we are part of a group and because it is the right thing to do. Not everything we do is tied to a “reward.” Allowance is also something you get for being part of the family – but the two are not linked. If you want to make arrangements for opportunities to earn “extra money” by doing special jobs that is different.

Here are some more ideas: Sharing Work and Play.  Family work: Whose Job is It?

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Helping Students Become Their Courageous Selves

If your school is one that actively teaches character traits or values we hope courage is on your list. Yet, talking about courage or even reading stories about courage doesn’t always help students be able to use their own courage. Instead of focusing on heroism or bravery, we suggest framing courage as becoming your best self. You can share stories the stories that heroes tell after the event. It is common for them to tell their audience that it “was just the right thing to do.” Ian Grillot, who interrupted the shooting in Kansas City in 2017 is one of those heroes. From his hospital bed he said, “I was just doing what anyone should have done for another human being. It’s not about where he was from or his ethnicity. We’re all humans. I just felt I did what was naturally right to do.”

Children face tough situations every day including: making new friends, giving a presentation in class, deciding how to stay connected with friends when they don’t want to join in an activity, as bystanders when other people are being hurt or for some, just getting to school. For some students, just showing up to school is courageous.   Here are some ideas to nurture courageous attitudes in the classroom:

  • Talk about courage using the frame that it is about being your best self, even when it isn’t easy to do that.
  • Write courage stories. Have your students write about what it means to be their best self and about a time where they were able to be themselves even if it wasn’t easy, or they were anxious or afraid.teacher girl notebook
  • Model noticing courage. You can write post it notes or quiet comments that start, “It took courage to _____ (ask for help, tell your friend to be more respectful, make a special effort to welcome our new student.) When you start noticing it, they will notice it with each other as well.
  • Help them see courage in their own lives. Invite a discussion about the courage it takes to say, “no” when the majority (or their friends) are saying “yes.”
  • Lift out acts of courage in the stories you and your students read. Examples are everywhere because that is part of what makes a good story. Biographies and memoirs are particularly rich, though they tend to elevate the idea of a “hero” which separates them a little from your students. Think of Simone Biles, Ruby Bridges, Helen Keller, Abraham Lincoln.
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Helping our Children Grow Courage

Examples of courage are all around us.  We tend to notice only the big events though: a parent lifts a car off the leg of a child, a stranger who jumps into a river to save a drowning person, a teenager who steers a bus to safety when the busdriver passes out at the wheel.  At Sound Discipline we notice that people who do courageous things often don’t feel courageous in the moment. When interviewed they often make comments like, “I just did what I had to do” or, “Anyone would have done the same thing.”  We think courage is the movement someone makes in the direction of becoming his/her best self. When we look at it that way we can see that courage shows up every day in common circumstances. Making new friends, helping a stranger, looking for a different solution to a problem, having hard conversations or just trying something new are all courageous. Having courage leads to success and happiness. Here are some ideas so can you inspire courage in your children:

  • Teach your children that courage is not the absence of fear, but doing something in spite of it. From the outside, courage may look impressive and powerful to our children, but from the inside it can feel uncomfortable or like anxiety, fear or self-doubt.
  • Encourage your children to try new things. This might be activities that “stretch” them, provide a challenge or something new that might be scary or hard: music, sports, drama, or joining a club. Children have a natural desire to master skills. This can grow their sense of comforts boy
  • Give them courage of thought. Help them ask questions, be creative in problem solving or think of new ways of doing things.
  • Notice and comment when they demonstrate courage. For example, “It took a lot of courage for you to ask to join that group of kids,” or “I noticed you helped Mrs. Smith carry her groceries.”
  • Be the example. Model trying new things, solving difficult problems and taking appropriate risks. Talk to your children about how it felt on the inside as you tried something new. It helps them to know that adults also feel afraid or nervous and keep trying.
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