Parenting in Uncertain Times

home 2
Amidst any societal disruption, parents play the lead role in helping children make sense of what they hear in a way that is honest, accurate, and minimizes anxiety or fear. As a nurse and family counselor—and a mother—I know how overwhelming it can be to calm, inform, and advise children and teens without making yourself and everyone else more worried than they already are.

The best way to build capacity for coping with uncertainty is to think of increasing your stress tolerance as a long game, and one that includes focusing on three styles that greatly influence your relationship with your children:

1. The way you respond to your child (or your parenting style) 

2. The way your child responds to you (or his behavioral style) 

3. Your lifestyle

Under our present stressful circumstances, grappling with how life will change related to this global pandemic, it’s likely that all of these styles are under pressure in your family.

There’s no doubt that your ability to respond to your children will be impacted by your own emotional stress level and economic anxiety. And when children’s routines are upended, and they sense that those around them are worried, they’ll respond in reactive ways to you too. Everyone’s lifestyle has been dramatically altered due to school closings, the cancellation of events, as well as calls for social distancing, and even quarantining in certain communities. In the weeks ahead, you and your children will likely experience even greater anxiety as certain family members remain on the front lines of the pandemic, given their work in health care or in supply chain industries, and as you receive news that people you care about are unwell or have been hospitalized.

All of this is to say that when stress goes up, relationships may falter. Still, there are ways you can face this new reality while also strengthening your family relationships.

Your style

Your parenting style has a great deal to do with how you and your child will relate in the days ahead, both positively and negatively. The term social distancing is being discussed a lot. But I prefer to think of the recommendation to limit contact as more focused on physical distancing, because now more than ever you’ll want and need connections to your adult family members and friends—albeit virtually.

Consider setting up get-togethers on a regular basis; this will allow you to put something on the calendar for yourself, giving you something to look forward to. Whether you stay in touch with friends, sisters, parents, or grandparents, to vent or to practice gratitude, everyone is going to need more support, not less, to get through this.

As difficult as it may be, it’s important to take some time each day to ask yourself what you need to manage your stress. Put on your oxygen mask first, so to speak. As you settle into a workable family routine, try to create little opportunities within each day to meet your own needs. If reading calms you, consider adopting a “drop everything and read” period of time during the day for you and your children. Or choose an audiobook every member of the family will enjoy listening to.

Perhaps revisit what experts like me say to parents of newborns. Sleep when they sleep. It might be tempting to watch the news or scroll social media once your children go to bed, but likely that will ramp you up right before you try to get some rest.

If going online allows you a mental break from your worries, then consider taking an online class in the field of your choosing. Many universities and colleges are offering free classes right now. Broadway online is making available previously taped plays and musicals, also free of charge. And there are a number of museums offering virtual tours of their collections. (See links below.)

Just be sure to limit your time online so you can get some rest too. A rested you is a more patient you. And stamina will surely be required to contend with the extended period of time you’ll be spending in close contact with your children.

Their style

This unprecedented health crisis is scary for everyone—and for some children more than others. Children who struggle to manage change or handle the unexpected, children who worry, or those who are particularly sensitive or prone to negative moods, will likely have more difficulty managing so much uncertainty. The way to support your children emotionally involves taking your cues from them.

Noted educator Maria Montessori called this guidance: Follow the child. Practically speaking, it means observing your children for stress and anxiety and then noting what you see in simple, age-appropriate, and fact-based ways. Consider saying things like, “You look sad (or worried).” Or, “When I’m worried about something I don’t know a lot about, I like a hug (or to take my mind off my worries by reading a book, exercising, or playing a game).” Or, “What one thing could I do for you right now that would make you feel a little better?”

Building the emotional resilience to face adversity involves tuning into your children’s feelings, recognizing your own, and talking openly about how feelings come and feelings go. It also calls for leaning into what your children need intellectually. Which means it helps to regularly remind them that all questions are welcome.

It’s fine to acknowledge that you may not always have all the answers; still, it’s important to be honest, while also helping your children turn worried thoughts and anxious feelings into positive action. Children, like adults, cope best when they practice gratitude and compassion, when they know how to tap their creativity to turn aspects of a crisis into opportunities for doing good. Consider enlisting your child’s help to build routines for daily life or to do nice things for neighbors—of course, from a distance.

Your Lifestyle

While it may be challenging to provide consistent routines around bedtime, mealtime, and screen time—and this is definitely the time to make some exceptions and have a bit of fun—some adherence to clear expectations goes a long way toward helping your children feel like you have everything under control. Even when you feel like you don’t! Of course, daily schedules need not look anything like ordinary life, but some regular, age-appropriate routines and definite, clear, non-negotiable boundaries will help your children behave well and feel safe.

It’s important to remember that your children will always look to you to learn how to respond to life’s stressful events. As difficult as this time is—and as uncertain as things may be—you have an enormous opportunity to teach your children positive preventative physical and emotional health measures; to offer specific ways to talk about fears and feelings; and to give your children strategies to cope that will last a lifetime.

***

If you need additional parent education to provide these critical skills to your children, please reach out to Lynne at [info] [at] [LynneGriffin] [dot] [com]. 

Strategies for Stress-Free Evenings at Home

Excerpt from an article in ADDitude magazine.

To avoid parent-child power struggles, make fewer verbal demands. Instead of telling your child what to do (which is often perceived as nagging), use a nonverbal cue. “Children with ADHD may lock into certain behaviors and lose focus, but parents can often redirect them with a simple nonverbal cue,” says Lynne Reeves Griffin, author of Negotiation Generation: Take Back Your Parental Authority Without Punishment! Griffin suggests handing your child a sharpened pencil or lightly tapping your finger on his worksheet when he is distracted. “When parents use nonverbal feedback, it helps children get focused quickly. This is encouraging to a child who is struggling,” Griffin says.

When your child does something that helps the evening go more smoothly, acknowledge his contribution. Children feel valued when their actions are appreciated. Using phrases like, “Thanks for your help” or “I appreciate your cooperation,” makes a child feel good about himself.

Read More

Read Negotiation Generation: Take Back Your Parental Authority Without Punishment (Penguin)

Top Secret Strategies for Negotiating with Your Kids

Excerpt from Parenting magazine article.

While life often feels like an assembly line of yes-no’s, a healthier approach may revolve less around imposing your will and more around a business-centric tactic: negotiating. What’s that, you say? Doesn’t negotiating mean you’re getting stepped on more often than Times Square? Nope. The key, says Lynne Griffin, author of Negotiation Generation, is to find the middle ground. “They have freedom within the fences, but you decide where the fences are put up. Too many fences built too high only creates a desire to jump them.”

Read More.

Read Negotiation Generation: Take Back Your Parental Authority Without Punishment (Penguin)

Forging Strong Parent-Professional Partnerships

Decades of research show that when families and schools partner together, children are better positioned to reach their greatest potential as learners and active members of the school community. There’s simply no doubt that parental involvement is directly linked to students with higher self-confidence and more positive attitudes toward school and learning. From better attendance and higher grades, to better homework completion rates and higher graduation rates, the most consistent predictor of high academic achievement and positive social adjustment for children is engaged parents.

When I collaborate with school staff and parents, I highlight the fundamental belief that all teachers and families want to work collaboratively to support the development of every child. Perhaps they simply lack sufficient skill to do so effortlessly. However, when skills are nurtured, a true partnership allows us to advance the eager reader and the math whiz beyond grade level, develop a child’s ability to organize and plan work effectively, strengthen language skills, and nurture social-emotional development—all critical outcomes of the early education years.  With a team approach, we are better able to understand how every child thinks and learns, capitalizing on his or her strengths and working together to support any challenges that may impact learning.

Here are some tips for focusing on partnership…IMG_3657

The Commitment to Parents-As-Partners–What Schools Can Do

Walk the talk. It isn’t enough to say the partnership is important. A true commitment is evident when parents are invited into the school for a variety of  child-specific as well as social events and activities.

Our information is your information. When a teacher makes observations or has assessment data about a child, parents are urged to contribute to the plan for education. Whether a child needs to be more challenged or his learning more supported, teachers engage parents in the conversation.

Be Flexible. Schools must demonstrate respect for the real work-family balance issues parents struggle with. Creating family-friendly ways for engagement should be a school-wide priority.

Build a Community of Learners. Schools are uniquely positioned to encourage parents to be lifelong learners. Through parent education, family support, and referral services, schools play a key role in helping parents see the benefit of growing and developing as their child’s best teacher.

Tips for Strengthening the Partnership–What Parents Can Do

Make connections early. There’s no telling when there will be a need to discuss a child’s academic, social-emotional, or behavioral learning. It’s always easier to be open and honest when a relationship has already been established.

Opt for face-to-face communication. Voice mail and email, while time-efficient, may lead to incomplete or contentious communication. Talking to teachers about your child is more likely to be successful when the communication is done in person and has been scheduled so both parent and teacher have had time to think through the main objectives.

Always keep your child at the center of your exchanges. Not every parent and teacher will have an affinity for each other. Yet when parents and teachers keep the child in front, and not between them, the child is sure to benefit.

IMG_3697

Crossover Fiction Gets Parents & Teens Talking

GirlSentAwayNumerous studies also confirm what every reader already knows—that the novel is an incomparable vehicle for the exploration of human social and emotional life. Literary critics and philosophers have long advanced the notion that one of fiction’s main jobs is to raise social consciousness.

Decades of research also show that when parents and teachers partner together around social-emotional learning, teens are better positioned to reach their greatest potential as healthy, active members of the community. There’s simply no doubt that this kind of involvement is directly linked to teens having higher self-confidence and more positive attitudes toward school and home. From better attendance, higher grades, and higher graduation rates, to increases in prosocial behavior and decreases in problem behaviors, the most consistent predictor of high academic achievement and positive social adjustment for teens is engaged parents and teachers.

The Power of Fiction to Teach

When teachers, parents and teens come together to deepen their understanding of our collective emotional lives—using fiction—they positively impact the development of the core competencies of social-emotional development, which include nurturing self and social awareness, developing relationship skills, and influencing responsible decision-making.

Despite biological predispositions to conditions like anxiety or depression, it is resiliency skills that help protect teens from various mental health conditions.  And if you or someone you care about has an existing mental health condition, then building resilience is crucial to improving one’s ability to cope.

Using a conversation-based approach to discuss fiction, teens are afforded a safe space to learn about preventive mental health and capitalize on personal strengths for building resilience and navigating complex social relationships.

Crossover Fiction Gets Parents and Teens Talking

Some within publishing deem a novel “crossover” when it is written for young adults but attracts a healthy adult audience. Others—mostly in the fields of public relations and marketing—consider a novel “crossover” when it is written for adults but young adults read and spread the word about it. Regardless of which direction interest first flows, crossover fiction serves a powerful purpose, which is to get parents and teens reading and talking about meaningful text together.

Participation in conversations using high interest fiction, allows parents, teachers, and teens to:

  • discuss risk and protective factors for mental illness
  • develop resiliency skills that promote emotional well-being
  • demonstrate perspective-taking and conflict management skills
  • express empathy toward others
  • practice interpersonal communication skills

Your Book Discussion Group

GSA-companion-cover copyDue to the sensitive nature of the types of books that can have the greatest impact on raising social awareness and reducing stigma, it’s important to prepare the environment, making it conducive to sharing and learning. Thoughtful, respectful conversation is more likely to occur if teachers and parents create emotional safety zones in advance of book discussions.

  • Create ground rules and goals, either by utilizing a planning committee or taking the first few minutes of each meeting to agree on participation expectations.
  • Consider coaching teens to co-lead the discussion with agreed upon ground rules and partnerships with parents and/or teachers.
  • At every meeting, ensure confidentiality and find ways to establish a sense of closeness among teens, teachers, and parents by aligning interests.
  • Choose books wisely by outlining group goals in advance and then selecting titles that support certain kinds of discussions.
  • Keep discussions focused on characters and their wants, needs, and choices. Revisit ground rules if conversations become too personal.
  • Extend the learning beyond the group by identifying activities that parents, teachers, and teens can engage in to keep conversations going.

The best fiction illuminates the human condition and gives readers much to reflect on and discuss. By harnessing the power of storytelling—informed by research on social-emotional learning and effective communication—teachers, parents, teens can engage in conversations about mental health and emotional well-being, with the goal of building empathy, nurturing perspective-taking, and strengthening resilience.

Titles to Consider:

Stories written for teens with crossover to adults:

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (Friendship, Diversity)

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (Mental illness, grief)

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin (Loss, loyalty)

Stories written for adults with crossover appeal to young adults:

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (Technology, Relationships)

Disgruntled by Asali Solomon (Belonging, Diversity)

Once Upon a River Bonnie Campbell (Independence, courage)

 

Let’s Talk About Adolescent Mental Health

HOST A PARENT/TEACHER/TEEN BOOK DISCUSSION

Recognized expert on family relationships, Lynne Griffin will facilitate a discussion of her new novel Girl Sent Away using the companion guide Let’sTalk About It: Adolescent Mental Health. The guide includes conversation starters, discussion questions, and additional books and films parents and teens can read and watch together to keep the lines of communication open, effective, and engaging.

SCHEDULE A PARENT OR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM

Tailored to meet your educational initiatives and to suit your parent, faculty, and student population, Lynne Griffin is available to assist you with:

  • strategic implementation of Let’s Talk About It: Adolescent Mental Health
  • curriculum mapping for social-emotional learning
  • coaching and program development for interpersonal leadership and communication
  • consultation for working with complex families.

ADOPT GIRL SENT AWAY INTO THE CURRICULUM

Lynne’s nonfiction guide, Let’s Talk About It: Adolescent Mental Healthprovides information and activities a school may use to positively impact adolescents’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes about emotional well-being. With a focus on curriculum integration, each literacy, health, and social-emotional learning module includes:

  • Overview & objectives
  • Essential questions
  • Activities/projects/assignments
  • Select STEAM mapping opportunities
  • Discussion questions related to the novel
  • Resources for further exploration

 Email Events [dot] LynneGriffin [dot] com today to discuss your program needs.

Adolescent Rebellion

Lynne talks about adolescent rebellion on Fox Morning News

Lessons Learned from Reading The Anti-Romantic Child

Priscilla Gilman, author of The Anti-Romantic Child: A Memoir of Unexpected Joy, and I met online, traveling through similar virtual networks. She sent me a copy of her memoir, which I read and immediately fell in love with. It is a spectacular story aimed at parents to be sure, yet I could see so clearly as I lost myself in those pages, how powerfully her messages would resonate with educators, therapists, and medical professionals.

I invited Priscilla to chat with me as part of my series Conversations. I’m delighted she agreed to an interview.

Lynne: The experience of parenting is very personal, and disclosure as it relates to a child’s unique needs and learning style is particularly challenging. When did you know you needed to write your family’s story?

Priscilla: I never thought I would write a memoir. Academics don’t write memoirs. And writing about personal life is very scary and challenging. I didn’t set out with the goal of educating professionals either. I’d begun to do talks with the director of Benj’s school, and after a number of talks to educators about our experience, I sent the talks to my friend, who’d become a literary agent. She suggested I take my interest in romantic poetry and combine it with writing about advocacy for children.

Lynne: So it’s another unexpected joy then, that professionals are connecting with it?

Priscilla: It is! I didn’t write the book for professionals. I wrote it from the perspective of wanting to help, and to share my story to comfort others. I wanted and still do want anyone who reads the book to see how far my son has come. How amazing it is what he can do. I wish this for all children. This acknowledgement of history. Not every parent will write a memoir, but every parent can go in to talk to a teacher and share their child’s history, their milestones, how far they’ve come. The little things and the big things they’ve accomplished. Only parents can give providers this information, this perspective about what makes their child unique. And I want teachers to be encouraged to give the same to parents.

I wrote the book with an eye toward solidarity. I want readers to walk the journey with me, to learn from my experience.

Lynne: The book is not just a memoir aimed at sharing your experience with other parents, though we agree that regardless of one’s child’s needs, parenting is always an unexpected experience. I think so much of your story has relevance for professionals. And it’s been so positively received. What impact has telling your story had on professionals and what they can do for children?

Priscilla: I speak often to many different kinds of professionals—medical students, education students, literature students, nursery school teachers, preschool teachers, therapists, school administrators, the list is long—and there are really three actionable take-aways I offer that seem to resonate.

  • I talk about the importance of collaboration. How necessary it is to work with parents, not against them. Create relationships that are not adversarial. As the result of one difficult interaction, it can be far too easy to become lined up on opposite sides.
  • I urge professionals to look at children as individuals. There are some positives certainly to a child having a diagnostic label—the sense of community one gets from it and in some places access to the appropriate services—still, use labels only as context, not as a way to define or limit a child. Tune into the uniqueness of each child, what it is he or she can tell you. Watch for what you can learn from him or her.
  • Remember the sanctity of what you are doing every day. I’ve taught; I am a teacher and I know the challenges. Teachers work hard every day. It’s sacred work. I remind them of the value of what they are doing and that it is something so much larger in the scheme of things. Teachers are helping individuals to bloom, creating individuals, really. Their work is infinitely valuable.

Lynne: I’d love to give you the opportunity to tell professionals what you want them to know. Fill in these phrases:

The best schools…

Priscilla: Work on their wording. They stay away from form letters, or if they do use them, they add in something handwritten. Be compassionate and warm, so parents see that you are not rejecting a child, but are in fact looking out for his best interest. Phrasing is everything. Don’t assess children based on one set of criteria. Be open minded. Look at a child’s strengths. Children will do better when environments are nurturing, safe, and there is personal attention.

Lynne: The best administrators…

Priscilla: Don’t judge parents and children. They are a combination of steady, poised, empathetic, warm. Good administrators are skilled listeners.

They are not removed. They work collaboratively with teachers and parents. Facilitate parent/professional partnerships by being in dialogue, by observing teachers and childrens, by being available. They know when to intervene to help others rise above controversy. They are good role models.

Lynne: The best teachers…

Priscilla: Are compassionate, energetic, curious, and tuned into the uniqueness of children. Great teachers are open to using different modalities to evaluate learning—not one essay, but rather choices: write a poem, a story, a song. Instead of a straight forward essay, let a child cast a play. Recognize and value that each child has a different best expression. Be at ease with having different expectations for children. Don’t push too hard or not at all, but rather encourage each child to stretch, to take his or her own personal risks.

Remember that all the things we do to help children with special needs, help all children. When teachers can reach the children with extreme needs, every child—really, all of us benefit.

Lynne: As I shared with you, I’m a strong believer in your messages to parents and professionals. We all have so much to learn from you about advocating for children and about the parents’ role in the parent/professional partnership. To that end, this semester while fulfilling my role as visiting scholar of education in Singapore, I invited my cohort of sixty three soon-to-be teachers enrolled in my Assessing Children with Special Needs course, to read The Anti-Romantic Child. Below you will find some of their insightful reflections.

Thank you, Priscilla, for making such a profound difference on behalf of children and those who educate them.

As an early childhood professional, we may be able to nurture or instill fundamental values, but I believe that we should never force children to conform, to become who we want them to be. Rather, it is our role to speak up for children, to be their voice so that we can make a positive difference in them and through them. As Priscilla says in The Anti-Romantic Child when talking to her son’s teachers, “Remember how far he has come rather than how far you still want or need him to go.”

—Ng Hui Jing Deborah

Not very ideally, our current education system instills in us a mindset of competitiveness, survival of the fittest; it teaches us to strive for excellence. We are judged by results and scores, through tests and assessments which are supposed to reveal our intelligence, our skills and our capabilities. If we are not up to the standards set by others, we are cast out and pushed aside. Despite systems like this, Priscilla continued to believe in her child and remained focused on helping others to see his strengths. Priscilla recognized her son’s talents and helped him to use them to express himself, to cope with overwhelming situations, to feel accepted and to connect with the world. As an educator, I hope to bear parents’ challenges in mind, to be more compassionate and kind.

—Grace Tan Shu’en

As a teacher, I am used to informal assessment such as observation and developmental checklists. When we started learning about formal assessment, it still all made sense to me. We assess children to look for information that will tell us more about behavior and learning. So it was thought provoking for me when I read that Priscilla “was struck by the harshness, the crudeness of the terminology” of various assessments. I had never paid conscious attention to the type of language used before. Not all parents will understand the terminology and we are talking about their children. I realize now how intimidating and scary this can be. It really made me rethink how I will approach parents about assessment and what other supports I can provide them.

—Jane Mayriel Singh

Often in our hurry to want children to be good at all aspects of learning and development, teachers and parents are tempted to spend much of their time concentrating on deficits. However it is increasingly important for us to look for and appreciate the individual value of each child in order to provide him or her with opportunities to maximize strengths in a personalized environment.

—Hong WeiQian

Having studied at Wheelock College for the last two years, I have a greater appreciation for difference, diversity, and individuality. Nevertheless, reading The Anti-Romantic Child only helped to cement this appreciation. The phrases: All children have special needs, all children are unique in their own way, and children with special needs are first and foremost children, will forever be imprinted in my mind.

—Jamie Quek

***

Priscilla Gilman received her B.A. and Ph.D. in English and American literature from Yale University. She is a former professor of English literature at both Yale and Vassar College. Gilman writes regularly for publications including the Daily Beast, the New York Times, and the Huffington Post, and speaks frequently at schools, conferences, and organizations about parenting, education, and the arts. You can find her online at www.PriscillaGilman.com.

Lynne Griffin is a nationally recognized expert on child development, behavioral assessment, and family relationships. She is the author of the family novels Sea Escape and Life Without Summer and the parenting guide Negotiation Generation. She is a faculty member at Wheelock College, teaching family studies, early childhood education and leadership at the undergraduate and graduate levels. You can find her online here: www.LynneGriffin.com, and atwww.twitter.com/Lynne_Griffin and at www.facebook.com/LynneGriffin.