Sticky Transitions: 6 Tips for Managing the School-to-Summer Transition

Overheard in the grocery store:

“As much as I am so sick of homework battles and driving around town, I am NOT looking forward to having them all around ALL DAY…”

I don’t know this Mama, but I am pretty sure she didn’t truly mean this. Maybe just the homework battles or driving part.  Or maybe she really did mean the whole messy transition and subsequent two months of summer.

Remember how exciting the end of school and start of summer was when you were in school?  Most kids are thrilled, even those who love school. Teachers LOVE the anticipation and slower pace. It’s often a life- and career-saver! Parents often cringe at this change.

Why? People tend not to like change.  Change means we need to switch gears, adapt to a new routine (which may take a good chunk of summer to even find),  and find a new equilibrium or something close to an equilibrium.  That may mean more kids under our roofs and at our feet, the juggle of working from home or office, getting kids where they need to be, financing summer activities, facilitating and tolerating the boredom they wrestle with, learning to let go a little as they try new things and test new limits.

It’s not actually the “change” to summer that makes us stressed but the transition that is icky. Transitions are sticky for all of us – whether it is the schedule, relationships, yoga poses or our diet/health routines.  Transitions are where we falter, fight and usually, grow.   It takes time, patience and perseverance to hobble through the transition and make it to the other side. It’s ridiculously easy to give up when you’re wrestling with change.

I’m tempted throw in the transition towel on a regular basis.  Recently, we rescued a sweet,  very anxious, puppy.  We kept to all the training guidelines to ease Toby in the first few days:  a regular schedule, a few safe places to rest and run, a comfortable distance from the three cats.  By taking this transition carefully, he began to warm up and settle in.  By day five, I had let him off the leash inside and he jumped on our bed. I was cool with that, but we had agreed, he wouldn’t sleep there. The evening of day six, Toby was resting on the bed after a vigorous game of fetch as I read in bed. I dozed off, as did he. I awoke later and was plenty comfortable, so I left him.  I wasn’t willing to transition myself out of my cocoon, nor could I summon the energy to maintain to the shelter-to-home transition we had worked so hard to establish. Fortunately, my husband has much greater resolve in this area and by day seven, we were back on our nighttime routine.

 

And then there’s yoga.  When I practice yoga, I find myself fighting transitions ALL THE TIME.  Poses are hard, they are uncomfortable. My aging body hurts or those squirrels in my head are dashing in circles. Honestly, I don’t always want to be practicing, but I know it’s good for me (and those around me).  And that little heckler on my shoulder makes it much more challenging to stick with the tricky transitions than my body does.  She’s told me for years shoulder stand is just not possible because twenty years ago, those chunky toddlers caused some tendonitis in my shoulder. Or that I don’t have core strength. Or the studio is too hot. Or whatever the complaint du jour might be. But one day, I wiggle and wobble and falter before nailing it for five long seconds. Getting there was ugly, but being there was not so bad.  As the neutral observer when  I teach,  I get to learn so much about what humans struggle with when things are changing. Mountain pose is fairly doable for most. Lifting one knee so it’s parallel to the floor, not always, and the wobble begins. The mind-chatter amasses reasons why and continues into reasons why tree or warrior three will DEFINITELY not be happening. Keeping a focus, breathing, showing self-compassion balanced with discipline, helps. Then softening somewhere, accepting the wobble, allows most yogis to get into some version of the pose. Leaning into the wobble and ick often makes the transition palatable, if not doable.  A smile helps, too.

 

Same with the school to summer transitions. Here are six tips for leaning in and softening into the challenge, while keeping a focused determination to make the most of this transition and the coming weeks.

  1. Allow for downtime:  Who’s NOT tired at the end of the year? Sleep late. Eat breakfast for dinner or eat sandwiches in the yard while watching for fireflies.
  2. Talk together about the schedule:  Map big dates, weekly and daily targets (I call these rocks and blocks – more soon on this!). Make it manageable and flexible.
  3. Decide and assign on chores:   Most classrooms have these and kids of all ages are capable of helping out. If you have high expectations for household tidiness, consider being flexible here if your kids are now doing their own laundry, accept that you will find some unfolded or left in the dryer after it buzzes. but they are owning this work and it is getting done
  4. Set small and attainable goals: This means for yourself and the fam.   If summer reading tends to be a bit of a plague, rather than saying “read 12 books this summer,” how about “we’ll go to the library this week” or “this week we’ll set up a cozy spot to read in the house.” These foundational steps get the ball rolling and off to a positive start!
  5. Let go of the negativity bias:  Humans tend fo focus on what does awry. Each day, notice what is going well. Maybe the first week, people are sleeping in a bit and resting more. Yay! Pay attention to what is working and acknowledge that. Heck, CELEBRATE it!
  6. Have compassion: Summer, like all transitions and changes, won’t last.  Change is hard and manifests in many ways – off-kilter behavior, frustration, tears, tension, sleep.  Whatever it is, let it just unfold for a bit, acknowledge it and then set a plan so a new routine can unfold. Summers that your kids are home won’t last either. There will be camps, jobs, college, and adulthood. Make the most of the summer days, starting today.

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Take care,

 

 

 

cred: Brit Strackbein Photography

Messy and Creative Kids

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal caught my eye and captured my heart.  Did you read Knead Slime? These Business Girls Can Fix You Up?

Note: If you should choose to make your own slime, be sure to research the risks of borax, a common ingredient. Consider one of the borax-free recipes instead, like this one that uses glue, laundry detergent, water and baking soda.

I love so many things about this article.  Any time a kid (girl, boy, a kid!) finds a project they can design, plan and execute, they are learning something.  They learn LOTS of things, They learn about learning and working and life in ways that will serve them well, even if their “work” appears to as play.  I know from experience that when such projects are messy, but heck, life is messy.  We had many events that started with separate paint cups and evolved into something like this:

Mess aside, projects like the ones described in the WSJ article reveal how kids intuitively tap into the design process, showing their ingenuity and curiosity.  Self-designed projects also help them develop skills, self-efficacy and neural networks in their rapidly changing brain.

First, they need to come up with an idea or a need.   If you’ve spent any time with tweens, you know fighting is NOT uncommon – whether it stems from nerves, attention, anxiety, boredom or habit. Humans, especially developing ones, are made to move. Fidgeting in school tends to come with consequences, so finding a “fix” is brilliant. Many can attend better with something to touch. Adults have been working on this for decades – everything from punishments and chemicals to alternative seating, coaxing and reinforcing positive attempts to control the fidgeting. Often kids have ideas worth testing and voila! They often work!  Recently, a college senior showed me her Fidget Cube, exclaiming in an energetic voice, “this THING IS GREAT!” There IS a market for learners for something to hold in their hands to soothe or stimulate.

Generic Ledeng Fidget Cube, various products available on Amazon

 

Second, these entrepreneurs need to design how their project/product will play out. As this article explains, there is research (apparently “slime” is a huge trend on social media, who knew? Teens, of course!).  There is testing the comps – factory bought versus homemade?  Which products work best? What can you dig up from your family’s bathroom to make it sparkle or smell? When can you get the job done?  Do your research, make your plans. Interpretation and Ideation are both key steps in design thinking.

From there, it’s testing and production.  Embedded in all of this are layers of executive functioning skills – initiating, organizing, mental flexibility (shifting from one thing to another – like from homework to slime prep to clean up), and self-monitoring (how am I doing? What can I do differently?).

Read this short overview of Executive Functioning here.

It’s essential that we give kids many, many opportunities to practice and hone these skills, a process which taps the parts of the brain that are constantly re-wiring and developing throughout the teen years and into their early 20s.  This experimentation and evolution are the meat of designing a project and where teens tend to dig into the “work” – taking things seriously, trying new skills and tasks and developing a sense of self-efficacy.These types of child-determined and child-executed projects allow kids to feel true investment and engagement in their important work.

Yes, this IS  WORK.

It’s like your boss throwing a problem at you, giving you the budget and space and telling you to get the job done, and then staying out of your way. Or at least checking in to listen, not problem-solve or micromanage. If you’re lucky, she might even reinforce what you’re doing well and notice your efforts!

It involves making a mess – literally or figuratively – as you dig into the trial-and-learn (not error) phase.  Ultimately, this concludes with skill growth and knowledge  and perhaps, even a workable, deliverable and profitable product. These projects reflect what is most salient and strong in teens.  As the folks at Responsive Classroom point out, “thriving thirteens” like be constructive activities, where they can be introspective.  They also:

want more freedom and will thrive with reasonably increased level of responsibility. Choices of tasks requiring new skills such as such as community service learning, student government, or tutoring younger children can meet with more success than having the only major school responsibility being to get their homework done.”

So here’s the girls and boys who go home after a full day of school and dive into a project that has meaning and relevance to them.  May they learn to do it well, grow in new ways and of course, clean up after themselves!

If you’re reading this and you’re not signed up to stay connected, I hope you do – just click here. Until next time, here’s to a messy and creative life!

Take care,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hamilton in High School

My family is growing weary of hearing me quote Hamilton, but like yoga, I see the parallels throughout daily life.  Plus, I like the catchy show tunes and rap verses.

Recently, I found myself trying to talk less, smile more all in the spirit of truly listening to a distressed high school senior whom I will call Hamilton.

DISCLAIMER: I don’t know much about his story except that he is struggling to get by, has at least a few adults trying to put him in his place and, I believe, is smart, determined, competent and struggling to make his way in the world as he searches for how and where he can become a new man.

I am also trying to talk less in general as I hone my listening skills.  I’ve facilitated professional development with teachers around listening.  I’ve taught kids of all ages about listening, I’ve read about listening.  But like most people, I’m not innately a good listener. It takes effort and practice.  In my coach training, we’re focusing on reflective and empathetic listening.  One of the mantras is “listen twice as much as you speak.”   

In my role at a local high school, it is not uncommon for another faculty member to escort a student to my space to have them “sit a bit” or “just do some work.”  My comfortable and spacious place is intended for college and career exploration but de facto, it can be a holding place for kids when other adults aren’t sure where to put them.  I see this as an opportunity to connect with kids, to offer a safe, quiet place for a short time and ideally, to listen to what’s going on with them.  Sometimes, it’s a bit like the Island of Misfit Toys, but everyone needs to have a place to chill and fit in, and if I can be that island, I’m happy to do so.

A teacher who was monitoring a room known by an acronym I don’t even know the full definition of (it has something to do with discipline and detention and is about as barren and sterile as any institution) slid into my room and asked if Hamilton could come down for a bit.  He is, she surmised, “A bit worried about college and school.”

Well, alrighty. “…take up a collection and send him…

When she gave me his actual name, I told her we had worked together before.  He had been all over the place with where he might apply now that it was January of his senior year.  Shortly thereafter, Hamilton appeared before me, dragging his feet and examining the floor tiles.  I was determined to put my reflective listening in action so I could find out what was going on with this kid because his body language told me he was feeling like a beaten dog.

Best laid intentions, but this Hamilton was not conversant.

I tried many versions of “What’s going on?” “And tell me what brought you here?” and “So, waatz up?”  He didn’t lift his head and his arms went further into his sweatshirt pocket the more I inquired. Time to cut him some slack and offer words, much like one does with a preschooler who doesn’t yet have words.

Me: So, we chatted before when you came in to look at schools, right?

Hamilton: Yeah.

Me: And you were thinking about schools all over the country. It seemed like you were looking to get out of the area?

Hamilton: Yeah. I dunno…

Me: Ok, so now you need a game plan?

Hamilton: Head turns away.

Me: It’s not too late, but there is work you need to get on and I can help, I think.

Hamilton: Body hunches over the table.

I gently ask a few more questions, hunting for clues as to what he’s done about colleges.  Turns out other than taking the SATs he’s done diddly.  I ask if he is serious and wants my help, and he looks up at me and makes eye contact for the first time.  His ebony eyes are glistening, with tears precariously balancing on the lower edge of his eyes.  “Yes, ma’am.”

Inhale. Exhale.

 I see the hurt and shame here. Who knows what got him to the holding pen down the hall. 

Dreikur’s roots of misbehavior scroll through my brain:  Attention? No. Power? Maybe. Revenge? No. Helplessness? Definitely.  He wasn’t just acting out, he’s afraid and feels trapped.  “…helpless…

Then he went and did something that got him ushered out of class and here we sit. “…the world turned upside down…”

“I know this is hard and maybe overwhelming. But it’s not too late. We can find options, but you’re going to have to work,”  I assure him.  I tell him about an upcoming community college visit and the local Black College Expo that offers on the spot admissions.  He looks at me, nodding.  I tell him to come back in a bit and I will have some info for him to take home and read – and hopefully –  discuss with his adults.  Normally, I wouldn’t just dig up documents and hand them off, that’s on the kids.  But this kid seemed to feel like nobody is on his side. “… it must be nice. It must be nice to have Washington by your side…”

I get him back in the room and he is looking even more dejected. I summoned a cheerful but not too cheery tone of voice and smile a lot. I show him how the community college admissions process works and explain that if he came to work in this space, he could do it in no time, and I’d be there to help.  Plus, he’d have an admissions decision within a week.  Befuddled, he looked at me as I acknowledged, it might not be ideal, but it gives him an option.

Me:  Does any of this sound like a plan that gives you some choices?

Hamilton:  Nods and pulls the paperwork closer to point at the “apply here” link.  “…get the job done…”

Me: Think you can come in next week and we’ll do that?

Hamilton: Nods.

Me:   Let me hear it…

Hamilton: Yeah, yes, ma’am. I will come. Thanks… 

As he stands up, he towers over me and  I see his eyes are, again, wet.  I nodded my head and smiled. “…there are moments where the words don’t reach…”

This kid wasn’t misbehaving in class just to piss people off. Like so many high schoolers, he is worried about the uncharted path ahead. Perhaps he is realizing he should have done things differently, made different choices. He was feeling stuck, trapped, without choices and maybe without support.  We’ve all been there and it’s crappy.

I tried listening, even when he was barely able to speak. Empathy and reassurance it had to be, talking less, smiling more.

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Here’s to talking less, smiling more!

Hopes & Dreams Revised: Learning to Feel

In graduate school, I observed highly skilled and passionate teachers and wondered how they worked their magic. Later, I’d see similar magic as a young teacher at the Harley School.  I soon learned part of the magic was Responsive Classroom. Being the Type A person I was (am?), I dug in to learn more.


Each year, I deliberately followed the Responsive Classroom’s outline for the first six weeks of school. It was clear the hopes and dreams part had a lasting impact. I saw kids from prekindergarten through middle school ponder what they wanted to do for the year – an enlightening and empowering process for them and for me.  It wasn’t always neat and easy, but with conversation and stories, we got into some deep thinking. Every kid I ever taught was able to articulate what they wanted to accomplish or feel during the year. 

I saved gems like this:

This process gave way to our class rules. Every time one of us slipped and forgot to “do the rules,” we had our class guidelines and shared hopes to buoy us.  It was a beautiful series of miracles in the classroom – not always perfect, but yet miraculous.  This included revisiting those hopes and dreams mid-year, partly to keep them fresh and honestly, in large part because we all know what a two-week winter break does to a classroom routine.  Continue reading “Hopes & Dreams Revised: Learning to Feel”

Breathe and Listen in 5 Steps

“Feelings come and go like clouds in the sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

It’s been a week for most of us.  Lots of waiting gave way to floods thoughts and emotions.  There has been no shortage of voices, on the same page and on diametrically opposing views. 

But it’s hard to do our best listening and speaking when we are anxious, stressed, busy or our mind is somewhere other than here.  Feelings can fill our brain and we begin to identify with those feelings. We tell ourselves our feelings, especially the vivid ones, are THE reality. Or that they define us. Or that they are permanent unchanging truths.

Wrong.

Feelings are just feelings.  They change.  They do not define us. They can cause use to act irrationally, impulsively, passionately. They can also interfere with our ability and willingness to listen. We may know this intellectually, but it’s often so very hard to rein in those monkeys in our mind known as feelings.  And when those monkeys are swinging around having their own kind of circus, our mind has a very difficult time focusing on the task at hand, the person in front of us, or the topic of discussion.  Those monkeys require tools to reign them in so that we can be more focused.  More than once this week, I found myself talking to someone and my head was somewhere else. My own personal squad of monkeys was swinging from their trapeze and joining each other by tails and hands.

 

Source: http://fineartamerica.com
Source: http://fineartamerica.com

At one point, I even said to someone, “Yeah, I’m not quite sure what her response was because I really wasn’t listening…” I realized after the fact, I  had let the monkeys rule my mind.   In another conversation,  the driver who had recently rear-ended me was giving me intricate details of his family.  As we wrapped up the conversation finally with the  impetus for the call, I found myself still thinking about this man’s’ family stories. I had missed the essential information. Ha! Caught that monkey!  I took a few deep breaths and then asked him to repeat the important details.

There’s an essential connection between breathing and listening.  In heated conversations or debates, this is hard to remember to activate our breath to bring greater awareness.  But it takes just seconds. The simple act of breathing calms the body’s nervous system and brings us present.  A study published by JAMA found a growing awareness among doctors that being mindful and using the breath improves not only their own stress but the ways they engage with patients, which inherently involves listening. You don’t need to be an M.D. to stop, breathe and listen better.  

And when we’re calm, we are better able to listen. 

In five simple steps, you can practice this: 

  1. Mind awareness. Recognize when your mind is elsewhere – it’s almost always elsewhere. Notice what’s happening with those monkeys, especially w hen you’re involved in something important, serious, heated, etc.  Just pause for a moment and witness where your mind is. I like to envision myself as the circus master with a rope, whipping it in a circle, rounding up those thoughts and then lashing all those that are unnecessary ones right out of the circus ring known as my mind.
  2. Feel. Take just a moment to feel the physical sensations in your body. For some, it’s pure tension. For others, it’s a tingling in extremities. For others, it might be discomfort in the belly or a headache. Just notice.
  3. Inhale deeply. Let that lower belly fill up, then pause. Continue inhaling deeply and fill your rib cage. Pause again. Inhale one more time and feel the air rise to your collarbone. Pause and relax those shoulders (that are probably pretty darn close to your ears).  Hold that air in for a bit, until  you start to feel any bit of stress. Then slowly exhale from your collarbone, then ribs, then let that bellow drop back to your spine.  Do this two to four more times. Close your eyes if it helps shut out stimulation that might be distracting. If you’re in face to face conversation you can still do this,try employing the “talk less, smile more” strategy. Stop talking, breathe deeply and let a small smile lift the corners of your mouth while you breathe.
  4. Let Go and Ground Take a moment and just notice where your thoughts are. Let passing thoughts pass. Ground yourself by concentrating  on an object in front of you – someone’s eyes, the chair they are seated in, something on the horizon.  
  5. Connect and listen. Now focus on listening to what’s being said, not on what those feelings are in your mind and body.  Set aside your response and arguments and take in what’s being said. With those monkeys  a bit better controlled, the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that processes and listens. 

 

Here’s to deeper breathing and better listening!

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lisa

 

 

 

LWells