29 Jun 2021

It’s been one tough school year!

Even though amusement parks have been closed, I have felt like I have been riding a roller coaster with lots of ups and downs. School opened, school closed, school opened, school closed…causing my emotions to be all over the place – sad, happy, frustrated, disappointed, excited, upset – you get the picture.

That’s why I decided it was more important than ever to focus on gratitude – to focus on what meant a lot to me – what I valued most. I realized that ‘the practice of gratitude’ benefitted me, not only mentally and physically, but also emotionally. Focusing on what I appreciated shifted my mood and mind to a happier state.

With that in mind I want to give a HUGE round of applause to:

Educators (in all capacities): Connecting with students through a screen is tough. Even though you had to quickly adjust and adapt to a new way of interacting, you stayed committed to keeping students interested and engaged. You made a difference for so many kids. You handled their silliness, their emotions & their interruptions with grace.

Parents/Guardians: Being home with your children 24/7 was a test of your patience, endurance and ingenuity. You had to take a more active role in your child’s education, even though you may have been working at the same time. You survived your kids constantly reminding you, ‘I’m hungry. I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m hungry.’

Students (including my son Kai): It was a tough go. They had to give up so many routines they looked forward to, like recess, taking the school bus, after school activities, socializing with friends and for some, the before and after school programs. My son told me, even though he could see his teachers and friends virtually, it wasn’t the same as in-person, making it more difficult to stay motivated.  I thank our children for being brave, determined, tolerant and patient (a difficult one for all of us).

I believe that no matter what is happening in your life, it is possible to focus on what you are grateful for, even if it’s the tiniest ‘gratitude’. Sometimes, for me, it was simply the thought of sitting quietly for five minutes sipping a coffee.

Wishing you Joy, Fun & Laughter!

Until next time…

6 May 2020

Teaching Kids to Bounce Back

Children are experiencing a lot of changes during this unprecedented time. They are missing their friends and their extended family. Their routines have been turned upside down. They may be frustrated with staying home and overwhelmed with the conversations around COVID-19.  

As a parent, you might wish you could shield them from the challenges they face, but that’s neither possible, nor beneficial for building their resilience. During this time it’s especially important to help them see their challenges as an opportunity to learn, grow and bounce back so they can keep moving forward.

Here are 3 tips to help your child be a ‘Bounce Back’ kid:

1. Explain that everyone is facing changes and challenges. Ask them to write out all the choices  they can make from the challenging circumstances they are experiencing. This will change their focus from ‘what happened’ to ‘how can I move through this’

2. Each day they will experience different emotions like anger, disappointment, happiness, frustration, sadness. At times these emotions will feel like they are riding a roller coaster. Knowing that these emotions are normal and experienced by everyone will help them realize they are not alone and that it’s OK to feel a range of emotions.

3. Encourage them to come up with healthy ways to release these emotions (drawing, talking to someone, reading, watching a show, journaling etc). Have them create a list so that they know what to do when these emotions arise. Put the list in a place they can see everyday. It’s also important for you to know their healthy ways to release their emotions so that you can remind them what to do when they are feeling overwhelmed.

Let your children know you are always there for them.

Remind them: They Matter! They are Enough!

Until next time…

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27 Jan 2020

Praise Effort Regardless of the Results

My husband coaches our son’s hockey team. His coaching philosophy is one I admire and wholeheartedly believe in. Here’s what he shared with the parents early in the season:

“We’ve been praising the full effort of the kids and are less concerned with who scores… not that we don’t acknowledge the goal, we praise how the goal came about.”

I love this concept and think this coaching technique can carry through to how we as parents and educators interact with kids on a daily basis.

Consider doing this: Praise their effort regardless of the results.

For example, your child or student receives an A on their recent test. Do you say:

A. ‘Wow! You’re really smart!’  or…

B. ‘Look at what you have achieved. You chose to put in the effort and be determined. Excellent work!’

More and more studies show that choice B is more beneficial for kids. Using the theory of Carol Dweck, a psychology professor, choice B teaches our kids a growth mindset, while choice A encourages a fixed mindset.

With a growth mindset, people approach challenges knowing that they have the ability to learn and to improve every day if they put in the effort. With a fixed mindset, people believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talent, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that. Their goal becomes to look smart all the time. (Wikipedia)

I think there’s more to unwrap here…

How do you teach children a growth mindset and the value of effort?

Let’s use hockey as an example.

When players understand the importance of being open to learning they become confident enough to put in the effort to embrace new skills. They start to realize that, even though they may not have learned all the skills, it doesn’t mean they never will, it just means they haven’t learnt them YET! This mindset gets them ready to take on the challenges of training and development. And regardless of whether they win or lose, they learn to value the experiences.

This mindset will look like this:

‘I will put in the effort’.
‘I like to learn new skills’.
‘I am a problem solver’.
‘I can overcome challenge’.

Praising effort helps kids see the importance of the actions they took. If they know that being determined to go after the puck and staying focused on skating with a full stride helped them score a goal, they’ll know to stay focused on practicing those skills in order to score again. If we tell them, “You’re so talented! Great goal!” how will they know what they need to do to score again? How will they know which character traits they used to get there?

By attaching specific character traits to their efforts we show children that character based choices matter and what their effort and character looks like in action.

How do you shift your words to praise the effort in every day situations?

Here are some examples:

  • Great job! (what made it a great job?) You were so determined to learn your spelling words!
  • You’re a good friend. (what makes them a good friend?) You showed generosity because you shared your snack.
  • Way to go! (what did they do?) You were kind. You held the door open for them.

The more we focus our praise on acknowledging the efforts and the character traits used to achieve the desired end result, we teach children that the journey matters—how they succeed is just as important as succeeding.

Exercise: Start to praise the effort instead of the results with your own kids or students. Pay attention to how you praise and pause in those moments…what character trait could you add?

Want to share how you’ve changed the praise dialogue for your family or school? Tag me on Instagram with an example of how you praised the effort to teach your child/student about a character-based choice they made. Let’s work together on this!

Until next time…

sara westbrook signature

23 Sep 2019

Parenting/Teaching through the Cloud of Frustration and Anger

Parenting/teaching is one of the hardest jobs and also one of the most rewarding! For this article let’s talk about the ‘hard part’.

My career as a speaker allows me to speak with many parents and educators. Through listening to them and learning from my own experiences of being a mom, I realize that one of the most difficult challenges is parenting/teaching through tough emotions like frustration, anger, stress and sadness.

Ever had a moment when you are feeling calm, cool and collected and suddenly something happens that triggers your emotions to go into overdrive? In a split second you react in a way you’re not proud of. You spend the rest of the day feeling guilty as you reflect on how you could have handled the situation very differently.

When our seven-year-old son, Kai, is not listening or is acting irritable, it triggers frustration in my body which can easily lead to anger. Parenting/teaching out of one of those emotions can quickly lead to uttering unreasonable consequences or saying/doing things I later regret.

We often hear about the importance of teaching children self regulation. This is where it gets difficult – we actually have to model self regulation in order to teach our young people to do the same. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ doesn’t work anymore!

Here’s what I’ve learned that helps my son, husband and I self regulate when we are experiencing tough emotions (some times at the same time). We name our emotions even though it feels uncomfortable and we want to deny their existence. 

Give these two simple, yet effective steps a try. They will help you calmly handle the next time the cloud of frustration and anger sets in.

Step One:

Name your emotion: I am feeling frustrated that you are not listening to my words.

Create your list of ways to move through emotions so you can calmly help your child. It’s like being on an airplane when they tell you ‘put your oxygen mask on first before helping your child.’ 

Step Two:

  • Name the child’s emotion: I can see you’re feeling really frustrated right now and you’re making disrespectful choices out of feeling frustrated.
  • Help them move through their frustration: Together create a list of healthy ways that will calm their brain and body. Suggest one of the ways when they are in the chaos of their emotions.

Let’s always remember the best way to teach is to model what it is we want children to learn. If you’re still not sold on the idea of naming your emotions and finding ways to move through those emotions here are more benefits:

  • reduces anxiety
  • lowers stress
  • establishes a stronger relationships
  • builds resilience
  • creates empathy

Happy Modelling!!!

Until next time,

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