Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Test de-stress

Radio Commentary

Does your child get stressed about tests?
Follow these steps to help your child cope with test anxiety:
• Get the facts: Find out the exact dates your child will be tested and which tests he will take.
• Talk to your child: Find out whether your child is feeling nervous and if so, why.
Often children feel better when they voice their fears instead of shutting them up inside. If your child is afraid of doing poorly, your reassurances will help him feel less frightened.
Help your child practice: If your child is familiar with the format of the test, he’ll feel more prepared.
Ask his teacher for some sample questions or materials that can help him get acquainted with how the test works.
Take care of the basics: See that your child gets a good night’s sleep the night before the test and eats breakfast that morning.
It’s a well-worn but still accurate notion that the brain can’t work if the stomach is empty.
Keep your cool: While tests have increasing importance, they are just one measure of student learning, so try to keep the process in perspective.
If you can find a way not to take things too seriously, your child will probably feel calmer too.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Planning and structuring

Radio Commentary

The toughest time for parents to communicate with their children is during the young adolescent years. Thinking ahead about your own standards, and helping children structure their tasks, can be a great help.
In fact, one of the best tools for parents is being prepared.
In the middle school years, get ready for some conflicts. Before any issue reaches a boiling point, think carefully about what is truly important to you.
Know ahead of time what areas you are willing to negotiate and which are absolute for you.
Here’s another tip. When young people are feeling overwhelmed, help them organize their goals and tasks clearly.
Think about it: A disastrous bedroom, 12 overdue math assignments, a long-term project that’s “suddenly” due in a few days or hours. All of these combined can make a preteen decide to give up, rather than get started.
Help your child break those chores into smaller parts. For example: clean off the bed, get five assignments done tonight, and assemble materials for the project.
This will help them structure the tasks so that they seem more approachable and doable.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Growing up at risk

Radio Commentary

Peter Benson’s book, “The Troubled Journey,” paints a portrait of youth from sixth through twelfth grade.
In it, he made an interesting observation. 
He wrote: “It is not clear whether growing up now is riskier business than it once was, or whether we are simply doing a better job naming and counting problems that have always existed.
“It doesn’t really matter,” he wrote. “What matters is that there are too many casualties, too many wounded, too many close calls.”
Looking around our community, it is clear that he is correct.
His recommendation is one we can all agree with. He wrote: “Our highest national priority should be to mobilize our collective energy, commitment, and ingenuity to ensure a bright future for each and every child.”
It is hard to argue with that worthy goal.
The good news is that efforts are underway locally to help in that battle, particularly through various nonprofit and government organizations, and through our local school districts.
We should not, and cannot, rest until we make sure we’ve given every child an equal chance to succeed, in a safe and supportive environment.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Children and crises

Radio Commentary

Whether it's a hurricane, tornado, or earthquake far away, or a fire or shooting closer to home, parents and other caregivers must meet the challenge of reassuring children during times of crisis.
The way caregivers respond has a huge impact on how children will react. 
To help, a booklet from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute, called When Terrible Things Happen: A Parent’s Guide to Talking with Their Children, offers some good advice.
For example, infants and toddlers, age zero to three, can’t understand how a crisis or a loss has changed their environment. 
But they can recognize and respond to changes in adult behavior. 
The best way to help infants and toddlers is to keep a routine and resume normal activities as soon as possible. 
Pre-school children, age three to five, may not talk about their feelings openly. Talking while playing games or drawing pictures can help children of this age group express their thoughts more easily. 
School-aged children, age five to 12, have more understanding of how and why things happen and will want to ask questions. Parents can help by talking, listening and answering their questions directly and honestly.
We cannot control a crisis or a catastrophe. We can only control how we react to them, especially with our children.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Empathy important

Radio Commentary

Understanding others begins with empathy. It is the act of putting yourself in another’s shoes.
Often teenagers can have difficulty in this area because their own problems seem to loom so large in their minds. The teenage years are the period when it is hardest to genuinely feel the emotional plight of others.
To help develop empathy, it is important to be a really good listener. When your children are speaking to you, regardless of the topic at hand, always listen to them with respect.
React to your teenager as you would to an adult friend. Make a real effort to listen as much as you talk.
When you have information to convey on an important topic, speak for half a minute or so, and then stop and let your child have a chance to react.
Accept the fact that most teens will complain sometimes. Let them air their grievances fully and completely. Try not to interrupt while they are expressing their feelings.
Most importantly, take time to have relaxed conversations alone with each of your children on a regular basis.
Frequent talks will help you spot difficulties before they become real problems.
It’s important that all involved be encouraged to talk AND to listen.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

National Mentoring Month

By Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara County Superintendent of Schools

“If you can dream it, you can do it,” Walt Disney once said.

A senior executive with the Gallup polling organization recently summarized for educational and legislative policy makers the key ingredient that enables students to become dreamers and to succeed in school and in life. In a powerful address, he emphasized that the research was conclusive that “behind every student success story was a caring adult who provided hope.” That caring adult, in the words of one student surveyed, is “someone who encourages and believes in me.”

Clearly, mentoring is a critical component of student success, and January marks National Mentoring Month. Mentoring.org, which sponsors the initiative, notes that “Mentoring, at its core, guarantees young people that there is someone who cares about them, assures them they are not alone in dealing with day to-day challenges, and makes them feel like they matter.” As youngsters navigate an increasingly complex and complicated world, the idea of offering them mentoring is as important as it has ever been.

The data underscores this importance: vulnerable young adults who had a mentor are 55% more likely to enroll in college. They are 78% more likely to volunteer regularly. 90% are interested in becoming a mentor, and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions.

Beyond the educational impacts, however, are the positive impacts mentoring has on the daily lives of young people: youth who meet regularly with their mentors are 46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs and 27% less likely to start drinking. Young adults who face an opportunity gap but have a mentor are 81% more likely to participate regularly in sports or extracurricular activities than those who do not.

A study showed that the strongest benefit from mentoring, and most consistent across risk groups, was a reduction in depressive symptoms. This is a particularly noteworthy finding, given that almost one in four youth reported troubling levels of these symptoms at baseline.

Mentors can also prepare their mentees for professional careers and assist with their workplace skills. They can help them set career goals, and can offer helpful suggestions as to the steps necessary to realize those goals. They can also learn at a young age the power of networking: they can develop personal contacts which can introduce young people to industry professionals, find internships, polish skills for seeking a job, interviewing for a job, and keeping a job.

“Light is the task” Homer once said, “where many share the toil.” Thankfully, there are many organizations throughout Santa Barbara County that “share the toil.” Fighting Back, Partners in Education, the Boys and Girls clubs, to name just a few, all place would-be mentors with local students.

Chelsea Duffy, executive director of Partners in Education, which since 1977 has been serving as a switching station that connects businesses and individuals with schools and youth-serving nonprofit organizations, sums it up best: “What we and classroom teachers all across Santa Barbara County have found,” she says, “is that it only takes one volunteer to encourage, to inspire and to reveal something new, opening the door of possibility.”

We are grateful to the hundreds of volunteers throughout Santa Barbara County who recognize the important work of mentoring tomorrow’s leaders. And for those who have been looking for a way to provide mentorship to youngsters, let National Mentoring Month be the occasion that launches your efforts.

If you have a sincere desire to be involved with a young person, active listening skills, and an ability to see solutions and opportunities, contact one of the organizations above today to get connected with a school or organization in your area that sponsors mentors.

In the words of a Buddhist proverb, ”If you light a lamp for someone it will brighten your own path.” There’s a young person eager to meet you, and the introduction will brighten your path as well.

Charting success

Radio Commentary

It can be fun for children to create a “success chart” by designing a bar graph or a line graph to show progress on various tasks.
Be sure to keep the goals realistic. You might want to coordinate the plan with your child’s teacher, factoring in school effort or improvement.
Start out with small goals so your child can gain some positive momentum that can lead to larger successes. Talk with your child to increase their understanding and buy-in.
Building in incentives can be an important part of this activity.
Figure out what types of items work best in your family.
Rewards like a family activity, movie, or a computer game rental might be the right way to go.
Monetary rewards for reaching a goal might be appropriate if children learn to save it for something they really want, or use it to support an important cause.
Though positive reinforcement is an effective tool in changing behavior, everyone reacts differently. What is right for one child might not work well for another, so work with each child individually.
Allowing your children to chart their own progress is a great way for them to see and experience results.
And seeing improvement in such a graphic fashion can show them that their efforts do actually pay off. The hope is that they will see that hard work yields graphic results.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Enjoying reading

Radio Commentary

It is important that children read well, and also that they like reading.
Experts say the best way parents can encourage this is to read to children often and show how much they enjoy reading themselves.
Start reading when children are very young. Take time to find interesting books. Nursery rhymes and fairy tales are good starters.
Some television shows can be helpful by introducing children to letters and words. However, TV programs generally use sentence structures that are not very complex, which isn’t as useful for learning language patterns.
That is why it’s important to read good literature to children. Children whose parents read to them will often try to read a little on their own or sound out words.
Remember:  There is no precise time or age when children should begin to read on their own.
For most children, reading readiness is a gradual process. It starts when they develop an awareness of print — like print on cereal boxes or store signs. Children want to read when it becomes important to them.
Most children will be more eager to read if they see it is something you enjoy. So set aside time for your own reading and become a good role model for your children.