Archive for October, 2012

The Fine Art of Flexibility

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

When I planned to write this blog, I planned for it to be about staying safe at Halloween. I planned to have a twitter chat about that as well. I planned to have plenty of time to get that all done while my kids were at school, in fact I had all sorts of plans. Well you know what they say about even the best-laid plans.

I live on the East Coast, in a small town in Connecticut. We are about an hour away from Manhattan and there is an expression New Englanders like to use to describe our weather. If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute…

That is true tonight. We are waiting out a late season hurricane named Sandy. In fact, the news said she has just been upgraded from a hurricane, to a super storm. Apparently our hurricane has teamed up with a cold front and a wintry mix from the Great Lakes. How fabulous! Still it seems like Sandy’s promotion is not really good news for us.

God willing all will be well and everyone will stay safe and take this unexpected family time as a gift. If we can let go of our plans, just a little, it is easy to see this time as a gift. For many people, offices are closed and very little work is happening unless you are a first responder. If you are a first responder, thank you and what are doing reading this blog???

Today and tomorrow are great opportunities to play indoors. How about a fort in the living room? Flashlights are the current fashion in accessories anyway. In the daytime, why not paint your pumpkins or even do some baking? Share your secret ingredient with your kids and discover how much it means to them to be part of your inner circle. How about a game of cards or an hour with your photo albums? There are lots of ways to surrender to this moment and make memories that defy the storm’s best efforts to spoil the day.

I think a lot of life is like that. Happiness comes from learning how to dance in the rain, rather than waiting for each storm to pass. Trees that last for generations are the ones strong enough to bend. Storms will come. They come all the time. Sometimes they come from the weather, other times they come from our careers, friends or even family. Storms are a part of life. Storms are guaranteed, we don’t usually get to decide when and how they will affect us, but we are not without some power.

We all have the power to choose our reaction. We get to decide how we respond. We get to decide how we will prepare our children to navigate through the storms of life. We can choose anger, rigidity, frustration and we can choose, to see adventure, opportunity and gratitude. The best way I know to get to gratitude is to be flexible. Flexible and open to what the day will hold, even if you really thought you already knew what the day should hold.

Kids get surprised all the time. Plans change, routines are compromised and at least half of the time we take them out, our kids only think they know where we are going. Flexibility is more than just helpful it is a life skill. The ability to roll with the punches and find the silver linings means our kids can survive the storms. So, I guess this blog really is about staying safe, just not in the way I first intended.

Perhaps the best safety skill we can teach our kids is to try to relax and stay flexible. That way, they really will be able to dance through the rain.

Remember to keep your face to sun, even while the storms surround you.


Wisdom, Stories and a Red Sweater

Friday, October 19th, 2012

“In every neighborhood, all across our country, there are good people insisting on a good start for the young, and doing something about it.” Fred Rogers.

“A “small moment” is one place, one time.” Lucy Calkins.

The work and words of these two luminaries have always been a source of motivation and a focus of admiration for me. I remember growing up watching Mister Rogers and feeling like he meant it when he said he liked me just the way I was. I remember feeling reassured in a big world when he told stories about the land of make-believe where everything would always work out all right in the end. I remember wishing I could have a red sweater like the one he wore.

Even though I was all grown up, I remember crying on the day he died because the world would never be quite the same without his kindness and the warmth that not even his red sweater could provide without him. Still, he left behind a beautiful gift. He taught me how important it is to reach out and remind the children around us that each one of them is precious and valued.

Not long after that I had the good fortune to receive another gift. A teacher friend of mine gave me a book called Raising Lifelong Learners, by Lucy Calkins. In this amazing book I found a treasure trove of methodology and validation that convinced me that children of all ages not only could express themselves, but absolutely had to express their ideas in order to learn and grow. Putting a mark on a paper, leads to forming words and words are to be valued by the writer and the reader. Listening to stories told by emerging readers and writers is a sacred trust. It is a front row seat to empowerment and one of the few places in life where we can actually witness growth happen right before our eyes. Writing helps a child make sense out of the world and children have stories worth telling. Being heard and understood is not just one way communication from the child to the audience. It is also the communication to the child that what he or she has to say is valuable to others. To feel heard is to feel valued.

For all of us life is a series of “small moments” as Lucy Calkins describes and these moments can become stories worth telling. For me, the art of the story can be written or oral or expressed in countless other ways, but I am a writer and so I write. I have the privilege of writing for children and because I learned a lot from my two heroes, I want to write stories that empower my readers to keep expressing their feelings and telling their own stories.

That is a big part of the reason I write books about Fuzzwippers. These wonderful creatures whisper to the imagination of a child, choose to be with that child and depend on that child to share their story. When a child gets a Fuzzwipper, even a child who cannot yet read or write, he or she can still tell the story that is inside them. To be chosen and loved is reassuring. To be heard and valued is empowering. To have both is to be in an ideal environment for growth. To grow up with Mister Rogers and parent with Lucy Calkins is to have unmitigated gratitude for their generosity of spirit and willingness to share their respective gifts.

Sometimes people ask me why I write for children, why I founded 4 Sunflowers Media? The answer is simple, because the world still needs the warmth of Mister Rogers and because the world still has the wisdom of Lucy Calkins. The best way I know to thank them both is to spend my life in service of children reminding them that each one is loved and has a story that the world needs to hear.

Thank you to Mr. Rodgers and Mrs. Calkins for teaching me to keep my face to the sun.


Back Off Bully!

Friday, October 12th, 2012

October is bullying prevention month and I think that is outstanding. The first step to eradicating something is to raise awareness and this takes a great step in that direction. The thing is, the other eleven months of the year are also bullying prevention months, they just don’t enjoy the same fanfare.

Everyone agrees that bullying is a bad thing, bad for the child being bullied, bad for the community and bad for the bully, but not everyone is willing to acknowledge that it can happen anywhere at anytime. Kids definitely tussle about as they learn to deal with each other in social and school environments and a certain amount of that is normal; but there is no amount of bullying that is ever normal. So how do you know the difference between normal friction and bullying? How do you know when to get involved and when to let the kids try to work it out? That, my friends is the million-dollar question.

I wish I could offer you fool proof guarantees that there is a magic formula that will work in every case and every situation. Sadly, that kind of snake oil doesn’t exist. What I can offer is a plan that we can tailor to work with any situation, but it absolutely has to be understood that bullying must be handled on a case-by-case basis. Just as each child is different and always changing and growing, so is each situation.

We all know that kids learn best when they are relaxed and engaged, not an easy thing to be when you don’t feel safe. Imagine going to work everyday and having a real fear of someone you work with; not just a dislike, a real fear. Imagine hoping they’ll call out sick everyday on your way to work. Imagine that this person takes things from you and embarrasses you in front of your colleagues. Imagine that this person even assaults you from time to time when no one is looking and tries to turn your friends against you. Horrible right? Now imagine that you cannot leave this job for at least the next four years. That is just a little bit of what it feels like to be bullied.

Getting bullied is not the same thing as not getting along. Getting bullied means feeling scared and demeaned day in and day out for a prolonged period of time. Being bullied leaves a wound and only the people around you can help you change it from a disfiguring scar to the beauty mark of a survivor.

So what can you do? First, learn to recognize bullying when you see it. No doubt there are times kids fool around and learning means making mistakes. Social emotional learning means making mistakes too. Kids can be rude, bossy and struggle for dominance and it may never rise to the level of bullying. That back and forth can be perfectly normal. Bullying is different. It is not normal. It is abusive. Bullying is not a back and forth competition for pecking order. Bullying runs in only one direction, downhill. Bullying is the systematic crushing of another person’s spirit. So what do you do about? Here’s a good place to start.

1. Once you know that bullying is happening, get involved. No child can overcome a bully alone.

2. Make sure your child has SAFE WORDS. My personal favorite is Back Off!

3. Role-play every single night until your child can effectively use his or her safe words. Teach your child how to say them verbally and with body language. It can take months, but so can potty training and this life skill is just as important.

4. If your child is bullied at school, talk to the teacher privately, never n front of the other children. To do so just completely undermines your child’s respectability among his or her peers.

5. Do not take it upon yourself to talk to the bully’s parents. To do so has a much greater chance of escalating the situation and creating a defensive and offensive posture. Better to ask for the teacher’s help in turning this situation into a learning experience for both children.

6. Never badmouth the bully. To do so just make you the bully’s bully and let’s face it, you are the adult.

7. Tell your child you believe them and take the situation seriously. Also tell your child that you know they can handle it. Empower your child and show your belief in their competence, even as you work with the teacher to turn things around.

8. Be on your child’s team. Let them know you are with them. Be transparent. It is vital that your child knows that you are involved in the resolution. Never go behind their back, to do so teaches your child not to trust you.

9. Be confident, even if you have to fake it at first. These situations can be a growth opportunity for everyone and sometimes the bully can even become a buddy. Remember, even the bully is someone else’s child.

10. Stand together as a community. Teach children to have safe words and to help each other. Teach them how to stand up for themselves and how to stand together against a problem. Remember, it must always be the group against the issue, never the group against each other.

If you can do these things, you will surely have your face to the sun and all shadows, like bullying will fall behind.