7 Tips on Preventing Teacher Burnout and Coping with Stress

Teaching is a profession that can be extremely rewarding — but also very stressful. Studies show that 91% of US teachers report excess workload being a major contributing factor to their stress and that 15% of US teachers leave the profession every single year due to stress and burnout. Other countries show similar statistics. 

Fortunately, there are some proven ways to cope with stress to prevent teacher burnout:

Set Firm Prep Times

If you’ve allowed yourself 30 minutes after each school day to look over the day’s assignments and prepare for the next day, make sure you use those 30 minutes. Close the door, and put your phone and other personal projects away. Of course, we must all take into account staff meetings or parent-teacher conferences, but otherwise, keep to your schedule. 

By using those 30 minutes productively, you can set yourself up for success the following day AND reduce your stress levels when you go home.

Delegate & Join Forces

If you have a parent volunteer in your classroom, give them some tasks — that’s what they’re there for! They can change the classroom decor, sort projects, mark straightforward assignments, photocopy handouts, and other small jobs that take up your time. By freeing your hands of small tasks, you can use that time to mark papers, connect with students, and prepare the next day’s lesson plan.

And if you know other teachers teaching the same grade as you, see if you can pair up with them — perhaps even if they’re at a different school. There’s a good chance you’ll have the same material to teach throughout the year, so you can take turns making lesson plans you can both use.

Surround Yourself With Positive People

This is essential in all aspects of your life; however, this is especially true at work when you’re already feeling extra stressed. Some people will always find something to complain about, and it’s very easy to start sharing your own complaints and commiserating with these people when you’re around them. Try your best to avoid the negativity. Instead, simply excuse yourself once they start and draw firm boundaries.

Find people in all parts of your life who focus on the positive and are a lot more joyful to be around.

Organize the Rest of Your Life

We’ve all stood in front of our closet wondering what to wear that day, but that’s just going to cause more delays and stress. Instead, try laying out your clothes and setting out everything you need the night before. This will help you get through your morning a bit easier. Also, get in the habit of setting aside some downtime to refresh your batteries. This can include anything from getting enough sleep with a bedtime routine to scheduling in quality time with friends and family.

Just make sure not to overschedule yourself! It may sound counterintuitive, but even doing too much fun stuff can lead to burnout.

Practice Mindfulness

We’ve talked before about how mindfulness is so important, and bringing it into the classroom can be excellent for both you and the kids you’re teaching. You’ll all notice the incredible benefits, and your days should go a bit more smoothly.

Schedule Downtime

During the week, it’s tough to practice good self-care. However, by scheduling some time during the evenings or weekends to do things you enjoy and make you feel good, you can ensure you feel rested and calm for the coming day or week. It could be as simple as reading a book, going to the spa, taking a walk in nature, or meditating for 15 minutes.

Take a Workshop

At Dolphin Kids, we offer a variety of workshops for teachers, parents, and children to help cultivate mindfulness and help everyone function at their very best. Our programs can help teachers maintain optimal mental health and prevent burnout. Contact us today for more information.

Coping With Stress as Parents: How to Take Care of YOU!

coping with stress
coping with stress

As a parent, you hold many responsibilities and likely feel a lot of anxiety about what’s on your to-do list. Parenting is a full-time job, and like any job, it can be stressful — very stressful. In fact, one study we discovered shows that parents feel stressed about six different times per day because of their kids!

With all this stress, it’s essential that you take care of yourself first to be able to manage all your responsibilities effectively. Here are some strategies you can use to help you get some much-needed downtime and natural stress relief.

Take Time to Play

Dolphin Kids encourages everyone of any age to take time each and every day to play. This can mean whatever you want it to, but make sure you schedule it into your day, every day. This can easily be one of the best things to do to help with any anxiety you feel. Play also helps to build self-esteem and ignite creative thinking and problem-solving skills.

Try dancing around to music, playing a game on the computer, or doing whatever you want for at least 30 minutes every day — longer if you can. Put your play time into your schedule and make it non-negotiable. You may have to get up before everyone else in the house, wait until after the kids go to bed, or make sure everyone else in your home has set up their own play time and knows to leave you alone during this time.

Practice Mindfulness

We’re big on mindfulness! Being mindful is as simple as stopping occasionally to take a few deep breaths. If you have a few moments, go outside and breathe in some air or take a short nature walk. Practicing mindfulness helps us control our reactions and be more present with our children.

So often, when we’re busy, we go through life on autopilot. We don’t take any time to appreciate the moments in our life that bring us joy. Taking a few short mindfulness breaks each day will help you finish the day feeling calmer and more in control of coping with the stress that comes along with your busy life.

Reduce Your Kids’ Schedules

Chances are, you’re running your kids around to all sorts of events and activities. These days, it seems like a lot of children are overscheduled and participating in activities they don’t really enjoy. Have a sit down with each of your children and your spouse and talk about which activities they really enjoy.

Cutting down on their activities not only frees up their time for creative play and doing things they truly enjoy doing, but it should also free up some time for you.

Delegate What You Can

Are your kids old enough to take on some more chores? Do you have some extra money set aside to pay for a housecleaner or other help to come in once a week or so? Can you get a meal service to bring you healthy meals a few times a week?

You’ve probably gotten so used to doing everything yourself that you likely don’t realize how much you could pass along to other people.

Plan Some Family Fun 

At least once a week, schedule time for your whole family to be together for some quality time. Plan something that you all enjoy doing — or switch it up every week. You could go swimming, go on a nature walk, do a puzzle, go on a picnic, or even make some popcorn and watch a movie.

This will help you get back on track with your family and give you all a bit of time to recharge together.

Plan Some Time Out

Even if it’s only once a month, plan a date night with your spouse. Hire a babysitter or exchange some babysitting duties with another set of parents and use this chance to reconnect with each other. This is a perfect time to do the things you enjoyed doing before you had kids.

It’s also important to plan an afternoon or evening out with your best friend or a group of friends on occasion. Having some great chats over a walk, a meal, or an activity will guarantee some laughs and a fantastic chance to recharge your batteries. For more information about Dolphin Kids workshops for parents on mindfulness and a variety of other subjects, check out our full list of programs here.

How Gratitude Journaling Can Help Children Feel Happier

We’ve talked before about the importance of gratitude when it comes to helping children with their emotional wellness. Expressing gratitude teaches all of us to concentrate on the positive and, as a result, feel happier and more fulfilled. And it’s so important to teach these life skills to our children as early in life as we can.

One great way to express gratitude is through gratitude journaling.

Why Your Children Should Start Gratitude Journaling

Journaling allows your child to express gratitude by remembering and being thankful for the people and things in their lives. This practice is proven to strengthen relationships, encourage kindness, and help your child maintain a positive outlook on life.

Journaling gives your child an outlet for their thoughts and feelings. And as a bonus, it helps them practice their academic skills such as writing, sentence structure, and spelling.

How to Help Your Child Start a Gratitude Journal

Get Your Supplies. Let your child pick out a special notebook and pen they can use for their gratitude journal. You could even simply find a plain notebook at a discount store and let your child decorate the cover.

Be a Role Model. Talk to your child about gratitude. Tell them what you’re grateful for and why. You should even get your own journal and practice gratitude journaling yourself.

And when you’re out and about with your child, take time to point out acts of kindness and fascinating things you see and feel. A smile from a stranger, a rainbow, someone holding the door open for you, the smell after fresh rain — these are things which should be noted.

Give Some Prompts. There are no real rules for gratitude journaling. Give your child some freedom to choose what works best for them. Some people like to write long sentences and really delve into what they’re grateful for. Others simply prefer to jot down one or a few words per line to summarize.

However, if your child needs a place to start, you may want to give them a prompt or two. You can use the same one every day or mix them up. Some examples of prompts include:

  • I’m thankful for…
  • Today was awesome because…
  • I’m so happy I have…
  • These people make me smile…
  • Thank you for…

Make It a Habit. At first, it might be challenging to practice journaling every day. But, it’s important to do it regularly — even if that only means once a week or so. Set aside some time for you and your child, or the whole family, to journal together.

Even 10 minutes at a time is often enough to journal. And you may just see your child want to write in it at random times as well — every time something makes them smile.

Don’t Stress About It. As we said above, there are no real rules when it comes to gratitude journaling. While you may want to aim to think of five things a day, sometimes, you may only be able to come up with three — and that’s ok!

If you miss a day, don’t worry. You can get back to it when you can. This is supposed to make you happy — not stressed!

Contact Dolphin Kids™ For More Great Information

At Dolphin Kids™, we love seeing the positive changes which occur in kids after they start learning how to express gratitude.

We offer a variety of programs and summer camps which provide even more skills to help your child cultivate self-empowerment and to give them essential life skills they need for the future.

5 SEL Strategies to practice over spring break

A growing body of research suggests that helping children to develop good social and emotional skills early in life makes a big difference in their long-term health and well-being. According to Daniel Goleman, author of “Emotional Intelligence”, he says that through family life, “we learn how to feel about ourselves and how others will react to our feelings; how to think about these feelings and what choices we have in reacting’ how to read and express hopes and fears.” Therefore, Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) first takes place at home. When parents are able to interact with their children by helping them to work through feelings constructively and engage in respectful and caring relationships, children will then be able to navigate emotional challenges such as a disappointment, hurt or anger successfully.

Besides enrolling your children for Dolphin Kids’ Social-Emotional-Cognitive (SEC) programs, here are 5 strategies which you can consider doing on a regular basis to help improve your child’s SEL. These suggestions are also not an exhaustive list, and some may require advance thought and planning to put into action. Begin with one item and add on more as you gain comfort and confidence with using these strategies.

Providing children with opportunities to use their voices and make decisions are great ways to boost your child’s autonomy and confidence. It teaches them what it means to build respect, cooperate and develop their own problem-solving skills. Avoid overwhelming them with too many choices and make certain choices “rituals” where they get to choose consistently., e.g., What do you want to do on Saturday morning? Go to the park or the library? Get them involved in fixing problems and learn to trust that your child may be able to find a good solution to the problem with some careful consideration., e.g.,If there are books all over your child’s bedroom floor, ask her how she thinks the floor could stay clear.

Apologizing does not mean that you forget whatever your child did that was upsetting. Actually, it means that you clarify that some of what you said was hurtful and had to do with your own frustration. “It’s not whether you make a mistake, it’s how you handle that mistake”. Parents’ ability to acknowledge mistakes and accept responsibility for actions is imperative in helping their children to do the same. An effective parental apology involves a deep understanding of our child’s feelings, a great deal of self-control, and good social skills.  They are demonstrating that taking action to accept responsibility after a mistake is more important than the mistake itself.

It is normal to feel irritated or angry at times. Yet it is important to bear in mind that modelling is a powerful teacher. Learn to recognize triggers and make a plan to do something before you lose control. Allocate a “quiet spot” where family members can go when they are upset, or stop talking and leave the room for a while to calm down. Discuss as a family about what everyone can do to stay calm by creating an emotional safety plan.

Make yourself a good example, and teach your child the importance of making time to eat properly, exercise and rest. Make sure your child has time to have fun, and make sure that your child hasn’t scheduled every moment of his or her life with no “down time” to relax. Caring for oneself and even having fun will help your child stay balanced and better deal with stressful times.

In order to have friends, we have to learn to be a friend. Teach your child the skill of empathy or feeling another’s pain. By learning to connect with others, children can feel empowered and strengthen their resilience. Brainstorm with your child on how they can help others, e.g., you and your child can prepare food in a homeless shelter, go on a fundraising walk-a-thon or simply ask her to collaborate with you on household activities. This teaches children that by sharing and helping, they can make a difference in the lives of others.

Lastly, don’t forget to work together with your child’s school than work alone. Both schools and parents contribute in different ways to make the child’s learning effective. Learning SEL skills is like having an insurance policy for a healthy, positive, successful life. When children are able to master them, they are more likely to succeed in school and life.

Why Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness – I’m sure you’ve heard the word before and the many number of benefits this practice has tied to it. But, do you practice mindfulness on a regular basis? You might be thinking, “Life is so busy, who has time to be mindful?” And, this is true for a lot of us. It can be hard to stay present, be self-aware, and not think about your next move at work, home, or school. But, according to research, it’s important we try for our social, emotional, and cognitive health!

And, with stress being the #1 health epidemic of the 21st century, mindfulness is a strategy we need to practice now more than ever. In fact, the well-known fundamentals of neuroplasticity (the ability for the brain to adapt in form and function) require these basics:

  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Mindfulness – the ability to pay attention to the world around you. 

These basics are essential for adults, but they’re even more so for children whose brains and bodies are developing. Below is an excerpt from Dr. Shimi Kang’s #1 best-selling book The Dolphin Parent, which highlights the science behind the positive benefits it has on your child’s social, emotional, and cognitive health, and a few “prescriptions” on how you can implement mindfulness with your child at-home or at-school.

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. In this blog, we will discuss mindfulness as a practice of “paying close attention,” which means being aware of our internal and external environments. It’s the practice of becoming (and being) connected to our external senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching and our internal senses of feeling and thinking. Practicing mindfulness can be as simple as looking around you and noticing what’s there, such as looking at your food and noticing what and how much you’re about to eat.

Sophisticated neuroimaging studies show that mindfulness improves brain anatomy. When we pay close attention, our brain releases something called brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF)—a key chemical needed for neuroplasticity. BDNF isn’t released when we’re multitasking. So, if you’re not being mindful, you’re missing out on these incredible benefits:

Create a Favorable Environment

When our bodies and minds are relaxed, we naturally become more mindful of our internal and external states and take deeper breaths with more control. Surround your child with places and things that are known to be relaxing, such as fresh air, nature, and pets. Most children are drawn to things that naturally relax them, so sometimes all you need to do is get out of the way and let them relax.

Be a Role Model

Show your child that you value mindfulness, and deep and controlled breathing. Practice slowing down or breathing deeply a few times per day: at breakfast, in the car, during a walk, sitting at your desk, lying in your bed, or in a lineup at the coffee shop. When you’re stressed or angry, try taking deep, controlled breaths right in front of your children. Even have your child help you do it. If your child sees you making the effort to do it, even though it’s really hard (and you may give up too early and panic and get angry anyway), they will value it and also make an effort to do it. Keep in mind that when we operate in a stressed state, we find it harder to control our breathing, and that’s all the more reason to do it.

Mindfulness Exercises

The following simple exercises can help develop mindfulness. Try four or five rounds of these exercises, and notice how your body and mind relax.

Balanced breathing. Inhale for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four—all through the nose, which adds a natural resistance to the breath. You can increase your goal for six to eight counts per breath with the same objective in mind: to reduce stress by calming the nervous system and increasing focus. The key is to breathe deeply and slowly (count one-one thousand, two-one thousand, etc.). Your child can practice this anytime, anyplace—and this exercise is especially effective before bed, when racing thoughts or anxiety are distracting your child from sleep.

Box breathing. Have your child slowly “draw” the shape of a box with a finger while breathing deeply. Inhale on the left upward line, hold the breath as you “draw” the top line, exhale on the right downward line, and then hold the out breath as you “draw” the bottom line. This exercise allows for a purposeful pause between inhales and exhales. Try this one before an exam, a performance, or any stressful event. Try it, you’ll be amazed!

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

– Buddha

5 tips to get you started on a healthy tech diet

As a society, we have been spending more time than ever watching videos, browsing social media and swiping our lives away on our tablets and smartphones. According to a new study by market research group Nielsen, an average adult spend more than 11 hours per day on consuming media. Unsurprisingly, teens and tweens are on their screens for 6 to 9 hours too. And if you are a parent, you are also most likely concerned about your child’s technology usage. So as the new year is approaching, let’s consider adopting a healthy tech diet!

Just like the food we consume impacts our physical and mental health, so to does the technology we consume. A healthy tech diet comes from moderating screen-time usage and consuming healthy tech (i.e. creativity, education), limiting snack tech (i.e. certain highly addictive video games & social media), and avoiding toxic tech (i.e. cyber-bullying, pornography).

Many of us would probably agree that consuming a healthy tech diet is beneficial but we may not be ready to put it into practice yet. Perhaps we may think that it is something hard or impossible to achieve. Change is often scary and letting go of old habits is tough. So before you decide to give up the idea of changing your tech diet, read the following 5 tips that can help you get ready for a #TechDietChallenge.

Are you looking to improve your physical, social and mental health? Better sleep, attention span, social interactions and reduced anxiety and stress — these are just some common benefits of a healthy tech diet. Evaluate how your current tech diet has been affecting your life and explore your personal reason(s) for wanting an improved tech diet.

What makes you return to your old tech diet  habits? Boredom? Loneliness? Convenience? Can you replace your screen time with a screen-free activity? E.g., sports, music, arts and crafts, reading, socialising. Or if you are consuming a “toxic” (i.e., cyber-bullying, pornography) or “snack” (i.e., certain addictive video games, social media) tech diet, can you replace it with something healthier (i.e., educational, creativity) ? Identify your own needs and explore as many options as possible.

Studies have shown that individual learning and motivation emerge from collaboration and participation in groups. Let your friends/colleagues/family members know that you are taking on a new challenge to change your tech diet. This way, you will be more accountable to your goals and inspire others to set their own!

A Chinese philosopher said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Transforming your tech diet will not be a one-time effort. You have to be consistent in order to reach your goal. First of all, by breaking down your goal into smaller, easier-to-accomplish ones makes the seemingly impossible, possible. For example, if you are used to reading on your smartphone before bed, spend half the time on it and/or try reading a book instead.

If you happen to relapse, don’t beat yourself up about it. Research has shown that self-critics are much more likely to be anxious and depressed and have lower self-confidence in their abilities, which undermines their potential for success. However, if you have a compassionate response to your struggles, you are recognising that failure and mistakes are inevitable. When we are kind to ourselves, we have more intrinsic motivation — the desire to learn and grow. Therefore we not only take responsibility for our mistakes but acknowledge them with greater equanimity.

Change is tough, but you are tougher! Pledge to a healthier body, mind and soul by joining our #TechDietChallenge that begins in the new year, January 1, 2019.

Amplifying student voice: 3 ways to encourage authentic youth involvement

Research suggests student voice begins at-home and at-school. So, how can we provide more opportunities for children and youth to discover and speak their voice?

Think back to a time you had to make a decision that would impact your household or classroom. Who was involved in the decision-making process? How did you make the decision? And, did your children or students have a voice in the final outcome?

Student voice describes the ways in which children and youth have the opportunity to actively participate in decisions that can shape their lives. Student voice reflects personal identity, and gives children and youth a platform to share their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and learn perspective-taking. An environment that fosters student voice can increase motivation, spark engagement, and cultivate important social, emotional and cognitive skills among children, youth, and young adults.

Across Canada, projects have been funded to support increasing opportunities for students to contribute authentically to improving their schools. Research suggests that incorporating more student voice in education can have a profound impact on learner engagement, attendance, and motivation. When children and youth actively participate at home, at school, and in their communities, they are learning how to express their beliefs, thoughts, and ideas.

Yet, although adults may be aware of the power of student voice, we sometimes forget to listen. If we create more opportunities for student voice, we can create more teachable moments for children and youth to navigate their personal awareness, social responsibility, and ability to positively communicate their ideas with others. 

Try these three strategies at-home or at-school to provide students with more opportunities to develop and express their voice.

Family and class meetings provide opportunities for adults and students to learn cooperation, mutual respect, responsibility, and social awareness. The goal of these meetings is to collectively solve problems, share sentiments of appreciation, plan events, or reflect on the community environment.

Using this strategy in my own classroom, I’ve found weekly meetings can build peer relationships, and reinforce important life lessons of mutual respect, active listening, and perspective taking. As well, students are much more willing to cooperate when they have been involved in the decision-making process. Here’s some tips for effective family and classroom meetings:

  • Discuss the goals of these meetings with your children, and brainstorm ideas for keeping conversations respectful, reasonable, and relatable. Post these ideas on a wall or bring them to each meeting to remind your children of the boundaries they helped create.
     
  • Create a meeting “agenda” and keep it in an accessible area for your children to add the items they want to discuss to this list.
     
  • Begin with compliments. Sharing a positive affirmation towards others can increase social bonding and helps foster a safe, nurturing environment. 
     
  • Make final decisions by a majority vote. Discuss the voting process with your children, and reinforce the importance of fairness, respect, and managing your emotions (especially if the result doesn’t go your way). After a classroom or household vote, debrief with your children about the result and how this outcome will impact them.

Children and youth are more likely to express their feelings, thoughts, and ideas when they feel confident enough to do so. Teaching your children effective communication strategies can enhance their ability to effectively discuss, debate, give feedback and share their opinions with others. Also, equipping children with communication tools can help them self-regulate their emotions and boost their independence with resolving conflicts on their own.

The “sandwich method” of communication involves giving corrective feedback that is “sandwiched” between two layers of praise. First, you start off with positive feedback or an authentic compliment. This positive statement starts the conversation with empathy and puts our brains in receptive mode, which means we able to listen and accept feedback. 
 

 For example:

 “John, I really appreciate you helping me with my story in class today…”


Second, you share the “meat” of the matter, or the criticism you want to share with the other person. Discuss boundaries with your children about sharing their feedback or criticism with others. Reminders about body language, respectful tone and language, and active listening are important communication cues that can help your child express their feedback.

“…but, I didn’t appreciate when you told me my idea for the solution was lame. I worked really hard on that idea, and your comment hurt my feelings.”

Thirdly, you collectively come up with a solution or end with a statement of encouragement.

“Next time, please be respectful to my ideas. You are such a great writer, so I take your opinion to heart.”

Practice the sandwich method by role-playing with your children, and role model it as often as you can. Brainstorm relevant scenarios, and debrief with your children about the “when”, “how”, and “why” for this communication tool. 

Student voice involves taking charge of the learning process, and making decisions about what and how you learn. Passion projects provide students with the opportunity to choose a subject, skill or passion to explore more in-depth. Teachers implement these projects through the “80/20 rule” — 80% of classroom instruction time is dedicated to standardized curriculum, while the other 20% is open for students to research, practice, or develop their own passions. These longer-term projects require students to develop cognitive habits such as, brainstorming, problem-solving, trial-and-error, and creative thinking.

These projects should be encouraged at-home, too. Your child may not be aware of how they can reach their goals, what are the actions required, or the steps they need to take. Brainstorm, set goals, and listen to the passions your child wants to explore, to help guide them in the right direction. 

Creating opportunities for students to guide the course of their education can foster the skills young people need today and in the future. Engaging students to share their voice through community meetings, practicing communication tools, and passion projects leads them to developing social, emotional, and cognitive skills. Acknowledging and encouraging student voice gives them the opportunity to voice the positive changes they want to see around them.

Rethink Back To School: Stress Busters for Students

Time flies when we have fun and we’re already at the end of summer! At this time, many students may feel a sense of dread or anxiety, knowing that they are returning to school. Parents may also feel the same way following a relaxed summer period. With increased structure, academic demands and peer influence, sometimes the transition back to school can get stressful. With a little preparation and understanding what to expect, parents can help their children cope with back-to-school transition easily.

Here are 5 tips to get you started:

When your child’s environment is disorganized or lacks structure, stress and anxiety tend to increase because nothing is predictable and no one knows what to expect. Create a routine that includes the basic building blocks of physical health – regular sleep, meals and exercise. Next, build in P.O.D (Play, Others, Downtime) into their schedules instead of just packing it with academic activities. Having a purposeful schedule at home can act as a guide and give some sense of order to reduce anxiety. When your child is healthy and relaxed, she will be more likely to cooperate and enjoy school.

According to Dr. Shimi Kang, children do not usually tell parents that they are stressed. However, they may act up by displaying physical and mental signs, consciously or unconsciously. These signs can include complaints of headaches, tummy aches, tiredness, distractibility, irritability, crying spells and general unwellness. When this happens, parents ought to investigate to see if the complaint is a manifestation of stress. She added that it is important to recognise the child’s feelings and behaviour and help the child to discuss what’s happening and why, and this brings us to our next point.

Before jumping into advice-giving, pause to listen to your child’s concerns.
Ask yourself, “What is she worried about?” Why does she expect that to happen?” Hold yourself back from judging and let your child share about what’s on her mind. When you can understand your child’s troubles, develop a coping plan with them. When children are stressed, they doubt their ability to cope. Address what’s bothering them by brainstorming together with them to create a actionable plan with concrete solutions. Think about worst case scenarios together and coach your child on how to cope and analyse both real and imagined stressful situation.

Teach and encourage your child to master the power of positive self-talk. Studies have shown that positive coping statements can help us cope through stressful moments. When your child is able to use positive words to lift themselves up, they become their own personal motivational coach. Make this a fun activity by creating “Coping Cards” with your child. Ask them to write down a positive coping statement for every difficult situation they can imagine. They can carry it in their pocket or bag to help remind themselves.

Below are some examples of coping statements:

1. Stop, and breathe, I can do this
2. This will pass
3. I can be anxious/angry/sad and still deal with this
4. I have done this before, and I can do it again
5. I’m stronger than I think
6. I will learn from this experience, even if it seems hard to understand right now
7. This is difficult and uncomfortable, but it is only temporary
8. I choose to see this challenge as an opportunity
9. I can learn from this and it will be easier next time
10. Keep calm and carry on

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is usually one of the most commonly overlooked ways to manage stress. Speak with your child’s teachers, principal and other relevant school staff about your concerns and ask if they are able to assist in any way possible. Before doing so, it is important to ask your child for her opinion because some children may be self-conscious and so it is necessary to talk to your child about your intentions first. If you think that you have applied every technique possible and still find yourself at wits’ end, working with the school counsellor to discuss more alternatives may be useful. Besides, counsellors can also help you identify an underlying mental health disorder, that may need professional help in order to get treated.

The start of new classes, subjects, teachers, friends, homework and rules can be overwhelming. It is normal for your child to have some worries. However, it is important for them to attend school. Skipping school will only increase stress and anxiety because your child is only avoiding her worries and have no chance to problem-solve them. Model pro-activeness as a parent and teach your child life-long lessons of resilience and adaptability!

How to Discover and Develop the Strengths of Your Child

In today’s world, much emphasis is placed on success. Because of the focus on high performance, many students often feel like they don’t have enough strengths. We often hear about how we ought to “play to our strengths” in order to succeed. However, what does it really mean?

Defining strengths

According to Australian Psychologist Lea Waters, strengths have three components:

He or she is good at it.
He or she feels good and becomes energized while doing it.
He or she often chooses to do it.

Talent-based strengths vs Character Based Strengths

After three decades of research, psychologists have discovered the definition of strengths, and have categorised them into two broad categories, talent-based strengths and character-based strengths. Talent-based strengths may include being good at music or having an excellent understanding of math, while character-based strengths include being exceptionally compassionate or brave.

As parents, it is easier to focus more on talent-based strengths because it is performance-based and observable. However, we have to be careful as this may have a negative effect on children who may not have yet identified their talent-based strengths because they start to think that they have little or no strengths at all.  As such, it is vital to also pay attention to character strengths which are moral-based and reveal through actions and feelings. By doing so, we are teaching them that attributes such as courage and perseverance are needed for overcoming difficulties in life, which would eventually help them recognise and develop their talent-based strengths too. Furthermore, studies have also shown that the most important character-based strengths for our well-being and happiness have been found to be gratitude, optimism, enthusiasm, curiosity and love.

So how do we help our children to discover and develop their strengths? Here are 5 practical steps:

Parents want their children to succeed and they usually have their best interests at heart. However, sometimes we may unknowingly burden our child by assessing everything they do.

For example, when your child shows you an artwork she did, instead of saying whether it is good or not, ask her what she likes about making it. By evaluating your child’s performance, it may cause your child to worry about how well they do, which may in turn hinder their ability to take healthy risks. Unreasonably high expectations may often pressure children to deter from creativity, experimentation and innovation and influence them to conform to rigid and prescribed guidelines from others. Because of how children love to please adults, they may perform so that they can gain parents’ approval rather than because they truly enjoy the task. When parents minimize expectations, children can then be free to discover what they feel energized by.  Help your children to grow into who they are, rather than who you think they should be.+

When children are allowed to be free to explore new things, the easier it be to discover strengths. Let your child be exposed to various social settings as well as a broad range of activities from art to music, dance, sports and nature. Be mindful not to only choose the ones that you think are beneficial for them. While they are at it, take time to observe the way they play and enjoy themselves. The best way to identify strengths in two or three-year-olds is to notice carefully when they are playing with other children. Besides noticing their talent-based strengths, watch for their character-based strengths as well. Is your child kind towards his or her friends? Does he or she tries to persist in solving a problem? When teamwork is required, does your child lead and influence others?

Listen to your child by being curious. Ask open-ended questions and show your interest in your child’s perspective. At the age of five, children’s ability to reason increases and so it is a great time to involve them in decision-making about activities they should or should not pursue. Questions like, “What do you think?” and “Why do you think that?” increases a child’s autonomy. If you sense that your child is giving up easily due to some struggles, remind them that learning something new or becoming skilled in an activity takes practice, patience and perseverance. Most importantly, be that role model who stick at things even when they are tough so that they can learn from your example.

Notice your child’s character-based strengths and appreciate and compliment them for it. Here are some examples:

  • When your child practices honesty by admitting to a mistake, thank them.
     
  • When your child makes you laugh, tell them that you enjoy their sense of humour.
     
  • When your child is trying to overcome a tough situation (e.g., separation from parents or going to a new school), tell them how brave they are.
     
  • When your child shares generously with their friends, tell them how kind they are being.
     
  • When your child is able to wait patiently for her turn, praise them for showing good self-control.
     
  • When your child chooses to forgive their sibling or friend for having upset them, show them that you are proud of them.

Encourage your child to engage in their strengths in new ways on a regular basis. Strengths can grow if you can help them think up creative ways to use them in their daily life. Here are some examples:

  • If your child shows creativity, help them find new things they can make or problems they can solve.
     
  • If your child enjoys being sociable, help them spend more meaningful time with their friends or expose them to more social settings.
     
  • If your child likes being helpful to others, help them think of kind deeds for friends and family.
     
  • If your child shows leadership skills, allow them opportunities to organize things and influence others.
     
  • If your child has an adventurous spirit, help them find challenging tasks or activities which they can overcome.

Sometimes as parents we tend to focus on fixing weaknesses and problems, and looking for strengths can be less common. However, research has proven that discovering and developing our strengths is crucial for improving health and well-being. So dial back the criticism and start noticing your child’s strengths. Help your children to value and use their strengths regularly, and they will lead happier and more fulfilling lives.