Counsellor's Corner

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Counsellor's Corner provides tips, information and resources on specific topics.  These entries are also included in the monthly school newsletters, which are available online.

Career Development in Elementary School?

Summer Family Time

What to Do With "I Don't Knows..."

Matching the Size of Your Reaction to the Size of Your Problem

Helping Kids Handle Stress

Sleep Habits for Good Mental & Physical Health

Kindness and Reaching Out

Get to Know Your Brain

Managing Disappointment

Taking Risks

Making Mistakes

Mandalas and Relaxation

NS 211 and Family Law Community Resources

Teaching Children Refusal Skills

Positive and Negative Self-Talk

School Counselling Week

 

Career Development in Elementary School?

Children in elementary school are not choosing courses that will affect their future employment, nor are they applying for jobs.  However, that does not mean that career education and development are not relevant for them.  At younger ages, career development looks like:

  • Understanding themselves- their preferences, skills, passions and temperament
  • Learning about different available occupations

Try not to steer your child away from any occupations at this age.  When your daughter tells you she wants to be a rapper, try to help her figure out what it is that attracts her about that.  Does she like to be creative?  To perform?  When your son says he wants to design video games, ask whether he wants to work outside or inside, with others or on his own.  Does he like detailed work and solving problems?  The specific occupations they name will likely change as they get older, but many of the qualities of the work may still be there.  For example, both doctors and personal care workers help take care of people and work with families. These conversations can be fun, eye-opening, and can help your child begin to recognize characteristics about themselves that will help them shape their futures. 

Summer Family Time

For some, summers are a busy rush of trips and visiting, or days spent away from home due to child care arrangements.  For others, it means a lot of sitting around the house and spending too much time on screens.  Find a compromise this summer by trying some of these free or low-cost activities that your family can do together:

  • Walk at Shubie Park and then rent kayaks there or go for a swim at Shubie Beach
  • Take the ferry and hang out on the waterfront- bring a picnic and get some ice cream. Or, do the same on the Dartmouth side to avoid the ferry cost...
  • Visit the Black Cultural Centre in Cherrybrook
  • Do some really good sidewalk art
  • Ride your bike or walk somewhere new
  • Have a water balloon fight
  • Play basketball at as many different courts as you can
  • Walk around Lake Banook, watch some paddling, then go for a swim at Birch Cove
  • Go to a new playground

I Don’t Know What To Do With, “I Don’t Knows”…

 Parent: “What’s wrong?” Child: “I don’t know”. Communication with our kids is important, but it’s not always easy.  If you get frustrated by frequent “I don’t know” answers from your children, you’re not alone.  “I don’t know” can actually mean a lot of different things, including:

  • I don’t want to talk right now
  • I’m not sure how to put it into words
  • I think you might not approve of my answer or will get mad at me
  • I think you’ll have too many questions or comments, so I’m avoiding the question
  • I’m thinking about something else and not putting any real thought in my answer
  • I really don’t know

Without interrogating your kid, try to find out what’s underneath the “I don’t know”.  You may come to understand that they need some space and/or time to think about what they want to say, or some help finding the right words.  Sometimes, naming feelings is a good place to start.  As much as is practical, make sure that you make the time to listen to your reluctant speakers when they do want to share.  Also, make sure that you don’t give them your too many of your own “I don’t knows” when answering questions from them.  Communication, as you know, goes both ways.

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Reacting Appropriately to Problems: Matching the Size of Your Reaction to the Size of Your Problem

 Part of everyday life includes being presented with problems, both big and small.  Various problems require different reactions and solutions based on their size.  People can run into difficulty when the sizes of their reactions don’t match the size of the problems.  We can sometimes overreact to a small issue, which can make the situation even harder to manage.  For example, a student may yell and hit if someone cuts in front of them in line, or may cry and tear up a sheet if they can’t find a pencil.

 You can help your child learn to evaluate the seriousness of problems.  In a calm moment, discuss some problems and their relative sizes (you could rate them from sizes 1-5), and then look at what reactions are appropriate for each problem size.  For example, someone cutting in line might be a “2”, and an appropriate reaction would be feeling annoyed.  It is important for kids who tend to overreact to know that a “5” is something really serious like an emergency or tragedy, not just “someone being mean”.

 You can ask, “How big is the feeling? (sad, mad, scared, frustrated, worried, hurt, disappointed, excited, etc…)

   There are lots of good and easy-to-find printable resources online that you can use with your children.  Searching for, “size of problem, size of reaction, Zones of Regulation” etc. will yield good results.  You can also contact me if you would like some resources or to discuss this topic in more detail.

Helping Kids Handle Stress

Stress is not just something that adults have to deal with- the issues in children's lives are often as real to them as yours are to you. 

Some stressors for kids can include:

  • Change and loss (moving, family changes, grading, to name a few)
  • Difficulty with school work and/or homework
  • Being over-committed (soccer and piano and karate and...)
  • Problems with friends, peers and/or family members

Remember, though, that stress can be positive- it tells us that something in not right, and it can motivate us to make things better.  Healthy stress also helps us do our best by pushing us further.  Stress is only a problem when it becomes too big, or when we handle it in ways that cause more problems.

Help your child learn to manage stress rather than fixing their problems for them.  This will be good for both them and you, as you watch your children grow into competent, well-balanced people.  Helping them develop strong self-esteem and know when and how to get help are important.  As well, learning and practising relaxation techniques, decision-making problem-solving and assertive communication skills will give them tools they need to handle stress well.

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Sleep Habits for Good Mental & Physical Health

Better Sleep = Better Mental and Physical Health = Better Student Achievement

 Sleep is the foundation of health and self-care. Sleep-deprived kids and adults are more impulsive, anxious, and don’t solve everyday problems or remember information as well as those who get enough rest.  A good night’s sleep is vital to the growing mind and body of a child or pre-teen, and to the healthy functioning of any adult.  Quality is as important as quantity when it comes to sleep.  Even if someone appears to get enough hours or rest, they may not be sleeping deeply or well, and so may still experiences the challenges that go along with poor sleep. 

 Tips for better sleep (for adults and children), according to Coulombe, A. and Corkum, P. (2013), include:

 1)       Age appropriate bed time

2)       Consistency in bedtime and waking times

3)       Follow  a regular evening routine

4)       Location – ensure bedrooms are set up for sleeping

5)       No electronics in the bedroom (see note about the blue light effect above)

6)       Regular exercise and nutritious diet.

Some other good resources:

1)      What We've Learned About Kids And Sleep In 2015: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/09/08/sleep-kids-tips_n_7485616.html

2)      How to Stop Morning Anxiety: http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/15495/1/How-to-Stop-Morning-Anxiety.html

Helpful Blue Light filter app for Android Devices and PCs: “Blue Light Filter for Eye Care” available at Google Play Store for free

 

Thanks to school counsellor Andrew Gosney for the information in this month’s Counsellor’s Corner.

Kindness and Reaching Out

Children learn what they live.  When adults foster and model caring & empathy, this helps our children be more aware of others and different ways of living & thinking.  Showing compassion also builds self-control and healthy self-esteem.  Every day, we choose how to treat others.  Kindness is a choice, just like positive thinking.  When we’re kind, we are seeing someone else’s point of view.  Here are some questions to start conversations about kindness:

  1. How much time does it take to be kind?
  2. Think about the feelings you have when someone is kind to you.  how long does that feeling last?
  3. Do you need to spend money or have any special tools or training to be kind?
  4. How do you feel when you’re kind?
  5. Does it matter whether anyone compliments us for being kind?
  6. What can you/I/we do today/this week/during the holiday to show kindness?

Adapted from The Mind Up Curriculum

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Get to Know Your Brain

Managing Disappointment

We want our children to feel the world is open to them, that they can achieve their dreams and be who they want to be.  However, we also need to give them the tools to handle it when things don’t go their way.  Being disappointed sometimes is part of life, and protecting them from this will not help them feel strong and resilient.  It is not realistic or helpful to recognize every positive move that a child makes.  In fact, the risk is that they will learn to only do things if they will get an external reward, rather than because it is the right thing to do.  This can actually erode self-esteem and self-confidence, and make success meaningless.  Your child needs to know that the world will not end if she didn’t get chosen for something, and that he’s not a failure if he didn’t get a reward for an achievement.  You can help children learn to manage disappointment through

  • Helping them name and discuss their feelings
  • Helping them give themselves messages like, “My teacher still likes me, even if I didn’t get a ribbon this month”
  • Focusing on developing an internal sense of pride
  • Holding them to realistically high standards
  • Being supportive without being overprotective

Success and recognition will truly feel even sweeter for your children if balanced by occasional disappointment. 

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Taking Risks

It’s important to let kids try things and take risks, to help them develop strong self-esteem and self-confidence.  We all want our kids to be safe, and to know that we are there to support them.  At the same time, it is important to raise kids who feel like they are competent and can handle tough things that come up.  We need to let them take appropriate risks, and make them do things on their own when possible (even if it’s easier to do it for them).  If they try and succeed, then they learn that they are capable and feel good about themselves.  If are not successful, they learn that the world won’t end if they fail, and they can practice how to work through this.  You can be their teacher, their cheerleader, and their soft place to fall if needed. 

 There is a lot of research showing the problems kids have when we “bubble wrap” them and don’t let them fail/succeed on their own; it seems to be one of the big reasons we see an increase in childhood anxiety, and can lead to kids feeling helpless. We want our children to become strong adults who are confident and resilient, and who can manage difficult feelings and solve problems.  So, let them zip their own jackets, take off the training wheels, handle a problem with a friend on their own… and navigate a thousand other challenges. It’s tough to watch sometimes, and frustrating, and things sometimes take a lot longer, but it’s also totally worth the journey.

Making Mistakes

 “Messing up is how you learn to fix things”.  This line from the sitcom “Black-ish” contains some important ideas:  making mistakes is common, okay, and can even help you learn and make things better.  They can even help you be more creative by taking risks and forcing you to go in unexpected directions.  Also, we can learn more about ourselves and how we handle ourselves in tough situations when have to “make things right again”.  Chances are, you’ll survive your mistakes, and they will make you stronger.   This is true at school, home and in life in general.  However, many children (and adults) are afraid of making mistakes.  They may worry about looking bad to others, feeling badly about themselves, bad things happening if they “mess up”.

Try answering some of these questions together as a family. 

  1. A mistake I made was…
  2. Here’s how I feel about mistakes…
  3. Something I’ve done that I’m not proud of is…
  4. Something I learned from a mistake I made was…
  5. Something good that happened because of a mistake was…

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Mandalas and Relaxation

 Sometimes, it’s a gift to yourself to slow down and have some peaceful and creative time.  Colouring mandalas are used as a way to relax and help your mind be quiet.  The word “Mandala” comes from the Sanskrit language, and means “circle”, although not all mandalas are round.  The shapes and lines represent peace, balance and unity.   It doesn’t matter how long they take to do or how you choose to colour them..  here is a mini  winter one for you to enjoy.  If you would like to have some larger mandalas, let me know.  You can also design your own- I’d love to see what you come up with!  There are also many other ways to help calm your mind- I’d be happy to help you find some strategies that might be useful for you.

 

 NS Family Law and NS 211 Community Resources

  211: When you don't know where to turnFamilies often have to deal with many different kinds of issues, and it can be hard to find reliable information and answers when you need them.  I’d like to tell you about two fairly new free resources in the province that can be a great help.  Nova Scotia 211 is a 24/7 multi-language service that can be accessed online or over the phone.  Phone operators are friendly and work hard to help you (I’ve called them myself).  You can search for information on financial, social and food assistance, housing, disability and other government supports, mental health and parenting programs, and a lot more.  Just dial 211 or visit www.ns.211.ca. Family Law Nova Scotia (www.nsfamilylaw.ca) is a website launched by the Justice Minister that helps explain family laws to Nova Scotians.  It offers clear information and resources about family law, including separation and divorce, custody and access, child support, mental health and family violence.  Please see my guidance page on the school website for information about these and lots of other community resources.

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 Teaching Children Refusal Skills- Learning to say "No" appropriately

Children who are taught and practice refusal skills are more likely to make positive choices and less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors. Helping kids set limits for themselves and say "no" to outside pressures also increases their self-confidence. Below are a few strategies you can help your child practice- try some role plays using them.

  • Say "No" or "No, thanks"- over and over if necessary.
  • Call it what it is (e.g. “That’s cheating and I don’t do that”)
  • Talk about something else.
    Ask questions (e.g. “Why would you want me to do that?”)
  • Give reasons (e.g. “If I did that, I would feel bad about it”)
  • Use humor or sarcasm, but carefully (e.g. “Sure- I’d love to be grounded for doing that!”)
  • Suggest doing something else
    If you want their friendship, keep the door open. (e.g. "I’ll be at home if you want to play video games”)

Positive and Negative Self-Talk

What we think colours how we feel and what we do.  Sometimes, unhelpful thinking can get in the way of children feeling competent, safe, or able to relax and enjoy themselves.  If you see behaviour that concerns you, try to find out about the thoughts behind your child’s actions.  Reframing these “unhelpful thoughts” can help change feelings, which then can help change what we do. An example…

 

Thought: “I’m stupid in math”     Feeling: Sad, Embarrassed       Behaviour: Avoiding math, giving up

As opposed to

Thought: “I can get this”              Feeling: Determined                  Behaviour: Working hard, asking for help

 Remember, it can be difficult for young children to understand the concept of what a thought is, and it can be especially difficult to tell the difference between a thought and a feeling. For example, your child may say his or her thought is “I’m scared” (which is actually a feeling) versus “I think I might fall” (which is a thought). It is important to expose the thoughts underneath the feelings! For example, “What are you scared about? What do you might happen?” (from “Healthy Thinking for Younger Children”)

For more information and resources, check out the Stress and Anxiety section of my website, and Anxiety BC’s great site at www.anxietybc.ca

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School Counselling Week

February 2-6 2015 marked the second annual Canadian School Counselling Week, celebrating the work we do in schools across the country.  School counsellors help to support the personal, social, educational, career development, mental health and well-being needs of students in grades primary through twelve.  With other school staff, we provide anti-bullying, personal safety and abuse prevention, conflict resolution, and communication skills education and other programming, and act as student advocates.  Offering classroom sessions, small-group and individual counselling, and providing resources and support to teachers are all ways that we help to address student needs.  We also work with families, community agencies, and help families access resources and services.

 Unfortunately, most elementary schools in our board do not have school counsellors, and almost all split their time between two schools, although a small number of positions have been added recently.  You are among the lucky ones!  There are plans to continue to expand the number of school counsellors at the elementary level- feel free to add your voice to help make this happen.  As always, please contact me if you have questions or are looking for support for your child(ren) or your family.  I can be reached at 902 435-8363, 902 435-8734 or through email, at ldempster@hrsb.ca