End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy: A Q&A with Michele Borba, Ed.D.

By Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy: The Proven 6Rs of Bullying Prevention That Create Inclusive, Safe, and Caring Schools

End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy: A Q&A with Michele Borba, Ed.D.Bullying, alienation, and self-doubt should not—and need not—plague any students in our classrooms. In April, Dr. Michele Borba offered proven, practical teaching practices that mobilize student empathy in an edWebinar. She shared proactive, no-cost strategies you can use the very next day in your classroom and can weave into existing lesson plans. Watch the recording of “End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy: Create Safe, Caring, Inclusive Learning Climates,” then read on for a bonus Q&A with Dr. Michele Borba.

1. Is it far easier to care for the wounds of a bullying target than it is to rehabilitate a student who bullies?
“It all depends” sounds too simplistic, but it is the truth when it comes to the time of recovery for a target versus rehabilitating a student who bullies. Educators can provide extraordinary care, counseling, and help to children, but much of recovery or rehabilitation relies on measures outside of our control. That’s why the medical model should be applied. There are a few variables: How long has the bullying been going on? How much of a support system does the child have? Are parents offering help, love, and assurance at home? Do the recovery or rehabilitation strategies match the problem? Is the child monitored and in a safe, trusting environment? Does the child have a relationship with the counselor and staff? How intense was the bullying? What is the resilience makeup of the child? Phew! Bullying is learned, and it can be unlearned. Targets can bounce back. Children who bully can be rehabilitated. But their success “all depends” on several factors. Let’s never give up!

2. How do you get your administration to practice these empathy traits?
Behavior change always starts with why the new practice is important. A big part of implementing empathy-based skills is educators (and parents, community members, and students, as well) understanding the enormous benefits for students and that empathy can be cultivated and is not “soft and fluffy” but transformational. Only then will adults recognize that change must start with them—not students. A couple of ideas:

  • Suggest that your colleagues hold Brave Staff Chats in your staff meetings (five minutes max) about empathy building. End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy offers dozens of Brave Chats topics. The trick is not to intimidate the administrator, but to begin to have conversations about how the way adults treat each other trickles down to students.
  • The best way to teach empathy to students is through modeling. Try modeling how to hold a dialogue, disagree respectfully, or listen for the feelings or thoughts behind the other person’s idea. You might consider discussing strategies for this at a staff meeting.

3. Is the 3″ x 5″ red card used only to identify adult allies, or could students also list another student who might be their go-to person?
Great question, and the answer is yes—please use the 3″ x 5″ card not only to identify adult allies students can go to for safety, but to identify another student as a go-to person as well. In fact, using the 3″ x 5″ red card for kids to list a peer (or peers) as an ally is a great way to determine your school’s “social influencers.” Those are the students who could be trained to be peer counselors or peer mentors. They are also great people to enlist for help on Kindness Committees and can mobilize their peers to be upstanders. Remember, when you use the 3″ x 5″ card strategy, always remind students that they can remain anonymous and that they do not have to include their names on the cards.

4. What can we do about teacher colleagues who disrespect or bully students when administration will not intervene?
The fact that certain colleagues disrespect and/or bully students is sad. And we all know adults who lack empathy and civility. If the administration does not intervene, then you have a few options. The first is to verbalize your concerns to the administrator. Bullying usually happens when other adults are not present, so don’t assume the administrator is aware of the situation. Writing up the concern is another option. (If the school has reporting procedures for bullying, such as an anonymous report box, phone number, email, or electronic website, consider that.) The administrator needs evidence of the bullying, and reporting would be one option. Finally, keep a watchful eye out for the student. You could mobilize other colleagues to do the same. Some teachers suggest that a bullied child (whether the child is being bullied by an adult or another student) use these teachers’ rooms as a safe zone. Every child needs safety.

5. Do you run into kids who see “kindness as weakness” and who don’t reciprocate the concepts of empathy and respect? What happens to them?
I don’t run into kids who see “kindness as weakness,” but I encounter many students who don’t know how to be kind, don’t see themselves as a “caring person,” or don’t have adults in their lives who acknowledge the value of kindness. Not reciprocating the concepts of empathy and respect can have several ramifications. Here are three concerns:

  • The child won’t develop a caring mindset. Kids who have caring mindsets are more likely to act in a caring manner with prosocial behaviors.
  • The child may not stretch his or her capacity for empathy, so character development is truncated.
  • Since empathy plays a key role in the development of healthy relationships, social development and/or healthy relationships could be curtailed.

6. How do you answer parents who think kindness might make their kids “wimpy”?
We must help parents recognize that empathy and kindness are strengths, not weaknesses. The first step might be to start parenting book clubs. UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by yours truly or How to Raise Kind Kids by Thomas Lickona are two choices that strongly lay the case that kindness is crucial and not soft and fluffy. You could also look for current news articles online that explain the value of empathy.

7. Just wondering how to get teachers to buy in to these ideas about empathy?
The goal is to help teachers recognize how essential empathy building is to their students’ success both in the classroom and in life. The key is to help teachers recognize that the best empathy practices are not tacked on but woven into content. Empathy building starts with teachers modeling empathy, creating relationships with students, and gently weaving empathy into existing lessons and curriculum. That approach helps teachers realize empathy building is doable and that it is not a program but a process.

  • Appoint yourself “staff researcher” to get information about empathy into the hands of staff and administrators.
  • Encourage your staff to do a book discussion about using End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy. The discussion may start a buzz about empathy and how we should treat one another.
  • Help teachers recognize that many existing best practices support empathy building as well as academic achievement. Classroom meetings, cooperative learning, jigsaw learning, restorative justice, and conflict resolution are a few.
  • Set a Google alert for news articles and research about empathy, and then distribute this information to staff members (including administrators).
  • Create a table or bulletin board to share and display resources and lessons on empathy building. Some administrators do a five-minute “whip” at each faculty meeting where all staff members share a simple way that they’ve woven empathy-building practices into their classrooms.

8. Which preventive bullying programs do you recommend?
Thanks for that question! I’m convinced that no single program provides a one-stop shop for preventing bullying and improving school climate. All programs have blind spots, biases, and flaws. Bullying prevention is not a program, but a process to reduce peer cruelty through an inside-out approach that relies on those who have the best pulse on the issue—the actual stakeholders. Our big mistake is overlooking this part of effective bullying prevention: creating a safe and positive learning community to support all students’ cognitive, social, moral, and emotional development.

The best research-based approaches to bullying prevention are PBIS, Olweus, Second Step, and Responsive Classroom because these approaches have solid research supporting them. But that said, students must develop new skills to replace aggression or victimization, and the approach must also mobilize other students—the bystanders—to step in. That’s why I wrote End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy. It shows the best proven practices to reduce bullying and teaches the crucial 6Rs of bullying prevention: establish the right rules, help students recognize bullying, create procedures for students to report bullying, teach student witnesses how to respond to bullying, help targets refuse provocation and cope with victimization, and help students replace aggression with acceptable skills.

Doing so will not only prevent bullying and other forms of aggression, but, according to research from the National School Climate Center, will also increase student achievement, enhance school connectedness, and reduce potential drop-out rates—all because you’re developing an environment where students want to “drop in.”

9. How do you deal with students (and parents) who say that this is Trump’s America now and kindness doesn’t matter?
Kindness, empathy, and civility breed in kind, empathetic, and civil environments, and we’re currently witnessing a watershed moment in character that is disturbing. An annual poll conducted by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate with KRC Research found that 75 percent of Americans agree incivility in America has risen to crisis levels and is impacting our children’s behavior and values. I work in hundreds of schools, and a common concern for educators across zip codes is exactly what you stated: “Kids say kindness doesn’t matter.” The result: Bullying, aggression, and racism are increasing. And as empathy dips and self-absorption increases, people don’t feel that values and rules apply to them.

But don’t despair: Adults who cultivate caring, kind children don’t do so by accident. In today’s toxic character climate, we must be far more intentional in our empathy-building efforts. It starts by modeling empathy ourselves and setting clear boundaries: “When you walk through that school or classroom door, I expect respectful behavior and you will be held accountable.” We need to step up, not back, when it comes to exposing our values. I’d suggest you start a bulletin board and display real stories about kind, caring people and how they are making a difference in the world. Today’s kids hear and see a lot of doom and gloom about our world, and this creates “compassion fatigue.” They see they world as a mean and bad place. Let’s show them that empathy and character matter!

10. What was the percentage increase of narcissistic children in the past 40 years?
A University of Michigan study led by Sara Konrath analyzed over 72 studies and found that American teens’ narcissism rates increased 58 percent in 30 years while their empathy levels dropped 40 percent. Narcissists are interested only in getting what they can for themselves. “If I ruled the world, it would be a better place.” “I always know what I am doing.” “I will never be satisfied until I get all that I deserve.” The current self-admiration craze wouldn’t be as worrisome if a focus on others was increasing at the same time, but that isn’t happening. Other studies have had similar findings.

michele-borbaMichele Borba, Ed.D., is an internationally renowned educator, award-winning author, and parenting, child, and bullying prevention expert. She appears frequently in national media, including on the Today show, Dr. Phil, Dateline, Anderson Cooper, and Dr. Drew, and in TIME, Washington Post, Newsweek, People, The New York Times, and many others. A sought-after motivational speaker, she has presented workshops and keynote addresses throughout the world and has served as a consultant to hundreds of schools and organizations including the Pentagon, who hired Michele to work on eighteen US Army bases to train educators and counselors on bullying prevention. She offers realistic, research-based advice culled from a career of working with over 1 million parents and educators worldwide.

Her proposal “Ending School Violence and Bullying” (SB1667) was signed into California law in 2002. She was awarded the 2016 National Child Safety Award by the Child Safety Network. She lives in Palm Springs, California.

Follow Michele on Twitter @micheleborba. Or visit her website at micheleborba.com

EndPeerCrueltyBuildEmpathyMichele Borba is the author of End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy: The Proven 6Rs of Bullying Prevention That Create Inclusive, Safe, and Caring Schools

 


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Relational Aggression in Elementary School: The Search for the Power Between

By Amanda C. Symmes, LICSW

Relational Aggression in Elementary School: The Search for the Power BetweenSome days I find “Notes to the Counselor” scrawled on recycled scraps of paper and stuffed into a box outside my office. These notes, usually authored by girls, hold genuine pain that graphite cannot contain:

Dear Ms. Symmes,
Jill and Dasia won’t talk to me anymore. We used to all be best friends, but now they keep whispering about me, and when I try to talk to them, they roll their eyes and walk away. They also said I cannot be in their group for the social studies project anymore and I don’t know what to do! Please help!

Other days, I open my office door to find someone who has left lunch crying because she cannot “handle the drama anymore.” She tells me, “Leilani posted a duet with me on Musically, and then Cece said in the comments that I was so ugly and why would Leilani even want to sing with me. I texted Cece about it, and she tried to say her account was hacked and she didn’t say it, but I know she did. When I Facetimed her later, she said I never cared about our friendship in the first place and hung up on me. And now today, she is telling people not to talk to me because I am a liar!”

What Is Relational Aggression?
Relational aggression is often referred to as “girl drama.” (While this can be something that impacts boys as well, boys more often engage in physical aggression.) According to the National Association of School Psychologists, relational aggression is defined as “harm within relationships that is caused by covert bullying or manipulating behavior.” Essentially, power is derived from negatively utilizing the space between individuals (the relationship) to manipulate and/or cause damage, thereby gaining power over another person or people.

How to Spot It
In order to address relational aggression, we need to know what we are looking for. Examples of this behavior include:

  • keeping someone out of a group
  • attempting to split friendship groups or forcing friends to “pick sides”
  • laughing and talking about peers (often combined with denial: “We weren’t laughing or talking about you.”)
  • sarcastic comments passed off as jokes (“I was just kidding!”)
  • repeating negative comments or gossip (“I thought she should know what was said about her.”)
  • exaggerations that are unfair and elaborate
  • eye-rolling
  • turning away from someone
  • saying things like “Ugh” or “Eww” near another peer
  • disgusted tone of voice
  • looking another person up and down in a judgmental way
  • inauthentic compliments
  • refusing to sit with someone
  • rude comments disguised as helpful suggestions
  • passing notes
  • ignoring someone or pretending the person isn’t there

What Drives It?
As a school counselor in an elementary school, I see relational aggression often, and it breaks my heart because it can be so damaging and ways to fix it often feel elusive. Since all behavior has meaning, it is important that we take the time to dive deeper into this particular issue. I usually consider the child’s circumstances: Is his or her home happy and safe? What are the relationships like in the family? Does the student struggle with low self-esteem, anxiety, or another mental health or academic challenge? Often a correlation can be found.

However, beyond this, we must not be afraid to wade down deeper into the thick soil of our collective truth: Our school cultures are microcosms of the larger culture within which they are contained. There is evidence of toxic relational landscapes all around us; the messages are evident in our media and our government. Our kids are watching. And manipulation and humiliation in an attempt to strip someone of his or her power happens, often with little accountability. So, yes, our schools will reflect that.

But There Is Hope!
I am happy to share that while addressing relational aggression feels daunting, we can and are making progress:

  • The first step in solving any problem is recognizing it. I think we have finally begun this. We can more effectively see what we are looking at and all the nuanced ways in which relational aggression manifests. Watch for those “How to Spot It” signs, and make sure relational aggression is part of any anti-bullying lessons you conduct with students so they can learn to spot it too.
  • The second step is naming it. I appreciate not having to call it “girl drama” (a belittling and unhelpful term in my opinion). Identifying the problem as relational aggression moves the focus away from girls being the problem and shifts it onto behaviors being the problem. Seeing relational aggression as a thing outside of them, girls can then make a choice to engage in it or not.
  • The third step is talking about it. And we are. Through talking about things bravely and carefully, we develop awareness. Let’s be more vulnerable in this dialogue. I recommend that educators attend seminars and workshops on the topic, which can help you recognize relational aggression and teach you strategies to address it. (I attended this excellent seminar presented by Developmental Resources.) You can also address the topic in teacher and staff meetings. We need to prioritize this conversation.

Being the Change
Whether you are a parent, a teacher, a paraprofessional, an administrator, or a school counselor, you can take an active role in making change:

  • Talk about relational aggression with students. Use real examples (without names) and scenarios that kids can relate to.
  • Teach empathy and perspective taking.
  • Practice self-advocacy and conflict resolution.
  • Validate that this is complex and hard.
  • Emphasize that at any time we can choose to interrupt these negative patterns by being kind, walking away, choosing not to repeat gossip, calling out the behavior, or talking about it.
  • Have big conversations led by kids.
  • Teach students about power over and power between. (Kids are smarter than we think about this sort of thing! Illustrate how one person can seize power to make decisions that impact many, as well as situations where “the many” decide together how they will function and what will happen next.)
  • Model power between with circle time conversations where all voices matter.
  • Begin to take notice of your own relational behaviors. (Notice how you communicate with your colleagues while kids are watching.)
  • Talk about mistakes you’ve made in relationships, what you learned, and how you changed.

Talking Over It
Even though I actively teach lessons intended to reduce relational aggression, I still see it. At times this is frustrating, but I realize progress always takes time. So in the meantime, I continue to talk over these things. To me, “talking over it” means addressing incidents of relational aggression when (or right after) we see them. Use real examples from kids’ lives to help them understand what’s happening and offer ways they can end it. Some of the messages I have offered when talking over it include:

  • “You will never regret being kind.” I usually expand on this and tell kids that they may go home and wish they had not said or done something that day, but that they will never regret choosing kindness and can always feel good about that choice.
  • “Thoughts are not facts.” Teach kids about how thoughts influence feelings and feelings influence behaviors. While this is a clinical idea, it doesn’t have to be overly complicated to teach. We can teach that a negative thought—for example, “She thinks I am ugly”—can easily lead to feelings such as sadness or anxiety, and, in turn, these feelings can lead to dysfunctional behaviors like avoiding the person we think dislikes us, acting without confidence, or lashing out at that person. Once kids understand this, teach them that they can interrupt this cycle by telling themselves that thoughts are not always facts and that they can find more rational thoughts to focus on instead. This thinking skill has proved to reduce relational difficulties.
  • “Did that make the problem bigger or smaller?” I use this when kids defend their dysfunctional relational behavior by saying it had a noble purpose: “I just had to tell her what so and so said about her. She needed to know.” When you encounter gossip or retaliation, name it and remind students that sometimes just sitting with the issue and letting it stay the size it is, rather than feeding it so it grows, can be a powerful choice.
  • “Just because it is your own opinion or thought does not mean it needs to be shared out loud.” This is another one I use when children impulsively say whatever it is that occurs to them and use the argument that they are “entitled to their opinion” to justify hurtful behavior. Recently I have seen kids stopping themselves from letting out unnecessary opinions, and I always do my best to let them know I see their efforts.
  • “You are not a bad kid, you made a bad choice.” Often when children are disciplined for relational aggression, shame sets in, and that can fuel more of the same type of behavior. It’s important to talk over this in a way that helps students separate who they are from what they did and feel supported to make choices that align with who they wish to be.

Beyond these incident-specific tips, it’s also a good idea to talk about social media. Different kids have different levels of supervision regarding their social media use, so it is always important to discuss the dangers. But more importantly, don’t be afraid to talk about the positive things that the internet can offer too. Challenge kids to find inspirational, creative, interesting, or funny things to share with one another. Teach them to make their relational online spaces happy and positive, and teach them to keep these spaces that way.

It can be interesting and educational to find clips of relational aggression taking place in movies and television shows and “talk over” those too. Students will likely be more comfortable identifying relational aggression in situations that are removed from their own, so use these examples to generate dialogue and self-reflection.

Connection Is the Antidote (Always)
Because relational aggression is so complex and layered, we have to be willing to sit with the fact that there is no simple solution. Relationships require us to be brave, vulnerable, and honest. When we are, our authenticity grows. And when we are out of touch with our authentic selves (or allow our children to be), aggression spills into our relational spaces. The antidote to this toxicity is and always will be connection. Connection matters. Children thrive when they feel connected to those around them. Connection is what allows us to feel whole, valued, and strong enough to make better choices.

Connection is the DNA of relationships, and it is what creates a sturdy foundation so we can make hard changes.

Finding Our Power
By really talking with kids, we can help them feel like they are seen, heard, and cared for. Dig deep to find something unique with each child. Be delighted about whatever that something is. Ask more questions. Seek them out to follow up on it. We need to be genuinely excited to see and hear from children. Once this connection is established, children will feel the quality of this connective tissue and be more capable and willing to create it with others around them. Relational aggression seeks power over, so in order to dismantle it, we must light up one another with connection so that we may all choose to embrace the power between.

Amanda C. Symmes, LICSW, is a social worker currently serving as a school adjustment counselor in Haverhill, Massachusetts. She adores her work with children and is continually amazed by the talented and caring staff she is surrounded by each day. Aside from her work family, Amanda lives with her supportive husband and three kids (ages 16, 13, and 6) and enjoys spending time with them taking in all the beauty and wonder in the world while at the same time “talking over” the nonsensical parts of life.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


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Posted in Bullying Prevention & Conflict Resolution, Counselor's Corner | Tagged , | 8 Comments

10 Ways to Help Immigrant Children Separated from Their Parents

10 Ways to Help Immigrant Children Separated from Their ParentsOn Monday, June 18, ProPublica released a heartbreaking audio recording allegedly captured inside a US Customs and Border Protection facility. The desperate cries of children separated from their parents have haunted and enraged millions of Americans and have left us wondering, what can I do? For those feeling helpless and compelled to take action, here are some ways to help:


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How to Model Healthy Screen Time: 5 Tips for Parents

By Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D., author of Ollie Outside: Screen-Free Fun

How to Model Healthy Screen Time: 5 Tips for ParentsAs a child psychologist, I frequently meet with children and teens to help them better manage their technology use. From video games to social media and everything else that is screen related, research has shown that there’s a very real relationship between children’s overuse of screens and the emotional, social, academic, and/or health struggles (for example, weight gain and sleep problems) they are experiencing. Putting in place restrictions and limitations on screen time can certainly help, but in my experience, parental involvement—including what parents model—is the key to success when it comes to healthy and balanced technology time for children.

Most parents I meet with aren’t aware of the impact their own screen time practices have on their children, and many parents also believe they model good screen time use when oftentimes they don’t. What I’ve found in my work with families is actually consistent with the literature in this area. For example, a 2016 large-scale survey conducted by Common Sense Media found a concerning contradiction between what parents say they want for or expect of their children when it comes to technology and what they actually do themselves. More specifically, the survey found that parents spend more than nine hours a day with screen media, with the majority of that time being personal screen time. While this is about the same amount of time children and teens are using media for entertainment, the vast majority of parents (about 80 percent) in the survey believed they were excellent role models with technology.

Thus, how we as parents use technology ourselves is important, and here are five tips to consider with your children.

1. Be mindful.
It has become more and more difficult, due to the ubiquitous presence of technology in our day-to-day lives, for parents to have conversations or engage in activities with their children without the interference of some sort of screen. But this disconnect between parents and children can be corrected—with effort and practice—when parents are mindful.

Mindfulness has been defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness fully on the present moment, with feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations being calmly acknowledged and accepted and used as a therapeutic technique. So, for instance, by being mindfully present when talking to your child without allowing technology in at all, the quality of those moments will improve and so, too, will your connection with your child. Sure, we’re all guilty of walking into the house while talking on the phone or texting or checking social media or the news in the presence of our children, but why not make a conscious effort as a parent to cut down on technology distractions for yourself and your children? Having focused exchanges that involve thoughtful and intentional comments and active listening (without technology) will help your children read social cues better and be better critical thinkers and communicators.

2. Eat together as a family.
Research has shown that children who eat three or more meals a week with their parents experience greater social, academic, and emotional success than children who don’t. Sexual promiscuity, as well as drug and alcohol use, also appears to occur less frequently in children who enjoy sitting down to meals as a family. Thus, by planning family mealtime and by not allowing any technology use whatsoever while eating together, your child and you can have several go-to times each week to connect and communicate more meaningfully while at home.

How to Model Healthy Screen Time: 5 Tips for Parents3. Be careful with what you post and do online.
Children learn through the observations, experiences, and instructions they receive, and much of that learning occurs within the parent-child relationship. And this couldn’t be truer when it comes to how parents behave online. For example, a parent recently brought her eight-year-old son to see me to address his “Minecraft and YouTube addiction.” While the child acknowledged that he does indeed spend a lot of time on both Minecraft and YouTube in our first meeting, he also quickly pointed out, “But my mom is always on her phone playing Candy Crush.” Similarly, when recently discussing the inappropriate drinking of a teen patient of mine, the teen said, “My mom is a huge drinker. Just check out her Facebook feed—it’s full of I’m-stressed-out-where’s-my-wine memes.”

4. Create screen-free zones and times in your home.
Without putting in place some ground rules for where and when technology is used in the home, your child’s smartphone, computer, tablet, and/or gaming system can go from complementing his or her life to dominating it. Thus, creating screen-free zones and times for your child can be very helpful.

Certainly each family is unique, so I recommend that parents take some time to think about where and when technology is to be used in the home and how well that is working. In my opinion, when it comes to our children, bedrooms are for sleeping. So allowing children to have TVs or gaming systems in their bedrooms can lead to problems. And problems can also occur when children use computers in their bedrooms. When it comes to technology, it’s probably better to have an area in the home where children can go to watch TV, game, or complete their homework. So, if you have a TV or computer in your bedroom, as a parent, you might want to rethink what you’re modeling for your child.

And while structuring screen time may not always be possible, I think it’s important for children to know that technology is generally something that’s used after completing responsibilities and not during meaningful activities. It’s one thing for your child to send someone a quick text, but getting chores or homework done before prolonged technology use is a better practice in the short run, and it will help your child be a more self-disciplined and productive achiever in the long run.

5. Strive for balance.
Parents so often want to put restrictions on technology for their children, especially when its overuse has become a problem. But in my opinion, too many restrictions can feel punitive to children, who may in turn become defensive with their parents. So, rather than arguing or fighting about screens with your child, I think setting expectations for balance, and modeling that balance, is a more positive and productive approach to take when it comes to using technology more healthfully in the home. Think about it this way: If your expectation as a parent is for your child to join a team sport or an after-school club or activity, that’s time away from technology. Every moment your child is doing something enjoyable and productive away from technology is a good moment (be it small or large), and you won’t need to be so restrictive when you create more screen-free options or moments.

So, the next time you get the urge to look at your phone during storytime, mealtime, or playtime with your child, or the next time you catch yourself wanting to text while driving in the car or during a conversation with your child, try to remember that you’re the parent and what you model matters. Our children are watching what we say and do. So be moderate, lead by example, and practice what you preach when it comes to technology use.

Author Michael OberschneiderMichael Oberschneider, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist and the founder and director of Ashburn Psychological and Psychiatric Services, a private mental health practice located in Northern Virginia. He has been featured as a mental health expert on CNN, Good Morning America, and other popular media outlets, and he has written articles for several news agencies, including The Washington Post. Dr. Oberschneider has also received Washingtonian Magazine’s “Top Therapist” honor for his work with children and adolescents. He lives in Leesburg, Virginia, with his wife Liz and two children, Ava and Otto.

Ollie Outside: Screen-Free FunMichael Oberschneider is the author of Ollie Outside: Screen-Free Fun.


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Reframing Deficit Thinking: How to Change Perceptions for the Better

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn

Reframing Deficit Thinking: How to Change Perceptions for the BetterMany of you know that my work in curriculum and instruction has been to raise the ceiling for all kids. I challenge educators to increase the rigor for all kids, not just gifted or advanced learners. When sharing examples of “raising the ceiling,” I will often hear teachers remark, “My kids can’t do this,” or, “My students are so disruptive they will not be able to do this.” Well, as the old adage goes: “Whether you think they can or you think they can’t, you are right!” How we see children has a profound effect on how we educate them.

These negative beliefs about children are defined as “deficit thinking”—the spoken and unspoken assumptions about a student’s lack of self-regulation, ability, or aptitude. The most devastating impact of deficit thinking is when differences—particularly socio-cultural differences—are perceived as inferior, dysfunctional, or deviant.

Additionally, deficit thinking has a profound negative influence on confidence and self-efficacy. The beliefs we have about our abilities and talents directly affect our academic performance. When children receive negative messages regarding their performance or behaviors, they begin a serious downward spiral in confidence and self-efficacy.

Typically, schools are designed to “fix” students who are achieving poorly or misbehaving. However, by blaming students, we exonerate ourselves as the possible cause—using the symptom to overlook the source.

I’d like to offer a process based on work by Lois Weiner (2006) on how to shift deficit thinking to more productive surplus thinking.

  1. Objectively scrutinize and describe in observable, specific terms what behaviors or performances you find concerning. Avoid using “loaded” language (wording that is highly emotional, subjective, biased, or stereotyping).
  2. Identify when the behaviors or inferior performances happen. Is it early morning, late afternoon? Is it when the child may be tired, hungry, disinterested, or unaware of the value of the activity? Typically, behavioral disruptions follow a pattern. Maybe the subject is not of interest to the child or the child lacks the fundamental skills to succeed. Maybe it has nothing at all to do with the child’s ability or aptitude.
  3. Investigate where the issues arise. Is it in a classroom other than yours? What kinds of structures are in place, or is there a lack of structures? All this can impact how a student behaves or performs.
  4. Consider who is bothered by the behaviors. If it’s only you or other teachers, then maybe it’s an adult issue and not the child’s issue. If a behavior is impacting other students, then there is reason for concern.
  5. Now it’s time to revise your own thinking about your student. List those positive characteristics the child possesses. No child is born naughty, and every child wants to learn. Even if you must dig deep to find it, all children have something of value about them and all want to develop their talents.
  6. From this list of positive characteristics, create short sentences to reframe how you approach the issue. Below are examples from my own experiences. James was always getting into “trouble,” and Sasha was a nonproducer. Here is how I reframed my thinking about these students:
    • “James has an amazing sense of humor.”
    • “Sasha enjoys read-aloud time.”
  7. Now, add to that reframing in a positive way. For example:
    • “James has an amazing sense of humor. Maybe his clowning during class means that he needs a time and place to share his talent. I’m going to suggest theater training to his parents.”
    • “Sasha enjoys read-aloud time. Therefore, she may prefer listening to text rather than reading it, so I’m going to provide her with an audio version of the novel.”

Given that teachers have an enormous amount of power in students’ classroom performance and in recommending and placing students in special education and gifted or advanced level programs, our beliefs and attitudes can have a dramatic effect on student success. It is our moral imperative to scrutinize and challenge what we assume about children and reframe the way we think about them from “they can’t” to “they can with my help.”

Reference
Weiner, L. (2006). “Challenging Deficit Thinking.” Educational Leadership 64, no. 1: 42–45.

Richard CashRichard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition Differentiation for Gifted Learners


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