Supporting students’ social needs during Distance Learning and beyond

August 11, 2020

Starting the year in Distance Learning has been a challenge our entire community is rising to meet together. It has been a joy to see how our students have connected with teachers and friends again. Their smiles are contagious and their energy is high!

Many parents wrote to us about this social connection in the first week of school, sharing their enthusiasm (and relief!) at how happy their children are to see their friends again.

Naturally, parents worry about how they can keep kids connected during isolation, and build their social and emotional skills while dealing with the fears of too much screen time and months of not interacting with peers in person.  While distance learning is not equal to in-person socialization, it does bring social opportunities, especially for kids who have felt lonely or disconnected over the school break.

But many parents are asking us, “What more can we do to support our kids socially and emotionally at home?”. Here are a few recommended tips to support your children at home:

Tip #1: Try (Virtual) Teamwork or Play

Supervised online playdates, game nights, and social events using technology platforms can get kids collaborating together and playing online.

Tip #2: Daily Check-Ins

Checking in with daily conversations,  journaling, or writing to name feelings and talk about what kids like about the specific people they miss is one way to connect offline.

Tip #3: Validate Your Child’s Feelings

Acknowledging children’s’ feelings with statements such as, ‘I know this must be hard for you,’ helps children feel seen, heard and understood.

Tip #4: Add an Activity

Helping your child research or explore a new hobby, passion, or idea to learn online outside of schoolwork can generate excitement for new interests.

Tip #5: Get Kids to Talk!

Guiding children to talk about how they are feeling and helping to name and identify emotions gives a sense of control and teaches children they are capable of managing their emotions.

Tip #6: Foster Independence

Help your child gain confidence in their growing independence, encouraging them to come up with strategies for combating social isolation together. Praise your child’s newly developed abilities in distance learning and connecting with peers.

While social isolation is a challenge for everyone, children are remarkably adaptable and resilient. Together, parents and school community members need to be vigilant in observing the expected behavioral changes and difficulties children might be having during this time.

Finding intentional ways to support children to build their core social and emotional skills at home is possible at home with parents, siblings, pets, or new ways of connecting with peers online.  Making time for these experiences is a fantastic way of supporting students’ social and emotional development, in partnership with what we are doing at EARJ in terms of community, connection, and confidence this year.

Interested in reading more?

Common Sense Media: Online Playdates and More

Coronavirus Isolation: How to Help Children Feel a Little Less Lonely

Expert Advice: Keeping kids social at home during lockdown

Kirstin White
Barra Lower School Principal

Learn how to say ‘No’

June 3, 2020

It is hard as a parent to say NO to your children in normal situations, but with all that is going on in the world, it is even harder.  There are many books on the market that help teach parents to say no.  David Walsh wrote a book called No: Why Kids – of All Ages – Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say and I had a parent group read it in the past.  It was interesting to hear parent stories about how hard it was to say no to your child.

We have all been at the store when your child asks you to buy something like a candy bar.  It is hard to say no, but there are times when we must.  Saying no doesn’t mean that you are a bad parent and students need to learn that they can’t have everything.  I wrote before about giving my daughter control over her money and it really helped with not having her ask me for everything.  She now has to decide if she wants to spend money on the candy she sees or save it for the iPhone she wants.  This will be a great skill to have when she is older.

We are hearing from parents that they are struggling to get students to work and stay off video games and youtube.  Some adults are struggling to stay off of Facebook or other social media sites.  It is OK for you to make a rule that there can be no technology used for pleasure until school work is done.  We use this rule in our home and it seems to work well.  It was hard to get started, but it was worth it!

One other problem we are hearing about from parents is students struggling with issues relating to technology used at night or on the weekends.  Many students are online using apps and social media sites that are age-restricted above their age.  Some even have their accounts open to the public and can be viewed by anyone.  Why do we as parents allow them to use these sites?  Here are some examples:

Facebook – Age 13

Instagram – Age 13

Whatsapp – Age 13

WeChat – Age 18 [age were considered a minor] (13 and older with parental approval)

Youtube – Age 18 (13 and older  with parental approval)

TikTok – Age 18  (16 and older  with parental approval)

Most of these restrictions are set by US law through the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and are designed to keep children safe.  Some children are not ready to deal with the content or the interactions associated with having these accounts.  Many times when I have met with parents and students about their online behavior, parents tell me they either didn’t know there was an age restriction or they just couldn’t say no.  Every parent should spend some time on the Commons Sense Media website to see what you can do to support your child.

Take a few minutes and go into one of your online accounts now and look at your photos.  Could someone find you?  Could they find your child?  Did you ask your child if you could post their photos?  Are there things in the background or is there writing on your clothing that might indicate where you are or where they might find you?  Are you OK with others knowing this information?  If not, check your privacy settings.  You would be amazed at how many people have their accounts with no restrictions on them.  Please watch this video about Sharenting. Have you asked your child if you can post their image?  I just did this with my daughter and her graduation photos.  We sat down together and discussed which ones could be shared.

I am telling you now that you as parents can say NO.  Your child needs you to say NO.  If you have already opened the door for these online apps, you might want to sit down together and look at the privacy settings.  You could also talk about how your child is using social media and what they should do if they get into a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable.  I speak from experience that this is not easy, but remember, you are not alone in this struggle.  Good luck!

Nate Swenson
Gávea Lower School Principal

Growth Mindset: Helping Student Choose Empowering Beliefs

February 18, 2020

A Story of An Average Kid 

I wasn’t always an average kid. I used to believe that I could fly by getting a running jump from the top of the stairs while using my blanket as a cape that somehow turned me into a human glider. I had Luke Skywalker Underoos and could wield the power of The Force. My wiffle ball bat was my lightsaber, I knew Karate, and nothing was impossible. 

Over time, however, I forgot how awesome I was and learned something different, that I was in fact, just average. In sports, in academics, in reading, and in math… average. I knew this because I was in the middle reading group, every year. Not the high, not the low, just the middle… just average. In math class when my teachers presented new problems on the board I wasn’t the first to get them, nor was I the last. During recess when we would choose captains and pick teams, I wasn’t the first nor the last kid chosen, usually somewhere in between… just average.  

By the time I was in middle school, I knew exactly who I was and where I fit in. I was a B to B minus student. I would work up to that level, rarely past it, and rarely fall below it. I had acquired a significant amount of evidence over the years that proved who I was, and I was most definitely an average person of average ability, or so I learned to believe.


What is Mindset & Why It Matters

The story above is a universal one. One in which a child starts with magical thinking and an undefined belief system, that over time develops into a personal identity and a series of beliefs about how the world works. Sometimes the beliefs we accept are empowering ones that support our development and foster success, while other times we adopt self-limiting beliefs that prevent us from fulfilling our potential. Regardless of what we believe, like human placebos, we are presented with evidence that confirms and reinforces our beliefs, creating cycles of self-fulfilling prophecies that give shape to our lives.   

Today, we have an ever-increasing body of evidence in the area of performance psychology that indicates that what we believe matters, big time. What psychologists call Mindset, a collection of beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions about how the world works, orients the way we handle different situations (Klein, 2016). In particular, research suggests that what we believe about intelligence and ability can have a significant impact on our performance.


The Two Mindsets: Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset 

Dr. Carol Dweck (2006), renowned Stanford Psychologist popularized the idea of mindsets by contrasting different beliefs about where our abilities come from. She found that within all of us there exist two competing mindsets, one which she calls the fixed mindset in which we believe that ability is innate and that intelligence is a fixed trait, like eye color or height. The other which she calls a growth mindset, in which we believe that ability and intelligence can be developed as we can develop our muscles by working out in the gym.

Dr. Dweck states, “that students’ mindsets — how they perceive their abilities — play a key role in their motivation and achievement, and we found that if we changed students’ mindsets, we could boost their achievement. More precisely, students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset). And when students learned through a structured program that they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better. 

Recent advances in neuroscience, particularly in the area of brain plasticity, indicate that our brains are quite malleable, much more than was previously believed. Studies show that sustained practice overtime increases connectivity between neurons. With practice, neural networks grow new connections and strengthen existing ones through a process called myelination that speeds up the transmission of neural impulses. The actions we take change our brains and can enhance them over time (Dweck, 2015).


Redefining Average

Performance psychologists and neuroscientists are not claiming that innate talent doesn’t exist, nor that some people aren’t born with more of it than others. But rather than within each one of us there exists a continuum of potential, a spectrum of possibility within which our abilities, skills and even our intelligence can be greatly developed. I had developed a fixed mindset, and believed that I was forever destined to average performance due to average ability. Fortunately, I changed that belief. I now believe that the average person has tremendous potential, a potential so great that the vast majority of people never come anywhere close to realizing it. I believe that each and every one of us can greatly improve our knowledge, abilities, and skills in whatever arena we so choose to. 

I would like all of our students to believe that they are more than enough, and can improve their ability and increase their skills in academics, in sports, or in any area in which we improve through learning. I want them to believe that by combining dedication and hard work with good strategies and proper practice, that they can change their brains, grow their intelligence and greatly increase their ability in any area, be it art, math, science or soccer, that they so choose to.


Helping Children Develop Empowering Beliefs

If you are a teacher or parent and would like to learn more about Dr. Carol Dweck and her work, please see the resources below which tools that you can use to foster growth mindsets in your students or children:

Dr. Carol Dweck: The Power of Believing You Can Improve

Mindset Kit: Growth Mindset for Educators 

Mindset Kit: Growth Mindset for Parents 

Mindset Works: How Parents Can Instill a Growth Mindset

Tim Shirk
Barra Upper School Principal