TALK IT OUT
Resetting for Fall
Soothing the new-school-year jitters
While some kids can’t wait for school to start, others are reluctant for summer to end, in part because they’re feeling anxious as they anticipate all the changes—new teachers, new classes, new routines. If yours fall into the latter camp, consider this advice from Tara Tamny-Young, Ph.D., a pediatric neuropsychologist at Next Generation Pediatrics, who teaches mindfulness. She offers tips for moving into the fall with confidence.
I.D. THEIR FEELINGS—NOT YOURS
“The first thing I might do is tell a child that it’s OK to feel anxious, that it’s normal and everybody feels that way sometimes,” says Tara. She recommends that parents ask their kids about specific concerns, being careful not to project their own worries or expectations onto the kids. “As parents, we may have our own concerns and we rush to think that that’s what the child is worried about, too. But it may be much more simplistic. Maybe you’re worried about the teacher, but your child is concerned about getting back into math.” And you don’t want to give kids more reasons to feel anxious.
BE MINDFUL AND BEAT STRESS
Once kids have labeled what’s bugging them, then it’s time to help them let it go. “Belly breathing helps to reduce the physiological effects of anxiety and to trick our bodies into feeling calm so we have more resources to deal with it,” says Tara. After reassuring kids that it’s just a feeling and they can handle it (using phrases like, this is just a thought, I won’t let it get to me), it’s time to get them busy with fun activities to take their minds off of things, whether it’s playing a sport or instrument, visiting a friend, doing a craft or just taking a walk.
PREP FOR SCHOOL IN A LAID-BACK, FUN WAY
If your children need help brushing up on some academic skills (and this is one of their concerns), don’t bombard them with math drills or flash cards. Instead, play Yahtzee or Scrabble and have them add up the points or get a book of word searches. For the younger kids (kindergarten age) games like Simon Says, Red Light/Green Light and Freeze Dance help to teach them regulation and self control.
RESET YOUR ROUTINES
Most parents try to dial back to earlier bedtimes before the first day. But it’s also smart to revive other rituals, such as setting out clothes the night before, doing this for at least a week in advance. “If your rule during the school year is no screens during the week, then start that habit again as you get closer to school time,” Tara suggests.
TEACH POSITIVE SELF-TALK
Once school’s back in swing, encourage kids to be less critical of themselves. “I tell them to talk to themselves the way they would talk to their friends. We often give our friends a lot of compassion, but we don’t give it to ourselves. What would you say to your friend who did poorly on a spelling test? You wouldn’t say, ‘You’re stupid.’ You’d say, ‘Oh, that happens, I’ve been there.’ Try to talk that way to yourself.”
SIMPLE TIPS & TRICKS
Keep Calm & Carry On
Simple tips for keeping morning chaos to a minimum
Beat the morning rush by creating a night-before checklist, starting with one or two tasks only. For example, brush teeth and choose clothes for the next day. Reinforce consistency with those items, and then add a third task (pack up all your homework in the right sections) and reinforce those three things. After three things are mastered, then add a fourth thing. Gradually increase expectations until they can manage the steps needed to make the mornings easier.
Take a photo of the items kids need to pack in their backpack every morning, and display it by the door for a visual reminder.
FILE IT AWAY
Notebooks can get heavy and messy over the course of the year. Place a separate file at the child’s desk at home for old papers that they want to save but don’t need to carry around.
Set the tone for a positive day at school. If kids feel anxious, it can cloud their ability to “get it together.” Try a few morning yoga moves or phone apps such as Calm, Headspace or Wild Divine or emWave biofeedback (from heartmath.com).
Spread out the homework each afternoon/evening. Clarify the assignments and ask your student to guesstimate how much time each assignment will take. Add on an extra fifteen minutes as a buffer. Set up a little reward in the evening for sharing their completed homework with you. Some kids benefit from a play or snack break between subjects, making the workload seem more manageable.
Beyond the Classroom
Out-of-the-box after-school programs
Level Up Village features classes with kids around the world. In Global Storybook Engineers, students listen to folktales and stories from different cultures, and then engineer solutions to rescue storybook heroes by building boats, Bristlebots and more, using recycled materials. They share design challenges with their global partner class through video, learning about each other’s cultures in the process. In Global Sound Artists, kids use recycled materials to build instruments. Global Programming: Animators teaches kids as young as K through second grade the basics of coding in Scratch. levelupvillage.com
So much of what adults love about yoga classes—the stretching, the breathing and bonding with others—can have big benefits for kids, too. At Kaia Yoga’s Old Greenwich studio tweens and teens can try aerial yoga on Sundays, learning Sun Salutations, inversions and arm balances all while airborne. On Mondays, there’s a kid series of basic yoga classes (ages six to nine). The studio can also put together custom classes for a group: You can organize a yoga playdate for a bunch of kids or create a few classes for a private group. kaiayoga.com
EN GARDE FOR THE LITTLES
This sport builds confidence and encourages respect for opponents. Kids younger than eight years old can learn it at the Stamford Fencing Center, which offers private lessons and group classes. The club’s instructors include champions and former Olympic coaches, who train kids for fun and for competition. stamfordfencingcenter.com
Kids can get creative at weekly classes at the Clay Art Center in Port Chester. In Objects of My Imagination, the youngest kids (ages six to nine) build animals and modern sculptures. In Tween Wheel, kids (ten to twelve) spin the potter’s wheel and create plates, bowls and other glazed art. clayartcenter.org
FEEL THE RHYTHM
Kids ages four-and-a-half to ten can build fitness and coordination at high-energy Zumba classes at Great Play in Stamford. In a party-like atmosphere, they learn hip-hop and Latin dance moves and also play dance-related games like Survivor and Musical Hoops. greatplaystamford.com
Volunteer opportunities for the younger set can be tough to find. A Greenwich mom and her daughter have changed all that
Most parents would like to teach their kids to help others in some way. But when, where and how? Those were questions that Jennifer Kelley had when she was seeking volunteer opportunities for her young daughter, Lexi, nearly a decade ago. Then, on Lexi’s twelfth birthday, the mom and daughter were in a serious car accident and Lexi was badly hurt. While in the hospital recovering, she received homemade cards, small gifts and visits from other kids, gestures that helped her to regain strength and feel back to normal. “As she got better she said, ‘The power of kids to make a difference through small acts is huge,’” her mom recalls. Soon, with her mom’s help, Lexi founded Kids Helping Kids.
This group is organized so that older kids can mentor and train the younger ones. “I’m a big believer in having kids of lots of different ages working together,” says Jennifer, a former Wall Street exec who’s now the executive director of the group. Kids are busy and she always welcomes one-time volunteers. But Jennifer finds that once children get a taste for helping others, they want to come back for more. Some grow up with the group, launching events as fifth-graders and still serving as leaders in high school. “This is more than community service. Our mission is to develop leadership skills. It starts when they’re little, and we encourage them to act and think for themselves.”
Kids in kindergarten through third grade, can start simply by showing up for one of the events; for grades four and up, the kids are asked to attend an orientation meeting (held once a month) to learn about projects that were started by kids their age. The following are some ways the group is helping.
SMILES FOR SCHOOL
Every August, the kids put together bags of school supplies for other kids who live at Inspirica. Older kids and student ambassadors lead the younger ones, who will help to shop for supplies and decorate tote bags to fill with notebooks, pencils and more. Each child writes a note of encouragement for the child receiving the bag.
What happens when girls can’t afford a prom dress? After discovering how expensive the dresses can be, a teen organized this project to help others have a dignified shopping experience with gently used dresses of all styles and sizes, and jewelry. Younger kids can help with organizing the ‘merchandise.’
GIFT OF GIVING
For this annual holiday event, kids collect thousands of new and gently used presents, enabling underserved kids to buy holiday gifts for their loved ones. Last year 125 volunteers participated.
If your kids love to draw or paint, they can apply their artistic skills toward creating cards for kids who are in the hospital or those who have cancer. The group has made thousands of cards over the years, working with a thirteen-year-old Stamford girl who also has her own nonprofit called Caring With Grace.
Go to kidshelpingkidsct.org for a calendar of events and list of upcoming volunteer opportunities.
Greenwich mom Emily Joslin started Compass Kids for the very youngest volunteers, ages four to seven. A lifelong volunteer herself, she was inspired by her young son, Max, who’s now six, when at age four he began asking her tough questions like why do some kids not have homes or food or toys? She organizes projects and outings that allow the littlest ones to participate and learn about giving to others. Her recent parent-child programs have included a visit to an animal shelter, a PJ drive for homeless kids, a toy drive, an art project with senior citizens, and many others. Kids create “Give,” “Save” and “Spend” money jars to learn about how they can donate to good causes. compasskidsclub.org