Talking with Kids During Collective Uncertainty

Talking with Kids During Collective Uncertainty

by Holly Schweitzer Dunn, LISW
 
By Holly Schweitzer Dunn, LISW
 
Another terribly confusing, scary crisis.  Watching a mob of angry people flood into a building that is a symbol of everything we take for granted- freedom, safety, personal opinion, free speech, cooperation, working for the greater good- in our democratic society glued me to my tv and phone.  I permitted my children extra video game time knowing they were wearing headsets and interacting in all their tween glory with their friends, unaware of yet another trauma unfolding while I tried to make dinner, reading and re-reading the recipe, the details and steps not able to hold together in my mind.  I wanted them to be unaware, at least until I could wrap my brain around what was happening and how to explain it to them.
 
Just as we were all beginning to feel a little hopeful that the Covid vaccine would turn life back to normal we were subjected, again, to fear and uncertainty. This time it was at the Capitol Building. Over this past week, many parents have asked the best way to address this with their children. Here are our recommendations:
 
1.  Talk to your kids about what happened.  They know more than you think they do and deserve to hear the facts from you.  Be sure to use developmentally appropriate language and detail.  A typical three year old does not have the emotional or mental capacity to understand the complexities of mob mentality and perception.  They do, however, understand that different people have different opinions and that everyone wants treated fairly and deserves to live in safety.  They also understand that leaders and words have power.
 
2.  Share still images that allow your children to have accurate mental images.  Showing an entire video of the Capitol break-in is probably not appropriate for most school age children.  Allowing them to see images of broken windows, the women carrying to safety the case of electoral college votes, or protestors gathering outside the Capitol building can give them snapshots of the event that fill in the missing pieces they have from the uncertainty and from their lack of life experience.
 
3.  Turn off the radio, tv news, and news notifications on your phone.  As caregivers our first and most important responsibility is the safety and well being of our children.  Be in control of the information they see and hear in your home.  This is also a good time to review the filters and parent controls on your children’s cell phones, computers, tablets and other devices to ensure you are doing your best to safeguard against unwanted information inadvertently entering your home.
 
4.  Remember children need to process the information just as adults need.  In young children this looks like playing out their reality.  You may see your children re-enacting their interpretation of recent events.  You likely have already seen and heard your children play COVID-themed enactments.  Older children may talk about it with you or with their friends, draw, write, tweet or post on social media (if permitted) their thoughts, questions, and opinions.  This is normal and to be encouraged.
 
5.  Encourage action.  To regain a sense of empowerment after a trauma finding “doing steps” is key.  Helping your children find where their power lies and appropriately exerting it is not only a rebuilding step after a trauma, it is a life lesson they will carry into adulthood.  Doing steps can be simple:  drawing a picture that tells the story of what happened, saying a prayer or meditation to regain a sense of peace and center, playing outside and breathing in the cold air as a reminder of safety.  It can also include writing a letter to a congressperson, talking to someone with differing political views, thinking about someone you know and love who believes differently than you.
 

 

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Possibility within change

Possibility within change

by Holly Schweitzer Dunn, LISW


Seeing Possibility Within the Change

The meditation for July 16th in my Greg Henry Quinn book 365 Meditations for Teachers is: “Everything in Life is Cyclical.” This axiom provides a warning: if things are going well, prepare yourself. It also provides eternal hope. No matter how bad things are, they must eventually improve.” It’s helpful to keep this in mind as we move further into the summer and closer to a school year that remains yet undefined.

Knowing and believing in the inevitability of change can bring us peace.  As bad as things seem, they will get better.  Really savor how calm things are now. At some point this will shift.  Accepting change opens us up to all the possibilities and opportunities change brings.

What happens when we don’t like the opportunities change brings?

This is where acceptance is crucial. As we have said, to accept something does not necessarily mean you like what is happening. It means you’ve chosen to stop fighting against or running from it, and instead recognize it is here.  It is what it is. Acceptance changes you. It does not change the situation.

Because there are so many unknowns in the world right now, it’s important to focus on what we do know for sure.

  • I am here in this moment and I am breathing.
  • I am preparing my lessons to be as effective as possible either in-person or through video.
  • I am more prepared for remote learning this fall than I was in the spring.
  • Even though I have anxiety about the upcoming school year, I fully and deeply trust myself to make decisions that are safest for me and my family.
  • I know that I will plan to start waking early on August 1st to prepare myself for school year hours, and that, realistically, I will not actually begin this practice until August 20th.

Quinn also says this about change: “When a child learns to accept change without fear, he or she then affects change within himself or herself by learning. A teacher [can] be the comfort of continuity from which new and exciting things spring.”

As parents and educators, we are in the position to be the constants for our children. This does not require us to ignore our own fears or try to fake our way through them. Children, as you know, quickly see through that. Even if you aren’t seeing yourself as a wellspring of “comfort of continuity”, your children and students are looking to you. Model to them authenticity, openness to new possibilities, and rolling with the unexpected.

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Parenting Amid A Pandemic

Parenting Amid A Pandemic

by Michele Minehart, Community Educator
 
As if parenting wasn’t enough of a challenge, we now get to navigate tweens, teens, toddlers and everyone in-between, all while social distancing and explaining the very real need for us to take action against a disease.
 
This is a good time to remember one of Holly Schweitzer Dunn’s top three mantras: Parent emotion drives child emotion.
When parents are mindful of their emotional state they are more prone to recognize the impact they have on their children.  The brain hears tone before it hears anything else.  When a parent’s tone is off, children become aware of this more than they are aware of the actual words being said.  How many times have you sworn to your child you are “not angry” only to hear back from him that he knows you are angry because he can “hear it in your voice?”  Our kids know so much more than we give them credit for.
 
What parents can do:
1.  Model self care and self awareness.
2.  Model honesty with emotions and accountability to managing those emotions in respectful, healthy ways.
3.  Create home environments where honest discussion of the pandemic (in developmentally appropriate ways) takes place.
4.  Model how to acknowledge the fear and uncertainty of the quarantine while also acknowledging awareness of good, normal, neutral.
 
This might look like:
  •  A parent becoming tearful at the dinner table while voicing both sadness and appreciation for the bad germs making people sick and the brave workers who are taking care of everyone.
  • A parent pausing to take a deep breath while walking outside, mentioning gratitude for healthy lungs and the smell of spring while also acknowledging how strange and eerie it feels to see empty neighborhood streets.
  • A parent recognizing that their frustration at not-quite-right items in their grocery delivery was driven by a need to feel in control of something- anything!- during this time when so much is unknown and uncertain.

Read more about parenting from the professional wisdom of an article by The Atlantic

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The power of choice in social distancing

The power of choice in social distancing

by Michele Minehart, Community Educator

 

Last week our Governor announced that Ohio would be staying home from all school, play, and non-essential work until at least May 4. Many of our clients came to us with a similar question: How will I survive this for another month?

Therapist Holly Schweitzer Dunn, LISW, suggests we reframe this to view quarantine from an empowerment place rather than experiencing it only as a victim provides freedom and even a sense of autonomy where we once felt powerless. Try on one of these:

  • Instead of “I have to quarantine” try “I’m staying home to bring safety to myself, to spread safety and to love to the world.” 
  • Instead of “I have no other option” say to yourself, “I choose to follow these guidelines for the good of all.”
  • Rather than “I am helpless in this” remind yourself that “I have control over how I handle this.”

By viewing your actions as an empowered individual and keeping in view the larger goal – public health and personal safety – we can feel differently about our living conditions with all their restraints. You still might long for a leisurely trip to the mall or wish you could gather with friends for dinner, but shifting from “I can’t” to “I choose not to at this time” keeps you mentally in the driver’s seat.  

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Mindful Educators

Mindful Educators

Mindful Parenting Course

Mindful Educators:

 

Monday, June 15, 2020, 9 AM – 4:30 PM

At Toledo’s Wildwood Metropark Ward Pavillion 

Mindful Educators is a day-long retreat experience designed to help teachers return to the spark of joy that drew them into their profession so they can return to the classroom ready in heart and spirit. We will apply the concepts of mindfulness to your role as educator, providing tools for the mind and body that will help nurture your passion through the stressful challenges of teaching to the souls of our children.

Those who will most benefit from Mindful Educators are those who: 

  • See how the effects of trauma are changing our schools and neighborhoods,impacting the classroom experience for all students
  • Hear in the media and scholarly research about the effects of body-centered and mindfulness-based classroom interventions and want to experiment with them
  • Taste the bitterness of burnout and “helper’s fatigue” and wish to reconnect with a deeper sense of gratitude for their work
  • Feel as if they’ve tried varying methods of connecting with students yet feel some are still “unreachable.”

Mindful Educators is led by Holly Schweitzer Dunn, LISW – and facilitator of Mindful Parenting – along with Landon Dunn, LISW, LICDC, of Mind Body Health Associates. Holly, Landon, and the MBHA team have been working with educators for a collective 25+ years to help them learn to manage the stress that comes from the unique role of teacher. They will offer specific interventions and practices for educators to integrate into their lives, both personally and professionally, to help teachers reconnect with the sense of fulfillment of their work. 

Allow us to take care of you in the peaceful setting at Toledo’s Wildwood Metropark in the Ward Pavillion. You’ll receive a full day of therapeutic tools and interventions used by our therapists who regularly work with educators. Our approach integrates the body-centered practices with mindfulness to help aid relief from the physical manifestations of embodied stress. You’ll be guided in mindfulness exercises, including nature walks and time for solitude and reflection, along with an opportunity to explore yoga movement and breathwork. There will even be a chance to discuss how these personal practices can be translated into the classroom.

Don’t forget to bring your Yoga Mat or Pillow!

Cost and Registration Information:

Cost: Before April 1: $75 individual, $400 group of 6
Before May 15: $90 individual, $500 team of 6
Registation Options

Please complete the following registration form after completing your payment. Thank you! 

Self-Care for Teachers

Self-Care for Teachers

Self Care for Teachers

The concept of self-care is catching our collective attention. We’re being admonished to “put the oxygen mask on yourself first” and now we have research to support the claim that self-care helps people manage job-related stress. 

So what exactly does self-care look like? Is it simply taking more bubble baths and scheduling a spa day? It could be, but self-care reaches beyond pampering, specifically for teachers. When we work with educators in our offices, we hear about the need for something to help in the heat of the moment, keeping the pace of the day with younger and older children alike. Often times, the stress our teachers carry has more to do with the burdens carried by the children they teach than it does the job description they’re trying to fulfill. Especially after many years of experience, our teachers know about delivering content and differentiating instruction. What teachers ask for more often is knowing how to continue to show compassion to children and families when the heartbreak feels unrelenting. 

While burnout is an issue for the education industry, the bigger threat is heartbreak. Teachers are seeing more and more students show up in the morning hungry because they’ve not had breakfast, or – even more challenging – children starving for connection. Our educators could go broke with the granola bars and markers they stock. They know how to keep their classrooms supplied with academic tools.  A tougher obstacle is helping teachers learn to sleep at night when their hearts are filled with worry about the student whose life outside of school is unsafe.

As Chick Moorman (author of The Spirit Whisperer and Parent Talk) said once to Holly, when you teach to a child’s spirit, you’ve got them, no matter what the subject matter.  The best teachers are working from the heart-level. However, opening yourself to the heights of joy that come with heartfulness also renders you vulnerable to the depths of grief that come with the territory. 

From our perspective, the core of self-care for the educator lies in keeping the heart both soft and strong. To be good at what we do in helping professions, we need to continue to cultivate compassion, empathy and acceptance. Our practices center around quieting the talk of “not enough” and incorporating moments of gratitude and joy, even in the midst of challenges. 

Mindfulness expert John Kabat-Zin teaches about the “acceptance of what is”. When a student comes from a home without running water, it’s hard for a teacher to accept that he cannot change the situation. But the teacher can offer a learning space that helps hold for the student the various stressors and hurts they bring into the classroom. In the same way, a teacher might come to school tired after his own sleepless night. Self acceptance, i.e. “today’s lecture may not be as energetic as last week’s and that’s okay,” may free the teacher to offer what he does have to give rather than focusing on deficits.

When we learn to recognize our limits, specifically as they relate to our roles as educators and helpers, we can acknowledge and celebrate the victories we do experience. When working in a capacity that will never “finish” – the students we teach will never be done learning and developing – it’s easy to overlook opportunities to feel like we’ve done enough. A daily celebration and gratitude practice for the small successes keeps the heart open and strong, ready to return the next day.

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