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When I was a kid in middle school, I got some of my first experiences with the monsters Anxiety and Depression—and I got them close-up and personal, as my younger brother began showing symptoms of the latter. Anxiety and depression can often be difficult things to recognize (many kids go without necessary medications because of lack of medical care/diagnosis while others become over-medicated and over-diagnosed), as they are often disguised by or confused for things like anger, defiance, lack of confidence, mischief, and shyness. As Holly Robinson explains for Parents Magazine,
Unfortunately, many parents and teachers perceive symptoms of anxiety—like refusing to go to school or use a public restroom—as defiance. Anxiety may also be mistaken for (or even mask) other developmental disorders, such as ADHD, depression, or learning disabilities, so it’s important to identify anxiety early and help your child learn to manage it.
I know that, for my brother, his depression often reared its head in anger, in bursts of fathomless aggravation, temper, and self-loathing. —Things his teachers often misunderstood, things that often left him feeling isolated from others kids at school, things that I rarely understood myself as a kid; and all of these only worked to exacerbate his fears and symptoms. Fortunately for us, our mother was proactive, able to do her research, get us out of schools with willfully ignorant teachers, and get us all the help we needed.
In Jane E. Brody’s “Helping Children Gain Control Over an Anxiety Disorder” (New York Times), she references Dr. Golda S. Ginsburg, a Johns Hopkins University expert in childhood anxiety, saying, “childhood anxiety disorders typically result from an interaction between biology and environment. For some … there is [also] a strong hereditary component” (qtd. in Brody). What’s more, parenting styles and behavior can also have an impact, perhaps especially in cases of “parents who are overprotective or overly controlling, who constantly identify dangers in the child’s world” (Ginsburg in Brody).
Similarly, psychotherapist Tamar E. Chansky suggests that, for parents trying to help their children deal with anxiety issues, the goal should not be “to put down children’s fears but to help them see that their fears are unwarranted and that they can overcome them” (qtd. in Brody). Brody outlines some of Chanksy’s “‘master plan’” for helping kids deal with anxiety:
The key takeaway? Don’t blame your child or yourself for their anxiety and/or depression. These are boogeymen that feed on things like blame, stress, and insecurities. Be sure to talk with your children openly, your doctor, as well as your partner and friends—you can’t help your children handle their anxieties, depression, and so forth if you aren’t getting the help you need to handle it all as well.
Article Reviews: Tara Parker-Pope’s “Writing Your Way to Happiness” & “Creating a New Mission Statement”
Article Reviews: Tara Parker-Pope’s
Tara Parker-Pope’s New York Times articles, “Writing Your Way to Happiness” and “Creating a New Mission Statement,” are a pair of terrific explorations into the power of personal/expressive writing to help you do everything from gain a more positive outlook to boosting your memory to exercising more to getting better grades. Even Parker-Pope acknowledges that this might sound a bit like pie in the sky self-help nonsense, but it’s grounded in some pretty impressive research.
Let’s start things off with, “Writing Your Way to Happiness”—a fascinating piece with deeply encouraging conclusions. Here’s the long and the short of it: If you’re willing to take the time—say, maybe 15 minutes a day—to keep a journal or diary where you actively focus on and (re)edit your own personal narrative, you will not only (hopefully) find that your positivity and personal responsibility improves on the page, but also throughout the rest of your life.
I know this is certainly true for myself. Whenever I’m stuck on a problem or a negative streak or begin feeling overwhelmed, I almost always find that spending time writing (venting) in my diary is just what I need to pull me out of my funk.
According to Parker-Pope,
Studies have shown that writing about oneself and personal experiences can improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory.
The results of these studies—hailing from institutions like Duke and Stanford—show both short-term and long-term benefits to expressive writing. Parker-Pope illustrates several examples of these positive results throughout her article, but I’ll just offer one of them here as illustration:
…researchers focused on African-American students who were struggling to adjust to college. Some of the students were asked to create an essay or video talking about college life to be seen by future students. The study found that the students who took part in the writing or video received better grades in the ensuing months than those in a control group.
The important part here, as this example suggests, is not necessarily the artistic medium—it could be writing, video, or perhaps even other art forms—but the focus on self-reflection and the crafting (and editing) of an honest personal narrative.
And this leads nicely into Parker-Pope’s other recent (slightly older) article, “Creating a New Mission Statement.” “By creating a mission statement,” Parker-Pope explains—by engaging in thoughtful sessions of expressive writing—“people can begin to identify the underlying causes of [their] behaviors, as well as what truly motivates them to make changes.”
So, where to begin? If free-form brainstorming and diary-writing intimidates you or simply isn’t your “thing”—never fear! Parker-Pope is ready and comin’ to your rescue, offering the following questions as a solid starting place:
- How do you want to be remembered?
- How do you want people to describe you?
- Who do you want to be?
- Who or what matters most to you?
- What are your deepest values?
- How would you define success in your life?
- What makes your life really worth living?
Then, she explains, once you’ve got a few of these questions answered (or at least well-brainstormed and doodled out), take what you’ve got and try to mold it into a more cohesive mission statement or personal narrative. This isn’t something you’ll ever need to share with anyone else, but still, it should be something honest, full, and thoughtful. Rather than write about how you want to lose weight, Parker-Pope suggests, trying focusing instead “on a set of guiding principles that capture how you want to live your life.”
To get started making substantive changes in life, sometimes all it takes is dedicating the time to substantive self-reflection.
Thank you to St. John’s for this great article on the potential negatives of multitasking. Multitasking is a great villain in many of our working, studying, and learning lives because it drapes itself in a cloak of usefulness, of productivity, when in fact it creates just the opposite: lowered efficiency, less productivity, poorer quality of work, and so on.
NPR has also recently come out with an article related to this issue: “We’re Not Taking Enough Lunch Breaks. Why That’s Bad For Business.” According to “We’re Not Taking…,” the pressure to not only multitask but to constantly be on-hand and on-the-clock is leading us as employees (and likely as students as well) to work longer yet less effective and less creative hours.
But studies have also found that the longer you stay at work, the more important it is to get outside of the office, even if it’s just for a few minutes, because creativity can take a hit when you don’t change environments.”
This might not seem to affect students quite as much given that elementary, middle, and high school students all have mandatory lunch breaks, but if you think your example of constantly being on the clock, of using lunchtime, dinnertime, breakfast time (all the time) as work time isn’t being seen and absorbed by your children, then you’re sorely mistaken.
As parents and teachers, we are the ones who lay the groundwork for our children; we’re the ones creating the rules and norms to be inherited by our young thinkers and students. So, if not for the sake of your own health and creativity, take a break for the sake of your kids’–take a break for the sake of their future, for your own happiness as well as theirs.
With the internet in our pockets these days, multitasking seems to be at an all-time high. I’m a big multitasker myself, especially when I’m at home. After work, I move a million miles a minute: washing dishes, packing breakfast and lunch for the next day, prepping dinner, and picking up around the house – all while checking email each time my phone beeps. I race through these tasks, often dropping food on the floor, and I wonder if doing so many things at once is helping me be any more efficient?
According to countless research studies, it’s true that multitasking decreases your quality of work and slows you down. For example, writing an email and talking on the phone both use the same part of the brain. So, these competing tasks decrease the brain’s efficiency; you would be better off hanging up the phone and then taking the extra time…
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“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them…”
—Charles Dickens, Hard Times
In “Joy: A Subject Schools Lack” (The Atlantic; Jan 2015), Susan Engel – a mother, teacher, and developmental psychologist – points out the troubling truth that, for many schools, the last thing they’re concerned with nowadays is “what it feels like to be a child, or what makes childhood an important and valuable stage of life in its own right.” Thus, we now see many elementary and high schools (and even some colleges) focusing on the needs and wants of parents rather than students, pitching buzzwords and slogans about getting kids prepped for college and high-stakes careers rather than for adulthood, lifelong learning, and – I don’t know – their upcoming grade level. Or, as Engel puts it, “This may explain why so many schools that I visit seem more like something out of a Dickens novel than anything else.”
As a kid, my husband attended a private elementary school in Ft. Worth for his K-8 – a school that’s principal was often fond of telling parents, Third grade is the best preparation for fourth grade, fourth grade is the best preparation for fifth grade, and so on. In other words, a child’s education should really be just that: an education for children that takes one step at a time, not an education for future college students or CEOs that constantly leaps forward without regard to the here-and-now. What’s more, it seems to me that instilling and focusing on the joys of learning for students would be a tremendous means of also increasing and enhancing the joys of teaching.
As feminist philosopher and writer Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés wrote in Women Who Run With the Wolves, people’s
“psyches and souls…have their own cycles and seasons of doing and solitude, running and staying, being involved and being removed, questing and resting, creating and incubating, being of the world and returning to the soul-place. When we are children … the instinctive nature notices all these phases and cycles. … Children are the wildish nature, and without being told to, they prepare for the coming of these times, greeting them, living with them, and keeping from those times recuerdos, mementos, for remembering ….” (pg 276-277)
What joys might we all better experience and live with now – not simply remember – if we’d allowed ourselves to learn and grow with these instinctive, wildish, soul-fulfilling cycles, rather than elbowing our way out of them in some abstract desire to one day be “successful”? How much more successful and joyful might we all be if we’d let ourselves continue to love and enjoy learning, if we’d been encouraged to experience and embrace feelings of awe and wonderment rather than to push constantly ahead, constantly faster, and to act “cool” and unimpressed with the world, ourselves, and each other?
Engel inspired and started us off in this post, so I’ll let her end it as well:
“Before you brush this argument aside as sentimental fluff, or think of joy as an unaffordable luxury in a nation where there is dire poverty, low academic achievement, and high dropout rates, think again. The more dire the school circumstances, the more important pleasure is to achieving any educational success. … The more difficult a child’s life circumstances, the more important it is for that child to find joy in his or her classroom.”
Further Readings & Videos:
- Susan Engel, “Joy: A Subject Schools Lack,” The Atlantic
- Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves, A Ballantine Book, 1995
- Check out this clip of Oprah’s interview with Stephen Colbert wherein they discuss the value of “joy” over the fantasy of “happiness”
Entering a new grade or school, whether in elementary, high school, or college, can be absolutely nerve-wracking — from fears of not making friends to the basics of simply learning how to find your way to each physical classroom (I still have nightmares about not being able to find the right classroom). And each new level – transitioning from elementary to middle to high school to college – comes with its own unique stresses and concerns.
Elementary School: What if I fall behind? What if I don’t make friends?
High School: What if I bomb the SATs? What if I don’t get into college? What if I choose the wrong college?
College: What if I choose the wrong major? What if I drop-out? What if I don’t get into grad school? What if I don’t get a job? What if I can’t balance work and school and health/social life?
Well, the good news is that no one’s alone in these fears and anxieties. The even better news is that teachers at every level – teachers worth their salt, anyway – are well aware of these stresses and are eager to see their students push past them and into success. Below, we’ve compiled a short list of tips and advice for how to help overcome some of these fears for 2015.
Note: We draw from and reference the following sources, and highly encourage you to visit them and read the articles in full.
“A Professor’s Pointers for Success in College: 21 Easy-to-Follow Tips” by Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead, St. Lawrence University, with The Huffington Post
“Top 12 Time-Management Tips” by Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman, with US News
- Keep careful stock of your course syllabi, assignments, and attendance policies. This may seem obvious but, in both high school and college, these rules/expectations can vary significantly from teacher to teacher. It’s vital to making a good impression and to maintaining your own schedule that you keep aware of deadlines, required readings, attendance, and so forth. (For more, see Halstead)
- Don’t keep your head down. Especially in a new grade, classroom, and/or school, it can often seem like the best policy to lay low for a while till you know the ropes. However, this can actually be counterproductive to your ultimate goals of making friends, having good student-teacher relationships, and keeping on top of your work. If, instead of keeping your head down, you take the time to introduce yourself to others (student and teacher), raise your hand to answer and/or ask the occasional question, and just generally approach others with your daily concerns and joys, then you’ll quickly find yourself with a terrific group of friends and an impressed passel of teachers (no matter how new or introverted you are). By establishing these relationships right off the bat, you also set yourself up with a stronger safety net for making mistakes – people will be more understanding of you running (very) occasionally late, for example, if they already know your name and have a favorable impression of you. (For more, see Halstead)
- Pump up your writing skills. Whether it’s an essay, short story, book report, or email, make sure your writing is always a clear, respectful, and positive reflection of yourself. This means using a teacher’s full title when contacting them via email (e.g. Ms. Ryan for [most] elementary teachers, Dean Ryan for a college dean, Professor Ryan for a professor [this is often better, actually, than saying “Dr.” Ryan as not all professors are full doctors yet], Assistant Principal Ryan for – you get the idea); not using ALL CAPS in written communication; using clear, proper grammar and spelling in all written works (as much for clarity’s sake as for professionalism); and always including courtesy details such as full headings on all papers, page numbers, and so forth. For help with improving your writing skills, be sure to talk to your teachers and librarians; meet with tutors; read a lot; take up writing-heavy hobbies such as creative writing, blogging, or letter writing; and take full advantage of any Writing Center services your school provides. (For more, see Halstead)
- Know Thyself – Are you a morning person or a night owl? And no, I don’t mean: Are you weirdly peppy in the morning or do you prefer to stay out late partying? I mean: Do you get more done if you block time in the morning to do your homework or review your notes, or do you have an easier time completing your work if you do it first thing after school, or perhaps even in the later evening after dinner? Everyone has a different personal schedule that works best for them. Knowing your preferences (and being honest with yourself about them), will be a great step in the right direction of getting your work done well and on time. (For more, see Jacobs & Hyman)
- Be patient and make sure you take the time you need. Today, kids and young adults are learning to read and interact with new information in very different ways than their parents did as students, whether by following blogs, Twitter, 24-hour TV news, or online hubs like Vox and The Huffington Post. However, while all of these have their time, place, and value, they aren’t the same as sitting down to read a book or other piece of long-form writing. Because of this, many students today don’t recognize until it’s too late just how much time is actually necessary to read and study and write intelligently about long-form works. Sure they’ve read plenty of novels in the past, but leisure-reading isn’t the same animal (and we all know it!). So, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get into your academic reading-and-writing groove, and don’t let other seemingly-complementary items (like film documentaries or extra seminars) unnecessarily (or stressfully) clutter up your schedule. (For more, see Jacobs & Hyman)