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Empathy and How to Cultivate It: My notes from listening to Michele Borba

Michele Borba was one of the keynote speakers at a conference I attended this week. She is passionate, dynamic, and empowering. If you ever have the chance to hear her speak, do it!

Anyway, so much info so I’m just going to make a list of highlights that I wrote down, and hopefully you are able to glean some key information from it. Any statistics or definitions came from her presentation and can be found in her book or on her website. She talked so fast, it was tough to note sources. My thoughts will be added in italics.

  • 1 in 5 teens will have a mental health disorder wow!
  • “Unless parents realize it (empathy) can be cultivated, it will become dormant” parents, guardians, caregivers…and it can be cultivated at ANY age
  • Around the year 2000, empathy decreased 40%. Lack of empathy creates exclusion and polarization which is what we are already seeing in society, and if you think it’s no coincidence that this coincided with the smart phone and screens everywhere, you’re not alone
  • The average middle school kid is more comfortable texting than talking to another person
  • Some easy and specific suggestions and her list of habits to use: face to face contact, read picture books to your kids that have a moral dilemma, weave in the 9 essential empathy habits listed here:for more detailed information, I encourage you to buy her book Unselfie
  • “Empathy is transformational. Empathy is a teaching tool” it doesn’t cost a dime and can change the culture of the classroom
  • 66% of kids say we (adults) are too plugged in.
  • A person learns new skills best by doing it, seeing it modeled, not by telling it.
  • “You change the culture with the trickle down effect” she told a powerful story about a teen who changed the culture at his school just by holding the door open in the morning and greeting everyone
  • “Look for the Helpers” Fred Rogers. She says a statement like this, “Galvanizes the good. Share the good with kids everyday.”
  • “What would’ve made the difference?” She responds by sharing lyrics to the Cheers tv show theme song and what happened next was moving beyond words

In closing, you can make a difference.

More to come from the workshop she did following this presentation!


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A beautiful perspective…

Sometimes television catches me by surprise. I enjoy tv and find it to be an effective escape at times. I was watching Grey’s Anatomy this evening and one of the characters sought some advice from an older wiser woman, a mom. She was asking about a teen that she was mentoring, sponsoring, sort of parenting. The woman was struggling with her role for this teen, and the older woman says,

“You’re building a boat…They’re going to sail away from us…it’s inevitable. Our job is to build a boat strong enough that when they decide to, they can get back to us safely.”

The boat is your relationship with your child, or your charge in the case of the character. With a strong relationship to come back to, your child will feel open to new experiences and know the freedom of being their own person.

There’s also a really wonderful children’s book that shows how toddlers look for their independence while looking back to their safety net, their anchor, their mom or whatever. And it reminds us how important it is for our kids to feel safe in order to take risks and try new things!

Check it out here!

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Daycare or Childcare? It matters…

In the past, the term “daycare” was widely used to describe a place where young children spend their day while their parents are at work. Children were snuggled and read to and got to play, a nice way to spend the time and for someone to earn a living while caring for their own children as well.

Guess what? Things have changed. Drastically. You can’t just take care of kids in your house anymore. Here’s a small list of some changes, and a little info about them.

  • Home owners insurance: if you provide childcare without notifying your insurance company, they could deny future claims.
  • The state regulations have increased from 26 pages to a whopping 109 pages: and if you want your home owners insurance to be satisfied, you’d better be registered and in good standing!
  • The rules for our state include things like family involvement, emergency response plans, water testing, knowledge of early learning standards and more: you can no longer just watch kids at home without learning lots of new things.
  • And so much more, but I don’t want to scare anyone!

So, the terms we use to describe our profession, because that is what it truly is, deserve some thought. This daycare/childcare debate has been ongoing here for a few years, so I reached out to all the early education folks I know and have contact with to hear what they have to say.

Daycare = who’s taking care of the days?

Childcare = Educated, loving, nurturing individual who wakes up every day and says, “what adventure will we have today with the children in our care”, while parents and guardians are working.

Child care shows more respect to us as the Educators as well as respect to the child who is leaning so much every second of the time they are with us

I dont care for the day, I care for the child.

daycare i associate with mediocre teachers and a sub-par experience for children.

I think that over the years “daycares” have been represented in media culture as a drop off place where kids go wild (e.g., Daddy Daycare, etc). This can leave more of a negative connotation on society when they hear “daycare.” The word “child” often has a more positive connotation!

I agree along the lines of some of the other comments; an “early education (care) centre” demands respect for the program itself, the children, and the educators.

First thoughts … daycare sounds more Americanised and childcare more English … probably due to American films often referring to daycare.

I’m in the UK, Daycare where I am is for older people, in terms of children I think of American home daycare.

Child care could be private nursery, local authority centres or childminding to me.

I say I work in ‘Early Years’. To me Childcare puts child first therefore the child is most important. Daycare puts day first……

Daycare to me indicates a full day of care. Childcare a much preferred term would be caring for children in general.

I don’t differentiate but perhaps childcare suggests to me an individual looking after children perhaps in their home whereas daycare suggests a more formal nursery style establishment.

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Just a day at the beach…at least I think so

It used to be that we’d pack a cooler and grab some towels and go to the beach. Now when I see families going to the beach, I see inner tubes and floaties and water guns and noodles. Not just toys for the beach, but I also see parents ENTERTAINING their kids.

I’m not talking about parents enjoying quality time with their children, I mean actually making sure they are entertained and catered to, because there is a huge difference.

When I was a kid, sticks and sand and maybe a plastic cup were enough to keep us busy. We would play with our siblings and whatever kids came along. It was no nonsense, no fighting over who gets to ride the dolphin or who is stuck with the tire float.

So parents of young children: keep it simple. For your sake and theirs. They will learn to get along with others better, be more creative and imaginative, and you’ll be able to connect with other adults and your children without feeling pressure to break up spats or entertain them.

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Risk Taking: how to feel better about encouraging it

I was talking with a colleague/parent/friend yesterday who told me about her early days in the education field. She toured a preschool age program, and had the opportunity to observe young children being independent and taking risks.

She recalled being nervous, worried about the children being hurt. Years later, she knows the key to positive experiences with risk taking and young children: knowing the child. I could not agree more-it all comes down to building a trusting relationship between you and the children, and understanding their personality and impulses.

For example, when I have a new child in my program, we avoid high traffic areas. I offer them opportunities for me to assess their skills, but more importantly, to build trust. I need to know if that child will stop when I ask, or if that child will smile and take off running. And likewise, that child needs to know that I will keep them safe by setting limits and expectations.

Another important component to encouraging risk taking is remembering that the children don’t want to get hurt any more than we want them to. They are trying to balance, climb, jump to the best of their ability. And of course, accidents happen, but that’s why it is so important for a care provider to know the child well enough to ensure a relatively safe opportunity, and adequate supervision. But bottom line, (I don’t have real statistics) 9 out of 10 times, I suspect the child will be successful in that risk, and if not, they will learn something about their body and themselves! And perseverance is always a good skill to practice!

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“I’m sorry my kid hit your kid!”

Being a parent is so hard, but when your toddler often hits other children, it can be embarrassing, uncomfortable, and just plain upsetting. So I have a few tips for you parents and providers out there because I’ve been there. My son used to bite other children, and his acting out felt like a humiliation, especially given my field of expertise.

  • When a child hurts someone, do not assume their intent was to harm. Most often, the intent of the toddler is to connect or engage in some way.
  • Before an encounter with other children, make sure your child is rested, fed, and feeling ready. This will make self-regulating so much easier for your child (thinking good mood=better behavior helps)
  • Narrate for your toddler. They are still learning how to recognize and interpret social cues. So when Johnny tries to take a book from Susie, you can say, “Susie, I think Johnny likes that book too, he wants to see the pictures.” Sometimes I feel like I am constantly narrating for the toddlers, but it really helps cut down their frustration, and it helps them recognize social cues as well.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice. It might seems exhausting, but putting your child in social settings is the best way to get through this difficult phase when it seems like they have become what you perceive to be “the play date terror”. As parents, it is easy to feel like your child is acting terribly, and to feel bad about it, but practice is good for you too. There will be plenty of times when you will have to navigate these kinds of peer difficulties, so start forming this relationships now, and practice talking it out with others.
  • When your child is part of a positive and collaborative moment, recognize and acknowledge it. They need us to send a clear message that the way they acted was helpful, positive, desirable. Reinforce the patterns that help build a socially capable human being early.
  • And please be gentle and kind to yourself and your parental peers, no matter what side of the situation you are on. It is tough to see your little one get hit, but it’s also tough to be the mom of that child who hit someone. Try some understanding for the child and the adult, and patience. We are all learning.
  • And if another parent says something that feels unwelcome or unkind, try not to let it get to you. I know, that’s crazy, right? But a snide comment and a casual observation can easily be confused when we are feeling stressed, embarrassed and judged. Say to yourself, “if it was just an ordinary day without the hitting, would that comment still bother me?” Chances are it wouldn’t. But in the event that there are truly negative feelings, it’s ok to talk about it with that person. Find a quiet moment without children around, and let that person know how you’re feeling.

I hope this helps, and keep in mind, when you feel like you just can’t take it anymore, your child’s behavior pattern will change. They are constantly learning and growing!

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You learn something new everyday…

So…I’ve been living in Middlebury for over 20 years and hadn’t really had any knowledge of this company, known as Mr. Mike’s Cleaning Service. But when I wanted to hire folks to clean my childcare program a couple years ago, I ended up calling on them after noticing the primary owners property on my evening walks, and its impeccable neatness.

The manager, now part owner came and met with me, talked about needs and expectations. Two young men (one of whom was the manager) dressed professionally in uniforms came to clean my program, and I later figured out they were the sons of the owner. That right there was impressive to me…for them to be scrubbing my floors and cleaning my toilets when, as managers, they could’ve assigned someone else to do it, was really something. Both of these young men are now part owners, but still work as hard as the first day. And over the past couple years, I’ve begun to notice the white vehicles with the yellow and black writing on the side all over the county. I’ve come to find out that they work tirelessly, day and night, weekends and some holidays, in 90 degree heat waves and freezing rain and snow, doing all kinds of jobs from buffing floors to cleaning up homes where a death has occurred. The two young men that first came to my program not only work professionally, they work diligently and spend more than 50 hours each week throughout the year, working to make sure all jobs are done to the best of their ability. They are courteous, respectful and easy going, and they are a vital part of our community. And while I do not have first hand knowledge of the other employees, I’ve seen the care that is taken to account for consistent and reliable service.

Anyway, I feel like people in the community just don’t know about these folks who are dependable, consistent and professional. They work very hard to make our police stations, theaters, and restaurants clean. They are an extraordinary company and they are invisible in the day to day workings of our town.

For more information, click here

Next time you’re out and about, especially at night and on the weekend, and you see these guys and their co-workers, take a minute to notice them. They contribute greatly to the community, and deserve to be seen for the integral part they play in our town.

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Yoga for Kids!

This is our wonderful yoga instructor, Lynn Kiel. She is a dynamic mom, friend, and member of the community. I’ve gotten to know her in her capacity as a yoga instructor for the children in my program. She offers several 6 week sessions throughout the school year, and we participate as often as we can!

Miss Lynn, as we call her, is energetic and skilled at focusing young children. She comes prepared with a notecard of songs and activities chosen for class, adjusting to the needs of the group. She makes sure each child feels included, and she invites adults to join if they would like.

One thing that the children really enjoy is the way she incorporates stories into our practice. We aren’t just being a tree, but we are a seed planted, and she creates a story that has the children becoming the tree. We are warmed by the sun, and watered while reaching our “roots” deep into the soil.

Learn more on her website

And if your child has an opportunity to be in her class, go for it! She is such a lovely instructor!

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“I’ll meet you at the hospital!”

Scary words…as a mom, a dad, a care provider, anyone who hears these words is flooded with emotion. But I’m finding that after it’s over, there are still some steps to take in the healing of the patients caregivers!

Let me start at the beginning…my son has asthma and allergies. He seldom reacts to food, and it has always been rather mild when he has. Yesterday he walked to the store by himself and got himself some candy corn, he’s 13 and rather independent. I didn’t think to check the label because he’d had them before. Guess what? Coconut oil was one of the ingredients, and it’s his worst allergen! He didn’t react right away, he was at hockey practice when an asthma attack came on suddenly. He used his rescue inhaler, sat a bit and seemed ok. Well 15 minutes later, he vomited and got hives all over his body. Of course we had no antihistamine with us, so I grabbed him and told his dad to meet us at the hospital. Typically I’m a fan of calling paramedics on the side of caution, but we were a minute away and he was breathing just fine.

He was treated quickly with an antihistamine shot and intravenous steroids. He had to stay awhile for observation, but would be released in a couple of hours. He was back to his silly attitudinal self and I was so relieved! I sent his dad to buy some medicine to keep on hand, and told him he could settle in for the night, we would fine. Then I sat down next to my son’s bed, and that’s when it hit: he could have died. I started to hyperventilate, felt dizzy, and my chest felt tight. I was running every possible outcome in my head, in my pessimistic style, and felt overwhelmed. So here’s what I did next:

  • I took a good long look at my son. I scanned every visible inch, and when I was satisfied that he was improving, I just let myself sit with that thought for a minute: he was going to be ok. Then I hugged him.
  • I took some long and slow breaths to try to slow things down. When that didn’t work, I took out my phone for a game of solitaire-it always distracts me!
  • I talked to the doctor, asking tons of questions and admitted that I was anxious and worried, acknowledging that I was kinda freaking out. Oddly enough, this helped.
  • And then came the reflection part…did we take all the right precautions (no), how can we prevent this next time, how can we respond better, what has my son learned from this?
  • The next step I took to move through this was to lean on my family and friends…the outpouring of love and support on social media was heartwarming and helped me to refocus.
  • And when we got home and settled, I took a nap because being worried is exhausting!

So let’s remind caregivers to take care of their needs after a crisis…there’s nothing wrong with taking a break to reset after someone has been injured.

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I always thought this was a cool word, but didn’t really have a sense of what it meant. At a training back in the fall, I got to hear more about it and found out just what I was missing.

Some key concepts that I wrote in the margins…because they were just so powerful!

  • Communicate your thoughts to children
  • “I can’t do it.” When children feel pressure, they actually cannot do whatever it is even if they’ve done it before.
  • Don’t be too certain you know why a child is doing something
  • Behaviors are repeated because they are successful in some way. It’s up to us to spot the signals and meet the need in another way.
  • Anytime you get too rigid in your WHY, you are missing the real picture.
  • When our body language and our verbal language are not in sync, the child will feel unsafe: dis-synchrony teaches them not to trust our words. The body communicates first.
  • Is it okay for children to be mad in your classroom?
  • A lot of times, children don’t know what to do with their mad.
  • We need to forgive children really quickly.
  • When there is a lack of connection with a child, admit it, explore it. This shifts how you feel about child.
  • Building a relationship with the family is like a dance, with the teacher in the lead.

According to Merriam-Webster

Definition of attune

transitive verb

1. to bring into harmony : tune

2. to make aware or responsive attune businesses to changing trends

What I am trying to say is that to better build relationships with young children and their families, we as caregivers need to be in tune with young children. It is important that we avoid making assumptions about why a child acts a certain way, and instead, bring an awareness and connection to the relationship.

Thank you to Howdy Russell and Doumina Noonan.

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