Guest Post: The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on a Child's Mental and Emotional Well-Being

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As educators, we have long known that children who do not get enough sleep struggle when they get to school. In my experience, this seems to be an increasing issue for more students in recent years. As a counselor, I’ve been specifically concerned with the impact on how well children can regulate emotions during the school day, let alone learn new things, get along with others, or in some cases, merely stay awake.

With this in mind, I am excited to share a guest post written especially for the Emotional Wellness Project by the experts at the Sleep Help Institute. Take a look at the research and their tips for helping children get a good night’s sleep.

Choosing Calm,

Rebecca


Tips for Helping Children Sleep

1.      Keep a Consistent Bedtime

2.      Follow a Bedtime Routine

3.      Avoid Screens

4.      Calm Things Down in the Evening


The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on a Child's Mental and Emotional Well-Being

By the Sleep Help Institute

Many children have a hard time managing their emotions for an entire school day. When they are sleep deprived, their mental and emotional well-being diminishes, making outbursts and other behavior problems more likely. Depending on their age, kids need anywhere from 8 to 12 hours of sleep to be fully rested. But many children come to school with far less, and it can impact their academic and social success.

Anytime a child gets even one hour less than the recommended amount of sleep they enter a state of sleep deprivation. In that state, their brains and bodies start to change how they function.

Sleep and Emotional Regulation

A study published in Pediatrics explored the effects of sleep extension on child behavior. None of the participants had any underlying medical conditions including sleep or behavioral disorders. The children ranged in age from 7-11 and, after extending their sleep time by an average of 27 minutes, the children showed significant improvements to their alertness and emotional regulation. The study also found that after reducing sleep by 54 minutes, the children had an increase in sleepiness and impulsive behavior.

During sleep deprivation, the emotional center of the brain, called the amygdala, becomes more sensitive to negative stimuli. As the amygdala sensitizes, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for concentration and higher reasoning, becomes less active. Consequently, children (and adults) become far more susceptible to negative thoughts, experiences, and emotions. In general, children are even more susceptible because their brains and bodies are still developing.

Promote Current and Future Mental Health

A child’s current emotional well-being can have an enduring influence on their later life. A study conducted at the Sleep and Anxiety Center of Houston found that sleep deprivation not only caused more negative emotions but also caused children to get less pleasure from positive experiences. The lack of positive experiences can carry over into their future social interactions.

An article published in Sleep Medicine Reviews suggested that without enough sleep, people are less likely to participate in activities that require more effort. The potential for the social and emotional isolation that leads to anxiety and depression increases.

Childhood Sleep Problems

Childhood sleep problems are not uncommon. Rather than having adult disorders like sleep apnea and narcolepsy, children are more likely to experience night terrors, sleepwalking, and bedwetting. Most of these issues are outgrown because they stem from an immature nervous system.  However, they can trigger other issues like anxiety that seep over into other parts of life and interfere with developing a healthy sleep pattern.

If a child has a sleep problem that could be related a sleep disorder, you may want to consult a physician to see if there are any treatments, behavior modifications, or medications that could help.

How to Help Children Sleep

Good sleep habits developed in childhood can contribute to long-term health. High-quality sleep starts in a bedroom devoted to sleep. A child’s mattress should be comfortable and supportive. If your child is using an old mattress, it could have lumps or valleys that disrupt his sleep during the night. The days of trudging through a mattress store are over as most mattresses can now be ordered online and delivered to your front door. Beyond the mattress, the room should be cool, dark, and quiet to give your child’s brain and body a chance to relax and calm down for the day.

Behaviors and habits throughout the day can also make a big difference in the quality of a child’s sleep. You can help develop healthy sleep habits by:

  • Keeping a Consistent Bedtime: For kids, consistency is key. The human body loves routine as it controls the sleep-wake cycle using 24-hour biological and physiological cycles called circadian rhythms to time the release of sleep hormones. Try to keep the same bedtime on the weekends so your child isn’t fighting sleep debt on Monday morning.
  • Following Bedtime Routine: A regular nightly pattern can make the biggest difference for many children. Routines help their brains recognize when to start the release of hormones that make them feel sleepy. They also allow children to release stress. A warm bath, bedtime story, quiet rocking or singing can all be good ways to help a child calm down for the night.
  • Avoiding Screens: The bright blue light from televisions, laptops, and smartphones suppresses the release of sleep hormones. Some devices have low blue light settings to counteract this problem, but for most, you’ll have to shut the screens off at least two to three hours before bed.
  • Calming Things Down in the Evening: Full schedules can make evenings hectic for many families. As much as you can, try to calm things down in the evening starting about an hour before bedtime.

Being a School Counselor is Hard!

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This is difficult and important work we do, working as school counselors. The demands are high, time and resources are stretched thin, the nature of our work is often isolated from other adults, and far too often negativity is knocking at the door. Bad press, unpassed levies, ugly social media posts, angry parents, worn-out colleagues, and then there are the children themselves. Those with the most challenging behaviors, the most overwhelming needs, and the biggest histories of trauma and lack of support at home: these are our students. Nobody calls on us to say, “Hey, Johnny is focused, well-behaved, thriving academically and socially and is using all of the emotions management strategies you taught our class. Could he be in one of your groups?” Now, before you decide to take your ball and go home, let’s talk about how we can recommit to self-care practices and leverage some of the growing positive psychology research to help us stay in the game.

20 Positive Practices to Help You Stay in the Game

1.  Eat lunch. No, really, do it. And while you are at it try to be healthy about it. Plan ahead so you can have something balanced and good for you. Staff rooms are notorious repositories for sugary indulgences and leftover sweets folks don’t want at their house anymore.

2.  Exercise. Walk, run, hike, join a Zumba class, or sign up for tap dance lessons. Seriously, I did this with our Dean of Students and it was so fun! Find a physical activity that works for you. Try to build in some movement into your work day as well. Even a quick walk and fresh air on the way to pick up a student can do wonders for your energy levels.

3.  Guard your sleep. Turn off screens early. Do not think about work before bedtime. Go to bed at a consistent time and make sure you get enough sleep.

4.  Spend time outside. Research is discovering the importance of being immersed in nature. Take time to step outside on the playground and breathe in the gentle breeze, feel the warmth of sunshine on your face, or smell the clean scent of rain (I live near Seattle). On your time off, make it a priority to spend time outside, often.

5.  Care for your emotions. Counselors have feelings too! That’s okay! Validate how you are feeling and then be deliberate in taking care of yourself. Find a friend to talk to without violating confidentiality and then move forward without dwelling on the difficult feelings we are exposed to in our work with children exposed to trauma.

6.  Grow boundaries. Leave it at the office. Don’t think about work at home. For me, when I think about students at home they take up residence. I’d rather work late and then walk away. Say no to involvements that do not bring you joy or add to your work in meaningful ways.

7.  Make time for mindfulness. Build in quiet breaks during the day. Slow down and be present in the moment, even for a few minutes. In the busyness of teaching children to calm down, we need to do the same to take care of ourselves. Breathe, relax, and slow your own mind down.

8.  Revamp your self-talk. Are you worrying about the students? Hope for good things for our little ones in distress and then leave them at work. Remind yourself, “I didn’t cause it. I will unlikely see the full impact of my good work, but I have chosen to make myself available to help.” Are you overwhelmed? Rehearse, “One step at a time. I’ve got this!”

9.  Nurture positive thoughts and foster gratitude. What is something you are looking forward to? What is one good thing that happened in the day? Focus on that! Create a gratitude journal: What are you grateful for? In your personal life? What joy or meaningful interaction did you help create? What evidences of success can you write about, even a tiny break-through? I have students on a daily check-ins who write in a happy thoughts journal. I have my own gratitude journal that I write in along with them!

10.  Phone a friend. Invest in your social support networks and build relationships in and outside of work. Sometimes, we just need a friend.

11.  Be encouraged by being an encourager. Send an affirming email to someone at work. Write a thank you note. Avoid negative talk. Do not get sucked in but, rather, be an agent of change by saying something kind or even acknowledging your self-care by saying you are trying to be positive when others try to engage you in negativity.

12.  Exercise your creativity. Add value by exercising a personal strength. Do you have a hobby or something you like to do? Photography? Crafting? Exercising creativity at work and outside of work can help you renew.

13.  Develop a growth mindset. Learn, stretch, and grow. You will make mistakes and that is okay, remember, that is what helps us learn.  Continue to grow your program. Add, delete, edit. Keep developing your craft and seeking new and better resources and ways to do this work. Reading new research, finding new books, and being active on counseling social media sites, keeps me excited about all the new and important ways our collective field is growing!

14.  Power down. Manage your availability and information access to improve your happiness and effectiveness. Schedule time to return calls and answer emails but try to avoid cramming them in at lunch or between students. Constant connectivity to our email, phones, and social media can mean we literally don’t get a break. That’s not good for anybody!

15.  Get Organized. Find an organization system and stick to it. Personally, the more stressed I feel, the less organized I tend to become. Anyone else feel oppressed by too many post-it notes? Currently, I have a journal in which to write all my student and meeting notes, to-do lists, and track phone calls. Everything goes in the journal or on the Google calendar.

16.  Utilize data to prioritize your efforts. Data can help generate support for your program, identify the activities that make the biggest impact, and helps you to know where your energy is paying off.  This step is a work in progress for me.

17.  Set goals. Identify small manageable goals and build from there. When you cannot do it all, my philosophy is, “Do the worst first.” Whatever task causes the most stress or has the biggest impact for the least effort, start there. You cannot build a Comprehensive Guidance Program overnight, after all.

18.  Create a positive space. Consider how you can create calm in your physical space. Play soothing music, add natural or non-fluorescent lighting, decorate with calming colors, hang pictures and positive sayings. Spend time creating a space you enjoy, no matter how small it is.

19.  Embrace change. If you find that even with the best of self-care and advocating for your program, you truly are in an oppressive work situation, do not be afraid to move on. I have found the occasional shift of positions in my career to be both difficult and rewarding. In the end, the moves have exposed me to new challenges, created opportunities to look at my work in fresh ways, afforded me new, meaningful relationships, and equipped me with new tools for my work.

20.  Share your ideas. We all have something to share: a lesson that went well, a craft the kids enjoyed, a calm down corner we created. Let others know about it! One of the ways I find the most encouragement for my work is when I share something that helps other school counselors in their work. Build in show and tell time when you meet with your district teams, share a new book at a staff meeting, organize a Social Emotional Learning professional development opportunity along with other counselors in your district, or share your ideas on school counselor social media sites. We can all use fresh inspiration and contributing builds our own confidence.

Thank you for investing in the lives of children. Adding healthy self-care practices into your daily routines will boost your ability to keep up the good work. Okay, put me in coach, I’m ready to play! GAME ON!

Choosing Calm,

Rebecca


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Rebecca Bowen, M.Ed. is a full-time school counselor in Washington state and the author of My Incredible Talking Body: Learning to Be Calm, a picture book that teaches emotional regulation and provides parents and educators with strategies to support the children in their lives.

 

Research and Inspiration

Achor, S. (2010). The Happiness Advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Broadway Books.

Bernstein, E. E., & McNally, R. J. (2017). Acute aerobic exercise helps overcome emotion regulation deficits. Cognition and Emotion, 31(4), 834-843.

Dweck, C. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Top-notch research reveals the upward spiral that will change your life. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Being a Teacher is Hard!

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Being a Teacher is Hard!

15 Positive Practices to Help You Find Balance

It is difficult and important work, teaching children. The demands are high, time and resources are stretched thin, the nature of the work is often isolated from other adults, and far too often negativity is knocking at the door. Bad press, unpassed levies, ugly social media posts, angry parents, worn-out colleagues, and then there are the children themselves. As each year passes there seem to be more students with challenging behaviors, overwhelming needs, and the complicated histories of trauma and lack of support at home. To say that keeping a healthy life balance is difficult would be an understatement, so let’s talk about how we can recommit to self-care practices and leverage some of the growing positive psychology research to help us stay on a good path.

1.  Eat lunch. No, really, do it. And while you are at it try to be healthy about it. Plan ahead so you can have something nutritious and good for you. Staff rooms are notorious repositories for sugary indulgences and leftover sweets folks don’t want at their house anymore.

2.  Exercise. Walk, run, hike, join a Zumba class, or sign up for tap dance lessons. Seriously, I did this with our Dean of Students and it was so fun! Find a physical activity that works for you. Try to build in some movement into your work day as well. Even a quick walk and fresh air at lunch can do wonders for your energy levels.

3.  Guard your sleep. Turn off screens early. Do not think about work before bedtime. Go to bed at a consistent time and make sure you get enough sleep.

4.  Spend time outside. Research is discovering the importance of being immersed in nature. Take time to step outside on the playground and breathe in the gentle breeze, feel the warmth of the sunshine on your face, or smell the clean scent of rain (I live near Seattle). On your time off, make it a priority to spend time outside, often.

5.  Care for your emotions. Teachers have feelings too! That’s okay! Validate how you are feeling and then be deliberate in taking care of yourself. Find a friend to talk to without violating confidentiality and then move forward without dwelling on the difficult feelings we are exposed to in our work with children exposed to trauma.

6.  Grow boundaries. Leave it at the office. Don’t think about work at home. For me, when I think about issues at home they take up residence. I’d rather work late and then walk away. Say no to involvements that do not bring you joy or add to your work in meaningful ways.

7.   Make time for mindfulness. Build in quiet breaks during the day. Slow down and be present in the moment, even for a few three minutes. In the busyness of the school day, we need to take care of ourselves. Breathe, relax, and slow your own mind down.

8.  Revamp your self-talk. Are you worrying about the students? Hope for good things for our little ones in distress and then leave them at work. Remind yourself, “I didn’t cause it. I will unlikely see the full impact of my good work, but I have chosen to make myself available to help.” Are you overwhelmed? Rehearse, “One step at a time. I’ve got this!”

9.  Nurture positive thoughts and foster gratitude. What is something you are looking forward to? What is one good thing that happened in the day? Focus on that! Create a gratitude journal: What are you grateful for? In your personal life? What joy or meaningful interaction did you help create? What evidences of success can you write about, even a tiny break-through?

10.  Phone a friend. Invest in your social support networks and build relationships in and outside of work. Sometimes, we just need a friend.

11.  Be encouraged by being an encourager. Send an affirming email to someone at work. Write a thank you note. Avoid negative talk. Do not get sucked in but be an agent of change by saying something kind or even acknowledging your self-care by saying you are trying to be positive.

12.  Exercise your creativity. Add value by exercising a personal strength. Do you have a hobby or something you like to do? Photography? Crafting? Exercising creativity at work and outside of work can help you renew.

13.  Develop a growth mindset. Learn, stretch, and grow. You will make mistakes and that is okay, remember, that is what helps us learn. Continue to grow your teaching practice. Add, delete, edit. Keep developing your craft and seeking new and better resources and ways to do this good work. 

14.  Power down. Manage your availability and information access to improve your happiness and effectiveness. Schedule time to return calls and answer emails but try to avoid cramming them in at lunch. Constant connectivity to our email, phones, and social media can mean we literally don’t get a break. That’s not good for anybody!

15.   Set goals. Identify small manageable goals and build from there. When you cannot do it all, my philosophy is, “Do the worst first.” Whatever task causes the most stress or has the biggest impact for the least effort, start there.  

Thank you for investing in the lives of children. Adding healthy self-care practices into your daily routines will boost your ability to keep up the good work and establish a healthy balance.

Choosing Calm,

Rebecca


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Rebecca Bowen, M.Ed. is a full-time school counselor in Washington state and the author of My Incredible Talking Body: Learning to Be Calm, a picture book that teaches emotional regulation and provides parents and educators with strategies to support the children in their lives.

 

 

Research and Inspiration

Achor, S. (2010). The Happiness Advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Broadway Books.

Bernstein, E. E., & McNally, R. J. (2017). Acute aerobic exercise helps overcome emotion regulation deficits. Cognition and Emotion, 31(4), 834-843.

Dweck, C. (2008). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Top-notch research reveals the upward spiral that will change your life. New York: Three Rivers Press.

What About the Rest of the Children?

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When a child has extreme behaviors, a lot of time, energy, and staff support goes towards intervening in crises, identifying needs, evaluating precipitating factors, considering the functions of the behaviors, and securing needed support for "that student."

But what about the rest of the children?

It tugs at the heartstrings to see the school experiences of the other students negatively impacted by aggressive and disruptive behaviors. It interrupts their learning. It disrupts their sense of safety. It exposes them to intense displays of emotion and stirs up intense emotions within themselves and their teachers.

While there is no doubt that we have critical work to do with those exhibiting significant behaviors and students impacted by trauma in their lives, it is also really important to support the rest of the class! Here are a few concepts we'll be exploring in this post:

1.  Teach all students how to calm down

2.  Teach expectations for safe and respectful behaviors

3.  Teach safety lessons that emphasize accessing adult support

4.  Create a plan for keeping the students safe

5.  Provide lessons on identifying feelings in others

6.  Teach empathy

7.  Create calming routines and transitions

8.  Offer extra support for targeted or anxious students

9.  Support each other

10.  Practice healthy self-care


Ten Strategies for Supporting Classes
Impacted by Extreme Behaviors

Teach all students how to calm down.

All students need to learn how to manage emotions in healthy ways. It is an especially important time to provide this instruction when students may be upset by having witnessed displays of out of control emotions. Include practice with deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and using positive self-talk. Teach the calming lessons from your Social Emotional Learning curriculum and hang up posters in the classroom in highly visible places and refer to them frequently.

Supplement formal lessons with books that teach strategies for emotional regulation. After an emotional incident that may have frightened or raised the arousal level of the class, do a whole class calm down session together modeling the steps of calming down (this might help you too!).

Teach expectations for safe and respectful behaviors.

Within your school’s identified rules, teach all children what is expected. It is important to establish that the undesired behavior is not okay. Young students can be very concrete in their thinking so it is helpful for them to hear that the adults are not okay with the behaviors they see in a classmate, especially if they have been hurt or scared.

Teaching the expectations separately from an incident allows the opportunity for a reminder of the rules rather than negatively labeling the child in violation. Emphasize rules such as, “Keep your hands, feet, and objects to yourself.” Be consistent with re-teaching this expectation for all students even for less harmful physical behaviors.

Teach safety lessons that emphasize accessing adult support.

Promote safety by teaching refusal skills and encouraging students to access adult help for any unsafe action or situation. Emphasize that safety rules are more important than other rules, like staying in line or being quiet. In other words: if someone is hurting you, get away and tell an adult.

Frequently remind students that all of the adults at the school are there to help them be safe. Name them by name or role for each area of the school day. In addition to the teacher, include lunch room and playground supervisors, PE and music teachers, bus drivers, the school counselor, and principal.

Create a plan for keeping the students safe.

Just like for a fire drill, it is essential to make a plan with your school support team in the event of a student crisis. Since removal of a student in melt down is difficult and often unsafe, a plan may include evacuating the rest of the class. Knowing and practicing ahead of time how to quickly line up and follow instructions will lessen the impact on other students during a highly disruptive incident.

Knowing who will intervene with the child in crisis, who will stay with the class, where the class will go, and what the class will do while out of the classroom will help students and staff stay calm. Ideas might include identifying a buddy classroom or the library where students can do a calm activity such as a read aloud book or reading independently or together with an older student buddy. School counselors may work with the whole class or offer support to some of the more upset students.

Provide lessons on identifying feelings in others.

Learning to identify what feelings look and feel like is a foundational skill for managing emotions, successful social interactions, and it can also help students stay safe. Teach students that they should step away rather than interact with someone that it really angry. That child needs grown up help. Teach social emotional lessons that help children identify what it looks like when someone is sad, angry, or scared. Help children understand that when someone has a really strong feeling, they need a quiet space to calm down.

Teach empathy.

Teach safe and empathetic responses to strong feelings in others. It is common for children to label a student with behavioral difficulties as “bad.” Everybody is important. Everybody is learning and growing and people have different feelings and different needs. Read stories to help children understand differences and needs. Foster forgiveness and kindness with activities that identify the strengths of all students including those that have extreme behaviors at times.

Create calming routines and transitions.

Plan calming activities during transitions such as coming into the classroom from recess that support the whole class in down regulating from the less structured setting and movement. These activities not only help the rest of the students in calming down but may provide an opportunity to give extra support for those children that need more direct assistance settling down. Consider videos, music, and online transition applications. Consider adjusting transition times for students that become overly agitated frequently.

Start by identifying a "calm down spot" in the classroom. Choose a place in the classroom for students to self-regulate before they get highly upset. Include a basket of sensory tools such as stress balls, small stuffed animals, a pinwheel or Hoberman sphere, books about feelings, and visually calming tools such as a calm down glitter jar. Making this space available for anyone who needs to calm down can de-stigmatize a child needing it more frequently.

Offer extra support for targeted or anxious students.

Children who have been targeted by an aggressive child or who are anxious because of the behaviors may need additional support. Short term individualized attention will often go a long way supporting a typically functioning student who is anxious due to another child’s behavior. Reinforce with the child the lessons about safety and calming down and give feedback that they have followed the plan by reporting it.

Help students choose which calming and safety strategies will work best for them. Help them feel safe and that their needs are important. Include information in your newsletter for all parents about calming lessons so they can further support children at home. In addition to equipping at home, parent communication demonstrates the additional care and support you have provided to help the rest of the students while protecting the confidentiality of the child.

Support each other.

Teachers of a student exhibiting significant behaviors need to know that they are not alone. It is not their fault. Their feelings for themselves and the other students are valid. Since the journey of identifying supports for students is often long and focused on things the teacher should do, this is an important time to reach out to each other and show support for one another in addition to discussing helpful strategies to mitigate the impact on the other students and restore balance to the classroom.

Practice healthy self-care.

Finally, whether you are the classroom teacher, a paraeducator, the special education teacher, the school counselor, or other support staff, managing extreme student behaviors is really difficult and emotional work. It is essential during these times to be diligent with your own self-care. Go outside. Breathe. Eat lunch. Practice calm. Make a list of things you are grateful for. Try to include a few about your work.

The bottom line is that you have to take care of yourself to stay in the game. This is important work and I am personally grateful for all you are doing on behalf of the rest of the children in the room.

What strategies do you use to support the rest of the children in your classroom?


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Rebecca Bowen, M.Ed. is a full-time school counselor in Washington state and the author of My Incredible Talking Body: Learning to Be Calm, a picture book that teaches emotional regulation and provides parents and educators with strategies to support the children in their lives.

Choosing Calm

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Ten strategies to teach children how to choose calm.

1.       Pay attention to your body’s signals about feelings

2.      Take slow deep breaths

3.      Use calming self-talk, think positive thoughts, or create happy mind pictures

4.     Find a quiet space to calm down

5.     Read, draw, or build

6.     Walk, run, or play

7.      Hug a stuffed animal or squeeze a “stress” ball

8.     Talk about and name feelings with someone you trust

9.     Practice being still and relaxed

10.   Spend time in nature

In our fast paced, activity packed, stressful, and often scary world, it is a true gift indeed to find calm for ourselves, let alone our children. As a parent, I was deeply saddened the morning my seven year old son asked me at the bus stop what a suicide bomber was. In spite of my best efforts to delay his exposure to tragedy in our world, his cartoons had been interrupted by breaking news with images of airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center. Tragedy, trauma, and fear hasn’t slowed down since then. We are vulnerable and our children are vulnerable but one thing we can do to protect them is to equip them to successfully manage the increased emotional demands by teaching them about calming down and put structures and routines in our homes and schools that support emotional regulation.

The good news is that there is a blossoming number of researchers tackling the causes of increased anxiety and mental health concerns in children and exploring methods to help, and for them, I am exceedingly grateful. As for me, I speak from the front lines of a public school as an elementary school counselor, working alongside teachers and parents, trying to tap into the best that has been discovered to gift our little ones with the tools they need to manage their emotions in healthy ways as they grow and develop.

Choosing Calm,

Rebecca

 

Glacial Beauty

Ahhh, glacial beauty!  It seems that everything about this project has happened at glacial speed which may not come as a surprise for others of you working as full time school counselors.  Somehow the "day" job takes so much time that there is not much left over for projects.  As spring rolls around, I am excited to have the opportunity to speak at the Washington School Counselor's Association conference (March 3rd and 4th) sharing ideas about Emotions Management strategies and talking about the Gottman Institute's new parent program:  Emotion Coaching, The Heart of Parenting. I hope to make many new school counselor friends and look forward to sharing ideas on this blog site.  Welcome!