Young Minds, Grown-Up Worries: 5 Resources for Parents and Educators

by Emily VR

For some children, the usual milestones and recommendations rarely seem to apply.  Whether because of disability differences, gifted ability differences, or both, parents and educators gradually learn to expect the unexpected.

Because of these differences, children can also surprise adults with early worries about big-picture, life-and-death concepts.  In some cases, this can be the first sign of high-ability needs.  How do you cope with a two-year-old’s concerns about death, heaven, and an infinite universe?  How can you handle a student so concerned with social justice that she argues with her peers, or an emotionally sensitive child who cannot sleep because of stress over homelessness and foreign wars?

When the usual parenting and teaching advice doesn’t help, consider checking out the below resources to help young children with mature worries.

Living With Intensity.  Danels, Susan and Piechowski, Michael (2009).  Living with Intensity explains Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration and the “Overexcitabilities” (types of emotional and physical intensity), and it offers perspectives from a number of professionals on coping with intensity in children and adults.  Learning about the imaginational and emotional “overexcitabilities” may help parents better understand the thoughts and emotions behind a child’s concerns.  Much of the book focuses on the gifted population, however, anyone with a child or student experiencing extreme or advanced worries may find the coping strategies helpful.

Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope.  Webb, James T. (2013).  Like Living with Intensity, psychologist James Webb’s book discusses giftedness, but it offers help for anyone struggling with discouragement over weighty questions. Webb tackles the subject of existential depression with compassionate, thoughtful perspective and a number of ways to cope.  Though geared toward adults, several strategies can be used by parents and educators to support children, such as focusing on ways to live in the present moment, bibliotherapy, journaling, and helping children to feel they can make a difference through causes related to their concerns.  (Parents and educators can help children get involved – check out Hoagies’ Blog Hop on Child Activists for ideas!)

The Mama’s Boy Myth:  Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes them Stronger.  Lombardi, Kate Stone (2013).  Mothers with sensitive sons can find both relief and validation in this well-researched book.  Lombardi debunks stereotypes and misconceptions about close mother-son relationships and sensitive boys, and she shows how nurturing the emotional sensitivity of male children can actually benefit both the child and our society as a whole.

Some of My Best Friends Are Books: Guiding Gifted Readers.  Third Edition.  Halstead, Judith Wynn (2009).  Books and workshops on parenting gifted children frequently recommend bibliotherapy as a technique for coping with life’s stresses, and it can help adults, as well.  Halstead’s classic book offers a number of suggestions that can appeal to the interests, strengths, and struggles of gifted-identified readers.  (For a few additional gifted bibliotherapy recommendations, check out the NuMinds Vodcast on this topic!)

Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth.  Prober, Paula (2016).  This recent book by Paula Prober, a licensed professional counselor and former teacher, can support parents with all types of sensitivity in their families, including the emotional sensitivity associated with creative abilities. Prober’s Rainforest Mind metaphor reassures and validates readers as she guides them through strategies to both cope and reframe negative associations they may have formed about their sensitivity.

Though our first instinct is often to protect our children and students from pain, under Dabrowski’s theory, experiencing certain intensities can lead to the development of empathy and altruistic behavior.  Stress about current events can also provide opportunities for discussions about essential topics, such as conversations about racial bias, equality, and the importance of truthfulness and peaceful problem-solving. Parents of young children with extreme worries may find it necessary to filter or restrict certain adult topics in news or fiction, however, even when a child is capable of grasping the concepts.  The AAP has released recommendations on the impact of violent media and video games on children, and websites such as Kids in Mind, Common Sense Media and Compass Book Ratings can help screen adult content in films and books, which can be helpful for young children with high comprehension levels.  In any discussion with children, but especially those involving life’s big questions, children will learn by example and appreciate an adult’s honesty with them.

For educators:  parents and experts agree on the importance of understanding individual differences and diagnoses when helping children through difficult behavior.  For example, classroom strategies which work for typically developing children could trigger panic instead of compliance in a child with certain disabilities.  To work through behaviors influenced by big-picture worries, both parents and educators will want to start with a compassionate understanding of how a child may process his or her world differently.

Counseling Notes

As adults, we play an important role in helping children to learn from their pain.  According to counselor Vanessa Sanford, “the way for kids to be wise, kind, resilient, and brave is to learn from pain and worries and struggle, not run from it.  Kids need to see parents allow the compassionate space for kids to make meaning out of struggle and believe they are capable of hard things instead of fixing or protecting kids all the time.”  She explains that this “doesn’t mean we want kids to get hurt, but we do want to send a message, ‘I am here, I see you, I know this is scary, but you are brave and we can do this together.’”

How can adults create this space?  Sanford explains, “courage must be a component… Courage to hold a safe space for kids to express their worries and not shut them down… Courage to not have the answer, but to just allow kids to explore their own way around worries. Courage to ask for help when an adult feels over their head with the struggles. Courage to believe the adult is capable of handling this and that the kid is too. Courage to practice empathy and compassion instead of just running to logic and cognitive space. When kids have grown up worries, they need to know the ones they are trusting with this are safe and allow enough space for emotion. Logic can return into the conversation once emotion is seen, valued, respected, and [it is] explained that we all feel messy and complicated feelings. Normalizing this for kids is so powerful and invites them to continue opening up about these worries,” she says.

According to Sanford, parents need the empowerment and encouragement to know “that they can do hard things. Their kids can do hard things. That if their kid has existential questions, the most important thing to consider is how brave and vulnerable the parent [must be] to role-model so the kid can feel safe, respected, valued and loved.” Though we cannot stay forever at their desks or bedsides, when our children and students struggle with their first existential questions, as adults, we can model empathy and provide those safe spaces for them to process their feelings – which can help them for the rest of their lives.

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Note:  Some worries are too big for children, parents, and educators to handle on their own.  If a child’s worries are interfering with his or her quality of life, or if adults see warning signs of mental illness, it is important to seek professional help, just as we would for physical injuries or illnesses.  Parents may find it helpful to search for counselors and psychologists familiar with known conditions or diagnoses impacting their children.

For more help, this video from Dr. Brené Brown explains the benefits of empathy and the difference between empathy and sympathy. 

Many thanks to Vanessa M. Sanford, LPC for her invaluable contributions, interview, and video link.  Ms. Sanford practices in Frisco, Texas, and specializes in multiple areas of counseling for children, teens, and adults. 

 

What strategies have you found successful in helping your child or students cope with existential stress?  Let us know in the comments below.

The Fissure Blog is proud to participate in blog hops from Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!  For additional posts in the Philosophical / Spiritual Anxiety Blog Hop, please click on the below image (credit Pamela S. Ryan!).21078458_10212344733746027_8908226935862427228_n

 

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Summer Learning: Exploring National Parks

by Emily VR

Parents and caregivers:  if you haven’t visited a National Park or National Historic Site recently, there is probably one near you, and it might make the most memorable day or weekend trip of your summer.  These places offer a unique, hands-on opportunity for kids to explore, learn, and satisfy their thirst for adventure while getting excited about nature and history.  (Park and Historic Site finder here.)

Does your child thrive on physical activity?  In National Parks, kids and their adults can climb to mountain waterfalls near the continental divide, watch the sun rise over layers of geologic time in the Grand Canyon, or canoe through lakes and rivers rich with both natural and human history (multiple parks).  Young park visitors and their families can trek past rock formations in Mammoth Cave and Carlsbad Caverns, explore forest and desert habitats, scale ladders to abandoned Native American cliff dwellings, and learn about the earth’s crust through the force of geysers and volcanoes.

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Is your child obsessed with paleontology or archaeology?  Kids can see dinosaur skeletons still embedded in rock at Dinosaur National Monument, or they can examine ancient petroglyphs in New Mexico.  Budding history buffs can trace American history – walking right where it happened – from settlements like Historic Jamestown to the buildings and battlefields of the Revolutionary War and Civil War, important sites in African American and Native American history, and memorials from the Civil Rights movement.

Interpretive program

Many sites offer Visitor Centers with educational exhibits and/or guided programs by Park Rangers, and at any Park kids can practice photography or journal writing.  (Tip: some sites have limited tour availability and recommend advance reservations – check the website before you go.)  For young adults, National Parks can offer even more in-depth learning and internship opportunities: the Mosaics in Science program, for example, provides on-the-ground, science-based NPS work experience to youth underrepresented in natural resource science career fields.  NPS includes accessibility solutions for guests with disabilities, and it offers several resources for teachers, as well.  Visiting Parks can even be good for your health: the benefits of exercise and spending time in nature are so significant, this year marked the 2nd annual Park Prescription Day around the country – an opportunity to reflect on both self-care and the value of our natural environment.

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To help younger kids process and remember their experiences, you can ask about the Junior Ranger program – most National Parks, historic, and battlefield sites offer educational activity packets (available from a Park Ranger, often at the main Visitor Center).  Activities vary by age, and additional programs are available in some parks.  (Tip:  some activities ask kids to record details from the site, so you may want to pick up packets early in your visit.)  Kids can earn collectible “Junior Ranger” badges after completing assignments – in my family, these have been treasured souvenirs of adventures together.

National Parks are inexpensive, and in some cases, free:  fourth graders and their families can sign up for free access to the National Parks for a year, and NPS offers free U.S. military passes, free Access passes for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities, and a few free entrance days for all.  Until August 28, 2017, seniors can pay $10 for a lifetime Senior Pass.

For some learners, it can be hard to find inspiration in textbooks and articles alone, and many students thrive on hands-on immersion.  Let them dive in and surround themselves with learning, and consider visiting natural wonders and historic places during your family adventures.  Your children can expand their knowledge and discover new interests – and together with you, will make lifelong memories.

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p.s.  If your family feels (as mine does) that these sites should be preserved for future generations, you can visit https://www.npca.org/advocacy and contact your elected U.S. representatives to request protection for National Parks land and funding.  For children, writing letters to Senators and Representatives can be a multidisciplinary learning experience, too.

p.p.s.  If you are in a National Park this summer, consider sharing that experience with the NuMinds community by participating in their #NumiTravels campaign. Find more info at NuMiTravels.com!

Children of STEAM: Our Future

We started Camp Pursuit because we’re passionate about education and we believe that passion can lead to a great many things. Our vision is to give students a curiosity-fueled platform to explore different aspects of STEAM in a fun and thoughtful environment where they have the chance to dive into the many different creative outlets that come along with science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. A choice-based learning environment driven by high-interest themes, rather than arbitrarily designated subject areas, exposes students to key concepts and skills ACROSS the aspects of STEAM. Aside from the benefits learning new skills give children, it also builds the desired skill sets CEO’s are looking for in the long run.

When asked, CEO’s said “Approximately 60% of job openings require basic STE[A]M literacy and 42% require advanced STE[A]M knowledge. Nearly two-thirds of job openings that require STE[A]M skills are in manufacturing and other services.” Unless your kids start a business as their first job and entrepreneurship becomes their career, a CEO in their future will look to them to have a knowledge of STEAM. If they end up being super successful as an entrepreneur, they’re going to need to know enough STEAM to keep up with the demand of our culture.

It’s not just CEO’s who we look to for answers when it comes to the children we work with and their future. In our research, we found that non-STEM careers have a projection of 9.8% growth whereas STEM careers reach 17% projected growth. In 2010, STEM workers made up 1/18th of the workforce and earned about 26% more than those who didn’t work in STEM. These numbers are rapidly growing and are expected to grow even more in the future.

So why is it so important for your kids to attend Camp Pursuit? Your kids are our future. STEAM education teaches them to work with others, have patience, not give up, look outside of the box, and create something new. We want a future where your kids are equipped for growth. STEAM is growing, and your kids are growing in a parallel path.

Being Sam

by Emily VR

In June, filmmaker Ken Burns delivered a powerful commencement address at Stanford University.   Among other words of advice, he urged graduates to serve their country, to “insist that we support science and the arts,” and to be active in solving challenges facing our nation.  After the presidential election, one Stanford graduate wrote Burns to confess regret about her initial negative reaction to his speech, and to ask his advice on moving forward post-election.

Burns told the Washington Post that it took “a while to write her back.”  After the election, he said, he felt like “Frodo in Mordor.”  (For those not familiar with The Lord of the Rings, in the last half of the trilogy, Frodo and his companion, Sam, struggle through enemy territory on a near-hopeless mission to save Middle Earth.)

In your role in education, have you ever felt like Frodo in Mordor?

Perhaps you are the only educator or parent trying to follow best practices for a specific student, or the only person advocating to save, start, or improve a district program.  You may be a teacher, a parent, a school administrator, a lawmaker, or an advocate for public education.  You may feel hopeless in your struggle for adequate funding.  You may feel terrified as you fight against proposals and budget cuts that could strip away any real chance of a decent education for students in low-income neighborhoods, or for students with certain special needs and learning differences.

How do you cope with seemingly impossible challenges in the field of education?

Burns responded with advice that can help in many situations, regardless of political beliefs or affiliation, whenever we feel overwhelmed and hopeless.  He encouraged the writer to seek engagement and to start with “awareness and commitment.”  He said: “go forward. Engage. Don’t despair. Find likeminded people — not from your social circle, but everywhere.”

In other words:  look for others who feel like Frodo in Mordor, and become Sam.

In Tolkien’s trilogy, Sam is not always treated with respect, including by Frodo.  Being Sam is not a glamorous job, and Sam is not praised in any minstrel’s song.  Readers don’t often see Sam as the hero of the story – yet more than once, the fate of all Middle Earth rests in his hands.

Sam never seeks glory or recognition, and throughout the tale, he follows his convictions.  It is Sam who chooses to trust and befriend Tom Bombadil and Faramir, saving the quest.  In their most difficult moments, Frodo and Sam face impossible challenges alone – yet they go forward, and they find unexpected allies.  They support one another, and ultimately, they prevail.  Sam does what is needed to further the mission.  He always helps, he works harder than anyone, he keeps going, and he creates the companionship he and Frodo need to survive.  At times, Frodo despairs, but Sam does not give up – and in his loyalty, honesty, creativity, bravery, and determination, Sam discovers that he is stronger than anyone realized.

Not all of us have the resources or connections to be the warrior-king Aragorn – at least, not in every situation, or not yet – but all of us can be Sam, at any time.

At first, you may not see like-minded educators or parents in your neighborhood, in your class, or even in your school district.  They exist.  Keep looking until you find them.  You can collaborate with those who face different challenges but who share your values and ultimate goals. If you search, you may find that reputable organizations are already working to overcome the obstacles you now face.  (Please note that if you are unable to move past despair even with support, professionals and organizations such as NAMI are eager to help – and please feel no shame in being one of the 1 in 5 adults who needs mental health support in any given year.)

Children, too, can face isolation, heartbreaking challenges, and anxiety about the future – and as adults, we struggle to help them cope.  While professional help or therapy is sometimes needed, some adult coping strategies also work for children.  To help existential depression at any age, Psychologist James Webb recommends: “getting involved in causes they believe in is the best remedy to combat feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and questions of life meaning” (Webb, 2013).

Do you know a student who feels alone in her struggles, her worries about the world, her commitment to honesty and truth, or her search for support?  Sam Gamgee might be the literary hero he or she needs to meet.

It is not an easy time to be an educator or a parent.  In our current post-truth reality, as we fight for science, struggle to find reliable news, and weather new attacks on the public education we desperately need for global survival, we need one another.

Whatever role you play in education, small or large, please continue to engage.  Follow the advice of Burns, Webb, and countless others, and do not give up.  For the sake of our children, do not become resigned.

When you need help, reach out.  You are not alone.  We may be in Mordor, but hope is not lost.

We can all be Sam.

 

References

Webb, James T. (2013).  Searching for meaning: idealism, bright minds, disillusionment and hope.  Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Stanford University News (2016).  Prepared text of the 2016 Stanford Commencement address by Ken Burns.  http://news.stanford.edu/2016/06/12/prepared-text-2016-stanford-commencement-address-ken-burns/

“Post-truth.” The Oxford English Dictionary, OED Online.  Oxford University Press, Dec. 16, 2016.  https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/post-truth

Rosenberg, Alyssa (2016).  A student asked Ken Burns what to do in Trump’s America. He gave her this advice.  The Washington Post, Dec. 15, 2016.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2016/12/15/a-student-asked-ken-burns-what-to-do-in-trumps-america-he-gave-her-this-advice/

For an excellent post about discussing climate change with children, please see the EcoScienceGirl blog.

Thank you to Laurie Stein for bringing NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) to the attention of parents and professionals in the DFW area.

A Student Poem to Vindicate Our Mission

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Super Camper and poet Alexa with camp directors Ben Koch (left) and Justin Vawter.

by Ben Koch

As part of our NuMinds gig, Justin and I direct a mixed-age, choice-based summer camp.  And, just like Justin and I don’t quite fit the norm, our camp doesn’t quite fit the mold of your everyday camp (CampPursuit.com).  Not being marketing gurus, we try again and again to articulate what makes it such a unique experience for kids:

“It’s like a mini-university–students choose 4 courses from our course catalog each week, based solely on their passions, NOT on their age!”

Or

“Teachers create and teach super specific inter-disciplinary courses that THEY are passionate about, and that passion becomes contagious.”

Yes, we’ve got some descriptive and detailed marketing copy, but nothing quite captures the essence of our camp experience like the testimonies of the students and parents who have experienced it; especially when that testimony comes in the form of a thoughtful, heartfelt poem.  In her words, she “woke up Monday night after camp and couldn’t go back to sleep.”  She “just started writing this poem.”  At Tuesday morning’s assembly, Alexa shared her poem with her fellow campers, and we now share it with the world as the perfect vindication that our mission for a real, inspired learning experience is being realized.

Here’s Alexa’s poem.

Camp Pursuit

Camp Pursuit is number one

Our day is filled with learning fun

I may have bonked my head a little

But Camp Pursuit’s not skittle dittle

From myths and tests and programming

To Egypt, sculptures, and cooking

Swing on in to learn something new

Your blood’s not red; the sky’s not blue

We’re curious we’re big and smart

Our IQ level’s off the chart

Our creativity is put to the test

At Camp Pursuit we never rest

The young ones are smart; don’t let them fool you,

And probably more creative too

From bar to bar we jump in level

We love to learn, explore, and play

I wish that I could be right here

A little mastermind like devil

I wish I could be here all day

Every hour, week, and year

Now this is the final test

To see who is the very best

And while our numbers just keep blooming

We leave our competition fuming

But although we know they try so hard

So when you need a summer camp

Camp Pursuit’s the number one champ

They miss the cutoff by a yard

PS. Curiosity didn’t kill the cat

It was probably just a rabid rat

Brilliant!  Thank you, Alexa, for sharing your poem.  For more information on Camp Pursuit visit CampPursuit.com.  We run year-round programs and are looking to expand our summer camp to new areas in summer 2016.