Spring cleaning 

Maybe it’s the Gemini in me. Maybe it’s the time of year when things are changing. Or, maybe it’s growing older and gainer more perspective but one life lesson that keeps resurfacing lately, as a parent, adult,  and School Counselor is that balance is crucial in leading a fulfilling life.

Image result for balanced scaleBoth personally and professionally, I see the effects of over and under-involvement from parents. We learn from our mistakes if we are paying attention. But, we can also learn from others. And in the wake of another tragic school shooting, my eyes are open to how we are failing our children.

It’s the age of extremes. Extreme opinions. Extreme politics. Extreme religions. Extreme views. Extreme gaming. Extreme extracurriculars. Extreme competition. Extreme testing. Extreme neglect. And, extreme parenting.

Every day as a School Counselor, I witness the effects of extremes from the list above.

  • Kids home alone a lot without anyone to help with homework
  • Children living with changing marriages, guardians, and new parental boy/girlfriends
  • Kids spending EXCESSIVE amounts of time gaming
  • Children viewing a plethora of adult material online
  • Families obsessing with being top-dog
  • Parents overreacting and overstepping into teacher territory; nit-picking 
  • Too many students living with anxiety, mental illness, and depression

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How do these all relate with so many various parenting topics? Many adults are failing to take a step back and review what’s best for their child’s development. It seems that many parents are loosing perspective on best practices and healthy habits while neglecting the most basic developmental needs like time for self-development, time to reboot, and time to care about others.

A lot of people are living in the age of selfishness. It’s all-about-me-world. Wanting to have people cater to me, being the best, and competing with others for grades, sports, and attention is a value in this country that is leading to self-destruction. Or, on the opposite spectrum, parents wanting what they want and not taking time to care for their kids, regardless of what their child needs, is equally destructive.

This rings true for the most neglected children and also the most overparented children. There are parents who really don’t want to be parents therefore, they go about their lives with their priorities coming first (instead of balancing the needs and wants of others). These are the children who are living with anxiety because they are forced to live in an adult world. It’s environmental stress. They know about the fight between mom and boyfriend last night. They don’t have anyone to read with them at night. They get off the bus and go into an empty apartment. They don’t sit down and eat dinner with a family. They often have an absent biological parent, or often an incarcerated parent. (But, they do have good clothes and shoes…priorites)

And then there are the parents who simply do not have any life outside of their children. No hobbies. Too much time on their hands to obsess about what their kids are doing. Too much attention is given to every little grade and performance. Their children often are successful and popular because they’re bred to be. But, these kids aren’t always happy or kind either. Kids who are overparented are often plagued with anxiety and performance-induced stress. This extreme parenting looks supportive on the surface while teachers complain behind their backs. Parents send their children to school but kind of want to be in charge of their curriculum and grades, truth-be-told. When the kid gets a B on the test, it’s catastrophic. The parent takes it personally because the child’s performance is their hobby.

Both parenting styles are unhealthy and unappreciated by educators. But, we are all guilty at times! When I write, I share these thoughts for ALL of us to pause and reflect. Self-awareness and perspective is a value that we are losing in their country because everyone is so busy! But,  balance and moderation are key to leading a satisfying life.   So, parents, it’s ok to….

  • worry some
  • relax, some
  • do your own thing some
  • Get excited about your kid’s grades, some
  • Allow some failure
  • Take some time to reevaluate your values

And for our children, moderation also helps develop healthy human beings:

  • Some technology is ok
  • Some downtime is good
  • Some family time is important
  • Some true friendships are crucial, while being popular is not
  • Some failures are normal
  • Some success should be celebrated
  • Some time should be spent thinking about and helping others

Moderation and balance is key. We have to keep perspective. The stress in this country is breeding a lack of awareness and healthy values in all types of families. We feel it in schools, one of the  most fundamental establishments in our culture.

So, this spring as you’re doing your spring cleaning, take a moment to declutter your lives along with your closets. Take a moment to reflect and evaluate if you’re living out your values. What can we eliminate and what can we add? Just like with chocolate or wine, a little bit isn’t going to kill ya (and may even be a little beneficial) ! It’s all about moderation. The habits we are teaching our kids will impact the adults they become. Be balanced. Be aware. And, have some fun too! Happy spring cleaning!

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The Best Valentine’s Gift

Love is a hard word to describe, and even harder to live out. When you’ve been in love, you know it!  You experience a type of euphoria that’s addictive, yet not sustainable. But, love can come in many different forms and parts of speech! It’s a noun, a verb, and even an adjective. The love that’s sustainable is an action, and if you’re a parent, you understand this type of unconditional love.

There is nothing like the love and connection you form with your child. You’d do literally anything for them. Jump off a bridge, throw yourself in front of a moving car, or sprint into a fire. Hopefully, you’ll need not do any of the above but loving our children is the single most important thing we can do as parents.

Why? Because children who feel loved are more secure, more empathetic, and more likely to love others. Humans who feel loved can lead productive lives and overcome obstacles. People who feel loved may live up to their potential because they don’t have that voice in their head that is critical, doubtful, or cruel. If we don’t feel loved, there is a void.

We love our children when we:

  • tell them they are loved
  • teach them right from wrong
  • forgive them
  • recognize effort and compliment them
  • tell them they are appreciated
  • hold them accountable
  • pay attention and listen to them
  • know when to help them, and when to make them help themselves
  • accept them 

That’s hard enough to do! However, when thinking about how we best can love our children, the foundation is loving ourselves! It doesn’t mean sacrificing the needs and wants of others to get what we want; that’s self-serving.  The best way to love others and sustain a healthy, loving relationship is to be the best person, and subsequently, the best parent we can be. We cannot fully love others if we don’t love ourselves. Yes, we’ve heard this for years from Oprah and self-help books when referring to romantic relationships but loving ourselves will help us be loving parents. People who don’t have their own lives figured out and are searching for happiness externally cannot fully love another. First, we must love ourselves.

If we aren’t being honest with ourselves, then we aren’t modeling how to be genuine, truthful people. If we aren’t practicing kindness and patience within ourselves, we cannot expect our children to practice good self-care. If we don’t take time for our passions, then our kids don’t get to witness joy and strength from the people they admire and look up to. If we don’t believe or even hope things will get better, our children don’t witness the power of positive thinking. If we don’t protect ourselves, emotionally or physically, then our children don’t feel safe and protected. As parents, we must remind ourselves that our children are watching. They don’t usually acknowledge that they care or even always respect our decisions, but they are taking it all in. 

To fully love others, we must first take care of ourselves. So, let’s revisit the list above and this time, let’s decide to do these things for ourselves. Before we fully and actively love someone else, we need to remind ourselves to do the same for ourselves. Make the ‘them’ a ‘myself‘ in the list. We will be happier parents equipped to give more to our children. By loving ourselves unconditionally, we will unconditionally love others too. And, that is the greatest gift.

Happy Valentine’s Day! XOXO



Watch your words, boy!

My children, 2 years apart, are always so encouraging, complimentary, and helpful towards each other. They don’t argue or fight. They point out the positive. They never get revenge. And, they truly enjoy each other’s company.

If I am describing your life, congratulations, but all of the above is a big, fat LIE! In fact, I’d have to say today is opposite day if I were to convince you of such non-sense! While it seems unfair to blame one child, in this case, it really is my eldest who does 90% of the instigating! And he’s played the ‘Anna’s-your-favorite’-card, I would have to agree to her behavior is usually my favorite. That’s fair.


Yes, many times she does react but it’s Brody’s put-downs that really must stop. So, last night at dinner when he gave yet another insult, I told him there’s a new deal around here. For every put-down, there must be a compliment. Humans mostly hear and remember negative comments anyway .I think you’re supposed to give 7 positive comments for every negative just to break even. (Brody has a deficient too!).  He has a lot of making to do!

Bo agreed that he was sick of it and upon hearing Brody’s sarcastic tone when he did say Anna ‘is good at soccer’ (she did smile by the way!), he added on. Now, not only does he have to give a compliment but he also has a chore to do. Now, that sure got his attention! He did one after dinner. And today, he’s done two.

It’s become such a habit that it’s a natural part of his vocabulary. And while it is normal, makes him feel a little better about himself, and it does toughen her up a little, it still gets old. And, it’s become more frequent than acceptable. So, “you’ve got rocks in your head” earned him vacuuming the hallway upstairs. Then, the “baby” got him another room! Many times, he’s not even mad so he’s tried  the ole’ “just kidding” card. (Oh no you don’t , with this School Counselor mom. Nice try!)

At this house, we believe in consequences. Consequences are what children need to learn. However, sadly, we are moving away from consequences in public schools. There is a push towards positive reinforcement and planned ignoring. We don’t want to suspend kids, much less send them ot the office. Punish at the last resort. And while I am the first to believe in relationship-building and mutual respect, the idea that we can teach children without consequnces doesn’t prepare them for the real world.

When teachers are expected to praise Johnny for keeping his clothes on, not biting, hitting or yelling every 5 minutes on his cute behavior chart, Johnny has learned to work the system. Johnny hasn’t learned that his actions impact others. Johnny doesn’t learn to think about others. Johnny hears a lot of false praise. And, Johnny doesn’t miraculously transform into an empathetic human. Johnny is a jerk, and Johnny needs to understand he’s being a jerk and get a consequence or reaction that matches his action.

Does this sound harsh? Maybe…but my job as a mother (and a School Counselor) is to help children grow into responsible, empathetic, kind human beings. We aren’t doing kids any favors when we deny the truth, when we avoid consequences.  That’s not how life works.

There is a reasonable middle-of-the-road. While I would never tell Anna to call Brody something mean back to make things even or tell the teacher to bite Johnny back, I do think that we help children (and adults for that matter) when there are consequences for actions. Call them punishments. Call them making-them-do-something-they-don’t-want-to-do! If punishments are reasonable and fair, then they work. Brody hates chores (who doesn’t?!) so giving extra chores on top of having him practice complimenting his sister is a WIN for all.

So while I do not agree with beating your kids or sending them to bed without supper, I do think reasonable consequences are healthy for all. I think working and chores are more than reasonable; they help everyone. It’s easy to get lazy. Take away their gaming system. Have them clean. Write an apology letter. Do something that takes times to think and reflect. Tough love it where it’s at, people!

How many chores do you think he’ll ‘earn’ tomorrow!?


Lower expectations

Honestly, this is going to sound lazy. But, a recent epiphany I had is why being relaxed and lowering expectations yields greater results. With grades, in sports, and with relationships, the way to bring success is to be prepared but also, and more importantly, just do it. Do it without giving setting the bar too high. Do it without making a plan on what has to happen. Yes, this goal-setting mama has witnessed firsthand the benefit in not worrying about the end result and just enjoying the race.

Anna miraculously completed her first 5k race last weekend. We had trained for months with the wonderful Girls on the Run program. And much like a good running program, the weeks of workouts prepare the young girls to have the endurance to complete 3.1 miles. But, Anna hasn’t been hardcore because this running group is just as much about friendships and self-discovery as it is running.

She surprised us by only stopping 3 times throughout the race. She finished in 33 minutes. This is not record-winning. However, she wasn’t winded. In fact, she seemed happy and finished with a smile on her face. We didn’t talk about it beforehand. There were no expectations so she certainly exceeded them!

Then there was Brody who half-heartedly decided to also run the race. He planned on not running with Anna and Bo as he assumed he’d run faster than them. However, we also didn’t talk about it or make a plan except that maybe he could start by running with me. Well, that didn’t last long and he broke away from the group. He won the race. Yes, won first place in the race.

I was equally surprised with both accomplishments. But when I think about my children’s accomplishments, they tend to be most successful in the areas that we don’t harp on. Grades. Test scores. Sports. The less we stress about it, the better they naturally do.

There is preparation along the way. Discipline, practice,  and focus on daily tasks are important. We expect for them to do their homework, finish their chores, and have good behavior. But with most performance-based activities, I believe that we can sabotage our children’s efforts, despite the best intentions, when we expect them to perform. The pressure to succeed can make children and adults cave under pressure.

And, as parent, we can be pleasantly surprised instead of disappointed when we don’t have concrete expectations. Valuing best effort, a good attitude, and hard work will result in a good outcome without the stress of pleasing. Do I want to abandon goal-setting? No because it provides growth in self-awareness. But, I do think with our children, we should let them guide their goal-setting. Studies show time and again that intrinsic motivation is more important than extrinsic anyway.

And, I’m now seeing that we can even encourage our children to be easy on themselves too. This week at school, I met with a super, engaged student about test anxiety. Digging deeper into the topic, I discovered that she currently has a ‘B’ in math. But as a type ‘A’ personality, this isn’t good enough (or so she thinks). So after going through some concrete test-taking strategies, we ended with me having her speak to me as if I were a close friend in the same situation. I asked if she’d put her friend down for not finishing first and getting a ‘B’. Of course not so why would be that demanding of ourselves? She coached herself in this activity, practicing kindness and grace.

When parents or teachers berate a child, the child feels small and incapable.  That’s not motivating and inspiring. I know of an adult who once told a 7-year old girl  that didn’t read fast enough on the silly, mandated reading assessment; she needed to do better.  She is  an ESL student who speaks Spanish at home.  Needless to say, the next time she read to her teacher, she was in tears. The pressure doesn’t motivate. Pressure only sets unnecessary stress. And, we know stressed out kids don’t do as well.

It’s ok not to shoot to be first or get straight A’s. We don’t have to win every game. We don’t need to be first. We actually only need to win being a good person. That’s not performance-based. By removing expectations, talking less about the end result, and allowing things to naturally play out, kids just do better. We can allow natural talents and gift to shine.

Just do it.

(And, if you do your best, be happy with the results!)

Get your beauty rest!


It amazes me how sleep deprived our young children are. With some years of experience under my belt as a School Counselor, I began to realize that many problems in elementary age children could be prevented if children were simply getting enough rest. I-pads, phones, gaming systems, and t.v.’s are robbing our children of the recommended amount of shut-eye and we are seeing the effects in schools.

Anyone have a child who emotional, overly sensitive, irritable, or irrational when they get sleepy or hungry? They all are but they never realize it, of course! It’s true that some kids are more sensitive than others (and I know I must have my beauty rest and food or I’m a mess!). But, most children need the recommended 9-12 hours of sleep that they aren’t getting.

Yesterday, a school ‘friend’ who is actually a bit younger than my son was having a rough day. He’s 10 but has a teenage sister. He’s way more exposed to adult things than my son but also way more immature than him. He gets easily frustrated and makes foolish mistakes both in his academics and behavior. So, he asked to see me yesterday when he was needing a break and in “recovery”.

It was wise to ask for what he needs, rather than get in trouble, but I could tell he was on edge and struggling. And, I know him well so one of the first things I asked him was what time he went to sleep last night. -12 a.m.- He gets up at 6 a.m. to get ready for the bus. Now, I’m here to tell you that I’d be sleepy and angry with 6 hours of sleep, and I’m not 10. 6 hours of sleep!? He knew that 12 a.m. was late but he had NO idea that he only got 6 hours of sleep.

He laughed when I told him how much his body and brain needed to function at an optimal level (9-12 hours). No way was he going to sleep at 9 like my children because that’s when he comes inside, he said! Like many kids with older siblings, it’s hard to enforce different bed-times. But, this 10- year old is getting 5-8 hours of sleep a night. He plays on his phone after his dad has told him good night because he’s one of many kids I know who sleep with their devices.


Sure, parents like his can say goodnight but that’s not stopping kids. Most children don’t have enough self-control to want to choose sleep over devices so we have to remove this temptation. It’s hard enough with the homework and practices in the evening. The older they get, the later they start practices (and I hate that)! So on the evenings when we are home, we have to enforce what’s best for them even if it’s not what they like. Just look online and you can find an abundance of research to support this theory that kids with devices aren’t getting as much sleep as their peers!

We need our sleep! Weight gain, attention, memory, self-regulation, and irritability can all be linked to sleep, and kids aren’t getting enough. So when in doubt, try giving your kid some healthy, real food and getting them to sleep a little earlier. Make it even easier by just not allowing devices and gaming during the week. Their brains have enough to think about as is! And, make sleep a priority.


“It is ok to say you’re welcome…”


Every year, I have an attention-grabber for school. Sometimes, I’ve found them online. And more often, I think of the most recent children’s movie hit and boom! I’ve got my attention-grabber for ‘guidance’ or leadership class!

Ready to rock? …….Ready to roll!

Who’s the one who likes to play?……….. Bing Bong! Bing Bong!

Just keep swimming…….just keep swimming, swimming, swimming!

And now, (drumroll!): It is ok to say……YOU’RE WELCOME!! Click here for the full, fun version from the movie, Moana! Better than yelling at them to be quiet, right!?

It’s even cooler when it also ties into the school theme like this year. PBIS is where it’s at across Knox County. This stands for “positive behavior interventions and support”. All schools in Knox county are moving towards implementing this. With tons of trainings, principals, teachers, and support staff have 4 fundamental standards or rules that are universal. Sounds fancy and important, right!? Well, it is….mostly.

  • Be safe.
  • Be kind.
  • Be respectful.
  • Be responsible.

Who can argue that these aren’t important principles to live by and expect out of our children? These are basically what we used to consider good manners. So, it’s good to know that these will be consistent throughout any class and area if implemented correctly, right!? Sure.

But, what I just find sad or strange about this rubric is that people, children and adults, should already be doing these things! Have people forgotten that nothing else works in the world, including school, if we don’t follow these tenants!?  We have to get the basics for societies to work. And, these character traits and manners are something that School Counselors have always taught anyway! Many of our comprehensive programs are centered around similar character traits so that’s another weird piece too! And, it’s what many, many teachers have always expected and led their students in doing.

We are now training lots and lots of principals, teachers, and support staff to have good manners and be nice. Honestly, that’s what it boils down to. Focus on reinforcing more positives than negatives. Use affective statements and point out how one’s behavior impacts others. And, reward good choices. That’s it in a nutshell as I see it. Now, there are some fancy bells and whistles but PBIS is genius because they are making money off of a program that’s really quite simple. 

So, parents, this isn’t something new. Like many concepts, programs, and curriculum, it’s rebranding. That’s ok , but it’s good to know that this alone cannot transform a school.  Now, the people who work in the school can. But, more importantly, our parents and society as a whole can and do impact the belief systems of our children. Children have to feel loved and they have to trust and respect in order to want comply and act nice. In order for PBIS to work, we have to also have adults living these same rules, and there in lies the problem!

We have been so busy rushing to cram new curriculum down their throats that we have lost time for the most simple and most important values and lessons in life. There’s no downtime in school and even many teachers resist scheduling a ‘guidance’ (leadership) class or taking a brain-break because they’re rushing to stay on track. What happened to the good ole-days when your teacher turned off the lights and everyone put heads down to take a break and calm people down!? We don’t have time.

Or, do we? We have to take time for kindness. Having a black and white matrix posted is all fine and good. It does serve as a good reminder on expectations. But, we also have to lead by example. 

For example, there’s a busy and thoughtful mom who, for years, has taken the time to write and mail thank you cards for the smallest things. She also has mailed many cards to my children recognizing them for their accomplishments. Her son is now starting middle school and she told me yesterday, that she has her cards ready!

And, then one of my daughter’s new teacher (that she was actually scared to get) came out to the walker line Friday to say hi. He snuck up behind her and told me in his deep voice that he needed to talk to me about my daughter. She started grinning, knowing he’s a jokester. He said she has been raising her hand and answering questions this week!

Taking a moment to just be nice is the best PBIS model that we can provide. Maybe, we all just need a reminder that it’s not that hard! Being nice, positive, and respectful makes people like you and want to listen and learn! So, my attention-grabber this year is to also say, “You’re welcome!”. It’s time for a refresher course!….

“And, thank you!” 😉

Summer Sarah

If you are a parent or especially if you are an educator, I know you’re loving summer! Summer time brings flexible sleep schedules, maybe even a nap or two if you’re lucky, friends and bbq’s, books and movies, and just the freedom to have a little bit more fun and flexibility. It’s a well-needed break!


Here’s the thing, it’s almost over friends! So, whatever you had hoped to do or complete, DO IT NOW! As you teacher-friends know, when school starts, forget it! You don’t have the time or energy to exercise after school or go to a casual dinner with friends. Shoot, we are lucky to still be awake at 9 for our favorite show! The first month of school (or the whole year!) sucks the life out of you.

What non-educators don’t realize is that no one would do the job if we didn’t get time off! Working with children is exhausting. Being on your game everyday and giving 100% is demanding. There are no business lunches out or long boardroom meetings. No, that would be an exciting rest. When you work in a school, you are ON all the time. We do it because we want to give our kids our undivided attention igniting their love of learning while also making sure their basic needs are met. And then they are the parents…our plates are full!

So while we have these last couple weeks of freedom, seize the day. Make sure you’re checking all those bucket-list activities off your list. Rest, rest, and rest! And make sure you’re practicing your self–care.

In the summer, I’ve nicknamed myself ‘Summer Sarah’. My husband knows better than anyone that Summer Sarah is more fun, energetic, happy, and exciting. Why? Because I’m not dog-tired. Self-care restores and I make it a mission to do what makes me happy during the summer.

Nurses, counselors, teachers, therapists, mothers, fathers, grandparents- we are the caretakers and it’s tough. Caretakers often feel exhausted because we put our own personal wants and needs second making sure the needs of others are met first. We make it our mission to keep others comfortable and happy while often times neglecting to do the same for ourselves. Over time, this makes us tired, irritable, or even resentful. This doesn’t make for good caretakers! We have to make time for ourselves too.

Self care:

  • a good diet

  • healthy habits

  • exercise

  • hobbies

  • rest

  • taking time for oneself

  • balance

We have to stop feeling guilty for taking care of ourselves because it just doesn’t make sense not to! How can our children get the best teaching, guidance, love, and understanding if their caretakers are unhappy and overspent? If you’re already spent, then make a decision to do something that rejuvenates you this week. We have to recharge.

If you’re well-rested and about to start something hard, then make a plan to keep yourself healthy. Be of healthy body AND mind by doing things that keep your spirit lifted. Sometimes there’s just time for reading a chapter of a good book at night or going for a quick walk around the block. It’s better than nothing. To prevent burnout, we have to take time for caring for the most important person, the caretaker!

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Realize that life isn’t a race.

Exonerate yourself from always doing. 

Set aside time for nothing.

Take time for reflections, prayers, silence, and each other. 

This past Sunday at church, the sermon was about rest. It’s a idea that you don’t have to talk me into! Yet, the idea resonated with me especially right now as we make some decisions about schedules and brace ourselves for the fall. Get ready for the whirlwind of open houses, new teachers, new coaches, and new friends. Back-to-school brings lots of change and excitement that it can really make time fly by. Before you know it, it’s football season! So it’s at this time of the year that I encourage you (and I remind myself) to set some priorities and limits for your children and family.

It’s become the norm in this country to be busy and overscheduled, as if life is a contest and the busiest wins. All summer long, families are filling up their summer ‘free’ time with organized activities. Camps during the day, more camps at night, sleep-away camps, practices, lessons, swim meets, and filling time….Go, go, go! And when school starts, it gets even crazier. GO, GO, GO, GO!

The only reason I am taking the time to reflect on this phenomenon is that I don’t think that everyone choosing this lifestyle is enjoying this hurried life. I often times hear the deep sighs of rushing mothers or the complaints of frantic parents about where they have to be next. Is there a reward in choosing to live like this?


Whether it be sports, music, dance, or even tutoring, we sometimes rush our kids through life, teaching them that busier is better with too many after-school activities. We should know as adults that this mentality and lifestyle isn’t benefitting our mental and physical health, or overall wellbeing. Lack of focus, irritability, and lack of self-control can all be linked to children who are overtired. As adults, we have to set limits and model having some down time too.

Remember, it’s a choice how you want to spend your free time. If you find yourself dreading or complaining that you have to do something, you shouldn’t be doing it. Set boundaries for yourself and your children. If it’s your child’s joy to play that sport, play that piano, dance or sing, or whatever it might be, then by all means, rush to get them there. However, many kids don’t want to be taking those 3 dance classes, and piano, and tutoring, and church…. Parents can overdo it.

Childhood is fast and it should be fun. We don’t have to rush to be good at everything or stay busy for the sake of being busy, telling people what our kids do. Time is valuable. Choose what you want to do with your time, and don’t automatically fill it up. It’s ok to leave time to pause.


Rest provides others the best versions of ourselves. Rest helps us remain true to ourselves. Rest connects us to God. If we don’t rest, we don’t pause to reflect on the choices we are making. As this school year begins, choose time for what’s most important, each other.



Room to grow

Time to reflect and examine what’s going on with our kids. Another school year has come to a close, riddled with unexpected twists and turns. Growing pains are always to be expected. So, is this year any different?

  • Stressed, overworked teachers
  • Negligent caregivers, and over-involved parents
  • Excess extracurriculars and lack of quality time
  • Suicide
  • Social media

These are just a few persistent, troubling themes in American schools. As usual, there have been friendship problems, tragedies, and too much information in too little time. But, what sticks out in 2017 as impacting our young children most? When I think back on this fast school year, many issues are avoidable.

More and more continues to be demanded of our public school teachers and this stress does trickle down to students. Yet, many teachers have accepted that the list requirements will always be growing and changing. Teachers seem less stressed than they were a couple years ago when the new evaluation system was first implemented. Yet, teachers seem no more happy. It’s hard work and more work with no more money! Yet, there are so many great teachers willing to persevere because they believe in children and shaping their future.

Sometimes these are the only consistently positive role models our children have. More and more, children are not experiencing the 2-parent, traditional home. The model of a family continues to shift, whether it be living with a family friend, to having multiple homes, or being raised by a grandparent. This is impacting our children’s resiliency and confidence. Some children expect the unexpected at an early age making it difficult to concentrate on being a student and stress-free kid.

Divorce continues to be an issue that many young children face. And, it’s not easy. Sometimes it takes years for children to accept, if they ever do. Changes in schedules and bouncing from different homes is challenging even if it’s the best decision for the parents. Kids miss their mom or dad when they aren’t with them. Going for months on end without seeing a parents hurts.

Grandparents as caregivers present another set of challenges, as their role as a guardian is not the same dynamic as a parent. Many times, they are juggling working and raising their grandchildren, while also dealing with whatever factors got the children there to begin with. It’s a lot of pressure and these children don’t always get the discipline and consistency they need. They may get away with more and less is expected from them as many times the grandparents feel sorry for them. Or, the grandparent is too tired to fight the fight. Many children aren’t held to same expectations as their peers when it comes to household or school responsibilities. And, they aren’t getting the help they need with their school work at home either. Academics have changed and become more rigorous. And, many times parents and grandparents don’t know how to help them. They weren’t taught the same way, or they don’t remember. So, many kids don’t do their homework. They’d rather stick them on a device to pacify.

On the other hand, there continue to be the parents who micromanage every move their child makes. Every little quiz must be an A and the teacher is contacted if their child’s grade drops to a B. Teachers find this type of parent just as frustrating. The entitled parent expects ongoing communication if their child has a bad day; this parent wants to monitor every move. This child is not allowed to have a bad day, and if they do, there has to be a reason that must be fixed immediately. This kid deserves to be the best because they are the smartest, of course.

For all kids, of all races and socioeconomic status, electronic devices seemed to cause the most trouble in 2016/17. We still haven’t figured out balance and how to regulate our kids. And, there are more and more opportunities for children of all socioeconomic levels to get online. Whether it be texting or messaging, being sucked into YouTube, or just the simple games like Roadblock, electronics are seriously impacting our children. Many times, parents are unaware or checked out from regulating these devices. This school year has been the year of hurt feelings over what started out as a simple message or text. Middle-class girls whose parents value education and are involved are NOT involved in monitoring this process. Many misunderstandings and cyberbullying could have been avoided.

Children in elementary (not to mention even middle and high school) are just too young to practice mindful online communication and react appropriately on their own. It’s complicating their lives and spilling into their school day too! It’s impacting their self-image and really causing damage to their outlook on whom they can trust, believing they aren’t good enough. Kids in elementary are too young to explore online without an adult. The world of electronics can be isolating and addictive.

Sadly, this has been the year of suicide. 13 Reasons Why sparked the conversation but kids were already hurting. Young kids are hurting. It’s surprising that so many elementary age children are already aware of what suicide is and some are even talking about doing it. That’s been the most difficult part of this school year, knowing that children the age of my own son are contemplating dying and living with feelings of hopelessness.

Most are not serious about completing the act, but many are already causing self-harm. There are many red flags. And when a child in elementary school is already considering this as their coping strategy, we should be alarmed. They don’t think they are smart. No one likes them. Their parents don’t care. I’ve heard it all. I’ve witnessed this myself after calling parents and encountering their lack of alarm or immediate attention. These kids are crying out and many parents aren’t taking them seriously.

Then, there were 3 high school students at Knoxville’s most affluent high school who did complete this act. We must take early warning signs seriously. It seriously disturbs me when parents don’t listen, take the next steps, or just don’t believe their children. Mental illness or instability, at the very least, is going undiagnosed and without care.

Parents aren’t taking the time. Parents are taking time buying them new stuff, micromanaging their school work, and running them to practices. But, parents aren’t really taking the time to connect, like truly connect. Parents need to ask questions and take time to listen, in the car, before meals, at bed. Many young children feel disconnected from their parents. Everyone is busy and many times, children are home alone or just feel alone. This has become way more acceptable in all circles. Working parents or just busy families are not taking the time to be with their kids.

There’s the 7-year-old who gets off the bus by himself and spends a couple hours alone while mom is still at work. And, there’s also the affluent parent who’s rushing off to a multiple practices and has their child involved in every possible extracurricular. Quality time is becoming scarce and parents don’t know their children as well. Instead of spending time together, more parents are signing their kids up for structured activities or sports where the family is apart.

There seems to be a push towards valuing education in America. We sure are raising the academic standards but why do we expect all children fit this mold? There’s pressure to achieve and watch those graphs go up. Maybe we are pressuring our children in developmentally inappropriate ways, however. With our youth, we should be spending the most time developing a sense of self, understanding and relating to others, and forming friendships. These are the life skills that lead to a fulfilling life.

Looking forward to this summer, we need to get outside more. We need to sit down and talk with (not to) our kids. We need to explore, adventure, read, play, and talk more. We need to stress less and laugh more. We need to slow down! We need to take time for friends and leave our devices alone. We need to have more fun!

Thanks for listening and being the kind of parent who already lives with perspective and love! Those of you who read this are the ones who are raising respectful, well-balanced, and creative kids! Keep on rocking in the free world! ego.jpg

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