Bullying: A Big Complicated Problem with Many Simple Solutions

If each one of us untangled one string at a time...

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Did You Ever Know Red Hood Doing Some Good Down By The Bay?

Raffi randomly came up in a conversation my husband and I were having the other day about how frustrating it must be to be a "pioneer."  We were discussing how we knew people 25 years ago that were talking about climate change and when a few of my "far out" cousins were discussing nutrition, we would just roll our eyes and reach for the bologna sandwiches on white bread followed by  twinkies. "Life's too short! The gooey white fluff in the middle makes me happy! "

Now I'm pouring over books like Anticancer, making rice with turmeric and buying the organic version of everything...which is what got my husband and I talking about how long it takes the general population to change. And how hard it must have been for the brave souls who knew better and dared to have a voice.

The children's music of Raffi was undeniably the house favorite throughout the childhoods of our four children.  Dancing to "Down by the Bay" was almost a requirement for anyone coming to visit.

One day I heard on the news that Raffi had refused to have his CDs sold in those obnoxious plastic jewel boxes because they were bad for the environment.  Remember, sugar cereals were still a staple in our house, as well as the kind of really orange cheese that was individually wrapped in plastic.  I thought, "Whoa! That's over the top!"

Of course now I know better and my respect for Raffi goes way beyond his talent for bringing joy by singing songs that make you want to jump around with your kids.

I've always thought deep in the recesses of my brain that Raffi and I would have a lot in common some day...and the day is here.

He's still a pioneer but this time it's about children and the critical issue of internet safety.  He was right about the environment and now he's right about the failure of technology companies to protect our kids.

After the tragic suicide of Amanda Todd, Raffi co-founded the Red Hood Project and has written Lightweb Darkweb about online safety.  Parent education is key but who will stand up against some of the giants who are not sincerely stepping up to protect our kids?  And honestly, I believe parent and child internet education should begin in kindergarten or first grade.

Now that I'm older, I can recognize a hero much quicker.  Raffi Rocks.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Kid President says #Makeithappy Online

Once again, Kid President is full of good ideas.  Seems as if Coca Cola thinks so, too.

Whether we're the type of parents who diligently talk to our children about online safety or the type of parents who are afraid of our children's "new neighborhood"  and just hope for the best, most of us don't talk to our kids about how to make it happy.

Countering negativity online is within everyone's reach and children should be encouraged to always fill someone's bucket whether they're in the schoolyard or are online.

Let's turn it around so that negative comments are the exception instead of the rule.

#Makeithappy...and for sound advice about kids, technology and all things media I suggest Common Sense Media as one of the best resources out there.

Positivity.  It's also Gluten Free.  Right, Kid President?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Peanut Butter Jelly Time Homecoming

When it comes to serving our country, One (Soldier) Can Count.  When it comes to supporting families, One (School) Can Count.  When it comes to getting home safe and sound, One (Adorable Little Daughter) Can Count.

We all can make a difference.  Just ask J.E. Woodard School in Columbia, Tennessee.  They make it a point to teach their students how to be a ONE all year long.

Thank you to David Fitzgerald for his service and to the J.E. Woodard Elementary School for inspiring me today.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Reading, Pajamas and the Little Leaders Among Us

I met the most extraordinary boy yesterday through the Pajama Program.  (Please click the link if you want to find out about the coolest organization doing something simply spectacular...inspiring reading and providing warm pajamas to under served kids.)

Shane, age 8, and I were reading the book Frieda B.  It's a whimsical book about imagination and dreams. It led to a conversation about what we want in our lives.  He said his dream was to become a billionaire.  When I asked why, I expected answers like "getting a big house" or "buying every video game."  His answer shocked me.
Shane:  "I want to give it away."
Me:  "Who would you give it to?"
Shane:  "People with cancer who can't buy things on their own."
I was humbled...for the second time that morning.

Before the kids arrived, the volunteers were talking about helping kids.  One wise man, Steve, who worked as a volunteer in the inner city Newark (NJ) school system for years talked about cutting through the rough exterior of kids who struggle during their growing up years.  His approach was to find common ground and build trust.  Common ground can be hard to find when there's an age, ethnic, and demographic difference.  He did it by bringing in photos of his dogs.
Trust is like love. Both parties have to feel it before it really exists. -- Simon Sinek
He said that it doesn't matter how old the kids are.  His advice is to never lose faith.   Sometimes middle and high school kids act tough but there's still a child underneath all the layers.

I have to add to that.  I think there's also a leader under all those layers.  Sometimes we just need the chance to have the conversation.

Thanks Pajama Program, sponsored by Scholastic and Carter's,  for providing the platform and the common ground called books to be inspired by the little leaders among us.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Teaching Our Kids How to MEDABO

Last week I handed out three MEDABO cards in very unlikely places.  Two were on the 15X express bus from Staten Island to Manhattan and the other one was on the #4 subway.

MEDABO is a family charity.  My father used to tell the kids to go out and make every day a better one and so my daughter, Alice-Kate, and her cousins decided to make it official by creating these cards.  It's mission is simple.  Recognize acts of kindness and pay it forward.

Three Cards: Three Unexpected Parenting Lessons

The Sunny Bus Driver

The first card was given to the bus driver on Tuesday.  She was incredibly kind to every single person who boarded the bus.  Not easy to do when you're a driver in New York City.  She connected with each person and sincerely asked how they were.  When one regular customer was getting on she showed true concern for his obviously failing health.  It made my heart melt.  

Teachable Moment

The next time I saw the driver, she told me that she had given it to her  son for doing something good and she asked him to pass it along to someone else who was making a difference.

The Kind Passenger

On the following Friday, I boarded the bus but when I went to pay, I realized that the Metrocard that was in my wallet was expired.  I had left the one with $20 on it on my kitchen counter.  When I asked a woman who looked approachable if I could pay her in exchange for using her Metrocard, I had another jolting thought.  I only had $3 on me.  The fare is $6.  She didn't even blink.  She just stood up and paid my fare.

Teachable Moment

We started talking about Tangled Ball and early bullying prevention.  She has twin 3 year olds but she pointed out something really key to me.  Her son had recently used the "hate" word at pre-school.   He was quickly corrected but it left her wondering how he even knew the word?  (She laughingly said that it could have been a lot of other choice words if he was mimicking her but that she actually never used the word "hate.")

It reminded me that kids are sponges.  They'll pick up words and actions that their peers use.  So even if you don't do some things at home, once they go to school, they're learning more than their colors.  

Early course correction is a good idea.

The Wise Upstander

You run into a lot of crazy stuff on the subway.  On Friday, there were a mother/daughter duo having an argument to beat all arguments.  It got really heated and everyone on the train was uncomfortable. There was a sigh of relief when they got off but one gentleman didn't just leave the crazy vibes in the air.  

Teachable Moment

He said out loud,. "That's a shame.  People just don't say I'm sorry anymore"  He continued, "I'm sorry" works.  As a matter of fact, I said it to my 6 year-old daughter last night.  She was upset that I came home late and I looked her in the eye and said, 'I'm sorry.' And she was satisfied."

His parting words of wisdom:  "People are too defensive.  Saying I'm sorry is really important."

I couldn't agree more.

Who is Making Every Day a Better One in your life?  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Leadership is the Anti-Bully" Month

Thanks to the Pacer Center, October has been declared Bullying Prevention Month.

Since I work mainly with Pre-K through elementary schools, I would respectfully like to rename it "Leadership is the Anti-Bully" Month.  At these ages,  we should remove the labels of "bully," "victim or target" and teach children skills.  Learning how to respect themselves and others will benefit them through middle and high school and the rest of their lives.

There are many great social emotional learning programs that have been introduced into schools over the years, including CASEL, The Leader In Me program, National School Climate Center (NSCC) and Yale's Ruler Program, among many others.

Some schools embrace the idea that teaching leadership and social emotional learning is an important part of the student's education while others don't make it as much of a priority.  But the schools that do embrace it do better academically.  Makes sense.  The safer and happier a child feels, the better they perform.

When Kathryn Otoshi, author of the award-winning book, One, and I created One Can Count, we didn't know what to call it.  We hesitated to call it a program or initiative. Too complicated.  Would people understand if we simply called it a tool?

We wanted to remove any barriers that would make teaching leadership challenging.  The truth is that schools DO have too much to do.  There IS too much on their plate.  Each teacher and staff member can't be asked to be an expert in EVERYTHING.

I enthusiastically support schools who have invested time and money into high-quality school-wide programs that positively impact school climate but not all schools can or have. We wanted to at least provide something simple, inexpensive and that school staff could embrace and make their own.  We wanted to inspire schools to give students a chance to step up in very real ways. Practicing leadership includes simple concepts such as older students mentoring younger children.  It also includes identifying jobs that students can do as part of the regular school day or even the special occasion days. In other words, any opportunity that doesn't compete but enhances classroom time.

We also wanted One Can Count to be inclusive.  We encourage any school to use it in conjunction with any other initiative or program.  Teachers and counselors need tools.

I want to thank the 30 schools on Staten Island who used One Can Count last year thanks to Senator Andrew Lanza, who sponsored the workshop at St. John's University, as well as materials and multiple copies of the One and Zero books for each school.  Principals, teachers, parent coordinators, and counselors got inspired and had fun.  The result?  Kids got inspired and had fun, too.

This is a month of awareness but the benefits of the efforts on the part of schools, organizations and parents will last a lifetime.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

National Be Nice to the New Kid Day

Did you know that today is National 'It's Almost Impossible to Work Day'?  The official end of summer comes too fast.

By September 5th, most kids up to the age of 18 will be back in school in the U.S. so I've designated the 5th as National 'Be Nice to the New Kid Day.'
"Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much."   —Blaise Pascal
If you've ever had to walk into a school knowing no one, I don't have to explain the importance of a peer introducing themselves or including you at their lunch table or sharing a book if you don't have one.  For most kids, the fear and anticipation of starting a new school is like jumping out of an airplane. You know other people have survived but you're not sure you will.  That one kind person can feel like soft welcoming ground.

Although I'm sure she doesn't remember me, I'll never forget the girl who was nice to the new kid.  When my family moved from a small town in Indiana to San Juan, Puerto Rico, I was going into 8th grade.  I didn't know the language. I was leaving the world's best friends right before the best year of elementary. And my new brown and yellow uniform could not have been uglier (the phys ed uniform is too embarrassing even to describe) .  A trifecta of horribleness.

To say that I was scared is an understatement.  I wanted to be invisible until Carmelina broke away from her gaggle of friends and switched from Spanish to English as she took me under her wing.  She introduced me to as many people as she could and although they weren't mean, they didn't pay much attention to me either.  I kept thinking how grateful I was to her for getting me through the dreaded first day. Although most of the other girls didn't ever really warm up to me, Carmelina was kind every single day until graduation.

Kathryn Otoshi, author of the award-winning children's book,One, knows that this is a subject near and dear to my heart so she sent me a copy of Wonder.  It beautifully illustrates the plight of the new or different kid and the tangled ball of emotions most kids experience.  They need mentors.  We are their "Go-To Adults."

So when you drop your kids off at school and you remind them to "be nice to the new kid," know you're raising a leader and this former "new kid" is cheering you on.