Saturday, December 15, 2012

And More...

More tragedy for children, for families, for a school, and community.  It is heart-breaking.  Several people have said, "It seems like more and more bad things are happening.  How do we help our kids?"  And I'd add, "How do we help ourselves?"

Last night, along with perhaps many of you, I saw the picture and quote of Fred Rogers going around Facebook that said...

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping."

Maybe that is a step, a place to eventually see some sliver of hope in such an awful event where so many precious lives have been lost in an extremely horrific way.

In a more practical sense, if there is such a thing at a time like this, I hope all Hansen families received the e-mail yesterday listing 10 important things about how to talk to your kids about scary things.  For a hand-out detailing these tips, please click below.

The other thing I want to share with you is a fact sheet from the American Counseling Association that describes responses kids may display according to age.  Here it is...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Helping Children Cope

We have all been thinking of the Evansdale tragedy, paining for those who loved Lyric and Elizabeth, as well as hugging our kiddos a little tighter since the news last week.  I wrote a blog post this summer about helping kids deal with scary things, but I thought I would post again with an updated version of suggestions.  I hope it helps make these tough conversations a little bit easier.

1) Explain the event as simply as possible and without graphic detail (i.e., two girls went missing and some hunters found their bodies; they died).  You might tell them how people are tying to help (i.e., the police are working hard to figure out what happened to the girls).

2) Remain as calm and reassuring as you can, but do not lie.  The likely explanation here is that someone purposefully hurt these children.  Tell your kids that many people in our world are safe, but there are some who are not.  "It looks like Lyric and Elizabeth were harmed by one of these unsafe people."

3) Share your feelings (i.e., this is very sad).  Tell your child that being upset, scared, angry, or not feeling anything at all, are all understandable.  Let them know that they can come to you with their feelings.  Be close and comfort one another.

4) Encourage your child to talk and ask questions.  It's okay to say, "I don't know."  Sometimes, that is the most honest answer.  Don't be surprised if they ask some of the same questions multiple times.

5) Let your child's questions be your guide.  Answer as directly and simply as you can.  Do not give more information than they ask for.  Don't surprised if older children seem to want to know what may seem like "gory" details of what happened.  This is common developmentally as kids try to make sense of death and/or a traumatic event. 

6) Limit news exposure.

7) Keep up your usual routine as much as possible.  If children come to you with snip-its of feelings or questions and then run off to play, that is okay.  Kids tend to do what they need to do to work through difficult things.

8) Understand that children may play out the event, which in many cases, may help them deal with it.  It is not cause for concern unless your child seems "stuck" in this type of play.

9) Realize that some regressive behaviors for a short period of time are not uncommon (i.e., being extra clingy, not sleeping well, having more fears in general, and not wanting to separate from you, etc.).  Acknowledge the fear.  "I know this is scary."  Then talk about what we can all do to help ourselves with our fears.  "Remember, you have strong caregivers and teachers who are going to do everything they can to keep you safe."  Tell children the practical things we do to keep them safe.  Most children will work through their fears, but if symptoms like this persist or your child has changes in eating or sleeping habits, nightmares, or significant mood or behavioral changes, consult with a mental health professional.

10) Keep in mind that traumatic events or losses often trigger past traumas or grief feelings so children may be talking again about things that have happened to them even long ago.

This is tough stuff.  It's understandable if you feel like keeping your kids a little closer to home or changing some of your "walk to school" routines in order to be extra safe.

As always if you have any questions or concerns about your children, please do not hesitate to call, e-mail, or set up an appointment to visit.  I am here to help.  Together, our community will get through this difficult time.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Red Ribbon Week

It's Red Ribbon Week!  This year's Hansen theme is:

"Show Your Hansen PRIDE - Stand Up, Speak Up, & Step Up:  Be Bully & Drug Free!"
Classsroom guidance lessons this cycle are focused on making healthy choices like staying away from drugs and standing up for ourselves and others to make sure everyone in our school is treated with dignity and respect.

Check out the wall display all Hansen students helped make.  It shows how we will STEP UP for ourselves and one another to stop bullying in our school.  

Every day this week we have morning announcements focused on how being bully and drug free helps show our Hansen PRIDE.

We'll end the week with an assembly led by the CF elementary school counselors.  Counselors will perform a skit called "The Juice Box Bully."  We will have a special speaker from the UNI men's basketball team, and there will be a couple of fun songs to share.

Help us out by talking with your kids about how to say no when in any kind of tricky situation where someone may be encouraging them to make a negative choice.  One of the strategies I suggest is telling your children to blame their choices on parents.  Like, "Oh, I just forgot, my mom said I was supposed to be home by now.  I'd better go call her."  Tell your children that if they are ever in an uncomfortable situation they can call you and say, "Oh, I'm supposed to be home right now?  See you soon then."  That can be your cue that your child needs your help and should be picked up right away.

What other strategies have you taught your kiddos about getting out of negative situations?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Book Talk: Stranger Safety

Product DetailsStranger safety is an important topic in guidance lessons at Hansen.  This year, I'm reading a book called Smarter than the Scoopers by Julia Cook in every K-6 classroom.  Julia is a counselor and an author.  She has written books on a variety of topics for children.  This particular book is endorsed by Child Watch of North America and the Missing and Exploited Children's Foundation.  It teaches children the "scoop" on stranger safety.

As part of this lesson, I will ask students if they have heard about the two missing girls from Evansdale.  Nearly every child has, which is not surprising considering how the tragedy has been documented in the media.  Posters are displayed throughout our area picturing the girls.  Understandably, this can lead to fears and questions for all of us but particularly, for children.  Giving kids an opportunity to ask questions and share their feelings with one another helps them realize that they are not the only ones affected by this event.  Embedding this discussion in a wider lesson about important safety rules helps children feel empowered to help keep themselves safe.  These discussions will support the ongoing talks you already have with your children.  Read
Scary Stuff:  How Do We Help Our Kids for tips about talking about this at home.

Here's another website I like that is all about keeping kids safe.  Check it out if you are interested in learning more.

As always, we need to remember that children are rarely abducted, and even when they are, a large majority of the time it is by someone they know.  This does not diminish the importance of teaching children rules for staying safe from strangers though.  The SCOOP rules do just that!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Paying Attention

Have you seen the movie "Up" where the characters are easily distracted by squirrels?!?!  Things are going along just fine and then "SQUIRREL."  Focus is lost.  We all have those moments!

Good listening takes self control, and it takes practice.  It's one of our first topics in first grade guidance class.  I tell students that the key to being a good listener is noticing when we've stopped paying attention and then, get ourselves back on track.  Mind wandering will never go away.  In fact, Harvard researchers recently discovered that our minds may wander as much as nearly 50% of the time.

Regardless of the "normalcy" of losing focus, paying attention is critical for learning as well as happiness.  Here are a few ideas for helping children learn to better regulate their attention.

1) Limit screen time because excessive TV watching and video game playing may actually shorten children's attention spans.

2) Exercise often helps so get your kids moving, especially with activities that require coordination.

3) Encourage imaginative play and provide toys that spark it!

4) Play games and encourage activities that require longer attention spans and critical thinking (i.e., board or card games that require concentration, memory, and use of logic, as well as crafts, cooking, gardening, or building projects).

5) Involve all the senses in things you do with your children.  What can you touch?  What can you see?  What can you listen to?  What can you taste?  What can you smell? 

6) Read to and with your children.  The more engaging the books, the better.  Enjoy this time together and talk about the text as you go.

7) Don't rescue your kids from frustrating tasks.  While too much frustration is defeating, too little is not good either.  We want kids to learn to work through difficulties without giving up.

8) Encourage taking breaks when frustrations get too high.  Include physical activity as much as possible.

9) Model good listening by actively listening to those in your family.  Give eye contact.  Be present.

10) Talk out loud about your own feelings of inattention.  "Boy, I was reading my book, and my mind started paying attention to what was going on in the other room.  I'm going to put my eyes back on the book and start reading again."

If your child is struggling to regulate his/her attention and behavior in general, there may be an underlying problem like ADD or ADHD although lack of focus can be a sign of other things too (i.e., behavioral issues, anxiety, mood problems, a trauma-related response, or another medical condition).  To learn more about ADD/ADHD, check out this website.

Professionals at school do not diagnosis children with ADD/ADHD or any other medical conditions, but we can work with you to help your child reach success at school by talking with you about our observations, helping create behavior plans, and providing a variety of accommodations or modifications when necessary.  As your school counselor, I can help by working with your child or by providing you with referrals to outside agencies.  Contact me with questions or concerns!

Sunday, September 9, 2012


It's a hot topic in the news because bullying is real across the country.  Its consequences can be devastating.  In Cedar Falls, we now have a task force specifically charged with stopping bullying.  It's called "Cedar Falls Partners for Safe and Drug Free Schools" and is made up of teachers, counselors, administrators, students, parents, and community members.

I'm one of the chairs of this committee and am excited to see the changes we are working on.  So far, we have suggested updates to our anti-bullying/harassment policy, created a working definition of bullying, streamlined reporting procedures and have made them consistent across the district, put plans in place to educate staff, and are kicking off the 2012/2013 school year with new posters and discussions in every classroom about bullying.  Updates to K-12 curriculum are in the works too.

Here's how we're defining bullying in CF...


* Includes one-sided and unwanted actions.
* Causes social, emotional, or physical harm.
* Involves an imbalance of power.
* Cause the target to feel threatened or unsafe.
* Is typically, but not always, repeated.

Bullying is not a one time name-calling event.  It's not a back and forth conflict between students who are angry with one another.  It's a pattern of behavior that is ongoing and causes harm.

While definitions and posters are a great start, they will not alone prevent bullying.  Creating a safe and respectful environment in our schools is all about relationships - relationships between staff, between staff and students, and between students.  It starts with building classroom communities where important dialogues about this and other topics can take place.  It is maintained when students develop enough trust in themselves, in peers, and in adults, to stand up, speak up, and step up for making sure everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

For more information about bullying prevention in our district, check out our website.

Also, be on the look for more information coming soon about "Blue Shirt Day - World Day of Bullying Prevention" on October 1, 2012.  For a sneak peak, check out

If you have questions or concerns about bullying, please contact your child's teacher, Mrs. Estep, or me.  We are here to help!