Resilient Kids Building focus, balance, and self-confidence through mindfulness at school Wed, 06 Jan 2016 02:25:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Busy Anyone? Mon, 04 Jan 2016 02:58:21 +0000 One of my favorite traditions at the start of every year is posting the new kitchen calendar for the family. The one I purchased for 2016 has the extra large boxes for each day so I can include both kids’ activities, my husband’s and my obligations, as well as birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates to remember. This regular fixture in our kitchen offers a visual clue for each week’s “busy-ness factor.” As I write this, the four of us are still enjoying our lazy mornings and family movie nights that come with a break from the regular routine. Though once January gets well underway, my husband and I are often challenged with carving time out for a slower pace in a world that isn’t always so compatible with doing nothing.

December is often one of the busiest months of the year. I know someone who takes vacation the second week of January just to relax after all the craziness of holiday parties, hosting, wrapping, cooking, and eating! It would be really easy to maintain this busy pace of December and overschedule ourselves right into 2016. But, what would happen if we resisted the pressure to say “yes” to everything?  To answer “Busy!” when asked how you’ve been? To fill every free moment as if it is shameful or a problem if we are not constantly on our way to this commitment or that?

If we don’t stop to take care of ourselves, who is going to? You know the phrase, “put your oxygen mask on before helping others”? It applies off the plane too… we will be better listeners, friends, lovers, co-workers, parents, writers, artists, dancers, teachers, drivers, and/or leaders when we fill up our own well first.

So, after the last champagne bottle has been recycled and the first resolutions have been sworn in, take a look at that pretty new wall calendar, or those beautiful empty white boxes on your electronic calendar… The blank days are stretched out before you and present big empty squares waiting for doctors’ appointments, dinner dates and soccer practices. How would it feel to embrace free time this year… time with nothing scheduled, or maybe even scheduling time to do nothing?!  This year instead of resolving to spend more time on this or that, allow yourself to find the balance between being “busy” and just being. Resolve to stop feeling bad about choices you’ve made and instead just feel. Find yourself a fresh perspective on balance in the empty spaces in your calendar. As the famous French composer says, “music is the space between the notes.”

]]> 0
Mindfulness Training at School Could Help At-Risk Kids Sun, 03 Jan 2016 20:47:47 +0000 This story describes a study in Baltimore public schools that helps students reduce health problems, negative rumination, and depression.

]]> 0
Dining for a Cause… Sun, 03 Jan 2016 20:14:28 +0000 Join us at Garden Grille on Wednesday, January 13th for a meal you can feel good about. Not only will you be nourished by their delicious vegetarian cuisine, but all proceeds from lunch and dinner will be donated to 6 local non profits… and ResilientKids is honored to be one of the six! We hope to see you there.

]]> 0
Holiday Stress?! Thu, 17 Dec 2015 17:53:36 +0000 Here come the holidays… and along with them, all kinds of stress. I recently watched the “How to Make Stress Your Friend” Ted talk again, and was reminded that a simple shift in mindset can positively change our relationship to stress and provide significant health benefits!

It’s hard to imagine that unexpected travel cancellations on travel plans, full baking sheets of burnt sugar cookies, or the financial stress that can accompany the holidays can be good for us. But, what if we can prepare ourselves for these challenges by changing one simple thing?

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal recommends that we think more positively about stress. Huh? Turns out that changing the way we think about stress can actually change the way our body reacts to stress. New studies suggest that the body’s natural “stress response”, the release of a number of hormones that course through the body, can actually be a good thing if we just think about stress positively. One study in particular conducted over 8 years with 30,000 US adults found that adults who have high levels of stress in their lives, but perceive it as something that is beneficial actually have a higher survival rate over their peers who experience the same levels of stress but think it is harmful to them.

Our biological stress response releases two naturally occurring hormones in the body: 1) Adrenaline, which causes that staccato heart-beat and increases blood flow sending oxygen to the brain, and 2) Oxytocin, the hormone released when we hug someone, tells us to surround ourselves with people who care about us. It has also been proven to repair the cardiovascular system by helping heart cells regenerate. In stressful situations this hormone is motivating us to seek support and not handle the challenge alone. We all know these hormones and how they appear for us during stressful times. McGonigal urges us to view the stress response as the body preparing us to rise to the challenge facing us in that moment.

So, here’s a reminder to us all: the next time you feel that adrenaline rush, turn it into a rush of courage and strength by stopping, taking five deep breaths in and out of your nose while saying to yourself “This is my body helping me to respond to this challenge.” Just see what happens…

Thanks to our friends at Giraffes and Robots for the beautiful artwork above, and the “interruption” that reminds us to pause and smile – even in the face of stress!


]]> 0
A story of resilience Sun, 29 Nov 2015 14:57:19 +0000 I saw the powerful movie “Spotlight” last night. While not named in the movie, Jim Scanlan’s story is represented, along with a number of others who have had the courage to speak up. When Jim first shared his experience with me, one word came to mind: resilient. His strength in the face of adversity is what has allowed him to get back up… to “not quit the hockey team” and to “have a really, really good life,” as he said in today’s Providence Journal article.  I remembered back to the first time we had a conversation about ResilientKids, and now understand why the concept of “giving kids tools to handle difficult situations” resonated so deeply with him. Not only a dedicated board member, Jim is deeply committed to the work of ResilientKids. We salute his strength in telling this story publicly, and are grateful to have been the beneficiaries of his wisdom, insight, and passion for helping others.

]]> 1
Stress doesn’t have a zip code… Tue, 10 Nov 2015 22:27:22 +0000 This past Friday night, we celebrated ResilientKids’ 5th year of building resilience in Rhode Island’s youth. This post summarizes the talk I gave at our fundraiser about one of the many students that reminds us how much this work is needed in our schools.

It was only year two of ResilientKids’ work, and our first year in a particular school here in Providence serving 97% of students receiving free and reduced lunch. It’s a large and crowded elementary school that embraces a culture of teachers yelling at students. We had been working throughout the fall with their six cohorts of 4th graders. The Assistant Principal had seen such a marked improvement in the number of behavior referrals and incidents of violence, that he asked us to work with a special group of students the school called “red-zone” kids.

Backing up for a moment, the term, “behavior referral” means being sent to the Principal’s office. But this isn’t just your run-of-the-mill “go to the Principal’s office”. What we saw in this school is incredibly disruptive behavior – throwing attitude, fits, and even chairs, all of which mean that when the teacher is supposed to be teaching math, she is spending more time managing her classroom than on the material in her lesson. These “red zone” kids are frequent fliers to the Principal’s office, and this school was out of ideas.

Being new at this new school and open to working with any students, I happily agree. Soon I find myself sitting in front of these 10 and 11 year-olds with an expression on their face that tells me they think they’re “bad” kids, and are barely tolerating another approach by the school to “fix” them. After some quick thinking on my feet, the kids and I begin to develop a rapport. One boy in particular, Nestali, is clearly connecting with the practices, and his whole demeanor is beginning to shift. It’s like I was watching his stress melt away as his nervous system began to relax.

About half way through our session together, Nestali begins to open up to me about his home life and the revolving door of men in and out of his home, his mom who sleeps off drugs and alcohol all day, and the time he and his younger brother were kicked out of the house and homeless for two weeks before his grandmother took them in.

Put yourself in Nestali’s shoes for a moment and imagine what it’s like to try to focus on math when you’re not sure where your next meal is going to come from.

You know the tape that plays in your mind sometimes? Imagine what tape plays in his mind when the room gets quiet as students prepare for another test.

How is Nestali going to do on that test, and how are his grades? How is he going to make it through middle let alone high school?

I quickly realize why he’s been deemed a “red-zone” kid. The stress and strain of his life has deeply affected his ability to focus, connect with his fellow classmates and the teachers, and ultimately to learn – and this stress would’ve continued to impact his ability to graduate and get a job. How many of you want to hire a “red-zone” kid like Nestali?

At the close of our session together, I was proud to say there was not a single behavior referral to the Principal’s office from that crew of 12, and today, Nestali is successfully working through his 8th grade year. He regularly checks back in with his 5th grade teacher from that special year when we worked together to let her know how well he is doing and that he still carries around his glitter jar every day.

Who knew the power of glitter?

We use glitter jars in all our classes to illustrate the stress and strain of daily life. A simple clear bottle filled with water and glitter that we shake up to see the swirling storm of our thoughts, emotions, and stress. In this storm, it is very difficult to do your best work and be your best self. However, we can quiet the storm by finding a few moments of stillness, and then we become a little clearer, just like the water.

Nestali’s story is definitely is one of the reasons we are teaching mindfulness skills to school-age kids. But stress doesn’t have a zip code. While kids on the other side of the highway may not face the same issues that Nestali does, I talk to administrators, teachers, school nurses, psychologists, and guidance counselors every day who tell me they can’t believe how much the anxiety levels of students are increasing each year, and this starts as early as Kindergarten, that’s age 5!

When we were first envisioning ResilientKids, I knew it would have an impact but I never knew how powerful it would be, or that five years later we would be sharing with you our work in 24 schools, 204 classrooms, and with 5,197 students… That translates into 6,454 contact hours!

We are so proud to share these numbers, humbled by the feedback, and energized by the data showing that this really works. However, this perspective is only my view as an instructor travelling in and out of classrooms for 30 minutes at a time. The most impactful stories are really from the classroom teachers, with whom we work in partnership, that are spending all day with the students, but we’ll save that story for next time!

]]> 0
We don’t like the term ‘soft skills’… Fri, 30 Oct 2015 15:59:15 +0000 We all want similar things for kids today; happiness, confidence, to remember their ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’ and be able to share with their siblings and classmates (and a job would be good too!). What you may be surprised to hear is that employers want these same qualities in their employees.  

A flexible mindset, optimism, the ability to keep calm under pressure , creativity and persistence are just a few of the character traits employers look for in their workforce. Sound familiar? These are the precise traits that mindfulness can cultivate in our students, traits that are giving our next generation the character they will need to be conscientious citizens and productive in their careers.

For years the “nonacademic skills” industry has struggled to find a fitting name and definition for these attributes. They are sometimes called “soft skills” or non-cognitive skills or “twenty-first century skills.”  When relating them to hire-able qualities, Aricia E. LaFrance, a professional parenting and career coach, says  that “students who are able to acquire these skills not only find work in the career of their choice, but they also experience stronger and happier relationships in their personal lives.”

These highly valued “soft skills” are harder to teach than traditional ‘hard skills’. Traits like honesty, courtesy and kindness are not attributes your supervisor can show you how to master in a training session. They must be acquired over time through something called “social and emotional learning,” or SEL, which can occur in a variety of settings. The education field has called SEL a foundational skill set, and recognizes that they are essential to learning and thriving. In fact, in a 2013 survey that yielded The Missing Piece Report, teachers say, “social and emotional learning is the missing piece to boost student outcomes and transform our schools.”

Another term, “growth mindset,” has been used to describe the cultivation of positive self-esteem, compassion, persistence and resilience. Many educators use the term “grit” as shorthand for all of these positive attributes that help students mature and succeed in school, careers and life. Social-emotional learning and a positive mindset have become so desirable in fact, that a recent Columbia University study (“The Economic Value of Social and Emotional Learning”) actually quantified their economic value. “Social and emotional learning shows measurable benefits that exceed its costs, often by considerable amounts. There is a positive return for social and emotional learning investments…on average, for every dollar invested, there is a return of $11, a substantial economic gain.” These benefits are seen anywhere from not having to pay a teacher for extra hours serving children in detention to less spent on healthcare treating children with anxiety or ADHD.

Though some of us have different names for these skills, we all want the same thing for our next generation — for our children to flourish, bounce back after failure, and offer empathic support to their friends, families and communities. The industry may not be able to agree on a name for non-cognitive skills, but we can all agree these are valuable, crucial skills for our society – kids and adults! We can give our kids a ton of homework, reprimand challenging behavior and tell them – for the hundredth time –  to sit still at a desk, but those approaches are not enough. At ResilientKids, we understand that integrating essential social-emotional skills into our schools benefits everyone – students and school communities, employers and ultimately the communities of which we are all a part.

]]> 0
ResilientKids Turns 5… Join us in celebration! Sun, 04 Oct 2015 14:38:01 +0000 Help us celebrate our strong foundation…

Now in our 5th year in Rhode Island schools, ResilientKids has been reducing behavior referrals, school violence, and stress, while increasing focus, learning-readiness, attendance, wellness, and resilience.

Please join us on November 6th to celebrate with drinks, dinner, and dancing, featuring music by The Closers.

All tax-deductible monies raised will go directly toward program costs in our schools serving the highest-need students in RI.

Register today!

]]> 0
The Art of Puzzling Mon, 21 Sep 2015 18:20:38 +0000 We have a summer tradition in our house. As soon as school gets out, we break open a new jigsaw puzzle. It has become our way of easing into the summer with a shared project that engages my daughter, son, husband and me in what would otherwise resemble a week of pure couch-potato status. Each year we pick one that has more pieces than the year before. I thought last year’s 1500-piece puzzle was hard, but this summer’s 2000-piece box-of-madness takes the cake!

I was confident we were ready. We always get excited about the challenge and agree on the image together. As we dumped the pieces onto the table I felt an immediate reaction of apprehension about the pile of intricately cut colorful shapes. It took an hour just to turn each piece image-side up.

Over the course of the week we each adopted our individual style of putting the puzzle together. I always start by building the edge, while the kids like to collect pieces of an image group and build that element. My husband hangs out with us and offers moral support, but saves his more active participation until the kids and I have gotten a good chunk underway. My sense of trepidation creeped back when I noticed that the border barely fit on our dining room table, which gets cleared off and reserved for this purpose each June. How long would we have to eat in the kitchen, I wondered?

June came and went. We visited family out West and returned to the puzzle in July. The kids went to camp and off to playdates with friends. But nearly every day, we would reconvene at the dining room table for our daily dose of “puzzling.” I watched the pattern of who went to the puzzle and when. If there were a time-lapse video of our family putting these pieces together, it would at times look scattered and independent and at other times look like a foursome working through a challenge together. Whether we each worked at our own pace or together as a group, we all have different skills. “Eve, can you find where this piece goes? It’s got this interesting shape and just a little orange on the edge,” I asked my daughter. “Brendan,can you find the piece that fits in this hole here? It’s got a black line going down the middle and some red with this long pointy shape.” Both of them certainly honed their skills this summer. Those 2,000 pieces had us going until the first day of school in September!  

There were days I questioned whether I was over-ambitious in taking us to this next level. I certainly didn’t want to drive the kids away from this joyous tradition, but without the satisfaction of immediate completion on the horizon, would my kids feel empowered or frustrated?

What I learned is that each of us working at our own pace toward a collective goal was empowering in its own right. And no matter how long it took, there was still great satisfaction in putting in the last piece, even if that moment came three months later. Long before the end was in sight though, there was a valuable, and new, experience in the process.

The puzzle we chose was a box with multiple compartments, each containing different small items – marbles, dominoes, dice, paper clips. Once we had placed all the more obvious pieces and it looked about 75% of the way there, all that was left were the wooden borders separating each of the boxes. All the wood looked the same and despite small variations in grain or shadows, I wondered if this daunting task may have gotten the better of us. However, the longer I kept at it, something fascinating happened. Rather than looking for specific places for each piece, or pieces for each place, I looked much more openly at the puzzle, almost like a 30,000-foot view. What happened next surprised me. When I stepped out of my own way, the pieces almost jumped into their spots. Whether it was a shape or a color, I would glance around the table at various shapes that all had the same color family and one would pop out and fit right into the spot I had been looking at. It was like being in the flow of puzzling, and my time at the table became a daily practice I looked forward to – not grasping, not attached to an outcome, not stressed, just present, one piece at a time.

It may have taken all summer, but by Labor Day, we celebrated the completion of our first 2,000 piece puzzle, and we have already agreed to do it again next summer.


]]> 0
Planting Seeds Wed, 05 Aug 2015 21:06:16 +0000 I have a small collection of two kinds of rocks. I search out heart-shaped or striped ones from special places I’ve visited. As the collection has grown, I’ve realized I never labeled their origin, so I can’t always remember where they came from. But seeing them always reminds me of special times like that mindfulness training in Costa Rica or the afternoon I climbed around the rocks with my son at Beavertail State Park in Jamestown, Rhode Island, and I am flooded with delightful memories.  As we finished up the week at Omega Friday, I felt the urge to go find my rock commemorating an inspirational week.  Only this time, my rock found me… and it wasn’t a rock.

In closing, we came to a circle by the lake around an artfully placed grouping of leaves, seeds and rocks. Instructed to come to the center and pick up two items, I was ready to go fetch “my rock.” I hung back, waiting for the participants to find their piece of nature. And when it was my turn, I slowly walked toward the middle, wondering if there would be one of the two types of stones I’m drawn to. Then I got to the center and saw … neither striped nor heart shaped.  Nonetheless, I picked up a random rock and a large oval seed. “Hmmm, a seed,” I thought to myself. I kind of liked that metaphor for what we just facilitated in the Mindfulness in Education Teacher Training program, and for the seeds that we plant through ResilientKids’ work.

The directions that followed presented me with another dilemma. We were instructed to “seed our intentions” and leave one of our pieces of nature at a location that called to us – a place to remember what we got out of the week together and what we will take home with us. I immediately walked to the water’s edge, feeling called by the various anchor references ResilientKids uses in our work. I thought this gesture would anchor me to this moment and the inspiration and clarity from the week. Now, which one to put in the water??? I didn’t really get the rock I had hoped for, so that was the easy one to toss. Though perhaps the real work was holding on to that one, right? Ok, I thought to myself, I’ll toss the seed in.

I crouched down, my toes in the water, and wondered if my seed would sink or float. Gently releasing it, it floated away and the way the sun hit it made a beautiful, glowing reflection in the sand at the bottom of the lake. I watched it bob for a little while and felt grateful. I never would have seen this beautiful shape with its glowing-edged shadow if I had tossed the rock instead. The seed washed back, so I tossed it out a little further. Just then a strong breeze came up making ripples on the surface of the lake. I was impressed how this little floating seed stayed so steady despite the moving water all around. When it reappeared once more,  I tossed it as far as I could, officially seeding my intention in the Omega lake.  Meanwhile, I held onto my rock.

Walking back to the circle, I infused this rock with my intentions of inspiration and clarity. Like the breeze on the water, though, the ripple in our circle then was to greet someone in the group, tell them something you loved about them during week, and pass the object in your hand on to them. After a beautiful sharing experience with as many in the group as I could find, can you guess what I ended up with? Yes, another seed… And this one, I am bringing home with me, to rest alongside my striped and heart-shaped rocks.

]]> 1