The Water Lily Way

A school counselor's story of how to live, work and play…the water lily way


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The Need for Trauma Sensitive Schools

It’s estimated that 26% of children in the U.S. experience some kind of traumatic event before the age of 4.  Every year, more than five million children experience some extreme traumatic event. Traumatic events can include natural disasters, motor vehicle accidents, life threatening illness, physical abuse, sexual assault, witnessing domestic or community violence, kidnapping or death of a parent or loved one. Trauma can seriously impact our kids during their younger years and can cause severe health impacts later in life. In the classroom,  children can display traumatic stress through aggression, anxiety, defiance, perfectionism, and withdrawal. And here’s the biggie, signs of trauma often times look very similar to ADD, ADHD, OD & CD.

Trauma affects the whole child: the mind, body, and spirit. The impact of trauma on the brain significantly effects children, their learning, and their ability to form relationships with others. Our brains are developed to help us respond to threat. We often times hear this referred to as the “flight or fight response.” When we are confronted with a dangerous or potentially dangerous situation, our brain goes on alert and prepares the body to respond. The brain  does this by increasing the adrenaline in our system. When the threat is no longer there, our brain releases other chemicals such as cortisol to reduce the adrenaline in our bodies. This helps us to relax and to quiet down. We no longer need to fight or run, so our body adjusts accordingly. This is a normal, healthy reaction for many humans, but not for all.

In some situations where fighting or running is not possible, our brain may help us to freeze. In these situations our breathing may slow down and chemicals such as endorphins are released that help us to be very still or even to go numb, and therefore feel less pain. When a child is traumatized by extreme or repeated events of abuse (for example), chemical reactions in the body and brain can be switched on as if they have never been switched off. The brains of these children are often in a state of fear. This state of “fear activation” leads to changes in emotional, behavioral and cognitive functioning because the brain is tricked into survival mode. A major negative outcome of this is that a traumatized child can constantly be in this state of fear. As a result, this can cause things such as hypervigilance, a focus on threat-related cues (non-verbal included), anxiety and behavioral impulsivity.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that some traumatized children really struggle controlling their anger and impulses, and maintaining their attention and connection in the classroom. It does not come easy for these children to regulate strong emotions and instead, they jump right to a reaction, with no time to think. While often times we see this through aggressive behaviors, children may also react by disengaging or dissociating. Both are adaptive human responses to traumatic experiences.

Young Student Crying in Class

So what can we do in our schools, and in our communities to help our children who have been victims of trauma? Here are only some of the approaches you can help integrate into your school to effectively meet the needs and reach out to this, unfortunately, vastly growing population of kiddo’s.

  • Teach coping skills (mindfulness techniques, journaling, how to ask for a break when needed, deep breathing, relaxation, etc.). Check out the “Mindfulness” section of this blog to see various resources and activities you can utilize at your school.
  • Teach self regulation skills.
  • Inform and educate other teachers, school staff, administrators and families on the impacts of trauma
  • Give children choices! Often traumatic events involve loss of control. You can help children feel safe by providing them with some choices or control when appropriate.
  • Provide these children with EXTRA support and encouragement.
  • Once again, educate others on trauma! Educate, educate, educate! Advocate, advocate, advocate! Recognize that behavioral problems may be related to trauma. Keep in mind that even the most disruptive behaviors can be driven by trauma-related anxiety.
  • Be sensitive to cues in the environment that may cause a reaction for a traumatized child.
  • Provide a safe space for the child to talk about the traumatic event or provide additional resources in the community for the child’s family.
  • While a traumatized child might not be eligible for special education, consider accommodations and modifications for the child to support academic success.

Helpful Websites:

This is obviously only a start to the ways we can promote trauma sensitivity in our schools. However, there are so many resources available today to help meet the needs of our kiddo’s who have experienced traumatic situations and as a result, have been impacted for life. It is our job to work together as a team with other educators, specialists and the families of traumatized children to see that these children are cared for, understood, and guided through their long journey in coping with their traumatic experience(s). Be an advocate, be an educator, be a leader and promote a trauma sensitive environment at your school.
One last thing….If you’re looking for a good summer read, I HIGHLY recommend “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog” by Bruce D. Perry. Dr. Perry (child psychiatrist) discusses the various children he has worked with who have suffered from severe cases of abuse and neglect. I PROMISE you, your life will be changed after reading this book. You will come to new awarenesses and insights on the extreme impacts of trauma. The cases he presents are unimaginable….
-Jessica 🙂


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Monday Mindfulness: Mindfulness as told in “Thrive”

Hope you all had a wonderful Easter weekend filled with fun, family, friends, and of course, candy! I was in the mood for  a new read this weekend, so I took a little trip to Barnes and Noble. Luckily, one of my professor’s mentioned the book “Thrive” by Arianna Huffington (cofounder of the Huffington Post) in class this past week, otherwise B & N trips can consume an entire afternoon… If there is one store where I can spend hours and hours, sometimes walking around in the same circle, it’s Barnes and Noble.

I spent almost my entire Saturday night (thrilling Saturday night for a 25 year old 😉 ) digging into Thrive, needless to say I HIGHLY recommend this read. Huffington’s novel discusses the definition of success in our world today (money and power) and how it is literally driving individuals into the ground. She stresses the importance, for us as a society, to begin redefining success. “To live the lives we truly want and deserve, and not just the lives we settle for, we need a Third Metric, a third measure of success that goes beyond the two metrics of money and power, and consists of four pillars: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.” These four pillars are what make up the four sections of the book.

The first section “well-being” talks about just that, our health and well-being. Huffington advocates that if we don’t begin to redefine success in our country, our physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual health will continue to decline. She offers countless stories of CEO’s and well known leaders who have stepped away from careers that they put everything into and sacrificed a ton for, including their health, to regain a life of meaning, balance, and wellness instead of stress, anxiety and exhaustion.

Together with the stories from influential American’s and personal experiences from Huffington’s own life, she provides readers with tools and tactics to begin living a life where our health and well-being becomes just as important as our work meetings, e-mail’s and deadlines. In her “well-being” section, I especially appreciated Huffington’s sharing of her meaning of mindfulness. She brought in this component to offer readers a simple approach to give more attention and care towards our mental health. This is what I would like to leave you with this Monday.

Mindfulness as Told in Thrive: Habit Breaking or Habit Unmaking

“Each day for a week you choose a habit such as brushing your teeth, drinking your morning coffee, or taking a shower, and simply pay attention to what’s happening while you do  it. It’s really not so much habit breaking as habit unmaking -it’s taking something we’ve placed on autopilot and putting it back on the list of things we pay attention to. The idea is not to make you feel different, but simply to allow a few more moments in the day when you are ‘awake’…If you notice your mind wandering while you do this, simply notice where it went, then gently escort it back to the present moment.”

Mindfulness exercises can be done in a variety of ways and in all sorts of settings, but the point I think Huffington tries to make is that it can be incorporated into our lives in the simplest parts of our day (such as brushing our teeth 🙂 ). After reading this, I started thinking about my own day. I can’t remember the last time I took a shower, without running through a list of things in my head that I needed to do that day. As far as drinking coffee goes, I’m usually trying to inhale a cup as quick as possible as I fly through my morning to get ready and get out the door by 7:30 am. I don’t know that I usually even taste my morning coffee? Someone could put lemonade in my favorite snoopy mug, and I don’t know that I’d even notice a difference? It’s become more of a “get the caffeine in asap” and let’s get the day going! It makes me disappointed to look at the parts of my day when I should be more present, when I am actually physically away from school/work/etc. and yet, I am not being mindful. I’m not being connected, I’m not living as well as I could be. I’m rushing. I’m stressing. I’m thinking about the next thing. Trying to get ahead, not realizing that it’s probably actually setting me back.

I think we all have areas in our day where we can try to be a little more present. More mindful. More connected. By finding parts in our day to focus on our well-being is just how we can begin to, as Huffington says in her novel, redefine success and most importantly, begin to Thrive. Likewise, we can think of it as just another way to begin living our life “the water lily way.”

 

waterlilly44

 


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Monday Mindfulness: Bye, bye Little Monster. Hello, Positive Self-Talk!

Hello all! I hope you had an enjoyable weekend, and are ready to tackle another Monday. 🙂 I am at my practicum site on Monday, and decided to share a little card I began making for some of the students I see individually. One thing I have noticed since being at my elementary school since February is that we have a lot of students with low levels of confidence and self-esteem. While this may not come surprising to some, it still shocks me every Monday when I am at my site and talking with my kids. I suppose I assumed I would encounter more self-esteem related struggles when I eventually entered into a middle and high school during my internship next year. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

A lot of the kiddo’s I have been talking with individually, originally were connected with me because of either behavioral or academic related issues (or so I was told). After spending time with a few of these students, I’ve come to see that their self-talk is very negative and their self confidence is extremely low. How are children suppose to succeed in school when their brains are telling them one thing, and yet they are being challenged beyond belief to perform academically? How is that happening to our little ones at such a young age? What can we do as school counselors, teachers, parents and friends to promote positive self-talk, and increase self-esteem in our youth? Self-talk effects SO many aspects of our daily life: our mental wellness, our ability to cope and handle stress, our immune systems and physical health, our confidence, self-esteem, work habits and relationships. Self-talk. Is. Powerful.

There are millions of resources for school counselors, teachers and parents to use to help increase positive self-talk in our youth. As I continue to explore different activities, I will, of course, share them with you on the blog (this is an area of passion for me!). For now, here is a little card I have been giving to some of my students. While they decorate around the card (we paste them on construction paper -I believe decorating helps make it “their own”) we discuss the “little monster” that feeds them negative thoughts. By externalizing the self-talk, it takes the blame off the child and any extra frustration that may have been connected with the self-talk being “their fault.” Talking points can include things such as:

-What does the monster say?

-How does the monster impact you at school? Home? With friends?

-How can we stop the monster?

-What are some of your strengths? What do you enjoy? What makes you feel good about yourself?

selftalk

Feel free to let me know what you think, as always. 🙂

One final thought for your “Mindfulness Monday”…

Remember: “Your thoughts only have as much power as you give them.”

Be well,

Jessica 🙂

 

 


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“Bee Breathing” -A Deep Breathing Exercise for Kids

Hi Friends!

I hope your week is off to a great start. Just wanted to share a fun resource with you that I was able to try out with some kiddos at my practicum site today. Before I say much more, if you haven’t tried deep breathing or relaxation exercises with your children or students, don’t let any nervousness you may have to do so hold you back! All of the kids I have tried deep breathing with respond SO well to it. It amazes me! Maybe it has something to do with how fast paced our society is, especially our schools! There are so many responsibilities and expectations in our classrooms today, there often is not time for just “being & breathing.”

Anyways, my cool tool for you! If you check out the website, “www.kidsrelaxation.com” a screen should pop up offering a free subscription for a chapter from the book “Deep Breathing for Kids.” I have not looked into this book yet, however I plan to do so! The free chapter will be sent to you via email, and it has some great breathing exercises for kids. For instance, one activity is “bee breathing.” In this activity children (or a child if you do this individually as I did) practices inhaling and exhaling. During the exhale you encourage the children to make a “buzzzz” sound as they breathe out. I have the Bee Breathing activity listed below, but definietely check out the website for more  mindfulness fun with children! Have a great week! 🙂 🙂 🙂

 

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Bee Breathing

1) Let’s get in a comfortable position to practice bee breathing. Imagine that you are sitting on a leaf or a flower petal. Sit straight and allow the leaf petal to support you.

2) Breath in, allowing the air to just gently come in through your nose, filling up your lungs.

3) As you breathe out, buzz like a bee. see how far your bee is going to fly before sitting down and resting again. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz

4) On the next breath, see if your bee can fly with a loud, strong buzz.

5) On the next breath, see if your bee can fly with a soft buzz.

6) Does it feel different with a strong or soft buzz? How does your buzz feel?

Ideas for use: After breathing practice, draw a picture of a bumblebee and the leaf or flower that you were “sitting” on in your imagination. This picture can be used as a relaxation practice reminder. When you see the picture, practice being like a bee and practice bee breath!

 


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Monday Mindfulness: St. Patrick’s Day Relaxation Story for Kids

Happy St. Patrick’s Day (almost, right?)!

Here’s a cute St. Patty’s day riddle for you & your students:

Knock Knock
Who’s there?
Irish!
Irish Who?
Irish you a happy St. Patrick’s Day! 🙂

I felt lucky to find this perfect relaxation story for this week’s Monday Mindfulness (coming to you a day early so you can hopefully sneak it into your day tomorrow). What a great way to get in a little relaxation with your students tomorrow while celebrating St. Patty’s Day! 🙂

rainbow

Imagine that you are lying in a field of grass and shamrocks.
Let your body relax and get very heavy,
Letting the ground hold you.
Now imagine that it starts to rain.
The raindrops are just the right temperature.
Not too cold, and not too warm.
Imagine that as the raindrops fall on your body, They help you relax even more.
Feel the raindrops falling on your toes and feet,

And feel them relax.
Now feel the rain on your legs,
And let them relax too.
Feel the rain on your belly.
And feel the rain falling on your arms,
On your hands,
And on your fingertips.
Feel each body part relax.

The rain falls on your head and face.
Each raindrop washes away your fear or worries.
Feel your whole body relaxed and calm.
The rain slowly stops,
And a colorful rainbow appears in the sky:
Red… orange…yellow…green…blue…indigo… And purple.
Imagine following the rainbow until it ends.
What do you see?

Green rolling hills?
A pot of gold, shimmering in the sunlight?
Maybe even a Leprechaun, dancing in green?
Now follow the rainbow back to your resting spot in the grass.
Watch the rainbow until the colors slowly fade away,
And enjoy how relaxed and calm your body feels.

Relaxation story from: http://www.ImaginationsForKids.com


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Noticing our Kindness: Individual/Group Mindfulness Activity

I was inspired by this activity after looking over some exercises in a book I borrowed from one of my professors. The book is titled, “Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids” by Eline Snel. It’s a small book with simple mindfulness practices for children. I pulled this idea from the chapter titled “It’s Good to Be Kind.” The activity is intended to help children notice their kindness and unkindness. The author suggests having children put a bracelet on their right wrist, which symbolizes their kindness towards others and themselves. Whenever they observe themselves being “thoughtless, unkind or genuinely unpleasant,” they should move their bracelet to their other wrist. This then makes a child become more aware of their acts of unkindness. Others do not interfere with this process by pointing out what the child did or should have done, but rather school counselors/teachers/parents allow the child to recognize their behavior on their own.

bracelet

Seems so simple, but powerful…I will keep you updated on my process with this as I am going to expand on this next week when I meet with one of my third grade girls individually. She is having a difficult time making and keeping friends, often times because of her struggle to be kind and respectful towards other students and classmates. My thinking is that we will create a “friendship bracelet” together. We will talk more about being kind to others, and then I will encourage her to use her friendship bracelet throughout the week as the author of “Sitting Like a Frog” proposed in her book. I will of course challenge myself to do the same, because we can all work on being kinder to ourselves, right? 🙂

bracelet 2

With that said, take time to recognize your kindness as we come to the end of the week. How were you kind to others this week, and most importantly, how were you kind to yourself?  ::Be well:: -Jessica


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Monday Mindfulness: 5 reasons why I’ve come to love yoga & all of it’s benefits…

Monday Mindfulness

yoga

1.)    Improved flexibility, yes. Improved strength, YES!!!!!! I think a lot of people have the assumption that yoga is solely for stretching purposes, for stress relief, or for relaxation. While it is definitely all of these things, I think what people don’t realize is how much yoga can increase strength! I can’t say that I always push myself hard enough when I’m exercising that my body shakes! Yet, I find myself shaking at some point during EVERY yoga class I attend. Yes, yoga improves flexibility. Yes, yoga is relaxing, it reduces stress, and it’s great for increased flexibility. However, when you are holding warrior 1/2 or crow pose for minutes, or flowing through your sun salutations and doing numerous chaturanga’s in 10 minutes, strength is the word that comes to my mind… Holding yoga postures lengthen and strengthen our muscles.

2.)    There are racquetball courts next to us? I’ve probably been practicing yoga for 5 or 6 years, but I’ve been attending classes regularly in the past year, and I can tell a difference when it comes to reflecting on my increased self-awareness, focus and mindfulness. I practice yoga at a ymca, and the yoga room is literally between a racquet ball court and the cycle studio. You might be thinking, “How can that be peaceful?” The truth is, I forget all about it! As the class wraps us and the instructor instructs us to “bring back our awareness,” I am immediately reminded of what is actually around me, and what I was able to block out for one hour. Not only am I able to forget about the things going on around me, I’m able to leave whatever I may have going on for me at the door. Yoga teaches us to quiet the mind.

3.)    Importance of breath. A key component to practicing yoga is breath. This is not something that came easy to me when I first began. It is not often that we focus on our breath, and I think this is why I first struggled with this. I am beginning to now understand the importance in focusing on my breath to get me through a pose. Not only that, but concentrating on my breathing encourages me to be more in the present moment and bring all of my awareness to my mat. While we may leave our “yoga practice” on our mats at the end of a class, our yoga skills stay with us each day…Yoga teaches us to focus on our breathing which brings us to the present, and also has health benefits such as reducing stress and anxiety.

4.)    Options for being challenged. I think most yogi’s would agree with me on this one, EVERY yoga class is DIFFERENT! There are SO many options as far as styles of yoga practice (hatha, ashtanga, bikram, hot yoga, vinyasa, the list goes on and on). And that’s just talking the different types of yoga classes. Instructors are all different and unique. And even if you go to the same instructor all the time, there so many variations for formatting yoga classes. With that said, the chance of getting bored with yoga is very unlikely, and the change of you being challenged (mentally/physically) each time you practice yoga, you know the answer… 😉 Yoga challenges the body and mind. There are different yoga class styles for everyone.

5.)    Encourages overall health and wellness –for life. Yoga is not just about exercising, it’s about living a healthy life style. The breathing and meditation that is encouraged during yoga practice is something we can incorporate into our everyday lives. The peace and tranquility we can achieve when we quiet our minds, allow us to be still in an often times crazy world. Yoga helps us decrease our stress, and allows us time for ourselves. Yes, that’s right, YOU time.  Yoga is a lifelong gift that increases health and wellness.

It’s time for bed yogi’s. Have a great Tuesday. -Jessica