Things Our Kids Say, Part 3: “I’m Bored”

The teachers and I often get questions about dramatic statements that kids make at home. Parents may know they’re not true; some parents may be worried and have questions about these statements.  Some of us may even buy into them for a while. Mark Twain said that every feeling, if sincere, is involuntary.  Usually these dramatic statements feel true to the kids, but that doesn’t mean that we parents should respond as if they are factually correct. Dramatic but inaccurate statements are not lies, so much as they are vented emotions or disappointed hopes/expectations.

“I’m bored” is in a slightly different category than our first two phrases because kids generally mean it without any exaggeration or dramatization. But we hear it often enough when it shouldn’t be true, that I’m including it in this series. Whether it’s Christmas afternoon when they’ve played with every present for 15 minutes already, or standing in line at Disney World, we are often shocked to hear it.  It’s important to remember that boredom isn’t a bad thing for children, whether they are at the height of over-stimulation or enduring a monotonous few days sick at home. Pulling themselves out of their own boredom is really good for kids. They truly don’t get enough experience with this particular skill in our society.

What kids usually mean: If kids are bored in a stimulating situation, it often means they are overstimulated, like an emotional sugar crash. If kids are bored in a low-key situation like a lazy, summer afternoon, it is likely because they are in between activities and feeling aimless. Neither situation requires your intervention. They just have to work their way through the feeling. This builds up stamina for feeling the “blahs.” It builds creativity, curiosity, and resourcefulness in addition to links with improved executive functioning (planning) and responsibility. Sometimes we do need to intervene on boredom, but the signs will usually be misbehavior (making something more interesting in an inappropriate way) or disengagement (tuning out and shutting down).  In these cases we can teach the child skills for making something more interesting (creating a light-hearted game or connecting the duty to analyze poetry in class to something that matters to them) or remove them from the situation (let them quit that particular activity or limit the length of time visiting Grandma at the nursing home). They will not usually recognize the feeling and will call it boredom though.

What can you say? Simply not giving the child a whole lot of attention for this comment is often going to take care of the problem. If the whining continues, an offer of chores can do wonders. Explaining that boredom is good for them is an effective way to curb the whining as well. Offering up “fun” options — well, those usually get shot down, although solving the problem for them is not likely the best route since we want them to develop the ability to comfort themselves and push through. If the issue is constant, teaching them coping skills like making lists of options and duties, saying “complete three items on this list before you come tell me you’re bored,” or “draw one thing out of this jar and do that” can help them because you’re not solving the problem for them completely.  Kids who can work through quiet times without screens and other automatic entertainment will have an advantage in almost every area of life, the most important of which is being content in their own minds.

Hear a phrase all the time at home? Send it to me and we’ll talk about it. If it’s a common one, I’ll add it to this blog series!

Kara Douglass
Head of School

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Things Our Kids Say, Part 2: “Everyone Else Does!”

The teachers and I often get questions about dramatic statements that kids make at home. Parents may know they’re not true; some parents may be worried and have questions about these statements.  Some of us may even buy into them for a while. Mark Twain said that every feeling, if sincere, is involuntary.  Usually these dramatic statements feel true to the kids, but that doesn’t mean that we parents should respond as if they are factually correct. Dramatic but inaccurate statements are not lies, so much as they are vented emotions or disappointed hopes/expectations.

“Everybody else does!” is another one of those phrases kids use a lot but is rarely true. Whether everyone in their class has phones, attends (or does not attend) an event, drinks soda, or has a Snapchat account, when a child uses this phrase, he/she is applying social pressure on you as his/her leverage. The implication is that you don’t know what you’re doing, that you are waaay off, or that you are responsible for loneliness, isolation, and/or deprivation.

What Kids Usually Mean
When the comment is emotionally sincere, kids mean that “everyone whose opinion they care about does this” (even if it’s only one or two people), or that “everyone who is judging me” does this.  At its worst, they just really want something and are grasping at any way to pressure you, so a small number can be exaggerated so that you feel like the odd man out. “Everyone is probably doing that… I think… maybe.” 

What Can You Say 
You have two options broadly speaking in this situation. The first is for when you feel strongly about the principle behind your decision. One of the biggest gifts you can give your kids is “We don’t need to do everything like everyone else.”  Sending them any sort of message that they have to fit in or that you feel that you have to fit in sets them up for all sorts of vulnerability when they eventually have to make unpopular decisions in their lives. The only way for them to build the strength to stand up for what they believe is by actually doing it… including surviving it when you require them to do it.

The second option (only for when there is no deeper principle involved) is to take their comment at face value and research it a little.  Maybe you want to call their bluff about the number of kids who are truly allowed to eat an all-dessert lunch or play Fortnite before their homework is done. When you call your child out on it and they can only honestly name two, you can help them reflect on the dependability and logic of their reporting and persuasion tactics. Or if you are truly curious about what other families do, ask for a list of “everyone” and reach out.  You can get some feedback from other parents, help your child feel that you are taking them seriously, and then re-evaluate your decision.

Hear a phrase all the time at home? Send it to me and we’ll talk about it. If it’s a common one, I’ll add it to this blog series!

Kara Douglass
Head of School

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Things Our Kids Say, Part 1: “I Don’t Have Any Friends”

The teachers and I often get questions about dramatic statements that kids make at home. Parents may know they’re not true; some parents may be worried and have questions about these statements.  Some of us may even buy into them for a while. Mark Twain said that every feeling, if sincere, is involuntary.  Usually these dramatic statements feel true to the kids, but that doesn’t mean that we parents should respond as if they are factually correct. Dramatic but inaccurate statements are not lies, so much as they are vented emotions or disappointed hopes/expectations.

“I have no friends” is one of those statements. Kids rarely have no friends. If they truly don’t have any friends, they will not usually state it dramatically. It will be a much more serious issue that has gone on for a while, and they will likely have internalized it. This is something serious that we (faculty and staff at TFS) watch for. We will all collaborate and likely a child will need group and individual counseling if this is truly the case. If you are worried about this, reach out to your child’s teacher or advisor, and we will work with you to figure out what’s going on.

What kids usually mean when they say “I have no friends” is that they feel lonely or unsure of their belonging.  Maybe they didn’t know who to sit with at lunch or who to play with at recess. Maybe they don’t feel like they’re being themselves at school or worried that if their friends knew their “real self,” they wouldn’t be accepted. Many times kids are prioritizing the attention of one or two people and when they don’t receive the attention or affection they want from those particular people, they feel that all is lost — even though they may have many other possibilities.

What can you say?  Usually you just need to listen and sympathize. They are venting, and you don’t need to fix the problem — in fact you cannot fix the problem. You can also focus on helping them be a good friend. Most kids struggle socially because they focus on themselves more than their friends —  a natural and understandable ego-centrism for their age. Peers will teach each other what’s acceptable and what’s not through the School of Hard Knocks, and you should help them get through it but not undercut those lessons. Or if you notice your child hyper-focused on one or two people, they may need coaching to cast their nets wider, reach out to kids who don’t have friends, or to relationships that may be healthier or more welcome.

At the end of the day, not everyone clicks naturally, friendships are messy, everyone is doing their best with what they have in the moment, and you probably only have a quarter of the story. Our teachers and I are happy to help provide context or mediate conversations if it seems constructive, but there’s no doubt that sometimes the kids will simply have to work on getting through a hard time or disappointment with grit and grace. Learning to rebound, forgive, let go, and hold your head up are all important skills (almost like muscles) to develop as they grow up.  It’s SO hard for us to sit by and watch, but with most kids, there’s little possibility of avoiding it or solving it.

Hear a phrase all the time at home? Send it to me and we’ll talk about it. If it’s a common one, I’ll add it to this blog series!

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Our Mission – Part 6: The Partnership

“We create a partnership between parents, teachers, and students, knowing that parental involvement is key to the success of the students and the school.”  

This last component of our mission is acknowledging the fact that we are a village.  The more we all work together, the better off our children will be.  Growing up is hard.  Parenting is hard.  School can be hard.  Sometimes we are walking a tightrope; other times it feels like we are in a mosh pit.  We have to communicate with each other, trust each other, respect each other, and support each other to get through this messy, complicated, foggy journey.

We encourage you to come to games, field trips and events so that you know the kids, the teachers and other parents–both at your child’s age, but also older and younger.  We encourage you to share your concerns with us, and we will share ours with you.  Let us know what’s going on in your children’s lives. All of their experiences are interrelated, and it helps us nurture and teach the “whole” child if we know the whole child.  The better we know your children, the better we can meet their needs.

Additionally, as an independent school, we are completely dependent on your support.  We don’t have a parish, synagogue or government to back us up.  So we are dependent on your support (your time, your talents, and your treasure!), both as current parents and after your kids graduate, in order to grow and thrive.

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Our Mission – Part 5: Diversity of Cultures

At Fulton School, we celebrate a diversity of cultures, learning styles, talents, and personal goals.  Our definition of diversity is big, and our dreams for our students are even bigger.  We don’t want to merely “tolerate” differences (although sometimes that’s necessary), but we hope to instill a true appreciation in our students who will spend a majority of their childhood feeling bad about the ways they are different.

We want the quiet kids to appreciate the gregarious kids.

We want the talkative kids to appreciate the pensive kids.

We want the creative types to appreciate the linear thinkers and logical minds to enjoy the subjective minds.

We want our students to understand what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes, to have a sense of respect for various races, religions, world views, and cultures (even varying family cultures within the suburbs).

All of this information and experience contribute to the children’s own sense of pride in who they are–a frank acknowledgement of their strengths–and to their developing gratefulness for others in their lives.

This tone of true appreciation helps children take risks and develop self-confidence, kindness, empathy, and community.  We hope it removes unhealthy pressures and unnecessary obstacles. And ultimately, we hope it makes the world a little bit better place.

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Our Mission – Part 4: The “How”

headimagesThe second component of our philosophy (our ‘how’) is to create a joyful and inspired community that develops communication skills, critical thinking skills, and creativity in every child through relevant, hands-on, student-centered teaching. Joyful and inspired is our goal–there is no reason that school has to be a necessary evil in our children’s lives. Humans love learning, we are built to learn, and children even more so than adults. Environments that make learning miserable are getting in the way of the child’s natural development and purpose. We want to free them up to learn as they can, rather than bogging them down in the needs of the institution or policy.

Then we delineate some of the primary skills we are aiming to develop–reading, writing, talking, arguing, discussing, presenting, persuading, taking initiative, articulating thoughts, and speaking up are examples of the communication skills we are working on. Summarizing, inferencing, critiquing, discerning, connecting, dissecting, analyzing, deducing, and concluding are all examples of the critical thinking skills we’re developing. And creativity grows out of a solid subject-area knowledge base in addition to the freedom to take risks, try something new, think differently, play, experiment, build, try, and collaborate. The only way to practice all of these skills (and they need lots of practice!) is by giving students the time and the space and the context to practice them in relevant, hands-on, and child-centered classes.

It’s amazing how a simple shift in goals can change the tone of the entire institution. Most schools focus on achievement and academic and athletic excellence. They focus so much on content, memorization, test scores, and getting into college that they lose sight of the child who is in front of them. When we shift from achievement to joy, from excellence to inspiration, from product to process, and from content to skills, the atmosphere shifts entirely. The irony is that we can still achieve, excel, and attend top colleges, if that’s our aim, without sacrificing character, joy and love of learning along the way.

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Our Mission – Part 3: Montessori

montyThe next part of our mission comes in the form of our philosophy. This is the how of our goal. We believe the Montessori philosophy provides the best opportunity to build confidence, character and leadership in our students. I could talk about the Montessori philosophy all year (and it actually takes a full year or longer to get a certification in Montessori because of its complexity), but I believe there are three primary reasons why Montessori is the best opportunity to develop these characteristics.

First, Dr. Montessori started with the end game and worked backwards when she developed her philosophy and curriculum. Who do we want our kids to be as adults? What skills are most constructive in adults? What character traits are most important in adults? She never had the adult far from her mind as she focused on the child who would become the adult. This is what proponents of 21st century education are just now doing — and it’s a good thing — but Dr. Montessori was thinking that way 110 years ago.

Secondly, Dr. Montessori observed where children are developmentally and built her curriculum and philosophy to work with nature, rather than against it. We cannot just decide to give our students confidence; they develop it as nature intended and we have to use nature if they are going to develop successfully — in this case by providing as many opportunities and pushes for their independence as possible. A dependent child cannot and will not develop self-confidence, for example. The entire program is build around who children are and how they grow, rather than on the needs of the adults or the institution.

Lastly, Dr. Montessori integrated the whole child into her curriculum. Most curricula simply address the acquisition of information (like spelling rules) or the practice of a cognitive skill (like addition), but Dr. Montessori interwove the practice of concentration, the practice of conflict resolution, the practice of collaboration, etc. into her materials, schedule and annual goals for the classroom. Respect of others is just as important (and therefore takes just as much time) as math or reading. If we value character, leadership and intrinsic motivation, we have to carve time to practice those skills during the week. She saw the need for the time it would take and set the precedent that we all need to be willing to give our values that time.

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Our Mission – Part 2: Where Are Our Kids Headed?

TFS MissionThe first half of our mission is challenge with support. I wrote about that last week. The second half of our mission is really about where our students are headed. What knowledge and skills do they really need to live fulfilling and successful lives? We believe they have the best chance of a fulfilling and successful life if they are aware of the context that we live in (globally minded) and if they are excited about life (passion for life and learning).

Dr. Maria Montessori believed that children needed to begin understanding the world closest to them (their caretakers) and that the circle should expand as they get older (their families, their homes, their classroom, their school, their neighborhood, their city, their country, the world). This is more than geography, but it is not political. It is simply context.

What is going on around us?
How does it affect us?
How do we affect our world?

As children develop, they will naturally develop interest in the world around them, but it’s also a cycle: the more they know about the world, the more intriguing it gets and the more they want to know. Vision/life goals, compassion, a sense of purpose, respect, humility, perspective, civic duty, and intellectual stimulation are just a few of the characteristics that develop out of an interest in the world around us. From our perspective, the more they know and the more interested they are, the richer their foundation is for everything else they do with their lives.

We also want to equip them to approach life with zest. We want them to be confident enough to tackle life with excitement. We want them to have the skills and drive to continue to learn without grades or schedules or due dates. The primary way to do this is to introduce them to the intrinsic rewards (rewards that emerge from inside of us rather than rewards that are bestowed on us by others) of learning. Giving them choice in projects, encouraging tangents when we see something spark in them, Upper School interims, hands-on projects, sitting back and watching the students discover connections (instead of pointing them all out for the students), field trips and overnight trips, building multi-generational relationships, challenging them, and then celebrating with them when they overcome a challenge. These are all tactics to experience joy in learning, and joy in life. We live this mission ourselves, and then we pass this on to our students.

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Our Mission – Part 1: Academically Challenging

Click to enlargeThe first component of our mission statement is something you should see in every school–to be academically challenging.  The second component, to be personally supportive, is rarer.  The two of them together create the heart of The Fulton School identity.  Supporting while challenging–it’s a dance.

Too much support with too little challenge teaches children that they can’t do things and leads to dependence on others, anxiety about new situations, and learned helplessness. Too much challenge with too little support also teaches them that they can’t do things and leads to discouragement, self-sabotaging, and giving up.  And if that’s not complicated enough, the balance is a little different for every child!

Another way we look at it is through the lens of an outdoor guide.  At outdoor education, we learn that we all have three zones: our Comfort Zone (which we all love!), our Challenge Zone (which we may think we dread, but which is rewarding after the fact), and our Panic Zone (we are so frightened that we can’t think straight).  They teach us that we really don’t learn anything in our Comfort Zone because there’s nothing new in this zone, or in our Panic Zone because we are too overwhelmed to take in new information.  We have to find our Challenge Zone to really learn.  This means there are new things to do or try, but that we feel supported enough to achieve it. It’s a challenge–not easy, but they are surmountable.

Finding the perfect Challenge Zone for every child in every subject and every situation is a lot of pressure on us both, as parents and as educators!  And it’s impossible. Let’s just get it out of the way right now that we won’t get it exactly right–you won’t and neither will we.  But our mission is to reflect, discuss, observe, debate, study, and do our best to find that balance for your child every day.

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Rethinking Your Commute

My family is fortunate to live less than 5 miles from school. But I spend most weekday evenings driving my kids around town between sports, piano practice, jobs, and youth group. For us, nothing is less than a 30-minute drive one-way. On one hand, this much car time could be a huge hassle. On the other hand, I have one or more kids stuck with me in the car for an hour-plus every day. If we were home, they would be in their rooms or outside, but in the car they talk to me. When my oldest daughter started driving, I missed those conversations!  Luckily when the newness of her driving independence wore off, she often asked me to go with her again… so we could talk.

I know many of you have a long commute to school or you have friends who resist coming here because of the commute, but I challenge you to see the commute as a gift. Ask them to put away their devices and take out their headphones. Set the expectation that car time is “together time.”

Car time like this is called parallel talk and is a much more effective context for older kids to share than direct questioning. Stories will pour out as they process their days, their relationships, friendships, and events. You can:

Listen to the news and discuss it.

Sing together (or learn about the music they love).

Plan your dinner menus and grocery lists.

Or you can just be quiet together.

It’s in your power to reframe the commute that our location and the modern lifestyle create as a benefit of The Fulton School, rather than a liability. It’s a non-negotiable chunk of time for sharing and reflection. It is built-in quality relationship time — and that is rare in modern American life.

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