Monday, December 17, 2012

Austin ISD Communication to Parents

Dear Austin Independent School Community,
    We are deeply troubled to hear about the shooting in a Connecticut elementary school. This tragedy is heartbreaking and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Newtown, Connecticut. Your child may have many questions for you regarding why this horrible incident occurred.  Our Districts Learning Support Department recommends the following tips for parents as they discuss this tragedy with their children.  This guidance is provided from the American School Counseling Association.
    What Can You Do?
    Reassure your child or teen that he or she is safe, and that you are also okay by doing the following:
  • Listen!
  • Maintain routines.
  • Turn the television off or allow your child to only watch shows that aren’t covering the incident. (Adolescents may need to watch because, like adults, they have a need to know. Keep it to a minimum – no more than a half-hour and be sure to discuss what your child saw and heard by asking questions and listen carefully to responses and opinions.)
  • Do not criticize any regressive behaviors, such as a child’s need for comfort food. Allow your child to be sad or afraid. Reassure your child that you will be there to take care of them. Tell your child that the sadness, hurt, or fear that may be felt now will change in time.
  • Encourage your child to exercise some sense of control for the next few days by letting them make decisions about what they want to eat and wear.
  • Spend time together. This means together, not you in one part of the house while your child is in another part of the house.
  • Encourage your child to engage in physical activities as well as activities that let them feel better.
  • Explain that it is normal to feel sad or worried but the United States is a strong country and officials are working hard to keep everyone safe.
  • When needed, help separate fact from fiction. Fiction tends to escalate one’s fears.
  • Do not speculate or exaggerate.
  • Since research shows elementary students are not old enough to process tragic events such as shootings, terrorist attacks and other violent incidents, it is best to limit  media exposure.
  • Please be cautious in your conversations and it is advised to  not discuss the media coverage in front of them
  • Please be cautious in your conversations and ensure and  reiterate that there are many caring adults at their school  working hard  to keep them safe.
Points to Remember:
  • In all aged children it is essential that caregivers attempt to keep a child’s daily schedule as close to their own routine as possible. Children become easily agitated when they do not know what to expect next. If there is a change in their routine, let them know before it happens if at all possible. Communicating with children helps to restore their trust in you as a caregiver.
  • Children grieve intermittently. Children’s grief is similar to a ping-pong ball; you never know which direction they are headed. Therefore, follow children where they lead you. Allow them to tell their story, on their terms, magically or seriously, let them lead!
  • It is important to find ways to help a child who is particularly worried feel safe.  One way to do this is to develop safety plans at home in case it is necessary to seek help or assistance. Part of the process of defusing fear should be directed to helping children feel empowered not only in terms of inner resources, but also practical ways for coping.
  • Ask your child to put their hand on an 8 1/2" x 11" piece of paper and spread their fingers. Then ask the child to trace their hand print. On the fingers of the hand print ask them to write the names and phone numbers of people your child can call for help should he or she need it.
  • On another piece of paper help your child make a safety plan. Have your child write down all the things he or she can do to feel safe and happy.
    This activity can be creative and many children enjoy coloring the image. Younger children may need help identifying phone numbers, but try to help the child list as many people as possible; list the people or phone numbers on the fingers of the hand. You might also consider helping your child develop a “ home safety plan”—how to run to a neighbor’s house or dial 911.   Austin Independent School District School Counselors, Child Study System, and the District's  Crisis Response Team which  is comprised of Licensed Social Workers and Licensed Counselors are trained and prepared to provide support for students during their school day.   If you have questions  or  concerns please contact your child's school  or you may contact the AISD Learning Support Services Department.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Speaking to Your Child about Tragedy

Here is a helpful resource from the American Counseling Association (ACA) for speaking with your child about tragedy: Disaster and Trauma Responses of Children

Another great article is Talking to Children about the Shooting from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Tips from the American School Counseling Association (ASCA): Try and keep routines as normal as possible. Kids gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school.
 Limit exposure to television and the news.
 Be honest with kids and share with them as much information as they are developmentally able to handle.
 Listen to kids’ fears and concerns.
 Reassure kids that the world is a good place to be, but that there are people who do bad things.
 Parents and adults need to first deal with and assess their own responses to crisis and stress.
 Rebuild and reaffirm attachments and relationships.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Being Fair

During the month of December and January, our character trait of the month is FAIRNESS.  Sometimes fairness is hard for children to understand because it doesn't always mean being "equal."  It really means that everyone is given what they need to be successful and everyone is treated like the way you want to be treated.  In first grade we read the book Being Fair by Mary Small.  This book shows many great examples of how others can be fair to each other by following the Golden Rule.

Afterward, I did a quick activity using band-aids to reinforce the idea that being fair doesn't always mean being equal.  I asked a few volunteers to come up front and fake some injuries: a broken arm, a headache, a scratch on your hand, a broken leg.  Then I went to each student and put a band-aid on their hand.  All the kids were surprised and didn't understand why I put a band-aid on everyone, to which I replied, this way it is equal!  We discussed how even though it is equal, it is not giving everyone what they need to help their injury.  This was a great visual for students to apply their knowledge to.  Students then came up with their own definitions of what fairness means and drew pictures to illustrate an example of fairness.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Acknowledging our Differences in Personalities: Part I

In third grade we've been discussing how we are each different and unique, and this is what makes us special.  It doesn't matter how we look or how we talk, it is what is on the inside that counts.  Treating others with respect and having empathy are ways that we can treat others fairly.  We read The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss to visualize how caught up in looks we can become sometimes.  Students were surprised how significant a little star became for the cast of characters and appalled by how they were taken advantage of for their insecurities.

To expand on the idea of understanding our unique traits, students were asked to take a personality quiz based on the MBTI.  Students answered a series of questions to find out if they were extrovert/introvert, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perception.  Students received their unique codes and were given an informational sheet describing their personality.  They will use this to complete the second part of the activity next time.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bystanders: Helpful vs Harmful

Bullying is when a stronger, more powerful person hurts or frightens a smaller or weaker person on purpose and repeatedly.  Many students are unaware the bullying involves multiple players, not just a bully and a victim...but also BYSTANDERS.  Everyone plays an important role in contributing to bullying - and each can help make bullying stop.

Bullies select and systematically train their victims to comply to their demands.  They seek active encouragement, passive acceptance, or silence from bystanders.  But, bullies can be stopped when victims and bystanders learn and apply new ways to stand up against bullying.  Bullies can also learn how to make friends and get what they want by helping, rather than hurting, others.

Victims reward the bully by yielding control and showing signs of intimidation.  They often fail to gain support form bystanders and avoid reporting the bullying.  But, victims can learn to defeat the bully by responding assertively, rallying support from bystanders, or reporting the bullying to adults.

Bystanders play an important and pivotal role in promoting or preventing bullying.  Often without realizing it, they may exacerbate a situation by providing an audience, maintaining silence, actively encouraging, or joining in.  But, bystanders can neutralize or stop the bullying by aiding the victim, drawing support from other bystanders, or obtaining help from adults.

In 4th and 5th grade, we read One by Kathryn Otoshi.  This book has beautifully simple illustrations that bring attention to a highly sensitive issue: bullying.  In the story, the color blue is bullied by the color red.  The other colors are harmful bystanders until the number "1" comes along to show them how to be a helpful bystander.  This reinforces the fact that it only takes one.

As a class we discussed the importance of bystanders and why don't more bystanders intervene when they are witness to bullying.  Student reply that they often fear getting hurt or becoming the next victim, feel powerless, think it's none of their business, don't know what to do, don't like the victim, don't want to draw attention to themselves, etc.  Bystanders who don't intervene or don't report the bullying often suffer negative consequences themselves, such as pressure to participate in the bullying, vulnerability to being victimized, guilt for not having defended the victim, or even anxiety about speaking to anyone about the bullying.

We then created a flip book to describe the two types of bystanders.  Helpful bystanders don't always have to speak up to the bully.  If they are afraid to ask them to stop they can stand next to the victim, walk them to get help, or invite them to play another game.

Lesson information adapted from "The Bully Free Classroom" and

Monday, December 3, 2012

2nd Grade Friendship Troubles

Second grade is developmentally when friendships start to have trouble.  Students are afraid if they don't do what a peer tells them to do, that they won't be their friend anymore. Students are worried that they have no friends.  Much anxiety arises outside at recess as students begin to negotiate with their social skills.  They are often unaware that the way they behave can affect the way others feel about them.  This week we're discussing friendship-blocking behaviors and friendship-promoting behaviors.

I started by reading How To Lose All Your Friends written by Nancy Carlson.  In this book, the character gives them tips on how to lose your friends.  By flipping it around, It is a humorous way for kids to see how different behaviors can be hurtful to others.  Afterward, we made a chart together to describe things kids do that make us want/not want to be their friend.

Afterward, each student was given a brick and a fence post.  On each brick students wrote down an idea of a friendship-blocking behavior to add to our "Unfriendly Wall."  On each fence post students wrote down an idea of a friendship-promoting behavior to add to our "Gateway to Friends."  All of the ideas written down were added to our bulletin board to share with the rest of the school.