Saturday, September 16, 2017

"Recalculate"- A Rosh Hashana And Life Lesson

As we approach Rosh Hashana we all focus on ensuring that we choose the right path this coming year.  We ask ourselves, as it says in the Mishna in Avot 2:1,
אֵיזוֹהִי דֶרֶךְ יְשָׁרָה שֶׁיָּבֹר לוֹ הָאָדָם, Which is the straight path that a person should choose for himself?

This is a metaphorical question that our 8th graders asked themselves last week when they navigated the Stony Hill corn maze, seeking the right path.  They thought they were just having a fun, bonding experience.  (Little did they know!)  The following week in Advisory our classes began to discuss the imagery of the maze through the book ( as portrayed in a video), Who Moved My Cheese  by Dr. Spencer Johnson.  Who Moved My Cheese  is about four characters Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw who live in a maze, representing life. They are seeking cheese, representing happiness and success.  At some point the cheese supply runs out. Sniff and Scurry are prepared for this change, while Hem and Haw are resentful and angry about the path where life has led them.

The imagery we discuss with them is that life is often full of challenges, and dead ends, and paths that we thought would be the right ones which do not turn out the way we had wanted or planned. The goal is to overcome frustration and keep on going.  

We believe things should be a certain way, so we are disappointed and even angry when they are not. We need to change our beliefs, and in turn change our behaviors which will change our future, because things are usually not the way we plan!  If we do not have the ability to change, then we just fall apart when things don't go our way, we blame, we get depressed and we do not do anything different- so nothing gets better.

This concept connects to my last week’s column about learning how to fall or fail. It reminded me of a piece I once read in my aunt’s home some years ago. It was originally written by Emily Perl Kingsley, a parent of a special needs child:

Welcome To Holland
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

Kingsley’s message is one that applies to all changes of course in life.  At times we expect to go to Italy, but the path leads us to Holland.  Our ability to deal with unexpected change and disappointment is critical to resilience in life.

The same goes for our personal growth during this season of the Yamim Noraim. |When we look back at this past year, there were times we chose the wrong path- the one leading us away from self- improvement.  It is easy to be frustrated and blame ourselves.  That is where “recalculating” comes in.

Although those of us who use Waze will not hear the word “recalculating” we all know the feeling of making the wrong turn and the GPS “recalculating.” This concept struck me when I watched a commercial for the Jeep Compass which came out a few months ago. It depicts how often life takes turns we do not expect, and after each unexpected scene of life one hears “recalculating.”  The beauty of this time of year and Teshuva in general is that we on our own can “recalculate.”  

It is as if G-d is telling us, “We all make mistakes and make wrong turns in life.  Take some time, reflect on your choices, and if you need to, recalculate.  Be careful of your choices, as each change in direction can lead you to the wrong path.”

As Shmuel Zev HaKohen says in his article, “Recalculating: Don’t Wait Till You’re Really Lost” “Life also has a beginning and an end point. The end points are goals. The road consists of all the obstacles God puts before us, challenges to grow by and strengthen us. The roadblocks are many, some small some large. We all make mistakes. That's what the High Holidays are about. They are how a person does a RECALC over the year. In reality, though, it's not enough. If you are traveling from New York to Washington DC, you would not want to do your first RECALC when you find yourself in Chicago. It can be done, but it's a bit late and the effort to correct yourself is substantial.”

What is the solution, as Rabbi HaKohen, “The solution to this problem is to consider what your end point is and monitor it along the way. Your personal GPS, alternately known as the soul, can RECALC any situation. But you have to press the button and be willing to listen to the message.”
It is not enough to wait until the Yamim Noraim to recalculate and change course.  All year we need to make a commitment to working on stopping in the moment and recalculating what we are about to do.

HaKohen gives a few examples:

  1. You’re at home and about to yell at a spouse or a child, stop and think and recalculate.  And, even if you do yell, you can still recalculate right after and apologize.
  2. Bad habits- whether it is watching less t.v., eating less pizza- recalculate and think.
  3. Goals for the new year- set them and intermittently visit your list and recalculate if you are not achieving them. He calls this “spiritual accounting.”  


Going back to the Mishna in Avot and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s question,
אֵיזוֹהִי דֶרֶךְ יְשָׁרָה שֶׁיָּבֹר לוֹ הָאָדָם, Which is the straight path that a person should choose for himself?

Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi answers:

רַבִּי אוֹמֵר, אֵיזוֹהִי דֶרֶךְ יְשָׁרָה שֶׁיָּבֹר לוֹ הָאָדָם, כֹּל שֶׁהִיא תִפְאֶרֶת לְעוֹשֶׂיהָ וְתִפְאֶרֶת לוֹ מִן הָאָדָם.
Rabbi [Yehuda haNasi] said: Which is the straight path that a person should choose for himself? Whichever [path] that is [itself] praiseworthy for the person adopting [it], And praiseworthy to him from [other] people.
Whatever choices we make in life we need to be cognizant that they will contribute to our own self-development, and will impact positively on those around us. Likewise, Teshuva consists of internal work we must do, but also reaching out to repair the hurt we have imposed on others.  
We see the same word תִפְאֶרֶת   in Yeshayahu 49:3,
וַיֹּאמֶר לִי עַבְדִּי אָתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר בְּךָ אֶתְפָּאָר
He said to me, "You are My servant, Israel, in whom I will take pride [or, be glorified]."
When evaluating one’s path in life, one must  first and foremost assess whether his/her choice is a source of pride to G-d.  Would G-d be happy in the path I have chosen?

One of the parshiot we just read this Shabbat, Parashat Nitzavim always  falls out right before Rosh Hashana.  It begins in Devarim 29:9,
“אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵיה אֱלֹקיכֶם “You are hereby standing, all of you, before Hashem your G-d…  On Rosh Hashana we all stand before G-d in judgment. But, we also need to recall that we are always standing before G-d, and choose a path which allows us to remain before G-d at all times.

As we approach Rosh Hashana, and stand before G-d ready to choose the right path,  may we merit to “recalculate” when we approach life’s frustrations and upsets.  May we find the right path, and continue to recalculate throughout the year as needed, not waiting until the next Rosh Hashana to arrive.
Advisory Update:
Sixth Grade: Sixth graders began getting to know their Advisors, their fellow advisees, and what Advisory will be all about this year.
Seventh Grade: Students focused on the theme of this year’s Advisory “Prepare Yourself To Change The World” and how even teens can make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of those around them.

Eighth Grade:  Students began to discuss the metaphor of the maze, (as noted above), and apply it to their lives this year and beyond.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Helping Our Teens Fall And F.A.I.L.

There is nothing like the first days of school. Fresh notebooks (or iPads), smiles on faces,  (as there have been no tests yet!), and classmates arm in arm catching up all bring a feeling of a fresh start where are possibilities are possible.  


As a school psychologist, I’d say that I spend my first days of school briefing teachers, preparing lessons for Advisory, making sure our sixth graders, new students and the rest of our middle schoolers are settling in,  and speaking to parents about concerns. And, although the middle schoolers are happy to greet me and shmooze with me about their summers, I get very few students seeking meetings with me about their “problems.”  They are still optimistic about that which is to come.


As parents and educators we know that sooner or later the stress of school will begin. We do try as much as we can to make the work manageable,  and to help our students learn strategies to manage that stress.


 A University of Georgia professor has his own plan to help his students manage their stress as reported by CNN in the article “Professor’s Plan To Let Students Grade Themselves Gets An F.” Professor Richard Watson’s syllabus speaks of his “stress reduction policy.” This policy states, “If you feel unduly stressed by a grade for any assessable material or the overall course,  you can email the instructor indicating what grade you think is appropriate and it will be so changed…No explanation is required…” Additionally,  Professor Watson offered his students that if they feel stressed out by group work, they should leave “immediately.” “If in a group meeting, you feel stressed by your group’s dynamics,  you should leave the meeting immediately and need offer no explanation to group members.”


I can imagine that the students in his course were ecstatic. They get to choose their own grades!  The Dean, not so much.  The professor was asked to remove that piece from his syllabus.  Professor Watson’s “stress reduction” plan did not provide students with any coping strategies for real life. As we know, in real life, our children will face failure, and they need to learn how to bounce back.  


During our end of the summer Faculty Inservice Days we focused on the topic of Living Inspired When Faced With Failure.  We began with an inspirational presentation of his life story by Rabbi Yitzy Haber. Those who have been reading my blog these past years, or have had 7th graders in the middle school, will know that each year Rabbi Haber comes to speak to our 7th graders to launch the unit in Advisory “When Life Gives You Lemons- Coping With Adversity In Life.” In a humorous way, Yitzy speaks of his battle with cancer as a young boy,  and how humor was his way of coping.  He shares a story about how after his surgery to have his leg amputated he needed to learn how to walk with an amputated leg.  Yitzy was so excited to finally walk.  The physical therapist said to him, “Okay, I am going to teach you how to fall.” Yitzy was puzzled.  “I came here to learn how to walk!”  The therapist replied, “First you need to learn how to fall. You need to learn to fall the right way, in order to get up again.” The metaphor is powerful.  All people fall.  All people face hardship.  It is how you get up that makes the difference. Our children need to learn how to survive falling.


Interestingly enough, I came across an article just this weekend in The Week “How  To Fall And Live To Tell The Tale” by Neil Steinberg.  “Scientists are now encouraging people to learn how to fall to minimize injury — to view falling not so much as an unexpected hazard to be avoided as an inevitability to be prepared for...How you prepare for the possibility of falling, what you do when falling, what you hit after falling — all determine whether and how severely you are hurt…”.  Steinberg writes how there are scientists studying falling to develop "safe landing responses" to help limit the damage from falls.  Scientists have also discovered in their research that “fear of falling puts you at risk for falling." Although Steinberg’s article was about the act of physically falling the research rings true for those of us who are trying to teach our children how to fall...and get up unscathed.  Falling is “inevitable,” they need to prepare for it and know what to do. The less prepared they are, the more fearful they are of failure.


By chance, this past week I also read the autobiography of Chava Willig Levy Life Not With Standing. (Those who know me know that I am constantly on the lookout for material for my column!) Chava had polio when she was a small child and the book tells of her numerous surgeries and hospitalizations, how she is confined to a wheelchair for life, and her struggles with getting married.  Chava’s book was full of humor and wisdom, and she too spoke of “falling.” She wrote of a summer camp experience in a camp for “handicapped children.” She fell flat on her face in front of the whole lunchroom. Instead of rushing to pick her up, the director of the camp approached her and asked, “Tell me, how would you like to be helped up?”  For the first time in her life, she was asked to take control and decide how she would get up.  She cannot help falling, but she is the one who determines how she will rise again.  Our children need to learn how to get up as well.  We will assist them and support them, but they cannot rely on us to do it for them and to bail them out.  They are the only ones who can get themselves up again.  We, as parents, need to allow them the independence to do so.  


Shlomo HaMelech states in Mishlei 24:16,
“A righteous person falls seven times and gets up.”  These failures apply to all areas of life, including spiritual growth.  Rav Hutner said on these words, “The fool thinks the righteous person gets up despite his falls; the wise person understands that he can only ‘get up’ and grow because he falls.  You have fallen numerous times, and you will fall again numerous times. That is not, G-d forbid, a negative prediction, but a fact of life. But there is a concept of ‘losing a battle yet winning the war’. You can fall to your evil inclination time and time again. But as long as you are resilient and dust yourself off and continue to fight, you have not been defeated, and you’ll ultimately prevail and win the war.”


In her book, The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee, Dr. Wendy Mogel stresses the importance of allowing our children to struggle and fail.  If we overprotect them from feeling pain, they are also protected from growth.  If they are insulated they are incapable of dealing with any adversity and become “teacups” that “chip like a teacup” when confronting difficulty.


On the second day of our Faculty Inservice we were privileged to hear Rabbi Daniel Fridman. He spoke of three heroes of Tanach Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, who all failed. In the Torah, the fact that our role models were not infallible sends the message that we all fail.  Rabbi Fridman reminded us as teachers that not only will our students confront failure, be we too will have days that we will fail as teachers and parents. We need to understand the root of the failure to learn from our falls.


Benjamin Barber, a scientist at Rutgers University  (as quoted by Rabbi Benjamin Blech in his article “The Blessing of Failure”) states that he does not consider people successes or failures. He “divides the world into learners and non- learners.  There are people who learn, who are open to what happens around them, who listen, who hear the lessons...The question to ask is not whether you are a success or failure, but whether you are a learner or non- learner.” We try to relay to our students that F.A.I.L stands for - First Attempt In Learning.  It is part and parcel of the learning process.


Dr. Mogel, mentioned above, called her two books The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee and The Blessing Of A B-.  As parents, it is hard for us to keep in mind that failure can be a blessing.  Supreme Court Justice John Roberts took this “blessing”  to an extreme when he recently gave a speech at his son’s middle school graduation and blessed the graduates.  (I thank Dr. Feit for introducing me to this article).  
“From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.
And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”


Emuna Braverman, in her article which quotes Justice Roberts’ words, “Words Of Wisdom From Supreme Court Justice John Roberts” comments:
“As the last two lines make clear, life is full of tests. There will be disappointments and betrayals and failures and many other types of challenges. No one leads a life free of struggle. In fact the Talmud suggests that you if you haven’t had a test in 40 days, you should worry that the Almighty has given up on you. Tests are an opportunity to dig deep and achieve our potential. What loving parent doesn’t want that for his children?
Tests are not an occasion for bitterness or frustration or negativity. The “message in our misfortunes” is not like a line on a piece of paper in a Chinese fortune cookie. The message is the growth available. A teacher or parent knows that the message has been effectively communicated when he or she sees the student or child make changes to his personality, to his effort, to his attitude.
One might be tempted to think that someone who has achieved the role of Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court has it all. What do they know of gloating or being ignored or developing compassion? But I venture to guess from his words that these are lessons hard won, some battles hard fought and some struggles still in place. And that what he wants to communicate to these young kids, as they approach the rough passage of adolescence, is to embrace their challenges as opportunities for growth. Don’t shy away from them or feel oppressed or burdened. They are the true gifts from a loving Father just as his words are a gift to his son.”


As we think about wishes for this coming school year, I do not think that most of us will go as far as Justice Roberts did to wish failure upon our children. But, we can wish that when they fall they will able to rise with grace.


Best wishes for wonderful school year!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Growing Gritty Graduates

Tomorrow we will say farewell to our 8th graders as they graduate Yavneh Academy.  As I say goodbye and wish them luck, I envision them as young adults who in a few more years will come back to visit us when in high school or college.  I look forward to these visits each year as I get so much nachat from seeing the incredible human beings they become.  One of my favorite times of year is when we run a program for our 8th graders when we invite alumni in to run sessions on what high school is truly like, as we did this past Friday.  I felt like a proud “mama” as I called Rabbi Knapp on his cell and said, “You need to come down here to see our alumni and get some nachat!”  

What was the secret that took those excited and nervous 8th graders and made them successes in high school and beyond? Rebecca Jackson, in her January article “Parenting Determines Who Graduates College,” presented a recent Pew research study, (along with Brown University School of Medicine, Brandeis University, National Children’s Medical Center  and the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology), which investigated parenting styles and their impact on graduates’ success.  They found that a parenting style that “focuses on building persistence, as opposed to more traditional models that focus on discipline” was more effective.  

The study focused on two areas of difference in parenting- in areas of persistence, (commonly called “grit”) and obedience. Parents who stress obedience “lash out” and punish more, but do not establish rules. Without rules, children are unable to acquire “a healthy level of confidence in their decision-making abilities.” They also “develop no emotional attachment to their goals, making it unlikely they’ll persist when faced with obstacles.” In highly educated households- i.e. where parents and children were college graduates, more parents ranked persistence as the most important value.  They pursue goals regardless of challenges- “grit.”  Children with grit are 40% more likely to have “emotional balance”  and 60% are more likely to get good grades.

What kind of parenting style promotes and raises children with grit? Empowerment parenting. As opposed to traditional parenting that focuses on obedience with little explanation for rules and little communication, empowerment parenting does not emphasize correcting or punishing unwanted behavior. Rather, it focuses on confidence in the child to make his own choices.  It promotes positive reinforcement for effort, which stimulates motivation and persistence.  Grit has been found to be a better indicator of future success and happiness than either IQ or talent.  Even children who are talented and intelligent and come from wonderful homes do not succeed if they cannot work hard, and persevere through challenge and failure.

Interestingly enough, the faculty at Yavneh has also been focusing on grit throughout the year. We began the year with an In-service presenter who shared some practical ideas of how to “grow grit” in our students. When we praise them for effort and not for the end product we encourage grit.  When we let them know that an activity is challenging, but challenge is good- we help them grow grit.  We began circulating a Mindset Monthly newsletter to the teachers with practical ideas for use in our classrooms in this area. We have been asking teachers to hang posters and phrases in their rooms which encourage grit and posted them in the newsletter. Posters like, “It’s not about whether I get knocked down, it’s about whether I get up” have been appearing in classrooms.  Next time you visit the school, look for our “gritty” posters which will soon be hung in the hallways to celebrate our year-long focus on grit development in our students.  

So, how do we grow grit? In her article “What Is Grit, Why Kids Need It, and How You Can Foster It”  she quotes the grit guru, Dr. Angela Duckworth in her book…

1. In her house they have a “Hard Thing Rule” which means than everyone at home has to be working on something that is hard for him at any given time.  It has to require “deliberate practice daily,” but can be chosen by the family member.  No one is allowed to quit because he feels it’s too hard.  The learning process is not always fun, but the end result makes it worth it.
2. Duckworth quotes another expert in this area, Dr. Carole Dweck, who focuses on the importance of helping our children have a “growth mindset” in achieving grit. People with a growth mindset realize that failure is not permanent and  hard work part of the process.  People with “fixed mindsets” on the other hand, believe talent is innate and give up easily since they believe they cannot change how they were born. Duckworth suggests letting your children see that even experts have to practice and work hard. They just make it look easy- but it isn’t at all.
3. We need to show our children that we too take risks to achieve our goals, and we don’t give up.  We need to talk about our failures in front of our children.
4. We need to recognize effort, “Wow, you are working so hard at this!” And, we need to resist stepping in when they are struggling. Relay the message that they can do it.  
5. Let us talk to children about famous people who failed after many failures and rejections. In Advisory, when focusing on grit, we spoke about Thomas Edison, Dr. Seuss and even Michael Jordan who at first failed. We need to show them real examples of failure and allowing them to fail. Paul Tough, in his New York Times article “The Secret To Success is Failure” writes, “It is a central paradox of contemporary parenting, in fact: we have an acute almost biological impulse to provide for our children, to give them everything they want and need, to protect them from dangers and discomforts both large and small. And yet we all know- on some level- at least- that what kids need more than anything is a little hardship: some challenge, some deprivation that they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves they can.”

As we our graduates walk down the aisle tomorrow, we hope that we have raised “gritty graduates”  who have grown and gained during their years at Yavneh. Mazel Tov to all!





Sunday, June 4, 2017

A "Smashing New Way To Relieve Stress" ?

As finals are approaching, many of our students say they are “stressed out” and worried about the days ahead. We hopefully are doing  all we can to calm them down and reassure them that finals are doable and they will succeed. But, apparently, stress is not only experienced by students, but by teachers as well, as we see in a Maryland elementary school (not in Yavneh Academy, of course!)

Barbara Liess, a Maryland elementary school principal, was forced to resign after she instituted a “smash space” in her school where teachers could go when feeling stressed to relieve tension. In this room, there were old pieces of furniture that teachers could smash with baseball bats.  She got this idea from reading about businesses that have “anger rooms” where employees can smash old computers or other office items when upset. Parents were unhappy with the message this sent to children, whom we are always encouraging to “use their words.”  (One parent did say he had no problem with the smash space, “It’s a better thing than to take frustrations out on my kid.”)

For those who have not heard of the “anger rooms” to which Liess refers, a November 2016 article in the New York Times  by Claire Martin “Anger Rooms: A Smashing New Way to Relieve Stress” highlights the proliferation of such rooms.  She begins with the story of Donna Alexander who in 2008 began an experiment where she collected items from curbs in her neighborhood and invited her co-workers to her garage to smash those items.  She charged $5 a person and played music.  She began getting strangers at her door asking if they can come and “break stuff.”  She had a four month waiting list and opened the Anger Room in downtown Dallas, charging $25 for five minutes. Customers can custom design the room- what they will smash, and can choose their “tool” of destruction.  They can pick their own music.  In the Rage Room in Toronto, customers receive video downloads of their session and they have a “Date Night” package.

Is this kind of behavior beneficial for one’s psychological well-being?  Dr. George Slavich, director of the Laboratory for Stress Assessment and Research at the University of California says, there is no evidence that it helps relieve stress at all. In fact, “On the contrary, the types of physiological and immune responses that occur during anger can be harmful for health.”  Techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, relaxation techniques have been proven to help with stress.  Clearly, these are the techniques we want our children to learn, and not to get the message that smashing things makes things better.  

Think about how it would appear if students peered into a room and saw teachers smashing items when stressed. As adults, parents and teachers, we need to consider that the way we act when we are stressed speaks volumes to our children about how they  should manage their own stress.

Brigit Katz, in her article, “How To Avoid Passing On Anxiety To Your Kids”  writes of a scenario we all have experienced. The parent, JD Bailey, was trying to get her daughters to a dance class “She began to feel overwhelmed and frustrated, and in the car ride on the way to the class, she shouted at her daughters for not being ready on time.’Suddenly I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ she recalls, filled with anxiety. ‘This isn’t their fault. This is me.’ ...Witnessing a parent in a state of anxiety can be more than just momentarily unsettling for children. Kids look to their parents for information about how to interpret ambiguous situations; if a parent seems consistently anxious and fearful, the child will determine that a variety of scenarios are unsafe. And there is evidence that children of anxious parents are more likely to exhibit anxiety themselves, a probable combination of genetic risk factors and learned behaviors.

We, therefore, want to model healthy stress management techniques with our children.

Some techniques Katz highlights:
  1. Model Stress Tolerance:  We try to maintain a calm, neutral demeanor while managing our own anxiety. We need to be aware of facial expressions as well.
  2. If you do react with anxiety, explain your anxiety to your children. Katz continues:
Let’s say, for example, you lost your temper because you were worried about getting your child to school on time. Later, when things are calm, say to her: “Do you remember when I got really frustrated in the morning? I was feeling anxious because you were late for school, and the way I managed my anxiety was by yelling. But there are other ways you can manage it too. Maybe we can come up with a better way of leaving the house each morning.”
Talking about anxiety in this way gives children permission to feel stress, explains Dr. Kirmayer, and sends the message that stress is manageable. “If we feel like we have to constantly protect our children from seeing us sad, or angry, or anxious, we’re subtly giving our children the message that they don’t have permission to feel those feelings, or express them, or manage them,” she adds. “Then we’re also, in a way, giving them an indication that there isn’t a way to manage them when they happen.”
And, you show them that even if you overreact, you can move forward and change your mood.
     3. Make A Plan-  Try to come up with strategies in advance of situations that you know trigger your stress, i.e. homework time!  Perhaps your child can even help you come with that plan.
4. Know When To Disengage-  Sometimes it’s okay to take a break and distance yourself from a stress- provoking situation  (i.e. hiring a homework tutor so you don’t battle with your child).


In general, it is is a misconception that “venting” makes a person calmer.  Clearly the “smash space” is not the solution. Especially in today’s online world, people are quick to send an e-mail, or post before they think about it as they are “venting.”  In Fiona McDonald’s 2015 article, “Sorry, But Venting Online Just Makes You Angrier, Scientist Find- Friends Don’t Let Friends Email Angry.”  It is absolutely not true that unleashing your stress or anger in an e-mail is stress relieving. McDonald quotes Brad Bushman, a professor of psychology and communication at the Ohio State University, who states that “the ease in which we vent on the internet is making us angrier than ever… Just because something makes you feel better doesn’t mean it’s healthy, explaining that people still have the misconception that it’s always better to get things off your chest than to bottle them up.” In a 2002 experiment, Bush found that subjects who “bottled up” their upset were actually the least aggressive, hostile and irritated.  A 2013 study of those who rant online demonstrated the same. Those “ranters” were more prone to anger and rage- ridden behaviors.
The Rambam,  as we know, was a famous medical doctor.  David Zulberg, in his OU article, “How Maimonides Dealt With Stress And Anxiety”  speaks of the Rambam’s medical treatise Regimen of Health, which  “discusses the connection between mental and physical health, especially in relation to stress and anxiety. While the relationship between mind and body has only been acknowledged by the medical world in the last hundred years, Maimonides was aware of this connection and wrote about it back in the 12th century, making him a pioneer in the development of psychosomatics.” It was quite a famous treatise, and was used as a textbook in universities. The Rambam discussed the toll that anxiety has on the body,  and  herbal prescriptions for stress and anxiety.  He continues to write that medical intervention is not all that is needed for stress.  The root of stress is either dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.  He then states that along with medicinal treatment, (and he in fact recommends herbs that have been found to be the most effective for stress today), one must changes one’s mindset:
Yet it is known through rational observation that thinking about the past is of no benefit at all. Sorrow and grief over the past are activities of those who lack the influence of the intellect. There is no difference between a person who grieves over lost money and the like, and someone who grieves because he is human and not an angel, or a star, or similar thoughts which are impossibilities.
Similarly, any anxiety that results from thoughts about what may happen in the future are pointless because every possible thing lies in the realm of possibility: maybe it will happen and maybe it will not. Let a person replace anxiety with hope [in G-d] and with this hope it is possible that in fact the opposite of what one fears will actually happen, because both what one fears and its opposite are (equally) in the realm of possibility.”
In our seventh grade Advisory we build “stress towers” with our students made of blocks. Each block represents something that causes them stress. Eventually, the tower topples over as each stressor builds on the other. We talk about the physiological and psychological results of stress, i.e. rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, feeling out of control, breaking into tears easily etc.  We then focus on some strategies.  
a. Make a few little towers. If we tackle only a few things at a time- it becomes more manageable. We tend to try to work on everything at once and that’s when it becomes too much. One good stress management technique is to make list of all that needs to be done and prioritize.
b. Put each block on slowly. Stop in between placing each block to make sure the tower is stable. When we rush ourselves it becomes more stressful. Leave yourself plenty of time and don’t leave things until the last  minute.
c. Have someone else hold the tower in place and stabilize it for you.  Ask for help. Maybe something is too difficult to you and you can benefit from help.

d. Notice your reaction- when the blocks toppled over, what was your reaction? You probably didn’t care so much. But, what if you tried over and over and it still toppled each time? Then it would get quite frustrating. What if you changed your thoughts about what happened. Ex. It is normal for a tower of tall blocks to fall down. It’s not tragic. It happens. Now, what can I do about it. Instead of thinking “I must be really bad at building blocks!” Sometimes your thoughts about something is what makes you stressed out. Before or while you are reacting, think, am I overreacting?

This leads to our important workshop about positive self-talk. We encourage them to inoculate themselves by making positive coping statements before, during and after a stressful event. Imagine what you would tell a friend to be encouraging. Tell the same thing to yourself.