Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative

Managing Climate Change Anxiety

Ocean waves crashing on rocky shore
Photo by Katie Musial on Unsplash

By Megan McQueen

As a child, I learned that I could be an environmentalist by recycling, picking up litter, and turning off lights when not in use. I still do my part (biking instead of driving when possible, gardening, etc.), and I know that the change needed depends on larger systems. My family takes action, but my children realize that it is not enough. Wildfires and massive hurricanes worry them. I looked to experts to help guide me in managing our fears. Hopefully, their suggestions can support your family as well.

Celebrate the beauty outdoors. My family and I spend lots of time outdoors. It feels good, but I’ve also learned that this helps instill a love for nature in my children. They are more likely to understand the need to protect green spaces because they feel connected to them. We can talk about the interconnectedness of it all, of our responsibility and place in nature. We don’t get out to the coast or the mountains as often as I would like, but spending any time outside can provide these opportunities. “Look at those birds! I haven’t seen them in a long time.” or “The big Oak tree has all its leaves now.” Noticing our environment can help us get outside our heads and positively impact our mental and physical health.

Talk about it. Many people throughout the world are already familiar with changes in their local environment. None of us have escaped news about it, children included. It can feel frightening to bring up a seemingly hopeless subject, but acknowledging our collective anxiety may help. We are providing our children an outlet to share their feelings and release some worry. Provide your family a safe space to connect about big emotions: the joys you share and the despair. By doing this, you can strengthen your family bonds and teach your family that all feelings are okay. It might be helpful to learn more about the science behind climate change. Your children may be learning some of this in school, but you can supplement at home and learn together. 

Acknowledge anxiety and teach coping strategies. If your child’s (or your!) fears start to seem overwhelming, recognize this and help them with their feelings. You won’t be able to “fix the problem.” Use this as an opportunity to model coping strategies. We can say things such as, “This is hard and scary. Let’s take a break. We’ll step outside, put our hands on our hearts, and take some deep breaths together.” You will teach your children how to handle life’s big emotions and build your connection. 

Become a helper. Mr. Rogers reminds us to “look for the helpers” when times are challenging. Research shows that if we become the helpers, our anxiety and feelings of helplessness decrease. Our empowered selves notice differences that we can make, especially collectively. Volunteer together or encourage your child to involve themselves with an environmental action group. Many schools have “green teams” or other environmental clubs. Connecting with others can have a positive impact on our mental health. We also realize that others are working together on climate change. We’re not alone; many people are trying to solve these problems. There is hope when we build resilience. Taking breaks and finding joy in our lives is crucial to sustaining the work. It is easy to become overwhelmed. Watch for signs of fatigue and restore your energy.

Books:

Websites:

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup. 

Celebrate Pride Month!

Close up of person's holding rainbow colored candles.
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Please see our earlier post Supporting LGBTQIA+ Families for tips, online resources, and fabulous book lists.

“All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.” Harvey Milk

Learning With Your Family: Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Adult with arms around children.
Photo by Gugus Gugus on Unsplash

By Megan McQueen

I spent many hours of my childhood learning about Filipino and Vietnamese cultures. I am white, but I grew up with close Asian friends. Most of these friends were first-generation Americans, so their family’s native cultural ways were still powerful. I learned from their grandparents that lived with them, even though we did not share a language. I picked up stories about their life in their home countries, cooking, and other cultural traditions. Beyond this education, these families personified Asian American history for me. Advocating for preferred vocabulary, interrupting racist insults, and looking at political history from multiple perspectives are essential skills I gained from these experiences. 

My own family will be learning more about Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) cultures this month. And I am motivated to help my family fight the alarming recent rise in racist acts against Asian people in our country.

Let’s use these suggestions to learn together, celebrate diverse AAPI cultures, and build a sense of pride for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. 

Break down stereotypes: There is a wide variety of identities within the term Asian. Take a moment to acknowledge what comes to mind when you think about the word Asian. Then consider other cultural backgrounds included in this group. Think about people who do not fit into the first images that came to mind. I reached out to a local educator Winnie Catbagan who is Filipina and an advocate for racial equity. She shared, “Asians are not a monolith. The cultural beliefs and practices I have growing up as a Filipino are similar AND different to my friend who is Indian and my friend who is Korean.” She often compares different methods of preparation and eating the same food. Winnie also suggests watching these Smithsonian videos about AAPI topics to help break down bias. Examine why the “Model Minority” is a myth and how it is hurtful to AAPI and Black people.

Celebrate Asian Culture: As with other heritage months, this is a great time to explore and celebrate diverse traditions. Learn how to cook your favorite Indian dishes, watch a Japanese movie, read a beautiful Tibetan book, and make a Malaysian kite with your family. Eat out at a local Asian restaurant and research future festivals you can attend in your community or even virtually online. Consider adding Asian and Pacific Islanders to your music playlists and your social media feeds.

Learn about Asian American History: There are important and fascinating untold Asian American stories. Spend some time this month learning together about Grace Lee Boggs, a Chinese-American social activist. Read about Larry Itliong, a Filipino-American labor organizer. There is important and fascinating history to discover – follow your family’s interests at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

Stop Asian Hate: Your children might be hearing about or noticing racist speech or violence toward AAPI community members (especially, heartbreakingly, the elders). Talk with your child about how to Stop Asian Hate and interrupt white supremacy. If your child is Asian, they may need reassurance about their safety and the safety of your family. Help identify people they can reach out to for help if needed. Books (such as this one and this one) can provide a helpful conversation starter for your family. Role-play situations your child may find themselves in and brainstorm ways that they can react. 

Authentically learning about race can become part of our daily lives when we diversify the people around us. When seeking a team sport for your child or place of worship for your family, consider a racially integrated group. Interacting with people different from ourselves opens us all up to greater understanding and an opportunity to build meaningful friendships and community. 

What suggestions do you have to add to this conversation?

Picture Books:

Middle Grade Books:

Young Adult Books:

Adult Books:

Thanks to Winnie Catbagan for support compiling resources and sharing ideas. All errors or oversights are my own.

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup. 

How to Build Relationships with School

Person standing next to white board.
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

By Megan McQueen

As an educator and a parent, I see the value from both perspectives in building relationships between families and school. Families know their children best and have valuable insights into their children’s needs. Educators’ experience working with children and families can help build a child’s developmental stages and learning styles. When families and schools communicate well, children benefit academically, emotionally, and in their long-term goals as a learner.

Here are some ideas to support a healthy relationship with your child(ren)’s school:

Recognize your past. Some of us had challenging experiences with school in our childhoods. We may have struggled academically or felt judged by the adults at school. You might benefit from acknowledging those feelings. Free yourself from them if you can or recognize that they do not have to be your child’s experience. Your child’s teachers and school were not the ones that hurt you, so try to assume they have generous intentions. They most likely have your child’s best interests at heart. 

Notice the positive. The relationship between your child and their teacher is an important one. Speak positively about school staff in front of your child. If you have questions or criticism, center yourself, then try to engage your child in problem-solving. You can model this by asking a question (I wonder what your teacher meant by that? Maybe I should ask.) or acknowledging the difference between intention and impact (I didn’t like it when your teacher said this, but I know she meant well.) When you speak with the teacher, it may help to acknowledge their effort and intentions before bringing up concerns. Teachers care deeply about their students and their work. Feedback from you may help them support your child even better. 

If your child is older and sharing complaints with you, help them reframe the situation. Empathize with your child and validate their feelings (“I can see why that feels frustrating.”. Share a story from your high school years with a similar teacher. Connect that with a later experience that you were better prepared for because of this high school situation. If needed, help your child navigate a respectful conversation with the teacher (“Do you want my help talking with your teacher about this or do you want to do it on your own? What do you think it would be helpful to say?”. The goal is to be a team and find solutions that work for everyone. 

Gather information. When my child was young, she told me how her teacher treated another student unfairly. I was shocked. I considered trying to pull my child out of the class. Then, I remembered all the times I have heard exaggerated versions of stories from young children. I decided to talk with the teacher to learn their side of the story. After learning the truth, we had a good laugh. The takeaway: be sure you have accurate information! Also, consider your request or concern from other perspectives. Does it benefit other students as well if you speak up or ask a question? Would there be negative consequences for students? Asking the teachers for their thoughts may help you see the situation in a new way.

Advocate for your child. Because you know your child and their needs better than anyone, you have an essential voice in their education. You can be a cheerleader for your child and encourage school staff. Enter into a conversation with the mindset that you will create a plan that will work for everyone together. It helps to offer solutions and to spend time working on the partnership between home and school. Recently, teacher and parent Reiko Foster, shared an email template she uses when contacting her children’s teachers. 

As an educator, I have learned a tremendous amount from listening to families. I am better because of these conversations. When partnering with my children’s teachers, I appreciate their experience with specific age-groups that has added to my understanding of my children. Advocating for my children has not always been easy, but entering the conversations with a curious heart for a collective solution has helped. 

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup. 

Learning with our Children: Women’s History Month

Black and white photo of three young women (a 14-year-old striker, Fola La Follette, and Rose Livingston)
Library of Congress

By Megan McQueen

As a woman and mother to daughters, I feel optimistic about our future. Representation in government positions, media, and other power positions are crucial to showing our children their possibilities. When I remember career options given to my mother and the options my daughters consider, I gratefully acknowledge the continued work that brought us to this moment. As exciting as this progress is, we have not reached equality yet. Learning women’s history will empower all genders to move our society toward a richer one, inviting us to dream about our future.

Here are some ideas for celebrating Women’s History Month throughout March and beyond:

Celebrate the Women in Your Life: Along with learning about the past, we can recognize the contributions women are making today. You may want to help your child brainstorm a list of impactful women and think of ways to celebrate them. Your child can share artwork, write a note, send an email, bake a treat, or visit a meaningful place to honor important women in your family as well as in the community. 

Make a Playlist: Think about the music you listen to in your home and car. Together with your children, make a playlist of music by women. Search “women of (your favorite genre of music)” to find suggestions, or start combining what comes to mind for a made-for-you mix. Look for racial diversity in your playlist for intersectionality. My kids and I enjoyed making a pretty rockin’ playlist

Personify History: Think about your child’s interests and share stories about women who were trailblazers in those fields. Make an inspiration board of women (current and past) with pictures representing their work. Children can learn about who inspired their heroes. Does your child love to have bike adventures? Learn about Annie Londonderry and Kate Courtney. The National Women’s History Museum offers online exhibits, providing opportunities to learn more about specific women or impactful times in women’s history. Ask an older woman in your family’s life about their childhood and young adulthood. Did they have a dress code or limitations on their education or career choices? What have they seen change in their lifetimes? What are her accomplishments?

Feel powerful: Help your children strengthen their body image – this is especially important if your children identify as girls, genderqueer, non-binary, gender fluid, and trans, etc. Encourage fun movement activities that can empower. Play basketball together, take a kickboxing class, join a roller derby team. Keep this focused on fun instead of changing your or your children’s bodies – the goal is to build confidence and comfort in how your body moves. Celebrate all the things your bodies can do!

Question Media Consumption: Much of our media places importance on girls’ and womens’ looks. When you notice this, talk about it with your children. Teach them that every body is a good body. If a girl or woman needs “rescued” by a boy or man in a book, show, or movie, talk about how your family could re-write the story to empower the girls and women. Help your family find media options to help them see a more realistic and hopeful vision for girls. Moana, The Color Purple, and Girls Rising are books and movies to begin your journey.

Picture Books:

Middle Grade Books:

Young Adult Books:

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

Celebrating Black History Month with Your Family

Black family playing on the beach.
Photo by Larry Crayton on Unsplash

By Megan McQueen

February is a time to celebrate Black history and heritage. Of course, Black history and culture is to be appreciated all times of the year, but we need to take time to specifically acknowledge Black history until we end white-centered perspectives. A shared history provides us with a complete picture of ourselves rather than just learning about a piece of our past. As a parent and educator, I have loved learning alongside the children I’ve worked with and parented. Their excitement is contagious and gives me hope.

Here are some strategies to support you and your child(ren) on your journey to greater understanding: 

Educate Yourself: Much of our formal education leaves out Black history. Inclusive history is fascinating. Use this month to learn something new and continue that curiosity throughout the year! Watch videos, read books, and listen to podcasts. Consider seeking out Black organizations online or locally that you can join to both learn from and expand your circle of friends. Despite the many challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to stay connected (despite stay-at-home restrictions) has opened up new opportunities to access resources and participate in community opportunities virtually. 

Celebrate Black Joy: There are terrible stories that we need to learn about to understand our history and how our society is in the place it is. Especially when talking with children about Black history, be sure to share joy, not just trauma. Black history and culture are much more than slavery and the civil rights movement. Read books with Black characters living their lives, learn about Black people with broad impacts, watch TV shows and movies, and be sure that your social media feeds reflect Black joy as well. 

Build Empathy: Sharing Black history is an opportunity for your child to learn more about themselves and others. Teaching Tolerance has many practical suggestions for talking with children about race. Here are some ideas that we can implement: For older children, spark thoughtful conversations by asking questions such as, “What does it feel like to be criticized because of your identity?” “How does privilege shape the lives of individuals and groups?” You may ask your younger kids, “How can I learn more about other people?” or “How am I the same as other people? How am I different from other people?”

Be Anti-Racist Together: With your child(ren), take stock of the books, movies, dolls, books, and social media consumed in your house. How can you diversify your shelves? Talk about why it is important to include multiple perspectives. Simran Noor, an equity strategist, recommends asking older white children, “How do you benefit from white supremacy as a white teenager?” or ”How might your experience be different from your Black peer with the police, for example?” Model and talk through times when you interrupt racism. When my children discussed a racial event at school, we talked at home about how they can interrupt racist comments they might hear. We brainstormed ideas for what they could say such as, “I don’t think that’s funny,” or “That could be hurtful,” and “I’m going to interrupt you right there…” We need to teach our children how to be anti-racist and be open to learning from them. 

Let’s use Black History Month as a time to reflect on our painful history, celebrate the outstanding contributions of Black people, and inspire a more equitable future.

Picture books:

Middle Grade/Young Adults:

Adults:

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

Apoyando el bilingüismo de los niño/as y el desarrollo del lenguaje natal: Consejos para familias

Read in English

Photo de Nathan Dumlao en Unsplash

Por Dr. Guadalupe Díaz Lara, Cesia Vega, & Dr. Karen D. Thompson

Durante una conferencia de padres, la Sra. Cortez compartió que le preocupaba que sus hijo/as hablan cada vez más inglés en casa y hablan muy poco español. Le preocupaba que a sus hijo/as se les olvidaran el español. Si se les olvidaba el  español, ¿cómo se comunicarán con sus abuelitos que no hablaban inglés? Quería asegurarse de que sus hijo/as estuvieran aprendiendo español e inglés y que crezcan siendo bilingües.

Como maestros, a menudo escuchamos esta preocupación de los padres, por lo tanto, creamos una lista de cinco consejos sobre cómo los padres pueden continuar facilitando el bilingüismo de sus hijo/as y promover el desarrollo del idioma materno.

Consejo # 1: ¡Comparta con sus hijo/as las razones por las que quiere que sean bilingües!

Es importante compartir con sus hijo/as el por qué, como familia, valora el ser bilingüe. Ello/as necesitan entender las expectativas establecidas  y porqué son importantes para que las valoren. Como familia, pueden elegir tres razones por las que el bilingüismo es importante para su familia. Abajo hay algunos ejemplos que otras familias han elegido:

  • Comunicarse con familiares y amigos que hablen su idioma materno
  • Aprender sobre la cultura y las raíces familiares
  • Tener más oportunidades de trabajo en el futuro

Además de presentar sus razones, puede crear un plan familiar sobre cómo apoyar a sus hijo/as para que sean bilingües. Por ejemplo, puede establecer una meta de que cuando estén en casa solo usen su idioma materno. Tenga en cuenta la opinión de sus hijo/as al elegir sus razones y hacer sus planes. ¡Los niño/as están más motivados ​​si sienten que sus voces/opiniones son valoradas!

Consejo # 2: ¡Establezca conexiones entre el idioma y la cultura!

Conectar el idioma con la cultura puede ayudar a sus hijo/as a encontrar el valor en el uso de su idioma materno y en ser bilingües. A medida que sus hijo/as comienzan a ir a la escuela y aprenden más inglés, es fundamental que ello/as comprendan que el idioma y la cultura están conectados. Háblales sobre la importancia de poder hablar con miembros de la familia que no hablan inglés para conocer sus tradiciones, valores y costumbres. Si tienen familiares y amigos en su país de origen, haga un esfuerzo para que sus hijo/as hablen con ello/as, intercambien fotos y videos y compartan historias sobre el día a día de cada país.

También puede leer libros sobre niño/as que son bilingües y cómo el ser bilingüe enriquece sus vidas. Por ejemplo, el libro “Me encantan los Saturdays y los domingos” o “I Love Saturday y domingos” by Alma Flor Ada es una historia maravillosa de una niña cuyos abuelos hablan español e inglés y cómo ella es capaz de comunicarse y aprender sobre la diferentes historias y tradiciones familiares porque puede hablar tanto español como inglés.

Consejo # 3: ¡Sea un modelo de lenguaje!

Una de las preocupaciones que escuchamos a menudo de los padres es que cuando hablan su idioma materno con sus hijo/as, a menudo ello/as responden en inglés. Es típico que los niño/as que están aprendiendo dos idiomas prefieran un idioma sobre el otro. Esto puede suceder según el idioma en el que los niño/as se sientan más cómodos hablando. Pero no se desanime; continúe siendo un modelo de lenguaje para sus hijo/as y hable en su idioma materna. Cuanto más intencional y constante sea usted al hablar su idioma materno, más probable será que su hijo/a siga su ejemplo y comience a usar su idioma materno lentamente con usted.

 Consejo # 4: ¡Crea una experiencia lingüística positiva!

Es importante que no obligue a sus hijo/as a hablar su idioma materno. En su lugar, cree oportunidades positivas para que practiquen y escuchen su idioma materno. Sea intencional en la búsqueda de recursos como eventos comunitarios, libros, música y películas donde se usa su idioma materno. Crear una experiencia lingüística positiva puede animar   y darle más  confianza a sus hijo/as para utilizar su idioma materno.

Consejo # 5: ¡Nunca es demasiado tarde!

Los padres preguntan si una vez que sus hijo/as son mayores es demasiado tarde para que practiquen y aprendan su idioma materno. ¡Nunca es demasiado tarde para que sus hijo/as aprendan y practiquen su idioma materno! Es más fácil construir una base si comienza cuando sus hijo/as son más pequeño/as y establecen expectativas intencionales para usar el idioma materno. A medida que sus hijo/as crecen, si están disponibles, pueden aprovechar las clases en la escuela para continuar aprendiendo su idioma materno. Si está disponible en su distrito escolar local, inscribir a sus hijo/as en programas bilingües/de doble inmersión puede ayudar a continuar el desarrollo del bilingüismo de sus hijo/as. Si tiene preguntas sobre los programas bilingües / de doble inmersión en su área, comuníquese con su escuela local.

La Dra. Guadalupe Díaz Lara es Investigadora Asociada con el Modelo Sobrato de lenguaje académico a temprana edad (SEAL por sus siglas en inglés). Su trabajo se enfoca en apoyar las experiencias educativas de niños/as y familias bilingües.

Cesiah Vega es un educador preescolar bilingüe en el distrito escolar de Forest Grove. Lleva 9 años enseñando. Su pasión es trabajar con las familias para apoyar el desarrollo de sus hijos.

La Dra. Thompson es profesora asociada y directora del Programa de ESOL/Lenguaje Dual en la Facultad de Educación de la Universidad Estatal de Oregon. Sus investigaciones se enfocan en cómo interactúan el currículo y la instrucción, la educación de los maestros y las políticas para formar las experiencias en el salón de los estudiantes multilingües en las escuelas K-12.

Supporting Children’s Bilingualism & Home Language Development: Tips for Families

Leer en español

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

By Dr. Guadalupe Díaz Lara, Cesia Vega & Dr. Karen D. Thompson

During a parent teacher conference Mrs. Cortez shared that she was concerned that her children were speaking English at home more and more and spoke very little Spanish. She worried that her children would forget how to speak Spanish. If they forgot how to speak Spanish how would they communicate with their grandparents who didn’t speak English? She wanted to make sure that her children were learning both Spanish and English and grow up to be bilingual.  

As teachers we hear this concern often from parents, therefore, we created a list of five tips for how parents can continue to facilitate their children’s bilingualism and foster home language development.

Tip # 1: Share with your children the reasons why you want them to be bilingual!

It’s important to share with your children why as a family you value being bilingual. It’s essential to communicate with your children because they need to find a purpose as to why certain expectations are important or set. As a family you can choose three reasons why bilingualism is important for your family.  Here are some examples other families have chosen:

  • Communicate with family and friends who speak their home  language
  • Learning about family culture & roots
  • Having more job opportunities in the future

In addition to coming up with your reasons, you can create a family plan on how you will support your children to  become bilingual. For example, you can set a goal that when you are at home you only use your home language. Take into account your children’s input as you choose your reasons and make your plans. Children are more motivated  if they feel like their voices are being heard!

Tip # 2: Make connections between language and culture! 

Connecting language to culture can help your children find value in using their home language and becoming bilingual . As your children start going to school and learn more English, it is crucial that they understand that language and culture are connected.  Talk to them about the importance of being able to talk to family members who do not  speak English to learn about their traditions, values and costumes. If you have family and friends in your home country make an effort to have your children talk to them, exchange pictures and videos and share stories with each other  about the day to day  in each country.

You can also read books about children who are bilingual and how being bilingual enriches their lives. For example, the book “Me encantan los Saturdays y los domingos” or “I Love Saturday y domingos” by Alma Flor Ada is a wonderful story of a child whose grandparents speak Spanish and English and how she is able to communicate and learn about the different family history and traditions because she is able to speak both Spanish and English.

Tip # 3: Be a language model! 

One of the concerns we hear often from parents is that when they speak their home language  to their children they often respond in English.  It is typical for children who are learning two languages to favor one language over the other. This can happen depending on which language children feel more comfortable speaking. But don’t be discouraged; continue to be a language model for your children and speak in your home language. The more intentional and consistent you are about speaking your home language the more likely your child will be to follow your lead and slowly start using their home language with you.

Tip # 4: Create a positive language experience!

It is important that you do not force your children to speak their home language. Instead create positive opportunities for them to practice and hear their home language. Be intentional about finding resources such as community events, books, music and movies where their home language is used.  Creating a positive language experience can influence your children’s willingness and confidence to use their home language.

Tip # 5: It’s never too late!

Parents ask if once their children are older it’s too late for them to practice and learn their home language.  It is never too late for your children to learn and practice their home language! It is easier to build a foundation if you start when your children are younger and set intentional expectations for using the home language.  As your children get older, if available, they can take advantage of classes at school to continue to learn their home language. If available in your local school district, placing your children in bilingual/dual immersion programs  can help to continue to foster your children’s bilingualism. If you have questions about bilingual/dual immersion  programs in your area contact your local school.

Dr. Guadalupe Díaz Lara is a Research Associate with the Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL). Her work focuses on supporting the educational experiences of bilingual children and families. 

Cesiah Vega is a bilingual Preschool educator in the Forest Grove School District. She has been teaching for 9 years. Her passion is working with families to support the development of their children.

Dr. Thompson is an Associate Professor and Chair of the ESOL/Dual Language Program in the College of Education at Oregon State University. Her research addresses how curriculum and instruction, teacher education, and policy interact to shape the classroom experiences of multilingual students in K-12 schools.

Managing Stress as a Caregiver

Person walking across a log in a forest.
Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

By Megan McQueen

I miss spending time with friends, social outlets for my children, and treating myself to a cup of tea and a good book in a coffee shop. During this pandemic, our anxieties and depression may grow and many of the ways we cared for ourselves are off-limits to us. Reframing my situation is helpful to avoid resentment and burnout. Shifting my expectations and creating new stress relief plans become crucial for me. I remind myself that this situation is not permanent and hope it will build my resiliency.

Here, I’ve combined techniques that I have found helpful as a parent and educator along with ideas from experts in caregiving support. Please share what is working for you as well.

Go outdoors: Many studies have confirmed what people have known for generations; nature is an incredible antidote to stress. I find myself seeking out the sunlight as often as I can during these darker months. Knowing that some sun filters through clouds, I am outdoors regardless of the cloud cover. Stepping outside may require a little extra motivation on cold rainy days, but once I am outside, I (literally) leave behind many stressors, and can slow my breath a bit. Forest bathing can do wonders for our mood, and here in Oregon, many of us have easy access to the woods. But even a 10-minute walk down the street will uplift. I can’t always get out in nature, but I can step outside or look out a window and notice the sunlight, the puddles, the silhouettes of the bare tree branches, and how the moonlight changes. Being in nature helps me remember that my life and my struggles are one small part of a bigger picture. 

Offer yourself compassion: Sometimes I stop, take a breath, and tell myself, “This is hard.” That reminder helps me let go of stress. Dr. Kristin Neff, a self-compassion researcher suggests we try talking to ourselves as we would a close friend. Her short self-compassion break for caregivers may be a helpful place to begin practicing this. Making meditation or prayer part of your daily routine can gently create big shifts in your mindset. Showing ourselves empathy helps us care for others. You may want to share this practice with your upper-elementary and older children or this one with younger children (my former kindergarteners LOVED it!). We can use this time as an opportunity to model and teach our children how to manage challenges and calm ourselves. This will build resilience for us all. Make sure you address your own needs just as you would for the children in your life. Try to get some sleep. Drink some water. Make healthy eating choices as well as possible.

Create and notice small moments of joy: Taking time to list what makes you grateful won’t solve all your problems, but it can subtly shift your thinking. Many of us took our health and our jobs for granted; now we may feel thankful for being able to go to the grocery store. Thank people who are helpers. Sharing your appreciation with others will bring joy to them and you. It may spark both of you to continue those considerate choices. Can you pick up something at the pharmacy for a friend who is quarantining while you are running errands? Can you drop off a meal or takeout for a sick friend? Can you send a text or a card to a family you’re missing? 

Some days are better than others. I ran into a friend in a parking lot (distant, masked) who asked how I was doing. I could not honestly say, “Fine.” This is incredibly hard. As my friend and I talked together, I worried about burdening her with my complaints. But she felt reassured to know that she was not alone in her overwhelm. By the end of the conversation, she and I both felt a stronger connection and ready to face another day. 

Taking a moment to talk about memories, cry, and laugh together helped me remember that is temporary. Take time to connect – even if only through texting a friend. We are stronger together. 

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

Supporting Children’s Virtual Learning

Child in Harvard t-shirt looking at a laptop.
Photo by Rohit Farmer on Unsplash

By Megan McQueen

Families, these are tough times! As a parent of children who are virtually learning, I completely understand the daily dance trying to navigate their needs (and different schedules) along with my own work demands, anxiety, and never-ending to-do list. As an educator, I rely on strategies I use in the classroom to support my own children. Success looks different everyday in our house. Sometimes my goal is to get everyone outside and active, other days, I have to give up on expectations for anyone so we can get through the day with our relationships intact. 

Here are some strategies that have worked in our house. I would love for you to add to the conversation and share what is helping for your family!

Space: We can’t all have “Pinterest-worthy” work spaces. Creativity is key. We don’t have an “office” or spare bedroom in our house that we can turn into a workspace. In the main space where my kids work, we worked together to create a space that fit their personalities. We gathered a few favorite school supplies and they displayed artwork nearby. One of my kids likes to keep their space tidy and clear, with a caddy for supplies within reach. My other child surrounds themselves with colorful objects they love. They both have simple ways to organize supplies – a pencil cup, a magazine file (or cereal box) to hold notebooks, folders, etc., and a calendar to keep track of due dates. A school day schedule hangs nearby for easy reference. Through all of this, I’ve learned that we actually need multiple work spaces. We can share spaces when we’re working quietly, but when both my kids are participating in virtual meetings at the same time, sitting in the same room doesn’t work. We’ve created several workstations around our house with paper, pens, access to an outlet, and a place to sit.

Make a Routine and Create Expectations: As a teacher, I have seen the power of routines. When a person is dealing with stress or trauma, consistency can help ease our daily lives a bit. It calms our brains to know what comes next. Waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day helps our rhythm. Set timers for your child’s meetings, so you’re not trying to remember everyone’s schedules. Set out some healthy snacks that your children can grab for themselves. Build in movement breaks and some outdoor activity, if possible. If older children have a phone, talk together about the distraction of technology during school time. Some families “park” phones away from workspaces. Ask your child how they will manage social media distractions and discuss the effects of multitasking. 

Talk with your children about how to ask for help from you as well. If you have young children, consider making a stop sign to place near your space if you cannot be interrupted. A favorite technique is to place my hand on my child’s when I want them to wait a moment before talking. The physical comfort helps them know I see their request. I can say, “Just a minute, please,” and finish my conversation before giving my attention to my child. As helpful as routines are, they require flexibility. On some days, your routine may need to change; the schedule will need to be loosened. 

Relationships First; Focus on the Positive: It helps me to think ahead to what I want my kids to remember from this experience. I want my children to know they are loved. I want them to gain empathy, understand we are all connected to each other, build resiliency, and channel their feelings into action (which sometimes looks like rest and other times means solving problems). When I remember those goals I am a better parent, so I posted them near my work space. Give hugs to each other and occasionally ask your child how they are feeling and what they need. Notice your child’s strengths and celebrate them regularly. Comments like, “I am so proud of you for staying calm when the internet went down,” or “Wow, you stuck with that assignment even when it was a struggle,” can help boost your child’s confidence. My family also started a family gratitude journal that we complete at dinner. It’s just a simple list of a few things each day that we notice. Setting time to talk about what brought us joy or remind us of how much goodness we have in our lives is crucial right now. 

Show interest in their work: Talk with your family about their days. Asking specific questions can spark conversations. “What book did your teacher read today?” “How did the science quiz go?” “What made you laugh today?” “What was something kind that you saw or heard today?” It is important to become a team with your children’s teachers. Most teachers are missing their students and relationships with families. Reach out to them in their preferred method (email, school-to-home text app, phone call, etc.) and ask how you can best support your child’s learning. If your child is struggling with something, share that with the teacher in a way that fosters problem-solving, “I notice that Sierra seems frustrated during independent work time. She is unclear about what her job is. Where can I find her assignments so I can help her?” or “Oscar is struggling during math time. Is there a time when the two of you can connect so he can ask some questions?”

Ask for help: Many families are needing a variety of supports right now: mental health, food, school supplies, financial. School districts and local organizations are coming together to offer aid. Groceries, gas gift cards, laundry cards, internet hot spots, desks, headphones, rent assistance, even scholarships for childcare may all be possibilities for your family. Reach out to your school and district for connections for what your family needs.

Take care of yourself and your family and offer grace for each other when emotions get the best of yourself. Take some deep breaths and remind yourself that this is temporary, but the relationship you are building with your child will stay with them forever. 

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

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