We’re grateful for you, Mom.

In our Dolphin Kids classes, we often talk about the power of gratitude and the importance of expressing gratitude to people we care about. One activity I always love guiding children through is writing a letter of gratitude to someone they appreciate. We brainstorm all of the ways this special person has made a positive impact in our lives. We take a mindful moment to think about all of the actions this person has taken to make us feel happy, safe, and loved.

What person do you think most children dedicate their letter of gratitude to? Nine times out of ten, it’s written for their mom.

And, with good reason! I feel my own sense of immense gratitude for my mother. She’s been such an inspiration in my life, and I’ve learned so many invaluable lessons that have influenced who I am today by listening to her.

Mothers often play a significant role in every aspect of their children’s social-emotional growth. In celebration of Mother’s Day, we want to remind all mothers that we’re grateful for you and the resilience, innovation, and adaptability you show us every day.

Mothers are resilient.

“I’m grateful for my mom’s hugs, especially when I’m feeling sad.” – 7-year-old child from Dolphin Kids program

In your children’s eyes, you’re an extraordinary superhero. Yet, mothers carry the burden of the responsibility of caregiving, which includes the struggle of dealing with expectations from themselves and others. Children do not need to grow up in a “perfect” environment, rather they need to experience, understand and learn from how you adapt to problems and deal with your struggles too.

Your resilience shines in your ability to make mistakes and own up to your imperfections with your children. These become memorable moments for your kids, ones they can laugh about and learn from.

Mothers are innovative.

“I love when my mom plays games with me. She is so creative!” – 8-year-old child from Dolphin Kids program

Many mothers have experienced a profound shift in their regular routine over the past two months. Moms are juggling work, homeschool, and finding innovative ways for their children to stay engaged and socially connected to family and friends.

Since your child was a tiny baby, you’ve known intuitively which cries meant it was bottle time and which cries meant it was time for a nappy change. You knew how to position your arm and when to quiet down your voice, without even consciously doing it. A mothers ability to be innovative is deeply connected to their intuition.

A mother’s sense of innovation doesn’t always need to come in the form of a creative product or idea, but it’s intuitively knowing what your children need. It is also giving your children the space to explore their creativity in a safe and nurturing environment. A mother’s innovation can be seen in the form of play, exploration, and providing your child with the opportunities for them to develop their sense of curiosity and wonder about the world.

Engaging in play and innovation with your children is one of the aspects they always tell me about. Even though you may not always find your ideas innovative, your kids do, and they absolutely love playing with you!

Mothers are adaptable.

“I am grateful for my mom teaching me new things!” – 9-year-old from Dolphin Kids program

Research has shown that a mother’s executive functioning (EF), e.g., short-term memory, self-control, and cognitive flexibility contribute to their child’s development of EF.  For example, when a child shows an undesirable behaviour, a mother has to use her EF skills to focus on relevant information, control her response in the presence of her own stress, plan and act as necessary according to situational demands. Rather than having negative or hasty reactions, she has to analyze the various situations through logic and emotions to plan and make decisions.

Mothers are constantly adapting and navigating situations with their children. I often hear children tell me, “My mom helped me with…” or “I’m grateful that my mom knows how to…” The skills you’re demonstrating to your child are everlasting. Role-modelling your ability to adapt, change, and keep a positive mindset despite setbacks is helping your child learn the importance of adaptability.

“My mom makes me feel happy!” – 7-year-old from Dolphin Kids program

Moms, your children are very grateful for you and all of the amazing life lessons you’re instilling in them. I encourage you to write a letter of gratitude with your children. You’ll end up sharing personal stories, memorable moments, and funny memories that you’ve made together. It will release so many positive neurochemicals in your brains, that you can’t help but feel happy, safe, and loved.

Wishing you all a wonderful Mother’s Day!

Amplifying student voice: 3 ways to encourage authentic youth involvement

Research suggests student voice begins at-home and at-school. So, how can we provide more opportunities for children and youth to discover and speak their voice?

Think back to a time you had to make a decision that would impact your household or classroom. Who was involved in the decision-making process? How did you make the decision? And, did your children or students have a voice in the final outcome?

Student voice describes the ways in which children and youth have the opportunity to actively participate in decisions that can shape their lives. Student voice reflects personal identity, and gives children and youth a platform to share their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and learn perspective-taking. An environment that fosters student voice can increase motivation, spark engagement, and cultivate important social, emotional and cognitive skills among children, youth, and young adults.

Across Canada, projects have been funded to support increasing opportunities for students to contribute authentically to improving their schools. Research suggests that incorporating more student voice in education can have a profound impact on learner engagement, attendance, and motivation. When children and youth actively participate at home, at school, and in their communities, they are learning how to express their beliefs, thoughts, and ideas.

Yet, although adults may be aware of the power of student voice, we sometimes forget to listen. If we create more opportunities for student voice, we can create more teachable moments for children and youth to navigate their personal awareness, social responsibility, and ability to positively communicate their ideas with others. 

Try these three strategies at-home or at-school to provide students with more opportunities to develop and express their voice.

Family and class meetings provide opportunities for adults and students to learn cooperation, mutual respect, responsibility, and social awareness. The goal of these meetings is to collectively solve problems, share sentiments of appreciation, plan events, or reflect on the community environment.

Using this strategy in my own classroom, I’ve found weekly meetings can build peer relationships, and reinforce important life lessons of mutual respect, active listening, and perspective taking. As well, students are much more willing to cooperate when they have been involved in the decision-making process. Here’s some tips for effective family and classroom meetings:

  • Discuss the goals of these meetings with your children, and brainstorm ideas for keeping conversations respectful, reasonable, and relatable. Post these ideas on a wall or bring them to each meeting to remind your children of the boundaries they helped create.
     
  • Create a meeting “agenda” and keep it in an accessible area for your children to add the items they want to discuss to this list.
     
  • Begin with compliments. Sharing a positive affirmation towards others can increase social bonding and helps foster a safe, nurturing environment. 
     
  • Make final decisions by a majority vote. Discuss the voting process with your children, and reinforce the importance of fairness, respect, and managing your emotions (especially if the result doesn’t go your way). After a classroom or household vote, debrief with your children about the result and how this outcome will impact them.

Children and youth are more likely to express their feelings, thoughts, and ideas when they feel confident enough to do so. Teaching your children effective communication strategies can enhance their ability to effectively discuss, debate, give feedback and share their opinions with others. Also, equipping children with communication tools can help them self-regulate their emotions and boost their independence with resolving conflicts on their own.

The “sandwich method” of communication involves giving corrective feedback that is “sandwiched” between two layers of praise. First, you start off with positive feedback or an authentic compliment. This positive statement starts the conversation with empathy and puts our brains in receptive mode, which means we able to listen and accept feedback. 
 

 For example:

 “John, I really appreciate you helping me with my story in class today…”


Second, you share the “meat” of the matter, or the criticism you want to share with the other person. Discuss boundaries with your children about sharing their feedback or criticism with others. Reminders about body language, respectful tone and language, and active listening are important communication cues that can help your child express their feedback.

“…but, I didn’t appreciate when you told me my idea for the solution was lame. I worked really hard on that idea, and your comment hurt my feelings.”

Thirdly, you collectively come up with a solution or end with a statement of encouragement.

“Next time, please be respectful to my ideas. You are such a great writer, so I take your opinion to heart.”

Practice the sandwich method by role-playing with your children, and role model it as often as you can. Brainstorm relevant scenarios, and debrief with your children about the “when”, “how”, and “why” for this communication tool. 

Student voice involves taking charge of the learning process, and making decisions about what and how you learn. Passion projects provide students with the opportunity to choose a subject, skill or passion to explore more in-depth. Teachers implement these projects through the “80/20 rule” — 80% of classroom instruction time is dedicated to standardized curriculum, while the other 20% is open for students to research, practice, or develop their own passions. These longer-term projects require students to develop cognitive habits such as, brainstorming, problem-solving, trial-and-error, and creative thinking.

These projects should be encouraged at-home, too. Your child may not be aware of how they can reach their goals, what are the actions required, or the steps they need to take. Brainstorm, set goals, and listen to the passions your child wants to explore, to help guide them in the right direction. 

Creating opportunities for students to guide the course of their education can foster the skills young people need today and in the future. Engaging students to share their voice through community meetings, practicing communication tools, and passion projects leads them to developing social, emotional, and cognitive skills. Acknowledging and encouraging student voice gives them the opportunity to voice the positive changes they want to see around them.