Welcoming the directions and elements with children


Tracy Schagen is the owner and director of The Greenwood School, a Pagan-inspired preschool in Southwest Austin. Tracy enjoys creating nature-based curriculum for children and building community for their families and friends. Sage Holli Bara, who wrote the song on which Tracy’s guest post below is based, co-founded The Greenwood School with Tracy in 2001. Sage is a certified Music Together instructor and enjoys teaching music in and around Austin.

Each morning at The Greenwood School, in Austin, Texas, we welcome the directions and the elements with a song. As we sing the beautiful tune, we turn our circle to face first north, then east, then south, and finally west, appreciating each direction for its contribution. During each of our eight festivals, our morning greeting to the four directions is embellished by four mini-cauldrons. Each cauldron contains a representation of the element associated with its direction. We place the cauldrons just outside our circle, creating a compass rose around us. For north, our cauldron contains a bit of rich soil from the school garden. For east, a small piece of dry ice transforms into white vapor floating away on the morning breeze. The cauldron on the south contains a dancing flame, easily created by lighting a small amount of alcohol. Our cauldron on the west contains a pool of cool spring water. The Greenwood School’s large Hill Country playground offers ample opportunities for children to connect these symbols to processes and cycles of nature.

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This circle song has been offered to us by Sage Holli Bara, a former administrator and current music teacher at The Greenwood School. The song welcomes the four directions and acknowledges the gifts of the elements.

C          F     F   A  G    F         C      D     F  D    C
Good morning to the north, your earth is so strong.

C          F     F   A  G    F         C      D     F  D    C
Good morning to the east, your winds bring us song.

C          F     F   A  G    F         C      D     F  D    C
Good morning to the south, you warm us each day.

C          F     F   A  G    F     A   A     G  F    F      E     G F
Good morning to the west, on your waters we float away.

“Good morning to the north, your earth is so strong.”

The strength of the earth is quite easy to demonstrate in Central Texas since we must bust rocks for hours to plant a tree on our playground. The children love to move soil, sand, and rocks. They labor daily, pushing and pulling against the strength of the earth. Their efforts are rewarded as their bodies grow strong and their castles grow high.

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Gnomes are the elemental mascot of The Greenwood School, so the children are very familiar with the image of a garden gnome carrying a bundle of flowers. Our gardens are ornate, with gnome statues that come alive in the imagination. From the window we see children stop with their parents to admire the garden gnomes as they come and go along the path. We have one child that respectfully addresses each individual gnome as he passes. His father patiently waits until the child’s ritual is complete. While gnomes work with the soil, rocks, and crystals, dwarves dig beneath the surface, and giants wander above it.

The earth elementals are all continually healing the land, so that we may continue to live on it. Near the end of summer, we use the tale of The Three Billy Goats Gruff to inspire strength and courage during life transitions. The presence of the troll forces each “kid” to find his own inner strength before crossing to the green meadow. The children act out the story on our own garden bridge, choosing and changing roles tentatively at first, but over time, every child becomes bold when confronted by the grumpy troll. Every year, a particular child will want to be the troll again and again. This is often a child with self-esteem challenges. Dramatically playing an elemental role can be a magical and transformative experience.

“Good morning to the east, your winds bring us song.”

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I was playing a hand drum one day and took advantage of the children’s curiosity about the drum. I was able to bring to life the line in the song that says “your winds bring us song.” After striking the drum, I waved it left and right in the air to cause the air to reverberate around the children. They were so close that they could feel the air moving in sync with the sound. It was amazing. They literally felt the sound of air moving. I extended the learning to voice and challenged the boys and girls to take a deep breath of air and hold a note with me until they ran out of air and had to breathe in again. Then I demonstrated the concept with a balloon, allowing air to escape the pinched-off balloon, squealing loudly and then tapering off to a deeper sound and sputtering into silence. Zephyrs are elementals of the wind, so we enjoy them whenever they come to visit. When a windy day presents itself, we quickly help the children tie streamers to sticks. Like zephyrs, the children enjoy dancing in the wind with the colorful streamers.

“Good morning to the south, you warm us each day.”

We welcome fire into our experience as often as safely possible. We all know that children love dragons. The great dragons purge and cleanse with fire—leaving only truth and purity behind. “Puff, the Magic Dragon” is one of our favorite songs. Puff is a story of friendship and change. It is a story about growing up. The element of fire helps children understand that growing up comes with responsibility and privilege. Children who desire the privilege of “playing with fire” must commit to learning safe practices. The privilege must be earned. Knowledgeable adults can raise safe, responsible, and capable children who will enjoy camp fires, fireworks, toasting marshmallows, and many other fun traditions around this element.

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After a windy storm, the children collect fallen sticks and branches and place them on the brush pile. These gifts from the Zephyrs accumulate as the children build anticipation for the solstice bonfire. We set the pile aflame in the evening at solstice time. Since our school is rural, we are also free to demonstrate the safe use of firecrackers. Some children prefer to watch from indoors, peering excitedly through the window. Over time, they usually develop tolerance for the noise and join the group outdoors. I have found that the little poppers are the most fun for children because they can hold them and pop them on their own.

I find teaching children about fire to be the most fun and exciting part of my work with elements. One of my favorites is the Jack-O-Flame we make for our Samhain Festival (Halloween). Once the Samhain festival was forced indoors by storms, and we watched from a window, as our Jack-O-Flame burned wildly in the pouring rain to the soundtrack of booming thunder. It is a beautiful thing when the elements teach children about compromise, contrast, and alignment.

“Good morning to the west, on your waters we float away.”

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Since many Texas families vacation on our Hill Country lakes and along the Gulf Coast, we bring lots of boats and sea shore images to our stories and songs. The imagination of the child floats away as he explores the element water. This delightfully cooling element becomes an obsession in the Texas summer heat. Getting wet is the only way to escape the suffocating damp air. Water is lifting to our spirits. Water loves to play. Who can resist the guessing game “Will it sink or will it float”? Water will play this game with you endlessly.

The water elementals, the undines, enjoy frolicking in our fountain in front of our school. The fountain and stone statue are protected by gnomes and watched over by flower fairies. Several varieties of birds, including hummers and wrens, come and visit the fountain every day and pay their respects to the undines. Children beg to hold the water hose that replenishes the vanishing water. While we fill the fountain bowl, I share stories of how the fence lizards breathe fire at the water to make it rise up and become the clouds that bring rain.

“Below, above, we gather together, we share our love.”

This reference to the element spirit reminds us that we are connected, sharing energetic unity in this life. The elementals exist all around us, above and below, in nature and in cities everywhere.

Tracy Schagen

Walk and talk with your family in the free Marathon Kids summer challenge!

Heidi Gollub is familiar to many Alt Ed Austin readers as the founder and former editor-in-chief of Free Fun in Austin, the award-winning family website. Now Heidi has joined the Marathon Kids team, and she stopped by the blog to let us know about a cool summer program for building both connection and physical fitness with your kids.

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Hey, summer is a great time to connect with your kids! The days are longer, shadows shorter, and all of you have a chance to decompress from school and take a break. It’s the perfect opportunity to be with your family in new environments and in unique ways that you haven’t explored during the school year.

One way to get your kids talking is through exercise, and this summer Marathon Kids is helping families facilitate that through their FREE summer Walk and Talk challenge.

In schools all over the country, teachers are using social-emotional learning (SEL) tools to help raise kinder, more empathetic, more positive kids with fewer instances of depression and stress. SEL can improve achievement, and it also increases positive behaviors such as kindness, sharing, and empathy and improves attitudes toward school.

Marathon Kids Walk and Talk program, which is partnering with the TODAY Parenting team to reach more families, was created with that SEL connection in mind. The program is absolutely FREE and will help keep your kids active and engaged with you all summer!

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When parents register online, they’ll receive a link to two resources:

  • a set of conversation topics created by family physician Dr. Deborah Gilboa (each topic—26 in all—matches up with a mile of walking or running)
  • a special mileage log to track your progress

After 26(.2) miles, parent and child will have completed the equivalent of a full marathon and will have gotten to know each other a little better in the process.

The topics cover a broad range, from health, education, and friendship up through knock-knock jokes and dreams of travel. Dr. Gilboa wrote starter questions for each topic, which are appropriate for the youngest child all the way into the college years.

All are welcome to register for free here: MarathonKids.org/WalkandTalk

Heidi Gollub

Should all children be provided gifted education?


Guest contributor Srinivas Jallepalli is the founder of Sankalpa Academy, a growth mindset school that seeks to offer gifted education to all children. Sankalpa Academy is located a few blocks from the Thinkery in the Mueller area and will be launching in Fall 2018.


Srinivas received a B.Tech. degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (now Chennai) in 1991 and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Texas at Austin in 1993 and 1996 respectively, all in Electrical Engineering. After two summers at AT&T Bell Laboratories, he joined Motorola in 1996 and spent the last two decades researching advanced semiconductor process challenges affecting low power and high performance circuits. He also had the honor of serving on the modeling and simulation sub-committee of the International Electron Devices Meeting in 2006 and 2007 and finally as its chair in 2008. He is currently a Technical Director at NXP Semiconductors and holds four U.S. patents and has contributed to over fifty papers in IEEE conferences and refereed journals.

Srinivas has a keen interest in understanding child development research and the challenges that are preventing us from bringing this research to our schools. This passion has led him to conduct an extensive meta-analysis of published research and to also author a broad-ranging survey of parents and teachers.


“It has been a disastrous half. His work has been far from satisfactory. His prepared stuff has been badly learnt, and several of his test pieces have been torn over; one of such pieces of prepared work scored 2 marks out of a possible 50. His other work has been equally bad, and several times he has been in trouble, because he will not listen, but will insist on doing his work in his own way. I believe he has ideas about becoming a Scientist; on his present showing this is quite ridiculous, if he can't learn simple Biological facts he would have no chance of doing the work of a Specialist, and it would be sheer waste of time, both on his part, and of those who have to teach him.” Mr. Gaddum, an Eton College science teacher, made these comments on the 1949 report card of a 16-year-old John Gurdon. A short 13 years after the summer at Eton, Gurdon showed that the DNA from specialized cells of frogs, like skin and intestinal cells, could be used to generate new tadpoles. The pioneering work of Gurdon has opened new doors as scientists now attempt to create replacement tissues for treating diseases like Parkinson's and diabetes. Sir John Gurdon was the 2012 winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

While it is tempting to dismiss the comments of Sir Gurdon's teacher as the product of a culture of a bygone era, this episode does offer a valuable lesson. We see time and again that profound learning and growth happen only when one has agency and is invested in his/her work and is inspired by the challenge in front of them. This is the underlying premise of Dr. Maria Montessori’s work and the Waldorf movement and of most child-centered schools. Yet, how many of us would go so far as to offer gifted education and higher expectations as the solution to struggling students in failing schools? Henry (Hank) Levin is just such a pioneer.

Hank Levin is an education economist who first came to fame in 1966 when he challenged the findings in the Coleman Report and the statistical analyses on which they were based. The Coleman Report, requested by the U.S. Office of Education, sought to identify the determinants of academic achievement. Levin’s passion for improving the educational outcomes of disadvantaged children led to decades of research in the areas of education reform, equity, and efficiency and eventually to the launch of the Accelerated Schools Project for at-risk children in 1986. The idea was that treating at-risk children as gifted and talented students was the best way to engage them and to significantly accelerate their learning. His program built upon students’ strengths and creativity. By immersing them in relevant and meaningful real-world projects, he built their capacity for insight and thus their agency. Contrast this with the prevalent remedial approaches in 1986. In fact, even today, many schools offer drills, worksheets, and other “chew and pour” approaches to disadvantaged children and thus drive them farther away from the love of learning. An independent evaluation of the Accelerated Schools found that they produced strong academic results on test scores (as weak an indicator as they are!) at a relatively low cost (Bloom 2001). In 1992, the New York Times named Levin one of “nine national leaders in education innovation,” and American Educational Research Association presented him with the Distinguished Contributions to Research in Education Award in 2017.


Through a very different path, Professor Joseph Renzulli, educational psychologist and distinguished professor in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut, arrived at very similar conclusions as Levin. While many look at IQ and processing speed to determine giftedness, Renzulli proposed a three-ring model that looked at ability, creativity, and task commitment. Based on his model for giftedness and his understanding of child development, he advocated that schools should provide all students with the opportunities needed to develop higher-order thinking skills. He felt that all children can and should pursue more rigorous content. His Schoolwide Enrichment Model or SEM (Renzulli 1985), which supports child-led exploration through enrichment clusters, has been gaining significant popularity in recent years. Laurel Mountain Elementary school in RRISD is one example of a local public school that has adopted the SEM approach.

As one might expect, similar improvements have been taking place in schools outside the United States as well. Levin’s Accelerated Schools have also been established in Hong Kong, for example. It is noteworthy that in Ghana's capital city of Accra, about 80 percent of children are now enrolled in preschool by age 3. More interestingly, the preschools in Accra are in the process of retooling their programs to enhance their children’s learning and development. They are moving away from rote memorization to a curriculum that values open-ended questions, reasoning, and reflection. Very similar fundamental changes are also taking place in the elementary classrooms across China, only on a much grander scale. For example, Adream Foundation has built over 2,700 “Dream Centers” across China to foster curiosity and creativity in their young children. To promote risk taking, the foundation has explicitly prohibited judgment and criticism at these centers.

The large body of research on human abilities (Gardner 1983; Sternberg 1984; Bloom 1985; Renzulli 1986; Reis 1995; Levin 2013) bolsters the claim that the strategies employed in gifted and talented education are essential for general education as well. Given the decades of research and investment, and a lengthy federal report on improving education for the gifted and talented (National Excellence: A Case for Developing America’s Talent; U. S. Department of Education, 1993), is there consensus on what gifted education entails? Please stay tuned as I explore this further in my next blog post (the second of a three-part series) here.

Srinivas Jallepalli



Bloom, B. S. (Ed.). (1985). Developing talent in young people. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Bloom, H.S., Ham, S., Melton, L., & O’Brient, J. (2001). Evaluating the accelerated schools approach: A look at early implementation and impacts on student achievement in eight elementary schools. New York: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation.

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Levin, H. (2013) “Acceleration for All,” with Pilar Soler, In J. Hattie & E. Anderman, Eds., International Guide to Student Achievement (New York: Routledge, 2013), 209-211.

Reis, S. M., Gentry, M. L., & Park, S. (1995). Extending the pedagogy of gifted education to all students (Research Monograph 95118). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

Renzulli, J. S. (1986). The three-ring conception of giftedness: A developmental model for creative productivity. In R. J. Sternberg & J. E. Davidson (Eds.), Conceptions of giftedness (pp. 53-92). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Renzulli, J. S. (1993). Schools are places for talent development: Applying “gifted education” know-how to total school improvement. Unpublished manuscript. The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented: The University of Connecticut, Storrs.

Renzulli, J. S. (1994). Schools for talent development: A comprehensive plan for total school improvement. Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press.

Renzulli, J. S., & Reis, S. M. (1985). The schoolwide enrichment model: A comprehensive plan for educational excellence. Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press.

Sternberg, R. J. (1984). Toward a triarchic theory of human intelligence. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 7, 269-287.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement. (1993). National excellence: A case for developing America’s talent. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Ahhhh, spring is in the air. Let’s go outside!


Integrity Academy is known for several unique programs, including its integration of outdoor education into the academic curriculum. Aerielle Anderson, M.Ed., serves as Level 3 Mentor and Math Team Lead and joins us on the blog to highlight Integrity kids' most recent outdoor learning adventures.

With Integrity Academy’s proximity to such amazing sites as the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, Zilker Park, and the Lady Bird Lake Hike-and-Bike Trail, it’s hard not to get out there and take advantage of the learning possibilities. So we do!


During the first weeks of May, Level 1 (ages 3 to 5) held a butterfly release. They had been learning about various insects through stories, art, play, and observing live specimens. They witnessed the stages of the butterfly’s life, from the caterpillar stage to the chrysalis to butterfly. The children released them in our beautiful front garden. They also got to closely observe argentine roaches. Then they witnessed one of Level 2’s frogs eat one! A link in a food chain up close!


Level 2 (ages 5 to 7) goes on weekly excursions to explore nature. On one of their recent trips, they collected signs of life from forest and field ecosystems. They are planning to create ecosystem dioramas for either a field, forest, or stream ecosystem. Their model will include pictures of plants and animals in one of these Austin ecosystems as well as the food web connections between those plants and animals. Instead of pictures, students can also use signs of life or nature artifacts (e.g., feathers, a pecan with a hole eaten out of it, a cast of an animal track). They also practiced walking through the forest quietly and noticed a lot more nature in the trees.


For their first excursion of May, Level 3 (ages 7 to 9) enjoyed a walk to the Splash! exhibit next to Barton Springs Pool. On the way to the exhibit, they passed by the amphitheater in front of the pool, which is home to the endangered Barton Springs Salamander. When they arrived, learners found interesting facts to share with the rest of the school community. "Did you know that the Austin Blind salamander lives mainly underground and only at Zilker Park?" asked Mia. Level 3 kids went through the simulated limestone cave to learn the mysteries of Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer. They also learned about the water cycle and specifically how the water comes to our beloved springs, through interactive exhibits and games.

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Levels 4 and 5 (ages 9 through 13) walk to our new Central Library every other week. The 1.5-mile walk there and back gives them some good exercise and gets their blood pumping to their brains. Learners take advantage of the study rooms and the vast and various research resources, as they dive deep into a topic of interest or a concept of the week.


Those first couple of weeks of May were beautiful, and we plan to continue to use the outdoors and neighboring attractions throughout the year. As it gets closer to summer, we’re planning to get wet and have some water-based learning fun in our Summer Unit!

Aerielle Anderson

The secret is in the soil


Amy Milliron is an educator with a master’s degree in elementary education and curriculum and instruction who has combined her teaching experience and farming experience to create Hills of Milk and Honey—An Educational Farm. Children and adults who experience the farm participate in hands-on workshops, camps, and tours related to regenerative agriculture practices that focus on soil health and the growth of nutrient-dense food.

Imagine a child as young as three experiencing life lessons about health and wellness, the life cycle, food systems, and how to interact with others as well as create self-care routines that will last a lifetime. Now picture this young child being offered a chance to participate in hands-on learning opportunities where getting dirty on a daily basis is considered a sign of a great day at play while learning along the way. Does the busyness of our daily lives get in the way of providing our children with enough of these opportunities? Would children benefit from a chance to truly connect with the earth and learn from the patterns and cycles of life even at a very young age?


They sure would, and here’s why. Nature, if we pay very close attention, provides great examples of healthy rhythms and patterns to follow. The most noticeable example is seen in the passing of each season. On a farm, it is common for the majority of the prepping and sowing work to be done in the spring, the maintenance of the farm during the summer, and the harvest in the fall. Winter is typically a time for rest and preparation for the following growing season. There is ample time for hard work, as well as a dedicated time for rest within the year. If we choose to follow nature’s example, we can lead by example for our children. The pattern doesn’t need to mimic that of a farmer, but creating a pattern that sets the stage for hard work being a normal expectation in life, as well as taking time for rest, will benefit us all.

When we seek out opportunities for our children of all ages to literally get their hands dirty and dig in the soil, hunt for worms, plant a garden, or care for an animal, we are providing another layer of opportunity for our children to feel grounded and connected with the earth. There is the added benefit that activities like these get us all outside, together, breathing in fresh air, noticing butterflies, bees, and other pollinators around us going about their cycles of work and rest. It may prompt us to journal our reflections as we make notice of what is happening all around us.

With our world being inundated with screens of all kinds, there is the potential to get out of the practice of awareness of our surroundings. Noticing a mama bird taking a worm back to a nest may prompt a child to recognize and be grateful for all the people who care for him in his own life. It may further inspire ideas of sharing that appreciation through a phone call, a card, or a gift. And, it all starts with getting outside and digging in the dirt.

There is an even deeper level of connection available to children when they are given the chance to learn the importance of what is actually happening under their feet. The soil-food web is responsible for everything that grows above the ground. And, when humans properly manage their land to care for the soil-food web, carbon is captured and utilized in a way that benefits all living things, and the microbes under our feet can be left undisturbed so they can share valuable nutrients with other living things underground. This is a concept that even young children can grasp when given the opportunity to see first-hand what the difference is between healthy soil and non-healthy soil.


Can you imagine a child growing up with knowledge about soil health? This changes everything. These children will grow up seeking out farmers who practice regenerative agriculture and support them with their business. They will maybe even grow some or all of their own food. These children will be able to vote with their dollars by visiting farms, farmer’s markets, and companies that support locally grown, sustainable food. Best of all, their knowledge will be able to expand, and they may seek jobs and college degrees in areas that support a sustainable food system in the future. Then, the cycle can continue by these children growing up and raising children that know regenerative agriculture as a way of life.

Parents have many choices nowadays when it comes to extra-curricular activities, camps, and ways for children to spend their free time. Building in dedicated time to connect with the living world will benefit the entire family, create opportunities to bond while learning something new, and perhaps allow for a newfound appreciation for the nature. Seeking opportunities for children to learn about life cycles, the food system, and how everything in our natural world works together is as simple as digging in the dirt.


Hills of Milk and Honey is an educational farm located in Dripping Springs, Texas, that offers camps, classes, and tours to connect children and adults with the earth and learn from the cycles that nature teaches us daily, if we dedicate some time to truly be aware of our surroundings and learn. Right now, Hills of Milk and Honey is in great need of an air-conditioned classroom to allow summer campers and visitors a place to cool off and take part in lessons indoors for periods of time when it’s most hot outside. There is a Kickstarter Campaign running through May 15, 2018, seeking funding support to put this classroom in place right away. Our campers this summer, including those participating in our camp week dedicated to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, will be incredibly grateful for your financial support. And to register your children for summer camp, please visit https://www.hillsofmilkandhoney.com/camps.

Amy Milliron


Talking to teens about stress at the end of the school year


Courtney Harris is a frequent contributor to the Alt Ed Austin blog, and today she’s back just in time to help families of teens manage the special end-of-school-year challenges. As a child-centered coach for teens and parents, Courtney supports children ages 11–19 in finding their voice, growing confidence, and thriving. Through 1:1 and small-group coaching sessions, teens and tweens overcome anxiety, disconnect, and isolation as they discover their truest sense of self and develop a deep sense of empowerment. Courtney supports parents in self-care, growing alongside their children, and developing balanced sensitivity toward the process their child is creating. Sessions with both teens and parents guide families in developing the trust, communication, and connection that's crucial for a life of ease.

The following is adapted with Courtney’s permission from the “Talking to Teenagers” series on her website, Courtney Harris Coaching;  we encourage you to follow her on Facebook to learn more.

The stress is on. As the end of the academic year nears, pressures for your teenager to boost grades and “finish strong” may increase. Alternately, a feeling of failure and giving up may intensify. Wherever your tween or teen falls in this spectrum, we can assume that they are facing some variety of stress as they enter the final phase of this academic year.

On top of academics, your teen may be motivated to get a summer job, which brings its own elements of excitement, competition, and unknowns. They may be dreading the unstructured time of summer, feeling lost or purposeless without school. Instead, they may be anticipating the freedom and fun of summer so much that it becomes challenging to focus on school and academics. Social life may finally be picking up, causing your teen to worry about whether they will be able to sustain it during summer. And maybe your teen simply feels overwhelmed as they try to balance academics and extracurriculars as the year closes out. These are all potential sources of stress!


The Routine and Stress Connection

Parents often share their observations about their teen’s routines with me. As a parent, you are likely tuned into what and when your teen eats, how much they typically sleep, how many hours they spend on homework, on their screens, or with their friends. You know which routines serve your teen and which ones are challenging. In other words, you are often aware of your teen's stress patterns.

Furthermore, when you notice a drastic shift in their habits, you, too, may experience stress. For example, if you notice that your teen is no longer spending time with a friend who was previously their “bestie,” you wonder what changed. If mornings become harder and your teen is now running late and skipping breakfast, you feel concerned about how they’re sleeping and what they are staying up late doing.

Stressed-out teens may quickly change habits or routines. When you become aware of this, it can be easy to go into investigation mode. You want to know what your teen is facing so that you can help them solve it and find relief. These moments require you as the parent to slow down, breathe deep, and focus on connection first; keep reading for strategies on how to talk to your teenager about stress and overwhelm.

7 Tips for Talking to Teenagers about Stress

1. Maintain your own self-care.
If your child is facing intense stress, they will need you to be a sort of respite for them. This, of course, doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, and it definitely doesn’t mean that you are doing wrong by feeling stressed. It simply means that to show up fully for yourself and your teen, you need to be sure to refill your own tank regularly. Reserve time each day to take care of yourself—mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.


2. Observe behaviors with compassion and curiosity.
The data you have about changes in your teen’s routine can help you tap into the stress or worry your teen is facing. As you observe changes, do your best to keep breathing and to act in a calm and collected way. Focus first on connecting with your teen, rather than trying to correct “the problem.”

3. Take your teen’s lead.
If you can, and the stress has not escalated to a crisis, use compassion and curiosity as you approach your teen. Wait and see if they will to come to you with their challenge first. Once they mention a stress trigger, such as “I have a massive biology test on Thursday” or “I don’t think I’ll ever find a summer job,” follow up by saying, “Tell me more about that.” You may also affirm their feelings by repeating back to them what you heard: “You have a big biology test this week” or “I understand that you don’t think you’ll find a summer job.” Allow your teen to elaborate by gently guiding them to say more using “Is there anything else?” and repetitions until they are finished. This feels more inviting and spacious to teens than a series of investigative (yet loving) questions.

4. Use open-ended questions to tap into feelings.
After your teen has expressed all they need or want to for the moment, you may invite them to explore their stress more deeply: “How does all of this make you feel?” A list of feelings can be helpful at this stage. This can also be a good opportunity to ask, “Where are you feeling this (emotion) in your body?”

5. Use open-ended questions to tap into needs.
Next, you can support your teen in acknowledging their wishes and wants. Ask, “What do you most wish/want to happen?” This is an opportunity for you to listen. Refrain from offering suggestions or ideas. Repeat their wish or want back to them. For example, “You want to start summer with a job that will help you save up for a car.”

6. Use open-ended questions to tap into actions and solutions.
You can invite your teen to practice self-compassion by asking, “What would bring you comfort right now?” or “What would help you feel rested and supported in this situation?” You may also get more specific here as your teen seems ready to problem solve: “What steps have you taken to prepare for the test/summer job/etc.?” and “What else do you feel ready to try?” If you get shoulder shrugs or “I don’t know,” it’s okay to offer a few suggestions or ideas: “How would it feel to take a walk before getting back to studying?”


7. Take breaks.
Steps 3–6 offer many questions and prompts you can use to support your teen in assessing their stress and managing it with self-awareness. However, they might not have the stamina to answer or reflect on all of these in one sitting. And you might be tired, too! Let this be okay. Know that their stress doesn’t need to be completely resolved after one conversation. This is a great opportunity to focus on encouragements, such as, “I love you no matter what.” Furthermore, rest assured that you have created connection, and this connection can be massively healing already.

As we approach the end of the 2017–2018 school year, I wish you and your teen lots of fun and celebration. In times of stress or big emotions, know that you and your teen are completely normal for having these feelings. If your family would like support during this process, I’d love to gift you with a one-hour call to help you and your teen create a plan for peace and ease.

Courtney Harris