A growing body of research is finding that grit, self-control, and a positive mindset can have a strong influence on the academic achievement and emotional well-being of children and teens. Furthermore, these qualities have been found to be the “secret sauce” to their success.  The professional development will focus on helping school personnel bring concepts such as grit, self-control, and a positive mindset to their classroom and interactions with students.

 

It is the second day of the state math test at Harrison Avenue Elementary School in Westchester County, New York. Persee, the perseverant puppy mascot, sits on top of the smart board in a third grade classroom, a reminder to students of the instruction they have been given throughout the school year that “perseverance pays off!” When faced with a challenging question, Persee reminds these third graders to exhibit an optimistic mindset, use flexible strategies in the face of obstacles, and to treat themselves with kindness and compassion.

What is happening at Harrison Avenue, the elementary school where I work as a school psychologist? And, more importantly, how did we get here?

Persee is part of a transformation taking place where I work as a school psychologist. Our school has joined a larger movement of schools committed to teaching not only academics but also character strengths like kindness, mental flexibility, grit, and self-control. Together with classroom teachers, I am teaching what kindness looks like in each grade, why self-control and grit are important, and how flexibility and problem solving can be used when facing an obstacle.

As part of the fifth grade service club, our fifth grade students are learning more about service. And what better way to give back than to your own community? For the past few years, our fifth graders have served as teachers, role models and accountability partners to our younger students, teaching them what they wish they knew when they were younger.

Having the older students teach these skills is a win-win. I have found, and the research supports, that older students are often more receptive and willing to change when they serve as role models and teachers as opposed to being passive recipients or beneficiaries of information. It is hard for my fifth graders to exhibit poor self-control after they have just finished teaching a lesson to kindergarten students on how “Good things come to those who wait.” Serving as role models creates memorable experiences for all involved (the teachers, older and younger students).

Through this work, I have noticed students seeking out more opportunities to be kind. For example, while walking in the hall, I see students greet each other with big hellos and smiles. They make an effort to hold the door for each other or pick up someone’s pencil. Students have shared with me that they have created a spot on the playground where you can go if you don’t have anyone to play with, and others know to join you there. In this way, the students create ripples of kindness that affect the whole school community.

Students are also being more deliberate and strategic in the use of self-control strategies. They are avoiding temptations (putting away supplies that distract them) or reframing those temptations (Is it worth it to play with the little papers in my desk?) instead of relying on willpower alone. They are learning to be more flexible when it comes to solving academic problems or taking turns at recess. By learning to embrace challenges, they are becoming more willing to take on hard things. Instead of taking failures personally, they are viewing them as part of the process that leads to success.

By directly and explicitly teaching the character skills students need to succeed, we are preparing them to be tomorrow’s leaders.  I am proud to be part of a school that is committed not only to growing childrens academic proficiency, but also to nurturing their character. I know that the students, teachers, and the community at large have all benefited from this work.

If you are interested in joining this world movement to cultivate students’ intellectual minds, as well as develop students’ character strengths and well-being, check out IPEN (International Positive Education Network) http://www.ipositive-education.net/. IPEN is dedicated to a  ‘character + academics’ approach to education around the world.

Save the Date & Join Me: Book Launch – July 9th: 4-6 pm at Barnes & Noble, Eastchester, NY. Please see my website (drbaruchfeldman.com/book) for information about my upcoming book, titled, The Grit Guide for Teens: A Workbook to Help You Build Perseverance, Self-Control, and a Growth Mindset will be released July 1, 2017.

 

It’s 5:00 AM. I stumble out of bed and try to leave my bedroom quietly so I won’t wake my husband. Half asleep and desperately in need of my first cup of coffee, I open my computer and wait for the words to flow. On most days, it is hard work. (By the way, the words for this blog are not coming so quickly either.) Nevertheless, I am up against a deadline for my first book, The Grit Guide for Teens: A Workbook to Help You Build Perseverance, Self-Control, and a Growth Mindset, and it’s not going to write itself.

I often reflect on how much grit I needed to write my first book, a workbook that teaches teens how to be gritty. In this months blog, I would like to share what I have learned about grit by writing a book on the topic.

Focus on the positive, or find a higher purpose for the task.

Taking on hard things is work. However, if you can connect to and find the positive in the process, the work changes from a “have to” to a “want to.” On those dark and early mornings when all I wanted to do was sleep in, I reminded myself why I started the project in the first place. I wanted to share with others why grit has been essential to my success and has helped the teens I work with navigate an ever-changing world. When I was able to connect to this passion and higher purpose – why the book would benefit myself and others- I was able to persevere.

The next time you take on a difficult task or project, see if you can connect to your passion and find a higher purpose in the work.

Know that there will be obstacles along the way.

It is hard to feel positive or energetic about a project when you hit a snag. In those moments, it is easy to lose sight of your progress and get caught up emotionally in the next obstacle.

What I found helpful was to remind myself that obstacles are inherent in the process and to see a “fail” as a “first attempt in learning.” For example, I received some very nice “no’s” from people who were too busy to review my book. But instead of focusing on what I perceived to be a rejection, I tried to look at it in a positive light. Even though they said no, asking them allowed me to get my work in front of people I admire. In addition, putting myself out there, and exhibiting what I call “social grit,” made me stronger, and braver. By having this mindset, I was able to approach challenges with optimism and competence (ways that research shows are associated with increased grit).

Don’t get me wrong, there is a sting that accompanies a setback, but if you can reframe your setbacks, you will gain the inner strength to stick with things that are hard but meaningful.

It is not enough to talk the talk; you need to walk the walk.

As I tell the teens I work with, it is not enough to think about changing, they need to actually change their behavior. It’s easy to believe that we need to wait for the motivation before taking on something hard. What I learned from writing my book is that it often works in the reverse. I found that by engaging in the behavior (writing), the thinking and ideas would follow. At times, just like my teens, I would be tempted to wait for inspiration. However, what I actually needed to do was make a habit of sitting down and writing, even when nothing was flowing. This commitment, which ultimately turns into a habit, makes possible the change we are all looking for.

There is an “I” and a “T” in the word grit.

Although gritty individuals work on themselves (the “I”), no one achieves real success without their team (the “T”). The teens I interviewed for my book all told me they reached out to others when trying to reach their goals and grow their grit. While working on my book, I too reached out to friends, family, and colleagues who listened, empathized and gave me essential feedback (and did all those things repeatedly). Without their support, I would not have been able to finish my book.

A final thought: I recently participated in the Leatherman’s Loop, a 10K race through branches, mud flats and river crossings. As I traversed the challenging terrain, I found myself drawing upon my gritty thinking, as well as the support of friends (thanks Helene for holding my hand through the mud flats!). I noticed many people wearing orange shirts with the word “Doug” on them. I asked one of the orange-shirted participants about his shirt, and he told me they wore them in honor of his close friend Doug who loved this race but died too early, ten years ago. Ever since, Doug’s family, friends, and colleagues come out and run the race in his honor. Finding this higher purpose and doing it with the support of others shows what true grit is all about.

I have learned a great deal about grit from writing my first book. I continue to be inspired by people, like the orange shirt folks, who are true exemplars of grit. When we have a positive mindset, committed behavior, social support, and a higher purpose we can achieve true greatness. Wishing you much success in all the hard things you do!

Please see my website (drbaruchfeldman.com/book) for information about my upcoming book, titled, “The Grit Guide for Teens”. Additional blogs, articles, and presentations are available on the website. You can follow me at twitter at carenfeldman@carenfeldman.

© 2017 Caren Baruch-Feldman

Join us for a panel discussion surrounding academic stress, anxiety, competition and staying level-headed in the high-stakes high school environment. We will shed light on the topic, discuss research and offer tools for parents and kids to have at their disposal.
Register at scarsdalelibrary.org or call 914-722-1302
Scarsdale Public Library – 54 Olmsted Rd., Scarsdale, N.Y. – (914) 722-1302 – www.scarsdalelibrary.org

PANEL:
Marcella Moran is the founder of The Kid Organizer & The College Kid Organizer, and the Director at Hudson Learning Lab. A licensed psychotherapist, she works with families to develop positive strategies for students who are disorganized.

Randi Silverman co-founded a local community Parent-to-Parent Support Group for parents raising children who have issues with anxiety, depression, and/or mood disorders. She also produced the multi-award winning film, NO LETTING GO and founded The Youth Mental Health Project.

Dr. Caren Baruch-Feldman is a psychologist and the author of the upcoming book titled, The Grit Guide for Teens. She uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help children and adults with depression, anxiety, and ADHD.

Dr. Mitch Samet is a school psychologist and New York State licensed psychologist in private practice. He has over 25 years of experience working with children, young adults and families and is currently a school psychologist, a clinical team coordinator and a supervising psychologist.

Dr. Ken Cotrone, former Assistant Principal of Byram Hills High School, is passionate about the dangers surrounding academic stress and anxiety and completed a dissertation on the topic. As the new Executive Director of Soundview Prep School, he continues to raise awareness.

Dr. Suzanne Braniecki, NYS licensed psychologist with specialized training in pediatric neuropsychology, conducts neuropsychological evaluations at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center. She is also an assistant professor at New York Medical College.

“Other People Matter”- Chris Peterson

March 20th was The International Day of Happiness. In celebration, throughout the month of March, I received emails sharing ways to increase my happiness. What struck me was that none of the emails suggested buying a pair of expensive shoes or a box of chocolates. Instead, the focus, and rightly so, was on what Positive Psychologist, Chris Peterson, meant by saying, “Other People Matter.” By making other people matter, happiness in the truest and deepest sense of the word is achieved.  When I think about what truly makes me “happy” and gives life meaning, it is my connection to and my ability to help others. I feel incredibly privileged that as a psychologist I “get to” focus on helping others. However, not all of us have those types of jobs. So even if you don’t have a helping job, here are three easy ways based on my three favorite musicals that will allow you to turn a day of happiness into a lifetime of happiness.

  1. “Talk Less, Smile More” – “Aaron Burr, Sir,” Hamilton: An American Musical

I must confess that seeing Hamilton for a normal price made me very happy. However, not all of us are that fortunate. But, all of us can learn from a line from the song, “Aaron Burr, Sir.” In this song, Aaron Burr encourages Hamilton to “talk less, smile more.” When we are in the presence of smiling people, we feel happy. The underlying, neurological reason for this reaction is that we all have mirror neurons. Mirror neurons mirror back the emotions of others. The converse is also true. When we are surrounded by anger or yelling (a form of talking), we mirror that emotional energy as well. So how can we use mirror neurons to our advantage? We can smile. At school, I smile and say, “Hi” to all. I have trained the kids so that when they see me, they also smile and say “hello.” The exchange of smiles and hellos starts our days off on the right foot. It’s so easy and costs nothing, so if you want to increase happiness in yourself, family, or the larger community, say “hello” with a big smile and let it be contagious.

  1. “Can Anybody See, Is Anybody Waving Back At Me?” – “Waving Through A Window,” Dear Evan Hansen the Musical

As a psychologist, I am often struck by how many children, teens, and adults feel that they are “tap, tap, tapping on a glass” but that no one is waving back at them. The need to belong is universal. Without it, we feel lost, adrift, and often depressed. So what can you do? Be inviting. Make an effort to be inclusive. Be the person who looks out for others. All of us live busy lives and it is often the case that people don’t mean to avoid waving back. However, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all made a concerted effort to be a person who initiates the waving and also waves back?

  1. “Because I Knew You, I have Been Changed For Good”- “For Good,” Wicked the Musical

I have listened to this song a billion times (my daughter will confirm this fact). What is it about this song that touches me? And, what does this song have to do with happiness? The song resonates with me because I have found that through helping others, I have been changed for good. So how can you help others? Small things – like opening the door for someone or saying “thank you” to the person who serves you coffee or the colleague who helps you at work – allow you to be a change for good.

For the last six years, on the last Sunday of the month, you will find my daughter, my dog Brandy, and me at the United Hebrew Home of New Rochelle. We will be smiling, and tap, tap, tapping on the door, and asking patients, “Would you like a visit from our therapy dog, Brandy?”  What I have discovered is that bringing happiness to others and especially watching my daughter bring happiness to others is incredibly rewarding and creates more happiness than any box of chocolate or pair of sparkly shoes.

My challenge for you is that even though The International Day for Happiness has passed, let’s maintain the ripple effect of happiness by smiling more, waving back, and being the good you wish to see in the world.

Please see my website (drbaruchfeldman.com) for information about my upcoming book, titled, “The Grit Guide for Teens”. Additional blogs, articles, and presentations are available on the website. You can follow me at twitter at carenfeldman@carenfeldman.  © 2017 Caren Baruch-Feldman

So excited to be presenting at the Learning & the Brain Conference (April 9th at 2:45). A growing body of research is finding that grit, self-control, and a positive mindset can have a strong influence on the academic achievement and emotional well-being of children and teens. Furthermore, these qualities have been found to be the “secret sauce” to their success.  Dr. Baruch-Feldman is the author of the upcoming book titled, The Grit Guide for Teens : A Workbook to Help You Build Perseverance, Self-Control, and a Growth Mindset (July 2017). 

See link below to register.

https://www.learningandthebrain.com/Register-342/Positive%2C-Resilient-Minds

 

I was asked recently to re-post the following blog. Enjoy :)

Imagine twenty-five second graders sitting at their desks with a marshmallow in front of them, but NO ONE eats it. What is going on? Second graders at Harrison Avenue are working on self-control. But, how did they do it? The second graders had the benefit of learning some self-control strategies from an old friend, cookie monster.

Dr. Walter Mischel in his book, The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control discusses his famous marshmallow test. In his original test, conducted nearly 50 years ago, preschoolers were given a choice, one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later. The experimenter then left the preschooler alone in a room for 15 minutes to decide what to do. Dr. Mischel discovered that preschoolers who could wait, went on to have better outcomes later in life (e.g., higher SAT scores, more advanced degrees, better able to cope with stress).

But, what helped some kids wait while others could not? By activating cool, goal oriented thoughts such as not looking at the marshmallow, putting the marshmallow in a picture frame, imagining the marshmallow was something non-desirable, or by focusing on the end goal (two marshmallows instead of one), preschoolers were more successful in waiting. In contrast, activating hot, demanding immediate gratification thoughts such as staring at the marshmallow, smelling the marshmallow, or thinking how yummy it would be to eat it, made it more likely that the kids could not wait.

Dr. Mischel discovered that although for some kids it is genetically easier to wait than for others, you can teach these strategies. In a terrific partnership with Sesame Street, he did just that: teach these skills. In the Sesame Street videos, the same ones that were shown to the second graders at Harrison Avenue, cookie monster is seen cooling his thoughts, so he could wait. What we see in these videos is cookie monster showing grit, changing his mindset, and ultimately showing self-control.

What does it mean to show grit? Dr. Angela Duckworth is one of the leading experts on grit. She explains in her best selling book titled, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and in a TED Talk that has been seen by over five million people that “grit is passion and perseverance, sticking with your future, day in and day out”. She discusses that success is associated with a growth mindset where failure is not seen as a permanent condition. Successful people believe that their skill set is not “fixed”, but rather that it can change with effort. In my private practice, I often see kids who lack “grit”. When faced with a challenge, they think that they have a limited amount of skills and that when challenged the answer is quitting (they just want to eat the marshmallow). However, in my work with these youngsters, I encourage them to see a challenge as an opportunity to grow and to treat their lives not like a sprint, but rather as a marathon. I often give kids the example of what I hear from one of my favorite instructors at the gym. The instructor who teaches the “Extreme Limits Class” does NOT say, “Oh you are tired, just drop the weights”. Oh no! Instead she says, “You are tired, that’s a good sign. It means your muscles are changing, keep going, you can do it!” The instructor is encouraging cool thoughts, grit, and a different mindset!

In Part 2 of this blog, I will be discussing strategies that parents and teachers can use to increase grit and mindset change which ultimately will lead to self-control and more resilience.

You will have to have some self-control and wait to find out. In the meantime, how do you keep from not eating the marshmallow? As many second graders told me, “I changed it into a smelly fish” or “I remembered that you would give me two, if I waited”, and lastly, “I remembered what was important”. Hoping the wisdom shared from our students helps you, with whatever your “marshmallow” is.

If you like these ideas I encourage you to read Dr. Mischel’s The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self Control. In addition, check out Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance and two videos on youtube produced by Sesame Street (“Me Want It” and “Sesame Street: The Waiting Game with Guy Smiley”). Please check out my forthcoming book titled,  The Grit Guide for Teens: A Workbook to Help You Build Perseverance, Self-Control, and a Growth Mindset.  You can pre-order it through my website www.drbaruchfeldman.com/book. 

A growing body of research is finding that grit, self-control, and a growth mindset can have a strong influence on the academic achievement and emotional well-being of children and teens. Furthermore, these qualities have been found to be the “secret sauce” to their success. In this workshop, participants will learn the latest research on grit, self-control, growth mindset and “failing forward”, as well as strategies that promote these characteristics. Participants will learn how to bring these strategies to their own schools. Dr. Baruch-Feldman is the author of the upcoming book titled, The Grit Guide for Teens (July 2017).

It’s that time of year when people reflect and set “new goals” or “New Year’s resolutions” for themselves. As you can imagine, it is easy to make New Year’s resolutions, but much more difficult to complete them. When I reflect on the goals that I have been able to maintain or the goals my patients have been able to achieve, the following three strategies were most effective.

1. Make it Positive.

The best way to accomplish a goal is to operate from a place of “yes” rather than from a place of “no.” To see how this is true, try doing some simple exercises with me.

First, shake your head “no.” When you shake your head “no,” what do you feel? Now, nod your head “yes.” What feelings arise? If you are like most people, when you shook your head “no,” you might have felt the muscles in your face tighten, an increase in negative emotions, and even a tendency to take a step back. However, shaking your head “yes” is often accompanied by feelings of peace, acceptance, and happiness. So what does positivity have to do with accomplishing a goal? We often try to accomplish a goal by telling ourselves “no”— no more cake, no more hitting my younger sister, no more feeling anxious. However, when we focus on the no, it is human nature to fight it (we actually take a step back). By focusing on the “yes,” or the positive benefits of changing a behavior, you will find it easier to achieve your goals.

2. Shine a light and keep the light on the goal.

It often feels like we have an “angel” and a “devil” on our shoulders directing our behavior in very different directions. The “angel,” often in a quiet voice, encourages us to take actions that will meet our long-term goals, whereas the “devil” voice, almost without thinking, pushes us to give in to what feels good in the moment. So what can we do to beat that devil voice? Keep your goals front and center.

Two ways I have found to keep your goals front and center are by using Advantage Cards and/or a daruma doll. An Advantage Card, a technique I learned from attending a workshop on CBT strategies for weight loss given by Dr. Judith Beck, lists all the advantages of accomplishing your goal. However, it is not enough to make an Advantage Card, you must also commit to reading it every day. By reading your Advantage Card, you are reminding yourself consciously of why accomplishing your goal is so important to you. (To learn more about Advantage cards go to https://beckdietsolution.wordpress.com/).

A daruma is a Japanese doll created for goal setting: you color one eye to set the goal and when the goal is completed, you color in the second. While working on your goal, the one-eyed daruma watches you and serves as an ongoing reminder of what you are trying to achieve. My patients have used darumas to help them be more organized, lose weight, or speak more respectfully towards their parents. I have used a daruma to help me stay out of the kitchen at night and complete my manuscript for my upcoming book on teen grit. (See daruma website for more information -http://www.welovedaruma.com/en/about_daruma.html).

3. Make it easier to reach your goal and harder to fail.

In his book, Before Happiness: Five Actionable Strategies to Create a Positive Path to Success, psychologist Shawn Achor writes about wanting to run more and watch less television. So what did he do to accomplish this goal? He took the batteries out of his remote control and slept in his running clothes. Think about what you can do to make it easier to achieve the behavior you want.

First, do not take on too many goals. Instead, focus on changing one area or one behavior at a time. Break your goal down into small, manageable steps so your overall goal does not seem overwhelming, especially at the beginning when you are the most likely to give up. Pre-commit and make it public. Pre-committing makes it more difficult to change your mind. For example, I write down in my planner the classes I am taking at the gym that week. By making it public (sharing your goal on social media) or by having an accountability partner who will keep you on your toes, you are much more likely to follow the “angel” voice. We are also much more successful when we set up our environment in a way that promotes our goals instead of thinking we can put ourselves in a tempting environment and not give in. For example, I have been trying not to eat late at night. I found I was much more successful when I did not go into the kitchen after 8pm instead of thinking I could just go into the kitchen and not be tempted. Remember, everyone messes up sometimes. But, often when people get off track they overreact, turning a small problem into a bigger one, or by blowing off the rest of their goal. In this way, a simple lapse can end up causing more damage. Instead, acknowledge the lapse, but give yourself credit for getting back on track.

Just one last thought- instead of just focusing on what your goal will mean to you, see if you can connect your goal to a higher purpose. Ask yourself, how can my goal not just benefit myself, but others as well? When we are passionate about our goals and can tie them to something outside of ourselves – we can truly SOAR!

Wishing you a happy and a healthy NEW YEAR – a year full of successes.

Please see my website (drbaruchfeldman.com) for additional blogs, articles, and presentations and follow me at twitter at carenfeldman@carenfeldman.

It’s that’s time of year (Thanksgiving), when many of us take a moment to focus on what we are grateful for. For as long as I can remember, it has been a tradition in my family that my mother goes around the Thanksgiving table and asks each of us (grown-ups and kids) what we are grateful for. For a long time, this question elicited some eye rolling by me, even though I should have been past eye rolling. Why does focusing on what we grateful for often bring out the cynics in us and, more importantly, what can we do to banish this cynicism.

It’s the human condition to focus on the negative: the wet towels left on the floor, the less than kind response from a boss or spouse, and the many things that have been left undone in our busy lives. These negative thoughts can often dominate our thinking. However, we need to make a conscious effort to counter this negative bias and instead shine a light on what is working and good in our lives. We know that what we focus on is what we see and react to so we need to make a concerted effort not to get caught up in negative messages and feelings. As I have written about before, we have “mirror neurons,” the pathways in our brain that connect us to other people. When we are positive and grateful, this attitude will rub off on each other. Conversely, when we are negative and contentious with each other, that attitude and behavior will dominate. Both our positive and negative energy bounce off each other. So my question to you is, how do we see the best in ourselves and others so that we can create a positive, instead of a negative, ripple effect?

One suggestion, is to actively engage in gratitude exercises. Just like engaging in weight training exercises builds our muscles, engaging in gratitude exercises builds our ability to see the best in ourselves and others and leads to overall more positive feelings. I recently shared and participated in a gratitude activity (https://ideas.classdojo.com/b/gratitude) with my students. In this activity, each of us (including me) picked a person from a hat and then shared with that individual what we were grateful for in them. Both sharing and receiving these words of kindness and well wishes was uplifting and brought a smile to all our faces, a smile that lasts even as I write about this experience. So, at our Thanksgiving tables this year, let’s all make a commitment to focus on what we are grateful for and to lead lives which focus on the positive and see the best in one another.

My warmest wishes to you and your family for a peaceful Thanksgiving holiday. And, let’s all make a commitment to less eye rolling!
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Feeling grateful that my forthcoming book is now on PRE-ORDER. To order please go to: https://www.amazon.com/Grit-Guide-Teens-Perseverance-Self-Control/dp/1626258562/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1479599837&sr=8-1&keywords=teen+grit
Please check out my website at drbaruchfeldman.com for additional blogs and upcoming events.

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