By Tami Silverman, President & CEO, Indiana Youth Institute

What’s not to love about the Holidays – school vacation, extra cookies and treats, and of course, presents? But, like adults, children can easily become stressed or over-stimulated around the holidays. There are a few easy ways to make the season enjoyable, and meaningful, for our kids.

  1. Prepare kids in advance – talk to your children about what gatherings or events you will be attending, who they will see there and how long they will last. Letting kids know what to expect – and what you expect of them – will help prevent meltdowns.
  2. Teach the joy of giving gifts – children often focus on the gifts they hope to receive. As adults, it is our job to help them learn the importance of thinking of others. Engage children in selecting or making gifts for others. Ask children of all ages what they would like to give to those special people on your list – you may be amazed at how observant and insightful young children and teens can be.
  3. Give to others beyond your friends and family – whether it’s volunteering, participating in a toy drive, or giving children a few dollars to donate to a charity of their choice, this is the perfect time to encourage young people to learn about the needs of their community, state and globe.
  4. Keep as many routines as possible – children thrive on stable bedtimes, healthy food, and plenty of exercise. Try not to schedule more than one major holiday event per day and allow downtime between events. If family commitments don’t avoid daily breaks, build them in before and/or after each gathering.

Finally, give yourself a break. Have fun with the important traditions and say “no” to the activities with lesser significance to your family. Set aside time to play games, watch movies, or simply laugh with the children in your life. It is often the unexpected giggles or unplanned moments that make lasting memories.

girl and father figure laughing near Christmas tree

Click here to watch Tami Silverman’s interview on the impact of overindulging children

The ideals of the holidays – sharing special faith traditions and spending time with family and friends – can easily be overshadowed by the barrage of advertisements, sales and the pressure to deliver the perfect gifts for our kids.

The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend an average of $935 this year for the holidays. How often do we hear, or have, conversations about the need to cut back on presents? It’s never too late to refocus our holiday efforts on giving to others. In fact, many experts say that’s exactly what we need to do in order to raise happy, empathetic and resilient kids.

Try asking the children in your life to name their favorite gifts from last year. Chances are they may only remember a couple. Overindulgence, even when well-intentioned, can have serious consequences for children.

According to research highlighted in Psychology Today, giving children too many gifts can lead to increases in destructive behavior, lower self-esteem and decreases in overall happiness. Whether called overindulgence, materialism or spoiling, it often starts at a young age and continues through childhood and adolescence. While unwrapping a stack of gifts may seem joyful, child development experts say the effect is short-lived and often leads to increasing requests and demands for more. Conversely, teaching our children the value of delayed gratification and self-control can create lasting benefits.

At the Indiana Youth Institute, there’s a growing numbers of requests to help youth workers, educators and parents with building self-discipline, resilience or “grit” in our kids. According to psychologist Dr. David Walsh, former president of the National Institute on Media and the Family, “There’s research showing that self-discipline is twice as strong a predictor of school success as intelligence.”

The holidays are an ideal time to help our children learn self-control by helping them manage their impulses and behavior. Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg, in the American Academy of Pediatrics book “Building Resilience in Children and Teens,” suggests that parents must overcome our impulses to over-purchase. We need to teach our children that some items must wait for special occasions, some must be earned, and some are simply out of bounds. Not only it is okay for us to say “no” to some of our children’s requests, it’s also beneficial.

How can we keep the celebratory feelings of the holidays without overindulging our children? Obviously, gifts are not the only way to celebrate. Experts from Psychology Today suggest that we set gift limits, focus on esteem-building gifts, and teach the joy of giving.

Instead of increasing the number of gifts each child receives, focus on both the items and experiences that will create lasting memories. The overarching goal is to build thoughtfulness and gratitude, while also setting clear boundaries for gift-giving.

“Kids need to learn how to be contributors and not just takers,” Walsh states. Involve children in selecting gifts for others such as grandparents or teachers. Both adults and children often report greater happiness in giving gifts than in receiving them.

Look for ways to engage your children beyond the presents. Have them help put up decorations. Involve your child in activities such as singing at the local nursing home, or collecting coats and food for others. Arrange a day for them to help grandma bake the traditional cinnamon rolls or decorate cookies. Some families give their children a modest “donation allowance,” which the kids then distribute to their favorite charities. Have your child write a thank-you note to a special coach, mentor or neighbor. Help them to understand that these activities and contributions need not only be made around the holidays. Whatever the activity, the idea is to help children build connections with both family and community.

The holidays can be a wonderful time of the year, and a bit of indulgence is expected. Yet overindulgence, especially when it comes to gifts, can actually be harmful to children. Especially at this time of year, our kids need us to model both generosity and self-control. By engaging our kids in creative ways to celebrate and connect with others, we can create new family traditions beyond gifts. Raising thoughtful, grateful and resilient children takes practice and constant reinforcement. Even when Santa’s coming to town.

Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI

A sophomore struggling academically thrives after being guided to a drafting course available at his school. Fifth graders throughout a district learn the connection between school and work through an annual BizTown event. And 21st Century Scholars attend an afterschool seminar where they get hands-on training in the Scholar Success Program. These are just some examples of school counselors helping students thrive. Yet many Indiana students are at a critical disadvantage—there is not enough counseling time to reach every student who needs it.

The Center for Education Statistics ranked Indiana 42nd in the nation for having one counselor for every 541 students in 2013. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a 250:1 student-to-counselor ratio. But Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) data shows that for every 619 students, Indiana has just one licensed counselor.

This is not only a problem on the state level. Ratios vary greatly from county to county. The IDOE data shows Washington County has the lowest student-to-licensed counselor ratio in the state, with one licensed counselor for every 351 public or charter school students. Crawford County has the highest county ratio at 1,606:1. However, several districts around the state, especially charter schools, have no licensed counselors on staff.

ASCA identifies three essential areas where counselors can support student success: academic performance, college and career preparation and social/emotional development. Many schools report success with their academic counseling efforts, which can cover traditional counseling activities such as course selection or study skills, but the highest need lies in the areas of college and career preparation and social/emotional issues.

For example, school counselors assist students with family issues such as divorce and deaths of loved ones, managing emotions, resolving conflict, and learning interpersonal skills. Counselors help students with bullying, drug abuse and mental health issues in an era when nearly one in five Indiana high schools students have considered suicide — tied for the third highest rate in a national survey.

Dr. Michele Moore, superintendent for the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville, says the number of students needing assistance with social/emotional issues continues to increase. Her district’s eight licensed counselors are “putting out brush fires that have to be immediately taken care of.” In recent years, counselors have seen more students dealing with parents who are incarcerated or addicted to heroin/opioids. It is easy to understand how student achievement and success can be sidetracked by these complicated issues. School counselors are uniquely trained and qualified to help students cope with these situations.

School counselors know that student academic and social/emotional well-being are interconnected and critical to long-term achievement. Counselors play a key role in career development, helping students at every education level understand the link between school and work opportunities, while also guiding students toward college and career transitions.

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development reports that Indiana will need to fill one million jobs by 2025. Mark Friedmeyer, president of the Indiana School Counselors Association, says counselors need to start the career readiness process at the elementary and middle school levels. “If they wait until they get to high school to learn about that then that may be too late,” he says.

A comprehensive counseling approach provides adequate time for counselors to address all three critical areas with all of the students they serve. Recognizing the increasingly complex challenges schools and students face, a groundbreaking new effort from Lilly Endowment Inc. will address the academic, college and career, and social-emotional needs of students. Through grants to public school districts and charter schools, the Endowment’s new five-year, $30 million initiative will help schools better meet students’ needs for comprehensive school counseling.

This grant is both an exceptional opportunity and a sizeable challenge. That’s why the Indiana Youth Institute was asked to assist school districts with the planning, implementation, evaluation and sustainability of their initiatives. Information on available services can be found at www.iyi.org/counselinginitiati… and by calling 855-244-7175. Once again, we are reminded that student well-being and achievement is a shared responsibility of schools, families and the community.

(Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. To provide feedback on the column, she may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI)

Our kids are listening as negative political ads blare from our screens and radio waves. They see the political rants swirling on social media. How we approach politics with our children is important not only in this heated election cycle, but also in shaping their understanding of civic engagement for years to come.

Children consume a wide range of election-related media, including ads, debates and political commentaries. They are naturally curious about what’s going on around them.

“We want to encourage that curiosity,” said Jonathon Beckmeyer, a professor in the Indiana University School of Public Health. “The role of parents is to help guide those discussions and be a sounding board for what the kids are seeing or experiencing in their daily lives.”

The challenge is to adjust the approach to their developmental stage, Beckmeyer said. With young children, experts suggest focusing on the basics of our political system, the reason for elections and the goal of campaigns. Middle schoolers may begin to connect political issues with their lives, requiring open dialogues from adults. And teens start to develop their own political beliefs.

Indiana law requires the election process be taught in schools. To fulfill that requirement, some schools may use the Indiana Kids’ Election. Volunteer attorneys from the Indiana State Bar Association speak to students about our representative democracy, including voting, poll books and the “I Voted” stickers. Carol Adinamis, president of the Indiana State Bar Association, says the program’s intent is to educate students and their families about the complexities of the system and process.

Our government is complicated but also thrives on differing opinions. This means children will inevitably encounter others holding differing beliefs. Experts agree it’s important to teach kids how to respect and accept these differences.

“Can you still maintain a level of respect and mutuality in those relationships? If you can, then it’s fine that you don’t agree,” says Beckmeyer.

For many, this may be the most difficult aspect of encouraging a child’s sense of civic responsibility. By focusing on the positive attributes of your candidates, rather than the negatives of the alternatives, adults have the opportunity and responsibility to model respectful discourse.

Now is the perfect time for children to get involved in civic society. Vote, and take your children with you. Let them volunteer for issues or candidates they support. Share your political views with them, while encouraging them to develop their own. Demonstrate that everyone has the right to an opinion which is to be respected, even if it differs from your own. By focusing on the importance of voting and civic engagement, rather than on mudslinging, we can support the healthy growth of our kids and our democracy.

(Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. To provide feedback on the column, she may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI)

Complex and diverse challenges face our students, teachers and schools. While addressing and assessing student academic achievement is a top priority, preparation for success also includes attending to their mental and physical health. Schools are pushed to meet testing demands. With limited time and resources, districts may create room for academics by reducing recess. This short-term response may have long-term consequences for our students. Acknowledging that recess is critical to the well-being of our children challenges us to look beyond test scores to focus on the development of the whole child.

The physical benefits of recess are well established. It allows students to develop large motor skills, engage in sports and increase their activity levels, while encouraging them to choose and vary their active pursuits. Experts suggest the type of activity is less important than movement itself, noting that recess contributes to the recommended 60 minutes of daily activity.

Yet the benefits of recess extend beyond a child’s physical well-being. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says recess enhances cognitive, emotional and social development, while promoting communication, negotiation and problem-solving skills. It also provides a way for students to vent frustrations, anxiety and even anger in an appropriate setting. By being unstructured yet supervised, recess provides a unique setting for children to interact, test and develop the skills that aid their overall social growth.

In addition to the physical and social-emotional benefits, recess enhances academic outcomes. The AAP reports that following recess, students demonstrate increased focus and cognitive processing. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation describes it as “an underutilized opportunity to improve the overall learning environment in our schools.”

Playworks Indiana is a best-in-class program that works with schools to maximize the benefits of recess. By using Playworks’ approach to inclusive, value-based recess, schools have decreased reports of bullying and increased student feelings of safety and security. A Stanford University study found using the Playworks model resulted in schools recapturing 24 hours of learning time each year.

Parents, school boards and lawmakers across the country are paying attention to the benefits of recess. Rhode Island now requires that elementary schools give children at least 20 minutes of recess each day. A Texas school district has adopted a policy providing elementary students four 15-minute recess breaks per day. Some Florida parents created a statewide advocacy network to protect and increase recess.

School recess is a sound investment that contributes to the physical, social, emotional and cognitive development of Hoosier children. This unstructured play creates lasting health benefits for our kids and helps them build life skills for future success. Recess is a serious educational strategy and we should all support its critical role in developing well-rounded, thoughtful, successful kids.

(Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI)