How To Series

How to Talk to Kids About Executive Functioning

By | How To Series

Kim de Deaux, school psychologist at Westside Neighborhood School (WNS), recently hosted a parent/caregiver session at WNS on how to talk to kids about executive functioning skills. 

Supporting your children in developing their executive functioning skills is important as they will use these crucial skills throughout their lives.

Executive functioning skills range from cognitive skills such as emotional control, sustained attention, and response inhibition, to practical skills such as time management, planning, and organization.

We all develop at different rates and in different ways, so it is normal that children and adults alike require practice to hone these skills.

We have included some tips for parents/caregivers to use at home to support children in developing their executive function skills:

  1. Use age-appropriate language: Younger kids may not understand technical terms such as “working memory” or “metacognition,” so it is important to use language that they can understand. Explain the concept of executive functioning in a way that is appropriate for your child’s age and developmental level. You can use analogies or real-life examples to help your child understand how executive functioning works.
  2. Explain why executive functioning skills are important: Kids may be more motivated to develop these skills if they understand how they can help them in school and in life. Executive functioning involves a variety of skills, including planning, organizing, and managing time. Break down each skill and explain what it means and how it applies to their daily lives.
  3. Provide examples: Use real-life examples to illustrate executive functioning skills. For example, you can talk about how planning ahead can help them get ready for school in the morning or how paying attention can help them understand instructions from their teacher.
  4. Practice together: Executive functioning skills are best learned through practice. You can practice planning activities together or play memory games to help your child develop their working memory. Try practicing with something that your child is actively interested in, such as planning their birthday party, so that they can put their skills to the test with a goal in mind that will keep them interested and engaged.
  5. Encourage self-reflection: Ask your child to reflect on their own executive functioning skills. Discuss areas where they may need improvement and ways they can practice and strengthen those skills.
  6. Use positive reinforcement: Adults and children alike will find that certain skills come more easily to them, whereas others require more practice. We all develop at different rates, so try not to worry if you sense your child is struggling to master certain skills.  Encourage your child’s efforts to develop executive functioning skills by giving them positive feedback and reinforcement. Praise them when they remember to use a strategy you’ve discussed or when they plan ahead effectively.
  7. Take breaks: Children can only focus for short periods of time. Ask your child how long they think they can focus before they need a break. Some visual learners find it helpful to work with a timer next to them. Work with your student to encourage them to become aware of when they start “drifting” from a task, as this will help them learn when it’s time to take a break. Keep the breaks short. Standing up, moving around, or short bursts of exercise are helpful breaks.
  8. Provide support and tools: Encourage your child to seek support from a teacher or counselor if they need extra help with their executive functioning skills. Additionally, provide them with tools such as checklistscalendars, or reminders that can help them develop and maintain good executive functioning habits. At WNS, as children transition into middle school, they take part in a program called “Managing Me”, which equips students to build healthy “Life Habits”. This multi-week program also includes a homework component which allows parents and caregivers to be a part of the process, therefore reinforcing to students that their grownups are a key support as they grow into their skills.
  9. Be patient: Developing executive functioning skills takes time and practice. Be patient and encourage your child to keep working on these skills.

Web Resources for Parents and Children:

Westside Neighborhood School is a preschool-8th grade school in Los Angeles’s Silicon Beach area. To learn more about the WNS experience, schedule a campus tour today.

How to Talk to Kids About Being an Upstander

By | How To Series

An upstander. An individual who speaks out. A person who takes action to intervene, interrupt, or speak up against bullying. At Westside Neighborhood School (WNS), it is our goal that all students feel equipped and confident to support their peers in being upstanders as part of our ongoing commitment to maintaining a safe and welcoming community.

A bystander. An individual who observes a conflict or unacceptable behavior, and while they may not condone the action, they witness it in a passive manner. It is important to note that children should not be shamed for being bystanders. It takes a great deal of confidence and courage to speak out against something we consider wrong, even as adults. However, with enough tools and coaching, students can move from being bystanders to upstanders in a capacity that is safe and feels appropriate to them.

Bullying is a very troubling reality among children, and it is no secret that it can have serious consequences on a child’s health and wellbeing. It’s something we would never wish for our children to experience, but faced with the reality, it is so important that we equip our students to stand together in solidarity and community with any one of their peers who may be targeted. Identity-based (or bias-based) bullying is a form of bullying related to the characteristics considered unique to a person’s identity, such as race, religion, sexual orientation, or physical appearance. Bias-based bullying is more strongly associated with compromised health than general bullying, and race-related bullying is significantly associated with negative emotional and physical health effects. Additionally, with the enormous uptick in technology use among children and young adults, cyberbullying has become a very real threat.

With this in mind, it is imperative that we provide our children with tools to support any one of their peers who may be a target of bullying at some point. What are some bystander situations that a child may observe? These can range from meanness, to rude, inconsiderate behavior, harassment, or acts of discrimination.

The goal is to move away from “the bystander effect.” This is when the presence of others discourages an individual from speaking out. Oftentimes, someone is less likely to take action if there are many bystanders present, rather than just a few witnesses. We strive for our students to feel confident in moving from a passive observer to an active upstander.

To help children feel confident in their options and empowered to take an action that feels right for them, we have included below four impactful ways to stand up against bullying:

  1. Be a buddy: This shows the person being targeted that they have a buddy, someone who will physically stand by them, as this physical presence of others often discourages a bully. At WNS, students are buddied up with a peer in a different grade from preschool onwards, so that older students gain experience in a mentor-style role, and younger students have a role-model to build a relationship with. The idea is that this buddy remains their buddy for a student’s entire time at WNS. Creating connections with a peer of a different age can bring so many positive benefits to a students life!
  2. Interrupt: When the bullying starts, find a way to interrupt. Distracting the bully or interjecting potentially gives the target space and time to walk away.
  3. Speak out: This takes lots of courage! Face the person bullying and speak out, voicing your thoughts on their actions being mean. The added benefit of this is that it may get other people to look and notice what is going on.
  4. Tell someone: Whether during the bullying or after, children should be reassured that this is not ‘tattling’. Keeping someone safe by telling a trusted adult is always helpful.

As you continue to have conversations with your child(ren) around this topic, we have included further suggested activities that you may find helpful in continuing to build on these lessons. These include:

  1. Role play: Practice running your child through different scenarios, asking them what they might feel comfortable doing if they were to see a peer of theirs was being targeted. Share your own experiences, thoughts, and feelings to let your child know that it IS scary to speak up and they’re not alone in that thought.
  2. Use art: Whether your student is currently experiencing bullying or has had other challenging interactions with a peer, giving children space to create is an excellent way for them to express their feelings or release pent up stress or tension from the day. This could be in the form of playing a musical instrument, painting, drawing, or whatever they find interesting.
  3. Peer to peer teaching: Spending time with a trusted friend, sibling, or similarly-aged family member who might have had similar experiences is a great way for kids to gain a new perspective from a non-parental figure.
  4. Connect it to the community: Use examples of notable upstanders in history or in current events who your child can learn from and look up to. From Martin Luther King Jr. to Greta Thunberg, there are so many individuals who have made a difference in the lives of others with their upstander mentality. Students at WNS are introduced to the idea of being a ‘changemaker’ from a young age, but especially in the elementary school program during the 2nd grade changemaker project. Changemakers affect positive change in their communities, and identifying people of note who have made a difference in the world will help your child in beginning to understand the wider world around them as they continue down the path of becoming a global citizen.

For more information and resources, we invite you to browse our list of Upstander Kids Books and Adult Resources. We hope you find these resources helpful as you navigate these conversations with your child(ren).

Westside Neighborhood School is a preschool-8th grade school in Los Angeles’s Silicon Beach area. To learn more about the WNS experience, schedule a campus tour today.

How To Talk To Children About Neurodiversity

By | How To Series

By Kim de Deaux | School Psychologist at Westside Neighborhood School

The concept of Neurodiversity emerged in the late 1990s and refers to the idea that there’s great diversity in the way people learn, process information, think, behave and experience the world. Whether you yourself or your child are neurodiverse, the topic of neurodiversity is one of the utmost importance, and touches all of us. Contrary to the medical model of pathology that had dominated until that point, which espoused the idea that there is one “normal“ type of brain, neurodiversity recognizes that there is beauty, strength and value in the myriad of different ways in which people view and experience the world. The neurodiversity model recognizes and points out that neurodivergent people face problems because of a lack of acceptance, rather than because of anything intrinsically wrong with them. As such, the way we “treat” neurodiverse people is finally changing. While the pathological model focused on therapies aimed at changing children and teaching them to conform or mask their ways of being so that they could pass as “normal”, we now recognize the need to change the environment to accommodate and even anticipate their unique needs.

So, how do we talk to our kids about neurodiversity? The same way we should talk to them about most important topics: clearly, succinctly, and without fear.

If your child is neurodiverse, and has already been evaluated by a professional, hopefully that person was able to educate your child about their unique qualities and learning style. The goal here is to empower the child to view their differences, not as deficits, but as qualities that make them special and can add to their lives, and the world in unique ways. This is no small feat given the way we’ve handled this in the past as a society! It represents a gigantic shift from the way things have traditionally been done, but is a beautiful and important opportunity to leave the shame behind and embrace what makes us different.

If your child is not neurodiverse, they have definitely already – and will most certainly in the future – share their classroom, workplace, and the world with people who are. As such, it is to their benefit that they have an understanding about diversity in all its forms, so that they are not afraid or confused about it and don’t run the risk of causing emotional harm to others.

Here are some tips about how to discuss neurodiversity with your children:

  1. Be proactive: introduce your child to neurodiverse characters and outlooks early in life. Here are some book and film titles to start with:

2. Be mindful of your own beliefs: whether you grew up with a disabled cousin who was always in the shadows, or you have your own difficult history with special education yourself, be aware of how your own experiences might be shrouded in shame, fear or rejection of neurological differences. Explain to your child that in the not too distant past people were unaware of the benefits and value of neurodiverse brains and how things are changing for the better.

3. Anticipate and accommodate differences during social gatherings: just as you might ask about food allergies when sending your child’s birthday party invitation, you can make others feel included and seen by asking about sensory sensitivities that you may need to be aware of. If your child’s party involves stimulating activities like a bouncy house, be sure to also have quiet options, such as a craft table or book nook that is in a more calm section of the party. Small changes like these are very easy to implement and will mean a lot to neurodiverse children and families.

4. Troubleshoot: have a plan for teachable moments:

  • Your child refers to differences as “weird”:

Sometimes, your child might say something like, “Why do some people talk weird?” Explain that speaking with a stutter or a robotic intonation doesn’t make someone weird, just different. Emphasize to your child that there is no “normal” and “weird”, or “us” and “them.”

  • Your child uses inappropriate terms when discussing differences:

If your child uses language that could be perceived as hurtful, gently correct them and provide a better alternative. Avoid a punitive attitude as your child is likely not coming from a place of prejudice or cruelty. Help them understand the impact their words and perceptions could have on others.

  • Your child asks about differences in public:

Though this can be uncomfortable, children often are unaware they’re being impolite. Apologize for your child if necessary. Then provide a simple and positive response like, “Yes, the world is a very big place and not everyone looks/acts like you. Our differences make the world more interesting.” When you are in private, have a deeper conversation about the impact of our words on others despite our intent and educate your child about the specific situation.

At Westside Neighborhood School we have enlisted the help of expert psychologists in the field, who have conducted several workshops for our teachers and staff, as well as parents and caregivers. What’s more, we have created a curriculum on neurodiversity that is customized to our school and is in the process of being implemented.

Understanding that not every child can sit still at a desk with “quiet hands” and amazing eye contact every day for five days a week is something that our teachers understand and work with. At WNS we understand that neurodiverse brains, viewpoints and the solutions that they can develop are key to solving the world’s current and future problems. It behooves us to finally understand that pathologizing diversity hurts not only those with divergent ways of being but ultimately all of us. Educating children who understand this from the start is a task that we embrace and value.

Kimberly de Deaux- MA, NCSP, ABSNP, LEP is a bilingual Licensed Educational Psychologist with over 13 years of experience in both public and private schools. She has extensive psychoeducational assessment experience, and a passion for educating school communities to embrace neurodiversity so that all students can experience a sense of belonging in their school communities and at large.

Westside Neighborhood School is a preschool-8th grade school in Los Angeles’ Silicon Beach area. To learn more about the WNS experience, schedule a campus tour today. 

How To Talk To Children About Gratitude

By | How To Series

At Westside Neighborhood School, students from the Early Childhood Center (ECC) to the 8th grade often start their days expressing a form of gratitude. For younger children, this might look like sitting in a circle and wishing one another a great day ahead, and for others, it might be writing a letter of appreciation to a friend.

It is no secret that a regular practice of gratitude holds great benefit to us all as individuals, from supporting positive mental health to strengthening our interpersonal relationships. Regularly acknowledging the things for which we are grateful can also help manage stress, make it easier for us to forgive, and contribute to improving our outlook on life, all things that are important to the development of young people.

Perhaps most important is the notion that, as author and researcher Brené Brown states, gratitude is what separates privilege from entitlement.

Privilege is a complicated topic to discuss with children, but we can start by talking to them about the importance of gratitude, and this can lay the groundwork. They should learn that by practicing gratitude, they are thankful for the things they have and that they acknowledge that the access and advantages can be fragile and must be treated with great care. This should not be about making children feel guilty for the things they have or the privileges that they may have been born into. Instead, it is about teaching children that gratitude is an action to be regularly practiced to remain firmly grounded in care for the mind, body, and spirit.

At WNS, this practice takes shape through various age-appropriate activities which help children get into the habit of expressing gratitude in a range of ways. For the youngest students, this could be sharing a snack together and learning to be thankful for the food we have. Our elementary-aged students have “bucket filler” activities, where they fill a teacher or peer student’s buckets with a kind word or note to that individual. As students progress through to middle school, they are able enhance their practice by grasping more in-depth concepts surrounding privilege, and these conversations are introduced during their advisories as well as in their English and social studies classes. Questions such as “What do I have the privilege of, that others may not?” are asked in an environment where there are no wrong answers, and mistake-making is accepted as an essential part of the learning process.

Ultimately, gratitude is like a muscle. It requires practice to build up, but once it’s used regularly, it can play an impactful role in a child’s life.

What can parents and caregivers do at home to engage in these conversations? We have linked here a downloadable handout with a range of activities and conversation-starters for introducing or maintaining the practice of expressing gratitude with your child. We hope you find value in this resource as you begin to explore the concept of gratitude with your student!

Westside Neighborhood School is a preschool-8th grade school in Los Angeles’ Silicon Beach area. To learn more about the WNS experience, schedule a campus tour today. 

How to Cultivate Belonging in the Classroom

By | How To Series

At Westside Neighborhood School (WNS), a preschool – 8th grade school in Los Angeles’s Silicon Beach neighborhood, cultivating a sense of belonging among students, faculty and staff, and parents and caregivers is a core tenet to the school’s values. 

As a progressive school, WNS emphasizes learning by doing through hands-on projects and experiential learning. WNS students hone their social skills through authentic connection with each other, their teachers, and the wider community through entrepreneurial projects that require problem-solving skills and critical thinking, with a view to improving the ever-evolving diverse society in which we live.

With a focus on creating a deeply caring community of learners, who come from beautifully diverse backgrounds, it is imperative that students feel a sense of belonging. Cultivating a school environment where students see themselves as a part of the community is work that is constant. It is not limited to their time in the classroom, or even in the building – it is persistent work that must take the highest priority. 

According to the Spark and Stitch Institute, fostering a sense of belonging within a child holds immense value to their development and is linked to: 

  • Better stress management
  • Stronger relationships
  • Higher levels of motivation and achievement
  • Greater feelings of happiness and optimism

According to Dr. Susie Wise, professor, coach, and author of Design for Belonging: How to Build Inclusion and Collaboration in your Communities, a greater sense of belonging can be cultivated through nine design levers within an organization. These are: 

  • Space
  • Roles
  • Events
  • Rituals
  • Grouping
  • Clothing
  • Communication
  • Food
  • Schedules & Rhythms

At WNS, we see these levers at work throughout the school’s three campus buildings in various forms. In terms of physical space, classrooms are designed to be safe and comfortable, where each student has a place to be themselves. Classroom spaces contain books, art, and materials that reflect the varied identities of the students in the classroom. Students’ names are on the doors, their work is displayed on the walls, and their voices are heard through roles both in their classrooms as well as within a variety of leadership opportunities, including leading the weekly community gatherings, serving on student council, and having starring roles on stage in various performance arts opportunities. 

Events and rituals exist for all members of the WNS community, but students themselves spend time with peers in Family Groups – monthly inter-grade level “meetings” led by 8th grade students designed to build bonds and foster deeper relationships with the idea being that a WNS student remains in the same family group as they matriculate through grades from kindergarten through 8th grade. Other rituals include Family Visits, which provide space for family members to come into the classroom to share about family culture and traditions, Read Alouds, where various members of the community visit classrooms and share a book, and a number of ceremonial markers that all WNS students experience during their time, such as the 8th Grade Pen Dedication Ceremony, which recognizes the oldest students in the school for the leaders that they are and that signifies the journey on which they are preparing to embark. 

Differentiation plays a central role in classroom groupings and is a strategy that empowers each child in their learning journey, helping them grow in confidence by meeting a child’s individual academic needs. At WNS, students participate in affinity groups,“brave” spaces where students come together to learn more about both their own and shared identities. Middle school groups are identity-focused, helping emerging adolescents explore their identities and finding support in one another, and elementary school groups center around interests, which introduces the concept of affinity groups to the younger students. 

Clothing may seem a more trivial aspect of cultivating belonging, but as Wise states, it can be a “profound symbol and powerful tool in the work of belonging.” At WNS, this manifests as all students wearing clothes that allow them to express themselves in a way that feels comfortable. We also have spirit days and field trips during which students wear school shirts to build community connection through dress.

A style of communication that treats students with respect and keeps them informed of current events in a developmentally-appropriate manner (both within the school community and on a national and global level) sends a message to students that they matter while offering them opportunities to engage through thoughtful conversations. In every grade, from preschool through middle school, students at WNS participate in daily morning meetings which provide a platform for authentic connection, challenging students to learn and grow in the classroom while forming lasting bonds with their peers and faculty. Students are taught the imperative of a growth mindset throughout their WNS journey and beyond and the beauty in making mistakes. Mistakes are necessary for growth along the way. Differences and individuality are celebrated, and this is evident not only in the larger school communication but also in each classroom’s “Agreements” – rules created by the students themselves to assure that they are successful in reaching their self-created hopes and dreams. 

Lastly, schedule and rhythm not only provide essential structure to the students’ days and support their needs, but according to Wise, “crafting shared rhythms can be a wonderful way to establish community and bring people in.” WNS has a weekly Community Gathering, an all-school assembly where parents and caregivers are invited to join the whole Kindergarten-8th Grade community, faculty, and staff, for a moment of togetherness, recognizing important events, celebrating cultures, learning together, and showcasing student work. The youngest students at the Early Childhood Center (ECC) host a weekly Morning Sing where families bond together in a wonderful celebration of song and dance to start off the day. 

Furthermore, the WNS community hosts cultural demonstrations involving food, performances, or educational opportunities often with the expertise of parents/caregivers who generously donate their time to ensure that Westside Neighborhood School students have meaningful opportunities to learn, develop cultural competency, and learn to value the differences in themselves and in others. 

To learn more about the Westside Neighborhood School experience, schedule a campus tour today.