Archive for August, 2012

in fact, when it comes to our underachievement, “laziness” is a lazy explanation.  beneath our appearance of lazy is always a more accurate explanation. our “laziness” could be the mask we wear to hide that we’re ashamed of having fallen behind. or it could be the mask we wear to hide that we feel unprepared, deficient in skills or embarrassed for not knowing something we’re “suppose to know”. for us, it’s less painful to be called lazy than it is to feel stupid. in our minds, lazy means we’re capable, but we just “chose” to not try. but if we try and fail, than we feel stupid, and this feels bad… so we just don’t try and take the “lazy” label from others instead of the “stupid” label from ourselves. at least this way, we protect our ego’s and keep our pride.

we sometimes underachieve because we’ve only been spoken to about achievement, and not inspired by people who have actually achieved. sometimes we don’t work as hard as we should because the adults in our lives don’t really know how to hold us accountable for our efforts in ways that motivate us… they just rely on shaming us or threatening us to get us to work harder, which rarely works (though there are a few of us, usually older, who are motivated by shame and threats… but we’re few, and you’ll have to know us pretty well to know this).

sometimes we perform below our abilities because some of our teachers and parents find it easier to blame us for our “laziness” than to look at themselves for new ways to inspire us (even though it is more our responsibility than yours). sometimes we underachieve because the expectations of us have been lowered so much for so long that we can do nothing but meet these low expectations. sometimes we underachieve because there are other activities that draw our attention or are more entertaining than studying. and sometimes we underachieve because we don’t value learning as much as we value feeling popular with our peers… and these aren’t excuses (although they may sound like them)… these are alternative explanations that you’ll need to know if you’re going to light a lasting fire under us. we’re young, and as such, we do require guidance, we do need to be taught and we do need limits and boundaries. we need to feel that people have faith in us to work hard and meet higher expectations. we may whine and complain and make excuses when you hold us to these standards, but it doesn’t mean we don’t need you to. for us, it’s not about who’s to blame for our low achievement, we just need help becoming competent, self-sufficient young adults… because despite what you may think or what we may say… we most definitely prefer success over failure.

we know it’d be much easier for everyone if we were all simply born with work ethic and intellectual confidence… but that’s just not reality for all of us. so if you know a kid who seems “lazy”… don’t be lazy… dig a little deeper and find the real reason we’re not working harder and achieving more… and then push a little smarter and harder to get us to.

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Administrators, charters, networks and politicians want to see data illustrating mass student learning and progress.

Educators want to see children in their seats with writing utensils in their hands, paper on their desks, mouths closed (unless they were given permission to speak) and eyes on the board or on them.

Parents want to see report cards filled with A’s and B’s and they want to see their children devoting some time at home to completing assignments and studying for exams.

Clearly, there are giant canyon-sized gaps separating the expectations of critics, administrators and funders of schools, the realities of educators, and the hopes of parents.

Sadly, the likelihood of bridging these gaps, and of putting an end to the relentless game of blaming that all parties are stuck in, is very small. It seems many of us are too deeply entrenched in the habits of blaming and resenting our positions to constructively partner with each other… and I say this not to claim defeat or add to the culture of cynicism that already exists. I say this so we can move forward and find the way to remain constructive with our children and our students, even when it feels impossible.

Complaints and blame are easy… maintaining professional and role integrity is hard. Especially when we’re feeling attacked and/or exhausted. And catching ourselves when we fall into the cliched (and human) habits of martyrdom and resentment  allows us to step forward beyond our bitterness and back to being what we’re supposed to be… good for kids.

While it may be true that no one person can change the whole culture of blaming that is feeding the feuds between governments, administrators, educators and parents… each of us do in fact get to choose how we spend our energy.

Whatever your role… a suit in a government office in Washington… a superintendent in a city hall… a principal with your own private bathroom and faculty members more bitter than you’d like… a teacher with 5 preps and too many under-performing students… a school counselor with too many troubled kids on your caseload… or a parent with a child in a public school that you didn’t choose… if each of us can remember one simple, but all too neglected job responsibility, we’ll end up not only challenging each other to do better, but we’ll also end up being better for the children in our lives.

And this job responsibility is simply to take the highest road possible when in the company of young people. Not to draw attention to yourself (that’s arrogance) and not at the expense of a sense of humor (because that would make your job really crappy) and not to put unrealistic pressure on our children to be perfect (because we do need to teach them how to be humble and graceful with imperfections and mistakes)… but simply to role model the best qualities in people.

Parent. Principal. Teacher. Or President of the United States. If we’re an adult in a position to impact the lives of children, our job responsibilities aren’t limited to the tasks we have to complete (easier as this may be)… our job is also to do and say and role model all the things that are in the best interest of children, and to never make it about our own needs. Whether it’s for 8 hours a day after we’ve punched the time clock at our school, or any moment that we’re in the company of our own children, if you’re doing your best to take the high road, chances are you’ll be the kind of adult that young people need you to be.

Sure, we may annoy some (though not all) of the people we work with. Sure, you may be thought of as or called “righteous” or “holier than thou”… but ask yourself, what matters more? how we’re perceived by our colleagues? or showing young people that integrity and dignity and self-control and perspective and character are qualities that do exist in people?

And if, when some of us are busy taking the high road, we disagree with each other as to what the high road is… just freakin’ (sorry, I would have swore, but I’m trying to take the high road) listen to each other… and keep listening to each other and keep discussing your points of view until you come to some agreement as to what’s best for the kids… because it’s not about getting your way… it’s about getting it right.

And then, when you’re off the clock, not in your classrooms, and not in front of your children, and your need to feel more human rises up (which it always will) and the urge to express your particular neuroses grows (which it always does… especially for me), go right ahead… let the beast out.

Stress at home? You’re going to be at your desk and you’re going to do the job that is expected of you as a student.

Drama with your boyfriend or girlfriend? You’re going to respect school rules and the authority in this building.

Violence in your neighborhood? You’re going to wake up on time, get to school on time and go to all your classes.

You’ve been victimized, traumatized or neglected? You’re going to pay attention to your teacher and turn in your homework when it’s due.

While the above assertions may sound harsh, they are the most supportive expectations we can put upon young people who are currently experiencing hardship and obstacle, or showing behaviors most likely connected to difficult pasts.

One of the larger misconceptions today is that caring about or paying attention to the context of a child’s life is equivalent to making excuses for them (especially by individuals who are struggling to have the influence they want with the children they’re dealing with)… but this is most definitely not the case. Just because a counselor is understanding… or a teacher is compassionate… or a dean or administrator is aware… does NOT mean our demands of our students change, or need to change. It’s true that we want to be aware of the obstacles or challenges that our students are facing, but never should our awareness lead to excuse-making for misconduct or poor effort.  Having an understanding of our student’s lives should be used only as motivation to remain mindful of our approach so that we can maximize our influence… never to lower expectations.

Delivering appropriate limits and clear expectations (to a student not meeting standards of effort or conduct) without knowing the context of a teenagers life will most likely sound dramatically different than delivering limits and expectations with their contexts in mind… and this subtle difference can make all the difference in getting what we need from them. The message will be the same, but the delivery will be different, and consequently, so will the results.

Sometimes by simply stating, with both sincerity and authority, that “I understand you may have a lot going on right now, but right here right now, what’s best for you is to learn what I’m trying to teach you… and when we’re done, I promise I’ll do what I can to get you the time and help you need to deal with what’s going on” is all you’ll need to do to corral a young person who may be too loose, disengaged or distracting in your room. Other times, it may not be so simple, and may require other interventions.

Being able to assess the magnitude of need or the level of emotional urgency will allow you to decide whether to press on with your expectations, or deviate and make the appropriate allowance for the struggling child. Unfortunately, this decision will have to come more from your gut, than from any established decision making scale… and it is an important one. Just as we never want to make excuses for our children and lower standards, we also want to make sure that we’re not punishing them for being affected and emotional.

Helping young people develop the quality of fortitude means teaching them how to compartmentalize their days more effectively. And as adults with our own separate and emotional personal lives, we have plenty of opportunities to role-model compartmentalization. As a high school counselor, I’m often asked how to teach teenagers in class who are clearly struggling with some domain in their life. A romantic relationship. Home uncertainty. Trauma. Neglect. Violence. And my message, I hope, is always the same… help them to do what is expected in the moments you’re with them, and then connect them with others better positioned to meet their other needs. A young person who can learn how to attend to their responsibilities DESPITE the emotional temptations put upon them by their lives is a young person who will be better equipped to cope as they move on in years.

And this does not mean ignore their harsh realities in the classroom, it just means that you are to show them how to do their jobs… by doing your job. Resisting your inclination to pity, over-sympathize or change your role from content area teacher to counselor role-models healthy compartmentalization, difficult as this may be. The only thing you might need to change, is your tone.

When in the classroom, a student who is being mistreated at home needs to perform the same tasks in the same timeframe as a student who is not being mistreated in the home. The only difference is that this student may need to hear what is expected from them in a way that conveys more compassion (even though compassion may not be your strong suit). And when the child is done meeting your classroom expectations, you can connect them to someone who has more time than you and whose role it is to provide the necessary emotional support. And if this child does not respond to your compassionate authority, and they earn consequences because of their defiance, then they need to receive these consequences… which can be administered by your school disciplinarians in concert with the individuals in your school equipped to address the underlying motivations of their misbehavior.

Counselors are not content area classroom teachers… and content area teachers are not counselors… but if there is partnership, role respect and communication between these two vital players in the lives of students, then the students can have both their academic and emotional needs met within the school borders. Educating young people that there are times and places for learning information and necessary academic skills, and times and places for developing insight, expressing their emotions and getting support with their difficult lives, are crucial lessons in preparing them for adult life… and they are lessons that most of us are more than equipped to administer well.

Most of us grew up thinking that invisibility was a superpower possessed only by superheroes. Even as adults, when we play the game with our friends asking each other which superpower we’d most like to possess, invisibility always makes the rotation, especially if we’re thinking about all the ways we feel nagged by others or burdened by responsibilities.

But beneath our playfulness and imagination is a more painful interpretation of this idea of invisibility. Think for a second about a moment when you didn’t feel seen by others… when the thought crossed your mind that at that moment, no one was thinking of you, or worrying about you, or cared at all about what happened to you. A moment when you felt utterly alone, but wanted real badly the company of others. Think about a period in your life when you craved someone to understand who you really were, and what you were really feeling… but looked around or through your list of phone numbers, and had no one to do this for you.

For so many young people, feeling invisible isn’t a sensation that fills them with wonder… feeling invisible is a sensation that is crushing beyond words.

Feeling misunderstood compels young people to act in ways that people understand and draws attention… but isn’t really who they are.

Feeling invisible drives young people to think “why bother, no one sees me anyway”… and then to act recklessly because in their worlds, there’s nothing to lose.

Feeling alone forces young people to seek others who might claim to see them more honestly, and might not be good for them… because the need to feel like they exist is that strong.

Feeling unseen stirs paralysis… inhibiting any effort that might improve their lives because to them, no one seems interested anyway.

I see weight of invisibility everyday on the faces of my students. In the words they speak… and in the words they don’t speak. And I see the influence of invisibility every day in their risky behaviors and apathy.

But here’s the thing… I see the kids who are struggling with feeling unseen because it is my job to see, and because I never forget how painful it feels to wonder if anyone cares enough to look… and if I had no other responsibility given my title as “counselor”, seeing young people, and I mean fearlessly seeing them for who they really are and not who we think they are or should be, would be more than enough to inspire them to be more invested in their lives.

Which is why it confuses me so that we have so many young people struggling as profoundly as we do… because all they really need, after their plates are filled with food, their backs are clothed and their heads are covered by a roof… is for the adults in their small, but significant lives, to look at them… without a need to see anything other than what is real for that child.

Because then it’s easy. Once we know the true need… we can go ahead and meet it.

is that why you don’t try harder to get to know us? are you so afraid you’ll find something dark about us that you won’t know how to deal with? are you so worried that you’ll end up feeling helpless to fix our “problems” that you don’t even try to understand why we’re struggling? we may put on good shows that make you think we’re fine, but we’re often struggling with, or questioning something in our lives. we need you to not be afraid of us or of our truth. we need you to understand us or at least try to. we wonder about the big issues like future, love, death, loyalty, suicide, sex, temptations and right and wrong, whether you wish we did or didn’t… and we also wonder why it seems so uncomfortable for so many of you to just sit down with us and talk about these things.

there’s a lot of scary, unpleasant stuff in this world and we know how overwhelming life can be, but if the adults in our lives don’t show us how to be brave enough to face the demons that lie inside all of us, how can we be expected to rise above our demons? maybe when you were young, you were told simply to move on and quit whining, or maybe people treated you like a freak if you did express such confused or provocative thoughts… but whatever your reasons were for bottling stuff up, they don’t help us.  it’s a different time now and we’re exposed to different things. we can’t keep bottling up our fears and confusions because they just keep collecting and it feels like poison inside us.  we’re young and haven’t been around that long and every day we’re exposed to new ideas, experiences, social issues and pressures, and every time we come across something new (which is all the time, especially with all the new technologies and media), we have questions or we feel new feelings that we can’t quite get our heads around.  it’s true that we hate admitting that we don’t know everything and feel overwhelmed at times… just like everyone else, but we want you to know that if you choose to ignore the stuff that weighs us down because it’s “too stressful” for you, or because you love us so much that you can’t bear to acknowledge our pain, then we are much more likely to act in risky ways or make poor decisions.

inconvenient as it may be to you, we as your kids or students would be much safer and would feel much more supported if you had the courage to want to know what lies inside us, even if it disagrees with your beliefs or how you were raised… and we may even need you to help us find the words. if we have to keep our insecurities, fears, confusions, doubts and anxieties bottled up because everyone’s too prideful, rushed or scared to ask us what’s going on, we’re much more likely to be destructive… but if we have adults in our lives who show us how to be brave and help us look inside ourselves with confidence and fearlessness, then we’d be much more likely to make better decisions and build healthier relationships.

because that’s the best way to get us to live healthy lives. if you have a problem with drinking too much, the best way for you to prevent us from developing a drinking problem is for you to do the hard thing and get and stay sober.  as you may know, behaviors and habits can get passed down from generation to generation… just like eye color or height can get passed down.  stuff like hot tempers, aggression, drinking, violence in relationships, drug use, promiscuity, teen pregnancy, poor work ethic, dishonesty and even eating disorders get cycled through families.  we learn from the environments we grow up in, and if certain behaviors are “good enough” for our parents, many of us will just end up mimicking what you do when you’re around us. what we’re asking is that you find a way to break your bad habits… if not for you, then for us.

we’re asking you to look in the mirror, even if it’s painful. and we want you to know that preaching to us about the dangers of  bad habits isn’t nearly as loving, or effective, as showing us the courage to break them.  and while parents might feel they’re doing the right thing by lecturing us to not follow in their footsteps and to learn from their mistakes, for us, they’re just empty words.  breaking habits and family patterns takes strength of character and courage, and if you can’t do it… how are we supposed to be able to? and while some of us do have the resiliency to resist following the unhealthy leads of our parents, a lot of us are just too vulnerable and impressionable. and we’re not saying it’s easy. but we need you to understand how important it is to us that you dig deep and figure out how to be better role models for us than your parents may have been for you.

and if you do show us how to free yourself from the patterns and scars of your pasts, than we’ll absorb your bravery and resiliency and have the futures we all want us to have. the truth is that we do love you and look up to you, even when you’re doing dangerous, scary or unhealthy stuff… and we just need you to show us how to walk the paths you want us to walk.

When you’re at your most emotional… when you’re feeling profound sadness, pre-occupation with uncertainty or pure and simple blind rage… how would you respond if someone told you to be more logical? It might not go over so well would it? You might get angry, you might tell the person directing you to put aside your feelings to buzz off (or some other four letter word)… or you might just shut them out and ignore their direction.

So why are we surprised when our exceedingly emotionally driven inner-city teenagers, or any teenagers for that matter, are failing at math and the sciences? Why are we so confused by our students’s rejection of linear and logical thinking?  And if our goal is in fact to facilitate ownership of information and critical thinking skills, why are we ignoring or looking away from the likely psycho-social obstacles inhibiting learning?

But before you think I’m going to suggest babying our emotionally needy students, keep reading… because I’m suggesting the exact opposite. I’m suggesting we re-focus on preparing them and teaching them how to NOT use their feelings as excuses.

While experts in education continue their obsession with data collection and analysis, many of our students continue to grow more and more disengaged from our math and science content areas. Teachers all across the country, and not just in our city schools, seem to be flailing in quicksand when it comes to getting their kids to absorb their math and science curriculum.

As professional development workshops continue to target teacher inclusion of technology, “creativity” and “interactivity” in lesson planning, I feel compelled to speak from an entirely different paradigm. Assuming there is nothing physiologically or neurologically different with todays youth from youth of the past, there must be some other explanation as to why our collective math and science proficiency continues to decline. And we can choose to keep slapping different coats of paint on the same old tools… or we can be a little more creative and think differently about a problem we’re getting further from resolving.

As a counselor, my lens obviously draws my attention to the emotional, developmental or environmental factors possibly causing student defiance towards math and science instruction… and while I’m no mathematician, biologist, physicist or chemist, it seems pretty evident that these content areas require more linear and logical processing than other content areas.

For a growing population of urban youth, their environments and circumstances are stirring a sense of entitlement. Something along the lines of “my life and my neighborhood are rough… and as such, the world owes me, my emotions are justified, and therefore, my actions, no matter what they are, are also justified”. Because of the stresses and perceived threats they’re living with every day, many children are exhibiting an emotionality and volatility that conveys “the right” to do and say whatever it is that their mood dictates… and this sense of emotional entitlement is over-powering the calm, logical state of mind that math and the sciences require to stay on track. And this “survive the moment” mentality is preventing them from seeing any future… and if a kid isn’t thinking about their future, or of goals, then the need to learn boring, but valuable lessons today becomes almost non-existant.

And consequently, given the emotionality and entitlement so many teenagers and younger students are bringing into their classrooms, many more educators are being forced to spend more time managing their classroom climates than instructing and checking for understanding… which simply positions teachers to fail. As administrations and funding sources continue to look more and more at data which inevitably minimizes context and the true texture of a learners mind, teachers are more and more finding themselves frantically trying to get through material and adhering to their pacing charts… rather than taking their time to ensure knowledge acquisition. Essentially, educators are being compelled to honor the needs of the decision makers more than the needs of the students.

Basically, it’s the perfect storm right now for educators, and especially for those charged with the responsibility of teaching content areas that allow less for abstract and tangential thinking. Math and science are slowly becoming stigmatized to many students as “unnecessary”, and not because they necessarily believe they’re unnecessary subjects.  They’re getting stigmatized because the kind of thinking math and science require is in such conflict with the emotional mind, that it’s just easier to write the content off as useless than it is to figure out how to put their personal needs and feelings aside enough to absorb the lessons.

So rather than trying to convince a child, or a classroom of students that math and science are fun… and rather than running yourselves ragged trying to prove just how necessary and important the material is… perhaps an educators best strategy (depending on the age of the students) would be the most transparent one. Maybe the bells and whistles promoted in professional development workshops need to give way to an approach that honors the developmental needs of these certain kinds of students who are fundamentally rejecting more technical content areas.

Maybe instructors of math and science need to 1) acknowledge and validate the students disinterest and/or difficulty with the subject (instead of trying to sell something that simply won’t be bought), 2) improve classroom management abilities to create and maintain the low-energy climate required to calm emotionality and improve focus and 3) emphasize over and over again, that regardless of a students feelings about a subject (or even a teacher), they can in fact learn it, and learn it well.

Many students, and an increasing number of educators are under the false impression that enjoyment and “happiness” are required for learning… and this perception is doing nothing but holding instructors hostage. Instead, let’s all remain mindful that we’re educators, not entertainers, and that boredom or disinterest or personal feelings do not need to be catered to in classrooms (that’s more for the counselors in 1 to 1 or group sessions)… and that there are in fact ways to teach subjects that students aren’t good at or don’t like without having to put on a clown suit or amp up the special effects.

Be honest. Be direct. Be deliberate. Validate your students perceptions and emotionality… and then instruct them with the foundational understanding that school will always be about preparing young people to complete tasks, overcome obstacles, answer to authority and do jobs… irregardless of personal feelings or circumstance. Yes, easier said than done… especially by a counselor… but maybe a truth nonetheless.

If teenagers can be conditioned to believe that “getting by”  is a goal they’ve chosen for themselves, or that their futures are limited by the circumstances in which they grow up… then they can be conditioned to break stereotypes and become much much more. Despite all that we read about inner-city youth, it is this simple. The behaviors and choices of our struggling urban youth are manifestations of their environments. When asked, their ideas about themselves sound more like cliche sound bites than honest reflections… and strangely, their inauthentic senses of self gives us hope, because it means their true natures have yet to be defined or discovered.

The only antidote to the toxic messages of inability that so many city children have absorbed is a crystal clear understanding of two truths.

1) That up until the moment they become aware of the ways they’ve been conditioned, their lives and their futures have not been their own.

2) They are without question, responsible for every word they speak and every action they take.

Black. White. Russian. Indian. Chinese. Hispanic. Middle Eastern. Muslim. Jewish. Catholic. Baptist. Wealthy. Poor.

Regardless of demographic, if a teenager can be guided to understand that the strengths and weaknesses they currently possess have been cultivated by messages from family, from music, from friends, from movies… than they can guided to realize that they do in fact have a say in how the rest of their futures play out. They can be freed from the delusion that they’re self-made and introduced to the idea of determining their real selves. And this is what they need to know to begin taking ownership of what they do with their days. In school. At home. In parks. With others. On their own. And this is when we might start to see the conviction and effort we so badly want to see.

Every day I hear the conditioned words and witness the conditioned choices of teenagers expressing a profound lack of fortitude, ownership and creativity. And what is saddest about what we’re seeing from so many inner-city teenagers, is that their deficiencies were not chosen by them… they were given to them. It is absolutely true that many city children are raised in broken families, exposed to traumas and neglect or compelled to endure stresses caused by economic hardship, but what they haven’t yet learned is that while these truths may steepen the incline, they in no way prevent ascent. The fortitude to learn and achieve is just as much their right as it is the right of anyone born into privilege… they just need to be guided past the maze of built-in excuses and justifications.

And this is where opportunity lives. The opportunity for individuals in positions to influence to stir the self-awareness needed to spark ownership… and the opportunity for the young people themselves to begin identifying and pursuing the lives they want to live.

Jeans sagging below backsides. Swear words every 3rd word. Reactive aggression. Sought conflict. Violent relationships. Drug use. Teen pregnancy. Failing grades. Issues with authority. Gang involvement. Bullying. Whatever the cliched behavior we’re witnessing from our inner-city teens, all they need is permission to be different, and a person insightful and direct enough to intelligently hold up a mirror and hold them accountable for the choices they make… and yes, it is possible to validate circumstances without pitying… and it is possible to hold accountable without being insensitive to circumstance.

If we’re trying to find the right buttons to push, we have to make sure our efforts are driven by an honest belief in their capacity to work harder and achieve more. There’s no room for guilt, pity or blinders when trying to light a fire in a child… because there is nothing more oppressive than low expectations or unrealistic goals.

If we’re trying to re-condition young people to believe in their actual abilities rather than accept their rumored inabilities, then we have to make sure that we never convey satisfaction when low expectations are met. And if we’re trying to incite personal revolutions in so many inner-city children who’ve been shackled and brainwashed by subtle, sneaky and crushing stereotypes… then we have to be transparent and relentless in what we know… which is that they’re living in a world that is either forgetting, or neglecting just how impressionable young people are, and that they are in fact powerful and capable far beyond what they currently feel.

No, my words here don’t answer the question of how to run classrooms in under-funded urban schools filled with under-performing students, but a deeper understanding of the obstacles and needs of our kids is a great place to start… and just as our inner-city youth are far more capable than they’re showing… so are the rest of us.

because we’re way too self-involved.  most everything to us feels like a “life or death” situation, and because of this, we often lose our perspective.  our lives and relationships consume us and this is when we lose focus or our tempers and make unhealthy or impulsive decisions.  when you make jokes, you teach us how to keep perspective and how to not get so lost in the stuff that isn’t THAT big of a deal.  granted, we may not always laugh at your jokes, and we most definitely aren’t asking you to minimize our lives or the things we think are serious, but a well placed joke or bit of sarcasm can help us lighten heavy moments that don’t need to be so heavy.  it also shows us that you’re calm and confident, and this puts us at ease… unless of course your attempts at humor come off as condescending or dismissive. and if this happens, and we get mad at you or snappy, don’t feel embarrassed, just say something like “i wasn’t trying to laugh at you or what’s going on, i was just trying to help lighten things up so we can see it all a little more clearly.”

i guess what we’re asking is that you at least try to find ways to help us lighten up.  it feels like there’s so much negativity everywhere and pressure to perform and to act certain ways, we need help staying balanced and not being so stressed out and tense.  so crack your corny jokes if you have some.  throw a little good natured sarcasm our way if it’s in you (but pay attention to how we react to make sure we got it and didn’t get hurt)… and above all else, role model for us how to keep perspective so that when stuff happens that feels serious or bad and tempts us to feel overwhelmed, we’ll be able to keep our heads, handle our emotions gracefully and see our options clearly.