Summer Planning for Tweens & Teens: How to Keep Them Busy

Summer Planning for Tweens & Teens: How to Keep Them Busy

Summer break can’t come soon enough. We’re all desperate to decompress from the wild pace of the school year and enjoy a little downtime. But for parents of preteen or teenage kids who are past the age for camp and too young to find summer jobs, there’s a slight problem. What do we do with them all summer long?

Summer Activity Ideas From My Tween

When I mentioned summer plans to my 12-year-old, he told me, “I don’t want to go to camp. I just want time to hang out.” That’s when my parental anxiety set in. I knew in my heart that my middle-schooler was too old to go to that wonderful day camp that kept him busy and active, but I also knew that letting him “hang out” all day would mean too many unproductive hours in front of the TV, computer or his phone.

Plus, I can’t leave him home alone for extended periods of time, and he’s definitely not ready to plan his own day-to-day schedule. If he did, it’d be unlimited gaming, never-ending TV show binging, and meal times full of artificial colors and flavors. But at least the dog would love having him around!

Last Year’s Summer Camp Disaster

Having him at home with nothing to do over the summer isn’t a good option. I know from experience. In the summer of 2021, my son’s favorite program wasn’t available, and he hated the new summer camp that I signed him up for. So halfway through, I pulled him from that camp. By then, all other camps were full, so he stayed home. I tried to keep him busy with chores and other activities, but it wasn’t possible to keep that up all summer. The worst part is that the summer camp he loved is back this year, but he aged out!

Alternative Summer Programs for Preteens

After he turns 13, he wants to officiate youth soccer games. But until then, I thought he might just get his wish of staying home and doing the bare minimum. Until I discovered some alternatives.

More and more recreation centers, schools, museums and colleges are catering to this age group with classes and programs. I even found a volunteer center that is looking for preteens and teens to lend a hand. And it’s never too early to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit—like mowing lawns or reffing soccer.

This age group may be beyond the general day camp approach, but there are so many creative programs out there that match our kids’ special interests. Just don’t be surprised if a single program doesn’t fill your preteen’s entire day. The camps my son wants to attend are only a few hours a day. They’re also expensive. We can’t afford to have him attend all summer long, but a couple weeks here and there may just work.

Advice for Parents About Summer Camp Enrollment

By being resourceful, I found a number of activities to make this an active, engaging summer for my son, while still reserving a little time to “hang out”. The best tip I can give parents who are interested in summer programs for their preteens? Start planning now. Many programs require advance registration, and popular ones fill up quickly.

My next step is to plan my busy work life around drop-offs and pick-ups. I’ll get the most out of my lunch breaks and set up a carpool schedule with his friends. By the end of the summer, I may feel like a taxi driver—always on the go. So much for decompressing!

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Finding a Career Path & Writing Your Life’s Story

Finding a Career Path & Writing Your Life’s Story

As I sit here and write this blog, I find myself just staring at my desk. I look at the notes taped to my computer screen, the pile of speaker notes and dates, the reminder to order a basketball team picture, a filled-in calendar with crossed-out days and a framed photo of the senior softball players. The first initial thought is, “I need to clean my desk off”. However, after I continued gazing at my desk, I wrapped my mind around this thought, “This is my story”.

My husband who is well-versed in storytelling, shares three notable points:

“Stories give meaning to the past, context to the present and a vision for the future.”

Sharing Career Path Stories

And as I look at my desk, I see all of those notable points about stories jumping out, yet one very specific pile carries a majority of shared stories…my career speaker notes.

I have had the privilege of creating a new class for eighth graders to give them insight to the six Nebraska Career Fields. I have had nearly 20 different speakers share their career path journeys with my students. The stories shared have given all of my students a glimpse into each of their futures.

While each speaker shared their lived story, all stories had two unknown themes intertwined. The first theme was encouraging students to follow a passion. The second theme was hard work. And while this passion can be photo shooting, cooking, helping others, playing sports, rebuilding computers or even reading, the speakers encouraged the students to follow what makes them happy. The speakers shared that they did not find happiness in the salary, it was through finding a career that ignited their passion.

Yet following these career paths took resilience. It was hard. One speaker shared her five different jobs that spanned four different states to finally find a career she loves. A career where there is no “have to do this”. A career where her company encourages giving back to the community. This is resilience.

One speaker shared how scared he was to tell his parents he did not want to go to college. He had multiple opportunities throughout high school to craft his passion. He was ready to start his own business. He had to develop a plan. A plan that consisted of having three different jobs at one point helped him establish his business and pay bills. This is persevering.

Another speaker shared her love of learning and created a path to earning her Doctorate in Education. She transitioned from the education world to president of a communications company; however, she is still well-engrossed in her passion for teaching and learning. This took grit.

Finding a Path That’s Right for You

Through the many narratives, the students were able to give context to what they currently know and envision themselves pursuing that in the future. If this new class was not offered, I know I would not have reached out to the speakers. I would not have heard their stories. I would have not witnessed their passions, I would have not understood their path of resilience.

My students would not have learned about so many different career experiences. However, now they have a unique context to their current learning and a small vision for what they want to do (or not do) during high school.

For once, I am thankful for a pile of notes on a messy desk.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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What to Do When Your Kid Wants to Quit Sports

What to Do When Your Kid Wants to Quit Sports

My daughter, Collyns, is almost nine years old. All her life, she has hated sports. She tried gymnastics but didn’t enjoy it. She loves to swim but not in the winter. She doesn’t have a competitive bone in her body. She’s my “free spirit,” the complete opposite of my son. But recently, she expressed interest in playing basketball. So, I signed her up for a recreational league.

Now, we’re halfway through the season, and she doesn’t want to go to practice or play in the games. There are only six girls on the team, so I think that she needs to stick to her commitment and play.

Deciding When to Let My Kid Quit Sports

At some point in life, many parents find themselves in a similar situation. What do you do when your kid isn’t enjoying sports? Do you push them to keep with it? Or do you let them quit? Unfortunately, there isn’t a cut-and-dry answer on how hard to push your children to try new things, including sports.

On one hand, I want to teach her important life skills, like perseverance, following through on commitments, and tolerating discomfort. These values will hopefully build her confidence when she faces challenging situations in the future. Plus, she seems to enjoy being on the court, exercising, and socializing with her friends. Sure, she has no idea what she’s doing, but she’s slowly learning.

On the other hand, I don’t want to force her to continue with an activity that’s maybe doing more harm than good. If it was harming her physically or emotionally, there wouldn’t be any debate.

Starting the Conversation

I needed to know why she wanted to quit before making my decision. I asked if she was being bullied by her coach or teammates or if her body was hurting. No. I asked her what was making her change her mind. She told me she was frustrated about her skill level. She enjoys dribbling and shooting the ball but not playing the game.

I told her that her feelings were valid and that I would think about letting her quit. I took a couple days to reflect and discuss it with her father. He didn’t want this to become a bigger issue, but I didn’t want her to quit. I knew she was just frustrated and needed to learn to try and solve problems before throwing in the towel.

Coming to a Final Decision

A few days later, I sat down with her and let her know my decision. I explained that earlier this year, she agreed to play the full season, and I think she should honor that. Together, we came up with three ways to possibly make basketball better.

  1. Practice — We realized that one practice a week wasn’t enough to build her skills, so we started to run drills at home.
  2. Attitude — She told me that I needed to be more positive, less competitive soccer mom. During games, I needed to watch my tone and give her words of encouragement. Unlike my son, she wanted to learn what she did well after a game, instead of hearing how she could improve.
  3. Enjoyment — Lastly, I encouraged her to go out and have fun. The score doesn’t matter.

I don’t want to give up on my free spirit child. If the end of the season comes and she still isn’t happy, I’ll help her find something that’s a better fit—like an individual sport instead of a team one. I’ll always push her to try new things and praise her for her efforts. That’s the best way to find a winner.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Dress for Interview Success

Dress for Interview Success

There are moms who love prom dress shopping and there are moms who love wedding dress shopping. Then there’s me. I love to take my daughters shopping for interview clothing. Now, I haven’t had the opportunity to go wedding dress shopping yet, but I sure do hope it goes better than prom dress shopping.

Anyway, here I am, shopping for interview outfits for my oldest daughter only a week after I took my younger daughter. I am giddy! And my girls can tell. Both remarked, “Mom, you really do like this!”

My husband and I pride ourselves on making sure our children are properly dressed and prepared for any interview, whether in person or online. Our girls are at different ages—one is preparing for her first leadership interview in high school, and the other preparing for her first professional interview. The girls don’t have the same training or leadership backgrounds, but both will benefit from a solid interview foundation.

Best Ways to Prepare for an Interview

We shared the following tips with our daughter preparing for interview this week:

  • Know your interviewer’s dress code. Both of our girls were in professional interviews, so they purchased a well-fitting black pantsuit with a white blouse. They accessorized their suits with just a bit of color to enhance the suit, not overwhelm.
  • Practice your handshake. Make sure it’s not too firm or too loose and definitely make sure your hands are dry of sweat.
  • Research the organization. Skim through their website, social media accounts and definitely know the mission of the company.
  • Practice answering questions in front of a mirror.
  • Arrive at least 15 minutes early to the interview, and be polite to every person you interact with.
  • Take notes during the interview. Use active listening skills. Pause before you answer questions to collect your thoughts. Ask your own questions.
  • Be gracious and appreciative. Thank the interviewers for spending their time with you. Follow up with a thank you letter.
  • After the interview, reflect.

Our middle daughter’s interview was for a school leadership organization. I am thankful she gets this opportunity because it’s a safe environment to receive critical feedback, reflect, and hone her resume, cover letter, and interview skills. And in typical teenage daughter fashion, when I asked about her interview, she responded, “Fine, mom, but I’ll be better prepared for next time.” And for me, that response is worth all my time and effort.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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Children & Social Media: Teaching Internet Safety for Kids

Children & Social Media: Teaching Internet Safety for Kids

Let’s face it, as much as we might want to keep our kids away from social media forever, that’s probably not realistic. It could happen at any time. Eventually, my kids may want their own social media accounts.

It’s not a political question, but I know people have strong opinions about it. This topic recently came up in my house. Obviously, both my kids have seen us use social media. My almost 12-year-old son is already on Kids Messenger and YouTube. He also has online chat in multiplayer video games like Fortnite. I know other social media apps require you to be 13 years old but even that seems young.

Is Social Media Too Dangerous for Preteens?

I remember when Facebook became popular. I was a freshman in college, and I wanted nothing to do with it. I know I probably can’t force my kids to wait until college to be on social media, but that would be nice! Not only is social media a big part of my work life, but it’s also a big part of my creative life. So, the question that came up, “Can social media also be part of my pre-teen’s life, or is it too dangerous?”

The simple answer—from both my husband and I—is yes. It can be a part of a pre-teen’s life, and it is dangerous.

Parenting in the Digital Age

Don’t get me wrong, I am very aware that pre-teens and teenagers use social media to have fun, make and maintain friendships, share and learn interests, explore identities and develop relationships with family members far away. It’s an extension of their offline and face-to-face interactions. But this is also new territory for most parents, including myself.

Instead of being terrified by the situation, my husband and I sat down and discussed it. We didn’t have social media growing up, nor cell phones or the internet. We’re parenting in a whole new world, and we know that it’s up to us to teach them right from wrong whether online or offline.

Creating a Social Media Plan for Kids

As a family, we came up with a plan that everyone agreed on.

Using social media responsibly doesn’t just happen. It requires regular conversation and routine updates. That’s why my husband and I will monitor Cohen’s social media usage. At first, I thought that seemed to be violating his privacy, but my husband reminded me that kids don’t always make the best decisions. So, when Cohen gets social media apps, we all understand that I can look at his pages any time.

Our social media plan goes back to our cell phone rules. I have his passwords and can look at his messages. We try to be proactive by teaching him online etiquette and safety before he gets in trouble and learns the hard way. The most important part of this plan is having an open dialogue with our child and setting boundaries around the appropriate, responsible use of digital devices.

Conversations about Digital Responsibility

We explained to Cohen what social media is and how it can be used in a child-friendly manner. We told him there are restrictions in place for his protection. We discussed appropriate and inappropriate online behavior. We let him know that he is vulnerable to online predators, even if he’s unaware, so to be careful with virtual strangers.

I taught my kids about responsibly uploading photos of themselves and friends. They know that whatever they post on social media stays there forever. While images, videos, tweets and messages can be deleted, information can resurface for others to still see, screenshot or save their content before it goes away.

Instead of banning my kids from all social activities online, we’ll continue to teach them how to be smart about their social engagements and keep the conversation going as they grow older.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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One Way to Stick to Your New Year’s Resolution

One Way to Stick to Your New Year’s Resolution

The start of a new year—an opportunity to start fresh, set goals and resolutions, and on and on and on. Somewhere, someone has already given up on their resolutions just reading this never-ending laundry list. Here are my recommendations for creating a New Year’s resolution that will actually stick.

Making Resolutions in the New Year

I usually find something to define my year—a word, a song verse or even a vision board. But this time, as I try to type out my intentions for 2023, the delete key on my keyboard is getting plenty of use. I’ll write a line, press the delete key, type another word, and hit delete again and again.

I keep thinking this is the year of better health in all dimensions—physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually. I want to be better at listening, taking in less caffeine, consistently journaling, meal prepping more often, and spreading more kindness, joy, and grace. I just want to be better in every aspect.

Do Your Goals Need to Be SMART?

The teacher in me shouts, “Goals need to be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timebound,” and “Just be better” is certainly not specific or easily measurable.

But being better is relevant and attainable. As we raise our children, being better is definitely relevant. Not being better than someone else, but making ourselves better. We can all aspire to “just be better”.

How to “Just Be Better” in 2023

But how am I going to be better this year? I’m going to create micro goals around my health and use the three-layer goal-setting method instead of the SMART system. Here’s what that looks like for me:

  • For the first 10 days of January, I’ll get better in two areas (maybe journaling and meal prepping).
  • On days 11-20, I’ll add another area (like taking in less caffeine) and be better in a total of three areas.
  • In the last 11 days of January, I’ll add another, more challenging area (like extending more grace) for a total of four areas.

These micro goals will lay a foundation in my first month and make achieving a vague goal—like better health—more likely. Plus, these layers will allow me to focus when it’s incredibly easy to get off track in the snowy winter months. No excuses, just plenty of sticky notes to remind me to be a better person than yesterday.

So, if you’re like me and not sure how to set goals this year, just choose to be better.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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Past & Presents: A Holiday Gift to Remember

Past & Presents: A Holiday Gift to Remember

Nearly five years later, I can still vividly see my mom at her quilting machine. Perfectly piecing together different colors of fabric and swiftly moving them through the sewing machine. I can remember seeing my aunts’ watery eyes glisten when they opened a quilt handcrafted by mom. I think of a wintry weekend when I asked mom to sew 11 different quilts to give away, and without hesitation, we were piecing and quilting away.

A Mother’s Love Language

Yet, when I think about mom’s quilts, I think of her precious time. Mom had an impeccable eye for detail, and each quilt had its own story. That’s why she poured so many hours into her craft. I think about all the conversations that were had and prayers that were said while she quilted away.

I always thought my mom’s love language was gifting. However, I now realize her true languages were quality time and acts of service. These two languages just happened to be given away in the form of quilts.

Remembering Gammy

One day, in a long overdue conversation with my middle daughter, Addi, I sensed sadness and heartache. She was missing her Gammy.

As we remembered mom, quilts naturally took center stage. I was going through a “mind catalog” of the innumerable quilts mom carefully crafted. Addi mentioned her favorite Gammy quilt was the one with the Minky material. I reminisced about the baby doll quilts mom would make when our daughters were little. I also thought of our wedding quilt, the one stored away for no hands to touch.

One Gift Greater Than Quilts

Then, my mind turned to my mom’s mother, her sisters, her best friend, my mother-in-law, her quilting circle, and anyone who spent even an hour creating with her. As the tears rolled down my cheeks, this moment wasn’t just about mom. It was about sharing this heartfelt conversation and uninterrupted time with Addi.

This Christmas season, just like many others, all I want is a quilt from my mother. While I’ll never receive a quilt made from my mom’s hands again, this conversation with Addi showed me the true gift from mom’s quilts is the time we give away to spend with the ones we love.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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Toys, Cash or Bust

Toys, Cash or Bust

It’s November 1 and the Walmart toy catalog has arrived. You look and see that things have already been circled and an entire page has a large circle around every toy. This is what happens every year. The toys wanted are circled with my kids’ names next to them, so I of course know who wants what under the tree. But this year, my daughter was the only one with things circled. Why? Because my son only wants an Xbox. A $500 gift. But he knows “Santa” won’t get him an Xbox because that’s too expensive, so he is asking everyone for cash.

Should Kids Get Cash for Christmas?

But cash for Christmas perhaps you’re thinking: What? Are your kids too good for toys now? Or maybe you’re stuck on the idea that giving someone money is so impassive and unsentimental. Of course, the last thing I want to do is disappoint my kids, but I want to make sure they’re old enough to appreciate getting cold, hard cash instead of traditional gifts.

If you are like most families, your kids have enough stuff. Asking for money can be uncomfortable, no doubt. It’s about setting the stage, letting the gift-giver know the reasoning behind the request and what the money will be used for. There are lots of opinions about the good and bad of giving money as a gift–or, gasp, asking for money as a gift. And when done incorrectly, yes, it can come off as rude and selfish.

However, there are a few reasons why you might want to consider foregoing traditional gifts and asking for money instead. Cohen doesn’t play with toys. He is at that age where it’s either soccer or video games. He is trying to save money for an Xbox. I realized the older the kids, the more expensive the gifts. He doesn’t want the traditional gift, nor does he need it, so he’s asking grandpa, grandpa, aunts and uncles for money. Sure, he could use another pair of pants so if his grandma wants to go shopping, I will suggest that option.

Gifting Money is Practical & Useful

But, for now, I am tactfully encouraging my family members to give money. I am proposing ways to make it fun for them to give cash.

There are a few ways you can do this. If Cohen wanted to use the money for sports or other lessons, I would invite his family members to recitals or games. I want them to see the joy he gets from the activity and know the part they played in helping create that joy.

After Cohen saves enough for him to accomplish his dream of owning an Xbox, I plan to send family members a video or some pictures. I want them to see Cohen embracing and enjoying what their monetary gift helped achieve.

So rather it be a Barbie for Collyns, yes, her gifts are still easy to buy or cash for Cohen, there’s no hard and fast rule regarding giving cash as gifts. The truth is no one in my family needs 37 gifts. Getting off the gift-giving merry-go-round starts with a frank discussion with friends and family.

The great thing about gifting money is it’s practical and useful. Secondly, it will save everyone time from lining up at those shopping malls, and lastly, Cohen will actually love getting cash especially if you present it in a creative way. I already started pinning ideas on how to give cash as a gift on Pinterest.

Believe it or not, the gift of cash will be the best present he’ll receive this Christmas!

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Beyond the Softball Diamond: Life’s Best Pep Talks

Beyond the Softball Diamond: Life’s Best Pep Talks

Most of you know I am a high school softball coach. I also get the privilege of coaching my daughter, our starting shortstop. There are many opportunities for me to not only teach skills and techniques about the sport but also about life beyond the softball diamond. I decided to share snippets from my pep talks. Even though these are examples for softball, I believe these pep talks can be applied to all areas of life.

Even the Coach Needs Pep Talks

As I prepared for each practice or game talk, I always whispered these two statements to myself:

  • “Lead with joy, and you can’t go wrong.”
  • “You picked twelve outsiders nobody would’ve chosen, and you changed the world. Well, the moral of the story is everybody’s got a purpose.” —Casting Crowns

Quit Looking for Easy

Challenge yourself each and every practice. Get better. This is not a “have to be here” sport—this is a “get to be here” sport. It’s a privilege to play for your high school. It’s a privilege to play the sport you love. Don’t look for easy. I cannot remember anyone ever telling me that they were glad it was an easy road. Get after it. Get better.

Preparation Is Key

Knowing your roles are important. Every role is important every single day—even throughout practice. Being a great practice partner is a role for everyone. Your partner benefits from being challenged. You benefit from being challenged. You should never walk away at the end of practice and think “I had a perfect practice.” Challenge yourself, challenge your partner. Preparation is key to building glowing confidence.

Be Humble & Patient

Keep moving forward, and know that all this hard work you’re putting in will produce results. We just don’t know when we’ll enjoy the results. We need to work hard and never settle. Be patient as we focus on the micro goals. Also, remember there is noise all around us about rankings, records, etc. How are you going to respond to the noise? Be humble when teachers, parents and families congratulate you on a great game, but never settle. We are going to keep moving forward. Focus on what’s important: preparing for the next game.

You Can Only Control Two Things

Your effort and your attitude. Both of these show what is in your heart. Play for a purpose greater than you—maybe it’s the person to the left of you on the field or the person to your right. Just know you do not play this game to advance yourself personally. You play it because you love it. I challenge you to play for someone else.

Know Where You Are

Your head needs to be where your feet are. You can’t be thinking about the next out, the last pitch or the error you made in the second inning. You must be present. The key is to be here and now for every moment. You must take care of business and not take anyone for granted. Be here every pitch. Be in the box every at-bat. Be in the moment every time you run on and off the field. Be here when people are talking to you. Trust yourself and this will all turn out okay.

Work Through Negative Thoughts

We all have bad innings, bad at-bats and bad games. But how do you respond? Do you let negative thoughts fester? Do you put those inopportune plays on repeat in your mind? I need each of you to respond with positive thoughts. Figure out how to think those positive thoughts. For me, I talk to my mom in heaven. It just takes one swing, one diving catch, one tag on a runner stealing a base to change the momentum of your game. We need to wire our brains to listen to positive thoughts. Challenge yourself to let go of negative thoughts, and focus on what will go well.

When you need a little motivation or a little encouragement, my hope is you can take one of these snippets and find inspiration.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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Helping My Son Make Middle School Friends

Helping My Son Make Middle School Friends

One quarter down and Cohen is doing great in middle school. He takes pride in his schoolwork, and really enjoys most of his classes, but hates it. He dreads going every day!

I am not worried about his grades; he is getting all A’s. Even though he says middle school is much harder than elementary he is doing great. He really enjoyed his Spanish class first quarter and has taught me several words. Even though I took 4 years of it in high school, I can’t speak a word! Now he is in a healthy living class and recently learned how to make omelets. Like I said, he likes his classes but hates school.

Struggling to Make Friends

He hasn’t found “his people”. As a parent, it is so hard to watch your child struggle to make friends. Cohen is kind, loving, social and so friendly, I don’t understand why he can’t find his core group of friends. I know it’s not a lack of social skills but maybe he’s just in an environment where people don’t have the same ideas or interests as him, and he’s just having a real challenge finding his group of people. He hates his pod. A pod is where his locker is located. Don’t get me wrong, he has a couple of friends at school, but he never sees them. His middle school is so big he doesn’t have his two friends in any of his classes or near his pod.

His “happy place” is the soccer field. There he has his teammates, who he considers his best friends. He would rather hang out with them than anyone in school. However, they all go to different schools, so he doesn’t see them every day or have those friendly faces in school.

But I do think is it important for him to find a group of friends or just a couple of core friends in school. I want to make school better for him.

Putting Yourself Out There

So, I think it’s time for him to explore and maybe join an after-school activity. There are plenty of clubs and school-sponsored events he can try out. This may be the perfect way to discover his other passions and interests besides soccer —some he may not have even known he has! It’s also a great way for him to learn something new. And fingers crossed, he may even make a friend along the way.

Obviously, having a locker in a pod is new. He tells me that he’s always in a hurry because he doesn’t want to be late so maybe he seems unapproachable. So, I told him to just smile more. It seems like such a simple thing to do but a smile can start a lot of friendships. I know it’s hard for him because he is in a place where he is not making friends, no matter how hard he tries, so a smile may seem difficult to do. However, not smiling can make you even more of an outsider.

Now I’m not talking about walking around with a grin all day because people will think he’s just weird. But I’m talking about lightening up and putting positive energy out there. I told him to laugh at his classmates’ jokes (if they aren’t funny, jokes) and smile at people when he walks by. If his exterior cracks and he lets people in a little, then he may have a much better chance of making friends.

As parents, we often want to immediately jump into problem-solving mode whenever our child is having an issue. But it’s a better idea to slow down and just listen to what they have to say, first. Giving kids the space to open up and feel heard lets them know that it’s okay to talk about emotions — and that you’re a good person to turn to whenever they need help.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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Avoiding the Comparison Trap

Avoiding the Comparison Trap

As I was scrolling through social media today, I stopped on one post and thought to myself, “I sure wish I had it all put together, like she has.” Her make-up is perfect. Look at her perfectly sculpted abs. Her outfit is impeccable. Her home looks immaculate and the yard is perfectly manicured.

Thanks to social media today, it is very easy to fall into the comparison trap in every aspect of our lives. What I can tell you, when we fall into the comparison trap and believe we do not measure up, it leads to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Seriously, my friends, this is what brings us down rather than uplifting each one of us. The tendency is to keep comparing and truly losing site of what is purposeful, important and meaningful.

Four simple steps to prevent us from falling into the comparison trap:

Invest In Yourself

This doesn’t necessarily mean spending money, but it does mean spending time on YOU. Find something to personally grow in and go out and experience life. This can be as simple as sitting on the deck and reading a book. It can be as grandiose as illustrating a children’s book. It can be anything in between, however, the most important part of this is spending the time on YOU.

Allow Yourself to be Real

I have a playlist called “Do Not Listen to at School”. I wear leggings. I do not wash dishes every single day. I want a tattoo. Being your authentic self is much easier said than done, especially when in most instances you are seen only as your professional self. Practice mindfulness, know your values, face your fears, and by all means, it is okay to share your emotions. Allowing yourself to be real and authentic is challenging because it means slowing down, it means you may have to be selfish, and it means rewiring your brain to not always play it safe.

Surround Yourself with Authentic People

Proximity is powerful. That being said, you are a product of the five people you spend a majority of your time with. Outside of your family look at your inner circle of friends. Do they allow you to be authentic? Are they authentic around you? It does go both ways. Think about it, the quality of life is a reflection of your peer group. Find a group that makes you laugh, shares your values, inspires you to be a better person, but ultimately loves you for your true authentic self.

Make Kindness Purposeful In Your Life

Be intentional. In a world where kindness seems to be lacking, actions and words matter. The key is being intentional, about being kind and authentic (that word, it pops up again) about kindness. Purposeful kindness opens the door for others. If purposeful kindness is inspiring others through handwritten notes, go do it! If purposeful kindness for you is hugs, go do it!

The comparison trap is easy to fall into, however, if we practice the above suggestions we will live a more purposeful life. Yet most importantly we will model to our children how important it is to be our authentic selves.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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I Need to Be More Empathetic

I Need to Be More Empathetic

Growing up I was close to my mom. She was and still is my best friend. I could talk to her about anything. I felt comfortable going to her for advice. Now that I have children, I have strived to have continuous open conversations with them.

The Need to Be More Empathetic

However, I realized that I was becoming the parent that gave hugs but not advice. Recently, Cohen came home from a friend’s house abruptly. I could tell something was wrong and I went to chat with him. I found myself comforting him but asked him if he wanted to talk to his dad instead of me. In those situations, I never know what to say and I am scared to say the wrong thing. When my child is truly in distress because they feel hurt, disappointed, worried or angry, they desperately need their parent. I am glad he feels comfortable with Mitch but I need to strive to do better. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to see them feeling negatively, so my first instinct is to tell them not to feel the way they do. I suck at empathy. I give hugs and kiss boo-boos but I realized that if I don’t show empathy this results in my child feeling ashamed of how they feel, compounding the hurt.

Moreover, the knowledge that their mom does not try to understand them. I don’t want them to feel alone. Basically, this teaches them that opening up, to me, about how they feel makes them feel worse. And this is something, I fear and do not want! It doesn’t help that my husband just got his master’s in counseling, so I know he is more knowledgeable and gives better advice.

During their chats, I try to occupy our daughter. My husband always fills me in on the situation, but I want Cohen to feel comfortable talking with me. In essence, the sympathy requires no emotional investment on my part because I become the powerful saver and rescuer, which makes me feel better but not Cohen. It is the easy way out. So, I have work to do. I am not an empathic person but I need to do better for my kids so they can talk to me.

Examples of How to Honor Feelings

That’s when I hit the google button and asked for examples of what I should say to honor his feelings instead of dismissing them. A few examples below:

  • That’s a big worry. I get it.
  • You are upset. I would be too.
  • You have every right to feel disappointed. I felt like that when I was your age.
  • You are mad. I understand. You have every right.
  • It hurts to see someone do something you want to be able to do but can’t yet.
  • You are mad. I’m sure you have a good reason. I want to hear about it.

So, when either of my children are hurting, I am going to try and give them a solid dose of empathy, so they feel understood and connected to me. When Mitch does this, they immediately feel better and they want his help in problem-solving. In many cases, the empathy is all they need to feel better. Simply knowing we understand allows them to feel secure and forge ahead.

Having an empathic response requires me to shift from how I feel about the situation to how my child feels. It’s me remembering how it feels to be the worst one at something or picked on so I can relate to my child. It’s selfless and it puts my child first, emotionally. Empathy creates a rugged work ethic and resilience. Hopefully, my children will learn empathy through their father, and now my ways, and will thrive on adversity instead of breaking down when negative things happen.

For now, I plan to continue to work on having empathy so I can stay close to my children. I need to remember to empathize is to empower, so the reward will be priceless.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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