Learning to Calm Fear

Lesson Overview

Some things in the world are scary. It would be nice if you could just make those scary things and scary feelings go away, but sometimes you can’t. Some stuff is beyond your control. What you can control, however, is your response to fear and the ways you take care of yourself during these scary times.

This lesson focuses on what fear feels like, different ways people respond to it, and steps anyone can take to help manage fear and learn to live with scary things.

What is fear? Fear is a response to things that scare you. It can be helpful because it can alert you to danger. It can be harmful if you over react.

What does fear feel like? Fear feels different to each person, but there are some things that are pretty common:

  • Feeling fear in your body You may have a racing heart, dizziness, fast breathing, sweating or getting very cold (or both), tingling or weakness in arms or legs, upset stomach, pounding head or headache, blurry vision, or a rushing sound in your ears.
  • Feeling fear in your mind You may worry, have scary images or ideas, want to sleep or not be able to sleep, or lose your appetite.

What does fear make you do? Each person responds differently to different fears, but typically reactions fall into one of three categories: FIGHT, FLIGHT or FREEZE.

  • FIGHT—Sometimes fear makes you want to fight back against the thing that you’re afraid of.
  • FLIGHT—Sometimes you just want to run away.
  • FREEZE—Other times your body freezes up and you feel like you can’t or don’t want to move.

Activity

Fight, Flight, Freeze or Forget It

  1. Start with an introduction of what fear is, what it feels like, and the different ways people respond.
  2. Introduce the fight/flight/freeze response, talk about how sometimes you have a fear response that:
    • Helps you (For example: If you’re in a scary situation and you instinctively know to run away.)
    • Doesn’t actually fit with what’s happening (For example: You might feel like you need to run away when you’re at the doctor’s office to get a flu shot. A flu shot is something that is good for you, but a lot of people are afraid of shots.)
  3. Explain that you’re going to do an activity that helps young people learn how they respond to different situations that might be scary. You’re going to describe some different situations and for each one young people should make a face or gesture that goes with how they think they would respond—fight, flight, freeze, or forget it (meaning it isn’t something that would scare them.)
  4. Ask young people to practice each of these faces or gestures, one at a time in order:
    • Fight
    • Flight
    • Freeze
    • Forget it
  5. Start playing music while young people mill around the room. When you turn the music off, describe a potentially scary situation (nothing too scary for this activity as it is simply designed to get young people thinking, not to cause anxiety). After each song, talk a little bit with the young people about why they responded the way that they did, especially if there are differences among the group. Be very clear that there are no right or wrong responses, just differences and that this is an activity for learning about yourself, not for comparison or judging anyone else. Do the activity using the following scenarios:
    • A surprise test in school
    • A visit to the dentist
    • Having to give a speech
    • Singing a song in front of an audience
    • Being chased by a tiger
    • Being chased by a chipmunk
    • Getting a shot at the doctor’s office
    • An older student says something mean to you at school
    • You’re in a store and an alarm goes off; you don’t know what it means
    • You’re on a hike and you see a snake in front of you in the path
    • You hear on the radio that a big storm is headed your way
  6. Finally, facilitate a conversation about the activity as a whole. Suggested discussion questions:
    • What did you learn from this activity (about yourself, about how different people respond to fears)?
    • What surprised you?
    • When you feel scared and you respond—fight, flight, or freeze—what are things you do to help yourself feel better? (Talk about as many examples as young people are willing to share. Then transition to the next activity.)

Three Ways to Feel Better

Tell young people that you are going to learn about and practice three things they can do when they are feeling fear. These three actions can help them feel better even if they can’t make the scary thing go away. Describe each of them, one at a time, and practice as you go.

  1. Breathing exercises—Breathing comes so naturally that you can sometimes forget how important and powerful it is. Try this: Begin breathing in through your nose and breathing out through your mouth. Breathe in twice as long as you breathe out (try counting to two as you breathe in and count to four as you breathe out). Keep breathing like this for several minutes. What do you notice about how this changes the way your body feels? The next time you are feeling fearful, try to remember to breathe like this.
  2. MeditationTry this meditation exercise and notice how it changes how your body feels. Meditating regularly can build “muscle memory” that will help you stay calm in the face of fear.
  3. Physical movement that can help you feel braveBeing brave usually doesn’t feel like it looks in movies or shows. Being brave means being willing to face things you’re afraid of. One way to learn bravery or courage—which is a similar word—is to do exercises that actually help you feel it in your body. Both cobras and elephants are great examples of brave animals and these stretches can help you channel them!

All Fats Are Not Created Equal!

Lesson Introduction & Overview

Fat is an important nutrient, but you only need small amounts each day. It gives you energy and helps your body grow. Here are some of the important jobs fats do:

• Give you energy: During exercise your body uses carbohydrates for fuel for about 20 minutes. After that your body depends on fat to keep going.
• Keeps your skin and hair healthy.
• Helps you absorb vitamins A, D, E and K.
• Fills your fat cells and helps keep you warm.
• Helps your brain grow and adapt as you learn new information and have new experiences.
• Helps regulate blood sugar so your energy level stays even instead of bouncing all over the place.
• Keeps you feeling satisfied so you don’t overeat.

Not all fats are “good” fats:

Trans fats are made when vegetable oils are processed (or hydrogenated) into shortening and stick margarine. Sources of trans fats include snack foods, baked goods and fried foods made with “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “vegetable shortening.”

Try to limit foods made with these ingredients. Trans fats can raise your cholesterol.

Saturated fats are most often found in foods that are solid at room temperature, like butter, cheese, palm and coconut oil and red meats.

Limit the amount of saturated fat and trans fat you have each day. This will help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Unsaturated fats, the healthy types of fats, come from both animal and plant products. There are two types:

  • monounsaturated fats come from seeds or nuts such as avocado, olive, peanut and canola oils. Monounsaturated fat, in the right amounts, may reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol). They are liquid at room temperature.
  • polyunsaturated fats come from vegetables, seeds or nuts such as corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed and sesame seed oils. Polyunsaturated fats can help lower cholesterol if you use them in place of saturated fats.

This lesson introduces young people to the importance of including fats in their diets and choosing the most healthful types.

Activity

Lead a conversation based on the following questions:

  • What kinds of things have you heard (from your family, friends, media, health care providers, school, etc.) about fats in food?
  • Is the information you’re getting about fats from food labels easy to understand? Why or why not?
  • Is the information you’re getting about fats in food helpful to you when you’re choosing what to eat?
  • What questions do you have about fats in food?

Introduce the types of fats: Trans fats, saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (use the information above).

Prepare a sampling of snack options with healthy fats, such as: walnuts or other nuts, olives, bread dipped in olive oil, dark chocolate, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, vegetables dipped in hummus made with healthy fats (be sure to check the label).

Invite young people to complete the healthy fats word find while enjoying tasting the different foods.

Lead a reflection discussion:

  • Which foods did you like best?
  • Were there any you didn’t like?
  • Had you eaten any of these foods before?
  • What do you usually eat for snacks?
  • Are there any of these foods you’d like to eat more often?

Conclusion

Close by letting young people know that in addition to healthy fats, their bodies need protein and carbohydrates (such as vegetables and fruits) as well. It’s recommended that fats make up about 25 to 30 percent of a person’s daily calorie intake. Consider following this lesson with the Health Powered Kids lesson on learning to read nutrition labels.

Continuing the Conversation

Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in EnglishSpanish, Somali and Hmong so that families can learn about healthy fats at home.

Exercise and Your Brain

Lesson Introduction & Overview

Recent research has found that exercise, particularly aerobic activity that involves an element of coordination, has benefits for young people that go far beyond fitness.

Aerobic activity is any physical activity that increases your heart rate and breathing. It helps improve your heart and lung fitness. Some examples include brisk walking, hiking, jogging/running, biking, swimming, rowing, jumping rope, dancing and aerobics class.

Physical activity has many benefits. In addition to helping build strong bones and muscles, regular physical activity can:

  • help maintain a healthy weight
  • reduce the risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, certain cancers and joint conditions
  • reduce levels of anxiety and stress
  • improve your self-esteem and confidence
  • help improve concentration and memory
  • help maintain good blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • give you an overall feeling of well-being
  • build endurance and increase your metabolism
  • improve your ability to do daily activities
  • help you relax and sleep better.

Studies have found that young people who participate in even 10 minutes of exercise before a test or other academic activity performed better on those tasks than young people who did not exercise. Other studies have found that young people who participate in physical activity consistently have more academic success than their peers who participate less.

For this lesson, the focus is on empowering young people to exercise regardless of their fitness baseline.

Activity

Session One

Ask young people a series of questions about exercise: Do they like it? What kinds of exercise do they do or do they know that other people do? What are some of the benefits of exercise?

Then introduce the Exercise-Brain Connection and highlight the following points:
• Exercise is good for your body; it helps keep your heart and other muscles strong, your organs working well and your bones healthy.
• Exercise is also good for your mood: exercising can help improve your mood by reducing stress and anxiety.
• Exercise is good for your brain! Not as many people know this, but exercise can help you focus, problem solve, and remember information and ideas.

Then explain that over the next week your class/group will be doing a research study of your own. Here are the steps:
• Each young person will receive a Your Brain After Exercise tracking sheet.
• For one week, young people should rate how well they think they performed on their homework or brain games and track whether or not they exercised beforehand.
• You can provide age-appropriate activities such as word finds, cryptograms, Sudoku puzzles, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles or online brain games. A simple internet search will provide a variety of resources!
• Encourage young people to exercise for at least 10 minutes sometimes before performing the task, and sometimes not.

Session 2

Ask young people to take out their tracking sheets. Talk about how the week went, what they noticed, what questions they have.

Then create a bar chart showing the results of your study:
• Your X-axis will have two variables: “Yes, I exercised before task” and “No, I did not exercise before task.”
• Your Y-axis will have five variables: the ratings on how they think they performed on their assignments.
• Find the average of all the ratings for times when they did at least 10 minutes of exercise and make that average the first bar.
• Find the average for all the ratings for times when they didn’t do at least 10 minutes of exercise and make that average the second bar.
• Talk about what the bar chart shows. Is there a difference? Why do you think that is so? Did you notice a difference for yourself between times when you exercised and when you didn’t?

Conclusion

Remind young people that research has shown that exercise has a positive impact on brain function and encourage them to make exercise part of their regular routine.

Continuing the Conversation

Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in EnglishSpanish, Somali and Hmong so that families can learn about exercise and the brain at home.

Noticing Walk and Reflection

Lesson Introduction & Overview

Young people take a walk and then reflect on what they saw, heard, thought about and felt during the walk. Three year olds are going to have a very different experience of this activity than eight year olds, so adjust your instructions and expectations accordingly.

Activity

  1. Prepare young people for the walk with the following explanation:
    1. Today we are going to go on a Noticing Walk. What do you think I might mean when I say, “Noticing Walk?” Let young people respond with what they saw, heard, thought about and felt during the walk.
    2. Describe the area in which you will walk. Ask them what they think they might notice in that place or space.
    3. Encourage young people to pay attention to (notice) their experiences, including what they see, hear, think about and feel during the walk. It’s okay for them to talk to each other about their experiences when walking, but they might be able to notice better if they are mostly quiet.
    4. Tell them that at the halfway point, you are going to ask for one minute of silence. During this time, you’ll keep walking but no one should be talking.
  2. Go on a short walk (ranging from 10-20 minutes), preferably outside, but inside is okay too.
  3. Every so often, remind them that the point of the walk is to be paying attention to sights, sounds, thoughts and feelings.
  4. Return to your classroom or home base and handout blank sheets of paper and crayons or markers. Ask young people to draw or write about something they noticed on the walk.
  5. After young people are done with coloring, ask them to share what they drew or wrote with the rest of the group.

Conclusion

A nice practice in mindfulness is gratitude. At the end of your activity, thank young people for participating and express your appreciation for some aspect of what happened.

Continuing the Conversation

Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in EnglishSpanish, Somali and Hmong so that families can go on a noticing walk at home.

Learning Mindfulness through Movement

Lesson Introduction & Overview

Young people begin to learn about mindfulness practice by learning and then moving through a series of yoga poses.

Activity

  1. Prepare young people for their yoga practice with the follow discussion questions and topics:
    1. Do you know what yoga is? Have you done it before? Wait for answers, allow youth to demonstrate poses if they know any, and then explain that yoga is a way to exercise your body, your breath and your mind all at the same time. There are many different types of yoga and ways to do yoga.
    2. Have you ever heard anyone talk about something called mindfulness? Do you know why mindfulness can be a good thing? Wait for answers and then explain that mindfulness means paying attention to and noticing what’s happening—such as things you’re seeing, hearing and feeling—without deciding if they are good or bad. Mindfulness can help you be happier and healthier. If you are being mindful, you are less likely to get really upset or sad and more likely to be calm and happy. It’s not something that’s always easy, but anyone can learn to do it.
  2. Explain that an important part of yoga is paying attention to your breath. Ask young people to lie down on the floor and then give the following instructions for noticing their breathing: Place your hands on your belly. Breathe in deeply through your nose and feel your belly rise. Hold for just a second while your belly is filled with air, and then slowly breathe out through your mouth. Do this five more times. Invite young people to try to continue this same breathing pattern throughout their yoga practice.
  3. Teach young people each of the eight yoga poses they will be doing in their practice. Do this part fairly quickly so you can get to the actual sequenced practice. It’s okay if young people don’t catch on right away and need more instruction during the sequence. Yoga is an ongoing practice and there is no exact right way to do a pose. Unless a young person is at risk of hurting themselves, if they are pretty close to the pose let them be.

Sun Breath

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs crossed or in your chair with your feet flat on the floor. Sit up tall and keep your back straight.
  2. Put the palms of your hands together at the center of your chest.
  3. Close your eyes and take three big sun breaths. Here’s how:
    • When you breathe in deeply, raise your arms above your head in the shape of a big round sun.
    • Then breathe out and bring your arms back down so that your palms are together at the center of your chest.
  4. The sun breath allows you to become centered and focused on your breath.

Space Float

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs crossed or in a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Take hold of your outside ankle. If you are sitting on a chair, hold onto the edges of the chair by the outside of your legs, above the knees.
  3. Breathe in deeply as you stretch your body forward, chest and stomach out.
  4. Breathe out as you slump back; spine is curved, chest is caved in.
  5. Space float gives you a flexible spine. It keeps your back muscles relaxed and strong. It also helps you digest your food.

Shooting Star

  1. Sit on the floor with your feet in front of you and your hands behind you on the floor.
  2. Breathe in and push your body up (like a backwards push-up).
  3. Make yourself into a perfectly straight line, like a shooting star, by pushing your stomach up and point your toes away from you.
  4. Try to hold this pose for a count of 10. (You can hold this pose longer during the sequenced practice).
  5. Shooting star makes your arms, legs and stomach muscles strong.
  6. You can also do this pose while sitting in a chair. Hold the edges of the chair and push up like the description above.

Moon Walk

  1. Sit in your chair or lie down on the floor on your back.
  2. Begin to walk in the air. Keep your right leg straight and lift it up as you lift your left arm. Breathe in as you lift your leg and arm.
  3. Breathe out as your arm and leg go down.
  4. Then breathe in again as you lift your left leg and right arm together.
  5. Breathe out as your arm and leg go down.
  6. Switch sides and keep going. Lift your leg and stretch your arm straight up toward the sky.
  7. Moon walk balances the two sides of your brain and helps you think better.

Cobra

  1. Lie on your stomach on the floor. If you are sitting in a chair, sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Put your hands on the floor under your shoulders. If you are sitting in a chair, put your hands on your knees or a desk.
  3. Stretch your upper body up high, with your arms straight and your stomach resting on the ground. If you are sitting, lean forward slightly, push your hands against your knees or desk and push your shoulders back to look up slightly. Keep your neck straight and in line with your spine.
  4. Stretch your head as far up as you can and HISS! Feel the stretch in your spine.
  5. You are a very fierce cobra snake!
  6. Keep stretching and breathing in and out. Make a hissing sound when you breathe out. Continue this breathing and hissing for a minute.
  7. If you are on the floor, breathe in and lift your “tail” (feet) up by bending your knees. Try to bring your head and “tail” (feet) close together. Can they touch each other?

Elephant

  1. Stand up.
  2. Bend forward with your arms hanging down.
  3. Clasp your hands together, with fingers interlocked.
  4. Walk around the room, bent over, and swing your trunk.
  5. After a minute, stretch your trunk high up into the air. Lean back and let out a big elephant sound like a horn!

Relaxed Monkey Pose

  1. Kneel on the floor on your knees and sit back on your heels. If you are sitting in a chair, keep your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Lean forward and stretch your arms forward to the ground. Continue stretching as far as you can. Can you touch your forehead to the floor? If you are sitting on a chair, just reach down to the floor as far as you can.
  3. Stretch your arms out as far as they will go; allow your body to relax.
  4. Take in big monkey breaths. Feel your chest rise with each breath in and your chest relax toward the floor with each breath out. Breathe in and out at your own pace. Relax for one minute.

Sea Turtle Deep Relaxation

  1. Lie on the floor on your back with your legs straight and arms at your sides. Or sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and hands on your desk or lap.
  2. The palms of your hands are facing up and resting on the floor, desk or lap.
  3. Close your eyes and breathe gently.
  4. Focus on your breath. If you have any thoughts or distractions, try to let them go and go back to focusing on your breath.
  5. You might need a word to focus on or a favorite place to imagine like lying or sitting on a beach. Imagine the warm sand, the hot sun and the cool breeze off the water. Your breath sounds like the waves! As you breathe in, listen! It sounds like the waves coming up to the shore. As you breathe out, imagine the waves going back out to sea. Keep breathing with the waves for another minute or two.

Move through the eight poses in a guided sequence.

At the end of Sea Turtle, give young people time to slowly sit back up. Ask each person to share with the group one thing they noticed during their yoga practice. Thank everyone for participating.

Conclusion

A nice practice in mindfulness is gratitude. At the end of your activity, thank young people for participating and express your appreciation for some aspect of what happened.

Continuing the Conversation

Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in EnglishSpanish, Somali and Hmong so that families can practice mindfulness through movement at home.

Gratitude: Overlooked Blessings

Lesson Introduction & Overview

This short lesson is aimed at helping young people develop an attitude of gratitude. Research shows that gratitude helps people be happier and deal with stress better.

Activity

Talk with the youth about how being grateful for the things in their lives can help increase their happiness and decrease stress.

Ask them what they think it means to be grateful. They might say that it means thankful, appreciating what they have, or feeling pleased or content. If no youth offer ideas, prompt them with these ideas or your own.

But feeling grateful isn’t always easy and isn’t something that everyone does naturally. It’s pretty easy to compare yourself to those around you and wish you had what they had, or to focus on the challenges and frustrations in your lives.

Being grateful is a muscle you can build. Just like you learn or develop a new skill or strength through practice, you can improve your attitude of gratitude by working on it a little bit each day.

Ask young people to think about these perspectives:

  • Do you know how many people in the world today have clean drinking water?

Give youth a chance to respond. Then talk about that there are more than six million people in the world who don’t have clean water for drinking, cooking, or cleaning themselves. Many people who don’t have these things end up getting sick because of it.

  • How many people do you think have access to a working toilet?

More than 1/3 of people living in the world today don’t have access to a working toilet? Talk about what people might do if they don’t have a working toilet. Some of these people have to use a hole in the ground. Others use an outhouse or something similar.

Sometimes we get so used to things that help keep us comfortable, safe and healthy, that we forgot to be grateful for them. These things are overlooked blessings.

Together as a class, make a list of overlooked blessings…things that you take for granted but for which, when you stop and think, you are grateful.

Post the list somewhere where everyone can see it regularly as a reminder.

Do a guided gratitude meditation together: http://www.changetochill.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Change_to_Chill_Gratitude.mp3

Distribute the Three Good Things worksheet. Encourage young people to continue to build their “gratitude muscles” by using the worksheet to help remind them of the good things in their lives.

Conclusion

Keep the list up for as long as seems helpful. Consider also sharing the ideas through social media or school or community resources.

Additional Instructor Resources

Additional information about gratitude: http://www.changetochill.org/how-can-i/gratitude/

Continuing the Conversation

Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in EnglishSpanish, Somali and Hmong so that families can practice gratitude at home.

What We Can Do to Stress Less

Lesson Introduction & Overview

This short lesson is aimed at getting youth to think about their responses to stressful or challenging situations, and to respond positively rather than by adding to the difficulty.

Activity

1. Show the What Pizza Wears Gloves video and The Two Arrows Explainer video.

2. Talk briefly about what they noticed and what they thought about these two videos. Ask if anyone has any questions about them.

3. Then ask about stress:

  • Do you ever feel stressed out? Have you ever felt like the Pizza or the person who dropped the lunch tray? What does stress feel like in your body and in your thoughts?
  • What causes stress in your life?
  • Do your family members or friends ever get stressed? How can you tell? How do they act?
  • What do you think causes stress for other people?

4. Then talk about how the videos mention “mindfulness” and “Change to Chill.” Ask youth if they’ve ever heard those terms before and what they think they mean. Talk about their ideas and share your own.

5. Show the youth the pens, sticky notes and wall space. Explain that as a group you are going to write as many ideas as you can about how to stress less or deal with stress when it comes up. Give some examples like, “go for a run,” “listen to music,” or “make slime with your friends.”

6. Give youth a chance to post their own ideas and read through others. Talk briefly about:

  • What’s your favorite way to de-stress?
  • Did you get any new ideas today?
  • What’s one thing you might like to try next time you feel stressed out?

Conclusion

Keep the wall of notes up for as long as seems helpful. Consider also sharing the ideas through social media or school resources.

Additional Resources:

Additional videos:

Continuing the Conversation

Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in EnglishSpanish, Somali and Hmong so that families can stress less at home.

The Power of Meditation

Lesson Introduction & Overview

This short lesson is aimed at encouraging youth to think positively about meditation and other relaxation activities, and help reduce the stigma around mental health self-care.

Activity

Let young people know that they will be trying a short meditation today. Meditation is a strategy for reducing stress and promoting mental wellness. Ask the group what stereotypes they can think of about meditation, either positive or negative.

Introduce the idea of stigma:

  1. Stigma is a mark of shame that sets an individual or a group apart. It’s a label, a stereotype, a pre-judgment before getting to really know a person and the details of his or her situation. Sometimes, negative stereotypes lead to stigma.
  2. Stigma leads people to reject, avoid, or fear those they perceive as different. You’ve all seen stigma in action and probably experienced it yourselves as well.

Talk about types of stigma.

Ask students to talk about different types of stigma. Can they think of any examples of stigma based on negative stereotypes?

There is definitely some stigma in U.S. culture about people who have stress and related problems such as anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions. People may make jokes such as “forgetting to take your meds.”

These negative judgments can carry over to the things people do to take care of their mental well-being. Some people practice meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises. Other people think those things are silly or weird. Talk with youth about whether they or anyone they know does any of these things, and whether in their experiences there is stigma about them.

The truth is that these kinds of practices, what’s sometimes known as mindfulness, are really awesome for overall health, and can help with many things beyond just promoting mental wellness, including doing well in school, sports and music. They can also help you feel good about yourself, and even lead you to better relationships with friends and family.

Ask if anyone in the group knows any breathing exercises or yoga poses or other things related to meditation, mindfulness, and mental wellness. If young people have things they want to share, let them demonstrate or lead the group.

Introduce the Head to Toe meditation. Encourage young people to set aside any pre-existing judgements they might have and just give it a try.

Meditate with the group (you can play the audio or read the script yourself).

Give people a few minutes to just rest and relax after the meditation. Then pull the group back together and ask:

  • What did you think of that short meditation experience?
  • What did you like about it? What did you not like about it?
  • Do you think regular meditation like this could be helpful to you or to someone else in your life? Why or why not?

Finally, thank the group for being part of reducing stigma about mental wellness and taking care of themselves. Encourage them to keep doing that because it’s good for them and for other people they care about.

Conclusion

If your group does well with this, consider trying some of the other meditations available on Change to Chill, perhaps including a regular time during the week for a short meditation or other mindfulness practice.

Additional Instructor Resources

Additional videos:

Continuing the Conversation

Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in EnglishSpanish, Somali and Hmong so that families can practice meditation at home.

Let’s Talk! Maximizing the Benefits of Family Mealtime

Lesson Introduction & Overview

There’s lots of talk in the world of parenting about the importance of connecting as a family at mealtime, with good reason. Research shows that some of the benefits can include:

  • better academic performance
  • higher self-esteem
  • greater sense of resilience
  • lower risk of substance abuse
  • lower risk of teen pregnancy
  • lower risk of depression
  • lower likelihood of developing eating disorders
  • lower rates of obesity

Very rarely do adults encourage young people to take the initiative when it comes to family dinner (or another meal); the focus is typically on parents. This lesson helps young people become leaders of positive family mealtime communication and provides them with tips and conversation starter ideas.

Activity

  1. Introduce the topic – Depending on the maturity of the youth, ask and talk about a few of the questions below:
    1. How many of you have dinner or other meals with your family three times a week? More than that? Less than that?
    2. What are some things you like about family mealtimes?
    3. What are some things you don’t like or wish were different about family mealtimes?
  2. Family mealtimes, away from distractions such as media, are important for a variety of reasons:
  • families that eat together regularly tend to be physically healthier
  • relationships between parents or guardians and young people tend to be stronger
  • young people do better in school
  • families talk about important topics that might not otherwise get talked about.

Explain to young people that they can be important leaders in their families. Young people can encourage their family to sit down to eat together and have important or fun conversations. The rest of this activity is one way to do that.

  1. Brainstorm conversation topics. Have them write their ideas on slips of paper. You can also distribute the Let’s Talk handout that is included with this lesson. They can use it to spark ideas or can cut it up and use it as is.
  2. Create “Let’s Talk – Conversation Starters” jars or boxes. Give young people time to decorate their jar or box. Distribute the Let’s Talk handout for youth to cut into strips along the dotted lines. Each youth can then fill his or her jar or box with the strips and take it home for his or her family to choose a strip from the jar or box and start talking!

Reflection – Ask young people the following questions:

  • What is their favorite food to have at a family meal?
  • Why is this meal their favorite?
  • Does it remind them of a special memory?
  • Is it cooked by someone they love?

Conclusion

This activity turns the tables, so to speak, when it comes to family mealtimes. It puts young people in the driver’s seat. Adults are not always used to thinking of young people as leaders in their families, but giving them small roles like this can help them strengthen connections with their families as well as build important social and emotional skills that will help them in other areas of their lives.

Continuing the Conversation

Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in English and Spanish so that families can practice an attitude of gratitude at home.

Additional Instructor Resources

Parent Resources

An Attitude of Gratitude

Research suggests that practicing gratitude can help promote mental wellness, school success, generosity and physical health. Although approaching life with an attitude of gratitude is not something we are born with, it is a simple practice to incorporate into daily life.

Consider talking to kids about the importance of gratitude and lead a sharing circle where they can share things they are grateful for and things they are grumbling about. To learn more, check out the full activity here!

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