Sunday, November 6, 2011

Barbara Gruener: Got StReSs??

Are you ready for some magic and motivation? Then you've come to the right place. W.o.W.z.A!!!  Thank you, Debbie, for gathering us together and including me! I am so excited and honored to be a part of this wild-and-crazy collaborative on behalf of children.
       Besides energy and enthusiasm, I bring a wealth of training and experience to this circle of friends. I've been a teacher pretty much as long as I can remember, though I officially began working in education when I earned my degree that said I was qualified to do so from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1984. I taught English 9 and Spanish I in central WI for a year before making my way to Texas. Ten more years in the high school classroom allowed me to complete two additional degrees, an M.S. in Education with an emphasis on English as a Second Language and an M.S. in Counseling. It was during my first few years as a high school counselor that I really became interested in character development. I remember thinking to myself that maybe there wouldn't be so much crisis intervention work to do with teens if only they had a more prevention training and practice on social-skills, conflict resolution, and character traits during their formative years, so I left secondary education for intermediate and ultimately elementary school. I currently serve as the counselor for grades preK-3rd at Westwood-Bales in Friendswood, Texas.
     After that three-day Character Development Seminar with the Josephson Institute of Ethics in the Character Counts! framework in the fall of 2000, I became a character ambassador. Since then, I've spoken nationally for groups like the Character Education Partnership in D.C., the Texas Counseling Association, the Jefferson County School District in WI, and the National Center for Youth Issues in TN. In 2007, my school was named a Texas State School of Character and in 2009, we were designated a National School of Character. 
Sharing our promising practices in my interactive sessions - Sing, Dance, Laugh, and Build Character - is one of my favorite things to do!  Writing has always been my passion, so I started my Corner on Character blog this summer; do visit me there when you need a shot of inspiration!  I also write a monthly guest blog for The Teachers' Lounge. Here now, my thoughts about seasonal stress:
Simple Stress-Proofing Strategies by Barbara Gruener

‘Tis the season, the most wonderful time of the year, right?  But what can you do when the stress of the season starts to steal your sparkle? Here are six tried-and-true tips to help you get a hold of stress before it grabs a hold of you and your youngsters:

1.     Go From Wii to WE.  Sometimes adults get busy, allowing their little ones too much time on their video game devices. Leave it to the video world to provide a lot of real-life stress. Recently I’ve worked with a few students who are having trouble distinguishing between their virtual universe and reality. Talk about a stressor!  If you’re going to give your children some screen time, make sure to limit it to short increments of time, ideally 30 minutes or less in the morning and 30 minutes or less in the evening. Then join your child and turn their Wii time into WE time. What board games can you play together: Twister?  Yatzhee?  Sorry?  Operation? Use family game time to reconnect and ward off stress and agitation
2.   Teach Them To Relax.  It’s never too early to teach yoga, deep relaxation, or meditation. I use a book called Starbright: Meditations For Children by Maureen Garth to help my students relax with guided imagery and visualization. Take your children to a safe, calm place in their minds; then teach them how to do that for themselves for a brain break whenever they need it!
3.   Engage In Exercise.  Twenty minutes of daily exercise is not only good for the body but also for the brain! Physical activity releases endorphins that “act like Miracle Gro for the brain,” according to John Medina, author of Brain Rules.  Fire those dendrites by going on a swift walk, jumping on the trampoline, or kick a ball around the back yard, it’ll be a win-win because you’ll not only score some meaningful movement but also some fresh air.
4.   Help Them Listen To Their Bodies.  Stress and other negative emotions show up in our bodies, so why not teach your kids to identify their hot spots. How does anger feel on your face, for example. What does stress feel like in your stomach?  Where does worry settle? Ask your kids; they’ll tell you. Better yet, have them draw it out.  Trace a gingerbread man cookie cutter and ask them to put an X where they can actually feel stress, worry, or anger.
5.   Give Back.  To help keep holiday gift-getting from exploding out of control, we encourage our children to choose a charity to whom we can make a donation in their name in lieu of a few gifts that they might get.  Last year, we sent money to the summer church camp that they love, a gift that was every bit as meaningful to them as a present wrapped up under the tree would have been.  We also encourage giving of our time and talent by sharing the gift of music and song with local nursing home residents. Additionally, we take out the traditional recipes and make holiday candy and cookies to leave them for our mail carrier and take to other community helpers to show our gratitude.
6.   Eat, Drink and Be Healthy.  Don’t let too much holiday cheer disrupt healthy eating habits. Remember the food pyramid? Daily guidelines have changed slightly, and it’s actually more of a plate now, but one thing remains the same:  Your children should eat a nice mix of fruits, vegetables, protein and dairy. Our rule of thumb is to put three to five colors on our plates at every meal. Try it and savor the flavor.  And don’t forget to offer your kiddos plenty of water.

That’s it, six simple strategies. Easy cheesy, agreed? Oh, and don’t stress about doing all of these things at once. Just focus on the one that’ll help most when you feel the holiday-stress grinch sneaking in to rob you of the gift of sanity this season.    


  1. Barbara, You have shared very valuable suggestions here! These are great suggestions for healthy bodies and brains. Developing brains do need to de-stress for optimal learning and social-emotional skills. Thanks for all you have contributed to happier holidays for brains... of all ages!

  2. I'm so excited to learn about your work, Barbara! Character is one of my favorite soapbox topics at and I've written a number of posts about Character Counts! Great stress-proofing strategies (LOVE the "Go From Wii to WE")! I pinned your post to my Stress-Free Kids Pinterest board at

  3. Yay - thanks, Deb and Deborah! I just love to write and I'm so passionate about raising 'value-able' citizens!!! I'm glad to be working with you both in this collaborative. I'm going to check out the figure skating site next, then the pinterest board; appreciate the tips.


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