Monday, January 16, 2017

Parenting Pointers: New Experiences

I recently had a chance to interview Kevin and Jesse Howard, collaborators on the book Kookabuk Shares His Shovel, about new experiences and positive outlooks.

1.      What was the inspiration behind the book?
My inspiration for writing this book came from my oldest son and a childhood toy.

Just before my 8th birthday I spent over a month in the hospital with a bone infection in my leg. One morning during that stay, a friend of my father’s woke me. Hanging-on the curtain rod around my bed was a cute stuffed animal, a monkey named Kookabuk. My father’s friend went on to tell me a wonderful story about how Kookabuk was there to help me get better. During that time, I developed an incredible bond with my new friend. Kookabuk became a cherished source of friendship and strength. I improved and was discharged from the hospital not long after. Fast forwarding to adulthood, I always wanted to create children’s stories using Kookabuk as the main character, but could not come up with a storyline.

Many years later I married and started a family. My first born was diagnosed with Autism at two-years-old. As he grew he began displaying challenging behaviors. Struggling to figure out how we could understand what’s was going on with our son, we sought the assistance of many therapists and professionals. One of his therapist suggested using social stories. She explained that social stories are tools used to help children understand and prepare for new situations. Taking her advice, I began creating social stories for my son. The first one was about a child going to the doctor to have his blood drawn. We read it together several times before visiting the doctor’s office. It worked! My son had his blood drawn without incident. Other social stories followed. While writing one of them, I realized I finally had the storyline for Kookabuk!

My friend Kookabuk helped me through a very difficult time as a child, and now I am very happy he’s back (47 years later) to help others.

As Kevin described, the inspiration for the book series and the characters within are really from his personal experiences, as well as his relationship and journey with his son (my nephew). Kevin discussed the concept with me years ago and we had always planned on writing the series. Life as teachers and parents can be very busy, and we finally had some time to dedicate to Kookabuk over the last year or so. Personally, my greatest inspiration is to entertain as many children as possible while simultaneously putting forward the idea that friendships can develop between all different types of children.

2.      Why is it important for kids to approach new experience with a positive attitude?
The effects of positive thinking have been well chronicled. It has many benefits linked with health, work, and life. It has been proven that positive thought broadens ones outlook and empowers individuals to explore more opportunities. Children who develop and maintain a positive “can-do” attitude are more likely to engage and participate in new experiences without fear of failure.

Many children are hesitant or anxious when approaching a new experience for the first time. That’s normal. However, we as parents/caregivers/teachers have to do our best in order to help our children prepare for new experiences. Take for example the first day of school (or starting a new school). We expect our children to be somewhat anxious and hesitant for this experience. If we as adults can share information about the new school (the teachers, the classmates, the daily schedule, etc.) with our children before that first day, hopefully our children will feel more prepared and less anxious. This is extremely important because no one performs at their best while feeling negative or fearful. Therefore, as adults we have to constantly think of ways to teach our children to face new challenges with a positive attitude.

3.      How can parents help their kids have a positive, yet realistic, outlook?
I can best answer that question with the quote: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Instilling a positive attitude empowers your child to take the shots; letting them know they’re not going to make them all is realistic. It is up to parents/caregivers and teachers to be honest with children by painting a truthful picture and applaud every attempt regardless of the outcome.

I believe that we should tell our children to give the best of themselves in all situations, and that when they don’t succeed, it is not the end of the world. No one succeeds all the time, in all arenas. For example, the best hitters in major league baseball fail at least 70 percent of the time.  I think it’s equally important at a certain age to speak freely with our children about how all individuals are different. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. As a teacher, I work hard to differentiate instruction to tap into each child’s strengths so that they can feel successful. When things are difficult, I try to take pressure off the child, and remind him or her that all I expect is effort, and if they keep working hard they will achieve a level of success. I have seen a definite increase in anxiety in children over the last 10 or so years. Our kids must be constantly reminded that they are awesome, and don’t have to be perfect.

Jesse Howard is a special education teacher in Westchester County, NY who received his Masters in Education (Childhood/Early Childhood/Students with Disabilities) from Manhattanville College. Raised in a family of special education teachers who embraced their passion to live a life devoted to the well being of all children, his career has focused mainly on early childhood and students with disabilities. He made learning creative and experiential for his students and developed a strong connection with parents.  Realizing the importance of the role of the parent as “First Teacher,” Jesse encouraged parents that time spent reading with children was a critical as well as a rewarding experience.  From these experiences, plus his love of writing, grew the foundation of his philosophy surrounding the Kookabuk series. 

Kevin Howard graduated twice from the University of South Florida, receiving both a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and a Master’s Degree in Education. He spent the first 14 years of his early professional life in private industry, and is now approaching his 20th year as a public school teacher, trainer, and coach. While his resume is packed with a wealth of experience and education, Kevin confesses that his most rewarding experience has come from fatherhood and being the parent to a child with Autism. Kevin created and co-authored The Kooky Adventures of My Friend Kookabuk to share the knowledge he gained raising his son. The Kookabuk series is a collection of social stories that serve as a source of information, inspiration, and guidance for parents and children alike. 

For more information, connect with Jesse and Kevin on their website, as well as FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Kookabuk Shares His Shovel is now available on Amazon and CreateSpace.

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