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Episode 3: The Happiness Forecast

Getting the Forecast Right Can Bring More Sunshine into Your Child’s Life
How can parents help manage the fear and uncertainty that comes with a new school year, new environments and new friendships?

Superintendent Anthony Godfrey sits down with JSD Health and Wellness Specialist McKinley Withers to talk about managing change in your child’s life and offers some ways to help overcome the social health crisis we are seeing in students today.


Audio Transcription

Superintendent Godfrey:
Welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. This is a Jordan School District podcast designed to educate, inform, and hopefully entertain you. If it's important to students, parents, teachers, or anything that has to do with education, it's something we want to cover on the podcast. I'd like to start this Supercast by visiting with a few students. I had a few questions for students in sixth grade at Terra Linda Elementary. So Sammy, tell me, what do you like about school?

Student:
Well, I like making friends because this is my first year at this school, actually.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So is this a friendly school?

Student:
Yes, it's very friendly. I love all the staff and my friends here.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So, do you know what you want to be when you grow up?

Student:
It would be an oceanographer or I want to be a veterinarian or I want to be a photographer.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Oh, so you've got it down to three choices.

Student:
Yeah, I think you're going to have to choose one. I'm not sure how well those would all overlap. What do you like about sixth grade Gracie?

Student:
How the bathrooms aren't as dirty.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Dirty bathrooms are not old cool. I can't argue with you there. We always appreciate the chance to talk with students and it was great to visit Terra Linda and seeing kids at the start of school. They're just getting going. Things are going their way so far.

And today we get the chance to talk with our Consultant in Health and Wellness, McKinley Withers. He's going to talk with us about keeping that positive momentum that you heard in the voices of the children. I had the chance to talk with and to manage the transitions, stress and workload that, quite frankly, can come along with being a student. We've had a particular focus in the last year in particular on the health and wellness of students and faculty and the social and emotional wellness, just in general, of everyone in the District, particularly students. And we just want to talk about ways that students can effectively manage that. So McKinley, tell us a little bit about yourself.

McKinley:
I've been a teacher and a counselor, and I love working in education. I currently, like you said, work as a Health and Wellness Specialist. I also am a father of two young children who will shortly be attending Jordan School District schools and so I look at this from multiple angles.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Great. Happy you are here. Tell us a little bit about how we can improve overall health and wellness. That's been a real focus in the District and just in general social and emotional health and wellness, making sure that we're focused on happiness and just kids are doing well, because you can't learn if you're feeling stressed out and you're feeling a high level of anxiety. How do we manage that?

McKinley:
So, I always like to start any discussion on happiness or wellness with probably what I see as the most fundamental mindset shift, which is focusing primarily on what you have control over. That is your thoughts and your actions, what you do daily, what you choose to do does matter for your wellness. It matters for your longevity. It matters for your happiness. We often get distracted by all of these outside things that we don't have control over. If that's a new school environment, you know, there's going to be new kids, new teachers, new administrators, new situations that aren't always going to go well. We can't always predict that. Things just, aren't always going to go our way.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So, how do we manage that? How take on the mindset that will help us manage the types of change that happened? Not just at the beginning of the school year, but throughout the year, you're shifting friends, you're in different classes, you're learning different things.

McKinley:
So in order to focus on what you have control over, I guess we can apply it to making friends. So rather than, "Oh man, I wish so-and-so would talk to me more or I wish somebody would sit with me at lunch or I hope that this would happen for me socially and that I could have all the friends in the world".

Superintendent Godfrey:
Yes. And we've all been there. We've all thought that we've all been down that road where, you know, we wish someone else would take care of our social health for us.

McKinley:
Right. But accepting that that's not going to happen is very important to building social health.  So just accepting that and understanding that we can't control everything or everyone is a step in the right direction toward health and wellness for students because then you're directing your energy towards what you can control. So rather than moping all day about not being able to make friends or other people not reaching out to you, try setting achievable small social goals. Instead, say you know, today, I'm just going to smile at someone I don't know. That's achievable, it's small. That's something I can do.

Superintendent Godfrey:
That's great. And that's concrete. So a parent who's talking with a student who's frustrated because they're not making friends can give these types of tips.

McKinley:
Yeah.

Superintendent Godfrey:
To reach out to someone rather than sitting around, wishing someone else would behave in a particular way. Take active steps to try to spark that friendship on their own. Right?

McKinley:
Yeah. Yeah. Setting achievable social goals is what I would call it.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Okay. So what else besides achievable social goals?

McKinleyL
Focusing on the fact that there are some things you can change and other things you can't.

Superintendent Godfrey:
What else can parents do to help their students have a high level of happiness and social and emotional wellness?

McKinley:
So, just because of what we were just talking about, let's look at this from social fitness. So those achievable social goals, we are working on our social fitness. These kids have so many opportunities socially. They're there at school. There's a thousand kids at, I mean, maybe not at every school, but many of our schools have found sometimes 3000. There's a lot of kids. So they are surrounded by social opportunities and the number of kids that they are surrounded by that are probably having similar lonely thoughts is overwhelming.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Yeah. And part of the lonely thoughts is that you think you're the only one having the lonely thoughts.They're all in it together. They all are suffering socially. We have a social health crisis.

McKinley:
Yeah. So if, if by setting those small, achievable social goals and just focusing on what they can do to build better relationships and friendships, I think that's a really good starting point. But then we're talking physical and emotional fitness too, they're all connected. Right?

Superintendent Godfrey:
So tell me more about the physical, how does the physical relate?

McKinley:
So in terms of happiness, our physical health is so fundamental. We're just talking about basic concepts like sleep, diet, exercise, maybe some sunlight, you know, just those basic things. We need those as humans and we aren't going to flourish if we don't get that again.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And maybe you've been following me around, but I get too much of the eating and not enough of the sleep.

Okay. I just don't think that's a part of the equation. So tell me a little bit about what that looks like for kids. If there are parents looking to help kids improve their physical health and in turn, improve their emotional health, sleep, for example, talk about that.

McKinley:
So I know that you said in jest that you don't get enough sleep that you eat too much, but we're not in jest.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Okay. That's absolutely true.

MiKinley:
The reason I mentioned social health first is because research on longevity, health and happiness would indicate that how long you will live, whether or not your immune system is functioning better than someone else typically ties back to the quality of your relationships. So that really is the foundation of wellness, it is relationships. If we're cranky all the time because we're not sleeping enough, we're not going to have good relationships. And I don't think you're cranky, by the way, even though you don't sleep enough. I think you keep it pretty good.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Look, I think you're protesting a little too much there, so let's just move on.

McKinley:
Okay. But what that says is that there really is a relationship. Relationships are at the center of longevity, happiness health, but unless you're physically healthy, unless you're meeting those small social goals, then you may not be able to create those relationships that you need.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Yeah. Okay. Yeah.

McKinley:
So, and again, it is all connected because our social relationships affect our emotional health. Our emotional health affects whether or not we feel like taking care of our physical health and as our physical health changes, our emotional health changes.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Yeah. Eating a pint of ice cream at 11:00 PM?

McKinley:
Yes, right.

Superintendent Godfrey:
We're going to take a quick break and we're going to come back and talk specifically about sleep, eating right and getting some exercise and how parents can help students meet those goals.

McKinley:
Awesome.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Stay with us.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Welcome back to the Supercast. I'm Anthony Godfrey, Superintendent of Schools for Jordan School District. With me today is McKinley Withers, our Health and Wellness Specialist for the District. And he's going to tell us a little bit more about helping kids get better sleep, eat, right, and exercise so that they can have the physical health needed to have the social and emotional wellness in place that they need to be successful as well. Tell us a little bit about that.

McKinley:
So, I guess a good starting point is with physical health. I think another basic mindset that is important to have is that because we get really caught up, we need to cut out. We need to cut away the screen time. We need to turn off this and get rid of our ice cream at 11 at night, you know. But maybe a better starting point that you can actually get behind is what can you add? Because as you add things in your life, you don't have this void of what you used to do, but you are creating healthy habits for our bodies instead of bad habits. And just start with adding something, that you know is healthy.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So when it comes to eating healthy, I should eat kale at 11 o'clock at night, instead of ice cream.

McKinley:
Well, you can still have your 11 o'clock ice cream, but starting the habit of, as often as you can, inserting something healthy, your body will start to get used to that routine. We work off of routines. Humans are creatures of habit. And so in order to build an exercise habit, you don't have to go run five miles.

Superintendent Godfrey:
I feel like all of this is directed at me.

McKinley:
So I've been watching you for a while. And so I know......

Superintendent Godfrey:
Yeah, because you're right. My body is not used to green, leafy vegetables. More, you know, combinations of nuts and chocolate syrups. So adding good foods to the diet and exercise can be social. Anything, even a walk with the daughter, walking the neighborhood can be social.

Superintendent Godfrey:
What about sleep? How do parents help their kids get better sleep?

McKinley:
Exercise is one thing. If kids that are active sleep better, but then second before bed we are surrounded by screens and light. There's a hormone called melatonin that is released through your body to help you sleep. And that hormone is inhibited by light. So that's why you wake up when the sunlight hits your eyes, why we have blinds in our homes to like help us sleep better. So with a cell phone right by your bed or with the TV on, you're inhibiting melatonin. And so you're actually preventing your body from its natural sleep cycle. You're not as likely to go through as deep of sleep. And so I think that starting there too, just being mindful of screens simple. There is a strategy. Is there a television? Is it on? Is there a phone? Where's the phone? Is it going to be buzzing often? You better to buy an alarm clock, even though that feature is available on the phone and set the phone down in another room. The phone doesn't even come into the bedroom at night.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Yeah. All right. So let's talk about happiness overall. I've heard you talk about happiness before. We don't really understand our own happiness very well. So it becomes difficult maybe, to help our kids be properly focused on how to be happy. Tell us a little bit.

McKinley:
Right. So there's actually a lot of research that suggests that we are bad predictors of our own happiness. We are bad happiness weather people, if it was a forecast and we were doing the weather and we were trying to predict our happiness. We're going to miss it nine times out of 10, just like the weather.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Fair enough. That's great. So just the weather people do get it wrong sometimes. Sorry, everyone.

McKinley:
Yeah, they do. And we do too. I mean, if I was to ask you when is the last time you had the thought or feeling that some change or event that you anticipated was going to completely alter your happiness.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Right. As soon as I get this done, as soon as this presentation is over, or this meeting is done or I've finished this task, then I'm going to be okay. And so kids have that all the time. As soon as I get this project done, then I'll be happy.

McKinley:
Yup. Or even if we over predict how bad something is going to be for us too. So man, if this breakup happens, it's the end of the world. Well, our happiness forecast, even in those situations, we adapt a lot, but we don't give ourselves enough credit for how well we psychologically adapt.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So, if parents talk with kids, it's not going to be that bad, but also it's not going to be that good.

McKinley:
Right. Just because you finished this project or there'll be another person. There's something else coming. If you have this difficult social situation, there'll be another difficult social situation, but you'll get through it. You're tougher than you think.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Right. Okay.

McKinley:
And it's still important to validate emotions. Don't say, "well, now that you're sad or you think this is the end of the world, it's, it's not, you'll get over it". That's probably not the best approach.

Superintendent Godfrey:
But that's a good point then. So you like this balance?

McKinley:
Yes. Just understanding that for your child and for you. We adapt so much better than we would think to our situations and to the negative events and the positive events. And when we think something would be our home run, a couple of months down the road, after you get your promotion or after this or that it's back to normal, what are your eyes on next?

Superintendent Godfrey:
Sure. I read a book once that talked about how, if you think in terms of worst case scenario, sometimes we aren't realistic about what the worst case scenario really is. What's the worst that can actually happen if we really think about it and analyze it? A lot of the things that worry us aren't ever going to get as bad as our imagination would suggest. So what are some other things that we can do to be better focused on our own happiness or better predict our own happiness or better contribute to our own happiness, especially as parents are trying to help students?

McKinley:
So I'm going to come back to what we were most recently talking about because, what I think we can focus on is what we know actually does make us better off. Even though we often say these circumstances or these different life events are what leads to happiness, they're very minimal in terms of actually contributing to our happiness. What really makes a difference is what is our daily practice. What are our thoughts and actions that we have made a routine. That's what makes the biggest difference. So, something as simple as adding a practice of gratitude, that can help a lot of ways for a lot of different people. But the reason you would do that would be you're essentially exchanging your expectations of what should be. When you walk into a new school on the first day, we all have different expectations for how we will be received, how someone will approach us or how this class will go. Even that project that is stressing you out. We have these expectations, but trying to train our brain to appreciate more, exchanging those expectations for appreciation, it takes practice because we have a negativity bias.

Superintendent Godfrey:
I heard a speaker point this out by holding up a white piece of paper, they put a small black dot in the middle and they said, "Write about this piece of paper". And everybody wrote about the dot. Nobody wrote about all of the white, so you're right. We do focus on the small negative over the non whelming positive.

McKinley:
Yeah, yeah. There is always something that has gone right. But you have to train your brain to recognize it and practice reporting it because knowing that doesn't make a difference, it's the practice of it that will change and alter your head.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So maybe that changes the questions parents ask of their kids at the end of the day.

McKinley:
Yes. Because if we just say, how was your day, that allows room for the negativity bias to take over. But if we say something like, what are some of the great things that happened?

And it's okay for kids to acknowledge when bad things happen, but it's also good to build again. It's adding where we're missing. Sometimes there are bad days and we need to talk about that. But on every bad day, there's at least something good that you can come back to.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So like you said, ,it's this balance that you referenced before where it's not that you exclude the negative and pretend it's not there, but you make sure that you add in the good and ask about the good as well. Right? My son is 18 now, my oldest, and he's graduated, but I couldn't get information from him about the school day. I would try any type of interrogation technique. I could get a positive or negative. We'd hear from other parents whose kids had told them there was this huge fight at school. Was there a fight at school today? Oh yeah. Yeah.You would not know the place. Okay.

Well, good questions at the end of the day for kids that focus on the positive and give a chance to acknowledge the negative as well, can maybe fight against the negativity bias that can get in the way of fully enjoying the good things that are happening. Mckinley, that's great advice on happiness. We're going to take a quick break here and we'll be right back. Stay with us.

Sandra Reisgraf:
Do you want to know what's going on in Jordan School District? Maybe see your child or a friend featured in a school story? Check out our website at jordandistrict.org or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at Jordan District. Let's connect today.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Welcome back to the Supercast. I'm Anthony Godfrey, Superintendent of Schools for Jordan School District here with McKinley Withers. Thanks for spending time with us McKinley. Great advice about happiness, social and emotional welfare, and just how to manage change and make sure that we're as well off as we possibly can be and that we can help kids be healthy in every way. So thanks. Great tips. Great advice.

Now we want to have a little fun. I want us to get to know guests a little bit better. So we're going to play Two Truths and a Lie. I know that you don't generally lie because you're a standup guy, but the time has come for you to tell a lie to the Superintendent. Generally not a good idea, but today let's get there, man.

McKinley:
I'm trying to think of what I can get away with right now.

Superintendent Godfrey:
This is good. That's a good set up. Okay. Alright. Time to lie to the Superintendent. Tell me Two Truths and a Lie and let me see if I can figure out which is which, okay? Let's tie it up to a lie detector. You guys are going to detect this.

McKinley:
I practice what I preach with healthy eating. I avoid soda.

I went to a high school dance with Julianne Hough. Oh, okay.

And I grew up in Jordan School District Schools. So I have been in Jordan District my whole life.

Superintendent Godfrey:
I think number three is a lie. I don't think you went to Jordan SchoolDistrict schools.

McKinley:
I did. So I grew up in Sandy.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Okay.

McKinley:
And that was when Jordan School District was included Sandy, so I've always been a part of Jordan School District.

Superintendent Godfrey:
All right. Do you drink soda?

McKinley:
I do drink soda.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Okay. So what school, when did you go to a dance with Juliana? I assume you were in high school.

McKinley:
I was in high school at the time. It was, it was the Halloween dance my senior year. So she went to Alta High School and graduated the same year as me.

Superintendet Godfrey:
So, how did the dancing go on your part?

McKinley:
Oh well, I heard that the partner elevates the person, you know, quality of dancing because you were with a superstar. So when I think back to that experience in my naive little high school self, I was not a good dancer, but I didn't care. And I didn't really know, when I think back, dang, I really blew it. You dance like a star. Wasn't watching. That's exactly how it went. I think she was probably embarrassed, now looking back, that she was with someone that dances like I do, but you know what, that's going back to what you said earlier. WE both got through it.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Well, thank you for being with us today. It's been great having you great advice. And what's the website they can visit if they would like more information?

McKinley:
So we have the Wellness Website at wellness.jordandistrict.org. We are in the process of adding more content. So there's always more there. There are great links there and we encourage parents to go on and contact school officials if there are issues that you need help with and your family.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And thank you. Thanks for being here.

McKinley:
Thank you.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Alright, thanks for joining us for the Supercast. Keep listening and remember, education is the most important thing you'll do today. We'll see you next time. [inaudible].

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