Power Struggles

Written by Seth Pozzi, Asst. Head of School on .

Where were you last Thursday night? If you weren’t at WHPS to see Debbie Godfrey’s presentation about power struggles [and how to avoid them], I would like to recap a few of her points.

Debbie explained that children generally misbehave for one of four reasons called “mistaken goals”: attention, power, revenge, or avoidance. According to Godfrey, to identify a power struggle, the child may simply refuse to do something or continue doing something against parent's permission or direction. The parent can identify the power struggle based on how the parent is feeling, such as feeling that he/she is being provoked or challenged and wants to make the child do (or not do) it.

Godfrey explains that from age 2-5, children will “shop” for behaviors to meet their needs. By age 5, children have often identified one of the behaviors that tends to work with a specific adult in their life. They have also learned what Godfrey calls the joy of opposing. This means that they have learned it can be fun to argue; it raises energy, making them feel powerful and strong.

My favorite--though by no means the only--piece of advice from the night was about the Broken Record Strategy. Godfrey tells us to choose a calm and appropriate response to the child’s misbehavior and to repeat the same response like a broken record each time the child repeats the misbehavior. The goal is to avoid escalating the situation, such as raising one’s voice or becoming more and more animated, which may cause the child to experience the joy of opposing. An example of her strategy is when a child gets out of bed at night, a parent might say, “Sammy is going to sleep in her room until morning” and carry the child back to bed. Each time the child gets up, the parent would repeat the same calm broken record response. Godfrey said that this strategy may take 10, 20 or even 40 or more repetitions the first time around, but the child will learn his/her boundaries and the struggle will quickly diminish in subsequent instances.

Some other tips Godfrey offered were: Getting Out of Power Struggles

 Use loving guidance vs. trying to overpower the child or use punishment

 Find useful ways for the child to feel valuable and powerful

 Offer choices to side-step the power struggle (E.g. If a child says “no” to a nap, ask the child if he/she would like you to walk with him/her to the bed or for you to carry him/her to bed.)

 Win/Win negotiate

 Use a signal


Preventing Power Struggles

 Use one word

 Let the child have the last word

 Make it fun

 Talk less (Power struggles are often verbal battles and fueled by verbal responses.)

 Use GEMS (Genuine Encounter Moments) - In a University of Iowa study, it was found that the average child gets 432 negative comments per day versus 32 positive comments. GEMS can take only 1-3 minutes, and they help children feel important and supported, so they don’t need to use power struggles to get those needs met.


Learning More from Failure

Written by Seth Pozzi, Asst. Head of School on .

I heard a great story on NPR's Morning Edition today about Charles Bolden, the first black NASA administrator. 50 years ago, his hopes of joining the Naval Academy, a first step toward his illustrious career, almost never happened. Representatives in his state of South Carolina refused to nominate Bolden for the academy because of his race. It took the direct involvement and support of, then Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson to launch Bolden’s career.

I think Bowman would argue that how you deal with failure says even more about you than how you deal with success. I try to be mindful of this as an educator as well as in my own personal life. Of course I want the children in our school to experience success! I would also argue that we should place equal importance on learning coping and problem-solving skills to do deal with life's disappointments in healthy, constructive ways. It can be dangerous for children to go into adolescence and adulthood without coping and resiliency skills, and it is our job to help foster these while they are in a safe, loving environment. 

Mr. Bolden's story is a terrific example how grit and determination can trump even the most unfair circumstances.

Take a listen to the story or view it online.


Seth Pozzi

Asst. Head of School

WHPS Creative Approach to Food Allergies

Written by Seth Pozzi on .

Like most schools, Woodland Hills Private School has a number of students and staff with severe food allergies. And like many leading schools we use a word study program instead of asking our students to memorize spelling lists. What do these two things have in common?

On the surface you might think nothing at all. Enter WHPS's creative, passionate kindergarten team. After a couple close calls this year in which well-intentioned parents sent unsafe food items to school, they sprang into action with a clever idea to develop their own food sorting activity based on the school’s word study program. As a class, students then worked to sort images of items and food labels based on whether they are "safe for school" or "unsafe for school." And while it's just one step in helping to educate and ensure the safety of our community, this creative approach to teaching is not only fun but it could help save a life!

 Feel free to download and share this resource with anyone who you think might benefit from it. 

Seth Pozzi

Head of School


Upcoming ERB Testing

Written by Seth Pozzi, Asst. Head of School on .

This spring, students in grades 3-5 will take the ERB (Educational Records Bureau) Comprehensive Testing Program. We are adopting the ERB this year, replacing the Stanford 10, which was previously administered to students in K-5. The new ERB assessment system is better aligned with our program because it focuses on critical thinking and goes beyond multiple-choice bubble-in answers. The ERB enables us to compare student achievement with peers in other private schools across the US.

At WHPS, we know that people learn in different ways, and we use the Columbia University reading, writing and spelling assessments, science experiments, math assignments, discussions, portfolios, projects, artwork, and performance to assess the whole child. Our use of standardized test information is viewed as one piece of a complex puzzle which reveals the learning strengths and weaknesses of individual students.

Howard Gardner, of Harvard University, researched the validity of standardized tests to assess student performance. He states, “Most formal testing – whatever the area that is allegedly being tested – engages primarily the linguistic and logical-mathematical faculties. If one has high linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences, one is likely to do well on formal testing (from Multiple Intelligences: Theory in Practice).” According to Dr. Gardner and other experts in our field, future leaders and entrepreneurs of the 21st century need to know how to integrate many types of intelligence.

At WHPS, we believe children benefit from a balance between authentic learning opportunities and the experience of taking standardized tests. As students move to secondary school and beyond, they will encounter more tests. We believe a curriculum designed to teach for true understanding, coupled with some experience in taking standardized tests, provides our students with a solid foundation for success in “high stakes” tests, as well as a life full of learning.

You may have some questions about the ERB:  

How is the ERB different from the annual test California public school students take?

ERB test data is different from the test data accumulated by the public schools in California. The state tests are designed to determine if students perform at a set proficiency level, and the percentages reported in the newspaper reflect the percentage of students who are proficient or above. The ERB test is a nationally normed test, which means it compares a student’s performance to that of every other student who took the same test across the nation (students in private schools).

What do we do with the ERB data? 

As a school, we review the data to determine any general areas of school strength or for improvement. We continually evaluate standards and benchmarks in the curriculum, along with information from the ERB tests to ensure that we deliver an exceptional educational experience for each child.

Allergic to Popsicles?

Written by Seth Pozzi, Asst. Head of School on .

Does your child or someone you know have an allergy to nuts? Milk? Eggs? Wheat? Soy? Fish? Popsicles?

Yes, honestly, there was recently a voluntary recall of some Popsicle brand Orange, Cherry and Grape flavored ice pops because they may have been inadvertently exposed to milk, which is not listed as an ingredient on the label.

If you know someone who has experienced anaphylaxis during an allergic reaction, it can be chilling to think we can’t always trust ingredient labels. Studies indicate that 16-18% of school-age children who have food allergies have had a reaction in school. In addition, in approximately 25% of the reactions that occur at school, the student had not yet been diagnosed with food allergy.

This hits close to home for me, not only because I have known numerous students who have life-threatening allergies, but also because my younger sister has a life-threatening allergy. My “little sister” will be 35 year old in December, but I still worry about her. I have seen her face swell up, resembling Will Smith in the movie Hitch. For loved ones who have seen this happen, it can feel very helpless.

A report in the New England Journal of Medicine titled “Fatal and Near-Fatal Anaphylactic Reactions to Food in Children and Adolescents” indicated that four of the six deaths from food allergy examined in the report occurred in school, and were associated with significant delays in treating the reactions with epinephrine. Several other studies that have looked at food allergy and anaphylaxis management in schools and childcare settings have found inadequate food allergy management plans and inadequate recognition of allergic symptoms and treatment with epinephrine. 

Long story short, we must be educated and vigilant about preventing our children from being exposed to known allergens. We also need to know what to do and be prepared to respond if a child [or adult] in our school has a reaction. While some basic school training is required by the state of California, OUR staff have received a considerable amount of additional training on early recognition and intervention. Even so, you can never be too prepared! I encourage ALL parents to visit the Kids With Food Allergies (A Division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America) and Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) websites. Read about how you can help identify an allergic reaction early and potentially save a life. Our staff receive regular updates from Kids With Food Allergies and FARE on emerging issues and how to save a life. You can too.

Information adapted from: http://www.foodallergy.org/home

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