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Interview from the American School of Dubai

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Dr. Thompson flew to Dubai on February 5th to conduct  faculty workshops and speak to students at the American School of Dubai.  Over the course of three days he spoke to every student from fifth through twelfth grade in assemblies, he conducted three faculty workshops, and made three presentations to parents.  He was also a guest on the student television network, hosted by Alexa, a terrific (and well-prepared) interviewer.

How does can the local culture affect the stress level of students?

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I have been traveling a lot this fall: three trips to California, three trips to North Carolina and one journey to the Netherlands. My trips have raised some interesting questions that I would like to share with my readers over the next few weeks.

My first question is:
To what extent an international school absorbs aspects of the local culture, and in particular, how does can the local culture affect the stress level of students?

In early October I flew to the Netherlands to speak and consult at two international schools: The American School of Amsterdam and the International School of the Hague. In both schools I spoke in assemblies to every student from 4th through 12th grades; I also addressed parents and teachers on a wide variety of topics. Because I had given my “Best Friends/Worst Enemies” talk to the then fifth and sixth graders at ISA two years ago, I was not going to reprise that topic with them as present-day seventh and eighth graders. Instead, I conducted the assembly based on my book The Pressured Child, asking the students about their sleep, their stress levels and their expectations for stress in the future. With the juniors and seniors at both schools I also asked questions about their sleep, the stress of college admissions, the demands of the IB and parental expectations. While my conversations hardly qualified as research, certainly not empirical research—I did not record any data—the conversations made me think about student stress or, in the case of the schools in Holland, the relative lack of stress in comparison to other international schools.

In short, the students at ASH and ISA are palpably less stressed compared with students at other international schools I have visited and the independent schools in the U.S. where I consult Would it surprise anyone to hear that Amsterdam is a lower-stress place than an independent school in Los Angeles or New York or Beijinjg or Shanghai? Probably not. What is interesting, however, is that the stress level is lower even though most of them are doing academic work which is equally demanding, namely the IB diploma.

The 7th and 8th graders at ISA weren’t getting as much sleep as I’d like to see. Two girls had had less than four hours of sleep on a Wednesday night. However, the average sleep amounts were higher than I would have encountered in a U.S. independent school.

No doubt the stress levels at ASH and ISA, will go up in during the diploma years. The seventh and eighth graders were expecting to be stressed-out and sleep-deprived in their last two years of high school. However, talking with the seniors in an assembly, I found them far less anxious about getting into college than I remembered from Zurich, Miami or Bangkok. Every day, a full four hundred students bicycle to the American School of the Hague, as do many of their teachers. They arrive at school having exercised, having been separate from their parents (no anxious conversations in the car about homework either done or not done) and having experienced the meditation of biking alongside the Dutch, everyone feeling safe, no one wearing helmets, on bike paths almost completely separate from cars. It is hard not to envy the Dutch way of life and to want to share in it.

Workshop for School Administrators in Honolulu, Hawaii


In late July, Rob Evans and I traveled to the Punahou School in Honolulu to run a workshop for school administrators from all over Hawaii along with a couple from the West Coast. Because of Punahou’s annual Student Leadership conference was underway at the same time, Ruth Fletcher, the director of professional development for Punahou, invited their chaperones, all educators from India, China and Japan, to join our workshop. It was a challenge for us to make our examples of administrative problems from U.S. independent schools relevant for, say, a public school principal from Japan, but in the end the realities of school administration, the developmental stages of students and the nature of teachers allowed us to find common ground. (more…)

SOS: Mom needs dad, dad needs practice

How can I get my husband to help more with our young son? Our son is very, very active and can be a real handful sometimes-especially stubborn when we need him to get dressed or go somewhere. At the first sign of resistance my husband loses all patience and just leaves the room-and leaves me to deal with our son. I feel trapped by my son’s behavior and my husband’s habit of abandoning ship. What can I do?

One of the difficulties men face when they become fathers-no matter what kind of discipline they experienced in their families-is that they have not had enough practice dealing with the activity level and willfulness of small children. Most women have had some experience as babysitters when they were younger, or with their friends’ children before their own arrive. Women tend to have more and better strategies for dealing with the stubborn defiance of young children. Men are often surprised at how helpless they can be made to feel, and they are humiliated by how angry they become at a four-year-old. People often think men are without compassion or don’t want to deal with problems, when, in fact, a man may be struggling to manage his own internal level of distress.

The best part of what your husband is doing is that he is separating himself from your son before he loses his temper and makes matters worse. You resent his abandonment of you; he may think you’re the better parent and resent your competence in comparison to him. It would help if you two could acknowledge how lonely, scary and difficult parenting can be and let one another know that you both need help. You need relief. He needs strategies. Here are a few that others have found helpful:

  • He could spend enjoyable time with his son when there is no pressure or deadline to get out the door. Purely playful time together, or reading or chatting at bedtime may help him keep more stressful moments in calmer perspective.
  • Ask friends or other parents of active young boys for practical tips. It will be a relief for your husband to hear that other fathers struggle the same way, and see that couples can find effective ways to work on it together. Share some of the strategies that you’ve found helpful with your son at difficult times, and brainstorm with your husband about ways he might adapt those strategies to make his own.
  • Develop a collaborative tag-team system so you can give your son to your husband when you’re feeling resentful and he can give his son back to you when he feels overwhelmed. Most likely, when your son sees you two working together, he’ll more easily give up his oppositional behavior.
  • In the early evening, when you both still have some energy, debrief each other about the highs and lows of your son’s day, or your day with him. Share your impressions. Try to laugh about it when you can. Isn’t it amazing and ridiculous that children can make us feel so powerless? But it happens to everyone.