How a book can change a child's life - SE2EP20 - Jeff Tucker
Today, we're joined by Jeff Tucker, a Professional Counselor and National Certified School Counselor, and children's Author. Based in Little Rock, Arkansas, Jeff is an avid reader and writer who combines his passions to advocate for children's emotional well-being. Through our discussion, Jeff will share insights on using literature to address complex topics and guide children through the challenges of life in the digital age. In today's episode, Jeff will provide valuable recommendations for parents, equipping them with tools to support their children's emotional resilience and navigate life with greater confidence. Show links: https://csi-net.org https://www.jefftuckerwrites.com/ https://www.instagram.com/jefftuckerwrites/ https://www.facebook.com/jefftuckerwrites/ This Episode is brought to you by Skill Samurai – Coding & STEM Academy www.skillsamurai.com.au
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Speaker 1 (00:08): Welcome to the Parenting in the Digital Age podcast. Many parents are concerned that their child might be falling behind. Others are just looking for ways to help their children thrive, not just in the classroom, but socially and well into their future careers. Each episode we explore the challenges facing parents in the modern world, from behavior, education, and nutrition to device and gaming addiction. We interview a range of leaders in the area of childhood development to help you successfully navigate parenting in the digital age. Here is your host, Jamie Buttigieg.
Jamie: Hello parents and welcome to Parenting in the Digital Age, the podcast that explores the challenges of raising kids in today's tech-driven world. In each episode, we bring you insightful conversations with experts to provide practical guidance for navigating the digital landscape and life as parents. Today we're joined by Jeff Tucker, a professional counselor, a national certified school counselor, and children's author. Based in Arkansas, Jeff is an avid reader who writes, sorry, I'm gonna start that again. Jef Tucker: Your turn. Jamie: It happens, right? I like to get the intro smooth. Let me just mark that for Marianne. Okay, let's hit it again. Hello parents and welcome to Parenting in the Digital Age, the podcast that explores the challenges of raising kids in today's tech-driven world. In each episode, we bring you insightful conversations with experts to provide practical guidance for navigating the digital landscape and life as parents. Today we're joined by Jeff Tucker, a professional counselor. National Certified School Counselor and Children's Author. Based in Arkansas, Jeff is an avid reader and writer who combines his passions to advocate for children's emotional wellbeing. Through our discussion, Jeff will share insights on using literature to address complex topics and guide children through the challenges of life in the digital age. Jeff, welcome to the show. Please just start by sharing with our listeners what you do and what you're passionate about. Jef Tucker: All right, well, thank you. First off, thank you for having me, Jamie. I actually, I just last month graduated with my PhD in counselor education and supervision. Jamie: Congrats, that's huge. Jef Tucker: Taking it, I have a job that's starting in the fall where I will be teaching master's level students. both clinical mental health and school counseling. So I'm really excited to do that. My background, I've counseled people throughout the lifespan and I've done it in both clinical and in school settings, but my passion was always in working in schools and in working with children and adolescents. And kinda as you referenced, I've always loved books and the students I worked with inspired several of the books that I've written, including the one I'm really gonna talk about today. And I... I used to live in Louisiana and when I moved, I had to leave my job as a school counselor and I definitely missed that a lot. But my second book was actually dedicated to a school that I worked at. But education and mental health and children and adolescence is really what I strive to promote through everything that I do, both as a professional counselor, educator, and as an author. Jamie: Yeah, fantastic. So in doing some of the pre-show research, I checked out your website and some of the books. So maybe a question to sort of frame this up for some of our listeners is how did your early experience with a book on grief shape your belief in the power of literature to impact children's lives? Jef Tucker: Alright, when I was in kindergarten, it was May of... Oh... Early 90s. My great grandmother passed away and that was the first kind of experience with death that I ever had. And one day after all the other students had went to recess, she asked me to stay back. And she told me that she had heard what had happened, that she was very sorry. And she hugged me and she shared with me two books that were both about a young boy losing his grandparents. And we went through those books together. And then she told me to go home and just kind of catharsis release that reading those books provided for me. it always stuck with me. And so whenever I became a counselor, I started incorporating literature into my counseling and I saw the power that it could have in students' lives that way. And that's what led me, certain things would come up in the schools and I'd be looking for a book that addressed it and I couldn't find one. And then I attended a conference and Julia Cook, who's a children's book author, gave a speech on how she went about getting established and I was like, I can do this. So I submitted a manuscript to a publisher called Boys Town Press and that was kind of all she wrote. I've been writing books for them ever since. Jamie: Fantastic. That's a wonderful journey. And it's wonderful to see that books can be so transformative and so helpful for kids at all ages. You said something interesting there about finding these sorts of books. So, you know, for parents who are specifically looking for books to help their child's growth and development, you know, books that can help kids form solid values and behaviors like I haven't seen a website. But is there a website? Has somebody curated a place where parents can find? these sorts of wholesome books specifically. I know maybe you don't know the answer to that, but there should be if there's not. Jef Tucker: I will say there is one reference. It's not, it's not. directed explicitly to parents, but Chi Sigma iota and the website CSI slash net.org, not slash is hyphenated, but that's the international organization, international honor society in counseling. And they have what's known as the counselor's bookshelf. And they have a thing that for bibliotherapy that has reviews of, of different books. And some of them are applicable to children. So parents could go through that as a resource to find. some books that may be germane to the issues that their children or their tweens are dealing with. Jamie: That's super helpful. Can you just read that out again for me? What is that website? Jef Tucker: It is CSI-NET.org. Jamie: Yep. We'll put that in our show notes. We'll have Mary Ann, our helpful editor, put all that together for us. Okay, so look, I kind of ask this whenever I interview someone who is an author, but how can parents address potential resistance or disinterest in reading among children who are heavily influenced by digital media and entertainment? Kids are so fixated by screens and not necessarily screens being the issue, addictive nature of social media. So how can parents help their kids get, you know, more attuned to books? Jef Tucker: Start nurturing reading from the very get-go. Don't try to put Moby Dick in their hands when they're three. Let them have comic books. Let them read the backs of cereal boxes. Whatever strikes their interest. Trying to force them to read stuff that they're not passionate about is just going to give them kind of a distaste for reading very early on. Books that they're interested in. Let them read anything that they're passionate about. And there's plenty of good information online. If they're e-readers, if they get more excited about something like that. But there are plenty of other ways that they can consume literature or even like self-help type literature than just a standard like, you know, here's a book, sit down and read it for two hours or something like that. Jamie: Yeah, yeah, and that's an interesting point you make, like for those who maybe learn differently or are neurodiverse, I know I consume, I love knowledge and I love reading, but I listen, I listen to my books. And my wife is an avid book reader, prefers to feel and smell and to read the books. And so, you know, just try those different modalities for parents because It's not that your kids may not be interested, it's just that they may be wanting to consume that information in perhaps a different way. Jef Tucker: You're Jamie: Okay. Jef Tucker: 100% correct. I have recommended audiobooks before and even for the youngest clients that I worked with, we would use things like fairy tales, folktales, and I remember like the boy who cried wolf. We watched a YouTube animation video of it and they really responded to that. Jamie: Yeah, yeah, great. Yeah, that's another great example of YouTube. That's certainly a great way parents can get that information and it's accessible to them and available. On the flip side, this might be an interesting question. How can parents maybe leverage technology and digital resources? How can we, like are there any great ways to use technology to enhance the benefits of literature or support their children's mental health? Like is this, what do you recommend as healthy screen time? Jef Tucker: Oh, I think that depends on the developmental level of the child. Um, all like all 10 year olds are not the same across the board. Um, some have a higher maturity level. Some don't some you can, you can trust to sit there and do their homework online. And some you're going to have to check on them every now and then, cause they're going to have about 18 different tabs open. Uh, so it's really about taking the time to, to know, to know your child to. In most research, some people will say like, oh, well, I have this specific learning style. So I'm an auditory learner and that's it. We do have preferences that we lean into. Uh, but most research shows that we learn best when we are hit with the information through all of our senses so that we have an opportunity to read it, hear it, see it, uh, kinesthetic, like really engage with it, touch it. Um, so any way that, that you can leverage technology to do that, to present it to them visually and for them to hear the material. and engage with it in different ways. As far as going back to your original question, as far as screen time goes, if it's leisure screen time, it's hard to mandate when we carry a computer around in our pockets 24-7. I would probably limit it to no more than an hour. But part of that is more as caught than taught. So parents and educators, if kids see you on your phone all day and that you're playing on TikTok and Facebook and Instagram, but you're telling them not to, you're gonna be met with some resistance because you're not modeling the behaviors that you wanna see in your children and your adolescents. Jamie: Yeah, yeah, well made point there, Jeff. Another thing I like to recommend to parents in terms of healthy screen time, no secret, kids coding, but you know I'm a bit biased on that point. But a great free at home resource parents can leverage is Scratch, just using Scratch coding, scratch.mit.edu. And there are some free tutorials, but it's a great way to get kids to develop problem solving skills, critical thinking skills, build some resilience. foster creativity in the form of learning to code through just block coding, some simple computer programming, and really it's helping the future proof those kids. But you can use scratch coding to tell stories. So for those who may not be that interested yet in reading or you're trying to foster a love of reading and your kid has maybe an unhealthy obsession with screens, is maybe leverage that. So, you know, instead of allowing them to play passive screens like say gaming or social media. have a look at this Scratch website, go through some of the tutorials, teach kids to give them some skills, but then ask them and challenge them to maybe tell a story or tell a story about what happened in their day through an animation using Scratch coding. It's a really powerful tool that parents can also leverage. And it's great for neurodiverse kids. So, Jef Tucker: I love that. Can I add something really quickly? Jamie: please do, please. Jef Tucker: Before you're really fostering that love of reading, you're fostering that love of stories. Because most of us conceptualize our lives in the form of a story and we're the main character and everybody's always going through something. So sit down with your kids, you can make up stories together. You can encourage your child to make up stories to tell you at night. But if you foster that kind of enthusiasm about storytelling, it's gonna make reading easier later on. Jamie: Yeah, we used to play a game in the car when my kids were younger and I'd start off with the first line of the book. Once upon a time there was a man who did this and then my son would give the next line and my daughter would give the next line and we'd just go around the car until we... And there were tons of laughs and it got silly, of course it does, but it's another great way to tell stories and to foster that creative spirit. What role can schools play? So coming back to your school experience in counselling, maybe what roles can schools or educators play in promoting mental health awareness or the power of literature for children? Jef Tucker: Oh. Well, first we'll go with mental health awareness. There is, there's a dearth of school counselors in our schools. At least here in the U S we don't have, we do not have enough school counselors. So it's really getting more boots on the ground and school counselors are trained to provide social emotional learning for students, for all the students in the school. I like, I, I didn't develop the entire curriculum because I, I kind of modeled it off of another one, but I would go to. every class and I would give classroom guidance lessons and we would have something like during We have Thanksgiving in America in November. So November was all about gratitude. And I would go and we would talk about gratitude. And every morning somebody would speak on the intercom about something they were grateful for that day. And October is bullying awareness. So we talked about bullying and I actually wrote a book on bullying and we would discuss that. And so really having enough school counselors in schools to address the social emotional learning development of our students is really critical. Teachers can also, because they're always going to see their teachers more than any counselor, teachers can model, you know, their own emotional self-regulation and how they communicate with students, how they communicate with other people. Children are sponges and they are absorbing everything that is going on around them at all times. So... what we think they're not picking up, I guarantee you that they probably are. So it's, we have to mind our own piece and cues to see what we're putting out there. Cause if they see us manage our anger by slamming doors and yelling and screaming, we seem like awful hypocrites when we tell them that is inappropriate. And also normalizing children's emotions. We tend to kind of, whether it's unconsciously or not, let children kind of, we tell them anger and sadness. Those are bad emotions. want you to feel those. We want you to feel happy all the time and if you're angry there's something wrong. Anger is a normal human emotion and instead of teaching them that it's bad or making them feel guilty for experiencing it just normalize it and give them healthy skills to self-regulate and to work through that anger rather than guilting them for being human. Jamie: That's a good point. Maybe let's expand on that. So let's say I've got a child, anger issues is probably the wrong word to use, but maybe it displays anger a little too often or frustration. How can I help my child? Let's, I don't know, let's say they're a preteen or something like that. What tools can I give them or, because sometimes as parents, we don't know where to start. Like we don't have a background in psychology or counseling and perhaps. Perhaps that should be mandatory for parents before we have children, but, you know, are there any tools or any advice or tips that you give to parents with that sort of challenge? Jef Tucker: So much comes down to modeling about talking about your own emotions and what you're experiencing. We expect children and adolescents almost to behave like many adults. We're like, why do you feel this way? And they don't have the range of emotional vocabulary that we do. So anger comes up a lot, especially in young men as a secondary emotion, because they're taught they're not supposed to show shame or, or their feelings are hurt or that they're sad. So kind of digging into what, where's this emotion coming from and is anger really what the emotion is? Or is that. emotion they feel comfortable expressing in the moment. Jamie: Yeah. Jef Tucker: And also helping them address that there's a, with that emotion of anger, there's a huge spectrum from being mildly frustrated to being enraged and how to recognize when we're on this end, cause it's a lot easier to regulate it when we're just frustrated than if we sit with it long enough for it to become rage. Jamie: Yeah, yeah, that's a great point. Tell us a bit about your recent book. Jef Tucker: Oh, okay. So I have written three books in this series. This is the most recent one. It's called Vinny the Brave. This one is about fear in this book Vinny. He says he's fearless. Everybody calls him Vinny the brave. Like he's not afraid of bugs or thunderstorms or stuff like that. But he has the secret fear of he's afraid to speak up in class. He's afraid to ask questions when the teacher goes too fast and he doesn't understand, um, because he doesn't want anybody to think that he's dumb or to make fun of him or anything like that. Uh, so his teacher notices that his grades are falling, that he's falling behind and they develop kind of a secret code signal. that he can give her, which is tugging on his ears, that when she sees that she knows, okay, I need to slow down. Vinnie's not understanding. Let me explain this in another way. And as the book progresses, his little code thing works for a while, but at one point he gets lost in a lesson and the teacher does not see his code. uh, his little signal. So he eventually, he summons the courage, he raises his hand and he says that he doesn't understand. And what he actually found is like half the class is like, I don't either. And that's usually the case, uh, is everybody sit, they, they suffer in silence. Um, and it's really teaching, teaching children about fears and when to face them, when they're when they're adaptive for us and when they're maladaptive. So if you're afraid of snakes, good for you. That's healthy. That keeps us from going and grabbing a snake and potentially getting hurt. If you're afraid of speaking up in class, that can be maladaptive because you may not be able to show up and be your best self and to do what you need to do within the school environment. So it's about recognizing... when it's time to speak up and also realizing that some of these are pretty universal, that you're not you're not the only person experiencing these feelings and sometimes you have to be the person in the room to speak up because there are other people who are just as afraid as you are. So that's Jamie: That's, Jef Tucker: kind of a synopsis of it. Jamie: yeah, that's a great theme because it's something that many, I believe many kids face that challenge of speak out. My daughter is probably one of those little bit introverted and maybe afraid to speak up and just put a hand up and say what she's thinking and feeling. And, you know, we work on that as much as we can as parents again, but we don't always have the right tools. So, I don't know, are there any strategies or any advice that you could give to parents? maybe on the topic of Vinnie and facing fears, like how can they facilitate meaningful discussions around the book or around a topic? Jef Tucker: Well, I actually, I write, and you'll see in the book, I provide tips for parents and educators. So I'll go ahead and share them. The first Jamie: Please. Jef Tucker: tip is reassure your kids that they're not alone. Let them know everybody gets scared sometimes, even you. Don't, you're. Your children need to know that you're not fearless and that adults have fears too. Two is help children distinguish between helpful and harmful fears. So kind of like I said, a healthy fear of dangerous things such as fire or animals like venomous snakes helps protect us by keeping us alert but other fears such as speaking up in class. or going to school, because some children are afraid to go to school, period, because they may be experiencing bullying or anything else. But some fears are harmful because they prevent us from becoming our best selves. Brainstorm small steps that can be taken first. So often taking small steps over time will allow kids to become more comfortable with situations they fear and provide opportunities for success, which will build their confidence to conquer bigger fears. So if your child is scared of the dark and refuses to sleep in the dark at night, you start with letting them sleep with a lamp on if that comforts them. Maybe after that, if the lamp has a dimmer setting, we take it a step dimmer. And then we gradually maybe we go down to a night light and maybe that's fine with both the parent and the child. So we've kind of taken them by steps instead of just it's less jolting to go from to go from having that light to being in the pitch dark. Exploring correctly label emotions. So some kids may be uncomfortable admitting they're afraid. They might choose to display another emotion such as anger. When children display a strong emotion, explore it with them and help them to label it accurately. Ask children if or why they're uncomfortable speaking up in class. So teachers and parents should work together to address a child's fear including role play exercises. So that's something you can do. You know, the child's having this fear of speaking up in class. What class is it? What kind of things are they talking about? Practice with your child. How might you ask that question if I was the teacher? Practicing assertive communication, creating safe spaces, and offering encouragement and praise. Remember to be positive and patient. And then leading by example, show children there's nothing wrong with asking for help. If they see you asking for help. That's going to help normalize it for them and make them feel more comfortable asking for help. But if you're driving around lost because you're too stubborn to ask for directions, you're not teaching your kid by example that it's OK to ask for help. Jamie: That's a lot to unpack in that. I wanna share an example actually, like some of those strategies and tips brought something to mind. My daughter who's 16 recently attended a leadership camp run by Rotary International. It's called RIPEN, Rotary Youth Program of Enrichment. And one of the things she was quite... anxious or nervous about going to this event and the old father that I used to be would say, you know, don't be nervous, don't be silly, like, let's just get on with it. Instead, over the years, I've learned to, you know, change and normalize and accept and acknowledge those feelings or those emotions. And I said to her, you know, how are you feeling about this? You know, it's completely normal to be anxious. I get the same way when going to these sorts of events for the first time. And just rather than saying this feeling doesn't exist, it's okay, like it's completely normal to be anxious because everyone else will be feeling the same way. Jef Tucker: Absolutely. Jamie: And then adapting the way we do things, kind of like Vinnie did with, you know, having a signal, we didn't go straight into saying, no, you need to put your hand up and find your voice, but rather than find steps. And there was an example where, you know, after the event, Monique needed to go back to the Rotary Club who sponsored her and give a presentation. And that was really daunting for her. And so we were able to... find a middle ground. And so what I did, I did an interview via podcast like this that we presented at that meeting so that all the members could see the progress she had made. And it was a wonderful step instead of just forcing her out to do sort of public speaking, in a much more meaningful way to her and to build her progress. So there are some wonderful tips that, and often we can flick past those as parents in the back of a book or the front of a book, but we need to stop and take the time because There's so much we have to learn as parents. So thank you for sharing those. Let's see. Well, here's an interesting one. Your view on the future, like how do you envision the future of literature and books in promoting children's mental health? Is there a convergence of technology in books or is it books will always have their place? I don't know, is there a... some sort of revolution coming in the way that books are produced or AI or augmented reality or I don't know, what do you see as an author? You're in that space. Jef Tucker: Oh, that's an interesting question. I wish I could predict the future. I think it would be so cool, because with so many books, they create these amazing worlds. And on the one hand, it really fosters a child's imagination for them to put that together in their mind. But it would also be really awesome to be able to do that via virtual reality and look around and see this world and experience it. Because there's a lot to be said for experiential learning, for really... actually kind of, I mean, hearing and seeing the, what the author really intended to portray. I think that there's a place for that. Cause even in some children's books now, if you buy like the ebook version, the illustrations will move and stuff like that, and that can foster engagement. So I think, I think there's always gonna be a place for traditional paper books. that some people that's kind of their tried and true thing. I think the way that we engage with most forms of entertainment's going to, entertainment and even like mental health resources is gonna continue to evolve. Because even they're using virtual reality in therapy now, specifically clients with PTSD. may have experienced war trauma or something like that can really help them work through that trauma in a setting that might resemble where their trauma stemmed from but is safer to process because they know in the back of their mind this is safe and it's not really occurring. But there are a lot of... It's interesting. It's growing and it's growing kind of exponentially. So it's hard to say in what direction it's going to go. And I think it can probably have both positive and negative effects, like most new developments can. Jamie: Yeah, yeah. It's interesting. Like I'd love to see, you know, with this whole generative AI where I'm able to, right now it's pretty easy to describe an image and AI can develop that image for us or describe something in words and AI can respond in words, but they're moving towards being able to have generative video. So in other words, I can describe a world or an environment, and then it can automatically and very quickly put that 3D world together. It'd be really cool to see books and that sort of generative AI thing come together, where, you know, it's almost a challenge for kids to describe the world they're seeing in the book, but then put themselves in that animation or that narrative and really, you know, helping kids feel that story as well and become more emotionally connected to the outcome. So, like, I think the future is exciting. I think there are plenty of good actors in AI that rather than bad, there are always going to be people that will exploit that technology, I suppose. Jef Tucker: And I could see it would be so cool for students to read something and be able to create their own worlds and actually be able to show it to their peers. And that helps reinforce that we all think differently. Just some things aren't right, like. I use optical illusions with students where the picture, if you look at it one way, it's one thing. If you look at it another way, it's another thing. And I'll ask students like, what do you see? And they'll give different answers. And I'll be like, guess what? You're all right. I mean, and that blows their mind that people can have this person can see this thing and this person sees this thing, but nobody's wrong. If they could be able to, if they designed a beach scene that they thought was comfortable and that they could go to when they were feeling anxious or something like that, and they could look at, you know, the beach scenes created by their peers and it kind of reinforces their own individuality too, and fostered a sense of self-efficacy. So you've got my wheels turning now. Jamie: Good, that's what this is all about, an exchange and helping our listeners and helping each other grow. Here's a fun question to sort of round off the podcast. We love to ask all of our guests this question. Let's say Jeff had a time machine and was able to go back to your 10 or 12 year old self. What's one piece of advice that you'd give younger Jeff? Jef Tucker: Younger Jeff was a perfectionist. B's still get degrees. Calm down. Enjoy recess. It's okay. Jamie: I love that. We didn't have Bs in our university or college. It was P. The distinction was a D or HD was a high distinction. We used to go to university and sit in the cafeteria and say, P's mean degrees. We just need to pass. I'm not sure that's the thing I want to teach my kids, but hey, that's the way it was when you're young and crazy. Good advice, by the way. Good advice to your younger self. Jeff, how can people find your books? How can people get in touch with you? Share some, share some. Jef Tucker: You can find my books on Amazon. You can find my books on my website, jefftukerrights.com. You can reach me at jefftukerrights.gmail.com. Jeff Tucker Wrights is both my Facebook and my Instagram handle. Vinny's the third in the series. The first book is called My Name Is Sammy and I'm No Snitch. And the purpose of that book is to... help children understand the difference between snitching on someone and reporting dangerous behavior where someone could get hurt. The second one is called Amelia understands equity and that one is about a student who feels like it's unfair that some students get different treatment but has to learn that people, different students, different children need different things in order to thrive. And at the end of the book, it's an ending that I was proud of. She tells her mom to pull into a parking space and her mom's like, Oh, I can't park there. And Amelia's like, Oh, because that space is for people that are handicapped. And her mom is like, yes. And she's like, Oh, it's about equity. And her mom's like, how do you know that? She's like, Oh, I know all about equity. Uh, but. And then I have one standalone book, it's called Isaac the Instigator. And Isaac is an alligator who lives in a swamp who likes to stir up trouble between all the other animals. He likes to start fights and about him learning kind of the meaning of true friendship in the process. Jamie: some powerful messages that can really help our kids. Jeff, thank you for your time and generosity today. Thank you for making an impact through your work and books. Congrats on the PhD. You've got Jef Tucker: Thank Jamie: a Jef Tucker: you. Jamie: wonderful road ahead of you, no doubt, and you'll continue to make much impact. Thanks for your time. Jef Tucker: Thank you so much, Jamie. Jamie: Cheers and bye for now.
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