A robust conversation with Diana Cortese, a board-certified Behaviour Analyst, former Special Education educator and founder of Teach Social Skills, where Diana explains what social skills are and how we can all incorporate them into the lives of our children for life-long happiness and success.
0:00 Welcome and introduction to the show.
3:18 Vonne shares her loss and opens the discussion with Diana about things missing in the educational system.
5:06 Diana discusses her background and what drove her to do the work she does today teaching social skills to kids based on what she discovered was missing in the educational system.
10:40 Vonne discusses with Diana seemingly positive connections that aren't so positive, more about what's missing in the school system and what needs to change, and how this positively impacts our kids.
15:53 Vonne and Diana discuss what social skills really are and the work she does with various ages from 4 to 10 to give them a lasting and strong foundation of agency and independence.
23:12 Making these skills last in highly competitive school and social culture.
29:59 How these early social skills can help in conflict using an example of getting cut off in the lunch lineup or bullying.
35:16 The importance of being heard so kids can feel they have somewhere and someone to go to when they're in trouble. Gaining autonomy.
38:11 Social skills are not just for "special needs" kids, but for every child and adult.
40:53 Diana and Vonne discuss their most important lessons learned in parenting.
45:53 Mental health and the value of having a social skills foundation to help create a culture of connection, openness and trust. What happens if we don't in the family and socially.
50:40 The importance of watching your child grow into who they really need to be.
1:01:32 Diana's resources and where to find her.
1:04:02 One last tip from Diana to help parents connect more with their child and last question: is child behaviour the result of nurture or nature?
1:07:56 Closing out the show and a big thank you to Diana for being a guest!
1:09:33 End. Music.
(in person Social Skills groups that is run weekly)
(online course: professional development for Special Educators)
LINKS TO ANDREA'S EPISODE: "Keeping your kids safe from tech troubles!"
Brought to you by Vonne Solis
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Vonne Solis 0:00
Welcome to another episode of Grief Talk. Everything you want to know about grief and more. I'm your host, Vonne Solis. As an author, life transformation coach, online instructor and bereaved mom since 2005, I'll be bringing you great content that is informative, inspiring and practical. Whether you have suffered a loss or other adversity, stay tuned and tapped in as I cover a variety of topics to help you get where you want to go on your journey to heal and grow.
Vonne Solis 0:32
Today's guest is Diana Cortese. Diana is a board-certified behavior analyst and former special education teacher who specializes in social skills groups for kids. In 2017, after years of experience developing and facilitating social skills groups in public schools at every grade level, from preschool to high school, Diana created her own private social skills groups Southbay Kids Connection. She has used the success of this group as a model to create the first of its kind Social & Play Skills Group professional development course called Social Skills Groups for 21st Century Kids. We're gonna be talking about all this and so much more. And I can't wait to welcome Diana to the show.
Vonne Solis 1:19
Okay, so welcome to the show Diana. I'm so excited to do this episode. And for my audience, Diana and I have known each other for a little over a year in the business world. And as a result, the reason I invited Diana on the show, but I for sure, yeah, I should first say welcome, Diana.
Diana Cortese 1:42
Thank you so much Vonne. Thank you for having me.
Vonne Solis 1:45
I got too excited and started talking about the episode. But anyway, when when you and I met Diana, not long ago, you mentioned a problem in your community. And we got into a talk about how it doesn't matter, the affluence of the community. Affluence or lack of affluence. There were some suicides that rocked your community. And while this episode is not about suicides, it is about social skills. And as I mentioned in the introduction to this episode, Diana is a board-certified behavioral analyst with years and years. Well, I don't want to make it sound like you know, years and years and decades and decades, but several years experience as an educator with I believe it's special needs. And you'll elaborate on that Diana.
Vonne Solis 1:45
So I had a little conversation. I got very excited to invite Diana onto the show, Grief Talk, everything you want to know about grief and more, because this falls into the and more category, where I believe social skills are hugely important. We're also going to be talking about this. Develop the development of social skills is hugely important at the youngest of ages. In Diana is going to be talking about her work and this is what she does. She teaches social skills to children. You know, basically your ages are four and a half to 10 to 11. A very critical period. Again, you're going to elaborate on that. I'm not the educator here.
Vonne Solis 3:18
But the reason Diana, you and I clicked is because I shared with you, and I've talked to quite publicly about losing my own daughter to suicide in July of 2005. And she was 22. And we, again, I'm not going to be talking about this in this episode, but there were many things missing in the terms of connection, the respect. All the things that you teach Diana, she unfortunately didn't benefit from in her in her circle. And we will elaborate on, you know, kids who are shy. Kids who have special needs. Kids who are different in any way. And so she fell into that sort of shyness category. She was very bright. So it and we moved around. So there were some factors, as they say dynamic factors that that didn't help.
Vonne Solis 4:08
But I believe there was a lot missing in the educational system, where we were here in, in Canada. And I believe you're going to support that a lot is missing in the educational system. And we're going to have a little bit of discussion about that towards the end. Maybe even in the beginning about what can be done to change this because I don't think it's an isolated problem. I don't think this is an isolated problem to one community. You know, one type of school. I think, and one country. I think this is a problem, be globally. But sticking to North America, we wouldn't have the difficulties in behavior in bullying, in the huge amounts of suicides we have in children and teens and youth. And it starts somewhere. So on that note, I'm going to ask you Diana to start with elaborating on the work you now do and how you got into it.
Diana Cortese 5:06
Thank you. Yes. So as you mentioned, I am a board-certified behavior analyst and I'm also a former special education teacher. And like many people with these titles, I've worked with kids, various ages and various settings. And my most recent career opportunity was working in a public school, which I absolutely love. That though has always been my dream job. And I was so happy to be there. And it was really great while I was there.
Diana Cortese 5:36
But what I found out when I was there is I would sort of follow, I got the opportunity to work from preschool all the way to high school. And so I could see the children progressing through the grades. And I had a unique opportunity in that way but I wasn't, I wasn't in a teacher role, per se. So I didn't have the same grade. I actually worked with the same kids year after year, but sometimes in different schools. And one thing that kept coming abundantly clear, is that we just were not prioritizing the social aspect of these kids. And I, we had the intention to do so. But I don't think we realize it's a complex subject, and it needs so much practice, and it needs so much emphasis. And I realized that was what was missing, because once these kids graduate from preschool, and they're in, even in kindergarten, first grade and up, those teachers are busy teaching academics. There's a lot of pressure on teachers. There's a lot of standards that teachers need to meet. And there just isn't the space made in the academic, you know, in the classroom, to work on these skills. So I could see the impact that this was having, and how it just gets increasingly harder to intervene, the older you get. Of course, you you can, and you do, and you should, but it does get harder as you go. So I thought this is I need to take this upon my myself.
Diana Cortese 7:11
I also, as a mom, I had small kids at the time, and I was noticing just how competitive our culture was getting, and how socially, I just felt like the social dynamic was one of competition. And I really wanted to take that on and shift that narrative and make it more cooperative. And I thought if we could just get these kids connected more, we could reduce that competition. And you're going to get happier kids, and you're going to get more socially connected kids throughout the grades. So that's why I formed Southbay Kids Connection, which our social skills groups, for, like you said, ages, I have little kids, you know, five, four and a half to seven, and then about seven to 10, 11 years old, because I wanted to from the beginning, really instill these values and these, these skills with the kids as early as I could.
Vonne Solis 8:11
Yeah, I'm gonna jump in here. We're gonna, we might sound audience like we are bouncing around a little bit. But this is a subject that you bounce around. Because social skills play into everything. And so in my view, now, I'd like, I'll ask you this. So in your professional experience, and this is an opinion. We're not giving advice here and you know, everybody forms their own opinion, but in your experience in the, as an educator, and certainly a behavioral analyst, if kids are not exposed to social skills development, and again, folks, we're going to be getting into it in a little bit in just a little bit, exactly what Diana teaches, and how kids benefit from it. So if they're not given the opportunity, because I know you and I have talked, and there's not a lot of people teaching this, you know, like outside like privately, am I correct, when when you're kind of, you know, carving a path here? So if they don't want it in the educational systems because money's tight, the focus is on academics, and the social skills get lost, so what's happening to those kids? I mean, in your opinion, as they get to, you know, early, late teens, and maybe even as children?
Diana Cortese 9:29
Well, what's happening is they become increasingly isolated. And that's such a dangerous thing. And they're going to find they're going to seek that connection, maybe in other unhealthy ways. But we don't really see it sometimes. And because the kids get busier, there's less time at school for the social opportunities. You only have a lunch instead of various recess opportunities when they're little. And these kids don't have friends. They are not engaging with they're peers. And then sometimes, if you think about it, they're going throughout their whole entire day, six hours of school, not talking to anybody. Just responding maybe to their teachers. And so you're having kids who are spending all day and really what they're doing is just following directions from teachers and perhaps participating in class. But there's not that peer connection. That peer connection is so important and isolation is a huge factor and other things such as suicide. That feeling of I don't belong. That feeling of I don't know what to do and I have no one to talk to about it.
Vonne Solis 10:40
Yeah. So if we're looking at and just to address this and me poking the bear a little bit, so what would you say in terms of on a broad scale social skills missing in the educational system, like we just talked about. Nope, let's focus on academics. I don't really care how you're acting outside the classroom. Once you're off the schoolyard you're not my problem. I'm thinking that's the, you know, sort of the approach. So what would you say to the educators, to the parents, and I won't say to the children themselves, but just to the, you know, to all of us involved in children's and teen's and youth's lifes with just almost every every aspect. Would you say for the ones that are in popular groups, are out partying with their friends. Are really busy engaging in sports and other activities, without this social skills foundation, because it's been missing. And I did another episode of audience with a another educator called Keeping your kids safe from tech troubles and I'll link to this, that episode in this one, because tech is replacing a lot of this too. I just want to throw that in there. So when they're relying on tech, and when they're relying on on their popular group, or any kind of group, is that being - so the skills are still missing, so is is the connection not necessarily a positive connection? Even when they think they're connecting? You get what I'm saying?
Diana Cortese 12:16
Yeah, I mean, that's a very real possibility. You can have, you can have a child who has no obvious connections, like not talking to anybody. And then you can have a child who's surrounding by surrounded by people, and still not positively connected. And that's why we need to work on these pro-social behaviors, these, you know, positive social skills. And y social skills, I just want to point out, I don't mean obedience and politeness and things like that. I mean real-world skills that help you build healthy relationships.
Diana Cortese 12:49
And as far as what's missing in school, I really do think school systems have the best of intentions. I really, really honestly do. And I think that more and more, we are shifting towards that. But just as a little side note, it's funny. I came across my, I was looking for a notebook for my son, and I came across his old notebook that was barely used. And it was a mindfulness journal that they were doing, which is something you'd think is great, right? Really positive. Oh, a mindfulness journal. And really, it was just filled with almost like compliance exercises. Like, you know, so and so was tipping their chair over. How could they be more mindful in class?
Diana Cortese 13:31
And I thought, okay, you're making space for this sort of mindfulness being in touch with your feelings, but it's a little bit misguided. So even I think when we do make space for it, we have to make sure that we're doing it in the best way we can. So I would say, a) the school system, we need to prioritize this. Nothing else matters if we don't have our social well being together. It's like you said, it infiltrates every other aspect of our life, so why isn't this a priority? And I think we just need to make room for it. Like you'd make room for other subjects. Which could be you know, another even though it permeates, could be another subject.
Diana Cortese 13:31
And working on those healthy skills. Working on kids feeling comfortable enough to share about each other. And once they are relaxed with each other, they're gonna get to know each other. Sometimes because they're not given the opportunity to be in situations where they can connect. Where they can be relaxed and just play together or do a leisure activity together or just talk, then they end up just not knowing each other. But the more we can find common ground, the more that kids can find common ground with each other, the kinder, they're going to be to one another. And the more they're going to look out for one another. So it's really just giving them lots and lots of opportunities. Lots and lots of practice.
Vonne Solis 14:59
Yeah, And I mean, trust comes into all that too. I just want to as an aside, my son, he's now 30. And when his sister died, he really wanted to go to a Catholic school in our area. So we got him in. It wasn't our catchment area, but we got him in. And I now remember now that you triggered my memory, that in one of his classes, they did meditation. And he loved it. And I think this was a very one-off unique situation with one teacher that decided no, we're going to stop, we're going to pause. I don't know if it was five minutes or 10 minutes. But I remember they did that. Maybe it was once a week, I don't remember if it was every class or once a week. But I remember him now saying it and everybody loved it. So these were high school. These would be you know, grades 10 through 12. So it can be done. It can be done.
Vonne Solis 15:53
And so I want to jump in here and I do know from talking with you and looking at your site. So your group, I want to get into what you're actually teaching, as you might be calling them social skills. And we might know them as social skills. We might also think of them, because you're breaking ground here social mindfulness. We can think about it in a lot of different terms, because I think you were have said before, we don't understand skill. The word skill, necessarily in relation to social. So we'll try to help help the audience and educators if there are any educators are watching or listening this really understand what this approach is all about. So even to maybe personally adapt it in the classroom if you can't have a systematic, as well, I guess it's a systemic change.
Vonne Solis 16:44
So it's about value and it's about the connection, and about seeing the value in that connection. This, is this the foundation of what you're teaching in your groups, which are explorers and adventurers. And and because you're nodding yes, it is, if you could explain a little more in your little explorers, group four and a half to seven, more about I've got from your site that the kids learned flexibility. And, for example, adapting to rule changes, you know? And not getting upset and mad and controlling and all that. Letting others choose and experiencing positive peer interactions. Problem solving. And that might be a lot. So maybe we'll start with that. And then adventurers, they start to learn more independence and self-awareness and self-regulation. Boy we've been talking about regulation on this show. So if you want to elaborate a little bit on that, and sort of, you know, share with the audience, what these kids are doing to learn these skills.
Diana Cortese 17:50
Right. So social skills, you can also think of it as social emotional learning. That's a term that's pretty common these days. But it's the same sort of thing. Because I feel like, so they are skills, and they are just as important as math skills. So there's nothing wrong with social skills. I just sometimes people think that it's about like being polite and how to conduct yourself in public. That's not what I'm talking about. It's relationship skills, right?
Diana Cortese 18:18
So in my group, and both the little that the explorers and the adventures, the overarching themes. They, each group has the overarching theme, and to break it all down, it would just be for them to discover the joy of being with each other. Because once we enjoy each other, that sort of like the basis for appreciating each other. For respecting each other. You know, it all comes from that.
Diana Cortese 18:44
So how we do that in the explorers group, which is the younger kids, is they again, they're they have goals, like I want them to be more socially aware, more aware of their peers. More self-aware, meaning how, how do they interact with other people? Do they know themselves? Do they, you know, know, what sort of gets them upset, what doesn't get them upset? And the way I do this is I have a variety of cooperative tap, tasks. Cooperative like crafts, cooperative games, and but it's not in a lesson format. So what I do is, if, for example, we might do like a scavenger hunt together. Okay, so I don't just give the kids a little scav, little list, and each one gets their own list. No, they either pair up, or they go in threes. One will carry the bag, one will have a little sheet one will have the little dry-erase marker. So they're working together, and they're gonna work faster. They're gonna find more things. It's going to be more enjoyable because they were working together.
Diana Cortese 19:54
So my goal is every activity that I think of, how can this activity lead the kids to realize, like, wow, that was such a fun activity that I did with so and so and so and so. Not like, oh, I did it first I got all the items first. That's, that's not what I want. If we do a building activity, like we recently did, the little marshmallows with spaghetti, rice spaghetti.They have to work together and then make it a puzzle. And then they can use their imaginations and build it as high as they want. Because I want them to have fun together. And I will cue them sometimes like, oh, great, give your partner a high five, or, you know, then they can kind of show to the other kids. Look what we did things like that. So everything we do we do with the idea that, wow, this is so much better because I did it with a friend.
Vonne Solis 20:50
I love that. I love that. I'm just going to jump in before you possibly move on to adventurers. I was just thinking while you were talking about when babies are born. And they're all wonderful and sweet. And they're all pretty much the same, right? But then there's that critical point where they become at an age where they're interacting. Their first interactions, and they're taking steps. Toddlers. And you know how some kids are just mean? And they're just mean. And they throw toys, and they hit and they bite. And, you know, and then and so it makes me wonder if it's nurture nature combination, and what those very earliest tendencies in toddlers, how that how that's formed? And even what's been done about it.
Vonne Solis 21:40
But you know, when you talk about the world is just so competitive, and you're talking with, you know, your little explorers about, you know, it feels so much more fun working, you know, with others and all that. But there also has to come a point when the explorers and the adventurers grow up, and hopefully those that have had the benefit of working with, you know, you or anyone who's doing similar work that might not be that many people, but you know, have fully formed, you know, morals, ethics, and made decisions about what they can and can't handle. What they choose and don't choose to, you know, surround themselves with in terms of peers, and so on and conform healthy, it's about forming healthy relationships.
Vonne Solis 22:23
So the like, I want to just, you know, I still want I want you to talk but about the adventurers, but which leads to this question. So this is where they start learning, self-regulation and independence. So how do they shift from they're really young? And yes, I want to play with my friend to that age where it's instilled in us to be competitive. So with your foundation of training, and being independent, and having that agency and autonomy, and yes, respecting and seeing the value of peers, how do they maintain that? If you could, you know, elaborate on what you're doing with the adventurers? But then how they maintain that in a culture that is completely competitive, if not a world?
Diana Cortese 23:12
Right, yeah, such a good question. So in addition to teaching the kids or showing the kids that look how beneficial it is to cooperate with your peers, like you referenced earlier, another big thing we work on is being flexible. And within that flexibility, yes, rule changes, a lot of the kids I see are sort of rigid, have rigid patterns. And I want the kids to see that it's okay to accept new ideas. It's okay to accept new people. You don't have to be best friends with everybody, but you just might find out that you like it even better, this new twist that your friend wants to put on the game. And the more we do that, that's why I say we that's why I said before that we need so much practice. This is not okay, come have a lesson. We're going to do this for four weeks in second grade, and then hope it sticks. This is a lifelong process. And I really think that's how we have to change the culture because we want these kids to grow up and be that change.
Diana Cortese 24:15
This is something we need to work on day in and day out. I may have my group, but I have really great communication with the parents of the kids in my group, and they are amazing. They are all in and they don't, they come to my class and I do these activities. And I had the benefit of having the peers there that the parents don't necessarily have, right? They only have their child and maybe they don't even have siblings. But those parents are carrying over what we're doing in group in the sense of, you know, working on these skills and contriving play opportunities maybe at home that they can work on self-regulation, if they lose a game. And we need to just really give the kids such a solid foundation that they're going to grow up and remember that and hopefully that is what's going to shift this competitive culture. Also shifting the mindset of the parents.
Vonne Solis 25:09
Yeah. So here's my question. Actually, though I did before I get to my question, I just want to ask for your adventurers, what sort of activities are they doing to learn independence and self-regulation? I'm really always curious about the self-regulation and the self-awareness. Which kind of goes hand in hand, in my opinion. So what sort of activities do you do with these kids?
Diana Cortese 25:34
Right, so the adventurers being a little bit older, they do a little bit less explicit gameplay, but I do play games, just more advanced games with them. A lot of things that I do, I do a lot of role-playing with them. And so they will have, we take scenarios that may happen to them or that may have happened to them. And I will divide the kids. Some kids will role-play it out. And then the other kids are watching. And after the kids role-play it out, I ask the audience, the kids who are watching, you know, what did you observe? What do you what do you see?
Diana Cortese 26:13
And one very important thing in my groups is that there's never a correct answer. There is never, I'm not looking for anything in particular. I'm looking for their thoughts. I'm want to reinforce the idea of them exploring what they think. It's fine. Everything is valid. So that's really, really important. I do not want them thinking that there's - I need to act this way in this situation, because that's impossible. The hope and that's why social skills are complex, because they're context-dependent. What's appropriate in one context is inappropriate in another. What's appropriate in one culture is offensive in another.
Diana Cortese 26:52
So this is about how you're, you know, how are you feeling? What do you think? Has this happened to you? So that's what the audience would look at in a role-play. And when the kids are actually, you know, acting, I ask them, How did you feel when this happens? So we might have a scenario to give an example of someone cuts in front of you in the lunch line. What would you do? Would you we so we work on, how is it? Would you, How could you self advocate? There's no one good answer. But there's many things that we could explore. Right?
Diana Cortese 27:26
How would you overreact and sometimes we do activities where we work on, you know, what would be an overreaction, in your opinion, right? Maybe hitting somebody. That would be an overreaction. That would depend on what the group thinks. So we work on a lot of skills through that and that just generates discussion. That generates self-reflection. I ask them, Has this ever happened to you? Because what happens is, it just takes one kid to say, oh, yeah, that that just happened to me. Like I got picked on or, you know, and then the other kids feel safe enough to say, oh, yeah, me too. And I look, it, that's okay. It happens, right. And they're not looking to me. They're looking at each other, because I want them, you know, this is their group.
Diana Cortese 28:11
Another thing that I do with them are sometimes more, more just more teamwork activities, but more building. So a recent activity I did was, I made like a cup structure out of those red solo cups, and I took a picture. And I had the kids, I gave them each distinct roles. Like one of you is going to direct this. One of you is going to be the one who's building. One of you is going to be the supervisor. And they're working together building the structure. So it's a little bit more advanced, but it's the same goal of, hey, we just did this, but we did it by working with each other.
Vonne Solis 28:47
Diana Cortese 28:47
So it's kind of the same goals as the little guys, but in a more advanced activities.
Vonne Solis 28:53
Yeah, these are great. So I have a couple things I want to bring up at this point. Anyway, I gotta get my thoughts clear here, but, because I'm thinking a lot while you're talking, and I'm jumping ahead to them being teenagers. And what they learned at, you know, 9, 10, you know, years old, eight years old, what they would do if someone cut them off in front of the lunch line up? And what are they going to do when they're 16? And so, I'm going to tie this in together.
Vonne Solis 29:26
So obviously, you can't make all of these changes by yourself. And, you know, I know you have somewhat limited enrollment in your own South Bay Kids Connection, because you're working hands on with these children weekly, and they can stay in the program. As you said, it's not a time-sensitive thing they can stay in as long as they need to stay in, right, to graduate from that program. So it limits it unless other people are teaching sort of the same thing. So so my question is, if I can relay this correctly.
Vonne Solis 29:59
So, when they get to teen and that - let's just use the example of cutting in front of the lunch line. They're going to react differently at 10 than they are maybe at 16. Unless these skills have been so embedded and they turn into very polite, Yep, go before me if you feel you need to cut in, great. Okay? So what, in your opinion and experience keeps these in the in-between years. So as we said earlier, the culture starts to seep in. The environments start to seep in. So what happens to them in the, in the years after they leave South Bay Kids Connection? And I mean you can only speak very broadly to this. And the reason I'm bringing this up is not about South Bay. It's more about culturally, it wouldn't matter how many people are teaching these same skills up to 10 or 11. What happens, what needs to happen to keep it going right through graduation? What would need to happen in the education system to do this, other than praying, as most parents do, that they don't become a completely different human being as soon as they turn 15 or 16? And you know, hey, right, I think you have a teen. Do you still go through that? What happened? Who's Where did my child go? So yeah, so I know, that's a bit of a loaded question. But it's so important to think about because the social skills, you know, it reminds me of an emotional intelligence, if you're familiar with that term that became really popular. And I'm not sure if it's still circulating out there. And nobody knew what's emotional intelligence, emotional IQ, and all this stuff. And so it's sort of the same thing. You're, you're you're building this thinking. I love this, because thinking, what are you feeling? This is what gives us agency when we become very firm and confident. And this changes. This takes like you said, a lifetime, because we change. Our situations are dynamic and they things happen that force us to draw on different emotions and have different reactions, and so on and so forth. So sticking to a foundation here, a foundation here. So yeah, so what happens to keep it going after they leave your program or any similar program?
Diana Cortese 32:30
Right. Well, in school, this is something that parents can advocate for, actually, because it doesn't have to. So my program is just like you said, it's limited because I'm hands on. And those are the ages I work with. But I have worked, I have developed social skills groups for middle school and there are and I've done social skills group for high school as well. So it doesn't mean that you cap out. You just sort of change, like I said, you change the activities. You change it a little bit the way they are to, to respect their autonomy. To respect their, you know, opinions. Maybe let them have more time to talk. I find that the teens what helps them, is they need to know, they need to feel that they are being listened to.
Diana Cortese 33:17
So if someone cuts them in line, you know, first of all, is there a structure? I think two things right? One is the person him or herself who's experienced this. The other is the environment in which they're experiencing it. So one thing that the school can do or any environment could do is set up a structure that sets the children up for success. Right? So maybe not have the lines infinitely long. Maybe have something where it's a little bit more indicative of where the line is, so you can line up so there's less confusion. So you can cut down in frustration. You can set up kids for success through environmental manipulations in a big way. You can do a lot of preventative stuff right there and then. Also within the kids. Now, if someone cuts them in front of the line, hopefully they have learned, hopefully they are working on they have the self-confidence to self advocate for themselves, right or let it go. If it's really gonna come to that it would depend on what that child feels at that time.
Diana Cortese 34:22
But also do they feel like say it's something worse than cutting in line? In No, say it is low-key bullying or something like that or, you know, out and out bullying. Do they feel like they can go to somebody and their voices be heard? A lot of schools have things where you can write an incident report, you can sort of report it. But kids get jaded because where does that go? You know, I do think again, I'm pro. I don't I'm pro-schools. I really think they have the best interest in mind. But we need to evaluate these systems and are they working or are they more on the punitive side to keep an order, or are they more on the preventative side? So that would be my answer environmental manipulations to set up the kids for success. But those kids need to feel like if they have something they can go somewhere to someone to be heard.
Vonne Solis 35:16
So that's so important because feeling like you're being listened to, heard, same thing, more or less, you know, is it's so critical when you uh, so one thing I want to say is, so it's critical to everyone's development. To everyone's feeling like they're a worthy contributing member of society. Even us adults who are coming from certain horrible situations and have to rebuild ourselves and feel like we're not being heard in our respective pain and struggle. Ah going back to the school system, so this is why I am a huge believer in it all starts right at the youngest of ages. How we, you know, respect and listen to our babies our toddlers, our children. Try and teach them right from wrong and the reason for that. And then as they grow up, you know, why are you making that choice?
Vonne Solis 36:24
I'm, I have said this on a previous episode, but when I grew up, my mom would always give - I'm one of four - a choice. And if we wanted to do something, and it wasn't necessarily the right choice, she would point out, well, this is your choice, but these are the probable consequences. You choose. And I never Yeah, and so consequently, and you know what I actually have to say, I left home when I was just turning 16. And I never got myself into trouble. So is it because I developed that autonomy very early on? Perhaps. You know, it was so new before its time and you know, maybe my mom would have stepped in and done something different. I have no idea. But it was liberating. We always had these, like, in-depth conversations about life and all sorts of stuff. So I don't think I ever um - she was an artist, as well, so an a musician, so maybe that was part of it. But I never felt that I couldn't do what I needed and wanted to do. And I always made for me, I always made the right choice. So stayed away from trouble and all that, well for the most part, but you know, I, whatever I got myself into, I knew how to get myself out of it.
Vonne Solis 36:24
That's only a small part of the childhood and I'm not going going to go into anything else because there was some dysfunction there as well. But in in order to have you know, and so I as a parent did my absolute very best to raise really well-rounded, caring, you know, people. But I watched both my children struggle in different ways because of different circumstances, and being completely missed in the education system, for the most part.
Vonne Solis 38:11
And so this is a very, very important conversation for me to have because I want to say, and Diana, you can speak about this. We're not talking about the work you do is just for special needs kids. You know, it's not just for you know, it's not for my kid, my kid doesn't have any problems. And I think parents, I might be overstepping here, but I think as parents, we all naturally. I mean, I had a wake-up lesson. So this is me looking back and going, this is what I missed.
Vonne Solis 38:45
I think we have a tendency to want our kids to be so successful that we don't want to really know about the problems. And this is why we miss suicide tendencies. At risk. We miss what our kids are really doing. And I don't think it's changed a whole lot. I missed everything. So I'm not sitting here, you know, waving the banner and saying, Hey, of course I got it wrong, horribly wrong. And it's cost me one of the biggest sacrifices in my life. And it's painful to think when when you lose a child or you have a living child, who you know, there's something wrong, but you don't really know what's wrong. And so much has been missed in the schools and in their peers and in the community. It's almost like no one cares. And I don't think that's the case. And I'll, I'll speak to your point that you think that schools have the best of intentions and I'm going to agree with you. I think we all have the best of intentions, but none of us have been culturally conditioned or taught to really care for each other.
Diana Cortese 40:03
Right? Isn't that funny? Yeah, that, exactly that. That's what we need to do. It kind of sounds weird. Like, we need to be taught to care for each other. But we do, we actually do. And I'm with you, I'm certainly not a parent of the year, you know. I miss a lot of things as well and I certainly have my struggles with my own kids. And I think it's actually easy to miss things, because you said, you, we really want our kids to be successful. And I would say, also, we really want our kids to be happy. We, it's hard, and this is one of my personal struggles, it's really hard to see your kids struggle. So you want to immediately go in and fix whatever the problem that is.
Vonne Solis 40:48
Diana Cortese 40:49
Either not hear about it. You can turn a blind eye or you want to fix it.
Vonne Solis 40:53
Diana Cortese 40:53
And we need to make. One thing that I have learned is, and one thing that has helped me a lot in my parenting journey, it's easier to do it with other kids than your own kids, for sure, is just, you know, hold space for that struggle. And don't try to jump in and fix everything. Listen. Let them process it out and keep that connection open. Keep those lines of communication that they know that they can go to you. But that you don't want to feel like because if you keep fixing the solution, then they're going to come to believe that they can't fix it on their own. Or that this struggle is bad. And not all struggles are bad. Struggles are how we learn.
Diana Cortese 41:36
I had a little boy in my group, but just a little five year old. And what happened was someone was showing their Lego creation that they made and somebody next to him dropped it by accident and it broke and it was fine. They put it back together. But the other little boy said, and someone said, Oh, it's just a mistake. It was an accident. I said, Okay, that's fine. And the little boy said, I wish I wish mistakes never happened. And I thought oh boy, and I said, Oh, that's okay. That's how we learn. And we say that, but to really embody that is another thing, right? To really like, Oh, it's okay, if we struggle. It's okay if we make these mistakes because it's how we learn, and we will have more patience for each other if we assume that each other that we're coming from a place of goodness. Of compassion.
Diana Cortese 42:26
So I think sometimes why we are competitive with each other and why we are defensive with each other is because we are kind of making assumptions about that other person. And really just, I try to tell my kids, you just do what you think is right and just do your best there. You can't control other people's feelings about you. You can only control yourself. But it's it's really hard. And it's really easy to miss things because kids, especially as they get older, they won't offer up as much, you know, how is your day? You know. They won't offer up as much and they'll be online more, and they'll be on the phone more. So I think as parents and as educators, we need to give them, we need to incentivize them to talk to us. To stay connected. And whether that just be with not always making demands on them or not always trying to fix their thing or whether that be offering lots of different activities that schools can do. Schools can offer lots of different clubs, lots of different, just different activities and ways that they can be engaged with other peers. So they're going to be talking and making those friendships more. We have to it's a whole system that we need to build. Like a whole eco-system that we need to build.
Vonne Solis 43:44
Yeah, and and so again, for anyone watching listening to this, you know, doing the work. Educators. All all of us all of us want to make a better world. And we are passing the world on to our young people. I want to say as the parent of a now 30-year-old and for me, it's kind of weird, because my daughter would be 39 and it kind of feels like there's a chunk there, because my kids were nine and a half years apart, there's a chunk there I've missed. And so I kind of have to always, my poor son, I use him as my example when we talk parenting stuff. But the parenting stuff never ends.
Vonne Solis 44:26
I want to tell all of you who have are still with young children, teenagers, it doesn't end. And you're going to have the same worries about them that and concerns and wants for them, which is for them to succeed and be happy no matter what age they are. Because that's just how we're wired to be good parents. And do we make mistakes? Yes, we make mistakes. But in going to the point of communication, and my experience is, there as much as a as you want and believe your kids are telling you everything?They're not. So the next best thing is that they feel safe enough to tell a peer. A really good friend.
Vonne Solis 45:11
And I'm just going to really quickly add here. For anybody, so so part of, of what you and I are talking about Diana is, in your work setting foundations for them, so they can be very successful, well-adjusted flexible human beings, all the rest of their life. And the core underneath that is what we've just been talking about. The fact that a lot of this is missing, in probably well, certainly the Western culture. Our North American culture. And so, as you say, on a very macro level, change needs to be made. Change is made when we start talking about these things. And we start talking about these things when we notice the problems.
Vonne Solis 45:53
And this just happens to be the time in our lives where we've decided, probably the pandemic helped with this, we decided to start talking a little more about mental health and the things that people don't want to talk about and suicide and all that kind of stuff. And it was really quite a taboo subject really, for suicide until just recently. Very, very taboo. Mental health, I think that sort of been, you know, a few years in the making where you know, people are, we need to talk about our health. Well, yes, we need to talk about, but we also need to care about it. And when we care about it, we do something about it, and we change systems, and we change our behavior, and so on and so forth.
Vonne Solis 46:38
So bringing it back to the talk, you know, the topic of today, which is social skills, I seen the absolute value in teaching this as a foundation. Having it trickle through the family. Trickle through the kids themselves, so that when they reach the point where it's no longer being offered to them, you know, one on one, or in a very structured manner, it's ingrained enough in them that they have the autonomy to know how to think and understand it's okay to say what they're feeling. They may, they may not want to say everything. But I will tell you, I have seen some YouTube documentaries, and read enough to know that for the kids that get in trouble early, you know, our teens and youth, they're not talking. So this connection, they don't trust. They don't trust the health system. They're certainly not going to worry their family.
Vonne Solis 47:37
And I will just say this, because this is very important for parents to know. So even in my own situation, my daughter did share her plan to suicide with her best friend who actually died five years later by illness. So we lost both girls ultimately. And her friend told me this after my daughter died, and was wracked with guilt, because my daughter had sworn her to secrecy. And what was she going to do? So even though we're not specifically talking today about at-risk kids and children, like children and youth, what we are talking about is if they don't have the skills and they don't know how to connect, and they are isolated, which you said earlier, at the beginning of this, it leads to huge amount of isolation
Diana Cortese 48:32
Vonne Solis 48:33
That's where you get the problems. That's where you get the suicides. That's where you get kids that look like they have the best life on Earth, not be feeling that when they shut their eyes at night, you know, and and keeping it all within.
Diana Cortese 48:50
And sometimes what happens is the kids, the older kids, teens, or even, you know, older is the reason why they are not sharing is because perhaps they have in the past and it hasn't gone well. So it's really important that we take what they say that's why we have to - more listening less directing.
Vonne Solis 49:11
Diana Cortese 49:12
Because that's that happens, like things have been brushed off. And they've just learned that you know what?It's,why bother?
Vonne Solis 49:20
Exactly. Something else I'll share from experience for anybody that's interested in this and can take some cues from it. So I mean, I learned a big lesson when my daughter was gone at 22. And then you and I went well wait, I thought it was a good mom. So I was the mom that filled out the college application, you know, and I pushed. I pushed because I cared and I knew she could or I thought she could rise to the challenge. But she couldn't. And she hid that from me, okay? And she hid it from everybody. Pretty much. She couldn't rise to the challenge. So I basically now refer that, you know, in my own mind, I had a special needs child. Not visibly, but her own brilliance. And yes, we all want to say we have brilliant kids, but she really was. She was in her top five 5% percentile in, in the BC exams, where I live in British Columbia.
Vonne Solis 50:20
And, you know, and so you have a lot of that's why you see when you have these deaths of these sports, you know, athletic young ladies. And they have everything. They're leaders. They're, they, you know, they're, they're going places. And then boom, they're not. Then they're not breathing anymore. They're not here any and everybody goes, what happened.
Vonne Solis 50:40
So I just want to point out when that happened for me, and we even made some mistakes in very early grief, which this episode is not about, but very early mistakes with our son who was only 13. So now I have a lot more awareness and can help people like, you know, oh, my God, this is what we missed this, don't you, etc. But that's not what this is about. When when my son went to university, by then a few years had passed, and he couldn't cope in the way that they're expected to cope. Which is a full, you know, five course full-time load. And, and then some of the kids work part-time as well.
Vonne Solis 51:20
So he changed his program three times. And he had gone a first time on a scholarship for computer science. And he agonized, because he didn't want to do it. And do you know how grateful I am? That one day, maybe five weeks in four weeks in? I don't know, it was it was a few weeks in, he came to me and said, Mom, I just have to tell you, I don't want to do this. So you know what? We figured it out together. He also went to part-time studies. And he didn't work a part-time job. And we had just bought him a car, which he was going to you know, try and make part, you know, the payments on it. And I just happened to be really grateful that he lived at home, but we lived in the country so he had to commute. So you know what? We're like, fine, we'll carry it for you. We'll just carry it for you. So did he have to go to university a couple of summers for a couple of courses? Yes. Did it cost a little bit more? Yes. It didn't matter. I have my son.
Diana Cortese 52:27
Vonne Solis 52:29
I got my son, you know? I just want to say that. And we're talking about this because this is what your work teaches the kids and even though he didn't benefit from that training and foundation, I raised him the same way my mom raised me. Which is, let's talk, let's talk. I did with my daughter too. But obviously there were some other factors like that everybody missed. And for those of us that have lost children, I also just want to jump in here. Don't beat yourself up. I'll do some other episodes on that. With there's nothing we can do going back but it haunts us.
Vonne Solis 53:06
So you do the best you can when you learn what isn't working. And culturally, a whole bunch of stuff isn't working. So Diana, you and I talking about these things today, keeping it in the training part of it and the very, you know, structured part of it. And what happens even with or without that, we always have to be on guard as parents, guardians, educators. Anybody, coaches, other leaders. Anybody who has an active role in our children's life until they become adults, and have to fend pretty much for themselves, but hopefully still make calls home and say Hey, Mom, Hey, Dad, whatever. We have to care. And we have to be on guard for our own level of in, investment in how we're caring for and respecting others around us, including our youngsters. By the way, I have always respected children always thought of myself as a guardian to my children. Nothing more in the sense of they're here for their own life. I'm here to guide them. I'm not here to tell them what to do. But that was a lesson looking back that I learned and adopted with my son.
Diana Cortese 54:33
And just to add on to that, it's an additional difficulty of being a parent is you've probably seen this in your experiences, you can parent the same way, you have two kids or more than two kids and you parent the same way, but you have kids who react differently. Because our kids are themselves are individuals and what my two boys are completely different from each other. They're also your you know, so we have the same values, obviously, as a family. They're not 10 years apart, they're only four years apart, but they're very, very different. And some kids have what you might term as invisible needs. And that can be really, really challenging because it's not so outward, and you have your expectations should be, or your ex, you feel your expectation should be like everyone else, right? Like, go to college, get that job. I know, you're smart enough to handle this. You know what you were saying. This computer science program.
Vonne Solis 55:31
Diana Cortese 55:32
But at least at what cost. So my big lesson for me, as a parent, and as an educator, is always make sure you know, try your best to know your child. And when you know your child, or your student, if you're an educator, then you can meet them where they're at. Not where you think they should be. But where they are.
Vonne Solis 55:53
I love that Diana. Meeting your child where they're at. Because it's they're always changing. And the old but, you know, in thinking back the challenges that I don't know what age do they start having to look at, you know, college applications? We call it university in Canada, but University applications? 16 now?
Diana Cortese 56:22
Yeah, 16, 17. Yeah.
Vonne Solis 56:25
So imagine which you can be asked, What do you want to do? What do you want to do with your life? In the case of going back to my son, I love him so much. And I say it, I always say, if you're watching this episode, please forgive me. But anyway, he ended up graduating a double major philosophy and law. Who knew? And then but here and to your point that you just said. Okay, you, you get a an undergrad in law, you apply to law school. So he's doing his application. Cost at the time, 150 bucks just to submit the application. He pays the $150 and he has to fill out, you know, why do you want to be a lawyer, and he has no clue. And to this day, although he works in a quasi-judicial board with lawyers, he can't stand the idea of being a lawyer.
Vonne Solis 57:18
And he's making his way. And I think one of the things I want to point out, too, I know, we're coming to the top of the hour here, where we're going to have to have to close out, but we don't have to, but you know, we probably will, is that we see this potential in our kids at any age. And we see and can imagine and envision the success from a choice. And then they don't want it? Like my daughter was was told by professional ballerinas, she at four or five years old, she would be a perfect dancer. She's got the body type and the long legs. She didn't want to dance. And I'm ohhhh, but I wanted her to be a ballerina, you know. Stuff like that. And, and you know what, I'm not entirely sure it ever really goes away. Because we tend to look, I'm going to throw this out here, because I'm just thinking it now. And maybe this is just me, tell me if you do this, Diana. But we could tend to look at what's missing in their life and we want it so much for them. And we can see that oh, but this would round you out right now. I want this so much for you. But they have their own reasons why they're not going down a certain path, studying a particular program, taking on different job, you know, like, whatever it is.
Diana Cortese 58:40
We see they're good at it.
Vonne Solis 58:41
Yeah. And so it's watching them evolve into their own individuality, it can be challenging for us because, I don't know, every one of us, it's a little fuzzy for me going back, but imagine your babe in your arms. Seriously. And we dream for them.
Diana Cortese 59:05
We do. I remember when my teenage son, when my 16 he's 16 now and when he was about 10, he was in Taekwondo. And he was a red belt. And the next step after that red belt was a black belt. And all he had to do was take the test. And he didn't want to do it. I was like, Oh, I was so excited for him. Like that's such a great opportunity. You can be a black belt like that's,
Vonne Solis 59:30
I know what's coming.
Diana Cortese 59:33
I'll never forget this boy. I have to say my kids are pretty good expressers of feelings. We were in the car and he gave me I wish I could remember. I wish I had recorded what he said. You know what, Mom? I really I don't want to take this test. I don't want to continue Taekwondo. I'm not going to be the professional taekwondo. I don't want to be on a team. I really just enjoyed it for the games and the activities. And I feel like I can get my physical exercise in another way. I don't think it's fair for you to be driving me and to be spending money on something I don't want to do.
Vonne Solis 1:00:05
Wow. Wow. Yeah.
Diana Cortese 1:00:08
You don't want to be a black belt? No. He didn't care. I wanted him to be a black belt. He could care less.
Vonne Solis 1:00:13
Yeah. And I will challenge any parent who said nope. They're not living vicariously even to a small degree through their child. I will challenge them to really double think that because it is hard watching your child. It's fascinating and it can be hard watching your child grow into who they really need and want to be. I mean, but listen, they it takes years for them to even figure that out. And at different stages, they're presented with different challenges, too. It can be career choice, it can be relationships, it can be all sorts of things. But if we look at them as just these incredible human beings, and we give them the best start we can give them starting in the home. And even so I'm going to sort of move here to close this out, Diana, for for, you know, people, fam, parents who are watching listening to this, and you know, they don't have the benefit of of a program like you're offering in your area, you do have things on your website to well, I should ask. Do you have things on your website to help parents? Resources to start to instill these certain skills right in the home? Because that's we let's let's really emphasize that's super important too. That is the foundation, is it not? In the home?
Diana Cortese 1:01:32
It is. It is. On my website on the southbaykidsconnection.com you will find a variety of blog posts, and those posts have some suggestions of how to handle some things. Whether it be if your child doesn't seem to be forming any friendships at school, some things you could do. There are some posts about ways to for a non-sporty child because sports are so valued in today's society, if you don't have a child who's into sports, what other ways can they meet friends and do activities. As well as some tips for playing games at home and how that can benefit your child. What, how to choose some games and what skills you can work on through some just your basic board games at home.
Vonne Solis 1:02:19
Oh, that's excellent. Excellent. So I'll be putting links to your southbaykidsconnection.com and any social media that you want to share. People can find you on Tik Tok. And so we'll put a link to that and any other social. Are you on any other social media right now, Diana?
Diana Cortese 1:02:43
Primarily I'm on I'm a little bit on everything. But primarily you can find me on Instagram and on TikTok. For Instagram, I am @southBaykidsconnections. And also, I'm @teachsocialskills. In addition to my physical local services groups that I do, I also teach other educators how to form these types of social skills groups. And that handle is @teachsocialskills.
Vonne Solis 1:03:14
Okay. We'll be putting all that in the links below audience. But just jumping on that point that you know, when you're teaching educators, that's so important because it's in addition to families that is such an important foundational, you know, starting entry point to all this stuff. And to keep it going. And let's just just recap for parents. Communication, communication, communication. And even find different ways. I used to talk a lot to my son in the car. And both my kids actually and you know, and just you find you find things or even watch movies that have a theme and then oh, what'd you think of that movie? You know, or things like that, you know, but what were you gonna say, Diana?
Diana Cortese 1:04:02
Yeah, I was gonna say I like that what you said, What did you think about? Try to another good thing for parents to do at the dinner table? Hopefully, you know, you have time to eat, you know, together at least sometimes during the week is, I often advise parents to even if they have to tell a little white lie, to come up with like, this happened to me today. What do you think? And because you're showing that you value their opinion, and you're reinforcing them expressing their opinion. That's a little trick that you can use as well. Like what do you think about this this Oh, I did this what do you think?
Vonne Solis 1:04:36
And this is very different parents than being really stressed out and dumping on your kid your own problems. We don't want to do that and that can happen for us. We can there's a line between being you know, a parent and think that they're you're confident. They're not and they're not. And and they want to have structure. I I did learn this from my son's, you know, traumatic experience. Ultimately, they want to have a structure. They want to feel safe. So what that they don't want to confide their deepest feelings to us necessarily. They want to feel safe enough that it's it's their space that they can use their soft space to fall. And so don't I'm not gonna espouse here, you know, like parenting tips, but I am just saying there there is a line that we don't I don't think is worth crossing, thinking telling them too much. Would you? Would you agree?
Diana Cortese 1:05:34
Yes, iust in just a situation to get their thoughts. Because ultimately, just like we want our kids to be happy and successful, they actually want us to be happy and successful too. And so they don't want us to be sad or stressed all the time, because they will take those feelings on.
Vonne Solis 1:05:51
Exactly. And so we can't close without saying some of their let me ask you this. Do you think or know from other experts and your own experience, that some of problems that occur in our children, teens are learned behavior? You know, like, is some of it what they're seeing their own parents go through? And how parents are treating each other? And, you know, you know what I'm saying?
Diana Cortese 1:06:21
Yes, I would say that's absolutely a possibility. It's not for it doesn't mean that if your child is experiencing difficulties it's because of something you're doing at home.
Vonne Solis 1:06:31
Diana Cortese 1:06:32
Everything quote, unquote, right? And your child still has difficulties.
Vonne Solis 1:06:36
Diana Cortese 1:06:36
Definitely the environment plays a role in helping or hindering whatever your child is going through.
Vonne Solis 1:06:43
And why that's important audience is, so for those of us who are adults, I'm going to say, I'll still have times on the phone where my son will say, if I get a little too anxious, because I have a little anxiety, I think I'm gonna have to hang up now. The anxiety, no, it's, you know, or it seeing him in June, to his mother and father, he said, You've taught me what it's going to be like to be a parent. Okay! Anyway, you can have a little bit of fun with it, too. But I still have to monitor my own stresses, and keep it and chill and just take it take take it down, because he doesn't like being around stress. He doesn't like being around conflict. He certainly doesn't, they don't want to be exposed to our crap. And that never changes, in my opinion. Never changes. So it's a golden opportunity for us to learn how to be better people ourselves. In how we're helping our children develop, you know, in the way that we're helping our children develop all of these skills. Right?
Diana Cortese 1:07:50
Exactly. You have to emulate that. You're also a lifelong learner. You don't have the answers. You're just trying just like them.
Vonne Solis 1:07:56
Exactly, exactly. So Diana, it's been wonderful. This has been so informative, and we could probably go on and on about it. So I would encourage anybody as a parent to - do have stuff for, to for like teens, like younger people to check your site out, or is it mostly the resources designed for parents and educators?
Diana Cortese 1:08:20
It's mostly parents and educators.
Vonne Solis 1:08:22
Okay, that makes sense. So parents educators, follow up with Diana at southbaykidsconnection.com. And you do I don't know if you want to speak a little bit about it, but you do have actual training and a course for educators, right?
Diana Cortese 1:08:39
I do. Exactly. That's teachsocialskills.com.
Vonne Solis 1:08:43
Diana Cortese 1:08:43
And that is basically training and how to form the groups that I do. So from my experience, I've learned what works best and all the I've distilled it down into a training for educators.
Vonne Solis 1:08:56
That's amazing. And so go to the go to it's teachsocialskills.com specifically for the course. And I know you're always updating. Well, maybe not always, but you do update that course periodically, right?
Diana Cortese 1:09:10
Yes I do.
Vonne Solis 1:09:10
So it's current. So educators, please follow up with Diana if you're interested in the work that she's doing and want to share this some way in your own classroom. In your own personal life.
Vonne Solis 1:09:24
Diana, it's been wonderful. Again, thank you so much for being on the show. It's been great and we'll talk soon.
Diana Cortese 1:09:32
I appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Vonne Solis 1:09:33
Okay, thanks, Diana.
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