Our Response, Our Choice

We’ve just experienced our most heinous mass shooting on American soil by a lone gunman. As we host exchange students from other countries, how do we address the emotions and questions that arise when an American citizen perpetrates such destruction in the land of the free and the brave?  For those who were directly affected by this atrocity, our hearts ache for them.  For the rest of us who witnessed this, we are left struggling with painful questions concerning humanity.  We feel anger, confusion, and hurt.  We blame, criticize, and isolate.  We pray, reach out to others, and search for hope.  

Yes, there is hope.  We have the power to choose to be victims or victors.  Do we cave to evil by giving voice to it by blaming and criticizing?  Or do we encourage, build up, and speak in love?  Do we act out in fear and anxiety or show kindness and love?

Host parents have a unique opportunity to care for foreign students, to come alongside them in their hurt and confusion, to listen and respond to their hearts with love.  Students, stateside and international, can show kindness and share in their goodness toward each other.  And for all of us, we can look beyond our limited knowledge and draw on our faith that is greater than ourselves.

As thinking, feeling people, we have the power and freedom to choose faith, hope and love.  Let’s be brave and choose these.

Just Listen: 3 Steps for Host Parents to get through to Frustrated Teens

“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

This statement by American author, John Maxwell, holds true for helping angry teenagers. Only after angry teenagers feel understood and cared about will they be interested in accepting help from host parents or listening to coordinators.

Simply saying, “I understand how you feel” doesn’t usually help angry teenagers feel understood. The skills suggested in this article are simple, targeted at demonstrating empathy and can be especially effective to help angry teenagers feel understood by hearing a few well planned words.

Host Parenting Skills to Show Understanding

Step 1 - Stay Calm: 

Host Parents can better help angry teenagers by making a solid commitment to stay calm when a teen is upset. The “stay calm” skill can be extremely challenging for host parents, especially when teenagers make comments to be hurtful or push a host parent’s emotional “hot buttons.” Such comments can be ignored for the present and addressed at a later time.

“In rare instances when your kids do open up to you and try to express their feelings (sometimes in disrespectful ways), you may react negatively (with a disrespectful parent response),” write Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott in Positive Discipline for Teenagers (Three Rivers Press, 2000). “If you tell your child he shouldn’t feel that way or he should be more respectful, or if you counterattack him in any way, don’t be surprised when he grows up with the idea that it’s not okay to have feelings or that he should suppress them.” To help teenagers learn emotional skills, host parents must de-escalate conflicts instead of escalating them.

Step 2 - Validate Feelings Starting With a “You feel _____” Statement: 

After host parents master the “stay calm” skill, the next helpful tool is to validate the feelings of a teen using a “You feel ______” statement. (Fill in the blank with a feeling or emotion.) This skill is explained in Positive Discipline for Teenagers, as well as the book simply entitled Positive Discipline (Ballentine Books, 2006), also by Jane Nelson.


  •  “You feel angry.”
  • “You feel really hurt.”
  • “You feel furious.”

Host Parents are sometimes guessing at this point about an angry teenager’s exact feeling and parents may at times guess correctly and sometimes guess incorrectly. If a teen replies “no,” to a “You feel _______” statement, then parents should try again and make a second guess. When a host parent describes a teenager’s feelings, he or she is helping them to accurately label emotions as well as show understanding at the same time.

Step 3 – Offer an “I can understand how ______” statement: 

If applicable, parents can do more to completely validate feelings by offering a short sentence that supports the connection between an event and a teen’s feelings.


  • “I can understand how you’d be hurt. I’d be very hurt if my friends walked off and left me in that situation.”
  • “I can understand your anger. I would be extremely angry if a teacher talked to me that way.”

To recap, three important skills that show understanding to angry teenagers are:

  1. Stay calm
  2. Use a “You feel ______” statement
  3. Offer a “I can understand how ______” reply if applicable to completely validate feelings


The authors of Positive Discipline for Teenagers recommend developing a “feelings vocabulary” to label emotions. Developing a “feelings vocabulary” helps teens in two ways.  First of all, naming feelings for teens is a simple way to show understanding and secondly, it will help teens learn to label emotions for themselves.

A feelings list shows feeling words that host parents can use to show label the emotions of teens and show understanding by using a “You feel _______” statement. Most host parents think of basic emotions such as mad, sad and glad, but don’t think specifically enough to label emotions such as overwhelmed, lonely or rejected.

A plan to stay calm, label emotions and validate feelings can help angry teenagers feel understood and possibly open up to better understand their emotions. Using these positive discipline skills on a frequent basis can increase the likelihood that teens will learn to understand their anger and other strong emotions.

Adapted from article at Suite101: Helping Angry Teenagers: Parenting Skills That Show Understanding | Suite101.com 

10 Steps to being a great Host Parent

Here are some tips to help you to be the most successful host parent that you can be! We hope that the following suggestions help you through the initial period of adjustment and ease any communication glitches you encounter along the way.

1. Avoid idealizing your student.

Before your student arrived, it was probably tempting to piece together an image of what you hoped he/she would be like.  As your student begins to settle in, it’s very natural to consistently give him/her the benefit of the doubt when language barriers and cultural differences make communication difficult.  However, as one host mother notes,

We think families eventually have to accept that hosting is not going to be a wish fulfillment. Exchange students are not perfect and angelic like Hummel figurines. They're normal, ordinary kids who make mistakes, break things, hurt your feelings, get upset and say things in funny ways-just like your own kids.

2. Take time to notice your family’s routines and rituals.

Much of the way your household runs is probably due to habits that are nearly second nature to you as a parent.  Becoming aware of these routines and helping your students adjust to them, is the first step to integrating your student as a happy and well-adjusted member of the family.

As one host father observed,

You have to stop yourself in mid-step, to consciously pay attention to the everyday things you do and to think about how your student is reacting to what you do. None of this is easy, but it's essential. One thing's for sure, you can't expect to explain your family's ways or expect your student to adjust to your ways until you yourself first realize all the little things that you are doing and that you are expecting from other family members.

3. Remember that a broken rule is not necessarily an insult.

Your student will undoubtedly make mistakes and may even exhibit behavior that offends you. Obvious negligence aside, as one father warns, most of the time, “an insult is not an insult.  It is a simple mistake.  It only becomes an insult if we make it one.”

4. Find ways to remind your student how much he/she is appreciated.

It’s the small gestures that count the most.  Try to find ways to remind your student that he/she has a special place in your heart. (Remember that initially, presenting an elaborate meal full of new foods may not be the best way to do this!)

5. Be specific in your requests…

You may find it uncomfortable to discuss the details of bathroom etiquette and personal hygiene, but an honest discussion almost always reduces the risk of a student’s later embarrassment.  Your subtle hints may be lost on a student still looking to find his/her bearings in a new home.

6. …and open-ended in your questions.

When discussing cultural differences with your student, remember that even the most innocent questions can be interpreted as unfriendly judgment.  King and Huff recommend beginning your queries with the words what, when, how, why, or where, all of which can spark more meaningful conversation with your student than a simple yes or no question.  (Note the difference in tone between “What kind of food do you usually eat for dinner?” and “Do you eat broccoli?”).  Open-ended questions carry no implied assumption or judgment and may help your student feel more at ease when trying to communicate with you.

7. Talk about feelings of indebtedness.

At this point in time, some students may become increasingly uncomfortable with the knowledge that their family is not getting reimbursed for hosting.  They may try to compensate by withholding complaints and questions, and putting on a happy face at all times.  In their Host Family Survival Kit, authors King and Huff warn that this kind of behavior can lead to “smoldering resentment” on the part of the student.  In order to keep communication flowing, you may find it helpful to remind your student that he/she is free to respectfully express his/her own opinions, say “no” when needed, and to make mistakes.

8. Address small problems before they create tension.

You’d be surprised to see how fast seemingly trivial issues can snowball into full-blown arguments.  Remember that every time you come together to solve a disagreement with your student--no matter how unpleasant it may be--you are paving a pathway for better communication in the future.

9. Listen empathetically.

Take a second to slow down and try to see the world from your student’s point of view.  King and Huff recommend getting in the habit of saying, “Perhaps I don’t understand this from your perspective.  Can you tell me more about what you mean?”

10.  Try to keep an open mind.

The more you are aware of the ways in which your own cultural conditioning manifests in every aspect of your life, the better you will be able to cope with the challenges and joys of hosting a foreign exchange student.

Best wishes for a successful exchange year, from all of us at ERDT/Share!

What to do in case of an emergency


Today, it's as simple as dialing 911. With those three numbers, you can reach the fire department, the police, or an ambulance. When you call 911, an emergency operator, called a dispatcher, immediately connects you to the person you need.

How To Call 911 Effectively

By Rod Brouhard,

Calling 911 is very stressful and it's easy to feel overwhelmed. 911 call-takers are trained to guide callers through the experience, but knowing what to expect can help make the 911 call go smoothly and get emergency help where and when it's needed.

Here's How:

Stay calm. It's important to take a deep breath and not get excited. Any situation that requires 911 is, by definition, an emergency. The dispatcher or call-taker knows that and will try to move things along quickly, but under control.

Know the location of the emergency and the number you are calling from. This may be asked and answered a couple of times but don't get frustrated. Even though many 911 centers have enhanced capabilities -- meaning they are able to see your location on the computer screen -- they are still required to confirm the information. If for some reason you are disconnected, at least emergency crews will know where to go and how to call you back.

As the call progresses, you will hear clicking - do not hang up!

Wait for the call-taker to ask questions, then answer clearly and calmly. If you are in danger of assault, the dispatcher or call-taker will still need you to answer quietly, mostly "yes" and "no" questions.

If you reach a recording, listen to what it says. If the recording says your call cannot be completed, hang up and try again. If the recording says all call-takers are busy, wait! When the next call-taker or dispatcher is available to take the call, it will transfer you.

Let the call-taker guide the conversation. He or she is typing the information into a computer and may seem to be taking forever. There's a good chance, however, that emergency services are already being sent while you are still on the line.

Follow all directions. In some cases, the call-taker will give you directions. Listen carefully, follow each step exactly, and ask for clarification if you don't understand.

Keep your eyes open. You may be asked to describe victims, suspects, vehicles, or other parts of the scene.

Do not hang up the call until directed to do so by the call-taker.


No matter what happens - Stay Calm.

Cell phones may not tell the call-taker where you are. Know the differences when calling 911 on a cell phone.

Never program 911 into your automatic dialer (phone memory). You're not going to forget the number and accidental 911 calls are more likely with auto-dialers. If someone calls 911 and doesn't speak, emergency services must still be dispatched.

What You Need:

  • A phone.
  • A deep breath.
  • To know where you are.