Meet school psychologist Rebecca Comizio, a Greenwich-based mother of four who is known as “the feelings teacher” at New Canaan Country School. She also works as a therapist at The Waverly Group, counseling children, adolescents and parents. Additionally, she runs the School PsychEd Podcast with two other school psychologists, a podcast by school psychologists for school psychologists, and her @school_psyched has over 78,000 followers on Facebook. Rebecca is Chair of the National Association of School Psychologists’ Communications Committee, a NASP Leader and coauthor of 70 Play Activities for Better Thinking, Self Regulation, Learning & Behavior. In 2018-2019 she was recognized as the “Connecticut School Psychologist of the Year” by the Connecticut Association of School Psychologists. When she’s not working, she loves to run and spend time with her family at Tod’s Point and local restaurants on Greenwich Avenue. Find out more about Rebecca and discover her tips for raising self-reliant and happy children.
How many kids do you have and what are their ages?
Two daughters, Kiana 23 and Nikaela 21; and two sons, Tysen 19 and Kobe 17
When did you move to Greenwich and what led you to settle there?
We moved to Greenwich in 2012 and decided to settle here for a better public school system, lower taxes, and a desire to find a home that our big family could spread out in.
What are your favorite family activities in town?
We love to eat out, when that’s possible. Family dinners are always very important to us, but going to a restaurant on occasion feels special. Greenwich Avenue has so many great restaurants! We also love to walk our dog in town, or go to the town parks and beach. Our most favorite activity has to be attending Kobe’s high school sporting events.
Tell us about your role as School Psychologist at New Canaan Country School.
I work primarily with grades PreK-4th, through counseling supports, schoolwide wellness, social-emotional learning and positive school culture. I work to stay as connected as possible to Middle School (grades 5 & 6) and Upper School (grades 7-9) as well. I believe in collaboration so, Jackie Britt-Friedman, the School Psychologist who covers the other divisions, and I work closely together on all aspects of our roles. This broad view of “who” I work with illustrates the breadth of my role as school psychologist at NCCS, which is what I love most about it! I work to support systems within the school, the community, families, teachers and students. I do this through faculty and parent presentations, joining meetings to add the mental health and wellness point of view, by working directly with parents and teachers in support of children, and also with children in groups and individually in counseling and social-emotional learning.
We hear that your students call you “the feelings teacher!” How did that nickname stick?
When I first started my career as a school psychologist, I used to introduce myself to students by telling them what a school psychologist does. I used to say, “I teach children and grown-ups about feelings, because feelings are so important to how we learn.” One of the students said, “So you’re a feelings teacher?” and it stuck! I agreed and used it myself from then on, whenever I introduced myself.
Tell us about your book 70 Play Activities for Better Thinking, Self-Regulation, Learning & Behavior.
I love that book! I have a huge collection of activities, guided discussions, games and strategies that I use when I’m working with children to teach them social-emotional skills. A friend of mine, Dr. Lynne Kenney, asked me if I would partner with her on a book that could act like modifiable recipes for adults working with kids, and of course I said, sure! I simply typed up the activities that I did with my students and tried to make them flexible enough that adults could apply them to working with their specific students. Social-emotional learning is fun, and that is why they are Play Activities! Each activity highlights one or some strands of executive functioning, self-regulation being the foundation of all other executive skills. Children can learn to break things down and regulate their emotions, thoughts, feelings and actions, so that they are ready to learn. I am currently working on a book for children with New Harbinger Publishers,The Resilience Workbook for Kids, which will be out in the spring of 2021. I think kids and their parents will really like it—it makes the science of positive psychology and resilience accessible and applicable to kids through fun activities and games.
Can you offer parents any tips for raising self-reliant and happy children?
I love this question! The first thing that I would say is that happiness encompasses the ability to flexibly accept ALL emotions and know how to manage them. Happiness does not mean never feeling sad, mad or bad…because that would actually be some kind of manic state, not true happiness. Raising happy children starts with teaching them that all emotions have value, can be expressed in healthy ways, and that feelings of self-worth, self-reliance and self-efficacy lead to longer lasting happiness. The way to raise self-reliant children is to not do anything for them that they can do themselves most of the time. If you want to make your child’s bed once in a while, ask yourself if you are doing it for you or for them… because a better thing for them would be to have the high expectation that they keep their room tidy, and then let them fail if they must. Reward them for meeting expectations with specific praise and privileges, and let them face natural consequences of not being able to meet expectations for self-reliance such as when they can’t find their favorite things in their messy room—don’t find it for them. If they want a beautiful new sequin pillow for their bed, don’t buy it for them until they have proven that they take care of their rooms by making their bed for two weeks straight! Hold expectations high, offer specific, labeled praise when they do well, let them learn from failures and mistakes (by letting them fail and make mistakes), and then stand back while they feel proud of themselves and competent!
When you need “me time,” what are your favorite ways to escape?
I have been a runner all of my adult life. With two torn meniscus, I do some speed walking now too, but getting outside to walk or run is my favorite me time! I do it every day and set my alarm for 4:25 am before work, just to make enough time.
What’s the best advice you’ve received from another mom?
When I first became I mom I was a graduate student. A fellow mom who was a professor of mine told me to enjoy my children as they were and not to try to be “a professional” at home, but instead to simply be myself. Expecting perfection from ourselves as Moms or from our children, is a recipe for misery and also can lead us to miss the joy and magic of motherhood in its beautiful, messy imperfection.
Any words of wisdom?
Savor the time you have with your children before they leave the nest. Savoring time is a psychological feat: find ways to savor the space of time where you and your children currently are. So often we become so goal oriented we get stuck in focusing on where we are not yet. By actively savoring the present moment with your children you can stretch your experience of time and truly see what a gift your kids are. To savor is to feel pleasure, and also to appreciate that you are feeling pleasure. It takes normal gratification and adds a second layer to it: acknowledgment. When we savor time with our children, the challenging and even sometimes exasperating parts of parenting become worth it times ten!
We like to support local businesses. What are your favorite places in the area to:
Have dinner: Terra Ristorante on Greenwich Avenue
Grab a drink with friends: Crew Restaurant—ask for Chris the owner/manager, he’s so nice and funny!
Have a date night: I love date nights in my formal dining room alone with my husband, but also love trying new local restaurants when we can.
Spend time together as a family outdoors: Tod’s Point, Old Greenwich
Grab coffee: Coffee?? Anywhere! I love coffee, but CFCF is a great coffee shop on Greenwich Avenue.
Workout: Grab your sneakers and hit the road!