A Rush of Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving illus by Jennifer Miller
As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

- John F. Kennedy

I came into the bathroom this morning a little foggy-eyed to put on my makeup and get ready for the day as my son was putting on his school uniform. He bounced to the bathroom door and said, “Did you notice?” as he pointed to the condensation on the window. There was a clearly traced “I love Mom” carefully written by his index finger. A rush of gratitude filled me and as I was thinking about how I could begin my article on gratitude today, it was easy. He was feeling it. He shared it. And then so was I. Simple as that.

On Tuesday evening, I had the joy of participating in a dialogue on “Raising Thankful Kids” hosted by NBC’s Education Nation. My partner contributor, Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and TODAY Show Contributor, and I offered our ideas for cultivating gratefulness in our families lives along with input from many organizations, scholars, parents and other individuals who were interested in the topic. As we shared our ideas and learned from others, it occurred to me that living a grateful life in the busy, messy context of a family means finding small opportunities during each regular day to make gratefulness a habit. It is in those small, simple actions – attempts to incorporate an attitude of thankfulness, to not take for granted those we people we love and the environments that serve as the backdrop to our lives – that we change our thoughts and feelings and influence those around us. If you missed out on this rich conversation, here are some of the highlights.

What does it mean to be thankful and why is it important?

Thankfulness is a frame of mind, both thinking and feeling, of appreciation for the world and your place in it. Research shows grateful people have better physical health, less stress and depression, better sleep and a greater sense of well-being. The Templeton Foundation found that 90% of people say they are grateful but only 52% of women and 44% of men express it on a regular basis.

Is being thankful more than just being polite and saying “please” and “thank you?”

Those expressions of politeness are important but thankfulness goes well beyond politeness. It’s a way of thinking and feeling about our lives. Kids can say “Thank you.” but still not internalize the feeling of gratitude. Amy writes that gratefulness “begins with a recognition of life’s blessings, feeling a genuine appreciation for people and circumstances that bring joy.”

At what age can a child grasp and learn the concept of gratitude?

From birth, the seeds of gratitude are planted in infancy with a parent’s love and responsiveness to needs. Every time a baby cries and a parent responds, they expand their healthy attachment creating the foundation for gratitude. Toddlers can learn to express thanks for specific things with some modeling and guidance from caregivers. Parents of young children may worry that their kids struggle with empathy and gratitude if they struggle to share their toys. This is not the case. It is developmentally appropriate for young children to hold onto their toys, the essential tools of their learning. Parents can guide young children to take turns and show kindness to others. Amy suggests, “Teach preschoolers to say “please” and “thank you” through role plays with stuffed animals or action figures.” By the age of four, children can understand being thankful for acts of kindness, generosity or care from others. And by ages 6 or 7, children can practice genuine gratitude toward others without prompting.

What can parents do to instill gratitude in elementary-aged kids and in tweens and teens?

You can model gratitude to children of all ages through your own appreciation of family members and of your life. Recognizing the small everyday tasks can make a big difference in people’s feelings of being appreciated. “I noticed you helped set the table without my asking.”

Build trusting connections.
Look for ways to build a trusting connections and be present with your children through playing or reading together. Each night, E and I cuddle up with two books of his choosing. It is typically the calmest part of our day and a time I can count on to truly connect with him.

Appreciate other’s gifts.
Work on thank you notes for gifts and other contributions together. Spend time on crafting a meaningful message or drawing a beautiful card.

Be present.
Scattered attention prevents feelings of gratitude. Savoring the moment and being aware of the people and events around you moment to moment provides a conducive mental state for gratefulness.

Give positive, specific feedback.                                                                              How often do we recognize our mate for taking out the garbage? Probably not often. And how often do we feel unappreciated for all of the hard work we put into maintaining a household and raising children? Perhaps frequently. Make a point of noticing the small contributions. “I notice you did the dishes tonight. I so appreciate that.” Just this one simple practice can help move family members toward a more grateful state of mind.

Find the “silver lining.”
Amy writes about modeling optimism with your children by finding the silver lining in a difficult situation. Her example was, “This traffic jam is awful but I’m sure glad we have heat and fun music in our car!” Validating feelings first if a child is upset or frustrated is important before offering the silver lining.

Do small, everyday random acts of kindness.                                                                As you do these acts of kindness for others, it models ways that might contribute to the family too. Involve your children in doing something special for Dad, the smaller the better so that it can not seem to be a chore to check off the list and can fit into your busy schedule.

Involve in contribution and service.
Service does not have to be a grand gesture done once a year. Each family member can contribute to a household. Families can contribute to neighbors. And they can also contribute their time and energy to their school community. To learn more about simple ways to involve kids in service, check out “Citizen Kid.”

Consider other’s perspectives.
Placing yourself in someone else’s “shoes,” thinking about their thoughts and feelings can lead to gratefulness. The holidays often drum up conflict with family and friends because of expectations of how things will go or how traditions are to be upheld. Before getting upset about differing views, try to think about the others’ perspective. Realize most people have good intentions. They just may be different from your own.

Practice coping strategies.
Coach kids on what to do when angry or upset. Having coping tools gives them a greater sense of control and enables gratitude (for more, see “Cooling the Fire” and “The Mask of Anger”. Tweens and teens can journal feelings and write down what they are grateful for. Model self-control by managing your own anger constructively (for more, see “A Better Version of Yourself”).

Encourage sibling’s to be grateful for one another and express empathy and kindness.
You may ask, “How can we think about helping your sister today? She seems to struggle often before dinnertime. Do you have any ideas for engaging her in a fun activity during that time to help her?”

Heading into the holidays, how do you get kids to focus less on presents and an attitude of gratitude?

Remind your children of the people in their lives for whom they are grateful and think about how they might celebrate them through gift-giving over the holiday season. Amy writes, “Make a giving list. Encourage kids to make a list early of the things they plan to make or buy for family and friends.” This is such a smart idea. My son is always eager to make his “getting” list so we will work on creating his getting list early. Balance out the “gimmies” with lots of thinking about what others would like and enjoy for the holidays. And in addition to shopping, balance out the consumer time spent with time playing outdoors together or participating in activities that do not require dollars spent.

I have tremendous gratitude to you, reader for participating in this dialogue with me. I realize that there are many readers from places far away from my community in the U.S. who are not celebrating Thanksgiving. To you who do celebrate, I wish a happy Thanksgiving and to all, I wish many days and years of a grateful family life.


For the full Twitter Chat conversation, check out “Attitude of Gratitude; Raising Thankful Kids” on Education Nation’s Parent Toolkit site.


Prepare for Thanksgiving: How to Raise Thankful Kids

Thanksgiving is a reflective holiday in which we not only enjoy the bounty of the harvest but reflect on our appreciation with family and friends. Why not take this opportunity to reflect on how you can raise grateful kids and cultivate a thankful family life? Please join me this evening at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time along with TODAY Show Contributor and founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, Amy McCready for ideas and inspiration! Simply follow the #Toolkittalk conversation on Twitter and if you like, add your comments and questions. Thanks NBC Education Nation and Pearson for sponsoring this important discussion!

ToolkitTalk_11 18 14

Healthy Relationships: The Cornerstone of Gratefulness

Family playing in the leaves illus by Jennifer Miller

“You have brought yummy treats! You are so nice to share. But me, I have nothing. My cupboards are bare!” Mouse squeaks, “Don’t fret. There’s enough, dear Bear. You don’t need any food, you have stories to share!” His friends hug him tight. “It will be all right!” And the bear says, “Thanks!”

- Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman1

Our family tradition in November has included a countdown to Thanksgiving by writing one thing we are thankful for each day of the month and placing the notes in a beautiful felt October 2012 025tree Grandma Linda made for us. It’s a welcome tradition that establishes the habit of thankfulness throughout the entire month instead of relegating it to one glorious day. So our family has been thinking frequently about gratitude. The excellent book, Making Grateful Kids; The Science of Building Character by Jeffery Froh and Giacomo Bono,2 confirms that healthy relationships serve as the critical cornerstone upon which gratefulness is built. But what defines a healthy relationship? And how can we help our children find and define healthy relationships in and outside of our home life?

First, I think we tend to know when we see an unhealthy relationship. Abuse whether physical or emotional, manipulative or deceitful are indicators of unhealthy relationships. But we also need to know the indicators of healthy relationships so that we know what to model and what to strive for. It can also help us empathize with children who become friends with our own children but may struggle with consistently acting caring and respectful in a relationship. The research on attachment seems a good place to begin.

Basics on Attachment

Secure attachment – From birth, children who are securely attached can trust that their parents will be responsive to their needs. Researchers have determined there is a necessary 3:1 ratio of positive to negative experiences in order for children to flourish. A secure attachment will allow children to venture forth and form healthy relationships with others throughout their lifetime because they have the training and structure for it from their earliest days.

Anxious/avoidant attachment or Anxious/resistant attachment or Disorganized attachment (showing traits of both of anxious/avoidant and anxious/resistant) – Children cannot trust that their needs will be met by a parent. They have received inconsistent care. Perhaps sometimes they were ignored. Perhaps they were yelled at or punished without needs met. Children as they grow older and even into adulthood may struggle with trusting others. They may act out to gain attention – though the attention is negative – and may also pull away and refuse to be helped or comforted. 3

The critical distinction in healthy family relationships is that children and adults feel that their emotional and physical needs are being met. Children rely on parents to meet those needs so healthy parent-child relationships involve regular responsiveness. Children who are ignored or inconsistently cared for will develop an insecure attachment because they are unable to trust that their caregiver will help them when they need it. Secure attachment is not only healthy but also biological. Infants, children through elementary and even teenagers realize at a deep level that they are reliant on their parents for their very survival. Children will, at a variety of ages, test parents to see if they will truly come through for them despite poor choices or misbehaviors. “Will you love and protect me even at my worst?” is the sub-text behind those actions. Trust is deepened and reinforced when parents care for the child even in those difficult times.

How does a parent promote healthy relationships?

Be responsive to children’s needs. As in the aforementioned attachment research, children maintain their trusting connection with you as you demonstrate your ability to meet their physical and emotional needs. Needs are different from desires. A child needs love, attention and care but may not need an extra toy. If a parent cannot meet a child’s emotional needs, seeking additional support from a trusted mentor or counselor is a helpful way to address the issue. Limits and boundaries are important tools to ensure that all needs in a relationship are met. Critical boundaries should be drawn on the parental side when it comes to their own emotional needs. Adults should seek emotional support from other adults (including professionals – therapists, counselors) and not their children.

Model constructively coping with anger and fear. The most powerful way to teach a child to sustain a healthy relationship, in addition to responsiveness, is to model your own effective emotional regulation. Moms and Dads will lose their temper. And when they do, it is a prime opportunity for them to demonstrate that they can be emotionally intelligent in that difficult moment. Plan ahead! What will you do when you feel overcome with anger or anxiety? What will you say? Where will you go? Establish a routine with your family in advance. “Mommy needs five minutes.” is all you need say if you’ve let all know that you will go to your safe space when you are angry and need a cool down. For more check out, “A Better Version of Yourself.”

Listen intently and with empathy. Reserve judgements when your child is emotional and launching into a story. Allow her to tell you about what is on her mind. Ask open-ended questions. Encourage her to come to you whenever she needs to talk. Avoid criticizing friends since your child might share personal stories about herself through the guise of friends.

Play, explore nature or read together. Activities that allow parents and children along with friends to savor the moment without a need for acquiring stuff promotes trusting, healthy connections. Froh and Bono write that the enemy of a grateful state of mind is busyness. Spending playful time together can bring a family closer together like no other experience can.

Use logical consequences. Not only do logical consequences help a child become self-disciplined, they give children a stronger sense of the impact of choices. If a child says something mean to a neighborhood friend, a logical consequence is NOT taking away a favorite toy for example. How does the toy relate in any way to the hurtful words said? A logical consequence relates directly to the poor choice. Sometimes logical consequences occur naturally and all a parent need do is point them out. Spencer does not want to play with you tomorrow since you said some disrespectful words to him today. Punishment may stop the misbehavior in the moment but creates fear in the child. That fear works in direct conflict with his trust of you and promotes an insecure attachment. This can inhibit his ability to form healthy relationships in school and later in life.

Provide specific guidance about repairing harm. When children have made a poor choice, they may feel doomed to live with the guilt. They may also feel that their choice is part of who they are as a person. Talk to your children about the fact that they always have the chance to make another better choice. If they have caused harm, on purpose or inadvertently, guide them about making reparation. Could they draw a picture for a friend they hurt? Could they bring a bandaid to a child that they pushed and check on them? Give them ideas and then support those actions. Talk about how they felt after they made a choice to help heal instead of hurt.

Model forgiveness. If you’ve had an argument with your partner, show how you make up, forgive and move on. Forgiveness is a critical tool in healthy relationships to ensure that you are healing wounds and demonstrating care for the other.

What if a child enters into an unhealthy relationship? What should you do?

Talk about the qualities of a healthy relationship. Ask what qualities your child desires in friends? Kindness, trust and respect are critical. Encourage your children to listen to their feelings. If they get uncomfortable and feel that a friend or adult in their lives is crossing a boundary line, coach them to clearly say “Stop,” leave the situation and let you know about it.

Help the child communicate for herself. Remember that the primary relationship is between your child and the other person. So coach her on language she can use to communicate her needs and desires. “You were calling me a name yesterday and it hurt. Stop.” The more direct, assertive and brief a child can be with another, the better the results. It helps to practice the language so that they are ready in the moment.

Intervene. Of course, if your child is truly being harmed and unable to communicate adequately himself, you’ll need to intervene. This is not always a simple process. If it’s a school situation, go to a teacher or the direct supervising adult first to discuss the problem. If it’s a neighborhood situation, you might first try talking to the child. You could make a simple, respectful comment such as, “I think you know that harming others is wrong.” If this doesn’t work, then you will need to talk to the parent. Whatever the issue is, remember that your intervention will have a ripple effect after the incident occurs so think through first how you can build relationships through the process and not “burn bridges.”

If healthy relationships are the cornerstone of gratefulness, then it’s worth thinking about whether we have them and are encouraging them in our children’s lives. It’s never too late to dialogue on what makes healthy friendships or work on responsiveness, consistency and kindness in your family life. Wishing you a healthy and grateful season!


Also, check out the article on helping your children with Making New Friends.

Check out this video, a reading of Bear Says Thanks.


1. Wilson, K., and Chapman, J. (2012). Bear Says Thanks. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

2. Froh, J.J., and Bono, G. (2014). Making Grateful Kids; The Science of Building Character. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press.

3. Hazen, C. and Shaver, P.R. (1994). Attachment as an Organizational Framework for Research on Close Relationships. Psychological Inquiry. Vol. 5, Iss. 1.

Mark Your Calendar! Attitude of Gratitude: How to Raise Thankful Kids

Join Amy McCready, Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and Jennifer Miller, author of Confident Parents, Confident Kids for the NBC Education Nation sponsored Twitter Chat entitled “Attitude of Gratitude: How to Raise Thankful Kids.” Tuesday, November 18th at 7:00 p.m. EST, follow the twitter feed #ToolkitTalk and contribute to this important dialogue! Gain ideas for the upcoming holiday season to promote grateful thinking in your family life.

ToolkitTalk_11 18 14

Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent Teacher Conferences 2 Illustration by Jennifer Miller

…no school can work well for children if parents and teachers do not act in partnership on behalf of the children’s best interests. Parents have every right to understand what is happening to their children at school, and teachers have the responsibility to share that information without prejudicial judgment…. Such communication, which can only be in a child’s interest, is not possible without mutual trust between parent and teacher.

- Dorothy H. Cohen

Parent-teacher conferences are upon us. Though we go into them with great hope for a productive dialogue about how our child is doing in school, sometimes we come away feeling like we didn’t get the information we wanted or don’t know exactly what our next steps should be. Perhaps later we begin to worry about his learning challenges but missed the opportunity to ask more about it. The conference for my son next week is scheduled for ten minutes in length. That’s enough time for a check in only. So I know that I am going to need to be in communication with his teacher at other times if I am really to understand how I can support his learning goals. With so little time together, it helps to enter the conversation in the right frame of mind. And also coming with a plan and questions at the ready can assist you in ensuring you are satisfied with the interchange.

Teachers have these brief meetings scheduled with 15-20+ parents, a short amount of time to communicate with a lot of people. Because of time and demands, the teacher may not come to the conversation with an understanding about your feelings and how you might receive their information. They have business to take care of. Hopefully, your teacher views this as a chance to further your relationship and show care for your child but sometimes, the pressure of a variety of goals overshadows a focus on the relationship. All you can control is your participation in the dialogue, so why not think a bit about it ahead of time and bring your best? The following is intended to support you as you prepare and enter into those conversations to get the most out of them.

Decide ahead on your intended outcomes.
What do you want to be certain about getting out of the meeting? Be clear and honest with yourself and your partner about what you need to hear from the teacher. You might ask yourself and your partner:

- Do I want to hear about what my daughter does well?
- Do I want to hear how my daughter is struggling?
- Do I want to know what I can do as a parent to support her in her learning goals?
- Do I want to hear about my daughter in comparison to her classmates?
- Do I want to know how my daughter is getting along socially as well as academically?
- Are there problems that my daughter talks about at home that I need to seek
clarification on or learn more about?
- If my daughter is struggling with a subject, do I need to know what approaches the
teacher is taking to provide her extra support? And what approaches she recommends
for me to provide at home?

Take care of your own needs.
After asking yourself honestly what you want out of the conversation, you may anticipate that you’ll feel upset if your teacher says nothing about your daughter’s strengths and abilities. Some teachers enter a meeting in a problem-solving frame of mind and dive right into challenges and difficulties making it sound like that is their focus. It may also give the impression that generally your daughter is struggling when in reality she might be doing well in all areas but one. So take the initiative. “I’d like to hear about what strengths and abilities you see my daughter brings to her work.”

Assume the best intentions.
It can be difficult to leave behind biases we may have from our child coming home from school and complaining about the “torture” their teacher put them through that day. Try to set aside concerns you or your child may have about the teacher’s performance. After all, the goal of the meeting should be a partnership in supporting your child’s learning. And it’s likely that the teacher will be focused on learning goals too. Bring an open mind and the intention to actively listen to the teacher. Leave any critical baggage behind and enter the conversation with an intention to form an alliance with the teacher to support your child.

Be wise about learning goals.
Though many individuals will desire or expect a child to make an “A” grade or meet or exceed expectations in every subject or on every project, that’s not realistic nor is it wise. If deep learning is truly a value for you and your child, then set your expectations accordingly. Learning means working toward a standard but not always meeting or exceeding. In fact, if deep learning is taking place, then your child will be progressing toward his learning goal in a steady way but perhaps not making perfect grades. Your expectations of mistakes, failures and difficulties along the way as part of the learning process will help you manage your own emotions about performance and also your child’s.

Find out your role.
Whether or not the teacher communicates it, it’s important to find out what his expectations are for you as a parent in supporting your child’s learning. Don’t make assumptions that you or he hold the same expectations. Ask, “What are your expectations for me as a parent in supporting my child’s learning?”

Ask for learning expectation clarification.
If the teacher talks to you about an area that requires more hard work from your child to make improvements, be sure you are clear about the goals, the steps to get there and expected outcomes from the teacher. You might ask,”What are the specific indicators my child is working toward?” Perhaps, for example, your child needs to improve her reading performance. In order to support her, you need specifics. Is the problem speed? Is it comprehension? Does she need work on vowel sounds? Then, you can ask, “What specifically do you suggest I do to help her reach her goal?” And, “How will I know when she reaches it?”


Printer-Friendly Version of Questions for Parent Teacher Conferences

Pick one or two of these questions as top priority for you to ask. You will likely not have time for anymore. If there are serious learning challenges or serious social issues such as, bullying, then be sure and use your time to set up a follow meeting to devote the time to this important discussion.

  1. What do you see as our child’s greatest assets/strengths in the classroom?
  2. What subjects is he doing well in? In those areas in which he is meeting or exceeding standards, why do you suspect he is doing well?
  3. What do you see as his greatest challenges?
  4. In what areas is he not meeting his academic goals? Why do you suspect he is not meeting them yet?
  5. What steps are you taking to help him move forward?
  6. What steps can we take at home to help him move forward? What do we, as parents, need to do? What does he need to do at home?
  7. If the goal is long term, are there shorter benchmarks or milestones along the way that we can recognize to help encourage his ongoing efforts?
  8. Do classmates typically get along and care for one another? How is safety and bullying addressed in your classroom? Are there ways that I can help support school safety at home?
  9. Is there anything else we can do to support your efforts?
  10. If we have questions going forward, how best should we communicate with you? Do you prefer email, phone calls? What days and times are best?

Additionally, if you have not helped in the classroom yet and have the flexibility to do so, you may want to ask if your teacher might have a role for you. Even stapling and collating worksheets gets you in the classroom and shows your child that you are supportive of her schooling and her teacher’s efforts.

Follow up.
If after the conversation, you begin to generate new worries or questions about how to support your child, get back in touch. Teachers are busy people but do appreciate short communications if your intention is to clarify understanding and do what you can, in alignment with the teacher’s efforts, to support learning.

We know from research that parents’ involvement in a child’s school can largely predict their academic success.1 Take advantage of this post as a way to reflect and prepare for your upcoming meeting. See the printer-friendly version of the quick questions above and take them with you to make sure you are covering all of the issues that are important to you. Ensure that you are not only showing up but engaged in meaningful conversations with your child’s teacher as a partner in learning.
Check out the addition resources for Parents on Edutopia, The George Lucas Educational Foundation’s site, entitled “Parent Leadership Education Resources.”

Added after posting:


As a teacher, I am a little concerned about conferences this year because of all of the new standards and common core language that is now in place. I am not really sure how to explain the terminology so the parents can explicitly understand. I am looking forward to meeting my parents but NOT looking forward to explaining all of the test results and data collections that have been done since August. From the KRA, STAR, SM6, reading progress monitoring test (which are given every two weeks), to the monthly math unit test; there has been little socializing going on in my kindergarten class.

I think the first time parents will be a little overwhelmed with what takes place in a kindergarten class nowadays and I think the veteran parents will be okay because they have been introduced to this new assess/data era. They already realize and understand that the common goal is to produce college and career ready graduates by implementing Ohio new learning standards with fidelity.

I still conduct my conferences by letting the parents tell me how they think the year is going, how they think their child is doing and how they think I am doing as the teacher. I am a firm believer in having the parents take control of the conference. This way, they lead and I follow. They like to feel like they are included in some their child’s classroom education. I always revisit their hopes and dreams that are posted and ask them if we need to change or add anything and most of the time, I have to send another copy home because they always make changes.

- Valerie Robison, Kindergarten Teacher, Toledo Public Schools, Toledo, Ohio

As a teacher my confidence regarding parent teacher conferences grew with experience. As a first year teacher, I had no idea what I was supposed to share or do. I was probably more nervous than the parents. Each year my confidence grew and I felt confident that I knew each of my students inside and out and would be able to share my insight and thoughts with the parents. I also made sure that I had already connected with each parent, so this was not our first meeting. My hope for parent teacher conference was to look at the growth each student had made and set goals for the upcoming quarter. I tried very hard to keep the focus on the parents’ child and did not want to spend time comparing the student to peers or siblings. My hope was that parents would see and celebrate their child’s progress and dreams.

First and foremost .. the most important thing a parent can do is”show up” for the conference. Even for the “good” student … nothing shows interest in your child’s education more than showing up for school events and conferences with the teacher. Once there, my hope was that they expressed interest in what we were doing in class and the growth their child was making more so than what their grades were. For example, a student who gets all “A’s”– Is it because the work was not challenging or did their child work really hard to earn those “A’s”? On the flip side, if the student has “D’s” and “F’s”, is it because the work was too challenging and accomodations and modifcations need to be made or is it because the student was not doing the work? I always wanted to know the meaning behind the grades and hoped that I could educate my parents on that too.

- Sue Rowe, Teacher Coach/Consultant, Certified Trainer, Responsive Classroom, Toledo Public Schools

Thanks, Valerie and Sue! It’s so helpful to hear your perspectives as teachers!

For further reading on dealing with challenging parent-teacher conversations, check out CPCK’s article, “Parent Teacher Conversations.”


1. Henderson, A.T., & Berla, N. (1994). A New Generation of Evidence; The Family is Critical to Student Achievement. National Committee for Citizens in Education.

Elements of a Confident Kid… Open-minded

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer Miller

Elements of a Confident Kid...Open-mindednesss by Jennifer Miller

- willing to consider different ideas or opinions.1

About open-mindedness

Why would open-mindedness be a hallmark of a confident kid? We all have developed cognitive structures from our environment and our set of experiences that form the basis of our understanding. When we receive new information, we begin to build upon or adjust those structures to fit the information. Open-mindedness relates to how we approach anything that is unknown or different to us. Is it scary? Is it disruptive? Are we curious? Are we interested? Perhaps it is all of the above. But an individual who is open-minded wants to discover, explore and know more because of the sheer intrinsic value of making meaning and enhancing understanding. Carol Dweck, author of the book, Mindset; The New Psychology of Success 2 provides ample evidence in her book that a growth mindset, open to new possibilities and curious about how to solve problems, will have a greater chance at innovative thoughts and actions, collaboration with others and ultimately achievement of goals. Each time an individual faces a problem, she relays, whether extremely challenging or fairly simple, they can approach it in one of two ways. A fixed mindset comes to the problem with a perception of her own abilities and intelligence and believes that either she can or cannot solve the problem based upon fixed qualities within her. The growth mindset, however, faces the problem with an attitude that anything can be solved or understood through time, persistence and hard work. The growth mindset digs in and loves an opportunity to learn.

The benefits of being open-minded are many. They are nothing short of the ability to think and act creatively, to work collaboratively with others, to engage in deep learning and to expand knowledge and abilities. In the early childhood years, educators are increasingly realizing and integrating executive function skills into the curriculum as a core predictor of later academic success. Amongst those executive function skills is cognitive flexibility, a child’s ability to switch mental gears from one subject or train of thought to another.3 In addition to diverse ideas, as children progress through school years, they will encounter individuals who are differently-abled, differently gendered, differently raised. Will they be enriched by those differences and learn from them or be threatened or resistant?

Strategies to promote open-mindedness

Perhaps the best way for all family members to cultivate open-mindedness in a household is to become aware of your own responses to problems. When a child faces academic challenges at school or pushes boundaries in your household, how do you react? Do you face those challenges with a learning, growth mindset?

1. Model figuring things out together. Working collaboratively with a partner or a child will help provide practice for your child in how to approach a problem in a way that will position him to work toward a solution. For ways to help talk through a problem solving process when the issue is between children, check out “Working It Out.” 

2. Model receptivity and interest in differences. In the informal setting of family life, it can be challenging to avoid judgmental statements about neighbors, friends or family members. But the more you can use the language of understanding, compassion and acceptance of differences, the more your children will internalize that ability and translate it to their relationships at school and in their friendships when you are not there to support and encourage them.

3. Use scaffolding. When a person is introduced to an idea that is completely different than anything they have previously encountered, it can cause fear and/or frustration as individuals work to make sense of the new information. As parents, we watch our children encounter these leaps often with introductions to new persons, places or events. Watching my son learn to read is a powerful example of how a child needs to make sense of sounds and symbols and pull together a vast amount of information to make meaning of text. Strong teachers build upon what students already know to link new knowledge to the prior experiences. So in your home life, look for ways to relate new experiences to old ones. Cuddling up with a book together has always been a positive experience with no work involved. Now when we cuddle up, it takes work on my son’s part and patience on mine but it is tied to past experiences that are familiar and comforting.

4. Use the Language of Acceptance and Caring. Young children particularly have a difficult time making distinctions between a person and their actions and choices. A child is tempted to say “I don’t like Billy.” when Billy takes her toy. Instead help her rephrase and reframe her thoughts to say “I don’t like that Billy took my toy.” Every child makes poor choices but each child can feel like they still belong in a family, classroom or friendship circle.

5. Encourage Cross-Age Kindness and Connection. Whether you have siblings or
neighbors of various ages, there is an opportunity to create relationships with children who
are different – going through different developmental milestones and experiencing different
friendships and curricula during the school day. This becomes great practice for acceptance and inclusion. Do not allow children in a neighborhood group to be marginalized. Encourage your child to be the one to reach out and include a child who is being left out. With siblings, encourage older siblings to care for younger ones and involve them in play at the level they are able.

6. Participate in activities and create friendships with people not like you. It’s mind
expanding to do things as a family with other people in the community from different ethnic
and cultural backgrounds. Help your children learn about other cultures and people who look different and do things differently than your family. This past week at school, a guest who is blind came to my son’s classroom to read them a story in braille. I was so glad that he had that opportunity to see someone who was differently-abled read proficiently in an alternative way as he is tackling the steep learning goal of reading himself.

7. Dialogue, share varying perspectives and raise open-ended questions. When your child brings a story home from school about another child’s decision, talk about it. Why do you think he choose that action? What were other options? Could there be more to the story than we know? Why do you think the teachers reacted in the way that they did? Reflecting and raising questions about everyday encounters and decisions helps children not only formulate their thoughts and the underlying values associated with particular issues but also helps them to realize there is not one way of being or doing. There are many options in any circumstance. Children can become open-minded as they consider multiple perspectives and motivations for choices made.

8. Assume the best intentions. When examining your child’s, a partner’s or a school friend’s motivation, first, assume the best. Work to figure out the other’s perspective knowing that there was likely a reason, and a good one, behind the choices made.

Particularly as I watch and support my son as he tackles increasingly challenging learning goals, I know it’s critical for me to model a growth mindset. I welcome this chance and challenge to help me frame my own issues in ways that will not only help me deal with them but also further my own development.

For related articles, check out the following.

Expanding the Circle: Teaching Children Inclusion

Raising Culturally Aware Children; An Interview with Louise Gomer Bangel

Are Questions the Answer?

Merriam Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved on 10-21-2014 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/no.

Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. NY: Ballantine Books.

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2011). Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function: Working Paper No. 11. Retrieved from http://www.developingchild.harvard.edu

The Halloween Trading Places Challenge

Trading Places Halloween illustration 2 by Jennifer Miller

I’m frightened already!

- Kimberly Allison, Mom and Challenge Participant

At Halloween, our kids have the opportunity to select the identity they want to inhabit for one special night. Perhaps they choose to face their fears head on by becoming their own worst nightmare. Others will choose to dress as characters they admire and want to emulate. A costume may make a young child feel stronger, bigger and smarter than she ever could imagine being on her own. In this spirit of trying on other identities, taking another’s perspective, I challenged three families including my own to switch roles during a typical dinner leading up to the holiday. We each had a different style of approaching it with our families. But parents and children alike laughed and learned about themselves through the experience.

The Challenge: You and your children will trade places – or more specifically roles – and act as the other for one family activity.

Each of the individuals – children and parents – dressed the part by selecting accessories to identify the role they were playing. My son, E (7 years old), put on a bright red beaded necklace and bracelet and wore my signature black headband while I propped a Darth Vader mask atop my head. Samantha (6 years old) was excited to put on her Mom’s flats, scarf and diamond ring while Mom Kimberly wore colorful plastic jewels and big flower hair clips. Dad Anthony happily went barefoot while son James (8 years old) wore a beret, a collared shirt, tie and a pedometer. Are you formulating a vivid picture?

Next all participants acted and spoke like the person they were portraying. “Oh that was %22Back from the ball%22 Halloween illustration 2 by Jennifer Millersuch a long ball!” said Reese (4) dramatically as he came in the door acting as Mommy Sharon would home from yet another soiree. Of course, Mom Sharon volunteers regularly at school and community events putting in long hours of hard work but the four year old perception is that she is exhausted from extensive partying. “I hate pot roast! I won’t eat it. I want something else!” whined Dad Anthony at the dinner table. E acting as me said, “Oh sweetheart! (in his highest voice) Are you hurt?” rushing to my side. After dinner, “Kid” Sharon and “Kid” Anthony incited a battle over who could play with coveted Lego pieces. Each actor brought their own unique perspectives to the role and played it to the hilt.

So what did we learn from this game that we all squeezed into our already busy schedules? Samantha (6) said, “I liked being able to get up whenever I wanted to and it was fun to tell you what to do.” Mom Kimberly reflected “I could clearly play out the reversal in my mind, and knew that if I were at the receiving end of my comments during dinner, I would feel like I was always being watched for manners and how I was eating.” Daddy Jason said “What was supposed to be a fun game was actually more challenging than I expected.” As for me, I learned how uncomfortable and tough it is to really try and put yourself in another’s place and perspective. It’s hard work. It requires actively thinking about the other person, their beliefs, their daily habits and how they would authentically look and sound. There’s immediate accountability too since the person you are attempting to imitate is watching you. After the game, I noticed I was thinking frequently about what Daddy Jason might say in a particular situation or how E might react. Just this one activity has heightened my own awareness of my family members’ outlooks.

James (8) though summed it up for all of us by saying, “Okay, let’s switch back. I think I’ve learned everything I need to know from this exercise. It’s a lot of fun and also really tiring!” Exactly! Despite the hard work, I did feel stronger, bigger and smarter – emotionally – when I played the role of my son. Greater empathy is a compelling reason for our family to play this game again.

Take the Trading Places Challenge with your family! Try it out in the month of November in anticipation of the Thanksgiving holiday and enhance your sense of gratefulness for each other and for being you! Send in your experiences along with a family photo by Friday, November 14th and I’ll share them here along with an illustration of your family!

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

* I would like to sincerely thank the Allison and Perez families and my own family too for Sharon and Kimberlyparticipating in this social experiment. They are dear friends of ours and have contributed so much to our perspectives and lives. Thank you for playing along, sharing in the dialogue and for all you do as Confident Parents raising Confident Kids! Sharon Perez and Kimberly Allison have their own blog entitled Table 365 and significantly contribute to families’ lives through inspiration and ideas for healthy meals, fast and easy. Check out their blog at http://www.table365.com.

** Children’s names were changed.

For other Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ Halloween and related articles, check out:

Conquering Fears

The Hidden Halloween Treat

Boo! Common Fears and How to Help Children Deal with Them

Helping Children Understand Death


Tonight – Bullying: What Parents Can Do

Problem solving facilitation illustr 001

NBC’s Education Nation Parent Toolkit is hosting a Twitter chat tonight on what parents can do about bullying with Dr. Michele Borba, Today Show Parent Expert and author of multiple parenting books including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries. I’ll be joining and I hope you will consider joining in the conversation too! At 7:00 p.m. EST tonight, you can log in to your Twitter account and follow the #ToolkitTalk discussion thread.


My 1st Nomination for “One Lovely Blog” …


Thank you for your nomination, Lynnclaire and support!

Originally posted on Awakening Our Inner & Interconnection :

cropped-families-drawing-w-hearts-001Is Jennifer Smith Miller of “Confident parents, Confident kids”. While the reasons are manifold, the first is she has the courage to express self-confidence as a parent and like many others I know that parenting is the last bastion of the amateur! The next reason is that she is placing herself on the front lines in defense of her son and children everywhere, aware that social and emotional intelligence is the key to human survival. And Jennifer, I absolutely love the drawings on your Blog!

View original

Conquering Fears

Purple wolf, pumpkin and boy illustration by Jennifer Miller

It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena to face a battle to the death with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew — and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents – that there was all the difference in the world.

- From Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling 1

In children’s play scripts, picture books and playground games, the theme of conquering fears is played out repeatedly. Each developmental step requires a battle with self-doubt to risk, overcome and triumph. The reward is mastery, the satisfaction of accomplishing a goal and simultaneously controlling emotions. At Halloween time in particular, we delight in scary imagery gaining a feeling of control over the darkness.

Our aim for our children is not fearlessness. Every human being has fears. And they serve the critical purpose of warning us of threatening situations. They provide an extra jolt of energy and heighten our senses. But most situations are not life-threatening. Becoming practiced at dealing with fears means remaining their master, not their servant.

Roger Pittman of Harvard Medical School studies anxiety disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder.

One way to help patients diminish the impact of an anxiety-producing memory is to guide them to form a new memory that inhibits, or extinguishes, expression of the fearful memory during any recall attempt. 2

In other words, the old adage “Face your fears.” holds true. Thinking about or experiencing a fear in a safe context can provide new information to the one holding onto the fear to help him realize that it’s not really a matter of life and death. It can become even more powerful if the child imagines himself as the conquering hero and how that fear can be overcome. When I had nightmares as a child, my Dad would guide me to go back to the dream and visualize how I could conquer the evil that was taking me over. Would I need a valiant sword to slay the dragon or my creative mind to outwit the giant of my dreams? Children’s literature can be a constructive way of facing fears in a safe setting with a supportive adult. My son is too young to explore the world of “Harry Potter,” so here are some of our favorite picture books that raise important conversation topics and help him conquer his fears. What are your favorites? Please share!

There’s No Such Thing As Monsters! by Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler
Little Bear is going to sleep in his very own room without his older brother for the first time.There's no such thing as monstersHe hears strange noises and becomes scared of monsters. Little Bear conquers his fear and falls asleep on his own.

Scaredy Cat and Boo by Michael Broad
Scaredy Cat is afraid of spiders, the dark and most especially, the Scaredy Cat and Boobig tree in his yard. He makes a mouse friend named “Boo” who encourages him to face his fears. He realizes that not only are his fears unfounded but that he can actually enjoy encountering them.

Don’t Be Afraid, Little Pip by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
Pip is a penguin who is faced with the social obligation of learning to swim for the first time. He decides he’d prefer to fly instead and while attempting to Don't Be Afraid Little Piplearn to fly, ends up learning to swim. He discovers a love for swimming and a realization that it’s what he really wanted after all.

And on YouTube, listen to a reading of

The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Illustrated by Jon Klassen

This book is about a boy who wants to face the dark in order to conquer his fears and must go into his basement to the deepest, most shadowy corner in order to do so. Toddlers and preschoolers may be more frightened by this reading than is helpful since there are scary-sounding voices. It’s ideal for early primary school years.


Rowling, J.K. (2006). Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. NY: Scholastic Books.

Menting, Ann Marie. The Chill of Fear. Retrieved from Harvard Medicine, The Science of Emotion at http://hms.harvard.edu/news/harvard-medicine/chill-fear on 10-24-14.