Elements of a Confident Kid… Being Helpful

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer Miller

Elements He Illustration 1



making it easier to do a job, deal with a problem

willing to help other people1

About Being Helpful and Being Helped: The ability to help others requires self-awareness and social awareness. The helper must identify ways in which he can contribute to solving other’s problems or promoting another’s well-being. He must also have a keen awareness of and sensitivity to those around him. He must be empathetic. Children at various ages and stages want to be helpful and contribute to others. During the preschool years (ages 3-5), children begin to look for ways to help others as they work on their own understanding of social rules and norms. Tweens who are entering the middle school years begin to take on an interest in social justice making it a prime time to introduce service as a means to better understand community problems and work toward solutions. Researcher Richard Catalano and his colleagues found that participation in communities helped students develop stronger connections to the community norms and values, thereby contributing to community cohesion.2  This helps give kids a sense of contribution, a feeling of competence and a greater connection to the community.

In addition to being a helper, confident children know how and when to ask for help when they need it. This is as critical a skill as the first. Kids can be taught to look for other adults in whom they can place their trust. For example, my son has severe allergies that can quickly land him in the hospital. I communicate with all of the adults in his life (teachers, school nurse, friends, grandparents and sitters) about what to do in the event of a life-threatening emergency. But we also prepare our son. He must trust the adults in his life to help him and he has to know when he should ask for help. When the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy occurred, one of my posts included this wise quote from Mister Rogers which holds true in many varied contexts:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.3

Statistically, it’s highly unlikely that your child will be harmed by a stranger but it’s much more likely they may be helped. Whether your child is lost in a large store, stuck on an elevator or caught in the midst of a natural disaster, she needs to look to other adults and possibly rely on the kindness of strangers to help her when she needs it most.

Additionally, there are moments when we are witness to someone who is hurt. Particularly in public situations we may think, “Someone else will stop and help.” You can always choose to be that someone that helps. Model for your children and encourage them to get involved. They don’t need to put themselves in harm’s way but they can certainly recruit an adult to intervene in a difficult situation.

Strategy to Promote Helpfulness: Modeling is one of the most powerful ways to practice helpfulness with any age child. Involve your child in the process and preparations of helping another. It could be as simple as opening the door for someone in a wheelchair. Make your thinking visible to your child by simply commenting on your thought process. You might say, “That woman may have struggled with getting in the door. Thanks for assisting me in helping her. Can you imagine what it’s like for her to get around in a wheel chair?”

Also reaching out and appreciating people who are different from you can help children feel more connected and responsible for the welfare of others. The Dalai Lama funds a research center at Stanford University that is looking at the physical connections and impacts of altruism and compassion. In an interview about the center, he discusses the evolutionary tendency to help your own tribe and not others.

Ultimately this doesn’t work for the greater good. To overcome these natural mechanisms, certain techniques help: simply looking at that other group, whose members you would not normally feel kinship with, and saying, “Well, it turns out that they want their children to be educated like mine. They have the same interest in seeing X, Y or Z occur, just like me.” It has a profound effect on how you perceive your responsibility to others. It gives you the realization of our shared humanity and interdependence. It changes how you interact.4

Strategy to Promote Asking for Help: You can model and involve your child in asking for help as well. But first, reflect on your own beliefs about asking for help. When do you ask for help? Who are you willing to ask? And what kind of help are you willing to receive? Once you’ve reflected on your own boundaries regarding seeking help, you will be able to model and talk it through with your children. Also for safety purposes, advise your children to look for caring Moms and Dads, store employees in uniform or police officers when you are not with them. Taking these few steps to prepare your child for helping and being helped can give them the confidence they need.


1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/helpful on 8-26-14.

2. Catalano, R. F., Haggerty, K. P., Oesterle, S., Fleming, C. B., and Hawkins, J. D. (2004). The importance of bonding to school for healthy development: Findings from the Social Development Research Group (pp. 252–261). Journal of School Health, 74(7).

3. Rogers, F. (2005). Life’s Journeys According to Mister Rogers; Things to Remember Along the Way. New York: Hyperion.

Smart Home Media Use: Limiting Screen Time

Smart Home Media Use, Limiting Screen Time illustr by Jennifer Miller

Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.

- Jim Morrison

The second day of school my son brought home a short booklet that was to be signed by all family members. It was the technology policy for his school. Covering every facet of screen interaction, each statement began with “No….” It is indeed critical for each school to have a policy on how technology is used. But in family life, the policy, or “rules” around screen time are just not enough. I began asking, what do kids know about screens, their effects and why they should be limited? How are children taught to interact with screens – what to do in addition to what not to do? As I was asking these questions, two friends, also readers, got in touch and asked whether I had any written media agreement for a family. I promised that I would research and work on one so that all could benefit including my own family.

One friend with a nine and a twelve year old wrote,

My biggest concern is how to go about limiting overall screen time.  Between TV, DVD’s. Kindle, iPad, iPhone and Wii, there are many opportunities for my kids to
sneak in screen time.  I would like to find a way to not only impress upon my kids
the need to limit screen time, but also explain to them the reasons why it’s
important to limit screen time.  I need them to buy into screen time limitations
without having an argument each time  “time is up”. 

This is a common concern particularly since the average child spends seven hours a day with screens. The use of screens impacts each member of the family in significant ways. Commonly, parents are less able to separate work and home. There is much more pressure to keep up with the global 24/7 nature of business. It invades time with children. In order to cope with that added pressure, there’s a tendency for parents to allow children to participate in more screen time to buy more time to keep up with the demands.

Parents and children need to first understand the facts to make informed decisions. Instead of nagging or fighting over screen time regularly, It is worth setting aside a time for a family meeting solely to discuss media. Make it enjoyable. Pop some popcorn or share a treat while you talk about what makes the most sense for your family. In that discussion, first share the impacts with them so that they better understand. It’s not about you, the parent, taking something away that gives them pleasure and connects them to their friends. It’s about their safety, growth and well-being.

Here’s a sample of a family meeting agenda.

  1. Define media (the variety of screens that exist in the house) and the fact that you want to focus the discussion on this topic.
  2. What are some of our best experiences with media? What types and why do we love it? What are some frustrations or challenges with media?
  3. Share and know the facts. Please see the list below for facts you can share. Be sure you clarify and ask questions about the facts to model that kind of questioning for your children.
  4. Add your own family’s facts! Do include time constraints – fitting in homework, snack time and dinner after school, soccer practice, free chance to play and also, time to connect as a family. What lost opportunities are there when screen time is unlimited? How do we want to connect as a family each day? Is it at a mealtime? Get clear on where this fits first.
  5. Now, considering the facts, you might ask the following questions: A. How do we need to limit screen time in our house? B. How much time should we allot? C. When should it be used? D. Where should it be used? E. How should it be used?
  6. Finally each person in the family can give one hope or dream for how media will positively contribute to their lives in the future.

Once your family policy has been discussed and agreed upon, take the time to write up your family agreement and leave spaces for signatures as you would a contract. Use the following as a template for your family:

Sample Family Media Agreement by Jennifer S. Miller

In addition, as media savvy parents, there are a few things you can do to create a safe environment for screen use.

  • Consider carefully before adding new devices. Delay use while young for as long as possible. Realize that each time a screen is added, you must factor in your own role as supervisor and supportive manager.
  • Place screens in public rooms. Do not allow computers or televisions in bedrooms. Some argue, “He has a school assigned laptop that he uses for homework so I need to allow him to use that in his bedroom.” Educators concur that homework is best done in the context of a family public quiet space where he can receive support if needed.
  • Place chargers in your bedroom overnight so there is not a middle of the night temptation.
  • Set up safety controls together. For example, when your daughter signs up for Facebook, sit down with her and help her establish privacy settings.
  • Make media a regular discussion topic in family conversations. Parents tend to fear the unknown but the digital world is a community that plays a role in all family members’ lives. Ask questions, share concerns and offer up suggestions as you would with your participation in any significant community.

The tension of the tightrope we walk, as digital-age parents, between overprotection, rule setting and enforcement and under-protection, hands-off permission and allowing of privacy can challenges us when it comes to a child’s digital participation. As with any community that plays a critical role in your child’s life, being an involved, knowledgeable and empathetic coach and participant will allow you entrance and contribution. It will help ensure that your family members not only stay safe but also, benefit from the use of technology.

Here are some of the facts about why limiting screen time is important.

1. Too much screen time changes the structure and functioning of the brain.

From brain plasticity research, whatever stimuli is received over time directly affects the development and hard wiring of the brain. If children are used to the stimulus of changing images every 5-6 seconds, then their brain needs that stimulus to help them focus their attention.1

2. Too much screen time also can result in obesity (unconscious eating), desensitivity to violent images and less nourishing (REM) sleep. 2

3. Hormones levels change. Dopamine, a pleasure hormone, is released while watching screens which makes the experience addictive. It’s human nature to desire that pleasure response and return to it repeatedly. Melatonin is reduced which effects the ability to regulate sleep, the strength of the immune system and the onset of puberty.1

4.The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television or media use for children younger than two years old and for older children, total screen time (including all electronic devices) should be limited to less than one to two hours per day of nonviolent programming that is supervised by parents or other responsible adults.2

The reason is that heavy viewing has been shown to retard the myelination process in the early brain, particularly from birth to age four. 3 Myelination is the process in which nerve cells in the brain build up a fatty protein sheath that improves conductivity, enhancing the flow of information from one cell to another. If this process is retarded, there’s a loss in the ability to use the imagination and think creatively. 4

5. Mental fatigue shows itself in reduced effectiveness and a rise in distractedness and irritability. No screen time can restore cognitive fatigue. Researchers have found the best way to restore thinking is by being in nature. 5

6. In order for any person to be able to utilize higher order thinking skills including creative problem solving, they must have the time for both focused attention on their goals and also, wandering (daydreaming) attention without entertainment to distract them. 5

In addition to the reasons why screen time should be limited in family life, there are also some facts that children show know about online participation.

    • Once you place anything online, it’s very difficult to erase it. Pause before you post!
    • There is a trail of each person’s participation online that often begins before they are born (for example, when parents post birth announcements on Facebook). Watch “Digital Dossier” on YouTube with your children (safe for child audiences) to better help them understand their online presence.
  • Treat the web as if it were a big city. There are human beings behind every post and paragraph with feelings. Assume what you share could be viewed by anyone and everyone in the world. Even emails and texts have entered into court cases and been published in newspapers. For all that you send out, ask yourself, “Is it okay with me if everyone sees this?”
  • Treat others and their comments and photographs with respect. It’s an old saying but it still applies, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

I’d like to offer a big thanks to Susie Fabro and Julie Iven for raising this issue. How do you manage media in your home? Please share your ideas.


Check out the following resources.
For more reading on this important topic:
Clark, L. S. (2013). The Parent App; Understanding Families in the Digital Age. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Check out the following online resources.
Common Sense Media
Find age-appropriate movies, books, apps, TV shows, video games, websites, and music that you and your kids will love. Browse our library of more than 17,500 reviews by age, entertainment type, learning rating, genre, and more using the filters in the left column. Common Sense has recently begun a blog about parenting and media issues with titles such as Best 2013 Oscar Movies for Kids, Screen Time Rules for Every Occasion, Watch Out! Cursing in “Family” Movies.

Other Blog Articles:
Navigating Our Global Neighborhood Navigating TV P2 Illust 001

Navigating the Content of Our Global Neighborhood 

Mind Change: How Digital Technologies are Leaving their Mark on our Brains

Parents’ TV Viewing Habits Influence Childrens’ Screen Time

1 Walker, S. (2010). Why Limit Screen Time? Reasons Why You Should Limit Screen Time. Retrieved from http://www.scilearn.com/blog/5-reasons-you-should-limit-screen-time on 8-25-14.
2 American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved on 8-25-14.
American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Public Education. (2001). Children, adolescents, and television. Pediatrics. Elk Grove Village, IL: Author.
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2002). Television – How it affects children. Elk Grove Village, IL: Author. Retrieved on July 12, 2006.
3 Pearce, J. C. (1992). Evolution’s end: Claiming the potential of our intelligence. San  Francisco: Harper-Collins Publishers, 1992.
4 Buzzell, K. (1998). The children of cyclops: The influences of television on the developing human brain. Fair Oaks, CA: The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.
5 Goleman, D. (2013). Focus; The Hidden Driver of Excellence. NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Introducing… Elements of a Confident Kid

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer MillerDear Readers,

In addition to my weekly article containing research and strategies on promoting social and emotional skills in busy family life, I will be adding a weekly series entitled “Elements of a Confident Kid.” To date, researchers do not agree on a single definition of confidence but we certainly know what it looks like when we see it. I choose “confidence” for the cornerstone of this site since it encapsulates all of the attributes we want for our children as we prepare them for their independent lives and what we want for ourselves as we parent — mistakes, sure, but no regrets. Psychologists and other social scientists do widely agree on the components that make up a confident person. Each week, I will work on further defining what it means to raise a confident kid using the structure of the Periodic Table. Each entry will define one quality or attribute (“element”) of a confident kid and offer one strategy for promoting it in a family. I hope you will contribute to the dialogue by sharing what the elements mean in your home and ways you promote them. Check out the first one below. And thanks in advance for reading, sharing and contributing!

Sincerely yours,

Jennifer 2 signature 001




%22Humor%22 illustration

 hu mor

: a funny or amusing quality
: jokes, funny stories, etc., or a particular kind
: the ability to be funny or to be amused by things that
are funny1

About Humor: Psychologists have for many years been trying to figure out what makes people laugh. The Humor Code2 published this past spring claims to have identified a theory called the benign violation theory to explain how humor works. The idea is that the joke breaks a convention from our expectations but still feels safe. And how does a person develop a sense of humor? Though we are still not certain, it’s likely a nature and nurture proposition. We are born with the DNA makeup to support a sense of humor and our environment gives us practice and reinforces that ability. It’s not surprising that families who value and use humor produce more humorous children.

Strategy to Promote Humor at Home: When was the last time your family laughed together? Can you quickly remember a time? How long ago was it? Yesterday? Last week? Last year? Thinking about what makes your family laugh and then looking for those opportunities is probably the best way you can promote humor. Sharing the experience together will offer modeling and practice. Games, joke books, singing karaoke and video taping ourselves are all ways our family laughs together. My son’s favorite joke is, “What do you say to the giant polar bear wearing headphones on his ears?”

Answer: “Anything you want. He can’t hear you.”

Why Promote Humor? Humor can offer individuals resilience in hard times. It can become a powerful coping strategy. Humor can also connect people to one another whether it’s a brand new friendship or a long-term relationship.

The Confident Kid Brand of Humor: Of course there are a few kinds of humor that do not promote a confident kid so it’s worth mentioning. Humor that is demeaning of others teaches children how to be hurtful through humor. Some children and adults use humor in this manner and it can be evidence of a lack of self-worth. In addition, sarcasm is a common form of humor that slips easily into everyday language. It’s often used to connect with others. But for children, sarcasm can teach dishonesty and breed mistrust. After all, children cannot discern sarcastic comments from literal ones but they feel the misleading nature of the comment. It can be confusing and difficult for children to understand. Confident parents and kids use humor that all can enjoy and does not harm others.


1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/humor on 8-26-14.

2. McGraw, P., & Warner, J. (2014). The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny. NY, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Reader Question and Answer about Games to Support Development

Let the Games Begin Illustration

One reader, Michele Rammien, wrote in with a great question that I thought would be helpful to many readers so am putting her question and my response into a post.

Michele wrote: I love these emails! They have been informative & helpful. I may have missed it somewhere but do you have suggestions of games to play with 5 & 6 year olds that relate to these development stages? Looking for something fun so my son does not think it is learning.

My Response: Thank you and I appreciate your great question! Yes, there are so many activities and games for five and six year olds that help with their developmental work and are disguised in fun. Here are some I use with my son:

Alphabet or Word Treasure Hunt:

Developmental Learning: letter or word recognition, love of surprises and puzzles, desire for mastery and getting there first

This game is a good indoor activity. Write each letter of the alphabet on single index cards, one per card. Tape a letter or word card to an object that begins with that letter. For example, the “P” card gets taped to the piano. Place the cards all over the house. You can make the placement of the cards easy or hard to find depending upon what kind of challenge you anticipate will be enjoyable for your child. Give your child a full alphabet as a reference throughout the game and also a gift bag to collect the cards. Now hunt! Each time your child finds a card, in order to “claim the prize,” (a.k.a. put it in his gift bag) he must name the letter (or word). If he cannot, no problem. Look and sing through his alphabet reference and find it together. My son loves this game and when he collects all of the cards, the first thing out of his mouth is “Let’s do it again!”


Developmental Learning: balance, turn taking, learning left from right

Remember this game? Fives and sixes love this game. Throw the matt out on the floor. Have each player take turns with their moves versus all moving at once to get practice with turn taking. An adult will likely need to spin and provide support with left and right directions. Giggles always ensue. In fact, there’s a hot game going on outside my window as I write this post.

Pretend Play:

Developmental Learning: understanding rules, practicing manners, communication, assertiveness

Teddy Bear Tea Party:

Have your child set the table with your help for the party. When ready, invite his favorite stuffed animals to join you. Let your child lead the pretend play. Encourage him to teach his guests the rules of the party. Have him serve each of his guests and perhaps, suggest a toast or a speech.

Playing School:

Teacher Jr 001Again, let your child lead the play script. Help him get a school room set up with chairs and a chalkboard (even though classrooms don’t contain these anymore!), favorite books and other supplies. His students can be you, a sibling and his stuffed friends. Encourage him to teach the rules of the class first and then teach whatever he’d like.

 “If a Person Came to Visit…”:

Developmental Learning: perspective taking, empathy

This is a great one to play at mealtime or during a car ride. No supplies necessary. Players take turns throwing out names of familiar people – friends, family, neighbors or famous people. “If your kindergarten teacher came to dinner, what would she say?” “If Grammy came to dinner, what would she say?” Do a full circle go around and have each player pretend they are talking like “Grammy.” “Oh, this dinner is lovely, dear!”

For times when you are waiting in line or on a car ride, check out my article, “Waiting waiting games illust 001Games.”

For times when you have a group of kids, try out “Let the Games Begin!” for practicing cooperation and communication.

If you try out others, please send them to me so I can share! Thanks again for writing in and happy game playing!

A Time to Pause: Reflecting on Development in the Coming School Year

Growing boy with loose tooth

We are called to be strong companions and clear mirrors to one another, to seek those who reflect with compassion and a keen eye how we are doing, whether we seem centered or off course…we need the nourishing company of others to create the circle needed for growth, freedom and healing.

- Wayne Muller

After the teacher said a quick,”Goodbye parents!” with a kind but determined hand motion, I walked away from E’s classroom feeling a thud way down deep. “Now what?” So much preparation went into the start of school and now that he was successfully there, I felt a bit lost. It took that first full day of school for me to pull it together and begin getting my head around my own goals. Since there is a natural pause that occurs with the exodus of children to school, why not take advantage of that pause to do some reflection about your role, your child’s developmental milestones ahead and your hopes for the school year.

I take this moment of pause to ask:

What will my child be learning in the coming year academically, physically, socially and emotionally? What milestones are ahead?

What can I do to educate myself about his growth potential for the coming year?

What can I do to support that learning and growth?

It’s particularly helpful to set your own expectations for the learning to come since often times, our biggest challenges and frustrations with our children relate to where they are developmentally. “Don’t teach me anything!” said E this summer with passion as he tried to learn to swim. The process of learning can be embarassing, frustrating and sometimes painful. Our sensitivity to this fact can afford us greater empathy and patience. It can also prepare us to be better partners with teachers as we work to support our children’s growth.

Your school may have provided you with a set of academic learning standards for your child’s grade level so that you can get a sense of the areas of focus for the school year. If not, now you can check out the Common Core Standards since forty-three states, the District of Columbia and four territories have adopted them. But unless you are fortunate enough to live in one of the few states (Illinois, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and soon-to-be Ohio) that has adopted stand-alone learning standards for social and emotional learning, you may not receive any guidance in that area though your children’s social and emotional learning at school and home will continue.

Keep in mind that development is uneven. As I’m sure you’ve observed, it comes in fits and spurts. The traits listed below are derived from looking at a large number of children at a particular age with many to most showing they are working on these issues. If your child is not yet displaying these traits, there is typically no reason to worry. It’s likely they just may not have moved forward in that particular area yet. Of course, if you have concerns, contact your pediatrician for confirmation. I have a first grader, six nearly seven year old, so I am placing below the typical social and emotional traits for six and seven year olds. If you have children who are other ages, here are some resources for looking up their social and emotional developmental milestones for the year to come.

1. Yardsticks Parent Pamphlets - Chip Wood has created pamphlets for parents  that are easy to use and review. One set will grow with you as your children progress. The pamphlets list typical developmental milestones in physical, social-emotional, language, cognitive, vision, fine and gross motor skills and additional domains.

2. Child Development Institute – This site has a section specially for parents that offers guidance and many specific developmental issues.

3. education.com – This site offers a number of articles on children’s social and emotional development.

The social and emotional development traits of sixes and sevens are derived from multiple sources but the primary source is from Yardsticks; Children in the Classroom Ages 4-141 by Chip Wood. In addition, I’ve developed a list of ways that you as a parent can support those traits.

Typical Social and Emotional Developmental Traits for Sixes:

  • Anxious to succeed, even master whatever they are attempting.
  • Wants to be first.
  • Thrives on encouragement.
  • Loves surprises and treats.
  • May be easily upset when hurt.
  • May invent his own rules to games – winning is important to him.
  • Can be bossy and critical of others (as she works to define her own self-identity and boundaries).
  • Cares about friends.
  • Learns best through discovery and asking questions.
  • Is ambitious and motivated to learn.
  • Can engage in cooperative activities.
  • Enjoys “work,” particularly the process rather than product.
  • Feelings about his relationships with teachers and peers motivates his willingness to participate in school.

Ways to Support Sixes:

  • Compliment efforts and hard work versus final products.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Have patience and leave empty space for responses.
    Look for ways to allow child to be first (i.e. pressing the elevator button, ordering at a restaurant).
  • Ask about friends’ likes and dislikes.
  • Model empathy and perspective-taking to balance criticism of others.
  • Encourage practice and reinforcement of boundaries and rules.
  • Promote cooperative activities when playdates take place.
  • Take advantage of motivation to learn and explore new topics together.
  • Emphasize and provide examples (athletes, musicians) of mastery taking time, practice, failure and persistence.

Typical Social and Emotional Developmental Traits for Sevens:

  • Introspective.
  • Needs stability, routines and structure from adults – parents and teachers.
  • Attempts to make work perfect. May be more fearful of learning and feel pressure to achieve and not make mistakes.
  • Can be sensitive to others’ feelings.
  • Cares about organization of toys and supplies.
  • May change friends often.
  • Listens well and speaks using specifics.
  • Wants to finish what he begins and may go slowly.
  • Enjoys being read to.
  • Can be moody, sad or shy.
  • Enjoys challenging puzzles or small manipulatives (legos).

Ways to Support Sevens:

  • Provide more quiet time and space. Supply private journal or notebook for writing and drawing reflections or stories.
  • Go over morning, after school and bedtime routines. Formalize by having child put routines in writing. Be consistent.
  • Emphasize and provide examples (athletes, musicians) of mastery taking time, practice, failure and persistence.
  • Practice perspective taking. Discuss others’ feelings in the family to encourage empathetic thoughts and feelings.
  • Provide empty bins and receptacles to encourage self-organization.
  • Encourage friendships with playdates. When children move on from one friend to another, discuss ways to include and be kind to old friends as well as playing with new ones.
  • Listen to the details of stories told and ask pointed questions.
  • Give them extra time to do homework or perform a task.
  • Read together everyday.
  • Identify places and things in the house to offer comfort when he is upset.
  • Offer age appropriate challenges in play.

Setting your own expectations about a child’s development can help you be proactive about your support. You will be better able to face any challenge with knowledge and confidence. Here’s to a rich year of learning.

Do contribute to our ongoing parent dialogue. How are your children currently challenging you? How are you supporting their development?



Wood, C. (2007). Yardsticks (3rd. Edition): Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

What’s in a Name? Teaching Children the Art of Introductions


The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.

- Chinese Proverb

It’s been said that the sound of our own name can be magical. It’s often true and particularly so for a child. I remember the principal saying “Hello Jenny.” to me in the school hallway. And I was in awe. “The principal knows my name?!”, I thought. When your children are entering a new classroom and grade level, there will likely be at least a few new faces they will encounter as the school year begins. We, as adults, sometimes skip or simply forget introductions between children. Teachers may introduce themselves and miss out on the chance to introduce students to one another. For teachers in classrooms, staff of after school programs, coaches for sports teams or Moms and Dads picking up their children on the playground, ensuring that there are full rounds of introductions on multiple occasions is an essential step toward building a sense of connectedness and community. Our name is an important part of our self-identity. Learning names can be a doorway to building relationships. As long-time educator and author Roxann Kriete wrote “Naming is often the beginning of knowing.”1

However name recall can be a great challenge for adults as well as children. Researchers found that when introductory conversations take place, people typically remember jobs and hobbies before they will be able to remember names. Psychologist Jeremy Dean writes that it has everything to do with meaning.2 We are able to better understand people or define their personalities through job titles or activities. A name like Anna on its own provides no specific information about who she is. Although it’s comforting to know that it’s human nature to have difficulty recalling names, it does not lessen the importance of knowing and using names in our daily interactions.

You can certainly give your child an advantage when walking into new environments and trying to make friends by modeling and practicing introductions. This summer, I stood around with other parents dropping off my child at a new camp — with unfamiliar staff and children. After no introductions were made on day one, I started introducing my son to a few other children and myself to other parents. I witnessed a substantial difference in my son’s motivation and eagerness to engage with the other kids and participate in the camp after the introductions had been made.

In teaching any skill, the best educators break down what adults may consider “the basics” into smaller steps and teach children each of the component skills. Try out these next steps with your children and see if they feel more confident starting school in the next few weeks.

Explore why names are so important.

Read Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs 3 to kick off a conversation about the importance of names. Or go through the pile of stuffed animals in your household with your child (if your house contains many like mine) and make sure that each has a meaningful name. Tell the story of how you came up with your child’s name. Why was it a special name for you? If you do not know the meaning or origin of your child’s name, look it up together.

Find a chance to practice an introduction and reflect on it.

Make it silly if you like. Introduce Dad to your daughter at dinner. Or introduce your favorite teddy bear to the rubber duck bath team. “Ted Bear meet Duckie.” “It’s so nice to meet you. I’ve already heard so much about your adventures together.” Reflect on what you did during the introduction. What did your body look like? Eye contact, leaning in and shaking a hand are all ways you can show you are interested in greeting another. What specifically did you say? “Hello, my name is Anna. What’s your name?” is an easy way to begin.

When making introductions, find out one thing about the other person.

Assist yourself and your child with recall by associating a person’s name with something meaningful about who they are. “What do you like to play at home?” or “What’s your favorite game?” might be standby questions for your child to ask to begin to get to know a person.

If you are playing host, facilitate learning each other’s names.

Playdates or birthday parties are times in which friends and family are brought together from a variety of contexts and may not know one another. Help establish connections by providing name tags. And before pinning the tail on the donkey, facilitate a name game to help children learn each other’s names. For ideas on a variety of name games, check out The Ultimate Camp Resource on Name Games.

And what if you forget a name? Help your child know what to do.

Those moments can be awkward when your child wants to interact with another but just cannot remember his or her name. What can he say? “Excuse me. Can you tell me your name again?” Practice and model this with adults when you have the chance so that he can watch how it’s done and be ready when he’s feeling uncomfortable.

And for educators and others who work with groups of children, remember it takes multiple exposures to a name to remember it. Name games such as those described in The Morning Meeting Book can be an enjoyable way to practice introductions, remember names and get to know each person in a classroom community. One of my favorites is the simple Adjective Greeting in which each individual picks an adjective that begins with the same letter of that person’s first name. You can call me “Joyous, Jovial and Jumpy Jennifer.”

Children who are able to recall and use others’ names demonstrate confidence and assertiveness. Using names imbues the greeter with the power to build relationships. However the ability to introduce oneself does not always begin naturally or comfortably. Equipping your child with the ability to introduce himself will prepare him for entrance into any social context. How do you practice introductions with your children?


1 Kriete, R. (2002). The Morning Meeting Book. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

2 Davis, J. Why People’s Names Are So Hard to Remember. Retrieved on August 14, 2014.

3 Whybrow, I., & Reynolds, A. (1999). Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs. New York: Random House.

Easing the Transition Back to School

Easing the Transition back to school

I’m gonna hold onto this couch and never let go!

- E. Miller, Age 6

It’s the morning after our summer vacation at the lake. E awoke and said he had had a nightmare. “My school became a haunted village. A ghost dragged me around the grounds. And all of my school friends were at my house playing with my favorite toys.” Though there are still a few weeks until the start of school, he is anticipating, not only the beginning but also the end of his freedom. And he worries about the unknown, faceless teacher who will rule over his days to come. Starting back to school can be an exciting time but as with any transition, it can also be fraught with worry, fear and a sense of loss. How can you best support your children as they go through this annual rite of passage?

Say goodbye to summer.
Summer days are so sweet and fleeting. Perhaps you spend precious family time laughing and enjoying one another in ways that may not occur as often during the hustle of the school year. As a family, find a way to say goodbye to summer. It could be as simple as an ice cream sundae indulgence or a campfire in the backyard. Pitch a tent or simply throw your beach blankets on the grass and stargaze. My husband proposed sharing a slideshow of seasonal photos with the grandparents. While you are savoring those last summer moments, take a moment to reflect on some of your happiest times over the last few months. When did you laugh the most? What were your favorite moments on your travels or local adventures? What animals or plants did you encounter? What activities do you want to repeat next summer?

Create rituals for the ending and beginning.
After finding a way to reflect and enjoy summer’s end together, how will you anticipate all that is positive about starting the school year? In addition to new tools including the fresh smell of a new box of crayons and razor sharp Ticonderoga twos, there are friends with whom to reconnect or perhaps new friends to be made. Haul out a few projects from last year and display them once again to remind your child of the success she has already experienced in school. Make a ritual out of getting school supplies by buying them together and then enjoying a special meal together or engaging in your child’s favorite activity as a family.

Create or recreate your routine.
Part of the annual preparations in our house for the school year is the creation of the morning routine poster. Going over your morning routine can offer great comfort to a child who has not gotten up at the crack of dawn or needed to get dressed and move quickly for months. Don’t expect that they will snap back into the routine easily. Pave the way by discussing how your morning will progress together. Find out what your children’s expectations and hopes are. Writing down your child’s routine formalizes it and helps provide a reminder to return to if there are struggles in those early days of school. Check out “A Truly Good Morning” for more ideas about creating a smooth morning routine for your family.

Does your child walk to school? Do they take the bus? Offer a practice dry run opportunity to add a feeling of comfort and safety before the first day. Get up at school time. Get dressed and follow your route to school whether it’s walking or driving. If your children take the bus, go to their bus stop and then drive the route to school. Talk about where they might want to sit and how they could introduce themselves to other kids and the bus driver. When you arrive at the empty school yard, walk around and show your child where they will line up or meet their teacher. Then go to your favorite coffee shop or donut house and get a morning snack to add a sense of celebration. Though this practice may seem like an extra step, it will pay off when you witness your child entering the school year with more confidence.

Involve children in preparations.
Work on a calendar for your child’s room and place all of the major events in the school year on it including friends’ birthdays and days off. Engage your child in placing their name in notebooks, on pencil holders and other school tools. Prepare your child’s homework space. Talk about what tools they might need at home and get them organized and ready. Perhaps work together on making a pencil holder (using a well rinsed frozen juice can, paper, glue, stickers and markers) or decorating book covers. Create a binder for papers sent home. Parents often fall into the flurry of preparations and may just check items off the list. Think about how you can involve your child knowing that this will pave the way for them in thinking about the tools and organization they need in order to be successful this school year.

Show that you are open and willing to listen during this time of transition. Children will be more likely to share their worries. Perhaps begin a conversation with him about his experience with his last teacher and how he got to know her and like her. Ask questions about rich memories from last school year and offer the space for your child to tell you about his school experiences. If worries emerge in conversation, you, in turn, can address those through practice, involvement and reflection.

Show additional sensitivity.
Children will have heightened emotions during this transition from summer to the first months of the school year. They are adjusting to major changes in their life including new faces and new expectations. Be aware that greater upset about minor issues may indicate anxiety just below the surface. If children are unable to identify or articulate their feelings, offer feeling words and ask if they are accurate: “It sounds like you are worried. Are you worried about having a new teacher or being in a new building?”

For more ideas, check out “Back to School Butterfiles.” And if your child is moving from preschool to kindergarten, do check out the article, “In Between Here and There.” 

Taking steps to prepare your children through rituals, celebrations, organization, reflection and showing empathy for their situation can contribute to a sense of safety and security in the midst of change. Not only will it help create smooth transitions during each day for your family, but it will also allow your children to enter the school year with an open mind and heart to experience the joy and possibility of learning.

Interview on Feeding My Family

Jennifer Miller Interviewed by Table 365

Jennifer Miller interviewed by Table 365. Photograph by Kimberly Allison.

Author and Illustrator of Confident Parents, Confident Kids, Jennifer Miller was interviewed this week by Kimberly Allison and Sharon Perez of Table 365. They asked questions on how I feed my family. Their mission is to provide inspiration, ideas and tools to make family meals easier. I’ve been inspired by their site. Check out the interview and then check out the rest of the site for true inspiration for family meals! Thanks Table 365!