Elements of a Confident Kid…Balanced Positive Thinking

 

Pathway to Goal Achievement by Jennifer Miller

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer Miller

Positive

- good or useful
- hopeful or optimistic 1

About Balanced Positive Thinking:

It seems there is much debate about whether positive thinking actually leads to or deters from happiness and success. So positive thinking must be clearly defined. Advocates confirm that it can lead to positive health outcomes, skill development and goal achievement. Challengers raise a red flag citing studies about fantasies of futures that do not come true. They propose that fantasy can work as a mental deterrent compelling the thinker to complacency – and not propelling the thinker to work hard toward his goals. Positive thinking that is balanced, however, seems to respond to these arguments. Balanced positive thinking is hope and optimism tempered with the understanding and acceptance of life’s challenges and obstacles. “Realism” combined with positive thinking seems to be the key combination to both happiness and success.

The Mayo Clinic claims the following health benefits for this kind of balanced positive thinking:
• Increased life span
• Lower rates of depression
• Lower levels of distress
• Greater resistance to the common cold
• Better psychological and physical well-being
• Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
• Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress 2

Balanced positive thinking might align well with the learning mindset. Each
challenge is viewed as an opportunity for growth and development. No challenge is too difficult to overcome with diligence, hard work and time. C. Richard Snyder in The Handbook of Hope confirms this notion by writing that a successful balanced positive thinker can:

– Set specific goals.
– Understand the pathways to reach those goals.
– Maintain a sense of agency believing that he can do it no matter the obstacles. 3

Parents can support kids in feeling in confident by believing in their ability to go after what they want, find the pathways to work toward it and work hard to overcome the obstacles that may impede progress.

Promoting Balanced Positive Thinking:

When you reflect on the day with your child, what kinds of events make the list? Notice how you feel about your list. Have you noted mostly challenges from your day? Have you also noted progress and steps toward a goal? Have you noted when daily activities have gone smoothly? Have you reflected on interactions that enriched your day? Part of promoting balanced positive thinking with yourself and your children is becoming aware of how you perceive your daily life. So begin by noticing at the end of the day the topics on which you reflect. Adjust so that you bring a balanced perspective to your reflections. If you are in the habit of going over challenges or disturbing interactions, it can be helpful to write those down and include actions you might take the next time to address them. In balanced positive thinking, negative thinking is not eliminated but it is examined and options are considered.

Show confidence in your child

There are numerous small ways everyday to reinforce our belief that our children can do anything with their patience and our support. Our own self-critic and self-doubt can unwittingly stand in the way of the support we know we want to provide. Thoughts cross our mind like, “I always had trouble with math so I know you will too.” even though we know it may not be true. Look for moments when your child is expressing doubt. “Will you help us build the train tracks? We don’t know how to do it,” said my son’s friend yesterday as they played on the floor. And though my son had built train tracks more times than I can count, he followed suit and wanted my help too. “I know you can build something with those tracks and I can’t wait to see what you come up with.” was my genuine response. The best kinds of healthy risks are those in which we have to create something from our minds and hearts. That vulnerability creates great discomfort yet can open doors to the greatest rewards – true self-expression. My son and his friend were proud of the extensive train track system they created on their own. So notice those opportunities when children are questioning whether they can do something and be there to tell them they can.

Practice and support goal setting and working toward a goal

One of the best ways to promote balanced positive thinking is through the experience of setting a goal, taking the necessary steps toward it, addressing the challenges and achieving that goal. You can look for ways to go through this process with your child. Pick a small opportunity. For example, your child may be asking for a particular toy. Set the purchase of that toy as a goal. Then look at different options for reaching that goal with the intent that your child will be able to purchase the toy from her own savings. Could she do jobs around the house to earn money? Does she want to wait for holidays to get money from relatives and save it over time? Could she save from a weekly allowance? Through this process, you will be supporting her through the entire balanced positive thinking process of goal setting, believing in her abilities, understanding the pathways to achieving her goal, dealing with obstacles and finally achieving her goal.

Practice positive self-talk

Negative self-talk can become so engrained in how we think about our role in daily activities that it can be difficult to catch ourselves doing it. Become aware of how you are viewing yourself and others. When you catch yourself feeling like you aren’t being enough or doing enough, stop and examine the reality of the situation. There are always options, always choices in your attitude toward a situation – even if the situation itself is not going to change. How can you reframe your thinking so that you find options for yourself and how you are viewing the situation? How can you help your child do the same? Practicing brainstorming options with your child can help her see that there are many ways to do and think about challenges. Read more about practicing brainstorming with your children.

Practice what to do with stress, fear and anger

Practicing how to deal with emotions that threaten to consume your focus and throw you into negative mindset can give you and your children a sense of agency. Parents and children feel like they have greater control over their lives and circumstances when they are able to manage their hottest emotions. Practice how you will handle anger when you are not angry. How will you physically and vocally express yourself in ways that do not harm others? The practice and plan you set in advance will assist you in those moments when you feel you are losing control. Read “A Better Version of Yourself” for more.

Seek joy

Participate in activities that give you joy. Walking through the park, reading a book for pleasure or cooking a special meal are joys in my life. Joy can take little time or expense but can be a source of energy and an extension of patience in parenting. And we all need that extended energy and patience! So take the moment to experience joy when it’s possible.

Although the critics say that fantasies can work against accomplishing goals, dreams of what is possible have always been the seed that established the world’s greatest inventions and innovations. So I tell my son anything is possible if you can dream it. Here’s one of my favorites from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends,

Listen to the Mustn’ts

Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WON’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me -
Anything can happen, child
ANYTHING can be.

References

1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved on 3-3-15 at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/positive.

2. Mayo Clinic Staff. Positive Thinking: Stop Negative Self-talk to Reduce Stress. Retrieved at http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950?pg=1 on 3-3-15.

3. Snyder, C. R. (2000). Handbook of Hope: Theory, Measures, and Applications. Waltham, MA: Academic Press.

4. Silverstein, S. (1974). Where the Sidewalk Ends. NY: Harper and Row Publishers.

Clear, J. (2013). The Science of Positive Thinking: How Positive Thoughts Build Your Skills, Boost Your Health and Improve Your Work. Huffington Post.

 

 

Introduction to Confident Parents, Confident Kids Video

Video

Check out this brand new (45 second) video introduction to Confident Parents, Confident Kids! I hope you will share it and help introduce others to this dialogue for parents on promoting kids’ social and emotional development. Together we can become confident parents raising confident kids!

Critical Conversations

Originally posted on confident parents confident kids:

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The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.  

-  John F. Kennedy

When E was between the ages of two and three, he adopted the very developmentally appropriate habit of running away from me. He thought it was hilarious. I thought it was downright dangerous. The first few times it happened, I envisioned a similar scenario by the road or a steep staircase in which he would take off running on his wobbly, not yet confident feet.  When I moved toward him with an impassioned “Stop! Don’t go there!” he moved in the direction I was moving – toward the dreaded danger – not away from it. After a fall down our staircase (it’s a miracle kids survive these ordeals!), I reflected…

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Elements of a Confident Kid… Sincerity

Sincerity by Jennifer Miller
Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer Miller

- honesty of mind :  freedom from hypocrisy1

About Sincerity:

Who “To be or not to be? That is the question.” Though Shakespeare questioned the choice of existence, the question of our authenticity may be just as important and fundamental. Psychologists have made numerous distinctions over the years attempting to define our sense of self. One scholar divided it into our impulsive and institutional selves, another wrote about the true and false selves and a third wrote about the individual and social selves. We come to understand our feelings, thoughts and actions through a variety of lenses that can be influenced by who we are and who others expect us to be. Though there is no one theory or understanding of our authentic sense of self, most scholars agree that “development of a sense of self is shaped by parental influence and socialization processes.”2 Developmental psychologists have determined that there is a common rising practice of making choices based upon social awareness, beginning in the seventh grade or between the ages of 12-14 years.3 And as children grow older, making consistent choices that honor their sincere selves takes a great amount of courage.

So if parents are highly influential in helping children come to understand themselves, then how do we prepare children to become aware of their authentic selves and make decisions that stay true it? Before the awakening awareness of multiple selves in the preteen and teen years, are there ways we can pave the way for authenticity? And when children reach the teen years when they are highly influenced by outside social forces, how can we influence their sense of sincerity?

All individuals – and certainly our children – long for belonging but also autonomy. Interestingly, anchoring to our sincere selves promotes both. Because it takes courage to be who we know we are, there is a sense of individual strength that comes from being and making decisions that align with our true selves. In addition when we become vulnerable exposing who we are to others, this opens the door to intimacy and deeper connections in our relationships. Though at times, when peer pressure is potent, it can be the hardest thing in the world to let down our friends because whatever they are asking is not right for us. Confident kids, however, are prepared to make those tough choices. Here are some ideas on how we can, as parents, prepare them.

Promoting Sincerity:

Model honesty. Modeling honesty can mean sharing aloud what you might be thinking when you are saying how you feel. Sharing the opposite of the truth and saying what the truth for you is shows your child the contrast and makes apparent your own internal debate. For example, “I want to say that I feel just fine in response to your ‘How are you?,’ but the truth is I am upset about a conversation I had at work and I can’t seem to get it off my mind.”

Promote honesty. Children necessarily test the limits with their parents. One of the ways they do this is with dishonesty. They may think, “Will she catch me? How bad will it be if I get my way, steal another piece of candy and tell her I didn’t?” Focus on the logical consequences of dishonesty. If your child’s lies about the extra piece of candy, talk about and better yet, show the logical consequences to her. Some may include, that in the future, you may have a difficult time trusting what she is saying. She may begin to feel sick because she has had too much candy. Her health can be compromised if she continues to have too much candy. I love the cautionary tale, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”4 because it’s such an important lesson. I’ve written an updated version to make it more relevant for kids today. Check out “The Boy Who Cried Emergency!” below and tell the tale in your household.

Ask questions before jumping to responses or decisions for action. We, as parents, are often in a position where we have to direct our children’s actions. This can become our default if we are not careful. Look for chances to ask questions before stepping in with directives. Good questions promote thinking and help children internalize the evaluative process of responsible decision making – thinking through the action to consequence sequence before they act. Examples might be, “How do you feel about making that decision?,” “What does your heart or inner voice tell you?” or maybe, “What are some options if the girl you sit next to in class is mean to you today?”

Encourage quiet reflection before big decision making. Whether it’s deciding to play a new sport or it’s taking on a new boyfriend, encourage your child to get quiet and reflect. Decisions that are made quickly may not be aligned with one’s true self. So take a pause. Reflect. Provide key questions. Encourage writing on thoughts and feelings. Promote self-reflection so that your child has the practice for the major decisions in life to come.

Discuss characters in stories. Courage to be true to self is a universal theme that is used in literature time and again. Find these heroes, particularly those that are flawed and human. Point out their faults and frailties and then learn together how they triumph. Be sure to discuss how the conquering hero has to make choices that do not align with what others want.

Promote positive attention-getting. There is a child in any circle of friends who always has a problem he needs an adult to solve. “I’m hungry.” “He took my ball.” and “I’m too cold” are complaints you might hear when he attempts to get you involved. Clearly he needs more adult attention. He has learned to be a squeaky wheel in order to fill that need. And it works. It escalates too because if he doesn’t eventually get the attention he needs, he will yell, hit or cry. If this sounds at all familiar, be certain you are teaching your child to ask for attention when they need it in appropriate ways, “Mom, I need some time with you.” Reinforce positive attention-getting behaviors. “I notice you wanted to show me a picture in your book. I love it when you involve me in what you are reading.” And if you notice an increase in attention-getting misbehaviors, then increase your positive attention in well-behaved moments. Find chances to sit down, cuddle and read together or let your child lead you through a play scenario.

Discuss temptations and social expectations with tweens and teens. Look for chances to enter conversations about decisions to go with the crowd and reasons to make different choices. Teens are hungry for these discussions as they are trying to find their place and define their sense of boundaries. Their self and social identity are on top of their own developmental list of priorities. Find books, movies or highlight local or school news stories that offer rich opportunities for discussion. Introduce the controversy, ask good questions and allow your child to formulate his or her own ideas and opinions. If you hear she has an opinion that may mimic her friend’s opinions, ask what other options there might be. Keep asking, “But what seems true to you?”

 

The Boy Who Cried “Emergency!”
Adapted for my son, from “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” Aesop’s Fables
*Insert your own relevant details and tell the tale to your child!

There was a young boy who lived in a small house in Columbus, Ohio. He loved to play hide and seek in his yard with his neighborhood friends. One day when his friends were not around, he felt bored. “I know,” he thought. “I will run to my Mom and pretend there’s an emergency and bring her running.” “I will have a good laugh when she finds out there is no real emergency.”

So he invented an emergency. He decided to pretend there was a hurt cat behind the garage that desperately needed help. He ran inside to find his Mom. “Mom, Mom!” he shouted. “It’s an emergency!”

Mom dropped her laundry and raced through the house at the sound of his urging and listened with intensity as her son said there was an injured cat who needed help. Mom grabbed a few towels and some food and walked to the back of the garage with caution not knowing what she might find there. Her son began to giggle as he pointed at her, “Gotcha!” he said. Mom was not happy. She had dropped her clean laundry on the dirty floor and now had to clean it all over again. But more importantly, she was disappointed that her son mislead her. “Don’t do it again.” she said.

But the son thought the whole experience was exciting. He had created a big rush of emotion and gotten his Mom involved with her full attention on him. Because she urged him not to do it again, he ignored the idea that reentered his head a few times in the coming weeks. But one particularly boring summer day when no friends were to be found, he couldn’t resist. He planned his new emergency.

This time there would be a big crash in the garage. A piece of wood would fall from the rafters and crash down breaking his new, expensive bike. He ran into the house yelling, “Mom! Mom!” “Emergency!” Mom, this time doing dishes, abandoned her work to respond to her son. “It’s the garage roof. It’s falling in and it’s broken my brand new bike!” Mom ran to the garage with her son not far behind. She held him back from going in fearing falling objects. She cautiously peered in to see her garage in perfect condition. “What?” she turned to say. “Gotcha!” smiled her son. Mom was furious. She couldn’t believe her son had cried “Emergency!” again. Clearly he had not learned the lesson. She sat him down and talked to him about the importance of being sincere and honest.

So did the son truly learn the lesson? Late that summer, the son was playing in the fenced-in backyard with his beloved dog. He got involved in a game of trucks on the dirt mound and didn’t notice the dog for a time. He looked up and the dog was gone. He then noticed that the gate was ajar. He ran to the front yard but couldn’t see the dog anywhere. He tore into the house. “Mom! Mom!” “It’s an emergency!” Mom was on the phone with his grandma. “I’m talking on the phone. Your emergency can wait.” Mom said trying not to roll her eyes certain that this was another “Gotcha!” moment. The boy began crying in desperation worrying that his dog might be lost forever or injured. When Mom saw his emotion was genuine, she got off the phone and asked him to explain. They both ran to find his dog. After looking for blocks, they finally found their dog exploring a yard and were relieved to find he was okay. On the walk home, the boy told his Mom, “Now I know I can never call ‘Emergency!’ again in case there ever is a real emergency.” And he never did.
Or watch the Muppets act out their version of Aesop’s Fables’, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”

The Muppets – The Boy Who Cried Wolf (9 minutes in length)

References

1. Merriam Webster Dictionary. Retrieved on February 17, 2015 at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sincerity

2. Vannini, P., & Franzese, A. (2008). The Authenticity of Self: Conceptualization, Personal Experience and Practice. Sociology Compass, 2/5, 1621-1637, 10.1111/j.

3. Harter, S., Bresnick, S., Bouchey, H.A. and Whitesell, N.R. (1997). The Development of Multiple Role-related Selves During Adolescence. Developmental Psychopathology. Fall;9(4):835-53.

4. Aesop. (2007). The Boy Who Cried Wolf. In D.L. Ashliman (Ed.) (Credited originally to the Greek slave, Aesop between 620 and 560 B.C.

For Valentine’s Day – Unconditional Love and Attention

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This fire that we call loving is too strong for human minds. But just right for human souls.

- Aberjhani, Elemental: The Power of Illuminated Love

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d write about our love for our children and their need for attention. Of course, all children have a need for us to acknowledge them frequently. Sometimes they seek our attention (“Mom, come play with me.”) in good ways. But sometimes children choose to misbehave instead. After all “the squeaky wheel tends to get the grease.” If our children are playing quietly, we often might leave them alone, happy that they are entertaining themselves. But if they get too loud or make a poor choice, they receive our full attention. Inadvertently we are rewarding the misbehavior. Parents can teach children to seek attention in appropriate and acceptable ways to prevent misguided behaviors. You can also identify attention-seeking behaviors when they are happening so that you can react in the moment in ways that will stop the behavior from happening again.

In addition, children need to learn that our love is not based upon their behavior. Though we may be disappointed or frustrated by how they’ve acted or reacted in a situation and we may not like them much that day, we always love them. It may seem obvious but unless it’s said, children cannot distinguish between love, approval and attention. Think about how devastating a child might feel when they are scolded for a poor choice if they think that your love is tied to their behavior. So first of all, be sure if you’ve had a challenging day that when you put them to bed you let your children know that you love them unconditionally – no matter what choices they have made.

And what about those difficult days? Is this scene a familiar one to you? Your child is playing really well all by herself on the floor. You think, “Now is a good moment to get in that phone call to the PTA President to prepare for our upcoming meeting.” You say,
“Sweetie, I’m going to make a quick call. Please keep playing and I’ll be off the phone in five minutes or so.” You make the call and no sooner have said “Hello, how are you?” when little sweetie is at your side tugging on your shirt. Or she decides that now is the time to practice the drums that have been left to collect dust. Borrowing from the philosophies of Linda Albert’s Cooperative Discipline[i], Jane Nelsen’s Positive Discipline[ii] and Marilyn Watson’s Developmental Discipline[iii], try the following.

Identify the goal of the misbehavior.

How do you feel when the child is misbehaving? If you are irritated, annoyed, worried or guilty, it’s likely an attention-seeking behavior. If you are really mad, it’s likely gone beyond attention-seeking into a power struggle.

When you give your child attention (whether negative or positive), does the behavior stop temporarily? It’s likely attention-seeking because they have achieved their goal of gaining your attention. But it’s typically temporary and the behavior is soon to return.

Next time you might prevent this misbehavior by…

Teaching your children to ask for attention in ways that are acceptable to you and your partner. “Mom, I could really use a hug right now.” “Dad, I really want to tell you about what happened to me today.” After practicing together what you want your child to say, work on recognizing when they are asking in appropriate ways and give them attention in response. Sometimes all it takes is five minutes of focused attention to help a child feel like they are getting what they need. After that five minutes, you may be able to get your phone call accomplished without your children competing for your attention. Practice this!

Specifically calling out positive behaviors. All too often we get in the habit of calling out behaviors we want to change but when things are going smoothly, we are simply relieved and don’t say anything. When you see improvement, tell your child in the moment what they are doing well, particularly if it is a behavioral issue you are working on with him. Be specific. “I notice you waited until I was finished with my conversation to ask me a question. I realize that takes patience and I appreciate it.”

Agreeing upon a signal. Create a signal just for your family that lets your children know that Give me 5 illustr 001they need to wait. You’ll be with them when you are finished. The signal could be a high five, showing them that you need five more minutes. It could be pointing to your eyes and then their eyes with the intended message, “I see you need me. You’ll need to wait until I’m finished.” You could utilize standard sign language. Or make up your own. Practice and then use it regularly.

Stop the misbehavior.

– Use your signal.

– Put one hand on his shoulder and bring the other to your lips with your index finger indicating you need quiet for the moment.

– Hand him a note with a number or “wait” message on it.

– Redirect his attention to his own responsibility. “When you finish cleaning up your toys, then I will help you.”

If you spend time teaching and practicing what to do in a situation in which you cannot give your child attention, the intervention strategies under “Stop the misbehavior.” will be much more effective. This is yet another opportunity to allow your child to learn self-control. I’m always amazed that when I give my son focused attention first by playing with him for a short while, I am able to gain more time to complete my own tasks without interruption. If you notice an increase in misbehaviors, consider your own role. Are you giving your child focused attention to meet his needs and then moving on with your own task? If not, you could be unwittingly promoting misbehaviors in order for your child to gain the attention he needs. Most importantly, in this season of love, be sure you let your child know that your love is unconditional, that we all make mistakes, and we all need and deserve attention.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and your family! May love fill your family and your life! I so appreciate you and all of the readers of Confident Parents, Confident Kids!

[i] Albert, L. (2003). Cooperative discipline. Circle Pines, MN: AGS Publishing.

[ii] Nelsen, J. (2006). Positive discipline. Fair Oaks, CA: Ballantine Books.

[iii] Watson, M., & Ecken, L. Learning to trust; Transforming difficult elementary classrooms through developmental discipline. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

On NBC Parent Toolkit: Parenting Perspectives on Homework

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NBC Parent Toolkit blog published a new series today entitled “Parenting Perspectives.” Parents can write in with questions and various experts respond. For this first one, four experts including CPCK’s Jennifer Miller were asked to write about the issue of homework. A parent wrote in to ask: “What is the value of homework and in particular, what is the validity of a school’s no-homework policy?” Check out each of these four perspectives and see if it helps shed Setting up for homework success by Jennifer Millersome light on an issue that has the potential to become a power struggle between parents and children but also, can provide daily connection for parents to a child’s learning. Be sure to add your comments about how homework impacts your family.

And for more on homework, check out:

Setting Up for Homework Success

 

 

Seize the Moment – Random Acts of Kindness Week

Kindness by Jennifer Miller

Once there was a tree and she loved a little boy…

- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

When my son E turned seven in September, we hosted a party with all of his friends at our local park. I created a treasure hunt with clues hidden behind the many trees so that children could run, enjoy a game and find treasure at the end of their searches. In my party planning, however, I hadn’t considered younger siblings who might be along with their parents. As the older children discovered their goody bags with their names carefully printed on the front, a young girl emerged from the pack with tears welling in her eyes. “There’s no bag for me.” she uttered. While I swiftly and silently began to beat myself up mentally for not planning ahead, for not thinking this through, for not creating extra favors, I heard, “Here, you can have mine.” I stopped my panic long enough to look over and watch one of E’s dearest friends, a girl whose imagination, legs and mouth rarely stop (“How does she breathe?”) gently offer her bag to the little girl whose face lit up. She skipped around in elated happiness while I stood dumbstruck. I think I uttered, “Wow, thank you.” to our good friend. And then I returned to beating myself up. But in retrospect, I realized that if I had planned extras, there would not have been this opportunity for our friend to shine like a star. That moment has stayed with me. It was a gift.

There are opportunities all around us to be kind in the everyday mundane nature of life if we would only notice and seize the chance. Next week is Random Acts of Kindness week, February 9-15, and when the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation got in touch to ask if I would write an article, I began researching kindness and thinking about it from a parents’ perspective as I tend to do with most topics. But it was hard to pin down. Can we teach it? What are its origins? Do we have a natural inclination to kindness or must we force our motivations and behaviors to serve others? And isn’t parenting itself an act of kindness – giving of ourselves to another human being each day?

Research claims that we are more likely to help a stranger in need (called “the bystander effect”) if we see similarities in others versus differences – if we feel compassion. In fact, some schools focusing on bullying prevention teach children how to be “upstanders,” to speak up when another is being hurt emotionally or physically. They teach children specific language to use (“You are hurting him. Stop!”) and ways to seek help. Children are taught to take other’s perspectives, to appreciate differences, to find similarities and through those efforts, feel compassion which is at the very root of kindness.

But to me, kindness is less of a head activity (a cognitive topic) and more of a heart-filled one. The classic story by Shel Silverstein came to mind, The Giving Tree. Upon first reading, I considered it a tragedy – the tree had given so many parts of herself to the boy that in the end, she was merely a stump. But I hadn’t fully understood. That instead of the tree giving everything of herself and ending up with nothing, she created much more. The tree created a living legacy. She expanded far beyond her physical limitations to become a part of the boy’s life affecting exponentially more lives through her own.

Just as the tree suffered when limbs were removed, each individual is nursing her own wounds. If we run from them, we tend to judge others and create walls to protect ourselves. However, if we accept our pain, we are surprised with new insights. We are capable of feeling compassion, seeing the similarities in others and reaching out to them in our connectedness. Leaving a legacy is not limited to the retired and elderly who have time to consider such issues. It’s for us all and for today. And compassion is possible if we lift our heads up long enough to see others in need around us and seize a moment to ease it.

And so I ask myself as I ask you, “What if I didn’t have another day? What would I be doing?” Perhaps your answer might be similar to mine. I would love and appreciate those around me. I would be kind to anyone with whom I came into contact. What would you be doing?

As I’ve written before, it’s the quality of the little things in our everyday lives that contribute to significant change. In that spirit, here are my ideas for promoting kindness in your life and in your family.

Practice self-compassion. I am an expert at beating myself up about any imperfection. But I know in order to be my best self in all of my roles, I have to forgive myself. And frankly, I know I’m nicer to be around when I do. When you catch yourself doing the mental battle, gently stop and redirect yourself as you would a young child.

Read. There is no greater source of diving into other lives and perspectives as in stories. Follow other’s stories that are different from you own and find out how you are similarly connected. Frequent your local library with your children. Hold reading parties (meaning a snack, a good book and maybe a cozy blanket or pillow). Read together and uncover empathy in you and your child.

Be present. One of the most difficult and underrated tasks of our time is to be present to one another. But focusing on those we care most about can help us become more than we thought we could.

Remember the expectant parent in yourself. Recall when you were expecting a child. What were your hopes and dreams for yourself and for your child? Go over those thoughts. How are you living your hopes today?

Talk about similarities. Catch judgements. Recognizing the ways we are alike leads us to kind actions. Picking out our differences leads to separation. So discuss similarities to neighbors, teachers and local leaders with your partner and your child. When you catch yourself judging others, stop. We all do it. But catching yourself doing it is the trick. Then redirect yourself. The challenge when you stop yourself is then asking, “In what ways are we alike? What can I learn from this person? In what ways can I find compassion?”

Practice forgiveness and making reparation. When any one person in a family makes a poor choice or hurts another, practice forgiveness. Find ways to make reparation whether emotional or physical. Certainly if a sibling’s toy is broken, you can work together to fix it. But similarly, if a sibling’s feelings are hurt, how can you guide a child to help heal the emotional wound? Maybe a sincere apology and a hug are enough. Maybe doing an activity together that favors the sibling who is trying to heal.

Be open to opportunities. There are chances all around us numerous times a day to act in kindness toward others whether its our own family or the stranger at the gas station. Look for opportunities to demonstrate kindness. For example, hold a door, pick up a dropped pencil or pack a love note in your child’s lunch. Keep them small and in the moment. You may never know how your choice to smile at someone may impact the rest of his day and every other person with whom he comes into contact.

Kindness begets more kindness. So for you and me, I’m wishing for the multiplier effect. That we hold our heads up long enough to notice one another. Next week – Random Acts of Kindness week – is a helpful reminder to me that there are opportunities everywhere to be kind if I just seize them.

Here are some additional resources from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation specifically for parents:

15 Kindness Ideas for the Home

15 Kindness Ideas at School

2 Free School Activity Ideas

References
Silverstein, S. (1992). The Giving Tree. NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Judah, S. (October 2, 2013). Making Time: Can We Teach Kindness? BBC News Magazine. Retrieved on 2-3-15 at http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24363845

Elements of a Confident Kid…Alliance Building

Alliance building by Jennifer Miller

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer Miller

: a union between people, groups or countries: a relationship in which people agree to work together.1

There will be numerous opportunities throughout a child’s academic years to practice engaging in an alliance. Individuals need not agree on interests or even like each other to form one. Alliances are often temporary and formed with a shared goal in mind. Maybe a group of students are assigned to work with one another to build a simple machine. The group comes together for that purpose and then, when the project is completed, may not work together again. Or some alliances can span years such as with a cohort in an intervention pull-out program that serves as a critical support throughout the elementary school years. At the cornerstone of a successful alliance is collaboration.

Because throughout a lifetime, there will be a host of times when an alliance is necessary to achieve a goal, it’s worth exploring its attributes. At core, an alliance presents a child or an adult with some of the greatest challenges to his or her social and emotional intelligence. It requires the individual to be open-minded, willing to negotiate, effective at both listening and communicating, able to check biases and appreciate diversity and participate in collaborative problem-solving.

The handbook, Collaboration; What Makes It Work (2nd Ed.)2 claims there are twenty factors that research confirms contribute to the success of a collaboration. Though these relate to more formalized community collaborations, many of the factors in the areas of environment, memberships characteristics, process and structure, communication, purpose and resources can be applied to smaller, more informal alliances. These success factors are:

  • the history of the collaboration in the community
  • whether the group is seen as a legitimate leader in its community
  • favorable political and social climate
  • mutual respect, understanding and trust
  • appropriate cross section of members representative of key stakeholders
  • members see collaboration as their own self-interest
  • ability to compromise
  • members sharing a stake in both process and outcome
  • multiple layers of participation
  • flexibility
  • development of clear roles and policy guidelines
  • adaptability
  • appropriate pace of development
  • open and frequent communication
  • established informal relationships and communication links
  • concrete, attainable goals and objectives
  • shared vision
  • unique purpose
  • sufficient funds, staff, material and time
  • skilled leadership

So how does a parent promote successful collaboration and the ability to participate in an alliance?
Often we, as parents, have to diagnose the root cause of problems when our child comes home from school upset about a group in which he is participating. When a child becomes part of an alliance, listen for challenges and provide coaching. Consider the following questions and see if they help you become a better coach for your child.

1. Is your child struggling with self-awareness? Does your child have a sense of his own role in the group, both his strengths and limitations? If you directly point them out, you may be met with with a defensive response. Instead ask good questions about his role. His responses will help you better understand the circumstances and may shed some light for him on how he is showing up in the group. Some examples might be:
– What is your role in the group?
– How do you feel about your role in the group?
– How do you plan to contribute?
– How does that particular contribution relate to the overall goal for the group?
– Where do you feel your best skills, talents and interests lie related to the goal?
– Are there other ways you could contribute that use those talents and interests?

2. Is your child struggling with self-management? Self-control in a group setting can be tough when there are competing desires for contribution. “I want to be the one who gets to stand up and read for the group!” asserts one child. “Why do you get to?” asks another. Suspending his own impulses and thinking about what might be his own best role to move the group forward can be difficult. Ask some questions in this area to both better understand the group dynamics and also help your child see some alternatives.
– How is the group struggling?
– Who is involved and what roles do they play?
– What is the ultimate goal for the group?
– What are the strengths of each member?
– Does each member have a clear role? If not, how could you each define your role?
– What are some other ways to deal with competing desires and roles so that everyone gets a chance to do something important to contribute?

3. Is your child struggling with social awareness? It’s easy to get stuck in your own perspective if a group is taking sides. Help your child step out of that limited thinking by asking some of the following questions.
– What is the purpose of your group?
– What are the strengths of each of your teammates?
– What are challenges or limitations of your teammates? How can you best understand how those individuals feel about those limitations?
– If each person in the alliance must play a significant role in contributing to reaching your goal, how can each member contribute at least one of their strengths?

4. Is your child struggling with relationship skills? Alliances will certainly put communication skills to the test. Whether its listening effectively and with empathy or adding to the conversation in ways that are not offensive or blaming, it can be a real challenge to work as a team with those who have differing perspectives. Adults in the workplace have great challenges with this so children on teams have a significant opportunity to learn this skill in safe, low risk conditions. Try out some of these questions when you sense your child is challenged by relationship skills.
– Who are you struggling with?
– Why and how do they make you feel?
– What are their contributions to the team? If they are not currently contributing, what do they have the potential to contribute?
– How could you help them feel accepted and important to the team?
– How could you encourage them to make a contribution?

5. Is your child struggling with responsible decision making? Alliances often will have to make multiple decisions if they are attempting to achieve a goal working together. Perhaps, there are struggles with who gets to make the decisions or how they are made. Whether an individual is making a decision or a team is, there are numerous questions that will benefit the decision-makers to consider first before acting. It helps to consider other similar decisions that have already been made and the consequences of those actions to learn from others.
– The second graders built a simple machine as a team last year. What choices did
they make?
– What happened as a result of their choices?
– How did those choices affect the team?
– Was there any lasting impact on the project or on its team members?
– What can your team learn from their experiences?

Often, as parents, we hear secondhand about the challenges our children may have in the neighborhood with friends or with a group of students at school. We are placed in a position of limited knowledge since we were not a part of the situation. Asking kids good questions can not only lead to our better understanding but can also lead children to their own solutions for working together more effectively.

References

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved on 2-3-15 from

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/alliance.

Mattessich, P.W., Murray-Close, and M., Monsey, B.R. (2001). Collaboration: What Makes It Work (2nd Ed.) Saint Paul, MN: Fieldstone Alliance.

Trust, Teens and Technology

Trust, Teens and Tech by Jennifer Miller

Confident Parents, Confident Kids is delighted to publish a guest writer this week. Amy Williams is a journalist and former social worker, specializing in teen behavioral health. We live in a digital age and Amy believes that it’s time for parents and educators to let this truth impact the way we raise our children and Author_Amy Williamsteach our students. Having spent several years working one-on-one with teenagers, she has seen the impact that social media and the internet has had on their minds and emotions. Amy is passionate about this subject and works to inform and motivate others through her writing.

Trusting Teens with Technology
by Amy Williams

How can parents best create family rules without enticing teens to break them? According to the PEW Research Internet Project, it is estimated that 68% of parents claim to have incorporated rules about the types of internet sites their teens are allowed to visit. Most also have guidelines regarding what personal information gets shared online. Games are monitored as well with 67% of parents restricting what kinds of video games are or are not allowed to be played.

These numbers demonstrate that almost two-thirds of the parents surveyed believe that teens need structure and guidance when it comes to technology. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that teens will obey or follow these rules. A teen’s development naturally leads them to question their parents as they seek to find their identity. This pushes parents to an agonizing junction in their relationship with a teen. Technology can either hinder or enrich this process. One solution many guardians seek is to actively monitor their child’s technology use. This, in turn, raises the controversial and ethical topic of whether or not it’s okay to spy on a child.

Spying versus monitoring

Spying is often done behind closed doors and is secretive. This method banishes any sense of privacy and shoves a wedge between parents and teens, because it is based on a lack of trust. Family bonds might begin to crumble as teens struggle with developing anonymity. Rebellion and anger are often the result of spying- leading to a complete breakdown of communication.

Monitoring, however, refers to watching your children’s online activity without the covert aspect. Whether utilizing technology or just manually watching what they’re doing, this is not just a way of keeping track of your children, but oftentimes a necessity in light of the wide range of freedom offered by the internet. In almost all cases, it’s best to be up front with your teen about monitoring. Your oversight is a safety measure that allows teens to engage independently with technology. They are able to prove their responsibility and gain valuable experiences while maintaining privacy. It serves as merely a preventive technique for protection against predators and cyberbullies.

Monitoring provides lessons in communication for teens and offers parents a chance to connect with their children. The ideal way to monitor technology involves parents actively and openly communicating with their teens. This method requires a lot of dialogue, intentional interactions and proactive education.

What about privacy?

Unfortunately, the Internet is anything but private. Over the past few months, security breaches and hackers have taken away that illusion. It doesn’t matter what sites we visit, how strong our passwords are or if we create fake names- somewhere that information is stored eternally. People need to realize that online privacy is a myth and doesn’t really exist. Tell teens – there is no privacy.

Promoting trust

We know the job of a parent can be complex. Parents are often required to maneuver between caregiver, coach, disciplinarian and friend. But setting boundaries, maintaining a dialogue and offering independence can generate trust and a positive technology experiences for teens.

Listed below are some ideas to construct the ideal balance with technology and build a trusting relationship:

Be honest with your teen about the seriousness of online interactions. Teens are capable of understanding the consequences of their actions. Arm them with information about cyberbullies, sexting, predators and other concerns.

Tell them upfront you will be monitoring their activity, especially if you suspect a problem.

Together create guidelines for expectations and consequences of technology use. See CPCK’s Smart Home Media Use for a sample family media agreement.

Understand the person your child is becoming. Be involved. Know their friends, interests, concerns and activities. Make a special effort to listen without judgment to encourage your relationship.

Offer alternative activities and ways to communicate. Encourage social activities, family time and creative outlets.

Start young and teach social media etiquette. Children need to know what is and isn’t acceptable. How can they be safe online if they have never been taught?

Model appropriate technology use yourself. Parents are the first role models and teachers. Your children are watching you.

Ask questions about what they are doing online. Take an active interest and ask them about a new app or why they are giggling. Chances are it is only a silly Vine or YouTube video, but it will allow you a glimpse into their technology use.

“Friend” or follow your child on his favorite apps. This will allow you to text, message, or interact with each other online. As an added bonus, you will be able to see his or her other friends and interactions.

Allow them to be responsible for their devices. Use technology to teach life lessons. Your teen needs to handle his privilege with responsibility. If he cracks the screen, he should replace it. If he forgets to charge his laptop, it’s his job to tell teachers and accept the consequences.

And finally remember, everyone makes mistakes. There will be a slip up here and there.
Along the journey to adulthood, it is tempting to break a few rules now and then. A teen’s brain is still developing and the area that regulates sound judgment is the last lobe to mature. This opens children up for poor choices and hasty decisions, which can be documented forever with technology. It is a parent’s responsibility to guide children about handling technology appropriately while maintaining their trust.

For an outstanding read on the teenage brain, check out:
Siegal, D.J. (2013). Brainstorm; The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin Group.

For another article by Amy Williams, check out:

Digital Age Bullying and Prevention on Edutopia, The George Lucas Foundation’s Education site

Amy Williams lives in Los Angeles, California with her two teenage sons.

Planning for Snow Day Success

Snow Day Kid and Snowman by Jennifer Miller

When it snows, you have two choices: shovel or make snow angels.

- Author Unknown

School is closed due to weather conditions. Now what? As a kid, I was jumping for joy. I seem to have a singular moment when I look out at the beauty of a white winter and want to share that feeling of elation with my child over a snow day. But as a parent, often the burden of responsibility overtakes me. I feel disappointed (“But I had deadlines to meet.”), worried (“What am I going to do with E all day?”) and anxious (“I am going to get so far behind. How will I make up the time?”) Whether you are a working parent or a stay-at-home parent, that morning announcement of school closing dramatically changes the day ahead. I found myself with that very dilemma yesterday and as snow storms continue to rage, may be faced with it again soon. So how do we change gears quickly and make the most of the time at home with children? I am sharing my ideas and would love to hear yours as well for making the day enjoyable for all involved.

Since one activity probably will not get you through the day with children who may need multiple and varied activities to keep them busy, I’ve put together our home-tested ideas that might just contribute to your success.

Create a World. It’s amazing how toys that were new during the holiday season now seem not as interesting. Novelty can be created on a snow day to keep children engaged in imaginative play. Think about your child’s current and past passions. For us, this could involve Star Wars, cars, trains or animals. For friends of ours, it would more likely involve fairies, princesses and puppies. Involve your children in creating a world for the toys. We used our toy cars along with construction paper, tape, scissors and used paper towel rolls to build the town of Radiator Springs from the movie, Cars. We’ve made a jungle with animals and built an ocean with a beach out of similar materials. Yesterday we brought outE with trains old train tracks long packed away in a storage bin. E was completely entranced with building a train track system, revisiting an old passion. You might create a fairy treehouse out of paper and crayons. My child tends to not be interested in arts and crafts. However this kind of project will involve him for at least a good hour, often more. Get your child started with supplies and the first parts of their imaginative world and see if they don’t take over and create on their own. If you have mulitples, are there common or shared interests? The beach was created cooperatively with three children who were interested in different aspects of the ocean – one in mermaids, another in sharks and yet another in shells. With this engaging project, you may even get a little time in for yourself while they are building.

Move! Kids are going to need some physical movement during the day to get the wiggles out of them. Instead of allowing those wiggles to evolve into play that can be destructive to household items, plan for a time to move. For example, you could create a dance party. Let them select their favorite music and perhaps add instruments to the mix. Or you may want to make a bath and have your child practice kicking and floating in the water. If the temperature is not too low to be outside, bundle up and get serious about making snow angels, building a snowman or fort or sledding down a hill. If you plan for time to move, those potentially annoying wiggles will be directed into joyful and appropriate play.

Adult Time, Kid Quiet Time. Set expectations for all at the very beginning of the day that after lunch (or whenever it best works for you), there will be a quiet time for a designated period. Let kids know what they are permitted to do — watch a program, read, listen to quiet music, do puzzles. Whatever they choose, it can be quiet and on their own while you have some adult time. Get in a portion of the work you are missing so that you do not end the day frustrated by a lack of progress. Bask in the solace of some quiet time. If clear boundaries are set, children can also appreciate this time for calmer activities.

Contribute. Involve kids in one activity that contributes, however small, to your household. It could mean the creation of a “Welcome home from work, Dad!” banner. You could bake cookies or bread together allowing kids to measure and add ingredients. You could pick a room to clean up or organize together. Do a load of laundry. Or simply work on getting dishes washed and dried as a parent-child team. Children have a greater sense of gratitude for their home and their family lives when they are involved in contributing to them. If you can find a way to accomplish a goal on your list and involve your children in contribution, so much the better!

Simmer down. After all of these activities, you and your children may be ready to simmer down. Getting them back into your typical dinner and bedtime routine on a school night will help them mentally prepare for the end of the day and the return to school the following morning.

If you think in advance about an agenda for a snow day, you may find that instead of entering the day with dread or worry, you enter with hopes for a positive experience with your children. Relax and know that there are activities that will engage them and balance their high energy with needs for calmer, relaxing time. If you have other plans for snow day success, I hope you will share them so that we all can learn and expand our repertoire! Here’s to finding joy in the snow days to come!