Elements of a Confident Kid… Saying “No!”

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer Miller

Elements...Saying %22No!%22 Illustration by Jennifer Miller


- used to give a negative answer or reply to a question, request, or offer 1

About Children and the Evolution of “No.”

If your child was anything like mine between the ages of two and three, “No! No! No!” was a favorite and often used word. For the most part, while children are in their early school years, we want them to say “Yes!” — Yes to learning challenges, to making new friends and to our requests. And then, when they reach the tween and teen years, our children face high risk challenges such as peer pressure, substance use and sexual identity formation and exploration. In those years, we want them to be clear on when and how to say “No.” But there is no such thing as “Just saying no to drugs.” Children who have the ability to say “No.” when the stakes are high have had plenty of practice throughout their childhood to assert their needs, beliefs and choices in small ways. A confident kid has those opportunities to say no to friends who want her to leave the yard without telling an adult, to a teacher when she has not done her homework (and accepts the consequences) and to a parent offering seconds at dinner when she has a full belly.

Strategies for Promoting Assertiveness and the Ability to Say “No”

Parents can model assertiveness by setting and being consistent with boundaries, a critical part of a parent’s role. Families can be clear about which rules are “untouchable,” in other words, there will be no changes or negotiations. Those rules are often related to a child’s safety. For example, we don’t leave our house on a bike without a helmet.

Parents can also play the role of coach when a child comes to them with a social dilemma. Perhaps a close friend was being mean to another at recess and your son didn’t know what to say or do. Instead of skipping to a solution, play coach. Here are a few easy steps you can take.

  • Deeply listen to what your child is saying. Wait until they have fully finished their story.
  • Ask clarifying questions so that you allow your child to tell as much of the story as possible.
  • Ask him, “What were you feeling when that happened?”
  • If he is unable to articulate what he was feeling, offer a feeling guess in a question format. For example, “It sounds like you were worried about the other child and confused about what to do. Is that right? Was there anything else you were feeling?”

Then, you might ask, “What could you have said to the child who was being mean? What could you have said to the child who was on the receiving end?” Allow your child thinking time. If possible, encourage several ideas versus just one.

This kind of coaching can allow a child to reflect deeply on a situation and help him internalize values and beliefs about what he feels is right and wrong. It also helps him to begin to shape how his actions can be informed by those values and beliefs. This can be a powerful way for a parent to teach responsible decision making and support a child’s moral development.

John Gottman, author of the book Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child; The Heart of Parenting,2 found in his research that children who were coached about their emotions in their early life internalized the ability to pick up on social cues and express emotions appropriately and communicate them effectively later in the tween and teen years.

Create practice opportunities. Look for ways in which your child can assert herself. Encourage conversations with other adults. For instance, when speaking with neighbors include your child in the conversation. Model and then allow your child to order from the menu at a restaurant. Offering chances to speak in simple ways among adults can go a long way toward giving your child the confidence to be assertive in a variety of settings. Practice with your child saying “No” when there are small disagreements between friends. Children benefit by hearing simple language they can use. “I can’t go to the park without an adult.”

Begin to talk with children at every age each time they come to a situation in which they are confused or the path is unclear. And talking about peer pressure can begin as soon as children are in school since they may feel compelled to actions simply because others are making a particular choice. Practice words your child can use. “No, I don’t want to do that.” Teach your child to respect when others tell them “No” the very first time it’s said. “No, I don’t want to be tickled.” No really does mean no. Children need practice respecting others wishes when they say “No.”

Cultivate a responsive environment. When children do assert themselves, take them seriously. You may not agree with what they are saying and you may not allow them to do what they are asserting, however they likely have strong feelings and need to express them. Allowing your child to be heard when they are asserting themselves makes them feel like they have a voice and can use it when they feel strongly about a situation. You can model respectful assertions and encourage them to do the same. A good rule of thumb in any household is “Do no harm through words or actions.”

Saying “No” when something is not right can be a true challenge for adults in social situations more less your child who is still learning to navigate friendships and social groups. Provide a safe space for practice at home and you will prepare your children with this critical life skill.


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

2. Gottman, J. (1997). Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child; The Heart of Parenting. NY: Simon and Schuster.

“Tough Talks: Having the ‘Sex Talk’ With Your Child” on NBC’s Parent Toolkit

me and e pic for hello post 001

NBC’s Parent Toolkit began a new blog series today entitled, “Tough Talks” in which they plan to tackle some of the most challenging conversations parents will have with their children. The first in this series highlights how you can talk about sexuality. CPCK’s Author, Jennifer Miller weighed in on the topic along with other Parent Toolkit experts including Dr. Michelle Borba, a parenting expert and regular TODAY Show Contributor.FB_1200x628_PTAPP-1

“If you look closely, you will find that there will be natural entry points to start these discussions,” says Miller. “It doesn’t have to be a dramatic sit-down conversation, but a drip of information as they encounter different issues and situations.”

For the full article, visit the NBC Education Nation’s “Parent Toolkit” blog.




New Social and Emotional Development Section on NBC’s Parent Toolkit


In support of Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, NBC News launched a Social & Emotional section on its award-winning Parent Toolkit website – a one-stop online resource available in English and Spanish – for parents navigating their children’s development in the classroom and beyond. Produced by NBC News’ Education Nation and sponsored by Pearson, the new section contains tips on how to improve emotional competency, relationship-building and social skills. Based on research about emotional intelligence – a concept popularized in 1995 by Daniel Goldman, author and co-founder of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) – the new section features guides, broken down by grade level, to help parents with their child’s social and emotional development. Concepts highlighted in the section are based on CASEL’s five interrelated sets of competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. The new section also features insights and advice from teachers, academic and parenting experts including Jennifer Miller of Confident Parents, Confident Kids and renowned research centers, including the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and The Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab. The Social & Emotional section is available for Android devices on the Parent Toolkit App, and will launch on iOs devices later this month.

The Parent Toolkit team has created a new Facebook page in conjunction with the launch of this new section. The hope is to build on the success of the site to further engage parents in a conversation about steps that they can take to best support their children. They would love for you to add your voice to the conversation. In addition to their new Facebook page, they are continuing to host monthly #ToolkitTalks on Twitter. Since October is National Bullying Prevention Month, they will spend this month’s talk discussing bullying. Please join us on Tuesday, October 28 at 7 pm EST for another powerful conversation. And watch for the announcement for November’s Twitter Chat for which Jennifer Miller will help lead a discussion on “Raising Thankful Children.”

Using the Toolkit, parents can also access academic benchmarks and tips focused on math, English language arts, and health and wellness for pre-k through high school. Plans to enhance the website and app include original video content, which will be included next year.

Confident Parents, Confident Kids Turns Two!

CPCK Two Year Blog-iversary Illustration by Jennifer Miller


It’s Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ two year blog-iversary! It’s been a big year moving from 275 followers to 19,208 (nearly 20,000 strong!). NBC Universal’s Education Nation’s Parent Toolkit now links to this site as a resource and followers include organizations making a significant contribution to families including the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), Harvard School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project, Committee for Children, Random Acts of Kindness Foundation and more.

In recognizing this milestone, I want to thank all of those who have played major roles in its success. I want to particularly thank my editor extraordinaire, Linda Smith (or as I affectionately refer to her, “Mom”) who now edits two articles every week for me on top of articles for other sites that I write. I could not hire someone who is as skilled of an editor as she. Thank you sincerely for sharing your talents. Thank you to my husband, Jason and son, E for acting as regular guinea pigs participating in games and other trial tests for upcoming articles! Particular thank yous go out to those who have read, shared, and commented extensively including David Smith, Roger Weissberg, Shannon Wanless, Sharon Perez, Kimberly Allison, Julie Iven, Susie Fabro and Jeanne Osgood. And thank you, readers for your ongoing dialogue, thoughtful comments and participation. Some of those regular readers, commenters and supporters are depicted in the illustration above.

There are two ways you can help me celebrate this milestone.

1. Share your feedback.

The site is only successful if I keep in touch with what is important to you. Please take a moment and reply in the comment section to any or all of the following questions.

- What keeps you up at night?
– What are your greatest challenges as a parent?
– What are your hopes and dreams for your children – and how do you need support
in preparing them for success?
– Are there any specific topics you would like to see covered or particular social and
emotional skills you want to learn more about?

2. Share the site.

If you’ve enjoyed or benefitted from this site, please consider sharing it with friends, family or colleagues. You can cut and paste the following statement, if helpful, into an email, tweet or post. Help me reach 20,000 followers! And see below to find me on Twitter and Facebook.

I thought you might be interested in the site, Confident Parents, Confident Kids. It offers practical weekly ideas for teaching our kids critical social and emotional skills in busy family life. These skills include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, interpersonal communications and responsible decision-making. Sign up on the right side of the site under “Follow via Email” to receive weekly updates and articles.

Find me on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/confidentparentsconfidentkids
Find me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JenniferSMiller

Here are some of the site statistics:


113 Posts

147 Countries Viewed (out of a total of 196 in the world)

25,312 Total Views

15,821 U.S. Views


And the top ten most popular posts are listed below. If you missed one, check it out!

1. Parent-Teacher Conversations
2. Cultivating a Sense of Competence
3. Expanding the Circle: Teaching Your Children Inclusion
4. Smart Home Media Use: Limiting Screen Time
5. The Power of Self-Control
6. The Fear of Failure
7. Let the Games Begin!
8. The Mask of Anger
9. Weapon Play and Villians
10. Mine, Yours and Ours

Thanks again! And cheers to you, Confident Parents and your Confident Kids!

Persistence through Life’s Adventures

Learning to ride a bike illustr by Jennifer Miller

Our bravest and best lessons are not learned through success, but through misadventure.

- Amos Bronson Alcott

“The driveway is too bumpy.” “I hate wearing bike helmets!” and “I don’t want to ride with training wheels” are all of the “reasons” my son vehemently cites for not learning to ride a bike when his friends take off at top speed on theirs. This concerns me not because riding a bike without training wheels is so crucial but because learning requires practice and persistence. At times, my son wants to demonstrate mastery before he’s really tried. He gives up quickly, frustrated and embarrassed. A not-so-closet perfectionist myself, I worry that I might be modeling competence but leaving out the hard journey I took to get there. This is the same boy, however, who will dig in his heels and search for a single Lego piece until it is found, no matter how long it takes. “Don’t give up, Mom! I will never give up!” he asserts as focused and determined as any predator stalking his prey. His sense of agency, or will power, at times, astounds me. So I must ask, what helps a child persist toward a goal? What promotes, as researchers are now calling it, “grit”? Why are children doggedly determined in some pursuits and not in others? And how can a parent cultivate that force when it comes to the highest learning priorities?

Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset, writes that it’s all about our attitudes toward a challenge, both your thoughts and feelings.1 Some children will approach a difficult puzzle with excitement and as the difficulty increases, so too does their involvement and motivation to figure it out. Dweck refers to this as a “growth mindset.” The learner believes that with time and effort, she can achieve anything. Other children will take one look at a difficult puzzle and make the decision that it’s unconquerable and not worth the effort. Dweck refers to this attitude as a “fixed mindset.” Circumstances outside of my control or just the way I am and will always be determine whether I can meet a challenge or not. Though I suspect interest level in the challenge at hand makes a significant contribution to a child’s motivation to work hard on it, there are attitudes that either support digging in or giving up. The great news is that these thoughts and feelings related to how a child approaches a challenge can be learned, developed and changed over time. So how can parents support a growth mindset? How can they promote perseverance when a challenge only gets tougher?

Promote an “I can.” belief. Negative self-talk such as “There’s no way I can do that.” can prevent a child or an adult from working toward a goal. There may be an internal dialogue that your child is privy to and you are not. So ask. “How are you feeling about this challenge?” Also let them know that you are certain they can master it. Try to break down practice into the smallest steps possible and recognize the accomplishment of each small step. Follow each success with “See — you can.”

Notice effort. Recognize the process over the product. We tend to be product-oriented at school, in our work and in our daily lives. It’s easy to point to an end product and evaluate it. And that’s just what your child is afraid of. So downplay the final product. Focus your comments more on the effort they engage in and the process they are taking to reach their goal. “I notice you returned to your paper each night this week. You are really working hard.”

Model persistence and share others success stories. As adults, we may tend to share our triumphs and the “happy endings” of long-fought stories, but be aware that sharing your set-backs along the way is just as important. Share other success stories too of people who failed or made mistakes and still persevered. Sports offers a vast array of examples in this area. My baseball fan husband reminds E that even professional batters strike out more than they hit.

Talk about the problem as temporary. The “fixed” mindset sees problems as permanent fixtures and out of their control. The “growth” mindset views challenges as passing issues that they can address and change. Focus on logical next steps your child can take.

Find multiple ways to practice – and make it fun. Practice can be difficult when a child feels like he’s being watched. Remove the audience even if its siblings. Give him the time and space to try whatever it is judgement-free. If you can make a game out of practicing and incorporate fun, you will help provide motivation to engage in the activity.

Build on a sense of agency. All children have a desire for autonomy and competence. If your child has ever adamantly opposed your directions, take that as a sign she has a healthy sense of agency. Though not always ready to make particular choices, children – just as adults – have the desire to do things on their own – and on their own terms. Remind your child of the times she dug in and wouldn’t give up. Perhaps she wanted blueberry muffins for a snack and was willing to do the hard work of helping make them, waiting for them to bake and cleaning up afterward. Those stories can be told to reinforce the fact that she has the strength and desire to persist if she makes up her mind that she’s going to do something.

Visualize success. Visualization can be a powerful tool for achieving a goal. In a quiet time, you can facilitate a visualization by closing eyes and asking what life would look like, feel like and be like if she achieved her goal. The more specific she can get, the more details she will uncover that can serve as ingredients for her success.

Cultivate gratefulness. Appreciation of what we have in life – our relationships, our homes, the food we eat, the toys we play with – can help promote optimism in every aspect of life. Find a regular time each day to discuss what you are grateful for and see how it affects your children’s attitudes. E and I share “happy thoughts” each night before bedtime as a way to note all of the events that occurred and people we encountered that we appreciated.

Assemble a temporary goal support group. If a particular learning goal is a sensitive issue, you may have to play “covert ops” on this one. Inform people in your child’s life privately (when your son is not around) about his goal. Ask if there are ways they might positively encourage practice or provide inspiration. Grandparents can be particularly skilled at offering opportunities to practice in the guise of fun.

And what if your child has a frustration tantrum?

Take a break. If your child is highly frustrated or upset about not achieving her goal, take a break. Cool down. Get away from the project. Exercise. Get fresh air. A highly emotional child is not going to bring her full mental abilities to the task if she is upset. Trying to stick with it in a time of high emotion can actually exacerbate the problem and lessen motivation in the future. Find time for a real break so that she can return feeling better and ready to persist.

And what if your child refuses to try when it relates to homework or learning academic content that is required for school?

Accept consequences and allow failure. As harsh as it may seem, we cannot and should not protect our children from every failure. If we learn our greatest lessons from missteps and failures, then, as parents, difficult as it may be, we must know when to step back and allow our child to experience the consequences of a decision like giving up. If it’s work for school that your child refuses to do, you can always communicate through a note or email with the teacher the situation and that you are hoping that the consequences will allow your child to fully experience what happens when they refuse to do their work.

I typically listen to jazz as I write. Today, as I wrote this article, I couldn’t help but notice the background music that was playing and took a moment to read the bio of the musician. At age nineteen, Melody Gardot, a college student studying fashion design, was riding her bike down a Philadelphia street and was blind-sided by a car and left for dead. She was hospitalized for months with head and body injuries. And while on her hospital bed, she wrote and recorded songs that served as a comfort to her. She now lives her life with hypersensitivity to light and noise and needs a cane to walk. Yet she has also released numerous albums and has become a respected vocalist. As I listened, her voice had a depth of soul that I rarely experience. This story of her persistence despite great challenges reminds me what a gift life is and what a gift being a parent is. I know my son will learn to ride a bike. And my confidence in his ability to learn will go a long way toward making it a reality. Meanwhile, I will look for moments to find joy in practicing.



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

NBC Universal’s Education Nation “Parent Toolkit” Features Blog Article by CPCK’s Author, Jennifer Miller


NBC Universal’s Education Nation “Parent Toolkit” published an article today by Jennifer Miller on their blog entitled “A Better Version of Yourself.” It highlights what you can do as a parent to deal with anger and anxiety in the heat of the moment with your children.

From “A Better Version of Yourself“:

As parents, we will all have our share of times when we lose our “cool” and are thoroughly uncertain about what to do next. Handling your most heated emotions can be one of the greatest tests of character. But if we have established a plan in advance to deal with anger or anxiety, we will not only act with emotional intelligence, but also model the ways in which we hope to teach our children to handle their emotions.

Click on this link to view the full article. Also, while you are visiting http://www.parenttoolkit.com, check out the rest of the site. There are academic and health and wellness developmental indicators by grade level. You can look up your child’s grade and gain ideas for supporting them in their physical and academic development.

And coming soon — the social and emotional development section should be released sometime in mid-October.

A Storied Childhood; The Impact of Stories on Children’s Social and Emotional Development

Mom and Son Reading Together illust by Jennifer Miller

Oh the places you’ll go! The worlds you will visit! The friends you will know!

- Dr. Seuss1

“What are you guys up to?” I say to the three six year old friends in my living room. “We’re sharing our books!” one says with an “Isn’t it obvious?” tone. Reading is a top priority in the early elementary school years with some states enforcing a reading guarantee (“All kids will read with proficiency by the third grade.”). And so at times it feels, the pressure is on. “Mama, I feel with my whole body that I won’t learn to read,” E said to me at age five. Yet, we have read together since the days when he was swimming in amniotic fluid. “Oh, the Places You Will Go!” was our favorite. We have books in every room of the house. We’ve read several books together every day of his life. But he has a mounting anxiety around learning to read. Perhaps because it is so much a part of our lives, he feels the importance of reading. But also, I suspect that school is pushing hard to make sure he hurries his learning pace. He’s not alone. A worried mother recently confided in me, “I’ve had my son going to a tutor all summer because I’m told he has to read by the time he starts first grade!”

Yes, learning to read is certainly important but how children learn to read is just as important. Take into consideration that no other single experience brings us into other people’s lives and simultaneously holds up a mirror to our own in the way that a book does. Stories are fundamentally tied to our self-identity and empathy for and understanding of others.

Through the imaginative process that reading involves, children have the
opportunity to do what they often cannot do in real life—become thoroughly
involved in the inner lives of others, better understand them, and eventually
become more aware of themselves.

writes Dr. Zipora Shechtman in her book, Treating Child and Adolescent Aggression Through Bibilotherapy.2 Books allow us to venture far from home and experience trials that threaten to annihilate us and the world we live in and yet, persevere through our alter-ego protagonist.

The forces of good and evil battle it out daily after school in our living room. I watch as, time and again, my now seven year old son recreates and reinvents stories with his beloved Star Wars characters and his favorite plot lines. Stories play a central role in the formation of children’s moral development. Readers follow a protagonist through epic journeys and cringe as they are injured or fail in their pursuits. But, in children’s books, the protagonist never gives up. Most often on the side of what is right and good, poetic justice reigns and in the end, evil is overcome. We empathize with complex characters who are required to make choices in the midst of uncertain times and circumstances. In the best literature, questions are asked and left unanswered for the thoughtful reader to consider. “Why did she leave her family? Was it the right thing to do?” This “meaning making” is what brings the rush of joy and connection and desire for more. It fuels imagination. It expands our minds to think creatively. Our emotional and cognitive intelligence is challenged and we are required to think for ourselves.

By grappling with dilemmas and difficult choices, we form our sense of what we believe is just and also, what defines the dark side. We are able to become more thoughtful decision-makers through those experiences. In a compelling tale, readers will deeply empathize with the character’s struggle to control his impulses. It’s good for adults and valuable practice for all children who are developing their ability to manage themselves.

In addition, stories allow us to take the perspective of another in a deeply personal way. We read their private thoughts. We understand their values and the back story that shaped them. And we watch as they choose behaviors that either reflect or fight against their beliefs and self-concept. We root for the hero because we become the hero for the time that we are emersed in his story. We come to know and understand other cultures through the vicarious experience of living another’s life.

Story, in other words, continues to fulfill its ancient functioning of binding
society by reinforcing a set of common values and strengthening the ties of
common culture…Story – sacred and profane – is perhaps the main cohering
force in human life.2

Though educators know that there are a combination of exercises, skills and experiences that will develop a reader, no one really knows what precise combination of working on rhyming, phonics, vocabulary and comprehension will bring about proficiency. In fact, it’s different for every learner. But certainly key ingredients in the success formula must be children’s social and emotional development. Parents can worry less and experience more the joy and adventure because they read with their children.

Share oral stories with one another. Use books without words and make up stories together. Visit the library and encourage your children to explore subjects and stories that intrigue them. Ask questions about characters and leave them open-ended for discussion. “Why do you think he made that decision?” Predict outcomes. “What do you think will happen next?” Never miss a day of reading with your child. Bedtime is a perfect opportunity to snuggle together and feel the power of story wash over you.

We, as parents, have the opportunity to balance out the pressures that kids often feel at school to learn the mechanics. Our role can be to give them the joy of reading. Doing this together as a family and as a parent and child can be the most valuable way to show a child the role story can play in connecting to others and shaping and enriching a life.


1. Seuss, D. (1990) Oh The Places You’ll Go! NY: Random House.

2. Shechtman, Z. (2009). Treating Child and Adolescent Aggression through Bibliotherapy. The Springer Series on Human Exceptionality.

3. Gottschall, J. (2012). The Storytelling Animal; How Stories Make Us Human. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

For other great articles on this topic, check out:

Parents Make Bedtime a Social-Emotional Moment with Your Kids by Maurice Elias and Jennifer Miller

From Committee for Children, Using Children’s Literature to Build Social and Emotional Skills by Trudy Ludwig.

Using Literary Characters to Teach Emotional Intelligence by Traci Vogel

Elements of a Confident Kid… Skilled Communicator

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer Miller

Elements...skilled communicator illust by Jennifer Miller

/ke myu ne kate/

to get someone to understand your thoughts and feelings1

A confident kid is also a skilled communicator. Being able to communicate effectively with others can determine a child’s ability to successfully pursue friendships, school assignments, career goals and family relationships. Certainly communication is learned through modeling – by watching others at home and school. But so often, people talk over one another. They look at their phone while another is engaging them in conversation. They have the television on and tempt the listener to divide attention away from the speaker. So what does it take to be a skilled communicator? First, it takes practice and intentionality since we may not typically be in the habit of modeling skilled communication in our home lives. The skilled communicator

- uses language that is understandable to the listener.
– expresses thoughts and feelings through words and nonverbal expressions to provide meaning.
– listens well, deeply and completely.
– asks clarifying questions to better understand the other person.
– rephrases what the other has said to check for understanding.
– listens to the words and notices the tone of voice, body posture, facial expressions and emotional cues to make meaning.
– provides empathetic comments that focus on the other person and what they have
shared (versus comments that refocus the conversation on yourself and your own
– realizes that there are differing communication styles and ways of expressing emotion and works at understanding the differences in order to make connections.

Cultures also vary widely in the way that they communicate emotion. Some feel communicating any emotion at all is embarrassing or a sign of weakness. Others would not enter a conversation without including emotions as critical clues to the meaning behind what they are saying. So it takes additional effort, focus and skill to be able to communicate with people of different cultures. Sally Planalp, author of Communicating Emotion; Social, Moral and Cultural Processes writes, “…supported by much research, communicating emotion between cultures seems to be easy at a relatively superficial level and quite difficult at a deeper and more subtle level, just as it is within cultures.” 2 Families each have their own culture using language and a communication style that is different, though it may be subtle, from neighborhoods, school friends or work colleagues. An awareness that communication is fundamental to relationships and requires some effort is an important step toward helping your family become better communicators.

Strategies to Promote Skilled Communication

For Adults with Kids:

Position Yourself on Eye Level – If you are having a conversation with your child, be sure and get down on their eye level. Pull up a chair or sit on the floor (if you can!). Your child may be more willing to share thoughts and feelings with you because he/she feels more of a sense of control when you are meeting eye to eye.

Use Blocks to Facilitate Conversation – When talking at the dinner table, bring a stack of blocks. Start a conversation and lay down the first block. As each person adds to the conversation, they can contribute by placing on the next block. The tower may fall apart if the speaker does not connect their comments or questions to what was said before them. This terrific idea is borrowed from Responsive Classroom educators Kathleen Sheehy and Emily Young, who use this approach in their classrooms. 3

Employ the “Me too!” Rule – Another idea from Sheehy and Young is the “Me too!” rule. It’s human nature to want to make connections to what a person is saying. Sometimes, we are overcome with excitement wanting to share that “I too” love guinea pigs, for example. Establish a family symbol for “Me too!” and use it whenever there is a temptation to interrupt. It could be a “thumbs up” or a raised hand.

Play “Pass the Story” – Kids love this game because they have a well-rehearsed sense of imagination. Start off a story with one sentence. “There once was a green skunk who liked libraries…” Each person gets to contribute one sentence to build upon the last. See what kind of interesting story you can create collaboratively. This game offers practice in listening for meaning and taking turns speaking.

For Adults to Practice:

Pause – First, notice how often you pause to think after something has been said in a conversation. Try to add a pause before speaking. It may feel awkward at first. But it allows the speaker to fully get out what they are trying to say. And then, it provides the empty space for thinking about what has been said. For more on the importance of wait times in dialogue, check out “The Chance to Wait.”

Take the “Name the Feeling” Challenge – For most, this will not come naturally so it requires practice. Add feeling words to your conversations. You will be modeling a feelings vocabulary for your children. You’ll also provide the listener with critical insights into what you are saying beyond the thoughts you are expressing.

Assume the Best Intentions – When entering a conversation with a spouse or child, assume only the best first. They may have made mistakes in the past that are putting you on guard. However if you start the conversation with caution and anxiety, the other is going to feel on guard as well. It’s likely you will not be able to achieve what you want to with the conversation because the listener is not as likely to share their deeper thoughts and feelings when there’s distrust from the onset.

Being a skilled communicator can help you and your children in every aspect of getting along and working together to achieve individual and family goals. These simple exercises will help you and your children hone your skills together.


1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved on 9-30-14 on http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/communicate.

2. Planalp, S. (1999). Communicating Emotion; Social, Moral and Cultural Processes. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

3. Sheehy, K. and Young, E. (2014). Teaching Skillful Communication; A Standards-based Approach to Morning Meeting Sharing. Responsive Classroom Newsletter, Summer, 2014. https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/article/teaching-skillful-communication

Setting Up for Homework Success

Setting up for homework success by Jennifer Miller

 I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.

- Pablo Picasso

“I am not doing my homework. No way!” said E. If you have school-age children, certainly a similar refrain has been asserted in your household – possibly on numerous occasions and maybe even every night after school. Education Week recently highlighted a study by the National Center on Families Learning who found that 60% of American families surveyed struggled to help their children with their homework.1

Additionally, more than 25 percent* admit the reason is that they are too
busy, up from just over 20 percent in 2013. Parents also identified not understanding the subject matter (33.5 percent) and pushback from their kids (41 percent) as reasons for having trouble with homework help.2

Though educators may debate the merit of homework, it is a reality for most children and their parents. And some times homework is not enjoyable for kids. The tasks are typically reinforcing and practicing new material delivered during the school day. They may be challenging for a child who has only done the work along with his classmates and teacher’s assistance to try applying new concepts on his own. He may have low to no motivation, feeling embarrassed to be uncertain and making mistakes in front of his “all-knowing” parents.

Though schools focus mostly on ensuring kids get their homework accomplished, parents are thrown into the world of homework with little to no communication about the teacher’s hopes or expectations for their role. Entering first grade this year, we heard from E’s new teacher, “There will be homework each night,” but that was the extent of our guidance. So we are left to our own devices to figure out what role to play and how to be the best support at home.

There are numerous ways that you can set your child up for homework success. Here are a few ideas.

Adopt a learning attitude.
We, as parents, bring our own attitudes about homework to our children’s experience. From my high school days, I can’t seem to shake the terror of reaching 9:00 p.m. the night before the due date of a long-term project. I had no clue how to tackle it and had barely begun. I have to really watch that my own sigh is not voiced when it’s time to get homework done. I know if my words and actions convey that homework is a drag, my son is certainly is going to view it in the same way. That attitude will add to our collective struggle to get it accomplished. Homework can be a critical step in the learning process for kids if viewed in that light. They’ve had support all day and now they have to take those new skills and apply them on their own. I remind myself of this and try to bring an attitude of confidence with an assertion that it’s essential to learning. This is the attitude I want my son to internalize so I know it’s the attitude I have to first model and project as he attempts the learning challenges before him.

Allow for choices and set expectations.
Before establishing a homework routine, ask your child’s preferences. You may want to ask the following.

How do you want to spend your time after school?
Would you like a snack first?
Do you want to change into play clothes first?
Do you want time to rest or run outside and play?
Considering all of the activities that typically take place after school, when is the best time for you to do homework?

E choose to do homework while I am preparing dinner and after he’s had a snack, changed clothes and had time to play. I was a child who liked to get my homework done immediately so that I could have the rest of the night free. Allowing choice will add to children’s sense of control and motivation to do the work during the allotted time. If, after a time, it doesn’t seem to be working, you can always re-evaluate together. Make adjustments. If you can be collaborative about setting up the time and space for homework, your child will be more likely to feel a sense of ownership over the process and less like they must battle you each night.

Use a timer.MagicTimer
Take note of when your child has said it’s his best time of the afternoon/evening to do homework. Set a timer to go off at that time. Instead of you calling, “Time for homework!” which may incite a battle, an inanimate, dispassionate object is alerting him. You can use a kitchen timer outside or inside. If you are consistent about the homework routine, it can serve as a predictable, non-negotiable process. Your child knows what to expect and when to expect it.

Set up a conducive space.
It doesn’t matter whether you have the perfect desk or not. What matters is that your child has a designated cleaned off, consistent space in which to do homework. And that he have the tools necessary to complete the work. Create that space in your living area or in a place near to what you will be doing. E’s place is set up on our dining room table. I can cook dinner next door in the kitchen and easily walk in and out to see if he needs support. Decide together on the tools you’ll need at the ready in advance. Here are some space considerations.

  • Make certain that it’s a well-lit space. If not, then get a task lamp to utilize for homework.
  • Provide a hard work surface on which to write. Make sure the surface can get dirty with glue, markers or other mediums used.
  • Provide all likely homework tools (pencil, crayons, glue stick, markers, ruler, abacus, highlighter, dictionary, calculator).
  • Eliminate distractions from the work space (books, other papers, magazines, toys).
  • Create a folder or binder for all returned papers including graded homework. Keep it handy so that if it could help your child to refer back to a lesson, they can easily look up prior work.
  • Make sure it’s a quiet space. Turn off televisions or radios. Create rules for siblings about playing in other spaces and respecting homework quiet time.

Consider your role in assisting.
How much do you want to help? What level of involvement should you have in completing assignments? What if your child just can’t figure out what they are doing? If learning is the ultimate objective of homework, then the majority of figuring out needs to come from the child. You can facilitate that learning by asking good questions, leading them to resources and as is our case right now, helping sound out words. Providing answers does not help a child learn. But what if you see a mistake? It may be wise to ask your child to reconsider her answer and ask questions about how she might rethink her answer. But what if she refuses to rethink her mistake? The best way to ensure that she learns is to allow her to make mistakes so that they can be corrected by her teacher. It may help clue her teacher into the fact that she needs more support in this area. Mistakes can be a critical part of the learning process.

And what if their homework exceeds your ability to help? I realize that someday math homework certainly will exceed my abilities to understand and contribute without fully re-learning calculus myself. So what do you do? Make sure that her texts, formulas and explanations are at the ready. Encourage your child to do her research. If you don’t understand something, get in the habit of looking it up. Researching it with her can show her how to find key points to apply to her work. If the work is continually challenging to her and to you, communicate with the teacher. Ask if the teacher feels she might need extra support. The teacher may provide comfort by letting you know that all students are struggling. Or else, he may suggest that your child receive tutoring or time with an intervention specialist to get the help she needs to be successful.

Communicate with the teacher during parent-teacher conferences.
Parent-teacher conferences are an opportune time to discuss homework. Ask how the teacher perceives your child is doing on homework. And ask if there are any recommendations she might make on how you can support homework at home? Including a conversation about homework in your parent-teacher conference can help give the teacher insight on what is taking place at home and also, give you valuable input on her expectations. For parents who want to read more on Parent-Teacher conferences, check out “Parent-Teacher Conversations.” For educators, check out The Harvard Family Research Project’s list of five resources to support educators in their conversations with parents on student progress. 

And what if there is a frustration tantrum?
You hear a yell, “I just can’t do it!” Perhaps a pencil is flung across the room startling you out of your cooking revery. What do you do? If your child is passionately upset, then take a break. Move away from the homework space. Get a drink. Walk outside. Look at a favorite book. Cool off. She is not going to get anywhere with her homework in that state. Take as long as she needs to really cool down. Then, before returning to work, talk about what was frustrating her. Ask questions about her struggles so that before going back, you can consider how you might support her.

And what if he refuses to do homework?
If, after all of your diligent preparations and adoption of a stellar learning attitude, he still refuses to do his homework then, the response can be simple: “I’ve done what I can to help set you up for success. Now it’s up to you. It’s your homework, your grade. If you do not do your homework, you will need to accept the consequences from your teacher, whatever they may be.”

It’s never too late to start this process. If you are already struggling, introduce the conversation when you are not under pressure by saying, “It’s been tough each time you have to get homework accomplished. I want to help but I also need your ideas. How can we make homework time better?”

Homework is such a common struggle amongst parents because we do not have much support in understanding their role. Set your child and yourself up for homework success with these simple steps and see if the process can go smoothly most nights in your household. Homework can be a small way to practice working toward and achieving bigger learning goals. If you make it a positive experience, your children will be ready to take the risks necessary for their next developmental challenges.



1. Reid, K. S. (2014). Survey Finds More Parents Troubled by their Children’s Homework. Education Week, September 19. Retrieved on September 25, 2104.

2. National Center for Families Learning. (2014). Annual Survey on Parents and Homework. Google Consumer Surveys, August 12, 2014, to August 22, 2014, based on 1,039 online responses,


Element of a Confident Kid… Brainstormer

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer Miller

Elements...brainstormer Illustr by Jennifer Miller

/brain storm/

: an idea that someone thinks of suddenly

A brainstormer sees differences, complexities and multiple perspectives. She finds many sides to any issue, not one or two. It is no accident that as children become more adept at taking other’s perspectives, they also begin to think in greater abstractions and less in literal terms. Children below the age of five may feel there is one way to do things. Do you remember the “I do it myself!” stage? But as children move through ages 5-7, they begin to use symbols to represent concepts such as a math equation where 2 + 2 = 4. Socially, they see that the other child may have ideas about playing with a set of Legos that might be different from their own and have the ability to learn from those ideas.

A developing confident kid is one who is able to see that there are numerous sides to most issues. And there are as many perspectives as there are people in any given room. Children can fall into competitive cycles in which they only see their own side. And in sports, sometimes that’s useful. But in problem-solving, it’s not. Children need practice in thinking about the varied ways they might solve a problem. This creative thinking can spur them to ideas, dreams and inspirations that can contribute to their school lives, their imaginative play and their success later in the workplace and in their relationships. Imagine your son all grown up and with his spouse. She comes to him with a serious dilemma that threatens to unseat the firm foundation of their relationship. Your son, practiced in the art of brainstorming, will have the ability to think of the world of options in collaboration with his partner. He’ll be able to hear and attempt to understand her perspective before making any decisions that could affect their future together.

Our willingness to acknowledge that we only see half the picture creates the
conditions that make us more attractive to others. The more sincerely we acknowledge our need for their different insights and perspectives, the more they will be magnetized to join us.

- Margaret J. Wheatley

Strategy to practice brainstorming:
In order to practice brainstorming, you must understand the rules first.

1. Think of as many ideas as possible. Get creative.

2. Acknowledge that every idea is valid.

3. No criticisms or judgements of an idea should be made until all thoughts are articulated.

4. Piggybacking on someone else’s ideas is encouraged.

Practice brainstorming in simple ways. Make it a dinnertime or road trip game. Use the aforementioned rules with your family and throw out an enjoyable topic. See how many subjects in each category you can generate. Have a recorder write them down and count at the end. Each time you play, see if you can beat your last high idea score! Here are some topics to try.

  • Ice cream flavors
  • Action movies
  • Super heroes
  • Animals – in a part of the world (jungle, dessert)
  • Insects
  • Birds
  • Countries in the world
  • Colors
  • Fruits or vegetables
  • Types of transportation/Vehicles
  • Greatest songs of all time

What would you like to brainstorm with your family? How could it impact family disagreements and problem-solving?



Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved on 9-23-14 at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/brainstorm.