Feedback That Leads to Change

Feedback that Leads to Change by Jennifer Miller

Feedback is the breakfast of champions.

- Ken Blanchard

I walked out of my front door, hot tea in hand and a light jacket, on the first sunny, balmy 55 degree day signaling the beginning of Spring. I took a breath of fresh air as I examined the tulips that were sprouting just a half an inch above the soil, when a hoard of kids, my own in the mix, ran right through the flower bed squashing the seedlings. “Don’t trample my flowers!” I yelled instinctively sounding like the elderly ladies from my own childhood neighborhood. But that instinct didn’t serve me well as, a mere five minutes later, I sat and watched them run right back through the same garden patch heading in the opposite direction. I decided I had to either change my tactics or allow all of my hard work planting bulbs last Fall go to waste.

I reevaluated and thought about my options for providing feedback that would actually work this time. I came up with many solutions in my head, some simple and some as elaborate as building a little fence around the garden. Ultimately, I decided I would first pave the way for the kids’ success and then, provide feedback in the most constructive way I could. Then, I’d sit back to see if it worked. There were two stone pavers through the garden that offered a pathway for the keen observer but I fully filled in that pathway with stones to offer an obvious route through the garden. Then when the kids came back to our yard, I got down on my knees and called them over for a huddle, as if involving them in a conspiracy. “Glad to see you guys are having so much fun. I’ve created a kids-only pathway for you to run through the garden safely. Can you use it?” I got a resounding “Yes!” as they took off across the pathway. As I sat and sipped my tea, I watched as they ran back and forth using only the new passage. I made eye contact with each one discreetly giving them a “thumbs up.” That’s all it took. My tulips are now a good four inches high and the kids received the feedback and translated it into a change in their actions. This might not have happened had I kept yelling, “Don’t trample my flowers!”

In the workplace, managers work hard to learn ways to give feedback that will be well-received and used constructively. And since we often give feedback to family members, it’s helpful to think about how we can use it in a way that contributes to learning and improvement. Our reactive feedback may not tend toward the constructive. We can slip into blaming. “It takes you forever to get on your shoes!” you may be tempted to say though the child might hear, “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah!” like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Nagging or blaming can effectively shut down communication. A child’s defenses go up. And you have lost your opportunity to truly influence his behavior for the moment. Instead you could say, “Our routine seems to slow down when we put on shoes. What can we do?”

Think about a circumstance in which you gave feedback quickly, as in my flower garden example, that was not received well and did not result in a change of actions. Play out that example as you read through the following tips and see if you might find some alternatives for directing your family members (other grown ups included!) toward positive action.

Calculate your timing carefully. It can mean the difference between success and failure, receptivity or deaf ears. Wait until the heat of the moment has passed. If your child is upset, angry or frustrated, pursue calming techniques with her first. Waiting can be tough in those moments where you are eager to get your child to change. But your self-control can ensure that the feedback you are trying to provide is received.

Prepare. Think through what you are going to say and how you are going to say it in advance. It may only take a few minutes. But stopping to plan what you are going to say can help you frame your comment constructively.

Notice and specifically reinforce the positive without qualifying. If you are trying to Superboy illust 001change a particular behavior like running through the flower bed, look for chances to
reinforce positive behaviors without qualifying or following up with a criticism. Instead of subjective terms like, “I like…” you might say, “I notice you were trying to avoid the flowers when you were running.”

Give specific and brief redirection using a warm tone. Sharing feedback with a respectful tone will allow the adult to remain in control and keep the lines of communication open. Providing direct and succinct feedback can help prevent a tendency toward lecturing or nagging. “Use the path to keep flowers safe.” is one way you could say it.

Invite child reflection. If you involve your child in solving the problem, she will have more ownership over the successful implementation of the solution. So you might ask, “How can you move through the garden with your friends and keep the flowers safe?”

Provide a simple reminder to support the change. If a habit has developed, it can be challenging for a child to remember not to act on his impulses but to follow the alternative you’ve given him. We all need reminders when we are making changes. So here are three ideas for simple reminders.

1. Use a one-word statement 1. That one word will help remind him and serve as a
clue to your expectations without any nagging necessary. You might say, “Path.”

2. Post a visual reminder. You could draw a picture together or write words and post it near the challenge. If the problem relates to getting on shoes, post a picture right by where shoes are kept and point to it before you encounter the challenge again.

3. Set up nonverbal signals. The nonverbal signal can be a great way to provide a
reminder without risking a tone of voice that may sound like fault-finding. I used a
thumbs up in the garden example to reinforce. But also, you can remind in advance of
the challenge by establishing a code signal between you and your child and using it
each time. You might use a high five or what we call, a “foot five” (bumping feet) before getting on shoes.

Let go. Give your child the chance to show you they can do it. Step back though sometimes that can be difficult. Then, be sure and notice their efforts.

Feedback can be a useful tool for parents to guide behavior change and learning. Try these suggestions,reinvent the way you communicate and you might change influence habit changes with your family.



Faber, A., & Mazlish, E. (1980). How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. NY, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Elements of a Confident Kid… Cultural Awareness

Elements...Cultural Awareness by Jennifer Miller

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer Miller

- the beliefs, customs and arts of a particular society, group, place or time. 1

About Cultural Awareness

Culture is who we are, how we act and how we communicate. It defines our membership in multiple communities whether they are professional or personal, spiritual or practical.

Our families are a culture. “Michael doesn’t have to wear a coat? Why do I have to?” said E this past week as we teetered between chilly and warm temperatures. You likely hear similar comments in your household. If some other child can do it, “Why can’t I?”, children often want to know. And the answer is simply that each family has different rules and expectations. And it’s a critical lesson for kids to learn. Children must “code switch” as they enter varying environments. Schools have different rules than restaurants than churches than amusement parks.

Being culturally aware means that a person accepts that there are differing rules, practices and ways of being among groups of people and in various environments. The work and opportunity of a new person introduced to any culture not his own is to learn with an open mind and work toward empathy and understanding. It may be as simple as your child spending the night at a friend’s house. In those circumstances, not only do parents have expectations of his behavior while away, but also the host family has expectations of the child’s behavior while in their home.

Cultural awareness requires self-control. Because we are hard-wired to size up people immediately, we may find ourselves quickly passing judgment. The culturally aware individual notices that judgment occurring in her thinking. She realizes that critical thinking creates distance and puts up walls that may prohibit her from feeling empathy and certainly does not allow for the creation of a relationship. She manages her opinions and works on listening for understanding. She knows that if she remains open-minded, she may learn about the other person. And more importantly, she may discover something about herself that will help her better understand her own identity.

Promoting Cultural Awareness

Be curious and encounter cultural diversity
Perhaps the most important way we, as parents, can help our children learn to be culturally aware is to expose them to diversity. Drive a little further once a month to grocery shop in a community outside of your own. Attend summer festivals held by a cultural group other than your own. Try out foods from various countries. Extend yourself to people who are unlike you to expand your own view of the world and your children will notice and learn. Express your curiosity about people who look and act differently and your children will show their curiosity too.

Talk about other cultures and your children’s impressions and experiences. “What did you think of the way she was dressed?” I asked students I was working with after attending an Indian Pow-wow in Oklahoma. If children are learning discriminatory biases from the cultural around them, asking open-ended questions begins the conversation. You can share your own opinions about the richness of any culture you may be encountering.

Diversify your reading
There is not a holiday that goes by that I don’t buy a book for my child. It’s part of our family tradition to give books in addition to toys or candy. We also make regular library trips. When looking for a new children’s book, consider finding stories from other cultures. Not only will it add interest to your bookshelf, but also it will help your efforts to promote a culturally aware child. The Delightful Children’s Books blog has an incredible list of children’s books from around the world. It’s a perfect place to start! I’ve also listed some of my favorites below.

Practice catching judgments
I find myself hesitating to show acknowledge my own negative thinking in front of my son. After all, I am supposed to have everything under control as Mom. But catching ourselves in the middle of judgment can be an incredibly powerful teaching experience for a child. As I am talking mindlessly criticizing another Mom who is yelling loudly at her son in public, I remember that this is not the model I want to establish for my son. I say to him, “I really don’t want to say that. What I want to say is that I wish her the best. Maybe she is struggling with stress we are unaware of and that’s why she is yelling at her son. We can’t know the circumstances.” Turn your words toward compassion and empathy. Your child will witness your use of self-control and learn that even adults need to exercise it in order to get along and connect with others.

Practice perspective taking
Trying to understanding another’s perspective is often a struggle for adults. We all require practice since we cannot truly know someone else’s feelings and interpretations of experience. Practice whenever you get the chance. Whenever it comes to mind, ask “What do you think that Dad is feeling while he’s pushing his child on the swing?” or “What do you think the boy is thinking about?” Your child will become experienced thinking about other’s thoughts and feelings.

Prepare for new experiences
Though we are constantly adjusting and learning about appropriate boundaries according to the environment we are in, parents can support children by helping clue them into the new expectations that come with each new environment. If you are going to a friend’s house for dinner or attending another’s religious ceremony, think ahead to the expectations they may have for children. Then prepare your child in advance. “In this new environment, people are expected to listen and whisper only if they have a need.” Children can learn to act in accordance with the new setting if they are well prepared by their parents.

Cultural awareness does take a commitment to exploring realms outside our comfort zone. Facing those who are different can make us feel awkward or even disturbed as it forces us to examine our own self-identity. Showing that struggle to our children, though we may feel vulnerable, is the way they will learn that it is worth the effort. And it’s required if we truly want to grow as individuals and as part of a global community.

Photos of Classrooms Around the World
The World’s Harvests – photos of farmers harvesting their crops all over the world
Where Children Sleep – photos of bedrooms of children from around the world
Hungry Planet, What the World Eats – photos of typical meals around the world
A Global Family Portrait - photos of 30 statistically “average” families around the world

Picture Books:
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
All Kinds of Families by Mary Ann Hoberman
All Kinds of Children by Norma Simon
The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler


The Story of the Maligned Wolf

Read the story of the “Big Bad Wolf” from the wolf’s perspective and discuss with your children what they think of the different perspective. Talk about a time when they might see things differently than you, a peer or a teacher. 2

Young Lady, Old Lady

Remember this picture? What do you see first? Can you see both the old and the young lady? View this with your children who likely have not seen it yet and help them understand that each individual sees with a different perspective.

For Educator’s:

How I Talk to my Kindergarten Class on Race by Madeleine Rogin

1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved on March 24, 2015 on

2. Educators’ for Social Responsibility. Originally developed by Uvaldo Palomares et. al., A Curriculum on Conflict Management. San Diego, CA: Human Development Training Institute adapted from Fearn, L. (1974). The Maligned Wolf. San Diego, CA: Education Improvement Associates.

Results from NBC Parent Toolkit’s New Parent Survey


This week, NBC Education Nation’s Parent Toolkit released the results from a “State of Parenting” survey they conducted in partnership with Pearson and Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI). Eight hundred and three American primary caregivers, parents and guardians of children ages 3-18 were interviewed by phone in English and Spanish last Fall. The results provide insight into what these surveyed parents think about education and what they value most for their children now and in the future. Particularly interesting results included that a majority of the participants ranked social and communication skills as the most important for their children’s development.

Some of the key findings are listed below but it is also well worth going to check out the full report illustrated with easy to read graphics on their site.

Key findings…

Parent surveyed confirmed that more than ever, they need a variety of skills and talents to effectively balance the demands of their own lives and the challenges of raising well-adjusted children. Slightly less than half said they need skills in patience and understanding most. One third said they need support in setting rules and guidelines in family life. And 17% expressed a desire to get involved in their children’s education.

When parents were asked which skill they think is most important for children to develop, 54% said good social and communication skills. Almost a third said grades were most important. But only 9% said an understanding of technology was most important. And a small percent listed specific qualities such as moral values, respect, motivation, drive and focus.

Nearly four in five parents said their family has dinner at home together most days of the week.


Respondents were divided in how satisfied they were with their own involvement in their children’s education. Over half said they are satisfied with their involvement but 47% wish they could do more.

Over half of parents say they spend more time with their children than their own parents did with them.

You can learn more about this new study by visiting the Parent Toolkit site.  And you can access the Spanish report. 



Spring Growth

Spring Growth by Jennifer Miller

Teachers arise from somewhere within me that is beyond me, the way the dark soil that is not the root holds the root and feeds the flower.

- Mark Nepo

“How old do I have to be to be a grown up?” E has asked a twice over the past few weeks. Sometimes to small people who have little say over so much of what they must do each day, being a grown up seems like a luxury filled with freedom. Children have an innate sense of their own development. When it’s time to start walking, they work their muscles through crawling and pulling up and cruising the furniture. When it’s time to start reading, they notice text everywhere they go and start asking what words say and mean. If we, as parents, become aware of the changes they are undergoing, we can support them through our empathy and our sensitivity to the emotions that arise with change.

With the great hope of spring coming soon when the natural world is focused on birth, there is an opportunity to reflect on our own children’s development. E is reaching his seven and a half year point this month and his interests have changed considerably since the start of the year. In fact, in the fall he was deeply engaged in fairly sophisticated Lego building and has recently regressed to building train tracks, an interest of his toddler and preschool years. And I know this regression signals development. It provides great safety and comfort as he enters unfamiliar territory. Learning to read, losing and growing new teeth, learning another language, questioning friendships and losing his teacher to maternity leave have all been enough challenge to keep him occupied and long for the comfort of old pleasures.

Last year, I examined the particular social and emotional traits of sixes and sevens in anticipation of the coming year’s development. Here, we’ll take a look at late sevens and eights in order to understand where they are and if you have your own seven or eight year old at home, you can learn along with me. These traits have been documented by researchers looking at commonalities when studying a number of children in the same age group over a period of time. If your child is seven or eight and does not exhibit some of the traits below, it is no cause for worry. If you do not recognize most traits in your child, then asking your child’s pediatrician for guidance would be the best course of action.

Being Seven

Chip Wood of Yardsticks; Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14 writes,

Seven is an age of intensity. Individualized activity consolidates new cognitive structures and feelings. A balance between hard work and self-assessment produces a sense of competence, setting the stage for greater self-direction at older ages. 1

A seven year old may

  • have greater curiosity about the world and what they are learning through exposure to new things.
  • have longer attention spans than six year olds.
  • enjoy solitary, focused work and play (as opposed to group work).
  • have greater sensitivity to peer and teacher critiques or implied criticisms.
  • question friendships or may decide friends are not friends anymore.
  • be moody or touchy and may not share feelings though you can tell they are upset.
  • calculate risks of failure. May not engage if they feel they could make mistakes in front of people.
  • have stronger, well-defined preferences.
  • care about organizing their own stuff.
  • be more creative problem solvers.
  • be better at understanding other’s perspectives.
  • be still working on understanding rules so may “tattle tell” as a way of advancing their own understanding.
  • enjoy jokes and humor as a release from the serious learning and development agenda.
  • feel teacher relationship is critical and can greatly impact sense of well-being. Changes in teachers can be challenging.

Being Eight

Chip Wood writes of eight year olds,

The eight-year-old is exploring his potential. He may be struggling with feelings of inferiority as he tries out one new area after another in an expanding awareness of the broader world. 1

An eight year old may

  • have a solid sense of school rules and routines so they are more flexible with changes.
  • often have a larger friendship group, enjoy socializing and having fun.
  • love cooperative work or group activities preferably with their own age and gender.
  • grow in their problem solving abilities and want independence because of it.
  • be quick to assert what they know.
  • measure themselves against their peers and worry about areas they aren’t as skilled in.
  • desire increased privacy.
  • have a shorter attention span than seven year olds.
  • be developing a sense of moral responsibility beyond themselves and are curious about other cultures. This is an ideal time to expose them to other cultures whether its through community events, restaurants, traditions or travel.

Of course, I have been a proud contributor to NBC Universal Education Nation’s Parent Toolkit. They have a relevant application that can be downloaded. You can enter your children’s ages and it will keep you updated on their development. They have information for each grade level on academic, health and wellness including nutrition and physical development and social and emotional development. They also include specific ways parents can support those developmental milestones. If you haven’t checked it out yet, do explore this outstanding resource!


Great Schools best known as the go-to source for all basic information on schools around the country has now produced a video series entitled “Milestones.” It provides specific guidance for parents on understanding academic expectations at each grade level, K-5.


And finally, the WNYC New York’s NBC Affiliate has produced a terrific video entitled “Being 12; The Year Everything Changes” featuring a series of twelve year olds talking about what it’s like to be their age.


At times, it can seem difficult to keep up with constant growth. Do we need new shoes again?! Keep these resources at the ready. Make reading about developmental milestones a part of your change of season rituals. You’ll be better prepared with empathy, patience and support as your kids undergo changes. And that will add to your confidence as a parent!


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

Elements of a Confident Kid… Service Minded

Service Minded by Jennifer Miller

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer Miller

- noticing others or environmental needs, feeling empathy and desiring a role in contributing to their or its well-being.

About being service minded

A service-minded person is both self and socially aware. She must know her own strengths and limitations. She sees what contributions she can make and how they relate to other’s unmet needs. She gives freely in order to assist others. And in her social awareness, she is empathetic and compassionate. She works to understand others’ perspectives. She relates and makes honest and trusting connections with them. But she does not make the other’s sorrows and pains her own. Her ability to serve lessens or may be taken away if she does. Individuals who are successful contributors are skilled problem solvers but also realize that the best and most sustainable solutions are generated directly by those who have the problem. Children who engage in service have the opportunity to exercise every social and emotional skill in an authentic setting. They can find a sense of strength and purpose as they discover they are able to significantly contribute to the people and places they encounter daily.

Promoting service mindedness

So how do we promote a service mindset in our homes with our children? The origins of a service mindset exist in the heads, hearts and actions of parents themselves. When you look around at your daily interactions, who has unmet needs? And how are you contributing the best of who you are to those in your own home as well as your neighborhood, school and community? As spring emerges and we focus on rebirth in the natural environment around us, we are reminded to reflect on our involvements and if and how we are contributing our strengths. Children in your household will see, hear and begin to understand that your engagement in your community is a part of being a responsible person. Be certain to bring them along when you take gently used clothing to The Salvation Army or you deliver a prepared meal to a friend who is sick. Let them see you engaged in thinking about others and giving. Here are specific, practical ways to bring service mindedness into your family’s life.

Providing opportunities to serve at home can be one of the best ways to promote service mindedness. Be certain that all family members are not only aware of ways they can contribute to maintaining your caring home environment, but also prepare children for any new roles. At various ages and stages, children can take on new responsibilities in everyday life such as setting the table for dinner, making their beds or cleaning up after themselves. These do not need to be attached to rewards or punishments but can be expectations of who we are and how we contribute to our home as a family.

When introducing a new responsibility, try interactive modeling as a way to teach your child how to contribute. We, as parents, often forget that children are still learning many ways of doing things that we take for granted. Interactive modeling can be a way to ensure you are doing what you can to help your child learn the actions necessary to meet your expectations. From author Margaret Berry Wilson’s book, Interactive Modeling; A Powerful Technique for Teaching Children, we can learn from the seven step process that teachers use in schools. 1

1. Say what you will model and why.
2. Model the behavior.
3. Ask your child what he noticed.
4. Invite your child to model.
5. Ask what he noticed with his own modeling.
6. Practice together.
7. Provide specific feedback starting with strengths using “I notice…”

The following is an example of how this might look between a parent and child. Be certain and pick a time to do this when you do not have time pressures.

1. You might say, “Watch how I play waiter. You can try it after me!” You could wear an apron like a waiter might or put on a name tag.
2. Now set the table as you would like it and as your child watches and you go through the motions, be sure to notice any areas that may pose difficulties for your child such as getting out and placing knives at each place setting. Address those directly. “Since the knives can be dangerous, I’ll do that part of the process each night and you can do the rest.”
3. Ask, “What did you notice when I was acting like a waiter?”
4. You might say, “Okay, your turn to pretend to be the waiter” Dress him up in the apron and name tag to maintain the fun.
5. After he plays his role ask, “What did you notice when you did it?”
6. Now practice it together. Don’t skip this! It’s important that your child gets the chance to work alongside you and you cooperatively go through the process.
7. In providing feedback, be specific and start with strengths. “I noticed you handled the silverware carefully. Terrific! When you put the napkins down, be sure to count so that each person gets one.” If you share too many issues, your child might tune out so pick your top few areas for improvement and stick with those.

Announcing to your child, “You are going to start contributing around here and we’ll start with you making your bed.” could incite a power struggle. Telling your child what to do without their engagement at the outset certainly does not engage a child’s motivation to contribute. Many parents and teachers use reward stickers or charts to guide home contributions. Though it may seem an easy solution, it does not help children internalize their role as a family member and contributor. Instead, it serves as bait and sometimes may not be enticing enough to keep the motivation high. Why not engage their intrinsic motivation for feelings of autonomy, belonging and competence and work with them on the skills and processes necessary to be successful?

Prepare your confident kid with the mindset of service and contribution. If you get started when your children are young, they will already be eager to find ways to help out and contribute. Though it will take patience on your part and may extend the length of time getting chores accomplished, it will pay off in the long run as it becomes a part of the ways we do things as a family.

On one of the many snow days off school this winter, I offered my son the option of two different games or helping me sweep and clean our hardwood floors. To my pleasant surprise, he chose the latter (true story!). And after I did the interactive modeling, we worked side by side. I noticed I had to hold myself back from going behind him and filling in areas he didn’t finish thoroughly. But after teaching him, I needed to let him feel that he was doing the job competently. “This is fun!” he said and that memory will stay with both of us the next time we have a family chore to accomplish.

It’s never too late to begin to engage all family members in contributions. Go through these steps. Do the work together for the first few times. Create a routine in which you do the work at the same time each day or each week. Mark it on the calendar as a reminder to you both. Ultimately, contribution is hard work. But the feeling of being able to significantly impact others is one of great power, freedom and connection that can only come from the service experience. Try out this interactive modeling process and both you and your child can feel confident that he knows exactly how to contribute to your home and family.

There are many other ways to promote service mindedness. For additional ideas on how you and your family can get involved in your neighborhood, school and community, check out “Citizen Kid.”


1. Wilson, M.B. (2012). Interactive modeling; A powerful technique for teaching children. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

Stop, Think, Go!

Traffic Light by Jennifer Miller

If you have a problem, don’t muddle through.
Here’s a simple rap about what to do.
Stop, calm down before you act.
You’ll think more clearly – that’s a fact.
Say the problem and how you feel.
Set a positive goal (and try to be real).
Now for some “brainy” contributions,
make out a list with lots of solutions.
Slow down, though, and use some sense
‘cause you gotta consider each consequence.
Now if you’ve done your thinking and you’re planning ahead,
you can face your problem with a little less dread.
So knowing you’ve done everything you can,
go ahead – try the very best plan.

- Terri Kazmier, New Haven (CT) Middle School Music Teacher

“He messed with my stuff while I was gone. My Lego set is broken. Moooooooom!” cries Zachary about his brother. Sibling rivalry is a common family problem. Mom could fix it. “Go help your brother fix his Lego set.” Or she could help her children learn valuable skills in problem solving. These opportunities for practicing critical life skills happen daily if you look for them. Collaborative problem solving is not one skill alone but requires a whole host of skills including self-control and stress management, self-awareness of both thoughts and feelings, perspective taking and empathy, listening and effectively communicating, goal setting, anticipating consequences and evaluating actions.

Roger Weissberg, one of the top leaders in the field and Chief Knowledge Officer for the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and my mentor, ongoing collaborator and friend agreed to share the Traffic Light model that he and his colleagues created at Yale University with the New Haven Public Schools. The Social Development Project affected the lives of countless children in one of the poorest districts in the country. Students learned, practiced and used these skills in role playing and real life settings over and again making the development of these social skills a part of the culture and expectations of that school system.

In addition to using this model to promote problem solving between students in schools, it was also used for discipline purposes. If a child’s behavior merited an in-school suspension, then those children spent the time reflecting on the problem, how they felt and what actions they chose. They brainstormed ways they could act differently. And they created a positive plan for how they might act the next time they were in that situation. You too can use this as a discipline tool in your home. When your child has acted in a destructive way – either hurt someone’s feelings or property spend time reflecting on what they did and the impact it had on those around them. Then ask, “What if you made a different choice in that same situation? What choices do you have? And what would happen as a result of those actions?”

Dr. Weissberg writes that this promotes “consequential thinking.” 1 Children begin to think through the consequences of their actions prior to choosing how to act. And that kind of thinking promotes responsible decision making. This New Haven Public Schools training was used to prevent high risk behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy and violence in the adolescent years. Imagine if your children were engaged in developing these skills prior to that time of high peer pressures. They would be ready and prepared with well-rehearsed tools when they are tempted by their friends and you are not there at that moment to protect them.

The beauty of this model is in its simplicity. Hang up a picture of a traffic light or print out the following one page handout from Dr. Weissberg — Social Problem Solving Curriculum Traffic Light by Roger Weissberg et al. or use my illustration as a reminder. 2 Try this out first as a game when there’s not a problem. Role play through it. Make it fun and dramatic. Adults can stand and be the stop light. Call out a problem or better yet, have kids call out a common problem they have had. Children can run toward you, the stop light. Hold your hand up and signal “Stop!” Everybody can breathe loudly to emphasize the practice and add to the fun. Now on yellow, place your hand straight out and kids can take gentle steps standing in one place while you talk through the yellow light steps below. Have them think out loud. Now put your hand down and announce, “Go!” They can run forward and then, try out their solution. Here’s the process.

Stop! Calm down and think before you act.

No problem solving is going to occur, no feelings repaired until all involved calm down. So take the time you and your child need to calm down. Breathe (Remember hot chocolate breathing?). Take a moment for some quiet time in your own spaces. Then…

Caution. Feel. Communicate. Think.

Say the problem and how you feel.

Parents can model this by saying, “I am feeling frustrated that you and your brother are arguing. How are you feeling?” It helps to have a list of feelings at the ready so that if your child struggles with coming up with a feeling, he can pick one off of a list that best represents how he’s feeling. This practice alone will expand his feeling’s vocabulary and he’ll be better equipped the next time to be in touch with and communicate his situation. I’ve listed below this article three resources for feelings’ lists.

Now, set a positive goal.

Before moving to “Go,” have your child think about what they want for themselves and the others involved. The goal may be as simple as, “I just want to get along with my brother,” or “I want to keep my toys safe.” Weissberg writes that setting a positive goal for kids simply means “How do you want things to end up?”

Think of lots of solutions.

Before jumping to one solution, think of lots. “I could hide my Legos where my brother can’t find them.” “We could agree to ask one another before playing with the others’ toys.” “We could promise to repair anything we break.” Involve all who were a part of the problem to generate solutions. Children who understand there are many choices in a problem situation are less likely to feel trapped into making an unhealthy decision but can step back and examine the options.

Think ahead to the consequences.

Parents can ask, “What if you tried hiding your Legos from your brother? What might happen?” Think through the realistic consequences with your children of their various solutions – both long and short term. “It might work tomorrow. But what happens when you forget in a few weeks and leave them out on your bedroom floor? Then what?” This is a critical step in helping children think through the outcomes of their choices before making them – important practice for later problems when the stakes are higher.

                                                                                                                 Go! Try out your best plan.

Maybe your children have agreed to ask one another before they play with the other’s toy. Try it out right away. See how it works. If it does, then talk about it and make slight adjustments or decide on another plan altogether that might work better.

Parents can use logical consequences in concert with this model. For example, if Zachary has harmed his brother, then he can generate solutions to repair the relationship. He may apologize. He may spend time fixing the broken Lego set. He may help find a place to keep the Lego set safe. Children need parents’ support in repairing harm done. They need to know that there are multiple options for not only repairing a physical object but also, repairing hurt feelings. So brainstorm options and help kids implement them.

Family meetings can be an ideal time to use this Traffic Light model too. Bring a problem to a meeting that concerns everyone. Select a fairly low stakes problem for the first one to raise at a family meeting. Gain practice with the model and with all family members collaborating on a solution. Watch as your skill as a family progresses and you are able to bring hotter issues to the table.

One positive goal I have set for my own life is to not have regrets. Acting impulsively, making quick unexamined decisions can certainly lead to regret so I particularly appreciate that this Traffic Light model includes examining consequences before acting. These are skills I hope my son will cultivate so this Spring, as the weather gets warmer and we can run out on our driveway, we’ll be practicing our “Stop!,” “Think,” and “Go” as we work through heated first grade issues. “E has the coolest crayons. I want them!” We’ll laugh together and learn together. And I’ll feel great about how I am giving him skills that will last a lifetime.

* A big thank you to Roger Weissberg for sharing his model and for his excellent work. You can learn more about Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) by visiting their website.

Feelings Vocabulary Lists

How are you feeling today? Poster by Jim Borgman

Children’s Feelings List from the Children’s Center, University of California, Santa Barbara

Feelings Inventory from the Center for Nonviolent Communication


1. Weissberg, R.P., Barton, H.A., & Shriver, T.P. (1997). The social-competence promotion program for young adolescents. In G.W. Albee & T.P. Gullota (Eds.), Primary prevention exemplars: The Lela Rowland Awards (pp. 268-290). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

2. Weissberg, R.P., Jackson, A.S., & Shriver, T.P. ( ). Promoting positive social development and health practices in young urban adolescents. In M.J. Elias (Ed.). Social decision making and life skills development: Guidelines for middle school educators (pp. 45-77). Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publications.

Elements of a Confident Kid…Balanced Positive Thinking


Pathway to Goal Achievement by Jennifer Miller

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer Miller


- 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
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me -
Anything can happen, child
ANYTHING can be.


1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved on 3-3-15 at

2. Mayo Clinic Staff. Positive Thinking: Stop Negative Self-talk to Reduce Stress. Retrieved at 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


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:

critical conversations image 2 001

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…

View original 1,289 more words

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)


1. Merriam Webster Dictionary. Retrieved on February 17, 2015 at

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.