Elements of a Confident Kid… Belief in Self

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer MillerBelief in Self Illustr by Jennifer Miller
/be – lef/

: a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing.
: a feeling of being sure that someone or something exists or that something is true.1

About a belief in self: Confident kids believe in their ability to learn and achieve whatever goal they desire. This belief in self has to do with self-concept but is more directly aligned with self-efficacy. Self-efficacy, or a sense that I can do or learn something, serves as a primary motivator and certainly a predictor of academic success. Children who believe they can will decide to take on greater and more difficult challenges than their self-doubting peers and work harder to meet those challenges.

There is evidence that self-efficacious students participate more readily, work harder, persist longer, and have fewer adverse emotional reactions when they encounter difficulties than do those who doubt their capabilities.2

Researchers have found that feelings of self-efficacy can be task-specific. In other words, I believe I can learn to swim but I doubt I can solve this math equation. These attitudes are influenced by parents, teachers, peers and others in a child’s life. A child’s belief in himself to successfully do something can also be influenced by an innate temperament toward risk-taking or risk aversion. Knowing and understanding your child and their motivational influences can go a long way toward your ability to support her and provide a positive influence.

Strategies to promote a belief in self:

Brain educator, Stefanie Frank, author of the blog, “Brain Education for Youth” suggests trying visualization techniques. I asked from her perspective how I might help my six year old child learn to ride a bike when he is convinced he won’t be able to ride it without training wheels and is completely unmotivated to try. She writes,

As he is younger, it will be more of a challenge for him to engage in this the same we would as adults (since his prefrontal cortex is still maturing), but luckily the power of imagination and motivation are on his side! He could do some drawings of himself riding his bike with his friends, or use a Lego version of himself on a bike going to cool places so he can visualize it better, and you can definitely help him with imagining who he would tell first and what he would say when he accomplishes it – maybe even write a letter announcing it! You can also ask him where he would dream of going on his bike with all that freedom!

These are excellent suggestions. Additionally, here are a few other strategies to help with motivation and belief in self for a reluctant learner.

Tell the story of an already mastered skill.
“I built that Lego Millennium Falcon in four days and I didn’t even think it was hard,” exclaimed E. This gave me an opening to talk about the process of learning he went through to master the building of a highly complex space ship. We have video proof of him as a three year old struggling with a pair of large Duplo blocks that serve as his first exposure to Legos. He played with those for a long time. Then he began working with the medium-sized blocks. And finally, he worked with the tiny bricks and built a sense of mastery over a period of three years. The story helps him see how much practice and effort went into that process. “I didn’t even know! I was just having fun.” he said after I told him the story of his learning process. So true. And it could be the same for learning to ride a bike or learning to read or do math equations. Learning can be fun when you really put your full self into the experience. You can forget about the effort and hard work.

Focus on effort.
We tend to be a product-oriented society. But focusing on the end product can be demoralizing and demotivating for a child. For example, your young budding artist may have grand, gorgeous visions in her head of her piece of artwork. When she actually puts crayon to paper, the outcome may be less fantastic than she imagined. Focusing on children’s efforts and hard work shows that it’s their persistence that can help them learn and master anything. It places the value on the process of achieving a goal and encourages children to keep trying. Eventually, they will be able to implement their vision if they continue to work at it.

Believe in children’s ability to learn anything.
Regardless of your words, children know whether you have confidence in their abilities or not. They are so keenly attuned to our body language, facial expressions and subtleties that they just know. So what will it take to convince yourself that they can learn anything with hard work and time? Think about a specific example in which your child has struggled to learn something. Are you worried she might not learn it? Did you struggle with a task or subject as a child that you needed to learn but feared you couldn’t? How did you overcome that fear? How did you learn what you needed to? Reflecting on your own experiences helps you understand your own underlying beliefs about what can be learned. Realize that your beliefs quickly translate to your child. Make sure that you are reframing your own thinking so that you can truly be supportive of the hard work she has ahead of her to achieve mastery.

For further reading on this topic, check out,

The Story of Self

Cultivating a Sense of Competence

The Birth and Re-birth of Identity

1. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/belief. Retrieved on 9-16-14.

2. Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The Exercise of Control. NY: Freeman.

2. Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). Self-efficacy: An Essential Motive to Learn. Contemporary Education Psychology, 25, 82-91.

Emotional Honesty

Emotional Honesty Illustr by Jennifer Miller

…When I want sincerity
tell me where else can I turn?
Because you’re the one I depend upon.

- Honesty by Billy Joel1 

“I’m fine. Really. Fine.” From that statement, are you convinced that I’m fine? Even without hearing the tone of my voice, there’s a clear subtext. “I’m not fine. I can’t bring myself to talk about it. But I’m clearly not fine.” How often do we steel ourselves to get through the day or an activity numbing out our feelings for our own protection and perhaps the protection of those around us? Though sometimes it’s a useful strategy, it’s a confusing lesson to children who are watching and learning about emotions.

In our culture, the tendency is to view any emotion other than happiness as negative, weak and sometimes, downright embarrassing. Showing or expressing emotion is a vulnerable act, a high risk endeavor. It is often easier to gloss over the reality of our situation. At Starbucks when the Barista asks how you are doing today, “Fine.” is a perfect response. But with our most intimate connections, our family, “Fine.” is not enough for them to really know and understand you. Emotions, if we allow for them to do so, can be critical clues to our experience of life. If we ignore the clues, we shut out possibilities for learning and deeper connection.

So, why you might ask, is it important that I am honest with my family about my emotions day to day? What if I am regularly depressed or fearful? Who wants to hear about that? Perhaps just acknowledging that those feelings are a part of your daily life can help you begin to realize patterns, gain understanding and deal with them. It gives your family the opportunity to empathize with and support you. Children learn about their emotions through you, their models and mirrors. The more exposure they have to a variety of feelings, the language of feelings and how you choose to deal with those feelings, the more adept they become with their own self-awareness.

One coaching client, a Mom of a three and a five year old, practiced using feeling words with her children through games, a feelings poster and her own modeling and coaching. The five year olds’ teacher was unaware that her Mom was working on this at home. But in their parent-teacher conference, the teacher – unsolicited – relayed, “Your daughter is now clearly articulating her emotions.” In a preschool classroom, it’s a highly coveted skill utilized as children learn to get along with one another and adapt to the rules and routines of school. In fact, self-awareness can directly impact school success. Children can identify their emotions and make informed choices about their behavior. They can build upon their strengths and seek support for their challenges.

There are a number of simple ways we can become more emotionally honest in family life and give our children valuable practice in learning about the affective aspect of who they are. Try out a few of the following.

Use feeling words to describe yourself. Because hiding feelings tends to be a pervasive habit, adults may need practice in emotional honesty. It may take some discipline in order to do this. Set aside a week when you’ll note how you feel each day and communicate it to your family. This simple modeling alone is a powerful teaching tool for your children. It may even deepen your trust and connection with your family.

Jim Borgman Feelings PosterExpand your feelings vocabulary. We use this terrific feelings poster, “How Do You Feel Today?” by Cincinnati artist Jim Borgman.2  It helps to have a list of words. You can become more descriptive and specific with your feeling words and help your child do the same. Also check out this table below from the “EQ Fitness Handbook” by Jan Johnson. 3

EQ Fitness Handbook feelings table




Teach through games and books. Try out the Feelings Guessing Game at mealtime or on a longer car ride. Each person gets a chance to guess what another person in the family is feeling that day, when you thought they felt it and why. If a guess is correct, give a high five or fist bump. If they do not get it right, listen to the true feeling of the person who felt it and offer the guesser a second chance. For parents, see if you can come up with emotions beyond happy, sad and mad though not so complex that your children will not understand.

Make a point when you are reading your bedtime stories to stop and ask, “What do you think the main character is feeling?” This is a great opportunity to help with reading comprehension as well as emotional intelligence.

Practice and notice. If you are just getting started with your children, find simple opportunities to talk about emotions. When you are walking away from a winning game, ask how that made your child feel. As you practice with simpler emotions and times that are not high stakes, your children will become better able to communicate with you when there is greater upset.

Reinforce and remind. Notice when your children are able to articulate their emotions and use feeling words when they tell stories. Your daughter may tell you, “Momma, I think (little brother) Connor is sad.” These are seeds of empathy. You may say, “Ella, you noticed when Connor was feeling sad. That’s going to help you be an even better big sister.”
And after a powerful upset has occurred and your child is calming down, then ask, “How were you feeling?” Particularly with preschool age children, you may need to offer specific words and ask if they accurately describe their feelings.

Resist “fixing” too quickly. This last one is written specifically for me. I am a fixer. I want to take away hurts the minute they begin. And so when there is upset, I go into fix-it mode right away…sometimes, even before I fully understand the problem at hand and the emotions that are a part of it. Put your tools away while you are listening to an upset child. Keep yourself open to what they have to say. Help them to “cool” down and get through the conversation because often times, the simple act of communicating when there’s intense anger or anxiety can be extremely difficult. Show patience and allow your child the space to calm down and then to talk about it without skipping to the quick fix.

Emotional honesty can be a great challenge since we are well-rehearsed at putting on a happy face. When we hide our true feelings, we hide ourselves along with it and shield our children from knowing who we are and in turn, helping them know themselves.



1. Joel, B. (1978). Honesty. On 52nd Street Album (Record). Colorado Springs, CO: Impulsive Music.

2. Borgman, J. How Do You Feel Today? How Do You Feel Today Productions.

3. Johnson, J. (2010). EQ Fitness Handbook; You In Relationship. 300 Daily Practices to Build EQ Fitness. Seattle, WA: Learning In Action Technologies.

Elements of a Confident Kid… Skilled Listener

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer Miller

Elements...Listening Illustration by Jennifer Miller


/li – sn/

to pay attention to someone or something in order to hear what is being said, sung, played, etc.

to hear what someone has said and understand that it is serious, important or true.1

About Listening: The ability to listen and to try and fully understand another person’s perspective is one hallmark of an emotionally intelligent person and certainly a confident kid. And there are a variety of types of listening including active, reflective, informational, critical, empathic and therapeutic. Listening is a skill that must be honed and practiced. With so many distractions in daily life, making it a priority can be a challenge particularly with family whom we see everyday, multiple times a day. However, listening may be the single most important way you contribute to your family relationships. Your ability to focus on your family members can offer you insight into their most intimate hopes and challenges. Your efforts will result in modeling and practice for your children. And with that regular practice, you will be able to better empathize with their feelings and help them understand and deal with problems.

Strategy to Promote Listening: You will be offering valuable modeling to your children as you listen with focus and empathy to them. Because listening requires self-awareness and discipline, it can be helpful to pick a specific time of day when you choose to turn off electronic devices and allow yourself to be fully available to your children for whatever they choose to discuss.

When teaching school-age children listening skills, the Responsive Classroom approach shows students how to ask a relevant question or make an empathetic comment in response to a person who has shared something. It may be surprising how challenging it is to adhere to their reflective listening guidelines.2 Try this out with your children and model how your children can become more effective listeners.

Ask a relevant question.
This may mean seeking clarification about something that has been shared to find out further details.

“My math class was so boring today.” your child may relay.

A natural clarifying question might be, “What was boring about it?”

Be certain to leave empty space, or “wait time” for a response. Often our thoughts are cut short by continued conversation. Allow thinking to take place. Though silence can be uncomfortable, it’s often necessary in order to gain a substantive response.

Make an empathetic comment.
This response focuses on the person and whatever she has shared with you. Often we are tempted, in order to relate to another’s situation, to share our own feelings or even a story about ourselves that demonstrates we understand. However, that kind of comment can take the focus away from the sharer and her situation.

“I don’t know if Amy considers me a friend anymore. She hasn’t been talking to me after class like she used to.” your child may say.

“Amy has been your friend for a long time. It sounds like you really miss talking to her.” would be an empathetic response.

“My friend, Hannah, will often not get in touch for weeks but then, when she does call, we connect just as if a day has not passed.” would not be the kind of empathetic comment that focuses on the sharer. Though the comment makes a connection, it removes the focus from your child’s situation with Amy to your own.

Try out these two distinct forms of reflective listening during your sacred time with your children and see if you feel more confident in your modeling of effective communication.

For more ideas on listening and games you can use with your children, read “Say What?”


1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/listen on 9-8-14.

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

Language that Promotes Self-Discipline and Responsibility

Ready for school illustration by Jennifer Miller

I think of discipline as the continual everyday process of helping a child learn self-discipline.

- Fred Rogers

School has begun. After a few weeks pass, the excitement seems to wear off. Jumping out of bed may change to dawdling. After all, learning is hard work and attention to rules, the following of routines and the business of school in general does not motivate the average child. So how can we proactively think about the days to come and prepare ourselves for keeping on track?

I notice, despite my best intentions and knowledge of how I would ideally conduct the morning routine, I begin to nag. “Finish your breakfast.” “Take in your dishes.” “Get dressed.” “You forgot your socks?” “Come on, we’re going to be late!” The pitch crescendoes as the nagging progresses. Though it often feels necessary, I know there’s a better way.

Because I am an educator, I often look to the best practices of the teachers whom I admire the most and ask, “What would they do in these circumstances?” They may respectfully laugh at my one child as opposed to their 20+ shining faces. And then they would tell me there is indeed a better way.

Self-discipline is a learned skill that must be exercised and practiced over the course of childhood into adulthood. Frustrated parents may feel it is an elusive concept. “How can I help my six year old practice self-discipline?” It is a critical skill requiring impulse control in order for a person to achieve any goal, big or small. But we don’t set aside twenty minutes each week for a lesson at home on self-discipline. Though it can have just as great an impact on a life as mastering the piano, an allotted time to practice is simply not practical in family life. So then, we must look to our daily routines and see if there are windows of opportunity for practice. The morning routine is a perfect chance if we approach it as such.

If I involve my child in planning out his morning routine in advance, formalizing it (writing it down) and ensuring that we’ve gone through each step and eliminated any potential problems (i.e. Mommy forgot to wash the socks), then he is better prepared for success. But what happens when, inevitably, he moves slowly or things go awry? My mommy nagging instinct may kick in. Instead I remind him about his plan for the morning routine. And I reinforce, or notice, when he is demonstrating he knows what to do and how to move it along. “What’s the difference?“ you may ask. The difference lies in the tone. For example, you may be tempted to bark,

“Jack Miller, what are you supposed to be doing now? Get upstairs and brush your teeth. Hurry up, kid. Do you want us to be late? You know where the toothpaste is!” And then,

“Why can’t you move faster? You did the other morning!”


Calmly and without strong emotion: “What’s next on our routine poster? Remember, we said you could brush your teeth in two minutes while we set the timer? Ready, go.” And then,

“I notice you accomplished your goal. You left the bathroom before the timer went off.”

The difference is significant. In the first example, the parent is attempting to control his behavior and so he feels no ownership. He may even feel a sense of rebellion and want to slow down. Certainly he does not leave the interaction with a sense of empowerment. But in the second example, the child has established his own plan with your support. Your reminders are helpful and firm. You are being his coach. I suspect that he’ll get the job done, feel that he has achieved his small morning goal himself and start the day feeling positively about his capabilities. The following are some additional examples.


“Your room is a pig sty. Clean it up!”

Promoting self-discipline:

“Do you want help with putting away your books or your Legos?”
(Offer a limited choice, both of which would accomplish the goal and be acceptable to you.)

“Come on. It’s time to do your homework. You’ve got to get it done. Five more minutes
and then you’ve got to work on it….”

Promoting self-discipline:

“When the timer goes off, homework begins.”
(Use a timer as a reminder and a support for transitions.)


“We have to leave the playground now. We’ve got to go. We’ll be late for dinner.”… “Okay, one last time but then, we have to go!”

Promoting self-discipline:

“Pick your last activity on the playground. What will it be?”
(Set expectations. Give one simple choice and then, move on. Don’t leave room for negotiations.)


“It’s time to go to piano lessons. Get on your shoes. Come on. Put that toy away. Come on. We are going to be late.”

Promoting self-discipline:

“It’s time to go to piano lessons. You’ll need your shoes.”
(Be direct, brief, calm, say it once and give one direction at a time. Move on with your own preparations.)

But the most powerful way to promote self-disciplined behaviors is to notice and point out when you see your child acting responsibly – even in small ways. Particularly if you are having difficulty with a routine or rule, become a keen observer of your child’s behavior. Every time they improve or demonstrate responsibility, call it out. “I notice you put your bath toys back in the bin on your own.” You don’t need to shower them with praise. Just your attention to their positive behavior will be their greatest reward. Often we become sensitized to our children’s missteps and get in the habit of correcting them over and again. Instead think about how you may reinforce the positive behaviors and then model and teach those that you don’t see happening.

These small opportunities in a daily routine to facilitate our children’s practice of self-discipline can and will accumulate over the years preparing our children to take on greater and more meaningful challenges. They will have internalized what it takes to be self-disciplined and in turn, use that skill to achieve their dreams – and yours along with them.


For further reading on encouraging and teaching positive behaviors through language, check out:

Denton, P. (2007). The Power of Our Words; Teacher Language that Helps Children Learn. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

Nelsen, J., Erwin, C. & Duffy, R.A. (2007). Positive Discipline for Preschoolers (3rd. Edition). NY: Three Rivers Press.

Nelsen, J. (2006). Positive Discipline. NY: Ballantine Books.

Elements of a Confident Kid… Being Helpful

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer Miller

Elements He Illustration 1



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

willing to help other people1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Smart Home Media Use: Limiting Screen Time

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

Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.

- Jim Morrison

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a sample of a family meeting agenda.

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

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

Sample Family Media Agreement by Jennifer S. Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Navigating the Content of Our Global Neighborhood 

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

Parents’ TV Viewing Habits Influence Childrens’ Screen Time

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

Introducing… Elements of a Confident Kid

Elements of a Confident Kids by Jennifer MillerDear Readers,

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

Sincerely yours,

Jennifer 2 signature 001




%22Humor%22 illustration

 hu mor

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Reader Question and Answer about Games to Support Development

Let the Games Begin Illustration

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

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

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

Alphabet or Word Treasure Hunt:

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

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


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

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

Pretend Play:

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

Teddy Bear Tea Party:

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

Playing School:

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

 “If a Person Came to Visit…”:

Developmental Learning: perspective taking, empathy

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

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

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

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

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

Growing boy with loose tooth

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

- Wayne Muller

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

I take this moment of pause to ask:

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

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

What can I do to support that learning and growth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Typical Social and Emotional Developmental Traits for Sixes:

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

Ways to Support Sixes:

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

Typical Social and Emotional Developmental Traits for Sevens:

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

Ways to Support Sevens:

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

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

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



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