The Birth and Re-birth of Identity

Growthchartillust

Every spring is the only spring – a perpetual astonishment.

- Ellis Peters

The birds chirp outside of my window building nests and resting on the newly budded branches surrounding my office. As spring reveals new growth, we watch our children grow and develop, their transformations at times readily apparent and rapid. At a family gathering last weekend, we reconnected with people we haven’t seen in a few months and they noted all of the physical changes of our son. “He’s getting so big!” And there are internal changes occurring as well. How he perceives the world, his awareness and understanding of people and the environment is substantially different in his young life from year to year. Children are constantly forming their sense of identity but they also go through particular developmental periods in which they are experimenting and particularly sensitive to descriptors of themselves and how the world perceives them. They are attempting to answer the questions “Who am I?” and “Where do I fit in the world?”.

We, as parents, are also evolving our own sense of identity. I didn’t understand before I took my wedding vows what could possibly be so challenging about marriage, though there seemed to be a consensus that it was difficult for everyone. I recall being told, “You change who you are over and over and the person you are with changes too.” I now deeply understand this reality. We continue to learn and develop as individuals and our own identity changes over time.

Mark Nepo, a poet and philosopher, compares this birth or re-birth of identity to a baby chick being born. It’s a harrowing experience for the chick in the egg who may perceive that she is going to die. The nourishment of the egg goes away as she outgrows it’s use. She begins to eat her shell in need of food. She emerges from darkness into a whole new reality.

Transformation always involves the falling away of things we have relied on, and we are left with a feeling that the world as we know it is coming to an end, because it is. Yet the chick offers us the wisdom that the way to be born while still alive is to eat our own shell.1

This reflection is a metaphor for understanding how our past identity is always a part of who we are as we embrace new versions of who we are becoming. As parents, we look for ways to support our children in understanding who they are and who they can become. How do we know when our children are working on a developmental milestone and how can we be supportive?

The author of Yardsticks,2 Chip Wood, synthesizes child development theories for educators according to predictable patterns. He writes that there are four key principles to understanding child development. They are

  • Development follows predictable patterns (whether its cognitive, social, emotional, linguistic or physical).
  • Children typically pass through those stages in the same order.
  • However, children do not pass through those stages at the same rate. It is normal for children to vary as far as how long they remain in a particular stage.
  • Growth is uneven and unpredictable.2

As we work to understand how we can support our children’s emerging sense of self, we can become more sensitive to our own developmental path. For example, my external changes in career moving from a focus on schools and education to a focus on parents required inner work and a reforming of my identity. Because I want to integrate my focus on becoming the best parent I can be and my work to support others, I have been undergoing my own transformational path examining old perceptions, patterns from my own childhood, beliefs about myself and my purpose and how that relates to my relationship with my family. Like the common metaphor of a caterpillar in the chrysalis who must turn to “goo” before emerging as a butterfly, my own conceptions of who I am becoming are, at times, uncertain. I use this experience to become more empathetic as I watch my son go through his own set of challenges.

The following are some ideas for supporting the birth and rebirth of identity in family life. They can apply to all family members.

UNDERSTAND

Heighten your awareness when development has sped up and changes are taking place. Development is messy. It comes in fits and starts and is not perfectly linear. The duration of a developmental change is unpredictable. During the time of “goo” as a person is letting go of the old and beginning to formulate the new, individuals are likely more emotional and may act out of character trying on new aspects of who they are becoming. Don’t be quick to judge.

1. Understand regression is likely. In other words, you may see behaviors arise that are
from a previous stage. Tantrums? There is no going backward with development but
realize that who a child was is always a part of who they are becoming. They may revert
to old behaviors for comfort in the sometimes difficult but necessary act of letting go
of the past.
2. Acknowledge that this is a period of trial and error. Children and adults for that matter
may try on new identities for size and see how they fit. They can be particularly sensitive to any feedback you give during this time period. If you do give feedback, positive or
negative, focus on the behavior. Help your child understand that there is always a
chance to make a next positive decision.
3. Recognize that it is a highly emotional time. Erik Erikson, an important developmental
theorist wrote that during a developmental change, there is “a crucial period of increased
vulnerability and heightened potential.”3 Be aware that individuals who are going
through developmental changes can be highly emotional because of the inner journey that is taking place. They may feel that there is a death they are coping with without the
external supports, recognition or rituals. There can be fear of the unknown person they are becoming. Your awareness of heightened emotions can help you be more supportive and calm during the process.
4. Learn more about development. Read about the developmental milestones of a
typical seven year old for example. Check out Yardsticks for easy to read and use lists
of development milestones for ages 4-14. If you or your spouse are undergoing
significant shifts in your thinking, learn about adult development. Check out The Adult
Years by Frederick Hudson for more.4

MODEL

Actions speak louder. Children, particularly under the age of 12, learn through “identification,” as Erikson terms it.5 They are constantly looking to identify with the adults around them by adopting their traits and behaviors. Yet another important developmental theorist, Lev Vygotsky, wrote that our understanding of our selves and our emotions begins in other people and is then internalized by the child.6 All of this points to children’s natural ability to learn through modeling.

In Raising a Moral Child,7 the author cites a study with 140 elementary and middle school students in which children were given tokens for winning a game that they could keep or donate to children in poverty. When the teacher told them to give but did not do it himself, children were more likely to keep the token. When the teacher spoke and donated his own money, children gave initially but over time there was no impact on future decisions. However when the teacher did not talk about giving but simply gave all of his own money, the children not only gave but the experience influenced future choices about giving as well.8 What kinds of behaviors would you be proud to witness in your child? How can you model those behaviors?

RESPOND

Express your disappointment and confidence. When children misbehave, express your disappointment AND your confidence in their ability to make things better. “I am disappointed that you took Michael’s toy away from him. I know you are a kind person and want to make things better. How do you think you might make things better? What about going back and offering him a toy or apologizing to him?”

Confident parents and confident kids are ever evolving. In fact, confidence comes from the knowledge that we are always learning and developing to become more of who we are. If we understand and value the learning process, it can allow us greater patience with ourselves and our children.

 

1 Nepo, Mark (2000). The Book of Awakening; Having the Life You Want to Have by Being Present to the Life You Have. San Francisco, CA: Conari Press.
Grant, Adam (2014). Raising a Moral Child. The New York Times. Apr. 11.

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

3 Erikson, E.H. (1968). Identity, Youth and Crisis. New York: Norton.

4 Hudson, Frederick M. (1999). The Adult Years; Mastering the Art of Self-Renewal (Revised Edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

5 Sokol, Justin T. (2009). “Identity Development Throughout the Lifetime: An Examination of Ericksonian Theory,” Graduate Journal of Counseling Psychology: Vol. 1: Iss. 2, Article 14.

6 Vygotsky, Lev S. (28 August, 1986). Thought and Language, Revised Edition. 

7 Grant, Adam. (2014). Raising a Moral Child. The New York Times. Apr. 11.

8 Rushton, J. Philippe (Mar 1975). Generosity in Children: Immediate and Long-Term Effects of Modeling, Preaching, and Moral Judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 31(3), 459-466.

Life Goes On…

Sick Momma with child cropped

Healing takes courage, and we all have courage, even if we have to dig a little
to find it.

- Tori Amos

When a parent gets sick, life goes on. Kids have to get up and get ready for school. Lunches must be packed. Homework has to get accomplished. It can be a real struggle for moms and dads to get through the day when they have come down with the flu. Harder still, parents go through major life transitions such as beginning a new job, losing a loved one or struggling with depression. And parenting goes on.

How can you deal with those times in a way that allows you to heal yourself and parent healthy children? And how can you avoid placing more burdens on your children than they can reasonably handle? There seems a fine line between asking your children for help and giving them adult responsibilities for which they are not ready.

While I was sick over the past couple of weeks, I reflected on this topic and how I might channel the little energy I had in the direction of healing and being a responsive parent without doing more than I could handle. “I’ll help you feel better,” said E. However, he grew moodier and at times, angry. Children often become angry, upset and worried when a primary caregiver is sick. Their own sense of safety and stability is shaken. They wonder, “Is she going to be able to take care of me and my needs?” and “Is this going to go on forever?” Children are acutely aware that their very survival depends upon their parents despite their desires for independence. Parents who are obviously stressed and struggling threaten their sense of security. So in addition to dealing with your own problems and lack of energy, you also are likely to encounter a child who is not at his or her best.

Here are some thoughts about what you might do in these circumstances.

Ask for understanding.
Communicate with all family members what you are able to give and what you are unable to give. Set clear expectations so that they know in advance what you are unable to do. For most of us, this is incredibly challenging since it feels like admitting a weakness. However, it is a strength to be self-aware and understand your limitations. Communicating with them will allow your family members to support you in the ways that are needed. Model this for your children and they will learn how to become more self-aware and ask for help when it’s necessary.

Acknowledge that the problem is time-limited.
Children often feel as if the current situation will last forever. It helps to assure them that temporary adjustments need to be made while you are recovering.

Arrange for adult supports.
Ask for help from other adults around you. This too can be a real challenge. However, asking your child for emotional or physical support for which they are too young crosses a critical boundary line and can create tremendous anxiety for a child and in turn, you. Create mutually supportive adult relationships and look for chances to help friends and family when they are sick or in a crisis. In addition to the help of my partner, I am so fortunate to have a close friend who when I say I’m sick, brings over all the supplies necessary for healing. We all can have those relationships if we are the first to give and reach out when others are in crisis. Reach out to others and they will likely be at the ready to support you when you most need it.

Stick by your child’s routine.
Being consistent with your daily routines will provide a greater sense of security for your child. They will still likely feel uneasy that you are not doing well. However they will relish in the comfort of your typical routines.

Understand and empathize with your child’s emotions.
Realize that your child is likely to become angrier, needier, sadder and generally more upset when you are sick or stressed. If you meet their anger with anger, it will only escalate the problem. Instead, engage them with the understanding that all family members need to be gentle with one another and forgiving as one member attempts to heal.

Release yourself from extraneous commitments.
During the normal course of the week, we likely have enough commitments to fill our calendars with little time to spare. Ask for understanding from those commitments and minimize what you are responsible for so that you can focus on healing. Gain time later as you invest now in your health.

Set clear, non-negotiable emotional boundaries.
If your burdens are partially emotional, be certain that you are only sharing them with appropriate adults in your life. Your children are unable to shoulder your emotional problems though they will try because they love you. Don’t put them in that position. When you are tempted to talk with them about your troubles, remember that there is a critical boundary line. You remain the adult to allow them their childhood. The book Chained to the Desk; A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners, and Children and the Clinicians Who Treat Them1 talks about the adult consequences of parents who required children to share in their emotional challenges. For those individuals, it can be a life-long struggle of never measuring up, high anxiety in trying to serve others’ needs and not being able to ask for support or help. Allow your partners, friends or a counselor to provide that adult support to ensure you are getting your needs met and are not tempted to unload your worries on your child.

If it’s a life transition you are facing, raise your awareness of what you can expect emotionally. The book, Transition; Making Sense of Life’s Changes2 by William Bridges explains that in each transition (whether it’s perceived socially as positive like the birth of a child or negative like being fired from a job), there is a death which requires letting go (and the sadness that goes with it). There is a state of limbo, an in-between period in which, like the caterpillar in the chrysalis that turns to “goo,” one must release the past and embrace the unknown of the present and future. And finally, the birth of the next phase of who you are becoming. Each phase of a transition produces a bundle of emotions. Raising your awareness about what you can expect will help you deal with them and allow you greater self-compassion.

Forgive yourself.
This can be our most difficult task as we strive to be the parents we most want to be. Investing in your own self-care including forgiving yourself for not being the best version of you while you are undergoing health or transition issues can serve you and all those around you. Often times ironically, the stress and pressure of sickness can add to your anxiety and impede your ability to heal. Kristin Neff, leading researcher on self-compassion, defines it in three ways. She writes that self-compassion involves

…being kind and understanding to oneself in instances of suffering or perceived inadequacy. It also involves a sense of common humanity, recognizing that pain and failure are unavoidable aspects of the shared human experience. Finally, self-compassion entails balanced awareness of one’s emotions—the ability to face (rather than avoid) painful thoughts and feelings, but without exaggeration, drama or self-pity.3

Her research supports the theory that mental health and a healthy self-concept are dependent on self-compassion.

All of these recommendations are easier said than done. However, as I strive to become the best version of myself through continued learning, I strive for my own optimal mental health in order to raise a confident kid. I wish for you gentleness and healing as you do the same.

 

1 Robinson, B.E. (1998). Chained to the Desk; A Guidebook for Workaholics, their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians who Treat Them. (3rd Ed.) NY: New York University Press.

2 Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions; Making Sense of Life’s Changes. (2nd Ed.) Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

3 Neff, K.D., Rude, S.S., & Kirkpatrick, K.L. (2007). An examination of self-compassion in relation to positive psychological functioning and personality traits. Journal of Research in Personality. 41 (2007) 908–916.

 

Spring Presence

Ladybug examination

The sun is nervous
as a kite
that can’t quite keep
its own string tight.

Some days are fair,
and some are raw.
The timid earth
decides to thaw.

Shy budlets peep
from twigs on trees,
and robins join
the chickadees.

Pale crocuses
poke through the ground
like noses come
to sniff around.

The mud smells happy
on our shoes.
We still wear mittens
which we lose.

- March by John Updike

Spring is a time of new life and can also be an ideal opportunity to work on awareness with your children. As a weekend gardener, I am noticing my tulips and daffodils emerging from the soil and the very tips of leaf buds on the trees. I am often amazed by the details that my son notices around him as we go through our day. But I shouldn’t be. Children are hard-wired to notice details. Because their brains are eagerly taking in and making sense of information in order to learn about their environment, they are able to receive many more details than we as adults do. Adults have processed so much over the years about their environment that we necessarily make assumptions and skip over details in order to deal with the sheer volume of information that comes at us daily. However, experiencing greater awareness with your children can enhance your own focus and presence in the moment and it can give your children valuable practice in doing the same. For children, practice in awareness can contribute to their focused attention on any task including school work and allow them the chance to exercise self-control.

Last week, I had the chance to meet Congressman Tim Ryan from Youngstown, Ohio. He has adopted mindfulness as his central message and vehicle for social change across sectors – politics, business, education and health. His book, A Mindful Nation,1 defines mindfulness as simply “finding ways to slow down and pay attention to the present moment.” Not only does a focus on the present moment reduce stress but it also makes us more sensitive to ourselves and those around us so that it can assist in our ability to resist impulses, listen with empathy and make better decisions. It can contribute to better health and deepen our ability to learn. Congressman Ryan claims “Happiness is found by deeply experiencing the exact moment we are in.”

Also some schools have recognized the value of teaching children about how their brains work and how they can become more aware of themselves in each moment so that they are able to focus on learning. The Mind Up Curriculum through the Goldie Hawn Foundation is a series of lessons and activities that promote greater awareness. These programs incorporate “Brain Breaks” throughout the day in which children simply learn to close their eyes and notice their breathing for a few minutes. That simple practice can help calm anxieties and engage them fully in the next activity.

There are many ways you might practice mindful awareness at home with your children. Practicing together can help you connect with your family and assist in managing stress around your household. Try one or more of the following this spring and see if it makes a difference for you.

Thought Awareness:

Modeling
Modeling presence with your child can be rewarding for both of you. After school is an ideal time since most children need a snack and a break from the rigorous schedule and demands of school. But pick the best time of day for you and just focus on your child and whatever they want to tell you. Notice what thoughts come into your head as you listen. Often we get distracted by thoughts of our own day. If you notice this is happening, gently return yourself to the moment with your child and engage in listening to what they are saying. Ask related questions or make comments that deepen the conversation and continue to focus on your child.

Breath Awareness:

Balloon Breathing
Tell your child that you have an organ in your body – the lungs – that acts like two connected balloons. Picture what the balloons look like together. Visualize them in your child’s favorite color. Close your eyes and envision with your child the air moving from the outside into your balloons expanding them a little. And then exhale as you visualize your balloons shrinking a bit. Try to do this for at least three breathes and see if your child enjoys balloon breathing.

Body Awareness:

Tennis Ball Tighten and Release
When my son has a strong case of the wiggles before bedtime, I have used this exercise to help calm him down. Lie down side by side on the floor or on the child’s bed, backs to the floor. Close your eyes and ask your child to close his as well. Using a gentle voice, ask your child to pretend there is a tennis ball at the base of his feet. Ask him to try and grab the ball with his whole foot including his toes with all his might. Ask him to hold it for a few seconds. Then, let the ball go. Now ask him to pretend the ball is between his ankles. Squeeze the imaginary ball as hard as possible for a few seconds and then let it go. Try this at his knees, on his tummy, between his arms and his side, in his hands, at his neck and at the back of his head where it touches the floor. Each time tighten those muscles for a few seconds and then fully release. This will guide a child to notice each part of his body, focus on that part and send relaxation to that part of the body letting the tension go.

Sensory Awareness:

Eating a Raisin
In the Mind Up Curriculum, students fully experience eating a raising by paying attention to each aspect of the eating process. This is so simple to try at home. Take one raisin per person participating. Examine how the raisin looks on the table. Ask your child to describe it. Then, pick it up and feel it. How does it feel? Now smell it. Describe how it smells. Lastly, taste it slowly so that you savor each bite. See how many words you and your child can come up with to describe the taste of the raisin.

Environmental Awareness:

A Bug or Bud Walk
“We’re going on a bug walk, a bug walk, a bug walk. We’re going on a bug walk to see what we can see,” we chant as we stalk the ground for insects. This is a game that is enjoyable no matter the age of the child and can be incorporated into any basic walk around the block. Also spring in particular is a great time to go on a “bud” walk and see if you can find budding leaves or plants on trees, bushes and coming up from the ground. This noticing creates a greater awareness of the environment in which you live.

Drawing or Painting a Still Life
I know I am at my most sensitive to the details of objects around me when I am drawing or painting them. To give your children a chance to look more closely, set up a still life that they might enjoy or that might engage them. A bowl of fruit might inspire you but your child could be excited by a pile of his favorite stuffed animals. Create a scene of many and varied small toys and ask your child to pick out the part that he is most interested in to draw in detail. Notice the detail together and talk about and point out the detail of the subjects of your artwork.

Check out the following resources for more on mindfulness below. Give yourself and your family the gift of presence this spring. It will require your own awareness and some discipline to focus on your family in the moment. But the reward will be great.
Great Springtime Children’s Books about Awareness:

Wise Brown, Margaret. Author. McCue, Lisa. Illustrator. (2000). Bunny’s Noisy Book. NY: Hyperion Books for Children.

McCue, Lisa. Quiet Bunny’s Many Colors. NY: Sterling Publishing.

 

Check out this video on the Mind Up Curriculum in schools.

The Hawn Foundation. (2011). MindUp Curriculum; Brain-focused Strategies for Learning – and Living. NY: Scholastic.

For Parent Reading:

Greenland, S.K. (2010). The Mindful Child; How to Help your Kid Manage Stress. NY: Free Press.

Check out The Hawn Foundation’s suggested resources for parents.

1 Ryan, T. (2012). A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance and Recapture the American Spirit. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.

New Parent Supports – Coaching and Webinar

coaching webinar 2

This week, I am launching a parent coaching service intended for busy, caring parents who know they could be more effective with their children with a little support. With some goal setting, guidance and simple strategies, parents can more easily teach skills in self-awareness, self-control, empathy, communication and responsible decision making. You can learn to respond to discipline challenges in ways that promote self-discipline.  And you can do it in ways that make the most sense for your families. A Mom who went through a coaching process with me reported feeling significantly more confident in parenting from 65% of the time when she began to 85% at the end of our work together.

Your parenting might also benefit from this type of coaching. Find out more about this opportunity to deepen your family relationships and promote your child’s success. Please share with others if you think they may have an interest. One-on-one coaching can be provided in person or via phone or Skype. If you are interested, contact me at confidentparentsconfidentkids@gmail.com.

And check out the pre-recorded webinar on “Social and Emotional Skills in Busy, Family Life” available for the next month (March-April, 2014) online. A small membership fee to Six Seconds, a global organization committed to Emotional Intelligence, is required to log in and access the webinar but it will also allow you the benefits of multiple resources including webinars given by the biggest influencers in the field of Emotional Intelligence. You can use this link to register. It will also gain you access to many more webinars including those by Dr. Daniel Siegel about the teenage brain, Daniel Goleman on Focus, Trip Hawkins on the new adventure video game “If,” and Vicki Zakrzewski on teaching students positivity. Once you’ve registered & logged in, use the following link to go to the recordings page: http://eq.org/eq-week-2014-recordings/.

Happy Spring!

Forgiveness

Scan 6

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.

- Mahatma Gandhi

“Sammy took my Star Wars Lego out of my hand today at indoor recess. But I forgave him. He loves them too.” relayed my six year old son last week. “How do you know about forgiveness?” I asked surprised. “Because you talked about it,” he said with an implied “of course, you know” tone. I marvel at what sticks sometimes and what does not. I was fortunate that the word and the meaning behind it “stuck” this time. It was a reminder to me to continue to use the language of forgiveness because as he grows older the issues will only grow more complex and the need for forgiveness will only increase.

Forgiveness is defined as a voluntary process that involves an individual’s change in emotion or attitude regarding someone who has offended them.1 The person who has been offended has to make a decision to hold the person harmless and not desire retaliation of any kind. Though often addressed in religious circles, there seems less discussion about forgiveness as a social construct. Yet as children grow and develop, conflict will be a regular part of their relationships. Being able to forgive and move on is a critical skill to practice in friendships and in family life. If all is forgiven, then past hurts or poor behavioral choices are not brought up in the heat of an argument. If the past is forgiven, children and parents always start anew and have the chance to make the best choices for all involved.

One of the finest examples of forgiveness in my opinion is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. An entire nation decided that forgiveness was the central vehicle for dealing with the aftermath of apartheid in order to repair the significant damage done. The Commission states “The conflict during this period resulted in violence and human rights abuses from all sides. No section of society escaped these abuses.”2 People who committed the abuses had to openly discuss their acts of violence and seek forgiveness from those whom they offended. And in the face of their abusers, many were able to forgive. The strength and courage of those people is immeasurable.

Raising confident, socially aware and competent children means that we give them the tools to make responsible decisions considering the consequences to themselves and others. But when they make mistakes or others make mistakes that hurt them, they also have the support, practice and strength to forgive and move on. Here are some simple ways to begin encouraging forgiveness in your family’s daily routine.

Incorporate the language of forgiveness. After a disagreement with your partner that your children have witnessed, let them know that you have forgiven one another and have moved on. This modeling will be one of the most powerful lessons you can provide for them. Also offer forgiveness to your child after they have caused harm. And most importantly, move on. The mistakes in the past stay in the past not to be brought up as an accusation at a later date. Children who feel they have a “record” of past wrongs can get into a negative choice cycle assuming that those poor decisions are a part of their identity. Parents who are able to move on offer children a clean slate and the opportunity to make the best choices moving forward.

Model empathy. As you discuss family member’s or friend’s problems, make sure you include empathetic comments. “It is so difficult on the family that Grandpa decided to stop communicating with your Uncle Fred. But we love Grandpa and we love Uncle Fred. We know they are going through a hard time right now. We will offer support to both of them.”

Facilitate dialogue on problem solving between siblings and with friends. If children are guided through a problem solving process – defining the problem, articulating their feelings, understanding the other person’s feelings, generating solutions and trying one out – they can more easily forgive and move on. For more on facilitating problem solving with children, check out the previous post “Working It Out.”

Give your children opportunities to repair harm done. Children may feel bad about themselves after they have made a poor choice and harmed another. Perhaps they struggled with controlling their impulses. Sometimes in that moment children can feel overwhelmed as if all of the important people in their lives are mad at them and like nothing they can do or say can make things better. Help them practice making good choices after they have caused harm. You might say, “Let’s think of ways we can make this better.” Then offer support as they fix a broken toy, repair a ripped book or offer a popsicle to a child they knocked down. I often find myself saying to E when a friend gets hurt, “Go check on him. Ask if he’s okay or if he needs a bandaid.” The more practice children get thinking about and putting caring energy into repairing damage, the better equipped they will be for situations in which serious damage has occurred and they need to be strong and make better choices. And in turn, when they have been hurt, they will be more ready to give a second chance to their offender. In addition, discuss the consequences of not forgiving. “If you do not forgive Sammy for taking your Lego piece, what will happen to your friendship?”

There will be plenty of opportunities for forgiveness if children receive guidance from an adult. Those experiences will assist them in becoming more empathetic people and perhaps, stronger and gentler with themselves and others.

For another article on forgiveness, check out:

From Maurice Elias, Lessons in SEL; Forgiveness and Gratitude

1 American Psychological Association (2006). Forgiveness: A Sampling of Research Results. Washington, D.C.: Office of Internal Affairs. Reprinted 2008.

2 The Official Truth and Reconciliation Website. Retrieved on March 12, 2014.

New Early Childhood Transitions Support

tight rope walker illust 001

The readiness is all.

– William Shakespeare

As I looked back at early March of 2013, I was thinking about E’s transition from preschool into kindergarten. What a major transition that was for him and for our entire family. I spent a considerable amount of time researching and finding ways to ease that significant change. He moved into a unfamiliar building with new children, in his case, ages 6-13. And we all had to learn about and develop relationships with a new set of teachers and staff with a full day schedule and a rigorous curriculum versus the half-day, play-based activities of preschool to which we had grown so accustomed.

Last year, while the transition was on my mind, I wrote the article “In Between Here and There” which I am sharing below again for all of those families who are in the midst of that upcoming transition this year. Among many other supports that eased our transition, there was a mentor Mom, a veteran at the new school, who helped us significantly by answering our questions. Many seemed small but nonetheless added up to worry and a fear of the unknown. At E’s new school, they assigned a mentor family to every incoming kindergarten family which is ideal. However if your new school does not provide that kind of support, ask for it. Ask to get in touch with a first or second grader’s family who knows the culture, routines and expectations. Then all of your questions can be answered no matter how insignificant they might feel. Answering those questions for you, your family and your child will pave the way for a smooth transition.

For educators, there is a new resource that will assist you as you plan to support families in making those transitions and also offer an opportunity for dialogue and collaboration. Reader and regular contributor to Confident Parents, Confident Kids, Shannon Wanless, Shannon illustration 001Director of the SEED (Supporting Early Education and Development) Lab and Professor of Psychology in Education at the University of Pittsburgh along with collaborator Christine Patton, Senior Research Analyst at the Harvard Family Research Project have created a discussion board specific to this topic. It’s entitled “Let’s Talk Transition! Family Engagement During the Transition to School.” This is a particularly helpful resource because it guides educators through goal setting, accessing resources, sharing best practices and engaging in active dialogue around the issue of successful transitions. Check it out!

May your transition as a family from preschool into kindergarten be supported in a way that allows you to keep your sanity and your children to fully engage in the joy of learning.

 

In Between Here and There

Long ago, but not so very long ago
The world was different, oh yes it was

Time goes by, time brings changes, you change, too
Nothing comes that you can’t handle, so on you go

-       Our Town from the Cars movie, by James Taylor[i]

These words were sung in my house yesterday by my soulful five year old, with a passion that might come from the life experience of a forty year old who has seen hard times. I thought how strange it was that he would pick the somewhat sad and reflective song from his beloved movie, Cars[ii]versus some of the more popular, upbeat songs. My husband reminded me, “This is how he’s feeling these days.” Moving from his current preschool to Kindergarten is his impending world change. Sometimes it feels as if life is one big transition. You are starting a new job or business venture. Your spouse is working on a degree. Your son is taking up the trumpet or beginning a baseball league. Your daughter is entering puberty. Transitions abound. And though sometimes the new seems exciting, the changes can also be scary, frustrating and stressful.

There is an entire line of inquiry devoted to the topic of transitions in the early childhood years for the very reason that there are so many that occur in a young child’s life. They experience both vertical transitions, like graduating from preschool and moving on to kindergarten as my son is about to do and horizontal transitions, like moving from different settings each day from home, to preschool, to the sitters, to gymnastics and back home. And so throughout childhood and adolescence, physical, psychological and environmental changes are nearly constant.

Listening seems to be one key to understanding the kind of support people need in going through a transition. Studies have found that children’s perceptions of what kind of support they need to make major or minor transitions differ significantly from adult’s perceptions.[iii] As is true with parenting in general, there is no one single best approach. However sociocultural research points to the importance of parents being involved nonetheless. I asked my own son the following and tried to listen carefully.

“How are you feeling about moving from your preschool to kindergarten in the fall?”

“I don’t want to go. I just want to stay at my school,” E responded.

And when I asked what we could do together to help make the move from one school to the next more fun and enjoyable, he said, “Nothing.” And so it’s not a simple process to ask questions and listen to the response and then do what your child suggests they need. But when facing a major transition, there are a few ways that you can offer support to those in the transition. Though the ideas for the most part are geared for children, these suggestions could apply to any age.

Raise your awareness.

First, just having a greater awareness of the fact that a transition is taking place and that it’s likely stressful on the participant will give you greater empathy for them. After five years of a whole school change initiative I was facilitating in which an elementary school moved from failing to achieving through much dedication, collaboration and hard work, the district decided to close down the school because it was an old facility. Teachers were let go and had to apply to new positions in other schools. We gave each teacher the gift of the book, Transitions; Making Sense of Life’s Changes.[iv] It is an exceptional resource for any person struggling with a transition. In it William Bridges, the author, explains that in every transition there is a death first – a letting go of the old way of thinking, being or doing. The one in the midst of change must let go of the old in order to embrace the new. Sometimes there are no physical manifestations of the change but only internal differences as in a new understanding. In situations that are supposed to be joyful like having a baby, it’s not socially acceptable to mourn the loss of time with your partner or life before baby but nonetheless it’s a part of the transition. Being aware that there’s a mourning process taking place with your child – moving from one school to another or even leaving a beloved teacher – will give you greater empathy for what you child is experiencing.

Create a ritual or rite of passage.

Somewhere in our backyard is a pacifier lovingly placed in a box and buried in the dirt. E and I had a ceremony to say goodbye to the pacifier when it was time to move on. That experience helped E break the pacifier habit for good and in a way that emotionally supported his transition. When I quit a job that left me feeling disenchanted and depleted, I wrote down all of my frustrations and burned them up in the fireplace. Creating an event to recognize or symbolize the passing away of the old and the passageway to the new can help a person commit to a new path and let go of the old.

If your children are school age, they may be coming to the end of their school year. Why not offer some opportunity for reflection on their year? Some teachers go over the assignments and work produced throughout the year with students to see progress made but this does not happen enough in my estimation. Why not do that at home? Get out the artwork produced, homework completed and papers returned and take a look at all the learning that has taken place throughout the year. Celebrate in some small way with your family (a picnic, special dessert, trip to a favorite park?).

Embrace the in-between.

That place in-between when you’ve let go of the old but have not yet begun the new can be incredibly uncomfortable. We are anxious for the new to begin. After all, we’ve committed to letting go of the past. Sometimes we will even make choices that will escalate the change so that the uncomfortable nothingness of the in-between passes quickly. In the neutral zone, as Bridges calls it, is the optimal time for quiet reflection on what has passed and also on hopes and dreams for the future. Who do you want to become? Children could take advantage of this opportunity with a little guidance each summer since every new school year is an opportunity, a new chance. Provide opportunities for reflection by modeling your own reflection – talking aloud or to your family about your thoughts. Allow children to be reflective by asking questions that do not require answers but only their private thoughts. Allow the questions to hang in the air without expecting a response. You may be surprised as a day or week goes by and a response comes back to you when they have had the chance to really think about their desires for their next step.

Pave the way for the new.

When developmental changes occur, people do not leave the old behind or throw it away. The past stages are built upon and cumulative so that the ways of the infant, toddler, preschooler and beyond are always a part of who they are. If I get frustrated with my son when he has a moment of acting like he might have when he was a toddler, I have to remind myself that the toddler is still in there and a part of him. Sometimes children need reminding that what they are leaving behind is not gone forever. We can go visit a favorite teacher next year and see how she is doing. We can play that old cd from music class and relive the memories. Paving the way for the new means offering ways to stay connected to the old and then focusing on new opportunities. Unknown friends and teachers might seem scary. But going into that new environment before it’s time for school to begin can ease the transition. If it’s in your control, think about ways you can gently introduce the new. Is there a children’s book on the topic you could read and talk about together? Are there other kids you could hang out with who have experienced the new situation and could share their impressions? Any safe, “toe in the water” experiences with the new can help your child feel more comfortable.

Returning from the in-between or reflection stage of a transition ultimately “… brings us back to ourselves and involves a reintegration of our new identity with elements of our old one.… Inwardly and outwardly, one comes home,” writes Bridges. Helping children through the uncertainty and fear of the new and unknown can allow them to explore their new direction with excitement, wonder and hope.


[i] Taylor, J. (2006). Our town. On Cars Soundtrack. Los Angeles,CA: Walt Disney Records, Pixar.

[ii] Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar (Producer), & Lasseter, J., & Ranft, J. et al. (Writer, Director). (2006). Cars (Motion Picture). United States: Walt Disney Pictures.

[iii] Vogler, P., Crivello, G., & Woodhead, M. (2008). Early childhood transitions research: A review of concepts, theory and practice. The Hague, The Netherlands: Bernard van Leer Foundation.

[iv] Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions; Making sense of life’s changes. (2nd. Ed.) Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Responsible Decision Making

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I heard the news today, oh boy…

- “A Day in the Life,” The Beatles

When national or local news reports a situation in which a person has made a harmful choice effecting children’s lives, I begin to go down the black hole of worry. The dangers that my son faces as he goes about his daily life can seem frightening and at times overwhelming. Also each day our children travel through a digital global environment that is an unpredictable territory promoting impulsive responses with the click of a mouse. Because there is so much that remains out of my control, I choose to refocus my energies on how I can prepare my child to respond in any situation in a way that demonstrates care and concern for himself and others and does no harm. I want him to be prepared with the decision making skills to think through his actions in advance and how they might effect others and the environment around him when I am not there to guide him.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning defines responsible decision making as “the ability to make constructive and respectful choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on considerations of ethical standards, safety concerns, the realistic evaluation of the consequences that stem from actions and the well-being of self and others.”1 And what makes a decision responsible? There are many complex theories on how we develop our sense of ethics. One such theory by respected educational philosopher, Nel Noddings, explains that caring is not an outcome of responsible decision making, but begins in utero as the foundational seed, a precondition.2 Each time a child is shown care, they are forming their sense of worthiness. “Another person is focused on my needs and desires and I am worthy of that attention,” is the underlying message sent each time a parent shows care.

Incidents of great harm are not typically caused by an individual waking up one day angry at the world. We know they are a result of numerous small moments in life that add up to a person’s sense of identity and worth or lack of it. The child who acts as a bully on the playground is expressing hurts he or she struggles to contain. And in turn, often the bullied child becomes the bully as he act out in self-protection. Complicated issues evolve over the course of a child’s growth and development in which they will need to make their own choices. Do I trust this adult? Do I go along with my friends? What should I do if I witness harm but am not yet involved myself?

There are simple ways that we can work on responsible decision making with our children. Small, consistent moments of practice and reflection over time will help fine-tune a child’s ability to think through consequences and the effects of various choices and actions. A child doesn’t “Just say no to drugs,” without a great many small experiences of saying no to minor issues of concern. Typically children do not act as “upstanders,” sticking up for their friends who are being bullied, unless they have received coaching, practice and support for doing so. Here are some ways you can reflect on your relationship with your children and how you might incorporate practice, reflection and coaching on responsible decision making.

Articulate your love and acceptance for the child in the midst of poor choices. When children have made a mistake or a choice that caused harm and are being reprimanded, they are unable to distinguish between the action and their own worthiness as a person. It is an important teaching opportunity – birth through young adulthood – to assure them of your unconditional love no matter what choices they make. Children who do not have a sense of love and belonging and consistently feel bad about who they are tend to also consistently make poor choices to reinforce that notion. If you see a pattern with your child in which they are making poor choices over and over again and not correcting them, consider whether they have heard the message enough and believe that they are worthy and loved. Of course, the action is not acceptable and we are quick to point that out. But next time your child makes a mistake, also take it as an opportunity to reinforce their worthiness. Though challenging particularly when your child has done something that you feel is disappointing or even shameful, this one step will go farther toward helping your child make positive choices than any other.

Reflect on your language. Often negative language patterns will creep into our conversations with our children and catch us unaware. Recall that the language you use helps shape a child’s sense of identity. They understand themselves through your reflections. “Are you being lazy again?” might seem like an inane, harmless comment late on a Saturday morning but becomes a self defining word in a child’s head. So too, sarcasm is misunderstood by children since the meaning and the words are in opposition. Children realize the words are not authentic but hide a meaning that can be hurtful. Take a few days or even a week to heighten your awareness of your language with your children. Jot down on a note pad what judgement words are part of your lexicon. Realize that they are also becoming a part of your child’s vocabulary of “what I know about myself.” What judgment words do you use? How can you catch yourself? What do you really want to say to your child about who they are? Jot those down and enter those words into conversation. “I notice you have quite an imagination when you sit down with a blank sheet of paper.” And how can you reframe those judgment phrases? Instead of labeling the child “lazy,” you might say, “It’s late morning. I missed seeing you earlier.” Brene Brown in her book, Daring Greatly3 invokes a conversation from the Harry Potter books that applies here so well. Sirius, Harry’s adult mentor and friend tells him,

You’re not a bad person. You’re a very good person who bad things have happened to. Besides, the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are. 4

Ask good questions. “Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve,” wrote Roger Lewin. As you observe situations, relay family stories or talk about your day, focus on open-ended questions that help your child reflect on decisions made. “Ginny received a demerit today at recess. What choices did she make? What was Ginny thinking when she made that choice? What did she want? Did she get it? How did her choice effect other children around her? How did it effect the teachers? Will there be any lasting effects you could notice tomorrow when you return to school? What other choices could she have made?” After the emotions have calmed, misbehaviors that you and your child witness or ones that your child commits can be a good chance for reflection. But also it helps to question daily situations that might be taken for granted to expand your child’s thinking. Instead of “What do you want to play next?” you might say, “How many different activities can we think of to play?”

Talk about your own thought process. Are you debating over something? Share some of your thinking with your child. “I’m not sure I want to go into business with a friend. I’m worried it will hurt our friendship. But on the positive side, I do think we balance each others’ skills.” Hearing your own thought process will provide a model for weighing pros and cons and thinking through situations before acting.

Initiate family problem solving. If there is an issue that affects the whole family, use it as a chance to practice problem solving together. An enjoyable topic such as “Where should we go for our family vacation this summer?” could be the perfect chance to brainstorm numerous ideas and consider the pros and cons of each one. There are many structures and strategies for problem solving but they all boil down to the same steps. Define the problem. Articulate the feelings involved. Brainstorm solutions. Evaluate the pros and cons. Pick one all can agree upon. Try it. Evaluate whether or not it worked. If it didn’t, go back to your solution ideas and pick a different one to try.

Look for ways to show care. Find small and regular ways to show care at home, at school and in your neighborhood. Your children’s involvement in house cleaning, chores or recycling all show care of your household. Picking up trash on your walk to school or in the local park shows care of and responsibility for your environment. When planning school parties or events, think about how you can show care at your school. Thank the school secretaries for their hard work with a card or a treat. Work together on planting flowers to beautify the grounds.

Use and discuss consequences. There are many opportunities throughout the course of the week to discuss consequences if you look for them. “What do you think will happen if you do not complete your homework?” Raising questions about predicting outcomes can initiate thinking in a young person about causes and effects. Also in your discipline toolbox, using logical consequences for misbehaviors is another way to generate that thinking. “You threw your toy across the room and it broke. We will try to fix it but it could be that the toy is not usable anymore. What could help you next time you feel like throwing a toy?”

Discuss children’s and young adult literature. “Responsible or irresponsible decision making are a central themes of most great literature,” says forty-year veteran high school teacher, Linda Smith. In any given story, discuss the following questions and allow your child to think about her responses.

What was the character thinking before the action?

What was the character feeling?

What did the character want to have happen? What was the motivation?

How did she consider the effect on others or on the environment?

Why did she make the decision to act the way she did?

Was the outcome what she had hoped?

What other decisions could she have made? What effects would another decision have on others?

The following are a few recommendations of children’s books that are particularly suited to discussing responsible decision making.

Picture Book Recommendations

Curious George books by H.A. Rey – The plot with all of these books involves the monkey George being curious and making a sometimes impulsive choice with disastrous consequences. However, George always finds a way to repair the damage, make things right again and, sometimes, comes out looking like a hero.

The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler – The rhythm of the language alone is captivating. The story is about an unlikely friendship between a snail and whale and their interdependence. Ultimately, the tiny snail is able to save the giant whale through his creativity and caring.

Young Adult Literature Recommendations

Choose Your Own Adventure – There are numerous adventure books that allow the reader to offer choices throughout the book. “If the character enters the cave, go to page 37. If the character runs around the outside of the cave, go to page 45.” These are fun and exciting ways for your tween-age child to explore choices and outcomes.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” This classic Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a coming of age story in which Scout Finch watches her father, Atticus make courageous choices that ripple throughout the community combating racism and injustice.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding – This is another classic novel that explores the issues of responsible decision making. Ordinary small boys are stranded on an island and the basic worries of their previous home life, like homework, become inconsequential. They deal with basic survival issues and power struggles and each make choices that will determine whether they live or die.

When you begin to worry about the dangers in your child’s world, refocus that energy into action. Do something about it by preparing your children. You can give them valuable practice in making decisions that will strengthen relationships and contribute to community life. And we will all benefit.

1 Weissberg, R. P. & Cascarino, J (2013). Academic learning + social-emotional learning = national priority. Phi Delta Kappan, 95 (2): 8-13.

2 Noddings, N. (2002a) Starting at Home: Caring and Social Policy. Berkeley, CA, University of California Press.

3 Brown, Brene. (2012). Daring Greatly; How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books.

4 Rowling, J.K. (2001). Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.

 

“Teaching Social and Emotional Skills in Busy Family Life” Webinar

IMG_4786 cropped for flyerJoin Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ author Jennifer Miller for a free webinar entitled “Teaching Social and Emotional Skills in Busy Family Life” on Saturday, March 15th at 10:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time and 1:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Learn the importance of social and emotional skills in family life, ways you can teach those skills and practical strategies you can use to help your children become more self-aware and practice self-control.

This one-hour webinar will be a part of a week-long emotional intelligence webinar series hosted by Six Seconds. During EQ (Emotional Quotient) Week, there will be 70+ presenters from 15+ countries sharing how they are using emotional intelligence in business, parenting, education and health care. Please sign up in advance. Spaces are limited. Join this worldwide free online conference at www.eqweek.org.

Transitions

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The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance. 

– Alan Watts

From waking up to eating breakfast, playing with toys to going to school, homework time to dinner time, transitions punctuate every day. Because we are creatures of inertia (remember “a body at rest stays at rest” from science class?), these transitions can be challenging for children and stressful for parents. Have you ever watched in awe as a parent on the playground says “Time to go.” and their kids come running and they leave quickly and easily? Maybe transitions run smoothly for them because each individual in their family can quickly switch gears. However, it is more likely that the parents have set clear expectations ahead of time and, perhaps, offered practice opportunities prior to that moment.

There are numerous strategies educators use to ease transitions throughout the day. After all, instead of asking three children to change activities, they have to direct twenty to thirty children. In order to facilitate smooth movements, educators proactively teach routines, provide regular reminders and reinforcements, use quieting techniques, employ sounds and lead games to change the energy and prepare students for their next activity. These teaching techniques may sound like extra work and may not seem necessary, but actually they help children practice a fundamental brain function, one of the “executive functions” called cognitive flexibility.[i] This flexibility has been found to be a necessary pre-condition for academic achievement. These physical transitions can help children practice mental jumps as they move from thinking about their Legos construction to putting away all toys in the living room. Children need to be able to hold several thoughts in their heads and move to new thoughts and activities fairly quickly. This practice helps them exercise this ability to switch gears.

You too can become adept at transitions in your household. First, think about which transitions might need some work. When do you get aggravated, anxious or frustrated with your children? Which transitions in the day tend to be consistently challenging? Check out the strategies below and try one out to see if it can work for you.

Co-create a plan. Though you can initiate games galore to create an enjoyable transition, nothing replaces the creation of a routine plan together. If you are struggling with moving from playtime to bedtime preparations, sit down together with a big blank poster when there is not time pressure. Talk about the transition. What usually happens? What needs to be accomplished during that time? How can you plan it out so that it can go smoothly? Should you set a timer after dinner to go off when playtime is Summer and Fall 2013 391over and clean up begins? Would your children prefer a five minute warning? How will each step proceed from there – from cleaning up toys, to changing into pajamas, to brushing teeth, to the selection of bedtime books. Formalize your plan in writing – and/or with drawings. Be sure both you and your children create the poster. The more involved they are the better so that they own the process you are discussing. Refer to it and use it as a reminder before the transition begins. With some practice, you may find your transitions moving more smoothly.

Set clear expectations. When you are not rushing somewhere or transitioning to a different activity, talk about the transition that is challenging. You might even try out a family meeting to work on problem solving and gather input from all family members if the transition applies to all. Again, ask “What needs to happen when we move from breakfast to getting dressed for school?” and “How can accomplish it in a way in which we get our jobs done?” The sub-text, of course, is that we get our jobs done without Mommy nagging, cajoling, bribing, yelling, hassling or generally getting frustrated by the lack of progress.

Draw a magic bubble.  In my family, it seemed the moment we would sit down to dinner, the phone would ring. E would ask each night to bring toys to the table (to which, our consistent response was “No.”). The doorbell would buzz. And our family dinner, which was supposed to be a sacred time for connecting, would be chaotic. So we began drawing a magic bubble. Each family member walked around the table chanting a magic word of their choosing waving a wand (we used toy wands) to create the bubble before we sat down to eat. This action signified that there were to be no electronic devices at the table, no toys, just our family members present with one another sitting and enjoying food and drink together.  The magic bubble could be drawn for cleaning up toys to focus solely on that task alone or it could be drawn for the activities involved with bedtime. The key to the magic bubble is that all participate in drawing it and maintaining it. And when it is broken, the magic is broken and so too, the rules and expectations of that activity.

Use sounds. Recently, I watched a storyteller use a slide whistle to great effect with young children. She told them to raise their hands as they heard the whistle sound go up and put hands down as the sound lowered. Not only did hands go up and down, but their attention and focus went with it. Many teachers who use the Responsive Classroom approach use chimes to gain children’s attention. Find a gentle sound that can be heard above other noises but is not abrasive or loud. Some teachers use a clap pattern that children are expected to repeat. “Clap, clap – pause – clap, clap, clap” Or use the sound of your voice. “Who can hear me?” said in a moderate tone can start off the transition. Next, “Who can hear me?” in a quieter voice can begin to gather children’s attention. Finally in a whisper “Who can hear me?” can quiet a group of children. Be sure that you finish what you’ve begun. Relay your instructions for their next activity in a soft, hushed voice so that they continue to give you their focused attention.

Try the freeze game. What young child doesn’t love the freeze game? I have yet to meet one. You can use the freeze game effectively for transitions if you introduce it and have your children practice in advance. Again, find a time and space when there is no time pressure. Introduce the freeze game by asking children to play and then, freeze when you call out the word. Try not to yell “Freeze.” Model your own “inside voice.” If they have to strain to hear you, that will call their attention to you in a more productive way than yelling. They will also learn to listen to your “inside voice.”  While they are frozen, give them the next instruction. Try to break down your transition activity into the smallest steps possible so that they have clear expectations for what they should be doing and get plenty of practice. For example, “Freeze” (maintaining your quiet voice), “Get up out of your seats and quietly push your chairs in.” “Freeze.” “Walk over to the living room and gently and neatly place one toy in the bin.” “Freeze…”

Do a song or dance dress rehearsal. Inserting fun into your routines can help engage children and allow for a smoother transition. Find a song you and your children know by heart and practice the transition while singing the song. It does not need to be a song that guides what you are doing in the transition (i.e. “Now I put on my boots.”) but rather, just a song that is one they will remember and be able to sing easily. I typically can think of only the most basic songs like, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “Happy Birthday,” “Jingle Bells” (my son loves this one and it doesn’t have to be in season) or “You are my Sunshine.” You may also use the rhythm of the song to guide your movements. Zip up your coat to the beat. Or you may choreograph a fairy princess dance ahead of time during which you glide across the floor while picking up toys. Children can’t help but get engaged in the fun of the transition and you just might enjoy it too!

Remind and reinforce. Whenever you are about to move into a transition, be certain to remind your children that it is coming. This is critical to pave the way for the success of any strategy you try. Also, when the transition has been made, reinforce how well it went. Be sure and recognize small steps toward a smooth transition. “I notice how you moved quickly from the dinner table to clean up. Keep up the good work.” Even if it is still a challenge, give it time. If your children reduced the time in cleaning up or didn’t hassle you as much in getting out of the door, recognize progress and effort made.

Make certain that whatever strategies you choose to employ, you are consistent. Children will be able to buzz through the routine only if it’s a process that is repeated each time. At my home in Ohio as winter drags on, it’s easy to get into bad habits of running late or nagging when routines are not going smoothly. Reinvigorate your routines by trying out one of the above ideas and see if you can add some fun and energy to your household.

For more on the morning routine, check out the previous post, “A Truly Good Morning.”

For more on the dinner routine, check out the previous post, “Dinner: Delight or Disaster?”

For more on the transition from preschool to kindergarten, check out the previous post, “In Between Here and There.”


[i] National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2011). Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function. Center on the Developing Child. Harvard University.

Reader Responses to “How Do You Live a Life with Heart?”

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I demonstrate open-hearted love, compassion and empathy with my granddaughter by being really and truly present with her. I think there is no better gift of love than to role-model complete presence with another.

-       Tom Rausch *Leadership Beyond Limits, LLC* Leader and Coach to Leaders http://www.linkedin.com/in/tomrausch http://twitter.com/tcrausch

I agree with the need for complete presence. I have been building mindfulness practices into my life and my interactions with my children to try and model this. It seems like such an easy approach to life for them to pick up in the early years (4 and 7 years old).

I also spend a lot of time modeling positive intent. I want my children to assume everyone is trying their best (including themselves!), and by bringing this up everywhere I see it, …I hope to train their inner selves to see the world this way too. When we see someone doing something we might want to judge, we talk about what might be getting in the way of that person being their best selves….despite striving for this.

-       Shannon Wanless, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Program of Applied Developmental Psychology, Department of Psychology in Education, School of Education, University of Pittsburgh

Happy Valentine’s Day!