Annual Halloween Cooperative Games

…Imaginative Fun and Skill-building In-Person or at a Distance

Perhaps you volunteer in your child’s classroom and are helping plan the annual Halloween party. Maybe you are a teacher looking for ways to both entertain, celebrate, and build skills on the holiday. Or you could be planning an indoor celebration with siblings or a small friend group with rain threatening trick-or-treating plans. Whatever your role or goal, the following ideas are sure to make your little ghouls or goblins laugh with delight as they collaborate with their peers, approach scary characters in an entertaining way and build social and emotional skills. I’ve listed which ones could be used over Zoom for an online classroom or group experience. To ensure a fun time, go over Zoom rules first including muting yourself until it’s your time to speak and using hand signals like raising a hand or using the sign language for clapping so that all are prepared to contribute. Check out these games appropriate for eight-years-old and up!

Monster Back Story

Materials: Monster masks, or construction paper, glue, markers and large popsicle sticks (to create monster masks)

Gather on Zoom or in-person. Hold monster masks up to your face. You can either create them together as a craft at home prior to the event or ask children to bring any mask they might have to share. The leader can introduce one monster at a time. “This is Dracula. He’s a vampire who survives by sucking peoples’ blood. But he wasn’t always as he is today…” Then go around the circle and ask each child to provide a detail from his childhood explaining why he came to be the person he is today.

Be sure to offer the “pass” option if a child cannot think of an addition to the back story.

Social and Emotional Skills Practiced: Collaboration, Empathy, Perspective-taking

Witches’ and Wizards’ Charades

Materials: Index cards, marker, stick or wand

Gather on Zoom or in-person. For Zoom, create slides with each of the magical enchantments below. If in-person, make index cards prepared with the illusions listed below, one per card. Ask each participant to bring a stick or better yet, a wand for casting spells. Explain the rules of the game. One person is the witch or wizard and they get to select a card from the pile. They also hold the wand and cast the spell. The students seated directly to their immediate left and right will serve as their team. They read the card together and whisper a plan for acting out the illusion. No talking aloud or sounds can be made just acting. They continue to act out the illusion while the rest of the group guesses what they are doing. The person to guess correctly first is the next wizard or witch.

For the index cards, here are the magical illusions to be acted out: levitation, or a floating person or object; invisibility, person or object disappears; grower taller; shrinking; growing longer hair; changing from a person to a toad; flying on a broomstick; making it light and then, dark; making limbs disappear; disappearing in one part of the room, reappearing in another, charming a snake.

Social and Emotional Skills Practiced: Social awareness, Active listening, Collaboration, Negotiation, Problem-solving, Nonverbal communication

Cooperative Ghost Story Telling

Gather on Zoom or in-person. The leader establishes the rules to get the game started. Let the group know that each person will have a turn to contribute one sentence to the ghost story. Pass around a talking stick and let participants know that only the one who possesses the stick may talk. The others must listen carefully in order to build upon the story. The leader can begin with the classic line, “It was a dark, stormy night and…” This requires no setup and no materials. Kids will delight in the creativity and imagination involved. This is also a wonderful transition game that can be used on the spur-of-the-moment when waiting for a next class or activity.

Social and Emotional Skill Practiced: Collaboration, Creative Thinking, Active Listening

Robbery Report

This is a great one for Zoom or in-person. This one was created for Classroom Conflict Resolution Training for Elementary Schools in San Francisco, California and reprinted in the A Year of Student’s Creative Response to Conflict curriculum. It has been used effectively in classrooms. Children love it!

The parent relays a robbery report and children must remember the details of the report by listening to it. Say it once and see what they can remember. Then, read it a second and perhaps, third time and see if they’re listening improves.

Parent: “Please listen carefully as I have to go to the hospital right away. I just called the police from the gas station on the corner. Wait here and report the robbery to them. I was walking into Johnson’s Convenience Store and this guy came running out and almost knocked me over. He was carrying a white bag and it looked like he had a gun in his left hand. He was wearing a Levi jacket with the sleeves cut out and a green and blue plaid shirt and blue jeans with a hole in the right knee. He had skinny legs and a big stomach. He wore wire rim glasses and high top red Converse tennis shoes. He was bald and had a brown mustache and was six and a half feet tall, probably in his mid-thirties.” 1

Social and Emotional Skills Practiced: Active Listening

Enjoy engaging in one or more of these games with your family, friends, or students. Happy Halloween!


1. Nia-Azariah, K., Kern-Crotty, F., & Gomer Bangel, L. (1992). A Year of Students Response to Conflict: 35 Experiential Workshops for the Classroom. Cincinnati, OH: Center for Peace Education.

#Halloween #Parenting #SEL

In The Washington Post… “Is Crowdsourced Parenting Eroding Confidence?”

by Jessica Runberg

Journalist Jessica Runberg interviewed Jennifer Miller of Confident Parents, Confident Kids on the role of the internet in parenting. “Should we listen to the advice on social media? How do we not feel overwhelmed by conflicting opinions? Who should we listen to?” were some of her important questions. Check out the article in today’s The Washington Post in the “On Parenting” section.

It begins…

Babies don’t come with instruction manuals, yet countless people assured me that I’d know exactly what to do when I became a parent. They were mostly right; my parenthood badge unlocked an internal compass.

But there’s also been a lot of Googling, group texts, calls to my mom and panicked posts in my neighborhood moms’ Facebook group when I couldn’t get my toddler to stay in her crib or wondered which swim school was best.

The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” takes on new meaning for millennial parents who turn to their peers online for counsel, as well as influence others’ parenting choices through this solicited advice. When your village is the Internet, that’s a lot of (often conflicting) advice, and that makes me wonder: Is crowdsourced parenting eroding our parental confidence?

And later…

“The inner should always inform the perception of the outer. In other words, have we deeply reflected on our core values? That’s something that comes from within. I think we always need to use that litmus test when looking outward for information,” says Miller, adding that looking outward is not inherently a problem.


Thank you, Jessica Runberg for selecting a topic that impacts all if not most parents now, for your accuracy and careful research and for the opportunity to contribute.

Embracing the Mystery

Acceptance In Uncertain Times

Excitement gets caught like a lump in my throat and won’t pass through,” said my husband the other day and I was reminded of the reflection my son offered this summer… “I don’t get excited about plans because I know they probably won’t work out.” I’ve been wondering about why after vaccinations abound, there seems more stress in the air – for myself and others around me. It seems we’ve not only grown weary of a pandemic and all of the restrictions that go with it, but now we live a strange and complex existence where we are sort of cautious, where the specter of illness stills looms, but we are back to school and work. We have new restrictions that govern our lives but there’s no real clear set of rules that define our daily choices – only complexities and at times, paradoxes. 

Making plans continues to frazzle the most unflappable of us as we attempt to go about our lives and nourish our relationships and yet continue to manage difficult choices and the resulting circumstances – “her daughter is sick. We don’t know if she’s been COVID tested. Should we keep our plans with their family?” “It’s raining and we were planning to meet at an outdoor patio. Now what?” And “Part of our friend’s family is vaccinated but there are a few who are not. How do we manage that situation?” There seem to be more illnesses whether its the common cold (it’s made the rounds in our family, how about yours?), more injuries, more deaths (whether COVID-related or not), more individuals who are dealing with serious depression and/or anxiety. And we are pairing those conditions with our inability to participate in the rituals of life that we rely on (oh, we didn’t realize how much!) for our social and emotional well-being including funerals (how do we mourn without our community around us?), weddings, and other important rites of passage.

One lesson that returns again and again is the idea of acceptance; of surrender; of embracing what is instead of expecting something to occur regurgitated from an old, outdated playbook.  This means that we have less control than we often expect. Our scripts have fundamentally changed and it’s not as easy to predict how life will evolve. When my son interviewed older family members for a history project last year about their times of hardships during war or civil unrest, one consistent theme among them that kept them strong was faith. And though they hail from various religious traditions, I think they were speaking to this acceptance of the mystery…that there are a number of factors outside of our control. And instead of feeling the victim to others’ choices or the changes in the weather, we accept that we are part of our bigger universe. We trust we have a purpose in being here. Our unique constellation of gifts is ready for our meaningful contribution. And that bigger picture is unfolding in complex ways we may not always understand. 

Synchronous moments — those joyful times in which things happen smoothly and beautifully — are when connections are made in harmony and beyond explanation or our meddling. These only happen when we are present to the moment and flowing with the changes around us and within us. So what gets in the way of our living every moment in this way? We attempt to control. We force and push and stop our feelings — what our hearts say to be true — because actually fully experiencing the feelings could be too painful. We fear fully feeling pain, rejection and disappointment. But we also fear fully feeling the good stuff too – excitement, joy and happiness because what if things change rapidly and our happiness is ripped away. How could we bear it? So our feelings’ prevention strategy – what we may call “coping” – actually removes us from the flow of life. And our active engagement in stopping our feelings creates anxiety and compounds those repressed feelings so that there’s a rumbling and a welling up of emotions that grows like hot lava inside of us and eventually, will surface and run over (and perhaps, not in a constructive way).

So what does it mean to feel all the way through the feeling? How do we know when we’ve allowed our feelings to emerge? I’ve asked this of myself many times and my simple answer is this… We know when we’ve fully felt our feelings when we’ve gone through the sensations, named them in our body, hearts and spirits and accepted that they exist. Often it also helps to answer the question: where did those feelings come from? What current conditions are creating those feelings and when did I feel those same feelings in the past? If we can ask these simple questions of ourselves — and our children — we can begin to take care of ourselves. To allow our feelings to flow. We can begin to dance with the universe (who is always dancing) and engage in swaying with each moment. 

One of my favorite poet/philosopher’s Mark Nepo wrote:

Honoring the mystery means staying open to the many things that invite us or force us to widen and deepen our sense of unity and reality…we are called to live from the center, trying to bring our inner lives and outer lives together as a starting point from which to enter our days. For we access a different sense of wholeness when integrated than divided.1

So what does embracing the mystery have to do with confident parenting? In short, everything. As stress runs through the air waves like wi-fi — invisible but ever-present — our children feel their own set of stressors from school, friends, social media and the complexities of their development along with a heaping dose of the stress from all of the significant adults – caregivers, teachers – in their lives. Yet for children, though they feel that adult stress, they can’t always name or understand what it’s concerning. And they are unable to reflect on the causes of the stress contagions they feel. If we are to bring presence, intentionality, and confidence to our parenting (or educating), then we have to work on our trust in the universe. Yes, it will take a good workout from our social and emotional skills including:

  • Self-awareness – What am I feeling? Why am I feeling it? Are my desires coming from impulse or ego? If so, can I quiet my mind enough to listen to my inner knowing? What thoughts or stories am I holding on to that are fear-based or destructive? What new stories can I tell that are growth-led, love-oriented and constructive?
  • Self-management – How do we allow the feelings we fear? How do we fully accept the messages from our hearts? And when we allow those feelings, how can we experience them in growth-filled ways that do no harm and allow for deeper reflections?
  • Social awareness – How can we view others pain and suffering with empathy and compassion without taking on their suffering?
  • Relationship skills – How can we dance with others in collaboration and in co-creation? This certainly will mean power must be shared between partners including our children. It also requires trust and faith in others, the ability to let go of controlling outcomes, and engaging in a dialogue that is unpredictable and uncertain.
  • Responsible decision-making skills – These skills have gotten an exceptional workout within the last year. Though we must think ahead to consequences for ourselves and for others before making essential decisions, there remains the element of uncertainty as we, for example, navigate a virus that is unpredictable in its effects and patterns of influence. We do the best that we can in making choices that align with our deepest values as we proceed in the flow.

We have fundamentally shifted as individuals as our world has fundamentally shifted. And the race to adapt to the rapid changes can be the very definition of anxiety unless we become intentional about how we want to show up in this moment – for ourselves and for our children. As I dealt with a health crisis with my mother while my son was home sick this past month, I was reminded that I couldn’t think about tomorrow. I needed to focus on the moment at hand to be helpful to whoever I was with at that time. Flowing with the moment helped me fully commit my attention to the person who needed my support. The way through and beyond was trusting that the universe is bigger and moving in mysterious ways that I cannot always fully comprehend. Surrender no longer represents a tragic giving up but a courageous “yes” to now.


Nepo, Mark. (2005). The Exquisite Risk; Daring to Live an Authentic Life. NY: Random House: Three Rivers Press.

Setting Up the Physical, Social and Emotional Environment for Learning Success at Home

Last year, I offered three different webinars to help parents and caregivers with setting up a caring, supportive learning environment at home. In this school year, some students, classes and schools continue to be engaged in remote learning. Additionally, it’s critical that we all work to create conducive learning environments for our children and teens at home as they attempt to do homework, group projects, and more in our homes. Check out the following to gain ideas and support:

How to Set Up the Physical Environment for Learning Success

What can we do with our physical spaces at home to ensure our child is properly set up to learn? Check out this webinar to learn more!

How to Set Up the Emotional Environment for Learning Success

Are there ways in which we can boost our child’s motivation to work hard? Particularly in times of great stress, how do we create the sense of safety and care with our children’s hearts necessary for learning to take place? Watch and learn more!

How to Set Up the Social Environment for Learning Success

How can we promote healthy relationships when learning at home? How can we teach our children to be responsible online? How do we help them deal with cyberbullying? What about getting along as a family? The social environment at home has an impact on our child’s ability to learn so watch this video to learn how you can become intentional about creating a safe, supportive environment.

What Is Social and Emotional Learning Anyway?

Check Out the National PTA’s Podcast Series with CASEL’s Karen Van Ausdal

We’re excited to share that our friends at @NationalPTA have released a new #BackpackNotes podcast focused on Social and Emotional Learning. (SEL)! Karen Van Ausdal, Senior Director of Practice at the Collaborative for Social and Emotional Learning is their featured guest. Listen in to learn about SEL and how you can practice it as a family. Tune in wherever you listen to podcasts or at

Here’s a sneak preview!

Homeschooling and Social and Emotional Learning; Building on Passions and Embracing Imperfection


A Poem by Ethan Miller, Seventh Grade Homeschool

October 28, 2020

The color of the fall leaves is 

as bright as the sun and as dark as outer space.

The taste of candy corn is

As sweet as a jelly fruit.

The sound of leaves underfoot

Crunch like a celery stick.

Last August, our family began what we thought could approximate a regular school year –remotely. But as was the case (and remains the case), there is no expected normal with schooling these past few years if we use the previous years as our measure. After three days beginning traditional schooling with remote learning, we decided our son couldn’t possibly learn in the new context. The video feed was fuzzy. The sound was muffled. The final breaking point hit when, during a first math test, we watched as our son couldn’t access the test and raised his hand virtually for one hour while he watched the others take the test. Two days later, we finally got an email response. At that point, we felt panicked. What can we do? And suddenly, the only option that seemed reasonable for our son who was not vaccinated and has had many trips to the hospital for respiratory infections was homeschooling.

First and importantly, this is our family’s story. We recognize that it is a privilege to be able to homeschool and an option some families just don’t have. For those families who are supporting remote learning, here’s a helpful resource for setting up your learning environment at home in ways that are supportive. However, there were an incredible 3.7 million homeschool students in grade K-12 in the U.S. in the 2020-2021 school year, a significant jump from the 2.5 million in the previous year.1 Each year, families choose to homeschool for a number of reasons including bullying, religious choice, exceptional learning abilities, COVID-19, and more and from every income level, education level (of parents), race, and culture.

As we look at the past school year in retrospect, we can easily see that it was one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences for our family. We cultivated a deeper intimacy than we’d ever experienced by learning daily together. We set out from the start to ensure that we were using our best knowledge of social and emotional learning and how it can be integrated into each subject to provide cohesion, motivation and focus, to educate the heart, mind and spirit, and offer a caring framework for everything done in a school day. After many failed experiments and successful ones, here are some ways in which you too can integrate social and emotional learning into your plan for homeschooling:

  1. Hoping and Dreaming Together; Co-creating Guiding Principles from the Start

Why are you homeschooling together? What are your biggest hopes and dreams for your school year? Why is it important to you and to your child and to other members of the family? What are your top prioritizes when it comes to learning and growing together in the coming year? Write out your hopes and dreams to post and refer to as a beacon of light for the year. Also, be sure and write down your guiding principles so that you can always return to them as a supportive foundation for all that you do and especially, to refer to during times that challenge you. We valued caring relationships. We valued input and learning from each family member. We valued creating a safe place for risk-taking and mistakes for all including parents as teachers. We valued working hard collaboratively. And we valued hands-on, experiential learning. We decided everything we do together is homework – work that’s done at home – so we stuck to a school day schedule and typically allowed time off when it wasn’t school time.  Most importantly, we valued grace for all involved knowing everyone was doing their best.

  1. Create a Physical Transition from Home Mode to School Mode

It can be confusing and disconcerting for adults and children to do everything – work, school, and family life in the same space.  Changing our physical space assists in our mental shift in roles and tasks. Yet, the pandemic has pushed us time and again back home into the same spaces to serve all of the roles in our lives. Help your student and all family members transition to school by creating a consistent daily ritual transition. We hopped in the car for a five minute ride around the neighborhood each morning. You could take a walk outside. With younger students, craft a gateway or doorway to school they pass through each morning. Have your child cast a spell on that gateway to charm it with magical learning powers and you’ve really got something! That physical transition will assist with your own and your student’s mental transition.

  1. Use and Augment Research-based School Social and Emotional Learning Structures 

Morning Meeting – After we took our morning ride assisting us with the shift from home to school, we held a morning meeting. We used a formal agenda in the beginning of the school year from Responsive Classroom including a greeting, sharing, cooperative activity and morning announcements. Check out this article to learn more. However, as the year went on, our family agreed that we wanted less formality and more of a morning check-in with one another. The ability to reflect and change structures or plans is fundamental to success! And homeschooling offers that flexibility because of the few individuals who are involved.

Feelings Curriculum – Students and teachers bring their hearts to school with them and learning takes place because of (not in spite of!) emotions. Be sure you do a daily Feelings Check-In (more ideas here). The pandemic has added a heap of emotions to the normal set that go along with school, a developing child and parenting. Show empathy and compassion by reflecting on feelings each day. Be sure too that you incorporate learning about and discussing feelings in EACH subject area whether it’s anxiety in Math, empathy with book characters in Language Arts, disgust with injustice in Social Studies, take the time to reflect on the feelings involved.

Social Awareness/Social Justice and Values Curriculum – Whether or not the curriculum you purchase involves social awareness/social justice, this is an important opportunity to offer your child age-appropriate experiences and studies in a variety of cultures including the history of indigenous peoples around the world and how global dependence on slavery shaped institutional racism and led to many of the injustices we find in our news today. For more, check out our page of resources. Do a survey of various world religions. Better yet, visit a sampling of temples, mosques and churches online or in-person. Offer your child a rich view of diversity in their own hometown and watch as their (and your!) mind opens and grows. For middle and high school level resources, check out Facing History and Ourselves. Be sure you regularly insert questions and discussions about values – what do you stand for? What values do you care about when making decisions? What characters do you admire for their values?

Move! – Yes, this is a social and emotional topic. If your body isn’t moving, your brain is slowing down. You or your child may feel stressed, anxious, and bored and your child may struggle with focus. Get outside at least once per day to get energy out. To avoid power struggles, make recess a consistent part of your daily routine. If the wiggles strike in the middle of class, take a moment to stand stretch or take a brain break. These will contribute to your ability to work together and take care of important physical needs.

Offer Choices – Because you are both parent and teacher, power struggles can be more of a regular challenge if you aren’t working to prevent them. Assigning your child work to do can make them feel like they don’t have control. Add to that mix the lack of peer interaction and the hyper-focus on one-on-one instruction and it can be a pressure cooker of resistance. So be certain that you are thoughtful and plan-ful about how you offer choices regularly in each class. Give your children the option of what school tools they use, how they represent their learning (will they write or draw?), and what they will read. Unlimited choices can result in challenges so limit to just two authentic choices each time and look for ways your child can learn to use his power constructively.

Closing Reflection – At the end of each day, before your child races off to play or connect with friends, be sure you have a regular closing reflection. It need not take long. But ask some key questions about their experiences over the course of the day to inform your ideas and teaching methods for the next day. Reflecting also helps seal in the learning.

4. Follow Passions and Offer Experiences

Using a recommended activity from the helpful book, The Brave Learner; Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning and Life by Julie Bogart, we brainstormed every interest we could think of that our son possessed and then, mapped those interests to our subject areas and specific content we could take that would build on his passions. Teacher Jason (father), for example, conducted a science experiment measuring the speed variance with model trains when changing track conditions. I offered novel choices whenever we were taking a new book in Language Arts and introduced half that were not in our curriculum because they were high interest for our son. We also looked for every chance to engage in projects, observe and utilize how he best represented his learning (Poster? Paper? Diorama? Illustration? Map or graph?), and took field trips to offer authentic experiences.

5. Seek Help!

We hosted a number of family and friends as featured teachers on Zoom and they were a big hit! One friend who is a Shakespearean actor did several highly engaging sessions for our son and a homeschool friend on how to argue in Shakespeare’s theater. We also decided that seventh grade math was more than we wanted to tackle. We found a tutor from a nearby university and she taught math each week. It gave us parent teachers (who were also working full-time jobs) a little time each day and prevented the many headaches that we knew we’d have in attempting to re-learn algebra.

6. Take the Time Needed 

Remind yourself that because you are getting so much one-on-one time with your child, you are making faster progress than a school ever could. So take the time you and your child need to deeply learn what you are working on learning versus moving through it quickly. We tackled some longer, more involved projects that may not be possible in a classroom of 23 students. After reading the book Pax, Ethan wrote a puppet show script. He made the puppet show sets and costumes, designed a program and together, we performed a show for our audience of one: Dad. It was a project I’ll never forget and was deeply meaningful for both of us.

7. Elevate your Child as Teacher

Motivation and focus are particularly important in homeschooling. The cooperation between parent and child is vital to making it all work. But if parents are doing all of the instructing, a child can feel a lack of control and power struggles can result. One way of preventing this is by offering choice daily in many small ways. Another way is by offering your child the chance to teach you something about which they are knowledgeable. Our son chose Minecraft, a video game he knows well but my husband and I do not. We gave him a set of class periods and each time, he planned his lesson ahead of time with these planning tools. 

Check out these resources for your own lesson planning or for your child’s!

Best Teaching Strategies Checklist

Homeschool Lesson Plan Template

Homeschooling offers the unique chance for you, your child and any involved family members to deepen your loving relationship by learning together. Because of the Herculean commitment involved, know that you are brave! Ask for help and set up systems of support so that you do not feel alone and can be successful. It helps to remember that the best teachers in the world are consummate learners, ones who experiment, fail, learn and improve. That reminder helps us bring grace to one another. We need to expect mistakes as necessary for our learning. May your homeschooling adventure reward you with as much learning and connection as it surely will for your children!


Ray, B. D. (2021). Homeschooling: The Research; Research Facts. On Homeschooling. National Home Education Research Institute.

Bogart, J. (2019). The Brave Learner; Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning and Life. NY: Penguin Random House.

Favorite Resources:

Oak Meadow K-12 Home Curriculum – Although there are many well-researched and high quality home school curricula from which to choose, we selected Oak Meadow because of its emphasis on experiential learning, creativity and social justice.

This article is dedicated to my homeschooling partner and loving husband, Jason Miller and my hard-working son who were fully dedicated and made meaningful learning in a loving family possible every day last year and to my work partner, Pamela McVeagh-Lally who is courageously choosing to homeschool her two young children this year.

Agency: What Is It? Why Do We Need It?

And How Do We Cultivate It In Ourselves and Our Kids?

I feel confident when I walk down the hallway. I’m not afraid to talk to any of the kids in my grade,” reports my son after a mere two weeks in a brand new school. Perhaps it’s the contrast offering him a newfound sense of agency. In his previous school, he was ignored or judged, even bullied. Because of the criticism, he didn’t feel safe to share himself with others. As parents, it was heartbreaking. His new school has created many and multiple ways for students to get to know one another on a personal level – well before school began and in these first weeks – and they’ve done the same for the parents. There’s a curiosity and genuine interest, effort and care put into getting to know who he is and who we are as valued members of the community. Along with care and effort, there’s a shared principle that is spoken often about the need for and value of differences and learning from and enjoying the experience of getting to know other races, cultures, genders, interests, personalities, learning styles and passions.

So what is agency and why do we need it? Agency is simply “feeling in command of our lives,” write Paul Napper and Anthony Rao in “The Power of Agency.”1 When we feel agency, we feel like our roles and participation in a family, school or community can make a difference in our own and others’ lives. Our presence matters. These researchers found there was a direct link between confidence and an ability to meet challenges (which is what the Confident Parents work is all about!). Sounds simple, right? Yet, it’s far from simple since social structures, our family or work environment and our very own stories about ourselves in relation to the world can work against it.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve heard many educators and parents articulating feelings that suggest they do not have a sense of agency. I’ve heard individuals say they have felt overwhelmed, frightened and anxious from the many uncertainties and challenges we are facing. And interestingly, though Napper and Rao wrote their book before COVID, they cite so many of our pandemic conditions as attacking our sense of agency including:

  • increased use and reliance on technology (and less human interaction);
  • less physical movement;
  • isolation (well, yes!); and
  • rapid change that overextends our ability to adapt.

The good news is agency is learned —which means we always have the opportunity to cultivate it. If we know we are operating on fear, we have a chance to course correct. Each time we stay in the present moment (versus recounting the pains of the past), we are gaining on our ability to have control over our lives. When we accept what is (even though what is might be messy, complicated and unexpected), we begin to open ourselves to the opportunities of how we might be powerful in the now…how our current choices might impact others or change dynamics or improve – even in small ways – the health of our relationships. Better still, when we can articulate our sense of purpose, our “why” for being on the planet, we can return again and again to that core sense of meaning and belonging.

Parents or educators who feel like victims, who react as if others are out to get them and they are innocent and helpless will feel anxiety, may feel depression and despair, and certainly will not cultivate a mindset in their children or students that helps them feel like the leader of their own life. And we all have those moments or times. Since we cannot truly cultivate agency in our children without first cultivating it in ourselves, I’m sharing tips on how we can cultivate it in ourselves – or recalibrate if we’ve had it and then, lost it – along with our children:

Pause and Reflect.

Agency is only available when you slow down. It begins to appear when you pause and think about your thinking (meta-cognition). If you are too busy to stop, breathe, get quiet and listen within, you run the risk of catching others’ fears and anxieties, exacerbating your own anxiousness and reacting on impulse. By taking this all-important pause, you identify which inner and outer voices are authentic and necessary to meet the challenges of the moment. And you have the ability to access a greater wisdom to allow your best self to emerge.

Recount your Latest Stories.

Slipping into this victim/helpless mindset is an easy move during these complex times. If we have to fight for our safety, our rights, or our choices, we may slip into an us versus them mentality feeling victimized. For this reason, it’s important we check our stories – you know, the ones we tell ourselves as we go through life when our tire has a hole in it, or the package was delivered to the wrong house, or your child refuses to practice her instrument. Consider the last time you were challenged by someone. Tell that story to yourself again in writing. Now review what you wrote and consider these questions: 

  • Was there someone(s) to blame for your challenge other than you?
  • Did you feel a lack of control?
  • Did you act in any way that helped you feel better?

Reframe your Story.

If your first two answers were “yes,” it’s important you look at revising your story. How can you retell it without placing blame? Better still, how can you find empathy and compassion for the others involved in your story – or in other words, what’s their story? Surely, their story also involves challenge and perhaps, pain. Flip that second question around and ask yourself, what can you control? And if you did not act in a way that made you feel better, what can you think of that you could have done? And what can you do if it happens again? If you get in the habit of reframing or retelling your stories of challenge in this way, you will cultivate agency.

Set a Positive Goal.

This is a simple yet powerful strategy from Roger Weissberg’s Social Problem-solving curriculum. It’s not enough to tell a story in which you retain some control or power. In addition, you need to set a pro-social, positive goal. What will be a healthy goal for you and for those you are in relationship with? A goal focuses your attention and energies in the right direction and if it is aligned with your core purpose, serves as a powerful navigation system so that you can return to a place of agency even when fear takes you temporarily off-course.

Take Small Steps.

Now use that goal to guide your purpose-driven action. Even and especially small and regular action toward your healthy, pro-social goal will help you experience the fact that you do have some control and you are moving in the right direction. You don’t have to convince your body and brain of that you have influence. They are convinced because of the steps you are taking.

Equate Every Challenge with Opportunity

Those who have well-articulated their purpose and have set and are working toward positive goals aligned with their purpose can also benefit by seeing every challenge as an opportunity to build and engage a social and emotional skill. Deepening our self-awareness and exercising our self-management skills will help us stay on course and deal with the big emotions that will shift even dramatically with challenging times. Our ever-growing social awareness allows us to find the empathy and compassion for others who are suffering, in pain or may not feel a sense of agency. We may discover new ways to assist those who live in fear. Our relationship skills are frequently put to the test as we attempt to motivate students or co-create safety rules with our children. How will we listen reflectively? How will we communicate in ways that create safety and show care? And finally, how can we make choices that come from a place of wisdom versus reactivity (or responsible decision-making)?

Keep in mind that if you are feeling particularly anxious or fearful, the people around you may increase your fear if they are feeling and experiencing it too. Anxiousness is contagious. So be sure and surround yourself with open-minded, life-giving individuals who are grounded in their sense of purpose and also taking positive steps toward their goals.

Children may have particular challenges related to agency. And those who are marginalized because of their skin color, heritage, native language (or other feature) will have even greater challenges in feeling a sense of agency. Jagers et al. write about the role of moral agency, that “people refrain from wrongdoing toward others and the proactive engagement in humane behavior.”2 Children need to learn from parents and teachers that they are capable contributors to their family, school and community and if they are angered or hurt by an injustice, they have the power to do something about it whether it involves resistance or persistence in making positive changes. Children and teens need adults who will allow for and elevate their voices. They are not just rule-followers in an adult world. But they are significant influencers and need to use their agency to create positive change. That opportunity requires parents and teachers who create those safe spaces for children to take risks in raising their voices and taking socially responsible action.

How will you discover or rediscover your sense of agency? And how will you guide your children to that gift that keeps on giving?

Further Resources:

Service learning, or community service tied to learning and reflection in the curriculum is a structured and powerful way for students to experience agency. For more on service learning, check out the Center for Service Learning Practice with many resources.


1. Napper, P. & Rao, A. (2019). The Power of Agency; The Seven Principles to Conquer Obstacles,  Make Effective Decisions, and Create a Life on your own Terms. NY: St. Martin’s Press.

2. Robert J. Jagers, Deborah Rivas-Drake & Brittney Williams (2019) Transformative Social and Emotional Learning (SEL): Toward SEL in Service of Educational Equity and Excellence, Educational Psychologist, 54:3, 162-184, DOI: 10.1080/00461520.2019.1623032

In Loving Memory of Confident Parent, Roger P. Weissberg

We are committed to making life better for kids. That requires us to teach children the skills they need to listen to their hearts and spirits, to develop and sustain meaningful relationships with others and help them discover and fulfill the unique purpose they are here to serve. Time and again over his forty year career, Roger P. Weissberg articulated his purpose. And instead of sharing it as an individual calling, he championed it as a collective calling that resonated with countless other scholars, educators, parents and youth-serving professionals who joined in the common purpose of making kids’ lives better. From his early twenties on, he set about figuring out how to best improve children’s lives by writing his own social problem-solving curriculum and carefully testing it in schools as a first step. When he found through careful study that promoting children’s social and emotional skills in school could not only prevent the behaviors we want to eliminate like bullying, violence, and substance abuse, and it could promote success in relationships, in family life and directly advance academic performance today and in the future, he became committed to a lifetime of work devoted to this mission.

As co-founder of CASEL (the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning) he joined with like-minded others to systematically define what social and emotional learning (SEL) looks like. His leading question was “How do schools, families and communities work together to help students be successful?” In a presentation six years ago,  he said to an audience of educators in Minnesota (the place, in the past three and a half years, where he has battled pancreatic cancer)…

I have a strong feeling that it’s never too late, that it’s probably

never too early. I have a confidence that almost prenatally for 

as long as we are around and probably beyond that that (social

and emotional skills) are important capacities for us to develop.

When he questioned and defined and wrestled with what it meant to do this work in ways that change children’s lives and all those who work with them, I joined since it was my calling too. Twenty years ago, Roger took a leap of faith and hired me — the only young lady with a bachelor’s degree, some practical, in-the-trenches experience and a fiery passion among well-seasoned PhDs. Roger proceeded to invest time, energy, passionate debate and resources in me — and in so many others I worked with — to do important SEL work.  And that collaboration grew into friendship, joy and shared experiences in parenting. 

Roger was asked, well before I was a parent myself, who in this country was the most engaged with social and emotional learning and his response was clear: parents and families. He said “you can’t talk about improving schools without involving families and communities.” So I was ready when I became a parent to begin asking the question, how will I become a confident parent raising a confident kid?

In addition to my family, he was the first person to support this site, engage in critical research together around parenting and SEL along with our co-investigator and another first support, Shannon Wanless, and proceed to introduce this work to every single professional he knew who had an interest in parenting. On a very personal note, the work that gets me up in the morning and is so deeply meaningful in my life has been shaped by Roger Weissberg. But it didn’t end on a professional level, it only began. I became a better parent and family member because of his ongoing friendship and support. He demonstrated that it takes everything of a person, dedicating their whole heart and soul to their own social and emotional growth in order to truly improve children’s lives.

If confident parents are defined as individuals who devote themselves to living and growing their children’s social and emotional intelligence while growing their own then Roger Weissberg IS a model of a confident parent (for that’s a role that never dies) to not only Elizabeth and Ted but to me and to so many others who share the purpose of making kids’ lives better through social and emotional learning. I am forever grateful.

Roger’s Research on Parenting and SEL:

If you have not already read about our research together that links parents’ hopes and dreams for their children and for their own parenting with social and emotional competencies, please check the research brief or the full peer-reviewed article, Parenting for Competence and Parenting with Competence; Essential Connections between Parenting and Social and Emotional Learning.

CPCK Article in Collaboration with Roger on his first SEL Curriculum:

Stop, Think, Go! discusses the social problem-solving curriculum Roger developed and how parents can use the key lessons to teach problem-solving to their own children in family life.

Modeling Social and Emotional Learning during Illness and Death:

Roger modeled how you use social and emotional skills to heal, to deal with illness and suffering and ultimately, deal with your own death. Don’t miss his article on his experience; The Healing Power of Social and Emotional Learning.

Learn more about Social and Emotional Learning:

There’s important work to do in schools, families, and communities around social and emotional learning. Learn more about the work of the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning on their website.

Establishing or Reinventing Home Routines and Responsibilities for Learning Success

Some of us are sighing relief that our children are off to school and getting a start with friends, teachers, and classes in person that they sorely missed last year with remote learning. For many of those same parents/caregivers, they are also managing the uncertainty and anxiety of sending children off to school during a pandemic while those under the age of twelve are particularly vulnerable. Others are gearing up their homes for remote learning or homeschooling as we continue to face unwanted but present dangers in-person. These caregivers are dealing with the complications of conducting work, school and family life in the same environment and the consuming role parents must play in order for learning to take place at home. But whether your situation involves daywork or homework that must be accomplished, now is the time to set up your home environment so that it’s conducive to cooperation as a family and the work involved with learning. 

Here’s a quick checklist. You might ask yourself, have we created…

_____ well-rehearsed routines with clearly defined responsibilities?
_____ healthy sleeping, eating and hygiene habits?
_____ an organized, well-equipped and calm working environment for each family member?
_____ a plan for sharing and managing big feelings?
_____ a plan for times to connect in a caring, loving way with each/all family members?

The following is intended as a support as you think about what you need to do for your family. It’s likely you have many routines in place already. One way to make this effort manageable is to take a look at the time of day that seems most chaotic and focus on one particular routine and how you might work together with family members to improve it.

Well-rehearsed Routines with Clearly Defined Responsibilities

Whereas getting dressed by 10:00 a.m. may have been your casual summer routine, the school year requires an earlier morning with more tasks completed in a timely manner. This can be an enormous adjustment for children who have fallen into the slower-paced habits of summer. Pair this with the fact that they do not hold the same desire to get to school on time that you do and it can become a struggle fast and often. Here are my resources for setting up your routines so that each family member – even preschool age children – learn to take responsibility for their roles. Jobs get accomplished on time and your family can begin the day positively connecting with one another and setting the mood for a great day of learning! Check out these…

Morning Routine

Discussing your morning routine when you are not in the pressure of the morning time can make all the difference in preparing each family member for their roles and responsibilities. I’ve outlined a simple process for this discussion so that even young children can be prepared and ready. Imagine a cooperative and smooth morning in which all family members do what they need to do to get ready along with time for sharing love and connection. Consider the fact that your morning routine- whether it’s smooth and connecting or chaotic and stressful- may just be the most important way in which you contribute to your child’s mental state and readiness to learn. Check out this video short to help create A Smooth Morning Routine.

Healthy Sleeping, Eating and Hygiene Habits

Perhaps precisely because, as parents, it’s our responsibility to ensure that our kids get enough sleep, eat well and keep clean, those are the very issues that become power struggles. Kids know that they can wield control and so, they attempt it. There are numerous ways we can prompt a sense of responsibility and even, boost confidence in our kids as they learn to manage these critical life habits on their own. Here are some simple ideas…

Bedtime Routine

Getting enough sleep at night is vital to our ability to function and we know it’s vital for our kids to learn. Creating a consistent bedtime routine to ensure that your children get enough sleep is a significant way you can contribute to their school success! Take a look together at these sleep requirements by age to find out how many hours a night your child or teen requires. Here are some ideas for ending the day on positive note:The Opportunity of Bedtime. And if you have a “wiggle worm” who seems to gain newfound energy from your sleepy-time routine, here are some additional ideas. Check out Monkey Mind at Bedtime, Reflecting on Children’s Thinking.

Healthy Family Dinner
If you make dinner with your family a priority and spend time cooking a balanced meal, it can be unbelievably frustrating when your kids don’t want to eat or sit at the table with you. Check out this video short and actually enjoy your family dinner! Watch Creating an Enjoyable Family Dinner.

Chores and Household Responsibilities

The school year ushers in a busier schedule fitting in homework and extracurriculars and other family priorities into after school time. And it’s precisely because all of our schedules get busier that it’s important children and teens know how they can regularly take responsibility for their own possessions and contribute to your household. A consistent routine will help your child take initiative without a need for nagging. Learn more about Involving Your Children in Household Responsibilities by Age and Stage.


With the need to wash hands regularly, children are generally more aware of the need to clean. So build on this raised awareness. Talk about bath or shower times and when they can happen consistently. What’s your role? What’s your child’s set of responsibilities? If the shower always happens at a particular time, how will your child or teen remember? Discuss what happens if they forget so that you don’t find yourself in a habit of nagging each evening.

An Organized, Well-equipped and Calm Working Environment

Homework Routine
If you have a predictable schedule, it helps to decide on when and where your child will get his/her homework accomplished. Don’t forget how powerful and useful brain breaks can be to refresh and reset. Check out the following article for specific, simple ways to create a conducive environment. Check out Getting Set Up for Homework Success. 

Organizing school supplies and having them at the ready to help homework time run smoothly can serve as a comfort when kids have to get their work accomplished. Here are some simple ideas for creating a well-equipped work space. Check out Tools for Supporting Learning At Home.

A Plan for Sharing and Managing Big Feelings

Because we’ve all been impacted by the changes the pandemic has brought about, we are all dealing regularly with a wide range of feelings. Add to that our normal set of starting-the-school-year feelings and we have a mash-up of emotions. Though children may hold it in during the school day, they may need to let it all out when they get home. Having a safe, regular opportunity for sharing feelings offers your child a consistent place in which they can, if they choose, share what’s on their hearts and minds. For those who have remote learners or are homeschooling, daily feelings check-ins can prevent getting struck by upset emotions because there’s a time and chance to share even the hard stuff. Learn more about Daily Feelings Check-Ins.  

Whether you have a kindergartener adjusting to an exhausting new schedule or a self-conscious and private teenager, there will be mood swings at the start of the school year. In fact, any age child will have to utilize extra self-management skills as they transition from summer to school. With any major change, you can expect emotions will run high. So what’s your plan? If you’ve discussed it and each have a plan for calming down, for finding some space, and for talking about your feelings, you’ll be ready when upset reigns. Here are a couple additional helpful resources.

Big Feelings Plan
Engage your family in creating a plan for when you are really angry, frustrated or fearful. Check out the Family Emotional Safety Plan and be sure to print off the template that can guide support your plan creation.

Safe Base
Establishing a safe base that is comforting and for your child only is a great way to offer respite when he/she is upset. Read about this simple way to help your child learn to self-soothe. Check out Home Base – Creating a Safe Haven for Calming Down.

Now is a great time to set up your routines, review responsibilities and ensure you’ve created the conditions for your child or teen to be successful. She will understand her roles and responsibilities. He’ll know how to take care of his emotions. She will feel organized and ready to deal with the homework coming her way. 

What systems do you establish to create a conductive learning environment? We are eager to learn from your ideas! Here’s to a healthy, happy, connected school year – in whatever form or  style it takes – for you and your family!

Caring Relationships Back-To-School Challenge

Last night, as our family sat around our Sunday night dinner, we talked about the ways in which we were adjusting and reacting to the big changes in our lives. This past week, my son started in a brand new school – new teachers, new students, new parents. And for our family, it felt like an earth-shaking shift. Our gravitational center was no longer in our home for learning (where it’s been as we homeschooled last year) but in a new place where much of the decision-making is far from our influence or control. 

Have you experienced a monumental shift this school year? Whether your child is shifting from preschool to kindergarten, from middle school to high school or from remote learning to in-person learning, this back-to-school season represents big changes for many if not most families. Because last school year posed hardships in differing ways for all of us, we are bringing caution to this season. We are feeling a sense of vulnerability and a lack of safety. We know that in order for learning to happen, our children first must feel safe. And then, they must feel cared for, that their presence matters, and that they bring unique and important values and strengths and contributions to the classroom community.

I cannot think of a more important focus in this back to school season than investing ourselves in cultivating safe, caring relationships. Yes, it will take courageous empathy to reach out to those who may have opposing views or hail from different cultures. However, our being present with, our paying attention to, our learning about the deepest cares we each bring to our child’s education has the potential to unite us around our students’ shared well-being. If we are present to one another and open to the strengths we can each contribute, we’ll be able to focus on the core reason that brings us together as educators, parents, and community partners — advancing our children’s learning. 

Creating safety and caring is not about one big, grand gesture. It takes many small acts of kindness and care to grow trust. It requires listening with an open mind to others. It requires being curious and looking for the best in one another. So join me. Tell me – what are you doing to create safe, caring relationships in your school community?

Already started school? It’s never too late! Comment below or you can email Jennifer Miller at and be sure to place in the subject line: #caringrelationships.

%d bloggers like this: