Summertime Playdates

The Benefits, Opportunities, and Ways to Address Challenges

“Mom, can I have a playdate with Tommy?” my son asks excitedly. Why do I feel ancient when I recall that playdates didn’t exist when I was a young girl? But in truth, kids were sent outside to play with their neighborhood friends or siblings and certainly, parents didn’t travel anywhere beyond their street to assist their child in connecting with friends. Our evolution to playdates represents our growing recognition of our children’s social needs.

More than ever, parents realize that play is the vocation of childhood. It’s the central vehicle for learning – a catalyst for kids’ physical, cognitive, social and emotional development. In play, a child is in control of the world he creates, his only limitation being his imagination.

Developmental Psychologist Lev Vygotsky wrote, “In play, a child is always above his average age, above his daily behavior; in play, it is as though he were a head taller than himself.” Children have the ability and urge to create highly advanced pretend play scenarios, both with others and on their own.

In social play, kids practice cooperation, negotiation, inclusion, communication, flexibility and diversity appreciation. In solo play, children can grow their sense of identity and also practice perspective taking abilities as they pretend to be another person.

Pretend play also can serve a significant role in a children’s mental health and sense of well-being. They are able to face the most feared obstacles with the courage of a true hero whether it’s confronting monsters or villains, weapons or diseases, and even injury or death. Through play, they can conquer these fears and show their strength and resilience.

Social and solo play not only contribute to developing kids’ social and emotional life skills but they also contribute to academics. Often imaginative play will include counting (math), categorizing (science) and storytelling (language) among many other cognitive essentials for school-age children. And there is just no such thing as growing too old to play. When adults are creative or engage in any art form, there is play at work.

And if those aren’t enough benefits to convince you that playdates are valuable, here’s yet another, not to be underestimated. Playdates can provide a powerful parent support network. When my son was an infant, toddler and then, preschooler, a group of Moms formed a regular weekly playdate rotation in which Moms attended and enjoyed coffee and conversation while the little ones played. This became an invaluable source of support for our parenting as we discussed challenges, found commonalities and learned from one another differing ways each of us were addressing those challenges.

In the full schedule-laden school-age years, parents can cooperate or take shifts hosting each other for playdates on free summer days or on weekends. This offers a period of time free for the parents who are not on point to host. And when it’s your turn to host, you can create a safe, caring environment conducive to play.

In addition to the many benefits of play for your child, there are some questions that could be asked related to planning and hosting playdates. Some of these may include:

  • How should a playdate be initiated? Do I wait for my child to ask or seek out friends for my child?
  • If I am hosting, should I have ground rules and if so, how should I communicate them?
  • What if the other child I am hosting makes poor choices? How do I handle a discipline issue with another family’s child?
  • If I am sending my child to another person’s house for a playdate, are there questions I should ask in advance? How well do I need to know the friend’s family? How do I make sure it’s safe?
  • Are there rules or discussions I should have with my own child before going to someone else’s house?

All of these important questions and some added tips will be responded to in the following playdate suggestions.

Follow your Child’s Lead.

Who knows why we are particularly attracted to another person and seek out their friendship? Perhaps it has to do with our developmental needs. But it’s impossible to truly predict which peers our child will gravitate toward. So follow their lead! Who does your child talk about at home? That’s a perfect place to begin.

Get to Know the Other Child and his Family.

So you want to create opportunities outside of camp, extracurriculars or school for Tommy and your son to play since he talks about him frequently? But perhaps you don’t know Tommy or his parents. Instead of scheduling a first playdate, schedule a family meet-up. “We’re going bowling this weekend, would your family like to join us?” Or it may be easier to identify a school activity – a summer festival perhaps? – where parents are invited and seek out Tommy and his family to have an initial conversation. Introduce yourselves and express a desire for a playdate. You’ve then laid the groundwork for the new relationship between your family and theirs. After all, if another family is going to trust you to care for their child, they need to get to know you – and vice versa. It absolutely takes a village!

Talk to your Child before the Playdate about Ground Rules
(including playing with one another, not on screens!)

You want to prepare your child for a fun, successful playdate and you don’t want to have to do a lot of supervising and managing during the playdate if you don’t have to. So why not discuss ahead of time the rules that make the most sense? I always begin a conversation about rules by setting the stage and asking, “I’ll bet you are excited to have Tommy over. I’m so glad! What rules do we need to think about for the time he’s here so that you both can stay safe and have a great time?” And then, let him consider or offer options. Write them down to demonstrate that it’s official and important (and to refer back to if you need to do so during the playdate). Be sure to keep rules brief and frame them in the positive. What do you want them to do versus not to do? So one might be, “Keep play safe.” Discuss what that means. Climbing on furniture or more physical play may not be safe. If tempted, then maybe a good solution would be to play outside if the weather permits. Others may include: staying in certain play areas or living spaces (and avoid others); inside voices are the best to use; or bathroom time is for one child at a time.

Reserve Screen Time for Times Other Than When Friends Are Over

Yes, screen time could take over an entire playdate. Indeed, kids will want to play video games with one another or watch a movie. But plenty of screen time takes place when kids are home without friends there. I’ve noticed that children who are used to many hours of screen time take a little longer to figure out what to play when screens aren’t available. But all of those wonderful benefits of pretend and engage in social play are not fully realized if children are on screens during their playdates. Our rule is “Friends are more important than screens.” And we put away devices before they come. If asked, we share that’s it’s our rule to promote more fun, creative playtime. We leave out costumes, art supplies, legos and other imaginative toys (see resource at the end for more ideas!). My son at ten-years-old now only requires blankets and pillows since fort-making has become his latest pastime with his pals. Create a ready environment for play together and children will forget about their need for screens and reap all of the benefits of their social play together.

Partner with your Child to Communicate Rules to his Friend.

You’ve already discussed safety rules with your child. Welcome your child’s friend in and express your happiness that he’s there to play. Get out the rules you discussed and briefly talk about them. Let the friend know that he can come to you if he’s hurt or feels unsafe or for any reason. And then send them off to have fun!

What If Poor Choices Are Made by Another Person’s Child?

If it’s a minor issue or breakage of your rules, offer first that every family has different rules. You might say to both children, “Tommy’s family likely has different rules at his house and so is just learning about our rules. At our house, we don’t play rough enough that things break. We choose to go outside. Let’s work together to clean up or repair the broken item. Then, you can choose – You can continue to play your game outside or pick a different, less-rough game inside.”

If it’s a major issue, in other words, a child is harmed, then calling the other parents makes sense. But placing blame will not build bridges with that other family so if you need to make the phone call, consider how you’ll create a safe space for discussion. Instead of saying, “Your child hit my child. Come get him.”, you might instead say, “We value Tommy’s friendship. There was some hitting today at our house. It may be a good time to just take a break and calm down since both kids are upset. Then, maybe we can try again another time. For today though, could you please come get Tommy?” In that circumstance, you’ve done your best to keep all safe while preserving the relationship. Either the other family or you can make the choice going forward whether it’s important to offer second chances and try another playdate.

Set the Stage for Sending Your Child to Another’s Home:

Ask about House Rules in Advance.

If you have a playdate set with another family, simply ask what their house rules are. If any particular rule is particularly important, they’ll communicate that to you and you’ll be able to discuss it with your child in advance.

Trust Your Gut.

Your gut is yours and your child’s very own internal safety device. Teach them to use it! Since children are learning about their feelings and developing a language to express them, they may more readily be able to identify physical signs of discomfort first. Their tummy may feel nauseous. Practice doing gut checks. If you see an image in the media that is disturbing, ask how their tummy feels. Make the connection between that icky feeling not only as a sign of discomfort but as a sign of danger and to get out of the situation. If children are taught to trust that feeling, they will become more likely to leave a high-risk circumstance. Let them know if they feel unsafe at another child’s house to find a caring adult and ask to call home. Have an easy plan at the ready so that your child knows how to get in touch with you.

If Trouble, Tell a Caring Adult.

To prevent abusive situations, it’s helpful to get to know the other family first. But also, you can coach your child to find safety in an unsafe situation. If your child feels unsafe, she needs to learn to “look for the helpers,” as Mr. Rogers wisely advised. Abuse usually takes place when two are alone together. Though a perpetrator can and often does rationalize his behavior, there is also a clear sense that it’s not acceptable to others. So if your child knows to find a trusted, caring adult to help, they can remove themselves from the dangerous situation. This teaching is in opposition to the old “stranger danger” counsel kids used to be taught. If your child is afraid of strangers, he won’t seek the help he needs. Instead, work on finding a helper. Practice. Can you find a helper when you are at the store together? Ask your child, “Who would you go to?” Talk about it with your child when you encounter another lost child, witness a fire, or see any kind of dangerous situation. If you feel scared, look for a helper! If the person you are with is scaring you, look for a helper!

Discuss a Way to Get in Touch with You.

Send along your name and number in your child’s backpack or even pin it on their clothing so that they can get ahold of you if they need to. Practice making a phone call to you if they have not used the phone. If it’s a first playdate, keep the timeframe short as a trial run so that you gain more trust with the family and the environment.

Though it takes a bit of effort on the part of parents, children will certainly benefit from friend playtime. Look for ways you can connect with other parents too and you’ll reap some of the supportive benefits of growing relationships in your community!

Extra Resource:

Printable Playthings to Stir the Imagination (Many of Which Are Ready Household Objects)

Adapted from original article titled “All About Playdates” published March 8, 2018.

Join Me Tonight! – Helping Kids Find Purpose

Join me at 7:00 p.m. EST tonight for an extra special Parent Toolkit Talk on helping children find their sense of purpose. It’s shaping up to be a lively and rich conversation! Log on to Twitter and search for #ToolkitTalk. If you post to the conversation, be sure and use the hashtag – #ToolkitTalk – so that each comment or question you post feeds right into the dialogue. Looking forward to it!

My Dad’s Support in Finding a Sense of Purpose + Upcoming NBC Chat on Purpose

You might just call me a “poster child” for the topic of parents helping kids find their sense of purpose. My deeply loved but certainly nontraditional career path is a direct result of my parents’ investment in my sense of purpose. And their support of my development occurred at a time coming of age in the early nineties when purpose and meaning as it related to work was far less commonly discussed.

I love the synchronicity of the fact that Father’s Day is this coming weekend and it coincides with an upcoming NBC Parent Toolkit Twitter Chat on helping kids discover their sense of purpose. My Dad facilitated my own development of a sense of purpose and I have such a fulfilling, meaningful career and life because of his guidance, support, and encouragement.

As we face challenges today with teen depression and anxiety, the suicides of beautiful contributors to our world in the news, and worries about our own children, I’m not sure a more important conversation could take place. 

In attempting to find our sense of purpose, we have to ask ourselves key questions and listen carefully and overtime for the answers. Ultimately the big question is “Who am I?” But I recall a college philosophy professor drilling us on that question and snickering to myself about it thinking the answer must be obvious. “What does that really mean?” I thought as an emerging adult. Some relevant and related questions may include:

  1. What work or activities place us in a state of flow, or focused attention?
  2. What do we deeply desire to learn about or in what direction do we desire growing?
  3. How can we meaningfully contribute to the world? What legacy do we want to leave behind?

As a child, I was so fortunate to hear regularly at the dinner table about both of my parents’ focus on meaning and service through their work. That helped lay a foundation for my reflections later. But when I had to select a major in college, I began with the first question. I knew I was in a state of flow when I did art. But then, my peers, teachers and guidance counselors led me to, what they felt, was the next step by encouraging me to next figure out how I could make money through art. Without asking those next all-important questions – what did I want to learn more about? how could I meaningfully contribute to the world? – I came upon a crisis early before even stepping out beyond my senior year. 

My practical side had decided that advertising was the way I could use my art and make money. And when I had a tiny taste of that world through an internship, I could not picture myself in the culture, doing the work. And momentarily, as I cried to my Dad, I wondered whether my four focused years of study were wasted. 

That’s when my Dad wrote down questions for me to consider. He didn’t want me to respond to him. He wanted me to go and be alone. To breath. To create mental space. And to deeply consider what I cared about and what I found meaningful beyond all constraints including the opinions of my friends and teachers. No other peer of mine received this kind of guidance. Yet, it is precisely this support that helped me discover a path to meaningfully contributing in ways that were far beyond my wildest young dreams.

Dad and I – David Smith with Jennifer (Smith) Miller

What I realized about the process of searching for your sense of purpose through my own search is that it is an emerging process, not an instant realization. It’s an awakening and a deepening of your self-awareness that takes time and reflection. No one can do it for you or specifically direct you to your own answers. But they can do what my Dad did for me. He supported me at a time when I felt fragile and confused. He guided me back to myself to discover the wisdom that was already within. And he asked the essential questions to help me get there.

To my Dad who is always reading, How can I possibly thank you for that shaping contribution to my life? I hope you count it as one of your most meaningful contributions and legacies. Happy Father’s Day! I am so grateful.

To my partner and the father of our son, E, who has taken his own extensive journey to find his sense of purpose and is now engaged in his meaningful work by helping others find their meaning in work, I am grateful for you and all of the emotional intelligence you bring to our family.

And to all, happy Father’s Day to you, Dads and/or to the Dads in your lives! We are grateful for the meaningful roles you play in our children’s lives.

I hope you’ll join this all-important conversation next Tuesday evening. Please mark your calendars for this #ToolkitTalk on June 19th at 7:00 p.m. EST, with me and Psychology expert, Kendall Cotton Bronk on the topic of “Helping Our Kids Find Purpose.”

#ToolkitTalk

Exploring Nature with Children at Varying Ages and Stages

Benefits and Simple Ideas for Summer Enrichment

“Mom, come quickly!” E says practically jumping up and down. “There’s a bluejay in our yard!” And this scene has played out over and again but with varying creatures – bunnies, beetles, and butterflies – oh my! If you have a patch of grass outside your door, there’s an opportunity for your kids to explore nature. Take them to a park and no screens, toys or equipment are required for discovery. As spring moves toward summer, it seems we are all feeling “nature-starved” and ready to get out to experience the beautiful weather.

There’s strong evidence that points to a range of benefits for children who get outside and play. In schools, teachers have worried that taking kids outside will result in misbehaviors and a lack of control. But when they’ve tried it out, such as leading students through a park while creating field journals or tending a community garden, they have found just the opposite. Students were more engaged and held greater focus on the learning taking place. (1)

And for families, there are significant benefits for discovering nature together including greater:

  • family connectedness
  • cooperation skills
  • empathy and perspective-taking skills
  • caring
  • sense of awe and wonder
  • motivation to learn (2)

One study compared a group of preteens who spent five days in nature with no screen time with a demographically similar group of preteens at home who engaged in regular activities including daily screen time.(3) That study showed that the children who spent the time in nature after only five days were more skilled at taking social cues including nonverbals and understanding each others’ emotions. That short time spent with peers in nature enhanced their abilities to connect and communicate with one another.

The experience of being in nature, appreciating and discovering and learning together as a family, is an incredibly simple and yet, powerful way to spend time together. You really only need to go for a walk together outside. But sometimes, we appreciate and can use a bit more structure and inspiration. So as we kick off the summer season, here are some ideas for exploration at various ages and stages.

Preschool

Discover Bugs; Play Hide and Peek!

This game involves lifting up and peeking under any and every rock you can find to explore the world of bugs that live underneath. Preschoolers will be thrilled by the pill bugs, worms, slugs and more that are just waiting to be discovered. The nine- and ten-year-old in the photograph below still find it exciting!

Track Animals

Go on a nature walk and look in the dirt for tracks. See if you can follow and attempt to identify various paw prints you see in the mud. And be sure to leave your own!

My son and his friend excavating behind the garage in search of bugs!

Early Elementary

Go on a Nature Scavenger Hunt

Print off one of the many checklists on Pinterest and head to the park or a woods nearby. Some lists are fairly simple and straightforward such as, find a stick, a stone, and a ladybug. Some are more involved such as, find litter, find an animal hole, or find a group of mushrooms.

Plant a Garden

Designate a small spot in the yard to dig up and allow your child ownership over the lot. Help her line the edges with rocks to divide the space. Pick out seeds at a local garden shop and consider all of the requirements for growing – sun, soil, water? Plant, tend, weed and marvel. If you plant herbs or vegetables, incorporate the crop into family dinners and your child can feel proud to have grown what you are eating.

Create a Habitat

You may select a cardboard box or else find a small place in your yard for your child to create a habitat. My son likes to find a perfectly shaded spot under a bush.  Consider what animals might want to live there and what they require to be happy? Will they need a water source? What kind of food will they gather? Help your child make a habitat for a local chipmunk, ant colony or mouse.

Middle to Late Elementary

Create a Nature Journal

You’ll need a few items in order to create a nature journal. Get a blank notebook. Fill a pencil pouch with colored pencils and a glue stick. And pack your camera (or camera phone if that’s the only option) too. Now head to a natural setting. The challenge is to recreate the natural setting in your notebook by drawing, taking pictures of and writing about the different aspects of the habitat you are experiencing. Draw pinecones. Write about the smell in the air. Glue pine needles onto your pages. Imagine getting it back out in the middle of winter. Would your notebook place you right back where you are? This activity can enhance a child’s discovery and appreciation of a place while adding their own creativity to the mix.

Assemble a Nature Art Collage

Go on your nature walk together with an empty bag for collecting. Pick up natural treasures along the way such as seed pods, buckeyes, and flower petals. Then, find a suitable backdrop like cardboard or even, a wood plank. Now arrange and glue (an adult may need to help if a hot glue gun is necessary).

Go “Creeking”

As adults, we can forget or simply underestimate the incredible lure of a trickling stream. You need no instructions for kids here. Just let them go (and make sure their shoes can get muddy and wet!). Skipping rocks, looking for crayfish, and finding fossils are all on the agenda here. In my experience, we have to practically drag our child away when it’s time to leave.

Middle to High School

Identify

Check out a field guide from your local library or bookstore. Find a natural subject that most interests your son/daughter. There are guides for fossils, rocks and minerals, plants, wildflowers, birds, woodland creatures, trees and more. Now head to the park or hiking trails and see what you can identify together. Take pictures or keep a log of your finds.

Camp

Camping as a family does not have to require major equipment or planning. In fact, you can pitch a tent in the backyard or at a nearby nature preserve and enjoy the bonding that occurs because of it. Make a bonfire and share ghost stories. Take a hike. Pick out the constellations in the night sky. Leave your electronics behind.

In addition to all of the aforementioned benefits of getting out in nature with your children, it can have the added impact of calming us down and changing to a slower, more steady pace in contrast to our daily lives. We notice the small details of our surroundings. And we engage in the wonder of nature together. Hope you find time this summer to appreciate nature with your kids and enjoy the many benefits of exploration together.

Resources

Books:

How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature
by Scott Sampson

Balanced and Barefoot; How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident and Capable Children
By Angela J. Hanscom

Supportive Organizations:

The Nature Kids Institute

The Children and Nature Network

Science Kids

References:

(1) Scott, G., Colquhoun, D., (2013). Changing spaces, changing relationships: The positive impact of learning out of doors. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 17(1), 47 – 53.

(2) Garst, B. A., Baughman, S., Franz, N. K, Seidel, R. W., (2013). Strengthening families: Exploring the impacts of family camp experiences on family functioning and parenting. Journal of Experiential Education, 36(1), 65-77.

(3) Uhls, Y. T., Michikyan, M., Morris, J., Garcia, D., Small, G. W., Zgourou, E., Greenfield, P. M., (2014). Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues. Computers in Human Behavior, 39, 387-392.

Originally published on April 17, 2017.

Diving Into Summer? Check Out: Summer Sanity Strategies

“Mom, what do you really want to do this summer?” my son asked me during our bedtime pillow talk last night. I had to think. I wanted my summer sunshine dreams of lemonade stands, library visits, and creeking at local parks to roll off my tongue but instead, my mind was a-jumble.

In our race to the finish line of school, my head is swimming with work agendas and classroom parent tasks to complete. It wasn’t easy to get my mind quickly focused on summertime fun though that’s precisely the hope of my ten-year-old boy. And as I attempt to, waves of anxiety tend to rush through my veins as I figure out the windows of time in which I can accomplish work during those sunny summer days in the midst of playtime.

I know, though, that if I take some time over the coming weeks to do some collective summer dreaming while establishing some “lite” routines, our summer will be filled with cooperation, shared responsibility, and opportunities for those precious moments of spontaneity — the ones that I truly want to define our summer.

So with that in mind, here are the ways in which we’ll establish a foundation for fun. Perhaps some of these tips will help your household enjoy the summer as well.

Take Time for Sunny Summer Dreaming.

Grab a poster board or newsprint and brainstorm together a list of favorite activities you want to be sure and get in over the summer. Separate into “at home” and “out.” Make sure there are some ideas that can be done as solo play. Hang it on the refrigerator or somewhere you can refer to it throughout the summer. This serves as a terrific way to anticipate the fun of summer and can be an invaluable support for pointing to when your child comes to you bored and unsure of how to spend his/her time. I’ve done this every summer with great success. This summer, my son took the initiative himself without prompting and wrote out thirty-five ideas for summer fun! 

Talk about Your Routine “Lite.”

Though you may be eager to relinquish the rigor of the daily school routine, children still thrive with some sense of predictability. So talk about changes in your routine while your family is together. Consider your morning, bedtime and meal times and other transitions in the day. How will things stay the same? How will things change? Perhaps, you’l agree that getting dressed should happen by a certain time in the morning? Having this discussion can help set expectations for the summer and also provide that sense of stability children can thrive on through routines.

Set Up a Regular Quiet Reading Time.

Sure, you may be out of the house some days during a typical quiet time. But consider assigning a particular time of day to serve as a quiet time whenever you are around the house. After lunch could work, late afternoon or right before dinner. Turn off devices and media. Haul out blankets and books. You could include snacks. But it should be a time when all in the household “power down” and take it easy. Set the expectation for this at the beginning of summer and kids will assume it’s part of their summer routine.

Create a Simple Camp or Pool Checklist

Is there a place you tend to go daily in the summertime whether it’s day camp or a pool? Make sure you’ve set up your children for success in getting ready and out of the door with ease. Create a simple checklist together of what’s consistently needed. Bug spray? Check. Sun tan lotion? Check. Water bottle? Check. Use a dry erase board and kids can actually check off items each day. It will help them take responsibility for their own preparation and you won’t have to become the summertime nag! 

Discuss Responsibilities and Consider Adding a Job List

Hopefully, your children understand their household responsibilities throughout the year. But anytime there is a transition, it’s a good moment to revisit. And you may consider one added responsibility to contribute to the household that’s age-appropriate since there tends to be more time in the summer. In addition, if you’re child is eager to earn money but too young to go out and get a job, you may consider putting together a list of jobs beyond their typical responsibilities such as, sweeping the first floor carpet for a $1.00. This will add to their practice of taking responsibility for jobs and offer a chance for your child to earn money this summer while helping you out! Consider a time when you do chores and offer that time for all family members to work together. 

For more on establishing household responsibilities with children, check out this article.  And for an age-appropriate household responsibility list, check out this printable!

Talk about Screen Time Limits and Expectations.

Avoid a daily battle or the chance your child might become addicted to screens and not flourish through multiple activities this summer beyond screens. Learn as a family the reasons why it’s important to limit screen time. Focus on the positive benefits of using time in other ways. Then, be clear together about what limits you’ll agree upon. 

For more on facts about why it’s important to limit screen time as well as, a family media meeting agenda and a family screen time agreement, check out this article.

The warmer weather brings about so many opportunities for laughter and exploration together. May your summer be filled with those kinds of magical moments with your children!

Coming Soon! The Mindfulness In Education Summit

Starting Monday, May 28th…

I hope you’ll join me for this upcoming FREE online event! I’ll be speaking with Helen Maffini, co-author of Developing Children’s Emotional Intelligence on Monday, May 28th about Dealing with Anger — for Yourself and Your Child!

Other speakers include Daniel Goleman, bestselling author of the transformational book, Emotional Intelligence and most recently, Altered Traits; Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of The Mindful Child and Mindful Games and Adam Avin of Wuf Shanti among many others! LEARN MORE AND/OR SIGN UP HERE! 

 

 

 

Meet My New Friends, Adam and Wuf Shanti – A Focus on Mindfulness


Interview with Adam Avin and his dog, Wuf Shanti

I have been so inspired by getting to know Adam Avin, fourteen-year-old founder of Wuf Shanti. At twelve years of age, Adam drew a dog character with a grand vision that he could inspire youth to live with gratitude and kindness. That small idea has grown into a full organization with an illustrated children’s book, games, and videos aired through Children’s Television Network, local PBS Stations, and YouTube.  His videos were recognized with the prestigious Mom’s Choice Award. And Common Sense Media names Wuf Shanti’s Mobile App one of the “Best Health Apps and Games for Kids.”

Wuf Shanti is an adorable dog yoga character that travels the world and shares with children – through yoga, fun, and great music – how to live mindfully, think like a yogi, look on the bright side of life, be kind to others, and live in gratitude. The organization’s mission is to teach the next generation how to have a yogic-mindset, cope with their emotions in a healthy way, think positively, and spread love and peace.

Adam interviewed me for his blog. We exchanged illustrations (check out his!). And I asked him a few questions below. Here’s a small sampling but I hope you’ll go to his site and check out the tremendous resources for kids and families you’ll find there! I can’t wait to try out the yoga videos with my son this summer!

Interview with Jennifer Miller, Confident Parents Confident Kids:

Today I got to speak with Ms. Jennifer Miller, founder of Confident Parents Confident Kids. She teaches mindfulness to kids and parents, and helps them navigate this world so they can be their best selves.

How can we get all the companies with similar missions to understand that we will make more positive change in this world for the next generation if we work together? What ideas do you have to scale up to get these programs in all schools in the country?

I think our children and teens are beginning to lead the way. You are such a perfect example of this. The games, videos, your book, and the many ways Wuf Shanti teaches kids’ mindfulness has greater power because they were conceived by you for your peers.

I assume the large organizations’ missions you are referring to all are focused on our next generation. We need to keep a mindful focus on our children – their present social and emotional needs and concerns. Students are raising their voices more and more, as in the Parkland tragedy. We need to encourage and support those voices and also, push to action. How can each child, each family contribute to a safe, caring learning community? What can you do? We all have an important role to play…

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW AND CHECK OUT THE MANY RESOURCES ON THE WUF SHANTI SITE.

Interview with and Drawing by Adam Avin

I asked Adam about the illustrations he drew and sent me. Here are my questions and his responses.

  1. Why did you choose Gandhi and the Dalai Lama to draw?

I drew them for a project for school when I was ten, I think. We could pick anyone we wanted to draw. There was a theme – “Dream, Believe, Inspire.”

2. What do you admire most about these two individuals?

They are about making the world a better place. They understand that we need to teach mindfulness to kids at an early age so we can have peace in the world and stop the violence.  Early education is key, and we need to reach kids, parents, and teachers so kids learn social and emotional skills and how to cope with stress and emotions. We need to teach communication, inclusion, kindness, and positivity.

3. Why do you think role models are important for teens? Do you think teens have enough access to role models?

Role models are really important. Lots of kids look up to athletes or actors or singers but only because of the sport or movie or sneakers. Lots of these people do some sort of yoga meditation every day as part of their routines. And they do good in the world. They have foundations and charities. These are things the kids should be hearing about so they can start learning that behavior. It’s about physical and mental health and wellness, but also about healing others and making a positive impact.

Thanks so much, Adam and Wuf Shanti! 

Adam Avin and Jennifer Miller in the Mindfulness in Education Summit COMING SOON!

Adam and I will both be speaking at the Mindfulness in Education Summit coming up in one week. Mark your calendar — May 28 – June 1. It’s a free online conference featuring other experts including, Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, and most recently, co-author with Richard Davidson of Altered Traits; Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. Susan Kaiser Greenland will also speak. She is the author of The Mindful Child and Mindful Games. And they’ll be many more excellent speakers. Learn More or Sign Up!  

Bringing Closure to the School Year

The pace of activities and anticipation of summer can add to a sense of frenzy in these final school days. Children are excited about vacations and swimming. Parents are ready to shed the early morning commute to school and the pressures of homework duty. It’s tempting to race blindly forward into the sunshine without looking back. But there is significant value in taking a moment to reflect on the growth of the past year – friendships, academic progress and newly developed interests. In fact, your child will never experience that grade level or that particular class culture again.

Children may be sad to leave their teacher, their friends and the predictability of the school routine. They may worry about the loss of the stability and consistency that school provides over the summer. They may be looking forward concerned about all of the unknowns of the anticipated next school year. There are some small, simple steps you can take to ease the transition and also deepen the lessons of the year through reflection. Here are a few suggestions.

In Reflection…

Retell the defining moments.

I began asking last night, as my son and I anticipated the last day of school, questions about his year. I asked:

  • What was the most surprising thing that happened? 
  • Did you make a new friend? 
  • When did you feel embarrassed? 
  • What made you belly laugh? 
  • What were you most proud of learning? 

These simple questions elicited a range of stories. I could tell my son loved thinking back on the significant moments of the past year. And you can promote reflection on learning by asking questions about specific subjects and what your daughter knew at the beginning of the school year, how she progressed, and where she is ending the year in her knowledge and experience. 

These reflections help children think more about their own thinking (metacognition) and learning processes which, in turn, will help them when they return to school in the Fall in feeling a sense of capability, motivation, and persistence. At a family dinner, bedtime, or on a road trip drive, ask some reflective questions and spend time together thinking about the many defining moments of this past school year.

Recognize the important caring adults who contributed to your family – teachers, coaches, principal, school volunteers.

End of the year gifts or flowers for a teacher are one traditional way to show appreciation. But consider instead of or in addition to a gift, sitting down with your child to write a letter together about what you appreciate about that teacher and the past school year. 

Talk about it a bit before launching into writing. “What were some of your favorite activities you remember from this year? Why is your teacher so special? Do you remember a time when your teacher was especially kind?” are all questions you might ask before putting words to paper. My son was so excited each day as we moved toward the final day that he rarely sat down. So instead of a letter, I wrote some prompts for him to consider and he easily contributed to this meaningful appreciation of his teacher (see picture). Writing down what you appreciate about the teacher and the school year with your child can serve the dual purpose of a valued keepsake for the teacher and a helpful reflection for your child on her year. For more ideas on recognizing those caring adults in your child’s life, check out Appreciating Our Child’s Influencers.

Create a temporary museum using artifacts of learning.

You likely have a pile, a bin or a busting-at-the-seams binder (as we do!) of school work from the past year. Before recycling or filing away, why not use the accumulated papers as evidence of learning and growth and a tangible way to reflect on that progress? Use your home as a museum. Place the school work in the order of the school year starting in the fall. Line them up across chairs, the couch and on end tables for display. I line the dining room with rope and post papers and artwork with clothespins. 

Walk around as a family and talk about what you notice particularly when you note positive developments. With a little support from you, your kids may be excited to put together the museum themselves. With multiple children, use different rooms of the house and you may have a full academic museum for an evening.

Do the big book line-up.

It’s likely that most of the books your child read this school year are hanging around your bookshelves. Why not create a temporary display? What a sense of accomplishment to see a book sculpture with all of the stories you’ve read, learned from and enjoyed since the school year start. It may even spur conversations and reflections on your favorite characters and stories! It may also encourage further reading this summer and inspire a new stack for the coming months.

Create a time capsule.

A terrific early summer activity might be to generate a time capsule in memory of this past school year. Work with your child to find and decorate a shoe box or other container and mark with the name of the child and dates of the school year. Now ask your child to consider their older self. What if he came across this time capsule hidden in the attic years later? What items would help him remember the unique attributes of this past school year?

Catch a glimpse of next year.

While you are able with school staff still around, wander past next year’s classroom with your child. See if you might catch next year’s teacher in the hallway just to say hello. Perhaps talk with a student who has just ended the next level and ask about highlights from the year. Teachers are likely talking with students about their next step. And your child might be harboring worries about the great unknown ahead. Stepping into the new environment and even making a brief connection with the teacher can go a long way toward allaying fears and preparing for a relaxing summer and a smooth transition next fall.

Celebrate learning.

Show how much your family truly values the process of learning. Celebrate together the accomplishment of a school year filled with hard work. Go on a picnic. Gather at the local ice cream shop with friends for some delectable cones. Take a moment to recognize this change.

Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending. 

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In a few weeks. I’ll post on transitioning into summer with some new tools to set you and your family up for fun and cooperation! Meanwhile…

Happy School Year’s End to You and Your Family!

The Wisdom of Confident Moms – In Celebration of Mother’s Day!


This week, I asked questions of a variety of readers who are also confident Moms. Their insights and stories show the depth of their wisdom and humility and confirmed their desire to continuously learn and improve for the betterment of their relationships with and support of their children. As we share our stories with one another, we learn, we connect, and we deepen our own sense of competence and confidence. I know that my connections with the following women and you, dear reader, make me a better Mom. Read on and enjoy!

Do you have any specific goals or intentions as a parent?

Your child is not you or like you or maybe like any other child you’ve known.  I remember going through the checkout lines and cashiers smiling and talking to my son.  I wanted him so badly to make eye contact to wave or say something silly. Instead, he cried, turned away and hid behind me.  At playgroups, I wanted him to want to play with others as much as I wanted to talk to the other adults, but he wanted to be close by.  When I picked him up from school, I wanted him to want to tell me everything that happened that day. Instead, he would explode or shut down. I remember feeling judged, feeling like a failure, and upset with him.  I knew it was my ego, but it was crushing every time. I had to read a lot about introverted children to help me understand his needs.  

My goal is to empower him to live the way he needs to live, and the only way to do that was to abandon my idea of how a child should reflect my mothering.  My goal now is to learn more about how he feels the world and to help him express this experience the way he needs to do it.  As a parent, I wanted affirmation that I was teaching him and parenting him well.  I was looking for it in performance rather than in my own child. 

– Annette Roberts Dorman

Do you have any particularly defining moments for you in your growth and learning as a parent?

One example of many is related to my own internal understanding of learning and how learning takes place. Coming from a strong academic background (Arina grew up in Russia.), I used to communicate to my children that they needed to focus on their grades, as grades were indicators of learning. Especially it is true for my daughter who is older. Both of my kids are very good students, but there was a time period (fifth grade for my daughter) when she wanted to be in control of her homework, and it wasn’t a very good control. I knew that she was going to see it in her grades, but I let her “fail” to learn her own lesson. [Arina changed her views on learning from her professional colleagues and reading research that showed that failing was an essential part of true learning.] Her report card had three “C”s and a “B” and she had always been a straight “A” student.

Of course, this created a panic and an “I just don’t get it” attitude. I told her that I didn’t care about her grades. Rather, I wanted her to focus on learning and putting in her best effort. This was an intentional strategy to overcome her disposition of blaming someone else – her teacher – for not understanding. I asked her to do her best. Nothing more, but nothing less. I was ready to accept the fact that if she did her best, but still didn’t get an “A,” it was okay. It was a different approach that focused her attention on the process, not the outcome. It worked. She finished fifth grade with all “A”s. She is now in advanced placement courses.

– Arina Bokas

What roles do you play and what/who has helped you act as a confident Mom and work through parenting challenges?

I am a woman, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and businesswoman. Many titles, but the most important one is definitely as a mother. I have one son who is the light of my life. I found that blogging during my pregnancy helped me journal my thoughts so it became my high horse journalistic point of view. I would say fellow bloggers and Facebook groups that focus on positive parenting helped me most. I read everything to get ideas on ways that I can parent my son without spanking, yelling or using demeaning behaviors (name calling, cursing, etc).  This is completely different from how I was raised. It is both scary and exciting because I know that I’m doing more good by being educated, loving and leading him to positive behaviors.

– Tikeetha Thomas (Check out Tikeetha’s blog for more, A Thomas Point of View)

 

 

 

What confident Mom do you know and why?

My own mother was confident in her belief that her five children would grow up to be capable, independent, caring adults. She modeled those traits, and let us know that she believed in and supported us. She let us learn from mistakes, celebrated our successes, and was always available when we needed her. I have tried to be that mother with my own 3 children. While I miss her every day, she lives on in me and my kids.

– Mary Lynn White

 

Happy Mother’s Day to you, reader Moms, and to my very own loving Mom, Linda Smith who has read, commented and supported every word I’ve written on this blog and every step I take in life!

We celebrate you!

In Two Days… Free Online Parenting Conference


Please join me for the Happily Family Online Conference for parents and professionals about Mindful Parenting! This is a FREE global online event from May 10-14, 2018, bringing together over 25 speakers to talk about mindfulness, social and emotional learning, and happiness. I’ll be talking about how parents can deal with their own anxiety while simultaneously teaching their children coping strategies. Pick the topics that most interest you and listen to each day’s speakers at your convenience.

The conference is hosted by Cecilia and Jason Hilkey, creators of Happily Family. You’ll have access to inspirational ideas and practical tools to teach kids to be compassionate, capable, and resilient. Hope you’ll join me for this FREE conference. Learn more or sign up here! 

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