confident parents confident kids

On the New Parent Toolkit — “Young Adult Identity Development: A Parent’s Guide”

As you explore the new content on the NBC Parent Toolkit, check out this one in the new Life After High School section on a young adult’s changing identity. On the first break when your college student or new workforce member returns home, you may witness a strikingly different person than the son or daughter you knew who lived at home with you. There are significant shifts that take place with an emerging adult’s identity. And you, as a parent, will be trying to figure how to adjust to this newly forming adult-to-adult relationship. How do you show support without being overprotective? Where do boundaries lie with involvement in their schoolwork or relationships?

This period of transition can be stressful but it can also forge a new bond that may serve as an anchor for you and your son or daughter. Deborah Pearce, Professor of Communications and a mentor of mine, recalls, “Looking back, this was surprisingly one of my favorite times. She needed me in a different way and we could discuss our personal and professional interests on a more adult level.” Here’s how it begins…

Young Adult Identity Development: A Parent’s Guide

“I am most excited about the freedom that I will have when I graduate from high school. The freedom that I am searching for is not to escape my family or anything of the sorts, but the freedom of going to a college and being myself.” Lexie, Class of 2017, Summersville, WV

Throughout their lifetime, your kids have been developing a sense of self, of identity, and self-awareness. You may have even noticed they became increasingly self-aware around puberty or around the 13-14 age range. But there is perhaps no greater time of identity development than in the years following high school. Ages 18-25 offer your kids even greater opportunities to develop a firm sense of self.

Education consultant Jennifer Miller says this age is full of tests that young adults often use to understand if they are “worthy.” These tests can present themselves in the form of a job interview, acceptance into a fraternity, dating, or new friendships. All of those tests can be overwhelming, but they are important for young adults to experiment with their own boundaries and rules. They have been accustomed to rules at school and at home, but as their new adult life emerges, they get to redefine their own rules. Read the full article on this important topic! 

And for those in the U.S., Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

On the New Parent Toolkit — Helping Your Young Adult Find Her Purpose


There’s Important Work to Be Done…

Simply read the news and it becomes obvious — there’s a tremendous amount of work to be done to create a better world. Opportunities to contribute abound. So we, as parents, can not only bring our own energies and talents to solve our problems but we can also learn ways to prepare our children so that they become more self-aware. We can create chances for deeper reflections on who they are and what they can uniquely give. Simply finding a job that pays bills is not the easy answer for young adults. They are learning who they are and who they want to become. They are working on understanding the meaning of their lives, a journey that will continue throughout their adulthood. Why not get this incredibly important conversation started with your family? You can offer your emerging adult sons and daughters some gentle, facilitative guidance by asking good questions along the way so that they can begin to – brick by brick – build a foundation of experience that will channel and fine-tune their passions into projects, efforts, and initiatives that create a better world.

I contributed to the new NBC Parent Toolkit’s Life After High School section on helping young adults find their sense of purpose and contribution. Beyond the worries of how to pay for school and life, who to befriend, and how to prepare for the workforce at this age, this discussion speaks to the very heart of preparing a person for their contributions to our global community.

Check it out! 

How to Help My Young Adult Find Their Purpose

You’ve laid the groundwork. As young as elementary school, you’ve likely asked your child, what do you want to be when you grow up? You may have had conversations about what your family values are, or your kid picked up guiding principles over the years. Now you have a young adult, who may be on a path to finding their purpose in life, or they may feel completely lost and unsure of what to do. Finding purpose can be a lifelong endeavor—something you may still be working through yourself! In The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling in Life, William Damon, director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, defines purpose as “a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self.” Based on the center’s research, Heather Malin, Director of Research, says the key time for discussing purpose is the 18 – 23 age range. Here’s how you can play a supportive role in helping your kid find their purpose at this time. Read the full article on the Parent Toolkit site.

 

Introducing — The New and Improved Parent Toolkit!

Check out NBC Education Nation’s New & Improved Parent Toolkit!

Parent Toolkit is an award-winning resource for parents to help them support their children’s development in academics, health & wellness, and social & emotional development. Now, it’s easier than ever to use. You can browse by topic or grade level to see an overview of all the helpful tips and benchmarks featured. The new site enables you to find the advice and information you’re looking for even faster.

Since we as parents are more connected than ever with our sons and daughters, Parent Toolkit just launched a new Life After High School section to help parents and students navigate college and career options. It also includes conversation starters on important but often difficult discussions including underage drinking and consent. New original videos for Life After High School provide bite-size and engaging tips on key interview skills and even healthy recipes graduates can make quickly and easily.

I loved working with the Parent Toolkit team to develop content on how to support your emerging adult sons and daughters on cultivating healthy relationships, dealing with the uncertainties and attendant anxieties that come with the many choices associated with college and career, and also, on guiding them toward their sense of purpose and contribution to the world.

While Parent Toolkit aims to empower parents to support their kids’ success in and out of the classroom, many teachers find the resource helpful too. With even more advice also available in Spanish, this site is a useful tool for any caring adult.

This week, I’ll be highlighting for you some of my new favorite sections! So I hope you’ll explore this improved resource for parents! 

Interview on Promoting Self-Control

Want to learn practical, simple ways to promote self-control in your children?

Today, check out my interview with Aditi Verma, Co-founder of Lead with Good. I discuss how parents can practically promote self-control through various ages and stages. Aditi asks excellent questions and poses examples from her own life as a parent. Lead with Good is an organization that works to bring families together around the topics of emotional intelligence, leadership, and value-based education. I loved talking with them and sharing practical tips for promoting one of the most important skills for our children to learn! Check it out!

 

Thank you, Lead with Good!

#SEL #parenting

Colorful Conversations for Stronger Communities

By Guest Writer, Nikkya Hargrove

Since I can remember, I have always wanted to be married. As a child, I found myself daydreaming about creating a family and a life with someone else but especially, having children. And as I played house with my Cabbage Patch Dolls, I imagined they were indeed my own children. I undressed those dolls with their mushy body parts and put diapers on them as if they were my own six imaginary children. I built a strong fantasy of what I thought marriage was but more so, of what I thought parenthood was like or supposed to be. I had strong, caring adults who showed me affection and loved me unconditionally. And they taught me how to love another as a human being whether that person was a neighbor, friend, or family member.

When I met my in-laws, they taught me about different ways of being married, having a family, and being a parent. They have, by example and many discussions, given me a different perspective of what parenthood (and marriage) could be. I value both perspectives – those I learned during my own upbringing and those I’ve learned from my in-laws. As my wife and I began to discuss the kind of children we wanted to shape into upstanding adults, we first had the need to discuss who we were as individuals and what kind of parents we wanted to be together.

We are two moms raising three kids who are products of our Sri Lankan (my wife) and African American (mine) heritage. My wife was born and raised in Sri Lanka until the age of two, when her family moved to Africa before settling in the United States in the mid-1980’s. My family, products of a Southern Baptist upbringing, left Virginia in the late 1940’s and settled in New York. Fast-forward many years later, my wife and I met in 2007 and discussed having a family on our very first date. I knew I wanted to have kids and she did not. We discussed this all before we made it to dessert.

Today, we are proud parents of twin daughters who are almost two-years-old and a ten-year-old son.

We teach our children about who they are and where they come from because we want them to be proud of their heritage.

Even before their arrival, we knew we needed to figure out what parts of our own culture we would to pass on to our children and consider which rituals they may want to one day pass on to their children.

For my wife, it was about keeping the ritual of homemade curry meals readily available in our home. In my wife’s culture, meals are eaten with one’s hands. Curries simmered in coconut milk are made regularly. Saris are often worn by older women no matter the occasion. On a deeper level, decisions are made, no matter how big or small, in conversation with the family. And advice from elders is readily available (taken or not).

Culturally, for me, our decisions are made by the individual because the individual is the one who will reap the rewards of said decision (positive or negative) and family is consulted last. Food is made for the family and eaten at the kitchen table, especially Sunday meals. And advice comes from the Bible. Rationality is consulted last because in the end “the Bible says so,” a phrase I heard frequently growing up.

As parents to our three children, we needed to first unlearn behaviors to then learn the ones which we wanted to foster in our own children such as the right balance of communication within our family. We did not want to over-communicate or under communicate. We did not want to place too much focus on the differences of our family (or others) but simply make ourselves and our family aware of the social constructs of our society.

Our goal as parents to our children is to foster a strong sense of social awareness and self-awareness to nurture our children into upstanding adults.

And today, we have it far from figured out in our household. We are very “in the moment” parents and take on conversations as they emerge, a trait I had to learn rather quickly. I am the “processer” in my family. I like to think about what kinds of consequences to give our son while my wife, a previous sixth-grade teacher, needs all of ten seconds to come up with a fitting consequence. We continue to grow as individuals, as parents, and as a family figuring out what works for us as our family dynamics and needs change — and as we (and our kids) do too.

With the added layer to our family, being a non-traditional household, we want our kids to see faces like theirs and families like ours. When our son turned four-years-old just before he entered into kindergarten, we created a Gay and Lesbian Family of Connecticut Facebook page to help bring families like ours together. We found families across our state who varied in color and gender.

We meet, mostly as families but at times as couples only, to get our children together and foster a stronger, intentional, diverse community, reflective of who we are as parents. The group has given our children a space to be conscious of many things but namely, that there are other children with two moms or two dads of various shades of skin color and backgrounds.

They also get to see that families are created because of love. In our Facebook group, we have families who came to be because of adoption, surrogacy, and in-vitro fertilization. It is because of this very group, we are able to have conversations with our kids about their families and their skin colors. We are able to bring the realities of our gay and lesbian families into our own living room for discussion around differences which invariably creates a stronger sense of self for our kids.

It offers a foundation to stand up for our families and educate peers about how many different kinds of families are in this world not only in our home or with our Gay and Lesbian Families’ Group but in our children’s school cafeterias, their playgrounds, and community spaces.

Each interaction and gathering with the intentional community we’ve created have made us better parents. We are more self-aware because of this group. We encourage our kids to address questions which they may receive concerning their family head on and with courage. We hope they stand firm in what we have taught them about the strength of a family and the love only families can provide.

It is through those consistent interactions and the nurturing supports of other families, like ours, that we establish a foundation for all of our kids for these critical discussions about the “other.” We are a better and stronger family because we bring conversations to each member. Because of it, we are ready and willing to address any issues our children want to discuss with us anywhere, anytime.

Sincere thanks to Nikkya Hargrove for sharing her wisdom, writing talents, and personal family life details to offer perspectives on parenting with self-awareness and social awareness.

 

Nikkya Hargrove is a mother to three children, a wife, writer, and resident of Stratford, Connecticut. When she is not mothering or keeping her household together by all means necessary, you can find her indulging in her other “love” of writing. She is a BinderCon Scholar ‘17, LAMBDA Literary Non-Fiction Fellow ’12, and a freelance writer for The Washington Post. Her work has also appeared in the Huffington Post Blog, ELLE Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine, and Dr. OZ: The Good Life.

 

#Parenting #SEL #Diversity #Culturalheritage

Appreciating Our Child’s Influencers – Moms, Dads, Grandparents, Teachers, Coaches

What would our family life be like without teachers, coaches, and loving relatives? Whether we refer to other caring adults in our child’s life as our village or not, he or she has a community of adults who act as influencers. These individuals are either unpaid or underpaid for the critical roles they play in supporting our child’s development. Their motivation to support your child comes from the heart. They realize they are in a position to care for and nurture your son or daughter and accept the many challenges that go along with a young person’s learning.

We know that children learn social and emotional skills best through modeling. So those individuals – whether neighbors, friends, classroom teachers, soccer coaches, ministers, babysitters or music directors – all serve as teachers in a very real sense.

“How do I respond when someone shouts mean words to me?” “What should I do when I see someone hurt and in need of immediate assistance?” “How do I react when I witness a friend being bullied?” These are all important social questions our children are trying to answer. And as they watch their Moms and teachers and coaches react in similar situations, they observe and mimic what those adults do. A single parent cannot and does not raise a child alone. Recognizing who those influencers are and appreciating their support can build trust among the team who are contributing to the raising of your child.

As Moms and Dads, we are in a privileged position to have the chance to select other caring adults in our child’s life but frequently those adults just come with a package whether it’s in school or in out-of-school programs. And we have to coordinate with them and trust them as partners. In essence, they act as mentors.

A mentor is simply an older, more experienced person offering caring support in the interest of a young person’s development. And research shows that a child with a mentor has greater engagement in learning and commitment to school and is more likely to attend college. Mentors can contribute to a positive self-image, assist with emotional adjustments and life transitions and add to a child’s psychological well-being. So the contribution to your family of other caring adults is significant.

You might consider, who has taken on the role of mentor in my child’s life?

And what are the ways in which I can show my appreciation?

The “gifts” that tend to be keepers and stowed away in our treasure drawer are those that are given with love and are often, home-made. With Teacher Appreciation Week this week and Mother’s Day upcoming, I offer five simple ideas for appreciating those very important persons.

1. Create a note from the heart.

If your child is anything like mine, when I announce it’s time to write thank you notes or letters, a big groan followed by “Mooooom” (add the tonal swing from high to low) ensues. But you may want to simply capture how your child feels about his teacher, for example. Write this simple prompt: “My teacher is great because…” and then do a brainstorm. “What are all of the things you like about your teacher?” you might ask. Write and draw together and see how quickly you can come up with your homemade letter that your teacher will treasure.

2. Design a banner for all to see.

E’s second-grade teacher in front of her banner. Each student wrote what they loved about her on a heart.

Whether it’s a banner for a classroom door, a locker gym door or over a dining room table, it can serve as a big statement of appreciation for the caring mentor you are recognizing. An added bonus is that a whole class or team can contribute words and pictures to make the sentiment extra special. And the fact that you’ll place it on display for all to see allows the mentor to be recognized by the whole community.

3. Record an interview.

Your child will only be this age once. Her sweet young voice will change. And certainly, her appearance will change over time. You can simply record an audio interview with your daughter and ask questions like, “When did Grandma make you laugh?” “Do you remember the most fun time you had at her house?” Or record it on video and show gifts she’s given your daughter that have become beloved like a stuffed friend or a favorite book.

I’ve also gone to the school playground and interviewed classmates about their teacher. Of course, this will require permission from parents. But you could simply ask parents at drop off or pick up time whether it would be okay to get their child’s participation. A video of students can be a precious keepsake for any teacher.

4. Make a keepsake box for sentimental treasures.

Grab a sturdy shoebox. Now brainstorm a list of your teacher’s favorite things whether its school subjects, animals, or goodies. Draw pictures and create a collage all over the box. When all pictures are glued on, either paint Modge Podge over the pictures to seal them or use large clear packing tape. Go one step further and have classmates place their notes inside!

5. Work with your child to draw a portrait of your child and her mentor.

Even a simple drawing of your child and her mentor can be a meaningful gift for someone. Purchase a matte or frame to make it extra special.

I am grateful for designated opportunities like Teacher Appreciation Week to share how grateful I am to my son’s influencers. But I also recognize that those little, simple daily appreciations throughout the year can go a long way toward strengthening relationships and reinforcing our gratitude. So Mother’s Day is also a reminder to me to notice and mention those extra ways that people show care to my son that make such a difference in our family’s life.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Happy Mother’s Day!

And to all those who have signed up to follow Confident Parents, Confident Kids within the last few weeks, I extend a big welcome to a community of caring adults!

Join me this week for “The Heart and Science of Parenting”!

In two days, don’t miss this FREE online opportunity to learn from top experts in parenting with social and emotional skills. When you sign up, you’ll have access to my interview on “Using Social and Emotional Learning to Partner with Your Child’s School” this Sunday, May 7th. I am also looking forward to:

  • “Being a Wonder Woman; Self-Care and Community for Moms” with Erin Dimaggio,
  • “Dads Creating Connection in Families” with Julian Ivey-Caldwell, and
  • “Parenting from the Inside Out” with Daniel Siegel.

Friend and Collaborator, Arina Bokas, will also be discussing her book, “Building Powerful Learning Environments.” And conference organizers and experts in their own right, Cecilia and Jason Hilkey will speak about “Compassionate Communication for Kids.” And they’ll be many more topics and speakers! You’ll also have the opportunity to join the Facebook community and engage in a global conversation about how we can raise confident, resilient and caring kids.

Sign up and pick and choose each day which topics are most relevant and exciting to you.

Hope to see you there!

#SEL #Parenting

Coming Soon! The Heart and Science of Parenting — FREE Online Conference

You are invited!

Because you follow and read Confident Parents, Confident Kids, you clearly care about the powerful influence you possess as a parent and you realize how you use that influence matters greatly.

My friends, Cecilia and Jason Hilkey, have launched their third conference to share cutting-edge brain science and practical tools that parents can use to help their kids foster social and emotional intelligence and mindfulness, navigate friendships and feelings, and develop resilience.

And the Happily Family Online Conference is completely FREE!

Please join me for this important online event from May 4-8, 2017. I’ll be talking about how parents can use social and emotional intelligence in small ways to build trusting connections with your child’s teachers while providing invaluable support for your child’s education. Some other topics include:

  • “Healthy Friendships for Girls in a Socially Complex World” 
  • “The Emotional Life of Boys”
  • “Connecting with a Struggling Child”
  • “Assertive Communication for Kids: Being a Kindness Warrior”
  • “The Mindful Child”

Sign up and you can watch (at your own pace) online interviews with over 25 experts who will offer effective tools to raise kids who are capable and compassionate. You will see interviews from some of the finest teachers, authors, researchers and thought leaders in the world of parenting like:

  • Dr. Daniel Siegel (Psychiatrist, Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute)
  • Dr. Laura Markham (Clinical Psychologist, Founder of Ahaparenting.com)
  • Dr. Michele Borba (Speaker, Author of UnSelfie)
  • Kate Northrup (Creative Entrepreneur, Founder of The Freedom Family)
  • Scott Noelle (Author of The Daily Groove and Founder of PATH Parenting)
  • Rosalind Wiseman (Author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, educator)
  • Dr. Michael Thompson (Co-author of Raising Cain)
  • Daniel Rechtschaffen (Marriage Family Therapist, author of The Way of Mindful Education)
  • Michelle Gale (Founder of My Messy Spirituality, Educator, Advisor to the Mindful Schools)
  • Todd and Cathy Adams (Hosts of Zen Parenting Radio)
  • Jennifer Miller (Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids)

Cecilia and Jason are dedicated to this work. For over 15 years, they have taught parents how to communicate with their kids. Together they’ve taught preschool, worked with children with special needs, and they have two kids of their own.

There is a wealth of support, wisdom, and a global community at the Happily Family Online Conference. Visit this link so you can view the full agenda or follow this link for a simple sign in and you’re all set. I encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to learn and grow!

Hope to see you there,

 

 

 

 

Celebrating the Earth – Ways for Families to Explore Nature through the Ages/Stages

“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. In Spring, 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 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 in celebration of Earth Day, 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 and exploring the world of bugs that lives 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. 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.

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. Use this Earth Day as a reminder to find simple ways to appreciate nature with your kids and enjoy the many benefits of exploration together.

Resources

About:

Earth Day Facts and History

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.

Families Making Music, Joyful Ways to Promote Children’s Social and Emotional Development

“Hello, everybody! So glad to see you. Hello, everybody. We’re so glad to see you!” sang Miss Leigh, our Music Together instructor who engaged both parents and toddlers in song, dance, and music making once a week in my son’s early years. And from that singular experience emerged life-long friendships and a next generation family connection to music that influenced our quiet times at home, our social lives, and our choices for entertainment and extracurricular activities.

Numerous studies on children’s exposure to music through instrument lessons or music education in school have shown that it can have a significant impact on a child’s brain development. In fact, children with musical training have been found to score higher on reading and math assessments, have greater spatial and fine motor skills, and enhanced social and emotional skills. (1) In addition, one study that examined 232 brain scans of healthy children found that those who played a musical instrument had a stronger ability to focus their attention, manage anxiety and exercise self-control. (2)

I personally witnessed evidence of children learning self-control through music on a recent school visit. Teachers directed thirty second grade students to sing a phrase a cappella (without instruments) and then, stop suddenly and rest during a set of beats counted out by both the teacher and the students. These children beamed with pride as I watched while they were right on time with their singing and with their absolute silence. They practiced and demonstrated their ability to control their impulses while collaborating with their classmates.

In our home lives, music can play a significant role. It can offer a pre-teen a sense of independence as she discovers her own taste in music and seeks out her favorites. Music can also feed a child’s intrinsic desires for autonomy (as he learns to play an instrument on his own), belonging (as she shares musical interests with her peers), and competence (as he hones his skills and abilities in music making).

Families can take advantage of multiple ways music can promote children’s social and emotional development by improving skills, creating a psychologically safe and joyful home environment, and building trust and connection among members. Here are some specific ideas.

Music can…

BUILD CONNECTION.

Collaborative Music Making – Get out any instruments you might have laying around your house. Toys instruments work (Have you seen the Jimmy Fallon jam sessions with them?)! Create music together. We have a tradition of making music with friends when they come for dinner because after trying it once, the kids now request it.

Family Theme Song – Have you noticed each professional Baseball player has a “get psyched up” theme song that is played as he is positioning himself at bat? What might be your family theme song for times when you want to generate energy, cohesion, and enthusiasm? Maybe it’s the first sunny day of spring or you are about to go on vacation. Decide on your theme song together and relish in playing it.

PROMOTE SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL SKILLS.

Listening skills – Play a game with your children while listening to music. See how many instruments they can accurately name. Careful listening is often required when figuring out the layers of instrumentation.

Self-control – The spaces and silences in music can be just as defining and impactful as the sounds. Exercise your children’s self-control, an essential life skill, by taking turns singing or using instruments working on timing, beats, when to join in and when to become silent. You can do the same with dance. Move your body to the music and then, freeze when there are rests or the music is stopped.

ASSIST WITH EMOTIONS.

Deal with anger – Listening to calming music can assist a child who is angry or inconsolable. Time alone with soothing music can do wonders to calm an upset child. Be aware, however, that angry music will only increase anger. So help select music that offers a way to calm down. (YouTube has a large selection of “relaxing music for children.”)

Deal with sadness – In addition to calming, relaxing music, songs with a sad and expressive tone can help children feel the sadness they may be too embarrassed to show and pushing away. Give them a way to select and play music in a secluded spot so that they can experience the freedom of emotional expression without judgment.

Deal with anxiety – The moment I play calming baby music (“Beatles for Babies”) on a floor of the house, I notice all family members (adults too) buzzing along with what they are doing and calmer in the process. Children can benefit from the calming effects of instrumental music. Experiment with differing kinds of music and watch how your family responds.

FACILITATE COOPERATION WITH ROUTINES.

Cleaning Up – Instead of nagging or inciting power struggles, why not have a clean up song that you play when it’s that time of the day? A song can inspire cooperation as you work together with your children singing a merry tune and getting the job done.

Packing – Whether you are going away on a trip for a night or a week, packing can become quite a chore for parents. And certainly, children have varying abilities to contribute though they can help in some way from preschool age on up. Packing a full suitcase – with a parent checking in to make sure all items are covered – can be accomplished by an eight-year-old with a little guidance. Turn on some happy music and the process might just go more smoothly for all and take your own stress away.

Homework (for some!) – Some children will require silence in order to focus their full attention on homework. But for some, music (instrumental) may actually assist them in their focus. Experiment and know your own child. See if playing an undercurrent of music during homework time might just help her stay on task.

INCREASE SOCIAL AWARENESS.

Diversify – You could use the holidays or times of year to inspire variation in your musical selections. For Cinco de Mayo, perhaps select a Mariachi Band station. Or for St. Patrick’s Day, choose Celtic music. Expose your children to a wide variety of music from multiple cultures and traditions and the whole family will learn and feel enriched by the experience.

CREATE A CALMING, SAFE SPACE.

Household Tone – When you walk into another person’s home, you immediately notice the feel of the new environment – how it smells, looks and sounds. Music or other sounds change the psychological space of a room. We may place have a constant dull drone of talking and news reporting as our typical backdrop from radio or television. Consider how that impacts the environment. And if messages from those sources are particularly fear-laden or negative, how does that impact our children? Turn off those talking sources and turn on an undercurrent of Jazz, Classical, Reggae or World Music and see how it alters the tone of your household. Notice your own mood and how it might be changed by the music. Find the soundtrack for your family’s life that makes all feel safe, calm and “at home.”

Music can act as a powerful force for change in a family’s life. When stress is all around, using music to soothe can offer a significant respite. But even more than that, it can connect us more deeply to who we are and how we connect with our loved ones. Music can be a source of joy as we go about the routines of our lives.

References:
(1) Art Education Partnership. (2011). Music Matters: How Music Education Helps Students Learn., Achieve, and Succeed, Washington, D.C., September.

(2) Hudziak, J. J., et al. (2014). Cortical thickness maturation and duration of music training: Health-promoting activities shape brain development. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Vol. 53, 11, 1153-1161.

Resources:

Music Together – A high-quality early childhood music education program with locations all over the United States.

Nutt, A.E. (2015). Music lessons spur emotional and behavioral growth in children, New study says. The Washington Post, January 7.

National Association for Music Education – A national advocacy organization in support of music education.

National Association of Music Merchants – A national advocacy organization in support of music education for all ages.

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