Understanding the Emotions of Our Teens

The top challenge and priority for parenting, said U.S. parents from the 2015 NBC Parenting Survey, was patience and understanding.1 That ability can become a particular challenge as children move into their teenage years. They are striving for independence yet are still very much dependent on you for your guidance, love, and support. Their bodies are looking taller and more mature, but their behaviors may not demonstrate that maturity. That paradox can be confusing for parents and sons and daughters as they navigate school, friendships and involvement in family life. I met last night with a group of parents of teenagers and asked this question that may, on first reading, seem unrelated:

How did you feel in those very first days of being a new parent?

I ask you to reflect on that same question. I heard from those in the workshop the following descriptors: scared, overwhelmed, vulnerable, isolated, happy, amazed, in love, ignorant, empathetic and sad for the loss of the life before kids. What feelings might you add to the list?

These are the very same emotions that your teenager is experiencing as he or she passes through a time period in which they are very much existing in the in-between. They are beginning to let go of while also, holding onto childhood attributes which can be sad and isolating. They also have a developmental pull to become more independent and act as adults though they are not fully equipped in their thoughts and actions for the responsibilities of adult life making them at times feel overwhelmed, at other times, excited and perhaps at other times still, shamefully ignorant. They may fall in love with the thrill of engaging in new experiences. And they may feel scared by their own impulsivity and the peer pressure that pushes them in new directions.

We are learning that teens are not only going through a major body reconstruction with changes that move them physically from a child to an adult. They are simultaneously going through a major brain reconstruction. Whereas in younger years, they were wired for magic, for learning through play (and we never lose that ability to learn from play!), their brains are shifting toward logic and reasoning that will be a requirement of their adult years. But those connections to rational thinking have not fully been made and will not be well-established until their early-to-mid-twenties.2 These significant brain changes result in individuals with larger bodies who are more impulsive, easily excitable and eager for new experiences, but less able to make connections between their desires and what might be the outcomes of acting upon them. This adds to their high level of sensitivity to any judgments made related to their ever-evolving, at-times murky identity.

The last time we, as parents, underwent a major brain reconstruction was when we become new parents.3 So those feelings that accompanied that transition time in our lives that felt so magical, so vulnerable, and so overwhelming can help us relate to the feelings of our teens. Once, we looked at our helpless baby, so completely dependent on us for survival, and felt we knew nothing about what to do or how to act in our new role as a parent. Teens stand at the gateway to adulthood and the freedom of it all looks magical. They fall in love fast and hard for each other and the ideals and hopes of their future. But they are also faced with the overwhelming knowing that they are not knowledgeable about the world or fully ready to be on their own yet.

There is much we can do, as parents, to understand this unique time of life and the intense emotions that come with it. Here are some ways we can help extend our patience and understanding and make caring connections with our teens.

1. Be ready to listen when they are ready to talk.

Teens may not want to make eye contact or respond to probing questions on the spot. After all, they are trying to assert independence but have not truly found it yet. So look for occasions when you are together, not staring eyeball to eyeball. Go to your son’s room and hang out in his world for a little while, the only goal to make a connection. Or turn down the radio on the car ride to school to create the possibility for conversation. This openness on your part will build trust so that when he runs into problems, he is more likely to come to you.

2. Express curiosity about friends but not judgment.

Friendships change rapidly in the teenager’s world and there’s no way an adult can keep up. So instead of trying, ask good open-ended questions and express concern and curiosity without criticizing or judging. Your daughter might be more willing to come to you with friendship worries if you accept her friends as hers and offer your support when she needs it.

3. Talk cause and effect to mitigate risk.

The teenage brain is ready to take risks based on emotions like excitement without linking those thoughts and feelings to logic. Teens have not had much experience with the skill of foresight, looking into the future to anticipate outcomes. But those brain connections can be enhanced with practice and repetition. So whenever you get the opportunity – perhaps you hear about a story in the local news or learn about a neighbor or family friend – discuss cause and effect. The neighbor’s daughter wrecked the family car at the local park. What happened to get her to that point? What other choices could she have made? Why do you think she wrecked? What happens to her now that she’s injured and the car has to be fixed?

4. Establish plans for boundaries and rules together.

Boundaries are critical in any relationship. Discussing rules and boundaries with your teen can help both of you understand and adjust to his or her changing role in your family life. Treating a teen as you might a co-worker when setting boundaries for a work team can show that you trust your child to act responsibly and offers him a participatory role in the creation of rules. He can play a role in learning about and deciding what will keep everyone safe and thriving and you can work together to uphold those boundaries. Power struggles do not need to define a relationship between a parent and teen if they have worked together to create a plan. For more specifics about learning about social media together and developing a family social media agreement, check out this link.

5. Normalize feelings’ talk.

In general, people tend to not discuss feelings. The impression is often that they can sound like signs of weakness. Instead, we tend to focus our conversations on thoughts, ideas, and stories. Particularly for teens whose emotions seem to be more raw and sensitive, it helps to make the expression of feelings a regular part of family conversation. “I was nervous today for my meeting but it all went okay.” This makes discussion of emotions normal. Your son may be more willing to admit to his feelings. And that admission may offer understanding, connection with you, and possibly some relief of the isolation and pressures he might be experiencing.

6. Practice coping strategies.

Did you know that an estimated one-third of teens experience a high-level of ongoing anxiety?4 Since that is the case and since plenty of adults are dealing with anxiety too, how can you model coping strategies in your home life? How can you take deep breaths when upset? Sit down to calm down when you need it. One workshop participant said she and her son say the word “Red!” when they are feeling a rise in anger and need time and space to cool down. How can you help your son or daughter learn to cool down when upset? Check out the Family Emotional Safety Plan for a simple template that will walk you and your family through creating a plan for your most intense moments and how you might handle them with competence.

7. Plan for fights.

Every family fights. Families with teenagers may even fight a bit more considering all of the changes teens are dealing with internally and externally, in their social and school lives. So why not talk about what it means to fight fairly and what is off limits in conflicts? Check out this Fighting Fairly Family Pledge! It lists five easy ways to argue respectfully, ensuring that your relationships are stronger after you’ve worked through disagreements. It also lists from research six types of fighting to avoid, the practices that erode trust with one another.

8. Open the door to healthy risks!

Teens need to take risks in order to develop and learn. Their brains require the practice of making big and small choices and experiencing the consequences. Frances Jensen, MD, author of the book, The Teenage Brain, recalls a story of her son wanting to dye his hair purple.2 Her question to herself when he brought up the issue was, “Will this have a long-term adverse effect? If not, then I’ll support him.” And so she set up an appointment with a hairdresser she knew would do a professional dye job with his purple hair. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” might be an appropriate motto here. Zip lining, learning ceramics, performing on stage or serving meals at a local soup kitchen are all possibilities for feeding that desire for novelty while making healthy choices.

Finally, make sure that your teen is getting his daily dose of positivity, gratitude, and love! Consider that he’ll likely get a daily dosage of negativity through critics at school whether they are peers, teachers or coaches. He’ll get it through news on the radio or television. He’ll view the troubles of the world on social media. But how much love, connection, and appreciation does he receive and feel daily? Even if he insists on his personal space, have no doubt that he still needs that sense of belonging and loving connection that only you can provide. Parents play a critical role in making sure that the connection teens are craving is fulfilled at least in part through their family life.


1. Princeton Survey Research Associates International. (2015). NBC State of Parenting Survey.

2. Jensen, Frances E. (2015). The Teenage Brain; A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults. NY: HarperCollins.

3. Pilyoung, K., Strathearn, L., & Swain, J.E. (2015). The Maternal Brain and Its Plasticity in Humans. Hormones and Behavior. 12; 4C.

4. Denizet-Lewis, B. (2017). Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering from Severe Anxiety? The New York Times Magazine, Oct. 11.


Check out Frontline’s Program, “Inside the Teenage Brain,” on PBS.

United Nations’ Universal Children’s Day Pop-Up Festival

Join EQ #ChildrensDay!

To celebrate the United Nations’ Universal Children’s Day, November 20, allies in 100+ countries will collaborate to bring more emotional intelligence awareness and resources to children and the adults who support them… and you are invited to be part of it!

EQ #ChildrensDay celebration will create a long-lasting impact as participants will spread enthusiasm and skills for practicing emotional intelligence. Around the world, children and adults will participate in short fun and enriching activities together that offer practice in a social or emotional skill.

Do you and your child attend a playgroup? Are you involved in your children’s school? Are you an educator in a classroom? Take this opportunity to learn to facilitate a new activity while connecting with caring adults and children around the world AND contributing to your children’s emotional well-being! 

Fill in the form to sign up to be part of the celebration! Six Seconds, a global nonprofit organization that promotes emotional intelligence, will provide the instructions and kit. You bring together a group (4 people in your kitchen, 40 in your classroom, 400 in your office lobby, 4000 in your children’s museum…) — and you’ll create your own POP-UP Festival!

Confident Parents, Confident Kids is a partner and has created two festival activities – one for young children and their caregivers and another for groups of teenagers. Join us and be a part of this global celebration of children’s emotional well-being! 

Upcoming Event on Life After High School

NBC News Education Nation Presents: “Build the Future” – Live from Boston

NBC News Education Nation is bringing together students and community members who are invested in their achievement for a robust discussion on the issues facing young adults after high school, and solutions to ensure their success. Produced in partnership with NBC Boston, the town hall will feature topics ranging from college access and equity to skills all young adults need now and for the future.

The two-hour broadcast will be moderated by NBC News Chief Education Correspondent Rehema Ellis and include six-panel topics, with each featuring multiple panelists from a variety of perspectives. Questions from audience members at the town hall and online will be seamlessly integrated throughout the program. While the broadcast will take place in Boston, the discussion and topics will be relevant to a national audience, as the event aims to inspire youth and adults across the country to both become mentors and support students on their path to success.

Are you a parent of a late teen or early twenty-something? Are you a high school or college educator? Do you work alongside young professionals? Don’t miss this important discussion. Do submit your questions and comments online to participate! 

Mark your calendars for Wednesday, October 11, 2017, from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time. The discussion will be broadcast from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

For those in the Boston area, you can catch the broadcast from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time on the New England Cable News, as well as 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. ET on NBC Boston.

For all others, join the live-stream nationwide at EducationNation.com.

For more information, visit EducationNation.com.

@EducationNation @ParentToolkit

New Resources for Increasing Respect and Caring in Schools

Check out the following resources to help create equity in schools…

Two organizations with shared missions to create equity in our schools – Beloved Community and Ripple Effects – are partnering to share resources and a survey to nurture respect.

For Educators or Parents Involved In Your Children’s Schools…

Check out the “I to I” survey. 

It’s a FREE, ANONYMOUS, DIGITAL tool to help students, parents, teachers, and non-teaching staff learn more about how each person, and their community as a whole, sees different groups of students. All four groups separately register their level of agreement or disagreement with the same three sets of 8 statements. Everyone gets a picture of the results, showing how what they see compares with the rest of their group, and how their group compares to the other groups in their setting. The more people use it, the more power it has as a national picture of how we see each other.  See the survey here and note protections for participant privacy.

If you are a parent looking for ways to get involved in your child’s school, this survey could be a wonderful tool to introduce at a Parent-Teacher Association meeting.

Check out and add your ideas to the Free Resource Bank!

It’s a list of simple practices from which members of the school community can draw to see each other more clearly, more deeply. You can add to it by describing in one line one way students, parents, teachers, and staff could call attention to or initiate a small habit for cultivating safety, caring and respect for one another. For example, Ripple Effects contribution is simply: Invite kids to tell a story about something they love about their ethnic background. These ideas will be listed at the end of the survey, along with a link to your organization as a Resource Contributor. Schools can sort through this bank of suggestions and find one to try.

Confident Parents, Confident Kids shared the following ideas:

  • Hang a banner (roll paper) along with markers in a highly-trafficked area. Label it “The Strengths of Our Families” and ask all to contribute drawings and words that best represent the family cultures who make up the school community.
  • When collecting contact information for the school directory, ask for one attribute of each family that is a source of strength or pride to list with contact information.

Thanks, Jessica Berlinski for sharing these new resources! You can check Jessica’s latest article on Ending One-Size-Fits-All-Programs for Social and Emotional Learning in the Hechinger Report.

How Do You Teach Your Child To Be A Responsible Digital Citizen?

by Guest Writer, Ruth Dearing

If only I had a penny for every time I’ve been asked this question! It’s a big question most parents have, and unfortunately, there is no simple answer. There are lots of factors to take into consideration that work together to help a child become a responsible digital citizen, and we’ll look at a few of these now.

What Is A Responsible Digital Citizen?

According to wikiHow, “Being a responsible digital citizen means using technology appropriately and operating online safely and knowledgeably” (wikihow.com/Be-a-Responsible-Digital-Citizen). Clear as mud, right? What does “using technology appropriately” mean? And what’s involved in “operating online safely and knowledgeably”? No wonder parents are confused!

A more helpful explanation of responsible digital citizenship can be found at raisingchildren.net.au, where they explain that responsible digital citizenship means:

  • cultivating the social skills to take part in online community life in an ethical and respectful way
  • behaving lawfully
  • protecting your own as well as other people’s privacy
  • recognizing your rights and responsibilities when online, and
  • thinking about the impact of what you do online — on yourself, other people you know, and the wider online community

Let’s take a closer look at two of points above, the first and last ones in bold.

Getting Back To Basics

These two points come back to teaching your child basic social and emotional skills. Being a responsible digital citizen really isn’t that different to being a responsible citizen in the physical world. The technology used is simply a communication channel that often makes it easier to connect with people you might not otherwise see very often.

Being a responsible digital citizen is about human behavior and the underlying factors that influence that behavior. Technology on its own doesn’t demonstrate poor digital citizenship, it’s all in the way humans – both adults and children – choose to use the technology.

Three Tips To Teach Your Children To Be A Responsible Digital Citizen

Though there are numerous opportunities, we’ll delve further into just three ways you can help your children become responsible digital citizens based on the definitions above.

#1. Lead By Example

No doubt you’ve heard this before. Our children look to us as their parents to show them the way. They see what we do whether we like it or not. We can tell them what to do until we’re blue in the face, but our words will fall flat if we’re not leading the way by example.

If you’re in “Do as I say, not as I do” mode you’ll find it extremely difficult to make any positive progress with this challenge, or with any parenting challenge for that matter.

Show your children your social media activity so they can see first-hand what it means to be polite and respectful to other people online. Show them how you think about any possible impacts of your posts before you share them with others. And let them see examples of posts that are not polite or respectful.

If you don’t think your social media activities are a good example of responsible digital citizenship, step one is to change the way you use social media. Make the decision to use social media only for good purposes. Delete any posts you feel are not congruent with responsible digital citizenship and start fresh. Protecting your own online reputation can only be a good thing for you in any case!

#2. Teach Your Children The Online Golden Rule

The golden rule online is the same as the golden rule offline: treat other people how you wish to be treated. It seems amazing to me that the majority of children I speak with at schools who are aged between five and twelve years have never heard of the golden rule!

It’s never too early to discuss the golden rule with your children. If everyone just treated others how they wish to be treated the world would be a very different place – just imagine it! It starts with you and your children, one family at a time.

Share the concept with your children that it’s best to focus your energy on what you CAN control (how YOU treat other people), rather than on what you CAN’T control (how other people treat you).

#3. Treat People The Same Way Online As You Would In Person

For some reason, a lot of people say things online that they would never say offline. Maybe they gain courage because they’re hiding behind a screen. Maybe they think they’re anonymous so there won’t be any consequences for their actions. Or maybe they just lack empathy because they don’t see the face of the poor person on the receiving end of their comments.

The irony here is that if anything, it’s even more important to be polite and kind online than offline. Messages posted online form part of your digital footprint. They’re much more likely to be seen by more people online. A message posted online is more permanent and can affect a child’s chances of getting into their dream school, dream job or even dream relationship years down the track.

The other challenge with online communication is that the tone of a message can easily be misinterpreted. And of course tone and body language are far more important in communication than the words being used. It’s no wonder so many people are offended and upset by comments made on social media, even though it’s often not intended by the sender.

If you’d like your children to become responsible digital citizens it’s helpful to stop separating online and offline social skills. Those skills need to be ingrained in our children from a very early age. To get along socially, we need to be nice to other people. Cliché’s like “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!” are very helpful, regardless of whether the communication happens online or face-to-face.

The Key To Teaching Responsible Digital Citizenship

There’s so much more to responsible digital citizenship, we are really just scratching the surface here. If there was one key to teaching your child how to be a responsible digital citizen, I would say it’s about encouraging your children to be considerate of other people online based on their own INTRINSIC VALUES. In other words, your children should want to be responsible online because they know it’s the best way to be within themselves, rather than for fear of external punishment.

Teaching your children to be responsible digital citizens, and in fact teaching them to be safe online in general, comes down to effective communication and ongoing education. If you’re struggling for time and you’d like more help to guide your children safely online, you’ll find lots of help at http://childrenandtechnology.com

My sincere thanks to author and educator Ruth Dearing for contributing her knowledge, experience and helpful tips here.

About the Author:

Ruth Dearing is an international best-selling author of How To Keep Your Children Safe Online…And Put An End To Internet Addiction, public
speaker and mother of two from Australia. Her passion and expertise lies in “Peaceful Digital Parenting” – helping parents guide their children safely online.





In NYMetro Parents Magazine… “How to Help Your Child Build Emotional Intelligence”

NYMetro Parents Magazine published an article in their October issue including interviews with Kathryn Lee, Director of Yale University’s RULER for Families and Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ author, Jennifer Miller on tips for how parents can support the development of emotional intelligence at various ages and stages. The article also points to important research from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) making a direct link between kids’ social and emotional skill development and academic performance. Here’s how it begins…

How to Help Your Child Build Emotional Intelligence

by Katelin Walling
High emotional intelligence translates to success across the board—in children academically and in adults professionally.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a hot topic these days, from the slew of articles discussing characteristics of those with high emotional intelligence to the business articles revealing the emotional-intelligence job skills everyone needs to be successful. And members of Bachelor Nation will undoubtedly remember the showdown between Corinne Olympios and Taylor Nolan on Nick Viall’s season of ABC’s The Bachelor, when Nolan told Olympios she lacked emotional intelligence.

But what exactly is emotional intelligence, and how can parents ensure their children have a high level? We spoke to experts to get a clear picture of EQ, its benefits to children, and how parents can help children build their emotional intelligence skills.

Emotional Intelligence Explained… Read the full article.

#parenting #SEL @NYMetroParents

Safety and Caring First; Inclusion and Equity Plus Kindness Equals Learning

When ethnographer Angela Valenzuela spoke with immigrants in Texas – Mexican-American parents and students – and dug into the meaning of the Spanish word “educacion,” (in English: education) they understood it to mean “caring before learning.” 1 And that interpretation makes practical sense for any and all school communities. Children not only need to feel physically safe in order to learn at school, they require psychological safety too. If care is a prerequisite to learning, then it must be an explicit goal of any school community. We need to ask: How do students regularly have the chance to get to know one other on a personal level? How are teachers actively cultivating trust with students? How are families engaged and valued as partners in learning? And how is community cultivated among all stakeholders?

We, as parents and educators, have significant challenges to face. When children and families in our schools fear losing their homes whether it’s a result of flooding or new U.S. policies, those individuals will face great learning challenges. When lockdown procedures become the norm in schools who are attempting to protect the many against a few of their very own hurt children who may become active shooters, we have significant challenges to face in creating safe, caring learning environments.

Have we really embraced the fact that every individual – parents, teachers, students, receptionists, bus drivers, janitors, after-school program coordinators – in our school community impacts our own child’s school success? It’s an important step forward as we attempt to meet these challenges.

A focus on creating safe, caring school communities is vital. And research-based social and emotional learning in schools can facilitate that ongoing cultivation of care. Those schools learn ways to build trusting connections between peers so that when problems arise, relationships have been already been established. Instead of marginalizing or disparaging individuals or groups, those relationships foster support for one another. And communities can quickly rally around solving problems together. Students have chances to authentically engage with peers to not only begin to understand them as unique individuals who offer learning opportunities but also, begin to view their differences as strengths.

Our children will not be able to accomplish inclusion, equity and kindness on their own. They require adult supports. That includes our clearly-expressed expectations that we will reach out to those who are being marginalized. That we will take an interest in those who are different so that we can become more by learning about others. It will require our own self-reflection and course correction as we catch our own judgments being uttered. We’ll need to do our best to be models of inclusion if we are going to expect our children to include.

We can begin by having these conversations in our own homes with our families. We can examine our own assumptions about others. And we can reflect on the ways in which we strive to contribute to a more caring, inclusive school community. They are numerous opportunities if we only look for them. Here are some suggestion dinner conversation starters:

  • What do you appreciate about getting to know someone who is different from you?
  • Can you think of an example of a friend who introduced you to a new toy or movie or song that you now love that you wouldn’t have known about otherwise?
  • Are there some kids who are ignored or not included at school? When does it happen? Why does it happen? How does it make you feel?
  • What do you know about those children who are excluded? What are their interests, hobbies, or extracurricular activities?
  • What would you like to learn about a child who is different from you?
  • How could you show you care when others are being excluded? What little ways could you reach out to others?

When homework is brought home like the Scholastic News (Sept. 11, 2017 Edition) my son brought home just last night, it offers a perfect entry point for discussion. I asked:

  • How do you feel when you look at that picture?
  • What do you think those kids felt when they needed armed guards just to go to school?
  • In what ways do kids struggle now with feeling safe at school?
  • Do you feel safe at school always or are there times when you feel unsafe? Does anything at school help you regain your sense of safety?

Learn more by exploring the various resources below.

If you have a middle or high schooler, check out this opportunity!

Participate in the Kindness Challenge!
Making Caring Common and The KIND Foundation have once again partnered to launch the KIND Schools Challenge. Middle- and high-school students nationwide are invited to submit a project to make their school community kinder and more inclusive.
Applications are open now through October 20. Learn more, apply, and share with friends, colleagues, and students! http://kinded.com/kindschoolschallenge

Explore your own family’s heritage and learn about immigrants in your families’ past! 

Exploring the Past to Appreciate the Present – Though this activity was originally designed for a family game at Thanksgiving, it can be used at any time to learn about your family’s history!

I was delighted when August Aldebot-Green of Child Trends, an organization that works to improve children’s lives through high-quality research, shared this carefully curated list of resources for making schools supportive and safe for students from immigrant families. Thank you, Child Trends! Check these out!

Positive #schoolclimate is crucial for students affected by recent decisions about #immigration. Check out the resources from Learning First: https://learningfirst.org/topic/school-culture.

Parent Teacher Associations can work with schools to make sure every child is supported and included. Check out resources from the National PTA: https://www.pta.org/diversity.

Good relationships at school and high personal expectations promote #immigrant kids’ academic success. 

All students, regardless of #immigration status, have a right to public K-12 education. Check out Child Trends’ Moving Beyond Trauma Report. 

With Charlottesville in mind, and now DACA, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (@CASEL) has put together resources for educators who want to promote respect and understanding in children. Check out: http://www.casel.org/safe-and-respectful-environment-for-learning/

Supporting diversity at school may be more important than ever. Check out the @ParentTeacherAssociation’s diversity and inclusion toolkit.

In one study, 42% of Mexican immigrant students perceived themselves to be the target of teacher discrimination. You can help immigrant students feel supported by creating a class environment where cultural backgrounds are okay to talk about. Check out: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/educational-psychological-and-social-impact-discrimination-immigrant-child.

When we teach children to include others, we teach them to be kind and compassionate. How do you talk to your child about including others at school? Check out Be An Includer from PBS Parent Tips.

For educators looking to take leadership on racial equity, these three lessons from the Aspen Institute can apply to promoting constructive dialogue about immigration:
1. Start with facts and put them in context.
2. Create safe spaces for people to talk about race and strategies for achieving equity.
3. Emphasize that today’s racial inequities don’t depend on intentional racism.
Check out: https://assets.aspeninstitute.org/c

Check out the CPCK article, Expanding the Circle; Teaching Children the Values and Actions of Inclusion.


1. Valenzuela, A. (1999). Subtractive schooling; U.S.-Mexican Youth and the Politics of Caring. NY: State University of New York Press.

Kindergarten Exhaustion

How Can You Help Your Five-Year-Old during the Major Adjustment to All-Day Kindergarten?

“We have to go back every day?!” exclaims five-year-old Simon incredulously in the first week of kindergarten. I was reminded of when the nurse told me “only 20 more minutes of pushing and the baby should be out,” during drugless labor. It felt like I lifetime and I had no clue how I would survive a minute longer more or less 20 minutes! This is how a typical kindergartner feels. They are nervous and scared about the many new faces, places, and expectations. They are sad missing play time at home with you and a much shorter day with far fewer responsibilities. They feel guilty because they know they should be “big” and act “big” but deep inside, they want to snuggle back under the covers.

The transition from preschool to kindergarten can feel like a gigantic leap for many children. And unfortunately, parents get the brunt of their raw emotions when they come home from school. Whereas they may have remained brave and strong on their first day, the second and third and fourth may lead to utter exhaustion and crankiness. If you are a parent of a kindergartner, you’ll recognize some or all of the following signs and symptoms. It helps with our own patience to understand how, at times, the circumstances of their transition may conflict with their developmental urges and create tension. For us, it can be frustrating not knowing what we can do to help. So I am also sharing some ideas of ways you can support your young child.


It’s likely that for the very first time, your child will be required to sit at a desk quietly with minimal movement and heightened attention. The movement they are typically asked to make will focus on their fine motor skills with activities like writing, drawing and cutting. Considering that the agenda prior to this moment has been play with large, free movements most of the day all his young life, this change takes an enormous amount of self-discipline. Young children have physical energy to spend but at the end of a school day, they are mentally and emotionally worn out.

Developmental Urge: Children recognize and have the desire to move as their play guides them. And this wise developmental urging exists because deep learning occurs best when play and movement are involved. Fives are just becoming adept at large movements like running and jumping and want to use those newfound skills. Thank goodness for recess! They struggle still with fine motor skills like writing and cutting. In addition, five-year-olds are eager to be “good” and learn rules and routines. They want to please their teachers and other adult authorities but also, test limits as they attempt to figure out their new boundaries.

Ways You Can Offer Support: Your young child may need free, physical exertion after school. Is there a playground on the school grounds or a park nearby? And in fact, a home backyard will serve the need just fine. Encourage your child to run around and play if you can see and feel that he needs it. Include a high protein snack (cheese stick, peanut butter crackers?) in your after school routine to provide the necessary fuel after a long afternoon at school. Be sure to avoid sugary snacks which offer a quick jolt of energy but can turn quickly into a meltdown as the energy sinks just as rapidly.


You are likely to experience emotional overload at the end of the school day when your child is with you. She has worked hard to bottle up any emotions throughout the day. Some may struggle to do this especially in these beginning weeks and may have the added humiliation of “losing it” at school. But for the most part, your child will be doing her best to hold back her feelings just to get through the long day. When she sees you, she may just feel an overwhelming sense of safety and let it all out. That can be challenging for a concerned parent who is trying to support this major transition. Rest assured though that the rush of feelings you see her dealing with are normal. And as she progresses and becomes more comfortable with what is expected of her at school, she will have less and less reason to meltdown.

Developmental Urge: Young children are learning to identify and communicate their feelings at this age. Meltdowns will become shorter and less frequent as they feel capable of describing their feelings and see that the adults around them understand and empathize with those emotions.

Ways You Can Offer Support: Make sure that you are using feeling words and reflecting on your own and your child’s feelings frequently to offer regular practice. You might say, “It seemed like you felt tired and frustrated earlier, is that right?” That practice will become invaluable for both in-school and after-school self-management. Also, you can work together on creating a cool down spot that becomes a safe haven for your child. Place a pillow, a favorite stuffed friend and a calming book in the corner of a room with your child’s help. Offer it up if she needs some time to self-soothe. For more ideas on how to create a safe haven for cooling down, read Home Base. Lastly, work on your daily routines – morning, after school, dinner, bedtime – and stick to them consistently. That consistency will offer safety and security and enable her to focus on resting and recovering for the next day.

Lack of Self-Control

You may be noticing an uptick in boundary-pushing. She may be swiping away a sibling’s toys or pushing household rules that have not been in question prior to now. Research confirms that we have the greatest capacity for self-control in the morning when we are rested and refreshed. 1 As the day wears on, we use up our daily store and it becomes more challenging to exercise self-control. This is true for both adults and children.

Developmental Urge: Along with the learning of rules and routines in school, children must learn the skill of self-control. In these early weeks of kindergarten, children are working that muscle regularly. And just like when you begin a new exercise regime at the gym, those muscles are sore and worn at the end of the day. The good news is that it’s time-limited and it’s also critical for the cultivation of this skill that will contribute to their school success. In addition, they are feeling unsure about the expectations of their teacher. But at home, they are aware of your expectations and can push boundaries because they feel safe with you.

Ways You Can Offer Support: As with the meltdowns, keeping routines and rules consistent while at home will help as your child as he adjusts to his new reality. Having a cool down spot, practicing deep breathing, and offering quiet time can help him cope with the stimulus overload he may feel and offer a break from using that self-control muscle.

Ruminating on the Tough Stuff

Part of this transition and your child’s ability to cope may include her ruminating (circling the worry wagon over and over) on the challenges she faces at school. “It’s too hard.” “I can’t go back!” and “I just can’t do it.” may be some of these expressions of frustration.

Developmental Urge: Fives will focus on their learning goals and that may involve anxiety about making friends, understanding the teacher, and performing academic tasks.

Ways You Can Offer Support: Listening with an open mind and heart and with empathy for all that is new in their world can be a real asset to a young child. But when worries spin out into repetitive and defeatist messages – “I hate school!” – they can ultimately subvert a child’s endurance and persistence in working toward figuring it out. If you have listened but witness repetitive worries, distract! Find an old, familiar toy or game and take solace together in simple joys. Then after calming down, talk about times he’s persisted, times he’s stayed strong. These will bolster his feelings of competence as he tackles another day at school. In addition, spend some time talking about the positive aspects of school. Has she made new friends? Does she like her teacher? Is she learning something interesting? Ruminate a bit on some of the positives of school to help reframe the sense that because it’s new, it must be bad.

Separation Anxiety or Regression

You may have thought that separation anxiety would end with preschool. But if you can think back to the time when you left home in your late teens or twenties, perhaps you remember feeling a surge of homesickness? Separation anxiety is healthy and normal at multiple ages and stages but can be stressful for parents.

Developmental Urge: In times when insecurity strikes (which is often when everything seems new), fives will desire the safety of home and time with you. This attachment is a positive sign that you have cultivated a secure bond. Fives will also tend to regress and show behaviors or interests they may have long left behind. This too is normal and time-limited.

Ways You Can Offer Support: Show your trust in a child’s teacher. Remind him of when you’ll return and see him. Express your love for him and confidence in his new circumstances. Then, leave him in the school’s capable hands trying not to linger. If it continues, you can offer a small trinket or scarf to go in his backyard that represents you so that he can have a “piece” of you during the school day if he needs it. Also, if your child desires getting out old toys at home, get them out and let him relish in the days past to bolster him for the trials of his new surroundings.

You can also make certain that your child is getting enough sleep at night. That required rest will contribute to his ability to hone his self-control during the day. Begin earlier than usual if you need more settling down time for your bedtime routine. Fives require between 10-13 hours a night depending upon the child.

Because kindergartener exhaustion leads to parental exhaustion, this time of transition can test your patience. Be sure and plan for your own heated emotions. How will you calm down when tested? Now is a good time to double down on your own self-care, with the knowledge that you are educating yourself, supporting your child as best you can and managing this major life change with confidence.


  1. Hagger, M.S., Wood, C., Stiff, C. & Chatzisarantis, N.L.D. ( 2010). Ego Depletion and the Strength Model of Self-Control: A Meta-Analysis. National Institute of Education, Singapore: In Press, Psychological Bulletin.

Home Systems Set Up: How to Prepare for the School Year Launch in Your Home Environment

N.A.S.A. (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is doing a check of your child’s learning environment to make sure all systems are ready to support a successful launch. At school, they might look for the following:

________safe, caring school environment?
________building trusting connections between students, teachers, staff and families?
________stimulating, well-managed, and participatory classroom environment established?
________academic, physical, social and emotional developmentally-appropriate (challenging but not too challenging) curriculum ready?
________family culture represented in/through school displays and artifacts?
________additional learning supports ready if needed?
________learning tools, books and other resources ready for student exploration?
________clear routines and responsibilities?
________student and teacher plan for big emotions?

Now is the time to get our home prepared for learning success. You’ve purchased the school supplies, packed lunches and sent your children off to school. Teachers have had the time and space to thoughtfully prepare the learning environment to provide optimal conditions for your child to learn. Now, it’s our turn.

Though we know we play a critical role in our child’s learning success, it’s often unclear exactly what that role is or should be. On “Meet the Teacher” Night, we learn about what our children will be doing in school and how the teacher will guide them but little to nothing is mentioned about our roles and responsibilities in that equation. So where do we fit? What do we need to do? N.A.S.A. uses checklists for all of their rocket launches so that no detail is forgotten. After all, people’s lives are at stake. Similarly, our children’s education is critical to our family life and their future success. So with that in mind, here’s a checklist for us as we turn to our own home environment and figure out how we can best support our children’s learning.

Have we created…

________well-rehearsed routines with clearly defined responsibilities?
________healthy sleeping, eating and hygiene habits?
________an organized, well-equipped and calm working environment?
________a plan for managing big feelings?
________the mental space and discipline to listen when kids are ready to talk?

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…

Home Routines
Whether the routine is your morning wake up, extracurriculars after school, or a family dinner, these ideas will help your plan for them to run smoothly.
Check out Refreshing Your Home Routines for the School Year.

Morning Routine
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 to. They are numerous ways we can prompt a sense of responsibility and even, 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! Check out The Opportunity of Bedtime.

If you have a “wiggle worm” who seems to derive 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.

An Organized, Well-equipped and Calm Working Environment

Homework Routine
This article offers specific, simple ways to create a conducive environment for getting homework accomplished. 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 Managing Big Feelings

Whether you have a kindergartener adjusting to an exhausting new schedule or a puberty-stricken 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 some 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.

Listening When Kids Are Ready to Talk

It can take great discipline and understanding to listen when kids need to talk. They often will shut down when we are ready like right after school when we want to learn about their day. But after they’ve had a chance to rest and eat a snack, they may be eager to discuss challenges they’ve had. The idea of a parent as a servant leader can offer a helpful lens through which to see our roles. We are facilitators of development and often, our ability to listen to our children is critical in order to fulfill that role and promote their success. Check out Parents as Servant Leaders.

Working on your home systems can offer your child a sense of security as he deals with the challenges of school. He will understand his roles and responsibilities. He’ll know how to take care of his emotions. He will feel organized and ready to deal with the homework coming his way. Here’s to a successful launch sequence this school year!

On NBC Parent Toolkit… “How to Get Kids Emotionally Prepared for Back-to-School”

Though we know our children’s emotional well-being will play a significant role in their motivation to learn and school success, how do we influence their ability to understand and manage their feelings especially in this time of major transition? Along with the pencils, markers, and erasers you are diligently buying, how are you helping your children prepare for the changes they are facing? What can you do to help promote their emotional readiness? This article examines specific and simple ways at each age and stage you can build upon a child’s emotional intelligence to contribute to their school readiness. Here’s how it begins…

How to Get Kids Emotionally Prepared for Back-to-School

Who will I play with at recess? Who will I sit next to in class? Will my teacher be nice? These were the top concerns of my fourth grader before starting school this year and his friends agree. It seems the social aspects of school are top of mind for students. As parents, we know that if those social issues are working well, our child’s daily happiness will follow.

In fact, U.S. parents consider emotional well-being of their children a top priority. A recent 2017 poll by Learning Heroes of a diverse range of caregivers showed that the vast majority were more worried than last year about their child’s emotional well-being and academic progress. Three out of five parents were more concerned about their child’s happiness – feeling safe and loved, engaging with friends, and enjoying a happy home life – than about his or her academic performance in school. READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON THE NBC PARENT TOOLKIT BLOG TODAY! 

#SEL #parenting #EducationNation




%d bloggers like this: