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Get Today’s Webinar and Mark your Calendar for October’s Webinar

Did you miss today’s webinar?

You can still benefit from the strategies and tools shared. Click here to get the recording and follow-up email with tools and templates. You’ll learn how to limit screen time without power struggles, keep play time sacred, and get kids started on safe play while you attend to your household work. Also, learn how to prevent attention-seeking misbehaviors and teach appropriate ways for your kids to ask for your attention. And mark your calendar now for next month’s webinar with a spooky October theme (shown below)!


Be sure and save the date for the next webinar coming on October 27th. Reserve your seat now! 


Also, in celebration of CPCK’s fourth blog-iversary, I am offering any one of the 250+ illustrations drawn for this site as a signed, matted high-quality print of the original. For any not listed in the “shop” section, contact Here’s one most appropriate for October!


Seven Surprising Facts About Emotions That Every Child Needs to Know


By Guest Writer, Ann Douglas

Imagine how tough it must be to be a kid, trying to crack the code that is human emotion. Just when you think you’ve got everything all figured out, someone tosses you a curveball by reacting in a puzzling or unexpected way. Your mom is angry rather than happy about the fact that you decided to entertain your baby brother by spinning him around the room. Your baby brother seems to like it. What’s the problem? Or your teacher is annoyed rather than happy with the gift that is your latest creation. Sure, it’s still a little wet and it’s leaving a puddle on her desk, but that’s because it’s a brand new painting!

It’s a good thing kids arrive on the planet hard-wired for connection and with an insatiable curiosity about what it means to be human. This allows them to benefit from the ultimate apprenticeship in being human: the love and support of a caring adult. This is where you fit in, if you’re a parent. After all, a key part of the job description of parent involves helping kids to learn how to navigate the complex world of human emotions. That means helping your child to make sense of the following seven surprising facts about emotions—facts that are critically important to functioning well in relationships, but that tend to be anything but intuitive to a newbie to the world of emotions.

Here’s what you need to know about each of these facts plus some fun ways to support your child in learning about them.

1. People express feelings a variety of ways.

If humans were robots, we’d be able to read one another’s emotions predictably and easily. Sure, that would make life easier at times, but it would also make life a whole lot less interesting. What makes life and relationships interesting, after all, is the fact that different people can react in different ways to the very same situation—reactions that are revealed by everything from body language to our facial expressions to the words we use.

GAME: Eye Spy Emotions: One of the best ways to help your child understand this concept is by giving him the opportunity to experience it for himself by playing the emotional world equivalent of the classic children’s game “eye spy.” Encourage him to note the wide range of emotions on display in a particular situation—for example, when people are waiting in line for a ride at the amusement park. (Odds are you’ll see a range of emotions on display: everything from eager anticipation to complete and utter terror!) You’ll also want to talk about the fact that even people who are experiencing the exact same emotion can react in dramatically different ways. Some people become very fidgety when they’re anxious, while others fall asleep.

2. People can mask their emotions.

This is a hard lesson for everyone to learn—the fact that the artificial smile plastered on someone’s face isn’t necessarily revealing that person’s entire emotional truth. Sure, your best friend may be saying how much she likes the book you just gave her for her birthday, but there’s something funny about her smile. You can encourage your child to understand why a friend might choose to react this way (your friend doesn’t want to disappoint you by pointing out that she’s already read the book) and to think about situations when she might have chosen to respond in a similar way. You’ll also want to talk about the downside of masking your emotions as opposed to being upfront and honest about them. If you act like everything’s just fine when, in fact, it’s not, you miss out on the opportunity to tap into support from people who care about you—or you end up with two copies of the same book!

ACTIVITY: Emotion Masks: Make a set of emotion masks (a face drawn on a paper plate works well). Practice wearing one mask while portraying another (e.g., wearing the “happy” mask while acting angry)—and then come up with some real-world examples of how and why this could happen.

3. Emotions can be triggered by something happening inside of you or outside of you.

It’s easier to make sense of emotions once you understand the concept of triggers—the idea that emotions can be brought on by something that’s happening inside of you or outside of you. Kids need to understand that the cause of someone’s emotions isn’t always obvious. For example, it’s a beautiful day and you’re having fun with your friend when suddenly she starts crying. You look around you and you can’t figure out what could possibly be making her feel sad. The two of you were having so much fun until a minute ago. What could have happened to make her so sad? Did a bee sting her? Did she think of something sad (like the fact that her grandmother is in the hospital)? Or is it something else entirely? Sometimes the only way to know for sure what’s going on with another person is to talk to that person about what they’re thinking or feeling. Sure you could guess about what’s going on with your friend—but that guess could be wrong.

GAME: Emotion Detective: Give your child the opportunity to play emotion detective. The next time you’re reading a book or watching a movie together, ask Parent PI 2your child to suggest some reasons why a particular character might be exhibiting a particular emotion. Did something happen to him? Is he thinking about something? What are some other possibilities? Can your child think of situations from in his life when he reacted in a similar way?

4. Emotions come in different intensities, like salsas!

We don’t just experience a wide range of emotions. We also experience a range of different intensities of emotions. And just as we need to take into account the nature of the underlying emotion, we also need to pay attention to the intensity of that emotion too. This applies to both the emotions we experience ourselves and the emotions we observe in other people. Here’s what this means in practical terms: If you’re the one whose feeling furious, you’ll want to take time to calm yourself before you do or say something you might regret. And if it’s your friend who’s the one who is feeling furious, you’ll want to acknowledge the intensity of their feelings, perhaps by mirroring that intensity through your tone of voice or body language or both. It’s a way to let your friend know that they’ve been heard and understood.

GAME: Emotional Charades: Give your child the opportunity to practice tuning into the intensity of emotions by playing a game of emotional charades. Portray an emotion using actions, facial expressions, and sounds (but no words) and then ask your child to guess which emotion and what intensity of emotion you are portraying. Are you a little bit excited or over-the-moon excited? Are you a little bit scared or are you terrified? Then ask her to take a turn portraying an emotion, too.

5. An emotion can become more intense or less intense, depending on what else is going on.

Emotions can build on one another or cancel one another out. If you’re having a bad day and something else happens to make it even worse, your feelings of frustration are likely to zoom even higher. But if a friend drops by to bring you an unexpected treat, that feeling of frustration might disappear altogether.

ACTIVITY: Jenga Tower of Emotions: Help your child to understand how emotions play off one another by making a block tower using a set of Jenga blocks (or similar). Add a layer or two of blocks to your tower to represent a foundation of happy experiences—and then remove a block or two to represent life’s more difficult experiences. Your child will see that the tower remains standing as long as there are more happy versus unhappy experiences. (If you remove too many blocks, the entire tower will come tumbling down!).

6. It is possible to experience more than one emotion at the same time.

Imagine putting on layers of emotion, like you might put on layers of clothing. Sometimes those layers clash and sometimes they work reasonably well together. It’s the same way with emotions. You can be both excited and anxious about the first day at a new school, for example.

ACTIVITY: Color Me Emotional: Teach your child about the concept of mixed emotions by mixing colors on a palette. You might decide to use yellow to represent happiness and red to represent anger, for example. If you’re mostly feeling happy, but you’re feeling a little bit frustrated at the same time, you’ll end up with a more “yellowish” result than you would if the opposite were true (you were mostly feeling angry, but something made you happy momentarily, in which case you’d end up with an angry-looking shade of orange!)

7. Everyone needs to work on regulating their emotions.

The final fact that kids need to understand about emotions is that everyone needs to make a conscious effort to making their emotions work for (and not against) them. This skill doesn’t necessarily come easily to anyone and we don’t develop this skill overnight. But it is a skill that we can acquire with practice over time. And that’s good news for all of us—kids and grownups alike.

ACTIVITY: Emotion Journal: Help your child make sense of her most intense and overwhelming emotions by keeping an emotion journal. Encourage her to identify situations that cause her particularly difficulty so that she can learn how to spot and manage the associated emotional triggers. Make sure she notes situations that she handles particularly well as opposed to simply zeroing in on situations where she stumbled. You want her to be able to celebrate the progress she’s making in learning to make sense of and manage her emotions.


For any parents who are seriously concerned about their children’s behaviors whether those behaviors are affecting their schooling, ability to get along with others, or deal with social anxiety, I urge you to check out this book. Ann discusses the often uncomfortable, sometimes disturbing timeframe parents and kids endure coping with challenges before they receive help. She writes about the “Parent Radar” and how critical it is to really pay attention and listen to your intuition about your child and his/her needs. This book has the potential to help many! Check it out. Thanks for sharing your wisdom here, Ann!


Adapted from related material in Parenting Through the Storm: Find Help, Hope, and Healing When Your Child Has Psychological Problems by Ann Douglas parentingthroughthestorm(Guilford Press).


Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting, including, most recently Parenting Through the Storm: Find Help, Hope, and Strength When Your Child Has Psychological Problems (Guilford Press). Her website is and she is @anndouglas on Twitter.

Join Me Tonight…


Frustrated with the political climate? Join me for our conversation tonight on how we can raise civic-minded kids. Constructive solutions begin at home. This is an important way to consider how you and your family are cultivating the value of acting as a contributor to the community and greater world. The conversation begins at 7 p.m. EST on Twitter at #ToolkitTalk. Thanks for this opportunity, #EducationNation!

Bigger Than Me: Raising Civic-Minded Kids


Mark your calendar! Join me next Tuesday, September 20 at 7:00 p.m. EST on Twitter to discuss the timely and critical issue of how we can raise civic-minded kids! This is not just about helping kids learn about government. It’s about how they will develop compassion for others and responsibly contribute to their community, city, state, country and world. I’ll share research, simple practices for parents, tools, resources and real-life examples along with Civics Teacher, Mary Ellen Daneels. Go to #ToolkitTalk to participate in this important conversation.

Do you want to join but have never been a part of a Twitter chat? There are simple instructions below OR you can email me for support at




  1. Go to
  2. Go to “Create Account.” Create a username and password. Your username will be your “tweet” handle so others will use it when you send out tweets. For example, mine is @JenniferSMiller.
  3. To follow the conversation, place #ToolkitTalk in the “Search Twitter” box at the top of the page.

If you plan on joining a number of Twitter conversations, Tweet Deck makes it easier to see all of the conversation in one column and places the rest of the Twitter feeds in another. You can check out the following to get started.



Tools to Support Learning at Home

Back to School Readiness by Jennifer MillerI’ve been spending time setting up our home environment to support my son’s learning. These first few weeks of school, he has shown a number of emotions moving from worried to frustrated to panic-stricken consistently related to homework time. The amount and difficulty of his homework has significantly increased in his third-grade year already. And with a new teacher who clearly has high standards for performance, he has not only carried home a backpack filled with books and worksheets but also, a list of concerns that he won’t be able to manage it all.

Shortly after school began, he blurted out his biggest worry.

“Homework has to be perfect!” he said with a look of earnest, wrinkles showing up between his brows.

“Did your teacher say it has to be perfect?” I asked really wanting to know as I continue to learn more about this new person in his life.

“No.” he said quietly.

“Okay. What did she say was the point of homework?” I asked hoping she actually spent some time talking about its purpose.

“She said homework is for practice.” he responded. I felt grateful that the teacher articulated a logical reason for the purpose of homework and decided to homework-purpose-statementuse it as a mantra for our homework time. I posted the following on our bulletin board on E’s table as a reminder.

There are important conversations related to research swirling around about whether or not assigning homework truly contributes to learning. But regardless, homework is still a reality for most students. And supporting homework – and generally supporting learning at home – is a role parents play throughout the school year. I recently posted an article on Getting Set Up for Homework Success with specific ideas about the roles parents can play related to their child’s homework.

In addition, I thought I’d share with you some of the school tools I’ve pulled together for our home environment to support learning. Check it out!

These are the standard tools and supplies we keep nearby his homework space.

This bin contains all of the necessary writing and project tools along with counting cubes for math problems.
This bin contains all of the necessary writing and project tools along with counting cubes for math problems.
We have a large binder in which to keep all papers that come home.
We have a large binder in which to keep all papers that come home.
For K-1, we used this bead set for math problems. An abacus works well for this purpose too.
For K-1, we used this bead set for math problems. An abacus works well for this purpose too.
We have already used these dictionaries multiple times. I want E to get in the habit of looking up words he doesn't know (versus asking me what they mean).
We have already used these dictionaries multiple times. I want E to get in the habit of looking up words he doesn’t know (versus asking me what they mean). Also, I don’t speak Spanish but he is learning it so our family will use that dictionary to practice conversing with him in a second language.
We also keep some science reference books at the ready because they are of high interest to him.
We also keep some science reference books at the ready because they are of high interest to him.





Because homework time can be stressful for both E and I and he is, at times, restless and unfocused, I sit down with him to help him get started. I keep my adult coloring book nearby to begin a calming activity for myself while he works.
Because homework time can be stressful for both E and I and he is, at times, restless and unfocused, I sit down with him to help him get started. I keep my adult coloring book nearby to begin a calming activity for myself while he works.








Supplementing School Learning

No school can possibly do it all. That reality became clear when my partner and I went to visit public and private schools around the city and suburbs trying to find a school community that best fit our family’s needs and hopes. There are learning goals we have for our son and our family that just aren’t a steady part of his educational curriculum right now. So we supplement in our home life in the best ways we can. Here are a few of the commitments to his learning we’ve made as a family. I’ve acquired tools to help promote those goals in the coming school year.

Emotional Learning

Poster pictures of children displaying various emotions.

We are committed to promoting E’s emotional intelligence. Although learning about emotions should be a core part of a school’s curriculum, it is such a critical life skill that it’s part of our home curriculum as well. We are constantly learning more about how to identify feelings in ourselves and others. I found these awesome posters (shown below) at Lakeshore Learning (a teacher supply store), a series of pictures of children with varying emotions. I’ll be rotating these posters on our refrigerator as a guessing game throughout the year. Can you guess which emotions these children are displaying?

Social Learning

Poster pictures of children from various countries around the world.

We are also committed to helping E gain exposure to other ways of thinking and differing cultures to broaden his perspectives on the world. He attends a school in which most kids are a similar color, income level and religion. It’s critical to us to find other ways to expose him to people of varying colors, creeds, income levels and cultures. I found these gorgeous posters of children from a variety of countries around the world. The poster set includes ideas for games and also a paragraph description about each of the countries from which the children poster-packs-by-lakeshoreoriginate. We plan to post one per week and have a family dinner in which we talk about that country.

We have also set a goal, thanks to the NBC Parent Toolkit #Goaltobegreater campaign, to do service regularly as a family in our local community. We examined needs and E chose between two opportunities to serve. We will be distributing food to those who need it and hopefully in the process, learning about people of differing income levels and circumstances than our own.

As you go about assembling your own social awareness tools, don’t forget to visit the Global Exploration page under “Kid Resources” on the Confident Parents, Confident Kids site. You’ll find photos of children in a variety of settings around the world as well as other websites that will allow you and your family to explore other cultures, creatures and places.

Body Understanding

As E grows and comes into more of a sense of his identity, he also needs to understand more about his body and others’ bodies about-my-body-booksand how they work. I’ve gathered a number of books on the topic so that as questions arise, we can use them as references and look up answers.


What’s Your Goal To Be Greater?


Check out NBC Parent Toolkit’s Goal To Be Greater campaign this back-to-school season! You can watch a short video of me and my eight-year-old son discussing our goal. There are also goals from The Honorable Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Kate Snow of NBC News, Mary Ellen Daneels, a high school civics teacher and more. Take this opportunity to set your own goal for the school year.

How can you play a greater role in your community?

Simply by submitting your goal, you’ll be contributing since each goal counts as one dollar that will be matched by Pearson Education to be given to one charity (selected in the name of an individual who has submitted her goal). See the full rules at

Spread the word to increase the donation amount! The Parent Toolkit team has put together some promotional materials to make sharing the “Goal To Be Greater” campaign easy. Follow Parent Toolkit on Facebook and Twitter for real-time updates of the goals they are receiving and share them.

For this month’s #ToolkitTalk Twitter chat, join me and Civics educator Mary Ellen Daneels,  to discuss what it means to raise civically-minded kids on Tuesday, September 20 at 7:00 p.m. EST. You can join us by using the hashtag #ToolkitTalk.


Getting Set Up for Homework Success

Setting up for homework success by Jennifer Miller
“I am not doing my homework. No way!” said E. If you have school-age children, certainly a similar refrain has been asserted in your household – possibly on numerous occasions and maybe even every night after school. Education Week highlighted a study by the National Center on Families Learning who found that 60% of American families surveyed struggled to help their children with their homework.1

Additionally, more than 25 percent admit the reason is that they are too busy, up from just over 20 percent in 2013. Parents also identified not understanding the subject matter (33.5 percent) and pushback from their kids (41 percent) as reasons for having trouble with homework help.2

Though educators may debate the merit of homework, it is a reality for most children and their parents. And sometimes homework is not enjoyable for kids. The tasks are typically reinforcing and practicing new material delivered during the school day. They may be challenging for a child who has only done the work along with his classmates and teacher’s assistance to try applying new concepts on his own. He may have low to no motivation, feeling embarrassed to be uncertain and making mistakes in front of his “all-knowing” parents.

Though schools focus mostly on ensuring kids get their homework accomplished, parents are thrown into the world of homework with little to no communication about the teacher’s hopes or expectations for their role. Entering first grade this year, we heard from E’s new teacher, “There will be homework each night,” but that was the extent of our guidance. So we are left to our own devices to figure out what role to play and how to be the best support at home.

There are numerous ways that you can set your child up for homework success. Here are a few ideas.

Adopt a learning attitude.
We, as parents, bring our own attitudes about homework to our children’s experience. From my high school days, I can’t seem to shake the terror of reaching 9:00 p.m. the night before the due date of a long-term project. I had no clue how to tackle it and had barely begun. I have to really watch that my own “sigh” is not voiced when it’s time to get homework done. I know if my words and actions convey that homework is a drag, my son is certainly is going to view it in the same way. That attitude will add to our collective struggle to get it accomplished. Homework can be a critical step in the learning process for kids if viewed in that light. They’ve had support all day and now they have to take those new skills and apply them on their own. I also know that homework has a value for me in helping me understand day-to-day and connect with what he is learning in school. I remind myself of this and try to bring an attitude of confidence when it’s time to get work done. This is the attitude I want my son to internalize so I know it’s the attitude I have to first model and project as he attempts the learning challenges before him.

E came home last night from school after only a few days and when it was time for homework, he said he had a tummy ache. I could see the worry on his face. He was ready to give up before he began. And I noticed his assignment was a task he could normally get through quickly and with few problems. I asked, “What are you worried most about related to homework?” He replied, “It has to be perfect!” So I asked him, “Did your teacher ever say those words – that homework had to be perfect?” As he shook his head “No,” I asked, “What did your teacher say was the purpose of homework?” He responded “To practice.” Kids will get anxious about their homework but reminding them that the purpose is practice and in practicing anything – a new instrument, riding a bike – there are going to be mistakes. His tummy seemed to magically feel better and he was able to get his work accomplished.

Allow for choices and set expectations.
Before establishing a homework routine, ask your child’s preferences. You may want to ask the following.
1. How do you want to spend your time after school?
2. Would you like a snack first?
3. Do you want to change into play clothes first?
4. Do you want time to rest or run outside and play?
5. Considering all of the activities that typically take place after school, when is the best time for you to do homework?

E choose to do homework while I am preparing dinner and after he’s had a snack, changed clothes and had time to play. I was a child who liked to get my homework done immediately so that I could have the rest of the night free. Allowing for choice will add to children’s sense of control and motivation to do the work during the allotted time. If, after a time, it doesn’t seem to be working, you can always re-evaluate together. Make adjustments. If you can be collaborative about setting up the time and space for homework, your child will be more likely to feel a sense of ownership over the process and less like they must battle you each night.

Use a timer.
Take note of when your child has said it’s his best time of the afternoon/evening to do homework. Set a timer to go off at that time. Instead of you calling, “Time for homework!” which may incite a battle, an inanimate, dispassionate object is alerting him. You can use a kitchen timer outside or inside. If you are MagicTimerconsistent about the homework routine, it can serve as a predictable, non-negotiable process. Your child knows what to expect and when to expect it.

Set up a conducive space.
It doesn’t matter whether you have the perfect desk or not. What matters is that your child has a designated, clean and consistent space in which to do homework. And he has the tools necessary to complete the work. Create that space in your living area or in a place near to what you will be doing. E’s place is set up on our dining room table. I can cook dinner next door in the kitchen and easily walk in and out to see if he needs support. Decide together on the tools you’ll need at the ready in advance. Here are some space considerations.

  1. Make certain that it’s a well-lit space. If not, then get a task lamp to utilize for homework.
    2. Provide a hard work surface on which to write. Make sure the surface can get dirty with glue, markers or other mediums used.
    3. Provide all likely homework tools (pencil, crayons, glue stick, markers, ruler, abacus, highlighter, dictionary, calculator).
    4. Eliminate distractions from the work space (books, other papers, magazines, toys).
    5. Create a folder or binder for all returned papers including graded homework. Keep it handy so that if it could help your child to refer back to a lesson, they can easily look up prior work.
    6. Make sure it’s a quiet space. Turn off televisions or radios. Create rules for siblings about playing in other spaces and respecting homework quiet time.

Consider your role in assisting.
How much do you want to help? What level of involvement should you have in completing assignments? What if your child just can’t figure out what they are doing? If learning is the ultimate objective of homework, then the majority of figuring out needs to come from the child. You can facilitate that learning by asking good questions, leading them to resources and as is our case right now, helping sound out words. Providing answers does not help a child learn. But what if you see a mistake? You could ask your child to reconsider her answer and ask questions about how she might rethink her answer. But what if she refuses to rethink her mistake? The best way to ensure that she learns is to allow her to make mistakes so that they can be corrected by her teacher. It may help clue her teacher into the fact that she needs more support in this area. Mistakes are a critical part of the learning process. 

And what if their homework exceeds your ability to help? I realize that someday math homework certainly will exceed my abilities to understand quickly and contribute without fully re-learning calculus myself. So what do you do? Make sure that her texts, formulas and explanations are at the ready. Encourage your child to do her research. If you don’t understand something, get in the habit of looking it up. Researching it with her can show her how to find key points to apply to her work. If the work is continually challenging to her and to you, communicate with the teacher. Ask if the teacher feels she might need extra support. The teacher may provide comfort by letting you know that all students are struggling. Or else, he may suggest that your child receive tutoring or time with an intervention specialist to get the help she needs to be successful.

Communicate with the teacher during parent-teacher conferences.
Parent-teacher conferences are an opportune time to discuss homework. Ask how the teacher perceives your child is doing on homework. And ask if there are any recommendations she might make on how you can support homework at home? Including a conversation about homework in your parent-teacher conference can help give the teacher insight on what is taking place at home and also, give you valuable input on her expectations. For parents who want to read more on Parent-Teacher communications, check out my article this week on the Parent Toolkit blog, “The Most Important Relationship To Build this School Year.”

And what if there is a frustration tantrum?
You hear a yell, “I just can’t do it!” Perhaps a pencil is flung across the room startling you out of your cooking revery. What do you do? If your child is passionately upset, then take a break. Move away from the homework space. Get a drink. Walk outside. Look at a favorite book. Cool off. She is not going to get anywhere with her homework in that state. Take as long as she needs to really cool down. Then, before returning to work, talk about what was frustrating her. Ask questions about her struggles so that before going back, you can consider how you might support her.

And what if he refuses to do homework?
If, after all of your diligent preparations and adoption of a stellar learning attitude, he still refuses to do his homework then, the response can be simple: “I’ve done what I can to help set you up for success. Now it’s up to you. It’s your homework, your grade. If you do not do your homework, you will need to accept the consequences from your teacher, whatever they may be.”

It’s never too late to start this process. If you are already struggling, introduce the conversation when you are not under pressure by saying, “It’s been tough each time you have to get homework accomplished. I want to help but I also need your ideas. How can we make homework time better?”

Homework is such a common struggle amongst parents because we do not have much support in understanding our role. Set your child and yourself up for homework success with these simple steps and see if the process can go smoothly most nights in your household. Homework can be a small way to practice working toward and achieving bigger learning goals. If you make it a positive experience, your children will be ready to take the risks necessary for their next developmental challenges.

1. Reid, K. S. (2014). Survey Finds More Parents Troubled by their Children’s Homework. Education Week, September 19. Retrieved on September 25, 2104.
2. National Center for Families Learning. (2014). Annual Survey on Parents and Homework. Google Consumer Surveys, August 12, 2014, to August 22, 2014, based on 1,039 online responses.

Originally published September 25, 2015.

On NBC’s Parent Toolkit – “The Most Important Relationship to Build This Year”

Happy family meeting with African American Teacher

What is the most important relationship to build as the school year starts?


On NBC’s Parent Toolkit blog today, check out my article. Here’s how it begins…

“Hi, Mrs. Miller!” I exclaimed as I bumped into my son’s beloved teacher from the past school year at a summer festival. “E was hoping we might see you.” I said. “He barely said hello to me,” she unexpectedly responded with a smile. “He quickly averted his eyes and walked away.” It reminded me of how I felt when I ran into my teacher outside of school as a child. Teachers possessed a certain aura about them that was part celebrity, part judge and jury and part parent. And we tend to carry those feelings with us into adulthood, making conversations with them, at times, awkward and uncomfortable. And if we were scolded by teachers in our youth, (“Jennifer talks too much.”) then we may even feel judged or accused going into the relationship and proceed with a high level of caution.

Yet we know our relationship with our children’s teachers are critical. The biggest predictor of their achievement in school is not family income level or natural ability, but the level of involvement of parents. Children whose parents are involved in supporting learning at home and engaged in the school community have more consistent attendance, better social skills and higher grade point averages and test scores, according to school-family partnership researchers Anne Henderson and Karen Mapp. So we understand the critical nature of parents’ roles with children’s school and learning. But how can parents communicate most effectively with teachers? Read the full article.

Refreshing Home Routines for the School Year

Boy Writing Poster by Jennifer MillerIt’s Just Another Day.
Slipping Into Stockings,
Stepping Into Shoes,
Dipping In The Pockets Of Her Raincoat.
Ah, It’s Just Another Day. Du Du Du Du Du
It’s Just Another Day. Du Du Du Du Du
It’s Just Another Day.

It’s Just Another Day, Paul McCartney

“Do we really have to go back again?” my groggy, incredulous seven-year-old said on the second morning of school. I could almost hear his thoughts. “I conquered the first day and it was exhausting. How can I possibly go back and do it again?” We all feel some form of that sentiment when people and surroundings are new and we haven’t yet found our “groove.” Teachers will be busy this time of year establishing routines. And there will be a routine for just about every single aspect of your child’s school day – from the order of subjects to transition times to getting a drink of water. And these structures are critical for success. Why? For the same reason that Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg wear roughly the same clothing every day. There’s predictability, security and the freeing up of brain power to focus on more important issues.

It seems that when a student starts the year in a window seat at the back of the bus, that’s the exact seat he’ll be found sitting in on the final day of school. And this is the time when those habits begin, for better or for worse. Parents can significantly contribute to their kids’ ability to focus on learning during the school day by creating and being consistent with home routines during the week. Whether it’s morning time preparing to go to school, engaging in after-school extracurriculars, doing homework, getting dinner or going to bed, all of those occasions can run smoothly or they can take a great amount of energy and stir up stress as power struggles occur. Some planning and preparation with your children can pave the way for ease with those daily transitions and allow for mental and emotional energy to be spent engaged in learning opportunities.

Before solidifying your routine, you may want to consider how complications will impact it down the road. Consider adding several layers of clothing to your morning routine in wintertime. Or think about group or long-term projects related to homework time. Thinking about how your routines will translate to the conditions in January and also in April can help you plan successful habits now.

It’s never too late to reinvigorate your routine by giving some thought to it and working collaboratively with family members to ensure that all are clear on their respective roles and responsibilities. Here are some ideas for helping to plan those conversations so that you can emerge with a routine that works for your family.

Discuss the routine with all involved when you are not in it. Find a time when family members can talk about how the morning will go or how and when homework will get accomplished. Have a snack and make it enjoyable. Ask, “What are the tasks that need to get accomplished during that time?” “What’s working well so far?” “What seems to be a challenge?” and finally, “What are some ideas for getting through the particular tasks that pose more of a challenge?” Be sure you allow the time and space for children to give their ideas and solutions. Use their solutions as much as is possible and offer choices. For example, “Would you prefer to get your homework done right after school or after dinner?” They will be more willing to uphold a routine they had a significant role in creating.

Formalize it! Write down your decisions for the routine with the simplest language as an agenda (1. wake up etc.). What’s the order of the bedtime routine? What time do you begin? What time are lights out? Have your children do the writing or illustrate your writing.

Review your plan and expectations constructively. Go over your agenda for the routine and expectations for cooperation among all. Consider all of the challenges you have including those January and April challenges and make certain you’ve brainstormed solutions to those issues. Do you need more time? What will we do to get it? Frame all challenge dialogue in constructive terms. Don’t fall into the blaming trap! Instead of “Joseph refuses to get his teeth brushed in the morning.”, focus your comments on the problem. You might say, “Getting teeth brushed seems to pose a challenge. What can help to move that task along?”

Post it. Hang up your routine in writing whether it’s on a regular 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper or on poster board. Post it in an area where you can quickly refer to it during the routine.

Reinforce. Before going into that routine, reinforce the conversation you’ve had to remind your children what the plan is. For example, “We talked about getting on shoes when the timer goes off. Let’s help each other remember.” For more on using a timer (instead of nagging), read “The Magic Timer.”

Remind. In the moment, remind in constructive and calm ways. With any age, a parent can fall into their own bad habit of repeating themselves in order to get a child to complete a task. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. The child becomes accustomed to the 5-10 times they are typically being told to do something so who needs to listen or move the first, second or even third time? Remind once in a highly effective manner and watch all go more smoothly. It may take a few times if it’s a change in their expectations. Bend down on their level. Make eye contact. Give your directions (one time only) such as, “Time to get shoes on.” Say it in a normal, calm tone of voice. And then, move on with your own preparations assuming the child will get their goal accomplished. Do not resort to repeating your directions. If it’s not happening after you’ve moved on with your own preparations (be sure to give enough time), then bend down again, at eye level and ask, “Do you need help with your shoes this morning? Let me know if you need support.” Then allot time if its needed to get the task accomplished.

Enlist all family members as “owners” and co-creators of the routine and then reinforce that notion each time you go through it with them. Show your confidence in your kids that they can accept responsibility for their portion of the routine as does each family member. Imagine routines that create a sense of safety and security for your children and run smoothly. This too can be your daily experience if you put in a little time and effort upfront. Beginning your day with hugs and a lack of stress from accomplishing the mundane tasks of getting ready can be a significant reward for all involved.

For more specific guidance on particular routines, be sure and check out:
Setting Up for Homework Success
The Opportunity of Bedtime


A Smooth Morning Routine

Creating an Enjoyable Family Dinner


Originally published 9-23-15.


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