Growing Hearts in our Families and Schools

By Guest Author Lorea Martínez, PhD

My 6-year-old started crying inconsolably a few days ago. “¿Qué te pasa cariño?” (what’s happening, dear?), I asked her. Her response left me cold: “You and papa are always working or talking to each other, my sister is reading all the time, and I don’t have anybody who wants to play with me.”

It was difficult to admit… but she was right. It had been a busy week, and I hadn’t been able to spend as much time helping her with her kindergarten assignments, let alone playing with her. Although my husband and I are at home all the time due to the pandemic and distance learning, the truth is that we hadn’t given her our full, attentive presence. I felt guilty and disappointed with myself. 

This situation is not uncommon for families. Young people are grieving losing and being isolated from loved ones, having limited relationships with peers, and increasingly losing a sense of control and normalcy in their everyday lives. They may feel anxious, overwhelmed, lonely or disconnected. 

At the same time, parents continue to be challenged by the need to balance work responsibilities with distance learning, lack of child care, systemic racism and social inequities, and most recently, a winter weather crisis. Parents may feel guilty and disappointed—like I did—or they may experience increased stress, anxiety or plain exhaustion. 

It is a lot that both children and parents need to navigate. And while these emotions are normal, if we ignore or try to suppress them, they will impact our children’s ability to focus their attention and learn, and our ability to show empathy, exercise patience and be fully present for our children. 

A path to grow hearts in our families 

In my new book, Teaching with the HEART in Mind, I discuss the importance of understanding emotions and how they affect learning. “Emotions drive our attention; they influence our ability to process information and understand what we encounter. They can energize our thinking or distract us from our goals.” 

In recent years, new knowledge about human development—from neuroscience and the science of learning and development—has demonstrated that emotions and social relationships strongly influence learning (Darling-Hammond & Cook Harvey, 2018.) In fact, affective neuroscientist Dr. Immordino-Yang has found that it is neurobiologically impossible to build memories, engage complex thoughts or make meaningful decisions without emotion. 

In short, we need emotion for thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making. 

Unfortunately, we are conditioned to believe that painful feelings—such as feeling anxious, lonely, depressed, defeated or stressed—are “bad” and pleasurable ones—such as feeling happy, excited, loved, valued or energized—are “good.” For many of us, it’s easier to avoid or neglect those painful feelings, even if they provide important information about our internal weather.

Think about it this way: if it’s raining outside, you take a raincoat or an umbrella to avoid getting wet. You check the weather and then take action accordingly, right? So then, why do we ignore our internal weather and try to “push through” even when there may be a snow storm inside? Or tell our children “get over it”?

Emotions are an important part of being human. We don’t want to ignore or suppress them because they provide valuable data about what is happening inside ourselves and the world around us. As parents, if we want to grow socially, emotionally and culturally competent children, we need to help them to accept and embrace all emotions, including the unpleasant ones. 

And if we want that for our children, we need to start the work with ourselves. 

It starts with us

Parents model social and emotional skills with their children whether consciously or not. For example, consider what happens when something has angered you and you say something harsh to your children—they learn from this behavior. They may think, “When I am upset, it is okay to express it by saying something hurtful.” Even when we experience strong emotions, we can model for our kids how to name and process our feelings, and then make a different choice.

This is why many schools and parenting experts, such as Jennifer Miller from CPCK, are emphasizing the importance of not only teaching social and emotional skills to children, but also findings ways to support adults in developing their HEART capacity, so they can model them for children. 

In my new book, I present the HEART in Mind model, a practical application of essential knowledge, attitudes, and skills for students and adults to be socially, emotionally and culturally competent in their lives. These important skills are represented by the acronym HEART and are organized to show you a developmentally appropriate progression of skill development. In addition, these skills are described using a verb to indicate a specific action, something we can do to put that skill into practice. 

In this next section, you will find the first 3 skills in the model-Honor your Emotions, Elect your Responses, and Apply Empathy—and ways in which you can model them at home. 

  • Honor your Emotions means naming, interpreting and appropriately communicating feelings. Make it a habit to name your emotions and ask your children about their feelings. It could be over breakfast, at the end of the day or when something challenging happens. Consider how the degree of intensity in your emotions may change during the day or when your kids are being cooperative. Encourage the kids to regularly communicate their emotions.
  • Elect your Responses means creating space to make constructive and safe decisions. Discuss coping strategies to manage big feelings with your children (go to loreamartinez.com/resources for some examples.) You may share a recent situation when you had to use one of these strategies. Invite the kids to choose one or two that they want to try and remind them to use it when the opportunity arises. When you are having a difficult time, use one of these strategies and share how you did it with your children. Then, when your child is experiencing big feelings, support them to choose one of the strategies and practice it together. Over time, they will be able to use the strategy independently. 
  • Apply Empathy means recognizing and valuing the emotions and perspectives of others and taking action to support them. This may seem like a difficult time to show empathy, since many people are having a hard time. However, being able to understand how others feel will help us to nurture a sense of gratitude for the things we do have and the people that support us. At home, discuss how different people are experiencing this pandemic (doctors, delivery workers, elderly people) and encourage kids to name the things for which they are grateful. In family life, this can be a wonderful conversation during dinner, where everybody can take a moment to feel grateful for something or someone. 

Emotions provide valuable data. By “making friends” with our emotions we are growing our families HEART capacity and planting the seeds for healthier social and emotional development for our children and a more enduring sense of happiness and life satisfaction. 

Author: Dr. Lorea Martínez is the award-winning founder of HEART in Mind Consulting, a company dedicated to helping schools and organizations integrate Social Emotional Learning in their practices, products, and learning communities. An educator who has worked with children and adults internationally, Dr. Martínez is a faculty member at Columbia University Teachers College, educating aspiring principals in Emotional Intelligence. Her second book for educators, Teaching with the HEART in Mind, is currently available. Previously, she was a special education teacher and administrator. Learn more at loreamartinez.com

Learn more about the book: loreamartinez.com/book

Purchase the book: https://amzn.to/3dNaIau

Today on the Preschool Mindfulness Summit — Using Play to Teach Social and Emotional Skills

Today’s theme in the Preschool Mindfulness Summit is “Calm Remedies.” Join Helen Maffini and I for a discussion about how you can become intentional about using play to promote social and emotional skills. Other topics today include dealing with the pandemic, raising children on the Autism spectrum, promoting sustainability in family life, the roles of praise and blame, mindful art, and teaching mindfulness in the early childhood years.

Sign up here free!

Coming Soon! Preschool Mindfulness Summit!

I am delighted to again join my collaborator and friend Dr. Helen Maffini for the Fourth Annual Preschool Mindfulness Summit, February 22-26th, 2021. As with any skill or practice, it varies by age and stage. The preschool years pose an opportunity to build emotion and body awareness and develop social and emotional skills that will help them collaborate, include all in their play, build healthy relationships and more readying children for their school years. There’s much to learn from this week-long event!

This is a 5-day long, virtual conference where Dr. Maffini will be broadcasting pre-recorded interviews with 35 experts. Past summits have attracted an audience from over 72 countries around the world and have featured speakers such as Dr. Daniel Siegel, Dr. Daniel Goleman, and Dr. Rick Hanson, and many other wonderful speakers. In it, you’ll learn:

  • Mindfulness activities that children will enjoy and benefit from;
  • What science says about mindfulness;
  • Why research supports mindfulness practice for teachers, parents, and children;
  • Why preschool is the perfect age to introduce mindfulness;
  • Tips and strategies to create a well and caring classroom or home;
  • How to increase your own mindfulness;
  • And more!

In it, Helen and I will discuss social and emotional learning and well-being ideas and strategies that can be used with and by students, teachers, and parents.

Everyone who registers free will be given the chance to ‘upgrade’ their ticket for one year of access to the recordings on a membership site. Some of the proceeds of the Summit will go to support an educational charity in Siem Reap, Cambodia where Helen worked.

Sign up here free!

Learn to Love Podcast – Raising Confident Kids

Confidence encompasses so many hopes and dreams we have as parents for our children. We don’t hope for an average life or an average existence, we want our children to love who they are and love who they are becoming in the world. And we want to feel like we can do the best job in supporting that. After I decided that is what I needed for myself, I discovered it’s a common theme for many parents.”

– Jennifer Miller

Zach Beach host of the Learn to Love podcast envisions a world where we teach kids just as much about love and communication and relationships and forgiveness as we do like chemistry and math and history. Jennifer Miller of Confident Parents, Confident Kids agrees which led to an interesting conversation about education, about family life, about dealing with feelings of anxiety and overwhelm as adults and how we can gain confidence and competence.

How can we best instill confidence in our children? How can stressed out parents take care of themselves? What’s the connection between our emotions and our confidence? Find out in this week’s episode of The Learn to Love Podcast, where your host @zacbheachlove interviews educator, author, and illustrator, Jennifer Miller, M.Ed., @confidentparentsconfidentkids about Raising Confident Kids. Click here to listen and learn more: https://www.the-heart-center.com/ep-44-raising-confident…/ Available almost anywhere podcasts are, you can learn more atwww.the-heart-center.comwww.zachbeach.com

Confident Parents, Confident Kids is grateful to Zach Beach for generating such a compelling conversation!

Reexamining Our Love Language

In these long, snowy (in Ohio!) months of winter and while in the midst of a pandemic when remote learning, hybrid learning or homeschooling are still a reality for many of us, our nerves with family members can be more raw and reactive. We may be on edge and not show the love we hold for our intimate family members as often. The coming of Valentine’s Day seems an ideal time to write about one of the greatest, most enduring loves — our love for our children and how we express it. There are moments in our lives when we feel like bursting with love for our kids – when we see their sweet faces poke out from their blankets just before going to sleep at night or when we measure them and see how they’ve grown. But how do we express our love through our words?

Every family’s ways of expressing love will be different and unique. There is no one way to show love. And in fact, there’s much we can learn from one another about ways in which we share love with our family. So the following reflections are to prompt your thinking with genuine questions for our community of learners. How can we learn from one another how we can build deeper, more trusting relationships between family members and truly express the love we feel for them? Here are questions and reflections on ways we can reexamine our language of love with our family.

How can we express love everyday?

With a pandemic that is taking so many lives, we cannot avoid the subject of our mortality and the mortality of those we love. if we avoided the subject before, we may be considering it more frequently now. At times I will ask, “What if this were my last day?” Have I said the things I want my family to know related to how I feel about them? Kids will always benefit by hearing a direct, sincere “I love you.” from a parent. I notice some adults wait for their children to say the phrase to them. Some are even hurt that they don’t hear it more often. Rest assured, our children feel love. But we, as adults, are responsible for modeling the articulation of our love. That’s how our children learn and feel free to express and name what they feel. A friend told me, “I was never told that I was loved as a child so it feels strange and unnatural to say it to my own. But I do. Sometimes I have to get up for it. Force myself because I know it’s the right thing to do.” That’s the kind of commitment that is required if we are to break patterns we don’t like or value from previous generations. Our children are ready and eager to hear that they are loved and in the absence of that, they create stories – untrue stories – about why they are not loved. Make sure they hear that they are. What are the words you use to express your love to family members?

How do you assure your love after a conflict or poor choice?

Children feel particularly vulnerable after they have made a poor choice or have argued with you. It’s human nature to worry that behavior can influence or even determine love. And we, as parents, put a premium on actions (since we often focus on them) so children have a hard time understanding that they can make a poor choice, you can be mad and you can still hold love for them all at once. So when a poor choice occurs, focus your words on the action not the doer of the action. You may not be able to express love in the heat of the moment (though sometimes it does help to de-escalate a conflict but only if it’s genuine and from the heart). But say it at the end of the day so that your child knows she is loved no matter what, unconditionally. Tomorrow she can make a new better choice knowing that you love her and will support her in doing so. Call it your own legacy. She will be well-equipped to love her family members unconditionally as she grows because of your example. Have you created any patterns or rituals for yourself with your child to share your love after a particularly difficult day or circumstance?

How do you actively listen?

There may be no greater demonstration of love than deep listening.

Listening with empathy involves truly seeking to understand both thoughts and feelings. If your child only shares a thought but you can hear there is feeling behind it, ask. “It sounds like you are feeling frustrated about your friend. Is that what you’re feeling?” The insightful book Clean Language. Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds suggests that, though tempting, it’s important to keep advice out of your reflective listening.

Even the best listeners can unwittingly put ideas and suggestions into the mind of others – it can be so subtle that people don’t know they are doing it…They (those who use clean language) use only the other person’s words and questions related to those words to get results. 1

And the “results” to which the authors are referring in this case would be showing trust in your children’s ability to think through their actions and feelings to better understand themselves, the people around them and the results or impacts of their actions. Facilitating a child’s thinking in this way can support him in internalizing thought processes that lead to responsible decision-making. It also paves the way for a more trusting relationship so that if problems arise, he feels safe enough to come to you to discuss them. How do you listen to family members with an open mind and heart for their thoughts and feelings?

How do you reflect back feelings to show empathy and understanding?

We tend to be in the habit of not using feelings words. Despite all of the important work done in the field of emotional intelligence, culturally, there is still a sense that feelings are a weakness. Emotion words don’t have to signal weakness if we use them intentionally. But they do make us more vulnerable. And that is the very reason why it’s so important to share with family members how we are truly feeling. Emotional honesty allows for intimacy. As we search for the words to articulate our emotions, we are becoming more self-aware. And simultaneously, we are modeling self-awareness for our children. We can address their hurt, anger, and frustration much more effectively if we have helped them develop a way to communicate those difficult feelings so that they can be understood. How do you listen for feelings, accept them, and seek to better understand them?

How can you use figurative language to help discover and define feelings?

We use metaphors so often in life, we tend to take them for granted. “She looks like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders.” “He is eating like a pig.” “This match was made in heaven.” Kids hear and attempt to figure out the metaphors adults use regularly but sometimes get confused by them. I find myself often explaining metaphors in books I read to my son. The Clean Language authors claim that metaphors can allow us access to our unconscious minds and can serve as a powerful tool for understanding how we are really feeling about a situation. For children who are just learning about metaphors, we can become more aware of the language we use and model self-awareness and emotional intelligence. For example, if I were to say “I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders today.” I might catch myself and talk a bit further to describe the feeling. “I am feeling overwhelmed by how many items are on my to-do list. I’m thinking about it so much that it feels like a physical pressure. I need to do something to help ease my worries. I could make a list. Or I could sit and breathe. You want to help me?” What comparisons do you draw from the natural world or your home life to help in your child’s understanding of feelings?

How can we recognize the good?

Noticing and pointing out when your child is kind or takes responsibility without reminders can be challenging in our busy lives yet so important. So often, we play the “Gotcha!” game as parents. “You forgot this.” “You left that behind.” “You made a mess here.” And because we are so busy focused on the mistakes of life, we forget ourselves to point to the good even though we all tend to forget daily tasks. “Oops, you are going to have to wear a day-old shirt because I forgot to get the laundry done last night.” is a common refrain of my own.

It doesn’t take long to recognize the good but it does take some presence of mind. We do have to pay attention to our kids not to catch them doing wrong but to catch them doing right. If kids are reinforced by recognizing their faults, they too will focus on their faults. And along with the fear of making mistakes (which often leads to more of the same), they will accumulate shame for their long list of missteps. All it takes is a simple “I notice you put your laundry in the washer. That’s taking responsibility. Great!” statement. If we are able to regularly find and shine a light on their strengths and the many ways they contribute to our family lives, they will grow with an identity that is confident and resilient. How do you help yourself remember to observe the good and call it out?

How do we cultivate a curiosity and deeper understanding of our kids?

Because so often our greatest challenges with our kids stem directly from their developmental struggles to learn what they know they need to, learning about children’s development deepens our understanding of them. We gain empathy for their challenges. We recognize their mistakes as an important part of their learning process. We work harder to support their learning. And we gain more patience along the way. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children (not available in any store) is learning about their development. In what ways do you take steps to learn about your child’s development?

How do you avoid harmful language?

Adults use any number of words, phrases and expressions that children don’t understand. Even in adolescence, though kids may “try on” sarcasm, they still do not truly understanding the intention since the words are the opposite of the feeling behind the words. Speaking directly, cleanly and clearly can be an aspiration we can all work toward. Try to eliminate language that shuts others down like “Shut up.” by asking how it makes a child feel when it’s said to him. In addition, children sometimes retaliate in a parent-child argument with hurtful words like “I hate you.” Try not to take those statements to heart. Though they are intended to wound in the moment, they are coming from a feeling of a lack of control. If you meet that lack of control with you own lack of control by getting upset, it will only escalate the situation. Better to walk away and take time to cool down. In calmer moments, discuss how those words are painful and how you could rephrase in order to express upset without harming. You might ask, “Could you say instead, ‘I hate what you did. I hate what you are doing.’?” Also, I’ve heard adults say that in moments of anger and upset, they have “joked” about not loving a child or loving another more or wishing a child hadn’t been born. Those kinds of remarks can stay with a child for a lifetime. Better to walk away or simply stop talking so that you don’t regret your words later. What are you tempted to say that could be harmful? How do you rephrase your language so that you are hurting your child?

Maybe all love is complicated and simple at the same time. This certainly is true for the love we have for our children. We feel so deeply for them that we want them to have the best of everything in life. Yet they have their own minds, personalities, desires and purposes along with the need to express who they are in their own unique way. Often the toughest, most important job of a parent is stepping back and letting children think and act in ways in which they can learn for themselves. And knowing that, we will always be right there to love them.

heart pic 001

Happy Valentine’s Day! 

References

1 Sullivan, W. & Rees, J. (2008). Clean Language. Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds. Wales, UK: Crown House Publishing.

Digital Kindness

By Guest Author Leslie Boggs, President, National Parent Teacher Association

Daily life for most of us looks radically different than it did at this time last year. Virtual classrooms, working from home, video calls with doctors, limited social gatherings and other public safety precautions are now part of our routines to help stop the spread of COVID-19 across our country.

With so many aspects of our daily lives now conducted digitally, it’s more important than ever to do so in a way that’s safe, kind and inclusive. 

In February, we celebrate Safer Internet Day, an international education and awareness-raising effort to promote safer and more responsible use of digital devices and online technology, especially for children and youth. As we continue to rely heavily on technology, this is the perfect time for families to evaluate their online habits, do a refresh of online safety tips and best practices, and make digital kindness a regular practice.

Here are a few ideas for digital kindness that families can practice together:

  • Celebrate your friends and family. Scroll through a family member’s and friends’ social media feeds intentionally looking for reasons to celebrate. It could be something big like a graduation or wedding or something as simple as a friend mastering a new recipe. Leave a kind note for your friend or family member celebrating their success.
  • Leave positive reviews. Whether it’s for your child’s favorite book or your family’s favorite local restaurant, writing a heartfelt, positive review spreads joy, especially during this challenging time.
  • Create opportunities to be interactive. Many people are struggling with feelings of isolation right now. Use your social media to connect with people. Create a post offering to share a favorite memory or give a compliment to anyone who comments. It might just make their day!

As parents, it’s also important to review your personal example and to monitor and model your own technology use. Kids follow what adults do, and they benefit greatly when expectations and good digital habits are modeled for them. 

Learning about online safety and digital kindness together and having proactive, open and ongoing conversations with our kids will help keep them safe; build good digital habits; and create a kinder, more inclusive online community for everyone.

Learn more about digital kindness at National PTA’s upcoming event Real Conversations with Families About Digital Kindness on Tuesday, Feb. 9! For even more tips and resources to help your family manage digital life, visit PTA.org/Connected.

About the Author:
Leslie Boggs is president of National PTA, the nation’s oldest and largest child advocacy association. National PTA brings together parents, families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders to make a difference for the education, health, safety and well-being of every child and make every child’s potential a reality.

Resources for Black History Month

Original Photo by William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images with Illustration by Jennifer Miller

Compiled In Partnership with Pamela McVeagh-Lally

This month, we recognize in particular the need to teach the full history of the American story and indeed our World’s story and how it has impacted Black lives. We encourage you to ask the question whether in your family or school or both: How are you, in your own role, explicitly seeking to understand our history with Black Americans or as a Black American and what are you doing to create a more racially just world? Certainly, teaching our children about the history of slavery, the actions and champions of nonviolent change, the important work of abolitionists and understanding white privilege historically and currently is an important start. In order to maximize your support as you engage with your family or students, we are listing a wide range of resources here.

  • Check out this extensive list of anti-racism resources including articles, webinars, podcasts, books, policy statements, professional development and guidance on talking about race and anti-racism with children and teens from the American School Counselors Association. 
  • Inspired by our United States’ National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, check out this Facing History and Ourselves’ lesson plan for students grades 6-12, and an article on a young Cleveland poet’s reactions to her poem, “The Hill We Climb.
  • Explore this rich resource developed by the Abolitionist Teaching Network, The Guide to Racial Justice and Abolitionist Social and Emotional Learning. We appreciate SEL for Ohio Leadership Team member, Rochonda Nenonene, at the University of Dayton for sharing! 
  • Teaching Tolerance’s Coshandra Dillard, provides insights here about focusing on liberation, creativity, and the identities and incredible contributions made by Black Americans. 
  • School Psychologist and founder of Lessons for SEL, Byron McClure says “Time’s Up”  in his inspiring and practical “Call to Commit to Culturally Affirming SEL.” Thanks to SEL for Ohio Leadership Team member, Juanda Jones, at Columbus City Schools, for introducing us to this resource!
  • Wondering how the new Biden Administration plans to address social and emotional learning with an equity, anti-racist lens in education? President Biden modeled these skills through the language he used in his Inaugural speech. Check out these reflections written by Kamilah Drummond-Forrester. 
  • The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is offering a wide range of digital programs for all ages this February. Check out the list of adult and kid-friendly online opportunities.

Check Out these Six Questions Abolitionist Teachers (and Abolitionist Parents/Caregivers) Can Ask to Build Relationships with Students1:

1. What can you tell me that helps me better understand you as a person?

2. How can I be the best teacher for you?

3. How can your school be a place where you feel seen, valued, and excited to learn?

4. What matters most to you (i.e., in life, at school, in your community)?

5. How can I support you mentally, emotionally, and in your community?

6. What is your love language (see the following article for more information on children’s love languages)?

This month, my family and I (Jennifer Miller) will be visiting the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in my original hometown, Cincinnati, Ohio to learn and experience together. They have numerous online resources including understanding slavery today and how to get involved in being an abolitionist. How will you give your family an experience of Black history this month to deepen your empathy and broaden your perspective?

Finally, we appreciated that the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) revisited their research-informed definition of social and emotional learning this past year to ensure that equity and inclusion were explicitly outlined. Check it out here. Like CASEL, I hope you challenge yourself this month to question your own roles and institutions and find out what you can do to create greater inclusivity.

References:

Abolitionist Teaching Network. (2020). Guide for Racial Justice and Abolitionist Social and Emotional Learning. Abolitionist Teaching Network.

Parenting Tools In Spanish

This week, my son and I are studying Cesar Chavez and learning about the critical changes to wages and working conditions for Mexican-American migrant farm workers he made in partnership with Dolores Huerta and their United Farmworkers Movement in the 1960s. We learned that Chavez attended thirty-seven schools between kindergarten and eighth grade and was never allowed to speak Spanish at school despite the fact that he solely spoke Spanish at home with family, friends and neighbors. Though he did not attend high school, he read hundreds of books studying in detail the lives of nonviolent leaders including Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and John F. Kennedy in order to use their methods of creating change like strikes (including numerous hunger strikes he engaged in), protests and marches. In addition to transforming the wages and working conditions for migrant farm workers, he also forever changed education by bringing Spanish into the classroom. He successfully advocated for policies and programs in English as a Second Language (ESL) to ensure that other immigrant students would not have to experience the pain he endured.

This Fall, I had the privilege of working with a group of Spanish-speaking parents and caregivers in the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District in southern California. Through the hard work and expertise of Maggie Velasco, Bilingual Parent Engagement Specialist with the district, she translated written materials and also, our dialogue together and my presentation. I am grateful to her for allowing me to share some of the tools here and as a permanent resource on my site for Spanish speaking caregivers.

If you want to learn more about the powerful, tireless and inspired work of Cesar Chavez, check out the Cesar Chavez Foundation. And below are the Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ tools translated into Spanish. If you are an educator who works with Spanish-speaking families, I hope you’ll consider sharing these resources.

When we are really honest with ourselves, we must admit that our lives are all that really belongs to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of people we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life. I am convinced that the truest act of courage is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice.

—César Chávez (1927–1993)

CPCK Tools and Resources in Spanish:

  1. Mi Plan de Seguridad Emocional – Se que mis hijos aprenden a manejar las emociones de mi modelo cuando estoy enojado y ansioso. Yo se que mi hijo actuara de la misma manera que yo lo hago cuando estoy estresado. Tener un plan listo y ensayado me ayudara a modelar como quiero enseñarles a manejar sus emociones. In English: The Family Emotional Safety Plan – This is a short planning worksheet that asks simple questions to plan for those moments when emotions feel overwhelming.
  2. La Promesa Global de Lealtad – Global Pledge of Allegiance
  3. Esperanzas para Nuestros Hijos, Esperanzas para la Crianza – Hopes and Dreams of Parents and for Children relative to social and emotional skills
  4. Promesa Familiar de Pelear Justamente – Fighting Fairly Family Pledge
  5. Conociendote – Family “Get to Know You” Form to complete and send to teachers
  6. Serie de Discusion de SEL para Padras e Cuidadores – CASEL Caregivers Discussion Series, an eight-session dialogue series for parents on learning about social and emotional learning in family life.

Three Reasons Why It’s Critical to Reflect on News that Affects You with Your Children

…And How to Ensure It’s Developmentally-Appropriate

“I feel hopeful,” my son reflected the day after watching the Inauguration Ceremonies as part of his school day. While just one week ago, he was saying he was feeling exasperated, “tired of making history” as we learned of the U.S. Capitol attacks. It’s been quite a roller coaster ride in our national and world news with a global pandemic and the many issues that have taken center stage in our social, political and economic lives. And though an inundation of news can contribute to fear and anxiety, some fact-based information is helpful and important. But reflecting on those facts as a family are equally important to educate children and teens on how to make meaning from those bigger events and how they relate to their own lives.

When talking to other parents about scary news stories including racial injustice or the COVID-19 pandemic, many are reluctant to share much if anything with their children. “I don’t want to scare them,” is the thought. Yet children, no matter their age, are impacted if parents are impacted. Though young or even school age children may not know about the U.S. Capitol building or have any sense of what the events meant in U.S. history, our children were “catching” the emotions of their parents. 

Catching Emotions

So the first reason why meaningful reflections with children on news stories is imperative is the spread of emotional contagion. Catching another’s emotions is a reality and particularly potent in this stay-at-home world coupled with the layer of pandemic anxiety we are all feeling. When children are not guided by parents to make meaning from fear or other intense feelings felt in their family, they create their own stories to fill in the gap. These stories may exacerbate their own fears and contain false assumptions about what’s worrying Mom, Dad or Grandma. Often, stories turn inward as they feel that the something that is wrong with the world must relate to them. “What did I do wrong? Or what will happen to me?” are some questions that might go through a child’s mind as they witness emotional parents who haven’t communicated anything about what’s upsetting them.

Indeed, it’s difficult to know what to communicate and how much to communicate. Though we know our children may not comprehend the full picture of events, how much will they understand? What’s too much? What’s too little? And truly, how much do they need to understand in order to be informed? 

Getting the Facts, Turning Off the News, and Turning Up the Discussion

Yes, it’s important to get the facts straight when a scary or significant event occurs. And most kids say they get their news from family members first. Kids report that they value the news, according to Common Sense Media findings: 

About half of children (48 percent) say that following the news is important to them, and more than two-thirds (70 percent) say that consuming news makes them feel smart and knowledgeable. And 63% say they are afraid, angry or depressed by the news.1

Though the research continues to raise questions about the extent to which news can traumatize a child, it is clear that post-traumatic stress disorder or an experience of trauma is possible when children watch violent or disturbing news stories. 

According to parental reports of 179 children one month after the September 11 attacks, there was a positive relationship between exposure to television, print, or internet coverage of the tragedy and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, regardless of whether the images were positive or negative.2

Television and internet news tend to use the same video clips over and again and experts claim that it’s possible young children can be re-traumatized each time they watch a violent event repeated. For this reason, it’s important to seek out the facts – watch or read trusted sources of information that cite research (like this site!) and use multiple sources to support claims made – and then turn it off, set it down, or otherwise, move on to discussing what you’ve learned to help your child better understand what stories and information you are learning together.

Teaching Responsible Decision-Making Skills

Second, we teach discernment and responsible decision-making skills when we reflect and make meaning from local, national and global events. In addition to the feelings’ contagion that can be confusing for children and teens as significant larger scale events unfold, there is also a significant opportunity cost to their social and emotional skills if there is little to no reflection. Children and teens require numerous rehearsals with consequential thinking in order to develop the higher order thinking skill of responsible decision-making. Everyday decisions like which color socks to wear help exercise choices on a micro-scale. But global and national events offer an opportunity to rehearse critical thinking skills on a much larger scale. Questions can be considered such as, What happens if a leader makes a particular decision? What might be the ripple effect? What responsibility does s/he have for the outcome? What happens when crowds gather that are not wearing masks during a global pandemic? What is the level of risk? What is the danger? And what is the responsibility of each individual in these circumstances? There are no textbook answers to these questions. But families who wrestle with these difficult questions allow for complex thinking. Children and teens who are just beginning to build the neuro-pathways that allow them to connect cause to effect exercise those mental muscles and begin to formulate their own guiding principles as they respond with what they believe to be true and important.

Creating a Family Culture of Safe Spaces for Tough Issues

And finally, when you regularly create a psychologically safe place (where ideas are not judged but respected, considered and listened to) for challenging issues to be raised, your children and teens learn that there is a time, space, care and concern for dealing with complexity in family life. This creates a family culture in which tough choices and tough issues are not only accepted but also welcomed into the family dialogue. So when your child or teen gets into a sticky ethical situation (Cheating on a test? Plagiarizing content? Witnessing a friend bullying?), they will feel safe to bring those tough issues to you knowing that you can hold a safe space for dealing with complexity.

So how do you ensure that you are talking to your young child, your school-age child, your tween or your teen in age-appropriate ways? Here are some tips that if you follow, will help you stay on course no matter their age/stage!

Ask and Listen

Asking your child what they know and what they think about a particular tough topic and really listening to their response can ensure that you are remaining in the developmentally-appropriate zone. Why? It’s easy to project our adult fears without even realizing that we are making assumptions about what our children know, feel and think. We may be grappling in our heads with complexities that are far beyond any our child may concern themselves with or even be able to comprehend. Asking open questions about tough topics offers insights into where our children need help filling in gaps or reframing their thinking. Stick to basics. For example, after watching the Inauguration ceremonies, you might ask, “What do you recall about what was said or who said it?” Allow their comments to lead you.

Focus on Feelings First

In order to keep conversations safe and age-appropriate, focus on feelings. A feelings check-in with some feelings words or faces (poster, handout, book?) to prompt thinking and recognition can help reveal what’s going on inside your child and offer them a chance to build self-awareness. If your child offers that they feel scared or worried, help them deal with those feelings. Check out these healthy coping strategies that you can practice with your child for grades K-4 and for grades 5-12.

Keep It Simple – How It Affects Me and You

More details can add to a child’s worry, fear and confusion. So if you are discussing a complex news story like the pandemic, stick to simple highlights that you know they’ll understand. Young children will want to understand how it directly impacts them day to day. Children’s books can be a tremendous source of comfort and confidence for parents who are wading into topics that make them uncomfortable. For tweens and teens, they are keenly aware of fairness and justice issues so build on that newfound awareness by discussing what seems fair or unfair to them. Also, bring back consequential thinking by asking them what they predict will happen as a result of today’s events and decisions. Be sure to follow up and discuss as events and consequences unfold. Where they on the mark? Was it too difficult to predict?

Also, if you are hearing worries or fears that are bigger than the news truly merits, be sure to reframe by sharing alternative perspectives along with helpful facts. First, affirm that it’s normal they might feel worried or scared. The simple act of accepting their feelings will alleviate some of the heat of the emotion as they feel understood. Then, seek facts to support the reframing of their perspective. You might say,  “I know you are worried about getting COVID, but did you know that we are taking every precaution the experts tell us to take to ensure we stay safe? Let’s take a look at what we are doing and how that aligns with what medical experts say.”

Raise a Discerning Digital Citizen

As we critically examine news’ sources and stories, our children will begin to learn that not every word in print is true. And in fact, that in order to find valuable information in the morass of media, we have to learn how to discern what is useful, what is based on research, what is wise, and what is not worth paying attention to. Next time, you are huddled around a laptop together, enter a keyword you know was in recent news in a search engine and look at all of the sources that are listed together. You might ask your child, “Which ones would you read? Which ones would you trust? Why?” The more we engage our children and teens in examining our news’ sources and stories together, the more they will grow the critical habit of discernment.

The internet and within it, social media can serve as incredible tools for information and connection if we learn to use them wisely. But they can also serve as tools for destruction if they infest individuals with feelings of fear and helplessness. And if our children and teens do not learn how to be active agents of their own media consumption, they will inevitably face this issue. As confident parents, developing the habit of reflecting on news together and critically reviewing sources prepares our children and teens to become the informed citizens we hope they will be.

References:

1. Robb, Michael, B. (2017). News and America’s Kids; How Young People Perceive and Are Impacted by the News. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense.

2. Saylor, C. F., Cowart, B. L., Lipovsky, J. A., Jackson, C., & Finch, A. J. Jr. (2003). Media exposure to September 11: Elementary school students’ experiences and posttraumatic symptoms. American Behavioral Scientist, 46, 1622-1642.

Today We Hear the Call of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

When we think of the civil rights movement or we consider our current circumstances, we may think of a country divided. But Martin Luther King Jr.’s message and the vision that galvanized so many to act bravely in the face of fear, consisted of values that any person in any corner of the world can aspire to. They are values that, when lived, have the potential to unify. So when you are talking with your children today about why we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., be sure and include those values that he articulated and modeled and that so many were able to demonstrate through their actions.

Because of the challenges in our country and our world, we may feel like no action is adequate or quite meets the power of the moment as it should.  But we cannot allow our passions for justice to leave us feeling helpless and ultimately unable to act. Think about small ways in which you might demonstrate those values in your day-to-day life. Plant seeds of justice with your families today and then tend to them over time. They will grow and contribute to change. If you do so, you will be honoring the memory of all those throughout time whose lives and livelihoods were threatened and despite that, made choices that aligned with the best of who we can be.

Martin Luther King Jr. valued:

Equity. Dr. King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” We can share with our children the value of equity. Though there are differences among every one of us, there are more aspects of who we are that unite us. Every individual person has the right and responsibility to express who she or he truly is.

Parents/Caregivers Can Ask: How can you demonstrate equity in family life? How can you help children understand equity not as sameness but as appreciation and respect for all? How can you teach your children inclusion?

Small Actions: Work on observing your own informal talk around your home. Are you expressing critical judgements about others? If so, children learn that judging others is acceptable. How can you begin to notice your language? And when you do, how can you incorporate the language of acceptance of differences, perspective-taking and compassion? When others challenge you, search for ways to learn more about yourself, others, and the experience. For more, check out the article, “Expanding the Circle, Teaching Children the Values and Actions of Inclusion.” Also, check out the new CPCK page with Tools and Resources on Racial and Social Justice.

Educators/School Leaders Can Ask: How can we examine our policies, structures and everyday ways of treating black and brown children and families? How can we deeply listen to enable us to see through their eyes examining our environment with a lens of equity and inclusion? How can we develop new communication lines that show care and demonstrate safety to deeply listen and seek understanding?

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) redefined social and emotional learning in this past year ensuring that there was clearly the lens of equity embedded in how we advance our own and our children’s development. Read about the new definition here. How are you redefining how you develop children, teachers and indeed your entire school community bringing that lens of equity and inclusion?

Hope. He said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” It’s incredibly easy to complain about our life circumstances. But if we view ourselves as individuals with choices who can learn from our mistakes, we begin to take responsibility for our actions. And we can work on forgiving those who have hurt us. We can reflect on and evaluate our mistakes so that they become our curriculum. And with that learning mindset, we have hope. Because there’s always a chance to grow wiser and make better decisions. We want our children too to learn that there’s always a second chance. There’s always room to grow and give our best. And there’s always an opportunity to contribute who we are to better the world around us.

Parents/Caregivers Can Ask: When we approach a problem with our children, do we show hope (or do we show a resignation or feel they might let us down)? How can we incorporate expressions of hope? How can we increase encouraging words and our show of confidence that each family member can make positive choices?

Small Actions: Your reactions to your children’s problems model how they will learn to deal with problems so it’s worth reflecting on those reactions. Consider one time you had a problem with your child. For example, perhaps she got frustrated with her math homework and refused to do it. Think about how you reacted. Now re-imagine that same scenario with you expressing and demonstrating hope. Think through exactly what you might say instead. For example, “I hear you are frustrated. But I know you are capable of doing it and more. It just may take some time and focus.”

Educators/School Leaders Can Ask: How am I promoting hope in my school community amidst tough times? Am I offering families an authentic voice and choices in their roles with their child’s learning? Am I offering students an authentic voice and choice in their own learning? In what ways can I do more to offer partnership and a sharing of power with families?

Character. He said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Character is the true expression of an individual, their integrity. It means knowing and expressing who we are – self-awareness – which requires regular reflection. It also means regularly examining ways we can fine-tune who we are and how we express to benefit ourselves and others. So morality or ethics is a critical part of the equation. We only pursue the ways in which our lives can contribute to the deepening of our individual expression and measure that in terms of how it also contributes to the growth and development of others and the environment.

Parents/Caregivers Can Ask: What do we as a family deeply value and stand for? How can those core values make a world a more inclusive, caring place? What are ways in which we promote the character of our children in our family life? How do we encourage responsibility? How do we offer choices to give our children practice with thinking about consequences? How do we guide our children to consider others’ perspectives in any given problem? How do we offer a model of empathy and compassion by expressing others’ viewpoints ourselves?

Small Actions: Though children may experience an inner voice, they do yet have an understanding of their inner moral compass and how it may steer them. In addition, that sense of ethics is constantly changing in all of us – being informed by our environment and by learning from past challenges. So consider how often you guide reflection with your children. Do you ask them questions about their thinking? Do you ask them about their choices and the impact on themselves and others? Do you. talk about our nation’s event and how they have a direct impact on their lives? Those reflections will help promote a child’s thinking skills so that they learn to go through those mental processes on their own when faced with difficult decisions. Find ways to practice reflective thinking with them and those experiences will significantly contribute to their ability to handle problems at home, at school and in the future lives.

Educators/School Leaders Can Ask: How do we offer students the chance to reflect on and wrestle with difficult issues? How do we prepare them with tools, skills, and boundaries to understand how to constructively dialogue about contentious issues? How do we create a regular safe space for bringing personal, social and other feelings-laden conversations so that our students have a place today to reflect on the issues of the day to learn responsible decision-making skills for their roles as citizens of the future?

Peace. He said, “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” We still live in a world in which many believe that violence can teach, that violence can solve problems. Martin Luther King Jr. taught that it’s impossible to use violence to end violence. Instead peace must be the vehicle for establishing peace. So many of us have inner turmoil we are actively managing day to day. As we work on dealing with our own pain and suffering, we make regular choices about how we cope and process those feelings. If we stuff them down and allow them to build and finally explode, then we are putting our loved ones in danger. Instead, we can set boundaries for fighting in family life such as, “We will never use violence or physical harm of any kind in our arguments.” And we can plan for our upset emotions ahead of time so that we never risk hurting family members. We can find ways to express and let go of our hurt in safe, constructive ways over time.

Parents/Caregivers Can Ask: How can I promote peace in my family life? How can my words become more empowering and less accusatory? How can my tone of voice become one of inspiration, not condemnation? And how can my smallest actions particularly when angry show that I value peace as the vehicle for promoting peace in the world?

Small Actions: The best way each of us can promote peace in the world is by starting in our family lives by not harming those we love through words or actions. Becoming planful about how we manage our emotions can save us from ever regretting our reactions in heated moments. Please visit the Family Emotional Safety Plan to download a simple template you can use for yourself and to start a conversation with family members on this critical issue. In addition, take the Fighting Fair Family Pledge which articulates clear boundaries for arguing while maintaining respect for others.

Educators/School Leaders Can Ask: How are we teaching children the social and emotional skills necessary to act as peacemakers? How are we discussing the heated topics of our nation and our world and grappling with how to solve the world’s issues with active, peaceful solutions? How are we promoting peace as a school and classroom through our discipline strategies? Are they punitive or reflective and offering of ways in which children can repair harm, seek forgiveness and make things better?

Service. He said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” and “Everyone can be great because anyone can serve.” The theme of service – of doing for others – is a core value for all of our greatest moral leaders including Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Theresa. We have an epidemic in the U.S. of depressed teenagers who could not be so if they knew how their unique qualities could significantly contribute to the world around them. Giving offers us a sense of purpose.

Parents/Caregivers Can Ask: How do we develop a service mindset among each of our family members? Do we promote and cultivate a culture of kindness, help, and support in our family life? How could we do more to appreciate others and offer regular gratitude for the abundance in our lives? How could we, as adults, model noticing needs and offering care for neighbors, elderly family and friends, and community members and organizations?

Small Actions: Notice and appreciate kindness when you see it happen around your home. “You took care of cleaning up your mess and I didn’t have to ask you. That’s taking responsibility and I see you doing that.” Point out kindness when you see it in the world. “Did you notice that woman help that older gentleman through the door at the grocery? How kind of her to notice he needed help.” Do it enough and you will begin to hear your child finding examples of kindness for herself. Read more about how parents can serve in their roles by acting as family servant leaders. And also, learn more about how you can guide your teenage daughter or son to considering how they might find their own sense of purpose. Amidst the pandemic, there is much food insecurity in our communities. Find a food drive and shop and deliver with your family as one small step you can take. Check out Americorps’ extensive “Day of Service” list that offers numerous ways to serve in every corner of the United States.

Educators/School Leaders Can Ask: How do you offer regular opportunities for students and families to serve their classroom, school and community? How do you build in reflection so that not only are students and families take action but those actions are made meaningful by learning about social issues and the greater historical context they are contributing to?

Love. He said, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

He said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

He said, “There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.” So if the only vehicle for peace is by acting out of peace and love, then forgiveness is core to our task. And our job as parents becomes to equip our children to learn to forgive. They will encounter pain despite our best efforts. But we will give them the tools of resilience, of strength if we offer them guidance on the process of healing and forgiving those who have hurt us.

Parents/Caregivers Can Ask: How do we forgive in our household? Do we find ways to make reparation for harms done? And do we find words and actions that show we are asking for forgiveness? And are we able to grant pardon when someone harms our feelings? Are there new ways we can go about including forgiveness as an expression of love in our family life?

Small Actions: Consider how you model owning your role and responsibility in any family problem. How do you articulate your area of responsibility? When you do, it opens the doors for others to take responsibility for their roles and it knocks down the wall of “me versus you.” Find times to have honest conversations without judging your children’s actions. Allow them to tell you their problems while you listen with compassion. They will come to you with bigger problems down the line if you offer this kind of small support in day-to-day situations. Consider how you handle hurts whether your own or your child’s. How can you model the language of forgiveness? How can you guide your child to think through actions they might take to make up for harm they have caused?

Educators/School Leaders Can Ask: How do you show love as a school? How can families feel accepted and appreciated no matter the mistakes of the past? How can you teach the restoration of relationships when hurt exists so that healing can begin?

Of course, love is at the heart of it all. Though outwardly, some may choose to hurt or exclude others, we can be certain that inside, they are motivated by pain and are convinced they are not loved yet require love desperately to soothe their wounds. Children are acquiring their own pain by not measuring up to adults expectations and also, by adults ignoring their needs – whether physical or emotional. Show your love through your attention. Put down devices. Turn off the television. Take their hopes seriously. Take their fears seriously. Really listen to what they are telling you. Accept what they need to express. That is the small, slow but powerful way you can best teach your children to love.

Thank you, Martin Luther King Jr. and all those nameless individuals who have demonstrated their values through their daily courageous actions. May we all attempt that show of strength. Here are two of Martin Luther King Jr.’s incredible speeches that could be shared as a family today as we remember and apply those teachings to our present context.

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