confident parents confident kids

Teaching Young Children About Anger

“That’s mine!” Sophie heard her daughter scream at her younger sibling from the next room. As Sophie turned her attention to the unfolding scene, she saw her upset child swipe a doll out of the hands of her sister and hit her across the shoulder. What should Sophie do next?

Young children, as they begin the negotiations of playing with others, particularly in preschool and kindergarten, get angry and frustrated but are unsure how to manage their feelings. It’s common for children to lash out or run away or melt down in a puddle of angry tears. In addition to not knowing how to handle their big feelings, the upset can be compounded by the fact that they do not yet have the emotional vocabulary at the ready to clearly articulate what they are experiencing. In considering how to teach young children how to manage anger, it helps to combat some myths or misperceptions about this sometimes feared, and often avoided emotion.

Anger Misconceptions

We tend to believe anger is…

  • bad or negative and avoid or shut down the experience of it. There’s good reason for it. We have all experienced someone(s) in our lives who has lost control and acted in ways that harm themselves or others when angry. However, we know that every emotion, including anger, serves a critical purpose. It provides information about who we are, what emotional or physical needs are not getting met, and where our boundaries lie.
  • expressing anger such as yelling will dissipate it. In fact, research confirms that the expression of aggression whether it’s yelling or hitting (and that includes for parents, spanking) exacerbates the anger.1 Our bodies produce a surge of energy through hormones when angry that gives us a jolt if we need to run from a tiger or fight an attacker. When we yell or hit, more of those hormones are produced so that instead of a single jolt, our bodies refill with more angry energy.
  • venting such as complaining, ranting or even mumbling gets out the upset thoughts and feelings. In fact, venting is to anger as rumination is to worry. We can churn through worrying thoughts in our minds repeatedly but those thoughts go nowhere and ultimately, are unproductive. So too venting, whether we are listing off our complaints to another or talking to ourselves, tends to reinforce our negative thinking. That’s because it does not offer an alternative view of the situation nor does it pose any solutions. Because venting doesn’t change thinking, the feeling persists.
  • avoiding or pretending you are not angry will make it go away. Because the emotion – like any other emotion – is emerging to send a vital message to its owner, it cannot be avoided or denied. When turned inward, that anger can become destructive in the body. Also, when anger is buried, it can be stuffed down for a time but may contribute to a larger explosion (that may not have occurred otherwise) because of the build-up of heated emotions over time.

Your young child is learning to respond to her emotions primarily by watching how you respond to your own emotions. Because modeling is her first teacher, there are a few steps you can take to deal with your own anger. By adopting these practices, you can feel confident that you are simultaneously teaching your children how to deal with their own upset.

Recognize your anger.
This self-awareness can come from a number of cues. First, notice – how does your body typically react when you are mad? Do your ears turn red and hot? Do your hands shake? Does your heart beat rapidly? Those physical symptoms – different in every person – can cue you to the need to calm down before choosing your next words or actions. Are you raising or lowering your voice volume? Notice the signs, discuss what signs your child notices and take the following steps.

Breath first.
Slowing down your breathing serves a critical biological function. It allows those hormones that have surged from your anger to recede. Your body is able to regain its composure. And your brain is able to think beyond fight, flight or freeze. Practice deep breathing audibly. If you’ve practiced yoga, try using ujjayi breathing (or “ocean breath”) in which you breathe deeply through your nose while constricting your throat slightly producing a sound like the waves of the sea. Not only will the sound help calm you, but it will also emphasize and call attention to your breath for your young child to observe.

Use strange calm.
Switch into slow motion. Use the burst of energy to become extremely slow and intentional about using your body. Drop down to the floor or in a chair. Close your eyes. Breath and go within to regain your calm. No matter what chaos is happening around you, you can be assured that you will accomplish nothing – except perhaps to make matters more contentious – by reacting in an angry moment. To learn more, check out the article.

Walk outside.
Yes, the fresh air does help you breath better and the natural surroundings are instantly calming. If you cannot get away, just walk into your yard and pace around your patch of grass. Look up in the trees. A few moments can help restore your grounding.

Distract.
Research has found that distraction really does work to calm rage. Books, television, or movies can help. That’s because they focus your mind on a differing perspective and remove the thoughts that are feeding the anger. But be careful not to rely on this as your only strategy since it can serve as an avoidance mechanism too. If you use distraction, then after you’ve calmed down, use the next step – writing – or talking with a confidante to reframe your thinking to understand what you can learn from your current challenge.

Write.
Writing down your angry thoughts (versus ruminating in your head about them) can offer you a chance to re-evaluate your situation. You can reframe it, look at it from another perspective or search for the silver lining. When you reflect in your writing on what you can learn from the situation, it has a calming effect.

Young children will require practice with new strategies for dealing with their angry emotions. So make a game out of the practice! Go through the steps as a family team. Or engage your child in learning it in order to teach the game to a stuffed friend. Either way, use the teaching of understanding and managing anger as subject for play. Then when she is upset, you only need remind her of her practice. The main points you want to emphasize in your teaching are:

  • Emotions are helpful signs from ourselves that we need to pay attention to our needs.
  • We know when we are feeling angry when we feel the signs in our body. Find out what your child’s signs tend to be.
  • Using feelings words helps us feel better and helps others understand us.

And here’s the process:

  1. Move to privacy and safety.

So often, our children melt down in the least convenient places. Whether it’s at the grocery store or in the preschool parking lot, we are often in the midst of moving through our daily routine in public and not at home. That’s why this first step is important. Young children are becoming increasingly aware of peers and the perceptions of people around them. Though they may lose emotional control, their upset may grow more intense as they feel embarrassed they are “losing it” around friends, teachers or strangers. So practice joining hands and moving to a safe, private space closest to where you are. You never want to have to drag a child or force them to move. For that reason, this practice is essential. You could position yourself in various places during your game and say, “Where can we go to be safe and alone?” When you are at the store or at a restaurant (any usual place your family frequents), try it out when all are calm and make it a part of the game.

2. Breathe.

There are numerous ways you can teach your child to deeply breathe. You could begin by simply placing your hand on your own heart feeling it beat and encouraging your child to do the same. Now run in place a few minutes and feel again as it beats more quickly. Explain that you’ll have a faster heartbeat when you’re upset. But as you practice any one of these breathing games, your heartbeat will slow down again. Here are a few methods.

  • Hot Chocolate breathing

Pretend to hold your hot cup of cocoa in both hands in front of you. Breathe in deeply the aroma of the chocolate. And then blow out to cool it in preparation for drinking. Do this to the count of five to give your child practice. Then, look for chances to practice it regularly.

  • Teddy Bear Belly breathing

Blissful Kids wrote this wonderful article on teaching deep belly breathing by balancing a teddy bear on a child’s tummy and giving it a ride with the rising and falling of her breath. Great idea! This would be ideal to practice during your bedtime routine when you are lying down and wanting to calm down for the evening.

  • Blowing Out Birthday Candles breathing

You can pretend you are blowing out candles on a birthday cake. Just the image in your head of a birthday cake brings about happy thoughts. And in order to blow out a number of small flames, you have to take in deep breaths. This is one you can try anywhere, anytime.

  • Ocean breathing

Practice making the noise of the sea waves while breathing deeply from your diaphragm. Close your eyes with your child and imagine that your anger is a fiery flame waiting on a sandy shore. And as you breathe life into the ocean waves, they grow closer and closer to the flame to extinguish it. Check out my poster for a home or classroom on ocean wave breathing!

  • Play Turtle

In the research-based social and emotional learning curriculum for schools, the PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) curriculum encourages children to pretend they are a turtle. When they are upset, they can sink back into their shells (they can place their arms over their head) and breath inside the shelter of their own arms to regain calm before re-entering their environment. This could inspire wonderful play with young children and stir their vivid imagination of what it might look like and feel like when they are calming down.

I’ve also created a poster to help adults remember to take deep breaths each morning before starting their day.

3. Distract, Reflect and/or Reframe.
There may be times when distraction works better than other times. Guiding a child to sit with an engaging picture book, an activity book or a puzzle can be a way to distract from the upset of the moment. Drawing or writing can also serve as calming activities. But if your child has shown big feelings – anger, frustration, sadness, anxiety – be sure that you return to discuss it. Ask what she’s feeling and name it. “It seemed like you were frustrated. Is that right?” That will offer her the chance to identify and articulate her feelings. Find out why she was feeling upset. Offer some alternative perspectives and help her reframe her own thoughts to see a bigger picture if possible.

This is the time to brainstorm other ways to handle a problem situation. Could she and her sister set a timer and take turns playing with the doll, for example? Challenge yourself to find and offer a compassionate perspective whether that means guiding your child to think empathetically about other children in the situation or to seek self-compassion for her situation. When you are practicing this particular step, have your child use a stuffed friend to reflect on the situation. Ask her to tell her bear what happened, what she was feeling, what she was thinking and how she might help her bear feel better.

Anger can challenge any of us to act with the emotional intelligence we ideally want to possess. The trick is becoming aware, stopping the escalation and calming down before we have fully lost our sensibilities. The hope and opportunity (and also, the challenge) is that our young children are watching and learning. If we avoid the chance to get angry and deal with it, then we lose the chance to show our children what it looks like to regulate our emotions. If we practice, plan and remind ourselves about the ways in which we’ll act and how we’ll calm down, we’ll be prepared to model an essential life skill and know we can face our greatest parenting challenges with a plan at the ready.

 

*Thank you, collaborator, R. Keeth Matheny, co-author of School Connect, a research-based high school social and emotional learning curriculum, for raising this issue.

Resource:

Lerner, H. (2014). The dance of anger; A woman’s guide to changing the patterns of intimate relationships. NY: Harper and Row.

Reference:

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence; Why it can matter more than IQ. NY: Bantam Books.

Originally published March 17, 2017.

The Courageous Act of Making New Friends

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'”

C.S. Lewis

The need and desire to make new friends can arise in children’s lives anytime whether your child is new to a camp or school, a close friend moved away, or she feels disconnected from her current friends. It can require great courage to risk possible rejection and go up to someone brand new to begin a conversation. If your preschool age child once played side by side with peers and began a friendship by bumping their toy cars into one another, that easy start can become more complex as children grow. “How do I just talk to someone I don’t know?”, “What if no one is playing a game I like?” and “What if I ask to play and they say ‘No.’? are real concerns. My son voiced these in the middle of his summer camp session this morning when his close pal stayed home and he anticipated not knowing other campers. I internally battled with my own impatience as he expressed upset and I became late for work by reviewing in my head how I’d felt in a group situation when I’d known no others. Social anxiety can strike at any moment. Kids don’t often know how to cope with those worries and turn to you for guidance. So how do you help your child through those times while supporting his social skill development?

We know that whether at camp or school or an extracurricular activity,  friendships will add to a child’s comfort and enjoyment and can even determine whether they’ll participate in the first place. Research studies confirm that friendships can contribute to a student’s academic performance. Studies have concluded that for both elementary and middle school students, those that have significant friendships at school have a higher motivation for working toward social and academic goals.[i] And in the preschool years, helping children learn to play with one another is part of the core curriculum. Whether it’s on a lazy summer morning before camp or a dark, wintry school day when it is tough to get going, children of all ages will be motivated and inspired by thinking about the friends they will see each day.

If you are an educator, there is much you can do to facilitate students getting to know one another’s names, personalities, and interests in those beginning weeks of school. Check out The First Six Weeks of School to learn about ways to do this. Most often, teachers are focused on learning the students’ names themselves on day one and then quickly moving on to reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. I asked my son after his first week of kindergarten whether he knew any names of children in his class. He did not. I asked him again after the first few days of camp this summer, and again, he did not know other kids’ names. For teachers, making relationship building a priority at the beginning of the school year can not only eliminate some of those social anxieties that get in the way of learning, they can motivate a child to engage and work hard with friends at his side throughout the school year. If you are a parent, do not count on teachers having the time to make connections between children. You have little control over what happens during the camp or school day. So instead find ways when you can have an influence to support your child in opening the door to friendships. Here are some ideas to try out.

For Preschool and Elementary School Age Children

Model.

Find chances in the grocery store or at the bank during regular weekly activities in which your child accompanies you to model introductions to people. You may go to the same store each week but do you know the names of the employees that assist you? Introduce yourself and your child.

“Hi. I come in here weekly and you’ve helped me many times. What is your name? It’s nice to meet you. This is my daughter, Amanda. She is a big help on shopping trips.”

You may take the opportunity on the car ride home to reflect on the introduction. You might ask, “What did you notice that I said to the woman at the store? Are there some kids at school you might be able to introduce yourself to in a similar way?”

Practice at home.

For younger children, get out three or four of your daughter’s stuffed friends and have them join you for a snack after school.  Start by making your own introduction of one to another. Then, have your daughter do the rest of the introductions. “Seal meet Wayne, the bunny. You both like playing legos with Amanda.” Share one commonality. My son loves this game and looks for opportunities to introduce puppets, trains, cars and other friends that have not yet met.

For older children like my nine-year-old into middle school, you can involve them in introductions by play acting with them and engaging them in fun. Talk about how it can feel awkward to introduce yourself. Maybe share a story of a time you felt awkward or silly but made an introduction anyway and were glad you did. Show them how you did it. “I just walked up and said ‘I see you are reading that great book. I read it last summer and loved it. I’m Amanda.’” Recognize that it will take some courage to approach a peer. Offer simple ways to join in a game, just sit down, or introduce a topic to get through the awkward first step and move on to getting to know others.

Ask about free times like lunchtime and recess.

There are very few free moments during the school day when children choose what they can do and with whom they can do it but lunch and recess are those times. It can be so difficult to find someone to sit with at lunch when looking out at a sea of unfamiliar faces. Talk about this and what your child might do. Model simple language that he can use. “Can I sit with you?” is all it takes – that and a lot of courage – to sit down with a new group of students and have lunch. Talking about it with you and helping your child see that everyone has those feelings of awkwardness at one point or another may give him the courage needed to take that first step.

Provide reinforcing comments and withhold judgment.

As your child tells you about attempts to make new friends, reinforce what she is doing. “I notice you introduced yourself today. That kind of bravery is going to pay off, just wait and see.” It may take a number of tries to make a connection that lasts beyond the lunch period. Also, it’s tempting to ask about and judge the kids with whom she is connecting. You may know the parents or have seen the potential friends through school interactions.  We know that peers can be a significant influence on our child and we want it to be a positive one. However, because it can feel so challenging to make connections and kids are still trying to figure out in which group they belong, allow them some space to take healthy risks and try out new friendships.

Have patience and give it time.

Though at times, it may be challenging to see your child struggling to simply walk up to a group of kids to engage in play, slow your own mind down. Recall your own socially awkward moments as a child. Perhaps even remember times as an adult that it’s been tough to walk, for example, into a brand new workplace and begin relationships. Thinking about your own tough times in starting friendships can help extend your own patience while realizing that, for a child in the midst of social anxieties, it can be a significant and all-consuming challenge. Your guidance and show of confidence that they can do it will help them take the risks they need to take in order to develop those critical relationships.

Children often begin with the advantage of a core common interest – camp, school, sports. If your child initiates a conversation, that may be all that is needed to forge a friendship. Have those discussions, model, practice and reinforce their courageous efforts as they make attempts. Those small supports you provide can go a long way toward helping your child find the confidence for making healthy friendships.

 

For related articles:

What’s in a Name? Teaching Children the Art of Introductions

Healthy Relationships: The Cornerstone of Gratefulness

 


References:

[i] DuBois, D. L., Felner, R. D., Brand, S., Adan, A. M., & Evans, E. G. (1992). A prospective study of life stress, social support, and adaptation in early adolescence. Child Development, 63,542-557.

Harter, S. (1996). Teacher and classmate influences on scholastic motivation, self-esteem, and level of voice in adolescents. In J. Juvonen & K. R. Wentzel (Eds.), Social motivation: Understanding children’s school adjustment (pp. 11-42). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Wentzel, K. R. (1994). Relations of social goal pursuit to social acceptance, classroom behavior, and perceived social support. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86, 173-182.

Adapted from origin published on September 5, 2013.

Coaching – A Tool for Raising Confident Kids

Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.

– Roger Lewin

Coaching can be a powerful way to help our children become more self-aware, understanding their thoughts and feelings and how they impact their behavior choices. It can also give them valuable practice in problem-solving and responsible decision making. Similar to a sports coach, the parent coach expresses confidence that his child will succeed in his efforts. But in contrast to a sports coach, parent coaching is not focused on the technique (HOW our child solves the problem) nor attached to the outcome. It is about helping a child think through their own solutions to a problem.

Our kids come to us with problems regularly. And so often, in the busyness of the day, we respond with a solution. And though our hurried response may help them clean up the mess of the moment, it does not prompt them to think for themselves about their problems, how they are feeling and their options for moving forward. There are two conversations below in which the same issue is addressed. The first is a possible hurried response. The second takes a coaching approach.

The hurried conversation:

“Mom, Morgan’s being mean.” says Adam.

“Yep, this happens a lot. What’s he doing?” asks Mom.

“He keeps poking me with a stick.” replies Adam.

“You tell him to cut it out or I’ll need to come talk to him.” responds Mom.

And off Adam goes to implement Mom’s solution with the possibility of her needing to intervene. Next is an example of a parent using a coaching approach in that same conversation.

The coaching conversation:

“Mom, Morgan’s being mean.” says Adam.

“What’s he doing?” says Mom.

“He keeps poking me with a stick.” replies Adam.

“It sounds like you are annoyed. Is that true?” says Mom.

“Yeah, what do I do to get him to stop?” – Adam.

“Why do you think he’s poking you?” – Mom.

“To get my attention.” – Adam.

“And how are you responding?” – Mom.

“I keep telling him to stop but he won’t!” – Adam.

“Telling him to stop doesn’t seem to be working. What could you do differently to stop his poking?” – Mom.

“I could stop giving him attention, leave and then only come back when he agrees to stop poking.” – Adam.

“Sounds good. Go for it.” – Mom.

In the hurried example, Mom accepts full responsibility for the problem. Not only does she solve the problem for him, but also expresses that she’ll likely need to intervene when his attempts do not work. And you can bet, he’ll be coming right back to her. She has inadvertently promoted his dependence on her to solve his problems. And certainly, Adam has not been required to think much further about the situation. However, in the coaching conversation, Mom probes to find out a bit more about the problem, how Adam is feeling about it and how he is responding. She points out what’s not working and asks openly what he feels could work. Adam could have responded with any number of solutions and she was ready to support any that seemed safe alternatives. She leaves him, expressing confidence in his ability to handle the situation. And I know (since this is based on a true story) that he will be successful. As a result, Adam feels a sense of competence and autonomy in being able to handle his own relationship issues.

The purpose of coaching is to help a person find his own solutions to his problem. Inherent in the coaching model is the belief and trust that an individual has that ability to solve his own issues. The coach through questions, active listening and focused reflections creates the conditions necessary for a person to have his own realizations about his feelings and thoughts and how they are informing his behaviors. This deepens his self-awareness.

So often we are in a telling or directing role as parents. The essential challenge of using coaching is that we have to suspend our own judgment about the problem at hand in order to effectively play the role. Attachment to a particular outcome lessens our power. When our child may be coming to us about a friendship challenge, it is an ideal opportunity to offer coaching support. For obvious reasons, problems that pose a high safety risk are likely not appropriate for a coaching conversation since you will desire a particular outcome.

The field of coaching has so much to offer in understanding how we can become better communicators and help others resolve their own problems bringing out their best selves. My husband is a certified leadership coach preparing future hospital presidents for their roles with these techniques. He has shared his course texts with me and the following are my interpretation of recommendations from Coaching Skills; A Handbook by Jenny Rogers with my own child developmental spin.

Use open-ended questions without an agenda. Use these questions to further define the problem so that your child can better solve it. Jenny Rogers writes about the “magical questions” that fit any context or problem which, in essence, include: “What?”” (What’s the problem?), “So what?” (What are the consequences?) and “What’s next?” (How will you move forward?) Avoid questions that are simply answered with a “yes” or “no” since they will not prompt thinking. Also, avoid “leading” questions – ones that offer advice. For example, “Shouldn’t you…,” “Wouldn’t it be better to…,” or “Why don’t you try…”

Name an emotion and ask if your observation is accurate. In addition to learning about the problem, your child can benefit from identifying how she is feeling about it. Help your child better understand what she’s feeling by listening for the feeling, articulating it as specifically as possible and then asking if you are accurate. For example, “It sounds like you are hurt and embarrassed. Is that right?” Your child will certainly tell you if you have not hit the mark with your feelings assessment. And they will be given the chance to further define their emotions in the process. Jenny Rogers writes, “As coaches, our role is often to help others articulate feelings that are there but go unrecognized, or to help them say out loud what they have kept inside.”

Challenge to initiate new thinking. In most situations, there are a number of possible solutions. I never want my son to feel trapped in a problem. So I know that offering him practice in brainstorming many solutions will prepare him for life’s biggest challenges. If a child’s response to the situation is not working, ask her to come up with a new solution. For more on practicing brainstorming many options to a problem, check out Elements of a Confident Kid… Brainstormer.

Summarize. After you’ve talked about the problem and your child’s solution, summarize it succinctly for him without embellishing or adding your own opinions. “Your problem was your annoyance at Morgan trying to get your attention by poking you. Asking him to stop wasn’t working. Now you are going to leave until he can agree not to poke anymore.” This will help your child solidify his own thinking and reaffirm that you’ve heard him and his own solution.

Eliminate judgment. Though you may be well aware of Morgan’s proclivity to poke and poke, leave your judgment about the individuals and the problem out of your conversation. Though it may be a valid frustration on your part, it could also sabotage the effectiveness of your coaching to imply or share the judgment. Using your own self-discipline as you guide your child through their thought process will pay off as you also watch them competently solve her problem.

Express genuine confidence. No, we cannot possibly know how another person will react in any given situation so we cannot be sure of how things will turn out. However, we can be certain that our child can handle problems in their relationships. Our expression of certainty will give them confidence as they try out their own solutions. Jenny Rogers uses the helpful comparison of the placebo effect in medicine. If a person senses the doctor’s full confidence in the drug’s ability to heal, they are much more likely to be healed. If we say, “You could try that and see if it works,” we sound hesitant and unsure. But a simple, “Good. Go for it!” expresses that we know our kid can work it out.

The process of coaching with a child can be an authentic vehicle for promoting social and emotional skills. By giving them a chance to address their problems, they can feel a sense of control over their own lives and relationships. They are given the chance to think through their feelings and reactions. That time for reflection can create the space and opportunity for consequential thinking which is an essential ingredient of responsible decision making. Parent coaching is a key component of confident parents raising confident kids.

Reference

Rogers, J. (2012). Coaching Skills; A Handbook (3rd Ed.). NY: McGraw-Hill Open University Press.

* Special thanks to Jason Miller for his support in doing the research for this article.

Originally published on May 14, 2015.

Stop, Think, Go! Practicing Problem-Solving

If you have a problem, don’t muddle through.
Here’s a simple rap about what to do.
Stop, calm down before you act.
You’ll think more clearly – that’s a fact.
Say the problem and how you feel.
Set a positive goal (and try to be real).
Now for some “brainy” contributions,
make out a list with lots of solutions.
Slow down, though, and use some sense
‘cause you gotta consider each consequence.
Now if you’ve done your thinking and you’re planning ahead,
you can face your problem with a little less dread.
So knowing you’ve done everything you can,
go ahead – try the very best plan.

– Terri Kazmier, New Haven (CT) Middle School Music Teacher

“He messed with my stuff while I was gone. My Lego set is broken. Moooooooom!” cries Zachary about his brother. Sibling rivalry is a common family problem. Mom could fix it. “Go help your brother fix his Lego set.” Or she could help her children learn valuable skills in problem-solving. These opportunities for practicing critical life skills happen daily if you look for them. And especially in the summertime, your children may be home more often with conflicts emerging. Collaborative problem-solving is not one skill alone but requires a whole host of skills including self-control and stress management, self-awareness of both thoughts and feelings, perspective-taking and empathy, listening and effectively communicating, goal setting, anticipating consequences and evaluating actions.

Roger Weissberg, one of the top leaders in the field of social and emotional learning and Chief Knowledge Officer for the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and my mentor, ongoing collaborator and friend agreed to share the Traffic Light model that he and his colleagues created at Yale University with the New Haven Public Schools. The Social Development Project affected the lives of countless children, drawing from one of the lowest income communities in the country. Students learned, practiced and used these skills in role playing and real life settings over and again making the development of these social skills a part of the culture and expectations of that school system.

In addition to using this model to promote problem-solving between students in schools, it was also used for discipline purposes. If a child’s behavior merited an in-school suspension, then those children spent the time reflecting on the problem, how they felt and what actions they chose. They brainstormed ways they could act differently. And they created a positive plan for how they might act the next time they were in that situation. You too can use this as a discipline tool in your home. When your child has acted in a destructive way – either hurt someone’s feelings or property spend time reflecting on what they did and the impact it had on those around them. Then ask, “What if you made a different choice in that same situation? What choices do you have? And what would happen as a result of those actions?”

Dr. Weissberg writes that this promotes “consequential thinking.” 1 Children begin to think through the consequences of their actions prior to choosing how to act. And that kind of thinking promotes responsible decision-making. This New Haven Public Schools training was used to prevent high-risk behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy and violence in the adolescent years. Imagine if your children were engaged in developing these skills prior to that time of high peer pressures. They would be ready and prepared with well-rehearsed tools when they are tempted by their friends and you are not there at that moment to protect them.

The beauty of this model is in its simplicity. Hang up a picture of a traffic light or print out the following one-page handout from Dr. Weissberg — Social Problem Solving Curriculum Traffic Light by Roger Weissberg et al. or use my illustration as a reminder. 2 Try this out first as a game when there’s not a problem. Role play through it. Make it fun and dramatic. Adults can stand and be the stop light. Call out a problem or better yet, have kids call out a common problem they have had. Children can run toward you, the stop light. Hold your hand up and signal “Stop!” Everybody can breathe loudly to emphasize the practice and add to the fun. Now on yellow, place your hand straight out and kids can take gentle steps standing in one place while you talk through the yellow light steps below. As they become adept at the game, ask them to tell you what the yellow light steps include. Have them think out loud. Now put your hand down and announce, “Go!” They can run forward and then, try out their solution. Here’s the process.

RED LIGHT
Stop! Calm down and think before you act.

No problem-solving is going to occur, no feelings repaired until all involved calm down. So take the time you and your child need to calm down. Breathe! You can use easy-to-use teaching methods to help kids practice deep breathing such as bubble blowing, ocean wave or teddy bear belly breathing (see “Understanding Anger” article for descriptions of each). Take a moment for some quiet time in your own spaces. Then…

YELLOW LIGHT
Caution. Feel. Communicate. Think.

Say the problem and how you feel.

Parents can model this by saying, “I am feeling frustrated that you and your brother are arguing. How are you feeling?” It helps to have a list of feelings at the ready so that if your child struggles with coming up with a feeling, he can pick one off of a list that best represents how he’s feeling. This practice alone will expand his feeling’s vocabulary and he’ll be better equipped the next time to be in touch with and communicate his situation. I’ve listed below this article three resources for feelings’ lists.

Now, set a positive goal.

Before moving to “Go,” have your child think about what they want for themselves and the others involved. The goal may be as simple as, “I just want to get along with my brother,” or “I want to keep my toys safe.” Weissberg writes that setting a positive goal for kids simply means “How do you want things to end up?”

Think of lots of solutions.

Before jumping to one solution, think of lots. “I could hide my Legos where my brother can’t find them.” “We could agree to ask one another before playing with the others’ toys.” “We could promise to repair anything we break.” Involve all who were a part of the problem to generate solutions. Children who understand there are many choices in a problem situation are less likely to feel trapped into making an unhealthy decision but can step back and examine the options.

Think ahead to the consequences.

Parents can ask, “What if you tried hiding your Legos from your brother? What might happen?” Think through the realistic consequences with your children of their various solutions – both long and short term. “It might work tomorrow. But what happens when you forget in a few weeks and leave them out on your bedroom floor? Then what?” This is a critical step in helping children think through the outcomes of their choices before making them – important practice for later problems when the stakes are higher.

GREEN LIGHT
                                                                                                                

Go! Try out your best plan.

Maybe your children have agreed to ask one another before they play with the other’s toy. Try it out right away. See how it works. If it does not work, then talk about it and make slight adjustments or decide on another plan altogether that might work better.

Parents can use logical consequences in concert with this model. For example, if Zachary has harmed his brother, then he can generate solutions to repair the relationship. He may offer a sincere apology. He may spend time fixing the broken Lego set. He may help find a place to keep the Lego set safe. Children need parents’ support in repairing harm done. They need to know that there are multiple options for not only repairing a physical object but also, repairing hurt feelings. So brainstorm options together and help kids implement them.

Family meetings can be an ideal time to use this Traffic Light model too. Bring a problem to a meeting that concerns everyone. Select a fairly low stakes problem for the first one to raise at a family meeting. Gain practice with the model and with all family members collaborating on a solution. Watch as your skill as a family progresses and you are able to bring hotter issues to the table.

One positive goal I have set for my own life is to not have regrets. Acting impulsively, making quick unexamined decisions can certainly lead to regret so I particularly appreciate that this Traffic Light model includes examining consequences before acting. These are skills I hope my son will cultivate so this Summer, as the weather gets warmer and we can run out on our driveway, we’ll be practicing our “Stop!,” “Think,” and “Go” as we work through heated six-year-old issues. “E has the coolest crayons. I want them!” We’ll laugh together and learn together. And I’ll feel great about how I am giving him skills that will last a lifetime.

* A big thank you to Roger Weissberg for sharing his model and for his excellent work. You can learn more about Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) by visiting their website.

Feelings Vocabulary Lists

How are you feeling today? Poster by Jim Borgman

Children’s Feelings List from the Children’s Center, University of California, Santa Barbara

Feelings Inventory from the Center for Nonviolent Communication

References

1. Weissberg, R.P., Barton, H.A., & Shriver, T.P. (1997). The social-competence promotion program for young adolescents. In G.W. Albee & T.P. Gullota (Eds.), Primary prevention exemplars: The Lela Rowland Awards (pp. 268-290). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

2. Weissberg, R.P., Jackson, A.S., & Shriver, T.P. ( ). Promoting positive social development and health practices in young urban adolescents. In M.J. Elias (Ed.). Social decision making and life skills development: Guidelines for middle school educators (pp. 45-77). Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publications.

Originally published March 5, 2015.

Children’s Independence – Cultivating Competence

“How can the sun always be on fire? Where does the fire come from?”

asks E, my five-year-old son.

“I don’t know,” I say. “Good question.”

“Papa Dave will know. He’s tall so he knows everything,” asserts E.

At all ages and stages, kids admire and desire competence. Particularly as they enter the middle school years, ages 10-14, figuring out what skills and abilities they have and what their interests are can establish the basis for their social and academic life. Their peers play a key role in influencing which of those interests to pursue. After all, their chosen pursuits can define a friend group and at times, seal the perception of a student’s identity with his teachers. Is he a straight “A” student? Does she excel at electronics? Is he a skilled soccer player? My husband claims that competence in music in high school band was primarily responsible for pulling him out of the social awkwardness of his middle school years.

One of the most incredible aspects of childhood is that a child can dream about becoming literally just about anything she wants to be. Children spend much of their time listening to the adults and children around them reflect back to them who they are. This grows their self-awareness. “Look at you swim. Wow! You’re a fish!” These mirror reflections become what children begin to say about themselves. They are creating who they are. Individuals – children and adults alike – are intrinsically motivated by three factors – autonomy, belonging, and competence.[i] These are not objective facts, but more a subjective feeling that one is capable, belongs to a group or community and is perceived by others as capable.[ii] In particular, this sense of competence and the motivation that accompanies it is a building block of development since children are naturally compelled to learn the ways of “being big” – tying shoes, zipping up a jacket, reciting the alphabet, adding numbers and establishing friendships.

Every kid needs to demonstrate competence. Competence means “adequacy or the possession of required skill, knowledge or qualification.”[iii] Competence is not excellence. In order to be considered competent, for example, a child does not need to be the state champion speller. They could just do well in spelling that week. Children are looking to you, as a parent or educator, to help them understand what they can feel competent in. Here are some thoughts on how you can encourage your child to feel a sense of competence.

Allow for trial and error. Encourage your child to take healthy risks and stand back as they try. If they fail, encourage them to keep practicing. Thomas Edison conducted 9,990 different experiments in order to invent the electric light, all of which failed, save one. Professional baseball players at bat miss more times than they make hits. If a player is missing hits 70% of the time (making hits 30%), he’s considered a leader.

Articulate specific strengths using “I notice…” “I notice that you are carefully looking at that bowl of fruit and are able to draw what you see.” Generic statements won’t help and sometimes too much “good job”-ing can have an opposite effect. Using general praise can actually decrease a child’s intrinsic motivation and self-esteem.[iv]

Appreciate progress. Point out small steps along the way toward mastery. Don’t wait until they can write their entire name in a straight line perfectly or play a full concerto. If they have been working hard and have been able to play one line of music well, call out that first step as progress toward their goal. Not only will you be providing encouragement for them to dig into the work ahead, but also you will be teaching them about how to pursue a long-range goal.

Discuss and reframe self-talk. We all have conversations going inside our head that only we can hear. As adults, we become more aware of that self-talk. Children talk to themselves too but are typically unaware of the messages over which they are stewing. So talk about it. We recently asked our now, nine-year-old son, “When you are up at bat, what are you thinking?” We had witnessed his fearlessness at the beginning of the season, hitting every pitch. But recently, he was striking out and his face sunk after the first pitch each time. His response was incredibly revealing. “On the first pitch, I think, ‘I can do it!’ On the second pitch, I think ‘I’m going to fail.’ And on the third pitch, I think ‘maybe I can wait for bad pitches so that I can walk to first base.'” After that conversation, we worked on repeating “I can do this.” as he attempted to hit the ball. It made a significant difference in his performance but more importantly, his face lit up and he began to enjoy baseball again.

Be aware of the messages your actions send. If you step in and perfect something (a drawing, the organization of toys or the building of a block tower) that is your child’s creation, you can inadvertently send the message that what she did is not good enough. Be sure that creations of your children are solely their own creations, messy and imperfect as they may be.

_____________________

What do you do if your child gets frustrated and upset when trying a new skill? Children can put tremendous pressure on themselves or feel outside social pressure bearing down when they are trying to learn a new skill. That kind of pressure will work against their desire to keep trying as they feel a sense of urgency and frustration. Margaret Berry Wilson offers some helpful tips in the article “When children get rattled; How to respond effectively in the moment”[v] and I’ve added on to her suggestions:

  • Stay calm yourself or cool yourself down if you can feel your own temperature gauge rising.
  • Comfort a child who is deeply upset. There will be no moving forward with a child who is truly distressed. Work on calming down the child first. Don’t minimize or try to talk away the upset.
  • Take a break. Get a snack. Take a walk. Change the environment to help cool the frustration.
  • Remind and redirect in a calm voice. Remind your child that it takes time and practice to master a skill. If you can, try out together some other aspect of the skill mastery other than the exact task she was working on when she got frustrated. If she cannot write the letter “R,” practice other letters she can write for a while to regain her sense of accomplishment and ability.
  • Calmly guide your child toward a solution. Ask, “Are there other ways you might try to do this?” or “How many ideas can we come up with to make another attempt?”
  • Break down the task into smaller pieces. Sometimes children try to tackle a much bigger task than they could possibly master in a reasonable timeframe. See if you can’t break down the task into smaller pieces and recognize when those smaller pieces are mastered.
  • Point out what she can do and how she came to master that skill. Parents will sometimes hear an impassioned “I can’t do it. I can’t do it!” After calming down and changing the environment, when you are ready to return to the task, tell her a story about how she mastered a skill in the past that required some practice and patience.

Helping your children cultivate a sense of competence can provide the confidence they need to pursue new goals. It can provide a context for developing friendships. And it can serve as a springboard of resilience as challenges arise and your children have experienced the practice of meeting a challenge with hard work, persistence and the sense of accomplishment that comes with mastery.

For more, check out the classic story with beautiful, updated illustrations and reinforce the idea that with hard work and determination, you can gain a sense of competence.

Piper, Watty. & Long, Loren (Illus.) (2005). The little engine that could. New York: Philomel Books.

 

 

To all readers in the United States, Happy Fourth of July! 

 

 

References:


[i] Ryan, R. M., Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. In Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54-67.  http://mmrg.pbworks.com/f/Ryan,+Deci+00.pdf

[ii] Wagner, F.R., & Morse, J.J. (1975). A measure of individual sense of competence. Psychological Reports, 36, 451-459.

[iii] Dictionary.com Retrieved April 11, 2013. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/competence?s=t

[iv] Deci, E.L., & Flaste, R. (1995). Why we do what we do: Understanding self-motivation. New York: Penguin Books.

[v] Wilson, M.B. (2013). When children get rattled; How to respond effectively in the moment. In Teasing, Tattling, Defiance and More…; Positive Approaches to 10 Common Classroom Behaviors. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

Updated from the originally published post, April 11, 2013.

Developing Family Guidelines for Fighting Fairly

How can you establish boundaries for arguing with family members?

Don’t miss discussing and signing the pledge at the end of the article! 

After some happy outdoor play, I heard my son E run straight up to his bedroom and slam the door. As I knocked and entered his room, his face was red and wet with tears. “What happened?” I asked. “Jonathan (E’s cousin) wouldn’t listen to me,” E sputtered between sobs. “I was mad and he put his fingers in his ears and sang so he couldn’t hear me.” It is infuriating when one person is trying to discuss a problem and the other is putting up a wall. Friends and family members will argue. But one of the keys to maintaining and growing intimate relationships is fighting fairly.

Throughout childhood, kids are beginning to understand how to disagree and struggle with another person’s perspectives. They may be more impulsive and lash out or run away or even dig in their “heels” deepening the power struggle. I’ve heard many Moms’ laments over their siblings fighting repeatedly over the same issues at the same time of day when patience is low and kids are tired and hungry for dinner. So how can you deal with your children’s conflicts?

Take a look at your own arguments. Kids are learning directly from observing how we handle conflicts with our partners. Do you shout or name call or run away? Do you lash out with passive aggressive comments? Whether we like it or not, our kids are keen observers of how we work through our arguments. Their sense of security is shaken, whether they are a toddler or a teenager when they witness their parents fighting. So they are eager to see how and whether we are able to resolve our problems and move toward a closer relationship.

John Gottman, who has done extensive research on marriage, found that couples who stayed together versus those who divorced did not fight less. In fact, they fought just as often. But there were some keys to how they fought fairly. He writes, “A lasting marriage results from a couple’s ability to resolve the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship.”1 In addition, they balanced their negativity with positivity. There was, in fact, a magical amount of five positive interactions to one negative interaction, called the Gottman Ratio, that allowed for long-term, sustainable relationships. And it’s true with our parent-child and sibling relationships as well. Consider at the end of a particularly difficult day with your kids, “Did they have five positive interactions with you to counteract the one challenging one?”

Studies have been conducted on how kids’ developing brains are impacted by parents’ conflicts. Kids who lived in households with regular fighting experienced a stress level others who lived in more peaceful households did not. Over time, that stress compromised their brain development leading to impairments in learning and memory. But kids who lived in households in which parents argued but genuinely resolved the arguments (Kids were aware if parents faked a resolution.) were actually happier than before they experienced the argument, claims E. Mark Cummings, senior researcher at Notre Dame University. He writes

It reassures kids that parents can work things through. We know this by the feelings they show, what they say, and their behavior—they run off and play. Constructive conflict is associated with better outcomes over time. 2

If the quality of the fighting and subsequent interactions is critical in sustaining a healthy marital relationship, then it’s conceivable that it is also critical for sustaining positive friend and family relationships. And since kids learn directly from the modeling of their parents’ arguments, it’s worth examining how you fight with one another.

There are ways of fighting that are unfair and those are important to discuss as a family. Using physical force, for example, of any kind has been found ineffective. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of five decades of research showed that spanking a child results in short-term negative outcomes like aggression and defiance and long-term outcomes like substance abuse. 3 Also, when a child goes to another child or adult to get them on “their side” of the conflict, that triangulation can create deeper problems for all involved. There are four other ways of fighting unfairly, in particular, that were identified by expert John Gottman, leading to the destructiveness of relationships. These forms of fighting were regularly found in the relationships that were headed for separation or divorce. In addition to creating an agreement between you and your partner not to use these forms of fighting, I’ve listed ways to teach your kids not to use them as well.

Agree with family members not to use:

1.Criticism.
Though it can be tempting to criticize another (and at times, it may seem harmless), those words constitute an attack on the person you love. Focus on the problem at hand, the struggle, not the quality or character of the person with whom you are fighting. Criticism of another can remain in the heart and mind of the recipient and whittle away at the trust in a relationship.

Teaching your kids.
When my child is mad at another, I typically say “We are all learning. Your friend is learning too.” Focus on the problem not on the person. He may not be getting his needs met. We may not be able to understand why he is doing what is making us mad but we can understand that there’s a reason for it. Reframe how you discuss the problem. Say “What actions/choices didn’t you like?” versus “What did he do wrong?”

2. Contempt.
Contempt is another way of showing disdain for another person. It may involve name-calling, hostile humor or sarcasm, dismissive or baiting body language or mockery. None of these are fighting fair. Not only are they forms of character attacks but they also have the implicit intention to harm the other’s feelings.

Broken Heart by Jennifer Miller
Teach your kids about the destructiveness of name-calling by using the broken heart example.

Teaching your kids.
It’s never okay to name-call no matter how mad you are or think the other deserves it. You might ask, “If you held up a mirror and that body language or those words came back to address you, how would you feel?” One way we taught kids about hurting other’s feelings in schools was by the broken heart example. Draw a simple heart on a piece of paper. Now have the child call the paper disparaging names. Tear the paper each time he calls it a name. When finished, work together to tape the paper back together. Though you can reassemble the heart, it becomes permanently damaged. Children need to understand their words can have that same impact. Don’t allow contempt to pass between siblings. Tell them to go cool off first. Then, come back and you can help kids talk to one another in constructive ways.

3. Defensiveness.
Being on the defensive is a slippery slope that sinks further down into the argumentative mire. It does not help anyone work toward a resolution. It’s easy to become defensive when the other is placing blame. So make a rule in your household. Avoid words like “always” and “never” in conflicts. First of all, it can’t be true that someone is always one way or never another. And second, it leads to further escalation of the conflict and often to hurt feelings. The best way to avoid defensiveness is by owning your own role in the problem, not pointing the finger and blaming other (watch for starting statements with “You…”), and hoping (though there’s no forcing it) others will accept their roles.

Teaching your kids.
“Always” and “never” are not permitted in arguments in our household. If they are used, it’s time to cool down and see what other words could be used. Also, teach your kids to say how they played a role in the situation first. Use I statements such as, “I feel mad when you grab my toy because I was playing with it.” Owning your role in problem takes courage. So teach them how to take responsibility in the most challenging of circumstances by practicing simple words they can use.

4. Stonewalling.
This takes place when a person refuses to listen, shuts down the argument or gives the silent treatment such as Jonathan closing his ears and singing. Make no mistake about this technique. It is not peacemaking. Far from it, this method of fighting is aggressive and hurtful to the person on the receiving end.

Teaching your kids.
Don’t allow kids to confuse time to cool down with stonewalling. There is a significant emotional difference. In the first, a person leaves upset and returns calmer and ready for constructive dialogue. In the latter, a person leaves upset and the upset escalates with both conflict participants. Silent treatment or shutting down another person only leads to more problems, hurt and upset. When kids are calmer, encourage them to come back together to work it out. If they struggle with talking, have them write to one another. Communication between the two is critical to work through their problem. For more on facilitating problem-solving between kids in conflict, check out “Working It Out.”

Establishing some guidelines for fighting fair for all family members can ensure that you are ready when the inevitable problems arise.

Guidelines for Fighting Fair

Instead, your family can agree to…

Get proactive about how you are going to calm down. What do you do when you feel the heat rising in your face from anger and frustration? Develop your own plan for calming down in advance of troubles. And have the discussion with your family. Use the Family Emotional Safety Plan as a simple guide for that discussion. Also, are there times of the day when siblings tend to fight over and again? If so, proactively institute a quiet time or “brain break” as schools who use mindfulness practices call it. A brain break involves simply sitting down and focusing on breathing to regain calm. It can become a powerful household tool if parents use and model it too.

Trust that the other person has good intentions. If we begin from a place of blaming and accusation, defensive walls go up on both sides. In order to keep those emotional walls from being erected, we need to trust that there is a good reason behind the other’s arguments.

Start with empathy. When a conflict arises, training yourself to think about the thoughts and feelings of the other involved helps us communicate with compassion and fairness. It can be difficult to focus on empathy when we are in our own heads reinforcing our perspectives and creating new arguments to support our main points. But after a focus on calming down, we are more capable of doing this. You might begin with, “I think you are feeling worry and frustration and you want me to change my actions so that you don’t feel that way anymore. Is that correct?”

Take responsibility for your role only. Ask “What’s my role in this problem?” and “How can I articulate my role fairly?” You may say “I admit that I didn’t pick up your library book today but I am feeling frustrated because I had a good reason why I did not.” This also helps avoid the blame game. When you take responsibility for your own role in the situation, the other is more likely to take responsibility for his role as well.

Seek understanding. Often we cannot move on from our conflicts because we feel so sorely misunderstood. And at times, though it can be uncomfortable, we miss the chance to gain understanding by not sharing our feelings, thinking it will leave us vulnerable. In fact, it is in the sharing of our feelings that we begin to connect more deeply on the core problem and offer a chance to resolve it constructively. In order to resolve the issue, use “I” message language. “I feel frustrated and mad when you don’t tell me you are coming home late because I’ve worked hard on a family dinner.” And make sure you offer to turn the tables to gain an understanding of your partner’s perspectives.

Work together on an agreement. No agreement is going to work if needs – physical or emotional – are not met. So before finding solutions ask “What needs have to be met on both sides?” Then with those needs in mind, discuss ways you might move forward and resolve the problem.

End with love. This is typically not a possible way to close a conflict if the problem is still there, not truly resolved. But if you’ve heard each other’s feelings and thoughts, worked to understand one another and tried to resolve the problem fairly, then ending with an expression of your love and care is not only possible, it’s likely.

Conflicts are the most rigorous tests of our relationships. Reflect with your partner on your own methods of arguing so that you can ensure you are modeling the behaviors you want your kids to learn. And give your children ample practice with calming down and then communicating with each other in respectful and constructive ways so that when they are on their own in the world, they will carry those critical problem-solving skills with them. If you do, you will feel confident that your kids will be prepared to pursue healthy, sustainable relationships.

References:

1. Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (1994). What makes marriage work? It’s how you resolve conflict that matters most. Psychology Today. Retrieved on 4/27/16. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200910/what-makes-marriage-work

2. Divecha, D. (2014). What Happens to Children When Parents Fight. Developmental Science. Retrieved on 4/27/16 at http://www.developmentalscience.com/blog/2014/04/30/what-happens-to-children-when-parents-fight

3. Elizabeth T. Gershoff, Andrew Grogan-Kaylor. Spanking and Child Outcomes: Old Controversies and New Meta-Analyses. Journal of Family Psychology, 2016; DOI: 10.1037/fam0000191

Confident Parents, Confident Kids Fighting Fair Family Pledge

Fighting is inevitable in families. It does not represent weakness but only reality. I know that the way we fight – what we say, how we say it and what we do – can either deepen our intimacy and strengthen our bonds or create divisions and break down trust. Here is our family commitment to one another.

We, the _______________________ (insert last name(s)) family, will…

  1. Plan ahead.
    We’ll develop a plan for dealing with heated emotions, expressing ourselves respectfully and calming down. Each will create their own individual response and share it with the others in the family. We will respect each person’s plan. See the Family Emotional Safety Plan for a simple template.
  2. Take responsibility for our own feelings and role in the problem.
    Instead of blaming others, we will voice our own feelings. We’ll ask “What am I feeling? What’s my role in this problem?” and “How can I articulate and take responsibility for my role fairly?”
    3. Move to empathy and get curious about other’s perspectives.
    We’ll assume that other family members have good intentions and that everyone can make mistakes. We’ll ask, “What are you feeling? What are you thinking?” Then, we’ll listen with an open mind and heart seeking understanding.
    4. Work together to meet each other’s needs and forge an agreement.
    No agreement is going to work if needs — physical or emotional — are not met. So before finding solutions ask “What needs have to be met on both sides?” Then with those needs in mind, we’ll discuss ways to move forward and work to resolve the problem.
    5. End with love.
    This is typically not a possible way to close a conflict if the problem is not truly resolved. But when we’ve heard each other’s feelings and thoughts, worked to understand one another and tried to resolve the problem fairly, then we’ll end with an expression of love and care.

We, the __________________________(insert last name(s)) family, pledge not to use the following types of fighting that we know are destructive to our loving relationships. They can whittle away at our trust of one another and rock our foundation.

We will not…

  1. Use physical force.
    Whether it’s between siblings or between a parent and child (including spanking), using physical force in a conflict signals that the individual has lost all control and only believes s/he can regain it with physical dominance. Five decades of research shows there are no positive and only negative outcomes when force is used. See the following article for numerous alternatives. Brainstorm alternatives so that children have other options at the ready.
    2. Triangulate.
    We will not talk with one person about another when they are not present. We will go directly to the person with whom we have the problem.
    3. Criticize.
    We will not judge or comment on the character of a person in the struggle but focus our energies and words on solving the problem at hand.
    4. Show contempt.
    We will not use hostile humor, sarcasm, name-calling, mockery or baiting body language. We recognize these all involve some kind of aggression and character attack with the implicit intention of causing harm.
    5. Become defensive or blaming.
    We will not point fingers and use “You…” language. Words like “always, never or forever” will not enter into our arguments since they cannot represent the truth.
    6. Stonewall.
    We will not refuse to listen, shut down the argument or give the silent treatment.

We know that our loving family relationships will continue to grow stronger through our commitment to this pledge.

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Family Member Signature

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Discuss and sign the Fighting Fair Family Pledge with your loved ones. Here’s the printable pdf document! 

Originally published on 4/28/16.

Telling or “Tattle Telling”… Is There a Difference? – on NBC’s Parent Toolkit

A parent wrote to the Parent Toolkit team asking them about her challenge in understanding how best to support her five-year-old. This parent poses important questions about how to react to a young child “telling” on the mistakes of other children but her question also involves helping her child deal with exclusion and hurtful behaviors and her role with and support of her child’s teacher and the school’s rules. Check it out!

Good Afternoon,

I am a parent of a 5-year-old boy. I wanted to ask the advice of the panel in regards to “tattle telling”. My son’s school has taught him that he is not supposed to tattle tell and that “there is a difference between tattle telling and telling”. My son has been through some bad experiences (having snacks taken away by other students, being excluded, and now had a child pee on his shoe). My son continues to hold the belief that he should not tattle tell because he will get people in trouble and will then not have any friends. I am concerned that this has opened the door to my son being bullied.

My question is should children his age be taught the “difference between tattle telling and telling”? And is there truly a difference at this age?

Thank you,

Gilda

My Response:

First of all, your child is right on schedule developmentally. “Tattle-telling” is a hallmark of the preschool and kindergarten age child attempting to develop self-regulation. Though the adult caregiver or teacher understandably does not want to be approached with every problem that arises in a classroom, the child is expressing his developmental need to understand and uphold the rules. This process takes time and lots of practice exercising his burgeoning self-control skills. Children first learn about the rules by enforcing them in others. Only then can they internalize and apply those rules to themselves. So take this experience as evidence that your child is working hard on learning the rules of school, a critical readiness factor for the elementary years. Read the full response on the Parent Toolkit site including specific ideas on what parents can do.

 

A Storied Childhood – The Role of Stories in Children’s Social and Emotional Development

Oh, the places you’ll go! The worlds you will visit! The friends you will know!

– Dr. Seuss1

“What are you guys up to?” I say to the three six-year-old friends in my living room. “We’re sharing our books!” one says with an “Isn’t it obvious?” tone. Reading is a top priority in the early elementary school years with some states enforcing a reading guarantee (“All kids will read with proficiency by the third grade.”). And so at times it feels, the pressure is on. “Mama, I feel with my whole body that I won’t learn to read,” E said to me at age five. Yet, we have read together since the days when he was swimming in amniotic fluid. “Oh, the Places You Will Go!” was our favorite. We have books in every room of the house. We’ve read several books together every day of his life. But he has a mounting anxiety around learning to read. Perhaps because it is so much a part of our lives, he feels the importance of reading. But also, I suspect that school is pushing hard to make sure he hurries his learning pace. He’s not alone. A worried mother recently confided in me, “I’ve had my son going to a tutor all summer because I’m told he has to read by the time he starts first grade!”

Yes, learning to read is certainly important but how children learn to read is just as important. Consider that no other single experience brings us into other people’s lives and simultaneously holds up a mirror to our own in the way that a book does. Stories are fundamentally tied to our self-identity and empathy for and understanding of others.

Through the imaginative process that reading involves, children have the
opportunity to do what they often cannot do in real life—become thoroughly
involved in the inner lives of others, better understand them, and eventually
become more aware of themselves.

writes Dr. Zipora Shechtman in her book, Treating Child and Adolescent Aggression Through Bibilotherapy.2 Books allow us to venture far from home and experience trials that threaten to annihilate us and the world we live in and yet, persevere through our alter-ego protagonist.

The forces of good and evil battle it out daily after school in our living room. I watch as, time and again, my now seven-year-old son recreates and reinvents stories with his beloved Star Wars characters and his favorite plot lines. Stories play a central role in the formation of children’s moral development. Readers follow a protagonist through epic journeys and cringe as they are injured or fail in their pursuits. But, in children’s books, the protagonist never gives up. Most often on the side of what is right and good, poetic justice reigns and in the end, evil is overcome.

We empathize with complex characters who are required to make choices in the midst of uncertain times and circumstances. In the best literature, questions are asked and left unanswered for the thoughtful reader to consider. “Why did she leave her family? Was it the right thing to do?” This “meaning making” is what brings the rush of joy and connection and desire for more. It fuels our imagination. It expands our minds to think creatively. Our emotional and cognitive intelligence is challenged and we are required to think for ourselves.

By grappling with dilemmas and difficult choices, we form our sense of what we believe is just and also, what defines the dark side. We are able to become more thoughtful decision-makers through those experiences. In a compelling tale, readers will deeply empathize with the character’s struggle to control his impulses. It’s good for adults and valuable practice for all children who are developing their ability to manage themselves.

In addition, stories allow us to take the perspective of another in a deeply personal way. We read their private thoughts. We understand their values and the back story that shaped them. And we watch as they choose behaviors that either reflect or fight against their beliefs and self-concept. We root for the hero because we become the hero for the time that we are immersed in his story. We come to know and understand other cultures through the vicarious experience of living another’s life.

Story, in other words, continues to fulfill its ancient functioning of binding
society by reinforcing a set of common values and strengthening the ties of
common culture…Story – sacred and profane – is perhaps the main cohering
force in human life.2

Though educators know that there are a combination of exercises, skills and experiences that will develop a reader, no one really knows what precise combination of working on rhyming, phonics, vocabulary and comprehension will bring about proficiency. In fact, it’s different for every learner. But certainly, key ingredients in the success formula must be the connection felt between readers sharing a story and those individuals and the book characters. In other words, fundamental to reading success is a focus on children’s social and emotional development. Parents can worry less about influencing their children’s technical abilities and instead, dive into the shared joy and adventure of reading with their children.

Share oral stories with one another. Use books without words and create stories together. Visit the library and encourage your children to explore subjects and stories that intrigue them. Ask questions about characters and leave them open-ended for discussion. “Why do you think he made that decision?” Predict outcomes. “What do you think will happen next?” Never miss a day of reading with your child. Bedtime is a perfect opportunity to snuggle together and feel the power of story wash over you.

We, as parents, have the opportunity to balance out the pressures that kids often feel at school to learn the mechanics. Our role can be to give them the joy of reading. Doing this together as a family can be the most valuable way to show a child the role story can play in connecting to others and shaping and enriching a life.

References

1. Seuss, D. (1990) Oh The Places You’ll Go! NY: Random House.

2. Shechtman, Z. (2009). Treating Child and Adolescent Aggression through Bibliotherapy. The Springer Series on Human Exceptionality.

3. Gottschall, J. (2012). The Storytelling Animal; How Stories Make Us Human. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

For other great articles on this topic, check out:

Parents Make Bedtime a Social-Emotional Moment with Your Kids by Maurice Elias and Jennifer Miller

From Committee for Children, Using Children’s Literature to Build Social and Emotional Skills by Trudy Ludwig

Using Literary Characters to Teach Emotional Intelligence by Traci Vogel

Summer Reading Inspiration for Kids and Parents

My Nightstand

This summer, I am diving into learning more about the emotional life of boys through Raising Cain; Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys. I am eager to read Insight about ways to see ourselves more clearly and raise our own self-awareness. We’ll be advancing our sex education agenda in our household as our son asks new questions and is understanding more about his peers. My husband and I both will benefit from the book, Talk Sex Today; What Kids Need to Know and How Adults Can Teach Them. And finally, I have an idea book at the ready for exploring nature and getting fresh air together entitled 101 Things for Kids to Do Outside.

 

My 9-Year-Old Son’s Nightstand

Though for me, an avid reader, it’s difficult to imagine, my son claims he does not enjoy reading. We still read together before bedtime every night and now, take turns since he can read on his own. Because he is not necessarily eager or excited to read, we only stock books he is excited or inspired by. We also ensure that there’s a diverse range of fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, poetry and biography to expose him to the virtues of various reading experiences. This summer, he’ll be reading Friendship According to Humphrey, one of a delightful series about a classroom hamster’s adventures and The Story of Diva and Flea about an unlikely friendship between a scraggly alley cat and a pampered, well-to-do dog both living in Paris. In addition, he’s checking out a graphic novel entitled The 52-Story Treehouse about two friends who write books and create an incredible fantasy world in their treehouse. We’ll also enjoy the poetry of Shel Silverstein (which I consider a classic) in Where the Sidewalk Ends and in the story, The Giving Tree, one not to miss about a boy’s relationship with a tree that gives his very life for him. We appreciated the gift of a biography on Who Was Martin Luther King Jr.? and will read about his life together. And finally, E will be trying out some science experiments from 101 Great Science Experiments to feed his interests.

Here are some further ideas for your summer reading.

Picture Books

SELF-AWARENESS

InMyHeartIn My Heart; A Book of Feelings

by Jo Witek, Illustrated by Christine Roussey
A girl explores the feelings of her heart and describes what she feels when she is happy, calm, brave, hurt, angry, sad, hopeful, silly, shy and proud. This is a perfect book to introduce a conversation about emotions and the purpose they serve as clues to who we are. There is no shame or guilt in feeling any of these emotions. They are all equally a part of this girl’s heart as they are a part of ours.

 

CHECK OUT THE FULL LIST OF PICTURE BOOKS.

Juvenile Fiction for 7-12-Year-Olds

SELF-AWARENESS AND SELF-MANAGEMENT

cvr9781442429314_9781442429314_lgAnyway: A Story About Me with 138 Footnotes, 27 Exaggerations and 1 Plate of Spaghetti
by Arthur Salm

At summer camp, twelve-year-old Max reinvents himself as daring and fearless. He comes home to return to school, his friends and his life and realizes that the fun he had over the summer was at the expense of others’ feelings. He acted like a bully and now, cannot be as risky with his friends at home. Max tries to figure what kind of person he really wants to be.

 

CHECK OUT THE FULL LIST OF JUVENILE FICTION RECOMMENDATIONS.

Young Adult Fiction for 13-17-Year-Olds

MORAL DEVELOPMENT AND RESPONSIBLE DECISION-MAKING

Giver

The Giver
by Lois Lowry

The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a world of contented conformity. Society attempts to control who procreates and how many children are born per couple in addition to giving each child a “life assignment.” Not until Jonas is given his own assignment does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his community. This book raises important discussions about questioning rules and authority and understanding the purpose behind decisions.

Young Adult Nonfiction

SELF-AWARENESS AND SELF-MANAGEMENT

Anxiety Sucks! A Teen Survival Guide

by Natasha Daniels

Dealing with anxiety? This simple guide, written in language teens will surely relate to by a therapist, will offer ways you can conquer your stress. Learn when you are beginning to feel anxiety and multiple ways to deal with it so that you rule the day, not your stress.

 

CHECK OUT THE FULL LIST OF YOUNG ADULT RECOMMENDATIONS.

Parenting Nonfiction

SELF-AWARENESS AND SELF-MANAGEMENT

inside out

Parenting From the Inside Out
by Daniel J. Siegel, Mary Hartzell

Drawing upon research findings in neurobiology and attachment research, Siegel and Hartzell explain how interpersonal relationships directly impact the development of the brain and offers parents a step-by-step approach to forming a deeper understanding of their own life stories, which will help them raise compassionate and resilient children. This book addresses the patterns that we all form from our own childhood – understanding what they are and how they impact the parents we are today.

CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING PARENTING NONFICTION BOOK LIST.

For more great book recommendations, check out the Confident Parents, Confident Kids full list on Good Reads!

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