The Swirling Vortex of Our Child’s Inner World

Teaching Your Tween or Teen to Name the Unnameable

“What’s going on?” I say at pick up time after school seeing a disturbed face on my son and feeling a strange energy from him. “I don’t know” he responds immediately with an annoyed tone. And that was all I got out of him until much later that evening. As he completed his homework and I worked nearby, he started talking. His friend had been unexpectedly mean to him at school and he didn’t know what to think about it. As we began to talk I could hear that he was angry that his friend was unkind in front of others. That anger, I suspected, disguised a bit of humiliation being verbally attacked in front of other friends. And as the story continued, it was clear, he was anxious about their friendship and what might happen when they encountered one another the next day.

I wonder if he would have told me this story if he had been able to name the strange, tangled mix of emotions that went along with his inner experience. It seems so simple to offer one label to our feelings and in the younger years, that one label – “sad” – is necessary to begin a child’s emotional vocabulary. But in the tween and teen years, our children can experience a swirling vortex of multiple feelings that may conflict with one another or seem not to make sense. Additionally, they’ve certainly been told by someone in their life whether a parent, grandparent, coach or teacher that they are fine,  to “move on” – when they’re not. There are a whole host of emotions that don’t get named because they are too vulnerable or too challenging for others to deal with — feelings like fear, jealousy, rejection, apathy, grief, disgust and more.

There’s a ride at our favorite amusement park we visit each year – Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio – called The Monster. The website describes the experience of riding The Monster as… 

“enveloping guests in pods of fear and tossing them about on a wild, wicked course…hapless riders spin independently all while tilting and jostling up and down. You might even catch a bit of weightlessness along the way, adding to the feeling of utter helplessness.”1

This might also aptly at times describe the inner experience of social drama. And unravelling those inner experiences can be quite a feat for any parent or caregiver attempting to read the situation and act as a positive emotional coach. Yet, there are major benefits to the practice of attuning to and naming your internal experience including self awareness and psychological well-being in addition, to becoming skilled at self management.2 Each time, a child seeks understanding from a caring adult by naming their feelings, they are learning to calm themselves down by telling their story and seeking support. “Name it to tame it” works!

So how can we help promote this emotional literacy at the tween and teen ages when the internal ride can become more volatile and unpredictable? Here are some ideas.

Keep a Feelings List at the Ready. Sometimes it’s easier to name your inner experience when the language is available for you. Lists help provide words for what otherwise might seem like a confusing unnameable labyrinth. When you notice particular emotions, name them and ask if you are accurate. Here’s the Big Feelings List from the “Confident Parents, Confident Kids” book.

Connect Body Sensations to Feelings. Is your stomach feeling icky? Does your head ache? Is your heart beating rapidly? Is your face temperature rising? Even subtleties in how your body feels can indicate feelings. Making those connections can help your child better manage them when, for example, they recognize the tummy ache before a test as nerves and do some deep breathing to manage it. Check in before and after your son or daughter has employed a coping strategy like deep breathing. Ask, “Now how do your insides feel?”

Write to Reflect. Journaling is a great way to uncover hidden feelings and tell your whole story. But sometimes children and teens don’t know what to write. So sometimes just offering a prompt can help such as, “tell your story as if to a best friend who is eager for all of the details.” Or ask for metaphors to describe what she’s feeling — “is it like a freight train ran you over or do you feel kicked in the gut?” Or check out our downloadable one-pager: Drama Dial-Down; A Quick Path for Teens to Mindfulness.

Name and Discern Which Inner Voice to Listen to. Around age eight or nine, you can begin to introduce the idea that each person has inner voices that speak to them. There’s an inner critic we all have that seeks to tear down even our best ideas. And there’s an inner wise elder who offers the best of who we are. As we know, the inner critic is loud and insistent particularly when we are about to take any kind of social risk. Yet if we are to act bravely and not succumb to it, we have to recognize that voice and insist it does not truly represent who we are or what we want. Our inner wise elder is much harder to hear. That’s why we have to pause, get quiet and allow ourselves the chance to listen deeply to what our best self has to offer the situation.

Turn Up the Feelings Talk But Stop Rumination. As you increase your discussion of your son or daughter’s internal state, you may notice stories repeating or worries repeating over and again. The open communication you’ve established has moved into rumination. Discussing, leaning into and moving through a feeling – even and especially challenging ones – is critical. But rumination is unproductive and leaves the individual on the ride of the swirling vortex with no end in sight. Help your child stop ruminating by talking about how the same thoughts and feelings cannot produce new solutions or new thinking. So how can you accept the feelings, decide on a way to feel better, and let go of the story? As an emotions coach, you might ask, “what can you do to make things better? How can you focus your attention on taking those small actions?”

The thrill of a good ride can leave you ready to try another. And that’s our hope for your tweens and teens – that they seek self-knowledge and understanding by pausing and reflecting. Their range of emotions can become one of their greatest assets as they learn to use the information from their hearts and guts as important data in their responsible decision-making and in managing their relationships. We can support their efforts by learning how to serve as an emotional coach when we can see they really need it.

References:

1. Cedar Point – The Monster. https://www.cedarpoint.com/rides-experiences/monster

2. Sutton A. Measuring the Effects of Self-Awareness: Construction of the Self-Awareness Outcomes Questionnaire. Eur J Psychol. 2016 Nov 18;12(4):645-658. doi: 10.5964/ejop.v12i4.1178. PMID: 27872672; PMCID: PMC5114878.

Raising Bilingual Children

By Lorea Martinez, Ph.D.

I moved to the United States from Spain seventeen years ago. I still remember the challenges of navigating a new social and cultural context as an English learner and a newly arrived immigrant. It took me years to find my voice and become the person I wanted to be. Mostly, this happened when I realized that I didn’t need to “fit in” or change myself, but I couldn’t ignore my immediate context either. By learning to merge the two, I found a new way of being.

During challenging times, I occasionally met a person who spoke Spanish, a “Hispanic,” as it is known in the U.S. Those were moments of joy. Being able to use my mother tongue, and connect with someone who shared similar struggles, gave me hope and strength. Having spent time in Nicaragua and Peru during my college years, I understood their hopes and dreams, and also their fears. But as a white person, I also knew that the experiences of Latinxs were impacted by the color of their skin.

My first child was born a decade ago. When I held her for the first time, the words that came out of my mouth were:

“Hola cariño” (hello sweetie)

During the pregnancy, I had been considering which language I should use to communicate with her. But when we first made eye contact, these words came naturally to me without thinking. 

I grew up in Catalunya, a region in Spain where the common language is Catalan, but my parents immigrated there from the Northwest side of the country and we spoke Spanish at home. Growing up bilingual had many advantages, as I could easily switch from one language to the other without effort, and I developed a love for languages. 

However, during my childhood, kids were very aware of which language you spoke at home and which one you decided to use to communicate with others. You could feel included or excluded in different settings based on your home language. As a small child, I interpreted that speaking fluent Catalan was key to being seen as a local and not a foreigner. 

As I held this newborn and the first Spanish words were shared, I knew that it was important for her to speak the language of her mother and grandparents, and develop an appreciation for her heritage. Even if this meant that, at times, she would be seen as different because she spoke a different language. 

Today, we know the many benefits of being bilingual. Compared to non-bilingual peers, bilingual students have an easier time understanding math concepts and solving word problems; developing strong thinking skills; using logic, focusing, remembering, and making decisions; thinking about language; and learning other languages.

At the same time, we know that being bilingual supports children in maintaining strong ties with their family, culture, and community. It is important for children to build pride in their heritage, as it encourages the development of a healthy identity, strengthens a positive self-image and provides protection against bias and discrimination. 

Despite these benefits, many bilingual or multilingual students in the U.S., particularly our Indigenous, Asian, Hispanic and Latinx communities, attend schools that don’t consider these students’ language practices in the educational program which lead to students internalizing harmful messages about themselves. Instead of celebrating this strength, many students hide the fact that they speak more than one language, so they can be seen as normal. 

As parents, we have an important role to play in creating caring and inclusive homes and communities, and planting the seeds to reduce discrimination. We can help normalize that children and parents in our communities may speak more than one language, and embrace this fact as a gift. 

If you have bilingual and/or multilingual children in your community, you can support them by:

  • teaching your own children to appreciate diversity;
  • questioning any racial and ethnic stereotypes;
  • encouraging your children in getting to know children from other races and cultures and their languages better; and 
  • becoming their allies in schools, faith-based organizations and the larger community as a family so your children will learn from your modeling. 

This support can help create new bonds, strengthen relationships and develop new friendships in our communities. 

Check out Lorea’s book both in Spanish and in English:

Pedagogía con corazón

Teaching with the Heart in Mind

Resources:

US Department of Education. The Benefits of Being Bilingual – A Review for Teachers and Other Early Education Program Providers.  

España, C. and Herrera., Y.L. (2020). En Comunidad: Lessons for Centering the Voices and Experiences of Bilingual Latinx Students. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 

Confident Parents, Confident Kids Parenting Tools in Spanish

We are celebrating Hispanic Heritage month. Here are some events and ways you can recognize the month.

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. Originally from Costta Brava, Spain and now in San Francisco, CA, Lorea is a mother to two daughters. Learn more at loreamartinez.com

Coalition to Provide the Facts about the Importance of Social and Emotional Learning

I understand that the only way I can be the Mom I want to be is by working on my own social and emotional skills and seizing opportunities in everyday interactions and challenges to offer practice opportunities in those skills for my son. That’s why Confident Parents, Confident Kids exists for our learning in this area to continue. My teenage son needs to learn how to trust his inner guidance when he’s being pulled by the strong forces of his friends and peers to know the wise course of action (self awareness and responsible decision-making). He needs to learn the ways in which he’s strong in school to build on those strengths and where he needs to work hard because it’s not his strength (self awareness and self management). He needs to know how to listen, communicate and advocate for his learning as he tackles a college preparatory course load (relationship skills and self management). And he needs to create healthy friendships in a highly diverse school environment accepting, valuing and learning from a wide range of world views, identifications, races, and cultures (social awareness and relationship skills).

Bottom line, social and emotional learning is about helping our children come to know themselves and others and their relationship to and interconnection with the wider world. Many of our schools have forgotten that children bring their hearts into the classroom. And those hearts have been broken – as a recent first grader described to me in the last week “into a million tiny pieces” – by our world’s challenges. We cannot ignore those hurting hearts in favor of teaching fractions. In fact, fractions can be taught with social and emotional intelligence. How does math make you feel when you are approaching a problem you know you can solve? How does it make you feel when you approach a problem that appears mind-boggling? The social and emotional curriculum can – and needs to – serve the highest learning agenda that includes deepening our children’s understanding of academic subjects and their hearts in the learning, the relationships that create safety and caring and nurture their motivation to work hard and learn, and the life skill building that only comes through intentional modeling, practice and reinforcement. Where can a student go to be alone and calm down when their heart is beating so fast it feels like it will explode out of their chest? Some schools have an answer. Others don’t. But all need to.

Recent national surveys show that 88 percent of parents want schools to teach social and emotional skills. Yes, when confident parents come together to discuss their concerns consistently we hear they are concerned with school safety, academic recovery, and mental well-being. Parents, educators, and students themselves agree that the focus on strong relationships and future-ready life skills are key ingredients to recovery – and demand that education decision-makers listen to and protect every child’s social, emotional, and academic learning. 

To that end, 20 national organizations representing a wide range of education stakeholders, from parents to superintendents, have launched Leading with SEL. This coalition is actively championing what we know from three decades of research: Social and emotional learning (SEL) belongs in schools. And it belongs in homes too – what you and I have known all along.

Confident Parents joins with long-time partners including Highlights for Children, National Parent Teacher Association and the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning along with new friends including American Institute of Research, the School Superintendents’ Association and Communities In Schools among others. The Leading with SEL coalition was created to represent research-based information on social and emotional learning and help broaden awareness of the benefits of supporting the social, emotional, and academic development of all children. Rather than politicize social and emotional learning, coalition members are focused on making sure every student has what they need to succeed in schools, prepare for the future, and achieve their goals.

To learn more about what the Coalition is up to — and also, to check out the helpful resources on their website many of which are to support parents and caregivers in taking action, check out Leading with SEL.

Here’s an impromptu public service announcement shared by one of the Confident Parent Lead Authors, Nikkya Hargrove by her children Aviah and Lera who share what they’ve learned about an SEL concept they learned at school. Check it out!

Aviah: You don’t have a fixed mindset, Mommy because you believe you can get in this tire swing.

Nikkya: What do I have then?

Aviah: You have a growth mindset.

Nikkya: And where did you learn that from?

Aviah: School.

Lera: School is good.

Aviah: You should always go to school.

Lera: Even you!

Thanks Nikkya, Aviah and Lera!

#leadingwithSEL #parentingwithSEL

Supporting Children through the Death of a Loved One

Dealing with your own grief is enough but how do you support your children through loss when their awareness level is different from you own?

As I prepare for the funeral of a family member — a full-time Dad who was highly involved in his children’s lives — it’s a startling reminder of the many children who have lost a parent/caregiver or any loved one. Recent estimates approximate that there are 10.5 million children around the world who have lost a primary or secondary caregiver within the last two years due to COVID-related deaths.1 Countless more have lost grandparents, neighbors or others. The grief of loss can be all-consuming to the surviving caregiver leaving that individual not only with a range of roles the other fulfilled but also, the pain associated with everyday living without that person. Yet, we know that the way children understand death and process grief is very different from adults. We can be supported by learning more about our children’s level of awareness so that we can help them cope with the loss.

As parents, we face the challenge of explaining the death in the news to our children. When a death occurs in our own personal circle, there is typically a flurry of activities whether it’s preparing for the travel to a funeral, calling loved ones or making arrangements. In addition, you are experiencing your own complex of emotions that may include sadness, grief, guilt, fear, shock, confusion, anger, denial, or disgust. Often there is not the time or the ability to consider what children might be thinking and feeling in the situation and how they may need to be supported.

Our instinct might be to protect our children. Book a sitter and don’t take them to the funeral might be our quick reaction as we are taking care of details. Reading, reflecting and considering how we might support our children when we are not in the midst of a crisis can better help formulate a plan so that when we face those difficult situations, we have already thought through how we might handle it. If you happen to be in the middle of dealing with a painful loss, then this guide may provide helpful counsel to walk you through how you might consider supporting your children.

Though all ages – infants through adolescents — will feel a sense of loss, children begin to gain an awareness of death between the ages of 3-5 depending upon their life events and exposure. Similar to any developmental milestone, awareness arises around the same age but differently for each child depending upon their maturation process. In the first stage of awareness, they do not have a sense of the permanence of death. They begin to understand that someone is gone and can also understand that the biological processes have stopped but there may be a sense that they will return eventually.

Children have a natural interest and curiosity about death which may be accompanied by anxiety, worry, and confusion. Why? Part of being human is dealing with mortality and the fact that change is constant. Children begin working on that understanding very early in life. Children begin to grapple with separation when left with a babysitter or going to preschool but they also engage in games to assert their own control and work on understanding mortality. Parents play peek-a-boo with a baby convincing them that even though they disappear for a moment, they will return. Games like freeze tag and hide-and-seek allow children to “play dead” or practice separation in order to help deal with some of their confusion and worry in a fun way.

The Children’s Grief Association provides a detailed, helpful guide to understanding death from a developmental perspective.2 The following are some of the developmental awareness milestones they note along with my own adaptations. It’s helpful to know and remember that a child of any age may show regressive behaviors typically expected in earlier ages and stages when dealing with the death of a loved one.

Children’s Understanding of Death at Various Ages/Stages

0-2 Years Old

At birth to two years of age, babies can feel the emotions of their caregiver and sense the absence of a person but cannot understand that the person will not be returning. Because of an infant’s mirror neurons (the way our emotions are hard-wired), the feelings of loss will exist because of their experience of the feelings of those around them. But infants will not understand why they are feeling the way they are feeling. Additionally, they may feel concern for their own security when they see or sense that you are regularly upset.

3-5 Years Old

Between three and five years of age, children will begin to understand and become curious about death. They will still not understand the permanence of death and will expect that person or animal to return. Often children’s pretend play involves battles, illness or death, a healthy way for a child to face his fears. Because this is the magical thinking stage, children may imagine thoughts that are worse than the reality and fear that another will die. Fears may arise that have not come up prior including separation anxiety from care providers or they may begin to experience nightmares.

6-9 Years Old 

At six to nine years of age, children generally understand that death is final and they will not see the person again. A child of this age may be interested in understanding death caused by sickness or an accident. A child may think that death is punishment or that he is the cause of a person’s death in his life. The child may have anxiety about who will take care of him if the caretaker dies. Also, he will think of important milestones whether it’s holidays or a graduation without that person who has passed. Reactions could include acting as if the death did not happen, social withdrawal, concentration difficulties including declining grades, being overly protective of loved ones and/or acting out aggressively.

9-12 Years Old

Between the ages of nine and twelve, in addition to the reactions and understandings of a six to nine-year-old, children may have a heightened awareness of death and worry that others may die. Children at this age understand the finality and are forming their understanding of spiritual concepts. Children may worry that they were the cause of the death. They may be particularly curious and anxious about the physical aspects of an illness or death. They may seek to avoid experiences of or discussions of death or become generally anxious while a family is grieving a loss.

12-18 Years Old

Tweens and teenagers understand that everyone dies at some point. They may feel that their death and the death of others is impending. They may worry about being seen as weak if they show their feelings. They may have a sense of conflict between wanting to become independent and their need for dependence upon adults in their life. They may engage in higher risk or impulsive behaviors as a coping strategy. In addition to mood swings, they may change their peer group, isolate themselves more, and/or not perform as well in school. They may be more aggressive and could change their eating patterns.

Keep in mind that even as adults, it is the rare individual who has processed the reality of their mortality nor do any of us truly understand the nature of death. For children of any age, the unknowns of death are scary. Count on emotions to become more intense, more sporadic and behavior to potentially become unpredictable to go with it. Your efforts toward understanding your child’s feelings will go a long way toward easing children’s burdens. Be ready and open to listen when your child wants to talk. The following ideas are ways to help children deal with their loss and help them feel supported during the death of a loved one whether it is a relative, friend or a pet.

Things You Might Say:

  • Help her to know what you think and feel about the death to make it an acceptable topic to discuss. You may say, “We are sad that we are not going to see Grandpa Jim again. We loved him and we will really miss him.
  • Teach empathy for others who are sad. Help a child with concrete actions he can take to help. “I see you are noticing that your older brother is sad. Why don’t you pat him and tell him you are sorry he is so unhappy.” Writing a letter, drawing a card or offering tissues are all small ways your child can take steps to help others in their grieving process and at the same time, help self-soothe.
  • Use feeling words as you reflect on what’s happening around you and how you are feeling. This helps normalize talk of emotions for a child (and for young children, it helps build their emotional vocabulary around loss). If this is a new experience, children will not know how to express their feelings so by articulatiing your own, you are helping them with their own self-understanding.
  • Listen and reflect back her feelings to her. “You sound sad about Aunt Violet. I understand. I feel that way too.
  • Offer your perspectives on how a person lives on. Do you believe the value and qualities of the person live on through the lives they touched? What kind of legacy of character did your loved one leave? Be sure and share that. It can be another specific way a child can take action by loving music as Aunt Violet did, or by acting kindly to others as your dear babysitter did.
  • Especially with younger children, reassure them that others are healthy and stable and they will be taken care of. For example, death is not contagious like a cold. Others will not die because their friend died. If you can and feel it’s appropriate, tell the story of the person’s death to alleviate questions, worries or worst-case scenarios that might be imagined.
  • Do share your beliefs about death if they are positive (and don’t share if they are not positive and will make the child worry). Do you believe that the person’s spirit, soul or consciousness lives on? You might say “I believe Aunt Violet is with God, Buddha, or Allah.
  • Talk about the circle of life whether its animals or plants and how the earth regenerates. Reassure that death is not a punishment but a part of the circle of life.
  • Reflect on gratitude. Death offers numerous opportunities to be grateful – grateful for the person we knew and loved and the memories we have, grateful for the values we learned from that person, grateful for our own good health, grateful for the gift of our family and friends and for the treasure of time to live the good life we have before us.

Things You Might Do:

  • Do maintain your usual routines as much as possible. Routines give children a sense of safety, comfort, and stability.
  • Do include your child in the mourning process. They do not have to participate in every step with you. But allow them to participate in some part of the grieving process with you so that they have the advantage of the supports that a ceremony or ritual brings. For children six or older, ask how they might want to remember the person or express sorrow for their passing and help them follow through on those ideas. Allow them some choices in how they mourn the loss.
  • Allow children to regress. If they are showing behaviors that you haven’t seen since toddler days, keep in mind that this is normal. Empathize and allow them comforts of their earlier developmental days – stuffed animals, blankets, toys.
  • Encourage children to play and have fun. If they choose to engage in play related to death, be sure and allow it such as a funeral for a doll. Pretend play can be a constructive way for a child to gain control over her anxiety.
  • Do make sure that the child has a photograph of the person or pet that is their own to keep. When they are sad and missing the person or pet, have them talk to the photograph.
  • Invest in some one-on-one connecting time with your child each day during this time even if brief. You don’t need to discuss death or you can if you like. But invest some extra showering of love and attention with your child since she will need the reassurance. It can also help with our own adult grieving process if we focus on empathizing with and helping others through their sadness.
  • Drawing, doing artwork and writing in a journal or diary can also be a good way to express feelings and deal with sadness and anxiety. But be certain to offer expression opportunities without pushing them. A child will gravitate toward an expression form that feels right to them.
  • Recognize that emotions will run high and not just when you are dealing with funeral proceedings. Mourning is a process for children as well as adults and the emotions and reactions to emotions associated can strike during inconvenient times and in unexpected moments. When a child is upset, be sure you first, pause and breathe to calm yourself. Don’t attempt to react immediately. Then, reflect back the feelings you see your child attempting to express and allow her the chance to calm down and soothe.
  • Tell a teacher and school counselor. If a close friend or relative has died, be sure and let your child’s teacher know. There can be significant changes in how your child behaves at school. You’ll help the teacher better empathize, understand, and offer caring support. In addition, a school counselor can offer valuable additional emotional support for your child during the school day.

Particularly if the person who died was important in the life of your child, create a ritual that will help your child deal with the passing and help with saying goodbye. Maybe you could plant a tree in the backyard with his grandpa’s or pet’s name on a plaque or simple label beneath it. Maybe you place a valuable object of that person’s in a box and bury it in your backyard. Or give the child an object that was the person’s to hold onto in a special place to remember him. Also if your child is dealing with the death in self-destructive or aggressive ways, you may want to seek the support of a family or child counselor to help your child deal with the many difficult emotions.

Most importantly, when your family is coping with the death of a loved one, realize that your children’s understanding and experience of it will be different from your own. Seek support. Ask for help from other caring adults. Share the responsibility with others of helping your child through the loss so that while you are emotional, there’s a team of others at the ready to join you in supporting your children through their own grieving process.

The following are some children’s books that can help guide a conversation.

Picture books:

Sad Isn’t Bad: A Good-Grief Guidebook for Kids Dealing with Loss (Elf-Help Books for Kids) by Michaelene Mundy (Author) , R. W. Alley (Illustrator)

When Your Grandparent Dies: A Child’s Guide to Good Grief (Elf-Help Books for Kids) by Victoria Ryan (Author) , R. W. Alley (Illustrator)

Grandpa Loved  by Josephine Nobisso (Author) , Maureen Hyde (Illustrator)

This is a recollection of the special times a young boy spent with his grandfather in the city, in the forest with the animals, at the beach, and with his family. Although the boy misses his beloved grandpa’s presence he feels assured that his passing has brought him to a better place and he knows that his grandpa’s love will always be with him.

I Miss You: A First Look at Death (First Look at Books) by Pat Thomas (Author) , Leslie Harker (Illustrator)

Mending Peter’s Heart by Maureen Wittbold (Author) , David Anderson (Author) , Larry Salk (Illustrator)

Mending Peter’s Heart is a book designed to help a child come to terms with the emotional issues raised by loss. In this case, it is through the loss of a beloved pet, Mishka, that Peter has to face the realities of death and dying. A sensitive neighbor comes to Peter’s aid and places the loss of Mishka into a larger understanding and compassionate framework.

Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children, by Bryan Mellonie with Robert Ingpen. 1983. Bantam.

Using examples of humans, trees, and sea creatures, this book explains that all living things have a lifetime with a beginning, an ending, and living in between. This simply-worded book is a good resource for explaining the life cycle to young children.

There is a video on YouTube for Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children. It is read and illustrated and may be another helpful tool for using with children.

The Saddest Time, by Norma Simon. Illus. by Jacqueline Rogers. 1992. Albert Whitman and Company.

A child experiencing the loss of a loved one is the subject of these three gentle stories. While each presents a different scenario (death by illness, accident, or old age), all of the stories address children’s sad feelings and present different coping strategies.

Samantha Jane’s Missing Smile; A Story about Coping with the Loss of a Parent by Julie Kaplow and Donna Pincus

The PBS Kids site lists good chapter books for tweens and teens. Check it out.

Check out the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s recommendations on children’s books on death.


References:

  1. Unwin, J. (2022). The Number of Children Orphaned by COVID Keeps Rising. Scientific American.
  2. Children’s Grief Association: www.childgrief.org.

3. Children’s and Adolescents’ Understanding of Death. From the Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. http://www.deathreference.com. Retrieved on 9-19-13.

4. Lyles, M. M. (2004). Navigating Children’s Grief: How to Help Following a Death. Children’s Grief Association.

In Loving Memory of Mark Hayse.

“When It’s Not Quite Bullying…But It’s Still So Mean” Dear Highlights Podcast

Jennifer Miller joins the “Dear Highlights” podcast with Christine Cully and Hillary Bates to talk about social aggression, exclusion, and gossiping in elementary school. Being mean at times, and being on the receiving end of meanness, is common in childhood. In a world that isn’t always kind, how can we help children lean into the best versions of themselves? Listen to learn how adults can employ curiosity and compassion to guide kids through mean moments.

Listen here: “When It’s Not Quite Bullying…But It’s Still So Mean

How to Kickstart Your School Year with a Strong Parent-Teacher Partnership

By Jenny Woo, PhD

The start of any new school year brings about all kinds of emotions: excitement, anxiety, and fear. Even now, having gone through 20+ years of schooling and countless back-to-school moments with my three kids, I still feel the jitters when I recall my first day of elementary school.

The pandemic created even higher levels of unimaginable stress and nerves for students, parents, and teachers. We’ve confronted endless unknowns and adapted to the twists and turns that we might have said in the pre-pandemic world could only exist in a Hollywood production.

The past 2+ years of social distancing and school modifications resulted in lost opportunities for our children to develop social skills. This year, second graders will experience their first normal school year, and ninth graders will enter high school without ever experiencing a normal middle school year.

More than one-third of educators observed that their students’ social skills and emotional maturity levels were much less advanced than students before the pandemic. Researchers warned that these under-developed and regressed social and emotional skills could impact this generation of students for their lifetime.

How do we help our children develop these important skills they’ve lost or never had?

“It takes a village” may be a more important truth now than ever before. We require strong home-school partnerships to maximize our children’s learning and development. To make this happen, parents and teachers must work toward shared language, skills, and expectations for our students across all settings.

Here are some practical ways parents can take action.

How to Kick Off Parent-Teacher Communications

Getting that school email with all of the pertinent back-to-school information is exciting. We’ve now secured our back-to-school essentials and memorized the drop-off/pick-up routine.

A great way to start building a solid relationship with your child’s classroom teacher is to wait a few days to a week before emailing them. While some might argue that waiting isn’t the best idea, it’s also equally important for your child’s teacher to get to know your child on their own. The teacher may be getting inundated with emails at the start of the school year, and it could only add another email to their to-do list.

Email your child’s teacher introducing yourself. Or, if they have emailed the parents, take the time to reply. Give a little helpful background information about your child. Keep it short and straightforward. If your child has struggles or learning difficulties, give background on it. But, if it’s something that needs more than a few sentences to explain, it’s best to request a meeting.

How to Strengthen Ongoing Home-School Communications

Conflicts and misunderstandings will happen throughout the school year. Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, if there’s a problem, then it’s best to address it with each other right away. Common classroom issues like assignment completion or student behaviors can be better managed when there is an upfront understanding of expectations and procedures.

If your child is struggling with completing assignments, talk to your child’s teacher. Set up a meeting to discuss what’s happening at home and how it’s affecting your child. You and the teacher can work together to find a solution that works for everyone.

As parents, we are perpetually on alert—preparing for that call from the school about our child getting into trouble. It’s easy to fall into nit-picky mode—today’s math lesson was not up to par, or the teacher could’ve done this or that. We must remember to broaden our focus beyond deficits and problems.

A successful home-school partnership is strengthened with positive support. Share the good stuff! If your child mentions something special about their teacher, send a quick email sharing this sentiment. If your child shows improvement in something, thank your teacher. Notes of positive happenings go a long way and uplift everyone when they know they’re having an impact.

How to Build Shared Language, Skills, and Expectations for Home-School Partnership

The more teachers and parents work together, the more our students notice. A strong home-school partnership enables our students to practice and apply knowledge and skills across both contexts.

As a start, align your home language with your child’s teachers when you communicate your expectations regarding your child’s behaviors and assignments. Keep a pulse on what your child needs to thrive academically and socially at school. Establish a daily check-in routine with your child. It can be a chat in the car or a dinner table conversation about your child’s day.

For more support, 52 Essential Social Skills cards are an easy tool to spark school-life communications with your child and pinpoint their strengths and development needs. Each card includes a specific social skill and a relatable situation kids encounter at school—and often struggle with. The cards also provide “What would you do?” role play questions to prepare students for productive actions and responsible decision-making. 

Sample topics include making friends, dealing with a bully, working through frustrations, handling peer pressure, being a team player, handling exclusion, and balancing school stress. For more information, check out Social Skills for K-3 Grades, Social Situations for 3-6 Grades, and Social Dilemmas for Middle School.

References:

Blad, E., & Sawchuk, S. (February 24, 2022). Educators see gaps in kids’ emotional growth due to pandemic. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/educators-see-gaps-in-kids-emotional-growth-due-to-pandemic/2022/02 

Bauerlein, V. (May 9, 2022). Remote Kindergarten During Covid-19 ‘Could Impact This Generation of Kids for Their Lifetime’. The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/remote-kindergarten-during-covid-19-could-impact-this-generation-of-kids-for-their-lifetime-11620552653 

Jenny Woo, Ph.D. is a Harvard-trained educator, TEDx speaker, and founder/CEO of Mind Brain Parenting. Jenny conducts research in social and emotional learning, emotion regulation, and resilience. She is the creator of a series of award-winning emotional intelligence games: 52 Essential Conversations, 52 Essential Relationships, 52 Essential Critical Thinking Skills, and 52 Essential Coping Skills. Her games have won the 2018 Parents’ Choice Awards, 2021 National Parenting Product Awards, and were featured by Harvard and CASEL.

Happy Ten Years, Confident Parents, Confident Kids!

Dear Reader,

This site – the blog, organization and seeds for the book – were all born out of searching and not finding help for my own parenting that I could rely on. I wanted to discover practical strategies for my everyday life that were tied to the strong research base on how to support children and teenager’s social and emotional development at each age and stage. My son was four. And his self determination (as I see it now) and obstinance (as I saw it then), his rebellion, and moves toward independence had me stumped. How do I respond to him when he tells me “no” when there’s safety at stake? How do I handle it when he does the opposite of what I’m telling him (and I’m infuriated?)? How do I deal with this in ways that teach him to manage his emotions in healthy ways? And how do I manage my own emotions when I’m overwhelmed by them? In the wee small hours of the morning as I laid awake wondering where to find support, I decided I would learn for myself and share it with others. Surely others had the same questions that were keeping them up at night.

This single idea grew into a community of learners, experts, friends, partners and most of all, parents and caregivers (thank you, grandparent readers!) who put their role forward as one of the most valuable and meaningful in their lives. You have been on this parenting journey with us as we’ve grown and changed and asked new questions. We got our largest spike in viewers in those first months of the pandemic – parents in pain asking, what about our children’s social and emotional well-being? Thank you Pamela McVeagh-Lally for writing “My Kid’s School is Closed, Now What?” which attracted 50,000 readers and was reshared by the U.S. Department of Education! Below I share our top ten most popular articles below. Check them out and maybe there are ones you missed the first time around?!

I have such gratitude for my learning partners – Ethan, my son, Jason, my husband, my parents Linda and David and our contributing leadership team – Nikkya Hargrove, Dr. Jenny Woo, Mike Wilson, Dr. Lorea Martinez, Dr. Shannon Wanless and Jason Miller. Our recording of our dialogue and toast is our gift to you. Our hope is that you continue to read, share, ask good questions and contribute to our community of learners supporting one another in our journey to be confident parents who love confident kids.

Best,
Jennifer Miller

Founder

Top Ten Articles Over Ten Years!

  1. “My Kid’s School is Closed, Now What?!” by Pamela McVeagh-Lally
  2. 50 Constructive Alternatives to Detention and Punishment” by Jennifer Miller
  3. “Family Emotional Safety Plan” by Jennifer Miller
  4. Kindergarten Exhaustion” by Jennifer Miller
  5. “Stop, Think, Go! Problem-solving Practice for your Family” by Jennifer Miller in collaboration with Roger Weissberg
  6. “Parent-Teacher Conversations” by Jennifer Miller
  7. “Games” by Jennifer Miller
  8. Family Guidelines for Fighting Fair” by Jennifer Miller
  9. “Parent Resources” by Jennifer Miller
  10. “A Storied Childhood; The Impact of Stories on Children’s Social and Emotional Development” by Jennifer Miller

Join Us in Celebrating Ten Years of Confident Parents, Confident Kids!

This Thursday, August 25th from 12:00-1:00 p.m. EST

Sign Up (free!) to join Founder Jennifer Miller along with all of the Confident Parents’ Leaders including Shannon Wanless, Mike Wilson, Lorea Martinez, Nikkya Hargrove, Jason Miller and Jenny Woo! We’ll discuss the evolution of parenting over the last decade and what is most important today in parenting for confidence and competence and offer a toast in celebration (bring your own drink of choice and toast with us!).

First
Last

Sleep, Teens and Back-to-School Season

And Additional Back-to-School Supports for the Whole Family!

The buzz of back-to-school time is in the air and certainly in our household. E, age fourteen, is starting high school and we are attempting to be thoughtful about how we assist him in this transition. Summer has a rhythm all its own. There’s a pleasant, relaxing swing and sway to summer even when there are many activities and all are busy. The school year, however, is all about focus and structure. And it can be quite a sea change for children and teens of every age and for the parents who love them too! 

Additionally, there is a growing recognition that paying attention to children and teen’s social and emotional development is not a nice-to-have at school or at home, it’s essential. And with the stress of a global pandemic and its ripple effects over the past few years, teachers’, parents’, and students’ well-being is at the forefront of our minds. Did you know, in a recent large survey of U.S. parents, 88% said they want their children to learn social and emotional skills?1

As we try and create a smooth transition, what do we need to consider? How can we help our kids, our teens and ourselves too in promoting our physical, social and emotional well-being as we launch into a new school year? That question alone is well worth reflecting on this season with our families. Among other issues, we know sleeping and waking routines can become one of the most challenging. Since kids and teens can exert control over sleep, it can become a power struggle that can turn pleasant evenings and busy mornings into stressful ones.

Adjusting to a New Sleeping/Waking Routine

One of the best ways we as parents can contribute to our student’s school success is ensuring they get enough sleep at night so they can focus on learning in school. Yet, sleep can be a contentious issue in families. After the freedom of summertime, who wants to go to bed early?  

With teens, sleep can be particularly challenging. Though we may think they are simply desiring to stay up late to play online games with friends, in fact, the brain and body changes they are undergoing support their night owl habits. Teens’ brains release the hormone that signals the body that it’s time to sleep — melatonin — a full two hours after adults and young children receive that signal.2 And that hormone surge for teens lasts well into the morning hours long after adults have stopped its production. So when teens awake earlier, they feel groggy incentivizing them to go back under the covers (or slog through the morning). Teen biology supports only the teen world (not the family’s routine!). 

We can respond to teens’ desire for independence by ensuring that they plan what evenings and mornings will look like and how they will take responsibility for their core needs. Here are some specifics on how to dialogue with your teen and family.

1. Discuss how much sleep is needed for your child/teen’s well-being.

First, be sure and talk about what science says is important for their nightly requirement. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that children aged 6–12 years sleep 9–12 hours and for teenagers, aged 13–18 years, they should sleep 8–10 hours.3 And because that requirement varies per individual, take note on a weekend how long your teen will naturally sleep.

2. Talk about what helps create the best conditions for sleep. Which of these might your teen agree to?

  • Encourage fresh air, outside time and exercise after school. 
  • Turn off digital devices an hour before bedtime to wind things down. During that time, you might:
  •       Take showers or bath.
  •       Lay out clothing for the morning, pack lunches and backpack for the next day.
  •       Start dimming lights. 
  •       Charge devices outside of the bedroom. Include all family members (adults too) and teens will feel a greater sense of fairness than if it’s just their rule.
  •       Use calming apps designed for listening only or listen to calming music. We love Moshi or the Calm App.
  •       Read.
  • Plan for a consistent time to go to bed that ensures the required sleep.

3. Create systems to empower responsibility.

You may consider where your greatest challenges lie and then ask family members what creative solutions they can imagine might help? These might include:

  • an old school alarm. Yes, you can use an alarm that is not on your phone! And that plain alarm won’t temp a teen into checking social media before they greet the family for breakfast. Help along that all-important skill of self-management.
  • a checklist of the morning routine and responsibilities. Checklists work. Keep in a high traffic area so all family members can refer to it.
  • a checklist of all the stuff your teen needs to take with them to school. Keep this right by your exit door. This has saved us many a car turn-around from the realizations of what’s been forgotten.
  • co-created rules especially related to devices. When is it fair and healthy to use them? When do you need to put them away? These discussions help our teens develop responsible decision-making skills as they wrestle with what is fair not only for themselves but for their whole family.

These routines don’t need to be established immediately. Ease in. Sometimes discovering the pain of not having a routine can incentivize all family members to proactively plan for a cooperative evening or morning! 

If you have time before school begins, then it’s ideal to ease back into the sleep routine with a staggered earlier bedtime and earlier wake time each day. If your teen is already back in school, co-create a plan with specific times together that seems fair and reasonable to all so that you don’t wind up in a nightly power struggle. These simple steps at the start can help establish healthy habits that can see you through the entire school year. Here’s to many happy, healthy school days ahead!

Have younger siblings? Here are some additional back to school resources that may support the rest of your household!

Adjusting to Kindergarten; Exhilarating, Exhausting, Emotional

The Morning Routine

Establishing or Reinventing Home Routines and Responsibilities for Learning Success

Monkey Mind at Bedtime; Reflecting on Children’s Thinking

SAVE THE DATE!

Confident Parents, Confident Kids is celebrating its ten year anniversary next Thursday, August 25th. Look for the sign up to join the full Confident Parents Team (all 6!) from 12:00-1:00 p.m. ET, 9-10 PT for a panel discussion and toast. More to come soon!

References:

  1. Edge Research. (2022). Parent Mindset Related to COVID-19, the Return to School, and Mental Health; Findings from a Tracking Survey of Public School Parents of K-12 Students. Alexandria, VA: National Parent Teacher Association.

2. Jensen, Frances E. 2015. The Teenage Brain; A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide for Raising Adolescents and Young Adults. London, England: Harper Thorsons.

3. CDC Healthy Schools. Sleep in Middle and High School Students. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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