How To Disagree While Showing Care

By Mike Wilson, Confident Parents Lead Team Writer

History tells us there are critical events which alter what we once thought of as our “normal” way of life. Normalcy is what we are used to and creates our comfort zone.  However, we now continue to live in complicated times.  It seems that since Covid-19 hit, it created a storm of unknowns that shook our normalcy. Additionally, the effects of political commentaries on issues such as the social justice movement, policing, elections, the events of January 6th and biased news outlets have popularized opinions that have created divisions among us. As a result, our conversations have shifted from “I have my rational opinions on fixed topics” to “I have an emotional response to changing, uncertain topics.

Expressing personal thoughts on our current reality can be challenging. This is especially true when conversing with family and friends. The consequence of sharing our feelings with individuals we are not emotionally close to frequently does not result in a sense of loss. Yet, the outcome of tense discussions with family and friends is different. With these people, there exists strong emotional ties and a back history of shared experiences which have linked us together. Family and friends are people with whom we have established long-term relationships. Consequently, disagreements can create a devastating emotional response. Debates in these types of relationships can create a situation where the discussion becomes heated with each person stating justifications for their opinions and adopting an unwillingness to concede. The conversation becomes a tug of war of beliefs as opposed to a conversation based on facts and evidence. The result can involve each person becoming defensive and feeling as if the other person is trying to put them on the spot.

Because of previous discussions my two teenage daughters have shared with me regarding difficult conversations they’ve had with some of their friends, we came up with strategies they could use to handle disagreements. They attend a school in which the majority of the student population has similar opinions on current events which, in many cases, meant their friends’ thoughts differed from the opinions of my girls. So, during these discussions, several of their friends just assumed my daughters thought the same way as they do. My kids come from a household where we are open to all types of diverse dialogue and thoughts. Even if we disagree, we talk it out and move on.  However, when somewhat controversial topics with their friends came up, my daughters’ initial reaction was to just smile and say nothing. Then when they got home (their safe zone), they would share the conversations with me.  My response was that their approach worked but when they didn’t share how they felt, their friends really never got to know them.  So, as we continued to talk about it, we brainstormed some non-threatening ways they could share their opinions. That’s how the following list of strategies came about.  For example, the strategy they’ve found the most useful is: “That’s an interesting point and in my opinion…” If the person wants to argue about it, they simply say that we can agree to disagree, and they move on. They also try not to talk about politicians or use names of individuals because the conversation becomes personal. Instead they focus more on the impact of policies and try to keep the discussion open-ended. 

The following are simple strategies we can use when disagreeing with family and friends while sustaining a positive relationship.

Accept the other person’s personality type. 

When interacting with friends and family, you know in advance if they are argumentative, passive, sensitive or open to divergent views. As a result, you should know how they will respond to opposing beliefs.

Listen to the other person’s entire thought.  

Don’t interrupt no matter how much you disagree. 

Validate.

Once the person has finished talking, use validating terms such as, “I know many people feel the same way” or “that’s an interesting point.”

Avoid judgment.

Don’t use judgment phrases like “you are…” or “people like you…”

Own your response.

When responding, use I-statements” such as “I think…” and “In my opinion…”

Try not to take it personally.

Although individual thoughts are based on opinion, remember you are expressing your point of view and not trying to change the opinion of another. 

Agree to disagree.

You don’t have to work to find an agreement in order to end a conversation in a satisfying way. Instead, it’s important to accept that close friends or family might continue to hold differing opinions. You can hold that difference and even tension that might go with it and still show care and respect for one another.

Having honest and meaningful conversations with family and friends is essential in strengthening our relationships. Through dialogue, we learn about the thoughts, feelings and interests of other people. However, holding opposing viewpoints can cause conflict. What we must remember is that family and friends are part of our support system. As a result, maintaining positive relationships with these key individuals is more important than any opinion regarding a current issue.

Author Mike Wilson is the Outreach Coordinator for Harris County Department of Education, CASE Program and host the Making After School Cool podcast. Mike is the father of two teenage daughters in Houston, TX. Check out the Making After School Cool Podcast at https://case4kids.podbean.com.

Summer Renewal and Fun with Family Contributions and Healthy Boundaries

“Mom, what do you really want to do this summer?” my son asked me during our bedtime pillow talk last night. I had to think. I wanted my summer sunshine dreams of lemonade stands, library visits, and creeking at local parks to roll off my tongue but instead, my mind was a-jumble.

In our race to the finish line of school, my head was swimming with work agendas and teacher recognition tasks to complete. It wasn’t easy to get my mind quickly focused on summertime fun though that’s precisely the hope of my ten-year-old boy. And as I attempt to, waves of anxiety tend to rush through my veins as I figure out the windows of time in which I can accomplish work during those sunny summer days in the midst of playtime.

I know, though, that if I take some time over the coming weeks to do some collective summer dreaming while establishing some “lightweight” routines, our summer will be filled with cooperation, shared responsibility, and opportunities for those precious moments of spontaneity — the ones that I truly want to define our summer.

So with that in mind, here are the ways in which we’ll establish a foundation for fun. Perhaps some of these tips will help your household enjoy the summer as well.

Take Time for Sunny Summer Dreaming.

Grab a poster board or newsprint and brainstorm together a list of favorite activities you want to be sure and get in over the summer. Separate into “at home” and “out.” Make sure there are some ideas that can be done as solo play away from digital devices. Hang it on the refrigerator or somewhere you can refer to it throughout the summer. This serves as a terrific way to anticipate the fun of summer and can be an invaluable support for pointing to when your child comes to you bored and unsure of how to spend his/her time. I’ve done this every summer with great success. This summer, my son took the initiative himself without prompting and wrote out thirty-five ideas for summer fun! 

Talk about Your Routine “Lite.”

Though you may be eager to relinquish the rigor of the daily school routine, children still thrive with some sense of predictability. So talk about changes in your routine while your family is together. Consider your morning, bedtime and meal times and other transitions in the day. How will things stay the same? How will things change? Perhaps, you’ll agree that getting dressed should happen by a certain time in the morning? Perhaps, this is the time you’ll teach your child how to make her own delicious breakfast or lunch each day? Having this discussion can help set expectations for the summer and also provide that sense of stability children can thrive on through routines.

Set Up a Regular Quiet Reading Time.

Sure, you may be out of the house some days during a typical quiet time. But consider assigning a particular time of day to serve as a quiet time whenever you are around the house. After lunch could work, late afternoon or right before dinner. Turn off devices and media. Haul out blankets and books. You could include snacks. But it should be a time when all in the household “power down” and take it easy. Set the expectation for this at the beginning of summer and kids will assume it’s part of their summer routine.

Create a Simple Camp or Pool Checklist

Is there a place you tend to go daily in the summertime whether it’s day camp or a pool? Make sure you’ve set up your children for success in getting ready and out of the door with ease. Create a simple checklist together of what’s consistently needed. Bug spray? Check. Sun tan lotion? Check. Water bottle? Check. Use a dry erase board and kids can actually check off items each day. It will help them take responsibility for their own preparation and you won’t have to become the summertime nag! 

Discuss Responsibilities and Consider Adding a Job List

Hopefully, your children understand their household responsibilities throughout the year. But anytime there is a transition, it’s a good moment to revisit. And you may consider one added responsibility to contribute to the household that’s age-appropriate since there tends to be more time in the summer. In addition, if you’re child is eager to earn money but too young to go out and get a job, you may consider putting together a list of jobs beyond their typical responsibilities such as, sweeping the first floor carpet for a $1.00. This will add to their practice of taking responsibility for jobs and offer a chance for your child to earn money this summer while helping you out! Consider a time when you do chores and offer that time for all family members to work together. 

For more on establishing household responsibilities with children, check out this article.  And for an age-appropriate household responsibility list, check out this printable!

Talk about Screen Time Limits and Expectations.

Avoid a daily battle or the chance your child might become addicted to screens and not flourish through multiple activities this summer beyond screens. Learn as a family the reasons why it’s important to limit screen time. Focus on the positive benefits of using time in other ways. Then, be clear together about what limits you’ll agree upon. 

For more on facts about why it’s important to limit screen time as well as, a family media meeting agenda and a family screen time agreement, check out this article.

Have a teen in your household?

Seeking Jobs including Volunteer Opportunities

In addition to sleep-away camp, you might want to expose your teen to the world of work to get some job experience, make some money, and discover the responsibilities and commitments required of an employee. You might consider together the places that your son or daughter visits that he/she loves and then ask about employment. Perhaps it’s her favorite ice cream shop (that’s where I worked) or perhaps it’s the world’s largest train display (yep, that’s where our son is working!)… Finding a place and environment that already gives your teen joy will help engage them in the learning and hard work that is required of a new entry level job. Don’t forget that volunteering their time is equally valuable in discovering their ability to contribute to others, developing important job skills and logging experience for their resume that will help them acquire future jobs.

Establishing Boundaries Together

Since our teens are keenly aware of fairness and justice, they can hold us accountable when it comes to the rules and routines that govern their lives. If we are arbitrary or inconsistent, they call us out on it immediately. They may feel we are too strict or unfair as we set up boundaries to keep them safe and healthy. Yet, our teens require our support and guidance particularly as they gain more independence with their friends. Sitting down creating a sacred time and space to talk about some of those boundaries is a great way to ensure that they feel you are taking into consideration their feelings and offering them fairness as you take their input into consideration about the subject. Whether its a curfew in the evenings or a limit on online gaming, discussing it together can help your teen take responsibility for their own actions.

The warmer weather brings about so many opportunities for laughter and exploration together. May your summer be filled with those kinds of magical moments with your family!

Check Out the Mom of Teens and Tweens Podcast

Teens and tweens with strong emotional intelligence are more self-aware, good communicators, and have strong relationships with others. We all want this for our children, but how do we help them when many of us have never been taught?

Jennifer Miller, M.Ed. of Confident Parents, Confident Kids joined Sheryl Gould of the awesome podcast @MomofTweensandTeens! How do we deal with the emotional roller coaster ride that is parenting teens? How can we push the pause button when challenged and rethink our interactions so that we can consistently build their social and emotional intelligence? Check out our conversation!


What you will learn:

  • What is emotional intelligence and how can we teach our kids when no one taught us?
  • The five core skills of emotional and social intelligence.
  • How parents can coach their children through issues that arise within other relationships.
  • How you can use questions to help your child develop a sense of higher-order thinking skills.
  • When to step in and when to allow your teen to take a risk.
  • The value of parents expressing confidence in their teens’ abilities.
  • When talking with your teen, how you can help them see things from different perspectives?
  • What impact does it have on our families when parents take a “time out” to process their emotions?
  • Why you should have a phrase with your teen that means you both need to take a step away.

Check out the podcast here!

And did you know that you can listen to “Confident Parents, Confident Kids; Raising Emotional Intelligence In Ourselves and Our Kids from Toddlers to Teenagers” for free when you sign up for Audible? Find it here free!

Perfect for your summer reading list!

Here’s the video of our podcast conversation…

How to Process the Pandemic for Emotional Growth

By Jenny Woo, Ph.D.

If you are a parent of primary school-aged children like me (I’ve got 3), then you may be familiar with the “I Survived” books by Lauren Tarshis. In the series, each book recounts one of history’s most terrifying events through the eyes of a child who…you guessed it, survived to tell the tale. The destruction of Pompeii, the attacks of September 11, and Hurricane Katrina are examples of “I survived” events.

Since my kids love action-packed stories, I bought a few “I Survived” books, hoping to expose them to real-world events by reliving the crises…in the comfort of their homes.

Then, the pandemic hit. I had forgotten all about the books. I was drowning in a sea of responsibilities: supporting kids’ distancing learning, running Mind Brain Parenting, and teaching Emotional Intelligence at the University of California-Irvine. Repeat.

By the time my daughter came down with COVID-19, I was running on fumes and masks. We immediately kept her in her bedroom, hoping to keep the rest of the family healthy. On day three, our oldest tested positive, and into his bedroom, he stayed. On day ten, we were down to the last kid standing. I was running around the house in a flurry of homecare and homeschool activities.  My COVID-free kid suddenly declared: “Mommy, this is just like ‘I Survived.’” “Huh?” I looked at him blankly, and it took me a good minute to figure out that he was referring to the “I Survived” book series.

Isn’t it ironic that we could be in survival mode without ever realizing so? This especially rings true for us parents/caregivers and teachers. We have mouths to feed, minds to nurture, and bodies to hug. Every. Single. Day. Our “get it done” resolve propels our minds forward, alternating from planning to predicting—no time to look back. Or perhaps, we don’t want to.

You live life looking forward, you understand life looking backward.” – Soren Kierkegaard

But how do we process the depth of our vulnerability, loss, and grief during the pandemic and still manage to emerge emotionally replenished and resilient? 

I recently conducted a half-day workshop on how to support children’s social and emotional development during the pandemic. To prepare, I combed through the latest studies and reports on the impact of the pandemic on mental health. I also dived into the crisis and resilience literature to understand why some people experience posttraumatic stress while others express posttraumatic growth.

I found that people—across all socioeconomic statuses—fare better when they engage in what I call perspective-setting. Like perspective-taking, perspective-setting is our attempt to interpret our personal circumstances through different lenses. To do so, we draw on our beliefs, values, and goals to reframe a perceived threat into a challenge. For example, young people who coped well during the pandemic saw it as an opportunity to learn to be grateful and to focus on what matters the most in life (August & Dapkewicz, 2021). In doing so, we shift our tone from helpless to hopeful, without the discounting the risks and vulnerabilities in our lives.

Perspective-setting is particularly useful for our tweens and teens. Children at this age have yet to develop the long-term perspective of “this too, shall pass.” As a result, they see life’s difficulties and obstacles as unrelenting and permanent. For example, children ages 9 – 11 reported more PTSD symptoms than younger or older children 2-3 years after a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina (Kronenberg et al., 2010). On the other hand, a study on students’ following the September 11 terrorist attack found that those who expressed feeling grateful to be alive and closer to loved ones were less likely to develop depressive symptoms (Fredrickson et al., 2003).

So how do we help our children and ourselves heal and grow through perspective-setting?

Write your own “I Survived the COVID-19 Pandemic” story.

Circling back to my personal experience, after my COVID-free son declared our circumstances as an “I Survived” book, I asked him to write a story (see an excerpt of his story below). What started out as a way to buy me time turned into an insightful window into how he interpreted the pandemic. I found discrepancies between what I thought was affecting him and what actually bothered him. I was then able to help him engage in perspective-setting.

The opening of Jenny’s son’s story

No matter what phase of the pandemic you are in, have each family member write (or record) an “I Survived” story. Here is a list of questions to discuss in your story:

  • What were your achievements (big, small, and silly) during the pandemic?
  • What were three things that bothered you the most during the pandemic?
  • What advice would you give your younger pandemic self in 2020 if you traveled back in time?
  • What are you grateful for now? What can you do now that you could not do a year ago?

Swap and share the stories. Discuss similarities, differences, and surprises.

For more prompts and exercises categorized by social and emotional learning skills, check out my award-winning series of card decks to experience with your family: 52 Essential Conversations, Relationship Skills, Critical Thinking Skills, and Coping Skills.

References:

August, R., & Dapkewicz, A. (2021). Benefit finding in the COVID-19 pandemic: College students’ positive coping strategies. Journal of Positive School Psychology, 5(2), 73-86.

Kronenberg ME, Hansel TC, Brennan AM, et al. Children of Katrina: lessons learned about postdisaster symptoms and recovery patterns. Child Dev 2010; 81:1241–1259

*CPCK Note: Major congratulations to Dr. Woo who just completed her doctoral degree and so deserves those extra letters behind her name!

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.

School Violence Is Preventable…

I drew the above illustration in 2012 when the Sandy Hook school shooting took place where twenty children – six and seven-year-olds – and six adult staff members were killed. There have been 948 school shootings since the Sandy Hook tragedy ten years ago. More than 311,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.1

Since Scarlett Lewis lost her own child in the Sandy Hook school shooting, she has been turning her trauma into activism by inspiring educators and parents to invest their time, energy and resources in social and emotional learning. She believes that her son would never have died had the shooter gone to a school with social and emotional learning in which he learned to identify, understand and manage anger in healthy ways.

Please watch the following short video produced by Equip Our Kids of Scarlett Lewis sharing her story and what she’s learned about the ways we can prevent future school violence. We are all responsible for taking action to prevent yet another community from suffering such heartbreaking and avoidable loss. Our hearts go out to all those impacted by the losses in Uvalde, TX at Robb Elementary School.

Reference:

  1. Woodrow Cox, J., Rich, S., Chiu, A., Thacker, H., Chong, L., Muyskens, J. & Ulmanu, M. (2022). School shootings database. The Washington Post, May 25.

Closing Out the School Year

Reflecting on the Year (Have you Heard the Good News?), Recognizing Our Resilient, Hard-working Kids and Looking Ahead…

NPR/Ipsos conducted a recent poll and found the following good news:

  • More parents indicate their child is ahead of where they should be in math and science, reading and writing, social skills, and mental health compared to February 2021. Only about one in ten indicate their child is behind where they should be in each of these areas.
  • Nearly half (47%) of parents say that the pandemic has not disrupted their child’s education (up from 38% in February 2021).

More good news from a parenting survey conducted by the Commission for Children included:

  • Among the 54% of parents who believe social and emotional learning (SEL) is being taught at their child’s school, 52% believe that schools should continue teaching SEL (with 29% wanting schools to do more on SEL).
  • Parents prioritize a range of skills that SEL supports – with confidence and good self-esteem, communication, decision-making, and self-discipline topping the list of those that students need in order to be successful throughout their lives.
  • Over 75% of parents responded that the reason they support SEL is because they see how teaching SEL creates a positive classroom environment where children learn the skills they need to succeed – in school and their future.

A focus on social and emotional learning is NOT a nice-to-have, it’s necessary. Parents are also recognizing the work yet ahead of us.

  • From NPR/Ipsos: “In the wake of COVID, 31% of parents report their child has shown symptoms of, or been evaluated for, mental health issues, including anxiety (19%) and depression (12%).
  • From NPR/Ipsos: “More parents (73%) indicate their child would benefit from mental health counseling now than in February 2021 (68%).
  • From Committee for Children: “For parents who responded that SEL isn’t being taught at their school or were unsure, 86% would support their child’s school teaching SEL.”

This was indeed a big year for learning – learning not only subject matter but also how to live and learn in the midst of a continued global pandemic. As a nation, we feel a growing urgency that our children’s social and emotional well-being needs to be at the forefront of our focus if we are to help this generation achieve their hopes and dreams today and in their future lives. We have learned flexibility, emotional courage and resilience during by directly in watching and supporting this generation. And now we say goodbye to another school year a little more nimble, a little more capable, a little more courageous (and weary) as parents in dealing with the uncertainties of our lives.

Because of the monumental growth that we have witnessed in our children and ourselves as we came together and supported one another in unprecedented times for us, it’s important that we pause and take a moment to reflect on what we’ve been through. If your children or teens have achieved academically, if they’ve made new friendships, if they’ve demonstrated care for their teachers or their neighbors or their siblings, this is the time to call it out and recognize it. Educational Reformer John Dewey wrote, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” 

Your child will never experience this grade level again. Children may be sad to leave their teacher, their connection to class friends and the predictability of the school-home routine. Despite the stress (or however they have experienced school this year), they may worry about the loss of the stability and consistency that the school schedule and connection provides over the summer.

There are some small, simple steps you can take to ease the transition and also deepen the lessons of their year through reflection. Because this can be such a hectic time of year, we find it helpful to share ideas. Here are a few suggestions.

Offer Grace First…

to your children, to their teachers and most especially to yourself. If you try and reflect on this school year with other school years as your standard bar for performance, it’s simply not accurate. We may all fail if that’s your measure. This was yet another exceptional school year. Standards for our contributions might be more accurately measured by questions about your level of emotional support of all family members, your ability to deal with a high level of complex emotions, and your ability to get through the day maintaining safety, health and the trust of family members. Further, if you were able to get through this year with your sense of integrity and morality intact, give yourself a giant gold star (or your equivalent). We have to recognize what we’ve been through, accept our limitations during these times and celebrate the times we survived and the times we demonstrated we could thrive.

Reflect on Defining Moments.

Retell the defining moments. Be sure to discuss in what ways your family was resilient and strong during stressful times. In your ________ grade year…

  • What was the most surprising thing that happened?
  • Did you make any new friends?
  • When did you feel embarrassed?
  • What made you belly laugh?
  • What were you most proud of learning?
  • How was it challenging? And what helped you get through all of the changes?

Reflect on Learning from Home.

Did any part of your year involve learning from home including homeschooling, remote or hybrid learning? If so…

  • Do you recall the first day or week of learning at home? What were you thinking? What were you feeling?
  • What have you found that has been joyful or connecting during this past year?
  • How have we helped one another?
  • How has connecting with friends changed? Are there any new ways of connecting that you enjoy?
  • What school projects or assignments were you most proud of accomplishing?
  • What unexpected benefits came from remote learning?
  • How did you deal with your fears and stresses?
  • What bigger life lessons did you learn during this time of sustained crisis?

Reflect on Big Feelings and the Opportunity of Now: Practicing Resilience.

If we tried (in the pre-COVID world) to hide the fact that we have all-consuming, intense emotions at times, then we cannot hide anymore. The seismic shifts globally and the uncertainty of a threat that lurks right outside of our door has been enough to rattle our sensibilities, every one of us. Now the return to our public lives, the face unmasking, has cause it’s own set of stressors we could not have anticipated not the least of which is that we are collectively exhausted from this prolonged crisis. If anything, we’ve learned a thing or two from this generation – shuffling back and forth to school wearing masks and creating a new normal. Talk about resilience in times of trial! How can you take time out to recognize their resilience and all you’ve learned from them? 

No, none of us managed our big feelings throughout this process perfectly. In fact, for most of us, there was a lot of mess. But if we talk about our big feelings, accept that there’s been fear, sadness and stress, and consider how we reacted and how we might react better, we just might learn important lessons that will assist us as we move into summer. Some specific questions to guide you in this discussion might be:

  • What have been our fears throughout this school year?
  • What have we done to acknowledge or manage them?
  • When did our fears get the best of us (or we reacted in ways we didn’t like)?
  • When were we proud of how we handled ourselves and/or worked together as a family?
  • How can we learn more about managing our fears?
  • What can we do in the future when one or more of us is feeling fearful or stressed?

Tell your “Triumph Over COVID” Story

We all know this will be the story our children will share with their grandchildren. “Let me tell you how I survived a global pandemic.” In fact, I attempted to have my son write his own triumphant story and he struggled. It’s difficult to recall all that we’ve been through and articulate what strengths we’ve used or needed to build in order to deal with the many changes and uncertainties. Yet, he wrote a beautiful paper about another person’s struggle and ability to survive, one who we read about in the award-winning book “Island of the Blue Dolphins.” When his paper was finished, we substituted his name for the main character’s, Karana, and nearly every word applied with some notable additions like collaborative spirit and skill versus utter independence. How can you tell your family’s COVID story? Perhaps a slideshow of your pictures, a poster all contribute words and phrases to, or your own written story?

Share Your Gratitude for Your Teachers.

Yes, teachers also experienced a wide range of big feelings as they had to change their mode of teaching and learning in the blink of an eye. Though parents continued to figure out how to manage their households, we may have not seen the challenges teachers faced. Yet, we know they indeed endured their own set of struggles. No matter how they managed the situation, they put their time, effort and considerable worry into reaching you and educating your children. So now more than ever, it’s critical we offer our thanks. Consider creating a simple family video of your thanks to show your appreciation. Your sincere words will mean much more than a potted plant or a gift card this year.  

Talk about it a bit before getting your video rolling. You might ask your child: “What were some of your favorite activities you remember from this year? Why is your teacher so special? Do you remember a time when your teacher was especially kind?”

Go on a Digital Parade Walk or Create a Temporary Museum of Learning.

You likely have a pile, a bin or a busting-at-the-seams binder (as we do!) of school work from the past year. Before recycling or filing away, why not use the accumulated papers as evidence of learning and growth and a tangible way to reflect on that progress? Use your home as a museum. Place the school work in the order of the school year starting in the fall. Line them up across chairs, the couch and on end tables for display. I line the dining room with rope and post papers and artwork with clothespins.

Walk around as a family and talk about what you notice particularly when you note positive developments. With a little support from you, your kids may be excited to put together the museum themselves. With multiple children, use different rooms of the house and you may have a full academic museum for an evening.

Is your child’s work all online from the past months? Then do a digital parade of work and gather around the computer. Go through her assignments, comment, laugh, reflect and bask in the glow of your collective hard work as a family getting through distance learning together! 

Do the big book line-up.

It’s likely that most of the books your child read this school year are hanging around your bookshelves. Why not create a temporary display? What a sense of accomplishment to see a book sculpture with all of the stories you’ve read, learned from and enjoyed since the school year start. It may even spur conversations and reflections on your favorite characters and stories! It may also encourage further reading this summer and inspire a new stack for the coming months.

Create a time capsule.

A terrific early summer activity might be to generate a time capsule in memory of this past school year. There will likely never be another school year quite like this one! Use this free printable time capsule to help guide you. Or work with your child to find and decorate a shoe box or other container and mark with the name of the child and dates of the school year. Now ask your child to consider their older self. What if he came across this time capsule hidden in the attic years later? What items would help him remember the unique attributes of this past school year?

Celebrate learning.

Show how much your family truly values the process of learning. Celebrate together the accomplishment of a school year filled with hard work. Make a picnic in your backyard. Bake a special treat. Decorate as if it’s a holiday. Take a moment to recognize this major change.

As we learn from the past school year and consider the roles of adults – educators and parents, we know that the social and emotional well-being of our children is our call to action. How will we answer this call? It’s vital that we all play a role in meeting this moment with the social and emotional supports necessary to elevate us all.

Happy School Year’s End to You and Your Family and May You Have a Summer of Renewal Ahead!

References:

Newall, M., & Diamond, J. (2022). Parents Report Improvements in their Child’s Educational Attainment Compared to Last Year. Washington, DC: Ipsos, April 29.

Committee for Children. (2022). New Polling Data Show Overwhelming Support for Social-Emotional Learning Among Parents. Seattle, WA: Author, May 16.

Life Unmasked — Revealing Authenticity

What does it mean to live authentically and to raise kids who are true to themselves?

We’ve just come off of several years of mask wearing during this global pandemic to serve as a barrier between ourselves and those infamous aerosols that contain the coronavirus. Yet, it’s likely we’ve worn invisible masks for much longer. We begin putting them on as early as third grade when our social awareness raises as well as our social anxiety. We begin to become self-conscious. Other children snicker at our high-water pants, our crooked nose, our skin color or our snorty laugh — anything that might call attention, that might be slightly different from the factory-mold of the day. And we fashion our first mask – our first line of defense against the contagion of judgment, criticism and dashed expectations for a perceived perfection.

In fact, there’s a distinct benefit to our layers of invisible masks. Brene Brown in “Daring Greatly” writes, “we need to feel trust to be vulnerable and we need to be vulnerable in order to feel trust.”1 So at times, the masks we wear serve as important guard rails. They offer our hopes and dreams protection against potentially harmful criticisms that may seek to destroy them.

Last year, I had to change my diet drastically to find out why I was feeling so badly. My doctor recommended an elimination diet in which you remove many aspects of what you eat and pair it down to simple whole foods and then, one by one gradually add in what you’ve removed to see which foods have an adverse effect. The pandemic, in a sense, has given us a social elimination diet opportunity. We paired down to our home and our immediate family in these past years and now have been adding back in more and more friends, extended family and a range of work and social engagements. This social elimination diet has given us a chance to discover which aspects of our engagement in the world fit our sense of who we are and why we are here and which do not. 

The writings and research on what it means to be authentic and act with authenticity go back to Socrates who said the “unexamined” life was not worth living. When it comes to understanding what authenticity is, the research refers to a range of concepts including well-being, ethics and contributing to the higher good, self-understanding, integrity in interpersonal relationships and yes – confidence.2 Aristotle explained living authentically as “an archer with a target to aim at,” or uncovering your unique sense of purpose and consistently orienting your life toward it.3

As we re-engage in social and work engagements of all kinds, we bring a fresh perspective. And in our privileged culture, we often have choices – granted, some of us more than others. As we watch our children or teens taking on new social and school engagements, we can watch and support them with fresh eyes as well. Does this activity deeply align with their passions and deepest curiosities? Does it contribute to a higher good? And what is that higher good for them and us? These are all questions that we can ignore as we place our social invisible masks back on our face. But why? If we’ve taken advantage of the many moments we’ve had at home to look deeply inside and uncover our purpose, then the important questions is — how can we live and socialize and contribute in the world at times, unmasked? How can we bring our whole selves to our community tables — unapologetic about who we are, why we are here and how we are going about contributing to a higher good while respectful and accepting of others’ whole selves and core purpose.

Social and work obligations, expectations and judgments tend to be the frenemy of authenticity. They can snap our masks back on our face in the blink of an eye. But pausing, returning to calm and allowing the rippling waters to settle allows us back into the depths of who we are and why we are here. And we have to continually return to that place of calm to ask those essential questions of ourselves. Why? To what end? After all, at the end of the day, we have to answer to ourselves in the mirror. Were you true to yourself and your inner guidance? Were you?

I watch as my teenager grapples with social overload – too much activity, too much social time. And he feels anger without really understanding why. That anger comes from giving himself away to others when he knows he needs time to replenish, to be quiet, to engage in activities he loves and to regenerate his ability to be social. 

As parents, living a life of reflective authenticity – aligning our actions with our purpose and how we are contributing to a higher good – offers all of the modeling needed to bolster social and emotional intelligence in our children. It requires us to self-regulate impulsive actions and consider if and how we show up. As our children and teens formulate their growing and changing identity, they require that modeling. We worry about how peer pressure might impact them and their choices particularly in the teen years when adult-level risks become accessible but that peer pressure is equally powerful in the adult years. If we succumb and give ourselves away straying from our values, our purpose, our sense of higher good, how can we possibly expect our children to resist the judgements and expectations of peers who will eagerly guide them in any number of directions?

It turns out being authentic and acting authentically is a tricky issue, one in which we, as adults, tend to question ourselves time and again. Just yesterday, a dear friend asked me about a difficult work decision she had to make. “Do I go with my gut or preserve relationships?” She already knew the answer when she asked it but often, the consequences to relationships feels severe. We know we cannot be fully vulnerable to others at all times. That would compromise our safety and perhaps, the safety of others. Boundaries remain critical in all healthy relationships. So how do we help our child or teen navigate their growing identity in ways in which they feel a sense of authenticity? Here are some ideas.

Elementary-Aged Children (ages 6-10)

Our elementary-aged children are developing a newfound social awareness, practicing understanding the thoughts and feelings of others, necessarily making mistakes as with any new skill. Depending upon the culture a child is living and schooling in, they can tend toward exclusivity or inclusivity. What are you most promoting at home? And what is most promoted in your child’s school culture? How are peers discussed in both places? If there’s criticism being voiced of others, that exclusive environment is teaching your child about ways to shut down others authenticity – which also shuts down their own. They won’t feel safe. So how can you review how you discuss people outside of your home in family life? Can you assume best intentions and the goodness in others and focus on problems themselves and not on individuals and their character? 

If you reflect on your child’s school culture and realize that there exists an exclusive culture or a culture where aggression and judgment of others is permitted, even encouraged, what can you do? Begin by getting involved and asking supportive questions. Approach the parent teacher association. Ask how you might work to support a more safe, caring school culture. There are many ways in which parents can contribute if they ask these simple questions and offer their time and support. Here are more ideas on how you can get involved in creating a safe, caring community culture in your child’s school.

Middle School Students (ages 11-14)

Middle school is a unique time of reformation for your tween or teen. Not only are they undergoing significant physical changes, they are also undergoing a brain reconstruction which amounts to major social and emotional upheavals too. We sense it. And they may hide in their room seeking privacy during this highly vulnerable time when they are defining their identity in a wholly new way as they work toward independence. Major questions at this age are: what do you love to do and how can we invest time and energy in supporting what you love to do? Who do you love to spend time with? And how much is too much? Our tweens and teens want to spend their primary waking hours with their friends. They also have more homework, more need to study, more extracurriculars and opportunities for involvement. Add to that fact, they have not yet figured out time management skills and it can become a challenging time. They need your support in figuring out what balance of activities and down time or home time is right for them to feel safe and able to give their best. Learn more about how you can teach them time management skills and create a more balanced schedule.

This is also an ideal time to point them inside when they are grappling with tough issues. Instead of fixing their problems for them, encourage them to take time to be quiet, to deeply consider their feelings. We did this recently when our fourteen-year-old had a tough choice to make. He came back after an evening of consideration and surprised us with his thoughtful choice. We’re all better after sleeping on a thorny issue. Letting those waters calm, going inside and reflecting brings us to a place of knowing what’s true for us and we no longer need to debate.

Additionally, they need your encouragement and support on the loves, passions and interests they hold dear that may not be considered cool, mainstream or acceptable in their social circles. How can they continue to follow those passions in ways that keep them sacred? What social injustices do they feel deeply and can they champion or continue to learn about? These are the early building blocks of their sense of purpose that are critical to nurture as they develop.

High School Students (ages 14-17)

High school is a time when students will spend the majority of their time out of the house often at school involved in extracurriculars, attending events, spending time with their friends or taking on part-time work. Though all of these will strongly influence your teens’ developing sense of identity, you are still a critical influence. They will come home at times needing emotional support as they retreat from the world. And though it will test our resolve, our teens also need us to set boundaries kindly and firmly when we see that outside forces are crossing lines we know are important to maintain. What do we need to agree to when our teen is out at night with friends? What kind of boundaries are critical when borrowing the car? Though situations become more complex, our teens need us to talk through with them the complexities of each to understand how we decide on what’s fair, what’s in the interest of the higher good and how we bring our family’s authenticity to the discussion. This is the very heart of developing responsible decision-making skills requiring higher order thinking and lots of practice. Check out more on how to begin to facilitate your teen in thinking about their sense of purpose in life.

For all of these ages and stages – in addition to our modeling – we also need to notice, recognize and celebrate when our children, tweens and teens offer their vulnerability through a close friendship, an art project, a performance, or a confession of a secret passion. We have to demonstrate that they can feel safe with us to share those secret passions and we will care for them just as they do. 

Masks have been important in keeping us safe and will continue to be. But what is the point in living if we cannot truly show who we are to those we love and care about? There is no end of the rainbow in being and becoming authentic. Clearly, it’s an ongoing process for us to continue to work at, strive for and commit to. But I do believe it’s the work of confident parents. To support our children and ourselves in bringing the best of who we are to help, to serve, to contribute to the world around us.

References:

  1. Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly; How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. NY, NY: Gothan Books, Penguin Group.
  2. Goldman, B.M. & Kernis, M.H. (2006). Authenticity Inventory. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 38: 0065-2601.
  3. Irwin, T.H. (2003). Aristotle; Nicomachean Ethics (367-323 BC); A sort of political science. In J.E. Garcia, G.M. Reichberg, & B.N. Schumacher (Eds), The classics of western philosophy: A reader’s guide (pp. 56-69). Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

Upcoming National Social and Emotional Learning Conference

Coming Next Week, May 17-18 Online! This conference hosted by the Center for the Promotion of Social and Emotional Learning (CPSEL) is specifically geared toward administrators, educators, higher education faculty and professionals, and anyone interested in social and emotional learning in K-12 education.

Keynote Speakers include: David Adams, CEO of The Urban Assembly and Author of “The Educator’s Practical Guide to Emotional Intelligence” as well as Irvin L. Scott, Ed.D.. Senior Lecturer on Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Additionally, Shannon Wanless and Jennifer Miller of Confident Parents, Confident Kids will be presenting a workshop entitled “Creating Family Routines that Practice the Values We Hope to See in the World.”

This session will offer an opportunity to imagine the kind of society you might hope for and come up with ways to make your own family a microcosm of this society. There is no better place to start creating a just and equitable world than at home. We ask, “What would it look like to create rituals, routines and practices in our families that reflected a commitment to compassion, trust, equity, justice and self-awareness?”

With Jennifer Miller, Founder/Author, Confident Parents Confident Kids, Columbus, Ohio and

Shannon Wanless, Director and Associate Professor, Office of Child Development, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

To learn more or register, check it out here!

#SELConf2022

Happy Mother’s Day!

To all of the mothers we know and love including those who serve in a mother role – the aunts, the grandmas, the step moms, the big sisters – your love, care and dedication to your sons and daughters young and old is exactly what we need more of in the world. What if our governments were run with that same kind of love, care and dedication? What if major corporations were run with that same kind of love, care and dedication? What if all educational systems were run with that same kind of love, care and dedication?

Thank you Mothers for serving as a model we can all learn from.

Happy Mother’s Day!

The Spontaneous Unity of Family in Flow

By Jason Miller

Amidst these wildly changing times, an unprecedented shift is occurring in the timeless dance of workplace and family life. Forced to limit in-person interactions to curtail the spread of COVID-19, most employers in some way loosened requirements to report to work in a physical setting.  Employers counted on these measures to keep their employees and organization safe, while also finding ways to keep the work of the organization going forward. The remote working arrangement that many employers offered did, in many ways, achieve these objectives.  What employers did not count on, however, was the wake-up call that this arrangement has initiated. 

Now, a historical moment has emerged that is radically shaking up the old order of work/life balance.  It is being coined by economists, scholars, and media outlets by a number of titles: “the Great Resignation”; the “Great Reshuffle”; and the “Great Reset” are perhaps the most familiar.  All point to the same phenomenon in which workers, after several years of being forced to rebalance their lives while working from home, are choosing to leave their positions and/or take pay cuts in lieu of going back to a daily in-person work schedule.  It is creating a watershed moment for the employer-employee relationship, in which the old contract of what constitutes a meaningful exchange is being fully re-written.

Consider the current situation for Rachel*, a divorced mother of two young children, whose employer has recently announced that all employees were required to come in at least four days a week, after two years of giving the full ability to work from home. “The last two years have been incredible for us as a family,” Rachel said.  “We are truly in each others’ lives every single day.  When one of the kids has a need, I am able to quickly go to them because I am right there, and my employer has come to expect these interruptions (which are minimal, because we have set rules at home).  For example, just the other day, one of my kids had something challenging happen at school, and really needed to talk about it shortly after coming home.  I was able to have this impromptu conversation in the moment in which it was needed, which helped her to clear her mind so she could have some enjoyable free time before starting homework.  That emotional support I could give her was because of my ability to work from home.  And, my partner is also here most of the time. So when I am occupied with a work requirement and I cannot respond, he is able to often pick it up, and we can trade off as needed.”

In addition, Rachel continued, the arrangement has enabled unexpected opportunities to emerge that have deepened their family bonds as a supportive unit.  “I have a chronic health condition that can create challenges for me with my energy levels, and it can affect how I am able to engage in my day.  Being in each others’ lives the way that we have, my kids have also learned how to take care of me too. This has been so valuable for all of us, and it is helping me to raise very caring and loving kids who tune into the needs of others.  I am also able to take care of myself more appropriately by responding to my body’s needs when they emerge.  How could I possibly give this up by going back to the office four and eventually five days a week?  My profession is important to me, and this place is all I’ve known for 13 years.  But now I see that there is a different life that is possible, and I can’t go back. I don’t know where I’ll go, but I can’t work there anymore.”

Rachel’s story shows us that the title of “the Great Reshuffle” is perhaps the most accurate for what is really going on in these present times.  So many have been forced inside – both literally and figuratively.  Forced physically inside, they have found themselves also being forced to look inside themselves and their life.  For so many like Rachel, there has also been a wake up to family life.  

Of course, not everyone has created the levels of intimate support that Rachel’s family has managed to co-create.  For many others, the forcing inside has led to breakdowns and breakups.  It is well-known that the realities of neglect and abuse have skyrocketed these past two years (divorce, addiction, abuse, depression, and overdoses have all risen during the pandemic). These trends are indeed troubling, but they were not born during the past two years.  Rather, they all point to a much longer-term trend that is fueled by a cultural context that emphasizes our separateness rather than our unity. We see this emphasis in all parts of our culture, with consumer products and mass and social media outlets turning the importance of individual tastes, preferences, and opinions into an algorithmic science.  

Yet, despite these disturbing trends, the possibility of a “Great Reshuffle” illuminates a path to a new future of a different order.  Rachel’s example, along with a rising mass of others, suggests that there is perhaps no better time than this very moment to rethink, reimagine, and reshuffle the ordering of our conscious energies and priorities in our life. Going a step further, this is the moment in which we can collectively shift our focus toward arguably the greatest influence on all of humanity: the family unit.

When we hear the word “family,” a wide and complex array of memories, emotions, stories, and images can flow through us.  Family experiences and relationships are deeply formative, and therein lies the power and potential of the family system.  But, so much of the strength of the family system has been tried, tested, and eroded in a culture that places supreme value on extrinsic rewards (e.g., money, consumption, pleasurable escapist experiences, fame, etc.).  While it is easy for each of us to point the finger and find someone to blame, the truth is that each of us is both at the effect of AND a contributor to the currents of our cultural context.  The Great Reshuffle gives each of us the opportunity to make significant adjustments to how we live our lives.

We have, in our given moment, the possibility to dramatically shift the center of our lives from work and economics to family and well-being.  When we pause to really see, as the pandemic period has offered so many, we spend a large amount of conscious energy on work, and all that work affords us.  In this work-earn-consume paradigm, family life can often feel like something to manage or “balance” as a trade-off (which feels like a cost).  What would life be like if we chose to invest the same amount of psychic energy into family that we do in work and consuming?  What if all the hours we spend sweating work deadlines, tasks, and promotions were instead directed toward the well-being, growth, and flourishing of our family members?

This is the culture change that each one of us can facilitate, and it starts right at home.  In the landmark 1990 book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” the late Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi leveraged decades of research from multiple fields to give us the concept of flow.  Flow experiences are situations in which conscious attention is unusually well-ordered, with thoughts, intentions, feelings, and all senses focused on the same goal.  The result is an experience in harmony.  Chances are that we have all experienced flow at one time or another.  It is marked by a loss of self-consciousness, a sense of novelty, and an altered sense of time.  It is being completely tuned in, usually with an inner calm and confidence even in the face of intense challenge.  The “family in flow” is a useful and powerful aim that could serve as a vehicle to transform the family unit, the members in it, and the various communities the family touches.

How might family members co-create the conditions for flow to occur as the norm of family life?  Below are a few first steps that a family can take to create a home life that is best depicted as experiencing “spontaneous unity.”  “Spontaneous” in that each day will present unexpected and unplanned moments to create flow experiences for each individual; and “unity” in that the family experiences a sense of deep interconnection with one another around a strong sense of shared purpose.  

  1. Proclaim Individual & Shared Purpose & Values.  

Start with reflecting on and sharing why you, your family members, and your family as a whole exist, and what you stand for.  By engaging with all family members in a process of individual and collective introspection, you will be going a long way toward setting the solid foundation for your shared focus, choices, and actions.  Each individual, and then the group as a whole, can reflect on questions such as these:

  • Why are you here?
  • What are you uniquely meant to change in the world?  As a person?  As a family?
  • At the end of the day, what do you and your family believe is most important over all else?
  • What do you and your family want to be remembered for?
  • What do you and your family hold as most sacred?
  1. Activate Purpose and Values through Concrete Opportunities.  

To fully create a flow experience, it is not enough to stop at your ideal purpose and values.  You have to put them into action through the identification of real paths of contribution for each family member.  For example, if your collective family purpose is to advance learning and education in the world, how can every member of your family actively participate in this purpose, regardless of their age and/or life stage?  Part of this might include everyone engaging in ongoing formal learning, such as classes, workshops, webinars, podcasts, books, etc. (both individually and collectively).  For certain family members, they might take on a mentoring or tutoring role in the community. For others, it might take the form of advocacy work to create access opportunities to education. The key is to arrive at a common purpose and to help each member activate their individual purpose and unique gifts through what is shared as a family.

  1. Engage in a Daily Family Flow Practice.  

External forces are quite powerful, and there is no shortage of distractions that regularly work at pulling the family unit apart.  Failure to turn inward toward the relationships of the family every single day can diffuse attention, distort divergent goals, and amplify conflicts.  A shared daily practice by all members of the family can help to build a spontaneous unity throughout each day, even when all members are not together.  One such practice might look something like this simple, three-step approach:

Step 1: Attune.  Simply pay focused attention on each other, and on your own personal experience as well.  Get curious.  Listen deeply to what is arising within you (thoughts, feelings, sensations) and between you.  Release judgment, which shuts off your ability to tune in.

Step 2: Discern.  Now that you have noticed what is arising in your interaction, be deliberate in interpreting and making meaning.  Is what is arising in you coming from a place of purpose in unity with flow?  If you are feeling a sense of joy, love, and/or peace, without attachment to any outcomes, those are good indications that you are.  Or, is it coming from a place of personal ego needs that may work to separate us?   If you are feeling tension in your body, getting defensive, or experiencing anger, fear, or anxiety, chances are you are not in flow.  Go back to step 1, getting curious about what is triggering this response.

Step 3: Choose on Purpose.  Each moment presents an opportunity of choice.  Once you have discerned that you are in flow, make the choice that enables you to act on your purpose.  This may or may not be the easy path.  But you know you have chosen the path of purpose by the levels of peace and sense of knowing that you experience, even sometimes in the face of adversity.

Underpinning all of this, at the basis of any family in flow, is the fundamental principle of unconditional loving acceptance of all – including of yourself.  Success is predicated on each member self-emptying by releasing judgment, cynicism, fear, and the need to “fix”.  Simply being with each other, without the need to change anything, paradoxically is the very force that can change everything.

As we continue to face unprecedented shifts amidst the Great Reshuffle, let’s seize this opportunity to make this the new age of the family.  Family can be where the melodies of compassionate love are sung.  And, taking these melodies outside the home,they work to harmonize with our communities, and life in the world.

Jason Miller has over twenty-five years of experience as an Organizational Development leader, coach, and consultant. Jason currently has his own coaching and consulting practice called Inner Sound, and serves on the leadership and faculty team of the Hudson Institute of Coaching. He cultivates a more purpose-led approach by helping clients to shift focus from outward achievement and external validation to inner wisdom, joy, creativity, and contribution. Jason has coached and developed leaders and teams across multiple industries and Fortune 500 clients–including Google, Amazon, Panera, OhioHealth, Accenture, Caterpillar, The Gap, and Fidelity Investments. In Columbus, Ohio, Jason is husband to Confident Parents Founder Jennifer Miller and father to a teenage son. Learn more at Inner Sound Coaching & Consulting, LLC.

Reference:

*Name changed.

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