Finding the Courage to Reinvent

“I simply cannot get sick. If I’m out even for a few days, our whole household literally falls apart,” expresses Michelle, tired and exasperated with no end in sight. Michelle is an educational consultant with a husband and two kids. She makes more money than her husband so is responsible for the mortgage payment and when she’s between big contracts that’s one of only a number of worries that wakes her at 4:00 a.m. She juggles the lion’s share of the household chores – cooking, cleaning, laundry and also, volunteers regularly at her children’s school knowing how important it is for her to be involved. Michelle has aging parents who often require her attention since they have physical issues but are attempting to live independently.

Michelle’s husband Mike is an educator too and coaches a soccer team for their children’s school. Michelle and Mike used to “date” but now there is no time or opportunity. The kids are not old enough to leave on their own and the weekends are packed with responsibilities and soccer games. I ask her, “when did you feel happy last?” She struggles to respond as she winces, straining her memory. She has gained weight and is experiencing back pain and occasional migraines so the physical toll of her lifestyle is beginning to show. 

She is deeply committed to being a loving parent to her two kids, spending time with them daily supporting their homework and reading to them in the evenings. Her daughter Ivy, age 6, has been slow to learn to read and fights her when it’s time to practice. She wonders if this is typical or whether there’s a more serious problem involved. The thought of a dyslexia or other mental diagnosis is more than she can deal with at the moment so she sets those ponderings away for another day. Her son Jonah, age 10, is getting bullied at school since he’s not athletic like his classmates. At home, he’s quiet and sinks into his device scrolling through TikTok videos choosing to tune out the world. She worries he won’t have friends or develop social skills. So she presses him to play soccer yet again to be social. 

Michelle’s husband, Mike, is an exceptional high school teacher, one of those rare individuals who infuses passion into the subject matter and gets even jaded high school students excited about learning. He’s being asked to step up his involvement in work by joining committees, chairing his department and it seems, ultimately, he’s being groomed to take over a leadership role at the district level – away from students, away from the classroom. Michelle is torn between the pain of not spending time with her husband (dinners are often her and the kids on their own) and wanting that promotion so that they can afford a bigger house and take some of the pressure off of her work as the primary source of income.

Maybe this is the story of you or someone in your intimate circle? How does she find herself in the fog of expectations? The questions that underpin Michelle’s running, her inability to get sick, to slow down, are:

  • What if I am not enough as a parent and my kids fail in school and in life?
  • What if I am not enough at work and I lose opportunities or worse, never generate new opportunities?
  • What if I am not enough for my incredible husband who I love and respect?
  • What if I fail in all of my roles because I don’t have the strength or knowledge or whatever it takes to make it?

More than anything else, she requires courage. In fact, we require courage. The courage to live the life we’ve chosen with our full presence – not hooked on the past, not finding ways to escape, and not tied to some imagined future. And certainly not someone else’s view of a good life. But our own, here and now. Deciding to face fears of not-enoughness requires a revision of old stories – of the Pinterest-perfect home and the bright, brilliant and award-winning career, and the Instagram-worthy family. These images are never about authenticity, heart, and integrity. And they are often not about true connection with others either. They are about show. And if Michelle is putting on a show in the midst of living her daily life online or in-person, that’s a whole lotta energy she could be channeling into authenticity. She is clearly allowing others’ expectations of her to dominate her days.

Where’s the essence of the true Michelle in that? Her marriage might find a crisis since she’s not being the best part of who she is but only living who others want her to be. Her children are missing out on learning from who she truly is. If she had “it” before – before the complications of mid-life, that perfect balance between her career and life, things were different and seemed simpler. And her context has changed. It’s time for reinvention.

So where does she go from here? How does she find herself through the fog of fears and expectations? She can begin to find clarity, to dissipate the fog when she stops, breathes and begins to listen. Below the ping on her phone, under the leaf blower roaring down the street, beneath the din of her child’s demands, she needs to listen within. And as she does, she can ask herself one key question. 

What do I most need to learn?

For each person, the answer will be different. Maybe building healthy, meaningful relationships is where she needs to focus. Perhaps setting boundaries and having tough conversations to ensure her sense of agency is intact is the hardest thing for her. The answer – your answer – is the way forward. And typically the answers – if we are honest with ourselves – are inconvenient. They don’t fit with our carefully crafted, tightly woven schedules. So it’s tempting to lie to ourselves even as we attempt to listen. That’s why the only way we can truly reinvent is with courage. The courage to trust our deepest inner guidance. The courage to realize that the obstacle is the way. The courage to accept that we will find meaning and purpose and community too if only we amplify those faint inner voices that show us the way to what we care about the most and what we need to learn in order to be the person we can be. And finally, the courage to live into that life knowing some may not understand, accept or want to connect with you when you’ve found your unique path forward.

And if there are sea changes to be made, it may mean breaking down before rebuilding. Michelle may get sick as she slows. And that sickness is an opportunity – a gift. Through that enforced rest, she can become aware of the fog and actively work to heal through it.

The developmental mindset as a way of viewing our lives is this simple and this complex. And as someone who has studied and worked with parents and caregivers for over a decade, there is a distinct advantage with the context of family life if we take the time to see it. We gain opportunities for deepening, widening and expanding our learning by virtue of the fact that our children challenge us through their development. And our partner, too, challenges us through their own development. As they change and test limits, they push us in ways we would never push ourselves. And each time, we have the chance to ask two important questions:

What are they working on or learning in their development? And how can I be supportive?

How is this an opportunity for my own learning?

When our tween, for example, becomes more self aware as they shape their identity, we may exercise our social awareness and ability to empathize and perspective take. Remember how you wanted to be the one who defined who you were when you were twelve and not accept your parents’ definition of you?

Shifting our focus requires an open mind, an open heart and an open will to follow where these questions lead us. They ask that we drop our need to control everything around us – and for mothers steering the ship – that can be an enormous ask. We fear  that all will fall apart and we’ll be the ones left with the consequences picking up the pieces. But this leap of faith is necessary and why courage is the lever that enables our reinvention.

What does that reinvention really look like? Should she quit her job? What about her financial stability? Those practical pressures don’t magically go away. Reinventing from the inside out is a daily practice right where you are. Sometimes your inner wisdom will whisper that major changes are necessary. Sometimes it may not. Often, we need to stay the course and bring the courage of a fresh perspective and experience to our current life. 

What I have discovered after years of intentionally asking these essential questions is that the life-giving gains for you and your entire family are well worth the risk. They offer you the opportunity to learn patience with your children — and other intimates or colleagues in your life (if you ask those questions about those relationships too) that you never knew you had. They offer you motivation and energy. And they offer you a sense of meaning and contribution. It offers you the chance to deepen your trust and intimacy with your loved ones. Because you begin to see, feel and experience the ways in which you are directly supporting your children’s learning.

It’s not about math equations… It’s about life learning. It’s the critical, essential social and emotional skills that they may or may not intentionally be taught in schools but you know are absolutely fundamental to a marriage, to a career, to raising kids, to any and all of your most precious roles in life. These are the lessons that will see them through attempted abusers, through bullying in the workplace, through miscarriages and deaths and all the stuff of life. The opportunity to bravely and confidently share who we truly are and use our best gifts, to learn from diverse perspectives and open our minds to new possibilities and others’ hearts, to co-create and collaborate through our relationships and build toward our hopes and dreams together, and make responsible decisions that contribute to our own and other’s well-being and making the world a better place around us. Those are the reasons we get up in the morning.

Do you ever have moments with your children where you look at them and feel overwhelmed simultaneously with love and panic that time is short with them at each age and stage? If we are too busy to notice the time passing, we’ll surely miss so many opportunities that exist for those life lessons to be reflected upon and experienced together. There’s no better time than now to find the courage to reinvent.

*This is part of the “Leading in Life” series co-written by Jennifer and Jason Miller. Jennifer brings her years of working with educators and families on advancing social and emotional development while Jason brings his years of experience in the corporate and health care sectors with a focus on culture change and leadership development.

New Confident Teen Resources

Confident Parents, Confident Kids introduces a new page on our site for teens and those who parent and educate teens! Our new teen resource page includes:

A new young adult book selection with a diverse range of authors and titles, recommended by a young adult, CPCK’s summer intern Megan Fabro that includes graphic novels, contemporary fiction, classic literature and nonfiction. All are labelled with the social and emotional themes they contain.

A list of video games recommended for teens that exercise social or emotional skills, reviewed and labelled by theme.

And for those supporting teens… Check out our most popular articles for parents, caregivers and educators that offer tips and tricks for supporting the critical adolescent years along with a teen mindfulness tool.

We will continue to add to these resources. And as always, CPCK offers free resources without advertising to support parents and educators.

Big thanks to our summer intern Megan Fabro for doing extensive research and writing to put these recommendations together!

Schools – Check Out These Virtual Programs to Advance School-Family Partnerships

Virtual Programs to Support Families as Educational Partners

Jennifer Miller, MEd., Founder and Author of “Confident Parents, Confident Kids” has been offering educational webinars and series for a decade – all customized and specific to a school or district’s family community’s hopes and needs.

Three of those programs have been particularly popular.

Check out the following programs and see if there’s one that might be ideal for your school or district community in promoting family-school partnerships around student well-being and development.

  1. Book Clubs 6-Part Online Series
  2. Setting Up Home for Learning Success 3-Part Online Learning Series
  3. Confident Families and Schools Forum 1-Time School Community Event

Or visit the Schools & Districts Page on our site!

The First Six Weeks of School; Parent’s Support in Setting the Tone with Joy, Curiosity and Connection (Part Two)

Last week, we began taking a look at how the first six weeks of school can set the tone for the school year and how families can play a role in that transition. We examined bringing our open minds and hearts to school events, looking to make genuine connections with others in our school community, modeling introductions to others to practice with our children, spying and articulating the discovery of treasures, or inner strengths, in our children that are emerging and the treasures of the school as well through the teaching staff or many other individuals who are a key part of the school community. 

This week, we’ll take a look at next steps for setting the tone for the school year. Some learning takes place at school but there is plenty of learning that will need to take place at home whether formally through homework and studying or informally through reflections on our school days. In these early weeks, perhaps the intensity of the work is low (and you know it will rise in the weeks to come). This offers us some space to ensure that you and your family are not only physically prepared for the work to come, but you’re building connections as a family to the learning to help inspire and motivate your child in engaging in the work ahead.

Create Conducive Learning Spaces

Take a little time with each child to figure out where they will consistently work each day during homework time. You may or may not have an ideal spot but here are some considerations as you think about designating a homework and learning space. That space will:

  • be quiet during homework time (eliminate noise distractions);
  • contain adequate supplies nearby (pencils, notebooks, outlet for laptop plug-in); 
  • have a clean, cleared off hard surface;
  • be near enough to parent/caregiver that your child can ask questions and gain support when needed; and
  • offer adequate task lighting.

Note this does not have to be an all-the-time dedicated space (a dining table works just fine, for example!)

Reflect on the Coming School Year as a Family

Instead of diving head first into all of the many tasks of the school year, take a moment to lift up and talk about the hopes and dreams of your child and of your family for the school year ahead. Write them down! Use them as an anchor. Find out what your child’s focus is. Maybe they are very interested in making new friends, joining an extracurricular or proving they can achieve academically? Your awareness of those hopes will help you support them throughout the school year.

Ask Big Questions Together

All exploration begins with big questions. And learning, after all, is a big exploration expedition. So take a look as a family together at what your child/children will be studying over the coming year. What subjects are they taking? What big questions can you ask together that may be explored over the year? My son who is a sophomore this year is taking U.S. History. We are so curious as a family to see how this will be taught and where they’ll begin the story. We have lots of questions to lead our family’s exploration and learn from our son’s curriculum. The mystery involved with genuine curiosity is a motivator like no other. You can’t wait to turn the page to find out more! So lead off your year with those big questions (and leave judgments behind) and savor taking steps toward uncovering and discovering the mysteries behind your child’s learning.

Find Opportunities to Play

As adults, we can focus solely on the work to be done very quickly (because often there’s a full load on our plate and then some). But if our children are to become lifelong learners, then there’s important value in seeking the joy in learning and also, in finding the play opportunities and the fun so that their creative, innovative side can have some space. 

The weather right now (where we are anyway, I know some are struggling with difficult weather!) is beautiful. Take advantage and head to the park after school to get out some energy and enjoy! In the dead of winter, that won’t be as possible or likely. Gather classmates together or whole families to enjoy a Fall outing together and get to know one another better. Accomplish both your hopes of making deeper connections with others and seeking fun, play and enjoyment.

Examine your Routines and Make a Plan Together!

Here’s a quick checklist. You might ask yourself, have we created…

_____ well-rehearsed routines with clearly defined responsibilities?

_____ healthy sleeping, eating and hygiene habits?

_____ an organized, well-equipped and calm working environment for each family member?

_____ a plan for sharing and managing big feelings?

_____ a plan for times to connect in a caring, loving way with each/all family members?

For more support on co-creating routines with children that include clearly-defined responsibilities, check out the article “Establishing or Reinventing Home Routines and Responsibilities for Learning Success.

There is never a more ideal time than right now to set an optimistic tone for the school year ahead! Your family’s discussions about the treasures you are finding in your school community and in your children, the hopes you have for the year, the big questions you want to ask about what our children are learning and the play and connection with others will all set a tone of joy in learning. As a lifelong educator, when you boil it down to its essences, this is what it’s all about. Not drudgery. Not a chore to get through. But a family expedition into the unknown with buried treasure to be discovered. May you find that kind of magic this school year!

Discovering Treasures; Roles of and Opportunities for Parents in the First Six Weeks of School

Part One of a Two-Part Series

It’s with trepidation, excitement, sadness, longing, anticipation, worry and even joy that we enter together into the back to school season as a family. Saying goodbye to extended time together and serious summer fun, laid back schedules and adventures and exploration can all feel like a sad ending. Re-entering the schedule can feel like an onerous chore to some and to others, a relief. Seeing long-time friends and familiar faces can invite or renew our sense of care and belonging with our school community or it can usher in stress about safety, judgment and exclusion. Our children may be hoping to build new friendships or nervously considering the teachers and coaches who will impact their lives. No matter our focus, the back to school season seems to incite big feelings in all of us.

And there are rituals that welcome us and pave the way for transition into the learning year. Whether you connect with other parents at pick up or drop off time, attend a welcome back event or parents’ curriculum night, it’s not just your child who goes back to school. The whole family will play a key role in learning.

Responsive Classroom, an evidence-based social and emotional learning curriculum in schools, offers teachers professional guidance on the first six weeks of school and how they can seize that timeframe to set the tone for the school year in a number of ways.1 But how can we support that transition at home? An intentional approach can help us as parents and caregivers consider the ways in which we can create conducive routines at home and a caring space to support and maximize the hard work of learning that will take place in the context of our family lives.

Let’s take a look at these opportunities that exist in family life to return to school together preparing ourselves mentally, socially and emotionally to offer and receive learning throughout the school year.

Getting to Know your School Community
At the very heart of learning is connection. We know safe, caring relationships are necessary in order to bring out the best in our students. The fresh school year – whether you are beginning in a new school and everyone is unfamiliar or you are returning to a school you know well – offers a chance to create valuable connections with others. We need not be reminded that our in-person ability to connect cannot be taken for granted. Though often schools are placed in the role of organizing and reaching out to families, there is an opportunity for each and every caregiver to initiate relationships knowing how critical they are to the learning agenda. So our agenda in doing the best we can as caring parents is not only just to show up (though that is a critical first step!) but also, to consider how we show up. Bringing our warm and open heart and our willingness and effort to make caring connections will alter our presence so that we walk away having planted seeds for new, deeper or more extended relationships.

With our Children: This is the moment when our children are most nervous about their social standing. Will I make friends? Will friends be in my classes? If not, how will I manage and will I need to meet other classmates? Will I have someone to sit with at lunch? Will there be an awkward time at recess or after school when I have to wait alone? Though they must have awkward moments and encounters in order to learn social skills, our modeling can go a long way to help them. 

So 1. Be aware that when you are introducing yourself and your child to others, they are watching and learning; and 2. Offer practice in meeting new people. With young children, practice introductions between stuffed friends or action figures. Have your child try it! With older children when you encounter new families at events, include your child in the adult introductions. Reflect on them when you get in the car or move away. What made that easy? How could you do that when you encounter a new classmate? Do you recall their names? If not, how can we remember them the next time? With teens, we need to be a little subtler in our efforts since they will sniff out our eagerness to “teach” and lean away. Instead engage your teen’s empathy for others who are new to the class. You might say, “Do you remember how you felt when you were new? What was that like for you? And was there anyone who helped you feel more welcome? What did they do?

Sharing Your Gifts/Learning about Others
If every individual – student, educator and caregiver – were fully and deeply engaged in contributing the best of their inner gifts to the mission of learning, what would our schools look like, feel like? How would they be different? As we enter this school year, you might ask yourself, how are you sharing your gifts with your student and with the school community? What might that look like? How can you take one small step forward in doing that? And how can we learn about the gifts others bring? What knowledge, skills or experience do they bring professionally? What are they committed to personally? How can we find out more so that we value those we are in community with?

CPCK recently collaborated with educational leaders from Windsor Public Schools in Windsor, CT who shared this wonderful way in which they give fathers in their district the opportunity to share their best gifts at school for the benefit of all in a program called Watch DOGS (Dads of Great Students).

With our Children: Can your child name their strengths? Are they able to identify what is unique and special about themselves? This is the time when teachers will offer connection activities for students to get to know one another but our students are also working on coming to know themselves. This is the ever-evolving skill of self awareness. You can help with this by asking those key questions your child might consider. It’s common for children to be complimented on their looks (“you look beautiful!”) or their athletic performance (“you were great on the soccer field”) but those are not the only ways we hope our child will define themselves. We hope they see their inner strengths like wit, curiosity, creativity, compassion, honesty, bravery, kindness and more. Discover together what these are and how they might shape your child’s sense of identity by story-telling, perhaps reflecting on your summer at dinnertime, and pointing to specific instances of those valued traits.

Discovering School Treasures
Every school has treasures. Whether its incredible teachers with passion interest areas to share, maker spaces or places that inspire creativity, or peers that hold the potential to become best best friends, our children have a lot to explore and discover. We can participate and enjoy the discovery process by keeping the dialogue alive about what discoveries are being made. And surely when we attend school events, we can return with much to report about our own discoveries. Keeping a gratitude agenda at dinnertime or whenever your family is together can help keep the exchange of school treasures alive throughout the back to school season.

With our Children: Listening with empathy and reflection can make all the difference in elevating or amplifying treasures that might go unnoticed. As your child is quickly rattling off the events or people encounters of the day, you might reflect back to them what you heard and add in how you see them as potential treasures. “Your teacher greeted you at the door today? I am delighted to hear how glad she was to see you!

As an educator, the school year feels like a time when we hit the ground running. You may be feeling this sense too. But in reality, the transition from summer to school year doesn’t happen overnight. It is indeed a season in which there’s plenty of time to plant the seeds that will be watered and grown over the coming year. So there’s more we can do but for now, these are plenty to focus on. In part two, we’ll take a look at creating conducive learning spaces at home, sharing hopes and dreams, asking big questions, finding opportunities to play and co-creating rules and routines.

We hope you bask in the glow of these first few days and weeks of school as you appreciate the discovery of treasures in your child, in your school community, and in yourself. May it be a safe, healthy and happy year of learning for all!

Denton, Paula & Kriete, Roxanne. (2000). The First Six Weeks of School (2nd Ed.). Turner Falls, MA; Northeast Foundation for Children.

3 Tips for Easing Back-to-School Stress

Check out Jennifer Miller’s three top tips for easing back to school stress for both parents and the kids they love as part of the Equip Our Kids Back to School Campaign. Note the second tip is a super simple key ingredient, a new perspective on a foundational skill. But you may just discover that if you coach your child on this one, it can make all the difference in dealing with very normal new school year butterflies.

Remember that back to school time is not a day but truly a season. Our children may use their best self management skills on day one but by day two or three be exhausted, hangry and emotional fried by the end of a school day. Practice these tips with them this weekend before the pressure is on. Try them together a few times! And they’ll be ready to face all the newness that the start of school brings with hope and excitement.

Here’s to a healthy, safe and happy school year filled with the joy of learning for the whole family (confident parents too!)!

Helping Your Child Calm their Mind at Bedtime; Getting into the Back-to-School Sleep Routine

Thank you for writing in, Henry Killingsworth of Schofields, Australia about your son starting kindergarten soon and your thoughts about proactively beginning new sleep routines now in preparation for supporting his transition. It’s true that along with our other preparations, this particular one – new healthy sleep routines – can go a long way toward supporting our children’s transition back to school with a schedule that can be very different from our summertime schedule. With this in mind, here are some supports for you if you are dealing with a young child whose imagination and energy may be running on high when they need to be winding down for sleep.

“I just can’t go to sleep!” E said summoning me well after our nightly bedtime ritual had taken place. When I guided him back to bed, he layed down and flopped his feet up in the air with his body in a constant wiggle. Since I observed his physical restlessness first, I gently guided him to get in his “cozy position,” as we tend to call it – ready to go to sleep. But as I talked with him, I realized, it was his mind that was far more active than his body. So I simply asked, “What are you thinking about?” His response was uttered with frustration. “Simon told me that Sarah doesn’t like me. My favorite train broke and I don’t know how to fix it. The toy catalogue came in the mail. I want the Batman…monkey, monkey, swimming pool, monkey.” Okay, that may not be an exact quote but you get the idea. He began with conversational sentences and moved quickly into words and phrases following his runaway train of thought. And I could tell he was viewing his thoughts as a “monkey on his back,” an annoyance that he couldn’t tame or calm.

Bedtime can be a difficult time of day for children of all ages. It may be one of the quietest, most reflective times in their day. For some, it’s the first time they will have the chance to process all of the many activities and social interactions they’ve had. And so often, thoughts turn to problems that they are trying to work out or upsets that occurred. The feelings that accompany rumination – like worry, anxiety and frustration – may be compounded by a discomfort or fear of being alone, separated from parents, and being in the dark. In order to unpack his feelings and move toward getting to sleep, I asked him, “Can you tell me what you are frustrated about?” His response surprised me and shed light on how I could help him. “Everyone else (read: ‘everybody in the world except me’) can go to sleep just like that. They can get calm. I can’t!” Helping your child understand and deal with his monkey mind at bedtime can help him and your entire family. Instead of feeling helpless, he can find ways to “sit in the driver’s seat of his train of thoughts.”

Children can be guided to think about their thinking (in scientific terms, metacognition) and facilitate their own reflection and letting go process to self-soothe into sleep with some practice and guidance from you. Dr. Sameet Kumar in his book, The Mindful Path through Worry and Rumination writes “Change begins with observation.” And from the words of John Dewey, the educational theorist, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” And so as you try and assist your child, you want to help him observe his own ways of thinking and guide reflection on them in order to support him in changing his thoughts and preparing for a good night’s sleep. Interestingly, my child’s frustrations with his own thinking were putting his brain into flight, flight or freeze mode – his danger signal activated. There will be no going to sleep when your primal brain or survival mode has taken over. So if your child is consistently restless at bedtime, it may be worth finding out what they are thinking. Are they frustrated with their thoughts? Here are some ways you might go about it.

Find out your child’s thoughts.

My own child’s thoughts were a big messy jumble in his head with no continuity. The more he wrestled with that big jumble, the more frustrated he became with his inability to sort them out. So ask your child, “What thoughts keep coming up? What are your worries? When I leave you to go to sleep, what kind of thoughts come into your head?” You may hear a similar spilling out of many disparate thoughts. That’s okay and important in order for your child to begin to process and unravel the jumble.

Include reflection on the day in your bedtime routine.

Help untangle the mess of thoughts that creates a monkey mind at bedtime. Whatever you do at bedtime whether its reading a book, saying a prayer or singing a lullaby, include reflections from the day. There are two simple but key components to this reflection.

  1. Begin by asking about worries or problems that your child will surely consider after you leave the room. Listen and offer comfort. Demonstrate that you are allowing and accepting the uncertainty of unresolved problems. There’s no amount of worrying that is going to fix things tonight. So how can you talk about accepting what you have and where you are now and working on it tomorrow?

2. Then, turn to gratitude. Children may not have the chance to reflect on what’s good and abundant in their lives throughout the day yet grateful thoughts can be a central contributor to happiness and well-being. And grateful thoughts directly wipe out ruminations. So ask, “What happened today that made you happy?” or “What were the best moments in your day?

Describe your child’s thoughts as ocean waves.

In order to help my child think about his thinking, we discussed the ocean waves. I asked him to pretend he was standing in the ocean up to his middle and the waves were coming. “What happens if you fight the waves?” I asked. He easily responded, “It’s hard. I can’t stay up and I’m pushing and falling over.” He was so frustrated with his thoughts that he was fighting them like the waves. And he understood this as a nine-year-old. “What happens when you ride the waves?” I asked. And the response is obvious. You go with the flow. You accept your thoughts for what they are. You don’t try to beat them back but accept them and gently move with them. Going with the waves offers your child a physical example of self-compassion. If your child does not have positive associations with ocean waves (maybe he fears them?), then use another analogy like fighting a train versus riding the train.

Talk about rumination – the endless hamster wheel.

Find out if there are particular thoughts that keep coming up with no resolution. We all experience the hamster wheel. And we often hold the misconception that if we continue to worry those same worries, somehow it will prevent something bad from happening. We think all of our vigilance will contribute to our safety. But in fact, the wheel continues without doing anything but consuming our mind and deepening our anxiety. So how do you hop off the wheel? Thinking about your thinking – coming into awareness of your thoughts – is a critical first step. Becoming present through breathing can bring your focus to the moment. Assist your child in accepting right where they are with their thoughts and feelings with compassion. Then they’ll no longer need the wheel. This is the practice of mindfulness.

Find your cozy position. 

This is the place that if you didn’t move a muscle, you could be comfortable falling asleep. But before you do, you may need to get out the wiggles first. Stand up together and do an all over shake as hard as you can. Then sink into the bed and see if you feel calmer. Or guide a relaxation process that promotes body awareness and mindfulness like the following. Lie down side by side on the floor or on the child’s bed, backs to the floor. Close your eyes and ask your child to close his as well. Using a gentle voice, ask your child to pretend there is a tennis ball at the base of his feet. Ask him to try and grab the ball with his whole foot including his toes with all his might. Ask him to hold it for a few seconds. Then, let the ball go. Now ask him to pretend the ball is between his ankles. Squeeze the imaginary ball as hard as possible for a few seconds and then, let it go. Try this all the way up the body including at his knees, on his tummy, between his arms and his side, in his hands, at his neck and at the back of his head where it touches the floor. Each time squeeze for a few seconds and then release. This will guide a child to notice each part of his body, focus on that part and send relaxation to that part of the body letting the tension go.

Breathe deeply together.

We all have experienced the awareness of our slowed rhythmic breathing that occurs right before we fall asleep. Begin that kind of breathing with your child. Lay right next to him. You can even place his hand on yours or his own diaphragm or heart so that he feels that deep breathing. You can also emphasize the sound of your deep breathing so that he mimics and follows you. Use this right before you say “Good night.” I notice that the deep breathing we do before I leave his room adds to my own sense of calm in the evenings and it’s a welcome release. Take some time with your child to guide him through this process.

Our sleep is an essential prerequisite for our health and well-being during the day. Educators know that there is no more important way a parent can support learning in school than to help get children to bed on time and assist them in going to sleep. Even if you are diligent about bedtimes, your child still may be lacking the needed rest because of worrisome thoughts keeping him up. Your reflections and practice will offer invaluable skills for calming his mind, releasing tensions and going to sleep.


Kumar, Sameet M. (2009). The mindful path through worry and rumination, Letting go of anxious and depressive thoughts. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

For more related to bedtime, check out: The Opportunity of Bedtime, Part OneThe Opportunity of Bedtime, Part Two – Troubleshooting Challenges

Are You Hearing Endless Questions?

How Our Children’s Questioning Can Lead Them to Developing their Ethical Thinking Skills

It just started happening seemingly out of the blue. “Why can’t I watch PG-13 rated movies? I know kids in my class who do.” “Why do I always have to go upstairs for bed at 7:00? The neighbors all get to stay up later.” And then what seems like minutes later, I hear “Why do we always only read one book? Why can’t we read two?” This rash of questioning our family practices and routines collided, as often challenges do, with my own set issues – work deadlines, literal pains in my neck, volunteer dates and a general stacking up of life pressures – leaving me with little patience for these questions. But as I thumbed through my handy child developmental milestones book (Yardsticks 1) as I often do to help extend my patience level, I noted my son (again) is right on schedule. Eight going on nine years of age, he seems to be awakening as happens so many times in a child’s development – to new ideas and differences between him and his peers. He’s beginning to notice injustices and inequalities on an individual, personal level. The questions have the same essential focus: “Why does the guy next to me get privileges that you, Mom, say I can’t have?

As I take a step back, breathe and reflect, I realize that this is the foundation of developing moral thinking. He needs to begin to question his own differences from his very personal social encounters in order to think more broadly, in the future, about inequities in the community and world. So my quick response, with the undercurrent of annoyance, was to explain why we do things differently than other families. But after I stepped away and reflected on these series of questions, I decided to follow up with my son to talk further about how it’s critical that he continues to ask those questions even if it makes me temporarily uncomfortable.

Children need to understand the context and the why behind the rules — even at my son’s tender age of eight. Ruth Charney, author of Habits of Goodness asks these essential questions:

When we reward right answers and pass over (or scold) wrong ones, are we encouraging divergent thinking or reinforcing right-answer thinking? When we make all the choices and impose unquestioned rules, do we give opportunity to learn self-control or make decisions? And when our rules are broken, do we accomplish our goals more effectively by doling out punishments or by working on problem-solving that fosters child responsibility? 2

– Ruth Charney, “Habits of Goodness”

It remains a critical job for parents to teach children the rules of the household and why they are important. Being a part of a family means that there are guidelines that keep everyone safe and cared for. All members must contribute by following those guidelines. But questioning is important. Understanding the rules and the reasons for them begins the ethical thought process for children. So it’s worth taking the time to talk through and help your child understand the thinking behind the rules.

In understanding how moral development emerges in our children, Carol Gilligan proposed three stages she called “The Stages of an Ethic of Care.” 3 They are:

1.Preconventional or Selfish

Every person necessarily begins with a survival perspective focused only on themselves. This worldview from infancy through nine years old (varies in timeframe as all developmental milestones do) assists young children in focusing on secure relationships with caregivers and establishing their own supports for survival so that they can open their minds to other possibilities later in life. And that focus on a secure attachment will allow children to form healthy relationships and give them the confidence to explore school and the world beyond home. In this worldview, rules are given by authorities, not questioned but obeyed and taken literally. If they are disobeyed, there is punishment. But if a person remains stuck in this survivalist worldview, it limits their growth and ability to demonstrate care for themselves and others. It also significantly limits thinking about complexities or making decisions that take responsibility for one’s role in a larger community. Moving out of this phase (as my son seems to be), there is a questioning of authority. This is necessary to move from a sense of selfishness and survival to responsibility.

2. Conventional or Social

In this phase of moral development, caring for others takes primacy. A core sense of responsibility is established, an awareness of others around the individual and the impact they have on those others. In this stage, self sacrifice is good. Individuals may care for others while ignoring their own needs. They may even do harm to themselves (perhaps inadvertently) in an effort to help others. This tends to be a feminine trait though it can be seen in both genders. Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development – “Ethics of Justice” – which served as a precursor to Carol Gilligan’s, offered some helpful perspectives on this stage from a more masculine perspective.4 His theories were criticized because his research studies only involved male subjects and were largely based on artificial (fictitious) situations. But we can learn about justice thinking from his work. In his Conventional Stage, relationships become important for the individual. They act in good and compliant ways in order to receive approval from others. The individual becomes aware of the rules of the wider society and obeys them to avoid guilt and act out of obligation. Moving out of this phase into the final phase, the individual moves from goodness or the perception of goodness to truth, from responsibility in order to gain approval or attention from others to an internalized compass for not hurting self or others in concert with or despite societal rules.

3. Post Conventional or Principled

Kohlberg and Gilligan agree that most people never evolve their worldview to this place though this is the final stage. In this stage, the person’s thinking evolves to valuing nonviolence so that he or she makes decisions, however complex the situation, relative to doing no harm to themselves or others. Though this kind of thinking and the actions that follow is a rarity in our world, it certainly is a level to pursue and promote with our children. As with all stages of development, individuals can dip into former stages depending upon the circumstances. The previous stages are always a part of a person. The development that occurs in an individual becomes a raised awareness in which they predominantly view the world in that way. Do we want to raise children who will obey rules without question? I certainly don’t. If a regime like Hitler’s came into power, I need to know that my son would be prepared to be civilly disobedient, to question authority and to make choices that preserve the rights of himself and others.

Here are some ideas for prompting courageous ethical thinking in our children.

Have patience with questioning realizing its important purpose.

When your child is questioning your household rules, pause and recall that this is the necessary questioning that leads to moral thinking. Talk through the whys of family routines and practices and involve your children in thoughtful reflection. If there are not logical reasons for rules or practices, work on recreating them to align with the current context.

Promote moral thinking by encouraging care and consideration for others.

When you have the chance to help a neighbor or a friend who is ill or suffering, be sure and involve your child in thinking about and acting upon that care.

Voice compassion.

When kids say mean words or act meanly, in addition to acknowledging your own child’s hurt feelings (first) and helping them respond in ways that maintain their dignity and others, express compassion for those who are perpetrating hurt. We are all connected in a school and neighborhood community. Our hurt impacts one another. That is not to excuse any hurtful action but only to acknowledge that there is a cycle of hurting that we see taking place. So that compassion for those who are hurting and are unable to control themselves in hurting others helps stop that cycle of harm.

Help your child to question authority.

First, how can you become okay with your child questioning your own authority? That can be an emotional button-pusher. So inserting a pause, taking a beat when questioning happens can make a huge difference in your ability to step back and hold space for questioning. Though sometimes the answer will be “No.”, you can always explain the reasons behind why it’s an important response further helping develop your child’s consequential thinking.

Offer your child the chance to see complexities.

Give your child practice with responsible decision making by allowing them to make choices that they alone can make. And they will get the chance to experience whatever consequences follow. Facilitate their thinking by asking open-ended questions, not hurrying in to “fix” what’s wrong, but using your best self-control to allow your children to think for themselves. We live in highly complex times. This era of parenting involves an entire global community through the digital world that was simply not a part of the parenting experience in previous generations. We, as parents, require new ways of parenting that are reflective and thoughtful and help facilitate deeper thoughtfulness in our kids.  

With instant information, connection and communication at our children’s fingertips, the skills required of responsible decision-making could not be more important. These skills offer them the chance to build and sustain healthy relationships which serve as a cornerstone for their sense of well-being. It’s well worth our intentionality and our own self regulation as our children question it all to pursue those questions and their impacts on ourselves and others together.


  1. Wood, C. (2007). Yardsticks, Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14. (3rd Ed.) Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children
    2. Charney, R.S.(1997). Habits of Goodness, Case Studies in the Social Curriculum. Turner Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.
    3. Carol Gilligan’s Stages of an Ethic of Care,
    Gilligan, C. (1977). In a Different Voice: Women’s Conceptions of Self and of Morality. Harvard Educational Review, 47(4), 481-517.
    4. Kohlberg, L. (1984). The Psychology of Moral Development: The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages (Essays on Moral Development, Volume 2). Harper & Row.

Adapted for 2023 and originally published on March 17, 2016.

How to Teach and Practice the Complex Skill of Responsible Decision-making in Family Life…

Do I lie to my parents so that I can attend the biggest social event of the year or take my chances by telling the truth and risk not being allowed to go?

Do I allow my child to attend a party where I’ve never met the friends or parents?

Do I tell my partner about a poor choice made by our child when the child confided in only me and would be upset if anyone else knew?

We face difficult decisions as family members on a regular basis. We often have to make tough decisions with incomplete information, little facts, and limited time. And so do our children and teens. So how do we help them exercise the skill of making healthy, pro-social choices that do no harm?

Responsible decision-making is defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) as “the ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.

  • Identifying problems
  • Analyzing situations
  • Solving problems
  • Evaluating
  • Reflecting
  • Ethical responsibility.”

This represents one of the most complex skill sets parents are required to tackle and also, involves our thorniest dilemmas. When we face a problem like the ones above in which family or friends are challenging our comfort, our safety or our principles, we not only deal with the problem at hand. We have to confront our own impulses and desires. We have to deal with our own frustrations and upset and that of other’s close to us. Somehow, we have to manage our relationships and keep them healthy even when we are setting boundaries. And we have consider whether or not it’s a time to go along with other’s wishes or stand our ground. And of course, there are consequences to any of our choices – risks and rewards. 

We are living in a time that is testing our courage. And how we respond is and will be our children’s model for responding to uncertain times. How will we show up as our best selves? As we continue to enjoy a summer of fun, friendship, adventure, and connection, it’s worth considering how we’ll respond when challenges arise.

Ethical decision-making is a full line of inquiry and models from business and leadership literature can become intricate and involved to help support top leaders in companies who must navigate highly complex social structures and make decisions without all of the information needed and with major implications to a full workforce. But we, as leaders in our own families, also require guidance and support as we face ethical dilemmas that test our practical sense and wisdom and rattle our trust as a family. In fact, research confirms that trust-building can be accelerated through consistent ethical behaviors and choices.1

In family life, we don’t have time to deal with complicated decision-making models. Yet we face extremely complex decisions regularly and our family’s trust is predicated upon whether or not we can make those decisions ethically and responsibly. Roger Weissberg, Chief Knowledge Officer of CASEL developed a simple social problem-solving process for schools to use in training children in responsible decision-making. The traffic light model is simple enough that we can use it as a guide in our family life to model adult choices and guide our children in their choices. Dr. Weissberg writes about the model that it promotes “consequential thinking.”2 Children and adults begin to think through the consequences of their actions prior to choosing how to act. And that kind of thinking promotes responsible decision-making. 

This problem-solving model helps families deal with their impulses and with their big feelings, and allows for critical thinking before acting. This involves a host of social and emotional skills including self-awareness (what am I thinking and feeling?), social awareness (what are others thinking and feeling?), self-management (how can I manage my impulse to dive in when there are consequences and risks involved?), relationship skills (how do I preserve my relationships especially when needing to resist social pressures?), and finally, responsible decision-making (how can I do no harm to myself and others). Check out this simple, powerful model with guidance for parents on their own responsible decision-making. In addition, I’ve included ways in which parents can teach their children to use and rely on this process too. Print it out for your refrigerator to use as a helpful guide.


Stop! Calm down and think before you act.

No problem-solving is going to occur, no feelings repaired until all involved calm down. So take the time you and your family members need to calm down. Breathe! It’s critical for us as adults to do this as much as it is critical for our children. When you pause to breathe, you return your brain to full thinking capacity and can feel a sense of satisfaction that you are teaching your children how to do the same in tough situations. 

Teaching children: Proactively practice deep breathing with your child this summer to reinforce your memory to use it and also, teach a valuable skills. You can use easy-to-use teaching methods to help kids practice deep breathing such as bubble blowing, ocean wave or teddy bear belly breathing (see “Understanding Anger” article for descriptions of each). Take a moment for some quiet time in your own spaces. Then…


Caution. Feel. Communicate. Think.

Say the problem and how you feel.

Perhaps you and your partner, after pausing and removing yourself from a tense social situation, take time to discuss your choices.  Share how you are feeling. In this examples above, there were a range of uncomfortable feelings from guilt to frustration to embarrassment. After you’ve accepted that you are feeling this mash-up of emotion, describe to one another your thoughts about what is happening. 

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

Ask “what are our core principals?” Now, set a positive goal.

Yes, we need to have some core principals as a family that guide our decision-making. Some to consider for our current context might be:

  • We bring difficult decisions to the “we,” or discuss with one another before making a choice that impacts our family.
  • We seek out factual information (from experts and trusted others) to understand risks.
  • We consider each family members unique level of risk (age, physical and mental healthy, neurodiversity).
  • We prioritize safety, health and well-being including both physical and mental health.
  • We consider our impacts to others involved and the ripple effect consequences of our actions on other families.
  • We act in ways that promote trust among our family members.

We need to articulate our values with one another and which ones, despite all pressures, are worth standing up for.  After you’ve become clear on your principles, then how can you use those to set a positive goal for your problem-solving together? For example, “we want all of us to remain mentally and physically healthy with our choice and not to harm others.”

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

Think of lots of solutions.

We recently brainstormed as a family and it was the adults who struggled. We skipped to judging our ideas so quickly. So it takes some self-management skills to stop judging and only listen and offer potential ideas. But if we do, we’ll discover solutions we may not have come to otherwise. Take the time with your partner or in a family discussion to lay out many ideas before picking one.

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

Think ahead to the consequences.

“What are the risks if we say no to the family birthday party? What are the risks if we go?” Understanding the risks and potential consequences for our adult decisions may require research or a gathering of information first. How can we show support for our family and maintain healthy relationships? If weighed carefully, we are much more likely to make a responsible choice and one that all family members can trust (even if there have been disagreements) and feel confident it’s been well-considered.

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

GREEN LIGHT                                                                                                             

Go! Try out your best plan.

If we’ve discussed our feelings and our options as a family, if we considered our values and the potential consequences of our actions, we can proceed as a unified team trusting one another as we proceed. And we can return after the choices have been made to find out how it went and see if the process worked for us.

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

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

Though each family is experiencing their own unique set of challenges whether financial, health, emotional or social, we all need to consider how our decisions are impacting ourselves, our family, and our community. Every challenge in our lives is an opportunity for learning, a chance for us to hone our own social and emotional skills and build those essential inner resources in our children. May you seize the chance to reflect on those inner strengths and ways in which you can model and build them. Have a safe, healthy and happy summer!


1. Hosmer, L. (1985). Trust: The connecting link between organizational theory and philosophical ethics. Academy of Management Review, Vol. 20(2) 379–403.

2. Weissberg, R.P., Jackson, A.S., & Shriver, T.P. (1993). Promoting positive social development and health practices in young urban adolescents. In M.J. Elias (Ed.). Social decision making and life skills development: Guidelines for middle school educators (pp. 45-77). Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publications.

What’s Important to You as We Look Ahead to Back to School Season?

As partners in the Leading with SEL initiative, we want to know how we can support you as you support your children this back to school season! Whether you are a parent, caregiver, educator or serve in another education-related role, we are eager to hear from you! Your answers will guide us in providing valuable information and tips to support your students’ social, emotional and academic learning.

In this brief 3-question survey, we ask what’s most important to you this school year; what are your students most excited about; and what do you want to learn about advancing children’s social and emotional development?

Here’s the quick survey and thanks in advance for your helpful feedback!

Now please return to enjoying summertime!!!! 🙂

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