Lightweight Rules and Routines for a Renewing, Cooperative Family Summer

“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 is swimming with work agendas and classroom parent 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 “lite” 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. 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’l agree that getting dressed should happen by a certain time in the morning? 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.

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 children!

Originally published in June, 2018.

Reader Responses – How Do We Heal?

A number of readers wrote in and commented on the question I posted about how we can become intentional about healing emotional and social wounds this summer that may have been a result of the pandemic including racial injustices, job or income losses, loss of in-person education, mental and physical well-being and social divides. Here’s what you said.

I loved reading your post this morning. Was inspired. I have a 6 yr old son (will be 7 in August) and a husband (together 17 years, married 8 years). Going along with your bucket idea, I thought of the phrase we commonly use with each other of ‘you filled my bucket’ or ‘my bucket is empty’ (from the children’s book of similar title). Anywho, we have small, silver buckets from an Oriental Trading purchase long ago for a teaching endeavor and I thought to give each of us 2 buckets to assign affirming or positive words that for us mean joy, health and/or healing. Mine as a Type A Mom are PEACE and RELAX; Husband’s are PHYSICAL (for activity and love language) and MAKE (he’s an artist and creative). I will introduce this idea to my son after school and see what he comes up with. Thank you for putting a positive spin on the season to come and perspective around the pandemic that’s uplifting vs. exhausting.

– Melanie Wiley

Journaling daily my feelings has helped me tune into how I want to feel and align my behavior to feel that way. It’s a great way start my morning with purpose and intention. I have an EQ program teaching kids social emotional learning and I use the “Mission Me Journal” by Renee Jain, Founder of GoZen for Kids to teach EQ.

– Tabatha Marden

I surround myself with positive people that I know have my best interest at heart. They help me see things clearly. EQUAL to that though, if not even of greater importance, I distance myself from toxic situations.

  – @AshleeArcX

When I’m angry with my family members, I stop and spend time listing out in my head all of the things I love about them and it helps me return to our argument in a more loving way.

-Parent, Robeson County, NC

I am still thinking about this right now too. I am falling in love with the idea of creating our own “interventions” to support our own goals. Why hasn’t this crossed my mind pre-COVID? Here’s to joy, healing, and health for all of us this summer!!!

– Shannon Wanless

Right now, healing is coming from Investing in intimate connections with family and friends. It helps grow my trust and faith in humanity. Even when there are disagreements and it’s difficult, hanging in there and working on it together restores our connection and sense of safety.

– Jennifer Miller

Thanks to all who contributed! Hoping it’s a summer of fun, renewal, and healing for you and your family!

Interview Today on Families Fighting – How Can we Argue with Social and Emotional Intelligence?

Check out my interview today with Mary Kay Garrett in the Raising Remarkable Kids Expert Series. We are talking about the fact that fighting in family life is normal and may arise even more frequently these days after a year of high stress with altered schedules, social pressures and fears, and conflict in the air. In order to argue without fear of hurting others or being hurt or worrying about ending the day with feelings of regret, we can think through how those arguments take place and plan for our reactions to grow our trust and intimacy and ultimately, work through even our toughest issues together.

Sign in to access my interview —  REGISTER FREE HERE!

Raising Remarkable Kids Online Event – Coming Soon!

Looking forward to the Raising Remarkable Kids Expert Series!

I’m excited to be speaking in the Raising Remarkable Kids Expert Series, hosted by Mary Kay Garrett, where 21 experts have teamed up to talk about relevant and timely issues like:

  • Improving communication with your kids
  • Creating family rules that set healthy boundaries
  • When to back off when kids are struggling and when to lean in
  • How to use mindfulness practices to help kids move through emotions
  • And much more! 

I’ll be speaking with Mary Kay on Tuesday, June 8th about arguing with family members and how we can build healthy conflict management skills in our children and ourselves, strengthen our intimacy and trust even in the midst of disagreements and prevent unhealthy patterns of fighting that cause hurt and regret.

Learn more about this FREE EXPERT series from June 1st – June 15th and  REGISTER FREE HERE!

Reflecting on an Exceptional Year of Learning

Creating Reflective Opportunities to Support the Transition Ending This Unique School Year

This was indeed a big year for learning – learning not only subject matter but also how to transition from various learning settings from home to school and school to home and also, how to deal with the anxiety and other big feelings of living, schooling and parenting through a global pandemic amidst racial injustice and a divided nation. We have learned flexibility, emotional courage and resilience during these uncertain times. Home and family life may have played more of a role in education than ever before with remote learning taking place. In our household, we took full responsibility for our son’s seventh grade education through homeschooling and it was meaningful, rewarding, intimacy-building and also, downright all-consuming and challenging.

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. At times, many of us struggled to get through the day and we may have lost relatives or friends along the way, so progress this year of any sort is cause for celebration.  

“We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” 

– John Dewey, Renowned Educational Reformer and Psychologist

Your child will never experience this grade level again during a global pandemic. Children may be sad to leave their teacher, their connection to class friends and the predictability of the school-home routine. Despite the stress of hybrid learning (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. They may also fear the uncertainty to come including reentering public places with the danger of the COVID still present and the unknowns of how summer might be fundamentally different from years past because of the many public restrictions and virus risks.

There are some small, simple steps you can take to ease the transition and also deepen the lessons of their year through reflection. 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 an 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.

During remote or hybrid learning…

  • Do you recall the first day or week of learning at home? What were you thinking? What were you feeling?
  • How is our family different from life before COVID-19?
  • What have you found that has been joyful or connecting during COVID?
  • 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. If the not-so-hidden opportunity of this moment of a global pandemic might be practicing and promoting resilience in times of trial, how can you take time out to seal in and ensure that learning by reflecting on it? 

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 an uncertain summer. Some specific questions to guide you in this discussion might be:

  • What have been our fears throughout COVID-19 and remote learning?
  • 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 were in the midst of scrambling ourselves to figure out how to manage our household, our work responsibilities, the dangers of COVID19, and how to support distance learning, 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.

“Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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

How Do We Heal?

Though we had many work issues to discuss and tasks to accomplish, this was the first topic of conversation with my long-time research partner, collaborator and friend Shannon Wanless this week as we prepared for the National Service Learning Conference hosted by the Center for the Promotion of Social and Emotional Learning. She shared that she had reflected on three different “buckets,” or areas of focus including joy, healing and health and how they might take center stage this summer with her family. I loved the idea and am literally assembling buckets labeled “joy,” “healing,” and “health.” I’ll set them out empty with blank cards and markers next week – our last week of homeschool – for family members to contribute their thoughts and ideas. But honestly, I could sure use yours!

What are your ideas for healing? What are you currently doing? What do you want to do?

Please share in the comments or write to me at and I’ll be sure and share your thoughts with our larger community. We’ve all endured our unique and collective stories of struggle this past year. We are stronger when we are in dialogue together. And I’m eager to learn from you!

Playing COVID

Source: TODAY Illustration — Getty Images,

Did you know that one of the healthiest ways our children deal with their fears is through pretend play? This has always been the case. Whether it’s playing with weapons, dawning super powers, or overcoming the most difficult obstacles like illness and death, our children work through their worries and fears by acting out what it must be like to deal with mortal challenges and defeat them. As they do, they build up their reserves of resilience. They also make meaning of the worries and fears they feel but may not fully understand from the adults in their environment.

Through the experience of conquering their fears through play, they rehearse vital social and emotional skills like self-awareness (recognizing what they are thinking and feeling), social awareness (understanding what others are thinking and feeling), self-management (discovering ways to overcome that obstacle), relationships skills (if they are playing with a sibling or friend, they learn negotiation, cooperative problem-solving and collaboration), and finally responsible decision-making (as they make choices about how they will face complex problems with decisions that help and not harm like the girl vaccinating her teddy bear shown above).

CPCK’s Jennifer Miller was interviewed for the following article with regular partner TODAY Parenting by writer Lisa Tolin. Here’s how it begins:

Chelsea Carr is good and vaccinated — she’s gotten a dose of Johnson & Johnson, and many more pretend shots from her 2-year-old daughter.

“My daughter gives me COVID shots with the fake syringe in her doctor’s kit. I’ve probably had at least 20 injections so far,” said Carr, a mother of two in Maryland.

A number of children are incorporating COVID-19 into their play, according to parents, teachers and psychologists. Children create scenarios where they pretend to care for others with COVID, get sick, or even die.


Kids Are Playing COVID: Why It’s A Good Thing

Thanks Lisa Tolin and TODAY Parenting for the opportunity to contribute!

Teachers, How Can We Thank You?

Teacher Linda Smith with daughter, Jennifer Smith Miller

I will forever love this photograph taken in my Mother’s freshman high school English Literature classroom in the late seventies (check out my teeth!). Mom — and Dad — were my very first teachers both in their professional and personal lives. I watched as they strived to recognize the assets in each student and bring out their very best (even when those students had no faith in themselves). They showed me how teaching could be one of the most meaningful contributions to the world. As a child, I pretend played teacher with my stuffed friends, acted in plays at school as a teacher, and envisioned what I would be iike someday when I could become a teacher. Since then, the teachers who have left a lasting impression are the ones who taught my heart and spirit to soar with curiosity, wisdom and compassion. I’m honored to now be a teacher and have learned that teachers, in order to fulfill their sacred role, must be consummate students. Teaching has become a whole family affair as I teach alongside my partner, Jason in homeschooling this year and we invite in guest teacher friends and family – yes, Mom and Dad are back teaching their grandson – with powerful lessons in the Ancient Maya, the arts, Shakespeare, writing poetry and more.

Because teachers are learners and change-makers, we are well-equipped for changing times, times of division and times of trial. We realize that the whole world is our classroom if only we observe, question and reflect with our students on the lessons to be learned from social, political and environmental challenges. We know that if we bring our whole heart and mind to our students — paying keen attention to their needs, their gifts, and which issues ignite their passions — we will become just the support they need to thrive not simply survive.

So to all the teachers who are making the world a better, kinder, more inclusive and just place, thank you!


Emotionally Intelligent Parenting with The Ripple Effect

It was a true joy to talk with Fernando Restoy of The Ripple Effect. Fernando is based in Madrid, Spain though his mission and vision spans the globe. His organization helps people create the conditions for themselves and others to thrive by developing emotional intelligence. He recently represented Daniel Goleman’s Organization on Emotional Intelligence at the World Economic Forum. He offers his own stories of conflict as a teenager with his Mom and many questions he’s had about parenting with emotional intelligence. I’m particularly grateful for the videos included involving a diverse range of families who demonstrate the ideas shared. Check it out! Thank you, Fernando, for this conversation and for your important work!

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