Parenting with Social and Emotional Learning – A New Discussion Series Free to School Communities

A Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning Initiative

I was honored to partner with CASEL on this important discussion series piloted last Spring in which parents came together to discuss their hopes for their parenting and for their children and how they might align those hopes with social and emotional skill building. The pilot with a Chicago Public School community was such an incredible success motivating parent leaders to take action in their own families and in their communities. In fact, six additional Chicago Public Schools will be engaging in this dialogue in the coming year. So this past week, CASEL launched an online guide of the series so that any school community might take advantage of the chance to initiate these potentially transformative conversations.

Families are a child’s first teacher and an essential factor in the cultivation of social and emotional competencies throughout a child’s life. When schools and families work together, they can build strong connections that reinforce social-emotional skill development. In fact, research suggests that evidence-based SEL programs are more effective when they extend into the home. This discussion series was developed to support schools and community partners that wish to engage parents and caregivers in conversations about the social and emotional growth of their families. Each of these eight sessions helps caregivers become more familiar with social and emotional learning and encourages them to actively engage in their own growth while supporting their children to practice social and emotional skills. Each session lasts about 60 minutes and is scripted in both English and Spanish. It is recommended that groups be limited to no more than ten participants to ensure that each participant is able to contribute.

Check it out! Learn more in English!   Or check out the Spanish version. If you are a parent or an educator, introduce these to your school community and see if you might find like-minded others who are willing to participate. This is a concrete way to take action and really make a difference!

 

For this opportunity to collaborate, I am grateful to CASEL, Jo Salazar and most especially, the ongoing mentorship and friendship of Roger Weissberg.

May you and yours feel your own sense of gratitude for your families over the coming weeks! If you celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving!

Cultivating Family Gratitude Means Nurturing Family Well-Being


If you worry and you can’t sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep and you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings
.

Count your Blessings, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, 1942

It’s true. People who think about what they are grateful for do sleep better at night. Psychologists have done research on gratefulness and found that it increases people’s health, sense of well-being and their ability to get more and better sleep at night. One study from a leading researcher on gratitude at the University of California, Davis found that thankfulness can prevent a second heart attack in patients that have already gone through that trauma.A person who experiences the benefits of being grateful is a person who has developed it as a habit of thinking.

Parenting articles often address the concerns of entitlement in our culture;the need for our children to appreciate their lives and circumstances. Many of us live in a privileged society in which our daily needs are met without worry.

When little Jackson receives a gift, his dad tells him “You need to appreciate what you have instead of asking for more…” Yet when children are getting gifts, there is a desire for more and more. They are in the mode of getting and so they perpetuate that frame of thinking. It is our responsibility to at least balance the riches with a sense of appreciation. Scolding or making a child feel bad for wanting more is confusing since adults are typically doing the gift-giving in the first place. Children won’t understand why adults are placing a limit on their wishes. And should there be a limit? Dreaming of abundance can lead to more abundance. I want my child to be a practiced “wisher and dreamer” as well as being a practiced “appreciator and contributor”.

So the question remains. How do we teach our children to truly appreciate their lives and the many gifts they already have?

The answer lies in those small habits of thinking that can be reinforced every day in your household.

Morning Modeling

You can create habits of grateful thinking in your family. Begin your day by modeling the habit of thinking that you’d like all others in your family to adopt.

Place a sticky note reminder near the coffee maker. Or buy yourself a beautiful mug that will nudge you each morning. Make a point before each member of the family goes off to school and work to look for specific ways to appreciate them. “You are taking responsibility for putting your dishes in the sink when you finish breakfast. I appreciate that.” It works for your partner too. “I saw you took out the garbage yesterday which is typically my job. I really appreciate when you notice things that need to get done and just do them.” This helps each person, including you, the appreciator, start the day feeling good.

Home Sweet Home

Appreciating your environment, your home, possessions, and neighborhood are important since that environment plays a key role in shaping your daily experience. The following idea is borrowed from the Jewish concept of a Mezuzah, typically a beautiful small vessel that contains parchment with inscribed blessings from the Torah.

Place a small framed photograph of your home or picture of a favorite spot in your home and touch it each time you leave the house or enter. This recognition of your house as a blessing will help all family members cultivate a regular awareness and practice of appreciating your home.

Also, ensuring that all members of the family have responsibilities in keeping your home a safe, clean and well-organized environment is another way that all members demonstrate their appreciation of your home. It’s not enough to assign children a task. Be sure that you do it with them the first few times, modeling how you want things organized or cleaned, providing adequate tools for the job and making sure that they are capable. Allot a time for your family to do their chores together. This helps children feel a sense of contribution and togetherness and helps you avoid nagging. In many families, one person does the majority of the work and though things may get done more uniformly and in a more timely manner, it does a disservice to the others who may show greater respect and investment if they are contributing to their environment.

Dinnertime Sharing

Whether you say a prayer or grace before eating or not, this is an ideal time to find out what individuals are grateful for that day. Family dinners together are an important way to connect and typically a time to recount the events of the day. Why not include a conversation about what you are grateful for?

Lead the way and model by contributing your grateful thoughts. Particularly in the month of November, our family counts down each day to Thanksgiving by using a felt tree made by Grandma Linda with leaves that are pockets for notes of gratefulness. For those who do not have the benefit of a crafty Grandma Linda, get a branch out of your yard and place it in a stable vase. Cut leaves out of construction paper and write your grateful thoughts on the leaves and attach each day. At dinner, we discuss what we want to write as our most grateful thought for our family that day. The same idea can be used for the holiday season as a countdown. During a season of giving and much receiving on the part of little ones, it’s a real opportunity to promote appreciation on a daily basis.

Bedtime Reflection

Bedtime is a natural time for reflection and appreciation. After turning on E’s nightlight and turning off the lights, we talk quietly about the day. As we go through the events, it affords me the opportunity to let him know when I am proud of him. I point those out and name them specifically as they come up naturally with the review. “It was thoughtful of you to offer your friend a snack when he came to play with us this afternoon.” This leads naturally into discussing gratefulness which we call our “happy thoughts.” Each night we have a habit of naming the people, things or experiences from the day that we are grateful for. Thoughts of gratefulness not only put a child in a calm, positive state of mind to promote a restful night of sleep but also help children appreciate the good things in life and focus on them and not take anything for granted.

Holiday Gifts

During the holiday season, many gifts are exchanged with children typically at the center of the gift pile. Remember that in the moment of gift getting, it’s impossible to change or control children’s reactions. So practice in advance. Wrap up a cookie or bag of pretzels in a box and let your children know that you are going to practice. Remind them of the behaviors you want to see them exhibit. Advise them that they should be sure to look at the person who gave them the gift and to say thank you even if it’s something they don’t like or already have. Then, draw on that practice experience before you enter a gift-receiving situation by giving a quick reminder. Be sure to involve children in thinking about giving gifts too. It’s not enough to pick up a gift while you are at the mall.

Ask your child about Dad’s favorite things and give him or her the opportunity to brainstorm ideas for potential gifts. This will allow them to practice the values of perspective and empathy. They will feel proud and fully invested when they have thought through a gift they know a parent will truly love. Follow through and get or make one of the gift ideas from your child. This will give her the full joy of giving a gift out of love.

In addition, involve your child in giving to those who have less. It does not matter how much of the process your child understands. What matters is that you take the time to model and involve them in delivering canned goods to a local food bank or buying a present for a family that otherwise might not have much for the holiday. All of these opportunities for practice will balance out the holiday “gimmies” and teach valuable lessons in gratefulness.

As with any change in behavior or thinking, it’s the day-to-day changes that make a difference over time. So begin with one small step toward adding gratefulness into your family life and see if it makes a difference. The reward of that first step will help to motivate you toward a grateful state of mind.

Here are a few resources:

Parenting books that discuss gratefulness

Carter, C. (2011). Raising happiness; Ten simple steps for more joyful kids and happier parents. NY: Ballantine Books.

Hawn, G. & Holden, W. (2011). Ten mindful minutes. NY: Perigee.

Rubin, G. (2012). Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project,
Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life. NY: Crown Archetype Publishing Group.

Childrens’ books on appreciating what you have

Berenstain, S., & Berenstain, J. (1995). The Berenstain Bears count their blessings. Random House Books for Young Readers.

Wilson, K. (2012). Bear says thanks. NY: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Childrens’ books on appreciating who you are

McCue, L. (2011). Quiet bunny’s many colors. NY: Sterling Children’s Books.

Tillman, N. (2010). On the night you were born. NY: Feiwel & Friends.

Cusimano, M. (2001). You are my I love you. NY: Philomel.

Children’s book on appreciating nature

Yolen, J. (1987). Owl moon. NY: Scholastic.

Originally published on Medium on December 15, 2015.

A New Children’s Book Series

For Promoting Social and Emotional Skills in the Home or Classroom

Mandy is having a tough day because each friend or relative she meets can’t play. But the narrator of this story asks good questions of Mandy to learn more. It turns out her friend got in trouble and wasn’t allowed to play. Another friend got sick and similarly, her Mom had a headache. As Mandy is prompted to consider the perspectives of others, she begins to shift how she views her situation. Instead of feeling sad about herself and what she didn’t get to do, she feels empathy for the struggles of others.

This forms the basis of one of the stories in the new book series, “Grit Up.” The children’s books in this series directly address many of our hopes and aspirations for our children. They help us take steps toward achieving those hopes by aligning them with research-based social and emotional skills.

In our day-to-day parenting with our kids, we may not see how we are engaged in promoting life skills. Yet during even the most mundane tasks, like getting out of the door on time in the morning or getting homework accomplished each evening, there lies the chance for us to model and practice social and emotional skills.

We hope our children will have a positive, hopeful outlook on life. And when we express our gratitude for our lives and for each family member, we bolster their self-awareness. We also may help reframe our child’s thinking when he is working on a challenging math problem and begins to say he can’t do it. Our conviction that he can do it helps reinvent his negative self-talk so that he believes in his ability to work hard.

We hope our children will act with love and care toward others. And when we encourage siblings to be kind to one another or we offer a helping hand in our community with compassion, we offer authentic practice in empathy and teach our children social awareness.

We hope our children will manage their emotions, particularly the intense ones. And when we encourage calming down before making decisions or we take time out to reflect on our feelings with our children, we are promoting their self-management skills.

We hope our children will have loving, healthy relationships with friends and family. When we assert our love for them and we show how to disagree in ways that do not harm verbally or physically but help us stay connected, then we directly promote their relationship skills.

Finally, we hope our children will be responsible. We may even fear the days when they’ll be tempted by their peers to engage in unsafe activities. But when we address poor choices with reflection, when we talk about how their actions result in harm, and when we guide them to fix whatever it is they’ve broken – whether its feelings or property – we teach responsible decision-making. Instead of worrying about our children’s choices, we give them ample practice in thinking through a variety of small decisions so that when that “someday” comes for the big decisions on their own, they’ll be prepared.

I was delighted to be introduced to this book series designed for children 6-10 years-old entitled The Grit Up Series that can be used by parents or classroom teachers that teaches these core skills in a kid-friendly manner. Throughout the series, the main character, Mandy, encounters some typical experiences like anticipating a sleepover at a friend’s house or attempting a science fair project that just isn’t turning out as she hoped. A simple conversation unfolds between a narrator and Mandy offering her the chance to reflect on her feelings and her reactions to those feelings creating important lessons through common, everyday issues. Though it’s titled “Grit Up,” this series not only deals with self-management skills, but covers all five social and emotional competencies. I love the accompanying simple illustrations which bear a resemblance to the ones on this site!

Author, Abbie Kelley is a pediatric mental health therapist in Chicago, IL who offers a wide range of specialized treatments to serve children and families. Abbie created the Grit Up series as after realizing the need for simple, affordable and accessible resources on social and emotional learning.

There are eight books in the series covering each of the social and emotional skills including:

  • Grit Up; Helping Children Cope with Challenges
  • Emotion Commotion; Helping Children Calm their Intense Emotions
  • Gratitude Attitude; Helping Children Express Gratitude and Appreciation
  • Screech Speech; Helping Children Change Negative Self-Talk
  • Inner Celebration; Helping Children Feel Proud of their Accomplishments
  • Empathy; Helping Children Understand Other’s People’s Perspective
  • Head and Heart; Helping Children Develop Assertive and Respectful Communication
  • Care to Repair; Helping Children Take Responsibility for Hurtful Actions

Each of the books comes with discussion guides and can be used by classroom teachers or parents. Thanks for sharing these as a great resource for schools and parents, Abbie! Check them out here!

Further Reading:

For more on the power of story and using stories in your parenting, check out:

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

Making the Most of Parent-Teacher Conferences

Are your parent-teacher conferences coming up as mine are? With limited time, how we can forge a trusting relationship as we support our children’s learning?

…no school can work well for children if parents and teachers do not act in partnership on behalf of the children’s best interests. Parents have every right to understand what is happening to their children at school, and teachers have the responsibility to share that information without prejudicial judgment…. Such communication, which can only be in a child’s interest, is not possible without mutual trust between parent and teacher.
– Dorothy H. Cohen

Parent-teacher conferences are upon us. Though we go into them with great hope for a productive dialogue about how our child is doing in school, sometimes we come away feeling like we didn’t get the information we wanted or don’t know exactly what our next steps should be. Perhaps later we begin to worry about his learning challenges but missed the opportunity to ask more about it. The conference for my son next week is scheduled for ten minutes in length. That’s enough time for a check-in only. So I know that I am going to need to be in communication with his teacher at other times if I am really going to understand how I can support his learning goals. With so little time together, it helps to enter the conversation in the right frame of mind. And also coming with a plan and questions at the ready can assist you in ensuring you are satisfied with the interchange.

Teachers have these brief meetings scheduled with 15-20+ parents, a short amount of time to communicate with a lot of people. Because of time and demands, the teacher may not come to the conversation with an understanding about your feelings and how you might receive their information. They have business to take care of. Hopefully, your teacher views this as a chance to further your relationship and show care for your child but sometimes, the pressure of a variety of goals overshadows a focus on the relationship. All you can control is your participation in the dialogue, so why not think a bit about it ahead of time and bring your best? The following is intended to support you as you prepare and enter into those conversations to get the most out of them.

Decide ahead on your intended outcomes.

What do you want to be certain about getting out of the meeting? Be clear and honest with yourself and your partner about what you need to hear from the teacher. You might ask yourself and your partner:- Do I want to hear about what my daughter does well?

– Do I want to hear about what my daughter does well?
– Do I want to hear how my daughter is struggling?
– Do I want to know what I can do as a parent to support her in her learning goals?
– Do I want to hear about my daughter in comparison to her classmates?
– Do I want to know how my daughter is getting along socially as well as academically?
– Are there problems that my daughter talks about at home that I need to seek
clarification on or learn more about?
– If my daughter is struggling with a subject, do I need to know what approaches the
teacher is taking to provide her extra support? And what approaches she recommends
for me to provide at home?

Take care of your own needs.
After asking yourself honestly what you want out of the conversation, you may anticipate that you’ll feel upset if your teacher says nothing about your daughter’s strengths and abilities. Some teachers enter a meeting in a problem-solving frame of mind and dive right into challenges and difficulties making it sound like that is their focus. It may also give the impression that in general, your daughter is struggling when in reality, she might be doing well in all areas but one. So take the initiative. “I’d like to hear about what strengths and abilities you see my daughter brings to her work.”

Assume the best intentions.
It can be difficult to leave behind biases we may have from our child coming home from school and complaining about the “torture” their teacher put them through that day. Try to set aside concerns you or your child may have about the teacher’s performance. After all, the goal of the meeting should be a partnership in supporting your child’s learning. And it’s likely that the teacher will be focused on learning goals too. Bring an open mind and the intention to actively listen to the teacher. Leave any critical baggage behind and enter the conversation with an intention to form an alliance with the teacher to support your child.

Be wise about learning goals.
Though many individuals will desire or expect a child to make an “A” grade or meet or exceed expectations in every subject or on every project, that’s not realistic nor is it wise. If deep learning is truly a value for you and your child, then set your expectations accordingly. Learning means working toward a standard but not always meeting or exceeding. In fact, if deep learning is taking place, then your child will be progressing toward his learning goal in a steady way but perhaps not making perfect grades. Your expectations of mistakes, failures, and difficulties along the way as part of the learning process will help you manage your own emotions about performance and also your child’s.

Find out your role.
Whether or not the teacher communicates it, it’s important to find out what his expectations are for you as a parent in supporting your child’s learning. Don’t make assumptions that you or he hold the same expectations. Ask, “What are your expectations for me as a parent in supporting my child’s learning?”

Ask for learning expectation clarification.
If the teacher talks to you about an area that requires more hard work from your child to make improvements, be sure you are clear about the goals, the steps to get there and expected outcomes from the teacher. You might ask,”What are the specific indicators my child is working toward?” Perhaps, for example, your child needs to improve her reading performance. In order to support her, you need specifics. Is the problem speed? Is it comprehension? Does she need work on vowel sounds? Then, you can ask, “What specifically do you suggest I do to help her reach her goal?” And, “How will I know when she reaches it?”

QUICK SET OF QUESTIONS TO CHOOSE FROM FOR YOUR PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCE
Printer-Friendly Version of Questions for Parent Teacher Conferences
Pick one or two of these questions as top priority for you to ask. You will likely not have time for anymore. If there are serious learning challenges or serious social issues such as, bullying, then be sure and use your time to set up a follow meeting to devote the time to this important discussion.

  1. What do you see as our child’s greatest assets/strengths in the classroom?
    2. What subjects is he doing well in? In those areas in which he is meeting or exceeding standards, why do you suspect he is doing well?
    3. What do you see as his greatest challenges?
    4. In what areas is he not meeting his academic goals? Why do you suspect he is not meeting them yet?
    5. What steps are you taking to help him move forward?
    6. What steps can we take at home to help him move forward? What do we, as parents, need to do? What does he need to do at home?
    7. If the goal is long-term, are there shorter benchmarks or milestones along the way that we can recognize to help encourage his ongoing efforts?
    8. Do classmates typically get along and care for one another? How is safety and bullying addressed in your classroom? Are there ways that I can help support school safety at home?
    9. Is there anything else we can do to support your efforts?
    10. If we have questions going forward, how best should we communicate with you? Do you prefer email, phone calls? What days and times are best?

Additionally, if you have not helped in the classroom yet and have the flexibility to do so, you may want to ask if your teacher might have a role for you. Even stapling and collating worksheets gets you in the classroom and shows your child that you are supportive of her schooling and her teacher’s efforts.

Follow up.
If after the conversation, you may begin to generate new worries or questions about how to support your child, so get back in touch. Teachers are busy people but do appreciate short communications if your intention is to clarify understanding and do what you can, in alignment with the teacher’s efforts, to support learning.
We know from research that parents’ involvement in a child’s school can largely predict their academic success.1 Take advantage of this post as a way to reflect and prepare for your upcoming meeting. See the printer-friendly version of the quick questions above and take them with you to make sure you are covering all of the issues that are important to you. Ensure that you are not only showing up but engaged in meaningful conversations with your child’s teacher as a partner in learning.

Check out the additional resources for Parents on Edutopia, The George Lucas Educational Foundation’s site, entitled “Parent Leadership Education Resources.”

 

TWO TEACHERS’ PERSPECTIVES ON ANTICIPATING PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCES:

As a teacher, I am a little concerned about conferences this year because of all of the new standards and common core language that is now in place. I am not really sure how to explain the terminology so the parents can explicitly understand. I am looking forward to meeting my parents but NOT looking forward to explaining all of the test results and data collections that have been done since August. From the KRA, STAR, SM6, reading progress monitoring test (which are given every two weeks), to the monthly math unit test; there has been little socializing going on in my kindergarten class.

I think the first time parents will be a little overwhelmed with what takes place in a kindergarten class nowadays and I think the veteran parents will be okay because they have been introduced to this new assess/data era. They already realize and understand that the common goal is to produce college and career ready graduates by implementing Ohio new learning standards with fidelity.

I still conduct my conferences by letting the parents tell me how they think the year is going, how they think their child is doing and how they think I am doing as the teacher. I am a firm believer in having the parents take control of the conference. This way, they lead and I follow. They like to feel like they are included in some their child’s classroom education. I always revisit their hopes and dreams that are posted and ask them if we need to change or add anything and most of the time, I have to send another copy home because they always make changes.

– Valerie Robison, Kindergarten Teacher, Toledo Public Schools, Toledo, Ohio

As a teacher, my confidence regarding parent teacher conferences grew with experience. As a first year teacher, I had no idea what I was supposed to share or do. I was probably more nervous than the parents. Each year my confidence grew and I felt confident that I knew each of my students inside and out and would be able to share my insight and thoughts with the parents. I also made sure that I had already connected with each parent, so this was not our first meeting. My hope for parent-teacher conference was to look at the growth each student had made and set goals for the upcoming quarter. I tried very hard to keep the focus on the parents’ child and did not want to spend time comparing the student to peers or siblings. My hope was that parents would see and celebrate their child’s progress and dreams.

First and foremost .. the most important thing a parent can do is”show up” for the conference. Even for the “good” student … nothing shows interest in your child’s education more than showing up for school events and conferences with the teacher. Once there, my hope was that they expressed interest in what we were doing in class and the growth their child was making more so than what their grades were. For example, a student who gets all “A’s”– Is it because the work was not challenging or did their child work really hard to earn those “A’s”? On the flip side, if the student has “D’s” and “F’s”, is it because the work was too challenging and accommodations and modifications need to be made or is it because the student was not doing the work? I always wanted to know the meaning behind the grades and hoped that I could educate my parents on that too.

– Sue Rowe, Teacher Coach/Consultant, Certified Trainer, Responsive Classroom, Toledo Public Schools

Thanks, Valerie and Sue! It’s so helpful to hear your perspectives as teachers!

For further reading on dealing with challenging parent-teacher conversations, check out CPCK’s article, “Parent Teacher Conversations.”

References
1. Henderson, A.T., & Berla, N. (1994). A New Generation of Evidence; The Family is Critical to Student Achievement. National Committee for Citizens in Education.

In the News…

Check out the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning’s (CASEL) newsletter for an interview with CPCK’s Author, Jennifer Miller! CASEL promotes the integration of social and emotional learning – the most critical skills for our children to develop – into preschool through high school by advancing research, policy, and practice. It’s an honor to collaborate with an organization that is changing the conversation in education to ensure that all schools are intentionally preparing children with the competencies they’ll need for success today and in their future! Thanks, CASEL!

Here’s a snapshot…

What the Experts Are Saying…
Jennifer Miller, an expert on families and social and emotional learning, is the author of a popular blog, Confident Parents, Confident Kids and a longtime CASEL collaborator. She first discovered the power of SEL when working on dropout prevention as a VISTA volunteer many years ago. Ten years ago, when she became a parent, she discovered the lack of research-based advice about SEL for parents. That inspired her to start her blog, which now has 22,500 subscribers and 40,000 views per year from 152 countries. Here she shares practical advice for communicating with parents, families, and caregivers.

On the importance of parent SEL.

The great challenge for parents is how to manage your own emotions. Parenting is so deeply personal. The very nature of child development will raise a parent’s own volcano of emotions. For instance, toddlers go through a stage when they are hitting, but knowing that doesn’t always help a parent who remembers being hit as a child and wants to nurse his or her own wounds. Parents need to unpack what they’re feeling. I tell them, “You’re going to get emotional. Let’s plan for it so you’re ready.” Our Caregivers Guide (upcoming from CASEL) has an Emotional Safety Plan. It might mean saying, “Mommy needs five minutes.” Then close your eyes, calm down, breathe, reflect and come up with a plan to re-enter the situation.

We all plan for fires, even though only one in four of us ever experiences them. But we don’t plan for emotional fires even if every single parent has them.

On 5 things teachers can do.
You don’t have to do a big parent engagement initiative. Many small things build the trusting relationships that are at the heart of this work. Hang out at pick-up time, make conversation, send home pictures of students learning. All of these say, “I care. I connect.” Click here for the full interview and check out the rest of the newsletter to learn about social and emotional learning updates around the globe! 
 __________________________________
#SEL #CASEL

Can You Figure Out These Illusions?

Here’s my trick and treat for you!

Oh, how I love a good illusion! It’s a reminder that first impressions are sometimes deceiving and often tell only a fraction of an image’s – or a person’s, for that matter – story! I saved the spookiest for last. Try and examine these on your own. Then, share them with your children. Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Halloween Party Cooperative Games for Home or Classroom


Perhaps you volunteer in your child’s classroom as I do and are helping plan the annual Halloween party. Maybe you are a teacher looking for ways to both entertain, celebrate, and build skills on the holiday. Or you could be planning a costume party for family and friends. Whatever your role or goal, the following ideas are sure to make your little ghouls or goblins laugh with delight as they collaborate with their peers, approach scary characters in an entertaining way and build social and emotional skills. Check out these games appropriate for eight-years-old and up!

Monster Back Story

Materials: Monster masks, or construction paper, glue, markers and large popsicle sticks (to create monster masks)

Gather around in a circle. Hold monster masks up to your face. You can either create them together as a craft or ask children to bring any mask they might have in from home to share. The leader can introduce one monster at a time. “This is Dracula. He’s a vampire who survives by sucking peoples’ blood. But he wasn’t always as he is today…” Then go around the circle and ask each child to provide a detail from his childhood explaining why he came to be the person he is today.

Be sure to offer the “pass” option if a child cannot think of an addition to the back story.

Social and Emotional Skills Practiced: Collaboration, Empathy, Perspective-taking

Witches’ and Wizards’ Charades

Materials: Index cards, marker

Gather in a circle of students. Have index cards prepared with the magical illusions listed below, one per card. Bring in a stick or better yet, a wand for casting spells. Explain the rules of the game. One person is the witch or wizard and they get to select a card from the pile. They also hold the wand and cast the spell. The students seated directly to their immediate left and right will serve as their team. They read the card together and whisper a plan for acting out the illusion. No talking aloud or sounds can be made just acting. They continue to act out the illusion while the rest of the group guesses what they are doing. The person to guess correctly first is the next wizard or witch.

For the index cards, here are the magical illusions to be acted out: levitation, or a floating person or object; invisibility, person or object disappears; grower taller; shrinking; growing longer hair; changing from a person to a toad; flying on a broomstick; making it light and then, dark; making limbs disappear; disappearing in one part of the room, reappearing in another, charming a snake.

Social and Emotional Skills Practiced: Social awareness, Active listening, Collaboration, Negotiation, Problem-solving, Nonverbal communication

Cooperative Ghost Story Telling

Gather in a circle of students. The leader establishes the rules to get the game started. Let the group know that each person will have a turn to contribute one sentence to the ghost story. Pass around a talking stick and let participants know that only the one who possesses the stick may talk. The others must listen carefully in order to build upon the story. The leader can begin with the classic line, “It was a dark, stormy night and…” This requires no setup and no materials. Kids will delight in the creativity and imagination involved. This is also a wonderful transition game that can be used on the spur-of-the-moment when waiting for a next class or activity.

Social and Emotional Skill Practiced: Collaboration, Creative Thinking, Active Listening

Who Done It?

Materials: Accessory props like glasses, scarf, gloves, headband, costume jewelry

Gather around in a circle. Place accessory props just outside the circle like glasses, headband, bracelet, sweater, and scarf. Explain the rules of the game. All students will put their heads down, with arms over their heads, and eyes closed. Tell students that it’s the honor system and will be more fun if everyone keeps eyes closed. The leader will tap one student on the shoulder who will steal a bag of Halloween candy off of the teacher’s desk and hide it in the room. That person will then return to the circle changing one item on their person grabbing an item from the pile of props. Then students will all open eyes and see if they can identify who stole the teacher’s candy!

An alternative, perhaps slightly more challenging version, would be for the student to – instead of adding a prop – change seated positions in the circle and see who notices who has switched seats. This requires a bigger circle with space in-between each student so that the thief could sit anywhere upon returning to the circle.

Social and Emotional Skill Practiced: Collaboration, Social Awareness (Close Observation)

Robbery Report

This one was created for Classroom Conflict Resolution Training for Elementary Schools in San Francisco, California and reprinted in the A Year of Student’s Creative Response to Conflict curriculum. It has been used effectively in classrooms. Children love it!

The parent relays a robbery report and children must remember the details of the report by listening to it. Say it once and see what they can remember. Then, read it a second and perhaps, third time and see if they’re listening improves.

Parent: “Please listen carefully as I have to go to the hospital right away. I just called the police from the gas station on the corner. Wait here and report the robbery to them. I was walking into Johnson’s Convenience Store and this guy came running out and almost knocked me over. He was carrying a white bag and it looked like he had a gun in his left hand. He was wearing a Levi jacket with the sleeves cut out and a green and blue plaid shirt and blue jeans with a hole in the right knee. He had skinny legs and a big stomach. He wore wire rim glasses and high top red Converse tennis shoes. He was bald and had a brown mustache and was six and a half feet tall, probably in his mid-thirties.” 1

Social and Emotional Skills Practiced: Active Listening

Mummy Wrap

Materials: One roll of toilet paper per three kids.

Divide kids into teams of three. Each team gets a roll of toilet paper. One child is the designated mummy and the other two are mummy creators/wrappers. Give the teams time to wrap up one team member by working together encircling the mummy with toilet paper leaving holes for breathing and seeing and hearing, of course! Teams can be challenged to wrap the mummy in such a way that he is able to walk while keeping on the costume. See if the completed mummy can walk across the room without unraveling.

Social and Emotional Skills Practiced: Collaboration, Problem-Solving

Swamp Monster

Material: long rope, Halloween music (and music player)

Leader shares the rules of the game. Leader lays down rope winding it around the room representing a safe bridge while Halloween music plays (think: “Monster Mash” and “Ghostbusters”). Students link arms and follow one another in a line along the rope. Students must keep both feet on the rope while moving forward to the beat. If a student is struggling, she or he needs to ask his teammates on either side for help. Then, the surrounding students can provide strength and support to help them stay on the rope. If a foot goes off the rope onto the floor (a.k.a. the swamp), the swamp monster “eats that student” and they have to sit out while the others try to stay on. Eliminate down to the last team of three students linked and clap for that last team of three who remained strong.

Social and Emotional Skills Practiced: Collaboration, Asking for help when needed

Enjoy engaging in one or more of these games with your family, friends, or students. Happy Halloween!

References:

1. Nia-Azariah, K., Kern-Crotty, F., & Gomer Bangel, L. (1992). A Year of Students Response to Conflict: 35 Experiential Workshops for the Classroom. Cincinnati, OH: Center for Peace Education.

#Halloween #Parenting #SEL

The Hidden Treat of Halloween; Practicing Perspective-Taking

THE GHOST OF A FLOWER

“You’re what?” asked the common or garden spook
Of a stranger at midnight’s hour.
And the shade replied with a graceful glide,
“Why, I’m the ghost of a flower.”

“The ghost of a flower?” said the old-time spook;
“That’s a brand-new one on me;
I never supposed a flower had a ghost,
Though I’ve seen the shade of a tree.”

– Anonymous[i]

The pirate, construction worker, fireman, train conductor, doctor, ghost and Dark Lord Vader have all made guest appearances in our house over the past weeks in hot anticipation of Halloween. Though fear may abound with kids worrying about spooky specters and parents worrying about nut allergies, cavities, and street safety, there is more to the Halloween experience than just candy and frights. Children are encouraged to be someone or something else for one night a year. They are not only permitted but emboldened to become a character from their imaginings. Halloween gives them a chance to think and feel from another perspective. The skill of perspective-taking is one that has been found to assist in problem-solving, communication, multi-cultural understanding, empathy and academic performance.

But how does perspective-taking relate to all of those aforementioned critical life skills? When do children begin learning to take another’s perspective? And how can parents encourage the development of these skills? Perspective taking is interpreting another person’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations for action (see references for more on the Theory of Mind and Relational Frame Theory). This skill uses multiple executive functions of the brain including self-regulation, empathy and cognitive flexibility (seeing a variety of solutions) making it a skill set that is now recognized as critical for school readiness and when in school, success in achieving academic goals.[ii]

Researchers have been able to determine that three-year-olds can begin to take another’s perspective and some are even able to detect that another may hold a false belief about an observation[iii] For example, the teacher says there is an apple in the bag. Many children believe this but one child knows the apple is under the table. As children begin to form relationships with peers, teachers and other care providers, they will become more adept at communicating their own needs, thoughts and feelings if they are attuned with the other person. A teacher’s facial expression may give away the anger they are feeling with an administrator.  If your child reads the expression correctly, he may choose to wait for a better moment to bring up the fact that his homework was eaten by the dog.

So how can parents encourage and support their children in understanding another person’s perspective? I’ve included some general simple ideas first and then, added more specific ideas related to children’s stages of development.

One easy way to promote perspective-taking skills is to ask open-ended questions to prompt thinking. Extend the learning by using perspective taking as a “Guess what…” game at dinnertime or on a car trip when your family is together. Parents I work with have had success with doing this by engaging their family in fun and productive conversation. Each person has the opportunity to guess what another was feeling or thinking at some point that day. It may be an opportunity to reflect and laugh about more stressful moments in the day. For example, “I could see that Dad was angry when I grabbed his newspaper this morning.” The person who is being commented on has to say whether or not the feeling the family member guessed is accurate and if not, what they actually were feeling. Over your macaroni and cheese, watch with great satisfaction as your children become more adept at articulating your perspectives and their own with practice.

I tried a second variation of this game at my own dinner table and found we laughed and enjoyed the fun of it. This one was “If ___ came to dinner, he would say _______.” We inserted famous people and family members and our six-year-old came up with remarkable responses. He also instigated conversation using the various voice intonations of those people.

Here’s a brief sampling of our conversation:

Me: “Your teacher, Mrs. Art is here for dinner. What does she say?”

E: “This is a nice dinner.” (read in a sweet, high-pitched voice)

Dad: “Your three-year-old cousin…”

E: “I don’t like hot dogs.” (with a whine)

Me: “Your cool Uncle Jeremiah…”

E: “E, man, how ya doin.” (in a jazzy, deep tone)

Me: “Emperor Palpatine, Ruler of the Dark Side…”

E: “I’ll kill you after dinner.”

Of course, children have differing abilities to take others’ perspectives as they develop. Primary school age children will not be ready for multi-cultural diplomacy at the United Nations’ mediation table just yet but plant the seeds and they will get there. The following are Robert Selman’s five stages of perspective-taking[iv] with my own practical suggestions for how you can support your children’s development through the years.

  1. Undifferentiated perspective-taking

Ages 3-6

Children have a sense of their own thoughts and feelings and the fact that their actions cause others to react but sometimes may confuse others’ thoughts and feelings with their own.

Easy practice: Look for chances to identify different kinds of emotions when interacting with others. “Look at that woman’s expression in the store. Her face says to me she’s frustrated.” The posters with multiple facial expressions are great for expanding a feelings vocabulary. Check out this one. My son’s favorite is “lovestruck!”

2. Social-informational perspective-taking

Ages 5-9

Children understand that different perspectives may mean that people have access to different information than they have.

Easy practice: When you are reading books with your child, stop when you find a belief, perspective, motivation or course of action that would differ from what your daughter would choose. Talk about the character’s perspective and motivation and from where it may have originated.

3. Self-reflective perspective-taking

Ages 7-12

Children can view others’ perspectives by interpreting others’ thoughts and feelings and recognize that other people can do the same.

Easy practice: Guide your children through a conflict situation by asking them, after cooling down, to tell what they are thinking and feeling and then, asking them to interpret what the other person is thinking and feeling.

4. Third party perspective-taking

Ages 10-15

Children are able to mentally step outside of their own thoughts and feelings and another person’s and see a situation from a third person, impartial perspective.

Easy practice: This is a perfect time for a child to read biographies about other people’s lives that might interest them. Select a person together because you know something about the person’s life. Or read it yourself and talk about it with your child. My son, now ten, is a fan of the “I Survived” book series. Each book follows an individual boy through a historic tragedy he survives.

5. Societal perspective-taking

Ages 14-Adult

Teens begin to see that the third party perspective can be influenced by larger systems and societal values.

Easy practice: Offer opportunities to learn and experience other cultures reflecting on differing perspectives and values. Visit churches, synagogues or other places of worship outside of your belief system. Volunteer in a nursing home or homeless shelter. When you hear your children are interested in another culture, government or belief system, explore the opportunity through books, volunteerism, festivals, travel and other mind-expanding experiences.

Halloween is a holiday that helps us explore our fears in a safe way. It allows us to think about our mortality and our belief systems while having fun. In addition, it gives us permission to be and think differently, to put ourselves in someone else’s place for one night. Take advantage of this great opportunity to practice perspective taking with your children. Have a safe, happy Halloween!

#SEL #parenting #Halloween

Resources:

A good article for educators on teaching perspective taking:

http://jillkuzma.wordpress.com/perspective-taking-skills/

Strong classroom activities on perspective taking:

http://www.creducation.org/resources/perception_checking/classroom_activities_on_perspective_taking.html

____________________________________


[i] Klaver, B. Spooky, Scary and Fun Poems that Will Make your Hair Curl. The Poetry Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/240370 on October 24, 2013.

[ii] Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2011). Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function: Working Paper No. 11. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu

[iii] Heagle, A.I., & Rehfeldt, R.A. (2006). Teaching Perspective-Taking Skills to Typically Developing Children through Derived Relational Responding. Journal of Early and Intensive Behavior Intervention. 3 (1) 1-34.

[iv] Selman, R.L. (1975). Level of social perspective taking and the development of empathy in children: Speculations from a social-cognitive viewpoint. Journal of Moral Education. 5 (1) 35-43.

 Originally published on Confident Parents, Confident Kids in October, 2013.

National Bullying Prevention Month



As Parents and Educators, What Can We Do?

The evidence is clear that most bullies have been bullied themselves (by an adult or a child) in some form. In fact, it could be surmised that all those acting out bullying behaviors are hurting and perpetuating a cycle of hurt. Most, at some point in their lives, have been bullied. Someone has intentionally caused them harm, emotionally and sometimes, physically, repeatedly over time creating a dominance of one over another. Immunity cannot be guaranteed for anyone but there are clear, research-based steps parents can take to prevent their own children from choosing bullying behaviors and also, from being the recipient of bullying.

If you think your child has not experienced bullying, consider that in a study of U.S. students, grades 3-12, fewer than half said they had told a parent about their experience.1. So look for signs. If your child has repeated tummy aches and doesn’t want to go to school, ask if there are troubles they want to avoid. If your child seems depressed and you are unsure why, spend time hanging out together and just listening. Your demonstration of openness and trust may raise the subject that might otherwise remain a secret.

It helps to understand the conditions that perpetuate bullying behaviors. There is a much greater likelihood that a child will show bullying behaviors if:

– parents are aggressive, punishing and emphasize power and dominance in the family.
– siblings are aggressive with one another and parents allow it.
– there is physical and/or emotional abuse in the family.
– parents are overly permissive and/or ignore their child.

Parents who are consistent with boundaries and limits and balance it with responsiveness to needs and clear love and attention are significantly less likely to perpetuate bullying behaviors. 2. As with any social and emotional skill or lack thereof, family values and models are the greatest teachers.

Here are specific ways you can prevent your child from choosing bullying behaviors:

Become aware of your own language. When speaking about others, do you use language that includes labeling or demeaning words? Do you ever label your own child? You may feel that calling him a “geek” is innocent enough but what if the teacher called reporting your child was calling others “geeks”? Check your own language as you speak and realize that your child is learning from you. I ask myself, “If my child repeated what I am saying to someone else in public, would I be upset?” If my answer is yes, then I rethink and rephrase what I am saying or I try to not say it at all.

Be your child’s advocate. Perhaps you are not aggressive with your children but a relative is. Don’t allow it. Don’t allow uncles, aunts or grandmothers to criticize your child. There are kind and firm ways you can advocate without hurting others’ feelings. Remove your child. Change the subject. Distract with a game or other plaything. Pull the offending adult aside and ask them politely but firmly to stop. If you suspect they are inappropriate with your child when you are not present, make certain they are not left alone with him/her so that there are not opportunities for mistreatment.

Cultivate sibling kindness. If a family culture helps determine each child’s behavioral choices, then it necessitates that there are certain limits between and among siblings. Harm whether physical or emotional is not acceptable. If harm is caused, parents can direct children in ways to make up for their harm – fixing a broken toy or doing a kindness for a sister with hurt feelings. Promote and practice sibling kindness by creating chances for siblings to appreciate one another. At dinnertime ask, “What did you notice your sister do today that was kind?” Also, find chances to guide siblings toward cooperation (versus competition). Siblings who are able to work together get regular practice in being collaborative and will translate that practice into their school relationships.

Learn strategies that prompt responsibility instead of resorting to yelling and/or punishment. If you are reading this blog, you are on a positive learning track as a parent or educator! We all need support in our roles doing the hardest, most important jobs on the planet. Know how you learn best and seek ways to continue your own learning. Parents who understand multiple strategies for responding to misbehaviors don’t need to resort to yelling or punishment. They retain (or regain) their own emotional control and use those moments to teach their children responsible behaviors. Mom’s Clubs, support forums, parenting education classes, online webinars, articles and talking with parents you admire are all ways to advance your own abilities in this area. For fifty alternative ideas to punishment or detention, check out this list!

Practice social and emotional skills. Whether you engage in cooperative games with your family or hold family meetings to dialogue through problems, find ways to practice social and emotional skill building at home. Instead of running to help a neighbor on your own, take the kids with you. Let them experience empathy in action. Find ways they can contribute to your home, school, and community. Read this blog for many more simple, research-based strategies for promoting social and emotional skills at home! Children who have practice in social and emotional skills do not need to bully. They derive power from their own skills and abilities.

Here are specific ways you can help your child if he or she is being bullied:

Listen with compassion and leave judgments behind. If you create sacred space and focused attention in which you listen to your child regularly, he is much more likely to share his troubles with you. If you learn he is being bullied, listen to the full story with compassion before chiming in. Express empathy for your child who is hurting. Also, be clear with your child that the other – the one who is choosing bullying behaviors – is hurting in ways we cannot fully understand. But what they are doing is not right and needs to stop.

Show confidence that your child can respond. Though painful, responding to bullying attacks is an important opportunity for your child’s growth in her social relationships if you provide support. If you give her the tools to deal with her own relationship problems, she will grow in her confidence and gain invaluable experience she will certainly use later in life when confronted with other difficult behaviors.

Coach your child on how to react. Because bullying behaviors are defined as a series of mistreatments, there tends to be a continuation and often an escalation of attacks over time. That means that the best time to address bullying is immediately. Coach your child on ways to respond the next time they are attacked. If a classmate says, “You are so ugly,” for example, practice what your child would say and how they would say it. The best responses follow this criteria.

  1. What is said is short, memorable and well-rehearsed.
    2. Child communicates that what is happening is wrong.
    3. Child communicates that it must stop.

So the conversation would go as follows:

“You are so ugly,” says attacker.

“Gina, stop it. You know you are wrong.” says your child.

How a child says it – his body language – is as important as what he says. He will be scared. Acknowledge that anyone would be but that doesn’t mean he can’t do it. In fact, he can. Practice standing up straight. Looking the attacker in the eyes. Say his few words – “You are wrong. Stop!” – firmly but not yelling (yelling indicates a loss of emotional control). Then, walk away. Like ripping off a band-aid, the interaction only need last a few minutes but can have lasting impact on your child’s confidence.

You can also coach your child to proactively confront their attacker (as my Mom did with me when I was attacked as a child). Give your child the choice. I was so upset that I needed to take control right away and not wait for another attack. Your child may have more courage to respond if he practices and then goes to his attacker and communicates that things are going to change. Either way, your child is empowered with the tools to shape his/her own relationships.

DO NOT encourage your child to engage in any hurtful word exchange or retaliation. And DO NOT model it inadvertently by criticizing the attacker. A hurtful retort (referencing character, calling names) could escalate the conflict and put your child in immediate danger. Hold back on your own comments even if they are flying through your mind and keep your child safe.

How Parents and Schools Can Partner on Anti-Bullying Efforts:

Evidence-based school-wide initiatives that promote a caring school community and allow students to practice social and emotional skills have been found to be the most effective in preventing bullying. Specifically a meta-analysis of studies found that the most effective bullying prevention programs in schools included parent training, improved playground supervision, multiple disciplinary strategies (not Zero Tolerance), school conferences or assemblies that raised awareness of the problem, classroom rules against bullying, classroom management techniques for detecting and dealing with bullying and the work of peers to help combat bullying. 3. Check out the CASEL Guide on Social and Emotional Learning and Bullying Prevention for more. So what can we do as parents?

Find out what is being done in your child’s school. Ask what programs, policies, and practices are in place related to bullying prevention. Raise your own awareness and let your family know about the school’s efforts.

Get curious. What happens to a child when he or she is caught hurting another child repeatedly? Because the offending child is hurting, we can take those bullying behaviors as a red flag, a warning sign that his/her emotional needs are not being met. Are there supports ready for that child? Is there a counselor or a caring program or a mentor that can be accessed to help this child through this difficult time? Asking questions and examining what supports are available can support the entire school community and in turn, your own child.

Get involved. Does your school’s Parent Teacher Association have a role in bullying prevention? Get a seat at the table and make sure that it does. In my own state of Ohio, I worked closely with a parent who had been bullied as a child. She brought up the issue and her advocacy and persistence resulted in the adoption of a state-wide policy through the Ohio Parent Teacher Association on social and emotional learning and bullying prevention. Parents do have a powerful voice if they use it. The schools who have dealt with school what can i do sandy hook illust 001shootings have, after the tragedy, adopted a focus on creating a caring school environment and involving parents in that process. Don’t wait until your child’s safety is at risk. EVERY school needs to have plans and practices in place to promote connectedness between all members of the school community.

Promote Upstanders. Upstanders are kids who witness bullying behaviors and stand up for the kids who are being picked on. Some schools promote this as a part of their caring culture. Classroom discussions include conversations about how you can stand up for others. There are ways parents can promote inclusion at home and certainly not accept exclusion. In addition, check out Edutopia’s article on creating a culture of up-standers in schools. 

Remember the classic 1980’s film, “Back to the Future” when Calvin’s Dad confronted his bully, Biff and it forever changed the power dynamic in their relationship? When kids respond clearly and firmly, it has the power to completely shift the relationship. The message is “I’m not going to be picked on anymore.” And because the bullying behavior is a tentative ploy for dominance from a hurting child, he/she is likely to back off. The power has shifted and their ability to maintain control is on unsteady ground.

Though the aim of bullying behaviors is to force us into feelings of helplessness, we are not helpless. Everyone in a community can take responsibility and serve a role. By doing your part, we can eliminate the threat of abuse and focus on learning together.

#NationalBullyingPreventionMonth #bullying

Resources

Check out the following helpful sites:
stopbulling.gov
bullying.org
National Bully Prevention Center – http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/info-facts.asp
The Bully Project – http://www.thebullyproject.com
Stomp Out Bullying – http://www.stompoutbullying.org/index.php/information-and-resources/

Bazelon, Emily. (2013). Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. NY: Random House.

Goldman, Carrie (2012). Bullied. What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs To Know about Ending the Cycle of Fear. NY: Harper Collins.

References

1. Limber, S. P., Olweus, D., & Wang, W. (November, 2012). What we are learning about bullying: trends in bullying over 5 years. Paper presented at the meeting of the International Bullying Prevention Association. Kansas City, MO.
2. Duncan, Renae D. (2009) Family characteristics of children involved In bullying. Retrieved from education.com on 10-1-15.
3. Ttofi, M. M., & Farrington, D. P. (2009). What works in preventing bullying: Effective elements of anti-bullying programs. Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, 1(1), 13–24.
4. CASEL, AIR, EDC. Social and Emotional Learning and Bullying Prevention. Online Guide.

Understanding the Emotions of Our Teens


The top challenge and priority for parenting, said U.S. parents from the 2015 NBC Parenting Survey, was patience and understanding.1 That ability can become a particular challenge as children move into their teenage years. They are striving for independence yet are still very much dependent on you for your guidance, love, and support. Their bodies are looking taller and more mature, but their behaviors may not demonstrate that maturity. That paradox can be confusing for parents and sons and daughters as they navigate school, friendships and involvement in family life. I met last night with a group of parents of teenagers and asked this question that may, on first reading, seem unrelated:

How did you feel in those very first days of being a new parent?

I ask you to reflect on that same question. I heard from those in the workshop the following descriptors: scared, overwhelmed, vulnerable, isolated, happy, amazed, in love, ignorant, empathetic and sad for the loss of the life before kids. What feelings might you add to the list?

These are the very same emotions that your teenager is experiencing as he or she passes through a time period in which they are very much existing in the in-between. They are beginning to let go of while also, holding onto childhood attributes which can be sad and isolating. They also have a developmental pull to become more independent and act as adults though they are not fully equipped in their thoughts and actions for the responsibilities of adult life making them at times feel overwhelmed, at other times, excited and perhaps at other times still, shamefully ignorant. They may fall in love with the thrill of engaging in new experiences. And they may feel scared by their own impulsivity and the peer pressure that pushes them in new directions.

We are learning that teens are not only going through a major body reconstruction with changes that move them physically from a child to an adult. They are simultaneously going through a major brain reconstruction. Whereas in younger years, they were wired for magic, for learning through play (and we never lose that ability to learn from play!), their brains are shifting toward logic and reasoning that will be a requirement of their adult years. But those connections to rational thinking have not fully been made and will not be well-established until their early-to-mid-twenties.2 These significant brain changes result in individuals with larger bodies who are more impulsive, easily excitable and eager for new experiences, but less able to make connections between their desires and what might be the outcomes of acting upon them. This adds to their high level of sensitivity to any judgments made related to their ever-evolving, at-times murky identity.

The last time we, as parents, underwent a major brain reconstruction was when we become new parents.3 So those feelings that accompanied that transition time in our lives that felt so magical, so vulnerable, and so overwhelming can help us relate to the feelings of our teens. Once, we looked at our helpless baby, so completely dependent on us for survival, and felt we knew nothing about what to do or how to act in our new role as a parent. Teens stand at the gateway to adulthood and the freedom of it all looks magical. They fall in love fast and hard for each other and the ideals and hopes of their future. But they are also faced with the overwhelming knowing that they are not knowledgeable about the world or fully ready to be on their own yet.

There is much we can do, as parents, to understand this unique time of life and the intense emotions that come with it. Here are some ways we can help extend our patience and understanding and make caring connections with our teens.

1. Be ready to listen when they are ready to talk.

Teens may not want to make eye contact or respond to probing questions on the spot. After all, they are trying to assert independence but have not truly found it yet. So look for occasions when you are together, not staring eyeball to eyeball. Go to your son’s room and hang out in his world for a little while, the only goal to make a connection. Or turn down the radio on the car ride to school to create the possibility for conversation. This openness on your part will build trust so that when he runs into problems, he is more likely to come to you.

2. Express curiosity about friends but not judgment.

Friendships change rapidly in the teenager’s world and there’s no way an adult can keep up. So instead of trying, ask good open-ended questions and express concern and curiosity without criticizing or judging. Your daughter might be more willing to come to you with friendship worries if you accept her friends as hers and offer your support when she needs it.

3. Talk cause and effect to mitigate risk.

The teenage brain is ready to take risks based on emotions like excitement without linking those thoughts and feelings to logic. Teens have not had much experience with the skill of foresight, looking into the future to anticipate outcomes. But those brain connections can be enhanced with practice and repetition. So whenever you get the opportunity – perhaps you hear about a story in the local news or learn about a neighbor or family friend – discuss cause and effect. The neighbor’s daughter wrecked the family car at the local park. What happened to get her to that point? What other choices could she have made? Why do you think she wrecked? What happens to her now that she’s injured and the car has to be fixed?

4. Establish plans for boundaries and rules together.

Boundaries are critical in any relationship. Discussing rules and boundaries with your teen can help both of you understand and adjust to his or her changing role in your family life. Treating a teen as you might a co-worker when setting boundaries for a work team can show that you trust your child to act responsibly and offers him a participatory role in the creation of rules. He can play a role in learning about and deciding what will keep everyone safe and thriving and you can work together to uphold those boundaries. Power struggles do not need to define a relationship between a parent and teen if they have worked together to create a plan. For more specifics about learning about social media together and developing a family social media agreement, check out this link.

5. Normalize feelings’ talk.

In general, people tend to not discuss feelings. The impression is often that they can sound like signs of weakness. Instead, we tend to focus our conversations on thoughts, ideas, and stories. Particularly for teens whose emotions seem to be more raw and sensitive, it helps to make the expression of feelings a regular part of family conversation. “I was nervous today for my meeting but it all went okay.” This makes discussion of emotions normal. Your son may be more willing to admit to his feelings. And that admission may offer understanding, connection with you, and possibly some relief of the isolation and pressures he might be experiencing.

6. Practice coping strategies.

Did you know that an estimated one-third of teens experience a high-level of ongoing anxiety?4 Since that is the case and since plenty of adults are dealing with anxiety too, how can you model coping strategies in your home life? How can you take deep breaths when upset? Sit down to calm down when you need it. One workshop participant said she and her son say the word “Red!” when they are feeling a rise in anger and need time and space to cool down. How can you help your son or daughter learn to cool down when upset? Check out the Family Emotional Safety Plan for a simple template that will walk you and your family through creating a plan for your most intense moments and how you might handle them with competence.

7. Plan for fights.

Every family fights. Families with teenagers may even fight a bit more considering all of the changes teens are dealing with internally and externally, in their social and school lives. So why not talk about what it means to fight fairly and what is off limits in conflicts? Check out this Fighting Fairly Family Pledge! It lists five easy ways to argue respectfully, ensuring that your relationships are stronger after you’ve worked through disagreements. It also lists from research six types of fighting to avoid, the practices that erode trust with one another.

8. Open the door to healthy risks!

Teens need to take risks in order to develop and learn. Their brains require the practice of making big and small choices and experiencing the consequences. Frances Jensen, MD, author of the book, The Teenage Brain, recalls a story of her son wanting to dye his hair purple.2 Her question to herself when he brought up the issue was, “Will this have a long-term adverse effect? If not, then I’ll support him.” And so she set up an appointment with a hairdresser she knew would do a professional dye job with his purple hair. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” might be an appropriate motto here. Zip lining, learning ceramics, performing on stage or serving meals at a local soup kitchen are all possibilities for feeding that desire for novelty while making healthy choices.

Finally, make sure that your teen is getting his daily dose of positivity, gratitude, and love! Consider that he’ll likely get a daily dosage of negativity through critics at school whether they are peers, teachers or coaches. He’ll get it through news on the radio or television. He’ll view the troubles of the world on social media. But how much love, connection, and appreciation does he receive and feel daily? Even if he insists on his personal space, have no doubt that he still needs that sense of belonging and loving connection that only you can provide. Parents play a critical role in making sure that the connection teens are craving is fulfilled at least in part through their family life.

Reference:

1. Princeton Survey Research Associates International. (2015). NBC State of Parenting Survey.

2. Jensen, Frances E. (2015). The Teenage Brain; A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults. NY: HarperCollins.

3. Pilyoung, K., Strathearn, L., & Swain, J.E. (2015). The Maternal Brain and Its Plasticity in Humans. Hormones and Behavior. 12; 4C.

4. Denizet-Lewis, B. (2017). Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering from Severe Anxiety? The New York Times Magazine, Oct. 11.

Resources:

Check out Frontline’s Program, “Inside the Teenage Brain,” on PBS.

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