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Supporting Kids Dealing with Fear – Upcoming Webinar

Helping Kids Deal with their Fears by Jennifer MillerHow can you help your child deal with fears?

Does your child call out to you at night when she is supposed to be sleeping because she is afraid of the dark? Does your son shrink from learning to swim or to ride a bike because he fears failure? Is it difficult to get your daughter out of the car to get her flu shot? Fear can serve a critical purpose alerting a child to danger. But there are also fears that can be debilitating to us and our children if we do not address them. Join me for this special Halloween webinar on fears! If you cannot make the live date, then register and you’ll be sent a recording right after the live event. Appropriate for parents and educators with children of all ages. Register here.                            


Bullying Prevention Awareness Month: What Parents Can Do

Stop bullying by Jennifer Miller

In honor of Bullying Prevention Awareness Month…

Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself. – Elie Weisel

“You’re a horrible person,” was what I heard and deeply felt though I cannot recall the exact words that delivered this final crushing blow. It had come after a series of unconsidered and callous jabs and was interspersed with racial jokes directed at others that were, in part, responsible for the double crease lines between my eyebrows. This clearly was not my circle of friends though they had been the first and only ones I knew in an unfamiliar school in an unfamiliar community. And after many tears, my Mom had me convinced that the only way to deal with this hurtful situation was for me to screw up my courage and directly confront the girl of many mean words. And my Mom was right. Though it may have been the hardest thing I had done in my tender fourteen years of life, it was the most courageous and empowering. I took control of my relationships. I called her on the phone requiring the safety of distance and invisibility. I told her she had been cruel and she knew it. I wouldn’t take it anymore. “Just stop,” I said. And that was it. I’m not sure I muttered another word to her the rest of my high school years nor she me. And I was not only freed by getting rid of her presence in my life, but I felt a new sense of agency. I could face meanness and come away standing tall.

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. 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 bullies are hurting and perpetuating a cycle of hurt. 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 there need to be certain limits set 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! We all need support in our roles doing the hardest, most important job 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.

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 when Mom or Dad gets home to watch the kids, take the kids with you. Let them experience empathy in action. Find ways they can contribute to your home, school and community. 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 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 bandaid, 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. 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. 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.

What parents can do in partnership with schools:

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 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 what can i do sandy hook illust 001through 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 shootings 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? And recall my story? I didn’t have to deal with the girl of many mean words again. 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.

Check out the following helpful sites:
National Bully Prevention Center –
The Bully Project –
Stomp Out Bullying –
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.

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 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. Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, AIR, EDC. Social and Emotional Learning and Bullying Prevention. Online Guide.

How Do You Feel About Your Child’s School?

parent-teacher-convos-4In learning more about how we can create genuine caring connections between parents and teachers, it would be so helpful to gain your perspectives. Please take a look at the questions below and respond with a word or two or consider all six of the questions. Though we know parents’ involvement in their children’s education is critical to academic performance, time is limited and educators and parents want to make good choices related to how they connect. Any response you can provide to the following questions would be very much appreciated!

1. How would you describe how you feel about your child’s teacher?

2. How would you describe how you feel about the school where your child/children attend?

3. What kind of relationship do you and your child’s teacher have?

4. Do you feel that your child’s needs (learning, physical, social, emotional) are being met at school? If not, what is not being met? And are you comfortable bringing this up with his/her teacher?

5. How are you involved in your child’s education? Is it what you want and would hope for or would you prefer more, less, or a different kind of involvement? If so, what kind?

6. What’s the one thing the teacher or school could do to help you feel more connected and like a true partner with them focused on your child’s education?

Thank you in advance for your feedback. Confident Parents, Confident Kids has produced some resources to support your involvement as a parent in your partnership with your child’s school and is in the process of developing more. Your input is a critical part of informing new resources created.

Confident Parents, Confident Kids Turns Four!

happy-blog-iversary-by-jennifer-miller-1Dear Readers,

We are celebrating the fourth blog-iversary of Confident Parents, Confident Kids! The dialogue we’ve shared, I know, has improved how I show up as a Mom and I hope it’s done the same for you. Our inquiry together has helped me and others explore how we can support the most critical skills in our lives – not what content children need to know but who are they are, how they relate to others and how they can contribute themselves to the world. With 22,000 followers in 152 countries around the world, CPCK is generating vital discussions about simple, practical steps we can take to promote our children’s social and emotional skills. We know the majority of U.S. parents believe that “social and communication skills” are the most important to help cultivate even over understanding technology or getting good grades. But how do we do it? Discussing the many potential ways and learning from research-based strategies educators implement in schools is a terrific start!

There are so many collaborators that contribute to the reach and success of Confident Parents, Confident Kids. From university partners like Shannon Wanless of the University of Pittsburgh, Roger Weissberg and the staff of the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning to media sources like NBC Education Nation, The Huffington Post, Parent Magazine and iSouthAfrica (Hello!) to nonprofit advocates, researchers and changemakers like Ashoka Changemakers, Edutopia, Girl Leadership, and Getting Smart, fellow change agents like Cecilia and Jason Hilkey of Happily Family, outstanding authors such as Michelle Borba and Ann Douglas and individual caring and thoughtful parents, educators and leaders such as, Annette Roberts Dorman, Kimberly Allison, Lane Pierce, Deborah Pearce, Tom Rausch, Bonnie Lathram, Starla Sireno, Susie Fabro, Magic Writer Mom, Tikeetha Thomas, Lynn Claire, Amye, Sharon Perez, Kevin Cutler and many more – all of you have contributed to this conversation. Thank you school districts, teachers, principals, school counselors, social workers and psychologists who have placed articles and links on your sites! And I cannot possibly begin to express my gratitude to my family for their daily support – Mom, Dad, Jason and E…Thank you!

There are some exciting brand new collaborations that will bring new work into the world coming soon to CPCK! Look for a new partnership with social and emotional learning consultant, Lorea Martinez on a parent education curriculum for schools. Look for a review of the research establishing a clear connection between parenting and social and emotional learning from Shannon Wanless, Roger Weissberg and I. And more to come with Tauck Family Foundation and Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Learning. The Education: Next Generation online Conference is coming up soon – November 3-7 – with speakers like Daniel Siegel, author of Brainstorm and Mind, Tara Mohr, author of Playing Big and Shefali Tsabary, author of The Awakened Family and me!🙂 I also contributed to the book, Building Powerful Learning Environments from Schools to Communities by Arina Bokas available on pre-order now and out this December.

There are numerous services that have evolved out of this dialogue including:

Want to help celebrate this milestone? Do you know others who might love Confident Parents, Confident Kids – teachers, parents, grandparents, changemakers? Introduce them by sharing the following video: An Introduction to Confident Parents, Confident Kids.

THANK YOU PARTNER for engaging in this dialogue. Our hearts are all in. And we are also engaging our minds in figuring out how we can be our best selves for our deserving children. It’s an honor to journey with you on this grand adventure – parenting!

All my best,

Jennifer 2 signature 001




Element of a Confident Parent – Looking for the Good

i-notice-by-jennifer-millerThough the sunshine sparkles through the yellow leaves during these beautiful Fall days, there is less light in the morning and evening. And we’ve been doing this school thing for a few months now. We’ve poured it on and now we are slowing down a bit – tired. My husband and I noticed that some of the routines that used to run smoothly are in need of an update. In particular, we’ve noticed that our son leaves his dishes behind for someone else to take care of, whether its breakfast or dinner. He’s picked them up, cleaned them off and placed them in the dishwasher in the past. We know he can do it. But he’s forgetting regularly. And we began to remind him but realized we had down-shifted into nagging. When reminders happen day-after-day, then a parent knows that she’s entered the hamster wheel, a vicious cycle going nowhere. So the question becomes, “How does learning take place? How is change facilitated?”

We informally – Mom, Dad and E, our nine-year-old, sat around one night after dinner and brainstormed solutions. “The taking-in-of-the-dishes seems to be challenging. It’s hard to remember when you’ve got play you are eager to get to. What could help you remember?” I said and we started thinking off all kinds of ways to help him remember with E chiming in his ideas. “I could wear one of those rubber bracelets.” Or “I could not get dessert until my dishes are returned.” We talked about the possibilities of each and how they might work. And finally, he resolved that if we say simply “Dishes.” quietly when he’s asking to leave the table, that’s all the help he needs to remember. And it’s worked exceedingly well.

In addition, my husband and I resolved to be certain and notice when he did his routines without our reminders. So often, we play the “Gotcha!” game as parents. “You forgot this.” “You left that behind.” “You made a mess here.” And because we are so busy focused on the mistakes of life, we forget ourselves to point to the good even though we all tend to forget daily tasks. “Ooops, you are going to have to wear a day-old shirt because I forgot to get the laundry done last night.” is a common refrain of my own.

It doesn’t take long to recognize the good but it does take some presence of mind. We do have to pay attention to our kids not to catch them doing wrong but to catch them doing right. If kids are reinforced by recognizing their faults, they too will focus on their faults. And along with the fear of making mistakes (which often leads to more of the same), they will accumulate shame for their long list of missteps.

We can all use some reinforcing of the good. But as parents, we need help to remember. Habit changes can be tough for anyone. And looking for the good does not seem to come naturally to most of us problem-solvers who are ready to “fix” things. So how do we cultivate our own habit of looking for the good that our children do?

We need not shower them with praise. In fact, research shows that too much praise – or praise that is not specific – “Good job!” – or praise that is over-the-top, does not help reinforce positive behaviors. It doesn’t seem genuine and can actually de-motivate children.1 So in striving for authentic feedback that will provide a balanced view of children’s actions, here are some thoughts.

Step back and reflect.
Find a quiet moment to think about your feedback to family members. You might ask yourself the following questions. Consider these as they relate to each family member. Write your responses since the physical act of writing (by hand) will help solidify the thoughts in your brain. Conduct your own self-assessment so that you know how you can and want to improve.

  • What are typical daily comments I make in relation to _______________ (insert family members) behavior?
  • How many of those comments are about problems I see with others’ behaviors?
  • How many of those comments recognize positive contributions?
  • How frequently do I comment on that particular problem behavior? (twice a day, weekly?)
  • Does the behavior truly create a problem for the family? And if so, how can I facilitate a behavior change?

a.) Have I adequately modeled the behavior for my child so that I am certain he knows how to perform the task? Could he use a refresher in doing the task together with encouragement? Check out this article on interactive modeling for more.

b.) Or if he knows exactly how to do the task, can we hold a family meeting or talk just the two of us and brainstorm solutions on ways to solve the problem?

c. Can we create a plan for our newly revised routine? Formalize it by writing it down and posting it where your kids can see and be reminded by their plan they devised with you.

Set a goal.
Once you’ve identified not only what you don’t want to do but what habits you want to adopt, set a positive goal for yourself. What will you do to help yourself recognize the good?

Consider developmental milestones.
So often the behaviors that annoy us about children relate directly to the developmental milestones on which they are working. By the very nature of learning and achieving new levels of awareness and ability, they will be making mistakes. It’s a necessary part of how we all learn. So at this time when you are looking to make your own habit changes, read about your child’s age and stage and find out what they are working on. Then when they make mistakes, you’ll be able to recognize and connect it to their development. It will allow you greater empathy resulting in added patience and understanding. You’ll be ready to support their learning versus falling into the tendency to scold them for their mistakes. Check out the Parent Toolkit for development ages/stages. Download the free application that will send you updates on your specific child’s development.

Co-create a routine.
writing-morning-routine-posterSince mornings were getting rough and I noticed the reminding was about to turn into a cycle of nagging, E and I worked on updating full-morning-routine-poster-2016his morning routine poster one day after school. We talked through specific times that were challenging to get through in the morning. “How are you going to remember to brush your teeth?” He enjoyed developing his routine poster. And yet again, it worked. Our mornings have gone smoothly ever since and I have been intentional about reinforcing his positive behaviors with comments like, “Woah, I didn’t say a word of a reminder this morning and we were out of the door on time. You completed all of your tasks and your backpack is ready.” Check out this video short on the morning routine if you need to revisit yours to help that time of day run smoothly.

Establish accountability.
How are you going to keep yourself accountable to the goal you’ve set? How are you going to remember to recognize positive behaviors? Sometimes, the most powerful accountability comes from those around us. So if you let family members know about the goal you are working toward, they can check in with you. Those small reminders can help support your habit change.

Though many believe that we are only hard-wired for self-centeredness and the good must be socialized into us, in fact, research confirms that we are born with both the capacity for self-centeredness but also, altruism and empathy.2 Our very survival is based on our ability to connect with others. Studies with babies have shown that even those new to the world will try and assist others – babies or adults – who are suffering and need help.3

If we view ourselves as here to “fix” our kids, our kids will feel as if they need fixing. But if we view our kids as learners – as inherently ready to help and do good – they will help and do good. And if we are able to regularly find and shine a light on their strengths and the many ways they contribute to our family lives, they will grow with an identity that is strong and resilient.

I was recently reminded of contributions my son makes to our lives that I tend to take for granted. My Mom came to celebrate her birthday. And her grandson made her smile and laugh nearly the entire time she was visiting. As she hugged me goodbye, she expressed how much she appreciated her grandson making her laugh and how rare it was for her to experience laughter daily in her own quiet household of two adults. I had been consumed with the chaos and busyness of all of my responsibilities that day. What an important reminder it was for me and a helpful wake-up call to recognize the significant contribution of my child. When he’s grown and moved out, it’s the laughter I will recall not the dirty dishes.



1. Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by rewards; The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise and other bribes. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co.

2. Szalavitz, M. & Perry, B. (2010). Born for Love, Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

3. Keltner, D. (2009). Born to be Good, The Science of a Meaningful Life. NY: W.W. Norton and Company.

50 Constructive Alternatives to Detention or Punishment

Parent Teacher Conferences Illustration by Jennifer MillerIdeas for Parents and Educators

“Are you okay, E?” I overheard a concerned classmate ask my son as he walked out of the school building yesterday at pick up time. “I’m okay.” he assured the friend. In my head, I was saying “Uh-oh!” bracing myself for the unknown challenge ahead. I ditched my errand-running plans and headed straight to the ice cream store to get provisions for our conversation hoping to channel the clarity of focus that only ice cream can bring. He relayed the story calmly. “Our class was coming back to our room from gym. Sarah (that’s what we’ll call her) was trying to push her way to the front. I was at the beginning of the line and she grabbed my arm and scraped her finger nails down it.” He extended his forearm and revealed two lines of broken skin, red and raw, from his elbow down to his wrist. After washing and treating it, I asked how he had responded and then, how the school had responded. E had said back to Sarah after the scratch “I have to tell the teacher.” And he did. “We were both sent to the principal’s office.” he said.

E continued to tell me about how Sarah lied to the principal and said he had scratched her. But the evidence gave her away. And E was excused while Sarah stayed with the principal. This is Sarah’s third offense that I have personally witnessed. While volunteering at lunch, I saw her hit a girl in the face. While volunteering in the classroom, I saw her kick a boy in the back. We – my family – are a part of a safe, caring, connected school community that does the best they can for children. But when a bullying or other misbehavior occurs, there are only a few options that are taken. I have spent time in a diverse range of schools across the U.S. and this one example of how problems are dealt with is commonplace. The frequent response is 1.) give a warning (move a clip to red or get a hash mark or a name written on the board), 2.) send offender to the principal’s office for a conversation (and/or scolding), 3.) give detention (held after school typically with nothing to do but to stare or do homework), and finally, 4.) call home.

If these interventions have taken place and the child continues to misbehave, what are we doing about it? How are we looking into the child’s life and trying to understand what emotional needs are not being met? How are we examining what social and emotional skills need practice – in Sarah’s case – impulse control and appropriate expressions of anger – so that they are ready when they feel overcome by their feelings?

I know from experience that when a child is attacked verbally or physically, they are nursing their wounds for the rest of the day. And the learning that would have occurred is just not possible. And for the instigator, she’s been scolded or given detention. She is not learning either. And classmates who witness the event and are concerned about their friend are also not learning. So – bottom line – our ability to focus and deal with these occurrences directly impacts academics.

After E had gone to bed, I began writing about what’s wrong with “it all” which I immediately crumpled and tossed in the bin. I quickly realized that was not the way I want to contribute to my son, to my school and to you. So instead, I took a constructive approach with my upset energy. I developed a list of fifty alternatives to detention or punishment that have the potential to truly help the child who is clearly crying for help when she misbehaves. It will require a little more thought on our part, a change of our reactive habits. Yelling at a child will not do the job. But if we place our curious minds on the problem, we can do so much more for those children who desperately need us. We need to regularly recognize the misbehaving child’s signal. She is sending out an “SOS!” “Help me! I’m hurting!” say her actions. But so frequently our responses do not address her needs. How can we adjust our ways of thinking and reacting so that we meet children where they are? Before sharing the list of interventions, there are some key questions we can ask when situations like this occur. These questions can apply to parents and educators alike. Next time your child or a student in your classroom harms another person or property, consider the following.

  • What is the child (who has misbehaved) feeling?
  • Do we understand the origins of why she is upset?
  • What emotional needs are going unmet in her?
  • Does she know what to do and where to go when she is upset? Does she have an outlet for her strong emotions?
    What social and emotional skill(s) does she need practice with? And can the whole class or the whole family benefit from practicing that same skill (like self-management)?
  • Does she have an attachment to one caring adult – at school, at home? If not, how can you help cultivate one?
  • What plan or intervention will not only stop the behavior but also, teach skills?
  • How can the parent and teacher work together to play a supportive role?

And now, check out this list of 50 alternative interventions.

Parents and Educators can guide the child to:

1. Write down all of the things he loves or that make him feel safe.

2. Create a safe base for him to go to when he’s upset.

3. Practice deep breathing. Try out hot chocolate breathing.

4. Run, jump, get exercise.

5. Punch a punching bag.

6. Yell in a sound-proof music room.

7. Write in a journal.

8. Use a handout to guide reflection. I’ve created one for your use.

9. Talk to a caring adult who will listen with compassion.

10. Talk to a caring peer who will listen with compassion.

11. Go to a peer mediator who can facilitate working through conflicts. (School can train students.)

12. Walk outside.

13. Brainstorm ways to heal the hurt caused.

14. Sweep or clean the environment (not as punishment but as a contribution to the classroom – repairing harm and getting out physical energy too.).

15. Paint or draw.

16. Listen to beautiful music on headphones.

17. Watch video of kids’ breathing.

18. Watch video of kids doing service.

19. Make a contribution list of all the ways you can contribute to others.

20. Brainstorm ways to directly help a classmate, parent or teacher.

21. Teach a younger child ways they can express anger without harming another. Roar? Stomp? Breathe?

22. Create characters for your emotions (such as in the movie, “Inside Out.”).

23. Retrace steps. Role play alternative choices.

24. Read a book about expressing anger. Ask, “How do you want to express anger without harming others?” (such as, “When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry.”)

25. Run hands under warm water. Listen.

26. Create emotion room or space for being alone with feelings.

27. Dance with music and/or with a music video.

28. Play instrument.

29. Read about characters with similar feelings and similar challenges.

30. Examine gratefulness. What do you like about your family? What do you like about school, your teacher, your classmates?

31. Imagine what gift you could give the class or your family that would be uniquely from you. Draw it or write about it.

32. Think of a person who you admire. What about them do you admire? What would they do in this situation? What would be their next choice? Write.

33. Practice forgiveness. Reflect on those that have hurt you. Write names, reasons they might have hurt you and try to understand the others’ perspective.

34. Create a new choice or set of choices.

35. Make reparation with the guidance of a caring adult. How can a new choice help heal the relationship?

36. Talk about hopes and dreams and what actions will help you reach them.

37. Write a new ending to the story of what happened. Could you make a new choice that replicates the story you created?

38. Set a goal to do twice as many positive actions and name them.

39. Share with a feelings buddy (could be a friend or a stuffed animal).

40. Talk to or pet a gentle animal.

41. Practice impulse control. Look for small ways with the whole class/family to practice waiting.

42. Talk privately with a trained professional – a counselor, psychologist or social worker.

43. Create an anti-bullying poster.

44. Contribute to lunch preparation or clean up with a kind lunch lady.

45. Talk with a caring adult who uses coaching questions.

46. Employ restorative justice. “You break it, you fix it.”  If you’ve hurt another’s feelings, how are you going to make it up to that person? If you’ve destroyed property, how will you replace it, repair it or work on it?

47. Ask child/student to do teacher/parent a favor and help out. Set them up in another room to cut out shapes or do some activity that directly contributes to the class but allows child his own space away from the classroom for a time.

48. Keep a journal for each student/child in which they can write reflections and action plans anytime they are upset.

49. Meet with both parent and teacher to express concern, show support and work to understand child’s needs.

50. Plan for re-entry into the classroom or family community if child has taken time away. How will he reconnect with others? How can the adults show he is welcomed back? How can he make amends and communicate with the one he hurt?

I’ve placed these fifty ideas in a pdf document in case you’d like to print it and hang on a bulletin board or refrigerator as a reminder. Recognizing when children are really trying to make changes is critical if we are to support those improvements. “I notice you held the door today for others.” is all the encouragement that is needed. If we are truly attempting to raise and educate responsible individuals, then reflection on feelings and actions and offering choices on making amends are the vehicles that will empower children to repair harm, internally (healing their own wounds) and externally (assisting others).

For more on this topic, check out the article:

“This School Replaced Detention with Meditation. The Results Are Stunning.” by James Gaines

Get Today’s Webinar and Mark your Calendar for October’s Webinar

Did you miss today’s webinar?

You can still benefit from the strategies and tools shared. Click here to get the recording and follow-up email with tools and templates. You’ll learn how to limit screen time without power struggles, keep play time sacred, and get kids started on safe play while you attend to your household work. Also, learn how to prevent attention-seeking misbehaviors and teach appropriate ways for your kids to ask for your attention. And mark your calendar now for next month’s webinar with a spooky October theme (shown below)!


Be sure and save the date for the next webinar coming on October 27th. Reserve your seat now! 


Also, in celebration of CPCK’s fourth blog-iversary, I am offering any one of the 250+ illustrations drawn for this site as a signed, matted high-quality print of the original. For any not listed in the “shop” section, contact Here’s one most appropriate for October!


Seven Surprising Facts About Emotions That Every Child Needs to Know


By Guest Writer, Ann Douglas

Imagine how tough it must be to be a kid, trying to crack the code that is human emotion. Just when you think you’ve got everything all figured out, someone tosses you a curveball by reacting in a puzzling or unexpected way. Your mom is angry rather than happy about the fact that you decided to entertain your baby brother by spinning him around the room. Your baby brother seems to like it. What’s the problem? Or your teacher is annoyed rather than happy with the gift that is your latest creation. Sure, it’s still a little wet and it’s leaving a puddle on her desk, but that’s because it’s a brand new painting!

It’s a good thing kids arrive on the planet hard-wired for connection and with an insatiable curiosity about what it means to be human. This allows them to benefit from the ultimate apprenticeship in being human: the love and support of a caring adult. This is where you fit in, if you’re a parent. After all, a key part of the job description of parent involves helping kids to learn how to navigate the complex world of human emotions. That means helping your child to make sense of the following seven surprising facts about emotions—facts that are critically important to functioning well in relationships, but that tend to be anything but intuitive to a newbie to the world of emotions.

Here’s what you need to know about each of these facts plus some fun ways to support your child in learning about them.

1. People express feelings a variety of ways.

If humans were robots, we’d be able to read one another’s emotions predictably and easily. Sure, that would make life easier at times, but it would also make life a whole lot less interesting. What makes life and relationships interesting, after all, is the fact that different people can react in different ways to the very same situation—reactions that are revealed by everything from body language to our facial expressions to the words we use.

GAME: Eye Spy Emotions: One of the best ways to help your child understand this concept is by giving him the opportunity to experience it for himself by playing the emotional world equivalent of the classic children’s game “eye spy.” Encourage him to note the wide range of emotions on display in a particular situation—for example, when people are waiting in line for a ride at the amusement park. (Odds are you’ll see a range of emotions on display: everything from eager anticipation to complete and utter terror!) You’ll also want to talk about the fact that even people who are experiencing the exact same emotion can react in dramatically different ways. Some people become very fidgety when they’re anxious, while others fall asleep.

2. People can mask their emotions.

This is a hard lesson for everyone to learn—the fact that the artificial smile plastered on someone’s face isn’t necessarily revealing that person’s entire emotional truth. Sure, your best friend may be saying how much she likes the book you just gave her for her birthday, but there’s something funny about her smile. You can encourage your child to understand why a friend might choose to react this way (your friend doesn’t want to disappoint you by pointing out that she’s already read the book) and to think about situations when she might have chosen to respond in a similar way. You’ll also want to talk about the downside of masking your emotions as opposed to being upfront and honest about them. If you act like everything’s just fine when, in fact, it’s not, you miss out on the opportunity to tap into support from people who care about you—or you end up with two copies of the same book!

ACTIVITY: Emotion Masks: Make a set of emotion masks (a face drawn on a paper plate works well). Practice wearing one mask while portraying another (e.g., wearing the “happy” mask while acting angry)—and then come up with some real-world examples of how and why this could happen.

3. Emotions can be triggered by something happening inside of you or outside of you.

It’s easier to make sense of emotions once you understand the concept of triggers—the idea that emotions can be brought on by something that’s happening inside of you or outside of you. Kids need to understand that the cause of someone’s emotions isn’t always obvious. For example, it’s a beautiful day and you’re having fun with your friend when suddenly she starts crying. You look around you and you can’t figure out what could possibly be making her feel sad. The two of you were having so much fun until a minute ago. What could have happened to make her so sad? Did a bee sting her? Did she think of something sad (like the fact that her grandmother is in the hospital)? Or is it something else entirely? Sometimes the only way to know for sure what’s going on with another person is to talk to that person about what they’re thinking or feeling. Sure you could guess about what’s going on with your friend—but that guess could be wrong.

GAME: Emotion Detective: Give your child the opportunity to play emotion detective. The next time you’re reading a book or watching a movie together, ask Parent PI 2your child to suggest some reasons why a particular character might be exhibiting a particular emotion. Did something happen to him? Is he thinking about something? What are some other possibilities? Can your child think of situations from in his life when he reacted in a similar way?

4. Emotions come in different intensities, like salsas!

We don’t just experience a wide range of emotions. We also experience a range of different intensities of emotions. And just as we need to take into account the nature of the underlying emotion, we also need to pay attention to the intensity of that emotion too. This applies to both the emotions we experience ourselves and the emotions we observe in other people. Here’s what this means in practical terms: If you’re the one whose feeling furious, you’ll want to take time to calm yourself before you do or say something you might regret. And if it’s your friend who’s the one who is feeling furious, you’ll want to acknowledge the intensity of their feelings, perhaps by mirroring that intensity through your tone of voice or body language or both. It’s a way to let your friend know that they’ve been heard and understood.

GAME: Emotional Charades: Give your child the opportunity to practice tuning into the intensity of emotions by playing a game of emotional charades. Portray an emotion using actions, facial expressions, and sounds (but no words) and then ask your child to guess which emotion and what intensity of emotion you are portraying. Are you a little bit excited or over-the-moon excited? Are you a little bit scared or are you terrified? Then ask her to take a turn portraying an emotion, too.

5. An emotion can become more intense or less intense, depending on what else is going on.

Emotions can build on one another or cancel one another out. If you’re having a bad day and something else happens to make it even worse, your feelings of frustration are likely to zoom even higher. But if a friend drops by to bring you an unexpected treat, that feeling of frustration might disappear altogether.

ACTIVITY: Jenga Tower of Emotions: Help your child to understand how emotions play off one another by making a block tower using a set of Jenga blocks (or similar). Add a layer or two of blocks to your tower to represent a foundation of happy experiences—and then remove a block or two to represent life’s more difficult experiences. Your child will see that the tower remains standing as long as there are more happy versus unhappy experiences. (If you remove too many blocks, the entire tower will come tumbling down!).

6. It is possible to experience more than one emotion at the same time.

Imagine putting on layers of emotion, like you might put on layers of clothing. Sometimes those layers clash and sometimes they work reasonably well together. It’s the same way with emotions. You can be both excited and anxious about the first day at a new school, for example.

ACTIVITY: Color Me Emotional: Teach your child about the concept of mixed emotions by mixing colors on a palette. You might decide to use yellow to represent happiness and red to represent anger, for example. If you’re mostly feeling happy, but you’re feeling a little bit frustrated at the same time, you’ll end up with a more “yellowish” result than you would if the opposite were true (you were mostly feeling angry, but something made you happy momentarily, in which case you’d end up with an angry-looking shade of orange!)

7. Everyone needs to work on regulating their emotions.

The final fact that kids need to understand about emotions is that everyone needs to make a conscious effort to making their emotions work for (and not against) them. This skill doesn’t necessarily come easily to anyone and we don’t develop this skill overnight. But it is a skill that we can acquire with practice over time. And that’s good news for all of us—kids and grownups alike.

ACTIVITY: Emotion Journal: Help your child make sense of her most intense and overwhelming emotions by keeping an emotion journal. Encourage her to identify situations that cause her particularly difficulty so that she can learn how to spot and manage the associated emotional triggers. Make sure she notes situations that she handles particularly well as opposed to simply zeroing in on situations where she stumbled. You want her to be able to celebrate the progress she’s making in learning to make sense of and manage her emotions.


For any parents who are seriously concerned about their children’s behaviors whether those behaviors are affecting their schooling, ability to get along with others, or deal with social anxiety, I urge you to check out this book. Ann discusses the often uncomfortable, sometimes disturbing timeframe parents and kids endure coping with challenges before they receive help. She writes about the “Parent Radar” and how critical it is to really pay attention and listen to your intuition about your child and his/her needs. This book has the potential to help many! Check it out. Thanks for sharing your wisdom here, Ann!


Adapted from related material in Parenting Through the Storm: Find Help, Hope, and Healing When Your Child Has Psychological Problems by Ann Douglas parentingthroughthestorm(Guilford Press).


Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting, including, most recently Parenting Through the Storm: Find Help, Hope, and Strength When Your Child Has Psychological Problems (Guilford Press). Her website is and she is @anndouglas on Twitter.

Join Me Tonight…


Frustrated with the political climate? Join me for our conversation tonight on how we can raise civic-minded kids. Constructive solutions begin at home. This is an important way to consider how you and your family are cultivating the value of acting as a contributor to the community and greater world. The conversation begins at 7 p.m. EST on Twitter at #ToolkitTalk. Thanks for this opportunity, #EducationNation!

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