Using the Family Peace Rose to Resolve Conflicts

“What do I do about my siblings fighting constantly?” I heard one Mom lamenting at a recent meeting. “Should I let them handle it? Should I intervene? I want to help them learn conflict management skills but I’m not sure how to respond.” Certainly, this is a common issue in family life. The reality is — fights happen. So then, how can we prepare ourselves and our children for them so that we can ensure no harm is done and our relationships strengthen and grow because of the way we respond to conflict?

This summer, I learned about a preschool that uses a Peace Rose to help build children’s skills. The application for families is easy to see. It can work for any age, preschool and up, between children or even between a parent and a child. Here’s how a Peace Rose can be used to help your children learn and practice valuable conflict management skills.

First, make a tissue paper rose. This can be an excellent rainy day project. Instructions on how to make one follow this article. (You can buy a silk rose too but there will be greater investment and concern for a rose that has been carefully constructed by your children.)

Second, make or find an unbreakable (yes, this is important!) vase. One can be constructed out of a decorated frozen concentrate juice can or empty milk carton. Or if you have a plastic vase that’s sturdy, that could do the job.  

Third, play act the process with your kids. Here’s how it might go. A parent might say:

We are fighting over a toy and I feel upset about it. I don’t want to fight. 

That parent picks up the Family Peace Rose. She might say:

When I hand it to sister Addison, what I am communicating to her is “Let’s work this out together.” 

Your children would then follow each of the following steps. Be sure and post the printable version of the steps (at the end of the article) so that they can follow along with you and after practice, use it as a guide to do on their own. Or if you have young children, play act and practice several times so that they get in the habit of the routine.

Step One. Breathe in the sweet smell. 

Ask both children to “breathe” in the beautiful sweet scent of the rose. Make sure you are in a comfortable, private location to talk.

Step Two. Take turns communicating feelings and the problem. 

Use this simple I-messages structure to ensure that your children are communicating with one another in an assertive, not aggressive way. This helps the individual take responsibility for their own role and their feelings while avoiding blaming language like “you did…” (which closes down the mind and ears of the other). 

Here’s how it might sound as you play act it out:

I feel frustrated and angry when you take my toy because I feel like you don’t care that I was playing with it. How do you feel?

I feel frustrated when you have the toy I want to play with.

Step Three. Generate ideas. Now it’s time to share ideas. How can you work it out? Can you take turns? Can you play together? Should you set a timer for the toy? Do you want to both play with something else and put that toy away?

Step Four. Try it out. If the children find an idea they can both agree to try, then let them go and try it. If they try it out and it doesn’t work, then get the rose out again and generate another idea that might work for both.

Step Five. Reflect. If they have resumed playing and seemed to have resolved the issue, to deepen the learning a parent can ask when you are cleaning up, “How did it work out?” “Was the idea successful?” “Would you want to try the Family Peace Rose again?” “What would you do differently next time?” This step helps children realize that they have gone through a problem-solving process. It helps them think through how they have done it and how they could use it in the future. If they have learned a new skill or process through the experience, the reflection will help them internalize and remember it for future instances.

Leave the Family Peace Rose in its vase in a playroom or main family room so that it can be easily accessed at any time by your children. Adopt this simple practice in your home and see how it helps family members better communicate with one another and work through problems. You might find your children working through their conflicts on their own while practicing critical skills that can last a lifetime!

Here’s the printable version of the Family Peace Rose Problem-Solving Process.

Here are simple instructions from Very Well Family on How to Make a Tissue Paper Flower.

Special thanks to Rachel Choquette Kemper and the Kennedy Heights Montessori Center for this great idea!

The Magic and Mishaps of Tweens: Understanding the Era of Social Awareness and Social Anxiety


“I had a dream that I told the girl I have a crush on that I liked her and seconds later, I watched as the whole world exploded,” my ten-almost-eleven-year-old told me as he was getting ready for bed last night. This morning, I noticed him spending time fixing his hair in the mirror, an act that, in the past, may have only occurred once a year for a big occasion like a wedding or major holiday. “I feel scared but I can’t tell you exactly why,” was another reflection he offered. Yes, for fifth graders and indeed, all the way from ages nine through fourteen as puberty begins, children are feeling a newfound sense of vulnerability and sensitivity. 

Younger children are busy with the work of figuring out who they are, what they believe, and how they can explore their environments. Their greatest learning comes from play. And their belief system – how they make sense of the world around them – is magical. Fairies are just as likely to show up at their breakfast table as their baby brother. 

As puberty begins around nine or ten, a child’s body begins the long (or short – depending upon your perspective) process of transforming into an adolescent on its way to adulthood. But the body is not the only aspect that is changing. A child’s ways of thinking, feeling, and perceiving the world is changing too. And though a tween’s brain is beginning a major reconstruction moving from magical thinking to the more logical thinking required of their adult years, that shift will not fully occur until their early to mid-twenties. So we witness phases – or stages – of those shifts in thinking.

Research provides helpful insight. Studies have found a direct correlation between a raised social awareness and social anxiety. As one increases, so too does the other.1 Why? The answer lies in the magic and the mishaps of middle childhood.

The Magic of Social Awareness

As our tween-aged sons and daughters grow in their social awareness, they can gain:

Empathy, or working to understand the thoughts and feelings of others, a learned skill. This is an ideal time to help cultivate empathetic thoughts in your child. Notice when others are hurting and question why together. Your child is capable of engaging in more in-depth conversations now about others than ever before. This “magic” is the very foundation of their social capital, leadership abilities, and healthy relationship skills for today and for their future. Try engaging in conversations about social issues that affect your family or friends. Ask questions to prompt thinking, such as, “What do you think that homeless person on the corner is thinking and feeling?” Marvel at their growing ability to deeply consider others and widen their circle of concern.

Compassion, or taking action from empathetic thoughts and feelings to provide help or support to another, or simply put: acting on empathy. When your child expresses genuine concern for that homeless person on the corner, what will you do about it? And more importantly, how can you brainstorm with them what they can do about it? Perhaps begin by taking a look at other youth who are serving their communities, raising their voices as advocates, or simply helping out where help is needed. Use your screen time together to look for inspirational models! I love this example at Pitt River Middle School. Check it out! 

Deeper connections with you, with friends, with teachers, with extended family. If you thought that no deeper intimacy was possible than that of your newborn baby snuggling up to your side, try discussing the meaning of life with a ten-year-old. Tens, elevens, and beyond are capable of far deeper insights into the human condition. They are curious about the world yet have not fully erected their emotional security walls from being rejected time and again (as later adolescents and adults have). They are open to thinking big and your exploration with them will open your own eyes to new ways of seeing and perceiving the possibilities. Middle school children, though they are weighed down frequently by the anxiety of their newfound social awareness, are also purveyors of hope if we only create the safe space for questioning and dialogue. If we can show we are receptive to their big ideas and big questions, our intimacy will deepen. And similarly, children can create stronger friendships and relationships with grandparents, with caregivers, and teachers through their ability to understand how others think and feel.

Deeper learning at home and at school with the asset of social awareness. Research confirms the conditions necessary for deep learning to occur. Positive relationships in which students collaborate with teachers and with one another is essential.2 And the emotions that are generated from a commitment to caring relationships – like love, belonging, curiosity, awe, and concern – are necessary for learning to take place.3 Children, though they are attempting to think more rationally, don’t lose their ability to believe in magic and think creatively. In fact, this ability to innovate paired with social awareness can be a powerful force for making a difference in others’ lives. Check out the video Ten Kids Who Changed the World and be inspired by our children’s awesome potential! 

Mishaps with Social Anxiety

As our tween’s social awareness increases, their social anxiety increases which can create:

Clumsiness in the spotlight. This could be a phenomenon you’ve experienced with your ten, eleven, twelve, or thirteen-year-old. To understand what they are going through, picture yourself going out on a theater stage with a spotlight lighting up just you as you look out on hundreds of people you know, people whose opinions really matter to you. Yes – your parents, your boss, your boss’ boss, your in-laws – the gang is all there watching every move you make. Does just the thought of it make you shrink a bit? Are you visualizing running off the stage, driving home, and burying yourself under your bed covers? If so, then you are experiencing empathy for your middle school child. Their new ability to experiment with and try to make predictions about other’s thought and feelings (note: those words are chosen because it takes a whole lot of practice to become skilled at accurately predicting others’ thoughts and feelings. We are not born mind readers!) make them feel self-conscious. And when you have a heightened sense that others are scrutinizing you, you make mistakes. You blunder. Go ahead and add a giant growth spurt and a surge of male and female hormones to the mix. Your child might be clumsy and painfully aware that he’s clumsy. 

What can you do? Oh, how they need Moms, Dads, teachers, mentors, grandparents, and others to reassure them that these changes are normal…that they are truly brave, strong, kind, creative, smart, and resilient! They are old enough to learn about their own development so learn together what changes they are undergoing.

Snap-back measuring tape phenomenon. While tweens are feeling increasingly sensitive to the perceived or real judgments of their peers, they are simultaneously attempting to mimic their peers and exert their independence from you. They want to pledge allegiance to the cool kids but when rejection strikes in any form, they snap back to you as quickly as a measuring tape falls back into its original state curled up inside its case. If we are caught unaware, this extending out and pushing away can hurt us. “Mom, no more hugging me when I come out of school and can you just wait in the car?” might be the kind of message we hear after a decade of hugging and eagerly waiting for their sweet face. And the snapping back can hurt us. Tweens can become highly emotional, need us desperately, and resort to behaviors that seem much younger than their actual age. Yet, this is a normal, healthy aspect of their development.

What can you do? You can adopt the mantra, “it’s not personal, it’s development.” Being aware and being ready helps extend your patience. You can remind yourself that it really isn’t about your connection to one another but about your tween’s growth and learning. Remind yourself of those times when you pulled away or ran back home when you were a similar age. Find empathy and offer compassion for all that they are managing.

Awkward attraction. This may be an understatement when describing what it feels like to see your friends and peers in a whole new light. These people are not just playmates, they are teachers. They possess all of the social capital and cultural wisdom of the young person community. Connection and belonging to peers is not just a nice-to-have, it’s necessary to survive in school. Yet, peers can smell desperation. So middle schoolers know they must hide if they can, their vulnerabilities, including crushes. They may just feel like their world is blowing up if they confess their attraction. So they feel the heat of the magnetizing pull to their peers while they push away and attempt to appear cool! 

What can you do? Normalize it. Otherwise, it’s easy for your child to feel like the only one who’s experiencing all of the social awkwardness. Share your best embarrassing stories. Share your social blunders. Laugh but also, share your empathy for what they are going through acknowledging that it’s an important step in figuring out how to have healthy relationships. Also, be sure and share what healthy relationships look like and feel like so they have a model from which to work.

Tribal survival. This may describe our children’s need and also, account for the sensitivities of our tweens. At times, we may wonder, “why did my daughter lose sleep over a simple disagreement with a friend? They’ll surely make up tomorrow.” Though we realize the sky is not really falling, the emotions felt by our middle schoolers are real and not over-dramatized. As our children gain an awareness of the larger world beyond our home and their school, they also begin to realize that they will continue to reach for independence. And as they push you away to become more self-sufficient, they know they are going to need their friends more and more as a necessary support. This is their tribe. And figuring out the rules of the tribe and how they can fit in is a critical job of middle childhood.

What can you do? Accept his/her feelings. Don’t roll eyes, minimize, or otherwise show that your tweens feelings aren’t real. The saying “name it to tame it” really works! Use more feelings words to build your emerging teen’s feelings’ vocabulary. At times, it’s a wild mash-up of emotions. “Seems like you are frustrated, hurt, and worried. Is that right?” Build your child’s emotional intelligence and they’ll feel more competent to ride the waves of their new insights with style and grace!

References:

Benson, P. L. (2006). All kids are our kids: What communities must do to raise caring and responsible children and adolescents (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA, US: Jossey-Bass.

Durlak, J.A., Dymnicki, A.B, Taylor, R.D., Weissberg, R.P., & Schellinger, K.B. (2011). The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions. Child Development, Jan/Feb 2011, 82(1), 405–432.

Elias, M. J., Zins, J. E., Weissberg, R. P., Frey, K. S., Greenberg, M. T., Haynes, N. M., et al. (1997). Promoting social and emotional learning: Guidelines for educators. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Featured In “Youth Connections” Magazine… Guiding Children with Tools for Success —

Parenting with Social and Emotional Learning

This article was written as part of a larger statewide awareness and educational campaign in Montana focused on parenting with social and emotional learning entitled “Parenting Montana” through the leadership of Montana State University’s Center for Health and Safety Culture. It begins…

“What was that noise?” I asked my ten-year-old son. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and I had all heard the heavy clunk, thud, thud, clunk that seemed to make its way from the second story all the way down to the basement. “We were throwing clothes down the laundry shoot. But then, we threw a toy.” explained my son. “See if you can find it in the basement,” I replied.

When my son and his younger cousin sheepishly appeared with a wooden dollhouse bed in their hands, the headboard was in one hand, the rest in the other, clearly broken. “Oh, that’s no problem,” said his kind Grandma. The younger cousin and my son were squirming, clearly uncomfortable.

“Thanks, Grammy,” I said. I know she would have been comfortable with simply throwing it in the trash, but this was an opportunity to teach responsible decision-making skills. My son had made a poor decision. And he’s likely to make many more in his young developing years. After all, mistakes are a critical part of learning. But I could guide him to fix what he had broken. And that fixing extended to relationships and feelings as well as an object.

My goal was to prompt his careful consideration rather than tell him what to do. So, E and I walked out of the room to a private space, and I asked, “How do you think you can make up for this?” He said he would apologize to Grammy. And he offered, “Papa can fix anything.” So, we went together to ask if E’s Grandpa might work with him to show him how to fix the toy bed. I suspect Grandpa enjoyed showing E how to properly sand down the wood, apply the glue, and clamp it together. These are the roots of responsibility. This is what it takes to parent in an intentional way that develops social and emotional skills within children.

According to the NBC State of Parenting Survey, parents said they most want to promote their children’s social and communication skills even above getting good grades or understanding technology. Parents recognize that their children need to learn to collaborate if they are to tackle class projects or survive and thrive in the modern workplace. Parents realize that children have to learn to manage the feelings they experience whether its anxiety, anger, or frustration in order to achieve their goals. And parents are also keenly aware that their children will only be successful in relationships with others if they can think and feel with empathy for others and make compassionate choices with consequences in mind. All of these are critical social and emotional skills.

In fact, nationwide, schools are increasingly making these skills a top priority. They are using evidence-based curricula at each grade level, pre-K through college, to teach self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making, as defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (2016). Though referred to, at times, as “soft skills,” these can be the toughest – as in, helping kids build resilience, manage stress positively, and add to their inner strength – and also, the most critical, giving our children the tools they need to be successful in their academics today and workplaces and family lives in their future.

Research shows that this focus will yield higher academic performance. A meta-analysis, conducted by Joseph Durlak and Roger Weissberg (et al, 2011), of 213 studies showed that students who had social and emotional learning as a part of their academic curriculum scored 11% higher on high stakes achievement tests than those who did not.3

We, as parents, know that this is just as much our job as it is our school’s responsibility. The good news is that learning about what our children are working on at each age and stage can offer us empathy. Through that newfound understanding, we can discover teachable moments that support their growth each step of the way. The article lists specific examples of ways parents can build social and emotional skills at various ages and stages, so see full online article for all of the helpful tips!

Special thanks to “Papa” Phillip Miller for allowing the use of his story and photograph!

Getting to Know You — For Parents and Teachers

Here’s are Two Simple Tools to Help You Get to Know Your Teachers or Parents!

Maybe your children have started back-to-school and if they have not yet, it’s likely you are in the process of getting ready. Either way, over the coming weeks, families and schools will be focused on relationships. Introductions will be made. Students will meet teachers. Students will meet and greet one another. And hopefully, parents will also get the chance to meet their children’s teachers. These relationships are not just a “nicety.” They serve as the firm foundation on which students build their learning over the coming year. They add to our sense of safety and care.

Research shows clearly that students whose parents are involved in supporting learning at home and are engaged in their school community have more consistent attendance, better social skills, and higher grade point averages and test scores than those children without involved parents.1 Indeed the best predictor of students’ academic achievement is parental involvement.

Trusting relationships – which are essential to learning – are not built with one greeting although that can be a great beginning. They require multiple interactions and connections. They also require an individual or personal connection. Yet teachers and families are busy. So how can we make those essential connections at the beginning of the school year and build upon them throughout the coming months?

With that question in mind, I put together a few easy-to-use handouts. The first is for families to share with their teacher.

Why not be the one who reaches out first to learn about your teacher? Certainly, we, as parents, are curious, excited, or even nervous about who our child’s teacher is and how he or she will conduct classes. Here’s a great start. Place this in your child’s return-to-school folder or hand it to your child’s new teacher at drop-off time. Parents – here it is in a printable format! 

Parents, why not include one about your family with all of your strengths and information completed when you ask them to fill out one for you? Teachers and Educators, you likely already have a plan to introduce yourself to parents. But why not help them get to know you a little better in this easy way? In particular, this handout gives you the chance to highlight your top strength so that parents have the chance to appreciate you and the gifts you bring to your classroom from the very start! Teachers – here is a printable version especially for you to use! 

These can become the building blocks of a caring school community. Even if these tools aren’t right for you, how will get to know your child’s teacher this year? Here’s to learning about and understanding the individual strengths of teachers, students, and parents to establish caring relationships for a productive and joyful year of learning!

Reference:

Henderson, A.T., Mapp, K.L., Johnson, V.R., & Davies, D. (2007). Beyond the bake sale: The essential guide to family-school partnerships. NY: The New York Press.

 

The Power of Introductions: Paving the Way for your Child’s New Friendships

The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.

– Chinese Proverb

It’s been said that the sound of our own name can be magical. It’s often true and particularly so for a child. I remember the principal saying “Hello Jenny.” to me in the school hallway. And I was in awe. “The principal knows my name?!”, I thought. When your children are entering a new classroom and grade level, there will likely be at least a few new faces they will encounter as the school year begins. We, as adults, sometimes skip or simply forget introductions between children. Teachers may introduce themselves and miss out on the chance to introduce students to one another. For teachers in classrooms, after-school program staff, coaches for sports teams, or Moms and Dads picking up their children on the playground, ensuring that there are full rounds of introductions on multiple occasions is an essential step toward building a sense of connectedness and community. Our name is an important part of our self-identity. Learning names can be a doorway to building relationships. As educator and author Roxann Kriete wrote: “Naming is often the beginning of knowing.”1

However, name recall can be a great challenge for adults as well as children. Researchers found that when introductory conversations take place, people typically remember jobs and hobbies before they will be able to remember names. Psychologist Jeremy Dean writes that it has everything to do with meaning.2 We are able to better understand people or define their personalities through job titles or activities. A name like Anna on its own provides no specific information about who she is. Although it’s comforting to know that it’s human nature to have difficulty recalling names, it does not lessen the importance of knowing and using names in our daily interactions.

You can certainly give your child an advantage when walking into new environments and trying to make friends by modeling and practicing introductions. This summer, I stood around with other parents dropping off my child at a new camp — with unfamiliar staff and children. After no introductions were made on day one, I started introducing my son to a few other children and myself to other parents. I witnessed a substantial difference in my son’s motivation and eagerness to engage with the other kids and participate in the camp after the introductions had been made.

In teaching any skill, the best educators break down what adults may consider “the basics” into smaller steps and teach children each of the component skills. Try out these next steps with your children and see if they feel more confident starting school in the next few weeks.

Explore why names are so important.

For young children, rthead Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs  to kick off a conversation about the importance of names.3 Or go through the pile of stuffed animals in your household with your child (if your house contains many like mine) and make sure that each has a meaningful name. For older tweens and teens, tell the story of how you came up with their name. Why was it a special name for you? If you do not know the meaning or origin of your child’s name, look it up together.

Find a chance to practice an introduction and reflect on it.

Make it silly if you like. Introduce Dad to your daughter at dinner. Or introduce your favorite teddy bear to the rubber duck bath team. “Ted Bear meet Duckie.” “It’s so nice to meet you. I’ve already heard so much about your adventures together.” Reflect on what you did during the introduction. What did your body look like? Eye contact, leaning in and shaking a hand are all ways you can show you are interested in greeting another. What specifically did you say? “Hello, my name is Anna. What’s your name?” is an easy way to begin.

When making introductions, find out one thing about the other person.

Assist yourself and your child with recall by associating a person’s name with something meaningful about who they are. “What do you like to play at home?” or “What’s your favorite game?” might be standby questions for your child to ask to begin to get to know a person.

If you are playing host, facilitate learning each other’s names.

Playdates or birthday parties are times in which friends and family are brought together through a variety of contexts and may not know one another. Help establish connections by providing name tags. And before pinning the tail on the donkey, facilitate a name game to help children learn each other’s names. For ideas on a variety of name games, check out The Ultimate Camp Resource on Name Games.

And what if you forget a name? Help your child know what to do.

Those moments can be awkward when your child wants to interact with another but just cannot remember his or her name. What can he say? “Excuse me. Can you tell me your name again?” Practice and model this with adults when you have the chance so that he can watch how it’s done and be ready when he’s feeling uncomfortable.

And for educators and others who work with groups of children, remember it takes multiple exposures to a name to remember it. Name games such as those described in The Morning Meeting Book can be an enjoyable way to practice introductions, recall names, and get to know each person in a classroom community. One of my favorites is the simple Adjective Greeting in which each individual picks an adjective that begins with the same letter of that person’s first name. You can call me “Joyous, Jovial, and Jumpy Jennifer.”

Children who are able to recall and use others’ names demonstrate confidence and assertiveness. Using names imbues the greeter with the power to build relationships. However, the ability to introduce oneself does not always begin naturally or comfortably. Equipping your child with the ability to introduce himself will prepare him for entrance into any social context. How do you practice introductions with your children?

 

1 Kriete, R. (2002). The Morning Meeting Book. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

2 Davis, J. Why People’s Names Are So Hard to Remember. Retrieved on August 14, 2014.

3 Whybrow, I., & Reynolds, A. (1999). Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs. New York: Random House.

Super Cool Back-to-School Tool!

Why not learn right along with the start of school about your child’s development and how you can be the best support?

NBC Parent Toolkit has produced a customizable back-to-school guide for parents and it’s super cool! You can select the ages and stages of your children. You can select the developmental areas you care most about like social and emotional development, academics, or health and wellness. And you can select high-interest or concern areas like mental health, bullying, or homework. Then, you get a specific set of tools, videos, tips and more according to your interests. Great idea, @ParentToolkit! Check it out!

 

 

 

Facilitating a Smooth Transition Back-to-School

 

I’m gonna hold onto this couch and never let go!

– E. Miller, Age 6

It’s the morning after our summer vacation at the lake. E awoke and said he had had a nightmare. “My school became a haunted village. A ghost dragged me around the grounds. And all of my school friends were at my house playing with my favorite toys.” Though there were still a few weeks until the start of school, he was anticipating, not only the beginning but also the end of his freedom. And he worries about the unknown, faceless teacher who will rule over his days to come. Starting back to school can be an exciting time but as with any transition, it can also be fraught with worry, fear, and a sense of loss as the freedoms of summer disappear. How can you best support your children as they go through this annual rite of passage?

Say goodbye to summer.

Summer days are so sweet and fleeting. Perhaps you spend precious family time laughing and enjoying one another in ways that may not occur as often during the hustle of the school year. As a family, find a way to say goodbye to summer. It could be as simple as an ice cream sundae indulgence or a campfire in the backyard. Pitch a tent or simply throw your beach blankets on the grass and stargaze. My husband proposed sharing a slideshow of seasonal photos with the grandparents. While you are savoring those last summer moments, take a moment to reflect on some of your happiest times over the last few months. When did you laugh the most? What were your favorite moments on your travels or local adventures? What animals or plants did you encounter? What activities do you want to repeat next summer? If your school year has already begun, the extended Labor Day weekend offers a natural opportunity to create a way to have one final appreciation of summer.

Create rituals for the ending and beginning.

After finding a way to reflect and enjoy summer’s end together, how will you anticipate all that is positive about starting the school year? In addition to new tools including the fresh smell of a new box of crayons and razor-sharp Ticonderoga twos, there are friends with whom to reconnect or perhaps new friends to be made. Haul out a few projects from last year and display them once again to remind your child of the success she has already experienced in school. Make a ritual out of getting school supplies by buying them together and then enjoying a special meal together or engaging in your child’s favorite activity as a family.

Create or recreate your routine.

Part of the annual preparations in our house for the school year is the creation of the morning routine poster. This doesn’t need to occur before school begins but in those first few weeks starting back, it’s an ideal time to go over it so that the opportunities and challenges are fresh in the minds of all family members. Going over your morning routine can offer great comfort to a child who has not gotten up at the crack of dawn or needed to get dressed and move quickly for months. Don’t expect that they will snap back into the routine easily. Pave the way by discussing how your morning will progress together. Find out what your children’s expectations and hopes are. Writing down your child’s routine formalizes it and helps provide a reminder to return to if there are struggles in those early days of school. For more on simple ways to plan for better mornings with kids, check out the video short, “A Smooth Morning Routine”.

Practice!

Does your child walk to school? Do they take the bus? Offer a practice dry run opportunity to add a feeling of comfort and safety before the first day. Get up at school time. Get dressed and follow your route to school whether it’s walking or driving. If your children take the bus, go to their bus stop and then drive the route to school. Talk about where they might want to sit and how they could introduce themselves to other kids and the bus driver. When you arrive at the empty schoolyard, walk around and show your child where they will line up or meet their teacher. Then go to your favorite coffee shop or donut house and get a morning snack to add a sense of celebration. Though this practice may seem like an extra step, it will pay off when you witness your child entering the school year with more confidence.

Involve children in preparations.

Work on a calendar for your child’s room and place all of the major events in the school year on it including friends’ birthdays and days off. Engage your child in placing their name in notebooks, on pencil holders and other school tools. Prepare your child’s homework space. Talk about what tools they might need at home and get them organized and ready. Perhaps work together on making a pencil holder (using a well rinsed frozen juice can, paper, glue, stickers, and markers) or decorating book covers. Create a binder for papers sent home. Parents often fall into the flurry of preparations and may just check items off the list. Think about how you can involve your child knowing that this will pave the way for them in thinking about the tools and organization they need in order to be successful this school year.

Return to a school night bedtime. 

Although summer nights can allow for late movie nights or catching fireflies, children will require a full night’s rest in order to function well as school begins. If they are not in the habit of a regular bedtime, it can become a power struggle and that challenge can widdle away at precious rest time. Certainly, a sleep-deprived child will not be able to function as well with the big first meetings – teachers and friends – and new expectations in those first days. Take a week prior to the first day and chat about your bedtime routine. What business needs to be accomplished (getting on pajamas, brushing teeth)? What enjoyable, connecting opportunities do we have too (reading books together, snuggling, saying prayers, etc.)? Try out your newly designed routine and get children to bed closer and closer to their regular school night time (practice like it’s a game and see if you can beat your own time) to help their body rhythms adjust along with their expectations. Learn how many hours of sleep your child’s body and brain require by age here.

Listen.

Show that you are open and willing to listen during this time of transition. Children will be more likely to share their worries. Perhaps begin a conversation with him about his experience with his last teacher and how he got to know her and like her. Ask questions about rich memories from last school year and offer the space for your child to tell you about his school experiences. If worries emerge in conversation, you, in turn, can address those through practice, involvement, and reflection.

Show additional sensitivity.

Children will have heightened emotions during this transition from summer to the first months of the school year. They are adjusting to major changes in their life including new faces and new expectations. Be aware that greater upset about minor issues may indicate anxiety just below the surface. If children are unable to identify or articulate their feelings, offer feeling words and ask if they are accurate: “It sounds like you are worried. Are you worried about having a new teacher or being in a new building?”

Express confidence.

Because worries may run at a fever pitch this time of year, tell stories of persistence from your child’s past. Find ways to show your confidence in your child’s ability to meet any challenge by digging in and working hard. Emphasize hard work as a family value, one that all members are engaged in with their work and schooling. Reinforce ways to introduce yourself and make new friends offering additional confidence when social anxiety strikes. Also, clue your child into becoming more socially aware. Discuss the fact that others around your child – peers and teachers alike – will show signs of nervousness too. When your child gets worried, coach her to invest her energy in empathizing with others and making others comfortable by enjoying the moment and she may just forget her worries altogether.

Introduce yourself or make brief contact with your child’s teacher.

These first few weeks of school offer an important opportunity for connection with your child’s teacher. Beginning that relationship as soon as possible in a positive way will contribute to further communications and ultimately, your child’s success in the classroom so it’s worth the effort. Stick around during drop off or pick up. Extend a handshake, a smile, and wishes for a great year ahead. These first interactions will pave the way for future partnership. For more on ways to initiate a partnership with your child’s teachers as a parent, check out “The Most Important Relationship To Build This School Year.”

Taking steps to prepare your children by creating rituals and celebrations, through initiating organization and reflection, and by showing of empathy for their situation and the accompanying mix of emotions can all contribute to a sense of safety and security in the midst of change. Not only will it help create smooth transitions during each day for your family, but it will also allow your children to enter the school year with an open mind and heart to experience the joy and possibility of learning.

 

For more ideas, check out “Back to School Butterflies.” And if your child is moving from preschool to kindergarten, do check out the article, “In Between Here and There.”

Updated from original, published on 8-7-14.

On NBC Parent Toolkit…Getting Back In a School Routine at Every Age

How Can Parents Help Kids Get Back Into the Swing of School Days after the Freedom of Summer?

This week, the NBC Parent Toolkit team along with TODAY Show parent experts Michele Borba and Amy McCready and myself put together a brief practical guide divided by grade levels to prepare you with ideas for what we, as parents, can do now to pave the way for our children’s smooth transition into the school routine. It begins…

Welcome to August, otherwise known as the “Sunday of summer.” Every year, this month comes barreling in, knocking at our door, and we can’t help but greet it with a mix of surprise, sadness, and yes – even some relief. With the end of long days at the pool and handwritten letters from camp comes the beginning of back-to-school shopping and renewed hope that this will be the year our kids finally get to school on time.

As seasoned parents know, preparing our kids to go back to school goes beyond bringing out the backpacks and checking off a list of school supplies. The real challenge comes when we have to replace lazy afternoons in the sun with homework help and late-night bonfires with an earlier bedtime. But the new schedule doesn’t have to be a battle. Whether you have toddler starting school for the first time or a teen who’s entering their final year of high school, here’s how to restore routines (and hopefully, some peace)… READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE.

 

Viewing Parenting as Servant Leadership

“It is high time the ideal of success should be replaced by the ideal of service.”
– Albert Einstein

Parents, by the very nature of our roles, serve in a leadership position while we raise our children. A servant leader realizes that his or her ability to significantly influence others and achieve any vision comes from serving others. Understanding the qualities of a successful leader – that of a servant leader – can assist any parent in further refining his or her values and skills to better perform her role. Research on power demonstrates that the skills required to rise to a leadership position are empathy and social skills.1 However, interestingly, those are the very skills that become the most challenging to leaders once they have acquired power. So when we are parenting, we may have a greater challenge than in other roles with our ability to be empathetic and to demonstrate social intelligence.

Robert Greenleaf, author of “The Servant as Leader” and management researcher who consulted with major corporations like AT&T and lectured at MIT and Harvard, defined what it means to be a servant leader.2 He writes that leaders always have a larger goal in mind and can well articulate it. That goal may not be fully achievable in a lifetime but offers sufficient inspiration and vision to motivate all members to pursue it. For example, our family’s vision is to love one another unconditionally and we commit to supporting each other as we pursue learning and working toward our highest dreams and potentials. And we measure our major life decisions based on that vision. Parents as servant leaders prioritize and build trust as a critical foundation for their family’s interconnected relationships and individual successes. They are responsible decision makers, and they exercise sound judgment showing competence in what they do.

The concept of servant leadership can offer a frame of mind as parents consider their role and how they might focus their efforts on continuous improvement. I found, in reading about servant leadership, that it deepened my thinking about my dreams for myself as the Mom I strive to be and continually work to become. Here are some of the main points Robert Greenleaf shared when he outlined his concept of a servant leader that I’ve translated for our role as leaders of our families.

Parents as Servant Leaders…

Listen for Understanding
When a family member has a problem, Greenleaf would advise listening first for understanding. And though it may require some time and possibly awkward silence with children, taking the time to listen to truly make sense of what the child is both feeling and thinking can result in a much richer dialogue between parent and child. Instead of rushing to fix as we so often tend to do, we offer a significant show of respect by actively listening. It’s often said, the better you define a problem, the better the solution. And in this case, stopping to listen can help prompt a child’s thinking so that she crafts her own best solution helping her accept responsibility for her relationships and challenges. If you are interested in exercising your listening skills in family life, check out a number of ideas in the previous article on coaching or in the article, “Say What?”

Communicate for Connection
The wider vision and long-term goals a parent might have cannot be readily accessible to a child without a focus on communicating for connection. In the busyness of our lives, at times, we forget to take time out to explain why we are so busy in our pursuits. And it helps to relate our rationale to a child’s life such as their learning goals in school or a saving goal for a coveted toy. For example, my partner is in graduate school and working full-time which takes him away from our family frequently. It would be easy to focus on his lack of presence as E and I eat dinner or participate in free-time activities without Dad. But we have to remember to take time to explain Dad’s goal in his contributions to his work and contributions to our family. This helps us all stay focused and endure temporary separations while working toward a bigger vision.

Use the Art of Withdrawal
The art of withdrawal is the ability to step back, to step out of the throes of current circumstances, and to reflect. This withdrawal could involve taking a walk in the park during an intense time. It could mean removing yourself from the room to another place to cool down. Or it could be as simple as employing “Strange Calm,” sitting down in the midst of chaos to regain your focus. This is such a critical point for our roles as parents and servant leaders. Not only does it give us permission to “leave the building,” it’s encouragement to do so. Yes, we need to make family members aware in advance that we will be withdrawing at times. Yes, we need to ensure that our children are safe before we withdraw. But we can use this technique to fuel our own sense of well-being as we treat our feelings and thoughts with the care they deserve in leading our family. We return from our withdrawal with a sense of renewed purpose and clearer thinking to retain their trust and make sound decisions. This is what living a mindful life as a parent can look like.

Practice Acceptance and Empathy
Family members need to feel accepted in the group at all times. Their membership needs to be treated and viewed as essential. Nothing could cause them to be cast out. E said to me last night at bedtime as we were saying goodnight, “Will you love me no matter what?” with a teasing tone. But I know that he needs to hear it “Yes, come what may, no matter what, I will love you.” All kids do. And not just once but often, especially in the times when they are failing, making poor choices, and generally feeling unsuccessful. Greenleaf writes, “Parents who try to raise perfect children are certain to raise neurotics.” Getting comfortable with and expecting mistakes as a part of our children’s learning process is a core part of our own acceptance in our parenting. That acceptance demonstrates our empathy for our children who hold us and how we regard them in their highest esteem. And we can further work on cultivating our empathy and understanding for our children by regularly learning about their school experiences and learning about their development so we can relate better to their particular kinds of challenges.

There are numerous ways to learn about your children’s development. As a start, check out the Parent Toolkit or Yardsticks Child Development Parent Pamphlets.

Exercise Foresight
Foresight is the ability to make responsible decisions combining factual information with our intuition. But in addition, we have to consider the consequences down the road for the choices we are making today. And helping our children become responsible requires us to model that skill. Talking aloud about the ethics of a choice and how others might be impacted in future days or years can help children become aware that they need to consider theirs and others futures in their own decision-making. It’s rare when all of the pieces of information required are fully at hand when we need to make a choice. Usually, there is a bit of a leap of faith involved particularly when it’s a larger decision. Children will learn to better trust themselves as you show faith in your own inner wisdom to guide you.

Work on Self-Awareness
We cannot lead a family toward a vision without self-awareness. And that self-knowledge is not a one-time event but a process of introspection, looking within to understand what patterns we might be repeating that we want to change and what values are core to who we are and how we want to show up in the world. The art of withdrawal can assist with our awareness as we take time out to reflect on what our deepest self is telling us. In addition, we need to cultivate an awareness of our family members’ feelings which can be strengthened over time with practice. “What’s Dad feeling tonight? Can you tell by his facial expression how his day went?” Taking small opportunities to notice other family members’ feelings can strengthen this skill in yourself and your children.

Taking a step back and evaluating your role as a parent as a servant leader can be nothing short of revolutionary. Since change always begins at the individual level, we can start improving our world at home. If we desire leaders – whether they serve in our communities, our workplaces or our governments – who are caring, socially responsible and compassionate, we plant those seeds daily by modeling it as servant leaders with our own children.

References:
Keltner, D. (2016). The power paradox; How we gain and lose influence. NY: Penguin Press.

Greenleaf, R. (1991). The servant as leader. Indianapolis, IN: The Robert K. Greenleaf Center.

Originally published on Mar. 2, 2017.

Involving Our Kids in Household Responsibilities – At Each Age and Stage


Don’t Miss the Developmentally-Appropriate Responsibility Chart!

It’s a Sunday afternoon. Mom and Dad have decided that at ten years of age their daughter, Molly, could be taking more responsibility for her contributions to the household. They attempt to set the stage. Mom puts out a snack for family members. She grabs a clipboard, paper, and marker to create a list together. And all family members sit down for a reasonable discussion. And it begins well. Mom says, “I’ve noticed you consistently making your bed in the morning now after we talked about it a few weeks back and that’s great. That’s exactly the kind of contribution we want to encourage. We thought, since you are getting older and more capable, we’d look at all the ways you can contribute to our household.” Dad agrees, “Yes, we’d like to help you be successful in taking care of your belongings.”

And then, it happens. She leans back in her chair – as she often does while eating meals – and her snack dribbles down onto the floor. Dad, witnessing this, says in a frustrated tone “Lean! You’ve got to lean!” which is a refrain he utters frequently at dinnertime as the dining room carpet becomes dotted with food crumbs. Mom and Dad watch Molly’s face as the red hue seems to advance from her chin to forehead. And that’s it – conversation over. She springs out of her chair and off – up to her room.

Perhaps this is a familiar scene to you. Though Mom and Dad attempt to communicate as a team, your child may feel outnumbered. Though you may approach the conversation with the best, most constructive intentions, defensiveness may creep up and when it does, your chances of influencing your child’s behaviors are slim to none. It may end in a power struggle. It may end with scolding or yelling, crying or silence, and certainly with frustrations on all sides.

Yet the importance of these discussions throughout your child’s development remains. Yes, they’ll grow more and more capable of taking on responsibilities that they could not attempt in previous years. And not only do you want to make sure that the tasks get accomplished (and you don’t turn into the family nag) but also, you want your child to internalize the desire and skills associated with taking responsibility. So the question becomes, how do you help a child learn to take increasing responsibility for contributing to your household?

There are numerous ways. And I’ll share those tips and helpful tools too. But first, I’ll share the second, far more successful attempt this family took with the responsibility conversation later that day. After Molly stormed to her room, Mom and Dad refilled their coffee (yes, this was a necessary next step!) and sat down to talk with one another about what worked, what didn’t and formulate a game plan.

They framed some aspects of the conversation really well. The snack and sitting together was nice. The clipboard ready for their plan was helpful. Recognizing the ways in which Molly already contributed was key. And Molly seemed pleased and responsive to that recognition. They weren’t scolding nor were they acting like they were starting from scratch. She had a history of positively contributing and her parents were noticing those contributions. But the minute Dad shifted to scolding, the power dynamic changed. Before the comment on leaning, there was shared power. But after, there were sides – the parents versus the child. So the team approach they were trying for failed. As Mom and Dad reflected on this, they talked about how to sustain shared power throughout the conversation. How can we approach Molly so that we invite her feedback and ensure that she’s heard, understood and given a voice and a choice to take ownership of her contributions?

When ready, Mom and Dad went to her room. After ample cooldown time, they asked if they might talk with her again. Mom and Dad sat down lower than Molly to visually show that they were not attempting to dominate her in this conversation. Dad apologized for the nagging and said this was precisely why they were talking about this – so they wouldn’t be tempted to nag her about anything. “How can you decide on the ways you can contribute and we agree as a family?” they asked. “And how can you find ways to remember so that we don’t have to nag?”

Molly was eager to find a way not to be nagged so she helped with creating a list of ways she could take more responsibility. They went through each idea and discussed how she would remember in the moment. The ideas all came from Molly. For leaning over her food at the table during meals, Molly wanted to make a little reminder sign that read, “Please lean” with a smiley face. (Clearly, she wanted a friendly reminder!) And she put a pillow behind her to push her forward in her chair. For screen time limits, she was going to set a timer and shut down the iPad when the timer buzzed. For each responsibility, Molly figured out a way that she could remember either with a sign or an alarm. Mom, Dad, and Molly ended their family conversation with the agreement to work together to make signs and set alarms to get her prepared to be successful.

And so far, Mom and Dad report it has been highly successful (true story!). Molly is keeping up with her chores. And Mom and Dad are making sure to notice and share their appreciation for her actions when they see those helpful behaviors.

Engage intrinsic motivation.
Children and adults alike are intrinsically motivated by feeling a sense of autonomy, belonging and competence. Contributing to the care of your family’s home can meet all three of those needs. As you formulate ways to discuss, consider engaging these forms of motivation to help internalize a sense of responsibility.

Understand developmental appropriateness.
At each age and stage, there are tendencies or themes that if align with can serve as helpful motivation for contributing to the care of your home and family. For examples, four-year-olds love jobs they can do. It makes them feel big and competent. But they may struggle with clumsiness and will have short attention spans. Remember that each time they contribute, they are in training for a lifetime of contribution. Give them short, quick tasks for which they can be successful. For young children, allot more time and make it an enjoyable part of their play. Here are some wonderful cleanup songs that you can use to send the signal that it’s clean up time. Making a daily routine of clean up can help ensure success. The following is a printable chart that lists various developmental milestones at particular ages that can support your efforts to involve your child in household responsibilities along with some ideas for task readiness.  Household Responsibilities by Age/Stage Printable Chart

Collaborate as a family team.
Do you notice you gain energy for the work ahead when others are digging in alongside of you? It’s true for kids too. Don’t assign and then, kick back and watch. When it’s time to clean up, when it’s time to do laundry, or whatever the chore, family members who work together will get chores accomplished together. Children will feel a greater sense of motivation to contribute if you are working right alongside them.

Authentically empower.
Be sure you allow your child to take responsibility for a task and complete it themselves. Don’t go behind and fix it if you feel it’s not up to your standards. This does not offer a child the sense of satisfaction of completing a task. And if there are a number of tasks, make a checklist so that your child can check off each when completed.

Be sure your child is adequately prepared to load the dishwasher or set the table. When introducing a new responsibility, try interactive modeling as a way to teach your child how to contribute. We, as parents, often forget that children are still learning many ways of doing things that we take for granted. Interactive modeling can be a way to ensure you are doing what you can to help your child learn the actions necessary to meet your expectations.

From author Margaret Berry Wilson’s book, Interactive Modeling; A Powerful Technique for Teaching Children, we can learn from this simple seven-step process that teachers use in schools. 1

1. Say what you will model and why.
2. Model the behavior.
3. Ask your child what he noticed.
4. Invite your child to model.
5. Ask what he noticed with his own modeling.
6. Practice together.
7. Provide specific feedback starting with strengths using “I notice…”

The following is an example of how this might look between a parent and child. Be certain and pick a time to do this when you do not have time pressures.

1. You might say, “Watch how I play waiter. You can try it after me!” You could wear an apron like a waiter might or put on a name tag.
2. Now set the table as you would like it and as your child watches and you go through the motions, be sure to notice any areas that may pose difficulties for your child such as getting out and placing knives at each place setting. Address those directly. “Since the knives can be dangerous, I’ll do that part of the process each night and you can do the rest.”
3. Ask, “What did you notice when I was acting like a waiter?”
4. You might say, “Okay, your turn to pretend to be the waiter.” Dress him up in the apron and name tag to maintain the fun.
5. After he plays his role ask, “What did you notice when you did it?”
6. Now practice it together. Don’t skip this! It’s important that your child gets the chance to work alongside you while cooperatively going through the process.
7. In providing feedback, be specific and start with strengths. “I noticed you handled the silverware carefully. Terrific! When you put the napkins down, be sure to count so that each person gets one.” If you share too many issues, your child might tune out so pick your top few areas for improvement only.

Brainstorm solutions to challenges.
If you find yourself in a position similar to Molly’s parents where they were hearing themselves regularly nagging to get tasks accomplished, then go back to the drawing board. Brainstorm solutions to specific challenges to eliminate nagging. For more on brainstorming solutions with your child, check out this article.

Recognize and celebrate but don’t bait.
It’s critical to notice and point out when your children are contributing. This may seem insignificant but your words can have a reinforcing effect so that they are much more apt to continue the positive behavior. “I notice you put away your dishes without my asking!” is all you need say. If your family team accomplishes a larger project, going out for ice cream, watching an enjoyable movie, and simply doing a family team cheer can further celebrate your hard work.

Many parents and teachers use reward stickers or charts to guide home contributions trying to incentivize work. Others pay for chores through an allowance or a pay-per-task. Though it may seem an easy solution, it does not help children internalize their role as a caring family member and contributor. It does not send the message, “we contribute to the care of our home because we are part of this family.” Instead, it serves as bait and sometimes may not be enticing enough to keep the motivation high. I tested this with my own son on three different occasions. We brainstormed a list of regular responsibilities and additional ones that could be done for payment. Consistently the ones that were on his regular responsibilities’ list were accomplished and he didn’t touch the other ones. Why? Play was far more important on his agenda. “At any age, rewards are less effective than intrinsic motivation for promoting effective learning” states Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards; The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes.2 Why not engage their intrinsic motivation for feelings of autonomy, belonging and competence and work with them on the skills and processes necessary to internalize that sense of responsibility?

You will be teaching your kids how to be a substantial contributor in a family. And that will serve them on school projects, collaborative teams at work and in their own roles as parents someday. It will take patience. But rest assured, practicing responsibility at home is practice for a lifetime of caring contributions.

References:

  1. Wilson, M.B. (2012).Interactive modeling; A powerful technique for teaching children.Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.
    2. Kohn, A. (1999). Punished by Rewards; The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes.NY: Houghton Mifflin.
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