confident parents confident kids

Developing Family Guidelines for Fighting Fairly

How can you establish boundaries for arguing with family members?

Don’t miss discussing and signing the pledge at the end of the article! 

After some happy outdoor play, I heard my son E run straight up to his bedroom and slam the door. As I knocked and entered his room, his face was red and wet with tears. “What happened?” I asked. “Jonathan (E’s cousin) wouldn’t listen to me,” E sputtered between sobs. “I was mad and he put his fingers in his ears and sang so he couldn’t hear me.” It is infuriating when one person is trying to discuss a problem and the other is putting up a wall. Friends and family members will argue. But one of the keys to maintaining and growing intimate relationships is fighting fairly.

Throughout childhood, kids are beginning to understand how to disagree and struggle with another person’s perspectives. They may be more impulsive and lash out or run away or even dig in their “heels” deepening the power struggle. I’ve heard many Moms’ laments over their siblings fighting repeatedly over the same issues at the same time of day when patience is low and kids are tired and hungry for dinner. So how can you deal with your children’s conflicts?

Take a look at your own arguments. Kids are learning directly from observing how we handle conflicts with our partners. Do you shout or name call or run away? Do you lash out with passive aggressive comments? Whether we like it or not, our kids are keen observers of how we work through our arguments. Their sense of security is shaken, whether they are a toddler or a teenager when they witness their parents fighting. So they are eager to see how and whether we are able to resolve our problems and move toward a closer relationship.

John Gottman, who has done extensive research on marriage, found that couples who stayed together versus those who divorced did not fight less. In fact, they fought just as often. But there were some keys to how they fought fairly. He writes, “A lasting marriage results from a couple’s ability to resolve the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship.”1 In addition, they balanced their negativity with positivity. There was, in fact, a magical amount of five positive interactions to one negative interaction, called the Gottman Ratio, that allowed for long-term, sustainable relationships. And it’s true with our parent-child and sibling relationships as well. Consider at the end of a particularly difficult day with your kids, “Did they have five positive interactions with you to counteract the one challenging one?”

Studies have been conducted on how kids’ developing brains are impacted by parents’ conflicts. Kids who lived in households with regular fighting experienced a stress level others who lived in more peaceful households did not. Over time, that stress compromised their brain development leading to impairments in learning and memory. But kids who lived in households in which parents argued but genuinely resolved the arguments (Kids were aware if parents faked a resolution.) were actually happier than before they experienced the argument, claims E. Mark Cummings, senior researcher at Notre Dame University. He writes

It reassures kids that parents can work things through. We know this by the feelings they show, what they say, and their behavior—they run off and play. Constructive conflict is associated with better outcomes over time. 2

If the quality of the fighting and subsequent interactions is critical in sustaining a healthy marital relationship, then it’s conceivable that it is also critical for sustaining positive friend and family relationships. And since kids learn directly from the modeling of their parents’ arguments, it’s worth examining how you fight with one another.

There are ways of fighting that are unfair and those are important to discuss as a family. Using physical force, for example, of any kind has been found ineffective. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of five decades of research showed that spanking a child results in short-term negative outcomes like aggression and defiance and long-term outcomes like substance abuse. 3 Also, when a child goes to another child or adult to get them on “their side” of the conflict, that triangulation can create deeper problems for all involved. There are four other ways of fighting unfairly, in particular, that were identified by expert John Gottman, leading to the destructiveness of relationships. These forms of fighting were regularly found in the relationships that were headed for separation or divorce. In addition to creating an agreement between you and your partner not to use these forms of fighting, I’ve listed ways to teach your kids not to use them as well.

Agree with family members not to use:

1.Criticism.
Though it can be tempting to criticize another (and at times, it may seem harmless), those words constitute an attack on the person you love. Focus on the problem at hand, the struggle, not the quality or character of the person with whom you are fighting. Criticism of another can remain in the heart and mind of the recipient and whittle away at the trust in a relationship.

Teaching your kids.
When my child is mad at another, I typically say “We are all learning. Your friend is learning too.” Focus on the problem not on the person. He may not be getting his needs met. We may not be able to understand why he is doing what is making us mad but we can understand that there’s a reason for it. Reframe how you discuss the problem. Say “What actions/choices didn’t you like?” versus “What did he do wrong?”

2. Contempt.
Contempt is another way of showing disdain for another person. It may involve name-calling, hostile humor or sarcasm, dismissive or baiting body language or mockery. None of these are fighting fair. Not only are they forms of character attacks but they also have the implicit intention to harm the other’s feelings.

Broken Heart by Jennifer Miller
Teach your kids about the destructiveness of name-calling by using the broken heart example.

Teaching your kids.
It’s never okay to name-call no matter how mad you are or think the other deserves it. You might ask, “If you held up a mirror and that body language or those words came back to address you, how would you feel?” One way we taught kids about hurting other’s feelings in schools was by the broken heart example. Draw a simple heart on a piece of paper. Now have the child call the paper disparaging names. Tear the paper each time he calls it a name. When finished, work together to tape the paper back together. Though you can reassemble the heart, it becomes permanently damaged. Children need to understand their words can have that same impact. Don’t allow contempt to pass between siblings. Tell them to go cool off first. Then, come back and you can help kids talk to one another in constructive ways.

3. Defensiveness.
Being on the defensive is a slippery slope that sinks further down into the argumentative mire. It does not help anyone work toward a resolution. It’s easy to become defensive when the other is placing blame. So make a rule in your household. Avoid words like “always” and “never” in conflicts. First of all, it can’t be true that someone is always one way or never another. And second, it leads to further escalation of the conflict and often to hurt feelings. The best way to avoid defensiveness is by owning your own role in the problem, not pointing the finger and blaming other (watch for starting statements with “You…”), and hoping (though there’s no forcing it) others will accept their roles.

Teaching your kids.
“Always” and “never” are not permitted in arguments in our household. If they are used, it’s time to cool down and see what other words could be used. Also, teach your kids to say how they played a role in the situation first. Use I statements such as, “I feel mad when you grab my toy because I was playing with it.” Owning your role in problem takes courage. So teach them how to take responsibility in the most challenging of circumstances by practicing simple words they can use.

4. Stonewalling.
This takes place when a person refuses to listen, shuts down the argument or gives the silent treatment such as Jonathan closing his ears and singing. Make no mistake about this technique. It is not peacemaking. Far from it, this method of fighting is aggressive and hurtful to the person on the receiving end.

Teaching your kids.
Don’t allow kids to confuse time to cool down with stonewalling. There is a significant emotional difference. In the first, a person leaves upset and returns calmer and ready for constructive dialogue. In the latter, a person leaves upset and the upset escalates with both conflict participants. Silent treatment or shutting down another person only leads to more problems, hurt and upset. When kids are calmer, encourage them to come back together to work it out. If they struggle with talking, have them write to one another. Communication between the two is critical to work through their problem. For more on facilitating problem-solving between kids in conflict, check out “Working It Out.”

Establishing some guidelines for fighting fair for all family members can ensure that you are ready when the inevitable problems arise.

Guidelines for Fighting Fair

Instead, your family can agree to…

Get proactive about how you are going to calm down. What do you do when you feel the heat rising in your face from anger and frustration? Develop your own plan for calming down in advance of troubles. And have the discussion with your family. Use the Family Emotional Safety Plan as a simple guide for that discussion. Also, are there times of the day when siblings tend to fight over and again? If so, proactively institute a quiet time or “brain break” as schools who use mindfulness practices call it. A brain break involves simply sitting down and focusing on breathing to regain calm. It can become a powerful household tool if parents use and model it too.

Trust that the other person has good intentions. If we begin from a place of blaming and accusation, defensive walls go up on both sides. In order to keep those emotional walls from being erected, we need to trust that there is a good reason behind the other’s arguments.

Start with empathy. When a conflict arises, training yourself to think about the thoughts and feelings of the other involved helps us communicate with compassion and fairness. It can be difficult to focus on empathy when we are in our own heads reinforcing our perspectives and creating new arguments to support our main points. But after a focus on calming down, we are more capable of doing this. You might begin with, “I think you are feeling worry and frustration and you want me to change my actions so that you don’t feel that way anymore. Is that correct?”

Take responsibility for your role only. Ask “What’s my role in this problem?” and “How can I articulate my role fairly?” You may say “I admit that I didn’t pick up your library book today but I am feeling frustrated because I had a good reason why I did not.” This also helps avoid the blame game. When you take responsibility for your own role in the situation, the other is more likely to take responsibility for his role as well.

Seek understanding. Often we cannot move on from our conflicts because we feel so sorely misunderstood. And at times, though it can be uncomfortable, we miss the chance to gain understanding by not sharing our feelings, thinking it will leave us vulnerable. In fact, it is in the sharing of our feelings that we begin to connect more deeply on the core problem and offer a chance to resolve it constructively. In order to resolve the issue, use “I” message language. “I feel frustrated and mad when you don’t tell me you are coming home late because I’ve worked hard on a family dinner.” And make sure you offer to turn the tables to gain an understanding of your partner’s perspectives.

Work together on an agreement. No agreement is going to work if needs – physical or emotional – are not met. So before finding solutions ask “What needs have to be met on both sides?” Then with those needs in mind, discuss ways you might move forward and resolve the problem.

End with love. This is typically not a possible way to close a conflict if the problem is still there, not truly resolved. But if you’ve heard each other’s feelings and thoughts, worked to understand one another and tried to resolve the problem fairly, then ending with an expression of your love and care is not only possible, it’s likely.

Conflicts are the most rigorous tests of our relationships. Reflect with your partner on your own methods of arguing so that you can ensure you are modeling the behaviors you want your kids to learn. And give your children ample practice with calming down and then communicating with each other in respectful and constructive ways so that when they are on their own in the world, they will carry those critical problem-solving skills with them. If you do, you will feel confident that your kids will be prepared to pursue healthy, sustainable relationships.

References:

1. Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (1994). What makes marriage work? It’s how you resolve conflict that matters most. Psychology Today. Retrieved on 4/27/16. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200910/what-makes-marriage-work

2. Divecha, D. (2014). What Happens to Children When Parents Fight. Developmental Science. Retrieved on 4/27/16 at http://www.developmentalscience.com/blog/2014/04/30/what-happens-to-children-when-parents-fight

3. Elizabeth T. Gershoff, Andrew Grogan-Kaylor. Spanking and Child Outcomes: Old Controversies and New Meta-Analyses. Journal of Family Psychology, 2016; DOI: 10.1037/fam0000191

Confident Parents, Confident Kids Fighting Fair Family Pledge

Fighting is inevitable in families. It does not represent weakness but only reality. I know that the way we fight – what we say, how we say it and what we do – can either deepen our intimacy and strengthen our bonds or create divisions and break down trust. Here is our family commitment to one another.

We, the _______________________ (insert last name(s)) family, will…

  1. Plan ahead.
    We’ll develop a plan for dealing with heated emotions, expressing ourselves respectfully and calming down. Each will create their own individual response and share it with the others in the family. We will respect each person’s plan. See the Family Emotional Safety Plan for a simple template.
  2. Take responsibility for our own feelings and role in the problem.
    Instead of blaming others, we will voice our own feelings. We’ll ask “What am I feeling? What’s my role in this problem?” and “How can I articulate and take responsibility for my role fairly?”
    3. Move to empathy and get curious about other’s perspectives.
    We’ll assume that other family members have good intentions and that everyone can make mistakes. We’ll ask, “What are you feeling? What are you thinking?” Then, we’ll listen with an open mind and heart seeking understanding.
    4. Work together to meet each other’s needs and forge an agreement.
    No agreement is going to work if needs — physical or emotional — are not met. So before finding solutions ask “What needs have to be met on both sides?” Then with those needs in mind, we’ll discuss ways to move forward and work to resolve the problem.
    5. End with love.
    This is typically not a possible way to close a conflict if the problem is not truly resolved. But when we’ve heard each other’s feelings and thoughts, worked to understand one another and tried to resolve the problem fairly, then we’ll end with an expression of love and care.

We, the __________________________(insert last name(s)) family, pledge not to use the following types of fighting that we know are destructive to our loving relationships. They can whittle away at our trust of one another and rock our foundation.

We will not…

  1. Use physical force.
    Whether it’s between siblings or between a parent and child (including spanking), using physical force in a conflict signals that the individual has lost all control and only believes s/he can regain it with physical dominance. Five decades of research shows there are no positive and only negative outcomes when force is used. See the following article for numerous alternatives. Brainstorm alternatives so that children have other options at the ready.
    2. Triangulate.
    We will not talk with one person about another when they are not present. We will go directly to the person with whom we have the problem.
    3. Criticize.
    We will not judge or comment on the character of a person in the struggle but focus our energies and words on solving the problem at hand.
    4. Show contempt.
    We will not use hostile humor, sarcasm, name-calling, mockery or baiting body language. We recognize these all involve some kind of aggression and character attack with the implicit intention of causing harm.
    5. Become defensive or blaming.
    We will not point fingers and use “You…” language. Words like “always, never or forever” will not enter into our arguments since they cannot represent the truth.
    6. Stonewall.
    We will not refuse to listen, shut down the argument or give the silent treatment.

We know that our loving family relationships will continue to grow stronger through our commitment to this pledge.

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Discuss and sign the Fighting Fair Family Pledge with your loved ones. Here’s the printable pdf document! 

Originally published on 4/28/16.

Telling or “Tattle Telling”… Is There a Difference? – on NBC’s Parent Toolkit

A parent wrote to the Parent Toolkit team asking them about her challenge in understanding how best to support her five-year-old. This parent poses important questions about how to react to a young child “telling” on the mistakes of other children but her question also involves helping her child deal with exclusion and hurtful behaviors and her role with and support of her child’s teacher and the school’s rules. Check it out!

Good Afternoon,

I am a parent of a 5-year-old boy. I wanted to ask the advice of the panel in regards to “tattle telling”. My son’s school has taught him that he is not supposed to tattle tell and that “there is a difference between tattle telling and telling”. My son has been through some bad experiences (having snacks taken away by other students, being excluded, and now had a child pee on his shoe). My son continues to hold the belief that he should not tattle tell because he will get people in trouble and will then not have any friends. I am concerned that this has opened the door to my son being bullied.

My question is should children his age be taught the “difference between tattle telling and telling”? And is there truly a difference at this age?

Thank you,

Gilda

My Response:

First of all, your child is right on schedule developmentally. “Tattle-telling” is a hallmark of the preschool and kindergarten age child attempting to develop self-regulation. Though the adult caregiver or teacher understandably does not want to be approached with every problem that arises in a classroom, the child is expressing his developmental need to understand and uphold the rules. This process takes time and lots of practice exercising his burgeoning self-control skills. Children first learn about the rules by enforcing them in others. Only then can they internalize and apply those rules to themselves. So take this experience as evidence that your child is working hard on learning the rules of school, a critical readiness factor for the elementary years. Read the full response on the Parent Toolkit site including specific ideas on what parents can do.

 

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

Oh, the places you’ll go! The worlds you will visit! The friends you will know!

– Dr. Seuss1

“What are you guys up to?” I say to the three six-year-old friends in my living room. “We’re sharing our books!” one says with an “Isn’t it obvious?” tone. Reading is a top priority in the early elementary school years with some states enforcing a reading guarantee (“All kids will read with proficiency by the third grade.”). And so at times it feels, the pressure is on. “Mama, I feel with my whole body that I won’t learn to read,” E said to me at age five. Yet, we have read together since the days when he was swimming in amniotic fluid. “Oh, the Places You Will Go!” was our favorite. We have books in every room of the house. We’ve read several books together every day of his life. But he has a mounting anxiety around learning to read. Perhaps because it is so much a part of our lives, he feels the importance of reading. But also, I suspect that school is pushing hard to make sure he hurries his learning pace. He’s not alone. A worried mother recently confided in me, “I’ve had my son going to a tutor all summer because I’m told he has to read by the time he starts first grade!”

Yes, learning to read is certainly important but how children learn to read is just as important. Consider that no other single experience brings us into other people’s lives and simultaneously holds up a mirror to our own in the way that a book does. Stories are fundamentally tied to our self-identity and empathy for and understanding of others.

Through the imaginative process that reading involves, children have the
opportunity to do what they often cannot do in real life—become thoroughly
involved in the inner lives of others, better understand them, and eventually
become more aware of themselves.

writes Dr. Zipora Shechtman in her book, Treating Child and Adolescent Aggression Through Bibilotherapy.2 Books allow us to venture far from home and experience trials that threaten to annihilate us and the world we live in and yet, persevere through our alter-ego protagonist.

The forces of good and evil battle it out daily after school in our living room. I watch as, time and again, my now seven-year-old son recreates and reinvents stories with his beloved Star Wars characters and his favorite plot lines. Stories play a central role in the formation of children’s moral development. Readers follow a protagonist through epic journeys and cringe as they are injured or fail in their pursuits. But, in children’s books, the protagonist never gives up. Most often on the side of what is right and good, poetic justice reigns and in the end, evil is overcome.

We empathize with complex characters who are required to make choices in the midst of uncertain times and circumstances. In the best literature, questions are asked and left unanswered for the thoughtful reader to consider. “Why did she leave her family? Was it the right thing to do?” This “meaning making” is what brings the rush of joy and connection and desire for more. It fuels our imagination. It expands our minds to think creatively. Our emotional and cognitive intelligence is challenged and we are required to think for ourselves.

By grappling with dilemmas and difficult choices, we form our sense of what we believe is just and also, what defines the dark side. We are able to become more thoughtful decision-makers through those experiences. In a compelling tale, readers will deeply empathize with the character’s struggle to control his impulses. It’s good for adults and valuable practice for all children who are developing their ability to manage themselves.

In addition, stories allow us to take the perspective of another in a deeply personal way. We read their private thoughts. We understand their values and the back story that shaped them. And we watch as they choose behaviors that either reflect or fight against their beliefs and self-concept. We root for the hero because we become the hero for the time that we are immersed in his story. We come to know and understand other cultures through the vicarious experience of living another’s life.

Story, in other words, continues to fulfill its ancient functioning of binding
society by reinforcing a set of common values and strengthening the ties of
common culture…Story – sacred and profane – is perhaps the main cohering
force in human life.2

Though educators know that there are a combination of exercises, skills and experiences that will develop a reader, no one really knows what precise combination of working on rhyming, phonics, vocabulary and comprehension will bring about proficiency. In fact, it’s different for every learner. But certainly, key ingredients in the success formula must be the connection felt between readers sharing a story and those individuals and the book characters. In other words, fundamental to reading success is a focus on children’s social and emotional development. Parents can worry less about influencing their children’s technical abilities and instead, dive into the shared joy and adventure of reading with their children.

Share oral stories with one another. Use books without words and create stories together. Visit the library and encourage your children to explore subjects and stories that intrigue them. Ask questions about characters and leave them open-ended for discussion. “Why do you think he made that decision?” Predict outcomes. “What do you think will happen next?” Never miss a day of reading with your child. Bedtime is a perfect opportunity to snuggle together and feel the power of story wash over you.

We, as parents, have the opportunity to balance out the pressures that kids often feel at school to learn the mechanics. Our role can be to give them the joy of reading. Doing this together as a family can be the most valuable way to show a child the role story can play in connecting to others and shaping and enriching a life.

References

1. Seuss, D. (1990) Oh The Places You’ll Go! NY: Random House.

2. Shechtman, Z. (2009). Treating Child and Adolescent Aggression through Bibliotherapy. The Springer Series on Human Exceptionality.

3. Gottschall, J. (2012). The Storytelling Animal; How Stories Make Us Human. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

For other great articles on this topic, check out:

Parents Make Bedtime a Social-Emotional Moment with Your Kids by Maurice Elias and Jennifer Miller

From Committee for Children, Using Children’s Literature to Build Social and Emotional Skills by Trudy Ludwig

Using Literary Characters to Teach Emotional Intelligence by Traci Vogel

Summer Reading Inspiration for Kids and Parents

My Nightstand

This summer, I am diving into learning more about the emotional life of boys through Raising Cain; Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys. I am eager to read Insight about ways to see ourselves more clearly and raise our own self-awareness. We’ll be advancing our sex education agenda in our household as our son asks new questions and is understanding more about his peers. My husband and I both will benefit from the book, Talk Sex Today; What Kids Need to Know and How Adults Can Teach Them. And finally, I have an idea book at the ready for exploring nature and getting fresh air together entitled 101 Things for Kids to Do Outside.

 

My 9-Year-Old Son’s Nightstand

Though for me, an avid reader, it’s difficult to imagine, my son claims he does not enjoy reading. We still read together before bedtime every night and now, take turns since he can read on his own. Because he is not necessarily eager or excited to read, we only stock books he is excited or inspired by. We also ensure that there’s a diverse range of fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, poetry and biography to expose him to the virtues of various reading experiences. This summer, he’ll be reading Friendship According to Humphrey, one of a delightful series about a classroom hamster’s adventures and The Story of Diva and Flea about an unlikely friendship between a scraggly alley cat and a pampered, well-to-do dog both living in Paris. In addition, he’s checking out a graphic novel entitled The 52-Story Treehouse about two friends who write books and create an incredible fantasy world in their treehouse. We’ll also enjoy the poetry of Shel Silverstein (which I consider a classic) in Where the Sidewalk Ends and in the story, The Giving Tree, one not to miss about a boy’s relationship with a tree that gives his very life for him. We appreciated the gift of a biography on Who Was Martin Luther King Jr.? and will read about his life together. And finally, E will be trying out some science experiments from 101 Great Science Experiments to feed his interests.

Here are some further ideas for your summer reading.

Picture Books

SELF-AWARENESS

InMyHeartIn My Heart; A Book of Feelings

by Jo Witek, Illustrated by Christine Roussey
A girl explores the feelings of her heart and describes what she feels when she is happy, calm, brave, hurt, angry, sad, hopeful, silly, shy and proud. This is a perfect book to introduce a conversation about emotions and the purpose they serve as clues to who we are. There is no shame or guilt in feeling any of these emotions. They are all equally a part of this girl’s heart as they are a part of ours.

 

CHECK OUT THE FULL LIST OF PICTURE BOOKS.

Juvenile Fiction for 7-12-Year-Olds

SELF-AWARENESS AND SELF-MANAGEMENT

cvr9781442429314_9781442429314_lgAnyway: A Story About Me with 138 Footnotes, 27 Exaggerations and 1 Plate of Spaghetti
by Arthur Salm

At summer camp, twelve-year-old Max reinvents himself as daring and fearless. He comes home to return to school, his friends and his life and realizes that the fun he had over the summer was at the expense of others’ feelings. He acted like a bully and now, cannot be as risky with his friends at home. Max tries to figure what kind of person he really wants to be.

 

CHECK OUT THE FULL LIST OF JUVENILE FICTION RECOMMENDATIONS.

Young Adult Fiction for 13-17-Year-Olds

MORAL DEVELOPMENT AND RESPONSIBLE DECISION-MAKING

Giver

The Giver
by Lois Lowry

The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a world of contented conformity. Society attempts to control who procreates and how many children are born per couple in addition to giving each child a “life assignment.” Not until Jonas is given his own assignment does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his community. This book raises important discussions about questioning rules and authority and understanding the purpose behind decisions.

Young Adult Nonfiction

SELF-AWARENESS AND SELF-MANAGEMENT

Anxiety Sucks! A Teen Survival Guide

by Natasha Daniels

Dealing with anxiety? This simple guide, written in language teens will surely relate to by a therapist, will offer ways you can conquer your stress. Learn when you are beginning to feel anxiety and multiple ways to deal with it so that you rule the day, not your stress.

 

CHECK OUT THE FULL LIST OF YOUNG ADULT RECOMMENDATIONS.

Parenting Nonfiction

SELF-AWARENESS AND SELF-MANAGEMENT

inside out

Parenting From the Inside Out
by Daniel J. Siegel, Mary Hartzell

Drawing upon research findings in neurobiology and attachment research, Siegel and Hartzell explain how interpersonal relationships directly impact the development of the brain and offers parents a step-by-step approach to forming a deeper understanding of their own life stories, which will help them raise compassionate and resilient children. This book addresses the patterns that we all form from our own childhood – understanding what they are and how they impact the parents we are today.

CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING PARENTING NONFICTION BOOK LIST.

For more great book recommendations, check out the Confident Parents, Confident Kids full list on Good Reads!

Facilitating a Reflective Transition from School to Summer

 

The pace of activities and anticipation of summer can add to a sense of frenzy in these final school days. Children are excited about vacations and swimming. Parents are ready to shed the early morning commute to school and the pressures of homework duty. It’s tempting to race blindly forward into the sunshine without looking back. But there is significant value in taking a moment to reflect on the growth of the past year – friendships, academic progress and newly developed interests.

Children may be sad to leave their teacher, their friends and the predictability of the school routine. They may worry about the loss of the stability of consistency that school provides over the summer and all of the unknowns of the anticipated next school year. There are some small, simple steps you can take to ease the transition and also deepen the lessons of the year through reflection. Here are a few suggestions.

In Reflection…

Retell the defining moments.
I began asking last night, as my son and I anticipated the last day of school, questions about his year. What was the most surprising thing that happened? Did you make a new friend? When did you feel embarrassed? What made you belly laugh? What were you most proud of learning? These simple questions elicited a range of stories. I could tell my son loved thinking back on the significant moments of the past year. And you can promote reflection on learning by asking questions about specific subjects and what your daughter knew at the beginning of the school year, how she progressed and where she is ending the year in her knowledge and experience. These reflections help children think more about their own thinking (metacognition) and learning processes which, in turn, will help them when they return to school in the Fall in feeling a sense of capability, motivation, and persistence. At bedtime or on a road trip drive, ask some reflective questions and spend time together thinking about the many defining moments of this past school year.

Work together with your child on a thoughtful card or letter for her teacher.
End of the year gifts or flowers for a teacher are one traditional way to show appreciation. But consider instead of or in addition to a gift, sitting down with your child to write a letter together about what you appreciate about that teacher and the past school year. Talk about it a bit before launching into writing. “What were some of your favorite activities you remember from this year? Why is your teacher so special? Do you remember a time when your teacher was especially kind?” are all questions you might ask before putting words to paper. My son was so excited each day as we moved toward the final day that he rarely sat down. So instead of a letter, I wrote some prompts for him to consider and he easily contributed to this meaningful appreciation of his teacher (see picture). Writing down what you appreciate about the teacher and the school year with your child can serve the dual purpose of a valued keepsake for the teacher and a helpful reflection for your child on her year.

Create a temporary museum using artifacts of learning.
You likely have a pile, a bin or a busting-at-the-seams binder (as we do!) of school work from the past year. Before recycling or filing away, why not use the accumulated papers as evidence of learning and growth and a tangible way to reflect on that progress? Use your home as a museum. Place the school work in the order of the school year starting in the fall. Line them up across chairs, the couch and on end tables for display. Walk around as a family and talk about what you notice particularly when you note positive developments. With a little support from you, your kids may be excited to put together the museum themselves. With multiple children, use different rooms of the house and you may have a full academic museum for an evening.

Create a time capsule.
A terrific early summer activity might be to generate a time capsule in memory of this past school year. Work with your child to find and decorate a shoe box or other container and mark with the name of the child and dates of the school year. Now ask your child to consider their older self. What if he came across this time capsule hidden in the attic years later? What items would help him remember the unique attributes of this past school year?

Transitioning into Summer…

Talk about your routine “lite.”
Though you may be eager to relinquish the rigor of the daily school routine, children still thrive with some sense of predictability. So talk about changes in your routine while your family is together. Consider your morning, bedtime and meal times and other transitions in the day. How will things stay the same? How will things change? Having this discussion can help set expectations for the summer and also provide that sense of stability children can thrive on through routines.

Consider instituting quiet time or reading hour.
Sure, you may be gone some days during a typical quiet time. But consider assigning a particular time of day to serve as a quiet time whenever you are around the house. After lunch seems to work well for our family. Turn off devices and media. Haul out blankets and books. You could include snacks. But it should be a time when all in the household “power down” and take it easy. Set the expectation for this at the beginning of summer and kids will assume it’s part of their summer routine.

Brainstorm a list of favorite summertime activities.
Grab a poster board or newsprint and brainstorm together a list of favorite activities you want to be sure and get in over the summer. Separate into “at home” and “out.” Make sure there are some ideas that can be done as solo play. Hang it on the refrigerator or somewhere you can refer to it throughout the summer. This serves as a terrific way to anticipate the fun of summer and can be an invaluable support for pointing to when your child comes to you bored and unsure of how to spend his/her time.

In Anticipation of the Next Level in the Fall…

Catch a glimpse of next year.
While you are able with school staff still around, wander past next year’s classroom with your child. See if you might catch next year’s teacher in the hallway just to say hello. Perhaps talk with a student who has just ended the next level and ask about highlights from the year. Teachers are likely talking with students about their next step. And your child might be harboring worries about the great unknown ahead. Stepping into the new environment and even making a brief connection with the teacher can go a long way toward allaying fears and preparing for a smooth transition.

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

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Happy School Year’s End and Summer’s Beginning to You and Your Family!

On the New Parent Toolkit — “Young Adult Identity Development: A Parent’s Guide”

As you explore the new content on the NBC Parent Toolkit, check out this one in the new Life After High School section on a young adult’s changing identity. On the first break when your college student or new workforce member returns home, you may witness a strikingly different person than the son or daughter you knew who lived at home with you. There are significant shifts that take place with an emerging adult’s identity. And you, as a parent, will be trying to figure how to adjust to this newly forming adult-to-adult relationship. How do you show support without being overprotective? Where do boundaries lie with involvement in their schoolwork or relationships?

This period of transition can be stressful but it can also forge a new bond that may serve as an anchor for you and your son or daughter. Deborah Pearce, Professor of Communications and a mentor of mine, recalls, “Looking back, this was surprisingly one of my favorite times. She needed me in a different way and we could discuss our personal and professional interests on a more adult level.” Here’s how it begins…

Young Adult Identity Development: A Parent’s Guide

“I am most excited about the freedom that I will have when I graduate from high school. The freedom that I am searching for is not to escape my family or anything of the sorts, but the freedom of going to a college and being myself.” Lexie, Class of 2017, Summersville, WV

Throughout their lifetime, your kids have been developing a sense of self, of identity, and self-awareness. You may have even noticed they became increasingly self-aware around puberty or around the 13-14 age range. But there is perhaps no greater time of identity development than in the years following high school. Ages 18-25 offer your kids even greater opportunities to develop a firm sense of self.

Education consultant Jennifer Miller says this age is full of tests that young adults often use to understand if they are “worthy.” These tests can present themselves in the form of a job interview, acceptance into a fraternity, dating, or new friendships. All of those tests can be overwhelming, but they are important for young adults to experiment with their own boundaries and rules. They have been accustomed to rules at school and at home, but as their new adult life emerges, they get to redefine their own rules. Read the full article on this important topic! 

And for those in the U.S., Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

On the New Parent Toolkit — Helping Your Young Adult Find Her Purpose


There’s Important Work to Be Done…

Simply read the news and it becomes obvious — there’s a tremendous amount of work to be done to create a better world. Opportunities to contribute abound. So we, as parents, can not only bring our own energies and talents to solve our problems but we can also learn ways to prepare our children so that they become more self-aware. We can create chances for deeper reflections on who they are and what they can uniquely give. Simply finding a job that pays bills is not the easy answer for young adults. They are learning who they are and who they want to become. They are working on understanding the meaning of their lives, a journey that will continue throughout their adulthood. Why not get this incredibly important conversation started with your family? You can offer your emerging adult sons and daughters some gentle, facilitative guidance by asking good questions along the way so that they can begin to – brick by brick – build a foundation of experience that will channel and fine-tune their passions into projects, efforts, and initiatives that create a better world.

I contributed to the new NBC Parent Toolkit’s Life After High School section on helping young adults find their sense of purpose and contribution. Beyond the worries of how to pay for school and life, who to befriend, and how to prepare for the workforce at this age, this discussion speaks to the very heart of preparing a person for their contributions to our global community.

Check it out! 

How to Help My Young Adult Find Their Purpose

You’ve laid the groundwork. As young as elementary school, you’ve likely asked your child, what do you want to be when you grow up? You may have had conversations about what your family values are, or your kid picked up guiding principles over the years. Now you have a young adult, who may be on a path to finding their purpose in life, or they may feel completely lost and unsure of what to do. Finding purpose can be a lifelong endeavor—something you may still be working through yourself! In The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling in Life, William Damon, director of the Stanford Center on Adolescence, defines purpose as “a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self.” Based on the center’s research, Heather Malin, Director of Research, says the key time for discussing purpose is the 18 – 23 age range. Here’s how you can play a supportive role in helping your kid find their purpose at this time. Read the full article on the Parent Toolkit site.

 

Introducing — The New and Improved Parent Toolkit!

Check out NBC Education Nation’s New & Improved Parent Toolkit!

Parent Toolkit is an award-winning resource for parents to help them support their children’s development in academics, health & wellness, and social & emotional development. Now, it’s easier than ever to use. You can browse by topic or grade level to see an overview of all the helpful tips and benchmarks featured. The new site enables you to find the advice and information you’re looking for even faster.

Since we as parents are more connected than ever with our sons and daughters, Parent Toolkit just launched a new Life After High School section to help parents and students navigate college and career options. It also includes conversation starters on important but often difficult discussions including underage drinking and consent. New original videos for Life After High School provide bite-size and engaging tips on key interview skills and even healthy recipes graduates can make quickly and easily.

I loved working with the Parent Toolkit team to develop content on how to support your emerging adult sons and daughters on cultivating healthy relationships, dealing with the uncertainties and attendant anxieties that come with the many choices associated with college and career, and also, on guiding them toward their sense of purpose and contribution to the world.

While Parent Toolkit aims to empower parents to support their kids’ success in and out of the classroom, many teachers find the resource helpful too. With even more advice also available in Spanish, this site is a useful tool for any caring adult.

This week, I’ll be highlighting for you some of my new favorite sections! So I hope you’ll explore this improved resource for parents! 

Interview on Promoting Self-Control

Want to learn practical, simple ways to promote self-control in your children?

Today, check out my interview with Aditi Verma, Co-founder of Lead with Good. I discuss how parents can practically promote self-control through various ages and stages. Aditi asks excellent questions and poses examples from her own life as a parent. Lead with Good is an organization that works to bring families together around the topics of emotional intelligence, leadership, and value-based education. I loved talking with them and sharing practical tips for promoting one of the most important skills for our children to learn! Check it out!

 

Thank you, Lead with Good!

#SEL #parenting

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