confident parents confident kids

Home Base – Creating a Safe Haven for Calming Down

confident parents confident kids

Jack's Base by Jennifer Miller“I call base!” my son would say at any place and any time in the days when he was first introduced to the game of tag. If he wanted to end the tickling or stop the chasing, he would claim a piece of furniture, staircase banister or corner of the room as his safe haven. No one could touch him there. And he relished the power and security of his base. I considered that as I recently heard from friends with multiple siblings who would experience an emotional game of tag during times when children were overtired or hungry or otherwise on edge. “Tag! You’re it!” was the sub-text as one upset child passed her mood to the other. Unfortunately unlike tag, the upset was not only passed on but also retained by the tagger and often grew stronger among all members of the family.

When emotions are high, wouldn’t…

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How Do We Cultivate Compassion in our Kids?

Mom Daughter inviting girl to park by Jennifer MillerHow do we, as parents, help our kids experience and develop compassion? It’s a concern of mine as I look around me and notice my family’s eyes glued to screens and those activities encroaching on my child’s attention. And when he looks up, is he so busy with summer camp, friends or other extracurriculars that he can only focus on his own needs? But then I recalled my son engaging in a small act of compassion without my prompting and I had reason for hope. It cued me into ways to foster compassion in our children.

I recalled it was morning circle time at preschool. Parents and kids were gathered on the floor to listen and participate. We typically sang a song together and the teacher shared announcements. My son’s friend, Tony was itching to tell my son E something. He squirmed in his seat. A few times, he caught himself starting a conversation and then would clamp his hand down on his mouth turning back to face his teacher. He knew he should be listening. I noticed E was aware of his eagerness too.

After circle time, E turned to Tony and asked, “What do you want to tell me?” Tony started and stopped numerous times struggling to find the words. You could see by his wide-eyed expression that this was incredibly important to him. E remained patient while Tony stuttered as his classmates hurried around him heading to the various play stations to start the day. Finally, Tony told E that his Dad couldn’t stay for the morning circle. Last evening, his Dad had fallen in the basement and it had resulted in a bad headache that morning. I watched as E listened so intently to a story that took far longer than a preschooler’s typical attention span. I hung back and noticed E making eye contact and waiting while Tony got out his full story. After, E asked, “Did the fall hurt?” He waited again patiently for Tony’s response and then asked, “Do you think he’s going to be okay today?” Tony assured himself as much as he assured E that yes, his Dad was going to be okay. And I watched as the two of them ran off to the sand table to play, Tony now smiling.

The word compassion means “to suffer together.” Though empathy is related – understanding the thoughts and feelings of another – compassion takes those feelings a step further with the desire to act on those feelings to provide help or support. Sometimes that help or support requires great effort and grand gestures although more often, it involves patience, understanding, listening and being there for a person who is clearly in pain. To truly show compassion is difficult. First, it requires noticing what’s going with others – their thoughts and feelings. So the first step toward compassion is empathy, which alone is tough to master. But then, after we work to feel others’ emotions, we must allow ourselves to “hang in there” with them to help them through whatever it is they are going through.

Adults can become quite adept at shutting down those feelings since, through experience, they know it’s going to be painful. Often we feel we have enough pain of our own. So we feel we are unable to take on another’s. Yet the deepest intimacies and connections are formed through our allowance of that kind of compassion. Daniel Goleman, bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence and Focus, The Hidden Driver of Excellence, says our brains are hard-wired for helping others so that in order to become compassionate, we simply have to notice that another is suffering. He told a story in his TED Talk about seeing a man shirtless and on the ground in the subway. He noticed multitudes of people just walking over him not really noticing him. Daniel bent down to check on him and when he did, suddenly, a dozen others noticed. They found he was starving and had passed out. So in mere minutes, that man was sipping orange juice, holding a hot dog and being revived through the nourishment of strangers. It all started with noticing.

Recently, my friend and collaborator, Shannon Wanless, a developmental psychologist said so eloquently, “It is those small everyday moments that define the parent that we are.” So true. And with that in mind, here are a few thoughts on how we might cultivate compassion with our family members.

Notice hurt or suffering. Because of our automatic tendency to avoid pain, we have to actively work to notice other’s pain. Otherwise, our default may kick in and we may not see what or who is right in front of us. As we notice and comment to our children on other’s pain, we build awareness in our children. My son has always been fascinated by ambulances. But as we know, there is a painful back story to every siren’s call. So I talk about that with my son each time one passes by us. And we think about those individuals, family members and the emergency medical team with the person and hope they will be okay.

Model and practice listening skills. As Steven Covey wrote, “When you really listen to another person from their point of view, and reflect back to them that understanding, it’s like giving them emotional oxygen.” E did that for his friend Tony in preschool and helped him return to his play and learning. We all can use practice in our busy lives. Some listening skills to practice are

  • Active listening is listening to fully understand what the person is saying, both thoughts and feelings. Wait until the person is clearly finished. A response could be a simple “Yes!” or “Uh-huh.” or “I get it.” Make eye contact and practice placing your full focus on the speaker.
  • Providing wait time is particularly important with children but can also be important with adults. We get anxious with our own needs and thoughts and jump in
    before the speaker can complete his thought. Providing wait time can allow for deeper thinking and better responses particularly when you ask questions of others. What you may perceive as awkward silence may actually provide the space for the speaker to formulate her thoughts and come back to you with a well-considered response.
  • Paraphrasing is echoing back to the person a summary of what they’ve said to check how accurate your listening is and also to confirm to the speaker that you have heard them. It may seem awkward at first. But this step is an important way to teach children how to listen for comprehension. It forces the listeners to step up their game as they are going to be “on the spot” to communicate back what you have said.
  • Seeking clarification is something that we, as adults, may do naturally. Particularly if we are listening with the intent to learn something from the speaker, we seek clarification on details so that we are certain we understand. Practice seeking clarification with your child and reinforce when they are able to do it on their own. Mom, for example, might say to Dad: “What did you mean when you said you weren’t happy this morning. What happened?”
  • Questioning or commenting with empathy takes practice. Instead of responding to a speaker with your own opinions or experiences, you focus solely on the content of what has been communicated. Avoid using “I” in your response. An example might be, my son said, “Today Mrs. Smith started a new project. We are going to be building fairy tree houses. I can’t wait.” As a parent, I might be tempted to respond with, “I built a bird house when I was in school.” which focuses back on me. Instead you might say, “Okay. Sounds like you are excited about this project. What else besides sticks do we need to collect?” This empathetic pattern of speaking and listening may come naturally to some but to children, it is a major challenge and requires experience. Your modeling will make a difference in their own comfort with this style of communication.

Demonstrate care. Take a moment to examine your own approach to others. Are you accepting of family members? Neighbors? Colleagues? Friends? Do your conversations with your spouse include statements of understanding, compassion and empathy for those who are different or even who may challenge you? Whether you believe your child is listening or not, the perceptions of you and your partner are internalized by your child and become your family’s culture. Taking some time to reflect on your own values and how you communicate interpersonal problems among family members can set the tone for how your child deals with the outside world.

Use caring conversation tools. Some schools teach children to use a hand signal – thumb pointed to self and pinky finger pointed outward – to offer a “Me too!” while someone is sharing an experience. This allows for connection without interruption. Also practice identifying the feeling in any thoughts shared. For example, “How do you think that made Dad feel today when his boss called him into his office?” And also, distinguish between a person and her choices. A child is tempted to say “I don’t like Billy.” when Billy takes her toy. Instead help her rephrase and reframe her thoughts to say “I don’t like that Billy took my toy.” Every child makes poor choices but each child can feel like they still belong in a family, classroom or friendship circle.

Encourage cross-age kindness and connection. Whether you have siblings or neighbors of various ages, there is an opportunity to create relationships with children who are different – going through different developmental milestones and experiencing different friendships and curricula during the school day. This becomes great practice for acceptance and inclusion. Do not allow siblings or children in a neighborhood group to be marginalized. Encourage your child to be the one to reach out and include the child who is being left out. With siblings, encourage older siblings to care for younger ones and involve them in play at the level they are able.

Discuss what it means to be a good friend. What it means to be a friend can be a regular topic for conversation to revisit as your child grows and changes. What does it mean to you to be a good friend? How do you feel when you are excluded? How can you make new children in your school or neighborhood feel welcome? It’s easy to tell children what not to do (and important in establishing boundaries) but it’s equally important to think through with them what they can and should do instead.

As I reflected on cultivating compassion, I realized, as a parent, I have to lead the way. I have to take those everyday moments to notice the ambulance and the people inside it, to notice the neighbor who is struggling to bring in her garbage can and the friend whose face is wrinkled with worries. My simple intention to do this – to notice – will make all of the difference in raising a compassionate child.

Picture Books on Compassion:

Just Because by Rebecca Elliott
A brother loves his sister who has exceptional needs just because.

Rabbit’s Gift by George Shannon
Woodland animals pass on to each other a turnip left as an anonymous gift.

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Williams
Two young Afghani girls in a refugee camp share one pair of sandals.

The Can Man by Laura E. Williams
A young boy wants to earn money for a skateboard by collecting cans but changes his mind after seeing a homeless man also collecting cans.

Young Adult Fiction:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Born with a facial deformity, a fifth-grade boy deals with trying to be ordinary while the kids around him act either kind and brave or horribly and mean.

Daniel Goleman’s TED Talk on compassion:

Using Strange Calm

Strange Calm by Jennifer Miller“Our Mom wasn’t like other Moms.” a twenty-something daughter of my mentor recalled. “As kids, when we were doing something crazy, she wouldn’t yell. She would get so quiet.”
“And she moved really slowly.” added the thirty-something sister. “We called it her strange calm.”
“And I guess it worked because we were weirded out by it but we stopped what we were doing and just watched her.”

I listened to this conversation years ago before I became a parent but have recently realized the power of its application in family life. Do you notice that musical pieces that include a moment of silence have the greatest emotional impact? You stop and notice the silence. And the energy of the piece changes. The lack of sound calls attention through sheer contrast. Teachers in schools apply this principle and talk at a whisper when it’s getting too loud. “Those who can hear my voice, clap once. Those who can hear my voice, clap twice.” And on a much larger scale, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi used their own form of calmness as social nonviolent protest. And it changed the tone of the conflict. It was impossible to ignore. Escalation of the emotional drama either by yelling, punishing or getting upset is expected by kids. But what if you sat down in the middle of it, shut your eyes and became quiet?

Strange calm is an easy technique to use at home as well in times of great chaos or even when kids are misbehaving. There are numerous benefits to this strategy. At the very least, you will not contribute to the emotional upheaval. It gives you the chance to breathe, restore your mental facilities and think about the situation at hand before acting. You will be more capable of a constructive response – the one you might hope for and plan for in calmer times – because of the chance to pause and reflect. And additionally, you are modeling self-management and self-discipline in a challenging moment. This is particularly impactful modeling for children who struggle with impulse control.

When discussing a family emotional safety plan at a recent workshop, one parent said, “I would love to be able to leave the room to calm down when I am upset and my kids are acting out but I’m afraid they’ll hurt one another. I don’t feel like I can leave.” When siblings are fighting, it may enrage a parent standing nearby but leaving to calm down may not be practical. So why not calm down right where you are?

Another parent carried around post-it notes and pen and wrote down her frustrations when the volume and upset escalated with her kids. “My daughter stopped and wanted to know what I was doing.” And that’s the idea. It stops her disturbing action. She has the opportunity to pause and find out what’s going on with Mom. Her daughter is learning that there are a number of ways to cope with stressful moments that do not involve contributing to and escalating the conflict.

Like anything worthwhile, moderation is best. Use this technique too often and it becomes expected and perhaps ignored. But use it when the chaos is escalating along with your last nerves and you may feel a renewed sense of power and control as you change the tone of your environment.

* Thanks for the inspiration, Ginny Blankenship, Anna and Margaret Lang!

Originally posted May 1, 2015.

Directing Kids’ Energies When Indoors in the Summer

Alliance building by Jennifer MillerRainy Day? Here are some ideas to get the wiggles out!

Though there are many more opportunities to exert energy outdoors this time of year through swimming, biking and hiking, there are also those rainy days or the days in which the sweltering heat and humidity drive everyone indoors. Screens are a constant temptation. And kids and parents might be mesmerized by video games or movies as the daylight hours pass. But kids require daily movement and time to play and use their imaginations. On days such as these, kids may need a little help with ideas of what to do. After all, the screens provide high stimulation and all the direction they need to be entertained. When they leave them behind, they could wind up feeling like their toys and household pale in comparison to the action they viewed. And sometimes kids’ need to get out the wiggles leads them to misbehaviors and us to irritation. Whether it’s throwing their bodies around in ways which are destructive to your indoor furnishings or jumping on you, kids can use help in finding constructive outlets for their energy so that they don’t resort to behaviors that will be a problem for you and your family.

Our family created a poster with all of our collective ideas for non-screen playtime around the house. Our son visits that poster from time to time to view his own ideas to stimulate his thinking when he’s looking for something to do. He included doing puzzles, lego-building, piano playing and more. But sometimes, he needs my help with ideas.

If it’s rainy or too humid and buggy outside to play or you’ve already had your outdoor fun but the wiggles continue, you need indoor solutions. Here are my ideas for ways to get them moving!

Hard Floor Spin-Off
See how many times your child can spin on his or her bottom on the hardwood floor. Keep track and try to beat your own scores. Parents may get dizzy just watching but for many kids, this is pure fun.

Dance Party
Turn on some music and dance it out. Give your kids the chance to pick or select their favorites. To extend the activity, they could decorate the dance room with their own handmade disco ball or confetti but it’s not necessary. Just dance!

Keep It Off the Ground
Regardless of the age of the child, it amazes me at the interest in a single balloon. Blow up an average balloon and challenge your kids to keep it off the ground. This winter, we added that if anyone misses the balloon and it touches the ground, he or she has to take a lap around the house.

Hide the Object
Find an object that your child agrees he’d like to seek and find. Then, take turns hiding it in all corners of the house. You can use “cold, warm and hot” as indicators of how close he is to finding it.

Indoor Olympics (with safety rules first)
If your kids are familiar with the Olympics, involve them in creating their own set of household-appropriate Olympic games. Maybe you do a ball roll or a long jump and measure it. Perhaps kids create a pillow obstacle course. Maybe they see how many push ups they can do. Demonstrate one Olympic challenge you create and then, challenge them to create their own. Use a timer and encourage them to beat their own time. Do set safety rules before they begin such as, balls stay on the ground or the basement is the only place where games can take place. Do a finale in which they have to do each game in a row.

Climbing Rhyming Game
Start at the bottom of the stairway. Kids can pick any word (such as dog) or phrase (such as dog food) and then, they move up a step. Each time they climb, they need to add a rhyming word (such as fog) or phrase (fog mood). They stay on the step until they can come up with one. Try it a few times and see if they can get all the way up.

Lively Clue (for several kids)
Dress up a stuffed friend with a costume and accessories. Pretend he has perpetrated an innocuous crime, like littering in the park. If you can give him a name and a back story, it will stir kids’ imagination and they’ll have more fun with it. Now all but one hides the criminal in a remote part of the house. Those who know where he is have to provide clues to help the “detective” who does not know how to find him. If they can add to his story and embellish his character through their clues, so much the better.

Family Back Massage
Be certain to demonstrate first and set boundaries before trying. Show kids the acceptable area on a person’s back and shoulders that they can massage. Show on each child’s back how to be very gentle or apply a little more pressure. When finished, do the “Tennis Ball Tighten and Release” exercise which helps with calming bodies down. Lie down side by side on the floor or on the child’s bed, backs to the floor. Close your eyes and ask your child to close his as well. Using a gentle voice, ask your child to pretend there is a tennis ball at the base of his feet. Ask him to try and grab the ball with his whole foot including his toes with all his might. Ask him to hold it for a few seconds. Then, let the ball go. Now ask him to pretend the ball is between his ankles. Squeeze the imaginary ball as hard as possible for a few seconds and then let it go. Try this at his knees, on his tummy, between his arms and his side, in his hands, at his neck and at the back of his head where it touches the floor. Each time tighten those muscles for a few seconds and then fully release. This will guide a child to notice each part of his body, focus on that part and send relaxation to that part of the body letting the tension go.

Follow the Leader Tai Chi Style
Have you ever watched individuals doing Tai Chi in the park? Practitioners move every muscle in their body but slowly, fluidly and with control. The movement tends to flow and not stop. Challenge your kids to do the game follow the leader with this slow, ongoing movement. It can be very difficult so they may need to take breaks but see if they can move through the entire house in this way.

Alphabet/Word/Phrase Treasure Hunt
This can be great practice for kids who are learning letters, words or phrases. Write each letter of the alphabet (or word or phrase) on single index cards, one per card. Tape a letter or word card to an object that begins with that letter. For example, the “P” card gets taped to the piano. Place the cards all over the house. You can make the placement of the cards easy or hard to find depending upon what kind of challenge you anticipate will be enjoyable for your child. Give your child a full alphabet as a reference throughout the game (if finding letters) and also a gift bag to collect the cards. Now hunt! Each time your child finds a card, in order to “claim the prize,” (a.k.a. put it in his gift bag) he must name the letter (or word). If he cannot, no problem. Look and sing through his alphabet reference and find it together or sound out the word.

For Tweens/Teens:
Family Organization
You may not be able to motivate your kids to organize their toys and other possessions on their own. But initiate the activity as a team, work with them, and they may enjoy the process and get moving too. Have bins and labels at the ready. Talk about separating out unused toys and donating them to a local resource center, day care or Goodwill.

Music Video Dance Routine
Can you mimic the dances that are performed in favorite music videos? Look up some videos that you know and dance along! Teens will be sweaty in no time! Better yet, produce your own. Plan out the setting, costumes and script. Then, ready, set, action. Perhaps debut the new music video after dinner for the whole family to watch.

Jumping Jack Challenge
Have your teen select a favorite high energy tune and see how many jumping jacks she can do in a row. Work up to doing it throughout the entire song.
The cold winter months can be a time when families laugh, play and connect with one another without many of the distractions that come with the warmer months. Thinking about a few ways to get your family moving can create a more positive environment in your household. Kids will get their physical needs met and you can enjoy that extra time together.

Summer offers a great number of opportunities to get exercise and play outdoors. But when time inside is required, kids may be challenged with getting their energy out in ways that keep all people – and your furniture! – safe. Try out these and other ideas and see if you can’t offer them some constructive ways to get their wiggles out!


For more ideas, you can likely find the following resource at your local library:

What the Fun?! 427 Simple Ways to Have Fantastic Family Fun by Donna Bozzo41s8MUmk0bL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_

Stop, Think, Go! Summer Problem-Solving

Learn the following simple steps of the traffic light model and practice problem-solving with your kids as a game this summer. And try out the rap that goes with it! Then, gently remind and use it each time siblings or friends get into a conflict. It can empower kids with the skills to work through their own relationship issues in constructive ways. Traffic Light by Jennifer Miller“He messed with my stuff while I was gone. My Lego set is broken. Moooooooom!” cries Zachary about his brother. Sibling rivalry is a common family problem. Mom could fix it. “Go help your brother fix his Lego set.” Or she could help her children learn valuable skills in problem-solving. These opportunities for practicing critical life skills happen daily if you look for them. Collaborative problem solving is not one skill alone but requires a whole host of skills including self-control and stress management, self-awareness of both thoughts and feelings, perspective-taking and empathy, listening and effectively communicating, goal setting, anticipating consequences and evaluating actions.

Roger Weissberg, one of the top leaders in the field and Chief Knowledge Officer for the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and my mentor, ongoing collaborator and friend agreed to share the Traffic Light model that he and his colleagues created at Yale University with the New Haven Public Schools. The Social Development Project affected the lives of countless children, a district drawing from one of the lowest-income communities in the country. Students learned, practiced and used these skills in role playing and real life settings over and again making the development of these social skills a part of the culture and expectations of that school system. Read full article.

Parents, Kids and Bullying Behaviors – What Can We Do?

Have you taught your children how to respond to bullying behaviors? Their response can mean the difference between stopping the aggression or escalating it. And what if they are a witness? Will they know how to be an upstander? There are also ways we can teach our kids to resist social pressures and not become a perpetrator themselves of bullying behaviors. Learn more about what we can do to prepare our kids. Check out…

Stop bullying by Jennifer Miller

Parents, Kids and Bullying Behaviors – What Can We Do?

“Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself.”

-Elie Weisel

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

Promoting Difference Appreciation – A Children’s Book for Summer Reading

Considering the recent tragedy in Orlando, Florida, I thought this book might be a helpful one to add to any family’s summer reading list. This wonderful book – “Made by Raffi” is about a boy who felt different and used his interests to positively contribute to the people around him. Our kids will all experience moments or extended time periods when they may feel different and worry about not being like others. And your children will encounter others who are not like the crowd. Will your kids be curious, kind and want to get to know that other person? Will they be able to approach that person with an open mind and heart? Why not offer them this model of a child who embraced his identity and shined because of it? Check out my interview with the author, Craig Pomranz.


HiRescoverMade by Raffi-1

At some point, every child will experience the feeling of being different. From hobby interests to gender identity, some children will have a more intense experience of not being like the rest. And all children encounter others who are different. How will they view those contrasts? Will they be able to see the unique richness diversity can bring to any social group? When children’s book author, Craig Pomranz introduced me to his book, I was immediately attracted to the story of a child, Raffi, who felt different and used his difference to make a unique contribution to his school. Raffi’s willingness to find a place for his interests connected him to his classmates instead of isolating him. I found Craig’s story and motivations for writing it inspiring. The following is my virtual conversation with this talented author with a vital message for children. Read the full interview with Craig Pomeranz.

The Pathway to Our Kids’ Well-being and Anecdote to Violence – A Must-Read Book

Summer reading pic 001‘It’s impossible not to be changed on the inside after being at the Seeds of Peace Camp,’ a refugee from Somalia told me (writer, Michele Borba). ‘Once you see that other people have the same worries and fears, you start to feel with them, and everything inside you turns upside down. You never go back to the way you were before you came.’

Michele Borba begins her book by recounting a trip to a camp that recruited teenagers from war-torn areas and brought them to one central location to build IMG_1518-2their sense of connectedness to one another. She cites powerful research on the camp that showed that not only were the teenagers’ attitudes changed by the end of the camp with more caring, understanding thoughts and actions toward others but they retained that focus in their home communities one year later. Dr. Borba confirms, in the brand new book, UnSelfie, Why Empathetic Kids Succeed In Our All-About-Me World, that empathy not only equates to happy, healthy children but it also can prevent our most disturbing social ills including school shootings, bullying and wars. Empathy, she asserts, is a skill that can be learned by children and must be taught and encouraged by the adults who love them.

Dr. Borba makes a compelling case for why a focus on teaching our children empathy now is so crucial. She cites statistics that show that our kids’ empathy is down and our “Look at me!” self-centered focus is significantly on the rise encouraged by social media but not limited to it. And she cites an increase in peer cruelty and bullying, learned behaviors we know can be prevented. I was moved by her statement, “If you can imagine a victim’s pain, causing that suffering is a near impossible feat.”

So how do we go about teaching our children empathy in our already busy lives? Dr. Borba lays out nine research-based habits we can promote in our kids to give them as she terms it, the “Empathy Advantage” facing the thorniest judgments with their own thoughtfulness, care for others and ethics. These include emotional literacy, moral identity, perspective-IMG_1512-2taking, moral imagination, self-regulation, practicing kindness, collaboration, moral courage and altruistic leadership abilities. She draws from multiple scientific disciplines including neuroscience, child development and social psychology.

What I love about this book is that not only is it a call to action making a solid case for how a focus on empathy can transform our children’s happiness and success and simultaneously improve our communities and world but it also quickly turns to practical strategies with useful stories and examples to help us all figure out how to live it and promote it in our own lives. I came away filled with ideas to use with my family and with the parents and educators with whom I work.

Martin Luther King Jr. said in multiple speeches, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” This is a significant contribution toward that end. I highly recommend adding it to your summer reading list!

Michele Borba, Ed.D.

About the Author:

Educational Psychologist Michele Borba is an internationally-recognized motivational speaker, NBC contributor, and award-winning author of 22 books. She has spoken to parents and teachers on six continents and delivered keynotes to over one million participants including Harvard, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, USAFA, Common Ground,, Kaiser Permanente, Johnson & Johnson, Girl Scouts of America, Wall Mart, McDonalds, Santa Clara University and through a TED talk. She is a regular NBC contributor appearing 135 times on the Today show, featured on three Dateline specials as well as Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Dr. Drew, The View, NBC Nightly News, The Doctors, Fox News, The Early Show, CNN and others.

I am honored to call her a friend. Congratulations Michele on this important book!



In Parents Magazine – “Ages and Stages, Focus on Feelings with Preschoolers” and Ending the School Year Reflections

June Cover Parent Magazine

Focus on Feelings for Preschoolers in Parents Magazine

Hope you’ll check out the June Issue of Parents Magazine. Jennifer Miller of Confident Parents, Confident Kids shares her ideas with author Berit Thorkelson for helping preschoolers learn about and deal with feelings in the “Ages and Stages” section. It’s on newsstands now so check it out!

End of the School Year Reflections

Also, today is the last day of E’s second-grade year. On this final day, our family is feeling sad that the year is over, grateful for such incredible teachers and the caring, joyful learning environment they created and also elated to begin our dive into summer freedom. As your children enter this time of the year, be sure and take a little time to reflect, celebrate and bring closure to the school year they are completing. Here are a few simple ways you can do that:

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. It will serve as a meaningful gift to the teacher and help your child reflect on her year.

Interview students about their year. 

Today on the final day of school, I walked through the line on the playground as students waited to file into school recording video footage while I asked each student what they valued about their second-grade experience. Every response was slightly different. I will be giving a copy of that video to the school as a gift. Start this tradition now and by graduation, you will have an incredible record of not only your child but his entire classes’ growth.

Create a temporary museum using artifacts of learning.

You likely have a pile, a bin or a busting-at-the-seams binder of school work from the past year. Before recycling or stashing 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 through your gallery 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 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.
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.

Happy end of the school year and beginning of summer!

On NBC’s Parent Toolkit… “If You Can’t Say Anything Nice… Here’s What To Say To Your Kids”

Closeup of an African American boy with his friends in background

It’s difficult to hear the phrase “Say something nice” without finishing the sentence, “or don’t say anything at all.” I caught myself muttering these words recently as I watched a scene unfold from the cover of my porch. Two kids, around 10 or 11 years old, were walking past on the sidewalk while my neighbor and one of his closest friends, ages 8 and 9, looked for bugs at the base of their front yard tree. One of the passersby called out, “Hey! Who’s that? Is that your giiiiirrrlllfriend?” using his best mocking tone. “No! She’s my friend!” replied our neighbor anxiously. “Well, I don’t like you!” the boy retorted sharply and walked on with his friend. It was a walk-by mouthing and it took all of my self-regulation skills to not shout the refrain, “If you can’t say something nice…” Although it is a cliché, it’s a mantra to live by. More than that, the simple statement implies the use of social and emotional skills, the likes of which kids are still developing. In our role as caregivers and models, we can cultivate those skills so that kids can confidently follow through on that wise old saying. Read full article. 


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