Halloween’s Contribution to 2020

Building Empathy and Perspective-taking Skills (One Week Prior to U.S. Elections in a Highly Divided Nation) May Just Be the Vaccination for Our Spirits

Though the pirate, princess, and fireman may or may not be going out trick or treating this year due to the phantom pandemic, it’s likely your kids are dressing up and celebrating in some big or small way nonetheless. Though fear may abound with kids worrying about spooky specters and parents worrying about COVID transmission, there is more to the Halloween experience than just candy and frights. Children are encouraged to be someone or something else for one night a year. They are not only permitted but emboldened to become a character from their imaginings. Halloween gives them a chance to think and feel from another perspective. The skill of perspective-taking is one that has been found to assist in problem-solving, communication, racial and multi-cultural understanding, empathy, and academic performance.

As I examine my own reaction to this holiday, look at the posts on Facebook and talk to friends, it seems we are all longing for the traditions of the past that have given us and our children joy. But drastically changed times call for a full reexamination of what we can expect and even what could hope will give us joy in a completely new context. In our deeply divided times in which so many are feeling isolated from loved ones, or school communities, or neighbors – some because of physical separations but also many because of philosophical separations – what the world needs now is empathy. How can we take the perspective of any one person in the world who lives inside a different skin tone, in a differently-structured family, and in another community where there is less money or more money, less opportunity or more opportunity? How can we wear the costume of that other person and attempt to feel and think as they do? What’s important to them? What keeps them up at night? Why should I have compassion for their position in the world?

As a parenting coach, I am asked to listen to stories without judgement. At times, those stories contain details from people’s lives that, if I didn’t have my coach hat on, might make me cringe or even feel outrage by my own sense of justice. Yet I listen because individuals need to feel heard and understood. And each time I do, I grow more generous, more open, and more compassionate of the stressors that all of us are under, regardless of belief system. The common ground I never have to search hard for and always discover is that all of us as parents are doing the best we can in this moment to raise our children with love.

So what if this moment we find ourselves in happens to be life-shaping for ourselves and our children? Crisis precedes transformation. So if we are intentional about the social and emotional lessons we are promoting, we just might raise a generation who are ready to work together in authentic collaboration to creatively solve our world’s complex problems. But they’ll have to know how to actively and openly listen to others’ perspectives and learn from the differences. Building those skill will require practice.

Perspective-taking involves interpreting another person’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations for action (see references for more on the Theory of Mind and Relational Frame Theory). This skill uses multiple executive functions of the brain including self-regulation, empathy, and cognitive flexibility (seeing a variety of solutions) making it a skill set that is now recognized as critical for school readiness and when in school, success in achieving academic goals.1

Researchers have been able to determine that three-year-olds can begin to take another’s perspective and some are even able to detect that another may hold a false belief about an observation.2 For example, the teacher says there is an apple in the bag. Many children believe this but one child might know by watching the teacher’s subtle nonverbal cues that the apple is under the table. As children begin to form relationships with peers, teachers and other care providers, they will become more adept at communicating their own needs, thoughts and feelings if they are attuned with the other person. A teacher’s facial expression may give away the anger they are feeling with an administrator.  If your child reads the expression correctly, he may choose to wait for a better moment to bring up the fact that his homework was eaten by the dog.

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

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

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

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

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

Dad: “Your three-year-old cousin…”

E: “I don’t like hot dogs.”

Me: “Your cool Uncle Jeremiah…”

E: “E, man, how ya doin.”

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

E: “I’ll kill you after dinner.”

Of course, children have differing abilities to take others’ perspectives as they develop. Primary school age children will not be ready for multi-cultural diplomacy at the United Nations’ mediation table just yet but plant the seeds and they will get there. The following are Robert Selman’s five stages of perspective-taking with my own practical suggestions for how you can support your children’s development through the years.3

  1. Undifferentiated perspective taking

Ages 3-6

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

Easy practice: Look for chances to identify different kinds of emotions when looking at social media. “Look at that woman’s expression. Her face says to me she’s frustrated.” The posters with multiple facial expressions are great for expanding a feelings vocabulary. Check out this one. My son’s favorite is “lovestruck!” On Halloween, attempt to have your child take the perspective of the character or costume they are wearing. How can you act as Darth Vader would act? What is he thinking? What is he feeling?

2. Social-informational perspective taking

Ages 5-9

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

Easy practice: When you are reading books with your child, stop when you find a belief, perspective, motivation or course of action that would differ from what your daughter would choose. Talk about the character’s perspective and motivation and from where it may have originated. Become intentional about selecting books authored by writers of differing colors and cultures and whose characters’ bring differing perspectives than your own. For book ideas, check out “Diversifying your Parent-Child Reading.”

3. Self-reflective perspective taking

Ages 7-12

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

Easy practice: Guide your children through a conflict situation by asking them, after cooling down, to tell what they are thinking and feeling and then, asking them to interpret what the other person is thinking and feeling. For more on reenacting a conflict, check out “Dramatizing the Drama.”

4. Third party perspective-taking

Ages 10-15

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

Easy practice: This is a perfect time for a child to read biographies about other people’s lives that might interest them. Select a person together because you know something about the person’s life. Or read it yourself and talk about it with your child. My thirteen-year-old son and I are starting to read “The Diary of Anne Frank,” as he learns about the Holocaust in World History. He’s discovering a whole host of commonalities between his own life living through a pandemic and that of young Anne hiding in an attic through a genocide. And from the many differences in her life and his own, he is building an appreciation and a gratitude for all that he has including his freedom and cultural acceptance.

5. Societal perspective-taking

Ages 14-Adult

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

Easy practice: Offer opportunities to learn and experience other cultures reflecting on differing perspectives and values. Visit images and sites online of churches, synagogues or other places of worship outside of your belief system. Send letters of well wishes to a nursing home or homeless shelter. When you hear your children are interested in another culture, government or belief system, explore the opportunity through books, videos and other online resources. When possible, expand to in-person opportunities to interact such as volunteerism, festivals, travel and other mind-expanding experiences.

Halloween is a holiday that helps us explore our fears in a safe way. It allows us to think about our mortality and our belief systems while having fun. In addition, it gives us permission to be and think differently. While wrestling with your own feelings of worry or disappointment, why not channel that energy into purposeful action engaging your children in skill building? Though it’s tough to take care of ourselves when times are stressful, we may just nurture our own spirits when we focus on boosting our children’s strength to connect with others in meaningful ways that help your whole family grow. In the coming week, instead of spreading the virus of division, why not contribute to wellness by practicing perspective-taking with your children? Have a safe, healthy and happy Halloween!


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

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

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

Adapted from the original published on Oct. 24, 2013.

Halloween Collaborative Games – Online or In-person

Perhaps you volunteer in your child’s classroom and are helping plan the annual Halloween party. Maybe you are a teacher looking for ways to both entertain, celebrate, and build skills on the holiday. Or you could be planning an indoor celebration with siblings or a small friend pod since the pandemic is raining on trick-or-treating plans. Whatever your role or goal, the following ideas are sure to make your little ghouls or goblins laugh with delight as they collaborate with their peers, approach scary characters in an entertaining way and build social and emotional skills. I’ve listed which ones could be used over Zoom for an online classroom or group experience. To ensure a fun time, go over Zoom rules first including muting yourself until it’s your time to speak and using hand signals like raising a hand or using the sign language for clapping so that all are prepared to contribute. Check out these games appropriate for eight-years-old and up!

Monster Back Story

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

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

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

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

Witches’ and Wizards’ Charades

Materials: Index cards, marker, stick or wand

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

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

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

Cooperative Ghost Story Telling

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

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

Robbery Report

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

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

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

Social and Emotional Skills Practiced: Active Listening

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

References:

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

#Halloween #Parenting #SEL

Mindful Mondays Recording from Today

Today, Mike Wilson, podcast host of “Making After School Cool” of the Harris County Department of Education in Houston, Texas and I discuss parenting teenagers and how we, at times, have to step in to support them and establish boundaries and how, at other times, we have to step back and give them their independence. He offers an example of how he shows his care each day with a morning and bedtime ritual that his teens’ clearly treasure. We have a very special animal spirit guide this week from the Native American animal totem tradition. And we set some important social and emotional goals for the week. Check it out or better yet use it to start your learning day with your family!

Here’s this week’s Mindful Monday…

Dramatizing the Drama

Transforming the Big Feelings of Now into Big Lessons for the Future

Frowning faces, furrowed brows, and grumpy expressions describes our family’s morning meeting on Monday (and Tuesday, if I’m being honest) as we launched into yet another week of homeschooling. Tired of the pressures of schooling during a pandemic, we are needing to rally all of the spirit we can muster on some of our days to get through the work ourselves while attempting to inspire our child to do the same. Yet, each time I meet with a group of parents whether it’s the Spanish-speaking mothers, fathers and grandparents of the Yucaipa-Calimesa Unified School District in southern California I’ve had the honor to work with (thanks to Spanish translator, Margarita Velasco), or the educational leaders of Ohio I’m meeting with in the SEL for Ohio initiative (thanks to partner and co-founder Pamela McVeagh-Lally), after discussing the stress, strain and anxiety felt by all, most will also articulate opportunities in this moment where our world feels turned upside down.

Parents have told me that their children seem more grateful than ever to connect with extended family since hugs from grandparents are a rare event in this stay-at-home, COVID existence. Parents have also expressed that they are more in touch with their child’s curriculum than ever before. We too find ourselves seeing our child’s curriculum everywhere we go. “Oh, look at that rock formation! We studied that in Earth Sciences!” Parents are able to hold deeper and more meaningful conversations about what their children are learning so that all family members are truly learning together.

There is another important opportunity of the moment if we seize it. The big feelings we are all encountering daily and weekly provide a common experience among adults and the children they love. What better chance do we have of teaching our children emotional intelligence than at a time when their emotions are running at a fever pitch? I know what you may be thinking now, reader. “How can I possibly teach emotional intelligence when I’m feeling overwhelmed, run down, and highly anxious myself?” Well, it’s a good question. And you can! Let me explain.

It helps to draw upon a research-backed framework that gives four essential factors of parenting resilience.1 They are:

  1. Social connection and support;
  2. Knowledge of parenting and child development;
  3. Social and emotional competence of children; and
  4. Ability to ask for and accept help.

This framework provides the hope that as you gain knowledge of your own role as a parent (you are doing that right now!), you can learn ways in which to promote your child’s social and emotional skills which, in turn, will offer you greater empathy, patience, and sense of agency and competence. In other words, you’ll have greater endurance for the marathon of stress we are now running together. Learning how to manage your own stress and teaching your children how to manage their own big feelings in healthy ways just may be one of the most significant opportunities of our time. Preparing this generation with the tools to be change-makers and agents of social and racial justice will require that social and emotional training.

Check out my simple ideas for transforming the drama of the moment into a vital lesson for the future.

  1. Invest in the Pause. 

No matter what is going on, no matter your level of frustration, the pause is your best friend. It will transform any immediate reactions based on impulse that may leave you with regret later. Impulse and feeling happen instantly but thought takes a moment. So allow your reaction to be informed by your thoughts by pausing in the midst of the drama. Have a hard time stopping the escalation? Say “stop” or “time out” aloud — for yourself. This will assist your whole body and brain even when highly upset in taking that essential pause. Even better, agree with your family on a word or phrase (such as, “freeze”) you’ll say to each other when there’s a need to pause the drama.

  1. Ask, Listen, Accept.

Though we often think we know exactly what our child are thinking and feeling, we don’t. We may pride ourselves on knowing them best. Yet, the very fact that they are children or teens means that they approach life differently than we do. Though it may be tempting to assume, it’s important that we ask them what’s going on for them. Our fears and worries often are not theirs. But they can become theirs if we engage in projections and assumptions. So as you pause and take a moment to breathe before responding, be sure and ask, “What are you thinking? What are you feeling?” and listen carefully so that you address the problem they are perceiving. And then, whatever feelings they share, we need to be ready to accept them — even those that make us uncomfortable or annoyed. And there are those days when we are right on the verge of our own explosion when it feels like one more challenging feeling from our child will make us erupt. If we reach that near boiling point, go back to the start. Invest in the pause. Breathe. Write down your own feelings. Validate what’s going on for you. Then, return to your child to accept that their hearts are never wrong, that we accept their emotions helping them feel supported and understood.

  1. Brainstorm Healthy Ways to Respond – Together.

Working together to think of healthy ways to respond teaches your child that they have options in any problem and can take steps to feel better and make better choices.  Generating ideas together also takes the heavy lift off of the parent to fix the situation or figure it all out. In fact, if the parent engages in fixes, they rob the child of their social and emotional learning opportunity. But co-creating solutions scaffolds their participation in learning about healthy coping skills and making responsible decisions.

  1. Reenact the drama.

When the heat has died down and you’ve moved on, create a moment to return to the drama for the purpose of learning. It may look a bit differently depending upon the age of the child.

For young children – Pretend play is a hallmark of young children and they are ready to engage in dramatic reenactments on a moment’s notice. So use this to help advance their emotional skills. Be sure and get down on your young child’s level to equalize power. This is important. Make it simple. “I’m so mad. I can feel my face is red. I feel hot. What do you look like when you’re mad?” Make faces at each other — the more dramatic, the better. Then ask, “What can we do or say to feel better?” Be sure that you think of options that cool the heat. In other words, don’t raise voices or throw pillows. Instead, hug a pillow, or get a cool drink of water. Discover together multiple ways to feel better.

Elementary-aged Children – You might ask, “What happens to make you mad?” Then, play act out the story your child offers. Whether it’s a classmate sneering at a joke your child makes or you telling your child to get off screens, you might offer, “let’s act it out and see how it goes.” Try out your own respective roles. “I cannot believe you are making me get off video games now! It’s so unfair!” And you offer what you might say in response, “It’s not right. You know the rules. You’ve taken more time than you are allowed anyway.” Now call, “Time out!” Stop the action. Ask some reflective questions about the moment. “What were you feeling in your body to indicate you were mad?” This raises self-awareness. You may share your own typical physical symptoms you feel when you’re mad as a model. ”I can tell my heart starts racing. I heat up too. What can we do to get to a better place?” Brainstorm together ideas for feeling better and addressing the problem at hand without placing blame or criticizing. And if justice is at issue, anger is a critical emotion to help motivate to action. Discuss what your child can do to right wrongs in ways that create fairness and respect.

Tweens and Teens – This age group is particularly interested in social dynamics and drama. So play on this interest. When friends argue or someone on social media gets mad, what does it look like? What does it sound like? Place your teen in the role of youth culture expert and learn from their experiences. Ask for the full story including what happens when a friend or social media icon “loses it.” What happens in the moment? And even more importantly, what happens later to their reputation? Then, discuss options. You might ask, “What could this person have done instead?”  Be sure and reflect back that anger can be a vital emotion for moving a person to change, to take action, to right a wrong, or correct an injustice. The question to ask then is, “How can you use your strong feelings to pause and consider how to bring greater justice, fairness and respect to the situation?”

We are living through times that produce big feelings for adults and children regularly. We can offer our children and teens a pathway to building strength and resilience if we teach them how to use their anger productively and constructively. Our world requires change-makers everywhere to turn around racial injustice and a global pandemic and it is necessitating our emotional courage. Take these small family fires as opportunities to teach your children that they can be change-makers today and you’ll help prepare them for a bright future.

References:

  1. Center for the Study of Social Policy (2018). Framework for Parental Resilience; Protective and Promotive Factors; https://cssp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/ProtectiveFactorsActionSheets.pdf

Today’s Mindful Monday Recording

We had a rich dialogue today thanks to Mike Wilson, Outreach Coordinator for Harris County Department of Education in Houston, Texas and Podcaster for the show, “Making After School Cool.” Mike shares some highly relevant and relatable stories of parenting two teen girls during a pandemic. Jennifer offers a mindfulness activity connected to a Native American animal spirit guide; the seagull. Check it out and join us next Monday, October 26th from 11:00-11:30 a.m. EST. RSVP on the CPCK site!

JOCO Community Radio Show – Johnson County, Texas

From REACH Across Johnson County, I was delighted to join Shari Phillips and Jennifer Heggland who are working hard to promote the social and emotional health and well-being of families in their community. I presented a two-day in-person workshop with a large group of prevention professionals last year with them in Waxahachie, Texas and learned about their important work. Join us for our conversation on what social and emotional learning means and how it can be applied in family life!

Helping Our Kids Deal with Stress Podcast

This week, we partner with Chandler Unified School District, the third largest school district in Arizona to discuss the stress children and teens are feeling along with sharing some strategies for parents to offer support. As this district moves from several months of remote learning to in-person learning with all of the new rules and routines necessary for schooling during a pandemic, the stress and major adjustments continue in this school year. In this conversation between Brenda Vargas, Director of Counseling and Social Services for Chandler Unified School District and Jennifer Miller of CPCK, we deep dive into ways in which to raise a child’s self-awareness and build self-management skills with a few specific, practical strategies. We also specifically discuss teen development and the pressures they feel and how a parent might support them. Check it out!

Listen to the Chandler Unified School District’s Brenda Vargas with Jennifer Miller here.

CPCK is also partnering with Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District in Yucaipa, California this week beginning a webinar series in English and in Spanish. We are grateful for their partnership!

Our families need a lot of support right now as they manage remote learning at home and cope with the many stresses present. If you are a part of a school district and are interested in webinars for your family community, please get in touch with Jennifer Miller, confidentparentsconfidentkids@gmail.com!

Mindful Mondays…

With Special Guest Mike Wilson

I was delighted to be joined for this Mindful Monday by Mike Wilson, podcast host of “Making After School Cool” with the Harris County Department of Education in Houston, Texas. I loved his story of two dogs and what we could learn from observing them and their relationship with their owners. The purpose of Mindful Mondays is to provide a model for adults – educators and parents – of a brief gathering they can hold with their own families to help transition between family life and the school day. How can we prepare our bodies, minds and hearts for the learning ahead? Check out this week’s Mindful Monday!

Social and Emotional Learning Around the Clock

How We Can Use Research-based Strategies at Home…

“I’m excited to share music from Pakistan and Iran with you today and learn about the instrumentation used,” said Teacher Jason (a.k.a. “Dad”). Today, as we do each morning, we began the day outside in our backyard with coffee, juice, and a go-around of what we are looking forward to learning and experiencing in the coming days and weeks. We are in the third week of our homeschooling experiment that we never ever imagined would be a reality. We believe in being a part of a school community so the thought of only learning with our family seemed to go against our core values. But life changes have created just the right circumstances for us to try out homeschooling. Our son is high risk for COVID and as we attempted the remote learning option and found that the teachers could not focus attention on both the in-school classroom and the learners at home (we recognize teachers are highly capable but also, human), we decided this could be a unique chance to fill in some gaps we’ve experienced in his education (and there always are gaps no matter how wonderful the school).

So many of us are faced with a reality for our children’s education that is far beyond our wildest imaginings. Many of our children and teens are learning at home part or all of the week whether still attending their own school or homeschooling as we are. And this learning is often taking place while parents are attempting to hold down full-time and/or part-time jobs or keep a business going. There are pod cooperatives where families have joined together, perhaps hired a tutor and are schooling in a small community. Whichever your circumstances, there is a unique opportunity for us to include social and emotional learning into our children’s educational experience in a way that we haven’t had the chance prior to this global pandemic. Families can now learn research-based practices that teachers use in schools to inspire, to motivate, to connect and to build invaluable life skills such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

Though it is a true privilege to have the time and flexibility throughout the day to homeschool or. actively support remote learning, even those who are stressed and pressed for time managing a full-time workload while at home can look to certain social and emotional learning practices to support their entire family in cooperating, in working hard and in managing the stress that is surely felt by all. The following ideas note specific ways that families can build rituals and routines into their day with special notation for those which are coping with the busiest, most consuming parenting schedules.

This is a moment in our history that we will reflect back on time and again and ask, “How did we manage under these tremendous social, political, and economical pressures?” If we are willing to all become students in our household, then together we can learn new ways to connect, to communicate, to build trust, to argue in fair ways that grow and not destroy our relationships, to problem-solve, to grow our empathy and patience and show compassion for each other. What if we emerged from these tough times stronger together? Social and emotional learning just might be the gateway to deeper family intimacy and meaningful learning.

Check out these around-the-clock ideas for social and emotional learning rituals and routines:

  1. Morning Gathering 

After the business of the morning has been accomplished (breakfast, dressing, brushing teeth), how can you create a transition into the school day when there is no walk or ride to school? Rather than slumping from the couch to the desk chair, create a family routine of gathering and connecting before all launch into the work of the day. It need not take long. Responsive Classroom, an evidence-based social and emotional learning curriculum, offers a base agenda from which I have built and adapted for family life. 

a. Greeting – Greet one another with hugs or high fives or other ways to show love and connection.

b. Sharing – Ask a question that will prompt personal reflection. It could be as simple as, “How are you feeling really?”, “What’s one thing you are looking forward to over the coming week?” or “What do you love about the Fall season?”

c. Group Activity – This could be a walk outside to breathe in some fresh air or note a flower blooming or the change in the color of the leaves. You could line up for shoulder massages (my personal favorite!). You could stretch the kinks out. With young children, you could imitate your favorite animal.

d. Anticipate the Day’s Learning Goodness – What can your children look forward to learning today or engaging in with school and you with work? It could be as small as seeing a favorite teacher on Zoom or reading an enjoyable book.

e. Mindful Breathing – Take a few moments at the end of your morning gathering to imagine blowing up your lungs like a balloon and then, slowing allowing that air out. There are many ways to engage children in breathing (there are a few number of ideas in this article). Taking just a minute to deep breathe will prepare your entire family with the calm center all require to focus on work and learning.

2. Feelings Check-In

A recent post described using the feelings check-in. With the anxiety we are all feeling, there’s an even more compelling reason than usual to share our feelings. As we share, we feel heard and often, more understood by family members. It’s a simple step we can take to build empathy as we cope with a range of emotions.

3. Brain Breaks

Research confirms that short breaks help a person’s brain refresh and process. Staring at a screen may not produce any new thinking in your child and in fact, staying there when irritated can burn valuable fuel and decrease motivation to put in the hard work necessary to get through the learning process. Work with your child to set particular brain break times throughout their learning day as a part of your routine. And discuss when they can take a brain break if they feel frustration growing while learning. Use a timer and limit to 5-10 minutes depending on their age and need. Talk about what they can do to renew during that time whether it involves getting a drink of water, walking outside for fresh air, or listening to music. For more, check out our article on Brain Breaks.

4. Coaching to Support a Learning Mindset

“I can’t do this!” my son growled while attempting to write an essay. This might have been a moment for a brain break if it had escalated. But instead, I turned to coaching. “It sounds like you are feeling frustrated and a bit stuck. Do you know every person has a strong inner critic, that voice inside that says you’ll never figure this out? What does that voice say to you?” Coaching attempts to reflect back the feelings and thoughts of the learner while also, challenging the individual to reframe and think differently about their problem. You might coach your child to accept their feelings and then, politely say “no” to their inner critic and replace that voice with an inner coach, one that says “You’ve got this. You can figure this out.” 

5. Social and Emotional Lesson Messaging 

What new mantras need to become a part of your family conversations, a regular saying in your household? It may be “We work hard to achieve our goals,” “We recognize all learning requires mistakes and failures,” and “We offer one another grace and space as we learn.” Also, you may raise the question with family members, “How can we discover joy in learning?” If we approach remote learning as drudgery, then it will become a painful task for every family member. But if we look for opportunities to incorporate small moments of joy in each learning day – a ritual hug passing in the hallway? A special treat in our child’s desk or note of encouragement? – then we will be thriving in the midst of challenging circumstances.

6. Routine Co-Creation

Structure to our day creates psychological safety not merely for young children but for all ages and all family members. We need to know what comes next on the agenda and how we play a role in order to feel a necessary sense of control over our lives. Family members – children, teens, and adults alike — may feel like they have less agency with remote learning as schools offer content and lessons while our children do the learning and require support from parents and caregivers at home. Sitting down when not in a particular routine and talking about your plan for that routine together can eliminate so many conflicts as all determine their roles and responsibilities and a family plan is created. What is your most challenging time of day? Is it morning, homework, dinnertime, bedtime or school time? Involve your family is problem-solving through how you can take care of business sharing responsibility and also, connecting. For more details on how to do this, check out this Creating a Smooth Morning Routine video which can apply to any routine you are challenged by in your household.

7. Closing School Day Reflection

If you’ve ever been to a professional development training, it’s likely you’ve engaged in a closing circle where a facilitator asks, “What’s one takeaway from today?” or, “What did you learn? What did you enjoy or appreciate? And what was challenging for you?” John Dewey, a game-changing educational philosopher and reformer claimed, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” Why not take a few minutes at the end of a school day (work break?) Or at the end of your work day when family has gathered to reflect on the learning day? What went well? What didn’t? What do we have control of? How can we make things better tomorrow? That time for reflection alone will offer your family a sense of greater agency. We can support what’s working and work together on ways to improve what’s not.

Of course, for children’s whole person development, be certain that you’ve scheduled movement and non-screen time throughout the day. It’s critical for their bodies and brains that they move and engage in life outside of screens. For short movement activities (yes, more screens so do also, get away from screens!), Go Noodle has a wealth of videos for kids. Also, it helps to make a list with your family of favorite off-screen activities so that your children can refer to it (and not to you!) each time they transition off of screens.

In these particularly trying times, we need support for our roles. As Confident Parents, Confident Kids enters into its eighth year of offering free resources to families, we hope you’ll take advantage of the many tools, tricks and tips on this site to advance your learning and feel like you are not alone. We are in this together!

Raising Resilient Kids in an Anxious World

I’m excited to invite you to the Happily Family Online Conference coming up from October 5-9, 2020! The conference is FREE to attend! 

This event is part of a global movement of families and professionals who embrace a conscious and mindful approach to raising kids to be resilient, motivated, calm, and connected. The Happily Family Conference focuses on how to help kids manage their feelings, get along with others, and do their best.

You will see interviews from some of the finest teachers, authors, researchers, and thought leaders in the world of parenting and education such as:

Dr. Daniel Siegel – Author of The Power of Showing Up

Julie Lythcott-Haims – Author of How to Raise an Adult

Dr. Tina Payne Bryson – Author of Bottom Line for Baby

Dr. Ross Greene – Author of The Explosive Child

Renee Jain – Founder of GoZen!

See More and Register at NO COST here.

This event will bring thousands of parents and professionals from all around the world to explore how we can raise kids who are struggling a little more with their feelings and the pressures of growing up in an anxious world.

I look forward to seeing you there!

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