On Rethink Ed… “5 Social and Emotional Learning Strategies that Strengthen School-to-Home Collaboration”


Over the coming weeks, Jennifer Miller of Confident Parents, Confident Kids will be collaborating with Rethink Ed to discuss practical strategies schools can adopt who are focused on social and emotional learning and want to involve families in partnerships that contribute to their children’s learning. This week, check out the article she wrote for the blog and sign up for the webinar at the end of September that will deepen the discussion. Here’s how the blog article begins…

Educators and parents alike have a sense that school-family partnerships are important. In fact, parent engagement is a top predictor of a child’s school success.1 Yet I hear from numerous schools who are deeply engaged in implementing research-based social and emotional learning that they are struggling to create authentic relationships with families. They list off the events they host – Meet the Teacher Night, Math Night, and Muffins for Moms/Donuts for Dads – but still feel a gap. “We see only a few well-known faces attending meetings and we can’t seem to attract the others to come.” 

But what if our focus on social and emotional learning could be the glue that bonds educators and families together? What if we didn’t create more events or extra newsletters, but reframed our way of viewing the relationship and as a result, our practical approaches to it? We all – families and educators alike – share a goal of learning. And the dawning realization brought about thanks to the work of Carol Dweck on growth or learning mindset is upon us that in order to support learning, we have to be learners ourselves.2 Educators and parents have endless learning opportunities at the ready to explore and understand our children’s temperaments, what they are working on cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally, and how we can support and promote that learning. While teachers bring their extensive professional knowledge of content and pedagogy to the conversation, parents bring their deep knowledge of their family and neighborhood culture and their individual child; who they are, where their strengths lie, and how they are growing and changing. All involved need to be engaged in how to promote the most critical skills for success in school and life: social and emotional skills. So therein lies an opportunity to learn from one another and side-by-side together about strategies for supporting children’s development. Read the full article here.

AND mark your calendars for September 26, 2019 at 1:00 p.m. EST for a webinar to continue this important discussion!

Big Worries, Small Experiments

How Can Parents Support their Children through the Anxiety that Comes with the New School Year and Build Strength, Resilience, and Confidence?

As soon as Tina spied her daughter’s face walking toward the car after school, she knew something was wrong. Tina got out and said, “Are you okay?” but daughter Alyssa quickly shut her down. “I’m fine,” she said in an aggravated tone and a stop-looking-at-me whince. On the short car ride from school to home, despite the fact that Alyssa looked as if she were nearly crying, Tina kept quiet. When they walked in their door, Alyssa took off running to her room slamming the door shut. Tina could just barely hear her sobs and wasn’t sure whether to knock or give her time. Tina brewed some tea and allowed herself a few hot, comforting sips before she went down the hall and gently knocked on Alyssa’s door. “Come in,” Alyssa said softly. She had calmed down enough to be able to talk. “Can you tell me what’s going on?” Mom asked. The words spilled out of her mouth like a waterfall, intense and flowing. “I hate school. I hate my new math class. The work is overwhelming and I think they put me in the wrong class. I don’t know what I’m doing. I hate school!”

Whether its anxiety over a brand new teacher who is strict with his classroom rules, or brand new classes with high expectations for performance, or new extracurriculars like trying out for the few slots left on the soccer team, the beginning of the school year brings lots of opportunities for new experiences, environments, and relationships and our children and teens feel all of the fears that go along with that newness. 

It can be a highly emotional time when children feel physically anxious — ready to run and move after a long day of sitting in class — but emotionally exhausted as they’ve been exercising their ability to focus their attention, listen, and manage their impulses throughout the day. School can bring out performance anxiety — “what if I don’t pass the test?”, social anxiety — “what if I don’t have a friend to sit with at lunch?”, and separation anxiety — “will I be miserably homesick on our class overnight trip? 

In fact, the Highlights Magazine survey of 2,000 children ages 6-12 simply asked, “do you worry?” And 79% of children responded “yes.”1 Worry is normal and actually increases with our children’s awakening social awareness particularly starting around the age of nine. As they work on empathizing and taking the perspective of others, they also become self-conscious. “What if I’m criticized? What if I’m rejected?” These are common concerns of the pre-teen and teen years. So then the trick becomes, how can children, tweens, and teens learn to manage that worry in healthy, constructive ways so that they can identify their feelings and use them as assets. If they do not learn healthy coping strategies, feelings can take them over and they can begin to turn to unhealthy coping strategies.

So there is a significant opportunity for parents and teachers alike to support them in learning how to manage these big worries. Check out the following ideas along with a few pitfalls to avoid along the way!

Anxiety is contagious! Manage yourself first.

When your child is upset and anxious, the first instinct of a caring parent will be to dive in and fix that problem. But in reality, if you dive in with your own stack of worries, you could (and will likely) escalate your child’s worries. That’s because your own raised heartbeat and furrowed brow can’t hide. Your child and you are deeply connected (in good times and in bad) so that they will “catch” your worry and elevate their own. Tina brewed some tea and sipped on it before she went in to talk with Alyssa. Find ways to pause, breathe, get some fresh air and a fresh perspective (“This is not the end of the world nor will it determine my child’s long term success.”), and then talk to your child.

Normalize big worries.

When you do talk, be sure and let your child know that worrying is a normal part of being human and growing up. Don’t allow him to perpetuate the myth that he’s the only one who’s sure he’s going to be left alone or ridiculed on the playground. Help him identify his feelings – “I see you are feeling really worried about going back to school tomorrow. Tell me more.” Listen to his responses while reserving your own judgment or fears. Also, talk about the roles of stress – that it can be a positive force for keeping you sharp during a test but you have to learn ways to manage it so that you are in control and it doesn’t control you.

Learn together.

Be sure you understand what the worry truly is concerning. So often we make assumptions about our child’s fears only to discover later that she really didn’t care about being invited to the birthday party but merely wanted to play on the playground. Actively listen and reflect back thoughts and feelings before jumping to any conclusions. Be sure that you are open to learning from your child what concerns are there so that you can be most helpful.

Empathize together and choose compassion.

When a child or teen has social anxiety, she is focusing on herself and what others think of her. If she begins to consider how others are experiencing worry or pain, if she considers how she might ease others’ challenges, then she cannot focus on her own. Help her consider: “Amanda said some hurtful words today. What do you think could be going on with her? Is her home life okay? Does she feel accepted at school?” Often these questions uncover hurt that another child is undergoing. You might follow up with, “what could you do or say to help her feel more comfortable and accepted?” These questions shift your child’s focus in a positive, healthy way.

Tackle in the smallest increments. 

When your child is feeling overwhelmed by expectations or the amount of work, sit down together and break it down into the smallest pieces possible. Then, simply just focus on one at a time. How can that one issue be tackled? Then, make a plan or set a positive, specific goal together for how she’ll tackle each one of the other issues. Set a clear timeframe and be there to support her through it.

Practice healthy coping strategies.

On a sunny September day when emotions are not running high, grab a blank sheet of paper or markers and newsprint and do the “Feeling Better” challenge (yes, we all love a challenge that is entertaining and game-like). See how many healthy coping strategies you can list together. Remember: the smaller and easier, the better! You want to be able to use them anywhere, anytime you or your child is upset. Practice some deep breathing like ocean wave breathing, or making the sound of the ocean and imaging waves coming in and out with the rhythm of your breath. Discuss other ideas like walking in nature, tensing and releasing toes and fingers, or pretending to blow bubbles.

Stop rumination and find a new thought.

Rumination is worry run-amok. When you hear your child mentioning the same concern over and again, they’ve moved into rumination. And it’s never productive. Why? Because it’s a vicious hamster wheel turning the same thoughts and feelings over and over without any new thoughts changing the perspective. Share that the churning we tend to do does not prevent horrible events from occurring and in fact, only weighs a person down and prevents them from finding positive solutions. When ruminating, tell yourself, “Stop.” And coach your child to help them tell themselves “stop.” Then ask, “what’s one new way you can look at this situation that you haven’t considered?” “What can you learn from this?” Also, if you can, ruminate a bit on the positive. Are there new friends that await at a new experience? Are there kind teachers? Are there interesting exploration opportunities with new subjects? Swirl around in the goodness of all that’s to come this school year.

Create a small experiment.

In other words, if your child is really scared to go on a class overnight field trip, can you set a small goal to go the first night and then call and talk and you’ll come get her the following day if it’s too much but she’ll try and make the best of the first night? Usually kids find that they can make it all the way through but the whole event seems overwhelming so offering small checkpoints or smaller goals helps reduce anxiety. If you set a small goal to tackle a homework challenge, then decide on when and how you’ll take a break or what small piece you’ll accomplish together. Celebrate with a high five or simply reflect on how they were able to get that small piece finished. Recognize together how tackling one step at a time made – what seemed like a monumental task – manageable.

Support Sleep.

Sleep is not only critical for learning the next day but it will also offer the self-control a child needs to get through his anxieties that day. But worries can keep a child up at night. So what can you do? First, be sure and stick to a consistent routine that gets business accomplished (bath, brushing teeth) and is also connecting (reading, snuggling). Make sure that there’s a calm down period with low lighting, low noise, and no screens. Let her know that worrying at night is rumination and will not accomplish anything so it’s important to leave it behind. You might try the following:

  • Have you seen the Mexican worry dolls? You tell the dolls your worries before bedtime, put them in their box, and they work on your worries while you sleep. You can do this with a favorite stuffed friend. Assign him night duty. Allow her to share her worries with you and her stuffed friend (or just with the stuffed friend) and then assign the task of taking care of her worries overnight so that she can put them away. Make sure she only says them once because repeating them turns into rumination and her stewing won’t change her thinking so rumination doesn’t get her anywhere. Teens can write worries down in a journal and then, place the journal in a safe location overnight where they won’t look at it.
  • You may also want to try a guided sleep mediation for children. Check out these from New Horizon. Visualize a calming, happy memory together from your summer vacation. Or you can simply play nature sounds (I like this simple Family Mindfulness App) and listen carefully in the dark together as you take deep breaths.

Instead of catching your child’s worries and fueling them further, look at the many beginnings in the school year as an important opportunity to teach her healthy ways to manage her stress and reframe her perspectives. Those skills will be critical as she continues to face greater challenges. Your support and practice together now will become invaluable sources of strength and resilience for a lifetime.

 

Check out this delightful and practical picture book:

The Worry Box by Suzanne Chiew

 

References:

1. C + R Research. (2018). Highlights State of the Kid Report. Honesdale, PA; Highlights for Children.

A Simple Idea to Begin Creating Caring Connections between Students, Teachers, and Families

It’s the first day of school. We – Mom, Dad, and son – are thoroughly ready and excited for E’s initiation into sixth grade. We take the traditional pictures at home and walk to school together to gather on the playground. Many other parents are present with their children taking photos and sharing in the excitement as they line up outside and await their teachers. “Do you know who their teacher is?” A classmate’s Mom asks me. “No clue,” I shake my head looking over the stream of students to the teachers who are exiting the building to meet their students. The teachers quickly gather up the lines and there are so many teachers and students that I can’t tell exactly who is responsible for my son and his line. With a quick hug, we, along with the other parents, say goodbye as the children are whisked off into the school building. We walk away slowly and I can’t help but wonder whether there was a missed opportunity that morning.

In re-imagining an ideal world, one in which parents develop a significant relationship with their children’s teacher so that care and learning is coordinated between home and school, I envisioned a different scene. What if teachers created a morning reception line, like there might be at a wedding? What if they lined up, perhaps with name tags and their grade level numbers written in chalk on the playground, each morning every day for a week one of the first weeks of school? It could happen the second or third or fourth week so there’s still time!

Family members could be alerted to this opportunity to meet and greet. Each day for five days, family members could plan to walk or park and come into the school building area to drop off their child and when they do, they could shake hands and share names and greetings with their child’s new teacher. “Hi, I’m E’s mother, Jennifer. This is E’s grandmother, Linda. And of course, this is E.” The school could set the expectation that the greetings would be a full name exchange each day so that the names become well-rehearsed and more easily remembered over those five days. 

Taking it one step further, there could be one question posted each day in a highly visible spot so that in addition to morning greetings, each could answer a question to assist in getting to know each other. “Who else is in your family? People? Pets?” “What is your favorite thing to do on weekends?” “What school subject matter is your favorite?” “What unique talent do you possess?”, and “How do you best like to be communicated with (email, phone, in-person)?”

Perhaps you’ve seen those viral videos of teachers greeting students each morning in the way in which they want to be greeted — a high five, a hug, a handshake. And it’s beautiful to watch. We know those students feel seen and heard from the very start of each day. The teacher has immediately made a caring connection with the students. In addition, they are alerted if a student needs extra attention after a tough start before school.

But what if schools went that extra step and included family members in that greeting in one of those first few weeks of school? The benefits would be many. A caring relationship would begin between every parent and their child’s teacher. Names would be learned. Eye contact made, smiles exchanged, and fears allayed. My confusion and ignorance about who my child’s teacher was made my first week of school and in turn, my son’s much more nerve-wracking. Having personally experienced both the life-changing, incredibly wonderful teacher and the teacher who was unkind, I proceed with cautious optimism each year. “What kind of year is this going to be?” I’m thinking until I make that first contact is made. 

In working with numerous schools, each one discusses their goal and priority of finding ways to partner with families to ensure they are substantively engaged in their child’s learning. This simple greeting, though it may take twenty minutes each morning in one of those first weeks, establishes a foundation for a relationship that will serve the learning agenda all year long.

Has any reader tried this at your school? If not, what do you think? Who’s game to try this out? I’ll be proposing this with our parent-school committee to see if I might start a teacher reception line for next school year. If you are inspired by this and are successfully able to start this practice at your school, video record it and send it to me at confidentparentsconfidentkids@gmail.com. I’ll gladly share it with this community so we can all learn from your experience! 

At the end of this month, I’ll be sharing many more ideas and best practices in a webinar with ReThink Ed on promoting valuable school-family partnerships throughout the school year! It’s entitled “The Power of Educators and Families; Joining Forces for Children’s Social and Emotional Learning.” Hope you join us! You can register now.

Happy back to school days! 

Getting to Know your Teacher, Getting to Know your Student’s Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference:

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

Originally published August, 2018.

Adjusting to Kindergarten; Exhilarating, Exhausting and Emotional…

How Can You Help Your Five-Year-Old during the Major Transition to All-Day Kindergarten?

“We have to go back every day?!” exclaims five-year-old Simon incredulously in the first week of kindergarten. I was reminded of when the nurse told me “only 20 more minutes of pushing and the baby should be out,” during drugless labor. It felt like a lifetime and I had no clue how I would survive a minute longer more or less 20 minutes! This is how a typical kindergartner feels. They are nervous and scared about the many new faces, places, and expectations. They are sad missing play time at home with you and a much shorter day with far fewer responsibilities. They feel guilty because they know they should be “big” and act “big” but deep inside, they want to snuggle back under the covers.

The transition from preschool to kindergarten can feel like a gigantic leap for many children. And unfortunately, parents get the brunt of their raw emotions when they come home from school. Whereas they may have remained brave and strong on their first day, the second and third and fourth may lead to utter exhaustion and crankiness. If you are a parent of a kindergartner, you’ll recognize some or all of the following signs and symptoms. It helps with our own patience to understand how, at times, the circumstances of their transition may conflict with their developmental urges and create tension. For us, it can be frustrating not knowing what we can do to help. So I am also sharing some ideas of ways you can support your young child.

Hyperactivity

It’s likely that for the very first time, your child will be required to sit at a desk quietly with minimal movement and heightened attention. The movement they are typically asked to make will focus on their fine motor skills with activities like writing, drawing and cutting. Considering that the agenda prior to this moment has been play with large, free movements most of the day all his young life, this change takes an enormous amount of self-discipline. Young children have physical energy to spend but at the end of a school day, they are mentally and emotionally worn out.

Developmental Urge: Children recognize and have the desire to move as their play guides them. And this wise developmental urging exists because deep learning occurs best when play and movement are involved. Fives are just becoming adept at large movements like running and jumping and want to use those newfound skills. Thank goodness for recess! They struggle still with fine motor skills like writing and cutting. In addition, five-year-olds are eager to be “good” and learn rules and routines. They want to please their teachers and other adult authorities but also, test limits as they attempt to figure out their new boundaries.

Ways You Can Offer Support: Your young child may need free, physical exertion after school. Is there a playground on the school grounds or a park nearby? And in fact, a home backyard will serve the need just fine. Encourage your child to run around and play if you can see and feel that he needs it. Include a high protein snack (cheese stick, peanut butter crackers?) in your after school routine to provide the necessary fuel after a long afternoon at school. Be sure to avoid sugary snacks which offer a quick jolt of energy but can turn quickly into a meltdown as the energy sinks just as rapidly.

Meltdowns

You are likely to experience emotional overload at the end of the school day when your child is with you. She has worked hard to bottle up any emotions throughout the day. Some may struggle to do this especially in these beginning weeks and may have the added humiliation of “losing it” at school. But for the most part, your child will be doing her best to hold back her feelings just to get through the long day. When she sees you, she may just feel an overwhelming sense of safety and let it all out. That can be challenging for a concerned parent who is trying to support this major transition. Rest assured though that the rush of feelings you see her dealing with are normal. And as she progresses and becomes more comfortable with what is expected of her at school, she will have less and less reason to meltdown.

Developmental Urge: Young children are learning to identify and communicate their feelings at this age. Meltdowns will become shorter and less frequent as they feel capable of describing their feelings and see that the adults around them understand and empathize with those emotions.

Ways You Can Offer Support: Make sure that you are using feeling words and reflecting on your own and your child’s feelings frequently to offer regular practice. You might say, “It seemed like you felt tired and frustrated earlier, is that right?” That practice will become invaluable for both in-school and after-school self-management. Also, you can work together on creating a cool down spot that becomes a safe haven for your child. Place a pillow, a favorite stuffed friend and a calming book in the corner of a room with your child’s help. Offer it up if she needs some time to self-soothe. For more ideas on how to create a safe haven for cooling down, read Home Base. Lastly, work on your daily routines – morning, after school, dinner, bedtime – and stick to them consistently. That consistency will offer safety and security and enable her to focus on resting and recovering for the next day.

Lack of Self-Control

You may be noticing an uptick in boundary-pushing. She may be swiping away a sibling’s toys or pushing household rules that have not been in question prior to now. Research confirms that we have the greatest capacity for self-control in the morning when we are rested and refreshed. 1 As the day wears on, we use up our daily store and it becomes more challenging to exercise self-control. This is true for both adults and children.

Developmental Urge: Along with the learning of rules and routines in school, children must learn the skill of self-control. In these early weeks of kindergarten, children are working that muscle regularly. And just like when you begin a new exercise regime at the gym, those muscles are sore and worn at the end of the day. The good news is that it’s time-limited and it’s also critical for the cultivation of this skill that will contribute to their school success. In addition, they are feeling unsure about the expectations of their teacher. But at home, they are aware of your expectations and can push boundaries because they feel safe with you.

Ways You Can Offer Support: As with the meltdowns, keeping routines and rules consistent while at home will help as your child as he adjusts to his new reality. Having a cool down spot, practicing deep breathing, and offering quiet time can help him cope with the stimulus overload he may feel and offer a break from using that self-control muscle.

Ruminating on the Tough Stuff

Part of this transition and your child’s ability to cope may include her ruminating (circling the worry wagon over and over) on the challenges she faces at school. “It’s too hard.” “I can’t go back!” and “I just can’t do it.” may be some of these expressions of frustration.

Developmental Urge: Fives will focus on their learning goals and that may involve anxiety about making friends, understanding the teacher, and performing academic tasks.

Ways You Can Offer Support: Listening with an open mind and heart and with empathy for all that is new in their world can be a real asset to a young child. But when worries spin out into repetitive and defeatist messages – “I hate school!” – they can ultimately subvert a child’s endurance and persistence in working toward figuring it out. If you have listened but witness repetitive worries, distract! Find an old, familiar toy or game and take solace together in simple joys. Then after calming down, talk about times he’s persisted, times he’s stayed strong. These will bolster his feelings of competence as he tackles another day at school. In addition, spend some time talking about the positive aspects of school. Has she made new friends? Does she like her teacher? Is she learning something interesting? Ruminate a bit on some of the positives of school to help reframe the sense that because it’s new, it must be bad.

Separation Anxiety or Regression

You may have thought that separation anxiety would end with preschool. But if you can think back to the time when you left home in your late teens or twenties, perhaps you remember feeling a surge of homesickness? Separation anxiety is healthy and normal at multiple ages and stages but can be stressful for parents.

Developmental Urge: In times when insecurity strikes (which is often when everything seems new), fives will desire the safety of home and time with you. This attachment is a positive sign that you have cultivated a secure bond. Fives will also tend to regress and show behaviors or interests they may have long left behind. This too is normal and time-limited.

Ways You Can Offer Support: Show your trust in a child’s teacher. Remind him of when you’ll return and see him. Express your love for him and confidence in his new circumstances. Then, leave him in the school’s capable hands trying not to linger. If it continues, you can offer a small trinket or scarf to go in his backyard that represents you so that he can have a “piece” of you during the school day if he needs it. Also, if your child desires getting out old toys at home, get them out and let him relish in the days past to bolster him for the trials of his new surroundings.

You can also make certain that your child is getting enough sleep at night. That required rest will contribute to his ability to hone his self-control during the day. Begin earlier than usual if you need more settling down time for your bedtime routine. Fives require between 10-13 hours a night depending upon the child.

Because kindergartener exhaustion leads to parental exhaustion, this time of transition can test your patience. Be sure and plan for your own heated emotions. How will you calm down when tested? Now is a good time to double down on your own self-care, with the knowledge that you are educating yourself, supporting your child as best you can and managing this major life change with confidence.

Reference:

  1. Hagger, M.S., Wood, C., Stiff, C. & Chatzisarantis, N.L.D. ( 2010). Ego Depletion and the Strength Model of Self-Control: A Meta-Analysis. National Institute of Education, Singapore: In Press, Psychological Bulletin.

New Podcast on Social and Emotional Learning in Technology

Check out Lunch Bytes hosted by Jill Abbott for the Education Technology Industry Network of the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA). SIIA serves as the lead trade association globally for the digital content industry with members like Google, Intuit, and Adobe and ETIN offers support for private enterprises that are creating new technology for educational settings. Jennifer Miller of Confident Parents, Confident Kids speaks with Senior Vice President and Educational Technology expert Jill Abbott about social and emotional learning in schools and at home, the roles it can play and the impact it can have. We also dialogue about how technology developers and innovators might create new assets to support children’s social and emotional development.

Check out the Lunch Bytes Podcast on Social and Emotional Learning.

Educators: Want to Connect Parents to Your School’s Focus on Social and Emotional Learning?

Host a Parent Book Club in School Year 2019-2020!

Families can learn about their child’s social and emotional development and ways they can promote social and emotional skills alongside educators. The book contains a discussion guide to support readers in their dialogue.

“Confident Parents, Confident Kids: Raising Emotional Intelligence in Ourselves and Our Kids—from Toddlers to Teenagers” is a fully illustrated guide for parents to learn about their children’s development at each age and stage and how they can develop critical social and emotional life skills to enhance their competence and contribute to their confidence. In addition, parents will learn how to deal with their own big feelings that parenting brings out while transforming their toughest moments into learning opportunities.

How do we raise a confident kid? And how can we be confident that our parenting is preparing our child for success?

Our confidence develops from understanding and having a mastery over our emotions—and helping our children do the same. Like learning to play a musical instrument, we can fine-tune our ability to skillfully react to those crazy, wonderful, big feelings that naturally arise from our child’s constant growth and changes, moving from chaos to harmony. We want our children to trust that they can conquer any challenge with hard work and persistence; that they can love boundlessly; that they will find their unique sense of purpose; and they will act wisely in a complex world. This book shows you how.

You’ll learn:

o The myths we’ve been told about emotions, how they shape our choices, and how we can reshape our parenting decisions in better alignment with our deepest values.

o How to identify the temperaments your child was born with so you can support those tendencies rather than fight them.

o How to align your biggest hopes and dreams for your kids with specific skills that can be practiced, along with new research to support those powerful connections.

o About each age and stage your child goes through and the range of learning opportunities available.o How to identify and manage those big emotions (that only the parenting process can bring out in us!) and how to model emotional intelligence for your children.

o How to alter challenging patterns we fall into and respond to even our toughest moments in ways that align with our highest values.

Need a handout to take to your PTA, funder, or principal? Print out this one-page information sheet.

Sold in all major book outlets including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Release date: November 5, 2019 | ISBN: 9781592339044 Fair Winds Press, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group | QuartoKnows.com

Caring for Our Home Together: Involving Kids at Each Age and Stage

With Tools and Tips!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

Originally published March 22, 2018.

Supporting Your Child’s Emotional Well-being Going Back to School

“I’m gonna hold onto this couch and never let go!”
– E. Miller, Age 6

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

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

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

Create or recreate your routine.
Part of the annual preparations in our house for the school year is the creation of the morning routine poster. Going over your morning routine can offer great comfort to a child who has not gotten up at the crack of dawn or needed to get dressed and move quickly for months. Don’t expect that they will snap back into the routine easily. Pave the way by discussing how your morning will progress together. Find out what your children’s expectations and hopes are. Writing down your child’s routine formalizes it and helps provide a reminder to return to if there are struggles in those early days of school. Check out the short video “A Smooth Morning Routine” for more ideas about creating a smooth morning routine for your family.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy start of the school year!

Originally published August 7, 2014.

Today! Navigating the Transition to College with Social and Emotional Intelligence


Watch Jennifer Miller’s Interview and Find Out What Parents Can Do!

When it comes to making sure your teen is READY for college, it’s very likely you’re thinking about their application, making sure they do campus visits, and that they’re prepared for the SAT. But have you paused to say, “I need to get my kid to be socially and emotionally ready for this” yet? It’s not something parents are necessarily thinking about, yet it’s so important. Jennifer Miller of Confident Parents, Confident Kids will discuss with Dr. Maggie Wray why Emotional IQ is so important for teens heading off to college. Join us to learn…

  • Why it’s critical for your teen to be as emotionally prepared as possible before they head off to college
  • They key social skills for your teen to develop
  • How your teen can begin developing self-awareness, and why it’s so important
  • How to have this conversation with your teen — without getting pushback
  • How to help your teen learn to navigate and process their emotions
And if you want to check out the whole online conference with many more interviews on helping your teen in the transition to college: sign up here! 
This video will be available free until Saturday, July 27th, 2019 at 8:00am EDT.
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