Reevaluating Our Kids’ Schedules While Teaching Them Time Management and More!

Conducting a Commitment Audit

“I don’t know how I’m gonna get it all done!” said Malisha, a twelve-year-old girl about her long-term research project introduced this week at the start of the term. “I have volleyball two nights a week, games on weekends, and I just signed up to work on the school e-newsletter. When will I see my friends?” Her panicked tone along with the speed of her words increased as she spoke. 

We want to encourage our children to get involved in extracurriculars outside of school. Certainly, they can offer a range of opportunities including building social and emotional skills, developing friendships, and learning new skills and abilities in arts, sports, or sciences exposing children to experiences they would never have otherwise. But overscheduling is a concern too. Children require unstructured play time in which their minds have the chance to process all that we’ve been involved in at school and through out-of-school time programming. In addition, research claims that we generally have a greater sense of well-being when we have free, unscheduled time.

Recent research takes that well-being claim one step further showing in studies of six-year-olds that those who engaged regularly in unstructured play time actually grew their executive function skills more rapidly than those who did not.1 Those essential skills include self-control, goal setting, planning and problem-solving. That’s because children are fully in control of their own goal-setting during play and get the chance to work out how to reach their goal on their own or with friends who are also experimenting with these essential life skills.

The Blank Space in the Calendar

Yes, happiness studies have found that the blank space in the calendar does add to our sense of pleasure and gratitude. In fact, one study found that if a coffee outing with a friend was scheduled (a planned meeting time) then that friend date would feel more like a chore and less like pleasure or leisure.2 But if there were a rough block of time allotted (like sometime in the morning) or it was optional when to show up for coffee, then the friends experienced more pleasure and spontaneity. Though we, as parents, have the added concern of our children spending their free time on screens (see Smart Home Media Use; Limiting Screen Time article for more on why this is important), those blocks of blank space in which they are not engaging with screens are clearly important to their sense of well-being.

As is true with a good cup of coffee, too little is not enough and too much is, well, too much. So too planned activities enrich our children’s lives as well as unscheduled blank spaces. How can we choose, discuss, prioritize and plan for moderation with our children? Part of their learning about time management, commitments and prioritizing can come from your discussion and reflection on what your time looks like currently and how you might want to change commitments in order to meet your hopes, values, and priorities for the upcoming year. 

Here are some areas with key questions for consideration between a parent and child:

Key Question: What are your hopes for your time outside of school this year?

Goals and Priorities: 

In talking with your children, if they’ve shared multiple hopes, you can write down or simply articulate what their hopes look like in the form of a goal for the year like, “I’d like to make one good friend.” or “I want to learn to play the piano.” As you look at your child’s schedule, you can discuss how you are going to work toward that goal through their planned activities.

For adults, you may want to consider these by the areas of your child’s development including academic/cognitive, physical, social, emotional and spiritual or ethical development. How do the below essential commitments meet their developmental needs? What is lacking and could be supplemented with out-of-school time activities?

Essential Commitments: 

These are non-negotiable commitments that we know will be in our schedule including school, sleep, meals, hygiene (time for bath, brushing teeth), chores or household responsibilities, homework, religious services (this may be in your essential commitments section, in optional or not listed at all depending upon your beliefs). For some, after-school care is essential if parents are working.

Optional After School and Weekend Activities: 

These might include sports practice, music lessons, clubs or organizations, and after-school care programs. Weekend scheduled activities might include games, volunteering, scheduled friend time or regular family visits.

Do the Math Together

Write out the hours it takes to do your essential commitments on a typical weekday. For example, 

24 hours in a day

7 hours of school

9 hours of sleep per night (see sleep requirements by age range)

1 hour for family dinner (including setting table and cleaning dishes)

1 hour of basketball practice

1 hour of homework

1/2 bath, brush teeth

1.5 hour getting ready for school in the morning

___________________________

3 hours remaining

Hopes/goals:

Reading

Free Time

Friend Time

Screen Time 

*This exercise has the all-important, added bonus of showing children why limiting screen time is so important. Time is limited and hopes are high for our precious time! 

Divide Up Long-Term Projects Into Manageable Parts

To students of all ages (and in fact, adults too!), the prospect of long-term projects can throw us into a panic attack as Malisha was experiencing. By the very nature of the project being long-term, when we look at all of the deliverables at once, they can seem overwhelming. How could we possibly ever find the time to get it all accomplished? When this occurs for your elementary, middle or high school students, it’s helpful to sit down with their calendar and make a plan. Talk through each of the deliverables. Write down how much time you both predict the research, writing, poster board creating or other activities might take. Create a reasonable plan together plotting out the times each week that your student can work on it. If he disagrees with the time you think needs to be allotted, then let him lead the charge. You can only advise but if your child does not want the guidance, then they’ll need to learn by experiencing how long activities take. It’s a process, not an event! 

Different Children, Different Needs

Each child will bring different needs to their schedule so that no two are exactly alike. One key consideration will be a child’s age and developmental level. For example, six-year-olds will require more unstructured play time than a ten-year-old. Another consideration will be temperament. Does your child tend to feel drained or depleted at the end of a school day or after social interactions? If so, then your child may tend toward introversion which means she or he will require more time to internally process thoughts and ideas. Being certain she gets regular, perhaps daily quiet time to renew and refuel will become important. And finally, your child’s interests and passions will change as they grow and develop. They may begin to develop an interest in drawing or hockey or knitting that is a brand new area to explore. Following these interests can lead to expanded learning opportunities for your child. 

The Value of Commitment

Children do need to learn when they sign up for a program or a camp or a lesson series, there is a commitment involved. There are time, money and effort put forth by your entire family to make it a priority for your child. That’s not to be taken for granted. So planning ahead, considering carefully your child’s interests and goals along with your own makes sense. Once they commit, then following through on attending practices and keeping up with the program becomes part of signing up and participating. Before signing up, be certain that your child understands (to the degree possible) what they are committing to along with all of the benefits of the program. If your child’s interest wanes early on in a program, then you might consider: is there a natural stopping point that makes sense for everyone instead of quitting the program mid-stream? 

For those of us with a wealth of choices for our children’s enrichment, we can take full advantage of the learning opportunities by carefully considering our choices before we commit. Our children will then have the chance to learn from reflecting on, evaluating and making responsible decisions collaboratively about their time. They learn time management skills along with planning, goal setting and how to achieve a goal they care about. Instead of getting swept up into the calendar year or following the crowd and other social obligations without thought, we can use this natural period of transition to reflect together about what makes the best sense for our family and our children’s development.

 

References:

  1. Barker, J.E., Semenov, A.D., Michaelson, L., Provan, L.S. Snyder, H.R., & Munakata, Y. (2014). Less-structured time in children’s daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning. Frontiers in Psychology.
  2. Gabriela N. Tonietto and Selin A. Malkoc (2016) The Calendar Mindset: Scheduling Takes the Fun Out and Puts the Work In. Journal of Marketing Research: December 2016, Vol. 53, No. 6, pp. 922-936.

Need Your Help — Looking for Birth Stories!

The writing of the Confident Parents, Confident Kids‘ book is underway and I’d love to use your story! One of the most emotional times in our lives, for many, is when we have our first (or second or third!) baby. Most especially, the first baby signals the birth of a parent. And that’s a story unto itself. I’d love to learn about your challenges, your emotions, and your highest highs and lowest lows during that life-changing time.

 

If you have a story you are willing to share, please write to me, Jennifer Miller, at confidentparentsconfidentkids@gmail.com. If your story doesn’t make it into the book, I will also create a post here that will share part or all of the stories (depending on length) that are submitted. The New Year is an ideal time to reflect so I hope you’ll take this chance, whether it was a year ago or many years, to write about your own birth – becoming a Mom or Dad – and how it was a unique experience for you!

 

Hoping and Dreaming for Our Brand New Year

The start of the year ushers in a fresh opportunity to focus on what’s most important in our lives, to examine our hopes and dreams and figure out how they might come true through our day-to-day actions and steps toward our goals. Though we may consider our exercise routine or healthy eating habits (which are incredibly important!), we may not stop and think about our most important role as parents. Yet we know that we derive great meaning in our lives and a sense of purpose through our family relationships and our roles as caregivers. So why not take a pause and consider what we value, how we are challenged and specifically what hopes we are trying to bring to life for our children? Readers of this site include parents, educators, grandparents, youth service providers and so many others who love children. Whatever your role, these questions can apply to you!

For some, considering your greatest strengths might be a place to begin and build from. If this resonates with you, you might ask yourself:

  • What are the strengths of my parenting? 
  • How are those strengths impacting my children?
  • What are my hopes and dreams for my child (think of each child individually)?
  • How can I build from my strengths to move toward those hopes?
  • Are there small, simple actions I can take that will add up over time to nurture those hopes?
  • If I don’t know exactly what those actions could be, how can I set a goal and become focused on learning new ways to further build those strengths?

For others, considering your greatest challenges might be the place you want to start. You might begin to ask:

  • What are the greatest challenges I face as a parent?
  • What are my hopes and dreams for my child (consider each child individually)?
  • What are the skills and values I want to teach my child?
  • How are those skills and values playing out in my reactions to those challenging moments? What am I currently teaching by my reactions? 
  • What small, simple ways could I change my reactions in those most challenging moments to better align with skill building and my core values?
  • If I don’t know exactly what those actions could be, how can I set a goal and become focused on learning new ways to react in those moments?

Others may be more concerned with their child’s strengths or challenges and better focus their attention on their child. In this case, you might consider:

  • What are the strengths I see in my child (consider individually for each child)?
  • What are my hopes for my child? 
  • In what ways could I build upon my child’s strengths to reach toward my hopes for him/her?
  • What modeling or teaching goal(s) might I set for myself to reinforce and build upon those strengths this year?
  • What resources can help me learn more to achieve my goal?

And yet others still might be more concerned with their child’s challenges. In fact, you may worry about those areas in which your child struggles. You may consider:

  • What are the challenges my child struggles with (consider each child individually)?
  • What are my hopes for my child?
  • How can I best influence my child’s growth and development in this challenging area?
  • What skills do I need to focus on building?
  • What small actions can I take to help model and support that skill development to reach toward my hopes? 
  • What reasonable goal can I set to become intentional about building skills and creating teachable moments for this coming year?
  • What resources can help me learn more to achieve my goal?

Parents deal with such a wide range of issues from toddlers who need to become potty-trained before entering preschool to third graders who are being marginalized by friends to seventh graders who are feeling anxiety from peers to measure up in sports to teens who are being pressured by peers to try out new adult-sized risks. Yet we can take comfort as parents in the notion that all of these challenges are a necessary part of our child’s development. And our best supports for them build social and emotional skills so that they can navigate these challenges with competence. They can learn to articulate and accept their feelings. They can grow in their empathy for others. They can assert their needs to
others. They can become their own best relationship problem-solvers. 

Each time we, as parents, reflect on our priorities and set our own learning agendas for continually growing and improving in our parenting, we take one step closer to our
achieving our hopes and dreams.

It was a hope and dream of mine to put this concept to this test and see if there truly was an alignment between our biggest hopes, our biggest challenges of parents and the social and emotional skills we know are vital to our children’s success. The new research making that connection has been published this month in the peer-reviewed publication, The School Community Journal. Co-investigators Shannon Wanless, Roger Weissberg and I hope you’ll learn more about this research on our research page, read the journal article itself and indeed check out the entire issue.

As for the many collaborators who contribute to Confident Parents, Confident Kids, it is our greatest hope that we can support you in achieving your hopes and dreams for your most meaningful role as a parent.

Happy New Year!

 

From “Parenting for Competence and Parenting with Competence; Essential Connections Between Parenting and Social and Emotional Learning”:

What a Year!


Our family brings meaning to our lives. Six years ago, this site set out to document the many small ways families are learning to promote our children’s development – their hearts, minds, and spirits – in ways that support, enrich and celebrate who they are and what they are learning. This community of caring parents and educators continues to advance this critical dialogue! Join me in reflecting on a year of growth for this work and with this review, I hope you’ll consider the small and big steps you’ve taken to enrich your own family life. I hope you’ll ask:

What would the year-in-review for my parenting look like? What would I share as my family’s highlights? 

(and if highlights come to mind immediately and you’re willing, please share in the comment section!).

First and foremost, the point of this space is for dialogue, for community, for meaningful discussion between and among all of us who are interested in figuring out how we can learn from and build on research and how we can learn from and build on each other’s great ideas for promoting our children’s most essential skills in family life while contributing to our safe, caring, trusting connections as a family.

This community continues to grow and thrive with 22,000 followers from around the world. Now with nearly 200,000 views, this site enjoys visitors from 152 countries. Indeed we can teach our children with certainty that in every corner of the world, people love their children and are interested in promoting their well-being.

Here are the top five most popular articles of 2019:

  1. 50 Constructive Alternatives to Detention and Punishment – Maybe this is the most popular article because it’s one of the most challenging topics for parents and educators alike. In one survey by Zero to Three, 57% of parents admitted not really knowing how to deal with discipline issues with their children. What do we do in any number of situations when our child has made a poor choice or even caused harm? It’s also one of the articles I wrote in reaction to upsetting circumstances. Yes, I took some time to calm down before I wrote it. But it was my attempt to deal positively and constructively with frustrations in dealing with a school system that I felt was not doing what they needed to for the safety and care of our children. No school is perfect and I certainly don’t expect a school to be. It’s so easy to point out what we don’t like but much more difficult to figure out what might work better. This site is committed to offering numerous small alternatives guided by research on what we can do to promote our children’s development and well-being. 
  2. Family Emotional Safety Plan – While most of the site promotes small steps, I believe this offers a giant leap forward for a family who wants to grow in their emotional intelligence. Discussing and planning ahead for our most heated emotions just makes sense. If you have not already created your own emotional safety plan, take a look at the article and the simple, one-page handout with questions that will guide you through developing your own plan. If we know how we are going to deal with a moment of intense anger or anxiety, we won’t have to fear our own reactions. We also won’t have to deal with any guilt or regret that comes later after we’ve reacted in ways we wish we hadn’t. Try this! 
  3. Learn the Research-based Ways Families Can Fight Fairly – From John Gottman’s research on married couples over the course of his career, he’s found that those who stayed together didn’t fight less frequently. In fact, they fought just as much as couples who divorced. The difference was in HOW they fought. Do you have clear boundaries set with your partner and your children on how to fight fairly in your family? This article along with the printable guidelines can serve as a foundational guide to keep your relationships healthy and thriving even in the midst of arguments. 
  4. Kindergarten Exhaustion – This is a real phenomenon and it happens in every household where there is a kindergartner adjusting to the rigors of full-time school! Build your empathy and patience and also build your toolbox for helping your kindergartner adjust to this time period of major change in their lives.
  5. A Storied Childhood: The Role of Stories in Children’s Social and Emotional Development – I’m not sure there is a more joyful and connecting way of promoting your children’s social and emotional development than through stories. They offer endless opportunities for discussions about empathy, about choices, about commonalities and differences, about emotions, and about the condition of being human. This will not only offer you the inspiration to deep dive into reading with your children, but it will also offer you simple ways to reflect together to take full advantage of the experience to build your trusting connections and consider meaningful questions together.

New Research! 

Collaborators (thanks Shannon Wanless and Roger Weissberg!) put out new research to clearly show the essential connections between parenting and social and emotional learning and how we can learn from the extensive school-based literature on social and emotional learning to translate best practices into family life while recognizing and ensuring that each family is a unique culture that needs to serve as their own best problem-solvers. Check out the new page on the Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ site dedicated to highlighting this new research.

Top Media of 2019:

  1. Highlights State of the Kid – I had the honor of learning from Highlights and their state of the kid survey. Ultimately, we together learned from the voices of 2,000 U.S. children, ages 6-12, about their cares, their influencers, and their worries. And then, we asked what we, as adults who love them, do about their feedback. Check out my discussion with the Editor-In-Chief Christine Cully about all of these topics. And don’t miss videos of kids themselves responding to questions.
  2. NBC Parent Toolkit – Lots of great collaboration resulted in articles and tools this year through the team at NBC’s Parent Toolkit. Check out these contributions:

Do Adult Arguments Help or Hurt Our Children’s Learning?

Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day: Conversation Starters

Back to School Kit Campaign

How to Make your Hopes a Reality (highlighting the new research on parenting and social and emotional learning)

3. Montana State University Center for Safety and Health Culture and Youth Connections Magazine – Youth Connections Magazine is publishing quarterly feature articles on parenting with social and emotional learning. There were two published in 2018 and four more to come in 2019! Here are the first two:

Guiding Children with Tools for Success; Parenting with Social and Emotional Learning

A Parent’s Greatest Gift; Self-Management

4. Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development – In partnership with Pamela McVeagh-Lally and Mind and Matter Studio, we created a parent-school conversation tool to help parents initiate conversations about social and emotional development topics. Check it out! How Learning Happens: Family and Caregiving Conversation Tool.

5. Nationwide Children’s Hospital Pediacast – In conjunction with the Highlights State of the Kid campaign, Editor-In-Chief Christine Cully and Jennifer Miller talked with Mike Patrick, MD on his podcast about the results of the survey. Learn more about what kids want adults to know in this enjoyable conversation! 

Coming in 2019!!!!

The book – Confident Parents, Confident Kids: How to Manage Your Own Big Feelings While Teaching Your Kids to Manage Theirs will be published in the Fall by Quarto Publishing, available in all formats. Special thanks to Tina Wainscott, a literary agent with Seymour Agency for making this possible and also, Acquiring Editor, Amanda Waddell of Quarto/Trade Winds Press! 

Thank you for the essential role you play in making this conversation possible!

To You and Yours – Here’s to a new year filled with love and learning!

Building Family Social Awareness: Learning from the Wisdom of Ancient Winter Traditions and the Solstice

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome, Yule!!

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

This December 21, the shortest day of the year, will mark the turning from dark to an increase in sunlight. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is the coldest time of year and in the Southern, it marks the Summer Solstice. The traditions that recognize this passage seem to touch numerous cultures around the world and date back to ancient times in which the Mayan Indians, ancient Romans, Scandinavians, and others celebrated. Years ago, my own neighborhood friends would gather on this day, say some words of gratefulness for the gift of light in our lives, and each person would contribute a stick or evergreen branch to the fire. This tradition has remained in my memory as one of the most sacred I have attended. All of the major world holidays involve an appreciation for light in the darkness as a previous article explored including Christmas, Hannukah, and Kwanzaa. As we approach this passing of dark to light, I reflect on the themes cultures throughout the world have recognized, appreciate our commonalities and consider how we can learn from their wisdom and reinforce those themes in our own family.

So this weekend at our typical family dinner, I will light a candle and talk with my family about the following themes. I’ve included questions that we will ask and offer them to you as well to consider around your own family dinner table.

Theme: Connection
Our connection to one another during this time is one of the most valuable. Ironically savoring our moments with our loved ones can get buried under a mound of anxiety, expectations, and commitments. When it comes to focusing on our appreciation for one another during this passage from dark to light, we can be made aware, if we stop long enough to notice, that we are more alike than different. Numerous religions, nations, indigenous cultures and popular culture celebrate light with a wide variety of rituals and traditions. We can enter into our own celebrations, whatever our traditions may be, with the awareness that we are inter-connected and inter-dependent with one another and our environment. We can begin to explore the many other ways we are connected to one another regardless of how different we feel or seem at times.

Question for our Family Dinner: What are ways that we are connected to people from places far from us in the world? What are the ways we are connected to people who are different from us or challenge us in our own community? If there have been disagreements among family and friends, how do we remain connected to those individuals?

Theme: Relationship of Light and Dark
Darkness has long been a symbol for emotional turmoil and violence in the world. The darkness seems to hold fear and danger but with the light of day, the perspective changes dramatically to one of hope and possibility. Moving from short, gray days to lighter, brighter days can help remind us that there is always another chance to make a candle of light 001better decision. There’s always an opportunity to be who we really aspire to be. Our actions can reflect our deepest values.

Question for our Family Dinner: Is there sadness, fear, disappointment or other darkness you want to leave behind? How can you let it go and begin again? What hopes do you have for the new year?

Theme: Gratefulness for the Natural World
It is humbling to step back and watch the changing of the seasons unfold. In ancient times, people feared that the lack of light would continue. They worried that if they did not revere the Sun God, “he” may move further away from their days. Take this moment in time to appreciate the sun, the moon, the trees, the birds and all of the natural world around us that profoundly influences all of our lives.

Question for our Family Dinner: What aspects of nature influence you regularly? What do you appreciate about the environment you encounter each day? How do you feel differently when you are outside in nature versus indoors?

Theme: Rebirth, Purification, and Forgiveness
In ancient Rome during the solstice, wars stopped, grudges were forgiven and slaves traded places with their masters. Today, the theme of rebirth and forgiveness is carried out in a diverse range of religious and cultural practices. The burning of wood to create light in the darkness also symbolizes that we can let go of old wounds or poor choices and begin again. For children, it’s a critical lesson to learn that one choice does not determine who they are. There is always the light of a new day to offer a chance for forgiving the old and creating the new.

Question for our Family Dinner: Are there hurts that you are holding onto from the past? How can you heal and move on? Have you disappointed yourself? With the burning of a candle, can you imagine those disappointments burning into the ash, forgiven, and offering you a new chance?

There is a silent calm that comes over me when I light a candle or watch the flames rise in our fireplace. That calm gives me the space to reflect on the meaning of this time of year and connects me to the many individuals and cultures today and of generations past that have recognized this passage. May you find ways to appreciate and focus on the people most important to you during this emergence from dark to light. And simultaneously, may we appreciate our common ground and connection to people around the world, past and present, who require light for life.

Reference
The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper retrieved on 12-17-14 from http://wintersolsticemusic.com/solstice-traditions/winter-solstice-poetry-celtic-mid-winter-poetry.htm.

Originally posted on December 14, 2014.

Deck the Halls with Mental Well-Being

Fa, La, La, La, La…

This is an oldie but goodie (and frankly I needed it today!).

My son burst into tears as his friends waited at our door to play. He had fallen up our stairs and gashed his shin on the metal rims of the hall steps. I plopped on the floor to comfort him and as he turned to me, he said, “Mom, you told me to hurry.” Why? Why did he need to hurry? In my mind, I had a million tasks to accomplish including facilitating his tasks – homework, dinner, and holiday preparations. I had thought it could be good for him to get outside and run around with his pals for a short time. But I was pressuring him to hurry up and why? Quick, go examine bugs under the rocks?! As he ran out and the door shut, I noticed the quiet in our house and really stopped for the first time that day. What was I doing?

With the holiday season upon us – no matter what holiday you are celebrating – you may be feeling similarly – fully in the throes of too much to do with too little time. And the knot in your tummy may be growing as mine has been. In a time when I want to produce joy for my family, I realize I am a lesser version of what I can be because of stress. I know I will get to this stressed- out place well before it happens. And somehow I feel powerless to stop it. There’s still work to get accomplished before taking time off. There’s still the same amount of presents to buy for others (and actually, more as E’s friends and connections grow). There’s still cookies to bake, decorations to hang and packages to send.

And so I write this post to help myself as much as you, dear reader, think about and deal with the situation we find ourselves in. In the very midst of the chaos, how can we keep our calm center? And how can we recall that our state of mind and being will impact the way others experience our celebrations together? Our stress will show. And whether we like or not, it’s contagious. It spreads like a virus and others get snappy and agitated – not conducive attitudes for cooperation more less jubilation.

Whether you celebrate Hannukah, Christmas or Kwanzaa, all of the major holidays this season celebrate light in the darkness. And that’s the gift I most want to give my family and the one I think they will appreciate beyond the “stuff.” Yes, I’ll bring gifts. But more importantly, I am setting an intention to prepare myself for the experience of celebrating with family and friends. I plan to deck our halls with a feeling of peace and joy and appreciation for our abundance. And I know that has to begin with me. Here are a few things I plan to do that, maybe, you’ll consider for yourself.

Engage in deep breathing each day. I was in the habit of taking ten deep breaths before I launched into work each morning but my routine fell away as the season crowded my moments. So I plan to return to this practice to set a tone for my day.

Get exercise and fresh air. The routine of breathing outside and getting to the gym could easily also fall away with the season. But I know these are the activities that keep me centered, focused and feeling resilient. So I plan to make special arrangements while my son is home over the extended break so that I am sure to keep my routines sacred for the benefit of my whole family.

Mentally prepare before events. My sparkling outfit is not as important as the demeanor, the tone or the mood I bring to any celebration. Whether it’s in my own home, at a friend’s house or in a restaurant, the way I engage with others matters significantly. It can mean the difference between really connecting or “phoning it in” without true interchange. There may be individuals that you celebrate with only one time a year. This is that moment, that unique opportunity to bring your focused attention to them. I will set my own intention to focus on the present before I go so that when I arrive, I am ready to fully engage with whoever comes my way. I’ll stop and take a pause before leaving the house or answering the doorbell. This small step can have a ripple effect on my own and my family’s experience of the holidays. I know this will set an example and tone for my child. I notice when I’m stressed, he’s stressed. But when I’m calm and engaging with others, he does the same.

Set goals for connection. When you go to a party, you likely anticipate who you’ll see. Sometimes that anticipation creates anxiety if you’ve had challenges with individuals in the past or if those individuals view you in ways that you do not view yourself. Those interactions can be opportunities for your own growth in social and emotional competence. Instead of dreading those who challenge you, ask yourself three important questions.

  • What can I learn from this individual who challenges me?
  • How can I begin to understand her perspective and feel compassion for her?
  • How do I want to show up in that conversation?

I know that if I model curiosity and compassion, that will have a direct impact on how my child interacts with others. I want to leave a party feeling like I know more about the individuals that I met than I did when walking into the room. And what if I also learned more about myself by attempting to relinquish worries about what I’m saying and what messages I’m communicating about my life but focus on learning about others, finding common ground and sharing my ability to be empathetic and show care?

Say “no” when it’s too much. Instead of cramming each activity into every space of time in the few weeks left in the year, consider what might be too much. Have you accounted for quiet rest time? Have you considered how the pace will impact family members? We rarely plan our schedules for our mental well-being but particularly in this season of over-commitment, it can be worth asking, “What do we really want or need to do?” “When can we get in rest time?” and “Are there plans we need to say “no” to?

Express gratitude daily. The holiday season is a time of high contrasts – tremendous sorrow missing loved ones that have passed on or reflecting upon our tough circumstances and then, also feeling the magic, imagination and sheer bliss of children’s experience of the traditions surrounding the holidays. It’s an emotional time. So it requires us to become more planful about our big emotions. One way to balance out our adult angst is to express gratitude with our children daily. Whether you mention your gratitude over breakfast, during the ride home from school or at bedtime, kids will benefit by actively appreciating all that they have. And you will benefit by recognizing the goodness in your life. It will assist you as you set a tone with your family.

Carving out time and space for your mental well-being may seem like another “to do” to add to the list. But consider the fact that paying attention to the tone of your family and setting an example will give you energy and motivation as you gently experience your days. The gift of your attention certainly is one of the most important for your children and indeed, your whole family. Consider how you might deck your halls with psychological well-being this season! Happy holidays!

 

Originally published on December 16, 2016.

On NBC Parent Toolkit… “Make Your Hopes for Your Kids Reality with Social and Emotional Skills”

Research partners, Shannon Wanless, Associate Director of Research in the Office of Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh and Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ Author Jennifer Miller share findings from their latest study on the direct alignment between our hopes for our children and our parenting with social and emotional skills on NBC’s Parent Toolkit. It begins…

My four-year-old son became hysterical kicking and screaming in the store’s checkout line when I said “no” to buying candy. What was I supposed to do when we were in the middle of a crowded public place and my child was having a major meltdown?

My sons were arguing and just wouldn’t stop. They were mean to one another and nothing I did seemed to help. Eventually, I led each to bed to end it. But how could I have helped them resolve their problem and stop their meanness to one another?

My twelve-year-old lied to me and when I confronted him with it, he didn’t seem to understand why lying was wrong. He thought all his friends did it and it was perfectly fine. How could I help him understand the severity of what he’d done?

For all parents, these situations are familiar and challenging. Those of us who work in child development aren’t immune to these situations either. We are all faced with daily dilemmas where we have to consider how to stop an undesirable behavior, teach an important life lesson, and be responsive to our kids’ changes. We know what we hope our children will be and become, but in those daily tough moments, it’s difficult to figure out what we can do to achieve those hopes. Our angry child isn’t showing kindness or confidence in that moment. But can our reactions help him manage the emotions he is struggling with and move him any closer to those qualities we hope for?

Recently, my colleagues and I surveyed nearly one hundred educators, who also happened to be parents, about their own parenting experiences. We wanted to see if their hopes for their children and their hopes for themselves could match up with skills that can be built through small, teachable moments. Parents shared that they wanted to raise children who were happy and fulfilled, confident, empathetic, kind, loving and responsible. Similarly, when we asked parents what they wanted to be like as parents, they said they wanted to be happy, patient, encouraging, loving, and kind. The good news? All of these traits can be built through practicing certain skills. READ FULL ARTICLE.

To learn more about the research behind this article, check out the Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ Research page.

Special thanks to the third co-investigator on this project, Roger Weissberg!

Featured In Youth Connections Magazine… “A Parent’s Greatest Gift: Self-Management”

Check out the following feature article in “Youth Connections” magazine by Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ author, Jennifer Miller. This was written in partnership with Montana State University’s Center for Health and Safety Culture, one part of a multi-media campaign launching this January 2019 entitled Parenting Montana focused on parenting with social and emotional learning. Here’s how it begins…

“My teacher wants you to sign my test,” my son said as he placed a paper quickly on the table nowhere near where I was sitting and walked out of the room. My curiosity rose. Clearly, he was not eager to show it to me. Glancing at the content, it was immediately recognizable – the science test for which he had genuinely studied. But it appeared as is if he hadn’t cracked his book. How was this possible?

I asked what happened. And I began to understand when he said: “Mom, it was ‘bring-your-pet-to-school’ day.” My son is allergic to all animals furry. It’s an intense allergy that often ushers in a two-week sickness with wheezing and misery. Yet, and perhaps not surprisingly, there’s nothing my son loves more than animals. So, on “bring-your-pet-to-school” day, it’s a painful reminder of his heartache over not having a dog or a cat. He came home that day and ran straight to his room – upset. It’s no wonder that a test he was well prepared to take resulted in failure. He couldn’t focus. The acute sadness about his unique position among his classmates – that he remained pet-less – took over his ability to think.

The ability to manage our most intense emotions can challenge even the most studious child making it impossible to focus. Children are faced with this issue not only in the midst of an important test but even on the playground when they are stopped in their tracks unable to respond after a classmate taunts them with cruel words like “No one likes you!” Or, at home, our child may run away from you, shut her door, and refuse to come out when we need her to attend a family-obligated event.

This inability to focus on a test, to respond to a bully on the playground, or to constructively communicate about an undesirable event is evidence of what is happening in a child’s brain – indeed anyone’s brain – when they are highly emotional. Read the full article here which includes simple strategies for parents to help build the skill of self-management in children at various ages and stages. It just may be a parent’s greatest gift.

 

 

What Holidays Are Celebrated Around the World?

Expand your Children’s Social Awareness by Learning More Together

This post has become an annual favorite! Because of the numerous holidays celebrated through the fall and winter months, it is an ideal time to discuss how people celebrate around the world – both the uniqueness of traditions and also the many commonalities. When doing the research, I was struck by the number of similar themes and symbols for the following world holidays. Most notably, the major holidays celebrate light in the darkness, show gratitude for food, family, and life and pause for reflection or prayer. I was so enriched by learning about the beautiful traditions of celebrations around the world. I hope you will take a moment to share these with your family. Happy holidays!

Hanukkah
Cultural or Religious Origin: Judaism
Purpose: To celebrate a miracle that one day’s worth of oil lasted for eight days in the temple.
Symbols/Practices: For eight days, Jews light a special candleholder called a menorah.
Traditions: On Hanukkah, many Jews also eat special potato pancakes called latkes, sing songs, and spin a top called a dreidel to win chocolate coins, nuts or raisins. Families also give one gift each of the eight days. Learn more:
http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday7.htm

Kwanzaa
Cultural or Religious Origin: African-American
Purpose: Started in the United States to celebrate African heritage for seven days based on African harvest festivals and focused on seven African principles including family life and unity. The name means “first fruits” in Swahili.
Symbols/Practices: Participants wear ceremonial clothing and decorate with fruits and vegetables.
Traditions: They light a candleholder called a kinara and exchange gifts. Learn more:
http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/kwanzaa-history

Chinese New Year
Cultural or Religious Origin: China
Purpose: Celebrate the new year.
Symbols/Practices: Silk dragon in a grand parade is a symbol of strength. According to legend, the dragon hibernates most of the year, so people throw firecrackers to keep the dragon awake. Each new year is symbolized by a Zodiacal animal that predicts the characteristics of that year. 2016 is the year of the monkey and 2017 will be the year of the rooster.
Traditions: Many Chinese children dress in new clothes. People carry lanterns and join in a huge parade led by a silk dragon. People take time off of work for seven days and celebrate the feast with family. Learn more:
http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/chinese-new-year

Diwali
Cultural or Religious Origins: Hindu, India
Purpose: The festival of lights honors Lakshmi, India’s goddess of prosperity. It celebrates the inner light that protects all from spiritual darkness.
Symbols/Practices: Millions of lighted clay saucers with oil and a cotton wick are placed near houses and along roads at night.
Traditions: Women float these saucers in the sacred Ganges River, hoping the saucers will reach the other side still lit. Farmers dress up their cows with decorations and treat them with respect. The farmers show their thanks to the cows for helping the farmers earn a living. Learn more:
http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/diwali/

La Posada
Cultural or Religious Origins: Mexico and parts of Central America, Christian
Purpose: Reenacts the journey Joseph and Mary took to find shelter to give birth to their son, Jesus. It is a festival of acceptance asking, “Who will receive the child?”
Symbols/Practices: Candles are lit, songs are sung, prayer are offered and, actors dress as Mary and Joseph.
Traditions: People celebrate through song and prayer doing musical re-enactments of the journey. In Mexico and many parts of Central America, people celebrate La Posada in church during the nine days before Christmas. It is a reenactment of the journey Joseph and Mary took to find shelter before the birth of their child, Jesus. Learn more:
http://gomexico.about.com/od/festivalsholidays/a/posadas.htm

Boxing Day
Cultural or Religious Origins: United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Holland
Purpose: To share gratitude and give to the poor.
Symbols/Practices: Alms boxes are placed in churches to collect donations for the poor.
Traditions: Servants were given the day off as a holiday. Charitable works are performed. And now major sporting events take place. Learn more:
http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/boxingday.shtml

Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr
Cultural or Religious Origin: Islam, Muslim
Purpose: An entire month is spent re-focusing on Allah (God) and participating in self-sacrifice to cleanse the spirit.
Symbols/Practices: The crescent moon and a star are shown to indicate a month of crescent moons in the night sky. Participants pray daily in mosques. On Eid al-Fitr, they break the fast by dressing in their finest clothing, decorating homes with lights and decorations and giving treats to kids.
Traditions: Not only do celebrants abstain from food, drink, smoke, sexual activity and immoral behavior during the days of Ramadan, they also work to purify their lives by forgiving others and behaving and thinking in positive, ethical ways. They break their fast each day by eating with family and friends after sunset. Breaking the fast on Eid al-Fitr involves making contributions to the poor and gratefulness.
http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/ramadan

Omisoka
Cultural or Religious Origin: Japan
Purpose: This is the Japanese New Year.
Symbols/Practices: Families thoroughly their clean houses to purify it.
Traditions: People remove any clutter and clean their homes to purify them for the new year. They have a giant feast with traditional foods. There’s a national talent competition that families watch until midnight. Bells ring at midnight symbolizing the many forms of human suffering and people go to pray at Shinto shrines.
http://www.kidzworld.com/article/26414-omisoka-japanese-new-year

St. Lucia Day
Cultural or Religious Origin: Sweden
Purpose: To honor a third-century saint who was known as a “bearer of light” through dark Swedish winters.
Symbols/Practices: With a wreath of burning candles worn on their heads, girls dress as Lucia brides in long white gowns with red sashes.
Traditions: The Lucia brides wake up their families by singing songs and bringing them coffee and twisted saffron buns called “Lucia cats.”
https://sweden.se/culture-traditions/lucia/

Christmas
Cultural or Religious Origin: Christianity and Secular
Purpose: To celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, believed by Christians to be the son of God. For the non-religious, the purpose is to give gifts, receive gifts from Santa Claus and celebrate with loved ones.
Symbols/Practices: Santa Claus was originally named after St. Nicolas, a bishop in Turkey, who was a giver of gifts to children. The evergreen tree was originally a German tradition believed to ward off evil spirits. The star is the guiding light that led to the animal manger where the baby was born.
Traditions: Presents are delivered in secret by Santa Claus on Christmas Eve while families are sleeping. Families and friends exchange gifts. Learn more:
http://www.history.com/topics/christmas

Learn more about these beautiful and meaning-filled world holidays with your children and open their eyes to different beliefs and ways of recognizing the season and passages of time. Here are a couple of children’s books to take the next step.

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Children Just Like Me – Celebrations by Anabel Kindersley – Contains beautiful photographs along with descriptions of traditions from numerous world holidays.

 

 

 

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Kids Around the World Celebrate! The Best Feasts and Festivals from Many Lands by Lynda Jones – An illustrated guide to many different celebrations around the world.

 

 

Other Related Articles:

How Can Giving Become More Meaningful? 

How Can You Guide Your Kids to Become Holiday Helpers?

Do Your Kids Get Upset When Leaving Parties? Try the Snowball Goodbye.

Have You Tried Hot Chocolate Breathing? Teach Your Children about Deep Breathing during this Busy Season.

Video Short: Creating an Enjoyable Family Dinner.

 

Essential Conversations to Prepare Children for Life

By Guest Author, Jenny Woo

“What are the most life-defining pieces of wisdom and memories that I could leave with my children and be in peace knowing that I have prepared them for life?” I’ve been pondering over this question nonstop. With the sudden passing of yet another friend, I felt the looming urgency to “figure it out” for my twins and tween.

If only life decisions consisted of a finite set of multiple choices. And with such a thing as the right answer!

As parents and teachers, we strive to celebrate the unique identities of our children, yet their diverse needs also challenge us. I have three incredibly different children. Different personalities, preferences, and trajectories. My husband and I have learned to adjust our language and expectations based on the needs and developmental stages of each of our children. At the same time, the educator in me wondered: what are the common denominators of life’s core wisdom that will prepare all children for life? How and where would they get this bottled-up essence of life?

My research in early childhood at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and my former experience coaching thousands of adults in companies and schools led me to advocate for the importance of social and emotional development. Whether it’s coaching a high-potential Vice President of a Fortune 500 company or developing a recent college graduate, I noticed that the most detrimental barriers that prevented them from realizing their potentials were their lack of self-awareness, self-management, and relationship skills. I am not alone. Eight in ten employers identify social and emotional skills as the most important to success yet also the hardest skills to find.1

Many of the seemingly “well-put-together” executives and parents I had coached looked perfect and well-rounded on paper. They were in a branded career, went to an excellent university, and had several extracurricular talents. Yet, as the executive educator, Marshall Goldsmith had famously coined: “what got you here won’t get you there.”2 I saw some of the best and brightest struggle to get promoted to the big role at work or to reinvent themselves in life. It wasn’t that they lacked knowledge or capabilities. It was that their emotions and egos got in the way.

Academic success does not equate to life success. In the real world, when do we ever only work with people our age (aka grade level) and sorted ourselves by IQ (aka class level)? To be prepared for life, we need a much broader understanding of our internal (self-awareness) and external worlds (social-awareness).

Here are three practices that we, as educators and parents, could do today that will not only prepare our children for life but for ourselves too.

Embrace failure

What does the little voice in your head say when you make a mistake? How do you respond when your child comes home with a bad grade on a test? Research shows that how parents perceive and react to failure predicted their children’s view of failure.3 Imagine, even if you had the best intention of supporting your child’s growth, when you regularly blow up when your child makes a mistake or mishap, you could be inadvertently giving off the signal that mistakes are the end of the world. In the workplace, I’ve seen clients who, despite ample resources and support, struggled to make the next career leap because their fear of failure stood in their ways — imposing self-saboteurs — that were mentally and at times, physically debilitating.

Ask for Help

All too often, I see children fail a class or employees fired at work because they remained silent for too long, either because they were too embarrassed to ask for help or they didn’t know that asking for help was an option. People who “made it” in life are more often than not portrayed as those who overcame the adversities of life through sheer grit. As a result, asking for help can be seen as a sign of weakness. In reality, it’s about recognizing your strengths and needs, and in response, utilizing available resources accordingly. Practice asking for help in front of your child. Show your child that asking for help is a responsible thing to do, just like giving help to others when you can.

Share Power

Allow others, especially your child, to have a seat at the table, literally and figuratively. Value the voice and opinions of your child. Parents and children fight when there is a perceived imbalance of power dominance, in which case, feelings are hurt and harsh words are exchanged. Sharing power starts with mutual respect. Instead of starting from a place of positional differences, start from a place of shared appreciation for each other’s dignities.

Want help with more actionable conversations that prepare children (and adults) for life?

Check out 2018 Parents’ Choice Award winner, 52 Essential Conversations, a social and emotional skills building game available on Amazon (http://amazon.com/dp/B07FKSQV47) and Mind Brain Parenting (http://mindbrainparenting.org) created by Jenny Woo.

References

1Cunningham, W., & Villasenor, P. (2016). Employer voices, employer demands, and implications for public skills: Development policy connecting the labor and education sectors. Washington, DC: World Bank Group.

2Goldsmith, M., Reiter, M., Bunn, C., & Clester, S. (2011). What got you here won’t get you there (1st ed.). Mundelein, IL: Writers of the Round Table Press/Round Table Comics.

3Haimovitz, K., & Dweck, C. (n.d.). Parents’ Views of Failure Predict Children’s Fixed and Growth Intelligence Mind-Sets. Psychological Science27(6), 859–869. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797616639727

About the Author:

Jenny Woo is a Harvard-trained educator, mom of 3, and founder of Mind Brain Parenting. She has dedicated her career to developing small and big people, holding roles such as parent coach, cognitive neuroscience researcher, school administrator, university lecturer, HR manager, and human capital consultant. Her social-emotional learning game, 52 Essential Conversations was featured by Harvard University and won the 2018 Parents’ Choice Award.

CPCK Note:

What an absolute treat to learn from the wisdom of Jenny Woo! She integrates her professional knowledge of children’s social and emotional development with her role as a Mom seamlessly. My family played the 52 Essential Conversations Card Game and we laughed together and cried together (truly!). It inspired deep and meaningful conversations and I know we will return to it time and again. This goes on my giving list this holiday season!

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