Helping Our Children Deal with their Fears

It’s flu shot day. I have a feeling that today will go smoothly. But two years ago, it didn’t. And I notice a sense of dread creep up on me like a zombie in a haunted mansion. A few years back, E asked about whether shots would be involved with his upcoming doctor’s appointment well in advance. And when we got to the doctor’s parking lot, he started bawling and refused to get out of the car. I took deep breathes and watched the clock. An astonishing half hour later (seriously, I timed it), he finally emerged from the car to go into his appointment. After his shot that day, he seemed traumatized and it took the whole evening to recover. That next week, I took him with me when I got my flu shot at the local drug store. I let him watch and I asked a number of questions of the pharmacist who administered it. I quizzed her about all of the safety factors involved while E was listening. The next year, we talked about why flu shots are important and what can happen as a result of not getting the shot. And he, though scared, went into the appointment. This year was similar but E set out to prove how brave he truly was. Though I could tell he was nervous, he didn’t resist any step of the way. And I am proud he was able to face his fear.

Understanding fear and how it impacts our children can help us be more responsive and empathetic parents. We can learn how to raise kids who are courageous. Fears begin in infancy when babies under a year old cry when they encounter strange people or things that they do not recognize. The emotional response serves as a key biological function to help babies and children survive. A threat is detected in something or someone unknown and a baby seeks your help in those moments. Toddlers may fear loud noises, separation from parents, and large objects. Preschoolers may fear storms, the dark, monsters, supernatural or magical forces, or noises. And school-age children begin to fear issues we fear as adults such as failure, death, peer rejection, and natural disasters.

Fear is experienced differently by every person. There is no predicting what particular fears your child will have or develop. The key is to pay attention to fears and work to understand them. Modeling is a critical teacher so first, take note of your own reactions and anxiety. We can unwittingly contribute to and escalate any fear if our child reacts and we respond with anxiety. So becoming self-aware and practicing our own self-management over anxiety in those moments is fundamental to helping our child. I notice that I can hold greater patience in those times of struggle when I put my “teacher hat” on. All of a sudden, instead of being an annoyed parent, I become an intelligent and empathetic adult whose role is guidance, modeling, facilitation, and support.

We can learn a lot from a study done at Virginia Tech with expert scholars who have had a 60-75% success rate in tackling severe child phobias. I have summarized their steps here for addressing a child’s fears adding in my own perspectives and context for parents.

Promoting Resilience and Courage with Kids in the Midst of Fear

Unpack the fear. Talk through the emotions with a child in an open time when you don’t have other pressures. List out all aspects of what they are afraid of. If it’s the dark, what parts of the dark don’t they like? What do they see? What do they imagine? What’s the worst thing that could happen to them in the dark? Find out all of the aspects of what’s worrying them and be sure to discuss their worst case scenarios.

Begin with the least scary on the list of fears and become informed together. Provide education and safety information about that topic and the more interactive, the better. For example, what causes the dark? Are there more safety risks in the dark? What are they? How can you address them? Do you need night lights in the bedrooms and in the hallways? If there are issues you can research in children’s books together, that is a great process for exploring a high anxiety topic. Or else go and pick out night lights to serve as a safety measure. Involve your child in addressing the issue.

Take small steps toward facing their fear. Ask your child first with each step forward. And make it a fun. The experts at Virginia Tech made it a game with the kids with whom they worked. They did not push but stopped if children were getting upset. They “proceeded slowly through the fear hierarchy and did not move on without the children’s consent.” 1 For example, you might throw dice and take the number of steps rolled toward the chair. Or you could advance stuffed friends along with your son to see who might be brave enough to step forward.

Continue with small steps as your child consents. With each small step, your child will learn to trust working with you on his fear (because you are not pushing but allowing him to set the pace). You will offer practice in facing his fear through these small steps, inching closer to the darkness until he is ready to turn out the lights altogether.

Practice in varied settings. Even if your child has been able to face turning out the lights and has come through it triumphantly, he will better internalize the lesson if you practice in a few settings. So go to your living room, ask his readiness and perhaps take a smaller step first in the new setting by turning out one light in the room.

Return to safety. If your child struggles along the way, you can always return to safety. Turn on the lights. Talk more about safety issues such as checking to see if all of the doors are locked so no strangers could possibly get in your home. Help your child feel comfortable at each stage of the process.

Astonishingly, these researchers at Virginia Tech had a 60% rate of extinguishing debilitating phobias in merely a three-hour session doing what I’ve listed above. They claimed their success rate would increase to 90% if parents did follow up practice over time and in various settings with their child. If this method worked for serious phobias, then a process of modeling, defining, educating, taking small steps, practicing in a variety of settings and following a child’s pace can work for you and your child’s fears. Imagine the courage he will feel when he no longer gets tummy aches and sweaty palms when you turn out the light. Most importantly, the experience he has had in conquering his fears will equip him to face larger challenges down the road.

Debunking the “Toughening Up” Myth

First and foremost, we want our children to survive and thrive in what sometimes may seem like a cruel world. It is a common belief that we must toughen up our kids for what they must face in life. Sometimes that belief translates into pushing kids beyond their coping capacity. We may force them into petting a dog they are terrified of approaching because it is our belief that they have to face their problem. Indeed it does make children strong for them to face their fears but the only way they can truly conquer them is on their own terms. No amount of pushing, forcing, punishing or yelling on our part is going to help. In fact, it will do the opposite. Children may squash their fears so that they are not pushed by a parent anymore or don’t have to disappoint them again. But as a result, they might not only increase their fear but also become shameful, angry, and hurt in the process. That shame will contribute to an inability to take healthy risks which directly impacts their ability to achieve success. “Toughening up” in its many forms, whether it involves ignoring a child’s upset feelings or pushing them into his fears, places a child in crisis. And that feeling of crisis results in a fight or flight mental state. The child may become more defensive and trust you less. This method works in opposition to its intended goal.

One of the greatest challenges we face as parents are watching our children suffer whether it’s from fear or pain. We want to fix it – and quick. But because fears are about how an individual perceives the unknown, it is utterly personal. The only way for a child or any person to move through a fear and come out with confidence and bravery is for that individual to control how he faces the fear. You can play a critical role by facilitating that process and in turn, preparing a child for life’s challenges.

Happy Halloween! May you conquer your own fears and have patience as your child bravely works to conquer his own.

Resources:
Why Smart Kids Worry; And What Parent Can Do to Help by Allison Edwards, LPC

The Highly Sensitive Child; Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.

Reference

Dingfelder, Sadie F. Fighting Children’s Fears, Fast. American Psychological Association. July/August 2005, Vol. 36, No. 7.

Originally published on October 26, 2015.

 

On Thrive Global… 4 Ways to Talk with your Kids about their Celebrity Influencers

You-Tubers, E-Gamers, Reality-TV Stars and Athletes

Check out the latest Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ post on Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global. It begins…

“Adam just caught the most gigantic bass, Mom,” my son exclaims as if Adam is a neighbor, a school friend, or at the very least, someone I know. But I quickly realize my eleven-year-old son is referring to one of his favorite “YouTubers.” Adam and others like him are creeping more and more into my son’s conversation and I recognize he’s learning new terminology, visiting new places, and encountering a host of new experiences. For this reason, I am eager to get to know Adam, understand the reason for my son’s enthusiasm, and explore what he is teaching through his videos.

My son is not alone. A large number of U.S. children have told Highlights in their 2018 State of the Kid survey that celebrities are a key and growing influencer in their lives. Yes, parents remain the top influencer and second and importantly, teachers also capture children’s admiration. But increasingly our children also look to the personalities on their screens for role modeling. Whether it’s an e-gamer (playing competitive video games) or a reality television show star or a professional athlete, fifteen percent of children ages 6-12 report that they admire and respect celebrities. In addition to noting that those role models are caring and kind, they said they were generous, helped others, were smart, and knowledgeable. Read the full article.

Promoting Children’s Perspective-taking and Empathy through Halloween

The pirate, construction worker, fireman, train conductor, doctor, ghost and Dark Lord Vader have all made guest appearances in our house over the past weeks in hot anticipation of Halloween. Though fear may abound with kids worrying about spooky specters and parents worrying about nut allergies, cavities, and street safety, there is more to the Halloween experience than just candy and frights. Children are encouraged to be someone or something else for one night a year. They are not only permitted but emboldened to become a character from their imaginings. Halloween gives them a chance to think and feel from another perspective. The skill of perspective-taking is one that has been found to assist in problem-solving, communication, multi-cultural understanding, empathy, and academic performance.

But how does perspective-taking relate to all of those aforementioned critical life skills? When do children begin learning to take another’s perspective? And how can parents encourage the development of these skills? Perspective-taking involves interpreting another person’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations for action (see references for more on the Theory of Mind and Relational Frame Theory). This skill uses multiple executive functions of the brain including self-regulation, empathy, and cognitive flexibility (seeing a variety of solutions) making it a skill set that is now recognized as critical for school readiness and when in school, success in achieving academic goals.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dad: “Your three-year-old cousin…”

E: “I don’t like hot dogs.”

Me: “Your cool Uncle Jeremiah…”

E: “E, man, how ya doin.”

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

E: “I’ll kill you after dinner.”

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

  1. Undifferentiated perspective taking

Ages 3-6

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

Easy practice: Look for chances to identify different kinds of emotions when interacting with others. “Look at that woman’s expression in the store. Her face says to me she’s frustrated.” The posters with multiple facial expressions are great for expanding a feelings vocabulary. Check out this one. My son’s favorite is “lovestruck!”

2. Social-informational perspective taking

Ages 5-9

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

Easy practice: When you are reading books with your child, stop when you find a belief, perspective, motivation or course of action that would differ from what your daughter would choose. Talk about the character’s perspective and motivation and from where it may have originated.

3. Self-reflective perspective taking

Ages 7-12

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

Easy practice: Guide your children through a conflict situation by asking them, after cooling down, to tell what they are thinking and feeling and then, asking them to interpret what the other person is thinking and feeling.

4. Third party perspective-taking

Ages 10-15

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

Easy practice: This is a perfect time for a child to read biographies about other people’s lives that might interest them. Select a person together because you know something about the person’s life. Or read it yourself and talk about it with your child.

5. Societal perspective-taking

Ages 14-Adult

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

Easy practice: Offer opportunities to learn and experience other cultures reflecting on differing perspectives and values. Visit churches, synagogues or other places of worship outside of your belief system. Volunteer in a nursing home or homeless shelter. When you hear your children are interested in another culture, government or belief system, explore the opportunity through books, volunteerism, festivals, travel and other mind-expanding experiences.

Halloween is a holiday that helps us explore our fears in a safe way. It allows us to think about our mortality and our belief systems while having fun. In addition, it gives us permission to be and think differently. Take advantage of this great opportunity to practice perspective-taking with your children. Have a safe, happy Halloween!

 


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

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

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

Originally published on Oct. 24, 2013.

Spooky and Skill-Building Halloween Party Cooperative Games

Planning a Classroom Party or a Friend Party at Home?

Perhaps you volunteer in your child’s classroom as I do and are helping plan the annual Halloween party. Maybe you are a teacher looking for ways to both entertain, celebrate, and build skills on the holiday. Or you could be planning a costume party for family and friends. Whatever your role or goal, the following ideas are sure to make your little ghouls or goblins laugh with delight as they collaborate with their peers, approach scary characters in an entertaining way and build social and emotional skills. Check out these games appropriate for eight-years-old and up!

Witches’ and Wizards’ Charades

Materials: Index cards, marker

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

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

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

Cooperative Ghost Story Telling

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

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

Who Done It?

Materials: Accessory props like glasses, scarf, gloves, headband, costume jewelry

Gather around in a circle. Place accessory props just outside the circle like glasses, headband, bracelet, sweater, and scarf. Explain the rules of the game. All students will put their heads down, with arms over their heads, and eyes closed. Tell students that it’s the honor system and will be more fun if everyone keeps eyes closed. The leader will tap one student on the shoulder who will steal a bag of Halloween candy off of the teacher’s desk and hide it in the room. That person will then return to the circle changing one item on their person grabbing an item from the pile of props. Then students will all open eyes and see if they can identify who stole the teacher’s candy!

An alternative, perhaps slightly more challenging version, would be for the student to – instead of adding a prop – change seated positions in the circle and see who notices who has switched seats. This requires a bigger circle with space in-between each student so that the thief could sit anywhere upon returning to the circle.

Social and Emotional Skill Practiced: Collaboration, Social Awareness (Close Observation)

Monster Back Story

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

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

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

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

Robbery Report

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

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

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

Social and Emotional Skills Practiced: Active Listening

Mummy Wrap

Materials: One roll of toilet paper per three kids.

Divide kids into teams of three. Each team gets a roll of toilet paper. One child is the designated mummy and the other two are mummy creators/wrappers. Give the teams time to wrap up one team member by working together encircling the mummy with toilet paper leaving holes for breathing and seeing and hearing, of course! Teams can be challenged to wrap the mummy in such a way that he is able to walk while keeping on the costume. See if the completed mummy can walk across the room without unraveling.

Social and Emotional Skills Practiced: Collaboration, Problem-Solving

Swamp Monster

Material: long rope, Halloween music (and music player)

Leader shares the rules of the game. Leader lays down rope winding it around the room representing a safe bridge while Halloween music plays (think: “Monster Mash” and “Ghostbusters”). Students link arms and follow one another in a line along the rope. Students must keep both feet on the rope while moving forward to the beat. If a student is struggling, she or he needs to ask his teammates on either side for help. Then, the surrounding students can provide strength and support to help them stay on the rope. If a foot goes off the rope onto the floor (a.k.a. the swamp), the swamp monster “eats that student” and they have to sit out while the others try to stay on. Eliminate down to the last team of three students linked and clap for that last team of three who remained strong.

Social and Emotional Skills Practiced: Collaboration, Asking for help when needed

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

References:

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

Originally published on CPCK on October 26, 2017.

#Halloween #Parenting #SEL

Preparing Children to Stand Up for Themselves and Others

It seems impossible to get through voluntary playground duty without witnessing a child running with tears streaming down his or her face at recess time. This day was typical with one glaring exception. Walking up alongside the teary-eyed child, I spotted an upstander taking action. A second-grade girl was beginning to cry in a group of other girls. I watched her back up ready to run when another girl swooped in, locked arms, and walked her away. She saw an act of injustice and she swiftly and simply took action. And I’m guessing that the girl who was being picked on felt differently about her experience because of it.

Indeed, in a recently released survey by Highlights for Children of 2,000 U.S. children, ages 6-12, most said they would take action when they witnessed something hurtful happening.1 Most younger children would ask an adult for help, and a number of older children would try to stop the injustice on their own. 

It seems the desire to help is present in our children. We are raising compassionate kids; kids who notice others, feel their pain and want to do something to alleviate it. So the question then becomes, how can we offer them support in what they can say and do to act as skilled change-makers?

The recess drama that unfolded may have been a one-time incident. But if it actually was one of a series of increasingly harmful attacks by another or a group, then those actions could be considered bullying. You might wonder how much your child could make a difference in that kind of power-over situation. But did you know that more than half of bullying situations (57%) stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the student being bullied? 2 That’s a powerful peer intervention.

In addition, we, as caring parents, want to be certain our children are ready if they encounter mean words and actions. We want to know they can respond in ways that are confident, constructive, and draw a clear line against abuse. 

The following are some ideas for helping your child understand what she or he can say and do when under attack or witnessing another needing help. 

Ask and Listen.

Have you talked with your child about how peers treat one another at school during their free time? Did you know that more than one in five children (20.8%) report experiencing bullying at some point?3 In a study of U.S. students, grades 3-12, fewer than half told a parent about the fact that they were bullied.4 The reasons a child might not tell a parent are varied including blaming her/himself for the bullying, fear of punishment or judgment, and also, fear that the parent will go after the bully and that might make matters worse for the child. Assure your child that you are a safe person to talk with. You won’t judge your child or her friends but want to understand and help her stay safe. Also, it’s important to look for signs. If your child has repeated tummy aches and doesn’t want to go to school, ask if there are troubles they want to avoid. If your child seems depressed and you are unsure why then spend time hanging out together and just listening. Your demonstration of openness and trust may raise the subject that might otherwise remain a secret.

Explore Options Together.

What can your child do or say if he witnesses cruelty to another classmate? Talk about potential options by asking, “What could you do to stop the action without harming anyone?” Could he go over to the child who is being picked on and show he’s a friend? Could he walk that child away with him as I watched the girl at recess successfully do? Could he help guide her to an adult? What if your child is attacked? Practice some simple statements he can use. “Stop! You know you are wrong.” could be one. 

In the case of cyberbullying, you can encourage your child to take steps to stop the attacks. Learn together how to block a “friend” or “follower.” If you are unsure, each social media outlet has its own method. Research it together and if you cannot figure it out, contact a friend or help support to figure it out with you.

DO NOT encourage your child to fight back with words or fists. And do not model a verbal attack inadvertently by criticizing the attacker. A hurtful retort (referencing character, calling names) could escalate the conflict and put your child in immediate danger. Hold back on your own comments even if they are flying through your mind and keep your child safe. If your child is in physical danger, contact school authorities right away. Coaching him to fight back will be leading him into harm’s way – by the hand of the attacker AND in getting caught and reprimanded by the school.

If your child has been dangerously threatened with severe harm, do not follow these steps. Instead, call the school and involve the child’s teacher, the school psychologist, the vice principal – someone at the school level who will take it seriously and pursue the issue immediately. All schools by law are supposed to have an anti-bullying policy in which they have a clear procedure for dealing with it. Severe harm can be identified if there is a weapon or threat of a weapon involved, if hate has been voiced (racism, homophobia), serious bodily harm has already occurred or been threatened, sexual abuse or threat of, or illegal acts are involved such as, robbery, destruction of property, or bribery.

Secure a Safety Buddy.

Does your child have a pal he’s hung out with and counted on for years? If so, build on that friendship by assigning each other the roles of safety buddy. Even if there are new friendships built in the current school year, initiate a playdate with one and talk about the critical role of a safety buddy. These friends can look out for each other. If they see the other being picked on, they can immediately join forces, tell the offender to stop, and walk off together. If they see that the situation is physically dangerous or threatening, they can go find the closest caring adult to enlist their support. 

Stop Rumors from Spreading and Stop Name-Calling.

Do you recall how hard it was not to stand in agreement when rumors were spread as a child or when other children were harshly judged? Your child can walk away with your encouragement that it will truly make a difference. Emphasize that stopping rumors is showing leadership. Your child can help put an end to untrue stories spreading. 

It’s also easy to call others names when all your peers seem to be doing the same. But for the child who has been labeled, those names can hurt and stay with the person. Use the following activity entitled – “Our Hearts” – Teaching Kids about Name-Calling – to help your child understand the impact those words have on others.

Reach Out to New or Marginalized Students.

Also, encourage your child to reach out to new and seemingly different classmates. Is someone new this year? Make introductions when you are at pick-up time and drop-off so that you have the chance to model what that looks and feels like for your child. At home, role-play introductions and encourage your child to show interest and care. Find common ground with others and express curiosity for those who might have different skin colors, belief systems, or appearances. For more ideas on other ways to teach your child to be inclusive of others, check out Expanding the Circle: Teaching Children the Values and Actions of Inclusion.

Practice Assertive Communication. 

Asserting needs with a peer or a teacher or standing up to bullying behaviors is challenging. Practice being assertive by role-playing among family members and offering short and simple language your child can use. “I don’t want to do that.” or “You know that’s not right.” You can also offer simple chances to practice everyday speaking in public, for example, encourage your child to order for himself at restaurants. Or help him practice spending money by purchasing his own toy and talking through the transaction with the cashier with your support. At home when communicating between family members, use I-messages to constructively share upsets. “I feel frustrated when you talk over me because what I have to say is important.” This will offer valuable modeling and practice in dealing with conflicts.

Create Reflective Opportunities to Cultivate Empathy and Compassion. 

Find ways to demonstrate empathy and compassion for others. Families can offer service to others in simple ways like writing letters to senior home residents or making meals for house-bound neighbors. Build upon your children’s natural ability to be reflective and consider other’s perspectives. When you reach out to help someone, reflect on how the experience feels and how your child thinks the person benefitting experiences the help. And when another child acts in harmful ways, in addition to preparing your child to get out of harm’s way, reflect on why that child might be angry or hurt. Their actions are indeed wrong but there’s always a hurting child behind the actions. Help your child find compassion for those individuals too.

It’s National Bullying Prevention Month so it’s an ideal time to consider these important issues. Our children have told us that they have the building blocks for kindness and compassion. Now, it’s our turn to prepare and support them with the words and actions that will turn their positive intent into change-making actions.

 

References:

Highlights for Children. (2018) 2018 Highlights State of the Kid Survey. Highlights for Children.

Hawkins, D.L., & Pepler, D.J. (2001). Naturalistic observations of peer interventions in bullying. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2016. U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2017/2017064.pdf

Limber, S. P., Olweus, D., & Wang, W. (2012). What we are learning about bullying: trends in bullying over 5 years. Paper presented at the meeting of the International Bullying Prevention Association. Kansas City, MO.

#StateoftheKid #NationalBullyingPreventionMonth

Happy World Teachers’ Day!

Did you know that many U.S. kids say they admire and respect their teachers?

The Highlights State of the Kid Survey heard from 2,000 U.S. children, ages 6-12. Many said their teachers serve as role models for them because they are caring, kind, and loving. What a compliment to the educational community! Thank you, teachers, for building safe school communities by investing in caring relationships with our children. Research confirms that those caring relationships lead to learning outcomes! Check out these awesome quotes from kids. Teachers, we appreciate you!

Who Do Kids Admire? What Do They Worry About? And What Superpower Would They Choose?

It has been my great joy and honor to partner with Highlights for Children this week to launch the results of their 2018 State of the Kid Survey. This year, they polled 2,000 U.S. children, ages 6-12, and asked questions like “What do you worry about?” “What do you like about yourself?” and “Who do you admire?” We have learned a great deal from listening to children and discussing what might be the takeaways for kids’ top influencers – parents and teachers.

Don’t miss these video shorts of kids answering these questions. My favorite is when they are asked, “What super-power would you choose?” And then, check out my conversation with Highlights Editor-In-Chief Christine French Cully, a genuine advocate for the importance of listening to children’s voices, about what we can learn from children.




For more videos, takeaways, and other helpful insights on the survey results, check out the Highlights for Children State of the Kid site.

@HighlightsforChildren #StateoftheKid

Highlights State of the Kid Survey Announcement Today at 1:00 p.m. EST

Visit the Highlights for Children Facebook page at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time today to learn about what 2,000 U.S. children said about who they admire and respect, what they worry about, and whether they feel empowered to take action when they see an injustice.  Jennifer Miller of Confident Parents, Confident Kids will be talking with Christine French Cully, Editor-In-Chief of Highlights for Children about the results. Visit https://www.facebook.com/HighlightsforChildren/. And if you cannot catch the live announcement, we’ll follow-up with a link to the recorded video.

Learning is Social and Emotional.

The Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development released some new tools and resources this week for parents, educators and all those serving youth (more shared below). They gathered a group of distinguished scientists together to examine how learning happens. Because these top scholars claim “learning is social and emotional,” I thought I’d quickly and simply lay out what that exactly means and why that’s the case.

Learning is social and emotional because…

  • a caring relationship allows for learning. Yes, brain connectivity is strengthened through that caring relationship.
  • love and care seal in memories whereas fear paralyzes learning so that in schools where children feel unsafe with their peers or teachers, they are unable to learn.
  • children, in their daily growth and development, attempt to follow their needs to exercise social and emotional skills but require adult modeling, support, and guidance.
  • the skills that are essential for healthy relationships and personal health and well-being are social and emotional.
  • the skills that are essential for success in our 21st Century workplace are social and emotional skills. To learn more, check out the article: The Surprising Thing Google Learned about its Employees — and What It Means for Today’s Students
  • children, teens, and adults alike are working on developing these dynamic skills such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
  • teachers’ sense of confidence and competence contributing to their sense of well-being are directly related to implementing social and emotional learning in the classroom.
  • parents’ sense of confidence and competence contributing to their sense of well-being are directly related to implementing social and emotional learning at home.
  • the impact of both parents and educators on children’s social and emotional development is greater when both work together collaboratively.
  • there is a wider societal and public health benefit. One cost-benefit analysis of social and emotional learning in schools showed a positive return on their investment averaging $11 in long-term benefits to every $1 invested (and if you read this blog and try out the practices, it’s free!). That’s because there are positive mental health benefits for both adults and students. And in their future, it promotes higher salaries and greater labor productivity and reduces high-risk behaviors like violence and substance abuse.

You can learn more from this report. Check out:

The Evidence Base for How We Learn; Supporting Students’ Social, Emotional, and Academic Development

Check out this awesome video on “How Learning Happens”:

And I was honored to contribute to the following tool for parents. The purpose of it is for you to have a simple guide to initiate conversations as a parent with your school whether you are talking to your principal, your child’s teacher, or your parent-teacher association about social and emotional learning. The tool is:

How Learning Happens: Family and Caregiver Conversation Tool

Here’s another great tool if you are advocating for social and emotional learning with your school or community. Here are the simplified facts on how learning happens, check out this document:

How Learning Happens: Fact Suite

Finally, check out this following revealing brief:

The Brain Basis for Integrated Social, Emotional and Academic Learning

Thank you, Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development for these important resources!

Playing a Harmonious Duet: How Parents and Teachers Can Practically Connect Around our Children’s Learning


Did You Know?

Parents are more involved in their child’s education than ever before. In 2016, 89% of parents, grades K-12 attended a general parent meeting as compared to only 72% ten years ago. Additionally, 43% of parents took the next step and volunteered in school as compared to only 39% in 1996.1 Research confirms that the best predictor of a students’ academic success is parent involvement. Clearly, many parents understand that their role is critical and are increasingly becoming more involved.

Considering the importance of your role in your child’s education, why wait for a teacher to get in touch to begin the relationship? There are plenty of simple ways you can initiative and grow a partnership with your child’s teacher. The following is a proposed duet. First, you’ll find my recommendations for parents in reaching out and supporting their part of the relationship. Then after each parent tip, there’s a teacher tip – the 7 Essential Ps – along with key questions to consider and supportive tools too from Roger Weissberg, an expert and leader in the field of school-family partnerships and social and emotional learning from the guide, “Enhancing School-Family Partnerships: A Teacher’s Guide.2  Check out our harmonious duet.

Parents:

Become self-aware. Have you faced difficult experiences in your own schooling with teachers? Have you been humiliated, criticized, or yelled at many, many years ago but can’t shake those recollections? You are not alone. Reflect on your own history with teachers. Those negative memories could be holding you back from pursuing a relationship. Just recognizing those past experiences and the feelings associated with them that might make you more cautious when approaching a teacher will help you become more self-compassionate. As you lean into this challenge, you can remind yourself that these individual teachers are new to you and have your child’s best interests in mind as you do. Take small steps and become intentional about getting to know this new teacher with an open mind and heart.

Teachers:

1st P. Partnerships are a priority. “The key to successful partnerships is mutual support and respect.”2 How can you reach out to families now to begin a relationship realizing that it takes time to build an authentic partnership? How can you seek input about your students to bring parents’ essential family knowledge into the curriculum? If you worry about parent criticism, how can you approach your families as brand new to learn about and bring your own empathy and open mind and heart?

Parents:

Introduce yourself! It’s never too late. Find out one or two insights into who your child’s teacher is. Does she love ice cream? Is he a baseball fan? Is math her specialty? Stick around at drop off time. Shake a hand and introduce yourself. Start the relationship by making in-person contact. Then, pop the following simple tool into your child’s school folder along with a simple completed sheet about your own family. You and your whole family will get the chance to learn about your child’s teacher when she sends her form back completed.

Teachers:

2nd. P. Plan how you will reach out and establish regular points of contact. Relationships require regular contact so how will you regularly reach out to parents? And have you given them specific ways to reach out to you?

Parents:

Find common language. Educators are required to develop a language around curriculum and instruction that serves as their professional lexicon. Because they are immersed in their professional setting – school – when you talk with them, they will likely use terms you will not be familiar with. What if you were trying to get to know a new neighbor who had just moved from France or only spoke a little English? You’d work hard to understand the essence of what she was saying to try and build a relationship. If you find that your child’s teacher is speaking in another language part of the time – we’ll call it education-ese – ask clarifying questions. Seek understanding. Don’t allow language to be a barrier. Be sure and comfort yourself with the notion that you are not alone. All parents are in the same position trying to figure out the world of education so that they can best support their child’s learning. 

Teachers:

3rd P. Be proactive and persistent. How can you look for ways to reach out to parents through different communication channels so that all are reached (email, phone, text, website)? How can you let parents know about upcoming activities well in advance of the actual events so that as many as possible can participant? And how can you gain parent feedback on communications so that you find out when information is clear and when clarifications are needed? And how will you find out if there are any families that speak a language other than English at home? How will you be certain they are communicated with in ways that are understandable and accessible?

Parents:

Share Strengths. It may so happen that we meet the teacher briefly at the beginning of the school year and our next conversation will be at a parent-teacher conference where time is short. Teachers might deep dive into problem-solving making quick use of the limited time. However, parents need to hear about our children’s strengths in school. In order to promote their social and emotional development at home and at school, we need to understand what assets we can build upon to best serve our children. So be sure and begin with strengths whenever you discuss your child’s learning. You might share, “I see he’s come a long way in reading. He’s been working hard and consistently at home.” This becomes valuable insight for his teacher and opens the door to her sharing of positive assets she observes.

Teachers:

4th. and 5th Ps. P. Positive! and Personalized.

“Parents enjoy receiving positive feedback about their children’s performance – as any parent who has hung homework assignments, drawings, or certificates can attest to!” How will you share positive feedback on progress made? Check out the following tool from A Teacher’s Guide and have certificates at the ready! How can you specifically recognize the attributes of an individual student? Are there rituals or routines you can create for yourself to help you notice when students’ are showing their strengths? Checklists can be helpful reminders of the kinds of social and emotional skills you are looking to recognize. Check out this list from the Search Institute.

Teachers – Why not engage students in reporting on their own progress?!

Parents:

Clarify roles. Students spend the first days and weeks learning from teachers about their roles and responsibilities. Yet parents, though they are also critical, get very little guidance on what roles they can play. If this is true for you, you can define your roles and responsibilities in the following educator-approved areas (links are provided so that you can learn more about each):

Teachers: 

6th P. Practical and Specific.

“Parents are often most interested in specific information about their own child, and are very appreciative of personalized notes that demonstrate that a teacher has time and interest in addressing individual student needs.” How can you add a handwritten note to a more general letter home to specifically address a family? How can you offer specific feedback on the progress of individual students? Check out these pledges from the Teacher’s Guideone for teachers, one for students and one for parents – that clarify their roles and responsibilities specifically. Use as is or adapt for your own particular classroom culture. Also, for schools that integrate and are intentional about nurturing students’ social and emotional development, how can you use those systems and structures to involve parents (such as morning meetings, closing circles, hoping and dreaming, goal setting)?

Parents:

Reflect. How did you feel about last year’s relationships with your child’s teacher? In what ways could you do more to connect this year to strengthen the partnership? Check out this brand new Family Caregiver Conversation Tool I helped create for the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development that offers seven areas on which to reflect in conversation with teachers including relationships, empathy, respect, responsibility, communication, collaboration, and persistence. Thanks, Rachel Bellows of Mind + Matter Studio and Pamela McVeagh-Lally for your collaboration on this! 

Teachers:

7th P. Program Monitoring.

“It’s important to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of school-family partnership efforts throughout the school year. Gathering parent input and feedback as a part of this process is essential.” To what degree do parents feel connected to what their children are learning? What are they interested in knowing? How would they prefer to be communicated with?

Producing a harmonious duet between parents and teachers takes intentionality, energy, and focus. But we know that we’ll see the pay off with our children. They’ll move smoothly and consistently from one caring support to the next. They’ll feel seen, heard, and valued and know that their vital influencers are coordinating with one another to ensure their success. I can’t think of a more powerful way to support safety in schools by promoting a connected community. I can’t imagine a more powerful way to support our children’s social, emotional, and academic success.

 

Want to host conversations with parents about their children’s social and emotional development in your school community? Check out the free Social and Emotional Learning Caregiver Discussion Series from the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, offered in English and in Spanish.

Special thanks to Roger Weissberg for the many resources shared!

References:

Data for 2016: McQuiggan, M. & Megra, M. (2017). Parent and family involvement in education: Results from the National Household Education Surveys Program of 2016 (NCES 2017-102) [Table 2], Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2017/2017102.pdf.

Rubenstein, M.I., Patrikakou, E.N., Weissberg, R.P., & Armstrong, M.L. (1999). Enhancing School-Family Partnerships: A Teacher’s Guide. Chicago, IL: The School-Family Partnership Project at The University of Illinois at Chicago through the Mid-Atlantic Laboratory for Student Success.

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