Promoting Empathy and Kindness through Books on Animals and More…

One Mom and Educator’s Methods for Promoting Her Own Son’s Social and Emotional Development

As a parent and an educator, I believe strongly in the power of social and emotional learning (SEL), and in the power I have as a parent to help my child develop into a healthy and kind person. There are several things I’ve done to encourage my son’s SEL growth and development. I talked with my son from birth. I described everything in rich detail to him when he was an infant: all about the lights, stairs, sounds, and more, but I didn’t stop at labeling objects. I frequently modeled using emotion words and explained what they mean. As a result, my son was highly verbal from a young age. In fact, despite him developing multiple ear infections, the doctor chose not to put tubes in his ears because he had such a strong vocabulary.

I have video of my son at about two-years-old making his face look sad, mad, happy, relaxed, excited, worried on cue when we prompted him with “show me a ___ face.” I didn’t stop at labeling and practicing our own emotions. We paid attention to when other children were crying in a store and said, “I hear something. What is it? Yes, someone is crying. Why do you think that child is crying?” We did this to help him develop his sense of being aware of others so he would become sensitive to how they express their needs. I also took him to the park and on play dates regularly so that my “only child” could practice his social skills and learn that the world is not only about him. As a parent, I did these things and continue to do them because I believe it will help my son better relate to others. In some ways, my child is my own little social science experiment: If I pour all of the intentional practice of SEL into him, will he be able to fill others’cups later in his life?

As an educator in the field of SEL, I believe in reinforcing the foundational skills he will need as an adult. Another intentional strategy I use with him comes straight from my work world and is from the RedRover Readers program ( The RedRover Readers program is a literature-based, social and emotional learning program designed to promote empathy. Educators learn how to ask specific questions and invite students into the stories. They invite children to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences in the context of animal- themed books about kindness and relationships. So, while reading books at night, I ask my son questions, and we delve into the story by taking the perspectives of each character to help him imagine how they might be feeling and what he might do if he was in that situation.

My intention as both a parent and an educator is to foster empathy and awareness in children – which contributes not only to their own wellbeing, but to a kinder, more compassionate world at large. By now, using SEL strategies with my son is second nature, and it is deeply rewarding to see how the social and emotional skills he has learned continue to develop and even influence those around him.

RedRover is a national non-profit organization helping to strengthen the bond between people and animals and bring animals from crisis to care through emergency sheltering, disaster relief services, financial assistance and education.

Karly is a parent and former classroom teacher who oversees the national RedRover Readers program. She has led workshops on topics including parenting, SEL, self-care and humane education. She lives in Sacramento, CA with her young son, husband, two dogs and one cat.

Gift Giving To Parents…

Book Pairings

I love the idea of pairings – wine pairings, cheese pairings. Everything sounds more joyful in pairs! So I thought I’d pair the content of my book with some really handy parenting gadgets, tools, and supplies to a.) make your gift-giving easier and more meaningful and b.) offers parents the equipment needed to take action and enjoy and deepen their family relationships. Because every age and stage of a baby, child, and teen’s development requires a different kind of parenting approach, there are recommendations by age and stage.

For Parents of Infants and Toddlers:

Pair the Confident Parents, Confident Kids book with a CD of Lullabies. Here are two that I loved with my own baby and toddler and an additional one that comes highly recommended. These include:




For Parents of Young Children, Ages 4-7:

Pair the Confident Parents, Confident Kids book with my favorite feelings tools (listed in the book) or these recommended feelings picture books! These include:






For Parents of Middle Childhood Ages 8-12:

Pair the Confident Parents, Confident Kids book with games in which your child can have choices and control, prompt meaningful family conversations, or help you laugh together! These could include:




For Parents of Teens Ages 13-17:

Pair the Confident Parents, Confident Kids book with games that offer your teen support with dealing with the big range of emotions they will be experiencing, or spurring conversation with dice for dinnertime enjoyment, or learning coping strategies together. These could include:


Moments for Movement and Mindfulness this Holiday Season

Guest Post by Shira Ackerman, Director of Education and Research for GoNoodle

With Thanksgiving approaching and the holiday season coming soon after, we at GoNoodle know that many parents and teachers seek ways to help their children and students give thanks, offer gratitude, and find time to reflect on the gifts that really matter. As such, we encourage families and teachers to take some time this season for moments of movement, mindfulness and social and emotional learning, in order to help kids focus on the season in meaningful and enjoyable ways. In fact, movement is a great way to do this; as explained by a recent study highlighted by Edutopia: “The most successful social and emotional learning (SEL) programs use active forms of learning to teach students, and evidence suggests that dance outpaces other forms of physical activity and other forms of arts learning when it comes to improving SEL outcomes.”

Below are some tips, suggestions and recommended GoNoodle videos for infusing moments of gratitude, reflection and of course, fun and movement into your kids’ lives this holiday season: 

Show Thanks: Take the time to say thank you for the big and small gifts you receive every day. Consider implementing a weekly moment for you and your kids to show appreciation for someone and why you appreciate that person. 

Recommended GoNoodle Video: Be Grateful 

Recognize Your Own Strength: Appreciating others begins with appreciating yourself. Have kids name, use and share their strengths and talents so they can feel empowered and share all they have to offer with the world!

Recommended GoNoodle Video: Own Your Power

Give the Gift of Movement and Fun: Put aside material gifts and give your kids (and you!) what they really want and need: quality moments of fun, love, and bonding. A short family dance party with kid-friendly music and dance videos from GoNoodle will get your whole family, laughing, letting loose and enjoying your time together. 

Recommended GoNoodle Video: Footloose

Press Pause: Amidst our always busy lives, especially during this time of year, a moment of mindfulness can help everyone relieve stress, feel calm and regulate their emotions. Practice mindfulness as a family or give your child a mindfulness video to do when he/she seems overexcited or overwhelmed. 

Recommended GoNoodle Video: From Mindless to Mindful

GoNoodle provides 100s of free movement and mindfulness videos to help kids to be their best. To get moving at home, visit or download the free GoNoodle app for Android, iOS, Roku, and Amazon.

Thanks GoNoodle for these outstanding resources many educators already use in schools and that can be easily accessed and utilized by families. Parents, these videos are short and packed with helpful content. Use them to change the tone in a household, build connection between family members, and support transition times.

At Confident Parents, Confident Kids, we are so grateful for your participation in this global dialogue on parenting for and with social and emotional learning. If you celebrate in the U.S., happy Thanksgiving to you and your family! May you feel a sense of gratitude for your safety, health and happiness over the coming weeks.

TODAY Parents Instagram Take-over — Happening Now!

NBC’s Parent Toolkit team partnered with Jennifer Miller on her new book “Confident Parents, Confident Kids” to take over the TODAY Show’s Parenting feed – TODAY Parents. They’ll be lots of great content, tips for parents and information on the new book running over the next 24 hours. Don’t miss it!

Thanks for this awesome opportunity, @NBCNewsLearn!

Excerpt from New Book on Inside SEL…

Check out an excerpt from the new book in the newsletter that offers information, news and resources for the field of social and emotional learning. It begins…

In an exclusive excerpt from her new book — “Confident Parents, Confident Kids” — author Jennifer Miller shares a poignant example of how parents can nurture and coach their children when faced with various social and emotional obstacles.

“I hope you’ll become a brave, confident boy, mi corazón.” Mateo’s Mom would whisper to him when he was a newborn. And every day of those first months, his Mom would tell him the many dreams she had for him. READ THE FULL EXCERPT AT INSIDE SEL: 

Confident Parents, Confident Kids: Raising Emotional Intelligence in Ourselves and Our Kids


Tomorrow – World Kindness Day! Partnering with Go Noodle

“The Enduring Gift of Kindness; Raising Children Who Show Gratitude and Act with Generosity” on Go Noodle!

This week, Confident Parents, Confident Kids is partnering with an important organization. Have you heard of Go Noodle? They produce short 1-2 minute, high quality videos for children to be utilized by teachers and families. They reach an estimated four million children in public schools across the United States. These videos offer children joyful opportunities to move, dance, and practice mindfulness including focusing attention and activating compassion. In fact, as we spoke with other parents about Go Noodle, many were familiar from their children’s experiences at school. Teachers use these videos during transition times of the school day to get the wiggles out, change focus or direction, create a joyful climate, and boost social and emotional skills. We are delighted to learn about this incredible resource. And parents, there are videos geared for use in the home. Some of them are included with the article from Jennifer Miller this week including:

  • “Empower Tools: Have Compassion”
  • “Talk about It: Be Kind”
  • “Empower Tools: Tune into your World”
  • “Talk about It: Help Others”
  • “Best Tees: Be Nice”

“The Enduring Gift of Kindness; Raising Children Who Show Gratitude and Act with Generosity” begins…

A few days ago, my son and I approached a crowded grocery store entrance together. I watched as he noticed an older man walking with a cane. He quickly positioned himself so that he could open and hold the door for this man and then ushered me in as well. “That was kind,” I said to him as I felt lit up inside. And that warmth lasted through our shopping excursion. I found myself smiling more easily, speaking gently and kindly to the cashier at the checkout, and feeling more patient with the crushing crowd of pre-football game shoppers.

Research confirms my experience. Kindness is contagious. Studies have shown that people can merely read about acts of kindness without witnessing one and act more kindly going forward.1And it’s not necessarily the specific act that is contagious but rather, the expression and intention of kindness whatever the act may be. READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE AND CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING HIGH QUALITY VIDEOS FOR THE KIDS YOU LOVE!



BIG Thanks for the Birthday Wishes for the “Confident Parents, Confident Kids” Book!

My heart is filled with gratitude!

Check out all these photos that have been sent to me in the past couple of days! What a birthday for my baby book! Thank you all who are sharing in the joy of this birth!

Photo credits and great gratitude go to: David Smith (a.k.a. Dad), Sharon and Julius Perez, Tina Wainscott, Surabhi Talesara, Liza Bloomfield Adams, Melanie Wildermuth, Katie McGann Conway, Maria McCabe, Jennifer Haney Bennett, and Jill Abbott.

TODAY On NBC Learn’s Parent Toolkit… “How to Tap into Your Child’s Emotions at Every Age”

Want to learn a little about the content of the new book? Long-time collaborator NBC Parent Toolkit just published the following article today to get the word out. Thank you, Esta Pratt-Kielley and Gabbi Timmis for your partnership!

It begins…

Do you ever treat your children’s challenging emotions like a bug you spot in your home? If it’s flitting around you, you might swat at it feeling annoyed. If it’s a small bug, you could squash it. “Stop it. You’re fine,” you might say when your daughter is buzzing with worry. Or if it’s a larger bug, you might fear and run away from it or bring out the poison to kill it. In reaction to your child’s anger, you might yell, “Go to your room!” or “I just can’t right now!”

But what if we thought about emotions instead as a musical instrument? Indeed, if the vocal cords are the instruments of the body, emotions are the musical instrument of the heart, mind, and spirit. There’s no school requirement directing us to train our children on a musical instrument but if we do, it offers them a new voice for self-expression. The same is true for emotions. If we specifically train our children in how to identity, name, interpret and use their emotions, then they will learn a new language for self-expression. This language is one that doesn’t stifle, shove down, repress, and then explode, but rather helps them understand why they are feeling what they are feeling. Even in challenging moments, children can practice ways of responding to those feelings – or “notes” — in ways that do no harm to themselves or others. Ultimately, children who learn that emotions are vital messages from their core and practice healthy ways of responding grow their own sense of well-being and are capable of developing and sustaining healthy relationships. READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON NBC’S PARENT TOOLKIT SITE.

Sound the Trumpets! It’s Publication Day!

After years of hard work (dozens of proposals in the bin), research, collaboration, and loads (and loads) of anticipation, here we are — publication day! If you pre-ordered, you should have a beautiful package awaiting you today at your doorstep. Because you’ve been an essential part of this book coming to life, I’d like to offer a toast to you, Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ reader…

May you deeply believe in your power to contribute meaning and goodness to the world.

May you deeply believe in your child’s power to contribute meaning and goodness to the world.

May you love each family member deeply and love yourself in kind.

May you dream big for one another and support one another in the pursuit of those dreams.

May you commit to grace and gratitude. Grace for the mistakes we will make today and tomorrow. And gratitude for the care we give as we try, stumble, and persist.

May you embody confidence by listening to and accepting the hearts and spirits of your children through their emotions – even the challenging ones – and do yourself the same favor.

May you recognize and be open to receiving your children’s assistance in your own development as you assist in theirs.

May you leave a legacy of love that will make your ancestors struggles worthwhile.

Want to help?

Copy and paste any of the following into your posts today on social media and spread the word!

How can we become confident parents raising confident kids? It begins with teaching our children to honor their feelings and respond in healthy ways. Learn more in the new book out today! “Confident Parents, Confident Kids; Raising Emotional Intelligence In Ourselves and Our Kids — From Toddlers to Teenagers.”@confidentparentsconfidentkids

Wished you had a guide to your child’s changing big feelings by age and stage and how to deal with your own big feelings in the process? Here it is — out today! “Confident Parents, Confident Kids; Raising Emotional Intelligence— From Toddlers to Teenagers.” @confidentparentsconfidentkids

What are your hopes and dreams for your children? And for yourself as a parent? Discover how you align those hopes with research-backed skills that can be built in small ways each day! Check out: “Confident Parents, Confident Kids; Raising Emotional Intelligence— From Toddlers to Teenagers.” @confidentparentsconfidentkids

It Takes a Village…

…to write, publish and promote a book. Check out the incredible village for this book and please know – each one of you – how grateful I am to have the honor of collaborating!


Darkness, Monsters, and Snakes–Oh My! How Parents Can Support a Child Dealing with Fears

Based on Powerful Research…

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 a number of deep breaths while I 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 him 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 is 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.

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.


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

Originally published on October 26, 2015.

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