confident parents confident kids

And Baby Makes Four, Five, or Six? Preparing New or Experienced Siblings for a Baby

preparing-for-a-new-baby-by-jennifer-miller“I hope she cares when the baby is here because I keep telling her about it, and she doesn’t seem to react or connect with the fact that a baby in on the way.”

“My son is super excited about the birth of his baby sister. He gently pats my growing tummy every day.”

“My daughter shows me all of the ways she is going to be a good sister by swaddling her baby doll and carrying her around, talking to her.”

In those nine months of preparation, while you are physically and emotionally preparing for another person to join your intimate household, your child is also anticipating, in his or her own individual way, the baby to come. He may be thinking as you may be, “What will life be like? And how will my life change?”

With your first child, perhaps you had work pressures finalizing projects in order to allow for time off. And then, you probably focused on each step of your pregnancy reading about your body’s changes and the baby’s rapid development. But now, with one, two or more children already living in your bustling household, you are likely not relishing in your body’s and the baby’s changes but multi-tasking in preparing the items you need and the space the baby will occupy all the while keeping up with work and a full family’s set of needs. It can feel like a hectic time. But it’s worth considering how you will prepare yourself and your children for the arrival of the baby and their new role as a sibling.

Adding a new family member represents a significant life change. And as such, there are ways you can support yourself, your partner and your children to a.) understand how adults and children tend to react in times of transition, and b.) consider what temporary supports you can create in order to pave your way. Here are some considerations in adjusting your own expectations and perspectives related to your children’s feelings and resulting behavior during and especially after the baby is born.

Emotions will be more intense. Though having a baby is a joyful experience – and for some individuals, they may expect you to only feel joyful about the experience – in truth, the anticipation, and experience of having a baby is highly stressful and will produce a multitude of complex feelings. Adults and children alike can feel sadness over the loss of the life they had as just three, for example. They may worry about the time they will not have to spend solely with the others as the baby divides attention. They may actively fear the change. They may feel guilt for those aforementioned feelings. And they can become frustrated as the encroaching preparations for the baby replaces some of the focus on their goals, needs, and desires. Seemingly small, insignificant occurrences – like temporarily losing a small toy – can trigger great upset because of the bubbling emotions just under the surface about the bigger family changes.

Children typically show regressive behaviors. If you have a preschooler that has recently mastered potty training, she may fall back into old habits and have accidents. If you have a fourth grader, her desire to focus on friends and her newly found independence may quickly revert to needing more focused attention from Mom. Her actions may resemble what you remember from her earlier years when she needed you in order to feel safe.

Children will feel more vulnerable. Their survival instinct – fight or flight – will kick in more frequently. We are hard-wired to need our parents’ attention for our very survival. Children feel that sense of need to a greater or lesser degree throughout childhood even into adolescence with the deep realization that they have not yet learned how to survive without your support. When you recognize that your child is in survival mode, in other words, feeling threatened and upset, know that you will be able to communicate little if anything until they have calmed down and been reassured.

The way you prepare your children can differ relative to their age, stage, and understanding of your growing family. The following are ideas of simple ways you can help your child at multiple ages and stages adjust to the idea, deal with this big life change and embrace his or her new roles as an older sibling.

Reflect together on what babies are like by remembering your child’s baby days Get out the photo albums or gather around the computer to revinewborn-w-mom-and-dad-by-jennifer-millerew baby pictures of your daughter or son. Reminisce about the wonderful aspects of having a baby. As you flip through pictures, discuss a typical day for a baby. What’s it like? Does your son remember taking naps four times a day? Does he remember waking up every three hours at night to be fed? Talk about and raise your own questions about why babies act the way they do. If you don’t know the answers, look them up together. Begin to acclimate your child to a baby’s needs and day-to-day experience.

Read children’s books together about being a sibling and having a baby too. I’ve listed of few favorites as recommendations below.

Help your child define her new identity with roles and responsibilities. As you scurry to prepare, your child is watching. In addition to becoming a big sister or brother, how can you help your son or daughter understand what specific roles he or she can play. How can she contribute? Having specific helping roles to play will allow your child to take some ownership as a family member. And instead of directing your child away when you need to focus on the baby, you’ll have already considered a number of roles she can play to help out as a big sister.

No matter the age or stage, role playing can assist your child in understanding how she can substantively make a contribution. Use a baby doll or stuffed friend and practice swaddling. Practice different ways of holding the baby and involve all family members. If you have older children, try changing diapers as a game. Who can do the best job with diaper changing – gentlest, cleanest? And what if the baby is crying? If it’s upsetting for sleep deprived parents, you can bet that a crying baby will be upsetting for your child too. So what can she do when she’s crying? Can she gently pat her. Practice. Can she gently shush? Or can she sing a lullaby? Practice together.

Brainstorm a list of big brother helper actions. Get out a plain poster board and markers or your child’s favorite drawing materials. Label it “Big Brother Helper.” Now consider together, what can a big brother do when the baby is here to help? Think small. Can he go get a plush toy from the basket? Offer ideas and let him come up with his own. Be sure he has the opportunity to draw and write on the poster to represent his roles and ideas. And use this conversation to talk about safety issues. If he proposes something unsafe or unrealistic, this is a chance to reframe it before the baby arrives. “Your baby sister will be too little to play on the floor on her own when she’s born but we could lay her in her crib and see what she does.” Post it somewhere in which you can refer to it when the baby is present. Use the list to remind your child of his helping behaviors. And be sure and reinforce when he does them such as, “I notice you brought over the baby’s blanket. That’s being a helpful big brother!”

Create a plan for calming down. You can expect they’ll be a time when your baby and your child are crying at the same time both needing your attention. So why not plan for some supports to help you in that challenging situation? Before the baby is born, create a calming down plan. Is there a soft, comforting place your child can go to calm down preferably in a family room or common area so that he feels the safety of you nearby? Read more about Creating a Safe Base. But sending a child out of the room when she is feeling threatened by the new baby and needing your attention can escalate the problem. So if you anticipate being in that situation, when she needs you and you need to be with the baby, what alternatives can you plan for? Can she snuggle at your side? Can you share a blanket between your child, you and the baby? Practice getting upset, deep breathing together and calming down so that your child knows what you are reminding her to do when the situation arises. Also, consider getting a calm down tool for both your child and the baby that your child could take charge of to give him a sense of ownership. For example, could your child bring over a music box with calming music or offer a toy fish tank where you can watch the fish swim or play nature noises on a sound machine?

Plan for one-on-one attention with your child each day (even if brief). Designate with your child (and if more than one, each child in your family) a special only-for-them time each day that you can snuggle or share focused attention with one another. Perhaps it is a time to read a book at bedtime. Create a secret code and or call that time a special name, “Mom and Tom’s Awesome 20” for your twenty minutes together. Make certain that whatever you commit to, you are able to stick with over time. Gain your partners’ support in doing this. You can use this time as prevention! When you run into problems with an upset child needing your focus, you can always point to looking forward to that sacred time that you have together. And your child can know for certain that he will have your full attention at that time each day.

Enlist a team to support with attention for your older children. Do you have friends in the neighborhood that might spend some time with your child after school? Do you have a grandparent who could lavish attention on the new older brother? As you think about planning for the weeks after you bring baby home, schedule “focused attention dates” for your child in which other significant, caring adults offer him support and focus.

Keep consistent routines. Before the baby is born, go over your daily routines and any changes that will be necessary once the baby is present. Then, work together as a family team to keep morning, homework time, dinner and bedtime – or whatever your daily routines are – consistent. The rhythm that routines offer will help your child feel safe and secure in a time of great change.

Use feeling words and talk more about feelings. Generally, we tend not to be in the habit of expressing our feelings. That’s because it makes us feel vulnerable particularly when our emotions are anything other than happy. But because this transition time for your family is going to be highly emotional, it helps to normalize communicating feelings. Your child will get valuable practice expressing herself. And she’ll feel better understood as she is able to more quickly communicate her feelings with practice. Over time, experience with expressing feelings can de-escalate upset because your children feel like they are heard and valued when their emotions are understood by others. Discuss with all family members the fact that it will be a more emotional time. Perhaps work on a project with your children to draw faces with a variety of emotions to hang on a door or wall as a reminder and guide to point to when expressing themselves.

Use a timer. When the baby is born and you are settling into your daily routines, use a timer to avoid power struggles. Set the timer for the amount of time you need with the baby until you can attend to your child. Or set the timer when you need to limit screen time. Children five and up can take charge of the timer, set it for him or herself and own the responsibility of sticking to the timer. This takes the chore away from a parent of managing time.

Explore places, people, and plans together. Though you may be in a rush to check items off of your list, remember to include your children in planning. If you tour the hospital where you are delivering, take your children along with you and allow them to learn and experience the new environment with you. If you are interviewing sitters or day care providers, spend time with the new person and your child. Your efforts to get to know the new caregiver will help build trust with your child through the process.

Acknowledge that this will be a period of trial and error. Children and adults for that matter are trying on a new identity as a Mom or Dad of more children and a sibling of a baby. Kids can be particularly sensitive to any feedback you give during this time period. If you do give feedback, positive or negative, focus on the behavior. Help your child understand that there is always a chance to make a next positive decision.

Emphasize and recognize kind behaviors when you see it. “I notice you gently patted the baby. That’s a wonderful way to show love as a big sister.” You’ll help set the stage for kindness between siblings from the start. And offer lots of hugs, assurances and “I love yous” as your children work toward the realization that you will always be there for them along with the rest of your growing family.
Children’s Book Recommendations

unknownA Pocket Full of Kisses by Audrey Penn
For Ages 3-7
After the baby Raccoon arrives, the older brother, Chester, feels sad that his Mom is giving the new baby love and worries there won’t be enough for him. Ultimately, Mom shows Chester there that he is loved deeply along with the new baby.

 

unknown-1There’s A House Inside My Mummy by Giles Andreae
For Ages 1-7
A delightful explanation of what a Mom’s body provides for the baby while it’s developing in-utero.

 

 

unknown-2unknown-3I’m A Big Sister and I’m A Big Brother by Joanna Cole and Rosalinda Knightly
For Ages 1-7
These books give a helpful look at being a big sister or being a big brother and the fact that she or he is still loved just as much with the new baby but also, has a special new role.

 

 

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Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
For Ages 8-12
This is a humorous look at becoming a sister twice to a girl and then, a boy and the relationships they develop as siblings.

 

I struggled to find a book for tween/teen boys about brothers. Please recommend if you know of a good one! This one looks excellent and is the closest one I could find. 🙂

unknown-5Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel
For Ages 13 and up
This is the wonderful story of a thirteen-year-old only child whose parent, a scientist, brings home a chimpanzee and treats him as a son and expects the main character to treat him as a brother.

How Can We, As Parents, Live the Values of Martin Luther King Jr.?

hand shake for MLK Jr post

When we think of the civil rights movement, we may think of a country divided. But Martin Luther King Jr.’s message and the vision that galvanized so many to act bravely in the face of fear, consisted of values that any person in any corner of the world can aspire to. They are values that, when lived, have the potential to unify. So when you are talking with your children today about why we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., be sure and include those values that he articulated and modeled and that so many were able to demonstrate through their actions. Think about small ways in which you might demonstrate those values in your day-to-day life. If you do so, you will be honoring the memory of all those throughout time whose lives and livelihoods were threatened and despite that, made choices that aligned with the best of who we can be.

Martin Luther King Jr. valued:

Equality. He said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” We can share with our children the value of equality. Though there are differences among every one of us, there are more aspects of who we are that unite us. Every person has the right and responsibility to express who she or he truly is.

Ask: How can you demonstrate equality in family life? How can you help children understand equality not as sameness but as appreciation and respect for all? How can you teach your children inclusion?

Small Actions: Work on observing your own informal talk around your home. Are you expressing critical judgements about others? If so, children learn that judging others is acceptable. How can you begin to notice your language? And when you do, how can you incorporate the language of acceptance of differences, perspective-taking and compassion? When others challenge you, search for ways to learn more about yourself, others, and the experience. For more, check out the article, “Expanding the Circle, Teaching Children the Values and Actions of Inclusion.”

Hope. He said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” It’s incredibly easy to complain about our life circumstances. But if we view ourselves as individuals with choices who can learn from our mistakes, we begin to take responsibility for our actions. And we can work on forgiving those who have hurt us. We can reflect on and evaluate our mistakes so that they become our curriculum. And with that learning mindset, we have hope. Because there’s always a chance to grow wiser and make better decisions. We want our children too to learn that there’s always a second chance. There’s always room to grow and give our best. And there’s always an opportunity to contribute who we are to better the world around us.

Ask: When we approach a problem with our children, do we show hope (or do we show a resignation or feel they might let us down)? How can we incorporate expressions of hope? How can we increase encouraging words and our show of confidence that each family member can make positive choices?

Small Actions: Your reactions to your children’s problems model how they will learn to deal with problems so it’s worth reflecting on those reactions. Consider one time you had a problem with your child. For example, perhaps she got frustrated with her math homework and refused to do it. Think about how you reacted. Now re-imagine that same scenario with you expressing and demonstrating hope. Think through exactly what you might say instead. For example, “I hear you are frustrated. But I know you are capable of doing it and more. It just may take some time and focus.”

Character. He said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Character is the true expression of an individual, their integrity. It means knowing and expressing who we are – self-awareness – which requires regular reflection. It also means regularly examining ways we can fine-tune who we are and how we express to benefit ourselves and others. So morality or ethics is a critical part of the equation. We only pursue the ways in which our lives can contribute to the deepening of our individual expression and measure that in terms of how it also contributes to the growth and development of others and the environment.

Ask: What are ways in which we promote the character of our children in our family life? How do we encourage responsibility? How do we offer choices to give our children practice with thinking about consequences? How do we guide our children to consider others’ perspectives in any given problem? How do we offer a model of empathy and compassion by expressing others’ viewpoints ourselves?

Small Actions: Though children may experience an inner voice, they do yet have an understanding of their inner moral compass and how it may steer them. In addition, that sense of ethics is constantly changing in all of us – being informed by our environment and by learning from past challenges. So consider how often you guide reflection with your children. Do you ask them questions about their thinking? Do you ask them about their choices and the impact on themselves and others? Those reflections will help promote a child’s thinking skills so that they learn to go through those mental processes on their own when faced with difficult decisions. Find ways to practice reflective thinking with them and those experiences will significantly contribute to their ability to handle problems at home, at school and in the future lives.

Peace. He said, “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” We still live in a world in which many believe that violence can teach, that violence can solve problems. Martin Luther King Jr. taught that it’s impossible to use violence to end violence. Instead peace must be the vehicle for establishing peace. So many of us have inner turmoil we are actively managing day to day. As we work on dealing with our own pain and suffering, we make regular choices about how we cope and process those feelings. If we stuff them down and allow them to build and finally explode, then we are putting our loved ones in danger. Instead, we can set boundaries for fighting in family life such as, “We will never use violence or physical harm of any kind in our arguments.” And we can plan for our upset emotions ahead of time so that we never risk hurting family members. We can find ways to express and let go of our hurt in safe, constructive ways over time.

Ask: How can promote peace in my family life? How can my words become more empowering and less accusatory? How can my tone of voice become one of inspiration, not condemnation? And how can my smallest actions particularly when angry show that I value peace as the vehicle for promoting peace in the world?

Small Actions: The best way each of us can promote peace in the world is by starting in our family lives by not harming those we love through words or actions. Becoming planful about how we manage our emotions can save us from ever regretting our reactions in heated moments. Please visit the Family Emotional Safety Plan to download a simple template you can use for yourself and to start a conversation with family members on this critical issue. In addition, take the Fighting Fair Family Pledge which articulates clear boundaries for arguing while maintaining respect for others.

Service. He said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ The theme of service – of doing for others – is a core value for all of our greatest moral leaders including Mahatma Gahdhi, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Theresa. We have an epidemic in the U.S. of depressed teenagers who could not be so if they knew how their unique qualities could significantly contribute to the world around them. Giving offers us a sense of purpose.

Ask: How do we develop a service mindset among each of our family members? Do we promote and cultivate a culture of kindness, help, and support in our family life? How could we do more to appreciate others and offer regular gratitude for the abundance in our lives? How could we, as adults, model noticing needs and offering care for others?

Small Actions: Notice and appreciate kindness when you see it happen around your home. “You took care of cleaning up your mess and I didn’t have to ask you. That’s taking responsibility and I see you doing that.” Point out kindness when you see it in the world. “Did you notice that woman help that older gentleman through the door at the grocery? How kind of her to notice he needed help.” Do it enough and you will begin to hear your child finding examples of kindness for herself.

Love. He said, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”

He said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

He said, “There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”
So if the only vehicle for peace is by acting out of peace and love, then forgiveness is core to our task. And our job as parents becomes to equip our children to learn to forgive. They will encounter pain despite our best efforts. But we will give them the tools of resilience, of strength if we offer them guidance on the process of healing and forgiving those who have hurt us.

Ask: How do we forgive in our household? Do we find ways to make reparation for harms done? And do we find words and actions that show we are asking for forgiveness? And are we able to grant pardon when someone harms our feelings? Are there new ways we can go about including forgiveness as an expression of love in our family life?

Small Actions: Consider how you model owning your role and responsibility in any family problem. How do you articulate your area of responsibility? When you do, it opens the doors for others to take responsibility for their roles and it knocks down the wall of “me versus you.” Find times to have honest conversations without judging your children’s actions. Allow them to tell you their problems while you listen with compassion. They will come to you with bigger problems down the line if you offer this kind of small support in day-to-day situations. Consider how you handle hurts whether your own or your child’s. How can you model the language of forgiveness? How can you guide your child to think through actions they might take to make up for harm they have caused? For more ideas, check out my article on “Second Chances – Teaching Children Forgiveness” on the NBC Parent Toolkit.

Of course, love is at the heart of it all. Though outwardly, some may choose to hurt or exclude others, we can be certain that inside, they too feel pain and are convinced they are not loved yet require love desperately to soothe their wounds. Children can acquire their own pain not just by yelling or spanking parents but also, by parents ignoring their needs – whether physical or emotional. Show your love through your attention. Put down devices. Turn off the television. Take their hopes seriously. Take their fears seriously. Really listen to what they are telling you. That is the small, slow but powerful way you can best teach your children to love.

Thank you, Martin Luther King Jr. and all those nameless individuals who have demonstrated their values through their daily courageous actions. May we all attempt that show of strength.

Learning from “Building Powerful Learning Environments From Schools to Communities”

from-earth-to-the-stars-by-jennifer-millerAll parties – schools, families, and community members – share the responsibility for building trust. But those who hold the official power within schools and classrooms have to set the tone and lead by example.

-Arina Bokas, Building Powerful Learning Environments From Schools to Communities

In both roles – as a parent and as an educator – it can be difficult to understand why there are not stronger partnerships between those three entities – families, schools and communities – who all impact the same children’s lives and care deeply about their learning. In theory, it sounds right. We should work together, communicate with one another and coordinate for a more powerful impact on the development of our children. But the reality of making that happen is quite different. “Feeling voiceless and powerless is likely to resonate with many parents who tried to advocate for their children in schools,” writes Arina Bokas. And for educators, we are often told what we have to do without consideration for our own professional expertise and wisdom. Teachers and administrators can shy away from parents because of accusations and attacks they’ve received in the past. And frequently, community members are unclear whether or not they are welcome in schools and if they are, what roles they can play.

The newly released book, Building Powerful Learning Environments From Schools to Communities by Arina Bokas builds a solid case for a focus on creating true 41xn2ebj5l-_sx331_bo1204203200_partnerships between schools, families and communities and gives specific ways we can move toward collaboration no matter where our starting point may be. Our children’s experience of learning has changed drastically from the time we were in school. They are not only trying to understand their sense of self in relation to their school and neighborhood but now, because of our digital environment, they must also understand themselves and their relationship to the greater global community. Learning must then be supported by all of the adults involved in every environment in which children play and engage including their virtual spaces. And if learning isn’t reason enough, our current workforce demands social and emotional skills in order to function and grow. Empathy, communication, collaboration and creative problem-solving are at the top of the list for skills most required by today’s employers.

Though we may hold a desire to collaborate, the author paints a clear picture of the underlying beliefs that have become embedded in our assumptions of how education operates. She also tells the bigger story of American education in a global context. Whereas we typically see one data set showing other countries with higher performing students without the greater context of what measures were used and more importantly, what the education system looked like at all levels so we truly understand the best practices involved in promoting student learning. She shows how one country, for example, had the highest testing scores internationally but upon further examination, was providing intensive daily after school tutoring for all students to perform well specifically on the test. Yet we know “skill and drill” is not the highest form of learning and a sole focus on testing sets educators up for teaching in ways they know is not in the student’s best interest. Arina offers examples of using testing for accountability while also ensuring that the learning environment is supporting the whole child’s physical, social, emotional and academic development.

This book also shows how any partner – whether its a parent, teacher, administrator or community member – might practically go about raising awareness and taking steps toward building trusting relationships between those who impact children’s lives. From opening classroom doors to parents to asking questions about potential roles in education, there are numerous big and small steps suggested for brokering partnerships.

It was an honor to contribute my example to this book to showcase one small partnership between a parent and a teacher that made a significant difference in my child’s education and indeed, our family connection to his school community. Check out the following example from the book. And then, check out this outstanding contribution to thinking that is sure to spur action on strengthening school-family-community partnerships!

Feedback That Matters:

Using Self-Assessments to Connect Parents to Children’s Learning In School

by Jennifer Miller excerpted from Powerful Learning Environments From Schools to Communities by Arina Bokas (2017). Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield.

“I feel with my whole body that I won’t learn to read,” muttered my almost first-grade son with a furrowed brow, a look of disappointment and a hint of expectancy. “Say it isn’t so.” was included in the subtext of complex emotions. This from a child who couldn’t enter a room in our home except for the coat closet without encountering a bookshelf filled with stories of dragons, buried treasure and fantastic adventures.

Perhaps precisely because E, my son comes from a family of readers, he assigned tremendous weight to the process of learning to read. “If it’s an essential part of our lives, what if he just couldn’t?” he worried. My first thought was “Not possible.” But then, a second thought crept in. “What if he has a learning challenge like dyslexia? What then?” My third thought wiped worry away. “We’ll deal with it. Whatever the challenge. None is so great that it would prevent him from reading eventually.”

And so it goes with our children’s learning challenges. As parents, we often don’t fully understand what they are going through and what supports they are getting at school to help them reach their learning goals. So we do the best we can to reinforce those goals from home. For this particular challenge, I knew I could help. But how? We’ve read together every day since he was born. So what else could I do to encourage his desire to read?

First, his emotions were key to his success. How he felt about his ability to learn, his self-efficacy, was impacting his motivation to put in the practice time, the hard work required to learn anything worthwhile. And the twice a year parent-teacher conference that lasted all of ten minutes did not seem adequate feedback for me to understand and support his progress. I couldn’t count on his verbal reports since he offered little to no details of his school day when asked, “What’d ya do today?” There had to be another way of regularly connecting to his reading progress and supports in school without overburdening the teacher.

During our first parent-teacher conference in October, I communicated these concerns and his teacher shared with me a simple self-assessment entitled, “How Do You
how-do-you-feel-first-grade-self-reflection-by-jennifer-millerFeel? Self-Evaluation”. On this worksheet, there were illustrations of fish to be colored labeled, “Making Friends,” “Math,” “Reading,” “Listening,” “Writing” and “Science.” The directions read: “Color green for ‘I am good at this.’, yellow for ‘I am pretty good at this.’ and red for ‘This is hard for me.’ As I suspected at that time, he had colored his “Reading” fish red.

When I brought the self-evaluation home, sharing it with my son gave me an opening to begin a conversation about his worries. I offered my predictions of what they might be and he let me know if I was right or wrong. Yes, he was concerned that his friends were reading faster than he was. No, he didn’t worry about knowing basic words. He knew them. Yes, he was worried about getting through the text quickly and tended to skip words because of it. No, he didn’t need help sounding out most words. This offered such rich insight into how we might practice together at home. I quickly contacted the teacher via email complimenting her for her helpful assessment and asked for more frequent access to my son’s evaluation of his own progress. It was a simple step for her to give out self-assessments each Friday, have students complete them in a matter of seconds and send them home in their folders. But for me, it meant regular access to specifics regarding my son’s thoughts and feelings. With little effort, it achieved three levels of connection:

  • It connected the child to his own feelings and thoughts reflecting on his learning
    goals.
  • It connected the parent, me, to the classroom curriculum, the teacher and my
    child’s relationship to both.
  • It connected the parent to her own child’s feelings and thoughts about his learning goals.

Teachers have been improving their classroom practices through self-efficacy evaluations based on research for decades. “Personal goal setting is influenced by self-appraisal of capacities. The stronger the perceived self-efficacy, the higher the goal challenges people set for themselves and the firmer the commitment to them.” (Bandura,1993)

For students, research has demonstrated that explicit instruction in meta-cognition—the ability to monitor our own thinking and learning—can lead to learning success across subjects from primary school through college (Wilson & Conyers, 2014). Though students are assessed by schools on learning standards, it is a rare opportunity for them to reflect regularly on their own thoughts and feelings related to their learning goals though it can have a positive impact on their motivation and progress.

As for my son and me, the weekly feedback allowed for more detailed conversations about how he was learning. That insight assisted me in becoming more sensitive to problems and at times, avoid areas that might make him defensive. And I would focus on the small interventions I could provide at home that supported his goals. For example, I refrained from quickly providing the word when he was struggling with sounding it out. Instead, I would wait until he asked for help.

Often he would struggle through and figure it out himself. If he asked, I would only sound out a syllable to get him started. I found our time reading together became less of a power struggle and more of an opportunity for real connection. I watched as his “red-colored fish” (“This is hard for me.”) turned to “yellow” (“I am pretty good at this.”) at mid-year. And by the third quarter, it was a definitive “green.” “I am good at this.”

 

You can find Building Powerful Learning Environments From Schools to Communities at this link.

References:

Bandura, A. (1993). Perceived self-efficacy in cognitive development and functioning. Educational Psychologist. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 28(2), 117-148.

Wilson, D. & Conyers, M. (2014). The boss of my brain. Educational Leadership, Association of Supervision, Curriculum and Development. 72, 2. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct14/vol72/num02/£The-Boss-of-My-Brain£.aspx

Setting Goals for the New Year

new-year-goal-setting-by-jennifer-millerThe quiet of falling snow, the start of the year and the lull after the pile-up of holiday season events offers an ideal time for reflection. Whether or not you set new year’s resolutions, using the winter months for envisioning your best self and setting goals just makes sense. My partner handed me a deck of cards after the new year with values and goals written on them called “Purpose” cards. I sifted through the cards and picked out the ones I most wanted to cultivate in my life – presence, forgiveness, and parenting with love and wisdom. It gave me the idea that maybe I could use cards to help me consider and think through some of my goals for parenting. Certainly, parenting is a top focus in my life. And there are many values related to parenting that I’d like to adopt and pursue. But there are so many, at times, I lose track of where I should focus my improvement efforts. So with a helpful model, I created my own parenting cards for your use and my own. It wasn’t difficult thinking of 52 different ways I want to be, act and live as a Mom. And I find being clear about exactly what qualities I want to cultivate in my life helps me achieve my hopes and dreams for who I want to be. I share these ideas below for your own reflection. You can simply use the following list or print off the cards and sort through your own pile. Check out the questions that follow the list to prompt your thinking while you sort through them.

 

Here are the 52 potential goals for parenting. I narrowed down to my top five to work on for 2017. Try narrowing down to your own top five. Then consider the “how.” How will you do this in the coming year?

  1. Model kindness.
  2. Seek joy.
  3. value-hard-work-and-practice-card-by-jennifer-millerBe playful.
  4. Find laughter and fun.
  5. Extend patience.
  6. Learn about development.
  7. Forgive.
  8. Be present.
  9. Take time to calm down.
  10. Get out in nature.
  11. Plan for anger triggers.
  12. Deep breathe more.
  13. Be quiet together.
  14. Prioritize trust.
  15. Trade judgment for compassion.
  16. Recognize positive actions.share-grateful-thoughts-card-by-jennifer-miller
  17. Provide wait time.
  18. Facilitate sibling kindness.
  19. Listen with empathy.
  20. Ask open-ended questions.
  21. Learn about others who are different.
  22. Name feelings.
  23. Own role in conflict.
  24. Align hopes with daily actions.
  25. Delegate decisions.
  26. Take a child’s perspective.
  27. Stay healthy.
  28. Think creatively.
  29. tell-stories-card-by-jennifer-miller-1Gain fresh perspectives.
  30. Reflect on actions.
  31. Express love regularly.
  32. Offer choices.
  33. Step back to allow for discovery.
  34. Use simple, direct language.
  35. Demonstrate love through actions.
  36. Practice home routines.
  37. Accept mistakes for learning.
  38. Respond to old problems in new ways.
  39. Trust child’s intentions.
  40. Seek to understand before rushing to fix.
  41. Practice self-care.
  42. Express frustration constructively.
  43. Confront fears.
  44. Hug more.
  45. Show generosity to neighbors.dream-with-your-family-card-by-jennifer-miller
  46. Serve community together.
  47. Be kind anonymously.
  48. Focus attention on each child daily.
  49. Value hard work and practice.
  50. Tell stories of failures and comebacks.
  51. Dream with your family.
  52. Share grateful thoughts daily.

After sorting through the cards and selecting your top five, consider these questions.

  • Why is this a focus for you this year? What makes it important to you?
  • What are some specific ways you could demonstrate this quality or value in your life?
  • How will you hold yourself accountable to your goal? How will you remember?
  • It’s next January and you are reflecting on the year 2017. What can you imagine you did to incorporate these goals to improve your parenting and your life?

Let me know if these are useful to you! And here are the pdf files of the cards if you want to print and use them. If you love them, let me know. Is it worth creating and printing a deck of cards to offer on the site?

Happy New Year to you and all those you love!

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The Best of 2016

Back to School by Jennifer Miller 2

2016 was a tremendous year of growth for Confident Parents, Confident Kids. With numerous organizational and individual expert collaborators, 30,000 views from 152 countries and 22,000+ followers, this community of people committed to children’s social and emotional development is vibrant and dynamic and continues to grow after four plus years of dialogue. The coming year promises expanded contributions from current and new collaborators and deeper dives into topics that are of great concern for parents and educators so there is much to look forward to in the new year! Meanwhile, take a look at the most popular posts from 2016. Perhaps the first post on creating family guidelines for fighting fair could help your family begin 2017 in a positive way? Check out Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ best of 2016!

1. Family Guidelines for Fighting Fair

After some happy outdoor play, I heard my son E run straight up to his bedroom and slam the door. As I knocked and entered his room, his face was red and wet with tears. “What happened?” I asked. “Jonathan (E’s cousin) wouldn’t listen to me,” E sputtered between sobs. “I was mad and he put his fingers in his ears and sang so he couldn’t hear Kids Fighting by Jennifer Millerme.” It is infuriating when one person is trying to discuss a problem and the other is putting up a wall. Friends and family members will argue. But one of the keys to maintaining and growing intimate relationships is fighting fairly. Throughout childhood, kids are beginning to understand how to disagree and struggle with another person’s perspectives. They may be more impulsive and lash out or run away or even dig in their “heels” deepening the power struggle. I’ve heard many Moms’ laments over their siblings fighting repeatedly over the same issues at the same time of day when patience is low and kids are tired and hungry for dinner. So how can you deal with your children’s conflicts? Take a look at your own arguments. Kids are learning directly from observing how we handle conflicts with our partners. Do you shout or name call or run away? Whether we like it or not, our kids are keen observers of how we work through our arguments. Their sense of security is shaken, whether they are a toddler or a teenager when they witness their parents fighting. So they are eager to see how and whether we are able to resolve our problems and move toward a closer relationship. Read full article.

2. 50 Constructive Alternatives to Detention and Punishment

Ideas for Parents and Educators
“Are you okay, E?” I overheard a concerned classmate ask my son as he walked out of the school building yesterday at pick up time. “I’m okay.” he assured the friend. In my head, I was saying “Uh-oh!” bracing myself for the unknown challenge ahead. I ditched my errand-running plans and headed straight to the ice cream store to get provisions for Parent Teacher Conferences Illustration by Jennifer Millerour conversation hoping to channel the clarity of focus that only ice cream can bring. He relayed the story calmly. “Our class was coming back to our room from gym. Sarah (that’s what we’ll call her) was trying to push her way to the front. I was at the beginning of the line and she grabbed my arm and scraped her finger nails down it.” He extended his forearm and revealed two lines of broken skin, red and raw, from his elbow down to his wrist. After washing and treating it, I asked how he had responded and then, how the school had responded. E had said back to Sarah after the scratch “I have to tell the teacher.” And he did. “We were both sent to the principal’s office.” he said. Read full article.

3. Teaching Kids Empathy and Ethics with Money

If you are concerned about your children making a living in the world on their own someday, you are not alone. And because financial acumen is not typically a rigorous part of school curricula, we know, as parents, it’s up to us to help our children. It’s likely you’ve considered Pathway to Goal Achievement by Jennifer Millerteaching your child about money or have already begun the process. In fact, experts recommend giving your child plenty of practice with early money management by opening a saving account, providing a small allowance and divvying up Grandma’s greeting card funds to savings, charity and spending.1 These are indeed helpful experiences for children to begin understanding money’s value and its role in their lives. But the ethics developed around the use of money can be equally important and can be taught right alongside those practical first experiences. In addition, empathy goes hand in hand with ethics since acting as a responsible citizen means working to understand others who may have very different lives and circumstances than our own. Read full article.

4. Monkey Mind at Bedtime, Reflecting on Children’s Thinking

“I just can’t go to sleep!” E said summoning me well after our nightly bedtime ritual had taken place. When I guided him back to bed, he layed down and flopped his feet up in monkey-mind-at-bedtime-by-jennifer-millerthe air with his body in a constant wiggle. Since I observed his physical restlessness first, I gently guided him to get in his “cozy position,” as we tend to call it – ready to go to sleep. But as I talked with him, I realized, it was his mind that was far more active than his body. So I simply asked, “What are you thinking about?” His response was uttered with frustration. “Simon told me that Sarah doesn’t like me. My teacher gave us a huge project we have to work on. The toy catalogue came in the mail. I want the Batman…monkey, monkey, swimming pool, monkey.” Okay, that may not be an exact quote but you get the idea. He began with conversational sentences and moved quickly into words and phrases following his runaway train of thought. And I could tell he was viewing his thoughts as a “monkey on his back,” an annoyance that he couldn’t tame or calm. Read the full article.

5. Home Base – Creating a Safe Haven for Calming Down

“I call base!” my son would say at any place and any time in the days when he was first introduced to the game of tag. If he wanted to end Jack's Base by Jennifer Millerthe tickling or stop the chasing, he would claim a piece of furniture, staircase banister or corner of the room as his safe haven. No one could touch him there. And he relished the power and security of his base. I considered that as I recently heard from friends with multiple siblings who would experience an emotional game of tag during times when children were overtired or hungry or otherwise on edge. “Tag! You’re it!” was the sub-text as one upset child passed her mood to the other. Unfortunately unlike tag, the upset was not only passed on but also retained by the tagger and often grew stronger among all members of the family. When emotions are high, wouldn’t it be nice to call “Base!” to stop the escalation? What if kids were taught to create their own safe base so they could, in those heated moments, select to go to their safety zone? Kids may tend toward this instinctually – reacting to the fight or flight response – and hide in their room or under furniture. Read the full article.

And the most popular guest blog post of the year was:

Seven Surprising Facts about Emotions That Every Child Needs to Know by Ann Douglas

Imagine how tough it must be to be a kid, trying to crack the code that is human emotion. Just when you think you’ve got everything all figured out, someone tosses you a emotional-masks-by-jennifer-miller
curveball by reacting in a puzzling or unexpected way. Your mom is angry rather than happy about the fact that you decided to entertain your baby brother by spinning him around the room. Your baby brother seems to like it. What’s the problem? Or your teacher is annoyed rather than happy with the gift that is your latest creation. Sure, it’s still a little wet and it’s leaving a puddle on her desk, but that’s because it’s a brand new painting! Read full article.

On Thrive Global – “Morning Routine Redux – Adjusting to Winter Weather”

Adjusting to Winter Weather by Jennifer Miller

Arianna Huffington and numerous partners have launched a site called Thrive Global in which they focus articles on well-being, wisdom, wonder, giving, working smarter, and unplugging and recharging. I was honored to have my article published on this site today. “Morning Routine Redux – Adjusting to the Winter Weather” will help any parents frustrated with the additional clothing and the habit of nagging we develop to get out of the door on time. With a little planning and forethought, we can all experience a smooth and gentle morning to give family members a fresh and positive start. Check out the first paragraph and then, click the link to read the full article. And while you are reading, click around and explore this excellent new site.

Morning Routine Redux – Adjusting to the Winter Weather

“Where are your gloves? Uuuuhhhrrrr!” I growled this morning. Hats, gloves, boots, shoes and socks have been strewn everywhere through our tiny hallway and into our kitchen from our side door — so much so that I can’t walk without stepping on some article of clothing. I thought we were doing okay in the mornings. That first week back from holiday break is typically tough on the sleep routine — getting up and out of bed on time. But we’ve got that mastered now so we should be right back into our smooth mornings, right? Then enters the snow factor and sub-zero temperatures and we are not in as great of shape for mornings as I might have thought. And I’m not alone. Each time I’ve talked with parents in the past few weeks, the issue of the morning routine has come up. Here are some questions you might consider to help you determine whether it’s time to revisit your morning routine. Read the full article.

 

And for more on their sister site, The Huffington Post, check out:

The Power of Parenting with Social and Emotional Learning 

#ThriveGlobal  #AriannaHuffington  #SEL  #Parenting

Our Common Ground – Winter Solstice Traditions Celebrate Light

Celebrating the Solstice 2014 illust by Jennifer MillerSo 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 Wednesday, 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 Sunday evening 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 being. 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?

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

holiday marathon illus 001My 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.” And 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 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 plan-ful 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 your partner. Consider how you might deck your halls with psychological well-being this season! Happy holidays!

Learning about Some of the World’s Major Holidays – Their Uniqueness and Commonalities

major-world-holidays-by-jennifer-millerBecause 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. I was struck by the number of similar themes and symbols when I did the research for the following world holiday facts. 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!

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

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/

 

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.

 

 

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Video Short: Creating an Enjoyable Family Dinner.

 

Seeing the Holidays from a Child’s Perspective: An Empathetic Holiday Planning Guide for Parents

JSM singing with students 001In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, there’s much to accomplish in a short amount of time. Adult’s goals may include gift shopping for family and friends, volunteering at school parties, baking cookies, decorating the house and preparing special foods. But children’s goals for the season are very different. They are looking for joy, magic and miracles and are eagerly awaiting sharing those experiences and feelings with you. They do not care about time schedules. They are far too busy engaging in awe and wonder. So in the midst of your busyness this season, take a moment to consider your child’s perspective. And be certain you are helping carve out time, space and opportunity for their goals as well. Here are some of your child’s priorities and ways you can bring them to life this season.

IMAGINATION

When considering what gifts to buy for your kids this year, consider how the toy or item leaves room for their imagination. Play, after all, is their central vocation and toys are the tools of their trade. Play assists in learning and can move a child from one level of development to the next. Take a look at your shopping list. Ask yourself, “Do these toys leave room for imagination?” Be sure and include toys that offer children the chance to expand their minds through their own creative exploration. Here are some ideas for playthings that stir creativity (Here’s a pdf version if you’d like to print and use)!

Costumes – These could include old jewelry, purses, shoes, jackets, uniforms, halloween costumes, accessories like walkie talkies, badges, name pins, hats from any profession, medical scrubs, glasses, wigs, mustaches, beards, capes, tiaras, colorful toy weapons (* for safety reasons, never buy a weapon that resembles a real one.)

Stuffed Animals – These could be any and all shapes and sizes and types Play school, wedding, “work,” train station, airport

Household (Safe) Tools – These could include pots, pans, whisks, wooden spoons, empty food/cereal, boxes, calculators, type writers, measuring tape.

Forms – These couuld include out of date checks, restaurant order pads, or driving logs.

Musical Instruments – These could include keyboards, shakers, tambourines, castanettes, kazoos, drums, guitars, or any music maker.

Art Supplies – This could include colored paper, paints, markers, crayons, pipe cleaners, buttons, scissors, glue sticks, stickers, glitter, old magazines to cut up, grains (corn, beans, pasta), yarn, or leaves for tracing or rubbing.

Building Blocks – This could include Classic Legos, Connectagons, Magnatiles, Bristle blocks, marble runs, or wooden blocks.

“Worlds” – This could include train tracks, cars, houses, trees, roads, barns, animals, fences, stores, amusement parks, zoos, cities, ocean, characters, action figures, and habitats for animals.

Tactiles – These could include sand, play dough, clay, rice, pasta, and bubbles, (i.e. place tactiles in a bin and hide objects in sand).

Discovery toys – These could include dinosaur digs, Snap Circuits, nature exploration supplies – nets, binoculars, microscopes, magnifying glass, bug examination containers, and science/chemistry kits.

Puzzles – These could include age-appropriate size, number of pieces (challenging but not too challenging) and for older (8 years and up) – Rubix’s Cube.

Picture and Nonfiction books – Always include at least one book on your gift list! Books can set the scene and establish characters or settings for play.

In addition to these imaginative toys, you might consider – how can you give something that offers your child a part of you? This does not refer to anything store bought. Could you write a letter about what you learn from your child or all the good you see in them? Could you draw him? Could you frame your favorite picture of her? Could you write your wishes for her future? Think about how you might treat your child to an heirloom – a gift of your love – that they might keep well beyond their childhood years.

PEACE

Along with parties, shopping and preparations, declare a quiet time to be kept sacred. You may not be home at the same time consistently each day but consider if you deemed each Friday afternoon or Saturday morning as a time to be peaceful and quiet as a family? In order for kids and adults alike to truly enjoy the holiday celebrations, they also require some calm. We’ve assigned the time between 3:30-4:30 in the afternoon as quiet time in our house. That means no media blaring, noHoliday Quiet Hour 2014 illust by Jennifer Miller
running children, no loud voices. Reading is welcome. Snacks with high protein are encouraged (to combat the onslaught of sugar) and a hot cup of tea for Mom and Dad. I also tuck my to do list away so that I can’t look at it. And play happens too as long as it is not noisy and physically taxing. The essence is creating a calm, quiet space where individuals respect each other’s sense of peace during the designated time. Though peace may not be an explicit goal of your child’s, your patience and engagement in their sense of wonder is. This quiet helps facilitate that for all family members.

Talk about creating this sacred time at a family dinner or time when all are together. Be sure to agree on expectations ahead of time. What activities are acceptable for the quiet time? What activities are not acceptable? Also, an hour may just be too long for a quiet time in your household but wouldn’t a family agreement to stay quiet for 15 minutes a day be a relief to you — and perhaps to all? Decide on reasonable amount of time. Set a kitchen timer to remove the temptation to argue. Do it each day or week you are home at the same time so that the routine takes hold and family members begin to expect it. Maybe they will even rely on it. And maybe it will give each member the fuel to truly be present to the possibility of joy and wonder this season.

Also, plan to step up care for your own anxiety. Create a routine out of stepping outside in the crisp air and taking ten deep breaths before you start your day. It only need take a few minutes. Let the steam from your coffee remind you to breathe. This small gift to yourself can become an even bigger gift to your family when you have more patience throughout the long, busy days.

MAGIC

Though you may feel beyond or finished with belief – with the magic of the season, your children are not. Magic in a child’s world represents the unknown filled with hope, not fear. It seems we could all use some of that feeling, understanding and interpretation of the world around us. So learn from your children. Watch them and encourage their love of all things magical and find the hope within your heart.

“The secret of making a soulful adult may not be to bring up a child correctly; it may be to allow the child her own nature, pleasures and interpretations.” wrote Thomas Moore in The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life.

LOVE

It’s so hard to retain our focus on what’s really important when we are busy with our to-do list. But challenge yourself. Your children are watching and figuring out what the season is all about through your actions. What if they watched you get lost in the love – of neighbors, of friends, of family? That’s my goal for the season and my challenge for you: to hold love as my focal point. How can you get lost in the love of your family and your surroundings this season?

Happy December 1st.

P.S. Speaking of awe, my site is snowing!!! If you haven’t visited the site directly in awhile, check out the snow falling, http://confidentparentsconfidentkids.org.

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