Bringing Closure to the School Year

The pace of activities and anticipation of summer can add to a sense of frenzy in these final school days. Children are excited about vacations and swimming. Parents are ready to shed the early morning commute to school and the pressures of homework duty. It’s tempting to race blindly forward into the sunshine without looking back. But there is significant value in taking a moment to reflect on the growth of the past year – friendships, academic progress and newly developed interests. In fact, your child will never experience that grade level or that particular class culture again.

Children may be sad to leave their teacher, their friends and the predictability of the school routine. They may worry about the loss of the stability and consistency that school provides over the summer. They may be looking forward concerned about all of the unknowns of the anticipated next school year. There are some small, simple steps you can take to ease the transition and also deepen the lessons of the year through reflection. Here are a few suggestions.

In Reflection…

Retell the defining moments.

I began asking last night, as my son and I anticipated the last day of school, questions about his year. I asked:

  • What was the most surprising thing that happened? 
  • Did you make a new friend? 
  • When did you feel embarrassed? 
  • What made you belly laugh? 
  • What were you most proud of learning? 

These simple questions elicited a range of stories. I could tell my son loved thinking back on the significant moments of the past year. And you can promote reflection on learning by asking questions about specific subjects and what your daughter knew at the beginning of the school year, how she progressed, and where she is ending the year in her knowledge and experience. 

These reflections help children think more about their own thinking (metacognition) and learning processes which, in turn, will help them when they return to school in the Fall in feeling a sense of capability, motivation, and persistence. At a family dinner, bedtime, or on a road trip drive, ask some reflective questions and spend time together thinking about the many defining moments of this past school year.

Recognize the important caring adults who contributed to your family – teachers, coaches, principal, school volunteers.

End of the year gifts or flowers for a teacher are one traditional way to show appreciation. But consider instead of or in addition to a gift, sitting down with your child to write a letter together about what you appreciate about that teacher and the past school year. 

Talk about it a bit before launching into writing. “What were some of your favorite activities you remember from this year? Why is your teacher so special? Do you remember a time when your teacher was especially kind?” are all questions you might ask before putting words to paper. My son was so excited each day as we moved toward the final day that he rarely sat down. So instead of a letter, I wrote some prompts for him to consider and he easily contributed to this meaningful appreciation of his teacher (see picture). Writing down what you appreciate about the teacher and the school year with your child can serve the dual purpose of a valued keepsake for the teacher and a helpful reflection for your child on her year. For more ideas on recognizing those caring adults in your child’s life, check out Appreciating Our Child’s Influencers.

Create a temporary museum using artifacts of learning.

You likely have a pile, a bin or a busting-at-the-seams binder (as we do!) of school work from the past year. Before recycling or filing away, why not use the accumulated papers as evidence of learning and growth and a tangible way to reflect on that progress? Use your home as a museum. Place the school work in the order of the school year starting in the fall. Line them up across chairs, the couch and on end tables for display. I line the dining room with rope and post papers and artwork with clothespins. 

Walk around as a family and talk about what you notice particularly when you note positive developments. With a little support from you, your kids may be excited to put together the museum themselves. With multiple children, use different rooms of the house and you may have a full academic museum for an evening.

Do the big book line-up.

It’s likely that most of the books your child read this school year are hanging around your bookshelves. Why not create a temporary display? What a sense of accomplishment to see a book sculpture with all of the stories you’ve read, learned from and enjoyed since the school year start. It may even spur conversations and reflections on your favorite characters and stories! It may also encourage further reading this summer and inspire a new stack for the coming months.

Create a time capsule.

A terrific early summer activity might be to generate a time capsule in memory of this past school year. Work with your child to find and decorate a shoe box or other container and mark with the name of the child and dates of the school year. Now ask your child to consider their older self. What if he came across this time capsule hidden in the attic years later? What items would help him remember the unique attributes of this past school year?

Catch a glimpse of next year.

While you are able with school staff still around, wander past next year’s classroom with your child. See if you might catch next year’s teacher in the hallway just to say hello. Perhaps talk with a student who has just ended the next level and ask about highlights from the year. Teachers are likely talking with students about their next step. And your child might be harboring worries about the great unknown ahead. Stepping into the new environment and even making a brief connection with the teacher can go a long way toward allaying fears and preparing for a relaxing summer and a smooth transition next fall.

Celebrate learning.

Show how much your family truly values the process of learning. Celebrate together the accomplishment of a school year filled with hard work. Go on a picnic. Gather at the local ice cream shop with friends for some delectable cones. Take a moment to recognize this change.

Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending. 

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In a few weeks. I’ll post on transitioning into summer with some new tools to set you and your family up for fun and cooperation! Meanwhile…

Happy School Year’s End to You and Your Family!

The Wisdom of Confident Moms – In Celebration of Mother’s Day!

This week, I asked questions of a variety of readers who are also confident Moms. Their insights and stories show the depth of their wisdom and humility and confirmed their desire to continuously learn and improve for the betterment of their relationships with and support of their children. As we share our stories with one another, we learn, we connect, and we deepen our own sense of competence and confidence. I know that my connections with the following women and you, dear reader, make me a better Mom. Read on and enjoy!

Do you have any specific goals or intentions as a parent?

Your child is not you or like you or maybe like any other child you’ve known.  I remember going through the checkout lines and cashiers smiling and talking to my son.  I wanted him so badly to make eye contact to wave or say something silly. Instead, he cried, turned away and hid behind me.  At playgroups, I wanted him to want to play with others as much as I wanted to talk to the other adults, but he wanted to be close by.  When I picked him up from school, I wanted him to want to tell me everything that happened that day. Instead, he would explode or shut down. I remember feeling judged, feeling like a failure, and upset with him.  I knew it was my ego, but it was crushing every time. I had to read a lot about introverted children to help me understand his needs.  

My goal is to empower him to live the way he needs to live, and the only way to do that was to abandon my idea of how a child should reflect my mothering.  My goal now is to learn more about how he feels the world and to help him express this experience the way he needs to do it.  As a parent, I wanted affirmation that I was teaching him and parenting him well.  I was looking for it in performance rather than in my own child. 

– Annette Roberts Dorman

Do you have any particularly defining moments for you in your growth and learning as a parent?

One example of many is related to my own internal understanding of learning and how learning takes place. Coming from a strong academic background (Arina grew up in Russia.), I used to communicate to my children that they needed to focus on their grades, as grades were indicators of learning. Especially it is true for my daughter who is older. Both of my kids are very good students, but there was a time period (fifth grade for my daughter) when she wanted to be in control of her homework, and it wasn’t a very good control. I knew that she was going to see it in her grades, but I let her “fail” to learn her own lesson. [Arina changed her views on learning from her professional colleagues and reading research that showed that failing was an essential part of true learning.] Her report card had three “C”s and a “B” and she had always been a straight “A” student.

Of course, this created a panic and an “I just don’t get it” attitude. I told her that I didn’t care about her grades. Rather, I wanted her to focus on learning and putting in her best effort. This was an intentional strategy to overcome her disposition of blaming someone else – her teacher – for not understanding. I asked her to do her best. Nothing more, but nothing less. I was ready to accept the fact that if she did her best, but still didn’t get an “A,” it was okay. It was a different approach that focused her attention on the process, not the outcome. It worked. She finished fifth grade with all “A”s. She is now in advanced placement courses.

– Arina Bokas

What roles do you play and what/who has helped you act as a confident Mom and work through parenting challenges?

I am a woman, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and businesswoman. Many titles, but the most important one is definitely as a mother. I have one son who is the light of my life. I found that blogging during my pregnancy helped me journal my thoughts so it became my high horse journalistic point of view. I would say fellow bloggers and Facebook groups that focus on positive parenting helped me most. I read everything to get ideas on ways that I can parent my son without spanking, yelling or using demeaning behaviors (name calling, cursing, etc).  This is completely different from how I was raised. It is both scary and exciting because I know that I’m doing more good by being educated, loving and leading him to positive behaviors.

– Tikeetha Thomas (Check out Tikeetha’s blog for more, A Thomas Point of View)




What confident Mom do you know and why?

My own mother was confident in her belief that her five children would grow up to be capable, independent, caring adults. She modeled those traits, and let us know that she believed in and supported us. She let us learn from mistakes, celebrated our successes, and was always available when we needed her. I have tried to be that mother with my own 3 children. While I miss her every day, she lives on in me and my kids.

– Mary Lynn White


Happy Mother’s Day to you, reader Moms, and to my very own loving Mom, Linda Smith who has read, commented and supported every word I’ve written on this blog and every step I take in life!

We celebrate you!

In Two Days… Free Online Parenting Conference

Please join me for the Happily Family Online Conference for parents and professionals about Mindful Parenting! This is a FREE global online event from May 10-14, 2018, bringing together over 25 speakers to talk about mindfulness, social and emotional learning, and happiness. I’ll be talking about how parents can deal with their own anxiety while simultaneously teaching their children coping strategies. Pick the topics that most interest you and listen to each day’s speakers at your convenience.

The conference is hosted by Cecilia and Jason Hilkey, creators of Happily Family. You’ll have access to inspirational ideas and practical tools to teach kids to be compassionate, capable, and resilient. Hope you’ll join me for this FREE conference. Learn more or sign up here! 

Happily Family’s Way of the Mindful Parent Online Conference – Coming Soon!

Dear Reader,

I’m excited to join my friends, collaborators, and experts in mindful parenting, Cecilia and Jason Hilkey, for the Happily Family Online Conference coming up from May 10-14, 2018! The conference is FREE to attend! Learn more!

This event is part of a global movement and a community of families and professionals who embrace a conscious and mindful approach to being with kids. The Happily Family Conference focuses on empathy, social and emotional learning, and resilience. I’m going to be talking with Jason and Cecilia about how to deal with anxiety in parenting – our own anxiety and how to help our kids! 

You will see interviews from some of the finest teachers, authors, researchers and thought leaders in the world of parenting and education such as:

  • Dr. Daniel Siegel (Psychiatrist, Author of the “Whole Brain Child”) 
  • Dr. Laura Markham (Psychologist, Founder of
  • Jessica Lahey (Educator, Author of “The Gift of Failure”)
  • Michelle Gale (Mindfulness Educator & Author of “Mindful Parenting in a Messy World”)
  • Dr. Christopher Willard (Psychologist, Author of “Raising Resilience”
  • Dr. Michele Borba (Author of “UnSelfie”, Speaker
  • Jennifer Miller, M.Ed. (Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids)
  • Dr. Mark Bertin (Pediatrician, Author of “How Children Thrive”)
  • Scott Noelle (Author of The Daily Groove)

Learn More and Register at NO COST here.

I can’t wait to learn from these experience presenters! Hope you’ll join me in this event that will bring thousands of parents and professionals from all around the world to explore how we can raise and teach happy, successful, compassionate kids.

I look forward to seeing you there!





P.S. Once you’ve registered yourself, please share with your friends and family!

Do You Know A Confident Mom?

Did you have a Confident Mom growing up or one now supporting you as an adult? Do you gather with friends and consider how incredible they are as Moms?

Though it may be hard to define exactly what confidence means, we know it when we see it. Perhaps it’s a Mom who does what’s right for her children even though it’s different from what her friends and family believe. Maybe confidence stems from the time she puts into her children’s lives and schooling. Or confidence could be evidenced by the patience she shows as her children deal with challenges.

I encounter Confident Moms daily…Moms who are constantly seeking new ideas and learning about how to more effectively relate to, love and support their children.

Coming up, in anticipation of Mother’s Day, I’ll be highlighting Confident Moms. 

Please share a brief example in the comment box below on a Confident Mom you know and why you see her as confident and I’ll publish all of the entries on Thursday, May 10th in celebration of Mother’s Day.




On NBC Parent Toolkit… Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day: Conversation Starters

Help Your Children Begin to Understand the Important Roles of Work in Your Family’s Life

What a delight to work with the NBC Parent Toolkit team on putting together an article and resources for today’s “Take Your Child to Work Day.” Although today marks the nationally-recognized day, any day that makes sense for you and your family can become a “Take your child to work day!” And not only, does the following article highlight the conversations you can have when you bring your child to work, it also highlights the ongoing conversations we can have with our children helping them begin to recognize the role of work in our lives, understanding and empathizing with the work responsibilities of Mom and Dad, and also, envisioning how they might shape their contribution to the work world in the future.

Here’s how it begins…

Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day can be an exciting day for kids; a chance to glimpse into the mysterious work life of mom or dad and see what they do every day. You may have conversations with your kids about your work, but how much do they actually understand about what you do? Taking your child to work can be a great opportunity to pull back the curtain a bit and start some important conversations about work, life, and purpose. If you do take your child to work with you, here are some tips to talk with them about what they experienced.

Make the Invisible Visible

Kids have a basic understanding of work, but when it comes down to it, they often don’t really know what their parents do all day long. “I think for many of us, our work is very abstract and hard for kids to get their minds around,” says Jennifer Miller, a Parent Toolkit expert and a family and education consultant. “So much of our work is invisible.”

Miller suggests looking for ways to really show kids what you do, and emphasize that in conversations. Daily or weekly, you may share some exciting or big news with your family about work, but what was the process that got you there? What challenges did you encounter? Who did you have to work with? How did you solve problems? These specific details will help kids understand what work looks like and that it is more than simply going to the same place every day. Bringing kids to work offers a perfect opportunity to highlight these details. “That exposure is key to starting the conversation,” Miller says.

Read the full article with numerous simple, helpful tips on the NBC Parent Toolkit site. And thanks Esta Pratt-Kielly for the opportunity to contribute and the incredible resources you put together to support parents on this important topic!

Here are just a few of the tip sheets NBC Parent Toolkit produced to share with their own work place today in 30 Rockefeller Plaza in downtown Manhattan, New York.

Family Flow

What is it… why you want it… and how to get it! 

“I had no idea it was so late!” my ten-year-old exclaimed lifting his head up after a few hours of finely-crafting origami Star Wars figures with his cousin, Grandma and myself who were equally entranced in our crafting projects on spring break. Clearly, he was experiencing flow – family flow. He lost track of time, deeply engaged in the creative work in front of him. The top researcher on this topic and author of the national bestseller Flow; The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, explains flow this way:

Flow is…

“that state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”1

Flow activities seem to have a few aspects in common. They are that:

    • there is a problem that needs solving; 
    • there is a sense that we have the ability to work toward solving it; 
    • we bring our creativity to the task;
    • the process of working on the problem is the focus (not the outcome or product);
    • the goal feels enjoyable, important or worthwhile.

There are also a few conditions that seem to work against the creation of flow. Flow cannot exist:

    • if the individual is feeling self-conscious (like others are watching and judging); 
    • if the individual feels she did not choose the problem but it was forced upon her; or
    • if the person feels anxious about the outcome or product of her work.

Children are already well-equipped for engaging in flow since they enter that state each time they are playing. Imaginative play, social play, and physical play are all sources during which children experience flow. And you, as a parent, certainly have noticed. When you try and stop the play to move on to the next activity, you often get a disoriented and upset child. After all, they were in a reverie of focused attention. Their goal is to keep the enjoyment going. Your goal to move on is disrupting their flow.

Flow calms. That focused attention is the experience of mindfulness, being fully present. And because focused attention is required for success in school, these experiences of flow, if protected and encouraged, can offer children the chance to exercise their self-control, the executive function that is said to be a predictor of success. They block out noises around them. They do not get easily distracted by the movements of others in the room. They are completely centered on the task at hand. Isn’t that also the kind of attention that’s needed when taking a high stakes achievement test or performing anything with excellence? The flow state offers that chance to rehearse the vital skill of self-control in an enjoyable, highly desirable way.

Not only does Csikszentmihalyi argue that flow is important in family life, he writes that it’s an essential ingredient in order to sustain and grow families over the long run. Without it, he claims families will ultimately become frustrated at impasses with one another and bored and disengaged. That’s because when we engage in flow together, we are engaging in learning. And through that learning, we are individually developing while simultaneously connecting, deepening our trust and intimacy. 

Csikszentmihalyi says that the formula for establishing family flow is trust and unconditional acceptance. When engaged in learning – and our children are consistently engaged in learning whether it is academic or social or emotional or physical – we show our children that we have confidence in their ability to learn anything or achieve any goal they set their mind to. 

Activities can begin as flow-producing, like a new team sport or a new friendship, but can change if parents begin to focus their comments and energies on outcomes as in, “we need to work toward winning every game,” or judging the friend as in, “I don’t like the way she talks.” The intrinsic value of the activity goes away as the outside voices begin to produce self-doubt. 

In the big picture, families can cultivate flow as a part of who they are and how they function. Though the positive goal we set for ourselves will differ from family to family, maximizing each member’s ability to learn and grow and maximizing how your family team learns and grows together can be a focusing force. Here are six ways a family might do this.

  1. Practice Real, Humanly Flawed Unconditional Love.

Here’s what the wise philosopher and poet – a go-to source for my personal renewal – Mark Nepo writes:

Unconditional love is not so much about how we receive and endure each other, as it is about the deep vow to never, under any condition, stop bringing the flawed truth of who we are to each other.2

Yes and wow! How can we do this for our children who hang on to our attention and reflections on their identity?

  1. Learn about our Children’s Development.

Learning about our children’s development extends our patience as we begin to understand why they challenge us as they do. Instead of irritation or upset, we can recognize the learning taking place. We put the frustration in its place recognizing – this challenge is a normal part of what they are going through at this age/stage. We can more easily grasp why they are faltering or even failing in some areas. In order to develop, they have to fall down or fall short. When we know that they are working on a new level of understanding, we can better support that development. This site often provides developmental guidance and check out the NBC Parent Toolkit for lots of resources on each age and stage. Make this the most important birthday gift you give to your child by reading about his or her developmental milestones each time a new age arrives. 

  1. Problem? Poor Choice? Begin with the Magic of Compassion.

When problems arise, if we stop, breathe (to calm down) and activate compassion in our minds, it will help us become responsive to our children and allow us to transform a challenging moment into a teachable moment. Compassion will push us to discover our child’s perspective. 

We can ask three questions:

“What is motivating our child right now? What is his goal here?”

“How can I best help or support his learning?”

“What can I learn from this?”

  1. Do Emotional Coaching.

Research supports that emotional coaching works. 3 When your child is upset, name the feeling and ask if your labeling is correct. The simple act of naming an emotion can help a child feel more understood. Reflect on feelings about problems. And show your confidence in your child’s ability to find a solution. Ask “What do you think you could do about this?” And follow your child’s lead. When children feel capable of solving their own problems, they are going to be more likely to dig in and work through challenges engaging in flow. To learn more about how to use emotional coaching in your parenting, check out: Coaching, A Tool for Raising Confident Kids.

5.  Lean into your own Developmental Journey.

Our development is never-ending. We can recognize that the inner call to our next learning challenge – as toddlers have when they know it’s time to walk – does not end with adolescence. It continues though, as adults, we tend to mute that drive in service to other goals. Listening and leaning into your own adult developmental journey means following your own learning wherever it takes you. Often that can mean facing discomfort, even pain. It can require looking at aspects of ourselves we’d rather ignore. But if we lean in, we’ll have greater empathy for our children who are faced with daily developmental challenges. And we’ll actively participate in family flow as we focus on learning as individuals and as a family.

Coaching can also be a great source for adults to get in touch with their own developmental edge. If you want to identify a credentialed coach in your area for yourself, check out the International Coaching Federation’s site. Or read about adult development. Check out: The Adult Years; Mastering the Art of Self-Renewal by Frederick Hudson. 4

6. Stay on your own Mat.

I love this phrase borrowed from Yoga and frequently, repeat it to myself as I am challenged. First, it means not comparing yourself to others. And not comparing your children to other children. It can also mean that your problems are yours and yours alone to solve. And your children’s problems are theirs and theirs alone to solve. We can support, encourage, coach and love but we can’t do it for them. If we do, we take away their power and their opportunity to learn and internalize the most valuable social and emotional skills that will help them become resilient during even greater challenges to come. 

The small experiences of family life matter too. And there are a million different ways we can experience flow in our time together. Anytime we play together, we have the chance to experience flow. Anytime we participate in creating art together whether that means a dance party, a crafting corner, or a music-making jam session, we can experience flow. When we discover the wonder of nature in our backyard or at a park, when we cook or bake, when we participate in service to our community, and when we read together, these all can produce the experience of flow. Even when we gather as a family to solve a problem together, there is an opportunity to experience flow.

I asked my ten-year-old son when he experiences total engagement in an activity – when he loses track of time. He responded – “bowling, vacation, and school.” I asked “When or what are you doing when you experience flow in school?” and he responded, “Anytime! All the time!” Learning can be a joy in school and in families. Particularly if we are aware of ways we can cultivate those times, they can become our most cherished family memories! 


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, Harper Collins Publishers.

Nepo, M. (2000). The Book of Awakening. Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. San Francisco, CA: Canari Press.

Gottman, J. & Declaire, J. (1997). Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child. The Heart of Parenting. NY: Simon and Schuster.

Hudson, F. (1999). The Adult Years, Mastering the Art of Self-Renewal. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

* The author was fully experiencing flow when writing this article. 🙂

Promoting Sibling Kindness For All Ages

And Teaching Turn-Taking to Young Children

“My child gets a new toy, shows it off and then rips it away telling her sibling, ‘No! You can’t play with it!’”

“I want my children to feel grateful for her brothers and for their toys and our life together.”

“If one has it, the other one wants it. It’s that simple.”

“I deal with so much bickering between brother and sister.”

“How do you adjust for their ages? How do you not require the older one to always give up something for the younger one?”

“My older son pokes the younger one to taunt her and it gets her upset every time.”

These concerns were the subject of my conversation with a local Mom’s Club yesterday. This group of parents’ biggest worries centered around sibling relationships. And there is wisdom in focusing on the central role they play in our children’s development. In fact, researchers have concluded that sibling relationships are unique from any other in that they can be as influential as both adult-child relationships and peer-to-peer interactions.1 

Further, the frequent and often emotionally charged social exchanges of siblings serve as an impetus for social and emotional development as young children work to establish their status in the sibling relationship and their niche in the family.2

Though the trend in family size shows decreasing numbers, in 82% of U.S. families with children under the age of 18, there is at least one sibling.3 Researchers consistently find that siblings do serve as role models with younger siblings tending to imitate older siblings more frequently than the reverse.4, 5 How parents foster sibling relationships and treat all members in a family can help shape that influence on their children’s social and emotional development. Roles and identities in a family begin to take shape early and can have an impact on a child’s sense of confidence and ability to achieve. 

Siblings can become competitive with one another, fighting over possessions, or achievement status, or Mom and Dad’s attention. But they can also foster greatness in one another. An older sibling can protect a younger sibling from household dangers. And sisters and brothers can play in ways that build social and emotional competence as they take one another’s perspective, negotiate the melding of their imaginations and create worlds together. In addition, they can work toward understanding how to be in close age relationships in healthy ways working through problems together, healing hurts, forgiving, and showing love for one another.

There is much parents can do in small, simple ways to cultivate sibling kindness. One of the most important can be cultivated as habits of thinking. You might consider:

  • How do you talk about your gratefulness for each family member and for your good life together?
  • How do you take notice of positive, kind behaviors between and among siblings?

Though it may seem obvious, regularly discussing gratitude helps cultivate grateful thinking in our children. And while we may get daily doses of negativity from social media or other sources, we may have to become more intentional about voicing our gratitude for our lives with one another. Picking a time of day in which to do it consistently helps cultivate the habit. 

In addition, do you point out when you see siblings getting along, working together? We may tend to quickly pour our coffee and breathe a sigh of relief when our children are playing at a peaceful hum. And though you don’t want to break that peace-filled play reverie (nor do you need to), take note to say a word about it later. “I notice that you and your sister were building a fort this afternoon as a team working together. I just love seeing that!” Those simple recognitions will go a long way toward promoting more of the same.

In addition, sharing toys and dealing with possessions in a family can become a regular challenge particularly with young children. How does a parent deal with the issue of sharing so as not to prioritize one over another and to teach valuable social lessons?

Parents can keep in mind that toys are not simply entertainment vehicles for children as we might tend to view them. Instead, they are tools for development. And as such, they play a critical role in a child’s life. This is not to claim that every toy is critical but all toys can be viewed as having the potential to support learning. So when a child is heavily engaged in playing with a toy hammer working hard on his fine motor skills and its taken away, it’s no wonder he cries in anger and upset. Parent enforced sharing can easily become a power struggle and sends the message that your child’s learning is not sacred and important but can be shifted to the other child in a moment’s notice.It does help to establish a simple, clear rule about turn-taking and also, to practice turn-taking as a family.

Here are some helpful tips for teaching turn-taking with young children!

  1. Establish the “Do No Harm” Rule.

In other words, play can be acceptable as long as each individual stays safe and respects the safety of the toys or tools and the household environment. As long as people or things remain undamaged, then children’s play can continue. If harm is caused, guide each child to repair harm. See more on this important topic below.

  1. Put Away the Most Sacred.

Perhaps there is a single teddy bear, in our case, Betsy Bear, who is beloved. When we have others over for playdate or even if siblings are playing together with toys strewn about, we are careful to put Betsy Bear away in a safe place in the closet. After all, that one toy would cause great upset if she were to be harmed. We don’t put away multiple toys but each child can have one very sacred toy that can be theirs alone to keep safe and away from the playing area.

3. Practicing Turn Taking.

Young children can benefit from a number of opportunities to practice. Not only does it help them at home, but also it prepares them for interactions in playgroups and eventually in preschool. Practice at dinnertime with the whole family and be sure and model the behavior first. “Momma is taking a turn with the salt shaker. Once I’m finished, I’ll let Daddy have his turn.” Then, just before going into a time of day when play is taking place, remind of your practice. “Remember how we took turns at dinner. Let’s try that out today.”

Here are various fun games that can easily be played at home that could involve turn-taking. Some are quick and some are more elaborate. 

Ball play – kicking or rolling the ball back and forth

Hide and seek – take turns hiding and seeking each round

Bake – make something yummy and take turns measuring and pouring ingredients

Hopscotch – take turns hopping down the numbers

Vehicle Obstacle Course – create an easy obstacle course on your driveway for their bikes. Use cones or sticks or stuffed animals that they must ride around. Maybe they have to pick up a stuffed animal on the other side of a series of rocks. This can be easy and fun!

Music Making – Put on some music and get out one instrument to play with it. Allow the siblings to take turns banging the drum or humming on the kazoo to the music.

4. Take Time to Address Upset.

If fighting occurs, take the time required to help each child calm down. Perhaps they need to seek a comfort item like a blanket or a quiet space. When all have had a chance to calm down, then focus on feelings. Reflect back what you thought you saw. “You seemed mad and sad when your brother grabbed your toy, is that right?” “Brother, you seemed angry at your sister for not giving the toy to you. Is that right?” 

Emphasize that we are all learning how to play together cooperatively. Do not place blame. If a child needs to repair harm of a broken toy or broken feelings, help him or her do that. Then, focus on how all can feel better. Talk about comforting activities. Will drawing help? Will a walk outside to get fresh air help? Change the playthings and if you can, the environment to recreate the energy and start fresh.

Here are some helpful tips for encouraging sibling kindness at any age! 

1. Conduct an Attention Audit

To children, our attention is a reward. What do we reinforce each day through our attention? Also, is one child in particular receiving more positive or negative feedback? Ask yourself the following questions to raise your awareness about the balance of your encouraging, supportive comments versus your critical ones. Go through these questions for each child and then, consider how your attention may be perceived between siblings.

  • What are typical daily comments I make in relation to _______________ (insert family members) behavior?
  • How many of those comments are about problems I observe?
  • How many of those comments recognize positive contributions?
  • How frequently do I comment on that particular problem behavior? (twice a day, weekly?)
  • Does the behavior truly harm the child or others or property? And if so, how can I facilitate a behavior change by modeling or coaching? If not, how can I let it go?

2. Model Sibling Kindness

How can you practice being kind to one another? Practicing turn-taking with toys is certainly one way. But when your family is spending free time together, how can you model kind behaviors you want to see in your children? Can you demonstrate helping behaviors from one child to the other? One way to model with young children is to show them how to act  kindly, for example, by putting away another child’s toy. And then, taking it the next step, by asking if the child might teach her favorite doll or bear how to treat their sibling kindly. Watch as she plays demonstrates gently putting another toy in its place.

3. Notice and Reinforce Sibling Kindness

Children will reproduce behaviors that we name and recognize – whether positive or negative. Look for even small acts of care between siblings and call them out. “I notice you held the door for your brother. That was a caring gesture.” Make discussions of spotting kindness a regular part of your dinner conversation recognizing any family members small acts. Children will learn that it is a family value and will begin to notice more themselves as well as, replicate the behaviors you are paying attention to.

4. Set a Positive Goal.

During a family discussion, identify particularly challenging times. For example, “It seems like right before dinner when we are tired from the day and hungry, we typically get into arguments about using screens or which toys should be shared.” Take a moment to share ideas on alternatives for those moments. Ask, “what could we do instead to get along during that time?” Then, set a positive goal. You might decide, “We will work as a team to help prepare for dinner so that we can move toward eating quickly.” If you begin a playtime with a goal of collaboration, children are much more likely to focus on solving problems and working together. Just before entering those challenging times of day, be sure and provide a helpful, gentle reminder. “Remember our teamwork goal.”

5. Support Siblings in Repairing Harm.

When damage has been done to a plaything or a person, a child needs to learn to take responsibility for the harm caused by working to repair it whether physical or psychological. Parents can lead a child through this process and teach the invaluable skill of responsible decision-making. When Joey breaks his sister’s Barbie doll, Mom can work with Joey to repair it. But in addition to the physical repairing of harm, Joey may have hurt his sister’s feelings. So Mom could ask Joey how he thinks he could help his sister feel better. Asking your child how they might repair hurt feelings helps him think through alternatives. He may offer his sister a hug or help her with a project she’s working on. However he chooses to help, the parent can support  Joey in following through. This prepares siblings with practice so that they can be prepared to make things better on their own during playtime.

Sibling relationships do play a shaping role in children’s social and emotional development. There’s much parents can do to create a home culture that fosters kindness. By simply focusing on recognizing and promoting care between brothers and sisters, children are much more likely to regularly show loving kindness to one another. 



1. McHale, S.M., Updegraff, K.A., & Whiteman, S.D. (2012). Sibling relationships and influences in childhood and adolescence. Journal of Marriage and Family, Sept. 24.

2. Dunn J. Sibling relationships in early childhood. Child Development. 1983;54:787–811.

3. King et al. (2010). Integrated Public Use Micro-data Series, Current Population Survey: Version 3.0. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. 

4. Brim OG. (1958). Family structure and sex role learning by children: A further analysis of Helen Koch’s data. Sociometry. 21:1–16.

5. Abramovitch R, Corter CM, Lando B. (1979). Sibling interaction in the home. Child Development. 50:997–1003.

Stop, Think, Go! Problem-Solving Practice for Your Family

If you have a problem, don’t muddle through.
Here’s a simple rap about what to do.
Stop, calm down before you act.
You’ll think more clearly – that’s a fact.
Say the problem and how you feel.
Set a positive goal (and try to be real).
Now for some “brainy” contributions,
make out a list with lots of solutions.
Slow down, though, and use some sense
‘cause you gotta consider each consequence.
Now if you’ve done your thinking and you’re planning ahead,
you can face your problem with a little less dread.
So knowing you’ve done everything you can,
go ahead – try the very best plan.

– Terri Kazmier, New Haven (CT) Middle School Music Teacher

“He messed with my stuff while I was gone. My Lego set is broken. Moooooooom!” cries Zachary about his brother. Sibling rivalry is a common family problem. Mom could fix it. “Go help your brother fix his Lego set.” Or she could help her children learn valuable skills in problem-solving. These opportunities for practicing critical life skills happen daily if you look for them. And especially in the warmer days with spring break through summer break, your children may be home more often with conflicts emerging. Collaborative problem-solving is not one skill alone but requires a whole host of skills including self-control and stress management, self-awareness of both thoughts and feelings, perspective-taking and empathy, listening and effectively communicating, goal setting, anticipating consequences and evaluating actions.

Roger Weissberg, one of the top leaders in the field of social and emotional learning and Chief Knowledge Officer for the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and my mentor, ongoing collaborator and friend agreed to share the Traffic Light model that he and his colleagues created at Yale University with the New Haven Public Schools. The Social Development Project affected the lives of countless children, drawing from one of the lowest income communities in the country. Students learned, practiced and used these skills in role-playing and real-life settings over and again making the development of these social skills a part of the culture and expectations of that school system.

In addition to using this model to promote problem-solving between students in schools, it was also used for discipline purposes. If a child’s behavior merited an in-school suspension, then those children spent the time reflecting on the problem, how they felt and what actions they chose, a successful alternative to detentions and suspensions. They brainstormed ways they could act differently. And they created a positive plan for how they might act the next time they were in that situation. You too can use this as a discipline tool in your home. When your child has acted in a destructive way – either hurt someone’s feelings or property – spend time reflecting on what they did and the impact it had on those around them. Then ask, “What if you made a different choice in that same situation? What choices do you have? And what would happen as a result of those actions?”

Dr. Weissberg writes that this promotes “consequential thinking.” 1 Children begin to think through the consequences of their actions prior to choosing how to act. And that kind of thinking promotes responsible decision-making. This New Haven Public Schools training was used to prevent high-risk behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy and violence in the adolescent years. Imagine if your children were engaged in developing these skills prior to that time of high peer pressures. They would be ready and prepared with well-rehearsed tools when they are tempted by their friends and you are not there at that moment to protect them.

The beauty of this model is in its simplicity. Hang up a picture of a traffic light or print out the following one-page handout from Dr. Weissberg — Social Problem Solving Curriculum Traffic Light by Roger Weissberg et al. or use my illustration as a reminder. 2 Try this out first as a game when there’s not a problem. Role play through it. Make it fun and dramatic. Adults can stand and be the stop light. Call out a problem or better yet, have kids call out a common problem they have had. Children can run toward you, the stop light. Hold your hand up and signal “Stop!” Everybody can breathe loudly to emphasize the practice and add to the fun. Now on yellow, place your hand straight out and kids can take gentle steps standing in one place while you talk through the yellow light steps below. As they become adept at the game, ask them to tell you what the yellow light steps include. Have them think out loud. Now put your hand down and announce, “Go!” They can run forward and then, try out their solution. Here’s the process.

Stop! Calm down and think before you act.

No problem-solving is going to occur, no feelings repaired until all involved calm down. So take the time you and your child need to calm down. Breathe! You can use easy-to-use teaching methods to help kids practice deep breathing such as bubble blowing, ocean wave or teddy bear belly breathing (see “Understanding Anger” article for descriptions of each). Take a moment for some quiet time in your own spaces. Then…

Caution. Feel. Communicate. Think.

Say the problem and how you feel.

Parents can model this by saying, “I am feeling frustrated that you and your brother are arguing. How are you feeling?” It helps to have a list of feelings at the ready so that if your child struggles with coming up with a feeling, he can pick one off of a list that best represents how he’s feeling. This practice alone will expand his feeling’s vocabulary and he’ll be better equipped the next time to be in touch with and communicate his situation. I’ve listed below this article three resources for feelings’ lists.

Now, set a positive goal.

Before moving to “Go,” have your child think about what they want for themselves and the others involved. The goal may be as simple as, “I just want to get along with my brother,” or “I want to keep my toys safe.” Weissberg writes that setting a positive goal for kids simply means “How do you want things to end up?”

Think of lots of solutions.

Before jumping to one solution, think of lots. “I could hide my Legos where my brother can’t find them.” “We could agree to ask one another before playing with the others’ toys.” “We could promise to repair anything we break.” Involve all who were a part of the problem to generate solutions. Children who understand there are many choices in a problem situation are less likely to feel trapped into making an unhealthy decision but can step back and examine the options.

Think ahead to the consequences.

Parents can ask, “What if you tried hiding your Legos from your brother? What might happen?” Think through the realistic consequences with your children of their various solutions – both long and short term. “It might work tomorrow. But what happens when you forget in a few weeks and leave them out on your bedroom floor? Then what?” This is a critical step in helping children think through the outcomes of their choices before making them – important practice for later problems when the stakes are higher.


Go! Try out your best plan.

Maybe your children have agreed to ask one another before they play with the other’s toy. Try it out right away. See how it works. If it does not work, then talk about it and make slight adjustments or decide on another plan altogether that might work better.

Parents can use logical consequences in concert with this model. For example, if Zachary has harmed his brother, then he can generate solutions to repair the relationship. He may offer a sincere apology. He may spend time fixing the broken Lego set. He may help find a place to keep the Lego set safe. Children need parents’ support in repairing harm done. They need to know that there are multiple options for not only repairing a physical object but also, repairing hurt feelings. So brainstorm options together and help kids implement them.

Family meetings can be an ideal time to use this Traffic Light model too. Bring a problem to a meeting that concerns everyone. Select a fairly low stakes problem for the first one to raise at a family meeting. Gain practice with the model and with all family members collaborating on a solution. Watch as your skill as a family progresses and you are able to bring hotter issues to the table.

One positive goal I have set for my own life is to not have regrets. Acting impulsively, making quick unexamined decisions can certainly lead to regret so I particularly appreciate that this Traffic Light model includes examining consequences before acting. These are skills I hope my son will cultivate so this season, as the weather gets warmer and we can run out on our driveway, we’ll be practicing our “Stop!,” “Think,” and “Go” as we work through heated ten-year-old issues. “E has the coolest crayons. I want them!” We’ll laugh together and learn together. And I’ll feel great about how I am giving him skills that will last a lifetime.

* A big thank you to Roger Weissberg for sharing his model and for his excellent work that has positively impacted countless parents, educators and children alike. You can learn more about Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) by visiting their website.

Feelings Vocabulary Lists

How are you feeling today? Poster by Jim Borgman

Children’s Feelings List from the Children’s Center, University of California, Santa Barbara

Feelings Inventory from the Center for Nonviolent Communication


1. Weissberg, R.P., Barton, H.A., & Shriver, T.P. (1997). The social-competence promotion program for young adolescents. In G.W. Albee & T.P. Gullota (Eds.), Primary prevention exemplars: The Lela Rowland Awards (pp. 268-290). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

2. Weissberg, R.P., Jackson, A.S., & Shriver, T.P. ( ). Promoting positive social development and health practices in young urban adolescents. In M.J. Elias (Ed.). Social decision making and life skills development: Guidelines for middle school educators (pp. 45-77). Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publications.

Originally published March 5, 2015.

Spring Road Trip Cooperative Games

We’re going on a road trip, a road trip, a road trip.
We’re going on a road trip to see what we can see!

We typically venture out on a small road trip during spring break taking advantage of the freedom and warmer weather. It’s tempting to hand a child an iPad and allow the video games and programs to fill the idle time. Then I think back to my own road trips as a child, sometimes thirteen hours in a non-air-conditioned car, and of course, with no handy portable device to fill my time. I recall being happily consumed with my crayons and a sketch pad. I filled every single page with drawings of sand castles, mermaids and sea creatures anticipating our vacation at the beach. But now, my son, who is so used to easily accessible entertainment and high level stimulation, seems to require more than just that trusty old sketch pad. But engage him with a family game, and he is delighted to play.

The following car games can offer ways to connect as a family and build cooperative skills all the while enjoying your time together. It can set a collaborative tone preparing all family members for a positive adventure together.

Cooperative Storytelling
One person begins a story with a main character and a setting. Start with a few juicy details – “One day a giant sea turtle named Freddy sauntered down the isle of a grocery store looking for his favorite potato chips…” and then pass off the story to the next person to fill in what comes next. Offer a few sentences and then continue to pass the story along with each family member contributing key details to move your adventure forward. In my experience, the stories that emerge from these games are a joy and delight with surprises around every corner! Our family loves this game!

Where in the World Guessing Game
“Where in the world is E?” we ask and E begins to describe his surroundings. He picks any city, community or habitat in the world and offers details about the attributes of his environment without naming it and we have to guess the place.

Creature Guessing Game
Similarly, one person thinks of a creature. All of the guessers ask questions of the individual with a creature in mind. “Is it small, medium or large? Does it live in the forest? Does it eat plants or animals?” When you have enough details, guess the creature. Go around and give each person the chance to think of an animal.

Name the Face
See if you can express an emotion with only your facial expression. (This could be tricky for drivers!) Think of the emotion and perform the facial expression of that emotion. See if others can guess what you are feeling.

More, More!
Select a category such as ice cream flavors, popular songs or amusement park rides. Call out as many different kinds as you can until you’ve exhausted your list of ideas. This offers practice in brainstorming, a valuable skill used in coming up with solutions to a problem.

Cell Phone
Do you remember the old game “Telephone”? Think of a sentence. Start simple and make them more challenging as you go. Whisper it into the ear of another family member. Each person whispers to the next person exactly what they heard whispered in their ear. Have the last person say what they heard aloud. It’s ideal if you can go quickly and try it a couple of times. Then you are able to see if listening and communication improves with practice and focus.

We Write the Songs
Pick out a family favorite song – one that everyone knows. Now select a favorite animal (your pet?), place (your school?) or person (your best friend?). Change the words of the song to describe or tell the story of that creature or place. Make sure all family members have the chance to contribute. Practice and sing it with gusto!

Radio Story
Turn on the radio. Listen to the first station that plays. Is it a song or a commercial? Now cooperatively tell the background story of the song or commercial. How was the song written? Why was the product developed (if a commercial)? What story does it really tell? Make it imaginative, the crazier, the better. None of it should be based on real facts. Each family member can add details to your radio backstory.

Social Dilemmas
Tweens and teens are often fascinated with social dilemmas since they are dealing with more complex social issues regularly. This may interest that age group. One person offers a social problem such as a friend wants to get on the highway with her friends and drive out of town without telling anyone. What do you do? Or an animal is about to get run over by a car in the road at the same time your toddler brother is running down the street. What do you do? These can offer interesting ethical considerations and turn into involving conversations. The trick for parents is to remain in open-minded dialogue mode, offering ideas and not criticizing.

Try out these road trip games or create your own and watch the time fly past as you laugh and creatively, cooperatively play with your family. Happy adventures!


Our Grandma Linda sent us a gift this Spring that we’ve started to use at our Sunday night family dinners entitled And Then, Story Starters, 20 Imaginative Beginnings. It’s a book-size deck of cards, each with its own riveting story starter. These prompts offer rich details from which to build and could be of great use if you want to try the cooperative storytelling and would like help in getting started.



Originally posted May 26, 2016

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