From Dr. King’s Sermon “The Mastery of Fear,” What Can We Learn Today?

Original Photo by William Lovelace/Express/Getty Images with Illustration by Jennifer Miller

As we move into this new year with hope and optimism for the opportunities of connection and well-being it may bring, it’s impossible not to notice that fear and anxiety seem to dominate the cold, barren landscape of January. As I tend to do each year at this time, I turn to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for wisdom and he never disappoints. What might he say to us now as we watch vast numbers of students, teachers and parents out sick with COVID or worse, hospitilized, even dying? What would he say to the droves of teachers leaving the profession or striking with their unions because they are not feeling safe? Would he have words of wisdom for the parents who are yet again attempting to make new decisions daily that adapt to the rapidly changing village that continues to rest on shaky ground? And these questions really are the tip of the iceberg. Dr. King surely would be quick to point out that well-being is disproportionately supported whether you examine the inequitable distribution of and access to vaccinations around the world or you look specifically at the health care quality and availability and the educational opportunities and access for a range of marginalized peoples in the U.S.

I was amazed to discover handwritten notes archived in Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. On July 21, 1957, Dr. King had written an outline for a sermon entitled “The Mastery of Fear.” I’m placing his notes below with my own interpretation of how they might apply to our current context while also viewing it through the lens of children’s and adult’s social and emotional development.

From Dr. King’s “The Mastery of Fear, Sermon Outline”

  • Fear is a powerfully creative force. The fear of ignorance leads to education etc … Every saving invention and every intellectual advance has behind it as a part of its motivation the desire to avoid or escape some dreaded thing. And so Angelo Patri is right in saying, “Education consist in being afraid at the right time.”

This is yet another moment when we have the chance to lead our families and teach our children HOW to be afraid at the right time. If we are constantly afraid, we are debilitated. We’ll lose our perspective which can lead to paralysis. If we repress and suppress our fears, hiding them in our darkest depths because our intimate others cannot accept or deal with them, we’ll be consigned to those inner caverns protecting ourselves to the point of self-destruction. We isolate from sharing the deepest parts of who we are. But Dr. King asserts fear can act as a creative force. There is great power in fear if we use it as fuel for our own inventive ways to focus on child and adult well-being as a primary driver (not as a nice-to-have). Here are some questions I imagine Dr. King would offer us to consider:

  • How are we remaining present to our intimate family holding space for all of their emotions, especially the ones that challenge us the most?
  • What are the roles we play in our village and how can we be or become a stabilizing force of compassion, love and grace?
  • How can we accept the fears we have as a valuable means for channeling our creative forces?
  • How can we accept the fears our children have as a valuable means for channeling their creative forces?
  • What is the saving intention you are hatching through this ordeal? What is your own intellectual advance? How about for your family members?

The social distancing we must be most concerned about is the one in which we hid in our fears and anxieties and do not honestly, vulnerably share what’s going on with each other. We can act as a model of social and emotional skills in the most powerfully resilient ways if we work on:

  • self awareness (owning and naming feelings), 
  • self management (as we seek one another’s understanding and support in order to not allow those fears to consume our lives), 
  • social awareness (empathizing with others’ pain and anxiety), 
  • relationship skills (holding a safe listening space for our loved ones), and 
  • responsible decision-making (not acting quickly, reactively, impulsively – which is most often fear-based – but pausing to let thought and wisdom in).

And Dr. King Continues…

  • 13 So if by “a fearless man” we mean one who is not afraid of anything, we are picturing, not a wise man, but a defective mind. There are normal and abnormal fears.
  • So the difficulty of our problem is that we are not to get rid of fear altogether, but we must harness it and master it.14 Like fire it is a useful and necessary servant, but a ruinous master. It is fear when it becomes terror, panic and chronic anxiety that we must seek to eliminate.

Fearlessness is not something for which to strive, he writes. Instead he might ask us:

  • How can we harness and utilize our fire to ensure our children, teens and other family members are safe, healthy and able to learn and pursue the fires of their own passions?
  • What happens when it feels like fear is taking over, the fire is out of control? What plans do we have to bring the flames back down and under control? Are you becoming intentional about taking regular pauses in your day to manage the flames? Check out the Family Emotional Safety Plan as one way to do that.

And finally, from Dr. King’s Sermon Outline…

  • How do we master fear
    • Of basic importance in mastering fear is the need of getting out in the open the object of our fear and frankly facing it. Human life is full of secret fears.
    • A further step in mastering fear is to remember that it always involves the misuse of the imagination.

What if we sense our children or teens are harboring secret fears? In my experience, it requires parents being vulnerable themselves. So…

  • How can you raise the topic of fears with your family and share some of your own and how you manage them?
  • How can you revisit this conversation so that there is a regular safe place for your children to name their fears?

Inherit in Dr. King’s prompting about fear involving the misuse of imagination is the call to use imagination in healthy ways. Your mind can wander like a runaway train down the road of catastrophe and worst case scenarios. And that rumination can leave us in destructive and defeatist thinking. So…

  • How can we begin to engage our imagination in ways that envision and even take steps toward Dr. King’s Beloved Community?
  • How can we begin to engage our imagination in ways that envision an education system in which all children are safe, valued and thriving?
  • And how can we engage our children in envisioning the beautiful world they will inherit? 

It can only come about if we dream it first. Thank you once again, Dr. King. We are grateful.


King, M.L., Jr. (1957). The mastery of fear (Sermon). Montgomery, AL: Stanford University The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. 

From Dr. King’s References:

13. Fosdick, On Being a Real Person, p. 110: “Angelo Patri is right in saying, ‘Education consists in being afraid at the right time.’” Fosdick may have gotten this quote from William H. Burnham’s book The Normal Mind (New York: D. Appleton, 1924), p. 417. Patri, an educator and expert on child psychology, disavowed any use of fear in child-rearing (Child Training [New York: D. Appleton, 1922], pp. 19, 250).

14. Fosdick, The Hope of the World, p. 60: “Indeed, this is the difficulty of our problem, that our business is not to get rid of fear but to harness it, curb it, master it.”

In a Safe, Healthy New Year…

The Start of the Year Offers the Ideal Chance to Set Our Mind On the Present…

Back to school in-person? Remote? Hybrid? Staff and students missing, out sick due to the latest COVID variant. The frenzy of our one week back after winter break may have struck your household like a polar plunge into freezing cold water. Whereas the holiday season may have been renewing and connecting, stepping back into the fray feels like a shocking jolt. But our mindset in beginning this new year matters greatly. How we perceive our now and intend our coming weeks and months will help determine our experience.

Though our educational and health care systems are stressed right now (I realize this might be an understatement), if you are reading this, it’s likely you are safe (and if you are sick right now, check out this article on Parenting and Dealing with Illness. Our hearts go out to you as you focus on getting better!). You may even be perfectly healthy. You may be protected from serious illness by the vaccine and your family members may be protected as well.

A fundamental teaching in Aikido is focusing on all of the areas, spaces and parts of life that are healthy and safe. Where focus goes, energy grows. The Aikido master teaches that if a sword is pointed at you, there’s only one small centimeter of the point of the sword that poses danger. If you focus on moving into the spaces that are safe, you remain safe. How can we focus on how we are healthy and safe right now? How can we move toward greater safety by focusing our where we are healthy and safe?

We are not even close to being in the same place as last year. We have learned so very much. How can we begin our year with the mindsets that will help us in continuing to learn and grow? Where do we find wisdom? How can we pursue those sources of wisdom to help us remain in a place of reflective choice-making?

With those thoughts in mind, we are sharing some helpful articles that might assist you in focusing on your health and safety to thrive as we enter this new year of opportunities.

Routine Reboot

Routines add to a sense of safety and stability for ourselves and our children. Yet we don’t have to micromanage the process when there are ways to help each family member take responsibility for the key roles they play. Rebooting the routine in January just makes sense when the harsher weather adds to our time and tasks as we wrestle with winter clothing. Gather with your family to talk through and make a plan that works for all. Learn more…

New Year Routine Reboot

Feelings Ritual

In the roller coaster ride of the past few years, one more lesson we’ve learned is that we have to share our feelings in family life if we are to manage them, support one another and remain intimately connected. Those daily connections can make all the difference in making your family a respite from storms that may exist just beyond your home’s threshold. How can you create a ritual of sharing feelings whether positive or challenging each day? Here are ideas…

Daily Feelings Temperature Checks

Family Investments in Wellness

We can create regular opportunities to invest in our families’ mental wellness by creating flow opportunities, or chances to dive into play, joy or wonder together in which you lose track of time. Those nourishing moments will heal you now together and will create more positive well-being outcomes for the future. Learn more!

Cultivating Family Flow in the New Year

Hoping and Dreaming in our Roles as Parents

How can we take some time out in the start of the year to ask what our hopes and dreams are for our children? And when we ask that, then we also need to ask what we intend to do – even in small ways – to work toward those hopes and dreams. Learning about how to support children and teen’s social and emotional development may just be part of your intention. Here’s more…

Hoping and Dreaming for a Brand New Year

Strategies for Anxiety

And when anxiety arises, and we know it will, we have options that will help us feel better. Work on those as a family so that your coping strategies are at the ready. If you do, you won’t worry yourself about hurting others in a moment of fear or anger because you have a plan in place and you’ve practiced your plan. You’ll be ready and all will remain safe. In addition, you’ll be teaching invaluable self-management skills to your children. Here are our best tools to help you with this!

Body Check Five; A Tool for Lowering Anxiety

Big Worries, Small Experiments

Family Emotional Safety Plan

May this new year bring newfound health, safety, peace of mind, and thriving for you and your family.

A New Year’s Love Letter to Parents

Dear Parents,

As we anticipate the coming of a new year, we have an opportunity to take an all-important reflective pause and consider all that we’ve learned over the past year. We’ve had to make choices in our sacred responsibility as leaders of our families and responsible decision-makers for our children that we never dreamed we’d have to make. Go visit Grandma and put her at risk or break her heart by staying home. Allow your asthmatic son to participate in basketball with no protection on the court while COVD numbers rise or take away a beloved pastime. Travel with your family to see loved ones including an unvaccinated younger child or yet again, break hearts by cancelling. As we’ve made these extraordinary decisions, we’ve weighed short term impacts and long term impacts to each and every person involved including the systems they are a part of and the values and commitments we hold dear. Who’s to say what’s right, wrong, or sketchy? In our current context, there are a thousand more questions than answers.

While navigating through these challenges, we’ve sustained losses from illnesses, injuries, and deaths to relationship strain or even estrangement, work or personal life burnout, and depression and anxiety. The stress has taken its toll and does not go unacknowledged and cannot be forgotten.

And… there are gifts worth acknowledging this holiday season. In the past, if we were having a personal or family crisis, we felt alone in our anger or sorrow and perhaps misunderstood. Now, as the world faces a similar range of difficult choices, we, at least, can take heart that we are in this together and we are stronger if we work together to navigate the complexities. Viruses are unaware of our political divides or belief silos. COVID cells do not discriminate by opinion but only look for openings to infect new hosts wherever they can find them. The virus is working hard to learn. Are we?

For me, that gift of learning begins with a letting go and then, advances with a letting come. New times call for new habits of mind and one challenge posed to us currently is: how can I let go of judging others? And that is far from simple. In fact, our quick reflex or reactive set point is programmed to judge. And judgment of ideas and of problems is vital to our responsible decision-making and well-being but judging people only isolates us AND importantly, closes the door to learning. Just as no one religion or science has figured out with certainty every mystery of our universe but offers vital insights and wisdom to aspects of it so too, people’s wide range of experiences and perspectives can inform our ability to grow and develop. If we are on a confident parent pathway, then that growth is our central vocation. We can best support our children’s development when we utilize every opportunity to learn and grow ourselves. 

That habit of mind change requires constant rehearsal. With ease, my mind drifts from “can you believe she…” to “how could he possibly…” like an experienced acrobat swinging on a mental trapeze moving from judgment thought to judgment thought. And we get a jolt of self-righteous satisfaction as a reward. “I am so much smarter than those people,” our reactive mind humphs in a “told-ya-so” tone. And that’s the moment where our mind resolves that it’s finished exploring the issue. No learning here.

Instead, we have to cultivate the discipline of pausing and staying still on the trapeze platform. When we do, we have the chance to climb down, become more grounded and choose new ways of thinking. We can choose curiosity: “what could be motivating them? What thoughts and beliefs are shaping their actions?” And compassion: “how are they feeling in their context? What pain are they enduring? How can I help ease their pain?” And move to self-reflection: “if I’m bothered, what aspect is making me upset? Why are their actions pushing on a nerve? What stories do I hold that this challenges? Are they current or out-dated? What am I holding onto that defines my sense of self? Will their actions take away from that identity? What new versions of myself am I exploring and can I learn from? And finally, to contribution: Considering what I’ve learned, how can I contribute to greater well-being, safety and connection?”

These questions that use external situations to explore our inner landscape is our process of letting come. We stop long enough to allow the opening of our mind, our heart and our will to be transformed by the moment and our interaction with others. This transformation gives us the ultimate sense of agency as we use our relationships and current context to fuel our growth and development. And our children benefit exponentially. They have a model of courage and resilience. They see that challenging times and people posing challenges can result in rapid growth, adaptation, and ability to not only meet the times but innovate and create new solutions to grow ourselves and the communities we are a part of. 

What if your immediate family and/or intimate relationships became a hub for growth, well-being and meaning-making that positively affected the lives of all who came in contact? Viral change-making might be the way we meet our current times but it will require going within first. Learning is love in action. I cannot imagine a greater gift to our loved ones than this. These are my sacred intentions for 2022.

I wish for you your own ability to pause long enough to consider what gifts you can give your family and community by putting love into action through your open mind, heart and will. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,” by Margaret Mead can be our beacon leading the way.

Happy New Year!

With Love,

Jennifer Miller

P.S. We will be celebrating ten years of Confident Parents, Confident Kids in 2022. I can hardly believe it! We have some BIG surprises in store! So read on and please share and contribute! 

Today’s Winter Solstice Offers the Chance to Let Go…

Reflecting on our darkest day of the year…

Releasing the Voice of Judgement

Today, 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. 

This year, I’m thinking a bit differently about this passage of dark to light. I’m seeing it as a chance to let go of the voices of judgment in my head that promote division and create more anger and sadness. As we look around the world through the veneer of the headline news, we see a world still fighting a highly contagious and unpredictable disease, our supply chain systems failing, schools struggling, and deep disparities between wealthy countries response to COVID and those without the means to obtain enough vaccines. Looking out on all of this chaos, it can feel, at times, like I’m watching a dystopian movie. But I remind myself, I am an actor and I play a key role. Now more than ever, family, friends, and strangers need compassion for whatever kind of pain or hurt this is bringing into their lives. We are all feeling the struggle. So what do we do with it?

If I am to authentically embrace empathy and compassion for others – even and especially those who are challenging me and making destructive choices – I first must invest in letting go of judgement. I can only do this if I remind myself that each person is coping with their pain in vastly different ways. And there is no one right path. What if, this Solstice, each person took the time to reflect on their voices of judgement for others and themselves (typically we are our own biggest critic) and sent them into the fire to burn to ashes? If we did this in a wholehearted way, I wonder if we could rise like a phoenix and offer the compassion to ourselves and others that is so needed? I know the potential is there. How can you become a model for your family?

I so appreciate this day as a silent pause in the hustle of the holidays for reflection and introspection. If you, as I do, want to take this sacred moment to recognize how nature is offering us this opportunity for transformation, here are some ways to bring your family into the reflection with you.

Theme: Letting Go, Forgiveness and Rebirth
In ancient Rome during the solstice, wars stopped, grudges were forgiven and slaves traded places with their masters. Today, the theme of forgiveness and rebirth 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 stories, judgements of ourselves and others, 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 people in your life disappointing, even outraging you with their choices? Are there hurts that you are holding onto from the past? Have you disappointed yourself? How can you focus on letting go realizing that holding on only hurts yourself and keeps you imprisoned with those judgements? With the burning of a candle, can you imagine those disappointments burning into the ash, forgiven, and offering you a new chance?

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. With COVID threats continuing to loom over our holiday gatherings, we may need to let go of old expectations and find new and different means of connecting. And perhaps because of those limitations, we will be offered a greater appreciation for times when we can connect in person or with less safety restrictions.

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: How have the ways in which we connect changed this year? What connections have been nourishing and satisfying that we want to keep or promote more of? What connecting have we left behind that we do not miss? 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, sickness 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 better 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? How can you become more aware of the changes in nature around you? Have you gained more appreciation or a new view of the natural world during the pandemic?

Tonight, our family will be lighting a fire and sitting by it, noticing its brilliant light and feeling its warmth. As I toss my ceremonial evergreen bough on the fire, I’ll be considering what judgement stories I need to send into the fire with the bough. How can I place those kernels of anger, fear and disappointment into the flames to help myself truly let them go? 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 let go of your outdated stories during this emergence from dark to light. May you allow it to transform you and create a bigger, wider space for compassion that can emerge from you fueled by more light in future days.

Adapted from an original post on December 14, 2014.

What Holidays Are Celebrated Around the World?

Have you learned about traditions throughout the world with your family?

We may feel closer than ever to the neighbors of our world. COVID-19 shows us, among other key lessons, that we are deeply and biologically connected to one another. Our children and teens may be socializing more online with friends in other countries who may share interests that children in their own neighborhood do not. With a newfound social awareness, my teen asked recently, “what do others celebrate?” He’s now in a new school that doesn’t host Christmas parties (as his old school did) and some of his best friends hail from China, India, Brazil and other parts of the globe. I’m grateful for these new opportunities to learn and become enriched by a range of traditions and celebrations. One of the most beautiful and illustrative ways we can learn about another culture is through their celebrations and rituals.

Because of the numerous holidays celebrated through the fall and winter months, it is an ideal time to discuss how people celebrate around the world – both the uniqueness of traditions and also the many commonalities. 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!

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 who 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. 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.

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.

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.

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 will be the year of the monkey.
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.

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.

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: Candle light, song, prayer, actors dressing 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

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 were 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.

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.

Cultural or Religious Origin: Japan
Purpose: This is the Japanese New Year.
Symbols/Practices: Thoroughly cleaning house 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. Bells ring at midnight and people go to pray at Shinto shrines.

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.”

Is there a holiday or tradition you treasure with your family or community that is not listed here? Please add to our knowledge and understanding! Add your traditions in our comments’ section!

Anti-bullying Lessons from a Classic Christmas Tale

Why Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer is a Story Worth Unwrapping…

by Guest Author Rudolph Keeth Matheny

The beautiful story of a lovable, unique reindeer going from victim to hero is beloved by generations with a rich history and many hidden stories to reveal. Rudolph provides a well-known context for use to explore the roles of bullying, causes, and proactive solutions. In addition, the history of the story is a rich one, which adds depth to the children’s fable. The story and history of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer have many social and emotional learning gifts for us to unwrap.

“Called him names” – the situation and roles of bullying

At the start of the story of Rudolph, we all know the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. Name calling is known as social aggression, which is any negative behavior designed to embarrass and/or affect another’s social network. In addition to name calling, the other reindeer were also “excluding” Rudolph as “they would not let Rudolph join in any reindeer games”. Being excluded is another common and hurtful form of bullying. Name calling and excluding are classic bullying and for a very classic reason: for being different (Rudolph’s red nose).

It is helpful to understand the common roles involved in bullying in order to address it. Those roles are target, aggressor, bystander and hopefully an ally or allies. In the story of Rudolph, because he was the one being called names, he would be the “target” of the bullying. The “aggressor” is the person or persons doing the bullying behavior, which in this case, sadly would be “all of the other reindeer”. Unanimous bullying is rough and definitely the stuff of legend. Reindeer apparently are prone to a herd mentality. A bystander is someone who notices the bullying but does not encourage or discourage it, a kind of “Switzerland” role. We can only assume with all the name calling and excluding going around the North Pole that someone would have noticed, most likely the elves.  You might make the excuse that the elves were very busy making toys, but since they are Santa’s reindeer caretakers and are known for their keen sense of hearing, they must have known. So for our story, the elves were the “bystanders” in the bullying roles. However, do not get too upset about the elves. They clearly did not join in on the bullying as there is no mention of them also calling Rudolph names or excluding him. Many people are bystanders and perhaps they did not know what to do to help Rudolph. This article will show you what can be done.

A surprisingly cold overall reindeer climate at the North Pole

Another concerning part of the story is that Rudolph did not seem to know what to do to advocate for himself. The North Pole at the time definitely needed to put both proactive and reactive systems in place for bullying prevention and an overall-positive reindeer climate. A reactive system would be if all reindeer and reindeer supervisors were educated about the roles involved in bullying and on what to do after the bullying had started. A proactive anti-bullying system would be supports or structures that may have prevented the bullying altogether, such as teaching the reindeer skills for responding to others, taking someone else’s perspective, showing empathy and advocating for others.

If a strong system was in place perhaps the elves would have acted as allies, and they could have done a lot to help instead of acting as bystanders. 

These are common ways to be allies. They could have been a “confronter” and stood up for Rudolph; even something as small as “that is not a jolly thing to do” may have stopped the bullying. They could have been a “supporter” by supporting Rudolph through his trials comforting him after the bullying and helping him work through the problem. The elves could have been a “distractor” by distracting the reindeer when bullying, by changing the topic or telling a holiday joke. Some things they might have said to distract would be; “I hear there is a snowstorm coming in. Do you think we will be able to do the delivery run?” or even “Have you heard the joke about why Santa is so jolly?”

Rudolph also might have known some tips for a target. He could have stood up for himself by stating in a strong but non-threatening way “I feel hurt when someone bullies me, so stop bullying me”. Rudolph could have spoken to a friend, parent, or leader about the problem. Rudolph, however, was a wonderful role model as he did not let others’ negativity prevent him from being himself and shining his light.

Santa – The ultimate ally

Rudolph is eventually saved in the story by perhaps the ultimate ally, Santa. It is very possible Santa knew about the bullying and looked for a reason to give Rudolph a leadership role. The fog was possibly just the opportunity he was hoping for so he could turn things around for Rudolph. Perhaps there was an elf or a reindeer that did notice the bullying and reported it to Santa. Regardless, Santa is the perfect ally as a respected leader of the reindeer who had the vision to see what made Rudolph different as a strength rather than a weakness. This is a powerful way to turn around bullying and a wonderful way to see difference. What if we asked ourselves when we notice someone is different, how that difference is a strength? Better yet, what if we all tried to help them make that difference a strength?

“Poor Rudolph” – Empathy, the antidote

The author invokes a critical bullying antidote with the passage “They would not let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games”. By saying “poor Rudolph” the author was trying to get the reader to feel some empathy. In fact, he was also doing it by just telling Rudolph’s story, as it helps us engage in two key parts of empathy, (1) noticing how another is feeling and then (2) seeing it from their perspective. The third part of empathy is feeling with someone or feeling at-least a little bit of what they are feeling. This would be different for every reader, but the emotional ride of the story from poor Rudolph to going down in history surely evokes empathy in us all.

Without this appeal to our empathy, a reader might have thought all of this bullying behavior could be warranted for flaunting his red nose, a kind of “who does he think he is walking around with his red nose all stuck up in the air.” This is exactly why empathy is so important. When we recognize how others are feeling, see things from their perspective and feel a little of what they are feeling, we are putting ourselves in the position of another. Doing this is putting ourselves in another’s shoes or in this case horseshoes and if we were in those shoes, we would not want to be called names or excluded. 

Rudolph for grown-ups – “Going down in history”

Empathy is at the core of our humanity and relates directly to the golden rule of “Do unto others as you would have done to you”. Without a perspective of empathy, we are prone to “other”-ing or to distancing ourselves from another person or group of people. To make them different from “us”. This psychological distance allows us to be callous or unfeeling towards them. Bullying and exclusion starts with othering someone for their difference. The small comments grow into rationale for exclusion or social aggression, “Othering” taken to broad extremes has allowed horrors such as Native American removal, slavery, the Holocaust, and many more throughout time. In fact, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was written by an author, Robert May, who was inspired by his own painful childhood experiences as a Jewish boy targeted by bullying. The story was created during a time of great personal sadness for May, during a global background of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Smothering othering with empathy using Rudolph

Empathy is really seeing ourselves in another, and it breaks down “othering” as it forces us to think about how we would feel and how we would want to be treated. Empathy can change bullies to bystanders and bystanders to allies. This is why the work of teaching empathy is so critical to creating safe inclusive communities and a better world. So, this holiday season as you share the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, talk about the gift of empathy within the story. For younger children ask them what they think Rudolph might be feeling at each stage of the story. Talk about bullying and how to be an ally. For older children, consider adding the deeper history of the story. But most of all, use the story to remind all to see what others are feeling, put themselves in their shoes, and act from a place of compassion.

Perhaps the lesson of Rudolph can help make us all go down in a more empathetic, peaceful, and inclusive history.

Guest Author Rudolph Keeth Matheny is a social and emotional learning teacher, speaker, and author. He is named Rudolph, after his grandfather, who dramatically escaped the Holocaust on “Kristallnacht” and immigrated to America. He then worked in a warehouse and sent most of what he earned to help family members and friends escape. HIs mother, out of concern for his being bullied, nicknamed Rudolph “Keeth,” which is what he has been called all his life. Now that he knows more about his grandfather, he embraces Rudolph both in his name and in his work. He is a co-author of School-Connect, a research and evidence-based social and emotional learning curriculum that is now in over 2000 schools. Check out his site, SEL Launchpad!

*What an absolute joy to learn from and partner with Rudolph Keeth Matheny this week! It’s an honor to publish his outstanding article. – CPCK

#parenting #antibullying #SEL

Parents Supporting Studying in the Middle and High School Years

Wondering how you can play a role in your teen’s education?

You have a Science test tomorrow. Did you study?” I asked knowing I hadn’t seen any science content pulled up on my eighth grader’s computer screen during homework time. But I was ready to give the benefit of a doubt. “I studied — in school. I’m fine.” Was the response though grades would indicate that he’s not quite fine. After similar conversations such as these, I discovered my middle schooler had a very different definition of the word “study” in his head than the one I held in mine. His version of study meant “to hear about the topic presented in class.” And in earlier years, this method – learning in the classroom – seemed to be enough for him to show mastery on his tests. But now, in a more rigorous school with high expectations and a new level of high school preparatory content, the method of “learn it in class” studying is just not sufficient (yes, this was one of his vocabulary words we worked on together last night. Studying has evolved so there’s more to this story!).

There are numerous challenges we face in the middle and high school years but one important one is: how can we be involved in our teen’s learning as parents? Our teen is busy pushing us away finding their own identity and needing independence. And indeed, they need to learn how to manage their own work load, communicate with their teachers and become strong advocates for their own learning. We may miss the classroom parties and story times of younger years where we could make an appearance in the classroom and feel authentically engaged. Now, we may get half of a response if we are asking about homework and may feel in the dark often when it comes to their learning world. Yet, they still require our support to meet the demands placed on them.

There are a number of new ways to become involved in our teen’s learning. It will require our patience, but I ask you, what worthwhile endeavors in parenting do not require our patience? Contributing to a new definition of studying is an important one.
Though some teachers and schools offer direct instruction in study skills, most do not. Most assume that your teen will figure it out on their own. But it’s a significant leap from passive auditory learning or note-taking in the classroom to active, engaged strategies for learning content at home and over time. 

You may face resistance if you push your way in. So it may take multiple tries, small steps and false starts. We learn from mistakes and failures. And though for parents it can be painful to see our child fail, allowing for that failure in the midst of offering support may just be the way your teen learns they need your help. So go easy, go slowly and make strategic in-roads to help build positive study habits over time.

One message that’s key for parents to internalize is that schools never expect us to be or become content experts. That’s never our role or job. But we can learn ourselves from the best educational strategies the ways in which to support our young learners. Let’s take a look at some simple steps forward…

Empathize with your Teen’s Challenge! When we begin talking homework or academics with our teen, they can, at times (or all the time!) skip into a defensive mode preparing for us to blame them for some negligence or fault. Sometimes, it helps to articulate our teen’s challenges and feelings about it. They spend so much time tightly guarding their privacy and managing their self-image that hearing your level of empathy and understanding might be a giant relief. So begin with really seeing and articulating their challenges and ask what their hopes and goals are. What do hope to achieve? What do you want to learn? What grade are you aiming for?

There are indeed tricks to learning to study productively. Longer is not necessarily better! The next step is to discover how your teen learns best. That discovery process can raise their self-awareness in ways that will prepare them for all future learning experiences. 

Try this!

Step One: Look ahead to a quiz or test that’s upcoming. Grab your planner (buy one if you need one!) or digital calendar and block time each day (whatever amount of time teen and parent agree is reasonable) up until the test.

Step Two: Each day, take just a section of the material (Two paragraphs? One page? 3 pages?). Learn the material with a different learning strategy including:

a. Day one: Read ideally together using a highlighter to highlight the most important content. No student automatically knows how much or how little to highlight so if you can read with your parent and highlight together this one time (or more if it helps), you can collaboratively decide what’s important. Some common strategies include anything in bold plus its definition should be highlighted. Titles, names, places and events tend to be important. Examples are important for understanding concepts but don’t necessarily need to be highlighted. If your student’s content is digitized, you may either print off the most important handouts to highlight and make notes on or you may need to take notes from the online text. If you note-take together just the first couple of times, your student will learn what is important to note and what they can leave behind.

Learn more from Edutopia about why reading together and reading aloud is a benefit to children and teens well beyond literacy learning years.

b. Day two: Hand-write notes from your reading. Yes, handwriting matters! It seals the material in your brain in a way that typing does not.

*If you only have two days, this might be enough but it’s good to experiment with multiple ways of learning.

c. Day three: Listen to a section of the material while you follow along visually. Whether read by another person or a recording of the material, discover whether your teen is more of an auditory learner. Discuss the meaning of what you are learning together.

d. Day Four: Teach it! Your student can attempt to teach you the material studied.

Step Three: After the test, REFLECT together!

You might ask the following:

  • What one method helped you the most? 
  • What combination of methods were even better? 
  • What did you learn about how you learn best? 
  • Did you involve others in your studying? Was that key to your success? How did others help you?

Remember that using more of your five senses to take in the materials boosts your memory and learning in multiple ways. 

Bonus! Add taste and smell to your experience. Peppermint essential oil on a tissue, in a diffuser or in a hot tea has been found to sharpen alertness (do not use around younger children). For more, check out this medically reviewed article. Enjoy a hard peppermint candy to go along with it while you are studying. Smell that same tissue right before the test to add to your recall power! 

Other Helpful Tips:

Brain Breaks: 

Be sure and take five minute brain breaks while you are studying. This time should not be more computer time (or phone, television). Walk outside and breath fresh air. Stretch. Get a drink of water. Listen to music. These are all restorative and will help you return refreshed. Learn more about brain breaks.

The Myth of Studying All Night:

Make no mistake – at a certain time of the evening, you begin wasting your time. Sleep is critical to your brain’s ability to process what it’s learned during the day. If you deprive it or even short change it of that opportunity, you will not have the full brain power you require the next day for your test. Be sure you study over time (days). And be sure you get a full night’s sleep. Here’s the amount of sleep science says you need for your brain to function optimally.

Flashcards and Quizzing:

Flashcards or quizzing one another on the material can be a useful study method however, beware! We do not recall any names or new concepts that we do not attach some meaning to. So if you don’t understand a concept, you are far less likely to remember anything about it. Be sure your student fully understands words and ideas before attempting to memorize them.

Learning how to study is not a quick process. In fact, it requires trial and error over time since every person learns in different ways. But if your teen recognizes that he/she can come to you for support, it can be a great comfort to them. And you can feel a sense of satisfaction as you contribute to your teen’s growing self-awareness of how they learn best. In fact, I find that, as my teen is super busy with friends and extracurriculars, I treasure the time we spend together while I support his learning.

To learn more about ways to study productively, check out:

Help Your Kids with Study Skills by D.K. Publishing

Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy

Family Thanksgiving; Learning the Stories of our Past

Everything that is past is either a learning experience to grow on, a beautiful memory to reflect on or a motivating factor to act upon.
– Denis Waitley

It’s not unusual for our family’s thoughts and conversations to turn to those who are missing at our Thanksgiving table. A small family to begin with, it has become smaller through the years with the loss of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. And with the pandemic, we’ve intentionally shared an intimate meal with fewer numbers. So we appreciate all the more the family that we have and enjoy our being together. Thinking about your own mortality and the death of loved ones can add to your sense of gratitude finds leading gratitude researcher, Robert Emmons. We acknowledge that time is precious. We focus on the moment at hand and the experience of spending time with the people we love. This led me to think about our ancestors. How much do we really know about them and their stories? Is it important for me as a parent to explore our family histories with my son to contribute to his sense of identity?

Thanksgiving in Owensville

In fact, my research into these questions proved that it is indeed important to all family members including our children to explore our past for multiple reasons. Robert Emmons explains that understanding the trials and difficulties of generations that went before us can help us appreciate our current circumstances. Further, researchers in Berlin and Munich have shown that children who spend a short time thinking or learning about ancestors actually performed better on intelligence tests. They dubbed this the “ancestor effect,” the idea being that thinking and learning about the multitude of adversities our genetic lines had to overcome makes us feel empowered, more competent and in control. It gave students a sense of grit, or persistence to stick with problems. If their ancestors could deal with hunger, poverty, war, discrimination, injustice and more, certainly they could manage their current reality. We also feel a sense of belonging and connection to a line of people who stayed strong despite their struggles.

Many schools recognize the benefits of students learning about their families’ stories and understanding history from multiple cultural perspectives. Some engage programs such as, Facing History and Ourselves and integrate learning about historical events with understanding who students are today and how the past can inform their present and future. This particular program has demonstrated outcomes in improving students’ critical thinking skills, their sense of ability to contribute to the world, their social awareness, and their connectedness to their school community.

There are ways to combine this background knowledge with the practical aspects of hosting or attending a Thanksgiving celebration. Involve your family members in the following project and let them lead questions with grandparents and other relatives to uncover stories from the past. You need do very little to prompt this engagement but it could lead to rich sharing amongst young and old over your turkey dinner.

Miller Ralich Trail
Smith Woeste Trail

Set up materials for kids to create. Put out colored construction paper, pencils, markers or crayons and scissors. Have kids trace their shoe on the paper and cut it out. Be sure to have enough supplies available that if grandparents or others want to add information to the cut-out feet, they have their own patterns to write on. Have some pictures and maps available to look at former generations and the places from which they came.

Brainstorm what is known and what questions you have about family members that lived before you. For example, I know my son’s great, great grandmother was Navajo but I am unsure of her original name (it was changed as an adult) or where she came from. So on one foot pattern, he’ll write “Great, great grandma – Navajo.” He can write the questions, “What was her name? Where did she come from? What do we know or can we learn about the Navajo Nation?”

Create an ancestral trail. Designate the family lines with signs (see picture right). Kids can line up the ancestral path on the floor perhaps leading to the doors of the house. They can engage in conversations with each adult at your Thanksgiving gathering to see who might be able to contribute to the stories that are forming.

Share together. Perhaps after the feast is over and your tummies are properly full, follow the trails made together. Also use the maps to get a sense of where in world your ancestors lived. Read through, comment and see if there are any additions to the information shared. Or are there questions unanswered that you want to explore?

I am looking forward to this exploration into our family history this Thanksgiving. Cultivate gratitude for the people who have gone before you by exploring their stories and honoring the past. Surely, it will deepen your appreciation of the present.

For child-friendly photos and brief descriptions of the clothing worn, food eaten and typical daily life of those who were present at the first Thanksgiving, check out Scholastic’s “The First Thanksgiving.” Or watch a video to experience the indigenous people, the Wapanoag Nation.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, may it be healthy, safe and connecting!


Emmons, Robert. Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Fischer, P., Sauer, A., Vogrincic, C. & Weisweiler, S. (2010). The Ancestor Effect: Thinking about our Genetic Origin Enhances Intellectual Performance. European Journal of Social Psychology. DOI: 10. 1002/ejsp.778.

On Benchmark Education’s Blog… “Exchanging Heart Language: Moving Families and Educators from Acquaintances to Partners”

Grateful to Nicole Kavanaugh of Benchmark Education for involving me in their recognition of National Parent Involvement Day TODAY, November 18th. This article focuses on how we can authentically build, nourish and sustain our learning team – students-parents-teachers – that is so necessary in order for our children to learn. Hope you’ll check out the full article. Here’s how it begins…

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, it goes to his heart.”  — Nelson Mandela, Lead Liberator of South Africa

“If culture was a house, then language was the key to the front door to all the rooms inside.”  — Khaled Housseini, Afghan American Author

The seismic changes in schools and in families ushered in over the past few years have shone a bright light on the role of parents and caregivers as essential teachers and partners in education. Teachers were dependent upon parents to get their students online and in a conducive learning environment during remote learning. As students returned to their buildings in person, parents and caregivers remained deeply invested in their success. Many students had experienced trauma as a way of life before the pandemic, but now all students added layers of trauma from the consequences of a global pandemic, creating a unique uneasiness as parents and caregivers sent their children back to school.

You could say these are hard times or you could say these are heart times — times that unmistakably, undeniably involve our hearts in showing up, in accepting and managing challenging emotions, and in growing and sustaining our nourishing relationships. READ THE FULL ARTICLE.

How Can We Raise Confident Kids? Let’s talk about it this Sunday…

I’m excited to be talking with parents and caregivers about children’s social and emotional development and how we can become confident parents raising confident kids! I’ll be speaking on FB Live this Sunday, November 14th at 1:00 p.m. EST (12 CT, 11 MT, 10 PT) and we’ll have plenty of time and space for dialogue so bring your ideas, challenges, and questions!

If you’ve not heard of Moshi, it’s a sleep and mindfulness app for kids and parents and the number one app of this kind in 60 countries! I love their offerings to support children in going to sleep or calming down during the day with sleep stories, meditations, and more!

Want to learn more about Moshi? Check out their site!

Sunday, you can join the live stream on the Generation Moshi FB Page!

Hope you’ll join me!

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