Three Reasons Why It’s Critical to Reflect on News that Affects You with Your Children

…And How to Ensure It’s Developmentally-Appropriate

“I feel hopeful,” my son reflected the day after watching the Inauguration Ceremonies as part of his school day. While just one week ago, he was saying he was feeling exasperated, “tired of making history” as we learned of the U.S. Capitol attacks. It’s been quite a roller coaster ride in our national and world news with a global pandemic and the many issues that have taken center stage in our social, political and economic lives. And though an inundation of news can contribute to fear and anxiety, some fact-based information is helpful and important. But reflecting on those facts as a family are equally important to educate children and teens on how to make meaning from those bigger events and how they relate to their own lives.

When talking to other parents about scary news stories including racial injustice or the COVID-19 pandemic, many are reluctant to share much if anything with their children. “I don’t want to scare them,” is the thought. Yet children, no matter their age, are impacted if parents are impacted. Though young or even school age children may not know about the U.S. Capitol building or have any sense of what the events meant in U.S. history, our children were “catching” the emotions of their parents. 

Catching Emotions

So the first reason why meaningful reflections with children on news stories is imperative is the spread of emotional contagion. Catching another’s emotions is a reality and particularly potent in this stay-at-home world coupled with the layer of pandemic anxiety we are all feeling. When children are not guided by parents to make meaning from fear or other intense feelings felt in their family, they create their own stories to fill in the gap. These stories may exacerbate their own fears and contain false assumptions about what’s worrying Mom, Dad or Grandma. Often, stories turn inward as they feel that the something that is wrong with the world must relate to them. “What did I do wrong? Or what will happen to me?” are some questions that might go through a child’s mind as they witness emotional parents who haven’t communicated anything about what’s upsetting them.

Indeed, it’s difficult to know what to communicate and how much to communicate. Though we know our children may not comprehend the full picture of events, how much will they understand? What’s too much? What’s too little? And truly, how much do they need to understand in order to be informed? 

Getting the Facts, Turning Off the News, and Turning Up the Discussion

Yes, it’s important to get the facts straight when a scary or significant event occurs. And most kids say they get their news from family members first. Kids report that they value the news, according to Common Sense Media findings: 

About half of children (48 percent) say that following the news is important to them, and more than two-thirds (70 percent) say that consuming news makes them feel smart and knowledgeable. And 63% say they are afraid, angry or depressed by the news.1

Though the research continues to raise questions about the extent to which news can traumatize a child, it is clear that post-traumatic stress disorder or an experience of trauma is possible when children watch violent or disturbing news stories. 

According to parental reports of 179 children one month after the September 11 attacks, there was a positive relationship between exposure to television, print, or internet coverage of the tragedy and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, regardless of whether the images were positive or negative.2

Television and internet news tend to use the same video clips over and again and experts claim that it’s possible young children can be re-traumatized each time they watch a violent event repeated. For this reason, it’s important to seek out the facts – watch or read trusted sources of information that cite research (like this site!) and use multiple sources to support claims made – and then turn it off, set it down, or otherwise, move on to discussing what you’ve learned to help your child better understand what stories and information you are learning together.

Teaching Responsible Decision-Making Skills

Second, we teach discernment and responsible decision-making skills when we reflect and make meaning from local, national and global events. In addition to the feelings’ contagion that can be confusing for children and teens as significant larger scale events unfold, there is also a significant opportunity cost to their social and emotional skills if there is little to no reflection. Children and teens require numerous rehearsals with consequential thinking in order to develop the higher order thinking skill of responsible decision-making. Everyday decisions like which color socks to wear help exercise choices on a micro-scale. But global and national events offer an opportunity to rehearse critical thinking skills on a much larger scale. Questions can be considered such as, What happens if a leader makes a particular decision? What might be the ripple effect? What responsibility does s/he have for the outcome? What happens when crowds gather that are not wearing masks during a global pandemic? What is the level of risk? What is the danger? And what is the responsibility of each individual in these circumstances? There are no textbook answers to these questions. But families who wrestle with these difficult questions allow for complex thinking. Children and teens who are just beginning to build the neuro-pathways that allow them to connect cause to effect exercise those mental muscles and begin to formulate their own guiding principles as they respond with what they believe to be true and important.

Creating a Family Culture of Safe Spaces for Tough Issues

And finally, when you regularly create a psychologically safe place (where ideas are not judged but respected, considered and listened to) for challenging issues to be raised, your children and teens learn that there is a time, space, care and concern for dealing with complexity in family life. This creates a family culture in which tough choices and tough issues are not only accepted but also welcomed into the family dialogue. So when your child or teen gets into a sticky ethical situation (Cheating on a test? Plagiarizing content? Witnessing a friend bullying?), they will feel safe to bring those tough issues to you knowing that you can hold a safe space for dealing with complexity.

So how do you ensure that you are talking to your young child, your school-age child, your tween or your teen in age-appropriate ways? Here are some tips that if you follow, will help you stay on course no matter their age/stage!

Ask and Listen

Asking your child what they know and what they think about a particular tough topic and really listening to their response can ensure that you are remaining in the developmentally-appropriate zone. Why? It’s easy to project our adult fears without even realizing that we are making assumptions about what our children know, feel and think. We may be grappling in our heads with complexities that are far beyond any our child may concern themselves with or even be able to comprehend. Asking open questions about tough topics offers insights into where our children need help filling in gaps or reframing their thinking. Stick to basics. For example, after watching the Inauguration ceremonies, you might ask, “What do you recall about what was said or who said it?” Allow their comments to lead you.

Focus on Feelings First

In order to keep conversations safe and age-appropriate, focus on feelings. A feelings check-in with some feelings words or faces (poster, handout, book?) to prompt thinking and recognition can help reveal what’s going on inside your child and offer them a chance to build self-awareness. If your child offers that they feel scared or worried, help them deal with those feelings. Check out these healthy coping strategies that you can practice with your child for grades K-4 and for grades 5-12.

Keep It Simple – How It Affects Me and You

More details can add to a child’s worry, fear and confusion. So if you are discussing a complex news story like the pandemic, stick to simple highlights that you know they’ll understand. Young children will want to understand how it directly impacts them day to day. Children’s books can be a tremendous source of comfort and confidence for parents who are wading into topics that make them uncomfortable. For tweens and teens, they are keenly aware of fairness and justice issues so build on that newfound awareness by discussing what seems fair or unfair to them. Also, bring back consequential thinking by asking them what they predict will happen as a result of today’s events and decisions. Be sure to follow up and discuss as events and consequences unfold. Where they on the mark? Was it too difficult to predict?

Also, if you are hearing worries or fears that are bigger than the news truly merits, be sure to reframe by sharing alternative perspectives along with helpful facts. First, affirm that it’s normal they might feel worried or scared. The simple act of accepting their feelings will alleviate some of the heat of the emotion as they feel understood. Then, seek facts to support the reframing of their perspective. You might say,  “I know you are worried about getting COVID, but did you know that we are taking every precaution the experts tell us to take to ensure we stay safe? Let’s take a look at what we are doing and how that aligns with what medical experts say.”

Raise a Discerning Digital Citizen

As we critically examine news’ sources and stories, our children will begin to learn that not every word in print is true. And in fact, that in order to find valuable information in the morass of media, we have to learn how to discern what is useful, what is based on research, what is wise, and what is not worth paying attention to. Next time, you are huddled around a laptop together, enter a keyword you know was in recent news in a search engine and look at all of the sources that are listed together. You might ask your child, “Which ones would you read? Which ones would you trust? Why?” The more we engage our children and teens in examining our news’ sources and stories together, the more they will grow the critical habit of discernment.

The internet and within it, social media can serve as incredible tools for information and connection if we learn to use them wisely. But they can also serve as tools for destruction if they infest individuals with feelings of fear and helplessness. And if our children and teens do not learn how to be active agents of their own media consumption, they will inevitably face this issue. As confident parents, developing the habit of reflecting on news together and critically reviewing sources prepares our children and teens to become the informed citizens we hope they will be.

References:

1. Robb, Michael, B. (2017). News and America’s Kids; How Young People Perceive and Are Impacted by the News. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense.

2. Saylor, C. F., Cowart, B. L., Lipovsky, J. A., Jackson, C., & Finch, A. J. Jr. (2003). Media exposure to September 11: Elementary school students’ experiences and posttraumatic symptoms. American Behavioral Scientist, 46, 1622-1642.

Today We Hear the Call of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

When we think of the civil rights movement or we consider our current circumstances, we may think of a country divided. But Martin Luther King Jr.’s message and the vision that galvanized so many to act bravely in the face of fear, consisted of values that any person in any corner of the world can aspire to. They are values that, when lived, have the potential to unify. So when you are talking with your children today about why we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., be sure and include those values that he articulated and modeled and that so many were able to demonstrate through their actions.

Because of the challenges in our country and our world, we may feel like no action is adequate or quite meets the power of the moment as it should.  But we cannot allow our passions for justice to leave us feeling helpless and ultimately unable to act. Think about small ways in which you might demonstrate those values in your day-to-day life. Plant seeds of justice with your families today and then tend to them over time. They will grow and contribute to change. If you do so, you will be honoring the memory of all those throughout time whose lives and livelihoods were threatened and despite that, made choices that aligned with the best of who we can be.

Martin Luther King Jr. valued:

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

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

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

Educators/School Leaders Can Ask: How can we examine our policies, structures and everyday ways of treating black and brown children and families? How can we deeply listen to enable us to see through their eyes examining our environment with a lens of equity and inclusion? How can we develop new communication lines that show care and demonstrate safety to deeply listen and seek understanding?

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) redefined social and emotional learning in this past year ensuring that there was clearly the lens of equity embedded in how we advance our own and our children’s development. Read about the new definition here. How are you redefining how you develop children, teachers and indeed your entire school community bringing that lens of equity and inclusion?

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

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

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

Educators/School Leaders Can Ask: How am I promoting hope in my school community amidst tough times? Am I offering families an authentic voice and choices in their roles with their child’s learning? Am I offering students an authentic voice and choice in their own learning? In what ways can I do more to offer partnership and a sharing of power with families?

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

Parents/Caregivers Can Ask: What do we as a family deeply value and stand for? How can those core values make a world a more inclusive, caring place? What are ways in which we promote the character of our children in our family life? How do we encourage responsibility? How do we offer choices to give our children practice with thinking about consequences? How do we guide our children to consider others’ perspectives in any given problem? How do we offer a model of empathy and compassion by expressing others’ viewpoints ourselves?

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

Educators/School Leaders Can Ask: How do we offer students the chance to reflect on and wrestle with difficult issues? How do we prepare them with tools, skills, and boundaries to understand how to constructively dialogue about contentious issues? How do we create a regular safe space for bringing personal, social and other feelings-laden conversations so that our students have a place today to reflect on the issues of the day to learn responsible decision-making skills for their roles as citizens of the future?

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

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

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

Educators/School Leaders Can Ask: How are we teaching children the social and emotional skills necessary to act as peacemakers? How are we discussing the heated topics of our nation and our world and grappling with how to solve the world’s issues with active, peaceful solutions? How are we promoting peace as a school and classroom through our discipline strategies? Are they punitive or reflective and offering of ways in which children can repair harm, seek forgiveness and make things better?

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

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

Small Actions: Notice and appreciate kindness when you see it happen around your home. “You took care of cleaning up your mess and I didn’t have to ask you. That’s taking responsibility and I see you doing that.” Point out kindness when you see it in the world. “Did you notice that woman help that older gentleman through the door at the grocery? How kind of her to notice he needed help.” Do it enough and you will begin to hear your child finding examples of kindness for herself. Read more about how parents can serve in their roles by acting as family servant leaders. And also, learn more about how you can guide your teenage daughter or son to considering how they might find their own sense of purpose. Amidst the pandemic, there is much food insecurity in our communities. Find a food drive and shop and deliver with your family as one small step you can take. Check out Americorps’ extensive “Day of Service” list that offers numerous ways to serve in every corner of the United States.

Educators/School Leaders Can Ask: How do you offer regular opportunities for students and families to serve their classroom, school and community? How do you build in reflection so that not only are students and families take action but those actions are made meaningful by learning about social issues and the greater historical context they are contributing to?

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

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

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

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

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

Educators/School Leaders Can Ask: How do you show love as a school? How can families feel accepted and appreciated no matter the mistakes of the past? How can you teach the restoration of relationships when hurt exists so that healing can begin?

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

Thank you, Martin Luther King Jr. and all those nameless individuals who have demonstrated their values through their daily courageous actions. May we all attempt that show of strength. Here are two of Martin Luther King Jr.’s incredible speeches that could be shared as a family today as we remember and apply those teachings to our present context.

Video Series – Helping Students Manage Challenging Feelings in Challenging Times

We are honored and grateful to partner with Redwood Credit Union in Santa Rosa, California to share a video series to support children and the parents who love them deal with these tough times. Families have been adversely impacted by the pandemic, by wild fires, by political and social unrest, the economy, and by racial injustice. We all – kids and parents alike – can benefit from learning simple, practical ways in which we can cope with the difficult feelings emerging in these challenging times. Friends, family members and colleagues join Jennifer Miller to act out these important tips. And for teens, a local mental health organization, NAMI Sonoma County along with local youth, offer their tips. For follow up resources including a big feelings list, healthy coping strategies lists by age/stage, a family emotional safety plan and mental health resources, check out the Redwood Credit Union Student Wellness Resources page. Hope you enjoy!

Special thanks to Brett Martinez, Mary O’Neil, and Matt Martin of Redwood Credit Union, Diversified Stage and also, our family actors and directors including Nikkya Hargrove and Aviah and Lera De Silva; Pamela, John, Imogen and Theo McVeagh-Lally, Mike, Mya and Demi Wilson; Susie, Megan and Alex Fabro; Jeremy, Kelly and Leilani Miller; and Jason and Ethan Miller.

Courageous Families, Courageous Kids; Dealing with Big Feelings During Challenging Times Presented by Redwood Credit Union for Grades K-2

Courageous Families, Courageous Kids; Dealing with Big Feelings During Challenging Times Presented by Redwood Credit Union for Grades 3-5

Courageous Families, Courageous Tweens; Dealing with Difficult Feelings in Challenging Times Presented by Redwood Credit Union for Grades 6-8

Coping with Stress; Tips from Youth for Youth Presented by Redwood Credit Union for Teens

Parenting Site from Infants to Teens

Updated to include the early childhood years…

Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ Founder Jennifer Miller has been grateful to partner with the Center for Health and Safety Culture at Montana State University along with collaborator Shannon Wanless at the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development to further develop tools related to parents’ biggest concerns at the earliest ages including the infancy, toddler, and preschool years. This site, https://parentingmontana.org, funded by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, offers guidance and support on topics that Montana parents stated (on an extensive statewide survey) were important to them representing their hopes and dreams for their children and also, their concerns for their development. New tools for ages 0-4 include critical issues such as, building confidence, reading, setting routines, handling tantrums, teaching empathy, developing resilience, and more.

Additional updates to the site include information for current foster parents and those considering fostering, increased access to the information through audio files, informative “how-to” videos, and a new podcast series featuring national parenting experts all incorporated into a newly designed website. The tools for parents of 5-19-year-olds include critical topics like bullying, listening, friendship, homework, lying, anger, conflict, and more.

Check out one of the new videos on “Guidance and Discipline for Skill Building” which shows examples of how parents have can build skills like self-management in their children instead of punishing when mistakes are made. And do check out the whole site for the many resources based on solid research created to support you in your parenting.

Patience with all that is unresolved…

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

 -Rainer Maria Rilke

Happy, Healthy New Year!

One of Greater Good Science Center’s Favorite Parenting Books of 2020

We are so grateful to the University of California at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center for reading and reviewing the CPCK book. Here’s how their review begins…

In Confident Parents, Confident Kids, Jennifer Miller busts myths that many parents have about confidence, a quality that most of us want our kids to gain. According to Miller, it’s not about being an extrovert, gaining power at all costs, having a high IQ, getting straight As in school, or repressing our feelings. Confidence—feeling sure of your own abilities—comes down to emotional competence...

Miller shares insights to help parents understand kids during different life stages, from birth to the teenage years. For example, preschoolers and early school-aged children experience many transitions in their lives—including daily travel from home to school to after-care and back home, with different rules and relationships with adults in each setting—at a time when they are still developing the skills to think flexibly across settings. These transitions can elicit lots of big feelings. She provides age-appropriate tips for parentsRead the review and check out the full list of parenting picks for 2020!

Thanks Roger Weissberg, co-investigator in original research shared in the book, for your own review and support of the book and for letting me know about this review! And get your own copy of Confident Parents, Confident Kids; Raising Emotional Intelligence In Ourselves and Our Kids From Toddlers to Teenagers for yourself or a parent you treasure!

Winter Solstice, The Great Conjunction, and Making Meaning as a Family

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

HOW WE CAN MARK THIS PASSING FROM DARK TO LIGHT

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. 

Never have the themes of the solstice seemed more relevant than this year in which we faced such global strife. It’s no surprise that the universe might underscore the importance of this moment with the Great Conjuction, with Jupiter and Saturn’s (our galaxy’s largest planets) orbits converging and appearing like a giant double planet in the night sky and visible around the world. Approaching this passing of dark to light, nature offers us a moment to reflect on the themes cultures throughout the world have recognized, appreciate our commonalities and consider how we can learn from their wisdom and reinforce those themes in our own family.

Tonight we will go outside to view the Great Conjunction at sunset (it should be visible for one hour after sunset in the northern hemisphere). Then, we’ll light a fire and talk about the following themes. I’ve included questions that we will ask and offer them to you as well to consider around your own family fire or dinner table.

Theme: Connection
Our connection to one another during this time is one of the most valuable. Ironically savoring our moments with our loved ones can get buried under a mound of anxiety, expectations and commitments. With COVID restrictions, we’ve needed to find new and different means of connecting. and perhaps because of those limitations, offered a greater appreciation for times when we can connect.

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 pastedGraphic_1.pngbetter 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? Have you gained more appreciation or new view of the natural world during the pandemic?

Theme: Rebirth, Purification and Forgiveness
In ancient Rome during the solstice, wars stopped, grudges were forgiven and slaves traded places with their masters. Today, the theme of rebirth and forgiveness is carried out in a diverse range of religious and cultural practices. The burning of wood to create light in the darkness also symbolizes that we can let go of old wounds or poor choices and begin again. For children, it’s a critical lesson to learn that one choice does not determine who they are. There is always the light of a new day to offer a chance for forgiving the old and creating the new.

Question for our Family Dinner: Are there hurts that you are holding onto from the past? How can you heal and move on? Have you disappointed yourself? With the burning of a candle, can you imagine those disappointments burning into the ash, forgiven, and offering you a new chance?

There is a silent calm that comes over me when I light a candle or watch the flames rise in our fireplace. That calm gives me the space to reflect on the meaning of this time of year and connects me to the many individuals and cultures today and of generations past that have recognized this passage. May you find ways to appreciate and focus on the people most important to you during this emergence from dark to light. And simultaneously, may we appreciate our common ground and connection to people around the world, past and present, who require light for life.

Reference
The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper retrieved on 12-17-14 from http://wintersolsticemusic.com/solstice-traditions/winter-solstice-poetry-celtic-mid-winter-poetry.htm.

Originally posted on December 14, 2014.

New Highlights Blog Post – Children and Mask-Wearing

Highlights for Children has been getting a range of letters with reactions from parents about mask-wearing since the pandemic began earlier this year. They chose to respond directly to questions and challenges through the following article articulating their commitment to showing a diverse range of children as they are currently living and experiencing the world. I was honored to partner again with Highlights for Children on the following blog post, Why We Show Kids Wearing Masks in Highlights Magazines. I hope you’ll check it out! It begins:

“Why are the children shown in my child’s magazine wearing masks?” This is a question some parents of our readers are asking us in emails and letters and on our social sites.” Read the full article here.

New COVID Resources Page

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The physical health challenges posed by COVID-19 has brought home the need for parenting with social and emotional skills. It’s challenged all of us to create new ways to manage big feelings and promote social and emotional development in a time when our children are frequently isolated. There are some truths that cannot be ignored as we live through this global pandemic:

  1. Social and emotional skills are vital for parents and families to manage stress, fear, and challenging times in ways that build strength and intimacy and not deteriorate it.
  2. Our children’s social and emotional skills are cultivated in relationship with others through modeling, coaching, practice and supportive (recognizing and reinforcing) environments.
  3. Schools cannot operate without families as partners. Education begins at home and requires community to support it.
  4. Relationships are a cornerstone to learning.
  5. Children and parents can thrive during tough times but it requires a commitment to their own social and emotional learning.
  6. The active inclusion of all individuals who may be categorized as “different” because of race, culture, learning ability, gender identification, or sexual orientation among other factors (such as, arts-oriented boys, science and engineering-oriented girls) is vital to a safe, healthy and just community.
  7. Our individual self awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship skills and responsible decision-making have a significant impact on the health of our family, community and planet.

Here at CPCK, our community of writers and thinkers have produced a number of articles and resources in 2020 to support you. We’ve placed our “best of…” COVID-times resources here to help you as we continue to manage life during a pandemic. Here’s to you and your families’ health, safety and well-being over the coming year!

Articles

My Kids’ School Is Closed So, Now What? by Pamela McVeagh-Lally

On the Front Lines… Parents and Educators as Servant Leaders; Our Call to a Greater Purpose

The Missing Link in Social and Emotional Learning; Why Social Justice and Equity Are Essential to Social and Emotional Learning by Shannon Wanless and Tia N. Barnes

Learning about our Planet Together

Big Worries, Small Steps

High Stakes Conversations

Social and Emotional Learning Around the Clock

Helping Children Understand Death

Navigating the COVID Storm — Together; Understanding Group Dynamics to Improve your Family’s Collaboration and Resilience by Julea Douglass, Ph.D. and R. Keeth Matheny

Resources

Learning about Racial and Social Justice at Home – A Series of Resources including children’s book recommendations

Tools

Family Relationships, Conflict and Communications:

Do You Have a Family Emotional Safety Plan?

Family Responsible Decision-making – includes the traffic light problem solving model by Roger Weissberg

Developing Family Guidelines for Fighting Fairly

Family Fighting? Use the Peace Rose

Challenging Feelings:

Daily Feelings Temperature Checks

Healthy Coping Strategy List for K-4

Healthy Coping Strategy List for Grades 5-12

School and Home:

30 Ways to Build Caring Relationships on Zoom

The Stress of School, The Safety of Now

A Parent and Educator Manifesto

Mindset:

Gratitude Prompts…

Media

Highlights for Children Podcast: For the Love of Reading – How Reading Helps Social-Emotional Learning (and dealing with anxiety and fears) – Listen now on YouTube https://bit.ly/2XvOFgA or Apple Podcasts https://bit.ly/3cgK1ap 🎧

Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) Cares Webinar with Jennifer Miller:

So What Now? Supporting Social and Emotional Learning at Home

Upcoming Radio Show on Dealing with Fear and Anxiety in Family Life

Creating Calm in the Midst of a Chaotic World

Do you need help managing your fear and anxiety with your family during times of uncertainty? We are going to talk about how to deal with your feelings and help your children deal with theirs. How can you create a calm home environment amidst a chaotic world? We are grateful to the REACH Council of Johnson County just south of Fort Worth, Texas and hosts Shari Phillips and Jen Heggland for bringing Jennifer Miller back to discuss this important topic. Join us on their live Facebook feed this Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. Central and 6:00 pm Eastern on JoCo Community Radio.

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