Parenting with a Purpose; Actively Promoting Racial Inclusivity as Integral to our Roles

By Nikkya Hargrove

Anyone who has had the privilege of being a parent knows it is hard. It is a role we take head-on and as flawed and incomplete as we are, we say “YES” to being a parent. It is a decision. When we do sign up, we also take on the responsibilities which come along with it from cleaning the dirty diapers to teaching them how to drive to lending them money for their first apartment. Parenting is a job that never ends. We all have a purpose as parents, and as such, we too are “works in progress” as are our kids.

Have you read the book “Are You My Mother” by P.D. Eastman to your children? If not, the gist of it is that a little birdie goes around asking anyone (a dog) and anything (a bulldozer) if they are their mother. When reading it to my now 6-year-old twins, even while I know how the story ends, I say to myself, “Sure, the dog can be your mother,” because the dog can give you love, compassion, and provide you with a family little birdie. In my household, I am the birdie and my kids are the exclamation points. The question I ask all three of my kids is, “Were you the only brown person there?” I ask them this almost daily. Why? Because being the only brown person or the only person of color in a room always, can be exhausting, uncomfortable, and frustrating.

I am a Black mom with biracial children who are half Sri Lankan and half Black. I know what it feels like to be in their shoes. I have often been the only Black child in my elementary school classroom and now I am often the only Black professional woman in meetings. I hope that we can change this fact. But it will take work. If we, as a community, put in the work now to do more to be more inclusive, our society will reflect it. Do we say, “it is what it is” or “my hands are tied” or “I don’t control who is in my kid’s classroom?” We are parents who have a purpose and while our job as a parent is a role we take on without pay or reward, we do it because we love our kids and we want the best for them. Embracing racial inclusivity now, while our kids are young, will invariably shape their futures as professionals and as young adults. Here are some steps we can take.

Be Mindful

It’s simple. Read the room, the classroom, the cafeteria, the playground and see who is there. See how diverse the room is. As a mom of color, I certainly scan the room and just take a mental note of who is showing up in the room from the teachers to support staff to the kids. When we are more aware of our surroundings, we can sit with what we have opened our eyes to, and have discussions with our kids. 

Learn Because It Matters

If our children have taught us anything, it is that we must continue to learn, to keep up with them. We must learn the names of their friends and understand how our kids are being treated by their classmates and their friends. Here is where we can discuss race with our kids because it matters. When we talk about race with our kids, it helps them be more self-aware and aware of their surroundings in a crucial way.

You Can Be The One

You can promote inclusivity. My kids are often “the two” kids of color at the party or on the playground because their friends are predominantly white. We, as a family, are comfortable being “the” one because it is what we know. Given that fact, as moms of color, we must also be proactive in befriending more people of color, inviting more people of color, and bringing them to the proverbial table, even on the playground. It’s not a one size fits all approach to being more inclusive. We all have a role to play in bringing inclusivity onto the playground. 

Educate Ourselves

I know in my household, we promote inclusivity. I’ve found myself, as of late, being more aware of how to be more inclusive picking up tools, mostly reading articles, and truly listening to others. With birthday party invitations arriving monthly to my email inbox and playdate requests showing up via text, I am conscious of who is inviting whom to playdates, birthday parties, and everything in between. 

Keep your eyes open. I know, when things get tough, when my day-to-day seems unbearable – the tantrums, the fights, the overload on social media, the screen time, the forgotten homework, the calls from teachers – I want to throw in my hat. I want to quit. But most often, when things are calm, when dinner is served and we are sitting around our dinner table, with a meal that I made with love, and the belly laughs begin, I am reminded of my purpose. I will continue to be intentional, to sit and ponder what the “right” decision for my kids might be, and today, the right decision is to put them in environments that invite them to the table, belly laughs and all. And if that space does not exist, it is my job to make room for them.

Nikkya Hargrove is an alum of Bard College and a 2012 Lambda Literary Fellow. She has written for the The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Taproot Magazine, Elle, and more. Her memoir, Mama: A Black, Queer Woman’s Journey to Motherhood, is forthcoming from Algonquin Books. She lives in Connecticut with her one son and two daughters and is a staff writer for Scary Mommy. Learn more at https://www.nikkyamhargrove.com.

Rebuilding Our Social Intelligence

“My teacher is trying to trick us. She never puts assignments online. We’re just supposed to remember.” – Middle school student

“I couldn’t stand the angry, defiant people anymore so although I’m not sure it’s time, we’ve removed our mask mandate for our store.” – Grocery store owner

“I think the doctor messed up my care. I’m supposed to feel better by now.” – Retired professor

As a result of the tough times of the past few years, we all seem to be on guard. Though the teacher intends for her students to write down their assignments as an important lesson in work management and the vast majority of grocery store patrons willingly wore masks without argument when it was required and the doctor actually performed the surgery perfectly but it’s taking time to heal and adjust, these are simple examples of how we may be less inclined to trust others’ intentions or motivations now. Our safety has been challenged one too many times. We’ve found ourselves disagreeing wholeheartedly with others we once viewed as close allies including family and friends. We’ve dealt with mixed information and misinformation about issues related to our well-being. We’ve endured losses of individuals to COVID and stress-related illnesses and perhaps, also sustained losses of relationships because of disagreements or destructive choices. And we’ve been more isolated than perhaps ever in our lives. 

This social distance – our keeping away from others – has created an emotional as well as a physical divide. Add to it our daily consumption of social media and we may sit in judgment of others more often than we’d like to admit. Our “othering” tendency may just be at an all-time high. 

Some reflections I’ve heard recently reinforce this notion. “You’d think we’d have less stress as COVID restrictions recede but it feels like there’s more!” “Why is it people seem to be so on edge and making more destructive even outlandish choices when we are increasing our freedoms?” Indeed stress is cumulative. The very definition of anxiety involves the world changing around us faster than we are able to adapt. Generally, many have tapped their resilience reserves to cope with the stressors of our times one too many times. For those who haven’t been doubling-down on renewal and care, their reserves may just be empty.

What happens when our patience, our resilience, our self-management reserves are depleted? We react instinctively, defensively, impulsively. We may blame others for our unhappiness and have less of a willingness to accept our own limitations or poor reactions to our emotions. We may react more from our reptilian brain (fight, flight or freeze) which offers us very limited choices. And our children and teens may be reacting in their own uniquely challenging ways. Those actions can resemble more of a reptile’s reactions versus a rational thinking person… hissing, snapping back, even lashing out. Our kids may surprise us or we may even surprise ourselves.

This can become particularly challenging in family life as our lives speed up going to school or to meetings in-person, increasing our travel, and generally spending more time away from home. Additionally, as we begin to engage in relationships beyond our home more in person, we may approach those interactions with great caution, fear or skepticism. And perhaps we are hearing about or experiencing behavior from our kids that is new, different or disturbing. 

So it’s time to rebuild our social intelligence – in our kids and in ourselves and fortunately, we can work on both simultaneously. Daniel Goleman, in his book “Social Intelligence; The Revolutionary New Science of Human Relationships” offers two core components of social intelligence: 1.) social awareness and 2.) social facility. Let’s take a look at how these have specifically been impacted by the pandemic.

Social awareness:

a. Empathy = we feel for and with others

b. Nonverbal signals = understanding others through tone of voice, facial expressions. and body language.

c. Attunement = listening fully to another

d. Empathetic accuracy = understanding another’s thoughts, feelings and intentions

e. Social cognition = knowing how social situations and interactions work.

Potential Pandemic Impact:

a. Empathy – There is so much pain right now that if we are feeling it for and with others, it can wear us down. In fact, we/our children may actively work to block others’ feelings because we’re worn with our own emotions. On the plus side, there’s been a greater, wider sensitization to injustices, misinformation campaigns, and other’s suffering as we are keenly tuned into local, national and global news.

b. Nonverbal signals – Masks have covered half of and our faces when out of our homes making it more difficult to read nonverbal cues. This is particularly salient for our children who have been in- person in schools. Though most schools have dropped the mask mandate now, most of the year has been spent missing some of the social cues offered and straining to figure them out. For professionals, we’ve spent our days on Zoom with a limited view of the face and shoulders of the other person missing the rest of the body’s nonverbal cues.

c. Attunement – Masks may challenge us to fully listen to another person particularly when there’s ambient sound like noisy hallways.

d. Empathetic accuracy – We have a heightened sense now of stranger danger – and not just strangers! – family and friends too. Do you recall when the news first told us to assume everyone we come into contact with has COVID? This lack of safety can skew our perceptions of others. We may assess ill intent where none exists. 

e. Social cognition – We are simply out of practice!

This is just scratching the surface of social intelligence. Here’s the second half involving social facility.

Social facility:

a. Synchrony = smooth interactions through nonverbals.

b. Self-presentation = presenting ourselves effectively.

c. Influence = Shaping the outcome of social interactions.

d. Concern = Caring about others needs and making choices that reflect care.

Potential Pandemic Impact:

a. Synchrony – It’s difficult to achieve synchrony if we struggle to see nonverbals behind a mask or with a limited view on Zoom.

b. Self-presentation – For kids, they may have felt safe hiding from social pressures behind their mask and may now struggle as masks come off. 

c. Influence – We may experience increased discomfort and even a lack of agency as we have to literally face individuals we’ve disagreed with or know they’ve voiced very different views.

d. Concern – This is compassion at its finest. This involves our moral compass and consequential thinking. But we can find it challenging to make decisions that care for others when we ourselves feel depleted.

There’s much we can do to help rebuild our social intelligence! First, acknowledging what we are going through is key. Our raised awareness will be an important first step toward accepting our circumstances and offering family members more grace as they deal with their own stressors. Easing back into social situations in moderation can help with making adjustments too. Here are some additional steps we can take to ensure our children and ourselves are rebuilding our social intelligence.

Replenish the Empty Well with Daily Mindfulness and Gratitude

Our families will continue to struggle until we become committed to refilling the empty well. Since anxiety is contagious, we inadvertently share it with one another. So taking care involves the entire family. Here are some key questions about potential daily practices that can nourish your soul and allow the water to flow back into your life-spring!

  • Do you have a daily deep breathing ritual? Nothing replenishes your body, mind and spirit at once quite like deep breathing can.
  • Do you reflect on or voice gratitude with your family at least once per day? Families that do experience greater well-being. Consider that you and your children get plenty of doses of negativity through social media and news. How will you balance those sources so that you see the good in your life?
  • How do you take in fresh air and get into nature? Forest bathing is not the only way to experience nature. Just a walk around the block can be replenishing.
  • How do you limit your screen time – your children’s and your own? Too much screen time can reduce quantity and quality of sleep at night and make you feel lethargic not to mention the content that is often negative or destructive. Limiting screen time matters.
  • How do you reflect and reframe? Do you journal or write down your thoughts and feelings? It’s not enough just to reflect. Reflection alone can turn into rumination, or a churning of the same thoughts over and over. Instead, how can you read wisdom in books, podcasts and through your best sage sources to help reframe your thinking (we hope this is one place you can do that!)?

Accept and Validate Even the Most Challenging Feelings

There are a huge range of feelings we just don’t want to show to the outside world. Yet, they are a part of being human. If we hide them or shove them down, not only will they come out stronger (and produce reactions we may later regret) but also, we’ll model hiding and shoving for our children. Instead we offer our children strength when we name the mix-up of feelings we hold – hurt, anger, shame, jealousy, disgust – and validate that ours and their own feelings are normal.

Initiate the Pause Principle.

When our self-control has been depleted, we run a much greater risk of hurting someone we love — at any age. It’s as simple as that. So get into the habit as a family of pausing when emotions run high. Take some beats to breathe. This super simple step allows for impulse to turn to feeling to turn to thought. It happens within seconds but those are precious seconds that help us consider the impact of our words and actions on others.

Discuss the Impact of Choices.

Have a difficult decision to make? COVID has offered a million opportunities for them. Talk as a family about challenging decisions to gather thoughts and feelings. Include your children and teens in these valuable discussions. Consider the impact today on yourself and others? Is there the potential for harm to anyone with a particular course of action? What about next week? How will the potential decisions impact yourself and others in a month or a year? Now play out making the debated choice. Imagine telling the story of your decision later to someone you admire greatly. Did you demonstrate moral courage? Will you be proud of your choice?

Repair Harm After A Poor Choice.

Though you may need to wait to let emotions cool, don’t wait too long if your child or you makes a poor choice. Often one poor choice can spiral downward into more to cope with the first. There’s always a next opportunity to make it right. Guide your child (or model for yourself) to take responsibility for your role in the problem (even if others made poor choices too). You might ask your child: how do you feel? And how can you repair the relationship? What can you do to make him feel better or safer or trust you more? Children may require your hand-holding through the process of repairing harm. And that’s okay! In fact, adults struggle to do this effectively. So support your child as needed when they apologize to a friend or mend a toy for a sibling. They will learn a critical life lesson as you support them through the courageous act of taking responsibility for their choices. 

Also, check out our Fighting Fairly Family Pledge which lists specific ways of fighting to avoid because they destroy trust and ways in which we can build up trust and come through disagreements stronger and more connected.

We have been facing perhaps the biggest tests of our relationships in recent history throughout this pandemic and its many ripple effects. If we didn’t quite fathom our interconnectedness before, we have evidence of how we are inextricably linked locally, nationally and globally. As we reenter the world, we begin to realize that our ability to care for ourselves and our family has ripple effects for each person with whom we come into contact physically, socially and emotionally. It will take time, mistakes, and many rehearsals to rebuild or for young children to build their social intelligence. But we know the steps we need to take. If we become intentional about this process, we will meet the times and more importantly each other with a sense of gratitude; grateful for the freedom, meaning and life-giving enrichment of being with one another and growing together.

One Process for Healing as a Family; Getting into the Flow

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

Though our world continues to face troubling times, we can feel the sun shining and the hope of Spring. We all seem to be in search of renewal, of healing. There are a number of ways we can invest in our family’s sense of wellness this Spring… by eating healthier, enjoying nature and fresh air, and by connecting witth beloved friends and family. But there’s yet another way… Check out the following ideas and you just might lose track of time and space as you fall into your own sense of flow!

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

Flow is…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Practice Real, Humanly Flawed Unconditional Love.

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

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

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

  1. Learn about our Children’s Development.

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

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

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

We can ask three questions:

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

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

“What can I learn from this?”

  1. Do Emotional Coaching.

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

5.  Lean into your own Developmental Journey.

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

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

6. Stay on your own Mat.

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

Catch the SEL Day Records and Recordings!

Social and emotional learning day was a huge success in raising awareness and showing the critical role it plays for children and adults in families, schools and communities. Check out the milestones that occurred on Friday:

  • #SELday trended on Twitter for more than 5 hours
  • Over 7 million views from over 6,000 mentions of #SELday
  • Over 33,000 #SELday likes across social media
  • A letter recognizing #SELday from the President and First Lady 
  • Six #SELday state proclamations
  • Over #SELday 2,800 participants representing 63 countries and all 50 U.S. states and DC
  • More than 2,300 schools, districts, and organizations represented
  • Participants committed to over 8,000 actions to showcase, promote, advocate, and support #Soldiery

Check out the following recordings of interviews done for the Parents: Equip Our Kids! Online Event. Thank you for sponsoring Equip Our Kids!

Meet the Millers! – If you are familiar with the movie, this is not it! My husband, Jason and I talk about parenting with social and emotional learning for the first time in public though we’ve had an ongoing dialogue and practice together every day for fourteen years. It was a joy to collaborate! And our interviewer was friend and collaborator Mike Wilson of Harris County Department of Education! Check it out!

Different Families, Great Results – Confident Parents Lead Team Member Lorea Martinez and friend and collaborator and author of “Teaching with the Heart in Mind and Michael Strambler, Associate Professor in the School of Medicine at Yale University who does research on social and emotional learning in partnership with Connecticut schools. Each speaker is from different regions and ethnic backgrounds and share their children’s success with SEL at school. These two expert parents are interviewed by Mike Wilson of Harris County Department of Education.

A Psychologist’s Perspective – A mom and clinical psychologist Soundhari Balaguru, PhD, founder of Integrated SEL shares the heartening changes in her own child through social and emotional learning. She is interviewed by Jacqueline Sanderlin, Ed.D., Mom and K-12 National Education Leadership Executive Manager at Apple.

Parenting Coaching – Authors and coaches reveal the best social and emotional learning techniques to use at home including Aimee Biggs: Mom, Certified SEL and Character Development Coach, Jennifer Miller, M.Ed.: Mom, Founder/Author of “Confident Parents, Confident Kids” and Trish Wilkinson, Mom, Author, and Parent Coach.

Trauma and Healing – What parents need to know about children, trauma, and healing with Tammy Ratner, MA: Mom, Founder of Mother The Self, Certified Heartmath Coach, Alfonso Ramirez, Dad, Trauma-Informed Schools Specialist and owner of Trauma Informed Consulting, LLC and also Joy Thomas: Mom, Community Engagement and Learning at ACE Resource Network.

From Sandy Hook to Choosing Love – The co-founder of SEL Day David Adams, M.Ed.: Dad, CEO of The Urban Assembly and Sandy Hook Mom Scarlett Lewis, Founder and Chief Movement Officer, Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement share the remarkable benefits they have witnessed from SEL.

Don’t miss this last one. Wow. It shows that social and emotional learning is not optional for our children. It’s essential.

Join In Celebrating #SEL Day by Responding

In celebration of International Social and Emotional Learning Day today, each of the Confident Parents Leadership team members have responded to the above question with specific examples. Every family is unique and so each family promotes social and emotional skills in very different ways at each age and stage. Yet there is much we can learn from one another in sharing our examples. Ultimately, I believe social and emotional learning is love in action. And we are stronger if we learn from one another. Hope you’ll add to this important conversation today!

“One of the ways I promote social and emotional skills is by modeling self-awareness out loud with my family by naming and shifting disruptive emotions as they occur.”

– Jason Miller, Founder, Inner Sound Coaching and Consulting

“I am a work in progress as are my kids. As a parent, I grow right along with my kids. I check myself as they say. I check-in with my emotions when one of my three kids has pushed my button(s). I know for my kids, one of whom is neuro diverse, that transitions are difficult in my house. I also have 6yo twins, and routine is important for them as well. I try to anticipate their reactions before we transition to bedtime, school time, whatever the next activity is, but I don’t always get it right. I don’t always know what their reaction to a particular transition will be. But I can control my response. When I take a deep breath, survey the situation without verbalizing too much, until I have the words, the transitions in my household go a little smoother. And I know my kids are watching me and learning from me.”

– Nikkya Hargrove, Vice President, Harboring Hearts, Parenting Author

Now that my children are both teenagers, I notice that I spend less time trying to cultivate their skills, and more time trying to make my social emotional skills visible to them. For example, the other day I was talking to my 15-yr-old daughter about my struggle with self-management when it comes to social media. I shared the whole, long, convoluted journey of using it, giving it up, using it again, giving it up again. And now, when I opened it to see one little thing, I can’t stop obsessive checking to see who liked (or didn’t like) that thing! She did not say much in response, but it feels so important to normalize these struggles so she will see them more clearly when they come up within herself.

– Shannon Wanless, Director, Office of Child Development, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh

Daily exchanges with and amongst my three elementary schoolers serve as a sandbox for acquiring and practicing social and emotional skills. As much as I cringe when my kids bicker, I welcome it (in hindsight) as a real-world opportunity for them to experience the importance of managing one’s own and others’ emotions. When they are coming to me for mediation, I help them problem-solve by articulating their emotions, goals, and values in ways that their sibling(s) can understand. After the tension eases, I have a conversation with my kids to reflect upon what just happened.”

– Jenny Woo, Founder/TEDX Speaker, Mind Brain Parenting, Lecturer, University of California, Irvine

The rush of national and global news has been constant source of conversation over the past couple of years. We use every social issue and latest event as an opportunity to talk about how individuals and families are being impacted, how they might feel and how they are coping, and ways in which people are showing compassion or working to create positive change. This grows our son’s social awareness along with our own and also his sense of responsible decision-making as we discuss the ethics and consequences of choices made.

– Jennifer Miller, Founder, Author, “Confident Parents, Confident Kids”

Don’t miss the Parents, Equip Our Kids! Online Event today with many awesome speakers including Mike Wilson, Jason Miller, Lorea Martinez and Jennifer Miller. Starting at 1:00 pm EST, 10 am PT. Register free here!

Happy #SELDay2022!

Online Parents Event this Friday for #SEL Day!

Join other parents of pre-K-12 kids for a day of free webinars to hear social and emotional development expert parents describe how their own children have been transformed by learning social and emotional life skills in their schools (and how to get them in yours) and in their home life – skills they need to deal with current stresses and for success in school, relationships, work, and life. Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ speakers include Jennifer Miller, Jason Miller, Mike Wilson and Lorea Martinez and friend and colleague Michael Strambler of Yale University’s School of Medicine. Mark your calendars for Friday, March 11th between 1-5 EST and 10-2 PST. Sign up free to join the webinar either via Zoom, Youtube or Facebook. Go to:  https://rebrand.ly/SELDay-2022/.

A Leading Voice for Children; Celebrating the Life of Roger P. Weissberg

Yet again, we find ourselves in more troubling times. We are waiting with apprehension to see how this unpredictable pandemic will move next knowing that its sole purpose is to stay alive and infect people. And we are now faced with a criminal with power who is waging violent war on an innocent people who are attempting to preserve their independence. I find myself at times comparing these times to the volatile era of the 1960s and saying to my friends and family, where are the Martin Luther King Jr’s, the Robert Kennedy’s, the Mahatma Gandhi’s sharing their voices of visionary leadership, hope and possibility – reassuring us that the arc of history is long and bends toward justice and that our greatest gift we can give is to serve? I need to hear it. But today I’m heartfully reminded of a luminous voice of our times – a visionary leader who not only championed a world-changing vision but also, figured out through science how it is possible to reach all of our hopes and dreams for our children through a series of strategies and practices that all boil down to the bare essence of love in action. As I attend Roger Weissberg’s funeral today, social and emotional learning is a household word offering us all a lighted pathway to our hopes and dreams for our children. What an incredible gift! It is with deep gratitude for his mentorship, friendship, scholarship and leadership (that we are all starving for) that I offer this loving memorial of Roger today.

Roger’s message was simple – we are unified in our commitment to making life better for kids. That requires us to teach children the skills they need to listen to their hearts and spirits, to develop and sustain meaningful relationships with others and help them discover and fulfill the unique purpose they are here to serve. Time and again over his forty year career, Roger P. Weissberg articulated his purpose. And instead of sharing it as an individual calling, he championed it as a collective calling that resonated with countless other scholars, educators, parents and youth-serving professionals who joined in the common purpose of making kids’ lives better. From his early twenties on, he set about figuring out how to best improve children’s lives by writing his own social problem-solving curriculum and carefully testing it in schools as a first step. When he found through careful study that promoting children’s social and emotional skills in school could not only prevent the behaviors we want to eliminate like bullying, violence, and substance abuse, and it could promote success in relationships, in family life and directly advance academic performance today and in the future, he became committed to a lifetime of work devoted to this mission.

As co-founder of CASEL (the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning) he joined with like-minded others to systematically define what social and emotional learning (SEL) is and looks like. His leading question was “How do schools, families and communities work together to help students be successful?” In a presentation six years ago,  he said to an audience of educators in Minnesota (the place, in the past three and a half years, where he has battled pancreatic cancer)…

I have a strong feeling that it’s never too late, that it’s probably never too early. I have a confidence that almost prenatally for as long as we are around and probably beyond that that social and emotional skills are important capacities for us to develop.

When he questioned and defined and wrestled with what it meant to do this work in ways that change children’s lives and all those who work with them, I joined since it was my calling too. Twenty years ago, Roger took a leap of faith and hired me — the only young lady with a bachelor’s degree, some practical, in-the-trenches experience and a fiery passion among well-seasoned PhDs. Roger proceeded to invest time, energy, passionate debate and resources in me — and in so many others I worked with — to do important SEL work.  And that collaboration grew into friendship, joy and shared experiences in parenting. 

Roger was asked, well before I was a parent myself, who in this country was the most engaged with social and emotional learning and his response was clear: parents and families. He said “you can’t talk about improving schools without involving families and communities.” So I was ready when I became a parent to begin asking the question, how will I become a confident parent raising a confident kid?

In addition to my family, he was the first person to support this site, engage in critical research together around parenting and SEL along with our co-investigator and another first support, Shannon Wanless, and proceed to introduce this work to every single professional he knew who had an interest in parenting. On a very personal note, the work that gets me up in the morning and is so deeply meaningful in my life has been shaped by Roger Weissberg. But it didn’t end on a professional level, it only began. I became a better parent and family member because of his ongoing friendship and support. He demonstrated that it takes everything of a person, dedicating their whole heart and soul to their own social and emotional growth in order to truly improve children’s lives.

If confident parents are defined as individuals who devote themselves to living and growing their children’s social and emotional intelligence while growing their own then Roger Weissberg IS a model of a confident parent (for that’s a role that never dies) to not only Elizabeth and Ted but to me and to so many others who share the purpose of making kids’ lives better through social and emotional learning. I am forever grateful.

Roger’s Research on Parenting and SEL:

If you have not already read about our research together that links parents’ hopes and dreams for their children and for their own parenting with social and emotional competencies, please check the research brief or the full peer-reviewed article, Parenting for Competence and Parenting with Competence; Essential Connections between Parenting and Social and Emotional Learning.

CPCK Article in Collaboration with Roger on his first SEL Curriculum:

Stop, Think, Go! discusses the social problem-solving curriculum Roger developed at Yale University with New Haven Public Schools and how parents can use the key lessons to teach problem-solving to their own children in family life.

Modeling Social and Emotional Learning during Illness and Death:

Roger modeled how you use social and emotional skills to heal, to deal with illness and suffering and ultimately, deal with your own death. Don’t miss his article on his experience; The Healing Power of Social and Emotional Learning.

Learn more about Social and Emotional Learning:

There’s important work to do in schools, families, and communities around social and emotional learning. Learn more about the work of the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning on their website.

Our Cautious Emergence

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Better Understanding Our Own Changing Identity along with Our Tween Or Teen …

In some ways these last several years have felt like an extended retreat. Each of us has experienced our own unique version. Though we seemed to reemerge from our cocoon last year in the Fall, we went right back into a more secluded lifestyle as COVID numbers soared in the wintertime months, adding confusion and stress as the return to our social selves halted abruptly yet again.

I just don’t like people anymore,” my thirteen-year-old son teased last year and we’ve wondered as we venture to in-person meetings and schedule travels how we will really feel. “Do we like people?” we continue to tease. And will we be renewed and bolstered by our emergence into the world or we will bring a differing perspective? One thing is certain – we are fundamentally changed and don’t want to return (nor could we) to a previous identity. So there’s no doubt we will perceive our world diffferently with that emergence. If we have truly retreated, shouldn’t we emerge wiser? 

Pamela McLean of the Hudson Institute, author of The Handbook of Coaching; A Developmental Approach, describes a cocoon stage in a person’s life as triggered by an ending or life crisis that forces the person to turn inward. She eloquently writes, 

People who cocoon come to terms with who they are without their previous roles dominating them. They work through an identity crisis and take time out, psychologically speaking, for soul searching. Little by little, out of solitude grows a more resilient self, anchored in a revised set of core values and sense of peace, all the while challenged by new purpose and passion.1

In this time of cocooning, we’ve felt vulnerable – to COVID, in our livelihoods, to differences that have divided relationships, to chaos and injustice in our neighborhoods and across the national and global landscape. And that sensitivity is characteristic of cocooning, when the caterpillar literally turns to goo and reforms her very identity. If she leaves too soon in the goo state, she will not survive. It’s an incredibly uncomfortable situation to be in this “neutral zone” in a world of do-ers and accomplishers who want to know what we’ve been up to — when in reality, we are staring out of the window wondering what the squirrels are thinking. In fact, it’s reassuring to understand that the emptiness felt during this time, the quiet, the aloneness, the space unfilled is exactly what we need to let go of our past, integrate it into our present and reform into something new.

This collective cocooning is challenging us all to accept and allow for an internal transformation to take place.  If we surrender to this uncomfortable place while we need it and use the time it takes to look inward – however long (and no one else can prescribe it for you!), we can emerge from our cocoon as a fully developed butterfly.

William Bridges in his book, “Transitions; Making Sense of Life’s Changes” offers frameworks to understand these changes we are undergoing.2 He discusses the five “d”s we go through as we are letting go of our past identity and worldview including disengagement, dismantling, disidentification, disenchantment, and disorientation. As we fully feel and face the endings we are experiencing along with the loss and grief and fear, we enter into this unknown, uncertain place. We can change our external environment to shake things up and attempt to speed the way out of the “neutral zone.” We can change jobs, move houses, get a divorce, or disown close friends with the mistaken notion that we’ll feel some relief from this new beginning it creates, a welcome distraction. Have you seen the real estate market? Meanwhile, our core is quietly begging us to stare out of the window and reflect on some deeply essential questions, questions that may require different answers than we’ve ever given before (and that’s scary cause maybe I’m not who I thought I was).

We are experiencing a unique moment to empathize with our tweens and teens since they are undergoing their own cocoon experience. They are in the process of reforming their identity wholly from “I am who my parents told me I am” to “I am who I believe I really am.” As they seek privacy, push us away, yearn for their independent time and space, we can recognize the signs of the “goo” state. They know they are vulnerable and they are highly sensitive to our comments, to anything that reeks of judgment because their vision of themselves is shakey and undetermined. We can find some peace in knowing that they are right where they should be existing in the midst of discomfort.  We are better equipped to support them and indeed more authentically aware if we too are existing in our developmental discomfort.

As we anticipate emerging from our cocoons, instead of risking a return to old stories and patterns when a new identity, set of core values and sense of purpose wants to be discovered, we may take some time to reflect. Here are some questions to get you started.

  • What am I deeply feeling these days including the layers beneath the surface?
  • Are there difficult feelings I’ve been escaping? How can I uncover them, own them, accept them, and make meaning of them in life-giving ways?
  • How have I fundamentally changed? What personas did I put on that I’ve shed in the past year? What qualities do I most want to embody going forward?
  • What do I know to be true? What do I stand for? What can’t I stand for?
  • Are there old stories or assumptions about my own identity that must change? How can I let them go?
  • Who do I envision being when I emerge from my cocoon?  What will my version of butterfly be like?
  • What is my reason for being, my sense of purpose that validates why I’ve been given the gift of life?
  • How do I want to be and give the best of who I am? How will I contribute to making a difference in the world (even if small)?
  • What boundaries do I need to set to assert who I newly am?

As we enter the spring season, it may remain wintertime inside our hearts and minds as we reflect on the past and integrate our learning so that we can move toward our emergent future. A blooming tulip’s petals, though beautiful at each stage of opening, cannot be forced open. If attempted, the tulip petals will rip. So too, in our own development, we cannot emerge until we we are ready. If we’ve taken time out to be reflective about our changing identity, we can enter spring time on our own terms and engage in an authentic rebirth.

References:

  1. McLean, P. & Hudson, F. (2012). The Completely Revised. Handbook of Coaching; A Developmental Approach. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions; Making Sense of Life’s Changes (2nd Ed.). Cambridge, MA: DeCapo Press.

Coming Up… International #SEL Day

Social and emotional skills… the most important gift we give our children

We are looking forward to International #SEL – Social and Emotional Learning – day. Mark your calendars for Friday, March 11, 2022. Last year, 2 million people from around the world participated in local communities and on social media.

Here are a couple ways you can participate:

1.) Join Me for the “Parents, Equip Our Kids!” Online Event

Equip Our Kids and SEL4CA are sponsoring a day of interviews with parents who are also experts discussing ways in which we can help our children and teens thrive. There are four Confident Parent’s authors on the agenda including Jennifer Miller, Jason Miller, Lorea Martinez and Mike Wilson. Topics include Meet the Millers (that’s me and my husband!), Different Families/Great Results, A Psychologist’s Perspective, Advice from Authors, Trauma and Healing, and From Sandy Hook to SEL Day. Learn more and sign up! Free!

2.) Contribute to the CPCK Social Media Campaign

Respond below to the following form sharing which social and emotional skills you are working on with your own child/children and how. In these complicated times when our social and emotional well-being is challenged, sharing strategies and ideas with one another will only make us all stronger. We will create social media posts from your feedback and share them widely on March 11th.

New Parenting Montana Tools

To Support Parents and Children’s Social and Emotional Well-being and Development

Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) and the Center for Health and Safety Culture at Montana State University announced new online resources have been added to update ParentingMontana.org to support parents and caregivers.   These include:

New Podcasts…

…featuring parenting experts including:

Jennifer Miller of Confident Parents, Confident Kids on “Guidance with Discipline to Grow Skills;” Shannon Wanless, Director of the Office of Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh on “Intentional Ways to Grow a Healthy Parenting Relationship” and Maurice Elias, Director of Rutgers University’s Social and Emotional Development Lab on “Social and Emotional Development.”

New Guidance, Tools and Resources…

  • Background information and support on teens and alcohol and drug misuse;
  • New tools and resources covering vital topics such as stress, anxiety and childhood trauma; and
  • New tools, information and examples of how caregivers can respond in a range of challenging situations with their child to build a stronger relationship while building essential social and emotional skills.   

 And for Youth-serving Professionals:

  • A toolkit of resources for community prevention coordinators to help get the word out across Montana and facilitate this information with parents;
  • With resources for engaging teachers, healthcare providers, law enforcement, and other community liaisons.

Parenting Montana offers parenting tools from birth through age 19 for each age and stage on a variety of challenging issues like bullying, peer pressure, and anxiety and also, areas to build skills like kindness, confidence and friendship. This unique resource was built based on language used by Montana parents and needs and challenges articulated by Montana parents and stands as a model for any state growing social and emotional well-being supports for families.

Jennifer Miller has had the honor of working with the Center for Health and Safety Culture at Montana State University headed by Annmarie McMahill for five years writing parenting tools. So grateful for the opportunity!

Check it out!!!

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