Teachers, How Can We Thank You?

Teacher Linda Smith with daughter, Jennifer Smith Miller

I will forever love this photograph taken in my Mother’s freshman high school English Literature classroom in the late seventies (check out my teeth!). Mom — and Dad — were my very first teachers both in their professional and personal lives. I watched as they strived to recognize the assets in each student and bring out their very best (even when those students had no faith in themselves). They showed me how teaching could be one of the most meaningful contributions to the world. As a child, I pretend played teacher with my stuffed friends, acted in plays at school as a teacher, and envisioned what I would be iike someday when I could become a teacher. Since then, the teachers who have left a lasting impression are the ones who taught my heart and spirit to soar with curiosity, wisdom and compassion. I’m honored to now be a teacher and have learned that teachers, in order to fulfill their sacred role, must be consummate students. Teaching has become a whole family affair as I teach alongside my partner, Jason in homeschooling this year and we invite in guest teacher friends and family – yes, Mom and Dad are back teaching their grandson – with powerful lessons in the Ancient Maya, the arts, Shakespeare, writing poetry and more.

Because teachers are learners and change-makers, we are well-equipped for changing times, times of division and times of trial. We realize that the whole world is our classroom if only we observe, question and reflect with our students on the lessons to be learned from social, political and environmental challenges. We know that if we bring our whole heart and mind to our students — paying keen attention to their needs, their gifts, and which issues ignite their passions — we will become just the support they need to thrive not simply survive.

So to all the teachers who are making the world a better, kinder, more inclusive and just place, thank you!

#NationalTeacherAppreciationWeek

Emotionally Intelligent Parenting with The Ripple Effect

It was a true joy to talk with Fernando Restoy of The Ripple Effect. Fernando is based in Madrid, Spain though his mission and vision spans the globe. His organization helps people create the conditions for themselves and others to thrive by developing emotional intelligence. He recently represented Daniel Goleman’s Organization on Emotional Intelligence at the World Economic Forum. He offers his own stories of conflict as a teenager with his Mom and many questions he’s had about parenting with emotional intelligence. I’m particularly grateful for the videos included involving a diverse range of families who demonstrate the ideas shared. Check it out! Thank you, Fernando, for this conversation and for your important work!

Our Home, The Earth

Celebrate Earth Day with this Family Conservation Challenge!

There are numerous ways in which we can contribute to preserving and minimizing our use of precious natural resources in our everyday lives. Children and teens can learn to become compassionate ambassadors of nature and its many gifts if they are taught to become aware of what can be done in their own homes to conserve energy and use resources. Celebrate Earth Day by taking the following Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ Conservation Challenge together!

  1. Take a Home Tour with the Earth in mind!

Grab a notepad and pencil before you begin. Enter your front door and as you pass through each room ask the question:

  • What energy is being used in this room right now (i.e. a computer on but not used, chargers plugged in, lamps plugged in)?
  • What energy has the potential to be used in this room (i.e. lamps that are not turned on)?
  • In what ways can we work on reducing the energy that we use here?
  • In what ways can we work on using less water here?

Be sure to stop in the laundry room and bathroom and ask questions about how much water is used. For example, can you turn off the running water when you are brushing your teeth? Can you take shorter showers?

2. What Top Three Challenges Can You Adopt as a Family?

Maybe you’ll commit to turning lights off or unplugging appliances when not in use. Maybe you’ll turn your heat down by one degree. Or maybe you’ll only do laundry when you know the washer can be fully utilized. Set three goals for family members all to work on together.

3. Learn About Your Home Systems. 

Whatever challenges you decide to take on, part of that challenge can include learning about those systems of energy or water you are using. How does water leave and enter your house? Where does it go? How is it treated to make it safe to be used again? What about your heat? Where does it come from? How does it use energy? Where does that power source come from? Your exploration of household energy and water systems will deepen your own and your child’s ability to care and become compassionate about conserving.

Check out this “How Does Water Get to your House?” By SciShow Kids.

Or check out this video on “Energy Conservation for Kids — Heating and Cooling” by Horizon Utilities.

These ideas are all to explore inside your home and your interaction with the many resources you may take for granted. Walking outside and exploring nature together is yet another way to raise an environmentally-aware child. Check out the following ideas from the article, Celebrating the Earth – Ways Families Can Explore Nature through the Ages and Stages.

We also love Kind News, a newsletter for children that highlights stories of kindness between children and animals.

Our children and teens – as they grow in their sense of justice — can be important accountability partners reminding us that we need to be stewards of our environment. Learning together about the many ways we can care for the sustainability of our natural resources in our homes, our neighborhoods, our parks and local wildlife areas can extend our compassion and opportunity to teach our children to be empathic and contributing citizens.

Transforming Children And Teen’s Anger and Hurt Into Life Lessons

Using Simple Dramatic Play to Build Emotional Skills

Frowning faces, furrowed brows, and grumpy expressions describes our family’s morning meeting on Monday (and Tuesday, if I’m being honest) as we launched into yet another week of homeschooling. Tired of the pressures of schooling during a pandemic, we are needing to rally all of the spirit we can muster on some of our days to get through the work ourselves while attempting to inspire our child to do the same. In our homeschooling, we are discovering the incredible learning opportunities afforded by dramatic play. In Language Arts, our son is writing, constructing and performing a puppet show, his own interpretation of a novel he just finished. And in World History, he’s going to be learning to converse with a friend in Shakespeare-style iambic pentameter. Why not incorporate the big feelings of the moment into our learning too?

In fact, this idea of teaching about emotions through the dramatic arts is not novel at all. The Inuit families who live in the Arctic regions of Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Russia make the acting out of anger, our reactions to anger and it’s possible outcomes with their children a widely-used and accepted part of their parenting practices. In fact, Ethnographer Jean Briggs who lived and studied Inuit families reported “…something remarkable was going on in these families: The adults had an extraordinary ability to control their anger.”1 Evidence on how parents were teaching children about anger was found in the consistent healthy management of anger by adults in the community years later. And their formula was simple. When a child gets angry, so their tradition goes, it poses an opportunity to teach a child about how to react. Inuit parents will stop in that heated moment or revisit It later. They act out together how the anger feels from one person to the other including what they feel like doing with the feeling, and if/when they lash out, how it feels to other person, the consequences to the relationship, and how to repair harm if caused. There’s much we can learn from this! Check out the full article from National Public Radio here entitled How Inuit Parents Raise Children to Control Their Anger.

As tensions continue in our family lives, there’s an important opportunity of the moment if we seize it. The big feelings we are all encountering daily and weekly provide a common experience among adults and the children they love. What better chance do we have of teaching our children emotional intelligence than at a time when their emotions are running at a fever pitch? I know what you may be thinking now, reader. “How can I possibly teach emotional intelligence when I’m feeling overwhelmed, run down, and highly anxious myself?” Well, it’s a good question. And you can! Let me explain.

It helps to draw upon a research-backed framework that gives four essential factors of parenting resilience.They are:

  1. Social connection and support;
  2. Knowledge of parenting and child development;
  3. Social and emotional competence of children; and
  4. Ability to ask for and accept help.

This framework provides the hope that as you gain knowledge of your own role as a parent (you are doing that right now!), you can learn ways in which to promote your child’s social and emotional skills which, in turn, will offer you greater empathy, patience, and sense of agency and competence. In other words, you’ll have greater endurance for the marathon of stress we are now running together. Learning how to manage your own stress and teaching your children how to manage their own big feelings in healthy ways just may be one of the most significant opportunities of our time. Preparing this generation with the tools to be change-makers and agents of social and racial justice will require that social and emotional training.

Check out my simple ideas for transforming the drama of the moment into a vital lesson for the future.

  1. Invest in the Pause. 

No matter what is going on, no matter your level of frustration, the pause is your best friend. It will transform any immediate reactions based on impulse that may leave you with regret later. Impulse and feeling happen instantly but thought takes a moment. So allow your reaction to be informed by your thoughts by pausing in the midst of the drama. Have a hard time stopping the escalation? Say “stop” or “time out” aloud — for yourself. This will assist your whole body and brain even when highly upset in taking that essential pause. Even better, agree with your family on a word or phrase (such as, “freeze”) you’ll say to each other when there’s a need to pause the drama.

  1. Ask, Listen, Accept.

Though we often think we know exactly what our child are thinking and feeling, we don’t. We may pride ourselves on knowing them best. Yet, the very fact that they are children or teens means that they approach life differently than we do. Though it may be tempting to assume, it’s important that we ask them what’s going on for them. Our fears and worries often are not theirs. But they can become theirs if we engage in projections and assumptions. So as you pause and take a moment to breathe before responding, be sure and ask, “What are you thinking? What are you feeling?” and listen carefully so that you address the problem they are perceiving. And then, whatever feelings they share, we need to be ready to accept them — even those that make us uncomfortable or annoyed. And there are those days when we are right on the verge of our own explosion when it feels like one more challenging feeling from our child will make us erupt. If we reach that near boiling point, go back to the start. Invest in the pause. Breathe. Write down your own feelings. Validate what’s going on for you. Then, return to your child to accept that their hearts are never wrong, that we accept their emotions helping them feel supported and understood.

  1. Brainstorm Healthy Ways to Respond – Together.

Working together to think of healthy ways to respond teaches your child that they have options in any problem and can take steps to feel better and make better choices.  Generating ideas together also takes the heavy lift off of the parent to fix the situation or figure it all out. In fact, if the parent engages in fixes, they rob the child of their social and emotional learning opportunity. But co-creating solutions scaffolds their participation in learning about healthy coping skills and making responsible decisions.

  1. Reenact the drama.

When the heat has died down, create a moment to return to the drama for the purpose of learning. It may look a bit differently depending upon the age of the child.

For young children – Pretend play is a hallmark of young children and they are ready to engage in dramatic reenactments on a moment’s notice. So use this to help advance their emotional skills. Be sure and get down on your young child’s level to equalize power. This is important. Make it simple. “I’m so mad. I can feel my face is red. I feel hot. What do you look like when you’re mad?” Make faces at each other — the more dramatic, the better. Then ask, “What can we do or say to feel better?” Be sure that you think of options that cool the heat. In other words, don’t raise voices or throw pillows. Instead, hug a pillow, or get a cool drink of water. Discover together multiple ways to feel better.

Elementary-aged Children – You might ask, “What happens to make you mad?” Then, play act out the story your child offers. Whether it’s a classmate sneering at a joke your child makes or you telling your child to get off screens, you might offer, “let’s act it out and see how it goes.” Try out your own respective roles. “I cannot believe you are making me get off video games now! It’s so unfair!” And you offer what you might say in response, “It’s not right. You know the rules. You’ve taken more time than you are allowed anyway.” Now call, “Time out!” Stop the action. Ask some reflective questions about the moment. “What were you feeling in your body to indicate you were mad?” This raises self-awareness. You may share your own typical physical symptoms you feel when you’re mad as a model. ”I can tell my heart starts racing. I heat up too. What can we do to get to a better place?” Brainstorm together ideas for feeling better and addressing the problem at hand without placing blame or criticizing. And if justice is at issue, anger is a critical emotion to help motivate to action. Discuss what your child can do to right wrongs in ways that create fairness and respect.

Tweens and Teens – This age group is particularly interested in social dynamics and drama. So play on this interest. When friends argue or someone on social media gets mad, what does it look like? What does it sound like? Place your teen in the role of youth culture expert and learn from their experiences. Ask for the full story including what happens when a friend or social media icon “loses it.” What happens in the moment? And even more importantly, what happens later to their reputation? Then, play act It out. You might ask, “Show me how it sounds” and then, “Did this cause harm to you or others?” and if so, “What could this person have done instead?”  Be sure and reflect back that anger can be a vital emotion for moving a person to change, to take action, to right a wrong, or correct an injustice. The question to ask then is, “How can you use your strong feelings to pause and consider how to bring greater justice, fairness and respect to the situation?”

We are living through times that produce big feelings for adults and children regularly. We can offer our children and teens a pathway to building strength and resilience if we teach them how to use their anger productively and constructively. Our world requires change-makers everywhere to turn around racial injustice and a global pandemic and it is necessitating our emotional courage. Take these small family fires as opportunities to teach your children that they can be change-makers today and you’ll help prepare them for a bright future.

References:

  1. Doucleff, M. & Greenhalgh, J. (2019). How Inuit Parents Raise Teach Kids to Control their Anger. National Public Radio.
  2. Center for the Study of Social Policy (2018). Framework for Parental Resilience; Protective and Promotive Factors; https://cssp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/ProtectiveFactorsActionSheets.pdf

Are You Spring Breaking At Home?

A Week of Joyful Challenges and Shared Responsibilities

Though last year, we had an enforced staycation for spring break, this year, we may choose to stay home again considering the pandemic is not over quite yet. Ours begins this week and we feel weary and in real need of a break, like many parents and educators, who have been working non-stop during exceptional times. Though time off offers the hope of renewal, we lose the comfort of a schedule for our children. I admittedly was daunted by the thought of a whole week home with a twelve-year-old who, if plans and expectations were not established, would indulge in screen time most of that time or else whine about boredom. Yes, we’ll be playing card games and board games and doing puzzles together. But I also wanted to promote independent play. So what’s a caring parent to do? I reached out to a wise friend to see how she was handling the expanse of time and she was ready with some reliable ideas.

If you too find yourself daunted by a safe staycation, let the following ideas guide and inspire you! 

Establish Expectations for your Morning Routine

By what time will you get up and how? When will you eat breakfast and who will provide it? By what time do pajamas come off and day clothes go on? Though you want your child to have some freedom, the morning routine can cause considerable stress if all family members are not clear about expectations and also, take some responsibility for their own roles. Get together as a family. Discuss each of your respective roles and responsibilities. Agree on a plan together. Check out this video short on ways to create a smooth morning routine.

Work Together to Manage Screen Time 

Learn together about the brain development impacts on children and teens so that it’s not just you, the “meanie” parent saying screen time should be limited but an understood science-based principle about healthy development. Check out Common Sense Media for a helpful overview.

Create a System for Screen Time Tracking

The American Association of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time per day for children three years and up including teenagers. If children must work on screens for school work, that time can be assigned or limited differently since that may be the only way they can get their school work accomplished. But for video gaming, YouTubing, Netflixing and any other entertainment, the recommendation is two hours a day.

My friend’s method is simple and elegant. Her girls each have four 1/2 hour popsicle sticks (color on one end is red to designate used-up time and on the other, green for unused time). Each half hour they use, they flip over the stick in a cup to designate time used.

My son keeps a chart on a white board. He knows he’s allotted fourteen hours per week (or two hours per day) and can go over on any given day but knows he must keep that fourteen hour balance and sacrifice screen time at the end of the week if he uses it up.

My friend allows exceptions for family movie nights. Those do not count toward her girls’ hours. For us, we’ve created an exception for piano learning on YouTube. Our son used to have lessons outside our home but now, he learns online so that we offer an extra hour a day for his online learning. How will you agree to track screen time in your household?

For a family meeting agenda and a template of a family media agreement, check out this article that will also help you learn together about why limiting screen time is important.

Create a List of your Child’s Favorite Non-Screen Activities.

Have you noticed that when a child gets off a screen, they feel lost and unsure what to do? Their hormone levels have been so stimulated and rewarded by the screen time that it can be disorienting without that level of stimulation. That’s why it’s important to develop a go-to list of non-screen activities that are favorites of your child’s. When she shuts down, she can visit her list and consider a range of options instead of looking to you to figure out what’s next. Now that the family is home together, why not also create a family list of favorite things to do individually and together?

Get Outside at Least Once a Day (Regardless of the Weather)

We all need some fresh air and simple exercise. The outdoors offers both. So set the expectation with your family that it doesn’t matter what time of day they choose, all should get outside and refresh their bodies and minds with a walk around the block, a bike ride, or a gander around the backyard. 

Ensure That Each Family Member is Responsible for a Chore (per day or per week)

Learn more about teaching how to do chores through interactive modeling, creating a team work environment, and agreeing upon age-appropriate tasks for children.

Allow for Plenty of Freedom and Offer Creative Prompts

Yes, freedom is a wonderful thing if your child will take advantage of the time. But we are so conditioned to rely on screens for our entertainment, that your child could be challenged by the large amount of free time. For our spring break time, I created daily prompts that I posted for our family. Set a tone by posting the challenge and turning on music that will inspire calm or creativity energy (and turn off news which can create a stressful energy). Lay out inspiring and novel art supplies to help with the challenge. You could choose a different theme for your week like the arts, nature, or even a favorite story book. 

Consider the fact that a focus on the arts may offer a chance for your child to express fears, worries, or other emotions they are experiencing during this unique time. Here are some ideas from our week of the arts  that offers daily choices…

Arts Week

Day One: Creative Writing

  • Decide on a friend or relative that lives in another town. Write a pen pal letter and mail.
  • Write a song to express your current emotions.
  • Write a poem on a favorite memory from a birthday.

* Offer a couple of alternatives for writing tools including loose leaf paper and pens, typewriter, or markers and plain paper.

Day Two: Drawing

  • Still Life: Place an already constructed Lego set or other interestingly shaped toy in the center of a table to draw.
  • Self Portrait: Use long paper to do a full body outline of your child. Then allow him/her to fill in their own self-portrait details. Build on it by writing different unique attributes of your child’s identity around his portrait.
  • Landscape: Using a rectangular-shaped paper, challenge your child to illustrate the setting for his/her favorite character’s story. Go “plein air” if the weather is nice and take your supplies outside to draw from your yard.

Day Three: Drama

  • Write a play about three kids who discover a portal to another world in their basement.
  • Create a video acting out a number of big emotions.
  • Develop a skit telling a story of a favorite animal and her friends without any words.
  • Create a puppet show that explains to aliens from outer space the global pandemic.

Day Four: Sculpture

  • Get out clay or play dough and generate a list of favorite objects. Pick one to sculpt.
  • Take a walk around your block and find interestingly shaped natural objects. Bring them back and use a hot glue gun (with a parent’s help) to glue together a found object sculpture.
  • Use multi-colored construction paper and create a three-dimensional bouquet of spring flowers.

Day Five: Dance

  • Turn on your favorite music and host a family dance party.
  • Learn new moves and techniques on YouTube together. Our friends recommend Just Dance.
  • Play GoNoodle Movement videos and follow along each time you plan to transition to a new activity – from breakfast to playtime, after lunch, and late afternoon.

Though we do not have a daily agenda or full day routine during spring break, we still have plenty of ideas to keep our imaginations fueled and bodies, minds, and spirits fully engaged. When you are spending time together as a family, check out these – anytime, anywhere collaborative games that will promote family connection!

Wishing you joy, creativity, and connection for your time off together!

*Many thanks to wise friend Kimberly Allison for her tips this week that inspired this post!

Originally published in April, 2020.

Special Thanks to All Who Participated in International SEL Day!

Jennifer Miller of CPCK co-founded SEL4OH in her home state with Pamela McVeagh-Lally this past year. We are grateful to long-time social and emotional learning champion U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan for recognizing SEL Day in the Congressional Record!

With organizations and participants around the world, there were 12 million views on #SEL Day posts and social media! What an incredible way to raise awareness about the importance of social and emotional learning for our children and ourselves! It was hosted by The Urban Assembly and SEL4USA and we feel so much gratitude for their leadership! Also, big thanks to the many Confident Parent’s collaborators who offered their wisdom on this site and through social media that day including Roger Weissberg, Nikkya Hargrove, Erik Keefe, Mike Wilson, Pamela McVeagh-Lally, Shannon Wanless, Fernando Restoy, Annmarie McMahill, Rebecca Bauer and Agenda Bonner.

What did you need from your parents when you were a teen?

Jennifer was able to talk with a few young professionals who gave insight into what they needed as a teenager from their parents.

How can families Partner with educators on their children’s Social and emotional Development in Equitable, inclusive ways?

There were a number of educational leaders committed to social and emotional learning that shared their perspectives on this question.

How Can Parents Teach Racial and Social Justice?

We are having some valuable conversations today! Teaching your children about racial and social justice can be challenging but also vital. Check out what these experts who are also parents have to say.

How Can Parents Teach Social and Emotional skills?

Check out what these professionals who are also parents have to say!

Happy International #SEL Day!

In celebration and recognition of the ways in which we best promote our children’s development and our own, Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ Jennifer Miller will be posing questions all day to a diverse range of experts who are also either parents, educators, nonprofit leaders and even some young adults who will answer questions about their own upbringing. Watch for these questions and answers here on the blog or our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/confidentparentsconfidentkids) and also, on Twitter, @JenniferSMiller. Thank you so much to the sponsors SEL4US and the Urban Assembly! Check out the #SELDay page for more information on events happening today.

How do we define social and emotional learning?

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) at the University of Illinois at Chicago defines it as (2020):

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an integral part of education and human development. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.
SEL advances educational equity and excellence through authentic school-family-community partnerships to establish learning environments and experiences that feature trusting and collaborative relationships, rigorous and meaningful curriculum and instruction, and ongoing evaluation. SEL can help address various forms of inequity and empower young people and adults to co-create thriving schools and contribute to safe, healthy, and just communities.

Hope you’ll follow along and learn from the many experts we’re talking with today and also contribute to the dialogue yourself. So your first question is, how do parents become confident?

Happy #SEL Day!

#SEL4Equity, #SEL4US

%d bloggers like this: