What Is Mindfulness and Why Is It Important for my Preschooler or Preschool Classroom?

What is Mindfulness?

Though the word is used frequently, it’s rarely defined. And there are a number of misconceptions too about what it may entail. Very simply stated, mindfulness is noticing your body functions (breathing, heart beating) and emotions, becoming focused on the moment at hand, and thinking about your thinking. It also involves letting go of any judgments about your thoughts and feelings and accepting what is. This noticing has an incomparable calming effect. There are numerous ways to become more aware and focused through simple practices.

Mindfulness is not affiliated with any religion or belief system (though many use mindfulness practices). Mindfulness can be done by anyone, anywhere and is simply a way of connecting to our life and appreciating it. Research confirms that simple mindfulness practices can lower blood pressure, lessen anxiety, promote focused attention, and a sense of well-being among other benefits (Grossman et al., 2004).

Why Preschool?

Preschool is a time of great change, investigation, and discovery for young children. Because there are significant transitions occurring including spending more time outside of the home, being cared for by teachers for part of the day/week and not by home caregivers/parents, adjusting to school rules and routines, and interacting with peers more frequently, it can be a highly emotional time. In addition, young children do not yet have a developed emotional vocabulary nor do they associate their physical symptoms and reflexes with the big feelings they are experiencing. Mindfulness and social and emotional skill building in the preschool years can play a significant role in preparing young children to focus their attention, to get along with their peers, and to deal with their big feelings.

Click here to learn more!

Because young children are going through such a significant time of change and transition and all the feels that go along with it, parents and educators are equally challenged as they attempt to guide them through successfully. Mindfulness and competence in social and emotional skills for parents and educators can offer patience, empathy, understanding, and competence to help them navigate these challenges and transform them into teachable moments.

Join Early Childhood Development Expert, Shannon Wanless and I for a conversation with Helen Maffini, a doctoral educator whose preschool program on mindfulness is used through Asia. We’ll join 25 other experts to discuss important topics such as, How to Teach Preschoolers Kindness and Compassion, Integrating Social and Emotional Learning Into the Preschool Curriculum, and How Parents Can Use Mindfulness and Social and Emotional Learning Strategies at Home and School.

Sign up for this FREE Online Conference. Watch video interviews and learn from the comfort of your home or office. Coming in one week, January 28 to February 1, 2019!

LEARN MORE or sign up here!

 

References:

Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits; A Meta-analysis.  Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 57, 35–43.

Differences Do Matter – Why Talking About Them Helps Us Raise Compassionate Kids…

Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s Life and Legacy By Initiating Conversations In Your Own Family Life…

Guest Post by Shauna Tominey, Author, Creating Compassionate Kids; Essential Conversations to Have with Young Children

“A great nation is a compassionate nation…”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you had to pick one word to describe the world you want your child to grow up in, what would it be? Safe? Understanding? Resilient? Compassionate? When I asked this question of parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, social service professionals, business leaders, and other community members, these are the words they chose. And yet, not all of our children experience a world that reflects these values to the same degree.

Coming from a multicultural family, I grew up in a household where multiple cultures were celebrated and multiple languages were spoken. I was taught that differences don’t matter. I heard this same message echoed in our predominantly white community so I believed it. The first real conversation I can remember having about race was in high school. Our sociology teacher asked us each to write down a list of words that defined how we saw ourselves. I don’t remember the specific words that I chose now, but I know they weren’t much different than the words my classmates chose (e.g., nice, smart, funny). “Mr. G” shared that every year, the one or two black/African-American students in his classes always wrote the word “Black” first. So why was it that none of us wrote down the word, “White?”

After graduating from high school and moving around the country for school, job opportunities, and as a military spouse, I quickly realized that the idea that differences don’t matter just isn’t true. 

Differences do matter. They matter a lot. 

In the 20 years that followed, I had the privilege of hearing thousands of conversations between children and the adults in their lives while working as an early childhood educator, parenting educator, and researcher. I couldn’t help paying attention to the way differences, like race, were talked about across settings (rural and urban), socioeconomic backgrounds, races, cultures, and life experiences. Every parent and caregiver I met had something in common: they all loved their children and wanted the best for them. Most adults had conversations with children about how much they loved them, as well as the hopes and dreams they had for them. Many adults also had conversations about family or community values—although specific values differed. 

There were other differences in conversations too. 

While working with military families, deployment, separation, and war were constant conversation topics, but not something others discussed. For families in inner city, urban areas, race and how people look at you and treat you based on the color of your skin was a daily reminder of the discrimination some children faced, but these conversations weren’t happening as often in other families (if ever). Some families talked with their children about why there wasn’t enough food on the table, whereas others discussed which Ivy League school would be best to attend. Families who had a child with a special need or exceptionality spent significant time educating others about the supports their child needed to thrive while also trying to convince others that their child deserved to be valued as much as any other child in their community. And, families who didn’t conform to society’s expectations of what it means to be a family (e.g., mixed-race families, blended families, gay-lesbian headed families, single parent families) carried the weight of reassuring their children and the world around them that there was just as much love in their family as any other. 

I started to wonder how it might benefit other families to hear the conversations that others were having with their children and this thought inspired my own parenting as well as my recent book, Creating Compassionate Kids: Essential Conversations to Have With Young Children.

When we teach children that differences don’t matter, we do it with the best intentions. Without intending to, however, we may be ignoring that there are children and families whose lives are defined every day by their differences. We can all point to an example of how we (or our children) feel different or don’t fit in. Sometimes this helps us practice empathy. Sometimes it leads us to overlook the fact that the way differences impact our lives is not equal.

There was a reason a student from a community of color living in a white community wrote down “Black” at the top of his list. Not only did he likely have a strong connection to his own family, race, and cultural heritage, this also was how he was defined by everyone who looked at him (or who chose to avoid looking at him by crossing to the opposite side of the street). Research confirms that the perceptions we have of others makes a difference in how they are treated as well as the opportunities they have (e.g., Gilliam, Maupin, Reyes, Accavitti, & Shic, 2016). For some, this can be serious, if, as a result, they experience bullying or harassment, and even becoming a matter of life and death. 

Rather than teaching children that differences don’t matter, what if we teach children that differences shouldn’t matter, but that they do? As Martin Luther King, Jr. Day approaches, let’s consider how we can help children learn to recognize the similarities they share with others, acknowledging the struggles we have with differences in our society, and learn to celebrate these differences.

Try these strategies with the children in your life: 

1) Talk about the qualities that make us and others who we are. Having conversations about temperament, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, race, culture, abilities and disabilities, and different types of families can help children learn about who they are and who they will become. In general, families from non-dominant or minority groups tend to talk with children about qualities, such as race, more often than those from dominant groups (Hughes et al., 2006), but we could all share this responsibility. Teaching children self- awareness often begins with conversations that focus on qualities that we can see in children or expect our children to develop, but these conversations can’t end here. We can also help children learn about qualities that others have too so that they can develop a greater understanding for people who are similar to and different from themselves.

Extend this strategy: 

Draw self- portraits. Use crayons, colored pencils, or paint to draw self- portraits together with your child. Look at pictures of yourselves or into a mirror as you draw. Talk about the different colors you see and try to match your skin, hair, and eye color in your artwork. 

2) Focus on shared feelings. Everyone has the same feelings (though some children have more pleasant or unpleasant feelings than others). Help children focus on the fact that we all have feelings as a way to build empathy. Ask questions like, “How do you think he/she is feeling?” or think out loud, “I wonder how they are feeling?” Stopping to think about how another person might feel can help your child build a connection with that person and focus on what they have in common while also appreciating apparent differences. 

Extend this strategy: 

Go beyond, “How was your day? Ask about different feelings that your child has during the day. “What happened today that made you feel happy? Did anything happen today that led you to feel disappointed? What was it? How about excited?” Take turns choosing feelings and make sure that everyone— children and adults— all have a chance to share. Taking your child’s feelings seriously will help them learn to do the same for others. 

3) Teach children that differences do matter. Talk with children about the fact that people sometimes look at or treat others differently because of the color of their skin, how they look, how they talk, how they move, or for other reasons. Let your child know that this is never okay (unless someone needs a special accommodation that is helpful for them). Brainstorm together ideas for what to do if and when you see this happening at school or in the community. 

Extend this strategy: 

Conduct family surveys. Help your child think of a question to ask family members (or friends) as a way to start conversations about similarities and differences. Ask questions about personal qualities (e.g., hair color, eye color) or likes/dislikes (favorite vegetable, favorite season, favorite game). Help your child write each person’s response, and talk about ways members of your family are similar and different from one another.

4) Use storybooks to highlight diverse experiences and role models. Read many different books with your child that include diverse characters. All children need role models who look like they do, dress like they do, share their abilities and challenges, love like they do, and have families that looks like theirs. Finding role models in storybooks that are similar to and different from your child can help them feel comfortable and confident as they develop their own identity (Kim & Tinajero, 2016). Sharing diverse role models also helps children see one another as part of the same community. 

Extend this strategy: 

Book scavenger hunt. Use the books you have at home, or visit your public library. Try to find books that have different types of people and families in them: families with two parents (one mom and one dad, two dads, two moms), families with one parent (one mom, one dad), families with grandparents, families with adopted children, multiracial families, stepfamilies, and others. See how many different kinds of families you can find. Talk about the types of families that were easiest to find in books, and the types of families that were the most difficult to find. Were there any types of families that you could not find in a book? Why do you think that is? How do you think it feels to families who cannot find books showing families that are similar to their own?

5) Strive to learn more and be inclusive within your own community. You can serve as a positive role model for the children in your life by showing interest in learning more about other individuals and families. Read stories, watch documentaries, and look for ways to learn more about the experiences of others. Participate in community cultural events and get to know other families in your community. 

Extend this strategy:

Tell your child stories about how you learned about your own family culture when you were young. Share stories about your own childhood to teach your child about what was important in your family when you were young. Which of those traditions have you kept? What new traditions have you added to your family? Give each family member a chance to share about their experiences to help your child see where the many different cultural traditions in their family came from.

As we work toward a more compassionate world, there are many things we can do to model compassion and help the children in our lives learn skills to do the same. Too often, individuals and families from non-dominant groups (those from communities of color, those in the LGBTQ+ community, those who have an exceptionality or special need; those who don’t conform to gender or ability norms) carry the responsibility to educate others, to explain themselves, or even to defend themselves. If we actively teach our children to value themselves and others for our similarities and differences, we can share this responsibility as we strive to create an increasingly compassionate community for all children. 

Learn more at: http://www.creatingcompassionatekids.org

Additional resources:

Creating Compassionate Kids: Essential Conversations to Have With Young Children by Shauna Tominey

https://wwnpag.es/cckids

Moving Beyond Anti-Bias Activities: Supporting the Development of Anti-Bias Practices 

https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/mar2016/moving-beyond-anti-bias-activities

Teaching Emotional Intelligence in Early Childhood

https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/mar2017/teaching-emotional-intelligence

What I Learned from Teaching My Daughter About Empathy

https://creatingcompassionatekids.org/blog/

About the author: Shauna Tominey is an Assistant Professor of Practice and Parenting Education Specialist at Oregon State University. She currently serves as the Principal Investigator for the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative and previously served as the Director of Early Childhood Programming and Teacher Education at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. As a former early childhood teacher and family service professional, Dr. Tominey blends practical experience with research to develop and test programs aimed at promoting social-emotional skills for children and the adults in their lives. She is the author of “Creating Compassionate Kids: Essential Conversations to Have With Young Children.” 

CPCK Note: What an absolute honor and delight it is to learn from Shauna Tominey! Her new book is at the top of my reading list and looks truly exceptional for promoting one of the most important skills in our children: compassion. In fact, as I worked with Highlights for Children this Fall, I learned from the 2,000 U.S. kids they surveyed, that kids say they want to help others when they see they are in pain but don’t know how. This article provides a great start and Shuana’s book builds out those strategies into ways of parenting and cultivating a family culture that makes raising children for compassion a way of life. Thank you, Shauna! We need much more of your educational resources in the world! 

References:

Gilliam, W. S., Maupin, A. N., Reyes, C. R., Accavitti, M., & Shic, F. (2016). Do early educators’ implicit biases regarding sex and race relate to behavior expectations and recommendations of preschool expulsions and suspensions. Research Study Brief. Yale University, Yale Child Study Center, New Haven, CT.

Hughes, D., Rodriguez, J., Smith, E. P., Johnson, D. J., Stevenson, H. C., & Spicer, P. (2006). Parents’ ethnic- racial socialization practices: A review of research and directions for future study. Developmental Psychology, 42(5), 747– 770.

Kim, S. J., & Tinajero, J. (2016). Teaching diversity to bilingual children: Mexican- origin kindergarteners’ discussions about children’s literature depicting non- traditional gender roles. Linguistics and Literature Studies, 4, 171– 180.

A Nation At Hope

Check out the recording of the live stream event that happened earlier today entitled A Nation At Hope from the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development. Be convinced or inspired or further propelled into action by students, teachers, superintendents, scientists, business leaders, and policymakers – many, many of whom are also concerned parents – who are saying learning is social and emotional. And how can we intentionally focus on children’s social, emotional and academic development so that we are all more successful?

Check out the tool that Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ helped create for parents to begin conversations around their children’s social and emotional development with their child’s teacher: How Learning Happens: Family and Caregiver Conversation Tool.
A growing movement dedicated to the social, emotional, and academic well-being of children is reshaping learning and changing lives across America. On the strength of its remarkable consensus, a nation at risk is finally A NATION AT HOPE.
From A Nation at Risk to A Nation at Hope (page 5)

Reevaluating Our Kids’ Schedules While Teaching Them Time Management and More!

Conducting a Commitment Audit

“I don’t know how I’m gonna get it all done!” said Malisha, a twelve-year-old girl about her long-term research project introduced this week at the start of the term. “I have volleyball two nights a week, games on weekends, and I just signed up to work on the school e-newsletter. When will I see my friends?” Her panicked tone along with the speed of her words increased as she spoke. 

We want to encourage our children to get involved in extracurriculars outside of school. Certainly, they can offer a range of opportunities including building social and emotional skills, developing friendships, and learning new skills and abilities in arts, sports, or sciences exposing children to experiences they would never have otherwise. But overscheduling is a concern too. Children require unstructured play time in which their minds have the chance to process all that we’ve been involved in at school and through out-of-school time programming. In addition, research claims that we generally have a greater sense of well-being when we have free, unscheduled time.

Recent research takes that well-being claim one step further showing in studies of six-year-olds that those who engaged regularly in unstructured play time actually grew their executive function skills more rapidly than those who did not.1 Those essential skills include self-control, goal setting, planning and problem-solving. That’s because children are fully in control of their own goal-setting during play and get the chance to work out how to reach their goal on their own or with friends who are also experimenting with these essential life skills.

The Blank Space in the Calendar

Yes, happiness studies have found that the blank space in the calendar does add to our sense of pleasure and gratitude. In fact, one study found that if a coffee outing with a friend was scheduled (a planned meeting time) then that friend date would feel more like a chore and less like pleasure or leisure.2 But if there were a rough block of time allotted (like sometime in the morning) or it was optional when to show up for coffee, then the friends experienced more pleasure and spontaneity. Though we, as parents, have the added concern of our children spending their free time on screens (see Smart Home Media Use; Limiting Screen Time article for more on why this is important), those blocks of blank space in which they are not engaging with screens are clearly important to their sense of well-being.

As is true with a good cup of coffee, too little is not enough and too much is, well, too much. So too planned activities enrich our children’s lives as well as unscheduled blank spaces. How can we choose, discuss, prioritize and plan for moderation with our children? Part of their learning about time management, commitments and prioritizing can come from your discussion and reflection on what your time looks like currently and how you might want to change commitments in order to meet your hopes, values, and priorities for the upcoming year. 

Here are some areas with key questions for consideration between a parent and child:

Key Question: What are your hopes for your time outside of school this year?

Goals and Priorities: 

In talking with your children, if they’ve shared multiple hopes, you can write down or simply articulate what their hopes look like in the form of a goal for the year like, “I’d like to make one good friend.” or “I want to learn to play the piano.” As you look at your child’s schedule, you can discuss how you are going to work toward that goal through their planned activities.

For adults, you may want to consider these by the areas of your child’s development including academic/cognitive, physical, social, emotional and spiritual or ethical development. How do the below essential commitments meet their developmental needs? What is lacking and could be supplemented with out-of-school time activities?

Essential Commitments: 

These are non-negotiable commitments that we know will be in our schedule including school, sleep, meals, hygiene (time for bath, brushing teeth), chores or household responsibilities, homework, religious services (this may be in your essential commitments section, in optional or not listed at all depending upon your beliefs). For some, after-school care is essential if parents are working.

Optional After School and Weekend Activities: 

These might include sports practice, music lessons, clubs or organizations, and after-school care programs. Weekend scheduled activities might include games, volunteering, scheduled friend time or regular family visits.

Do the Math Together

Write out the hours it takes to do your essential commitments on a typical weekday. For example, 

24 hours in a day

7 hours of school

9 hours of sleep per night (see sleep requirements by age range)

1 hour for family dinner (including setting table and cleaning dishes)

1 hour of basketball practice

1 hour of homework

1/2 bath, brush teeth

1.5 hour getting ready for school in the morning

___________________________

3 hours remaining

Hopes/goals:

Reading

Free Time

Friend Time

Screen Time 

*This exercise has the all-important, added bonus of showing children why limiting screen time is so important. Time is limited and hopes are high for our precious time! 

Divide Up Long-Term Projects Into Manageable Parts

To students of all ages (and in fact, adults too!), the prospect of long-term projects can throw us into a panic attack as Malisha was experiencing. By the very nature of the project being long-term, when we look at all of the deliverables at once, they can seem overwhelming. How could we possibly ever find the time to get it all accomplished? When this occurs for your elementary, middle or high school students, it’s helpful to sit down with their calendar and make a plan. Talk through each of the deliverables. Write down how much time you both predict the research, writing, poster board creating or other activities might take. Create a reasonable plan together plotting out the times each week that your student can work on it. If he disagrees with the time you think needs to be allotted, then let him lead the charge. You can only advise but if your child does not want the guidance, then they’ll need to learn by experiencing how long activities take. It’s a process, not an event! 

Different Children, Different Needs

Each child will bring different needs to their schedule so that no two are exactly alike. One key consideration will be a child’s age and developmental level. For example, six-year-olds will require more unstructured play time than a ten-year-old. Another consideration will be temperament. Does your child tend to feel drained or depleted at the end of a school day or after social interactions? If so, then your child may tend toward introversion which means she or he will require more time to internally process thoughts and ideas. Being certain she gets regular, perhaps daily quiet time to renew and refuel will become important. And finally, your child’s interests and passions will change as they grow and develop. They may begin to develop an interest in drawing or hockey or knitting that is a brand new area to explore. Following these interests can lead to expanded learning opportunities for your child. 

The Value of Commitment

Children do need to learn when they sign up for a program or a camp or a lesson series, there is a commitment involved. There are time, money and effort put forth by your entire family to make it a priority for your child. That’s not to be taken for granted. So planning ahead, considering carefully your child’s interests and goals along with your own makes sense. Once they commit, then following through on attending practices and keeping up with the program becomes part of signing up and participating. Before signing up, be certain that your child understands (to the degree possible) what they are committing to along with all of the benefits of the program. If your child’s interest wanes early on in a program, then you might consider: is there a natural stopping point that makes sense for everyone instead of quitting the program mid-stream? 

For those of us with a wealth of choices for our children’s enrichment, we can take full advantage of the learning opportunities by carefully considering our choices before we commit. Our children will then have the chance to learn from reflecting on, evaluating and making responsible decisions collaboratively about their time. They learn time management skills along with planning, goal setting and how to achieve a goal they care about. Instead of getting swept up into the calendar year or following the crowd and other social obligations without thought, we can use this natural period of transition to reflect together about what makes the best sense for our family and our children’s development.

 

References:

  1. Barker, J.E., Semenov, A.D., Michaelson, L., Provan, L.S. Snyder, H.R., & Munakata, Y. (2014). Less-structured time in children’s daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning. Frontiers in Psychology.
  2. Gabriela N. Tonietto and Selin A. Malkoc (2016) The Calendar Mindset: Scheduling Takes the Fun Out and Puts the Work In. Journal of Marketing Research: December 2016, Vol. 53, No. 6, pp. 922-936.

Need Your Help — Looking for Birth Stories!

The writing of the Confident Parents, Confident Kids‘ book is underway and I’d love to use your story! One of the most emotional times in our lives, for many, is when we have our first (or second or third!) baby. Most especially, the first baby signals the birth of a parent. And that’s a story unto itself. I’d love to learn about your challenges, your emotions, and your highest highs and lowest lows during that life-changing time.

 

If you have a story you are willing to share, please write to me, Jennifer Miller, at confidentparentsconfidentkids@gmail.com. If your story doesn’t make it into the book, I will also create a post here that will share part or all of the stories (depending on length) that are submitted. The New Year is an ideal time to reflect so I hope you’ll take this chance, whether it was a year ago or many years, to write about your own birth – becoming a Mom or Dad – and how it was a unique experience for you!

 

Hoping and Dreaming for Our Brand New Year

The start of the year ushers in a fresh opportunity to focus on what’s most important in our lives, to examine our hopes and dreams and figure out how they might come true through our day-to-day actions and steps toward our goals. Though we may consider our exercise routine or healthy eating habits (which are incredibly important!), we may not stop and think about our most important role as parents. Yet we know that we derive great meaning in our lives and a sense of purpose through our family relationships and our roles as caregivers. So why not take a pause and consider what we value, how we are challenged and specifically what hopes we are trying to bring to life for our children? Readers of this site include parents, educators, grandparents, youth service providers and so many others who love children. Whatever your role, these questions can apply to you!

For some, considering your greatest strengths might be a place to begin and build from. If this resonates with you, you might ask yourself:

  • What are the strengths of my parenting? 
  • How are those strengths impacting my children?
  • What are my hopes and dreams for my child (think of each child individually)?
  • How can I build from my strengths to move toward those hopes?
  • Are there small, simple actions I can take that will add up over time to nurture those hopes?
  • If I don’t know exactly what those actions could be, how can I set a goal and become focused on learning new ways to further build those strengths?

For others, considering your greatest challenges might be the place you want to start. You might begin to ask:

  • What are the greatest challenges I face as a parent?
  • What are my hopes and dreams for my child (consider each child individually)?
  • What are the skills and values I want to teach my child?
  • How are those skills and values playing out in my reactions to those challenging moments? What am I currently teaching by my reactions? 
  • What small, simple ways could I change my reactions in those most challenging moments to better align with skill building and my core values?
  • If I don’t know exactly what those actions could be, how can I set a goal and become focused on learning new ways to react in those moments?

Others may be more concerned with their child’s strengths or challenges and better focus their attention on their child. In this case, you might consider:

  • What are the strengths I see in my child (consider individually for each child)?
  • What are my hopes for my child? 
  • In what ways could I build upon my child’s strengths to reach toward my hopes for him/her?
  • What modeling or teaching goal(s) might I set for myself to reinforce and build upon those strengths this year?
  • What resources can help me learn more to achieve my goal?

And yet others still might be more concerned with their child’s challenges. In fact, you may worry about those areas in which your child struggles. You may consider:

  • What are the challenges my child struggles with (consider each child individually)?
  • What are my hopes for my child?
  • How can I best influence my child’s growth and development in this challenging area?
  • What skills do I need to focus on building?
  • What small actions can I take to help model and support that skill development to reach toward my hopes? 
  • What reasonable goal can I set to become intentional about building skills and creating teachable moments for this coming year?
  • What resources can help me learn more to achieve my goal?

Parents deal with such a wide range of issues from toddlers who need to become potty-trained before entering preschool to third graders who are being marginalized by friends to seventh graders who are feeling anxiety from peers to measure up in sports to teens who are being pressured by peers to try out new adult-sized risks. Yet we can take comfort as parents in the notion that all of these challenges are a necessary part of our child’s development. And our best supports for them build social and emotional skills so that they can navigate these challenges with competence. They can learn to articulate and accept their feelings. They can grow in their empathy for others. They can assert their needs to
others. They can become their own best relationship problem-solvers. 

Each time we, as parents, reflect on our priorities and set our own learning agendas for continually growing and improving in our parenting, we take one step closer to our
achieving our hopes and dreams.

It was a hope and dream of mine to put this concept to this test and see if there truly was an alignment between our biggest hopes, our biggest challenges of parents and the social and emotional skills we know are vital to our children’s success. The new research making that connection has been published this month in the peer-reviewed publication, The School Community Journal. Co-investigators Shannon Wanless, Roger Weissberg and I hope you’ll learn more about this research on our research page, read the journal article itself and indeed check out the entire issue.

As for the many collaborators who contribute to Confident Parents, Confident Kids, it is our greatest hope that we can support you in achieving your hopes and dreams for your most meaningful role as a parent.

Happy New Year!

 

From “Parenting for Competence and Parenting with Competence; Essential Connections Between Parenting and Social and Emotional Learning”:

What a Year!


Our family brings meaning to our lives. Six years ago, this site set out to document the many small ways families are learning to promote our children’s development – their hearts, minds, and spirits – in ways that support, enrich and celebrate who they are and what they are learning. This community of caring parents and educators continues to advance this critical dialogue! Join me in reflecting on a year of growth for this work and with this review, I hope you’ll consider the small and big steps you’ve taken to enrich your own family life. I hope you’ll ask:

What would the year-in-review for my parenting look like? What would I share as my family’s highlights? 

(and if highlights come to mind immediately and you’re willing, please share in the comment section!).

First and foremost, the point of this space is for dialogue, for community, for meaningful discussion between and among all of us who are interested in figuring out how we can learn from and build on research and how we can learn from and build on each other’s great ideas for promoting our children’s most essential skills in family life while contributing to our safe, caring, trusting connections as a family.

This community continues to grow and thrive with 22,000 followers from around the world. Now with nearly 200,000 views, this site enjoys visitors from 152 countries. Indeed we can teach our children with certainty that in every corner of the world, people love their children and are interested in promoting their well-being.

Here are the top five most popular articles of 2019:

  1. 50 Constructive Alternatives to Detention and Punishment – Maybe this is the most popular article because it’s one of the most challenging topics for parents and educators alike. In one survey by Zero to Three, 57% of parents admitted not really knowing how to deal with discipline issues with their children. What do we do in any number of situations when our child has made a poor choice or even caused harm? It’s also one of the articles I wrote in reaction to upsetting circumstances. Yes, I took some time to calm down before I wrote it. But it was my attempt to deal positively and constructively with frustrations in dealing with a school system that I felt was not doing what they needed to for the safety and care of our children. No school is perfect and I certainly don’t expect a school to be. It’s so easy to point out what we don’t like but much more difficult to figure out what might work better. This site is committed to offering numerous small alternatives guided by research on what we can do to promote our children’s development and well-being. 
  2. Family Emotional Safety Plan – While most of the site promotes small steps, I believe this offers a giant leap forward for a family who wants to grow in their emotional intelligence. Discussing and planning ahead for our most heated emotions just makes sense. If you have not already created your own emotional safety plan, take a look at the article and the simple, one-page handout with questions that will guide you through developing your own plan. If we know how we are going to deal with a moment of intense anger or anxiety, we won’t have to fear our own reactions. We also won’t have to deal with any guilt or regret that comes later after we’ve reacted in ways we wish we hadn’t. Try this! 
  3. Learn the Research-based Ways Families Can Fight Fairly – From John Gottman’s research on married couples over the course of his career, he’s found that those who stayed together didn’t fight less frequently. In fact, they fought just as much as couples who divorced. The difference was in HOW they fought. Do you have clear boundaries set with your partner and your children on how to fight fairly in your family? This article along with the printable guidelines can serve as a foundational guide to keep your relationships healthy and thriving even in the midst of arguments. 
  4. Kindergarten Exhaustion – This is a real phenomenon and it happens in every household where there is a kindergartner adjusting to the rigors of full-time school! Build your empathy and patience and also build your toolbox for helping your kindergartner adjust to this time period of major change in their lives.
  5. A Storied Childhood: The Role of Stories in Children’s Social and Emotional Development – I’m not sure there is a more joyful and connecting way of promoting your children’s social and emotional development than through stories. They offer endless opportunities for discussions about empathy, about choices, about commonalities and differences, about emotions, and about the condition of being human. This will not only offer you the inspiration to deep dive into reading with your children, but it will also offer you simple ways to reflect together to take full advantage of the experience to build your trusting connections and consider meaningful questions together.

New Research! 

Collaborators (thanks Shannon Wanless and Roger Weissberg!) put out new research to clearly show the essential connections between parenting and social and emotional learning and how we can learn from the extensive school-based literature on social and emotional learning to translate best practices into family life while recognizing and ensuring that each family is a unique culture that needs to serve as their own best problem-solvers. Check out the new page on the Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ site dedicated to highlighting this new research.

Top Media of 2019:

  1. Highlights State of the Kid – I had the honor of learning from Highlights and their state of the kid survey. Ultimately, we together learned from the voices of 2,000 U.S. children, ages 6-12, about their cares, their influencers, and their worries. And then, we asked what we, as adults who love them, do about their feedback. Check out my discussion with the Editor-In-Chief Christine Cully about all of these topics. And don’t miss videos of kids themselves responding to questions.
  2. NBC Parent Toolkit – Lots of great collaboration resulted in articles and tools this year through the team at NBC’s Parent Toolkit. Check out these contributions:

Do Adult Arguments Help or Hurt Our Children’s Learning?

Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day: Conversation Starters

Back to School Kit Campaign

How to Make your Hopes a Reality (highlighting the new research on parenting and social and emotional learning)

3. Montana State University Center for Safety and Health Culture and Youth Connections Magazine – Youth Connections Magazine is publishing quarterly feature articles on parenting with social and emotional learning. There were two published in 2018 and four more to come in 2019! Here are the first two:

Guiding Children with Tools for Success; Parenting with Social and Emotional Learning

A Parent’s Greatest Gift; Self-Management

4. Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development – In partnership with Pamela McVeagh-Lally and Mind and Matter Studio, we created a parent-school conversation tool to help parents initiate conversations about social and emotional development topics. Check it out! How Learning Happens: Family and Caregiving Conversation Tool.

5. Nationwide Children’s Hospital Pediacast – In conjunction with the Highlights State of the Kid campaign, Editor-In-Chief Christine Cully and Jennifer Miller talked with Mike Patrick, MD on his podcast about the results of the survey. Learn more about what kids want adults to know in this enjoyable conversation! 

Coming in 2019!!!!

The book – Confident Parents, Confident Kids: How to Manage Your Own Big Feelings While Teaching Your Kids to Manage Theirs will be published in the Fall by Quarto Publishing, available in all formats. Special thanks to Tina Wainscott, a literary agent with Seymour Agency for making this possible and also, Acquiring Editor, Amanda Waddell of Quarto/Trade Winds Press! 

Thank you for the essential role you play in making this conversation possible!

To You and Yours – Here’s to a new year filled with love and learning!

Building Family Social Awareness: Learning from the Wisdom of Ancient Winter Traditions and the Solstice

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

This 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. As we approach this passing of dark to light, I 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.

So this weekend at our typical family dinner, I will light a candle and talk with my family 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 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. 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: 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 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 candle of light 001better decision. There’s always an opportunity to be who we really aspire to be. Our actions can reflect our deepest values.

Question for our Family Dinner: Is there sadness, fear, disappointment or other darkness you want to leave behind? How can you let it go and begin again? What hopes do you have for the new year?

Theme: Gratefulness for the Natural World
It is humbling to step back and watch the changing of the seasons unfold. In ancient times, people feared that the lack of light would continue. They worried that if they did not revere the Sun God, “he” may move further away from their days. Take this moment in time to appreciate the sun, the moon, the trees, the birds and all of the natural world around us that profoundly influences all of our lives.

Question for our Family Dinner: What aspects of nature influence you regularly? What do you appreciate about the environment you encounter each day? How do you feel differently when you are outside in nature versus indoors?

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.

Deck the Halls with Mental Well-Being

Fa, La, La, La, La…

This is an oldie but goodie (and frankly I needed it today!).

My son burst into tears as his friends waited at our door to play. He had fallen up our stairs and gashed his shin on the metal rims of the hall steps. I plopped on the floor to comfort him and as he turned to me, he said, “Mom, you told me to hurry.” Why? Why did he need to hurry? In my mind, I had a million tasks to accomplish including facilitating his tasks – homework, dinner, and holiday preparations. I had thought it could be good for him to get outside and run around with his pals for a short time. But I was pressuring him to hurry up and why? Quick, go examine bugs under the rocks?! As he ran out and the door shut, I noticed the quiet in our house and really stopped for the first time that day. What was I doing?

With the holiday season upon us – no matter what holiday you are celebrating – you may be feeling similarly – fully in the throes of too much to do with too little time. And the knot in your tummy may be growing as mine has been. In a time when I want to produce joy for my family, I realize I am a lesser version of what I can be because of stress. I know I will get to this stressed- out place well before it happens. And somehow I feel powerless to stop it. There’s still work to get accomplished before taking time off. There’s still the same amount of presents to buy for others (and actually, more as E’s friends and connections grow). There’s still cookies to bake, decorations to hang and packages to send.

And so I write this post to help myself as much as you, dear reader, think about and deal with the situation we find ourselves in. In the very midst of the chaos, how can we keep our calm center? And how can we recall that our state of mind and being will impact the way others experience our celebrations together? Our stress will show. And whether we like or not, it’s contagious. It spreads like a virus and others get snappy and agitated – not conducive attitudes for cooperation more less jubilation.

Whether you celebrate Hannukah, Christmas or Kwanzaa, all of the major holidays this season celebrate light in the darkness. And that’s the gift I most want to give my family and the one I think they will appreciate beyond the “stuff.” Yes, I’ll bring gifts. But more importantly, I am setting an intention to prepare myself for the experience of celebrating with family and friends. I plan to deck our halls with a feeling of peace and joy and appreciation for our abundance. And I know that has to begin with me. Here are a few things I plan to do that, maybe, you’ll consider for yourself.

Engage in deep breathing each day. I was in the habit of taking ten deep breaths before I launched into work each morning but my routine fell away as the season crowded my moments. So I plan to return to this practice to set a tone for my day.

Get exercise and fresh air. The routine of breathing outside and getting to the gym could easily also fall away with the season. But I know these are the activities that keep me centered, focused and feeling resilient. So I plan to make special arrangements while my son is home over the extended break so that I am sure to keep my routines sacred for the benefit of my whole family.

Mentally prepare before events. My sparkling outfit is not as important as the demeanor, the tone or the mood I bring to any celebration. Whether it’s in my own home, at a friend’s house or in a restaurant, the way I engage with others matters significantly. It can mean the difference between really connecting or “phoning it in” without true interchange. There may be individuals that you celebrate with only one time a year. This is that moment, that unique opportunity to bring your focused attention to them. I will set my own intention to focus on the present before I go so that when I arrive, I am ready to fully engage with whoever comes my way. I’ll stop and take a pause before leaving the house or answering the doorbell. This small step can have a ripple effect on my own and my family’s experience of the holidays. I know this will set an example and tone for my child. I notice when I’m stressed, he’s stressed. But when I’m calm and engaging with others, he does the same.

Set goals for connection. When you go to a party, you likely anticipate who you’ll see. Sometimes that anticipation creates anxiety if you’ve had challenges with individuals in the past or if those individuals view you in ways that you do not view yourself. Those interactions can be opportunities for your own growth in social and emotional competence. Instead of dreading those who challenge you, ask yourself three important questions.

  • What can I learn from this individual who challenges me?
  • How can I begin to understand her perspective and feel compassion for her?
  • How do I want to show up in that conversation?

I know that if I model curiosity and compassion, that will have a direct impact on how my child interacts with others. I want to leave a party feeling like I know more about the individuals that I met than I did when walking into the room. And what if I also learned more about myself by attempting to relinquish worries about what I’m saying and what messages I’m communicating about my life but focus on learning about others, finding common ground and sharing my ability to be empathetic and show care?

Say “no” when it’s too much. Instead of cramming each activity into every space of time in the few weeks left in the year, consider what might be too much. Have you accounted for quiet rest time? Have you considered how the pace will impact family members? We rarely plan our schedules for our mental well-being but particularly in this season of over-commitment, it can be worth asking, “What do we really want or need to do?” “When can we get in rest time?” and “Are there plans we need to say “no” to?

Express gratitude daily. The holiday season is a time of high contrasts – tremendous sorrow missing loved ones that have passed on or reflecting upon our tough circumstances and then, also feeling the magic, imagination and sheer bliss of children’s experience of the traditions surrounding the holidays. It’s an emotional time. So it requires us to become more planful about our big emotions. One way to balance out our adult angst is to express gratitude with our children daily. Whether you mention your gratitude over breakfast, during the ride home from school or at bedtime, kids will benefit by actively appreciating all that they have. And you will benefit by recognizing the goodness in your life. It will assist you as you set a tone with your family.

Carving out time and space for your mental well-being may seem like another “to do” to add to the list. But consider the fact that paying attention to the tone of your family and setting an example will give you energy and motivation as you gently experience your days. The gift of your attention certainly is one of the most important for your children and indeed, your whole family. Consider how you might deck your halls with psychological well-being this season! Happy holidays!

 

Originally published on December 16, 2016.

On NBC Parent Toolkit… “Make Your Hopes for Your Kids Reality with Social and Emotional Skills”

Research partners, Shannon Wanless, Associate Director of Research in the Office of Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh and Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ Author Jennifer Miller share findings from their latest study on the direct alignment between our hopes for our children and our parenting with social and emotional skills on NBC’s Parent Toolkit. It begins…

My four-year-old son became hysterical kicking and screaming in the store’s checkout line when I said “no” to buying candy. What was I supposed to do when we were in the middle of a crowded public place and my child was having a major meltdown?

My sons were arguing and just wouldn’t stop. They were mean to one another and nothing I did seemed to help. Eventually, I led each to bed to end it. But how could I have helped them resolve their problem and stop their meanness to one another?

My twelve-year-old lied to me and when I confronted him with it, he didn’t seem to understand why lying was wrong. He thought all his friends did it and it was perfectly fine. How could I help him understand the severity of what he’d done?

For all parents, these situations are familiar and challenging. Those of us who work in child development aren’t immune to these situations either. We are all faced with daily dilemmas where we have to consider how to stop an undesirable behavior, teach an important life lesson, and be responsive to our kids’ changes. We know what we hope our children will be and become, but in those daily tough moments, it’s difficult to figure out what we can do to achieve those hopes. Our angry child isn’t showing kindness or confidence in that moment. But can our reactions help him manage the emotions he is struggling with and move him any closer to those qualities we hope for?

Recently, my colleagues and I surveyed nearly one hundred educators, who also happened to be parents, about their own parenting experiences. We wanted to see if their hopes for their children and their hopes for themselves could match up with skills that can be built through small, teachable moments. Parents shared that they wanted to raise children who were happy and fulfilled, confident, empathetic, kind, loving and responsible. Similarly, when we asked parents what they wanted to be like as parents, they said they wanted to be happy, patient, encouraging, loving, and kind. The good news? All of these traits can be built through practicing certain skills. READ FULL ARTICLE.

To learn more about the research behind this article, check out the Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ Research page.

Special thanks to the third co-investigator on this project, Roger Weissberg!

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