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The Best of 2016

Back to School by Jennifer Miller 2

2016 was a tremendous year of growth for Confident Parents, Confident Kids. With numerous organizational and individual expert collaborators, 30,000 views from 152 countries and 22,000+ followers, this community of people committed to children’s social and emotional development is vibrant and dynamic and continues to grow after four plus years of dialogue. The coming year promises expanded contributions from current and new collaborators and deeper dives into topics that are of great concern for parents and educators so there is much to look forward to in the new year! Meanwhile, take a look at the most popular posts from 2016. Perhaps the first post on creating family guidelines for fighting fair could help your family begin 2017 in a positive way? Check out Confident Parents, Confident Kids’ best of 2016!

1. Family Guidelines for Fighting Fair

After some happy outdoor play, I heard my son E run straight up to his bedroom and slam the door. As I knocked and entered his room, his face was red and wet with tears. “What happened?” I asked. “Jonathan (E’s cousin) wouldn’t listen to me,” E sputtered between sobs. “I was mad and he put his fingers in his ears and sang so he couldn’t hear Kids Fighting by Jennifer Millerme.” It is infuriating when one person is trying to discuss a problem and the other is putting up a wall. Friends and family members will argue. But one of the keys to maintaining and growing intimate relationships is fighting fairly. Throughout childhood, kids are beginning to understand how to disagree and struggle with another person’s perspectives. They may be more impulsive and lash out or run away or even dig in their “heels” deepening the power struggle. I’ve heard many Moms’ laments over their siblings fighting repeatedly over the same issues at the same time of day when patience is low and kids are tired and hungry for dinner. So how can you deal with your children’s conflicts? Take a look at your own arguments. Kids are learning directly from observing how we handle conflicts with our partners. Do you shout or name call or run away? Whether we like it or not, our kids are keen observers of how we work through our arguments. Their sense of security is shaken, whether they are a toddler or a teenager when they witness their parents fighting. So they are eager to see how and whether we are able to resolve our problems and move toward a closer relationship. Read full article.

2. 50 Constructive Alternatives to Detention and Punishment

Ideas for Parents and Educators
“Are you okay, E?” I overheard a concerned classmate ask my son as he walked out of the school building yesterday at pick up time. “I’m okay.” he assured the friend. In my head, I was saying “Uh-oh!” bracing myself for the unknown challenge ahead. I ditched my errand-running plans and headed straight to the ice cream store to get provisions for Parent Teacher Conferences Illustration by Jennifer Millerour conversation hoping to channel the clarity of focus that only ice cream can bring. He relayed the story calmly. “Our class was coming back to our room from gym. Sarah (that’s what we’ll call her) was trying to push her way to the front. I was at the beginning of the line and she grabbed my arm and scraped her finger nails down it.” He extended his forearm and revealed two lines of broken skin, red and raw, from his elbow down to his wrist. After washing and treating it, I asked how he had responded and then, how the school had responded. E had said back to Sarah after the scratch “I have to tell the teacher.” And he did. “We were both sent to the principal’s office.” he said. Read full article.

3. Teaching Kids Empathy and Ethics with Money

If you are concerned about your children making a living in the world on their own someday, you are not alone. And because financial acumen is not typically a rigorous part of school curricula, we know, as parents, it’s up to us to help our children. It’s likely you’ve considered Pathway to Goal Achievement by Jennifer Millerteaching your child about money or have already begun the process. In fact, experts recommend giving your child plenty of practice with early money management by opening a saving account, providing a small allowance and divvying up Grandma’s greeting card funds to savings, charity and spending.1 These are indeed helpful experiences for children to begin understanding money’s value and its role in their lives. But the ethics developed around the use of money can be equally important and can be taught right alongside those practical first experiences. In addition, empathy goes hand in hand with ethics since acting as a responsible citizen means working to understand others who may have very different lives and circumstances than our own. Read full article.

4. Monkey Mind at Bedtime, Reflecting on Children’s Thinking

“I just can’t go to sleep!” E said summoning me well after our nightly bedtime ritual had taken place. When I guided him back to bed, he layed down and flopped his feet up in monkey-mind-at-bedtime-by-jennifer-millerthe air with his body in a constant wiggle. Since I observed his physical restlessness first, I gently guided him to get in his “cozy position,” as we tend to call it – ready to go to sleep. But as I talked with him, I realized, it was his mind that was far more active than his body. So I simply asked, “What are you thinking about?” His response was uttered with frustration. “Simon told me that Sarah doesn’t like me. My teacher gave us a huge project we have to work on. The toy catalogue came in the mail. I want the Batman…monkey, monkey, swimming pool, monkey.” Okay, that may not be an exact quote but you get the idea. He began with conversational sentences and moved quickly into words and phrases following his runaway train of thought. And I could tell he was viewing his thoughts as a “monkey on his back,” an annoyance that he couldn’t tame or calm. Read the full article.

5. Home Base – Creating a Safe Haven for Calming Down

“I call base!” my son would say at any place and any time in the days when he was first introduced to the game of tag. If he wanted to end Jack's Base by Jennifer Millerthe tickling or stop the chasing, he would claim a piece of furniture, staircase banister or corner of the room as his safe haven. No one could touch him there. And he relished the power and security of his base. I considered that as I recently heard from friends with multiple siblings who would experience an emotional game of tag during times when children were overtired or hungry or otherwise on edge. “Tag! You’re it!” was the sub-text as one upset child passed her mood to the other. Unfortunately unlike tag, the upset was not only passed on but also retained by the tagger and often grew stronger among all members of the family. When emotions are high, wouldn’t it be nice to call “Base!” to stop the escalation? What if kids were taught to create their own safe base so they could, in those heated moments, select to go to their safety zone? Kids may tend toward this instinctually – reacting to the fight or flight response – and hide in their room or under furniture. Read the full article.

And the most popular guest blog post of the year was:

Seven Surprising Facts about Emotions That Every Child Needs to Know by Ann Douglas

Imagine how tough it must be to be a kid, trying to crack the code that is human emotion. Just when you think you’ve got everything all figured out, someone tosses you a emotional-masks-by-jennifer-miller
curveball by reacting in a puzzling or unexpected way. Your mom is angry rather than happy about the fact that you decided to entertain your baby brother by spinning him around the room. Your baby brother seems to like it. What’s the problem? Or your teacher is annoyed rather than happy with the gift that is your latest creation. Sure, it’s still a little wet and it’s leaving a puddle on her desk, but that’s because it’s a brand new painting! Read full article.

On Thrive Global – “Morning Routine Redux – Adjusting to Winter Weather”

Adjusting to Winter Weather by Jennifer Miller

Arianna Huffington and numerous partners have launched a site called Thrive Global in which they focus articles on well-being, wisdom, wonder, giving, working smarter, and unplugging and recharging. I was honored to have my article published on this site today. “Morning Routine Redux – Adjusting to the Winter Weather” will help any parents frustrated with the additional clothing and the habit of nagging we develop to get out of the door on time. With a little planning and forethought, we can all experience a smooth and gentle morning to give family members a fresh and positive start. Check out the first paragraph and then, click the link to read the full article. And while you are reading, click around and explore this excellent new site.

Morning Routine Redux – Adjusting to the Winter Weather

“Where are your gloves? Uuuuhhhrrrr!” I growled this morning. Hats, gloves, boots, shoes and socks have been strewn everywhere through our tiny hallway and into our kitchen from our side door — so much so that I can’t walk without stepping on some article of clothing. I thought we were doing okay in the mornings. That first week back from holiday break is typically tough on the sleep routine — getting up and out of bed on time. But we’ve got that mastered now so we should be right back into our smooth mornings, right? Then enters the snow factor and sub-zero temperatures and we are not in as great of shape for mornings as I might have thought. And I’m not alone. Each time I’ve talked with parents in the past few weeks, the issue of the morning routine has come up. Here are some questions you might consider to help you determine whether it’s time to revisit your morning routine. Read the full article.

 

And for more on their sister site, The Huffington Post, check out:

The Power of Parenting with Social and Emotional Learning 

#ThriveGlobal  #AriannaHuffington  #SEL  #Parenting

Our Common Ground – Winter Solstice Traditions Celebrate Light

Celebrating the Solstice 2014 illust by Jennifer MillerSo 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 Wednesday, 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 Sunday evening 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 being. Our actions can reflect our deepest values.

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

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

Question for our Family Dinner: What aspects of nature influence you regularly? What do you appreciate about the environment you encounter each day?

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

holiday marathon illus 001My 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.” And 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 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 plan-ful 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 your partner. Consider how you might deck your halls with psychological well-being this season! Happy holidays!

Learning about Some of the World’s Major Holidays – Their Uniqueness and Commonalities

major-world-holidays-by-jennifer-millerBecause of the numerous holidays celebrated through the fall and winter months, it is an ideal time to discuss how people celebrate around the world – both the uniqueness of traditions and also the many commonalities. I was struck by the number of similar themes and symbols when I did the research for the following world holiday facts. Most notably, the major holidays celebrate light in the darkness, show gratitude for food, family and life and pause for reflection or prayer. I was so enriched by learning about the beautiful traditions of celebrations around the world. I hope you will take a moment to share these with your family. Happy holidays!

Christmas
Cultural or Religious Origin: Christianity and Secular
Purpose: To celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, believed by Christians to be the son of God. For the non-religious, the purpose is to give gifts, receive gifts from Santa Claus and celebrate with loved ones.
Symbols/Practices: Santa Claus was originally named after St. Nicolas, a bishop in Turkey, who was a giver of gifts to children. The evergreen tree was originally a German tradition believed to ward off evil spirits. The star is the guiding light that led to the animal manger where the baby was born.
Traditions: Presents are delivered in secret by Santa Claus on Christmas Eve while families are sleeping. Families and friends exchange gifts. Learn more:
http://www.history.com/topics/christmas

Hanukkah
Cultural or Religious Origin: Judaism
Purpose: To celebrate a miracle that one day’s worth of oil lasted for eight days in the temple.
Symbols/Practices: For eight days, Jews light a special candleholder called a menorah.
Traditions: On Hanukkah, many Jews also eat special potato pancakes called latkes, sing songs, and spin a top called a dreidel to win chocolate coins, nuts or raisins. Families also give one gift each of the eight days. Learn more:
http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday7.htm

Kwanzaa
Cultural or Religious Origin: African-American
Purpose: Started in the United States to celebrate African heritage for seven days based on African harvest festivals and focused on seven African principles including family life and unity. The name means “first fruits” in Swahili.
Symbols/Practices: Participants wear ceremonial clothing and decorate with fruits and vegetables.
Traditions: They light a candleholder called a kinara and exchange gifts. Learn more:
http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/kwanzaa-history

Chinese New Year
Cultural or Religious Origin: China
Purpose: Celebrate the new year.
Symbols/Practices: Silk dragon in a grand parade is a symbol of strength. According to legend, the dragon hibernates most of the year, so people throw firecrackers to keep the dragon awake. Each new year is symbolized by a Zodiacal animal that predicts the characteristics of that year. 2016 is the year of the monkey and 2017 will be the year of the rooster.
Traditions: Many Chinese children dress in new clothes. People carry lanterns and join in a huge parade led by a silk dragon. People take time off of work for seven days and celebrate the feast with family. Learn more:
http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/chinese-new-year

Diwali
Cultural or Religious Origins: Hindu, India
Purpose: The festival of lights honors Lakshmi, India’s goddess of prosperity. It celebrates the inner light that protects all from spiritual darkness.
Symbols/Practices: Millions of lighted clay saucers with oil and a cotton wick are placed near houses and along roads at night.
Traditions: Women float these saucers in the sacred Ganges River, hoping the saucers will reach the other side still lit. Farmers dress up their cows with decorations and treat them with respect. The farmers show their thanks to the cows for helping the farmers earn a living. Learn more:
http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/explore/diwali/

La Posada
Cultural or Religious Origins: Mexico and parts of Central America, Christian
Purpose: Reenacts the journey Joseph and Mary took to find shelter to give birth to their son, Jesus. It is a festival of acceptance asking, “Who will receive the child?”
Symbols/Practices: Candles are lit, songs are sung, prayer are offered and, actors dress as Mary and Joseph.
Traditions: People celebrate through song and prayer doing musical re-enactments of the journey. In Mexico and many parts of Central America, people celebrate La Posada in church during the nine days before Christmas. It is a reenactment of the journey Joseph and Mary took to find shelter before the birth of their child, Jesus. Learn more:
http://gomexico.about.com/od/festivalsholidays/a/posadas.htm

Boxing Day
Cultural or Religious Origins: United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Holland
Purpose: To share gratitude and give to the poor.
Symbols/Practices: Alms boxes are placed in churches to collect donations for the poor.
Traditions: Servants were given the day off as a holiday. Charitable works are performed. And now major sporting events take place. Learn more:
http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/boxingday.shtml

Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr
Cultural or Religious Origin: Islam, Muslim
Purpose: An entire month is spent re-focusing on Allah (God) and participating in self-sacrifice to cleanse the spirit.
Symbols/Practices: The crescent moon and a star are shown to indicate a month of crescent moons in the night sky. Participants pray daily in mosques. On Eid al-Fitr, they break the fast by dressing in their finest clothing, decorating homes with lights and decorations and giving treats to kids.
Traditions: Not only do celebrants abstain from food, drink, smoke, sexual activity and immoral behavior during the days of Ramadan, they also work to purify their lives by forgiving others and behaving and thinking in positive, ethical ways. They break their fast each day by eating with family and friends after sunset. Breaking the fast on Eid al-Fitr involves making contributions to the poor and gratefulness.
http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/ramadan

Omisoka
Cultural or Religious Origin: Japan
Purpose: This is the Japanese New Year.
Symbols/Practices: Families thoroughly their clean houses to purify it.
Traditions: People remove any clutter and clean their homes to purify them for the new year. They have a giant feast with traditional foods. There’s a national talent competition that families watch until midnight. Bells ring at midnight symbolizing the many forms of human suffering and people go to pray at Shinto shrines.
http://www.kidzworld.com/article/26414-omisoka-japanese-new-year

St. Lucia Day
Cultural or Religious Origin: Sweden
Purpose: To honor a third-century saint who was known as a “bearer of light” through dark Swedish winters.
Symbols/Practices: With a wreath of burning candles worn on their heads, girls dress as Lucia brides in long white gowns with red sashes.
Traditions: The Lucia brides wake up their families by singing songs and bringing them coffee and twisted saffron buns called “Lucia cats.”
https://sweden.se/culture-traditions/lucia/

 

Learn more about these beautiful and meaning-filled world holidays with your children and open their eyes to different beliefs and ways of recognizing the season and passages of time. Here are a couple of children’s books to take the next step.

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Children Just Like Me – Celebrations by Anabel Kindersley – Contains beautiful photographs along with descriptions of traditions from numerous world holidays.

 

 

 

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Kids Around the World Celebrate! The Best Feasts and Festivals from Many Lands by Lynda Jones – An illustrated guide to many different celebrations around the world.

 

 

Highlighted on the CPCK Site Sidebar:

How Can Giving Become More Meaningful? 

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Do Your Kids Get Upset When Leaving Parties? Try the Snowball Goodbye.

Have You Tried Hot Chocolate Breathing? Teach Your Children about Deep Breathing during this Busy Season.

Video Short: Creating an Enjoyable Family Dinner.

 

Seeing the Holidays from a Child’s Perspective: An Empathetic Holiday Planning Guide for Parents

JSM singing with students 001In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, there’s much to accomplish in a short amount of time. Adult’s goals may include gift shopping for family and friends, volunteering at school parties, baking cookies, decorating the house and preparing special foods. But children’s goals for the season are very different. They are looking for joy, magic and miracles and are eagerly awaiting sharing those experiences and feelings with you. They do not care about time schedules. They are far too busy engaging in awe and wonder. So in the midst of your busyness this season, take a moment to consider your child’s perspective. And be certain you are helping carve out time, space and opportunity for their goals as well. Here are some of your child’s priorities and ways you can bring them to life this season.

IMAGINATION

When considering what gifts to buy for your kids this year, consider how the toy or item leaves room for their imagination. Play, after all, is their central vocation and toys are the tools of their trade. Play assists in learning and can move a child from one level of development to the next. Take a look at your shopping list. Ask yourself, “Do these toys leave room for imagination?” Be sure and include toys that offer children the chance to expand their minds through their own creative exploration. Here are some ideas for playthings that stir creativity (Here’s a pdf version if you’d like to print and use)!

Costumes – These could include old jewelry, purses, shoes, jackets, uniforms, halloween costumes, accessories like walkie talkies, badges, name pins, hats from any profession, medical scrubs, glasses, wigs, mustaches, beards, capes, tiaras, colorful toy weapons (* for safety reasons, never buy a weapon that resembles a real one.)

Stuffed Animals – These could be any and all shapes and sizes and types Play school, wedding, “work,” train station, airport

Household (Safe) Tools – These could include pots, pans, whisks, wooden spoons, empty food/cereal, boxes, calculators, type writers, measuring tape.

Forms – These couuld include out of date checks, restaurant order pads, or driving logs.

Musical Instruments – These could include keyboards, shakers, tambourines, castanettes, kazoos, drums, guitars, or any music maker.

Art Supplies – This could include colored paper, paints, markers, crayons, pipe cleaners, buttons, scissors, glue sticks, stickers, glitter, old magazines to cut up, grains (corn, beans, pasta), yarn, or leaves for tracing or rubbing.

Building Blocks – This could include Classic Legos, Connectagons, Magnatiles, Bristle blocks, marble runs, or wooden blocks.

“Worlds” – This could include train tracks, cars, houses, trees, roads, barns, animals, fences, stores, amusement parks, zoos, cities, ocean, characters, action figures, and habitats for animals.

Tactiles – These could include sand, play dough, clay, rice, pasta, and bubbles, (i.e. place tactiles in a bin and hide objects in sand).

Discovery toys – These could include dinosaur digs, Snap Circuits, nature exploration supplies – nets, binoculars, microscopes, magnifying glass, bug examination containers, and science/chemistry kits.

Puzzles – These could include age-appropriate size, number of pieces (challenging but not too challenging) and for older (8 years and up) – Rubix’s Cube.

Picture and Nonfiction books – Always include at least one book on your gift list! Books can set the scene and establish characters or settings for play.

In addition to these imaginative toys, you might consider – how can you give something that offers your child a part of you? This does not refer to anything store bought. Could you write a letter about what you learn from your child or all the good you see in them? Could you draw him? Could you frame your favorite picture of her? Could you write your wishes for her future? Think about how you might treat your child to an heirloom – a gift of your love – that they might keep well beyond their childhood years.

PEACE

Along with parties, shopping and preparations, declare a quiet time to be kept sacred. You may not be home at the same time consistently each day but consider if you deemed each Friday afternoon or Saturday morning as a time to be peaceful and quiet as a family? In order for kids and adults alike to truly enjoy the holiday celebrations, they also require some calm. We’ve assigned the time between 3:30-4:30 in the afternoon as quiet time in our house. That means no media blaring, noHoliday Quiet Hour 2014 illust by Jennifer Miller
running children, no loud voices. Reading is welcome. Snacks with high protein are encouraged (to combat the onslaught of sugar) and a hot cup of tea for Mom and Dad. I also tuck my to do list away so that I can’t look at it. And play happens too as long as it is not noisy and physically taxing. The essence is creating a calm, quiet space where individuals respect each other’s sense of peace during the designated time. Though peace may not be an explicit goal of your child’s, your patience and engagement in their sense of wonder is. This quiet helps facilitate that for all family members.

Talk about creating this sacred time at a family dinner or time when all are together. Be sure to agree on expectations ahead of time. What activities are acceptable for the quiet time? What activities are not acceptable? Also, an hour may just be too long for a quiet time in your household but wouldn’t a family agreement to stay quiet for 15 minutes a day be a relief to you — and perhaps to all? Decide on reasonable amount of time. Set a kitchen timer to remove the temptation to argue. Do it each day or week you are home at the same time so that the routine takes hold and family members begin to expect it. Maybe they will even rely on it. And maybe it will give each member the fuel to truly be present to the possibility of joy and wonder this season.

Also, plan to step up care for your own anxiety. Create a routine out of stepping outside in the crisp air and taking ten deep breaths before you start your day. It only need take a few minutes. Let the steam from your coffee remind you to breathe. This small gift to yourself can become an even bigger gift to your family when you have more patience throughout the long, busy days.

MAGIC

Though you may feel beyond or finished with belief – with the magic of the season, your children are not. Magic in a child’s world represents the unknown filled with hope, not fear. It seems we could all use some of that feeling, understanding and interpretation of the world around us. So learn from your children. Watch them and encourage their love of all things magical and find the hope within your heart.

“The secret of making a soulful adult may not be to bring up a child correctly; it may be to allow the child her own nature, pleasures and interpretations.” wrote Thomas Moore in The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life.

LOVE

It’s so hard to retain our focus on what’s really important when we are busy with our to-do list. But challenge yourself. Your children are watching and figuring out what the season is all about through your actions. What if they watched you get lost in the love – of neighbors, of friends, of family? That’s my goal for the season and my challenge for you: to hold love as my focal point. How can you get lost in the love of your family and your surroundings this season?

Happy December 1st.

P.S. Speaking of awe, my site is snowing!!! If you haven’t visited the site directly in awhile, check out the snow falling, http://confidentparentsconfidentkids.org.

What Can Parents Do about School Violence?

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Because a school shooting happened this morning five minutes away from my home and I can hear the roar of helicopters over my head, I am doing what I can do… publishing an article about what we – each of us – can do to prevent these very preventable tragedies from ever occurring again. My love goes out to all of those impacted by the shooting at The Ohio State University this morning and to all those impacted by school shootings in the past. I know we can do better for our children and our communities. 

Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart walking around outside your body.
– Elizabeth Stone

And this is the very reason why the events of school shootings shake us all to the core. Because it is our very exposed heart that has been wounded. It’s inconceivable that innocent children’s lives have been taken in what is supposed to be a safe haven, a daily environment in which we entrust our most sacred heart. The friends and family that I’ve spoken with about the occurrence have consistently said, “I have to do something. It’s not enough to be horrified and sad. I have to take action.” And so what can anyone do to make a difference – to heal a gaping wound and to prevent something like this from happening in the future? I too am eager to do something. Here are some ideas to get started.

Begin at home. Make sure you are really connecting with your children daily. Disconnect to connect. Iphones, pads, and other devices have become vehicles for connecting with everyone except those we are physically with – typically our most intimate family. Because the beeps, light flashes, and constant press of these machines bring our attention back to the device, it requires great discipline to put them down, turn them off, and tune in to our children. Set a timer for yourself if you need to but give your children your full, undivided attention even if it’s only for a short time each day. Find out what’s going on in their heads and hearts. Laugh together. Talk and, most especially, listen well if they are scared or upset. Be patient if deep connection doesn’t happen immediately. If you’ve been disconnected, then it takes time to build trust. But that ongoing sense of trust will open up space for confiding in challenges when they arise. We know that that connection is critical in keeping our children and others safe.

Partner with your child’s teacher. Ask if there are ways you can support your child’s teacher in building community amongst classmates. Teachers are often open to parents coming into the classroom to share experiences, read stories or give presentations on their careers. Making a personal connection with your child’s teacher will enhance communication, develop a trusting relationship and create a stronger alliance between the school and your family. Take it a step further if you are interested and able and volunteer as a teacher’s aide in the classroom regularly (weekly or monthly). Research shows that students perform better in school when parents are involved. But in addition, students are safer if parents are directly involved with the teacher and the classroom. If there’s a problem detected by either a teacher or a parent, there is already a connected relationship at the ready to communicate and coordinate supports for kids who need it.

Identify and take action on red flags. When a child hits another child on the playground or in the classroom, that is a giant red flag. That red flag is NOT a sign to send her home, suspended. In that scenario, she’ll likely get punished at home and come back to school angrier, more hurt and ready to hurt others. Punishment only escalates the problem and does not address the root cause. That red flag is a sign that we – as educators and parents – need to get curious about that child’s life and candle of light 001unmet emotional needs. How can we understand what she’s going through? How can we offer her supports that will address her unmet needs? It is not enough to point the finger and say it’s the school’s role… and for schools, it’s not enough to say it’s the parent’s job. We all have to take responsibility. For more on this critical issue, check out 50 Alternatives to Detention and Punishment.

Partner with your school. It’s likely that your school conducts a yearly review of their crisis management plan and communicates it to parents. If they do not, then they should and you can advocate for that to take place. You should be aware of what they plan to do in an emergency including a situation like a school shooting. How you will be notified and what role you can play? That plan should be in writing. It should include a plan for communications amongst school staff but also, with families and with students. How will students be directed in an emergency? How will a tragedy be talked about with students after it has occurred? Is there a forum for conversation that is a safe, trusting space? But in addition, make sure that there are conversations and a clear plan for prevention.

Advocate for school-community supports. What supports are there for students who need more than the school can offer? In schools, these are typically referred to as “intervention supports.” If the response you receive is “We have academic tutors for those students who are not performing academically.” That’s not enough. What supports are there for students who need emotional and social assistance beyond what the school personnel can directly address? The students you may be thinking of are a percentage – whether large or small – of a school population who act out and demonstrate clearly anti-social behavior. Certainly there need to be supports for those children. But in addition, nearly every child in a school at one point or another during their school career needs additional emotional support that a teacher likely will not be able to provide. My parents separated when I was in sixth grade and I needed to see a counselor during that time. I hadn’t needed outside supports my entire school career. But I needed it then. So considering that many children will need additional support, the following questions need to be addressed.

  • How do you identify students who are in need of outside assistance beyond what the school can provide?
  • Who is responsible for working with the students and families in order to seek assistance?
  • Is that staff person aware of, in communication with and able to refer students and families to adequate mental health services in the community for those that are in need of it?
  • Is there a communication system in place so that all of those involved in supporting a student can coordinate with one another?

The schools with which I work have a social worker or counselor who is primarily responsible for cultivating trust between families, students and the school. They work closely with teachers to identify those students who are displaying risky behaviors and ensure that students who need more support than a classroom teacher can reasonably provide, get that support in the community. Parents confide in that person when a relative dies or a family member is admitted into rehabilitation. The social worker guides the family through the support-seeking process so that the intimidation or embarrassment is reduced and the family gets the help they need.

Promote school-family-community connections. Preventing a crisis from occurring also involves connection. Families need to feel connected to the school. Students need to feel connected to the school and each other. Teachers need to feel connected to students, parents, the principal and the larger system. Research-based positive school climate, social and emotional learning and character education initiatives all have the potential to build a sense of connectedness between all individuals in a school community if this is seen as an explicit goal. Greater communication among caring adults means that problems are identified quickly and at the start so that they can be addressed before they escalate to the point of a crisis. The profile of individuals who perpetrate school shootings is typically that of an introvert, sometimes, the victim of bullying, but often, a student that goes unnoticed. In schools with which I work, there is no child that goes unnoticed. Every person – staff and students – is greeted each morning through a Morning Meeting. Each student gets the opportunity to share something about themselves daily. This – connectedness in school communities – is the way that we turn this problem around in the long term. But it requires work and commitment on everyone’s part to make it successful and sustain the change for the benefit of all. For numerous research-based ideas on simple ways to create school-family-community connections, read Beyond the Bake Sale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships by Anne Henderson – an outstanding and essential guide.

Organize and mobilize parents. I know of two committed parents (in two different states) who, through volunteerism and advocacy, have created a focus on social and emotional learning to prevent bullying and other violence in their respective districts. One such individual in Strongsville, Ohio, a member of their PTA (Parent Teacher Association), noticed that the state PTA organization was not talking about the need for social and emotional learning in schools. She developed and proposed a resolution for the Ohio PTA to focus on “maximizing student potential and achievement through positive school climate and social and emotional learning.” It now serves as a national model for other PTAs. It happened because of her persistence. She continually asked questions, enlisted experts and other parent supporters, believed in the importance of her cause and pushed the agenda forward until her voice was heard and the resolution was adopted. In my experience working with numerous policy and practice issues with school districts over the years, if a small group of parents exert their influence and assert that something is essential to the education and well-being of students that is not currently being addressed, schools and school districts have no choice but to take notice and respond. That famous quote from Margaret Mead rings true: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Advocate for policy and practice change. Though social and emotional learning in education has made great strides in influencing the way schools operate in the past 20-30 years, there is still much work to do. The conversations around education nationally continue to focus on the three Rs (Reading, Riting and Rithmatic) and seem to often neglect and marginalize the other critical three Rs (Respect, Responsibility and Resilience). That must change. The national conversation on educational essentials must include our current realities. Students need to be prepared for the global knowledge economy with creative and critical thinking skills, collaborative abilities, strong communication competencies, respect for differences, and the ability to think responsibly and ethically in their decision making. Those same students need to be self aware and become practiced in controlling their impulses and managing their emotions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Write to your local politician, your Congressional leaders, your President and the U.S. Secretary of Education. All these individuals need to hear consistently that addressing the social and emotional development of kids and promoting connectedness in schools is not a “nice-to-have” but has become an essential for the education of our citizenry.

I hope you will make a commitment to taking action in your own way. If you need support in doing so, please call upon me or the following organizations to help you along the way. Though all of them are located in the United States, many of them will have resources that extend globally.

Organizational Resources
Jennifer Miller, M.Ed., Family and Educational Consultant
Confidentparentsconfidentkids@gmail.com

Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)
CASEL was founded in 1994 by Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, educator/philanthropist Eileen Rockefeller Growald, and a group of distinguished researchers and practitioners. We are a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that works to advance the science and evidence-based practice of social and emotional learning.
http://casel.org/

Responsive Classroom
The Responsive Classroom approach is a widely used, research-backed approach to elementary education that increases academic achievement, decreases problem behaviors, improves social skills, and leads to more high-quality instruction.

Home

Edutopia – The George Lucas Foundation
Edutopia is dedicated to transforming the learning process by helping educators implement the strategies below. These strategies — and the educators who implement them — are empowering students to think critically, access and analyze information, creatively problem solve, work collaboratively, and communicate with clarity and impact. Discover the resources, research, experts, and fellow Edutopia members who are changing our schools. Join us in reinventing the learning process!
http://www.edutopia.org/blogs/beat/social-emotional-learning

National School Climate Center
Our goal is to promote positive and sustained school climate: a safe, supportive environment that nurtures social and emotional, ethical, and academic skills. NSCC is an organization that helps schools integrate crucial social and emotional learning with academic instruction. In doing so, we enhance student performance, prevent drop outs, reduce physical violence, bullying, and develop healthy and positively engaged adults.
http://www.schoolclimate.org/

Educator’s for Social Responsibility
Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR) works directly with educators to implement systemic practices that create safe, caring, and equitable schools so that all young people succeed in school and life, and help shape a safe, democratic and just world. Founded in 1982, ESR is a national leader in school reform and provides professional development, consultation, and educational resources to adults who teach young people in preschool through high school.
http://esrnational.org/

Character Education Partnership
Character Education Partnership (CEP) is a national advocate and leader for the character education movement. Based in Washington, DC, we are a nonprofit, nonpartisan, nonsectarian coalition of organizations and individuals committed to fostering effective character education in our nation’s schools.

Home

National Center for Learning and Citizenship
Part of the Education Commission of the States, The National Center for Learning and Citizenship (NCLC) assists education leaders to promote, support, and reward civic education and service-learning as essential components of America’s education system. The NCLC’s mission is to: 1). Identify and analyze policies and practices that support effective service-learning and civic education; 2). Disseminate analyses of best practices and policy trends; 3). Convene national, state, and local meetings; and 4). Network to share information about service-learning and civic education. The NCLC also works closely with other national, state, and local advocacy groups in order to contribute to a collective public voice in support of the civic mission of schools. The NCLC complements the mission of the Education Commission of the States with a unique level of expertise and collaboration within the fields of civic education and service-learning.
http://www.ecs.org/html/projectspartners/nclc/nclc_main.htm

Social Development Research Group
For over 30 years the Social Development Research Group (SDRG) has sought to investigate and promote healthy behaviors and positive social development in youth and adults. SDRG is a recognized leader in the field of prevention research. Our efforts to understand how risk and protective factors influence development have resulted in hundreds of articles in peer-reviewed journals and led to the development of tested and effective interventions.
http://www.sdrg.org/

University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Center for Mental Health in Schools
We are a center for policy and practice analysis. Because we know that schools are not in the mental health business, all our work approaches mental health and psychosocial concerns in ways that integrally connect such efforts with school reform and improvement. We do this by integrating health and related concerns into the broad perspective of addressing barriers to learning and promoting healthy development. We clarify the need to restructure current policy, practice, research, and training to enable development of a comprehensive and cohesive approach that is an essential and primary component at every school. We stress that without a comprehensive component for addressing barriers to learning many students cannot benefit from instructional reforms, and thus, achievement scores will not rise in the way current accountability pressures demand.
http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/

“How to Hear “Me, Me, Me” Less and Teach Young Children to Give” on NBC Parent Toolkit

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How do you help young children learn about and experience the joy of giving?

Check out how the article begins…

“Look, Mama!” my five-year-old son E said peering proudly over his grocery bag teeming with – toys? “Oh!” I was confused by what I saw. It was the day of the school Christmas store in which students could buy gifts for family members at inexpensive prices. We had spent time the day prior talking about what Daddy, Grandma, and Grandpa might like for gifts. And I had placed a $10 bill in an envelope in E’s backpack to allow him to make purchases. I thought I had properly prepared him. But when his teacher sent him off shopping with a fourth grade buddy as his guide, he felt overwhelmed by the sparkling goodies before him. His buddy, a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, told him, “Yeah, get some for yourself.” The freedom and excitement E must have felt having money to spend took him over and he forgot the reason he was shopping in the first place.

Children at the preschool and kindergarten age fly with grand excitement from one play activity to another. Their attention span does not last long. So preparations the day prior, as I had tried to do with my son, are not typically retained. And impulse control is still not completely developed. Which means when left to their own devices, they may not stop themselves from grabbing goodies at their fingertips. Read the full article.

“Politics at the Thanksgiving Table? Here’s How to Model Emotional Intelligence” with Pearson Education

 

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I spoke with the talented team at Pearson Education – sponsors of the NBC Parent Toolkit – about a hot topic as we approach this U.S. holiday. What do you do when family conversations are heated or divided around politics? Here’s how it begins…

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“Affirm their strong feeling –‘I can hear you feel really strongly about this, as so many of us do—but I want to focus on what brings us together this Thanksgiving. Can we talk about some issues where we have some common ground?’”

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Anxious Conversations

Most families sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner this week will have more on their minds than keeping the turkey moist. This year’s presidential election has many people anxiously anticipating conversations with loved ones from opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Jennifer Miller, a regular expert contributor to the Pearson-sponsored NBC Education Nation’s Parent Toolkit, has some advice for families entering the fray.

“If you’re going to initiate a political conversation at your Thanksgiving dinner, there are some ways that you can go about it that are more constructive,” says Miller. “If you’re worried about others initiating a political conversation, there are ways you can deal with it where you maintain gratitude for the relationships without creating unneeded stress.”

While these sorts of discussions can be fraught, they also present important learning opportunities for kids. If you do it right, says Miller, “then you are modeling social and emotional intelligence in the highest form.” Read full article.

 

Thanks #PearsonEducation for the opportunity to contribute! Happy Thanksgiving to all who are celebrating! May we all experience the feelings and thoughts of gratitude this holiday season!

For more on this topic, check out the Fighting Fair Family Pledge.

 

 

Expanding the Circle: Teaching Children the Values and Actions of Inclusion

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If it is his privilege to be independent, it is equally his duty to be inter-dependent.

― Mahatma Gandhi

All children have to deal with and understand the paradox of separateness and connection, of individuality and belonging. In utero, babies have no sense of separation. They are physically connected to Mom through the very liquid they breathe and the cord through which they receive their food. For most children, the birth process will be the biggest stress of their young lives. They discover that they are separate beings but need their attachment to their parents in order to survive. Do you remember in the first few months of your child’s life when he was fascinated with his hands? He was grappling with his individuality and separation. Then, when children enter their first playgroups or preschool, we encourage them to share, to cooperate and to take turns with other children. They have spent most of their time as infants and toddlers figuring out their individuality only to find that they are supposed to connect to others and that there are rules (sometimes confusing since they change in various environments) that govern that involvement.

Earlier this week, I watched as my own preschooler whisked one friend off by the arm and turned to scowl at his other friends, a group he has developed friendships with throughout the school year. I pulled him aside and encouraged him to be kinder to his friends and he did so as I left the classroom. But by the end of the school day, two excluded boys were angry and hurt and the teachers had been informed. E, my son, felt bad too. And so the seeds of inclusion and exclusion are planted early. Our instincts as children may not guide us well. E, my son, was acting on the great excitement he felt from a playdate at his friend’s house playing with new toys and having new play experiences. This enchantment guided him to single out his friend neglecting the others who were regular playmates. So what’s a caring adult to do?

The book Habits of Goodness; Case Studies in the Social Curriculum[i] by Ruth Charney tells the story of a preschool teacher with a roomful of children who were also struggling with being kind to one another. She decided to reflect on what she does to encourage genuine respect while recognizing that everyone is not going to be liked equally by everyone else. She planned to model the desired behaviors and keep communication about this topic open through regular class meetings. She also decided to create the “You can’t say you can’t play.” rule to ensure that all students are welcome and included in all play. A rule like this might not work in fifth grade, for example, but in preschool, as children are learning about rules, it worked. In the fifth grade, teachers could, in addition to regular discussions about inclusion and exclusion, explore deeper topics like what it means to be an upstander, the courageous person that stands up for a child who is being bullied. In this case, this teacher decided that the needs of the classroom community were more powerful than the needs of the individual. She set a core standard and value for her classroom that kindness is a requirement which is a standard any home or classroom community could set and cultivate.

One essential question in these examples that is raised is – how do we help our children internalize the values that underlie decisions about their actions? It was easy for me to say “Be kind to your friends.” but if my child continues to exclude others when I leave the room, then he has clearly not internalized the value of kindness and inclusion. The stakes only become higher as children grow older. Studies have consistently found that a student’s sense of belonging at school contributes to greater motivation, stronger engagement in classroom activities and higher academic achievement overall.[ii] And as you might suspect, research has demonstrated the converse to be true. Students who do not feel a social connection or sense of belonging are chronically absent, disengaged and low performing. Add to the mix children’s increasing awareness as they mature of racial, ethnic, gender, learning and appearance differences and whole groups of students can become marginalized.

In examining how teachers have best been able to address this issue and ensure that students are truly learning the value of connectedness and inclusion, there are some common themes that can be practiced at home.

Create a Culture of Acceptance and Caring – Take a moment to examine your own approach to others. Are you accepting of family members? Neighbors? Colleagues? Friends? Do your conversations with your spouse include statements of understanding, compassion and empathy for those who are different or even who may challenge you? Whether you believe your child is listening or not, the perceptions of you and your partner are internalized by your child and become your family’s culture. Taking some time to reflect on your own values and how you communicate interpersonal problems among family members can set the tone for how your child deals with the outside world. Put yourself to the test. Notice when you are making judgements about another. Stop yourself and ask, “What can I learn from this person who is challenging me?” Reframe your discussion in terms of your own learning with self-awareness.

Mom Daughter inviting girl to park by Jennifer MillerUse the Language of Acceptance and Caring – Young children particularly have a difficult time making distinctions between a person and their actions and choices. A child is tempted to say “I don’t like Billy.” when Billy takes her toy. Instead help her rephrase and reframe her thoughts to say “I don’t like that Billy took my toy.” Every child makes poor choices but each child can feel like they still belong in a family, classroom or friendship circle.

Encourage Cross-Age Kindness and Connection – Whether you have siblings or neighbors of various ages, there is an opportunity to create relationships with children who are different – going through different developmental milestones and experiencing different friendships and curricula during the school day. This becomes great practice for acceptance and inclusion. Do not allow children in a neighborhood group to be marginalized. Encourage your child to be the one to reach out and include a child who is being left out. With siblings, encourage older siblings to care for younger ones and involve them in play at the level they are able.

Discuss What it Means to be a Good Friend – What it means to be a friend and what it means to be a part of a classroom community can be a regular topic for conversation to revisit as your child grows and changes. What does it mean to you to be a good friend? How do you feel when you are excluded? How can you make new children in your school or neighborhood feel welcome? E has a new interest in Spiderman and luckily Spidey’s motto is a relevant March 2013 009one, “With great power comes great responsibility.” [iii] We talked about how he has an opportunity to act like Spiderman in his classroom and be kind to all kids who want to play with him. It’s easy to tell children what not to do (and important in establishing boundaries) but it’s equally important to think through with them what they can and should do instead.

Find and Articulate Common Ground – When your child comes home from school talking about another child’s differences, be sure you explore their common ground too. You might ask, “What are some of her interests? What does she like to play on the playground?” See if you can identify commonalities even as basic as, “She lives in our neighborhood.” or “She loves dogs too.” Focus on differences and children will see their separateness. But help children find common ground, and they will see how they relate to others who are different from them.

Notice Kindness – The teacher in the earlier example assigned partners to each student and asked them to notice when their partner was sharing or taking turns. At the end of the day, they would write out certificates for each student whose kindness was noticed. The simple certificate read, “I notice Karen shared today. Signed, Billy Goodman.” They worked on it until all students were receiving a certificate. For families, use a weekly family dinnertime to discuss what acts of kindness you witnessed other family members enacting throughout that week. Create a routine out of your noticing. Point out kindnesses when you see them and ask your children to do the same. Use “I notice” language to model observation of other people.

Consider that most children at one point or another will feel left out, excluded from the group or even bullied. Those children who are consistently left out are the ones most likely to act as bullies in the future. So even if your child tends to have many friends and not have problems with exclusion, those excluded can still impact your child’s life directly. It’s a sobering thought to realize that the students who committed the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, Columbine, Colorado and other places were consistently marginalized. Promoting connectedness in the school and home community is critical now in keeping children safe. Don’t wait until your child has a problem. Begin now to encourage the values of inclusion and kindness in your family life so that your child internalizes and acts on that value.

References:
[i] Charney, R. (1997). Habits of goodness; Case studies in the social curriculum. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.
[ii] Osterman, K.F. (2000). Students’ need for belonging in the school community. Review of Educational Research, 70, 323-267.
[iii] Lee, S., Kirby, J., & Ditko, S. (1963). Amazing Spider-man. NY, NY: Marvel Comics, Marvel Tales # 138.

Updated from originally published version on Confident Parents, Confident Kids on March 28, 2013.

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