confident parents confident kids

Spring Road Trip with Family Cooperative Games!

We’re going on a road trip, a road trip, a road trip.
We’re going on a road trip to see what we can see!

We typically venture out on a small road trip during spring break taking advantage of the freedom and warmer weather. It’s tempting to hand a child an iPad and allow the video games and programs to fill the idle time. Then I think back to my own road trips as a child, sometimes thirteen hours in a non-air-conditioned car, and of course, with no handy portable device to fill my time. I recall being happily consumed with my crayons and a sketch pad. I filled every single page with drawings of sand castles, mermaids and sea creatures anticipating our vacation at the beach. But now, my son, who is so used to easily accessible entertainment and high level of stimulation, seems to require more than just that trusty old sketch pad. But engage him with a family game, and he is delighted to play.

The following car games can offer ways to connect as a family and build cooperative skills all the while enjoying your time together. It can set a collaborative tone preparing all family members for a positive adventure together.

Cooperative Storytelling
One person begins a story with a main character and a setting. Start with a few juicy details – “One day a giant sea turtle named Freddy sauntered down the isle of a grocery store looking for his favorite potato chips…” and then pass off the story to the next person to fill in what comes next. Offer a few sentences and then continue to pass the story along with each family member contributing key details to move your adventure forward. In my experience, the stories that emerge from these games are a joy and delight with surprises around every corner! Our family loves this game!

Where in the World Guessing Game
“Where in the world is E?” we ask and E begins to describe his surroundings. He picks any city, community or habitat in the world and offers details about the attributes of his environment without naming it and we have to guess the place.

Creature Guessing Game
Similarly, one person thinks of a creature. All of the guessers ask questions of the individual with a creature in mind. “Is it small, medium or large? Does it live in the forest? Does it eat plants or animals?” When you have enough details, guess the creature. Go around and give each person the chance to think of an animal.

Name the Face
See if you can express an emotion with only your facial expression. (This could be tricky for drivers!) Think of the emotion and perform the facial expression of that emotion. See if others can guess what you are feeling.

More, More!
Select a category such as ice cream flavors, popular songs or amusement park rides. Call out as many different kinds as you can until you’ve exhausted your list of ideas. This offers practice in brainstorming, a valuable skill used in coming up with solutions to a problem.

Cell Phone
Do you remember the old game “Telephone”? Think of a sentence. Start simple and make them more challenging as you go. Whisper it into the ear of another family member. Each person whispers to the next person exactly what they heard whispered in their ear. Have the last person say what they heard aloud. It’s ideal if you can go quickly and try it a couple of times. Then you are able to see if listening and communication improves with practice and focus.

We Write the Songs
Pick out a family favorite song – one that everyone knows. Now select a favorite animal (your pet?), place (your school?) or person (your best friend?). Change the words of the song to describe or tell the story of that creature or place. Make sure all family members have the chance to contribute. Practice and sing it with gusto!

Radio Story
Turn on the radio. Listen to the first station that plays. Is it a song or a commercial? Now cooperatively tell the background story of the song or commercial. How was the song written? Why was the product developed (if a commercial)? What story does it really tell? Make it imaginative, the crazier, the better. None of it should be based on real facts. Each family member can add details to your radio backstory.

Social Dilemmas
Tweens and teens are often fascinated with social dilemmas since they are dealing with more complex social issues regularly. This may interest that age group. One person offers a social problem such as a friend wants to get on the highway with her friends and drive out of town without telling anyone. What do you do? Or an animal is about to get run over by a car in the road at the same time your toddler brother is running down the street. What do you do? These can offer interesting ethical considerations and turn into involving conversations. The trick for parents is to remain in open-minded dialogue mode, offering ideas and not criticizing.

Try out these road trip games or create your own and watch the time fly past as you laugh and creatively, cooperatively play with your family. Happy adventures!


Our Grandma Linda sent us a gift this Spring that we’ve started to use at our Sunday night family dinners entitled And Then, Story Starters, 20 Imaginative Beginnings. It’s a book-size deck of cards, each with its own riveting story starter. These prompts offer rich details from which to build and could be of great use if you want to try the cooperative storytelling and would like help in getting started.



Originally posted May 26, 2016

On NBC’s Parent Toolkit – “One More Cupcake?…Promoting Self-Control through the Ages”

Whether you are concerned about preparing your children for school readiness, academic achievement, or success later in life, the learned skill of self-control will play a central role. Check out my latest article on specific, simple ways parents can promote self-control at various ages and stages. Here’s how it begins…

One More Cupcake?…Promoting Self-Control through the Ages

“I know I’m not allowed but no one will notice if I take one more cupcake,” reasons my nine-year-old son. Whether young or old or in-between, we are constantly exercising the skill of self-control. And though our ability to resist impulses can apply to small issues like resisting a sweet treat, self-control, a learned competence, is an essential ingredient for pursuing goals, performing well in school, and maintaining healthy relationships.

Walter Mischel, author of The Marshmallow Test, Why Self-Control is the Engine of Success writes that self-control “is essential for developing the self-restraint and empathy needed to build caring and mutually supportive relationships.” That’s because instead of responding impulsively to others, we need to consider feelings and the impact our words and actions have upon them. Read full article.

#SEL #parenting

Homework Attitude – Promoting Autonomy and Competence to Inspire Hard Work

When it comes to homework, attitude can make all of the difference.

Children can bring worries or beliefs to their homework that we, as parents, may or may not be aware of.

“The other kids all know this already but I just don’t understand it. How will I catch up?”

“I’m just not good at science.”

“What if I’ll never be able to figure this out?”

Anxiety in a child can fuel them to either walk away from a challenge, or to dig in and work harder to meet their struggles. And we can have a significant influence on how our children approach those challenges through our own words and attitudes.

An interesting study was done on mothers and children during homework time.(1) Researchers noted whether mothers’ comments during homework completion were controlling or supporting autonomy and competence. In this study, they found – regardless of the child’s age and gender – that those children who were low or average performing already were greatly impacted by their Mom’s either controlling behaviors or supportive words offering autonomy and believing in their competence. The study concluded that those children who brought worries about their ability to perform had a heightened sensitivity to their mother’s comments. Mom’s who supported their autonomy – “I know you can do it!” – and demonstrated that they believed in their child’s ability to do the work predicted increased achievement over time. However, those mothers who were more controlling in their comments – “I need to check your work. That’s not right.” – predicted less engagement and lower achievement in their children.

Students who began homework with already-high achieving scores were not as impacted by their mom’s comments whether controlling or autonomy-supporting. Researchers suspect that those high-achieving students brought the attitude to their work that they were already competent and had demonstrated it in school. They did not possess the same kinds of worries or sensitivities that average to low achieving students brought.

There is much to learn from this study. It’s likely our children may vacillate through the years from high-achieving to moderate to low depending upon their teacher, the course work itself, and their interest in the subject. It helps to know how we can respond when our children are feeling frustrated or not competent in the tasks they have been asked to complete at home.

Autonomy-Supportive Attitudes, Actions, and Comments

Parents can support their children’s autonomy during homework time in a few specific ways.

Set up the homework space for success in partnership with your child. “What school tools will you need at the ready?” may be an important question to ask when setting up for homework time. Students may need paper, pencils, crayons, and more so check in to see what should be available. Then, make sure there is a clean, organized, and designated space for your child to work each day. And that space is ideally near where you are going to be. Are you cooking in the kitchen? Could your child sit at the kitchen table or in an adjacent room? Is it fairly quiet? (Turn off television and radio so your child can focus.) Make certain that your child has a conducive space for working. For more, check out “Getting Set Up for Homework Success.”

Offer choice on the timing of homework completion (if possible). Evenings can be an activity-packed time between sports or after school programs, dinner, bath/shower and bedtime routines. There’s little time to fit it all in. But if you do have any flexibility, then ask your child when she will feel best about getting homework done – right after school? before dinner? after dinner? Offering your child the choice will increase her sense of autonomy with her work.

Show your confidence in your child’s ability to get homework accomplished. “I know you can do it on your own. I’m here if you need any support.” is the key message. Leave them alone (give them the autonomy) to manage it for themselves while remaining close by so they can ask for your help if needed.

Articulate your confidence. If he expresses worries, let him know you are certain he can do it with some time and focus. “You can learn anything you need or want to with hard work.”

Facilitate thinking when asked for help. Instead of giving answers, ask questions about the problem at hand. “What on the worksheet would give you a clue to your answer?” “What are ways you think you can find the answer?”

Lead to resources when asked for help. Point out what books or worksheets your child has available to help her learn more about what she is working on. And what if she forgets her book? Use the available resources. Research on the internet. Use your home library or visit one nearby. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus on hand.

Practice taking brain breaks. If your child throws his pencil down in frustration, suggest a brain break. Move away. Set the timer for ten minutes. Go play. Walk outside. Encourage breathing. Read a story or find another enjoyable distraction. Get a snack if hunger might be an issue. Then, return refreshed and ready to focus.

Allow for real world consequences. Part of giving a child autonomy is allowing her to experience the outcomes of her choices. If she forgot a book from school that was part of her homework (and could not be replaced by another at home), then allow her to explain it to her teacher the next day and take whatever consequences come from not doing her work. That’s how she’ll learn to take responsibility.

I look at a poster every few days when I am at the gym exercising entitled “Rate of Exertion” and because it’s hanging directly in front of me, I rate myself. “How hard am I working today?” I ask myself. Rating scales can help an individual self-reflect on the level of effort she is giving to any task. It can inspire self-awareness and accountability. So I’ve created a hard work poster for you as a tool to post in your child’s homework area. You need not facilitate discussion around it. Don’t make it a tool for yourself. But hang it and perhaps, like me, your child will rate herself on her own efforts toward her homework goals.

We can prevent power struggles at homework time by offering our children a sense of autonomy over their work. Not only can we calm their worries, we can also promote engagement as we demonstrate through our words and actions that indeed our kids are competent and able to learn anything if they put the time and hard work into it.


(1) Fei-Yin Ng, F., Kenney-Benson, G.A., & Pomerantz, E.M. (2004). Children’s achievement moderates the effects of mothers’ use of control and autonomy support. Child Development. Vol. 75, 3, 764-780.

Feedback that Leads to Change

Feedback is the breakfast of champions.
– Ken Blanchard

I walked out of my front door, hot tea in hand and a light jacket, on the first sunny, balmy 55 degree day signaling the beginning of Spring. I took a breath of fresh air as I examined the tulips that were sprouting just a half an inch above the soil, when a hoard of kids, my own in the mix, ran right through the flower bed squashing the seedlings. “Don’t trample my flowers!” I yelled instinctively sounding like the elderly ladies from my own childhood neighborhood. But that instinct didn’t serve me well as, a mere five minutes later, I sat and watched them run right back through the same garden patch heading in the opposite direction. I decided I had to either change my tactics or allow all of my hard work planting bulbs last Fall go to waste.

I reevaluated and thought about my options for providing feedback that would actually work this time. I came up with many solutions in my head, some simple and some as elaborate as building a little fence around the garden. Ultimately, I decided I would first pave the way for the kids’ success and then, provide feedback in the most constructive way I could. Then, I’d sit back to see if it worked. There were two stone pavers through the garden that offered a pathway for the keen observer but I fully filled in that pathway with stones to offer an obvious route through the garden. Then when the kids came back to our yard, I got down on my knees and called them over for a huddle, as if involving them in a conspiracy. “Glad to see you guys are having so much fun. I’ve created a kids-only pathway for you to run through the garden safely. Can you use it?” I got a resounding “Yes!” as they took off across the pathway. As I sat and sipped my tea, I watched as they ran back and forth using only the new passage. I made eye contact with each one discreetly giving them a “thumbs up.” That’s all it took. My tulips are now a good four inches high and the kids received the feedback and translated it into a change in their actions. This might not have happened had I kept yelling, “Don’t trample my flowers!”

In the workplace, managers work hard to learn ways to give feedback that will be well-received and used constructively. And since we often give feedback to family members, it’s helpful to think about how we can use it in a way that contributes to learning and improvement. Our reactive feedback may not tend toward the constructive. We can slip into blaming. “It takes you forever to get on your shoes!” you may be tempted to say though the child might hear, “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah!” like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Nagging or blaming can effectively shut down communication. A child’s defenses go up. And you have lost your opportunity to truly influence his behavior for the moment. Instead you could say, “Our routine seems to slow down when we put on shoes. What can we do?”

Think about a circumstance in which you gave feedback quickly, as in my flower garden example, that was not received well and did not result in a change of actions. Play out that example as you read through the following tips and see if you might find some alternatives for directing your family members (other grown ups included!) toward positive action.

Calculate your timing carefully. It can mean the difference between success and failure, receptivity or deaf ears. Wait until the heat of the moment has passed. If your child is upset, angry or frustrated, pursue calming techniques with her first. Waiting can be tough in those moments where you are eager to get your child to change. But your self-control can ensure that the feedback you are trying to provide is received.

Prepare. Think through what you are going to say and how you are going to say it in advance. It may only take a few minutes. But stopping to plan what you are going to say can help you frame your comment constructively.

Notice and specifically reinforce the positive without qualifying. If you are trying to change a particular behavior like running through the flower bed, look for chances to reinforce positive behaviors without qualifying or following up with a criticism. Instead of subjective terms like, “I like…” you might say, “I notice you were trying to avoid the flowers when you were running.”

Give specific and brief redirection using a warm tone. Sharing feedback with a respectful tone will allow the adult to remain in control and keep the lines of communication open. Providing direct and succinct feedback can help prevent a tendency toward lecturing or nagging. “Use the path to keep flowers safe.” is one way you could say it.

Invite child reflection. If you involve your child in solving the problem, she will have more ownership over the successful implementation of the solution. So you might ask, “How can you move through the garden with your friends and keep the flowers safe?”

Provide a simple reminder to support the change. If a habit has developed, it can be challenging for a child to remember not to act on his impulses but to follow the alternative you’ve given him. We all need reminders when we are making changes. So here are three ideas for simple reminders.

1. Use a one-word statement. That one word will help remind him and serve as a clue to your expectations without any nagging necessary. You might say, “Path.”
2. Post a visual reminder. You could draw a picture together or write words and post it near the challenge. If the problem relates to getting on shoes, post a picture right by where shoes are kept and point to it before you encounter the challenge again.
3. Set up nonverbal signals. The nonverbal signal can be a great way to provide a reminder without risking a tone of voice that may sound like fault-finding. I used a
thumbs up in the garden example to reinforce. But also, you can remind in advance of the challenge by establishing a code signal between you and your child and using it each time. You might use a high five or what we call, a “foot five” (bumping feet) before getting on shoes.

Let go. Give your child the chance to show you they can do it. Step back though sometimes that can be difficult. Then, be sure and notice their efforts.

Feedback can be a useful tool for parents to guide behavior change and learning. Try these suggestions to reinvent the way you communicate and you’ll have the opportunity to significantly influence habit changes with your family.

Faber, A., & Mazlish, E. (1980). How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. NY, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Originally posted on March 25, 2015.

Understanding Anger and Teaching Young Children How to Deal with It

“That’s mine!” Sophie heard her daughter scream at her younger sibling from the next room. As Sophie turned her attention to the unfolding scene, she saw her upset child swipe a doll out of the hands of her sister and hit her across the shoulder. What should Sophie do next?

Young children, as they begin the negotiations of playing with others, particularly in preschool and kindergarten, get angry and frustrated but are unsure how to manage their feelings. It’s common for children to lash out or run away or melt down in a puddle of angry tears. In addition to not knowing how to handle their big feelings, the upset can be compounded by the fact that they do not yet have the emotional vocabulary at the ready to clearly articulate what they are experiencing. In considering how to teach young children how to manage anger, it helps to combat some myths or misperceptions about this sometimes feared, and often avoided emotion.

Anger Misconceptions

We tend to believe anger is…

  • bad or negative and avoid or shut down the experience of it. There’s good reason for it. We have all experienced someone(s) in our lives who has lost control and acted in ways that harm themselves or others when angry. However, we know that every emotion, including anger, serves a critical purpose. It provides information about who we are, what emotional or physical needs are not getting met, and where our boundaries lie.
  • expressing anger such as yelling will dissipate it. In fact, research confirms that the expression of aggression whether it’s yelling or hitting (and that includes for parents, spanking) exacerbates the anger.1 Our bodies produce a surge of energy through hormones when angry that gives us a jolt if we need to run from a tiger or fight an attacker. When we yell or hit, more of those hormones are produced so that instead of a single jolt, our bodies refill with more angry energy.
  • venting such as complaining, ranting or even mumbling gets out the upset thoughts and feelings. In fact, venting is to anger as rumination is to worry. We can churn through worrying thoughts in our minds repeatedly but those thoughts go nowhere and ultimately, are unproductive. So too venting, whether we are listing off our complaints to another or talking to ourselves, tends to reinforce our negative thinking. That’s because it does not offer an alternative view of the situation nor does it pose any solutions. Because venting doesn’t change thinking, the feeling persists.
  • avoiding or pretending you are not angry will make it go away. Because the emotion – like any other emotion – is emerging to send a vital message to its owner, it cannot be avoided or denied. When turned inward, that anger can become destructive in the body. Also, when anger is buried, it can be stuffed down for a time but may contribute to a larger explosion (that may not have occurred otherwise) because of the build-up of heated emotions over time.

Your young child is learning to respond to her emotions primarily by watching how you respond to your own emotions. Because modeling is her first teacher, there are a few steps you can take to deal with your own anger. By adopting these practices, you can feel confident that you are simultaneously teaching your children how to deal with their own upset.

Recognize your anger.
This self-awareness can come from a number of cues. First, notice – how does your body typically react when you are mad? Do your ears turn red and hot? Do your hands shake? Does your heart beat rapidly? Those physical symptoms – different in every person – can cue you to the need to calm down before choosing your next words or actions. Are you raising or lowering your voice volume? Notice the signs and take the following steps.

Breath first.
Slowing down your breathing serves a critical biological function. It allows those hormones that have surged from your anger to recede. Your body is able to regain its composure. And your brain is able to think beyond fight, flight or freeze. Practice deep breathing audibly. If you’ve practiced yoga, try using ujjayi breathing (or “ocean breath”) in which you breathe deeply through your nose while constricting your throat slightly producing a sound like the waves of the sea. Not only will the sound help calm you, but it will also emphasize and call attention to your breath for your young child to observe.

Use strange calm.
Switch into slow motion. Use the burst of energy to become extremely slow and intentional about using your body. Drop down to the floor or in a chair. Close your eyes. Breath and go within to regain your calm. No matter what chaos is happening around you, you can be assured that you will accomplish nothing – except perhaps to make matters more contentious – by reacting in an angry moment. To learn more, check out the article.

Walk outside.
Yes, the fresh air does help you breath better and the natural surroundings are instantly calming. If you cannot get away, just walk into your yard and pace around your patch of grass. Look up in the trees. A few moments can help restore your grounding.

Research has found that distraction really does work to calm rage. Books, television, or movies can help. That’s because they focus your mind on a differing perspective and remove the thoughts that are feeding the anger. But be careful not to rely on this as your only strategy since it can serve as an avoidance mechanism too. If you use distraction, then after you’ve calmed down, use the next step – writing – or talking with a confidante to reframe your thinking to understand what you can learn from your current challenge.

Writing down your angry thoughts (versus ruminating in your head about them) can offer you a chance to re-evaluate your situation. You can reframe it, look at it from another perspective or search for the silver lining. When you reflect in your writing on what you can learn from the situation, it has a calming effect.

Young children will require practice with new strategies for dealing with their angry emotions. So make a game out of the practice! Go through the steps as a family team. Or engage your child in learning it in order to teach the game to a stuffed friend. Either way, use the teaching of understanding and managing anger as subject for play. Then when she is upset, you only need remind her of her practice. The main points you want to emphasize in your teaching are:

  • Emotions are helpful signs from ourselves that we need to pay attention to our needs.
  • We know when we are feeling angry when we feel the signs in our body. Find out what your child’s signs tend to be.
  • Using feelings words helps us feel better and helps others understand us.

And here’s the process:

  1. Move to privacy and safety.

So often, our children melt down in the least convenient places. Whether it’s at the grocery store or in the preschool parking lot, we are often in the midst of moving through our daily routine in public and not at home. That’s why this first step is important. Young children are becoming increasingly aware of peers and the perceptions of people around them. Though they may lose emotional control, their upset may grow more intense as they feel embarrassed they are “losing it” around friends, teachers or strangers. So practice joining hands and moving to a safe, private space closest to where you are. You never want to have to drag a child or force them to move. For that reason, this practice is essential. You could position yourself in various places during your game and say, “Where can we go to be safe and alone?” When you are at the store or at a restaurant (any usual place your family frequents), try it out when all are calm and make it a part of the game.

2. Breathe.

There are numerous ways you can teach your child to deeply breathe. You could begin by simply placing your hand on your own heart feeling it beat and encouraging your child to do the same. Now run in place a few minutes and feel again as it beats more quickly. Explain that you’ll have a faster heartbeat when you’re upset. But as you practice any one of these breathing games, your heartbeat will slow down again. Here are a few methods.

  • Hot Chocolate breathing

Pretend to hold your hot cup of cocoa in both hands in front of you. Breathe in deeply the aroma of the chocolate. And then blow out to cool it in preparation for drinking. Do this to the count of five to give your child practice. Then, look for chances to practice it regularly.

  • Teddy Bear Belly breathing

Blissful Kids wrote this wonderful article on teaching deep belly breathing by balancing a teddy bear on a child’s tummy and giving it a ride with the rising and falling of her
breath. Great idea! This would be ideal to practice during your bedtime routine when you are lying down and wanting to calm down for the evening.

  • Blowing Out Birthday Candles breathing

You can pretend you are blowing out candles on a birthday cake. Just the image in your head of a birthday cake brings about happy thoughts. And in order to blow out a number of small flames, you have to take in deep breaths. This is one you can try anywhere, anytime.

  • Ocean breathing

Practice making the noise of the sea waves while breathing deeply from your diaphragm. Close your eyes with your child and imagine that your anger is a fiery flame waiting on a sandy shore. And as you breathe life into the ocean waves, they grow closer and closer to the flame to extinguish it.

  • Play Turtle

In the research-based social and emotional learning curriculum for schools, the PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) curriculum encourages children to pretend they are a turtle. When they are upset, they can sink back into their shells (they can place their arms over their head) and breath inside the shelter of their own arms to regain calm before reentering their environment. This could inspire wonderful play with young children and stir their vivid imagination of what it might look like and feel like when they are calming down.

3. Distract, Reflect and/or Reframe.
There may be times when distraction works better than other times. Guiding a child to sit with an engaging picture book, an activity book or a puzzle can be a way to distract from the upset of the moment. Drawing or writing can also serve as calming activities. But if your child has shown big feelings – anger, frustration, sadness, anxiety – be sure that you return to discuss it. Ask what she’s feeling and name it. “It seemed like you were frustrated. Is that right?” That will offer her the chance to identify and articulate her feelings. Find out why she was feeling upset. Offer some alternative perspectives and help her reframe her own thoughts to see a bigger picture if possible. This is the time to brainstorm other ways to handle a problem situation. Could she and her sister set a timer and take turns playing with the doll, for example? Challenge yourself to find and offer a compassionate perspective whether that means guiding your child to think empathetically about other children in the situation or to seek self-compassion for her situation. When you are practicing this particular step, have your child use a stuffed friend to reflect on the situation. Ask her to tell her bear what happened, what she was feeling, what she was thinking and how she might help her bear feel better.

This is also the time to brainstorm other ways to handle a problem situation. Could she and her sister set a timer and take turns playing with the doll, for example? Challenge yourself to find and offer a compassionate perspective whether that means guiding your child to think empathetically about other children in the situation or to help her find self-compassion for her situation. When you are practicing this particular step, have your child use a stuffed friend to reflect on the situation. Ask her to tell her bear what happened, what she was feeling, what she was thinking and how she might help her bear feel better.

Anger can challenge any of us to act with the emotional intelligence we ideally want to possess. The trick is becoming aware, stopping the escalation and calming down before we have fully lost our sensibilities. The hope and opportunity (and also, the challenge) is that our young children are watching and learning. If we avoid the chance to get angry and deal with it, then we lose the chance to show our children what it looks like to regulate our emotions. If we practice, plan and remind ourselves about the ways in which we’ll act and how we’ll calm down, we’ll be prepared to model an essential life skill and know we can face our greatest parenting challenges with a plan at the ready.


*Thank you, collaborator, R. Keeth Matheny, co-author of School Connect, a research-based high school social and emotional learning curriculum, for raising this issue.


Lerner, H. (2014). The dance of anger; A woman’s guide to changing the patterns of intimate relationships. NY: Harper and Row.


Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence; Why it can matter more than IQ. NY: Bantam Books.

In “Kids Standard” – “Raising and Educating for Valuing Differences”

Kids Standard is a unique magazine in that kids are the primary authors. Educators and parents can learn much from children’s considered perspectives. Their mission is incredibly important.

We empower children to become independent learners, critical thinkers and confident writers, by giving them abundant opportunities to showcase and improve their unheeded skills. We have a community of active learners who encourages children to read and research; to inspire them to write articles, stories, poems and to unveil their drawing and designing skills. We offer a platform where children can become published writers and artists. Our mission integrates the active participation of parents, teachers, mentors and other professionals. We foster the creativity of children, which aids in their development and fill their life with fun!

My son, E and I were honored to contribute to the March edition with the theme, “Simply Different,” thanks to collaborator and Vice President of Kids Standard Magazine, Arina Bokas. E also had his artwork published, depicting how our small world is connected by and through the oceans, a piece he drew to welcome people from all countries of the world to our hometown, Columbus, Ohio (see below).

Check out my article and the rest of the magazine! Here’s how it begins.

Raising and Educating for Valuing Differences

“My friends are trying to get me to believe what they believe but we don’t,” said my nine-year-old son, visibly upset, the day of the Presidential Inauguration. He came home from school consumed with worry about his friends pushing him to believe what they believed.

And indeed, all children, at various points in their development, will face similar challenges related to the differences between them and other children. Whether they tend toward introversion, prefer the arts over sports, or have skin a shade darker than others, most children will have the experience of being unlike others. And the caring adults in their lives can play a significant role in seeing them through those experiences so that children have the opportunity to grow in their empathy, open-mindedness, and inclusiveness of others. Read full article — and check out the rest of this excellent magazine!

A welcome to our hometown to immigrants! By Ethan Miller, 9 years old, 3rd grade



Thanks, @ArinaBokas and @KidsStandard for the opportunity for my son and I to contribute!

Parents as Servant Leaders

I have a problem by Jennifer Miller

“It is high time the ideal of success should be replaced by the ideal of service.”
– Albert Einstein

Most leaders acquire their power from the choice of their social group to elevate individuals to that level. However, parents, by the very nature of our roles, serve in a leadership position while we raise our children. A servant leader realizes that his or her ability to significantly influence others and achieve any vision comes from serving others. Understanding the qualities of a successful leader – that of a servant leader – can assist any parent in further refining his or her values and skills to better perform her role. Research on power demonstrates that the skills required to rise to leadership are empathy and social skills.1 However, interestingly, those are the very skills that become the most challenging to leaders once they have acquired power. So when we are parenting, we may have a greater challenge than in other roles with our ability to be empathetic and to demonstrate social intelligence.

Robert Greenleaf, author of “The Servant as Leader” and management researcher who consulted with major corporations like AT&T and lectured at MIT and Harvard, defined what it means to be a servant leader.2 He writes that leaders always have a larger goal in mind and can well articulate it. That goal may not be fully achievable in a lifetime but offers sufficient inspiration and vision to motivate all members to pursue it. For example, our family’s vision is to love one another unconditionally and we commit to supporting each other as we pursue learning working toward our highest dreams and potentials. And we measure our major life decisions based on that vision. Parents as servant leaders prioritize and build trust as a critical foundation for their family’s interconnected relationships and individual successes. They are responsible decision makers, and they exercise sound judgment showing competence in what they do.

The concept of servant leadership can offer a frame of mind as parents consider their role and how they might focus their efforts on continuous improvement. I found, in reading about servant leadership, that it deepened my thinking about my dreams for myself as the Mom I strive to be and continually work to become. Here are some of the main points Robert Greenleaf shared when he outlined his concept of a servant leader that I’ve translated for our role as leaders of our families.

Listening for Understanding
When a family member has a problem, Greenleaf would advise listening first for understanding. And though it may require some time and possibly awkward silence with children, taking the time to listen to truly make sense of what the child is both feeling and thinking can result in a much richer dialogue between parent and child. Instead of rushing to fix as we so often tend to do, we offer a significant show of respect by actively listening. It’s often said, the better you define a problem, the better the solution. And in this case, stopping to listen can help prompt a child’s thinking so that she crafts her own best solution helping her accept responsibility for her relationships and challenges. If you are interested in exercising your listening skills in family life, check out a number of ideas in the article, “Say What?”

Communication for Connection
The wider vision and long-term goals a parent might have cannot be readily accessible to a child without a focus on communicating for connection. In the busyness of our lives, at times, we forget to take time out to explain why we are so busy about our pursuits. And it helps to relate our rationale to a child’s life such as, their learning goals in school or a saving goal for a coveted toy. For example, my partner is in graduate school and working full-time which takes him away from our family frequently. It would be easy to focus on his lack of presence as E and I eat dinner or participate in free-time activities without Dad. But we have to remember to take time to explain Dad’s goal in his contributions to his work and contributions to our family. This helps us all stay focused and endure temporary separations while working toward a bigger vision.

The Art of Withdrawal
The art of withdrawal is the ability to step back, to step out of the throes of current circumstances, and to reflect. This withdrawal could involve taking a walk in the park during an intense time. It could mean removing yourself from the room to another place to cool down. Or it could be as simple as employing “Strange Calm,” sitting down in the midst of chaos to regain your centered focus. This is such a critical point for our roles as parents and servant leaders. Not only does it give us permission to “leave the building,” it’s encouragement to do so. Yes, we need to make family members aware in advance that we will be withdrawing at times. Yes, we need to ensure that our children are safe before we withdraw. But we can use this technique to fuel our own sense of well-being as we treat our feelings and thoughts with the care they deserve in leading our family. We return from our withdrawal with a sense of renewed purpose and clearer thinking to retain their trust and make sound decisions.

Acceptance and Empathy
Family members need to feel accepted in the group at all times. Their membership needs to be treated and viewed as essential. Nothing could cause them to be cast out. E said to me last night at bedtime as we were saying goodnight, “Will you love me no matter what?” with a teasing tone. But I know that he needs to hear it “Yes, come what may, no matter what, I will love you.” All kids do. And not just once but often, especially in the times when they are failing, making poor choices, and generally feeling unsuccessful. Greenleaf writes, “Parents who try to raise perfect children are certain to raise neurotics.” Getting comfortable with and expecting mistakes as a part of our children’s learning process is a core part of our own acceptance in our parenting. That acceptance demonstrates our empathy for our children who hold us and how we regard them in their highest esteem. And we can further work on cultivating our empathy and understanding for our children by regularly learning about their school experiences and learning about their development so we can relate better to their particular kinds of challenges.

There are numerous ways to learn about your children’s development. As a start, check out the Parent Toolkit or Yardsticks Child Development Parent Pamphlets.

Foresight is the ability to make responsible decisions combining factual information with our intuition. But in addition, we have to consider the consequences down the road for the choices we are making today. And helping our children become responsible requires us to model that skill. Talking aloud about the ethics of a choice and how others might be impacted in future days or years can help children become aware that they need to consider theirs and others futures in their own decision-making. It’s rare when all of the pieces of information required are fully at hand when we need to make a choice. Usually, there is a bit of a leap of faith involved particularly when it’s a larger decision. Children will learn to better trust themselves as you show faith in your own inner wisdom to guide you.

We cannot lead a family toward a vision without self-awareness. And that self-knowledge is not a one-time event but a process of introspection, looking within to understand what patterns we might be repeating that we want to change and what values are core to who we are and how we want to show up in the world. The art of withdrawal can assist with our awareness as we take time out to reflect on what our deepest self is telling us. In addition, we need to cultivate an awareness of our family members’ feelings which can be strengthened over time with practice. “What’s Dad feeling tonight? Can you tell by his facial expression how his day went?” Taking small opportunities to notice other family members’ feelings can strengthen this skill in yourself and your children.

Taking a step back and evaluating your role as a parent as a servant leader can be nothing short of revolutionary. Since change always begins at the individual level, we can start improving our world at home. If we desire leaders – whether they serve in our communities, our workplaces or our governments – who are caring, socially responsible and compassionate, we plant those seeds daily by modeling it as servant leaders with our own children.


Keltner, D. (2016). The power paradox; How we gain and lose influence. NY: Penguin Press.

Greenleaf, R. (1991). The servant as leader. Indianapolis, IN: The Robert K. Greenleaf Center.

New Video on Parenting and Social and Emotional Learning

Check out this excellent new video on parenting and social and emotional learning produced through a collaboration between the Collaboration for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and the Chicago Public Schools and funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. Thanks for using SEL and parenting examples highlighting the work of Jennifer Miller at Confident Parents, Confident Kids!

Confident Parents, Confident Kids is also honored to be highlighted in the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning’s (CASEL) newsletter as a featured resource supporting social and emotional learning and parenting! Check out the whole newsletter here.

On NBC Parent Toolkit – “Fostering Compassion in Kids” Twitter Chat


Don’t miss this important conversation tomorrow night! I’m looking forward to it! #Toolkittalk

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