Thank you, CASEL for recognizing Confident Parents, Confident Kids blog-iversary in your national e-newsletter. We appreciate your support! For the latest information on what’s happening nationally and internationally with social and emotional learning in schools in research, policy and practice, learn more on the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning website.
In recognizing this milestone of one year of Confident Parents, Confident Kids, I want to thank all of those who have contributed to making this blog a success! Thank you most especially to my editor extraordinaire, Linda Smith (known to me as Mom and an incredibly skilled and diplomatic editor) for her weekly partnership. Thank you to my husband and son for being a supportive learning laboratory. A big thank you to the individuals illustrated above who have read regularly, provided feedback and promoted the site. And thank you, reader for visiting! Here are the stats:
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Please help celebrate by providing your feedback. What has helped you? What topics are you most interested in? What would you like to see on this site in the coming year? What are your greatest parenting challenges? How can Confident Parents, Confident Kids help you in meeting your own parenting goals? Place a comment on this article with your feedback or email me at email@example.com. Here’s to another year of dialogue and support for one of the most important jobs – parenting. Thanks again for joining me on this journey!
Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little
Cheep, cheep, cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more.
– From the musical, Music Man (1957)
It is easy to forget that the music of our speech, our tone of voice, communicates just as much as the actual content of what is said. In fact, we may often feel that what we said has not been heard but notice that the emotion behind it causes family members to react. A gentle, monotone, “The dishwasher is broken.” is very different than a stressed, high-pitched, “The dishwasher is broken!” We offer instructions, directives and corrections to our children all day. We require their compliance to get through our routines. So how does our tone of voice affect what our children hear and how they respond? And could our awareness of our tone of voice make a difference in everyday life?
Because children are learning and developing, because they may be clumsy or make poor choices, parents may correct their children many times throughout the day. School age children are being corrected and then come home to more. That feedback and particularly how it’s delivered can build over the course of day and lead to upset, non-compliance and a child who feels like he is not valued or that something is wrong with him. It may become an unintended cycle fed by children feeling negatively about themselves, misbehaving to gain your attention or to push you to negate their bad feelings about themselves and your frustrated reaction.
Children and adults sometimes don’t distinguish between critical feedback and how a person feels about them in general. Interestingly, a respected researcher on marriages, John Gottman,[i] found that the commonality in successful marriages was not how partners fought or did not fight. The key was a five to one ratio of positive interactions to negative ones. That might be a helpful lesson in talking with our children as well.
Take the Tone Test. Mark your calendar for three days that are fairly typical days in your family’s life. Place three sticky notes on the refrigerator with the headers “calm, non-emotional,” “negative,” and “positive.” Place a check mark on one of the notes each time you have a conversation with your child in which you are asking them to do something. You may not be able to capture every time but set a goal for capturing five interactions each of the three days. If you are gaining their compliance and not seeing upsets this exercise may not be needed. But if not, then how many of your interactions when you are correcting your children are negative? Are you balancing that out with five times as many positive interactions? How can you think about those moments to try to tune your tone a bit to gain their trust and compliance?
Use gentle reminders. Instead of waiting until the inevitable disaster you can see shaping up in the living room, give a reminder while the issue is still small. You are likely not terribly upset or angry yourself (yet!). Use a calm, non-emotional voice. Walk closer so that you don’t need to raise your volume. Put your hand on your child’s shoulder gently to engage her attention. Use as few words as you can and be direct. “Jenna, go move those toys so your brother doesn’t fall.”
Listen and paraphrase. As you hear a scream in the other room, you walk in to see your two children on the floor struggling with some toys. They may both run to you with great passion and tell you how the other behaved terribly toward them. Get down on their level. This is true for any size child or teenager. If they are sitting, sit at their level. Say, “I want to really hear you both so we are going to take turns. Jake, you go first and then, I will listen to Lydia.” Listen carefully and paraphrase their feelings and their perspectives.
“What are you feeling, Jake?”
“Because Lydia ripped my airplane out of my hands and when she did it, the blaster came off. Now it’s broken.”
“Okay. You are mad because Lydia took your airplane and the blaster broke.”
“Jake, now we need to let Lydia have a turn and listen to her. Lydia, what are you feeling?”
“Because I was playing with the airplane first and I set it down but I wasn’t done with it. He took it and wouldn’t give it back. It’s not fair.”
“Lydia, you are so mad because you were playing with the airplane first and you weren’t done with it.”
“Lydia, what can you do to make things better?”
“He needs to give me back my airplane!”
“This is not about what Jake can do. Lydia, what can YOU do?
“I can take a turn with the airplane and then he could take a turn.”
“Jake, what could you do?
Use an approachable tone. If your child is beginning to get frustrated, calmly invite his communication. Let him see it’s safe to share with you what he is thinking and feeling. “I see you’re getting frustrated. What are you working on? How can I help? What do you think might happen if you move the puzzle piece over there?” It helps to get down to their eye contact level to make them feel more understood and in control.
Keep responses to misbehaviors brief. Your child may be baiting you for your attention and negative attention will be the payoff. If a child deliberately does something you know she is aware goes against the rules of the house, be brief in your response. Show confidence in your child’s knowledge of the right thing to do. Allow her to show you the right way. Get closer so that you do not have to raise your voice. In a calm, even tone, say, “Show me how we put away toys in this house.” Or “Show me how you should handle the dog.” Oftentimes, if we make a big deal out of a misbehavior with upset and a time out, it will feed the negative cycle of misbehavior.
Reinforce positive behaviors but do not shower praise. It is important to articulate when you have noticed a specific choice or set of behaviors that you want to encourage. Maybe you have been working with your child on taking responsibility for taking his plate into the kitchen at the end of a meal. When he remembers to do it, say, “I notice you remembered to take your plate in to the kitchen tonight. Glad to see it.” For more on ways to be specific versus the typical “Good job” that we so often hear, check out “In Praise of Specificity.”
And what if you have lost it? What if you are angry and can’t maintain a calm tone of voice? Model calming down strategies by using them yourself. It is the most powerful teaching tool for your children to watch you do what you need to do to calm yourself before interacting with them. Say, “Mommy is mad. I need a minute.” Walk away. Have a place in the house that you can sit alone to breathe for a moment. It may need to be close by if you have very young children that you can’t leave unsupervised. Have a strategy in mind ahead of time since you know, sooner or later, it will happen. Place your baby in the “Pack N’Play” where he’ll be safe for a few minutes and go sit in your bedroom. Breathe, calm down and formulate a plan before you return. Even a few minutes can restore blood flow to your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that helps you think rationally in those situations. You will be able to return and act as the better version of yourself.
Avoid sarcasm when you can. The expert educators at Responsive Classroom argue that sarcasm has no place in the classroom. I would say it has no role in speaking with children of any age in general. Even teenagers, though they may use it, have a difficult time understanding it. The reason it has no place is because the song of sarcasm, the tone that is communicated, is light and funny in direct conflict with the weighty message which is typically denegrating, shaming and the opposite of the intended meaning. Though we slip into it easily and it is a part of our cultural language, sarcasm is dishonest and does not model or teach children language that we want them to use.
I notice that when I turn on classical or jazz music softly in the house, there is a different energy that permeates. My partner will comment on it as he notices the difference. Thinking of your voice as the soundtrack of your family life, what do you want to serve as the backdrop your daily routines? Becoming more aware of your tone can help you make small adjustments to add calm sounds to your communications. All members of the family can benefit from your efforts.
Vrrrwow… the sound of a light saber comes close and pokes me in the back. I have been play-killed by my son, sometimes seen as Darth Vader, on a typical morning in our house. “You’re dead,” he says. Yet he expects me to get up and engage in another duel with him. I realize my five year old is attempting to understand death and conquer his anxiety through his pretend play. We have had three family members die within the past three years. All of them knew E and allowed for special times to play and connect with him at family gatherings. Though I suspect E would be wielding a weapon regardless of these experiences, I see him trying to understand but not yet grasping what it means when a person dies. In the midst of my own emotion dealing with the loss of someone I love, I notice it becomes challenging to remember that children are processing the experience of losing someone differently than I am and may need supports related to their level of awareness in order to cope with the loss.
Our local Mom’s club asked me some important and relevant questions related to children’s awareness of death and how a parent can best support a child. I appreciated the opportunity to reflect on it for myself and research and share ideas. When a death occurs, there is typically a flurry of activities whether it’s preparing for the travel to a funeral, calling loved ones or making arrangements. In addition, you are experiencing your own complex of emotions. Often there is not the time or the ability to consider what children might be thinking and feeling in the situation and how they may need to be supported. Our instinct might be to protect them. Book a sitter and don’t take them to the funeral might be our quick reaction as we are taking care of details. So reading, reflecting and considering how we might support our children when we are not in the midst of a crisis can better help formulate a plan so that when we face those difficult situations, we have already thought through how we might handle it.
Children begin to gain an awareness of death between the ages of 3-5 depending upon their life events and exposure. Similar to any developmental milestone, awareness arises around the same age but differently for each child depending upon their maturation process. In the first stage of awareness, they do not have a sense of the permanence of death. They begin to understand that someone is gone and can also understand that the biological processes have stopped but there may be a sense that they will return eventually. Children have a natural interest and curiosity about death which is accompanied by anxiety, worry and confusion. Why? Part of being human is dealing with mortality and the fact that change is constant. Children begin working on that understanding very early in life. Children begin to grapple with separation when left with a babysitter or going to preschool but they also engage in games to assert their own control and work on understanding mortality. Parents automatically play peek a-boo with a baby convincing them that even though they disappear for a moment, they will return. Games like freeze tag and hide and seek allow children to “play dead” or practice separation in order to help deal with some of their confusion and worry in a fun way.[i]
The Children’s Grief Association provides a detailed, helpful guide to understanding death from a developmental perspective.[ii] The following are some of the developmental awareness milestones they note. A child of any age may show regressive behaviors when dealing with the death of a loved one. At birth to two years of age, they can feel the emotions of their caregiver and sense the absence of a person but cannot understand that the person will not be returning. Because of an infant’s mirror neurons (the way our emotions are hard-wired), the feelings of loss will be there because of their experience of the feelings of those around them. But infants will not understand why they are feeling the way they are feeling.
Between three and five years of age, children will begin to understand and be curious about death. They will still not understand the permanence of death and will expect that person to return. Because this is the magical thinking stage, children may imagine thoughts that are worse than the reality and fear that another will die. They may become interested in pretend play that involves killing or death.
At six to nine years of age, children generally understand that death is final and they will not see the person again. A child of this age may be interested in death caused by sickness or an accident. A child may think that death is punishment or that he is the cause of a person’s death in his life. The child may have anxiety about who will take care of him if the caretaker dies. Also, he will think of important milestones whether it’s holidays or a graduation without that person who has passed. Reactions could include acting as if the death did not happen, social withdrawal, concentration difficulties including declining grades, being overly protective of loved ones and/or acting out aggressively. Between the ages of nine and twelve, in addition to the reactions and understandings of a six to nine year old, children may have a heightened awareness of death and worry that others may die. Children at this age understand the finality and are forming their understanding of spiritual concepts. Children may worry that they were the cause of the death. They may be particularly curious and anxious about the physical aspects of an illness or death.
Tweens and teenagers understand that everyone dies at some point. They may feel that their death and the death of others is impending. They may worry about being seen as weak if they show their feelings. They may have a sense of conflict between wanting to become independent and their need for dependence upon adults in their life. They may engage in high risk or impulsive behavior. In addition to mood swings, they may change their peer group and not perform as well in school. They may be more aggressive and could change their eating patterns.
The following ideas are ways to help children deal with their loss and help them feel supported during the death of a loved one whether it is a parent, a grandparent or a pet.
Things You Might Say
Help them to know what you think and feel about the death. You may say, “We are sad that we are not going to see Grandpa Jim again. We loved him and we will really miss him.”
Teach empathy for others who are sad. “I see you are noticing that your older brother is sad. Why don’t you pat him and tell him you are sorry he is so unhappy.”
Listen and reflect back their feelings to them. “You sound sad about Uncle George. I understand. I feel that way too.”
Do share your beliefs if they are positive (and don’t share if they are not positive and will make the child worry). “I believe that Grandpa Jim is in heaven – a good place – and though we cannot see him, we can talk to him whenever we want to and tell him we love him. I think he is listening even though he will not be able to talk to us in return.”
Things You Might Do
Do maintain your usual routines as much as possible. Routines give children a sense of safety, comfort and stability.
Do include your child in the mourning process. They do not have to participate in every step with you. But allow them to participate in some of the process with you so that they have the advantage of the supports that a ceremony or ritual brings. For children six or older, ask how they might want to remember the person or express sorrow for their passing. Allow them some choices in how they mourn the loss.
Allow children to regress. If they are showing behaviors that you haven’t seen since toddler days, keep in mind that this is normal. Empathize and allow them comforts of their earlier developmental days – stuffed animals, blankets, toys.
Encourage children to play and have fun. If they choose to engage in play related to death, allow it such as a funeral for a doll. Pretend play can be a constructive way for a child to gain control over her anxiety.
Do make sure that the child has a photograph of the person or pet that is their own to keep. When they are sad and missing the person or pet, have them talk to the photograph.
Drawing, doing artwork and writing in a journal or diary can also be a good way to express feelings and deal with sadness and anxiety.
Particularly if the person who died was important in the life of your child, create a ritual that will help your child deal with the passing and help with saying goodbye. Maybe you could plant a tree in the backyard with his grandpa’s or pet’s name on a plaque or simple label beneath it. Maybe you place a valuable object of that person’s in a box and bury it in your backyard. Or give the child an object that was the person’s to hold onto in a special place to remember him. Also if your child is dealing with the death in self destructive or aggressive ways, you may want to seek the support of a family or child counselor to help your child deal with the many difficult emotions.
Most importantly, when your family is coping with the death of a loved one, realize that your children’s understanding and experience of it will be different from your own. Seek support so that while you are emotional, you are able to receive guidance on how to support your children in their grieving process.
For more helpful information, check out the Children’s Grief Education Association’s site, www.childgrief.org.
The following are some children’s books that can help guide a conversation.
This is a recollection of the special times a young boy spent with his grandfather in the city, in the forest with the animals, at the beach, and with his family. Although the boy misses his beloved grandpa’s presence he feels assured that his passing has brought him to a better place and he knows that his grandpa’s love will always be with him.
Mending Peter’s Heart is a book designed to help a child come to terms with the emotional issues raised by loss. In this case, it is through the loss of a beloved pet, Mishka, that Peter has to face the realities of death and dying. A sensitive neighbor comes to Peter’s aid and places the loss of Mishka into a larger understanding and compassionate framework.
Using examples of humans, trees, and sea creatures, this book explains that all living things have a lifetime with a beginning, an ending, and living in between. This simply-worded book is a good resource for explaining the life cycle to young children.
The Saddest Time, by Norma Simon. Illus. by Jacqueline Rogers. 1992. Albert Whitman and Company.
A child experiencing the loss of a loved one is the subject of these three gentle stories. While each presents a different scenario (death by illness, accident, or old age), all of the stories address children’s sad feelings and present different coping strategies.
It may be that the most important mastery we achieve early on is not the mastery of a particular skill or particular piece of knowledge, but rather the mastery of the patience and persistence that learning requires, along with the ability to expect and accept mistakes and the feelings of disappointment they may bring.
– Fred Rogers in Life’s Journeys According to Fred Rogers
“Mama, I didn’t have such a good day yesterday,” E says as he puts on his clothes to prepare for another day of school. “I cut out the tree when I should have colored it first.” Now with tears welling up in his eyes, he continues, “And I laughed while I was waiting in line and the teacher said the next time I did it, he would send a note home to you. Will you be really mad if he sends a note home?”
School requires the learning of rules and expectations. At some point, it will challenge every child. From a failing test to talking in class when they should be listening, children will have moments of feeling a sense of failure. It becomes a challenge as a parent when you are not in the situation and must rely on your child to relay the details of a circumstance. There will be times when you feel a teacher or administrator has acted unjustly toward your child. There will be times when you know for certain that your child was in the wrong, or that your child is not telling you the full truth about what happened at school. In addition, children who are not able to do the work of school – maybe they are struggling with reading or math – will also invariably struggle with motivation. Who wants to get out of bed each morning and go to school when they will be met with challenges that feel insurmountable?
In order to avoid failure, children may throw frustration tantrums or act like clowns to mask their fears. They may procrastinate or not do their work at all. They may attempt to fade away in a classroom and avoid engagement. Children may want to get everything perfect the first time. They may have a strong sense of competition with their peers. They may feel they are faced with unreasonable expectations.[i] Or they could simply have particular difficulties with a subject area and not know how to proceed.
Ironically, in a place that is meant to support growth and learning, often the message schools send out to children is that they must be doing “A” level work. Even when teachers emphasize that mistakes are okay, our culture and the culture of school can reinforce the pressure of getting it right every time. When is there an opportunity for mistakes to occur? How do children learn to take healthy risks? How do they learn to fail so that they can have the major revelations that only come from moving from confusion and misunderstanding to full and deep understanding? What can you do to support their school success?
Coaching and supporting your child about responding to mistakes or less than stellar performances can offer invaluable practice in seizing the learning opportunity. Through that practice, she will build the resiliency to deal with the greater life challenges down the road.
The biggest, most important thing you can do is to consistently build and reinforce a trusting connection between you and your children. With full school days and extracurricular activities, your time together becomes very limited. When you do have time with your child, look for opportunities to really connect with her. Sit at her level or even below her level to help her feel more in control since teachers often tower over their students most of the day. Listen or offer to read a story while having an after school snack. Don’t push hard on questions related to what happened at school but instead show your child that you are open to listening when they are ready to talk. Spend time with your child in which you turn off your cell phone and allow him to engage you in conversation or play. Then when challenging situations arise at school, he will be more willing to tell you what is going on and allow you to help.
In schools, building trusting relationships between teachers and students, among students and among other staff in the school community is the path toward developing the confidence necessary to take healthy risks and sometimes fail in order to achieve. Assume that everyone – your child, his teacher, the principal – has the best intentions. Begin from a place of trust instead of approaching teachers as if they must prove to you they are worthy of your child’s respect. When you face problems such as when your child tells you a story in which it sounds as if the teacher acted unfairly, you can respond in a way that supports your trust in your child and also your trust in the best intentions of the teacher. “I hear that you were very upset when the teacher said he was giving you a warning. It takes time and lots of practice to learn the rules and routines of school. I understand that you are learning and he does too. That’s why he did not take action but just helped you remember through his warning, what you are supposed to be doing while you line up.”
Have and show confidence in all children’s abilities to learn. He may not understand a math equation that you are grappling to remember as you attempt to support his homework efforts. Reassure him that it is completely normal to struggle when learning something new. You may even help by setting small goals to recognize as he achieves them. “You finished the first step. Great! That will naturally lead into the second step.” Take breaks. Get some fresh air. Have a snack or set a timer. Use concrete learning materials like an abacus or counting bears, tangible representations of what he is trying to learn that he can return to over and again (teacher supply stores are great for these kinds of manipulatives). Help him persist in a way that is tolerable – perhaps, even enjoyable – to help him see that he has the ability to get through even the most difficult challenges.
Promote an “I can” belief. If your child is uttering in frustration, “I can’t.” Be sure and respond with a confident, “I know you can. It just may take more time and I’ll help.” “If you are willing to spend the time, almost anyone can learn anything,” relays veteran high schoolEnglish teacher Linda Smith.
Point out your own mistakes. Remember being a child and assuming all adults were perfect and knew everything even though you watched them make mistakes? Pointing out your own mistakes to your child will not encourage him to make mistakes. However, it will encourage him to be more self-forgiving when he makes them. It will teach him that mistakes are made by everyone. It will teach him that they are okay and even a necessary part of life.
Check your own responses. If you are getting emotional – angry, frustrated, upset – by your child’s poor choice or lack of progress, take a step back. Ask yourself why. Are you disappointed in your child and know they can do better? Are you worried it’s a reflection of your parenting? Are you concerned about what teachers or friends might think about your child or your family? Understanding the roots of your own frustration will help you deal with your emotion to work through your own disappointment. Working toward a constructive response with your child may help you feel better about the situation and about how your child is able to make amends.
Offer life lines. Practice asking for help. “The sign of a smart person is knowing how and when to ask for help,” I often say to E. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of strength and self-awareness. Point out friends at school who might be some assistance to your daughter when she struggles with her homework. Encourage her to talk with the teacher after class and ask for some pointers on study skills. Point out Grandpa’s excellent mathematical abilities and get him involved. It’s comforting for a child to know that there are multiple people who will support him when she needs it.
Teach your children that what matters is not the mistake itself but how they respond to it. Rarely is there only one chance to do something. If your child causes harm, help them think through ways to repair that harm. Do a kindness for the person affected. Write a heart-felt note. Contribute your energies to a service. Ask for a second chance. Ask for forgiveness. If he gets a poor grade on an assignment, tell him to ask his teacher for extra help. Guiding your child in thinking about how to make a situation better through their thoughtful action not only helps them make reparation but teaches them how to constructively respond in a way that nurtures and strengthens relationships and promotes learning. If a child has the opportunity to make reparation, regret, guilt or grudges do not factor into their feelings. Instead, they take control by contributing to the healing in whatever form it may take.
School offers children invaluable practice tests for the tests of life. Mothers and fathers have made plenty of their own mistakes. But often what they have learned helped them later in life. It is not the failure itself that is critical but our response to failure that determines whether a person has the persistence of character to achieve greatness.
Excellent children’s books on making mistakes:
Hobbie, H. (2004). The New Friend (Toot and Puddle). Boston, MA: Little, Brown Books for Readers.
No child enters their preschool or even early elementary school years having perfected the art of sharing. As parents, we are eternally frustrated by the “this is mine” syndrome. Particularly if siblings are closer in age and have toys that are of mutual attraction, Moms can feel like they are saying, “You need to share!” multiple times throughout the day. You may have had an idyllic vision as you conceived child number two or three and thought, “When we have the next one, our children will play together and entertain one another and we’ll need to be less involved.” Only to find that you are intervening every few minutes as fights erupt. “This is mine, not yours! Moooooom, Becky’s not sharing!!!” This fighting over stuff can continue throughout the childhood years.
We want our children to be socially accepted, have friends, have a strong relationship with their siblings and act generously toward others. However, children in early pre- and school years are coming from a perspective developmentally that can, in the case of sharing, work in direct conflict with adult desires. A child is trying to assert his independence and control over his own life. In play, children are innately in touch with what skills and abilities they are working to develop. They might be mastering fine or gross motor skills. They may be coming to a greater understanding of adult interactions through toy interactions. They may be grasping rules and routines by imposing their own vision upon the “stuff” with which they are playing. Interrupting the implementation of a child’s creative vision can generate the same reaction that an artist might have when she is in the midst of executing a painting. Anger, frustration, confusion and disorientation all might emerge. And for smaller playmates or siblings, the result can be lashing out physically (biting, hitting) because they have not mastered control of their emotions and how to express them. In the book, It’s OK Not to Share, the author, Heather Schumaker, emphasizes the role of turn taking. “Keeping a toy when another child wants it is not the mark of a selfish child, but simply a busy one. Protect your child’s right to play and teach her to say, “I’m not done yet.” Schumaker suggests that adults do not have to give up a tool when they are in the middle of using it and neither should a child.
Many homes with siblings have communal toys. They accumulate over time and it seems a waste to purchase duplicates or similar toys. However, we do live in a culture in which individuals own stuff. Things are not communal for the most part. So in addition to communal toys, it is important that children have their own toy(s) that are theirs and theirs alone. There will invariably be more conflicts in households in which all toys are shared and oftentimes, less opportunity to practice altruistic sharing (a child taking the initiative himself to share) and turn taking. Children can have their own special toy that is only theirs (quality – does your child view it as special? – not quantity matters here). If they do not want to share it, then maybe they have a place they can keep it that is not on display to tantalize a younger sibling.
The rules and routines you promote around toys in your house can unwittingly contribute to conflicts. Children tend to hoard their toys when they fear they will be taken away by an adult or another child. But if they feel like their play is protected, they have the chance to be generous in their sharing habits particularly if they are taught the skills of turn taking and practice them. If a child is allowed to use a particular coveted toy until they are finished, they may move on quickly or could take entire day to play with a particular item. As children become experienced with the routine of being allowed to use their toy until they are finished and then to pass it on after they have used it, they begin to move about play without worry about holding onto their stuff. They may even get to experience joy and pride in the sharing of a toy that means a lot to them.
You can teach the skill of taking turns and allowing a child to make the choice to share when they are finished with a toy. After all, there will be times when you are not watching and you want to your child to know how to handle themselves appropriately with other children and work through those “This is mine.” moments. The following are some ideas for teaching turn taking at home to ensure your children are prepared.
Find a time for both partners or a parent and an older sibling to model taking turns. You could do it during a daily activity like dinner using the ketchup. Point to yourself and say, “My turn.” Point to the other and say, “Daddy, it’s your turn.” You could roll a ball back and forth. In our household, we rotate putting E to bed so one night, Daddy is on point and the following, Mommy. E is keenly aware of this rotation. Find multiple opportunities to model turn taking in different contexts. You may even model the frustration of needing to give something away and talking yourself through it. “Mommy wants to hang on to this cool ball but I know it will come back to me so I’ll roll it to Dad. This game is more fun when I can share the ball.”
You can give your children practice with many of the typical games they might play at home. Just be sure and articulate whose turn it is to make the practice of turn taking obvious to the child. Also, be aware that smaller children may be so focused on the present moment that when they give away their toy (even if they are going to get it back), it may seem like they are giving it away forever. Be sure that your practice includes quick turns and reminders for smaller children that the toy will come back to them. Some games include:
Play ball – take turns rolling or kicking back and forth
Hide and seek – take turns hiding and seeking
Bake – take turns pouring, measuring and stirring ingredients
Play hopscotch – take turns hopping down the numbers in chalk on your driveway or sidewalk
Run through the sprinkler – take turns running through the sprinkler in warmer weather
Play School – take turns acting as the teacher and the student alternatively
Set up a bike obstacle course – create an obstacle course with cones or sticks or rocks or outdoor toys and allow children to take turns riding their bikes around the objects one at a time
Make music – turn on music and take turns playing a favorite instrument
*Play board games (for school age only) – Board games like match games, Candyland or Chutes and Ladders can be a good way to practice turn taking with school-age children. For some preschoolers however, they can result in frustration because they are not quite ready for the rules and structure that are required with a board game so use your best judgment.
Do no harm
Bottom line, it is never okay for one child to physically hurt another child. Though it may be unjust when a child snatches a toy away, physically lashing out is not acceptable. An adult has the opportunity to step in and ask for a cool down period. Setting up a cool down safe space in the house is ideal. It may just be a soft chair or pillow with a stuffed friend designated for making a child feel better (never to be used as a punishment). Use that cool down space as a place children can self-select (sometimes with a helpful reminder from a parent) to help them calm down before working through a problem. This offers a child a chance to develop the critical skill of self-soothing. For more on this, see “Cooling the Fire.”
Look for opportunities to reinforce that children are learning to take turns. You might say, “I notice that Jordan took a turn with the piano and then stepped aside to let Addison take a turn. I am glad to see it.”
If your children are about to enter a situation in which you know they typically fight over toys, give them a reminder. “Tony, remember to take turns with your sister if she wants to play with your toys while I make dinner.”
Step back and allow your children to work out the turn taking between the two of them. If you’ve modeled and practiced the skills, they need plenty of opportunities without adult intervention to give them the chance to practice it on their own. Sometimes we step in too quickly and miss that chance. Be sure to step back and allow your children to work on it. It may not be perfect right away. But it will be satisfying when you see them working out how to play together in a constructive way.
Promoting skills in turn taking and the value of sharing in your family life can provide a sense of freedom from coveting stuff and allow for both creative play involving the tools of the trade and strengthening the relationship between siblings through parent-modeled and practiced and child-initiated sharing.
Whether your child is starting the year in a brand new school or returning to a school community, there is an opportunity to make connections with new friends. Friendships at school add to a child’s comfort and enjoyment. Research studies confirm that friendships can contribute to a student’s academic performance. Studies have concluded that for both elementary and middle school students, those that have significant friendships at school have a higher motivation for working toward social and academic goals.[i] And in the preschool years, helping children learn to play with one another is part of the core curriculum. On those dark, early mornings when it is tough to get going, children of all ages can be motivated and inspired by thinking about the friends they will see each day.
Ohio Early Language and Literacy Conference
In August, two teachers and I presented to a group of early childhood educators ways to create a caring community in the classroom particularly during those first weeks of school. In the schools that prioritize social and emotional learning, teachers are busy finding entertaining ways for children to learn each other’s names and make connections that will grow throughout the year. If you are an educator, check out The First Six Weeks of School to learn about ways to do this. But more typically, teachers are focused on learning the students names themselves on day one and then quickly moving on to reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. I asked my son, a very social child who easily engages other children in play, after his first week of kindergarten whether he knew any names of children in his class. He did not. Do not count on teachers having the time to make connections between children. Often, they are going to have to do that on their own.
Though you have little control over what happens during the school day, there are ways that you can support your child in opening the door to friendships. Here are some ideas to try out.
Model. Find chances in the grocery store or at the bank during regular weekly activities in which your child accompanies you to model introductions to people. You may go to the same store each week but do you know the names of the employees that assist you? Introduce yourself and your child.
“Hi. I come in here weekly and you’ve helped me many times. What is your name? It’s nice to meet you. This is my daughter, Amanda. She is a big help on shopping trips.”
You may take the opportunity on the car ride home to reflect on the introduction. You might ask, “What did you notice that I said to the woman at the store? Are there some kids at school you might be able to introduce yourself to in a similar way?”
Practice at home. For younger children, get out three or four of your daughter’s stuffed friends and have them join you for snack after school. Start by making your own introduction of one to another. Then, have your daughter do the rest of the introductions. “Sealy meet Wayne, the bunny. You both like playing legos with Amanda.” Share one commonality. My son loves this game and looks for opportunities to introduce puppets, trains, cars and other friends that have not yet met.
For older children like middle schoolers, you can involve them in introductions by play acting with them and engaging them in fun. Talk about how it can feel awkward to introduce yourself. Maybe share a story of a time you felt awkward or silly but made an introduction anyway and were glad you did. Show them how you did it. “I just walked up and said ‘I see you are reading that great book. I read it last summer and loved it. I’m Amanda.’”
Ask about lunchtime and recess. There are very few free moments during the school day when children choose what they can do and with whom they can do it but lunch and recess are those times. It can be so difficult to find someone to sit with at lunch when looking out at a sea of unfamiliar faces. Talk about this and what your child might do. Model simple language that he can use. “Can I sit with you?” is all it takes – that and a lot of courage – to sit down with a new group of students and have lunch. Talking about it with you and helping your child see that everyone has those feelings of awkwardness at one point or another may give him the courage needed to take that first step.
Provide reinforcing comments and withhold judgment. As your child tells you about attempts to make new friends, reinforce what she is doing. “I notice you introduced yourself today. That kind of bravery is going to pay off, just wait and see.” It may take a number of tries to make a connection that lasts beyond the lunch period. Also, it’s tempting to ask about and judge the kids with whom she is connecting. You may know the parents or have seen the potential friends through school interactions. We know that peers can be a significant influence on our child and we want it to be a positive one. However because it can feel so challenging to make connections and kids are still trying to figure out in which group they belong, allow them some space to take healthy risks and try out new friendships.
Students begin with the advantage of a core common interest – school. If your child initiates a conversation, that may be all that is needed to forge a friendship. Have those discussions, model, practice and reinforce their courageous efforts as they make attempts. These small supports you provide can go a long way toward helping your child find confidence and support at school.
For further information on peer relationships and its impact on school engagement:
[i] DuBois, D. L., Felner, R. D., Brand, S., Adan, A. M., & Evans, E. G. (1992). A prospective study of life stress, social support, and adaptation in early adolescence. Child Development, 63,542-557.
Harter, S. (1996). Teacher and classmate influences on scholastic motivation, self-esteem, and level of voice in adolescents. In J. Juvonen & K. R. Wentzel (Eds.), Social motivation: Understanding children’s school adjustment (pp. 11-42). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Wentzel, K. R. (1994). Relations of social goal pursuit to social acceptance, classroom behavior, and perceived social support. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86, 173-182.
The beginning of the school year presents an opportunity to get a fresh start with rules and routines in family life while children are learning expected behaviors at school. Excitement and energy for the year to come may be at an all-time high. Your child may be “playing school” at home trying out his or her best teacher performances. Use this opportunity to engage your child as a teacher of behaviors you want her to practice.
First, identify a behavior you know your child is still learning to master. Is he working on being less impulsive? Does she get frustrated quickly when trying to do a project? Your son, for example, might have trouble listening when another is talking. Engage him in playing the role of a teacher for fun, connection and with the goal of helping him learn a bit about listening.
Grab a stuffed friend such as, my son E’s Betsy bear to be the student and/or you could take the student role. Let him know that in order for Betsy to be successful in school, she needs to be able to learn to listen well to the teacher, and also to other students who are talking. If you have the chance, dress up your son or daughter to look like a teacher. If you are so inspired, dress up the bear too to look like a student. The more fun and engaged in pretend play you are, the more dramatic and memorable the lesson.
Interactive Modeling by Margaret Berry Wilson, an excellent book for teachers, lays out seven very simple steps for modeling positive behaviors. Modeling can be one of the most powerful teaching tools parents can utilize particularly if you are involving your child throughout the modeling process. I have slightly augmented these to fit with a parent’s pretend play at home with their children but the essence remains. You can tell your child, “I’ll start the lesson and then you teach your bear.”
Tell your child what you will model and why.
In your most dramatic teacher voice, say, “Today, we will learn about how to listen well. I’m going to show you how I listen well. Watch me and see what you notice.”
Model the behavior.
Ask your son to tell you about his favorite toy or character. Model each aspect of listening well including leaning in, uncrossing arms, setting hands on your lap or at your side and using direct eye contact and an interested expression while he’s talking.
Ask your son or daughter what he/she noticed.
“What did you notice I did?” Ask both your son and his bear to ensure that you are keeping up the pretend play.
Ask your child to model the behavior for his student.
“Now, it’s your turn to be the teacher. You can show Betsy bear how it looks to listen well. What can you tell her about what she needs to do to listen well? What should Betsy talk to you about so you can show her good listening skills?”
Have “student” offer what you/she noticed.
Discuss what you noticed he did well. Give the bear a chance to tell what she noticed too. “I noticed E made direct eye contact with Betsy. He leaned in to her and was quiet and interested.”
Give all a chance to practice.
Now let the bear through you tell a story to your son and allow him to listen again. Then, switch roles and let him listen to the bear. You can include yourself in the listening and talking practice as well.
Reinforce the learning by going over all of the positive steps you noticed your son or the bear (you!) took to demonstrate good listening skills. Be sure and point out all of the nonverbal cues you see.
Imagine trying to teach good listening skills to your child by either telling him about it or by nagging him each time he is not listening. Though these strategies are much more common and take less time and forethought, they are far less effective.
This new beginning, the start of school, can be a renewal for family life too if you are intentional about it. Seize the opportunity. Once the “lesson” has taken place, it’s easier to point to the lesson when you see your child is going down a challenging path. “Remember when we taught Betsy about listening skills. What did you teach her? Do you remember how it looks to listen well? Show me.” These reminders throughout the year can be quick and offer opportunities for ongoing practice. When your child does show you his best listening skills (or another skill on which you’ve worked), be sure you notice and point it out. “I notice that you were leaning in while I was talking and making direct eye contact. You remembered exactly what it takes to be a good listener.” Those small and specific reinforcements will offer valuable coaching feedback to your child. You are giving them positive attention and pointing out the ways they are listening well so that they can replicate those actions again. This cycle of modeling, coaching, practicing and a creating a supportive environment through reinforcement will help children internalize the skill so that they will become better listeners not only when you and Betsy bear are watching, but at school and in the community when they are on their own.
Everyone has butterflies when they are starting something new. Just make sure you visualize them flying in formation and you’ll be fine.
– My Dad, David Smith from a Dale Carnegie Public Speaking Course
If you are a parent, you are likely in the middle of clothing and supply shopping preparing for the first day of school. There may be more stress around the house as you switch gears from the less scheduled, slower paced summer routines to alarm clocks ringing early, morning rushes to get out of the house on time, new clothing, new teachers, homework and general exhaustion.
In addition to practical routine changes, you may have your own set of anxieties. For many, work demands increase as fiscal years end in August and begin in September. For fellow educators, we are busy attending or giving professional development courses during the month of August and preparing our classrooms and schools for the students to come. Maybe your child is moving from one school to another as mine is. Maybe it’s a major transition year from preschool to kindergarten, elementary to middle or middle to high school. Because the school community is as much a part of your whole family’s life as it is your child’s, parents naturally have their own trepidations about new teachers, principals, parents and friends.
How can parents best help deal with the back to school butterflies?
Practice routines and do dry runs in advance. If you are walking to school, try walking a day or two ahead of time without the pressure of needing to get there. Make it fun and stop by the playground and or local ice cream store on your route home. Practice your morning routine in an afternoon before you have to go through it. Try on new clothes, brush teeth, eat breakfast and see if you can make it fun working together to get all you need accomplished. Educators will be practicing routines like getting quiet or putting away supplies in desks at school. Children then know exactly what is expected of them and can go about the routine feeling competent and safe in that knowledge. Why not do the same at home to help your day run smoothly?
Give your child an opportunity to show competence. We saved the experience of E getting his own library card until he could write his full name to sign the back of the card. We wanted him to feel a sense of pride and achievement and it served as a clear goal helping him practice writing his name. He has probably been capable of doing it all summer but I saved the chance for the day before kindergarten. We took our usual trip to the library and I announced this would be the day that he could get his library card. Finding a small way for your child to show they are capable boosts their confidence so that they are ready to tackle the challenges of a new school, grade and teacher.
Recognize and support your own anxieties. Each time I flew on an airplane this summer, the stewardess walked up to me, made direct eye contact, leaned in and clearly articulated that I must put on the oxygen mask myself before helping my son. “Okay, okay,” I thought. “I get it.” As most moms do, I tend to place my son before myself. Your own stress will impact your entire family and the climate that is felt at home. So do something about your worries. Make written lists if that helps organize your thoughts. Journal to get your feelings down on paper versus allowing those thoughts to stew inside you. Make a date with a friend to remove yourself for an hour or two from the pressures of family life. And when you are in a particularly intense moment of worry or anxiety, visualize your butterflies flying in a calm and coordinated formation.
Be aware small issues may cause big upsets. Emotions may be just below the surface ready to appear when any little issue arises. Be aware that those upsets over small things like a spilled snack are ways of releasing some of the bigger emotions that are welling up inside. Your awareness, added empathy, patience and calm will help redirect children and, indeed, all family members back to focusing on what is important.
Create extra time for quiet and rest both for your child and yourself. Days are particularly busy. Homework for some will begin to be assigned on the first day of school. Be sure and allot time for rest and quiet after school and on the weekends. You may provide an after school snack each day. Sit down with your children and just listen. They may not tell you what happened during the day if you ask a lot of questions. But if there is quiet and you simply listen, they may be more willing to offer up anecdotes from the day. Find opportunities to turn off the screens and just allow for reading or quiet play. The investment in quiet time will pay off during the busy days ahead.
Get outside and exercise. Those jitters bottled up inside don’t know where to go. Be sure and encourage children to run around outside when there is the opportunity. The fresh air and exercise will channel the release of anxieties through good fun and play.
Focus on the fun. Because it’s a busy time of year, it’s easy for parents to get caught up in the hussle and bussle and forget to find ways to make back to school time fun. Take a breath and realize your children won’t ever have the opportunity to start first grade again. Make the most of it by appreciating your time together. Find family moments to have fun at dinner or during the usual routines. Turn on some music or buy a special treat for all to enjoy. Savor!
May your back to school experience be joyful for the whole family and may your butterflies fly in formation.
When I was growing up, my neighborhood library held the “Super Summer Reading Program.” I so fondly recall weekly trips to the library with my Mom to pick up my stack of books and return home to swing on the porch hammock with a gripping mystery in hand. After each book read, I would carefully record the title in my log to turn in at the end of the summer for the great satisfaction of a list of 55 books conquered and a free pizza from the local pizzeria. When summer breezes blow, I yearn for books to take me away and for that time when leisure was abundant. Summertime is now a good opportunity for me to read for both pleasure and substance. There are many incredible resources for parents now though some are weighty and make us feel a bit overwhelmed by our critical role. Others though empower us with tools, strategies and great ideas and it is these that I find enjoyable reads and also, as I try out the strategies, significant contributors to my family’s happiness. My editor (the very Mom who took me to the library so many times) and I worked together to compose a summer reading list that fits these helpful descriptors.
Confident Parents, Confident Kids will be taking a summer vacation so that there is time to read, to play and enjoy all that summer has to offer. In your summer reading, do consider returning to the treasure trove of older posts on this site that may be opportunities for inspiration on how to improve your family dinner, how to support transitions in your family life, or how to help your children practice self-control and much more. Have a joyful summer and Confident Parents, Confident Kids will return in the fall with the start of the school year to bring you more opportunities for dialogue and inspiration with the hope of stirring in you greater confidence in actively promoting your children’s social and emotional competence.
This wonderful book has sections for each season of the year with ideas and projects for exploring and enjoying as a family the most that season has to offer. Don’t read it straight through but keep it on your shelf as a resource and primer as you enter each season.
Children are exploring the natural world less and less with the pull of electronic media inside the household. This book not only discusses the importance of allowing children to connect with nature, but also practical ways to make it happen on a regular basis.
This book is a powerful guide to better understanding a parent’s own childhood and how those experiences shape decisions made today as a parent. Growing in self-understanding and compassion as a parent can result in a growing compassion and responsive parenting style for children.
This book provides guidance and useful activities and games for parents to teach social and emotional skills and help children develop a sense of mindfulness to deal with stress and become more present to the moment.
One reader and President of a Mom’s Club in Gaithersburg, MD writes, “on first reading...phenomenal! Exactly what I needed right now. I just started checking out books again, feeling like I was doing "something" wrong. I just wasn't feeling great about some of my interactions and felt like I needed a jump start. This blog is putting me back in the right mind frame. It is informative, supportive, yummy! It just makes me feel capable..and like I am talking to my best friend about it!”
Maurice Elias, author of Emotionally Intelligent Parenting and Psychology Professor at Rutgers University writes…
Confident Parents, Confident Kids “merits the attention
of anyone working in social, emotional and character development who wants a place to send parents for ideas and advice and dialogue.”