Parenting with the HEART in Mind

Parenting tips and resources to grow the social and emotional capacity of your children and family.

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Weekly Parenting Tips

Parents need tools to develop their own resilience and confidence, as well as support their kids in growing their social and emotional skills. In Lorea’s weekly newsletter, you will find curated resources and tools for your parenting toolbox.

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Talk with Children about Racism and Injustice

In order to dismantle racism, we need to raise anti-racist children. This requires having difficult, yet important conversations about race, social justice and equity. Check out these resources to get you started.

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Coronavirus Resources for Parents

The global pandemic has impacted families in significant ways. Parents are faced with the challenges of supporting their children at home, carrying their own job responsibilities, and maintaining a sense of harmony in their homes.

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Weekly Parenting Tips

May 16

Expanding Kids’ Perspectives

Do you encourage your children to read diverse authors? Have you checked if what they read may be perpetuating stereotypes or misrepresenting certain groups?

As parents, it is important that we guide our children to read a diversity of authors that represent a variety of perspectives and situations. Not sure where to get started? This is a helpful guide that might support you in this process. Although it is written for school libraries, it can help you find more diverse books to bring home from the local library or bookstore.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, making it a great time to celebrate the amazing talents of Asian American authors and illustrators. Check out these lists to find books for your family:

I hope these resources are helpful to increase your family’s exposure to diverse authors and new perspectives!

May 8

Mother’s Day Can Be Difficult

Mother’s Day can be a day full of joy, getting spoiled by our children or enjoying some quiet time. But it can also trigger mixed feelings for many women and mother figures.

Women may have lost a child, had a miscarriage, or faced infertility issues; they may be mourning the loss of their own mothers or hurting because they are not close to them, physically or emotionally.

I know that I’ll be thinking of my own mother, and how much I miss her. Sometimes, I pick up the phone to call her, and then remember that we have a 9-hour time difference. I feel fortunate that I’ll be able to spend time with her this summer.

For some moms and mother figures, the experience or events that take place on Mother’s Day don’t meet their expectations and they are left feeling disappointed, hurt or even mad at themselves for wishing a different outcome.

This Mother’s Day, let’s acknowledge the many feelings that this celebration may trigger in ourselves and others. All these emotions are valid, and they can help us connect with what’s truly important in our lives. So, whatever comes up for you, just let it be.

Once we have named these feelings, we can process them with care, compassion and curiosity, and ask for what we really want and need.

May 1

On Perfectionism

If you have a child who wants to “be perfect” or do things perfectly, you know how hard they can be on themselves and how exhausting to support them as a parent.

Perfectionism can be a challenging tendency. Children often feel so much pressure that they become obsessed to an unhealthy degree. And that can leave them feeling anxious, frustrated and worried most of the time. They tend to focus so much on the outcome, that many times they are not able to enjoy the process at all!

There are many things that parents can do to help children who tend to be perfectionists. On that list, the one that hits home is #7–watch your example. This is something that you have heard me say before! If we (parents… especially moms) want to have the “perfect” birthday party, holiday picture, summer vacation, house organization system… our children will learn from it.

If that’s you, take some time to consider how this tendency may be impacting your own children. And don’t let a perfectionist mindset take away the joy of just being human!

Before you go, did you see my note about my new online course? I’m really excited to offer this resource to all the wonderful parents in the HEART in Mind community. Stay tuned for more details!

April 17

Are You Too Permissive?

Setting limits may be the hardest part of parenting.

  • How much screen time is appropriate?
  • Is it okay for my children to walk downtown by themselves?
  • Can I trust them to watch the baby while I go to the bathroom?
  • Can they navigate the internet by themselves?
  • Is our family okay with sleepovers?

As kids grow older, their need for autonomy and independence increases. For parents, this means setting limits for what our children are allowed or not allowed to do, and changing these boundaries as they grow up.

Setting limits WILL cause frustration, disappointment and anger in our children. That is normal and expected. However, many parents don’t want to incite a tantrum or have the kids be mad at them, so they avoid these situations by being too permissive.

The thing is that being too permissive can also backfire! Kids who have permissive parents have a harder time developing self-discipline or dealing with frustration. It’s a muscle that they haven’t exercised!

According to Dr. Laura Markham, it is possible to find the sweet spot between strict and permissive parenting. She explains how to do it in this 2-min video.

April 10

Do You Know How to Apologize?

Parents make mistakes. There are times when we don’t make good choices with our words or actions; we may be feeling stressed, overwhelmed, too proud or simply exhausted, and we behave in ways that are not constructive. While it is normal, and expected, to make mistakes, it is what we do after that truly matters.

Apologizing to our own children when we make mistakes is an act of love. If we care about the relationship with our kids, we can recognize our shortcomings and heal the harm that we may have caused. Even when the mistakes are small, and we think that our kids will forget, it is important to model for our children the value of an authentic apology, both for the person apologizing and the one receiving the apology.

But not all apologies are truthful or sincere! Have you ever apologized with a not-so-friendly tone of voice hoping to get forgiveness right away and move on? Or have you ever said “I am sorry” immediately followed by a “but”? How did that go? Yeah, probably not too well.

Apologizing for something we have done (or missed to do) can be really hard. Dr. Harriet Lerner, author of Why Won’t You Apologize? says that there are 9 essential ingredients of a true apology. Check them out here and listen to her conversation with Brene Brown.

March 27

Supporting Children With Friendship Troubles

My oldest daughter came home from school very upset this week. She is celebrating her birthday with a couple of friends this weekend, and was confronted at school by another friend who was not invited to the birthday party.

My daughter tried to explain to this friend that she could only invite a couple of people, but the friend felt rejected and was not in a place where she could “hear” this just yet.

With encouragement from the teacher, the girls were able to talk things through. Hooray! We are fortunate that our school teaches SEL tools, such as I messages, so kids can resolve conflicts with peers without adult intervention.

While it is normal for children to fight or have conflicts with their friends, it may be difficult for us, parents, to see them struggling or feeling hurt. In most cases, our support should be focused on helping them navigate the conflict, without fixing the problem for them. The goal is for children to practice and develop these important social and emotional skills, so they can use them at any time and with different people throughout their lives.

If you want additional ideas to support your child with friendship troubles, check out this helpful article.

March 20

Simple Tools for Stressed Out Parents

If you asked around in your parent circle, most parents would tell you that their stress levels have significantly increased since the pandemic started. Even before the pandemic, stress among adults was rising at alarming rates.

Stress has both physical and emotional effects. When we are stressed, we may develop obesity, chronic inflammation and/or have heart problems, among other health concerns. At the same time, stress can impact our ability to regulate emotions and respond to normal, everyday challenges.

I have two tools that I use on a regular basis to deal with my own stress: exercise and mindfulness. Regular exercise helps me to connect with my body and “get out” of my head. Since I exercise outdoors, I get the benefit of breathing fresh air and getting vitamin D from the sun.

Mindfulness is my second tool. After my children go to bed, I try to sit and focus on my breath for 15 minutes. This routine helps me to check-in with myself and start winding down, so I can fully enjoy the last part of the day, instead of ruminating about the day.

If you want to give mindfulness a try, check out this article about meditation and mindfulness or this one, which recommends free mindfulness apps. My favorite is Insight Timer!

What are your tools to deal with your stress? The most important thing is that you find something that works for you on a regular basis. It doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated, it can be a simple routine that helps you to calm your nervous system and feel better.

March 13

Working With Our Anger

One of my daughters checks the weather forecast every morning before she gets dressed. Then, no matter the temperature, she wants to wear shorts or a skirt to school. She says that she gets really hot during recess.

Most mornings, we are able to “convince” her that for 45-degree weather, it is better to wear long pants. But having this conversation every.single.morning is draining and triggering…

This week, after looking at the forecast and realizing that it was going to be cold, she proceeded to put on a skirt. We went back and forth about “being dressed for the weather”, until I lost my temper. I looked at her angrily and yelled: “you are not wearing that skirt to school. Period. Put long pants on right now.”

As you can imagine, this didn’t end well. She sat on the floor and cried, until my husband, who was much calmer, asked her what had happened the day before when they walked to school and she was wearing short pants. He asked her: “do you remember that you were cold?” She smiled at him, and then proceeded to change into long pants.

I’m telling you this story to illustrate two points:

– First, it is okay to be angry. All emotions are valid, including anger, and it is completely normal to get angry at our children sometimes.

– Second, the problem is not anger itself, but the reactions we have when we get angry.

While it was okay for me to be upset, my reaction didn’t come from a place of calm and it actually made things worse. Yelling is never a good way to communicate with a child.

As parents, our challenge is to notice our anger before we take action to avoid yelling, threatening or doing something that will damage the relationship with our children. It is not easy, as many of you have probably experienced, and it requires that we pay attention to those moments when we are being triggered by our children’s behaviors.

In this article, Dr. Laura Markham offers 15 different ways to manage anger in a responsible way. Moving forward, I know that I need to pay attention to number 9.

Which one is most helpful to you?

March 8

Using SEL to Build a Better Future

How have you been? I was in Spain presenting Pedagogía con corazón to different organizations when the war against Ukraine started. My heart feels heavy seeing so many families being separated, the millions of refugees leaving their homes and the loss of innocent lives.

My children want to know why I am glued to the news every evening. Honestly, it has been hard to find the words to describe what is happening. This article gave me some ideas and the courage to have the conversation. I hope it is helpful to you as well.

During these challenging times, it is important to continue doing what we can to build a better future for our children. This week, we have a special opportunity to do so:

This Friday, March 11, educators and parents around the world celebrate the third annual International Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Day. The theme this year is Finding Common Ground, Pursuing Common Good. SEL Day is dedicated to showcase, promote, advocate for and support SEL in local schools, organizations and communities.

In honor of SEL Day, I’ll be doing two free events this week and giving away free copies of Teaching with the HEART in Mind. See details here!

I hope you will join me in celebrating SEL Day by modeling, teaching and supporting SEL in any way you can. Check out these SEL Day toolkits for ideas and additional resources.

And don’t forget that today, March 8, we also celebrate International Women’s Day, a time to remember the many historical, cultural and political contributions of women and fight against the gender inequality that still exists in many contexts. Check out these resources by Learning for Justice.

February 20

Should I Bribe My Child?

When you think about your best parenting moves, nagging is probably not on the list. Many of us don’t want to be that nagging parent who is always harassing their children to get things done, right?

However, there are moments when we can’t help ourselves! In my case, I become a nagging jedi to get my children to clean up their bedroom. It’s a daily battle that I know I will never win. And yet, I keep trying…

For you it might be something different, like getting the kids to do their homework, improve their grades, brush their teeth or take care of the dog.

The first step is to be aware of our own triggers, because these are the things that will make us react to our kids’ behaviors without thinking. Those are the moments when we will most likely revert to the parent we don’t want to be, so make a plan to address the issue with your child when you are calm.

The second step is figuring out how to motivate the kids to do the task on their own, without our intervention. To answer this question, I would recommend listening to this podcast episode (26 min) of Ask Lisa, where Dr. Lisa Darmour explains different approaches to motivating kids and how to respond when they reflexively say “no.” She also discusses if bribing our kids is appropriate.

Have a listen and let me know what you think, or most importantly, if it worked for your particular situation!

February 13

Sleeping Issues

I was talking with a group of parents last week and was surprised to learn how many of them have trouble sleeping. Several parents went into detail about all the routines they have in order to have a good night sleep: no alcohol, no food 3 hours prior to bedtime, weighted blankets, lavender diffusers and more.

As you have probably experienced, sleep deprivation is no fun. In the short term, it can impact memory, produce a lack of alertness, excessive sleepiness and relationship stress, and increase the likelihood of car accidents.

In the long term, not getting enough sleep can cause serious health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke. Other potential problems include obesity, depression, impairment in immunity and lower sex drive. Our appearance can change too, and not for the better…

This got me thinking about the need for our kids to develop healthy sleeping habits. But how?

As children age, their sleep habits change and our ability to “strongly encourage” (aka force) them to sleep goes away. We simply cannot force tweens or teens to sleep.

However, what we can do is acknowledge and accept that their sleeping patterns are changing and we may be need to reconsider their bedtime or night routine. Second, we need to work with them, not against them, in order to create a routine that is both healthy and enjoyable for children and parents.

For additional tips, check out this article written by the author of “Parenting Outside the Lines.”

Until next time, treat yourself to a good night sleep, and stay safe.

And if you celebrate, Happy Valentine’s Day!

February 6

Are You Feeling Burned Out?

“I am drowning with life” my friend texted me this week. And I know she is not the only one.

Many parents are feeling burned out. The accumulation of job responsibilities, ongoing pandemic challenges, conflicts with our kids, lack of daycare, and (fill in the blank) are taking a toll on many parents. And if you add the increased isolation from our social and support networks due to the pandemic, the weight can feel very heavy.

In the meantime, our kids are also dealing with additional stress that can impact their behavior. As you know, we are seeing elevated levels of stress, anxiety, and different behavioral issues in children due to the pandemic.

When you put the two together–burned out parents and children exhibiting challenging behavior–the situation becomes strenuous.

When we are feeling depleted, addressing our child’s challenging behavior can feel like an impossible task. However, it won’t go away if we ignore it or overreact every time it happens. We need to support ourselves first, and then try to understand why our precious child is acting out.

This article by Aha Parenting reminded me how important it is to connect with our children, even when we are setting up limits or having a difficult conversation about their behavior. I am hoping it will help you to find additional ideas to tackle discipline, even when you feel done.

January 30

Celebrating Black History Month

In the United States, February marks the beginning of Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. In 2022, the central theme is Black Health and Wellness.

As parents, it is important that we continue exposing our children to an inclusive and rich narrative about the contributions of African Americans in the United States, celebrating the beauty in our human diversity.

It is normal to feel inadequate when talking with our kids about groups, believes or traditions that are not our own. It is also difficult to discuss racism, slavery or the existing inequities in our society.

However, we live in a global, diverse and connected world. Our children need the tools to navigate multicultural contexts and work across borders. They need to understand the history that got us where we are today. It is also the right thing to do to raise children who are compassionate, curious and respectful of others.

This February, I invite you to take some time to talk about Black history in your family. Libraries can be a good starting point, since many of them create lists of book recommendations written by Black authors and illustrators during this time. You can visit your local library or access their website to see their favorite picks.

In addition to books, there are many other ways to celebrate Black History Month. Check out this toolkit created by my friend and colleague, Amber Coleman-Mortley, founder of Mom of All Capes and LetsK12Better podcast host, and this article from Parents Magazine for additional ideas.

January 23

Is My Child Okay?

My daughter came home from school this week complaining about headaches, her classroom being too noisy and not being able to focus in school. Although kids are very used to wearing masks, mask fatigue is real. It can impact our kids’ ability to pay attention in class, especially if you have upgraded to non-cloth masks due to the omicron variant.

While having a bad or difficult day in school is completely normal, if your child resists going to school, has lost interest in activities that they enjoyed in the past or often feels irritated, these may be signs that they need additional support.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), being mentally healthy during childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones and learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems. Mentally healthy children have a positive quality of life and can function well at home, in school, and in their communities.

Due to the pandemic, we are seeing elevated levels of stress, anxiety, and different behavioral issues in children. If these symptoms are serious and persistent, children may need additional support to cope with the challenges of our current situation. 

Check out this article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics for a list of signs and symptoms to watch in your children. And in case of doubt, make sure you talk with your pediatrician, mental health provider and your child’s teacher.

January 16

Building a More Just Future

How was your week? In my circles, parents seem to be on edge between a bumpy return to work, and ongoing school challenges due to staff shortages and a lack of testing kits and masks in many districts. Parents fear a long-term return to distance learning and worry about the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

It feels like we are in a battle that we cannot win, and yet we must persevere.

On Monday, we celebrate and honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. He once said:

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'” 

Even under the difficult circumstances that we currently face, this is a question worth considering as parents and with our children. What would happen if this was a question that we asked in our families everyday?

I image we would raise a generation full of empathic and compassionate individuals, committed to build a more just and equitable future.

As parents, we can model for our children what it means to live a life with purpose, where we can be of service to others. Sometimes the hardest part is to get started.

This weekend, find an activity that you can do with your kids to help others. Here are some ideas:
  • Volunteer at a local organization.
  • Put together hygiene kits for the homeless.
  • Donate non-perishable foods to your local food bank.
  • Remove litter in your neighborhood.
There are many ways for families to contribute to their communities in significant ways. Find something that works for your family today and into the future.

January 9

New Year Resolutions Don’t Work

New Year, New You! Your list of New Year resolutions may sound like this: healthier diet, more exercise, less screen, more creativity, less social media, more cuddles, less yelling… Wow. That’s a lot.

And even if your list is less ambitious, the thing is that New Year resolutions nearly always fail.

My friend and CEO of Six Seconds, Joshua Freedman, explains that resolutions don’t work because people focus on fear and failure as motivators. Individuals identify the things that are “wrong with them” or the aspects in their lives where they are “falling short” of (often unrealistic) expectations.

The challenge with this approach is that it uses emotions such as fear, anger or shame as motivators. These emotions are connected to survival, and trigger our brain & body to focus on the problem. They motivate us to protect and survive the short-term threat, but they don’t help us to stick with our goals in the long-term.

As an alternative, Freedman recommends focusing on cultivating a sense of purpose first, and then, setting up a list of actions and creating plenty opportunities to tweak your plan as you experience roadblocks.

Take a look at Freedman’s article, and keep me posted on your progress.

Here’s to a more purposeful year!

December 19

Can the Holidays Be Stress-Free?

Growing up in Spain, celebrating la Navidad was a big deal. My parents were in the hotel business before retiring, so the expectations for how the table was set up, which food items were served and how well everyone behaved were very high.

While everything looked and tasted amazing, there were always high levels of stress. The adults around me would be running around making sure everything was perfect, and by the time they sat down to eat dinner on Christmas’ Eve, everyone was exhausted, cranky or upset with each other.

When I started my own family, I made a decision that I didn’t want to put so much pressure on myself or my family to have the “perfect” holiday celebration. It is not easy, and sometimes I still get caught up on how things should be or look.

I know that I am not the only one. While the holidays are supposed to be a time of family celebrations, having certain expectations can really harm our ability to be present and focus on what really matters.

This week, I would like to share these three guided meditations from Mindful.org to help you find balance. Even if you don’t practice mindfulness on a regular basis, they can help you to navigate the difficult emotions that may come up during the holidays.

Wishing you and your families a peaceful holiday season, and a joyful and healthy New Year.

December 12

Teaching Kids to Spot Advertisements

How many times have you bought something just because it showed up on your Facebook feed or Youtube video? I have done it a few times…

With the holidays around the corner, companies are increasing their marketing efforts, trying to get you to click on their “holiday sale” or purchase the latest gadget that you really “cannot live without.”

Effective advertisement = increased sales.

This also exists in the media that our children consume. Advertising has evolved far beyond traditional TV commercials. Nowadays, advertisements are “embedded within content in ways that are hard to see, and they’re also more uniquely targeted to kids.” says Michael Robb, senior director of research at Common Sense Media.

Since our children consume so much digital content, they are more exposed to ads than ever before, making them vulnerable to selling tactics. Our children may not know the difference between a commercial and media content, so we need to help them identify the difference and start thinking critically about the intent behind those advertisements.

This is a good time to have a conversation with your children about what they’re seeing, discussing the techniques used in each commercial and the intent behind it. You can also talk about media influencers and how they may impact their desire to purchase goods.

For more tips and examples, check out this article from National Geographic.

And while we are on the topic of advertisements… have you done all your shopping yet? If there are parents and educators in your life, please consider giving them the gift of Social Emotional Learning! Teaching with the HEART in Mind is available in English and Spanish and it will make a wonderful gift this holiday season. 

December 5

The Power of Showing Up

Parents worry about the emotional health of their children. A lot. It is normal–kids have experienced greater levels of grief, anxiety and depression due to the global pandemic, resulting in behavior challenges among younger kids, and increased violence and bullying among adolescents. This global pandemic has significantly impacted the mental health of our kids.

While all feelings are valid, if parents stay in a state of constant worry, their own mental health can be impacted, as well as their relationship with their children. We need to acknowledge the source of our concern, identify why we are feeling this way, and then make a choice that will support us moving forward.

According to Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, authors of the parenting book The Power of Showing Upone of the very best scientific predictors for how any child turns out—in terms of happiness, academic success, leadership skills, and meaningful relationships—is whether at least one adult in their life has consistently shown up for them.

Showing up means offering a quality of presence to our kids, putting away devices and distractions, and intentionally focusing on being aware of and available for our children. To make it practical, Siegel and Bryson have identified the Four S’s that children need to experience in order to be emotionally healthy and how parents can show up for them:

  • Safe: We can’t always insulate a child from injury or avoid doing something that leads to hurt feelings. But when we give a child a sense of safe harbor, she will be able to take the needed risks for growth and change.
  • Seen: Truly seeing a child means we pay attention to his emotions—both positive and negative—and strive to attune to what’s happening in his mind beneath his behavior.
  • Soothed: Soothing isn’t about providing a life of ease; it’s about teaching your child how to cope when life gets hard, and showing him that you’ll be there with him along the way. A soothed child knows that he’ll never have to suffer alone.
  • Secure: When a child knows she can count on you, time and again, to show up—when you reliably provide safety, focus on seeing her, and soothe her in times of need, she will trust in a feeling of secure attachment. And thrive!

To learn more, listen to this Authentic Parenting podcast interview with Dan Siegel or watch this video with Tina Payne Bryson.

November 21

Practicing Gratitude Every Day

Over the past decade, research has shown that practicing gratitude has great social, physical and psychological benefits; increased happiness and life satisfaction, stronger immune systems or reduced anxiety and depression are just a few examples of how practicing gratitude can improve our lives.

In other words, we can feel happier, be healthier and stay more connected to others by making gratitude part of our lives. 

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches in the US, many families will get together to celebrate and show appreciation for each other. While gratitude is built into the Thanksgiving holiday, you can practice gratitude with your family every day!

  • Pay attention to the small moments and experiences that bring you peace, joy or love. That means intentionally looking for things that you can be grateful for.
  • Appreciate others by doing something that shows you are thankful. It doesn’t need to be material things, acts of service or spending time with someone may be a way to show your gratitude.
  • Show yourself some gratitude. Recognizing your strengths and appreciating who you are as an individual is an important part of living with gratitude.

Wishing you all a restful and peaceful Thanksgiving holiday. I am grateful to be in community with you all.

November 14

Overparenting Can Backfire

Overparenting is on the rise. An increasing number of parents insulate their children from experiencing any distress and discomfort by catering, accommodating and excessively meeting their kids’ needs.

While it is healthy and natural to be attentive to our children, overparenting can backfire. Research shows that well-intended “accommodating” behaviors on the part of parents are linked to the development of anxiety in our kids.

When parents insulate their kids from any difficult experience, children don’t develop coping skills and they don’t learn how to deal with discomfort. This can lead to increased anxiety, and avoiding situations that may trigger healthy levels of stress.

With this increased level of anxiety in children, parents become fearful of its consequences in their kids’ development, becoming more protective and accommodating, which inadvertently contributes to the problem.

In this powerful article, Julie Lythcott-Haims explains how her own overparenting journey had negative consequences for her son and family. I hope you will read it and consider if you are overparenting your children and what to do about it.

November 7

A Different Way to Manage Time

I have been working long hours over the past few weeks, trying to finalize my recently published Spanish book, Pedagogía con corazón, which is a translation of Teaching with the HEART in Mind. I thought the second time around would be better, but it took a lot more work than I had anticipated, and my family has been dealing with the consequences.

Longer work days = less time with the children = feelings of guilt

Can you relate?

As much as I want to tell myself that this was just a “one time event,” the reality is that there is ALWAYS more work to do. My to-do-list is long and, if I am being completely honest, it’s impossible to accomplish everything with the time I have. Do I need to get better with my time management?

Author Oliver Bukerman says that many of us function under the assumption that IF we master time management, we’ll be able to do all the tasks and gain control over our lives. However, he argues that we don’t possess time!

His recommendation is to actively accept and embrace our limited time on Earth, so it is easier to make choices about how we spend our time, which should be driven by those things that matter most to us. This 19-min podcast interview with Oliver Bukerman on Life Kit really helped me to think differently about time and make courageous choices about letting some things go, so I can spend more time with my family.

We cannot do it all. And do it well.

October 31

Too Much Violence in Children’s Media

During the pandemic, children’s exposure to inappropriate media content skyrocketed. With parents working from home while supporting distance learning, children and youth were left to their own devices… literally. Now that (most) kids are back in school, this trend hasn’t stopped with children as young as six playing “Squid Game” during recess.

This is very concerning since graphically violent images in games and movies can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed.

As children grow up, their brains and bodies crave stimulation, which violent media certainly provides. The combination makes kids, especially those with other risk factors (for example, difficult home environments or emotional challenges), particularly vulnerable to the desensitizing effects of media violence.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and other child advocates recommend that parents severely restrict kids’ access to violent media (check out the research here). If you are unsure what is considered appropriate based on children’s age, you can always consult Common Sense Media, which rates movies and games.

October 24

Family Dinner = Stronger Family Connection

Growing up in Spain, family meals were a very important part of my family’s culture and social routines. As a teenager, I could be out and about as long as I was home for dinner. If I wasn’t there, I would get in big trouble. If it was dinner time, everybody had to be together.

Now that I have two children, being together as a family during dinner time is also very important to me. It is the time when we check in with each other about the adventures, frustrations, successes and failures of the day. Everybody takes a turn to share.

My husband and I often acknowledge when we had a hard day or felt frustrated with a particular situation. It normalizes for kids that adults also have good and bad days, and it models that it is okay to share when things are difficult.

I was thinking about dinner time the other day when I came across this article by Dr. Laura Markham, which explains how dinner is one of the best predictors we have of how kids will do in adolescence.

Dr. Markham explains that “the more frequently kids eat dinner with their families, the better they do in school, and the less likely they are to get involved with drugs or alcohol, suffer depression, consider suicide, or become sexually active during high school.” That’s a lot of positive outcomes for just eating dinner together as a family!

And this doesn’t mean that you need to eat a home-cooked meal at 6 o’clock every night! It means that you routinely use dinner as a time to nurture a closer connection, check in with each other and strengthen the bonds in your family.

October 17

Avoiding Offensive Costumes

How have you been? With the arrival of autumn, days are getting shorter, temperatures begin to drop and often we notice our energy levels decreasing. You may feel less energized to exercise in the morning and more excited to cuddle under the blankets with your children! As the days become shorter, sleep and waking cycles may become disrupted. The lack of sunlight means your brain produces more of a hormone called melatonin, which makes you sleepy.

Autumn is also a time for one of children’s favorite celebration: Halloween. The tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints. Soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a day of activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, festive gatherings, donning costumes and eating treats.

While Halloween costumes are designed for fun, some costumes still perpetuate stereotypes or reinforce limited and/or hurtful ways of thinking about people. Some are plain racist. To avoid last minute challenges, make sure you have a conversation with your children about their costumes.

If they have chosen something that can be hurtful or offensive, have a conversation with your children about why and support them to choose a different costume. Here are some resources to get educated on the topic.

October 3

Are You Too Permivise?

Parenting is like trying to stand up in a hammock and not spill your lemonade.

These are the words of my friend, emotional intelligence expert and president of Six Seconds, Dr. Anabel Jensen. I think she is right. As parents, we are pushed to develop our resilience, patience and negotiation skills on a regular basis. It’s hard work! And sometimes the lemonade does spill…

In our parenting, we all have certain tendencies–some parents may avoid conflict trying to keep the kids happy, while others may ensure that rules are followed at all times. Some parents organize their kids’ schedule to the second, while others prefer to let the kids organize their own time.

Based on the work of Diana Baumrind, a developmental psychologist, and Stanford researchers Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin, there are 4 different parenting styles:

  • Permissive
  • Authoritative
  • Neglectful
  • Authoritarian

Research has shown that one of these parenting styles is better suited to raise independent, self-reliant and socially competent kids. Can you guess which one it is?

If you picked authoritative, you are right!  Authoritative parents are nurturing, supportive and often in tune with their children’s needs. They guide their children through open and honest discussions to teach values and reasoning. Kids who have authoritative parents tend to be self-disciplined and can think for themselves.

Learn more about your own parenting style and how to grow your authoritative skills in this article.

September 26

Don’t Be your Children’s Referee

Soccer season just started! On Saturday morning, you will find me watching games and cheering for my girls’ teams. When the rules aren’t followed, the referee steps in to ensure a smooth running of the game. The referee is the final decision maker about the play and the one that enforces the rules.

You may be wondering, what does soccer have to do with parenting? A lot! Let me illustrate. When children fight with their siblings, many parents step in as a referee–they take a side to enforce rules: “Your brother is right. You cannot take his magnet tiles without permission.” They may continue by saying: “Apologize to your brother and say you won’t do it again.” The kids go back to playing, and five minutes later you need to intervene again. This time they are punching each other and you need to take out your red card.

Does this situation sound familiar?

The challenge with this scenario is that when parents fix the situation or intervene taking sides, the kids don’t learn how to solve conflicts or disagreements on their own. If we don’t teach children the skills they need in order to navigate sibling relationships, we will get stuck being the referee of their relationship. It’s no fun and actually counterproductive in the long term.

A better alternative is to use a mediation approach. That is, helping kids to come up with their own solutions and supporting them to follow through on those agreements. Although this is not an easy task, or something that will happen right away, it is worth the effort. Check out this article to learn how to do it.

September 19

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

I moved to the US from Spain 15 years ago. I still remember the challenges of navigating a new social and cultural context as an English learner and newly arrived immigrant. It took me years to find my “voice” and become the person I wanted to be.

During challenging times, I occasionally met a person who spoke Spanish, a “Hispanic,” as it is known in the US. Those were moments of joy. Being able to use my mother tongue, and connect with someone who shared similar struggles, gave me hope and strength.

Hispanics are often perceived as a homogeneous group, when in fact there is great racial and cultural diversity within this group. “Hispanic” heritage includes a diverse range of cultures, nationalities, histories and identities. Although the term has been used to influence positive change, many stories have also been erased. If you want to learn more about when the term Hispanic started to be used in the US, check out this great article.

As we enter Hispanic Heritage Month–a time to recognize and celebrate the many achievements and contributions of Hispanics in the United States–I am reminded of the experiences of discrimination that many still face.

While it is important to celebrate the accomplishments of influential Hispanics such as US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor or activist Cesar Chavez, it is also necessary that parents intentionally build connections with those who live in their own communities.

You can involve children in this process by asking them to interview and/or write a short story about Hispanic individuals in the community. How do they celebrate? What are their hopes and dreams? What can your family learn from their traditions, language and values?

By taking the time to know more about Hispanics in our community, we are increasing our racial awareness and modeling for our children how to nurture bonds with others.

September 12

Teaching how to Ask for Help

Do you know how to ask for help? And I don’t mean asking for help watering the plants or feeding the dog. I mean asking for help when you feel that you cannot do things on your own or before you reach exhaustion.

It is an honest question that might be difficult for adults to consider. Asking for help can be perceived as a sign of weakness or evidence that you don’t have your act together. If that’s your perception, you may hesitate to ask for help even when you could truly benefit from support.

This is a learnable skill that many adults haven’t perfected, and yet they expect children to ask for help when they are in trouble. As I often say, we cannot teach what we don’t practice. So, if you want children to be able to recognize when they need support or communicate what they need to a trusted person, you need to start with yourself.

Once you intentionally model how to ask for help, you can teach your children how to do it. In this short video (3 min), Lessons for SEL (a platform with many SEL resources) explains how to teach children to ask for help. Check it out and let me know what you think.

September 5 

Punishment vs. Restorative Practices

Children and youth make mistakes. Some are small, others quite big… While mistakes and poor choices are part of growing up (many things just need to be learned through experience), it may be difficult for parents to approach these situations from a place of understanding and compassion instead of punishment.

For many parents, punishment may be the only tool they know to address children’s wrongdoing. It is what they experienced growing up and now what they use with their own children.

While we need to hold our children accountable for their choices, and provide an appropriate consequence if needed, punishments don’t restore a relationship that has been damaged or improve trust between adults and children.

On the other hand, restorative practices—taking responsibility, making amends, and seeking forgiveness—are a positive alternative to strict punishments and blame. In this article, you can learn how to use restoration and forgiveness when kids do something wrong. I hope you find it helpful!

August 29

Back to School! And Mastering that Morning Routine

Did your children start school yet? My girls started school last week. And let me tell you… it was rough! Despite my best efforts to have a peaceful morning, things didn’t work out as planned. I very quickly realized how “rusty” everyone is (both children and adults) with the morning routine.

This transition from summer to school is a big one! Everyone is going to need additional practice (and grace) to go back to a positive and healthy rhythm. We can do it, but we’ll need a little extra effort from all parties involved.

In this article, you can get ideas for how to master your kids’ morning routine and eliminate or reduce the amount of stress in those early hours. I am working on “get yourself ready first.” What about you? What’s something easy and something hard on this list?

Resources to Talk with Children about Racism and Injustice

Resources for Adults Looking to Develop their Cultural Competence

Coronavirus Resources for Parents

The spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, continues to impact the lives of many families across the globe. While many schools are back to in-person learning, there are many reasons that make the 2021-22 school year very difficult. Here are a few resources to support parents as they navigate the challenges of this ongoing pandemic. And if you need any support, please send me a note. I am here for you.

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