Encourage Creativity—and Empathy—in Kids with These Items

Creativity and empathy are some of the most important skills to nurture in children, and each significantly contributes to the other. When you take a social and emotional approach to an otherwise more academic lesson or teaching, children can broaden their perspectives and avoid being passive receivers of information at home or school.

While there are many ways to help children learn creativity and empathy, you can help foster these traits simultaneously with the help of appropriate tools that you and your child can enjoy. Here are some items that can help encourage creativity and empathy in kids:

Photography can be an excellent way for children to explore creative ways of
capturing the world around them while also helping them connect and empathize
with their subjects.

A digital camera can be great for older kids and teens who can benefit from more
advanced gear, and they come in a range of shapes, sizes, styles, and
capabilities that suit your child’s needs and style. A versatile model like the
Panasonic Lumix DC-S5 provides excellent photo and video capabilities that your
child can use to their advantage when exploring their creative edge.

Younger kids also have special cameras made with them in mind, so they’re
easier to handle while still being a lot of fun. There are several on the market. I
use the VTech KidiZoom PrintCam, a child-friendly instant camera that lets kids
take photos and print them out, allowing them to hold onto special moments they
can look back on and learn from.

You’d be surprised, but the ever-popular plushies are tools that build creativity and empathy. You and your child can use these soft toys to develop stories and worlds and have them react to certain situations as the characters of their toys. Plushies can also represent the child or someone else, and you can act out specific scenarios that push kids to think creatively while staying attentive to others’ feelings. 

Certain plushies are also made for navigating emotions, allowing kids to foster empathy even further.

Plushies like Kimochis come with mini plush emotions that kids can use to identify their feelings or point them out in others. These meaningful toys can help them distinguish between specific emotions so they can better articulate what they need or help them be more aware of how others are feeling. Another benefit to plushies is that kids of all ages can enjoy them, even well into adulthood. A child with empathy and creativity can find great use and care for them for years to come.

Chalkboards or whiteboards
Image credit: Pexels Source: https://images.pexels.com/photos/8923027/pexels-photo-8923027.jpeg
Chalkboards and whiteboards may seem old-school, but they can help children develop creativity and empathy without looking at a screen. Kids get to explore and expand their creative skills and thinking through visual art, but when they aren’t using it to draw their favorite things, they can be used to explore emotions and communicate feelings and needs. If your child is having trouble communicating verbally, drawing or writing how they or others feel can help them be more open to discussing emotions and building empathy and emotional intelligence.

They also present a chance for kids to work collaboratively with parents and
other kids like siblings, relatives, or playmates. Using chalkboards or whiteboards can help them work together with others or see things from another’s perspective.

Younger kids can work with a small easel like a double-sided chalkboard,
allowing two kids to simultaneously work on their own creative endeavors. An
alternative is dry-erase or whiteboard paint, which can be used to cover a whole
wall and turn it into a whiteboard. Having an entire wall as a drawing surface can
be used by more people at once, and they’re great for older kids who may want a
bigger surface to work on.

Rhyslinn Johannah is a freelance writer who enjoys exploring topics on child development and education. She hopes to spread awareness and offer guidance to parents and educators to help create a safer, friendlier world for kids. When she's not writing, she enjoys traveling with her husband and children.

Boost Kids’ Self-Confidence with these 5 Ways to Teach Respect

Welcome to part 6, the final post in the Brain Stages Emotional Quotient Series.

You’ve probably noticed the underlying theme for how to help kids grow into healthy emotional intelligence and improve your own as well is to model and talk about how to respect yourself and show respect to others.

The Oxford Dictionary defines respect as 1) a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements, and 2) due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.

Oxford defines self-respect as pride and confidence in oneself; a feeling that one is behaving with honor and dignity.

At the most basic level, you’re already teaching your kids about respect by saying please and thank you to those who serve you and reminding them to do the same.

If you’ve been reading these posts for the past five weeks and trying some of our suggestions, your children are learning about emotions, theirs and others’, and how to deal with them.

You’re in the process of teaching your kids how to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. You’re giving them what researchers believe is the gift of happiness.

You’re practicing how to focus, respond, and be curious in family conversations—a true act of mutual respect and validation.

You’re guiding your children to celebrate mistakes and failures by using what they’ve learned to help them in the future.

You acknowledge your children for their strengths and compassion, which builds their confidence—and brings us full circle.

That is, your children are developing the respect for and belief in themselves necessary to weather life’s storms, big and small, and how to respect others so they can create healthy relationships.

[S]elf-respect is a discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth.” – Joan Didion, 1961.

And you’re exercising your children’s minds for deep thinking. Researchers have found that emotionally driven moral decisions present an orchestral process within the brain, enthralling and beautiful on an fMRI screen.[2]

Kids who respect themselves and think of others have amazing power. Take 11-year-old Ruby Kate Chitsey. Amy Chillag, reporter for CNNwrote a story about Ruby Kate, a fifth-grader who raised $70,000 to help the elderly by running a campaign on GoFundMe.

CNN: Ruby Kate https://tinyurl.com/ybkvknea

Ruby Kate’s goal is to grant as many elderly people as possible their simple wishes—things like a pair of pants that fit, fresh fruit, or a good book to read. She started small, in the retirement home where her mom is a nurse practitioner, and she’s expanded to several retirement communities.


6 Ways to Help Kids Develop Self-respect and Respect for Others

1.Model saying please and thank you, and remind your children to do the same.

If you already do this, give yourself a pat on the back. But in this hustle-bustle world, sometimes the most basic forms of respect fall by the way-side. Kids who have their pleases and thank yous down get along better with peers, teachers—heck, pretty much everyone—than kids who don’t.

2.Get your kids in the habit of picking up after themselves. 

Explain to them that taking their dishes to the sink or putting them in the dishwasher after they eat is a way to show respect in your home as well as personal responsibility. Your children will likely give you some pushback on this—a lot at first but less and less as it becomes a habit. Even if they grumble at home, they’ll likely be polite at other people’s houses, which will endear them to their friends’ parents.

The same goes for cleaning up after playing games or doing art projects. Sometimes it’s easier to clean up your kids’ messes rather than hassling them doing it. But think about it. Spending the extra time in the beginning will save you a TON of work in the long run, and your children will be welcome anywhere they want to go.

3.Teach your kids the Golden Rule: treat others as they want to be treated. 

I know this sounds obvious, but the Golden Rule includes respecting someone who doesn’t agree with you or who does something differently than you do. Kids often have a hard time with this. Heck, a lot of adults have trouble accepting differences of opinions too.

People’s experiences, cultures, and values, even within the same neighborhood, can vary widely. We can still be kind, considerate listeners when we don’t identify with someone’s beliefs or attitudes.

Kids need to be taught how to voice a differing opinion but then let it go if their viewpoint starts an argument. Arguments tend to alienate people rather than change their minds anyway.

Children also need to know that it’s okay to keep an open mind and respect other people’s views. It doesn’t mean they have to change their own ideals to that person’s way of thinking.

4.Give your children permission to speak up in a respectful way when someone treats them with disrespect.

A good way to speak up in a disarming way is to begin with a question, and give the offender a way out when possible.

“Did you cut in front of me in line on purpose, or did you not realize I was next?”

“Are you being mean on purpose, or did you say that because you weren’t thinking?

“Were you laughing because I didn’t know the answer?” This calls out the rude person without starting a fight. If the person says yes, your child can say something like— “Seriously?” Give a chuckle and say, “That one can backfire on you the next time you make a mistake.”

Practice role playing questions for possible scenarios in a safe place with your kids so they’ll have tools to use when they get into a sticky social situation.

5.Get your children in the habit of offering to help.

Have your kids help you bring in groceries, cook meals, clean up the kitchen, fold the laundry—whatever you do to maintain your household. The key is to have them do these things WITH YOU. While doing chores together, you can talk about life in a casual atmosphere.

Researchers have found that two-way conversations between adults and children are the cornerstone for success in adulthood.[3]

Doing such activities together not only makes contributing to the family a mutually pleasant experience, you’ll find that your children offer to help in other circumstances, such as setting up chairs before an event at school. Asking to participate instead of waiting to be asked shows a special kind of respect and maturity. 

6.Teach your child to acknowledge other people.

You’re likely already giving your children compliments when they do something positive to reinforce their behavior, which is great. The next step, which I didn’t learn until I was an adult, is to openly acknowledge colleagues and friends for accomplishments and attributes that you appreciate in them. And do this in front of your children as much as possible.

I’m not talking about blowing smoke—I mean offer real, sincere, specific compliments for things about people that you truly admire.

How much more pleasant would my life have been if rather than competing and comparing myself to others, I could have expressed gratitude for the very things I was comparing and competing with?

I noticed how a friend and fellow teacher pointed out my strengths and how great her acknowledgements made me feel. This didn’t seem to diminish her own skills or accomplishments. In fact, the positive energy seemed to give her a boost as well.

I’ve followed her example to this day. Even better, our own children have learned this trait, which has served them well as individuals, students, employees, friends, and in finding wonderful partners for life.

How wonderful that they learned about acknowledging people as children!

I’m not upset with my parents for not teaching me the importance of acknowledging people. All we can do as parents is the best we can. But we’re so lucky to have lots resources nowadays!

And I’m grateful that I had a wonderful example who transformed my thinking and gave our children such a valuable gift.

PATRICIA WILKINSON – mother of two, taught grades kindergarten through sixth for 23 years, in both public and private schools. She earned a BA in recreation from California State University, Long Beach, and did graduate work at California State Universities, Los Angeles and Chico, to earn a Clear Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential and Language Development Specialist certificate from the State of California. Today, Trish facilitates life-changing workshops for parents and teachers. It’s amazing what can happen when years of creativity and practical experience merge with thousands of hours of brain research. She lives in Bend, Oregon, with her awesome husband, Chuck, and their rambunctious golden retriever, Alice. Visit her at http://thebrainstages.com


Teach Kids About Personal Power

Welcome to part 5 (of 6) in the Brain Stages Emotional Quotient Series.

You can click the following links if you missed Part 1: 6 Ways to Help Kids Develop Empathy, Part 2: 5 Ways to Help Kids Become Grateful and Generous, Part 3: The Art of Listening: 3 Steps to Transform Relationships, or Part 4: Obstacle or Opportunity—Turn Setbacks into Celebrations.

I don’t know about you, but my feelings have gotten hurt on occasion. No one can make me feel bad, but sometimes it feels like it. I don’t want to give up my personal power—it just happens sometimes.

On the other hand, taking personally the insensitive things people do and say has happened progressively less, ever since I defined my “personal power” for myself in my early twenties. As I’ve gotten older, my self-concept has evolved to allow for bigger goals and taking greater risks. Many of us have done this as adults.

But imagine how kids feel when someone says something that stings, intentionally or not, and they don’t even know they have personal power.

Kids who get their feelings hurt by classmates, or anyone else, need the adults in their lives to help them define for themselves what “personal power” means.

Once children understand their personal power, they can handle things people say and do with less sensitivity. They have more courage to try new things. When they run into obstacles, they look for something to learn and a way past problems so they can move forward.

5 Steps to Teach Kids About Personal Power—And How to Use It For a Great Life

1. Before you approach kids about their personal power, make sure you’ve at least begun to define your own for yourself.

My mother couldn’t teach me about personal power because she didn’t understand her own worth. My father gave me gentle hints, but I didn’t understand them until my twenties—when my boyfriend (now-husband of 33 years) began to point out my strengths.

Before I began to understand my own power, I couldn’t help kids develop and learn to use theirs. Once I could apply my own evolving concept to situations in my life, I could pass on what I’d learned to the kids in my classroom—and years later, to my own children.

2.When your concept of your personal power begins to take shape, share it with the children in your life and give examples.

While in college, I worked at Montessori schools and told my students about my journey learning about my personal power—and wouldn’t it be fun for them to learn about theirs?

In every classroom since, I’ve shared my journey, given my students activities to help them find their own—and we’ve role-played how to keep their power when threatened.

Most kids process information in concrete ways. 1+1 = 2. They can see the relationship, so it makes sense.

The concept of personal power is abstract and thus more difficult to understand. When we relate such subjects to ourselves first, kids tend to feel less anxious and more open to applying the ideas to their own lives.

Once we begin to understand our own personal power, when someone says something less than favorable, our self-confidence can soften the blow—and even possibly help the offender.

A recent example, for me, was when a parent said: “You don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s different raising kids these days.”

I could have been stung by that comment and gotten defensive. But in my mind I thought: This parent seems stressed, and I have two wonderful adult children, lots of success in the classroom, and a ton of research under my belt. Instead I replied:

“We know parents feel overwhelmed raising and educating kids these days. That’s why Jackie and I wrote Brain Stages—to help people have less stress and more fun while raising happier, well-adjusted kids. Try out the things we’ve talked about and see what happens. What have you got to lose?”

3.Ask your child(ren) what they see as their strengths and guide them toward incorporating those strengths into their view of their personal power. 

Give a few examples of where you excel because of your interests—music, managing money, organization, creativity—wherever you feel competent (since you will have figured out your own strengths before you get to this point—see #1).

Ask your child to list and describe his interests, including what makes those things appealing and what he has learned from doing the activities he enjoys.

Talk your child through how his interests have helped him to develop skills. Be specific about what he does well.

For example, when our younger daughter was little, she was obsessed with horses. While at a tee-ball game to watch her older sister’s team play, she got restless, so I took her for a walk on a path at the park. We ran into an older gentleman riding a horse who allowed our daughter to take a slow, gentle ride on his beautiful, milk-chocolate brown bay, with a long black mane and tail. She fell instantly in love.

She checked out books about horses from the library. She drew them constantly. She wanted to know everything she could about her favorite animal.

Did she become an equine veterinarian or a dressage rider when she got older? Not at all. But before we knew it, a kid who hadn’t been interested in reading became a fluent reader. After drawing about a thousand pictures of horses that were flat and childlike, she found a book at the library on how to sketch horses, and her drawings transformed. Eventually, her writing skills became strong because she also liked to write stories about horses.

Our daughter was a super sensitive kid. Read on to find out how helping her define her personal power allowed her to enjoy school more and create positive relationships with other kids and her teachers.

Point out how defining our interests and the skills we’re gaining from those interests give us a concrete way to believe in ourselves. This activity develops self-confidence—where our personal power comes from.

Following up with the example above, our daughter hadn’t put together that she had become a proficient reader, writer, and sketcher as a result of her passion for horses—until we had the talk about personal power.

Understanding some of her skills boosted her confidence and made her realize that as a competent kid, when anyone said or did an unkind thing, she could remind herself that she had a hefty set of things to feel good about.

If someone teased her about raising her hand to give a wrong answer, for instance, she could remind herself that NO ONE is perfect, she was pretty darn good at a lot of things, and at least she’d had the guts to offer an answer to that question.

4.Help your child mentally process the mean things people say or do to decrease their pain, and more importantly, their self-doubt. 

Once your child has begun to develop his idea of his own personal power, when he comes home hurt from something that happened at school or a friend’s house, acknowledge his feelings first. Tell him you understand why he’s upset, and you wish people would think before they said and did things.

Remind him that he’s powerful in his own right, and list a few of his good qualities, talents, and skills. Then talk about why the person who hurt his doesn’t deserve to get a hold of his power, much less hang onto it.

Brainstorm the reasons why people say and do mean things—to compensate for their own fears and insecurities, greed, a general lack of manners, so self-focused they don’t even realize how they’re behaving, they want to make someone else look bad because they think it makes them look cool, and any other motivations for meanness you come up with together.

Role play how your child can mentally remind herself of her power the next time something like this happens—and she can choose not to give away her power.

Practice things your child might say to diffuse several kinds of situations so she has tools to use in the future.

A word of caution: Make sure to talk about the difference between confidence and arrogance. We want our children to develop inner strength. We also want them to be able to let go of something unpleasant someone says or does by dismissing the person’s rudeness as an act of fear or lack of confidence. We don’t want them to brag about their abilities or talents, or lord them over others. 

Merriam-Webster defines confidence as a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances.

Arrogance is defined: an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions. 

5.Ask your kids why understanding their strengths and interests will give them courage to set big goals and try new things.

This is a great conversation to have on your way somewhere together. The car, bus, or whatever transit you use is generally a non-threatening place to have such discussions, away from home yet in a familiar, neutral setting.

Encouraging your kids to discover their personal power may even inspire you to go after that thing you’ve been wanting to do. Belief in ourselves is key to turning dreams into goals and coming up with a path to achieve them.

PATRICIA WILKINSON – mother of two, taught grades kindergarten through sixth for 23 years, in both public and private schools. She earned a BA in recreation from California State University, Long Beach, and did graduate work at California State Universities, Los Angeles and Chico, to earn a Clear Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential and Language Development Specialist certificate from the State of California. Today, Trish facilitates life-changing workshops for parents and teachers. It’s amazing what can happen when years of creativity and practical experience merge with thousands of hours of brain research. She lives in Bend, Oregon, with her awesome husband, Chuck, and their rambunctious golden retriever, Alice. Visit her at http://thebrainstages.com


Obstacle or Opportunity — Turn Setbacks into Celebrations

Welcome to part 4 (of 6) in the Brain Stages Emotional Quotient Series.

You can click the following links if you missed Part 1: 6 Ways to Help Kids Develop Empathy, Part 2: 5 Ways to Help Kids Become Grateful and Generous, or Part 3 The Art of Listening: 3 Steps to Transform Relationships.

The prevailing idea used to be that intelligence was fixed—success in life largely depended on the talents and tendencies we were supposedly born with.

There have always been those who knew the power of attitude, though. In the 1800s, Henry Ford used to say, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

Then Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck came along a decade ago with her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and turned the fixed intelligence idea on its head.

Dweck defines a “fixed mindset” as one stuck in the belief that we can’t take meaningful steps to change our circumstances, whereas a “growth mindset” views failures and obstacles as pathways to learning and new possibilities.

In recent years, all kinds of studies have also found that our brains are “plastic”—that is, they’re malleable. Our brains develop new neural pathways as we practice skills that interest us and work toward mastery.

It turns out the cheesy phrase “Life is attitude” has serious validity.

In fact, a recent study at Stanford University found that a positive attitude “increased engagement of the hippocampal learning-memory system” and may be the reason positive kids tend to be more successful than negative ones. People who look for positives in difficult situations even tend to live longer.

Cozy mystery author Claire Fadden used to say with a shrug, “Obstacle or Opportunity,” whenever anyone in our close-knit writers’ group would experience something unpleasant or unfortunate.

It’s funny. Whenever she said that, at first, I would feel annoyed. But with a little contemplation, I’d see how a given negative experience could become an opportunity to get me closer to my goals.

I brought this idea to my kids. One day, I got a speeding ticket trying to get my daughters to their swimming lessons on time. After the police officer got back into his car, my oldest said, “Mom, are you okay?” She must have seen my face in the rear-view mirror.

Choking back tears, I said, “Obstacle or opportunity.”

“What does that mean?” my younger daughter’s chipmunk voice chirped from the booster seat over my shoulder.

“Well, my friend Claire always says to look for an opportunity—something good—that can come out of anything bad that happens.”

“But you got a ticket,” my older daughter reminded me. “You’re gonna have to pay a lot of money, right?”

“Yeah, and not only the fine for speeding. I’ll have to pay for traffic school so daddy’s and my car insurance won’t go up.”

“I don’t see anything good, Mommy,” my little one said.

As I pulled away from the curb, I realized this lousy experience had created an opportunity—to teach my children something valuable.

“Getting pulled over was a good reminder that driving too fast is a bad idea, even when you’re in a hurry. Now we’ll be later than we would have been if I had driven within the speed limit. Besides, traffic laws are for our safety. We’re lucky I just got a ticket, and we didn’t get into an accident.” At a red light, I glanced at the mirror, at my precious daughters in the back seat and caught my older child’s thoughtful gaze.

“So, I guess getting a ticket wasn’t totally terrible,” she said, “just mostly terrible.”

“Yeah,” my little one said. “I’m glad we didn’t crash.”

After that, I got reminders from the girls if I got a little heavy-footed on the gas pedal when were running late. And with a few more examples of me talking them through finding something good in my own negative experiences, they began to look for opportunities to learn, grow, or move forward when they ran into obstacles.

5 Ways to Help Kids Find Opportunities in Obstacles and Turn Setbacks into Celebrations


1. Start with your own experience—something bad that happens to you—and model for your children how to find a positive lesson or idea that will help you in the future.

Full disclosure: I learned the hard way that I couldn’t start out with the “Obstacle or Opportunity” concept using my kids’ experiences. My older daughter had shared an unpleasant event that happened at school, and when I tried to point out something positive that she could take away from the situation, she felt unsupported. In short, she got mad and shut down.

Once I started modeling finding learning opportunities in the unpleasant things I experienced, the girls began to see the advantage of looking for a positive take-away when bad things happened to them.

2. Explain that failures, setbacks, and disappointments often turn into good things, especially when we look for positive take-aways that can come from them.

When we do something that doesn’t work, for whatever reason, we can look at unsuccessful tries as a step to getting closer to what we want—or as a springboard to something else. An embarrassing situation can give us empathy by teaching us how to treat someone else in a similar circumstance.

Mistakes that Worked: 40 Familiar Inventions & How They Came to Be by Charlotte Jones and John O’Brian is a good book for kids to read to illustrate the idea that we learn from setbacks and good things often come out of them.


Sometimes You Win — Sometimes You Learn, For Kids! by John C. Maxwell is a good picture book for kids who have difficulty with losing at games.




3. Listen first and acknowledge your child’s feelings. When your child comes to you with a negative experience that happened with a friend, classmate, teammate, or whomever, do your best not to interrupt and try to “fix it”. Let her tell you the whole story before you say a word.

Once your child has finished, acknowledge how she feels. Something like:

“It sounds like wearing your sparkly pink shoes at PE didn’t work very well and you got embarrassed. I’m so sorry.” (Be generous with the hugs and head stroking.)

Then gently offer a positive kernel that might be used to her advantage.

“Now that we know PE in wobbly shoes doesn’t work, maybe you can put your sports shoes in you backpack when you don’t wear them to school, and you can change into them before PE. What do you think?”

4. Ask your child questions to help him find his own “opportunities” in a failed project or any other disappointment. After your child has had some practice with your modeling finding opportunities in your own mishaps and then you offering suggestions for what he might be able to learn from his difficulties, coach him to find his own positive take-aways from situations.

For example: Your son comes home with tears in his eyes and tells you his team got mad at him when he didn’t catch the kickball and make the last out before the recess bell rang. You acknowledge how lousy that must have felt and how sad it is that those kids didn’t show better sportsmanship. Then you ask:

How do you feel about those kids right now?

Now that you know how bad that kind of stuff makes people feel, if they do that to someone else in your class, what could you say to them?

This terrible experience was definitely an obstacle, right?

Can you think of an opportunity that can come from that rotten recess—something that you can take away to give you an advantage in the future?

5. Make it a game to say “Obstacle or Opportunity” to yourself when something less than stellar happens to you. Your children will likely pick up the habit to remind you as well as their siblings and themselves to find the opportunity in an unpleasant situation. Your home will become one of “growth mindset” where anything and everything is possible!

How we think about things, positive or negative, has a huge impact on our success, relationships, health, and happiness. Obstacles are inevitable. Imagine your children’s advantage in life if you give them a “growth mindset” to see opportunity in every circumstance!

PATRICIA WILKINSON – mother of two, taught grades kindergarten through sixth for 23 years, in both public and private schools. She earned a BA in recreation from California State University, Long Beach, and did graduate work at California State Universities, Los Angeles and Chico, to earn a Clear Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential and Language Development Specialist certificate from the State of California. Today, Trish facilitates life-changing workshops for parents and teachers. It’s amazing what can happen when years of creativity and practical experience merge with thousands of hours of brain research. She lives in Bend, Oregon, with her awesome husband, Chuck, and their rambunctious golden retriever, Alice. Visit her at http://thebrainstages.com

SEL Day 2023 Youth Square 600p

Students–Put Your Emotional Intelligence Into Action!

Hey there, High School and Middle School Students!

Are you ready to build your emotional intelligence? Join us for Emotional Intelligence in Action, a free webinar run by young people for young people, on March 11, 2023, at Noon Pacific / 3 pm Eastern.

Navigating our emerging adulthood isn’t always easy, but you don’t have to go at it alone. We believe emotional wellness starts with empathy and understanding, and this webinar is here to remind us that we’re all experiencing a mental and emotional journey that can be confusing, scary, and exciting to navigate.

You’ll have the opportunity to feel heard in your story and inspired by others. Our panelists include

  • Livi Redden–22, Podcast “Today is the Future”; author, “The Sooner You Know, The Better”
  • Rafaella Thorssen–21, co-founder and chief creative officer, Vlogmi.
  • Maxim Sokolov–21, freelance UX/UI/Visual Designer and Co-Founder of a TEDx Talks chapter
  • Tanish Ramchandani–16, high school sophomore

We know that Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is proven to equip kids with the personal and interpersonal skills they need to succeed in school, career, relationships, and life.

Research supports many proven benefits from SEL, such as higher student engagement, grades, and graduation rates, improved mental and physical wellness, and better interpersonal relations.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to connect with your peers and build your emotional intelligence. Register now for Emotional Intelligence in Action!

SEL Day 2023_parents blog2

SEL for Your Kids: Start Where You Are

Between the pandemic, racial reckonings, inflation, natural disasters, the opioid crisis, and now job layoffs, recent years have been hard on families. Due to the existing inequities in American life, these hard times fall especially hard on many low-income communities, communities of color, recent immigrants, and other groups.

And kids. Adverse childhood conditions like toxic stress and deprivation can follow kids throughout their lives. The current youth mental health crisis certainly falls into this category. For example, a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control finds that teens are experiencing increased mental health challenges, violence, and suicidal thoughts.

SEL Equips All Kids

We know that Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is proven to equip kids with the personal and interpersonal skills that they need to succeed in school, career, relationships, and life. Research supports many proven benefits from SEL, such as

  • Higher student engagement, grades, and graduation rates.
  • Improved student happiness with lower rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicide
  • Better mental and physical wellness
  • Improved interpersonal relations

Large majorities of parents say that their child’s happiness and good character are important to them and thus they support schools teaching SEL-related skills.

The key question is whether SEL is accessible enough to counter the challenges confronting every family today. Families and schools with more resources may be more likely to implement SEL practices in homes and classrooms. But what about those with more stressors and fewer resources?

Join Us to Learn More

Many people confronting a challenge or struggle know that they can start where they are, with what they have. Incorporating SEL into home and school is no different. There are many high quality, free and easy resources now available. 

On March 9, as part of SEL Day, EQuip Our Kids! is hosting a panel of SEL experts who are also parents. They’ll discuss SEL’s ability to address all types of families and their challenges. All parents are welcome to come learn how to build your social emotional intelligence and that of your kids’ to face any challenge.

You can register today for this free event.

12416789 - music to my ears

The Art of Listening—3 Steps that Transform Relationships

Welcome to part 3 of the Brain Stages Emotional Quotient Series. (If you missed parts 1 or 2, you can click 6 Ways to Help Kids Develop Empathy or 5 Ways to Help Kids Become Grateful and Generous, respectively.)

Researchers have found that EQ can be more important than IQ for success in today’s world. The best news — although intelligence can be enhanced a bit, there’s a genetic component, whereas emotional and social skills can be practiced and improved to the extent we’re willing to put in the effort.

And learning the art of listening is an EQ key to success!

Truly listening to others makes them feel valued. Therefore, listening to someone is a generous act.

On the other hand, studies show that people who are curious about others and practice engaged listening become the best communicators, the most effective leaders, and they have the most satisfying relationships.

Have you ever been frustrated by people interrupting you in the middle of a sentence? Can you tell when people are thinking more about what they’re going to say next than what you’re saying?

Most of us think we’re good listeners and wish others would be more attentive, but did you know that less than 25 percent of people are considered good listeners?

Do the math. More than three out of four of us aren’t great at it. We could all stand to improve.

What if you could teach your kids how to become engaged listeners, and you could improve your own listening skills at the same time?

In the Brain Stages book, I suggest parents begin to focus on teaching their kids how to be engaged listeners in third grade, but you can begin this process at any time. Eight and nine are just sort of “sweet-spot” ages for learning how to listen. Neural pathways begin to refine to enable kids to look outside of themselves more than previously.

The Art of Listening in Three Steps — Focus, Respond, and Be Curious.

(“FRC” for short. Kids get a kick out of the acronym – which helps them remember it.)

Explain the process below and practice focusing on, responding to, and being genuinely curious in conversations together to help your kids develop the art of listening—and enjoy what happens when you become a more attentive listener too.

Before long, none of you will have to think about FRC. In conversations, you’ll focus, respond, and be curious — and you’ll make an amazing impact on your lives as well as others’!

1. Focus on the speaker.

We listen with our eyes as well as our ears. Focusing your attention on the person who’s talking not only makes the talker feel validated, but it affects how well you remember what people say. Further, researchers estimate that 80 percent of communication happens through body language.

Evade potential distractions — model for your kids how you avoid looking at your cell phone when it vibrates with an incoming email or text until the conversation is over.

Wave a polite hand to others who join you, for them to wait to talk until the speaker finishes.

2. Respond to what the speaker is saying.

Use body language to convey your investment in the speaker — smile, nod, tilt your head.

Make sounds that convey interest — “Hmm” or “Huh.”

Offer single words and short phrases — “Really?” … “I had no idea” … “Interesting.”

Restate for clarification — “So you like basketball better than baseball because the game is faster.”

3. Be genuinely curious about people.

Ask questions and offer feedback. Good listening involves cooperative communication.

Communication researcher Todd Kashden of George Mason University says, “When you show curiosity and you ask questions, and find out something interesting about another person, people disclose more, share more, and they return the favor, asking questions of you. It sets up a spiral of give and take, which fosters intimacy.” 

Ask the speaker questions for more information. — “Do you play basketball on a team or just with friends?” … “How did you learn to play?”

Make points that support the speaker’s point of view and offer other ideas about the subject in a constructive way. — “I can see why basketball is a great workout for you, but there are lots of sports to keep people in shape. I like to run outside while talking with my buddies or running alone when I need to think.”

When you and your kids practice focusresponse, and curiosity with each other, friends, and acquaintances, you’ll hear people comment that your family is so nice, considerate, and intelligent.

Helping your kids learn to be truly present in conversations early will give them a skill that will pay off in every possible way—from dealing with bullies, to making friends, to getting their needs met with their teachers, to communicating with their boss at work someday, to becoming bosses themselves, or running their own businesses.

Becoming a good listener just takes a little know-how and practice.

And FRC makes it easy!

PATRICIA WILKINSON – mother of two, taught grades kindergarten through sixth for 23 years, in both public and private schools. She earned a BA in recreation from California State University, Long Beach, and did graduate work at California State Universities, Los Angeles and Chico, to earn a Clear Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential and Language Development Specialist certificate from the State of California. Today, Trish facilitates life-changing workshops for parents and teachers. It’s amazing what can happen when years of creativity and practical experience merge with thousands of hours of brain research. She lives in Bend, Oregon, with her awesome husband, Chuck, and their rambunctious golden retriever, Alice. Visit her at http://thebrainstages.com


5 Ways to Help Kids Become Grateful and Generous

Welcome to part 2 of the Brain Stages Emotional Quotient Series. (In case you missed it, here’s part 1: 6 Ways to Help Kids Develop Empathy.)

You’ve likely heard that gratefulness and generosity make us happier, but did you know that scientists can track what happens in the brain when we practice these attributes?

When we feel appreciative or give to others, the amygdala or stress center in our brains becomes less active, while the ventral tegmental area, our reward system, becomes more active.

When we do things for others, or even make a decision to give, monetarily or of our time and energy, our temporal parietal junction engages and increases connectivity with the ventral striatum. These are brain areas that light up on an fMRI when we get happy.

The best news about all of this is that parents can teach their children how to be thankful and generous for a happier life!

5 Ways to Help Kids Learn to Be Grateful and Generous

1. Assist your child in writing thank-you notes (or dictating them to you if he isn’t writing yet)—for gifts, special outings with family members or friends, or favors when people go out of their way for him.

Every time your child expresses appreciation in writing, his neural pathways for both gratitude and generosity become more consistent. Not only will your child be consciously grateful for someone else’s thoughtfulness, but he will have done something nice for that person by purposely acknowledging them.

Delivering a written thank-you card is generally best since receivers tend to enjoy such messages in children’s handwriting. If you can’t manage a written note, help your child send thank-you emails or texts to people who have done nice things for him. Electronic recognition for kindness is way better than nothing at all. We might as well take advantage of technology to help our kids grow accustomed to acknowledging people, right?

Your child will likely get a heartfelt response from the receiver that will reinforce the value of expressing gratitude toward others!

2. Have a gratefulness scavenger hunt.

Most of the time, things we can be thankful for are right under our noses, but kids—heck, people of all ages, including yours truly—don’t always notice them. Making a game of focusing on things we appreciate helps kids recognize what to be thankful for, as well as helping them “hit the reset button” when they’re frustrated or in a funk.

If your kids enjoy the game, suggest they try it with their friends. Sharing a game that makes them feel good, with the intention of helping a friend feel better, is another great way for them to practice being generous.

Kimberly from Natural Beach Living regularly posts great parenting tips, and she created a Gratitude Scavenger Hunt that I’m sure she won’t mind if you borrow. You can find it here.

3. Remind your kids that life often “isn’t fair” in their favor.

I think every parent has heard “That’s not fair!”

When our kids would make that declaration, my husband would acknowledge their feelings, but then he would say, “If you think about it, you have a lot of things that aren’t fair in your favor.”

Sometimes he would point out what an awesome dad they had, and they would laugh (though he was telling the truth). Other times he would get serious and remind them of how they had a safe place to live and enough food to eat, things that much of the world wouldn’t find fair.

4. Encourage your children to give family and friends gifts for birthdays and holidays.

Get your kids accustomed to the joy of giving early. Little kids can help you make cookies, ornaments, or other small crafts to give as presents for special occasions. Another nice gift from kids who don’t have much cash is the promise to do a chore they wouldn’t normally do—wash grandma’s car, for example (which may require adult supervision).

When our older daughter was in first grade, she read her favorite story to her blind grandfather for his birthday—which he loved!

There were several years that our kids made coupons to give to people as presents. The coupons promised they would do certain things they knew that person would appreciate.

But have someone be sure to check the coupons.

Our younger daughter gave me a coupon to pull all the weeds in our back yard for my birthday one year. The yard was a complete mess, which she had heard me complain about, so she knew I would love such a gift. Except that job would have taken days for an adult to accomplish—and much more for a third-grader.

She got pretty discouraged after about an hour outside in her garden gloves, equipped with a hand shovel. The yard clean-up became a family activity that lasted the rest of my birthday weekend. I have to admit that accomplishing that task as a family was kind of fun, though, and I sure appreciated the result.

As soon as possible, allow your to child earn money to pay for inexpensive gifts. Our kids loved doing jobs (other than their chores) in exchange for money so they could buy small presents for people.

5. Teach your child to be verbally generous.

Model saying “Thank you,” and remind your child to say those words to people who serve you—the librarian, grocery clerk, waitress, mail carrier, or anyone else you come in contact with who provides a service.

Give sincere compliments as often as you can in front of her. Explain the importance of acknowledging people for their efforts. She’ll notice the positive response you receive when you recognize others and begin to do the same when she notices people doing constructive or nice things.

The key in helping your child develop gratefulness and generosity is to be a patient role model. In doing these five things with your kids, you may find that you become happier too.

Developing your child’s emotional quotient will take time, but will be well worth the effort.

PATRICIA WILKINSON – mother of two, taught grades kindergarten through sixth for 23 years, in both public and private schools. She earned a BA in recreation from California State University, Long Beach, and did graduate work at California State Universities, Los Angeles and Chico, to earn a Clear Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential and Language Development Specialist certificate from the State of California. Today, Trish facilitates life-changing workshops for parents and teachers. It’s amazing what can happen when years of creativity and practical experience merge with thousands of hours of brain research. She lives in Bend, Oregon, with her awesome husband, Chuck, and their rambunctious golden retriever, Alice. Visit her at http://thebrainstages.com


6 Ways To Help Kids Develop Empathy

In these days of easy access to information, how we manage our emotions and relate to people has become more important than ever. Some say that one’s emotional quotient (EQ) is more important than intelligence in today’s society.

Brain Stages’ 6-Part series will give you ways to help your kids understand what they feel as well as how to respond to others’ emotions. Most important, you’ll learn how to support them in developing communication and other social skills, so critical in our world.

Do your children seem thankful for the gifts they receive? Are your kids excited to give gifts to others—to you and to siblings, maybe aunts, uncles and cousins too?

Or do your kids give few or no gifts to others and seem disappointed after the presents are all opened with an air of “Is that all there is?”

Although my own children have grown up to be grateful, giving adults, our family had a couple of “Is that all there is?” holidays along the way. It took a while for my husband and me to figure out how to help them become appreciative and generous people.

It Starts With Empathy

The first step in developing such traits started with empathy—that is, showing our kids how to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.

Dr. Lawrence Kutner, clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School points out “Children who are empathetic tend to do better in school, in social situations, and in their adult careers. Children and teenagers who have the greatest amount of skill at empathy are viewed as leaders by their peers. The best teachers of that skill are the children’s parents.

You’ve likely begun teaching empathy already. When our toddlers see something out of the ordinary, they often mortify us by pointing it out.

“Hey, Mommy, look! A pirate!” a 3-year-old might say, seeing someone with a patch over one eye.

“Well, that patch is pretty cool, but I don’t think she’s a pirate,” we might respond, then look at the person and say, “Sorry. Too many cartoons, I think.”

(My friend, who wore an eye-patch after an operation, confided that she preferred to be acknowledged rather than ignored by parents whisking off their children in embarrassment.)

We might explain later (out of earshot of the person with the anomaly) that it’s not nice to point out things on people—a big nose, a limp, or any other physical difference—that it might hurt their feelings, and we don’t want to hurt people.

Once kids understand that other people have feelings too, they become kinder and more respectful to others. The more we model empathy, the more our children will pick up on it as they get older. Still, we must also help them imagine what others might be feeling to develop this important attribute.

6 Ways to Help Kids Develop Empathy

1. Teach your children about emotions. 

Once children begin to understand their own feelings, they can start to empathize with others.

  • Point out when your child is happy: “Look at you, all happy with that star on your math paper. I’m proud of you for sticking with it and figuring out those word problems.” 
  • Rather than getting angry when your child lashes out, use the opportunity to mention the emotion you notice. “You seem disappointed that you have to do your homework.” Or “You seem frustrated that you can’t talk to your friend until after dinner.” Acknowledging your child’s feelings will generally diffuse the upset and allow you to talk about whatever is bothering her more calmly.
  • Talk about your feelings. “I’m so excited to see this movie with you!” Or “I’m nervous about the presentation I have to give at work tomorrow. I have butterflies in my stomach!” Then tell your child about the experience at the end of the next day. That way, she’ll learn it’s okay to be scared before you do something as long as you don’t let fear stop you.

2. Ask how your child would feel. 

When your child begins to understand emotions, you can start to practice how to empathize with others. By kindergarten, kids’ brains are equipped to talk hypothetically to learn about empathy.

Use a real example, if you can, to help your child get an idea of what another person might be feeling to engender patience and understanding.

For instance, if your child scoffs about how his friend can’t catch a ball, you could ask how he would feel if someone teased about how he’s still working on learning to jump rope.

Then follow up with something like: “You’re working on learning to jump rope, and your friend is working on catching a ball. Anything worth doing is worth being lousy at it at first. Soon you guys will be good at those things.”

The point is to help your child identify with the other person’s circumstance. 

3. Volunteer to help at a local charity together.

Spending time handing out blankets, serving food at a homeless shelter, or providing any service to help others offers children an opportunity to look outside of themselves, and a glimpse of what it’s like not to be so fortunateYou can talk about why children might be wearing clothes that look worn out or don’t quite fit.

You have to be a little careful though. One year, my girls and I donated our long hair to Wigs for Kids, an organization that makes wigs for children who have had chemotherapy and are fighting cancer. Without meaning to, I made them feel obligated to cut their hair because they were with me at the salon when I had my own hair cut to donate. My second-grader, at the time, blamed me when people kept mistaking her for a boy because of her short hair.

If your time is tight, I’m a big believer in organizations such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Scout troops provided several opportunities for our children to volunteer to help other people. Those experiences helped them to understand how lucky they were to have a close family who cared about them, enough food to eat, and a comfortable place to live.

4. Counter a negative comment with positive one.

If your child points out something less than appealing about someone or makes a snarky comment about a friend, offer an alternative.

For example, in line at the grocery store, your child whispers to you that the woman in front of you doesn’t have much hair; she’s almost bald. You could counter that she’s wearing a nice dress, and she has a kind face. The embarrassing comment is already out, and the woman likely heard your child in such close quarters, so you might as well make the best of it.

Most people appreciate being acknowledged in a positive way, and sadly, many don’t receive compliments often. You might make that person’s day. You’ll also be showing your child to look for positive attributes in people rather than focusing on negative ones.

In the car on the way home, you can talk about why making a comment like that in the store could be hurtful. Ask how your child would feel if they were losing their hair and someone pointed it out in public (see #2).

5. Model empathy in disagreements you have with your child.

You may be able to diffuse an argument if you stop yourself before the conversation gets too heated. Acknowledge the emotion you think you’re seeing in your child, empathize with her, then ask a question or two to find the root of the problem.

Something like: “You seem really angry that I didn’t pick you up after school. I guess I would be upset if I thought someone was going to pick me up and they didn’t come to get me. Did you forget that I had a doctor’s appointment after work, or did something happen on the bus today?”

6. After an argument, guide kids to handle a problem better next time.

Anyone who has more than one child or has had friends over has witnessed conflicts between children. First, see if the kids can work it out without you intervening. If the argument ends, but you notice there are still hard feelings, sit with them and discuss the altercation.

Ask each person, in turn, to tell you their version of what happened, and instruct the other person not to interrupt. Then ask about their feelings. This is a great exercise for teaching children how to listen without thinking about whether going to say next.

Once everyone involved in the argument has had a chance to share, guide them in empathizing with each other— putting themselves in the other person’s place. Help them arrive at how they may be able to solve a problem in the future without hard feelings.

Research says gratefulness and generosity are the keys to happiness.

Enjoy the journey—it goes fast. 

PATRICIA WILKINSON – mother of two, taught grades kindergarten through sixth for 23 years, in both public and private schools. She earned a BA in recreation from California State University, Long Beach, and did graduate work at California State Universities, Los Angeles and Chico, to earn a Clear Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential and Language Development Specialist certificate from the State of California. Today, Trish facilitates life-changing workshops for parents and teachers. It’s amazing what can happen when years of creativity and practical experience merge with thousands of hours of brain research. She lives in Bend, Oregon, with her awesome husband, Chuck, and their rambunctious golden retriever, Alice. Visit her at http://thebrainstages.com

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SEL Can Aid in Academic Recovery

A recent editorial by SEL expert Sara Rimm-Kauffman, originally published in the Los Angeles Times, highlights SEL’s role in helping schools and students recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

Also, at a time like this, we can’t just think about academics, but also must consider a child’s social and emotional skills and well-being. It’s a good time to ask about our long-term goals for children and youth. In the 21st century, kids face an increasingly uncertain future. It’s not just about learning, but also about using new knowledge to work with others to address real-world problems in their communities and beyond.

Read the full article