Category: Children

February 4, 2022 by Dana Stewart 0 Comments

We Need to Talk About Race With Our Kids. Here’s How You Can Start. 

As a long-time educator and new mom of color, the subject of race in early childhood education is one that I’ve wrestled with for years. I’ve been asked by many students in my (predominantly white) preschool about my skin color, my dreadlocked hair, or the shape of my lips. These questions used to make me incredibly uncomfortable. 

It’s time for me — and for all of us — to move past the discomfort. Why? We need to talk about race with our children. 

Racial disparities are baked into all aspects of our society and our children’s amazing little brains are hardwired to look for — and make sense of — patterns in the world around them. Even if parents don’t consciously or unconsciously express race-based bias, children are like little computers, collecting data, adding it up, and drawing their own conclusions about what they see. 

Our Kids Are Spotting Patterns, Crunching Data, and Drawing Conclusions

Children are noticing, for the first time, trends that their grown-ups often take for granted, like the fact that people of color tend to work in certain jobs and live in certain areas. Children notice that the main characters in the books available to them are more likely to be animals (27% of books published in 2018) or white humans (50%) than people of color (source). They also notice the language we commonly use that tends to associate positive things with whiteness and negative things with blackness. Research tells us that children do make the connection between these ideas and the people around them (Katz, 2003; Tatum,1997).

We know that children are busy gathering this data and using it to help them understand the world. So, it is not surprising that children as young as 3 years old can express race-based bias. 

A recent study that aimed to revisit the historic Doll Test from the 1940s found that preschool children, regardless of race, still exhibit “a great deal of bias” in how they play with racially diverse dolls. 

“Numerous studies show that three- to five-year-olds not only categorize people by race, but express bias based on race (Aboud, 2008; Hirschfeld, 2008; Katz, 2003; Patterson & Bigler, 2006). In a yearlong study, Van Ausdale & Feagin (2001) found that three- to five-year-olds in a racially and ethnically diverse day care center used racial categories to identify themselves and others, to include or exclude children from activities, and to negotiate power in their own social/play networks,” Dr. Erin Winkler, an Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, wrote.

In other words, children can develop race-based bias by living in a racially biased society. 

So yes, we have to talk about race. If we don’t, we allow assumptions and biases to persist.

When we assume that young children are “colorblind” or that they are too young to talk about such an important topic, we leave children to draw their own conclusions to explain the patterns that they see in the world. Silencing the conversation doesn’t make the questions go away. 

By talking openly about race, you will let your child know that they can come to YOU with questions, and then you have an opportunity to change the narrative. 

Where to Begin?

We all know it might not be easy to begin this conversation with the kids in your life, no matter your race and regardless of whether you’re a parent or an educator. So where can you start? Here are four ideas:

  1. Prepare yourself. When you talk about skin with your child, use simple language. Think ahead about words you could use to describe skin tone: dark brown, medium brown, sandy brown, tan, peach, peachy pink are all good descriptors of skin color. 
  2. Books are a great way to start the conversation. Select books that your child will enjoy that also feature diverse characters. As you’re reading, comment on how your child is the same as and different from the characters in the book. Bonus points if you select a book that features a main character of color who overcomes adversity!
  3. Create opportunities for your child to interact with children of different races and ethnicities. Try to visit playgrounds in new neighborhoods or visit restaurants to taste new foods. Interactions with people who are different from him or her will help them learn to see the humanity in everyone. We all are different AND the same.
  4. If your child asks you why a person’s skin is a particular shade, you can take the opportunity to talk about melanin — everyone has it and the more you have, the darker your skin is. Melanin helps to protect skin from the sun.
Talking About Race Can Become as Easy as Talking About Other Differences that Make People Unique

As an educator, implementing these strategies helped me feel more confident in addressing children’s questions in an age-appropriate way and enabled me to respond to their inquiries with questions of my own that pushed their thinking and understanding. In fact, their curiosity often led to an emergent curriculum on the subject. I found that the more we talked about race, the easier it became. 

Talking about the hair texture, skin tone, and facial features of different people can be as normal and as easy as talking about differences in gender, height, occupation, skills, and anything else that makes people unique. 

Tackling this tricky conversation is one way to help move society in a new direction. 

If you’re still nervous, don’t worry! Your child will not mind if you fumble a bit with your words. The important thing is to open the door to conversation. You might even learn some new things, together.

November 8, 2021 by Sarah Brown 0 Comments

Raising Young Upstanders from the Start: Advice From a Preschool Leader and Mom

For young children, the classroom is a community: a small version of the world.

As such, it is too often a place in which there is inequity, unkindness, and bullying among peers — and it’s also a place where children can practice being upstanders who stand up for friends.

Bullying remains pervasive in school settings. Some recent facts:

  • 20.4% of children ages 2-5 had experienced physical bullying in their lifetime and 14.6% had been teased (verbally bullied) (source)
  • About 1 in 5 U.S. students aged 12-18 say they have experienced bullying (source
  • Children say they’re being bullied in school hallways or stairwells; classrooms; cafeterias; bathrooms; and playgrounds  (source)

As the director of a progressive preschool program and as the parent of a kindergartener, I deeply feel the need to help my child — and the children in my school — grow into empathetic friends who can stand up for what they believe is right and be “upstanders.” 

The idea that everyone deserves to be treated fairly and kindly is the heart of social justice, and preschools often work to put these values at the heart of their curriculum. These are skills that must be learned early, to help children grow into empathetic and kind adults, who will stand up for those not being treated kindly or fairly. 

We All Have a Role to Play in Creating a Culture of Upstanding
Sarah Brown & Baby
The author with her own child as a baby.

Teachers have an active responsibility of ensuring safety, kindness, and equity in classrooms, and parents also cultivate these skills at home. 

Learning to be an upstander ties together a lot of social and emotional skill “basics” like feelings, empathy, friendship. It’s something that we can start teaching when children are as young as two — and it is something we can practice throughout our lives. 

While learning to be an upstander can take work — it makes a difference: Research shows that when children stand up for each other, and are active when they witness bullying, this involvement is hugely effective in curbing the behavior. When upstanders intervene (child to child), bullying behavior stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time (source).

Start with Feelings and Empathy

How do we encourage young children to grow into upstanders — people who will stand up for what is right and help peers feel safe and welcome? 

For the very young, it begins with digging deeply into first noticing the feelings of others, and growing empathy.

For very young children (ages 2-4), the idea of standing up for other people will, at first, be beyond their grasp. Children at this age — by nature — have a very ego-centric view of the world. As they move through the preschool years, they develop the neural connections to be able to see the world from another’s perspective, and understand that others have feelings that may be similar or different from their own. 

Raising upstanders begins with growing empathy and cultivating the urge to help when someone else is feeling sad or having other uncomfortable feelings. 

At our preschool, social-emotional learning is an integral part of the curriculum. For two year olds, it begins very simply — when navigating conflict, teachers offer simple language, and encourage children to notice how their actions affect their peers. 

For example: “Look at Sarah’s face. She looks so sad. She didn’t like it when you pushed. Let’s go get her an ice pack to help her feel better.” 

Soon, teachers notice children responding to others in need, offering a friend a tissue, their lovey, or patting their back gently when they notice someone having a hard moment. Even two year olds are familiar with the warm feeling that comes with helping someone else.

The three- and four-year-old students at our preschool spend time actively learning about feelings as a curriculum theme. Group discussions are a way for children to build their own understanding on a theme by using each other as resources. 

During a recent feelings study in a 4s classroom, a teacher asked the group at morning meeting: “When someone is feeling sad, how can we help them feel better?” 

Children had many ideas: 

  • Child: “They might need a tissue!”
  • Child: “A hug.”
  • Teacher: “Mmm. Who else has an idea? How can we help a friend who is sad?”
  • Child: “Go find a teacher?”
  • Teacher: “A teacher can always help children when they’re feeling sad.”
  • Child: “Maybe they miss their mom.”
  • Teacher: “Do you think that’s why they’re sad? What do you think would help?”
  • Child: “Maybe to see their mom. Or hold their family collage?”
  • Teacher: “Ah, yes! Those usually have pictures of grownups from your family.” 
  • Child: “Sometimes I miss my mama.”
  • Child: “Sometimes I miss my grandpa”
  • Teacher: “It sounds like a lot of children feel sad when they’re missing their families.”

In this conversation, children were ready with ideas about how to comfort or care for someone. When they found common ground (many children thought about missing their family), the teacher noticed and reinforced the idea that many children can have that same strong feeling. 

The teacher recorded children’s ideas with an idea map, including  illustrations of different strategies to comfort or help a friend.


This image will stay on their classroom wall throughout the year, an easy reference when children were engaged with each other in the classroom.

Learn From Examples Through Upstander Stories

As children develop the ability to empathize and think outside themselves in the 4s and 5s, they also often become interested in the world around them, and the non-fiction section of the bookshelf becomes enticing. 

This age is perfect to introduce simply books and biographies about people in history who are “upstanders,” those who noticed unfairness and inequity, and who stood up for those who weren’t treated with kindness and fairness.

There is a growing set of wonderful picture books that help children think about inclusion, friendship, and how to support their peers. Some great ones to start with include: 

These stories serve as a jumping off point for rich conversations about justice, fairness, and how we can help make the world a safer, more equitable place. 

After my own little boy read Martin’s Big Words with his 4s class, they discussed the story as a class. Their teacher talked in simple terms about the civil rights movement. The teacher helped tell the story with the aid of a toy bus and some figures with light and dark skin. 

My child brought up the book and class discussion often at home, at first talking about “back when things weren’t fair.” We talked about how things were still not fair, referencing our family’s recent participation in a Black Lives Matter protest. He continued thinking through it in the coming weeks, asking questions like, “What other things are unfair for people with brown skin?” and “Why?” Parents and teachers might not have the answers to these big questions, and that’s OK! Sometimes the question “What do you think?” is enough to continue a dialogue that will grow and change as the child does. 

Making a Plan and Providing Language

As adults talk through big ideas with children and allow them lots of space for their own ideas, they’re helping them to learn the language they’ll need to address bullying and become upstanders. 

As children enter the 4-6 range, they are more and more capable to become upstanders among their peers. Sometimes that means simply modeling kindness and inclusivity themselves — inviting someone into a game, or sitting with them at lunch. 

It can help to create a simple script with your child, so they are ready and know what to say when a situation pops up when they see someone being bullied. This conversation may happen out of the moment, or in response to a situation that a child is processing. 

My child reported one day, “W. bumped C.’s ear, and it was not an accident, and the teacher didn’t know!” 

I started by acknowledging how it must be feeling for everyone involved. “It sounds like it made you so mad to see your friend get hurt. Was C. sad? Is he OK now?” 

I asked, “What do you think you could do next time to help your friend?” He suggested finding a teacher. Especially at this age, it’s wise to reinforce that this is ALWAYS a smart option when someone is hurt. We also practiced what my child could say, words such as:

  • “Don’t Do That!”
  • “That’s too rough!”
  • “Stop!” 

Having a script in mind helps children feel like they are ready to help, with a toolbox of effective words. 

Sometimes adults shy away from talking about conflict with young children — as parents and educators, we wish that the world were always fair. It can be hard and sad for us to have those conversations with kids. But we can empower our children by making them part of the conversation, giving them the language to talk about feelings, and sharing tools with them that they can use to stand up for thief friends and be confident in caring for those around them. 

Mister Rogers’ Enduring Lesson: How to Raise a Helper

By now, you’ve almost certainly seen Fred Rogers’ advice for comforting kids: “When I was a boy,” he said, “and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

The quote can help us feel hopeful in trying times. But as Fred showed us in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, it doesn’t take a tragedy to bring out the helpers. People also help in small moments and in all-but-invisible ways: A well-timed embrace. A kind word. Even just being there for someone who needs us. (“It’s really tough some days, isn’t it?” we might say to a friend.) 

Fred knew that small moments like these often make the biggest difference. Parents know it, too: Surveys suggest that for most of us, our highest hope for our kids is that they’ll grow up to be caring, generous people who help their families and neighbors.

According to a report released a few years ago by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, kids hear something else altogether: nearly 80 percent of young people say their parents are more concerned with achievement than they are about character. When asked what would make their parents prouder — getting good grades or being a helper — kids were three times more likely to pick the former. 

Be a Helper to Raise a Helper

As we write in our book, When You Wonder, You’re Learning: Mister Rogers’ Enduring Lessons for Raising Creative, Curious, Caring Kids, we can look to Fred to find out why.

One of the most important things Fred learned from his mentor, Margaret McFarland, was the Quaker philosophy that attitudes are caught, not taught. We can extol the virtues of helping all day long, but without action to back up our words, our words aren’t likely to stick. The best way to raise helpers, it turns out, is to strive to be helpers ourselves.

That might be easier said than done, especially amid the pressures and stress of modern family life. Even Fred liked to have a reminder: Once, while strolling his college campus, he discovered a plaque that said, LIFE IS FOR SERVICE. The inscription struck him as so simple, yet so profound, that it shaped the rest of his years. He wrote it on a slip of paper, which he put in his wallet and carried for decades. He even hung a photo of the plaque on his office wall. 

Though he’s best known for his make-believe Neighborhood, stories about Fred’s real-world service could fill a book. There’s the little girl whom he helped through a coma. There’s the journalist whose relationship with Fred changed the course of his life. The list goes on and on.

We’ve heard countless similar stories while sharing When You Wonder, You’re Learning with parents and teachers around the world. And we’ve heard them in our hometown of Pittsburgh, where Fred was our real-life neighbor. (There’s even a holiday here that celebrates Fred’s kindness — a holiday that ought to be national!)

Fred was the real deal, as kind in real life as he was on television. The Fred we saw on screen was not an act, but a practice. He led by example, helping his neighbors do the same. He showed the world that “each and every one of us can be as caring, kind, and influential in children’s lives as he was,” wrote his equally kind wife, Joanne, in the foreword to our book. Every last one of us can be a helper.

How to Help in YOUR Neighborhood

What might it look like to follow in Fred’s footsteps in our own lives and our own homes? And how might we raise kind children, remembering — as Fred did — that attitudes are caught, not taught?

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s a great time to wonder how we might serve others. Maybe there’s a food pantry where you and your family might help. Maybe an elderly neighbor needs help clearing some leaves. Or maybe, in this season of giving, you decide to give gifts a bit differently. Each year on their birthdays, for example, Gregg’s daughters get lots of presents, from which they choose just a small number to keep. They take the rest to Beverly’s Birthdays, a nonprofit organization that arranges birthday parties for kids experiencing homelessness. 

Whatever you do, it doesn’t have to be big. In fact, it’s better if it’s not big — if your helping, like Fred’s, happens in small moments and in all-but-invisible ways. 

“It’s tempting to think ‘a little’ isn’t significant and that only ‘a lot’ matters,” he once said. “But most things that are important in life start very small and change very slowly, and they don’t come with fanfare and bright lights.”

In a time when the brightest lights seem to shine on what matters least, it’s hard to imagine a more important lesson for young helpers. (And for us grown ones, too.)

Los materiales para la vuelta al cole más importantes de este año: Las máscaras y las habilidades para resolver problemas

Jodie's son

Mi hijo de seis años empezó el primer grado este mes en una escuela nueva, sin ninguna cara conocida a la vista. El primer día, le preguntó a su compañera de pupitre si quería que fueran amigos. Ella respondió encogiendo los hombros y diciéndole que lo pensaría.

Al día siguiente, su respuesta fue no. 


Mi sangre de mamá-oso hirvió cuando me contó su decisión, pero su carita pecosa permaneció relativamente tranquila y natural. No parecía enfadado: más bien estaba inseguro de qué debía hacer ahora.

A medida que nuestros hijos comienzan un nuevo año escolar, muchos de ellos de vuelta a las aulas después de una larga pausa causada por el Covid, me uno a muchos padres que están ayudando a nuestros hijos a resolver problemas sociales. 

Las preocupaciones de padres con la vuelta al cole

Un nuevo estudio realizado por Bright by Text y Big Heart World con casi 450 padres de niños de entre 2 y 8 años de edad, reveló que:

  • El 75% de los padres afirman estar preocupados por el aprendizaje socio-emocional de sus hijos. 
  • Los padres están más preocupados por el desarrollo socio-emocional que por el aprendizaje académico.
  • Sólo el 31% de los padres declaró sentirse “muy seguro” de poder ayudar a sus hijos a desarrollar sus habilidades socioemocionales. 

Con tantas cosas que están fuera de nuestro control en este momento (el 95% de los padres encuestados siguen preocupados por la posibilidad de que sus hijos se contagien de COVID), todavía hay formas de ayudar a nuestros hijos a volver a salir a la calle con confianza. 

Tres estrategias para ayudar a nuestros hijos a resolver problemas

Aquí hay tres estrategias para ayudar a tu hijo a resolver problemas sociales: 

  1. Devuelvele las preguntas. Cuando mi hijo de primer grado me preguntó qué creía que debía hacer para hacer amigos, mis otros hijos se lanzaron a hacer sugerencias. “Pasar tiempo en las barras durante el recreo”, sugirió mi hijo de tercer grado. “Allí seguro que haces amigos”. Mi hijo de cuatro años preguntó si podía ir a primer grado y ser amigo de su hermano mayor. (Qué bien, pero pues, no es posible). Le devolví la pregunta original a quien la hizo: “¿Qué crees TÚ que deberías hacer?”. Y, con sólo unos minutos de reflexión, se le ocurrieron algunas ideas geniales para hacer nuevos amigos y también para llevarse bien con la compañera no tan interesada. Por supuesto, a veces nuestros hijos necesitarán que les ayudemos a resolver problemas, pero otras veces sólo necesitan saber que creemos que ellos tienen las respuestas.
  2. Aplica la regla de “prueba 3 antes de venir a mí”. Con tres niños de edades cercanas, en mi casa hay conflictos casi constantes. Qué película ver, quién puede usar qué juguete, a qué parque vamos. En pocas palabras: los conflictos son agotadores, para los padres, para los niños e incluso para el perro de nuestra familia, que se levanta y sale de la habitación cuando hay un desacuerdo. La regla ” Prueba 3 antes de acudir a mí” anima a los niños a idear tres formas de resolver un problema por su cuenta antes de pedírselo a un adulto. Si están jugando a un juego de mesa y no están de acuerdo, la regla de “probar 3” podría ser la siguiente: negociar una regla que pueda resolver el problema, volver a empezar la partida o elegir un nuevo juego. Si todo eso falla, pueden pedirme ayuda a mí (o a otro adulto). Esto anima a los niños a resolver un problema entre ellos antes de pedir ayuda externa.
  3. Haz que el respeto sea un ingrediente de los desacuerdos. Los niños (amigos, hermanos, compañeros de clase) no siempre están de acuerdo. Y eso está bien. Pero insultar, gritar o herir físicamente a otra persona no está bien. Cuando surge un desacuerdo entre mis propios hijos o entre mi hijo y un amigo, a menudo me ayuda recordarles que en realidad se quieren, y que no tienen que estar de acuerdo, pero sí tienen que dirigirse al otro con respeto. Estas palabras son más efectivas cuando todos han tenido la oportunidad de respirar profundamente y calmarse.

Al comenzar otro año escolar marcado por la pandemia, añadamos habilidades de resolución de problemas sociales a nuestra lista de material escolar. 

Para más consejos sobre cómo ayudar a tu hijo a tener un gran corazón este año escolar, envía HEART al 274 448.

September 21, 2021 by Jodie Fishman, MPH, MCHES 0 Comments

This Year’s Hottest Back-to-School Supplies: Masks and Problem-Solving Skills

Jodie's son
Jodie's 6-year-old, heading to first grade

My six-year-old started first grade this month at a brand-new school, not a familiar face in sight. On the first day, he asked his next desk neighbor if she wanted to be friends. She responded with a shrug and said she’d think about it.

The next day, her answer was no. 


My mama-bear blood boiled when he told me her verdict, but his little freckled face remained relatively calm and matter-of-fact. He didn’t seem angry. Mostly, he seemed unsure of what to do next.

As our kids begin a new school year, many back in the classroom after a long Covid-induced hiatus, I join many parents across the country (and around the world) who are pitching in to help our kids figure out social problem-solving. 

Parents' Back-to-School Worries

A new study of nearly 450 parents of kids ages 2-8, conducted via text message by Bright by Text and Big Heart World, found that:

  • 75% of parents reported concern about their child’s social-emotional learning. 
  • Parents are more concerned about social-emotional development than academic learning.
  • Only 31% of parents reported feeling “very confident” in helping their child build social-emotional skills. 

With so much out of our control right now (95% of parents surveyed remain concerned about their child catching COVID), there are still ways we can help our kids get back out there confidently. 

Three Strategies to Help Our Kids Solve Problems

Here are three strategies for helping your child solve social problems: 

  1. Bounce questions back. When my first grader asked what I thought he should do to make friends, my other kids jumped in with suggestions. “Hang out at the monkey bars during recess,” suggested my third grader. “You’ll definitely make friends there.” My four-year-old asked if he could move up to 1st grade and be his big brother’s friend. (Sweet, but not possible.) I bounced the original question back to its asker: “What do YOU think you should do?” And, with just a few minutes of thought, he came up with some great ideas for making new friends and also getting along with the not-so-interested classmate. Of course, sometimes our kids will need us to help problem-solve — but other times they just need to know that we believe they have the answers.
  2. Use the “try 3 before coming to me” rule. With three kids close in age, there are near-constant conflicts in my house. Which movie to watch, who gets to use which toy, what playground we go to. Simply put: conflicts are exhausting — for the parents, for the kids, and even for our family’s dog who gets up and leaves the room when a disagreement rumbles through! The “Try 3 before coming to me” rule encourages kids to come up with three ways to solve a problem on their own before asking a grown-up. If they’re playing a board game and disagree, the “try 3” rule might look like: negotiate on a rule that may solve the problem, start the game over, or pick a new game. If all of that fails, then they can ask me (or another grown-up) for help. This encourages kids to solve a problem amongst themselves first before asking for outside help.
  3. Make respect an ingredient in disagreements. Kids (friends, siblings, classmates) don’t always agree. And that’s okay. But calling people names, yelling, or physically hurting someone else are not okay. When a disagreement comes up between my own kids or my child and a friend, it often helps to remind them that they actually like each other — and that they don’t have to agree, but they do have to approach each other respectfully. These words sink in the most when everyone has had a chance to take some deep breaths and calm down.

As we begin yet another pandemic school year, let’s all add social problem-solving skills to our school supply list. 

For more tips on helping your child grow a big heart this school year, text HEART to 274 448.

September 1, 2021 by Julia Levy 0 Comments

Build a Kind World With Your Child!

Kindness matters! Being kind can help other people and the planet, and it also helps YOU. Research shows when you do kind things for others — big or small — you get happier and healthier!

This month, Big Heart World is teaming up with our friends at the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small To Fail to join Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation’s #BeKind21 — a movement that asks all of us to do something kind for the first 21 days in September to flex our kindness muscles and build a culture of kindness and compassion. 

Here’s a calendar with ideas to inspire you and your family to spread kindness this month:

We hope these ideas inspire you and your little one, and we can’t wait to hear how you make the world a kinder, braver place! Share with the hashtag #BeKind21 with us on Facebook or Instagram!

Please sign up and take the the #BeKind21 pledge yourself:

Born This Way Foundation launched #BeKind21 in 2018 to invite participants to practice an act of kindness for themselves and others each day from September 1st to September 21st to build kinder, connected communities that foster mental wellness. 

July 6, 2021 by Julia Levy 0 Comments

Seven Ways Parents Can Help Their Kids Cultivate Post-Covid Friendships

Dr. Kavita Tahilani

COVID-19 has interrupted school and playdates, music classes and soccer clubs — straining children’s friendships and limiting their opportunities to interact with peers.

Now, as families eye the end of the pandemic, Big Heart World talked with Dr. Kavita Tahilani, mother of a young child and a Child and Adolescent Psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, to get tips on how parents can help their kids prepare to interact with peers, rekindle friendships, and make new friends. 

“We are all social beings,” Dr. Tahilani said. “Social interaction is important for all of us, at any age. I think it’s really important for kids and teenagers because it’s such a part of their development and their growth and their emotional growth for them to be able to experience caring for individuals and others outside of their family, for them to be able to see how their actions impact others and how others can have an impact on them, and for them to develop empathy.” 

Seven Tips Parents Can Use to Help Their Children Transition Back to "New Normal"

Dr. Tahilani shared seven tips to help parents support their children as we start to transition back to a new “normal.”

  • Practice Interacting With Peers

“Figure out smaller, less intense ways for kids to start to practice interacting with peers,” she advised. Every child is different, but parents should consider introducing social interactions this summer in ways that feel safe to their family. This could mean having an outdoor playdate or getting together with another family outside. It could mean encouraging your child to interact with new kids at the playground or in another safe setting. 

  • Understand Your Child’s Concerns

If your child is anxious about something social — like an upcoming playdate or meeting new kids after summer break — start with conversation. “Make sure you’re communicating with your child about what their concerns are. Is it that they’re concerned about COVID specifically? Or are they concerned that they don’t know how to talk to kids anymore?” Dr. Tahilani said. “It’s important to understand what your child is nervous about, so you can make sure you’re solving the right problem.”

  • Get Back on a Regular Routine

Your schedule might have been a little different during COVID-19 and over the summer, but at least two weeks before school starts, Dr. Tahilani advised families to embrace structure and expectations around things like waking up, eating meals at regular times, bathing, and going to bed on time. Keeping a routine will help with the transition back to school, which will help with everything — including making friends. 

  • Practice Going Back to School

“A lot of times, kids will have what we call anticipatory anxiety,” Dr. Tahilani said. “There might be a lot of anticipatory anxiety leading up to the first day of school. For some kids, once they get there, once they’re in the classroom, they’ll adjust. For some kids, it’s going to be stressful for them throughout the day.” Talk with your child about their feelings before something new happens, practice strategies they can use if they’re feeling stressed, and rehearse. For example, you and your child can role play going to school, introducing themselves, and finding something in common with a new classmate. The rehearsal could have some real-life elements: try driving or walking to school before the first day, looking around, and playing at the playground so that your child knows what to expect. 

  • Parents: You should lead the way!

As it becomes safer to see friends, parents can model how to be a good friend by getting together with their friends. For some parents, Dr. Tahilani said this might mean facing their own anxiety about post-pandemic mingling. But, she said, it’s important to remember: “Even if you’re not having specific conversations with your child about anxiety or feelings or friendship, they’re still watching and you’re still the model for them.” 

  • This might take practice!

“I think this is a moment where we all need to be mindful of our expectations,” Dr. Tahilani said. “It may take kids some time to readjust to whatever this new normal is going to be. Have patience and keep trying.”

  • Don’t push too hard. 

Challenges are good, but be careful not to push too hard. “I think this is a moment where we all need to be mindful of our expectations,” Dr. Tahilani said. “It may take kids some time to readjust to whatever this new normal is going to be. Have patience and keep trying.”


Please Note: Parents who are seriously concerned about their children’s shyness or reluctance to socialize should talk to their children’s pediatricians. 

June 2, 2021 by Lindsay Ganci 0 Comments

Parenting With a Big Heart: Hear With Ruby

Ruby with Hearing Aid

A few weeks before our daughter’s fourth birthday, we learned she is moderately hearing impaired bilaterally. After a third audiology evaluation and a confirmed diagnosis, I stood in the ENT’s office trying to absorb what it all meant; for Ruby’s happiness, for her experiences, for her health, and for her confidence. 

I could feel the rising pressure of shock in my body, quickening my pulse and threatening my control of the moment we were in. 

Swirling amidst the quick actions to take (we had to have earmold impressions taken right away) and decisions to be made (we had to choose a model of hearing aids) were the surprise, concern, and unanswered questions. I was also shocked and anxious over the price tag. At the height of the pandemic, when only one parent could attend the doctor’s visit, I stood alone with three strong forces: our bold, bright, bubbly daughter; the implications of a lifelong, expensive medical diagnosis; and the pressure to explain, quickly, her newest opportunity to meet a challenge head on.

How do I explain this sudden new reality for our daughter? How do I make this all feel manageable and safe for her?    

"How do I explain this sudden new reality for our daughter? How do I make this all feel manageable and safe for her?"
Framing "Disability" as "Opportunity"
Ruby with sunglasses

My instinct was to keep it simple, empowering, and positive. What came out was something like, “Hey Ruby, you know how your eyes need some help to see, and so you wear glasses? Well, the doctors have told us that your ears need some help to hear. So now you get to wear hearing aids to help you hear the whole world. And you can choose any color for the aids that you want. You’re so lucky!”

I am not sure I realized it at the time, but explaining Ruby’s hearing loss to her in a strength-based way set us on a meaningful path. This reality has given a 

clarity to the voice with which I introduce my daughter to her world, and a purpose to my parenting of my child, who by definition has a “physical disability” but more importantly, a powerful opportunity. 

Four Lessons: Reframing Challenge

Ultimately, there are four experiences I hope Ruby embraces alongside her hearing loss: 

  1. Confidence: We have always told Ruby that uniqueness is what makes each person beautiful, and discovering what makes you and others’ unique is the most fun part of life. We leaned hard into loving Ruby’s “super ears,” purchasing sparkly charms to attach to them, ordering dolls wearing aids just like her, and quickly finding role models in her world she could see her beautiful self in. We worked with her to create a visual story about her hearing loss and her super ears, so she could use it to explain her new accessories to her friends, teachers, and family. While we never want her to feel defined by her aids, we do always want her to walk into a room ears first, proud of them as one of the many things that make her unique.  
  1. Gratitude: Our family’s sense of gratefulness for the privilege to be able to provide our children with all they need to fully participate in the world will always overshadow the concerns and challenges we have with hearing loss. Our gratitude motivates us to surround Ruby with opportunities to help others experience the gifts of technology and services that she is fortunate to have. 
  2. Empowerment: It is our hope that Ruby grows up knowing that while she might experience feeling “different” at times, and face some challenges, these challenges are not impediments to her goals. On the contrary, we hope she grows up motivated by the knowledge that she is able, capable, and expected to help others not in spite of her differences or difficulties, but because of them. In the creation of Hear With Ruby, our family’s fund that supports and advocates for families with children with hearing loss, we hope that Ruby feels empowered to use her experiences as a hearing impaired child for good. 
  3. Advocacy: One of the main goals of Hear With Ruby is education; and one of our biggest hopes for Ruby is a strong voice of self-advocacy. In advocating, she is teaching about hearing loss and accepting people of all abilities, and thus making the world a more accessible, empathic, and inclusive place not just for herself, but for all the children who have felt different, or differently abled, in some way.
"Super Ears" For a Super Girl

In every challenge there is beauty and learning to be found.

On Ruby’s first day wearing her aids, she said to us, outside on her swing set, “Mom, that’s God! That’s God, whispering to me in the wind!

I love that Ruby’s hearing aids have helped her hear the wind around her, which to her, felt like a whisper from God. I love that I have learned so much about who she is through her journey learning to hear the whole world.

I love that in being presented with a new challenge, we decided to see it as an opportunity to grow and heal the world as we navigate it.

And I really love Ruby’s super ears for the way they have given purpose and clarity to my role as her mom, helping her navigate her world and love herself exactly the way she is.  

Ruby with sunglasses