Category: Parenting

January 10, 2022 by Dana Stewart 0 Comments

COVID’s Impact on Social and Emotional Learning — And How We Can Help Kids Thrive

Dana and Georgia
The author walking with her daughter

As an early childhood educator and mother of a young child, I am acutely aware of the challenges educators and families have faced over the last 22 months. 

My daughter was born about a month before we all went into lockdown in March 2020. As we near her second birthday, it’s hard to believe distancing, face masks, separation from friends and family, and uncertainty have been the norm for her entire life. 

It’s unfathomable to think that more than more than 167,000 (roughly 1 in 450) U.S. children have lost a parent or grandparent caregiver to the virus (source). 

As parents and educators, we need to consider the impact this “new normal” is having on our individual children and on society as a whole, especially since we know how important the first three years of life are in children’s development (source). And we need to think about what we can do to support young children, even as they face today’s challenges. 

COVID’s Impact on Children’s Social and Emotional Learning

There’s been a lot written about “learning loss” in the older grades (source) (source), but there’s also a growing body of reports and research assessing the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental wellness and social-emotional learning. 

Last month, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy released a youth mental health advisory. He wrote: “Supporting the mental health of children and youth will require a whole-of-society effort to address longstanding challenges, strengthen the resilience of young people, support their families and communities, and mitigate the pandemic’s mental health impacts.” 

A recent study from Columbia University and published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that that babies born in the first year of the pandemic, between March and December 2020 scored slightly lower on the Ages & Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) at 6 months of age than children born before the pandemic began. 

“We were surprised to find absolutely no signal suggesting that exposure to COVID while in utero was linked to neurodevelopmental deficits. Rather, being in the womb of a mother experiencing the pandemic was associated with slightly lower scores in areas such as motor and social skills, though not in others, such as communication or problem-solving skills. The results suggest that the huge amount of stress felt by pregnant mothers during these unprecedented times may have played a role,” said Dani Dumitriu, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and lead investigator of the study.

Dr. Dumitriu said these small shifts — at a population level — could have a “significant public health impact.” 

Another recent article indicates that mask wearing by adults and children may impact children’s social and emotional development as masks can impair our ability to recognize others’ emotions. This is particularly difficult for preschoolers who are just learning this complex skill. 

Despite our best efforts at transitioning our rich classrooms to “virtual learning environments,” enrollment is down across the country (source). 

Some families chose to delay their children’s first school experience while others pulled their children out of programs when distance learning options weren’t working well for them. Those who are currently enrolled certainly missed a good part of the school experience through the height of the pandemic. 

All of this missed schooling is reflected in increased behavioral challenges reported by parents and parents’ increased worries about their children’s social and emotional development and well-being (source). 

“The year that they were out of school was a year that they didn’t have the opportunities for developing the social skills that normally happen during their period of development,” Dr. Tami Benton told NPR recently. “And you’re sort of catching up on all of that under extraordinary circumstances.” (source). 

This is as true for preschool children as it is for those in K-12 schools.

Dana teaching, long before COVID-19, masks, and distancing.
How Can We Support Social and Emotional Learning for the Children of COVID?

There is still much to learn about the short- and long-term effects of the pandemic on early social and emotional learning (source). The question is: What can we do to help support our children, especially our youngest children who have lived most (or all) of their lives during this disrupted time? 

Here are 5 suggestions from a long-time educator and mom of a toddler: 

  • Focus on Feelings: Help children clearly express their feelings by using specific language when supporting child-to-child interactions. Exaggerate your facial expressions if you are wearing a mask.
  • Acknowledge ALL the Stress: We all feel stress, whether we’re preschoolers, parents, teachers, or administrators. It’s fine to explain in age-appropriate language to your child that grown-ups get stressed out, too. And a little grace goes a long way! 
  • Calm Down: Practice and model strategies like deep breathing. Create a cozy space in your classroom or home that a child can choose to visit if they need a break.
  • Adjust Expectations: Assume that each child is doing his or her best at any given moment. If a system isn’t working for a student, adjust the system rather than expecting the child to conform.
  • Practice Peer Interactions: Learning to make friends, share, and solve problems with friends is important, but what feels “safe” is different for all families and keeps changing as the pandemic evolves. Find what works best for your child. As Dr. Kavita Tahilani explained, parents can find smaller, less intense ways for children to practice peer interactions. This may mean one-on-one playdates outside or virtual playdates using a common material like playdough.

With our focused, thoughtful attention to social emotional learning and the mental health of children and parents, the children in our care will be able to move past this time with resilience and strength.


October 4, 2021 by Bob McKinnon 0 Comments

What Story Will Our Children Tell About These Last 18 Months?

“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”  This is the famous mantra at the heart of the classic children’s book, The Little Engine that Could.

If ever we needed to encourage our children to believe in themselves and work hard to “make it over the mountain,” it has been these last eighteen months.  

Teachers, parents, and, most of all, students, have been asked to overcome a myriad of unprecedented challenges. We don’t need to list them here as, unfortunately, we all know them all too well. 

Yet while all have had to work hard to overcome these barriers to learning, we also know that some have had more to overcome than others. It will be years before we can fully understand how far some have fallen behind others. 

I wrote Three Little Engines, an update of the classic, well before the pandemic hit, but its core messages seem prescient and instructive today. While the original asked children to believe in themselves (“I think I can…”), Three Little Engines also asks us all to also believe in AND help each other (“I think we can…”).

The Story Goes Like This

It’s graduation day. In order to graduate, three little engines have to make their first solo trip over the mountain, where friends and family wait to celebrate. The Little Blue Engine goes first and makes her way up the mountain, repeating to herself “I think I can” as she chugs up the slope. With clear skies and a positive spirit, she makes her way relatively easily to the other side. But her two friends are nowhere to be seen. 

Unbeknownst to her, they have traveled on different tracks with different challenges. The Yellow Engine was caught in a terrible storm, and the Red Engine was stopped by a fallen tree on her tracks. Neither can make it over the mountain to join her for their graduation celebration.  

Initially, the Little Blue Engine is confused and frustrated. Did her friends quit?  Did they not work as hard as she did?  

It is only when prompted by some questions from her teacher, the Rusty Old Engine, does she reflect on how their journey may have been different from her own. They did indeed work very hard and didn’t quit. Rather they just had more obstacles and needed a little more help. With this realization, she is determined to go back up the mountain to help her friends get to the celebration. 

Three Little Engines' Lessons

In the spirit of the Big Heart World framework, the book underscores three opportunities for parents, educators, and children:

  • Learning About Me — How do we help children understand their own journey these last eighteen months?  
  • Learning About You — How do we encourage children to see how others’ journeys may have been different from theirs? 
  • Learning About Us — How do we create the space for children to seek help for themselves or offer help for others?   

This first asks us to have an honest conversation about “attribution” — what internal or external factors have contributed to where we are right now? The second encourages curiosity and empathy. The final requires bravery and kindness. 

It has been inspiring to read this book to young children and hear their reaction. They talk about what “trees that have fallen on their track” and who helped to remove them (thank you teachers and parents!). When asked which engine they’d most like to be, most say the Little Blue Engine.  Not because her trip over the mountain was easier but because they want to be the one who goes back up the mountain to help their friends. They “get” that the other engines didn’t quit but just needed a little help — and, importantly, that it’s okay to ask for help. 

As most kids are back in school, there may be a sense that things are getting back to normal (masks notwithstanding).  Understandably, the majority of energy will be to move forward, to make up for lost learning and missed time.  

Yet we know how important stories are for our children. It is a primary way in which they make sense of their world.  Which story they tell about this challenging time may depend on what stories we help them create today.

September 6, 2021 by Julia Levy 0 Comments

Construya un Mundo Bueno con Su Hijo/a

¡La amabilidad importa! Una persona puede ayudar a otras personas y al planeta, y también le ayuda a si mismo. Las investigaciones muestran que cando haces cosas bondadosas por los demás, grandes o pequeños, se vuelve más feliz y saludable. 

Este mes, Big Heart World se une a nuestros amigos de Too Small To Fail de la Fundación Clinton para unirse a # BeKind21 de la Fundación Born This Way de Lady Gaga, un movimiento que nos pide a todos que hagamos algo amable durante los primeros 21 días de septiembre para flexione nuestros músculos de la bondad y construya una cultura de bondad y compasión.

Aquí hay un calendario con ideas que lo inspirarán a usted y a su familia a difundir la bondad este mes:

Esperamos que estas ideas se inspiren a usted y a su hijo/a, y estamos ansiosos por escuchar cómo hace del mundo un lugar más amable y valiente. ¡Comparte con el hashtag #BeKind21 con nosotros en Facebook o Instagram!

Puede registrar y hacer el compromiso # BeKind21 usted mismo:

How to Raise an Empathetic Child: A Guide for the Parents of Children 2 – 6

In a time when we are surrounded by news stories of hatred and division, raising kids who are not only empathetic but act on it to support others definitely sounds like an appealing antidote. Plus, hundreds of research studies show that performing acts of kindness increases happiness and well-being.(^1)

The encouraging news is that supporting others is a natural impulse. In fact, children show an inclination to help and support others as early as infancy.(^2) At thirteen months, children will show comforting behaviors to others by hugging or patting.(^3) As they mature in their social and cognitive abilities, they learn how to better understand others’ needs and offer their support.

But don’t mistake this as a reason to take a back seat when it comes to actively teaching empathy; support (and modeling of these behaviors!) from grownups is critical. And the value of helping cannot be overstated — in many ways our survival depends on the care and cooperation in our social community.(^4) Here are some ideas to encourage empathy in children:

Washing family

2 - 4 Years Old

  • Practice recognizing others’ emotions.
    For young children, just learning how to recognize that someone is in need is a good first step. Help your child notice the signs when help, or emotional support is needed, even if they’re not able to do something about it. For instance, children may notice and look concerned about another child crying, but feel overwhelmed by the child’s cries and avoid intervening. You can still teach them to look for the signs as a way to start building empathy.
  • Talk about what they like.
    Children will try to help others by doing things that make them feel good. For example, a child who loves physical affection may want to hug everyone to show their love, or a child who takes comfort in books may want to share a story with a loved one.(^5) It’s perfectly fine for kids to learn about helping others by thinking about their own likes and interests, but then start to encourage them to think about and recognize what others like, too.
  • Encourage sharing.
    Sharing can be tough, but it’s a good introduction to supporting others, especially for little ones. Point out how it makes the other person feel when you share. Keep in mind that children may avoid these actions when it takes greater emotion regulation. For instance, a child could feel more reluctant about sharing their favorite toy than a less-favored toy.(^3)

4 - 6 Years Old

  • Practice perspective taking.
    Children begin to recognize that other people may not only have different emotions and beliefs but that they may express those emotions differently.(^6,7) Help your child identify and even celebrate this by comparing and contrasting likes and interests with close family members or friends. Learning to notice others’ thoughts and feelings can go a long way in offering them support.
  • Encourage acting on empathy.
    This is an age where kids can begin to recognize when someone needs help even if the person in need does not ask. When your child sees others feeling sad or upset, talk to them about what action they can take (for example, helping a friend who is crying to find the teacher, or trying to stop another child from hitting, etc.).(^8)
  • Talk about fairness & morality .
    At this age, kids are beginning to develop an understanding of fairness and justice, and use these as reasons to help other people and share resources.(^9)You might not be able to make things fair or “right,” but you can talk to kids about how to offer help.

Act on Empathy as a Family

  • Model empathetic behaviors. It’s easy to say we want our kids to be empathetic, but are we as adults doing the same? For better or for worse, our kids often pick up on things that seem commonplace to us. From the way we talk to (or about) a server, or someone on the phone, model the kind of interactions you hope your child will have with others. 
  • Recognize & engage in acts of kindness. Notice when others are kind to each other or act kindly towards you. For example, “It was nice of that driver to let us go by first” or “It made me smile when that man held the door open for that lady.” Then engage in acts of kindness yourselves! Write kind messages to strangers with chalk on the sidewalk. Leave a surprise gift for a loved one just because.
  • Check-in on elderly family members or neighbors. Send them a handmade card or drop off a care package. Rake their leaves, take the time to have a conversation, and try to anticipate their needs. 
  • Donate to a local charity or food bank. If you can, research local charities with your child and decide on one to contribute to. You can even go door-to-door collecting items needed at a local shelter. 
  • Get out of your comfort zone. Whether you and your child serve meals at a local soup kitchen, or go pick up trash to help our shared planet, it’s the experience of doing that’s often most impactful for adults and children alike.


  1. Hui, B. P. H., Ng, J. C. K., Berzaghi, E., Cunningham-Amos, L. A., & Kogan, A. (2020). Rewards of kindness? A meta-analysis of the link between prosociality and well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 146(12), 1084–1116.
  2. Dahl, A. (2015). The developing social context of infant helping in two U.S. samples. Child Development 86(4), 1080–93.
  3. Svetlova, M., Nichols, S. R., & Brownell, C. A. (2010). Toddlers’ prosocial behavior: From instrumental to empathic to altruistic helping. Child Development, 81(6), 1814–1827.
  4. Tomasello, Michael. Why We Cooperate. Cambridge, MA, US: MIT Press, 2009.
  5. Kohm, K. E., Holmes, R. M., Romeo, L., & Koolidge, L. (2016). The connection between shared storybook readings, children’s imagination, social interactions, affect, prosocial behavior, and social play. International Journal of Play, 5(2), 128-140.
  6. Wellman, H. M., & Liu, D. (2004). Scaling of theory‐of‐mind tasks. Child Development, 75(2), 523-541.
  7. Imuta, K., Henry, J. D., Slaughter, V., Selcuk, B., & Ruffman, T. (2016). Theory of mind and prosocial behavior in childhood: A meta-analytic review. Developmental Psychology, 52(8), 1192-1205.
  8. Eisenberg, N., Spinrad, T. L., & Sadovsky, A. (2006). Empathy-related responding in children. In M. Killen & J. G. Smetana (Eds.), Handbook of Moral Development (p. 517–549). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
  9. Lu, H. J., & Chang, L. (2016). Resource allocation to kin, friends, and strangers by 3-to 6-year-old children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 150, 194-206.

August 5, 2021 by Donna Housman, Ed.D 0 Comments

Parent-Teacher Relationships: The Key to Back-to-School Success

Children are heading to school this fall, many for the very first time. Although the pandemic was an emotional rollercoaster for children and families, there is a silver lining: parents and teachers developed a more solid understanding of the importance of strong parent-teacher relationships and communication, a realization that can boost learning and development as we transition out of the pandemic.

Children thrive when parents and teachers have strong relationships.
Housman Emotions Board

As students head to schools and classrooms, social and emotional learning is parents’ top concern. Six in ten parents say they are worried about their children’s social and emotional development, about double the percentage of parents who said academic learning is their top worry, according to a new study released this summer (read the full New America report or coverage from Big Heart World). 

When young children go to school, parents’ responsibility for ensuring their early education and development doesn’t get passed off to the teacher. Parents know what happened over the last year and a half; they know where their children struggled and excelled, both academically and emotionally, and these insights must be shared with educators. Likewise, educators and parents/caregivers must work together over time to forge home-school connections that will support children’s learning to address children’s needs, both academic and social-emotional.

Over my 30 years in education, research, and child psychology, I have seen the powerful impact strong parent-teacher relationships have on children.

Take conflict resolution, for example. During my time as a leader of a Boston-based early childhood center, I saw my fair share of frustrated parents and children. Three year olds running from dad, dad becoming angry about his son’s lack of emotional regulation: all parents can relate and empathize.  

However, I also saw the effectiveness of parent-teacher relationships when mediating high intensity situations. I’ve seen parents, educators, and students working through big emotions — calming their bodies, preparing for open dialogue about emotions, sharing feelings, and finding solutions. 

When teachers and parents communicate about what is going on with their child/student, and identify ways to respond, model, and guide, it provides a consistency of messaging and shared expectations. The result: The child feels safe, secure, more in control, with a sense of pride and confidence. Plus, parents and teachers feel a lot better, too.

Ways parents and educators can work together to build strong relationships to help students:
New School Year, New Emotions

Children will bring big emotions to classrooms. For those who have never been to school before, fear and separation anxiety are to be expected. Children may have heightened anxiety about socializing after a year of staying home or being told to interact at a distance. For some, there may be a sense of over-excitement to see friends again.

While these are natural, left unsupported, these emotions can create disruptions within the child, between children, and throughout the classroom. 

As teachers address students’ academic needs, it’s important for parents to help children to identify, understand, and regulate emotions. This provides brain space for other activities such as focusing, problem solving, creative thinking and active listening. 

Parents can get the ball rolling by building on what they have observed over the last year and a half with their children and sharing what they have seen and learned about their children– what makes them most nervous, what helps them calm down, what sparks their curiosity, etc.

These are the critically important conversations that pave the way for an open dialogue between parents and teachers about children’s emotions. 

Consider YOUR Child and His/Her Needs

As we know, starting school is always filled with BIG emotions but this year is uncharted territory for many children and families. Therefore, parents should spend extra time reflecting on their children and their unique needs. 

Consider your child’s school experience before the pandemic and how they’re feeling about going back to school or to school for the first time. Consider the feelings your child experienced during the pandemic and experiences that might have shaped your child’s mindset or skills going into the school year. 

We recommend taking this quiz, developed by the Housman Institute and Big Heart World, to answer questions about your child’s social and emotional development at this moment and to get a list of your child’s unique needs and a personalized toolkit you can use to support your child’s social and emotional development. 

Keep Channels of Communication Open Between Parents and Teachers

Less than half of parents say they’re comfortable communicating with their children’s teachers. Although these conversations can be hard, they are important to support children’s growth.

Once parents have thought through their child’s unique strengths and needs, they’ll be more ready to open a conversation with their child’s new teacher. 

Talk to the teacher at the start of the year and make it your practice to keep the conversation going as the year proceeds. 

Communicating early and often will give teachers and parents the information they need to support children through this transition and promote their healthy growth and learning. 

Parents, over the last year — maybe without even knowing it —  have been prepping or building the communication tools to build strong working relationships with their child’s teacher. Now it is time to put parents’ vast knowledge to use to support their children’s healthy transition and school year success. 

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

June 2, 2021 by Makeda Mays Green 3 Comments

How to Reintegrate Kids into A Diverse Post-Pandemic World

Makeda Spaking

The Covid-19 pandemic unleashed a global health crisis and exposed racial disparities, which, in many ways, heightened ongoing conversations about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Now — after an unprecedented year marked by physical distancing and social unrest — parents are wondering how to effectively help their children return to a sense of “normalcy” and reconnect with others. As parents work to support this return, what’s “normal” has shifted: the national discussion of what matters is significantly different from pre-pandemic.

According to a recent social discourse analysis that my team and I conducted at Nickelodeon, concerns about children’s social and emotional health during Covid-19 is the second leading topic of conversation among parents of 2- to 5-year-old children (more than 130% higher than last year). This topic is only eclipsed by diversity (which grew by 2022% year over year), with an emphasis from parents on what they can do to raise awareness. That is not a typo — parents’ conversation about diversity has grown by more than two thousand percent.

Helping Children Leave the Family Bubble and Build Diverse Relationships

With the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and a growing national focus on bias against the Asian American and Pacific Islander and Jewish communities, parents flocked online in the past year to learn more about how to raise their children to be more racially sensitive and accepting. Our research showed that white parents, in particular, are invested in ways to teach their children about racial diversity. Parents of color, meanwhile, are invested in looking for resources that showcase empowering portrayals of people who look like them.

Overall, parents across racial and ethnic groups are expressing a general interest in helping their kids develop healthy relationships with diverse individuals. As families physically isolated during the pandemic, kids spent more time with people of shared backgrounds and perspectives. As social restrictions now begin to lift around the country (albeit at different rates), parents say they are looking for rich opportunities to foster inclusivity and celebrate similarities and differences.  

Black Lives Matter
Help Your Kids Get Ready to Rejoin Our Diverse World

Based on my experience as a researcher and a mom, here are five ways to support children’s social and emotional development and help to reintegrate them into the diverse world in which we live:

  1. Try meals from different cultures

Visit ethnically diverse restaurants, or search for recipes of meals typically served in different countries to try authentic cuisine inspired by culinary traditions from around the world.

  1. Visit cultural museums

Take trips to local and national museums that introduce children to cultural icons and influences. For example, consider visiting the National Museum of African-American Music in Nashville, TN, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center in Washington, D.C. or the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, CA. (If you’re still visiting museums virtually, there are many ways to explore art and culture online. Google Arts & Culture is a great place to start.)

  1. Read diverse books

Visit the library and select a variety of material (e.g., graphic novels, comic books, fiction, and nonfiction) about people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives to give children a well-rounded view of the many people and places that make up our world. First Book is sharing tips with Big Heart World on how to build a more diverse and inclusive home or classroom library and is sharing some titles that you might consider

  1. Attend art festivals

Spend time at outdoor festivals to experience paintings, sculptures, music, and dances that celebrate different cultural events and traditions.

  1. Support international kids’ film festivals

Attend kids’ film festivals that feature uplifting storylines and empowering portrayals of diverse characters, including BIPOC leads, in short and long-form films. If there aren’t any kids’ film festivals near you, curate your own at home using titles from other recent kids’ film festivals like this.

Helping Children Identify Their Emotions

Key Takeaways:
  • Identifying emotions helps children communicate their feelings and provides them with tools to feel confident expressing themselves.
  • Encourage children to notice their physical and behavioral expressions of different emotions.
  • When children are aware of their emotions they can practice more effective regulation strategies.

Emotions can be confusing and overwhelming for adults, so just imagine how it must feel for a young child. Children feel a vast array of emotions daily, sometimes experiencing quick shifts between each one. On top of that, children are realizing that they can have multiple feelings at the same time. It’s a lot!

“Big” emotions (e.g. anger, sadness) can be particularly challenging for children who don’t yet know how to communicate and manage their feelings effectively.

Encouraging children to label and describe their feelings, both in everyday moments as well as during times they’re experiencing difficult emotions, can help children build emotion awareness.1 However, it is important to keep in mind that discussions about big and difficult emotions happen best after your child has had time to decompress!

When children have a greater awareness of their emotions and a vocabulary to communicate their feelings, they have the tools to tell you how they are feeling, which allows them to seek help and work on emotion regulation strategies.1

So the next time your child feels upset, they might recognize the sensation of a faster heartbeat, tenderness in the throat, and increased body temperature — and think to themselves, “I’m feeling angry.” This awareness can lead to action, seeking comfort from an adult or taking some time to cool off.

As children build their emotional literacy, they develop confidence in the way they experience their own emotions and learn that feelings can change.2 As children grow older, their understanding of emotions evolves with time.

What does identifying emotions look like at different ages?

3-4 years

  • Labeling distinct emotions, like “happy” and “sad.”
  • Using language to describe their feelings, “I feel happy when I pet the cat.”
  • Exploring that they have different ways to express different feelings, “I stomp my feet when I’m mad and I laugh when I’m happy.”
  • Trying out a variety of ways to show their feelings, and noticing how others receive and respond to those feelings.

4-5 years

  • With adult support, identifying which regulation strategies work for them, and beginning to practice them independently.
  • Understanding that feelings can change or have different levels of stimulation, (e.g., the feeling of frustration as opposed to anger).
  • Exploring the idea that you can feel more than one feeling at the same time.

5-6 years

  • Beginning to understand more complex emotions like worry and trust
  • Expressing that their feelings change throughout the day.
  • Identifying appropriate ways to express their changing emotions in different contexts.
  • Increased confidence and autonomy in choosing regulation strategies and communicating emotions.
Here are some ways to help your child assess their emotions:
  • Model emotion awareness in your own life. 3 When your child sees you experiencing feelings, name them: “I’m feeling really sad that we can’t visit Grandma right now. I really miss her.”
  • Help children understand the connection between body language, facial expressions, and emotions by specifically pointing them out. 3 For example, “I can see that you are hiding behind me and covering your face, are you feeling scared?”
  • When you’re playing pretend or telling stories, have the characters express a range of emotions and play out different scenarios. 4 Role play and storytelling are excellent ways to learn about and practice emotions!
  • Let your child feel their feelings—the good, the bad, and the ugly. 5 Try not to convince them that they’re “fine,” when they’ve expressed (possibly very loudly, and of course in public), that they are not in fact fine. Let them experience and process their emotions. Afterward, have a conversation about appropriate ways to manage their emotions in the future.

May 2, 2021 by Veronica L Tapia 0 Comments

Parenting with a Big Heart

This week, my four-year-old daughter, Abigail Rose, told me that her best friend had punched her at school. I asked if she had told her teacher what happened and she said yes, and that he had gotten in “big trouble” for what he did. 

Rather than being pleased her friend had been disciplined, my daughter was sad about it.  

“Mom, I asked Ms. Valerie if his time out could be over because he already said he was sorry, and I already forgave him and he’s my friend,” she told me. 

My big-hearted baby girl is growing up so quickly and I am so proud of so many of the choices she makes every day:

choices to be kind, gracious, loving, and compassionate. No one is even allowed to kill a bug in her presence because she says that God put her in this world to help care for all creatures, big and small. 

So, how did I ever get so lucky? Truly, I don’t think luck has anything to do with it.

Children, from the earliest age, begin to absorb everything around them. The things they see, feel, hear, and experience in their earliest years of life become a part of who they are and who they will one day become. Our children may not remember every moment of their early childhood, but what they will always remember is how we made them feel. How I treat them now is how they will grow up to treat others.

My Abby is incredibly sweet and a wonderful little human, but she is also sassy and spicy and she gives me a run for my money! 

I see so much of myself in her and whenever she is giving me a hard time, I try my best to react in love because I know that on my hardest days, I need a little extra love, too.

When she cries because it’s clean up time and the floor is literally covered in toys to the point where you can no longer see the carpet underneath, I validate her feelings and we clean up together because I know how it feels to be overwhelmed. When she is on edge right before her dance recital, I try to remember that she has a tummy full of butterflies and I let her know that it is okay to be nervous and that I’ll be there to support her, no matter what. I live by the golden rule with my children, always keeping in mind how I might feel in their shoes. 

My second child, August Rain, was born with a neural tube defect that completely turned our world upside-down. He had a major spinal surgery at four months old, multiple hospitalizations, and a variety of challenges that we faced together as a family in his first two years of life. 

There were times I held my daughter as I cried over her baby brother and I would explain that Mommy was feeling sad and scared and that everyone feels those things sometimes but what’s important is that we talk to someone that can help us to feel better, that we cry when we need to and that we don’t try to hide how we feel. I do not hide my heart from my children, I share it with them. 

I see now how those experiences have left life-long impressions on my daughter’s heart. Last week, I had a mini meltdown at my computer when August interrupted me for the 500th time while I was busy working and I just couldn’t hold back my tears any longer. 

Abby came up and said, “It’s okay, Mommy, I’m here to help you feel better.” Oh, my heart. 

Becoming a special needs mom has made me even more passionate about my mission to spread kindness by raising kind kids. 

I believe that the best way to raise kids with big hearts is to parent with a big heart. We lead by example and it can be incredibly challenging to be that role model of grace and kindness all the time but when we see our babies growing into these amazing, compassionate little people, it is absolutely worth it.