Category: Parenting

A Guide for Caregivers Helping Their Children Become Part of a More Just & Decent World

Raising children is hard. It can be beautiful, fun, and rewarding — but it is challenging, too. Caregivers and parents are often desperate for support, ideas, and concrete ways of answering our children’s big questions.  

As a child psychologist, I hear many of those questions from kids and from parents. Their big concerns are about how people get along, why the world works the way it does, what is fair, and how to understand themselves. Many of their big and, frankly, toughest questions involve race. 

With such a contentious topic and the many dynamic feelings and opinions, our job as caregivers can seem impossible. 

Parents ask and tell me:

  • “What do I tell my young child about race anyway?” 
  • “I don’t want them to learn about race in the ways that I did.” 
  • “How can I protect them from discussions they aren’t ready for?” 

These are all questions I’ve heard from caregivers over my years of practice. I hear families, educators, and others serving children saying that they need help. They need the help of folks who understand children and who have had these conversations before. They also want access to the research about what this all means for kids and families. 

The new guide, “Discussing Race with Young Children: A Step-by-Step Activity Guide,” is a most welcome resource for every young family! It doesn’t solve all the problems related to race, but is a helpful guide for caregivers who want to support our children in becoming part of a more just and decent world. This guide was created with children’s stories, questions, and experiences at the heart of it. It was also created with a clear understanding of what caregivers are facing — the questions, stories, and conflicts that commonly arise.  

The work here is well-researched and supported by many experts who understand children’s needs. Most importantly, this guide provides an opportunity to really listen to our children and to be in conversation with them — and it encourages us, as caregivers, to grow and learn with them.  

This guide accompanies us as we play, listen, and learn with our children. I am sure that in these conversations and guides, you will come up with even more questions — but you will also learn something new and feel supported. This is not easy work, but with help like this guide provides, it can be beautiful, fun, and rewarding.

November 17, 2022 by Sarah Brown 0 Comments

Parenting With a Big Heart: How My Three Year Old’s Comment Helped Us Change Our Family’s Approach to Race

When Auggie was 3, he surprised me with the off-handed comment that “only grownups could have brown skin, and not children.” It really took me aback. We live in NYC after all, a city with so many different kinds of people!

My first impulse was to remind him of the friends he had who were black. But … I could think of one. The more I thought about it, our neighborhood has a lot of white people. Our nursery school has children who speak many languages, whose family come from many different countries, but again, nearly no families of color, or those that look different from him on the outside. He has had black teachers, we have black grown up friends. He didn’t have friends who were children of color, and as preschoolers do, he decided something about the world, based on the information presented to him. 

We spent a lot of Auggie’s daily life in largely white spaces — white neighborhoods, white schools. NYC is so diverse and also so segregated. And we hadn’t really talked about race before, because he hadn’t brought it up.

How We Responded

We made some conscious changes based on this initial conversation: visiting more playgrounds and areas of the city more frequently, where children and families did not all look the same. I realized in choosing early picture books for Auggie, I had told myself that most of the characters were animals anyway, so I didn’t need to worry too much about representation. I realize now that when he wasn’t in an environment where there were children of color, books were a primary place we could surround ourselves with diverse friends. 

Auggie is 6 now, and we talk about race often, with conversations often motivated by him. While I wished that conversation when he was 3 had been the big shift, it was actually the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 that did it. We marched, we explained, we talked about all the ways our country isn’t fair for people of color.

“Fair” is very important for the 4-6 set, and it resonated with him. He points out when books leave folks out, or have “old ideas” now. His elementary school was particularly chosen for its diverse student body, and focus on social justice. It really helps me to have a village of supports around him to bring up these conversations again and again. I’m a progressive educator, and always approached a lot of my child’s learning by letting it emerge from him and his interests.

But I learned that these topics may not emerge on their own, particularly if my son is surrounded by others who look only like him.

It’s our job as parents to provide and build a community who is diverse and inclusive, to provoke these conversations, and to point out and stand up ourselves for things that aren’t fair in the world around us.

May 20, 2022 by Winnie Cheung 0 Comments

Parenting With a Big Heart: Using Stories to Deepen and Broaden Children’s Perspectives

In a bustling elementary school hallway in Queens, NY, a fellow six-year-old asked me: “Are you Chinese?” 

“No. I’m ABC!” I replied. I was proud to be ABC, American-born Chinese. The term “ABC” is one I’ve heard other kids use and it was an important part of my identity. Growing up in a diverse neighborhood, there were a lot of Asian people in my life — Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Korean, Pakistani, Taiwanese, Toisanese, mixed-race Asian; the list goes on. I loved the term ABC because it encapsulated who I felt I was, both American and Chinese. To be honest, I didn’t want to be only Chinese, despite being surrounded by other Asian Americans like myself. 

The benefits of being considered American were clear to me. I learned about heroes in American history in school. I saw movies and TV shows with American people being class clowns, princesses, and superheroes. America was the country that provided opportunities for my grandmother and parents and they reminded me often how lucky I was to be American. We were living the American dream and culture. And yet, I didn’t see myself or the people that looked like me in American history or in the TV or movies I watched. 

Do Asian American Children See Themselves in Children's Media?

I’m now a proud mother of two young kids and am so excited to see the increase of representation in Asian American stories since I was a child. However, there is still work to be done. 

Affirming how I felt about representation, in Nickelodeon’s Shades of Us study, conducted from 2019 – 2021, focusing on understanding race, identity, and the American family, about half of Asian kids shared that it is important to be represented in media. But many (40%) disagree with how they’re portrayed in movies and TV shows currently. The research also found that across top performing shows in kids TV shows, Asian American characters are not frequently supporting characters and even less likely lead characters. This has an impact on Asian American kids. When asked who they would cast in a role of an Asian American character, they chose “nerd” or “sidekick” for themselves, casting white characters as a lead — showcasing an internalization of the stereotypes they see. 

There is an opportunity to tell more stories showcasing Asian American characters as complex and full of nuance, so all children can see those opportunities for themselves, outside of stereotypes. 

Michelle Sugihara, executive director of CAPE, writes in a recent Geena Davis Study: “For the past 30 years, we have fought for Asian and Pacific Islander (API) representation in film and television, because what we watch on our screens should reflect the world in which we live and project a better one.”

In another recent study, Nickelodeon gave kids free range to share stories about themselves, with a prompt to take their “culture” (whichever it may be) into consideration, and they shared beautiful stories centering themselves, sometimes doing mundane things (a Native Hawaiian preschooler wanted to create a show about garbage trucks) to intimate cultural moments (an Indian-Pakistani Muslim 12-year-old wanted an epic tale about celebrating an Islamic wedding and wearing salwar kameez). 

I want my children — and other American children — to read, watch, and experience these stories and more like them. 

We Need to Share Both Vertical AND Horizontal Stories

As I think about ways to honor AANHPI (Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander) Heritage Month, I am using stories to deepen and broaden my children’s perspectives. There are two main types of stories — and I am using both with my children this month: 

  1. Stories that provide an in-depth look into cultural experiences (these are called “vertical stories”) 
  2. Stories that incorporate characters into stories of daily life without overt cues or a sole focus on their ethnicity/cultural background (these are called “horizontal stories”) 

I love both types (and when they overlap) because, as a parent, I can show them to my children to give them a broad spectrum of Asian American stories. Learning stories about specific Asian American heroes and parts of Asian American cultures helps my children (and all children) gain context and imagine what they could accomplish. And seeing Asian Americans doing everyday things — going to school, playing in the park, etc. — normalizes the Asian American experiences to help Asian-American kids develop a sense of identity and belonging. For non-Asian kids, these stories illustrate a shared experience to build empathy.

How Can We Use Both Types of Stories With Young Children

Here are a few ways vertical and horizontal stories help:

  • Instilling pride: One of the things that connects Asian American culture and many other cultures is food. I love the series of books by Little Picnic Press that celebrate food, language, and cultural diversity. 
  • TV shows/movies with characters that normalize seeing Asian Americans as lead: A favorite show of my 4-year-old is Blue’s Clues and You with Josh Delacruz, a Filipino-American actor, dancer, musician, and singer. He loves finding clues as much as counting bananas to help Blue make Josh’s lola bibingka. Another example of “horizontal” stories is the book Let’s Do Everything and Nothing by Julie Kuo. This story conveys everyday experiences of a mom and daughter with beautifully illustrated scenarios, from climbing a snow-peaked mountain to lying in bed. The cultural nuances of zhuyin books and a rice cooker are in the background and subtle, but present enough for someone who has a similar lived experience to “feel seen.”
  • Stories that feature cross-cultural experiences: I’m always looking for stories that include mixed race/multicultural kids because that is what my family looks like today. My kids have so many mixed race/multicultural kids that are in their lives, either with friends, family, or in their school. I Love Us! is one I appreciate because it showcases all different types of families, getting ready for school, feeling sick, catching a train, and getting tucked into bed. I also seek out books, TV shows, and movies that are outside of Chinese American culture, so my children can get a glimpse of all of the amazing diversity that exists in our world. A great example of this is Noggin’s Celebrate Our Differences video featuring diverse kids.
  • Stories about trailblazing Asian Americans in American history: Analiza Wolf’s Asian Americans who Inspired Us is the “vertical story” I needed as a child to know that Asian American history is American history. It is just as important to learn about Neil Armstrong as it is to know Ellison Onizuka, the first Japanese Hawaiian to go into space and bring with him Kona coffee beans. Now, every time my son sees a spaceship he says “It’s Ellison!” 

As we continue to expose our kids to celebrate and honor Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in our history and our lives, we can also use media as jumping points to start conversations. 

I like to tell my kids they are completely Chinese and completely American. And maybe as they get older, they will  decide to identify as American-born Chinese like me.

February 9, 2022 by Jennifer Mañón 0 Comments

Five Authentic Ways To Celebrate Valentine’s Day With Young Children

How do we proclaim our love for one another? 

On February 14, the pressure is on to figure that out — and for some people (young and old), this can be stressful. How do I put what I feel into words? How do I find the perfect gift to symbolize my complex feelings? What’s a meaningful way to show my feelings? 

As we consider how Valentine’s Day can feel for adults, many parents and educators wonder how we might recalibrate this holiday for young children. After all, love is an important feeling; we want to help our children identify love and show love to family and friends — but we want to teach about love in a way that can support children’s developing social and emotional skills. 

Leading up to Valentine’s Day, store shelves are lined with every possible pink and red heart-shaped candy, plus boxes of pre-made cards where parents can fill in each name from the class list. Leaving the very valid health concerns to a separate listicle, many parents and educators wonder: What’s the point and what’s the effect of the candy and canned message approach to Valentine’s Day? Most children certainly love to receive sweet treats, but do they actually show (and build) love and companionship? 

Valentine's Day
Love and Kindness Happens in the Every Day

As an early childhood teacher and mother, my focus has been capturing authentic expressions of love and recognizing the moments when these neural pathways are forging, rather than focusing on one day on the calendar when we’re supposed to celebrate love. 

It is often in the day-to-day that authentic expressions of love occur: When we’re reading together, helping our friends on the playground, sharing something we learned over lunch. 

So how do we highlight loving interactions and create more opportunities for them that foster social emotional growth in a meaningful way — on Valentine’s Day and on the other 364 days of the calendar? 

Five Authentic Ways to Celebrate Love that Teach Social and Emotional Skills to Young Children

Here are five ideas I’ve used as a mother and a teacher, which can be carried out by families as well as in a classroom setting:


Caring moments are around us all the time. The key is to notice them and say them aloud. Think of yourself as the narrator of a child’s loving moments and be on the lookout for everyday expressions of love. Verbalizing and reflecting back acts of love increases our awareness of them as they occur as well as how they feel. 

If you want to take your narration to the next level, you can create your own “love story” together. This can be a book very simply made by binding a few pieces of paper together by stapling or perhaps using a hole puncher and yarn. The title could be ‘I love you’ or whatever suits the author and recipient! Let’s imagine it is a book from a mother to her 3-year-old son: “Mommy loves you” (title page), “I love when you give me hugs” (page 1), “I love reading with you” (page 2), “I love holding your hand” (page 3). You can give this little book to a child and perhaps they would like to add some color to the pages with you! (This is totally optional; your child’s contributions should be natural and unforced.) They can have this book to read any time as a reminder of your love. In classrooms, teachers can help facilitate creating love stories! 

A simple question such as, “Who do you love?” can be just the right prompt to invite children to think about their love for parents, pets, siblings, trees, etc. Teachers can write students’ words onto the pages of the book and children can be invited to add their own illustrations.


Many children enjoy drawing and will often draw pictures saying “This is for Mama” or “This is for my Nanna.” Dedicate a table for these authentic love notes by setting out envelopes, paper (doily paper can be fun!), stamps, stickers, crayons, or anything else you might have on hand! Allowing materials to be varied as opposed to Valentine’s themed will allow richer artistic expression and more organic creations. A caregiver or teacher can sit with the children and offer language to go along with their work, such as “You are really thinking about mommy when drawing that picture. Mommy loves you so much!” or “I noticed you are using blue on your drawing for Papa, would you like to give it to him in an envelope?” or “You are putting so many stamps on Mama’s paper. You must love her so much!” 


Part of creating the neural pathways for social-emotional development is through thinking about and recognizing feelings. This cognitive-emotional wiring is fostered by thinking about feelings as they are happening as well as reflecting on them afterward. 

One way to “wire up” for social and emotional development is by creating a feelings board.  Use whatever materials you have on hand: a large piece of cardboard, felt, or fabric can be the backdrop. Create a simple face drawing of each emotion: happy, sad, angry, tired, frustrated/grumpy, surprised. Cut them out and place each one along the top of the board and draw columns for each one. Give each child a way to sign up for the emotion they are feeling at any given moment. Perhaps this is done by having a cutout of each child’s name or by using a small photo of them and then using tape or a magnet if it is a magnet board, or by using felt names that will stick to fabric/felt boards. As children engage with selecting their emotions, grown-ups can offer language. Perhaps Sandra receives a hug from a friend and then proceeds to sign up under the “happy” face. Sandra’s teacher can  increase her awareness by describing that event: “Sandra, when you got a hug from your friend, that made you feel happy.” Another example could be that Sandra’s block structure gets knocked down and then she goes and puts her name under the “angry” face. Her teacher can reflect back: “You are feeling angry about the block structure falling. I wonder what we could do about it to help you feel okay again?”

Feelings Felt Board

The “golden rule” has evolved and now it is more powerful to treat others as they wish to be treated. That means we need to become more aware of other people’s preferences and what feels good to them. Most children are keen to hone this skill! They often make observations about their peers such as which belongings are theirs (shoes, jackets, water bottles, stuffies, etc.!), recognizing the parents and family members of friends, and noticing what classmates like and do not like. Teachers and parents can use “narration” to highlight when we see children make connections with peers.

For Example: Tanya hears Holly say she is thirsty. Tanya gets Holly’s water bottle (having observed which one is hers) and brings it to her.  Teacher says: “Tanya, you heard that Holly was thirsty and brought her water over to her! It looks like Holly is really drinking that water!”

For Example: A child trips and falls down. His sister comes over and begins to rub his back gently. The parent can highlight this by saying something like “Suzie, you noticed that Nigel fell. Did you come to check on him? I wonder if Nigel is OK? Suzie you are really taking care of Nigel and giving him a gentle rub on his back.” 

Parents and educators can prompt peers to interact with each other by creating opportunities for working together, share, and show their feelings. Here are two prompts to get you started — but many other activities would work, too:  

  • Valentine’s colors with Playdough. Make red colored playdough and offer it with red, pink, and white pipe cleaner, cut down to about half the length. Perhaps offer some small plates or cupcake liners for children to set their creations in. Children will often work with playdough and then offer it to someone (a caregiver or parent). Remind children that they can offer playdough creations to their peers as well. For example, a teacher or parent can say: “Luis, thank you so much for this yummy (playdough) cake. I wonder if Mica would like a piece. Shall we ask her?” This can spark connections between children and also show how we ask first what the other person would like.
  • “Taking care of others” idea-share. Sit with children and think about the feelings of others. Choose a question such as “What can we do when someone feels sad?” or “What makes someone feel happy?” Write children’s responses to these questions on a presentation board with sketches for visuals to go along with each idea. This is a helpful way to hear a range of ideas about what influences the emotions of our peers and offers children ideas about what they can do to interact. Keep the board handy for reference and to continue adding more ideas!

We all need to remember this one all year long, and especially around Valentine’s Day! Some might feel that this is a selfish idea, however, if we remember to take care of ourselves we will increase our capacity to care for others. How can we teach this idea starting at a young age? Much of it starts with noticing what our children respond to and how we can nurture their emotional wellbeing. Here are a few ideas for how to teach self love:

  • Nurture autonomy.Give children space to spend time independently playing and exploring without interruption. Valuing the importance of this solo time is a way of showing children that they can be their own loving companion! When children are very young, this time might be quite brief. Parents/teachers should be prepared to engage with them again when they are ready.
  • Create cozy places. Create a cozy place where children can go when they would like some solo space. This is a place for children to go of their own choosing! The Cozy Space can be designed to engage the senses in a calming way, which could include sensory bottles, squishies, scented items, visuals of nature and soft pillows to make it comfortable!
  • Day-to-day self-love. Describe how children are caring for themselves when they are eating healthy food. Bathrooming and bathing are also important ways we take care of ourselves which are pivotal at this time in children’s lives. We can cheer children on by saying things such as: “You are really taking care of your body by washing with soap!” Even nap time and night time sleep are ways they take care of their growing bodies, allowing themselves to rejuvenate for more play and learning later!

Valentine’s Day can certainly serve as a catapult to refresh and renew our intentions around love. As a teacher, I have noticed how children embrace the chance to show care for each other when creating these opportunities in the classroom. 

Children also help us to see love and remind us that it is all around us. When my daughter was 3 years old, one day she gently put her pointer finger right between my eyes on what can be referred to as the 3rd eye and said, “love lives here mommy” — love lives in our eyes, our voices and is in our hands to pass along!

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