Historically, children have not been a part of the conversation. In the Junior Newtown Action Alliance (Jr. NAA), we fight to change this, because why would children not have an equally weighted viewpoint, especially regarding an issue like gun safety, which often affects schools that children attend.
Like many people our age, we were empowered to action by the efforts of the kids in Parkland, Florida, who, rather than stay quiet like so many before, decided that it was time for a change and they were the people to make it happen. We attended our first official Jr. NAA meeting in March 2018 and noticed two common things in our new fellow members: the longing for a significant change, and a desire to be heard. This has been a common pattern among our peers. However, not every person is qualified or willing to be interviewed by a news outlet, which is completely OK. This is why @HumansofNewtownCT was founded, to tell every story that the people of Newtown are willing to share with us, whether it be a record of the day itself at Sandy Hook Elementary, an explanation of their connection to the event, where they are now, how it has affected them in the long run, or what recovery is/was like. We aim to give those—especially younger people—who want to regain their voice in the face of tragedy an opportunity to do so.
We believe that through posting these stories, we humanize the people as well as the issue, and in this way, create effective change. Rather than be combative, we choose to use the many voices of the people of our town—no matter their personal background or creed—to articulate the effects that gun violence has on the people impacted by it.
While we do share the stories of adults, we believe that being a medium for young adults and kids to share their stories is the most important. The Junior Newtown Action Alliance is run by kids for kids, and @HumansofNewtownCT works to ensure that no passionate young voice goes unheard. Thanks to the efforts of today’s youth, the children of the future will no longer struggle with being disqualified from the discussion simply because of their age, and we believe that society will see only benefits from this essential change. Children do have a perspective to contribute to the conversation, and its value has been underestimated for too long.
We believe that this account and the work we are doing will encourage the youth of future generations to believe in themselves and that their voices have value. We want today’s young children to grow up with strong role models throughout all of life’s phases. Hopefully, @HumansofNewtownCT will leave a lasting impact on the self-worth of future generations of kids and encourage them to accomplish whatever they desire, because you do not have to wait until you are of a certain age to make a difference.
Founded by Lauren Davis (age 17) and Jenny Wadhwa (age 17), the purpose of the @HumansOfNewtownCT is to share the stories of those affected by the Sandy Hook shooting. These stories show that one gun does not just hurt those who are injured, but rather a community as a whole. We are the humans of Newtown, and these are our stories.
Kids today still turn to their parents when they have something important to say, but increasingly, kids are looking to teachers to be role models and to provide guidance, according to Highlights State of the Kid™survey . Of the 2,000 kids polled, 25 percent said that they admire and respect their teachers because they are caring, loving, and kind. My own ten-year-old supports this finding because he told me about his teacher’s kindness on the first day, and subsequent days, of school.
This kind of feedback is a giant warm hug of gratitude to educators from U.S. children. It signifies that teachers realize the critical role of a caring relationship in learning. In fact, research backs up the idea that learning takes place—and brain connections are strengthened—when students feel connected to their teachers, fellow students, and the larger school community.
Kids’ perceptions of teachers as role models of kindness and caring point to a growing movement in education to focus on actively creating caring learning environments and promoting the whole child’s development—physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. Social and emotional learning in schools means actively working to create a safe, caring, and connected school community in which students feel a sense of trust and belonging and cultivate skills like self-awareness, empathy, and responsible decision-making.
And parents agree! In my own survey of parents, 95 percent said they felt social and emotional skill development was the most critical of all skills for their child’s success in school today and for their future lives. So how do we, as parents, work with our child’s educators on this critical issue? Here are a few simple ideas.
- Ask what your school does to promote relationships and social, emotional, and academic development. Approach your child’s teacher or the school’s parent-teacher association. (Here’s a tool to begin that conversation.)
- Learn more together as partners. Check out my site, Confident Parents, Confident Kids, to learn more about the power of social and emotional learning in schools.
- Get involved. Now more than ever, parents realize that involvement in their children’s education is key to their success. Ask in what ways you can give of your time. It doesn’t have to be volunteering in the classroom.
Show care and gratitude. It’s easy to get caught up in hearing the negative aspects of what’s going on at school. Instead, make a point of asking your child about the positives. What’s going well? What do you like about your teacher? Then, share your gratitude with the teacher. Let her know you notice. Complimentary words at pick-up time or a note from you can make a teacher’s week!
Jennifer Miller, M.Ed., has a master’s degree in education and twenty years of experience focused on children’s social and emotional learning. She is the author of the site Confident Parents, Confident Kids.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Highlights State of the Kid, an annual survey that gives kids the chance to express what is on their minds and what is most important to them. In this year’s survey we probed on who and what influences kids today and do they feel heard and empowered. Given this topic we caught up with Adora Svitak and Hannah Taylor, both of whom were featured as Gallant Kids in Highlights magazine, for making a positive impact in their communities. We asked them to share their thoughts on how kids can make a difference and how kids can make their own voices heard.
“Age does not define what you can do,” shares Hannah Taylor, founder of The Ladybug Foundation, who was profiled in the February 2007 issue of Highlights to recognize her efforts on making a positive impact in her community. She founded The Ladybug Foundation to raise funds and awareness for those who experience homelessness, hunger, or poverty across Canada. Hannah’s foundation continues to support more than 70 shelters, soup kitchens, and food banks. At a very young age, Hannah understood that a five-year-old voice is just as profound and important as a 50-year-old voice.
“What you care about and what you think matters, and it matters right now,” shares Hannah. “Young people are innovative, hopeful, and brilliant, and their passionate hearts should be taken seriously. If you are a young person interested in making change, the first step is to learn as much as you can about what you care about. Then reach out to others about doing something to make change. You are never alone in what you are passionate about, and with a solid team you can make an even bigger difference.” Hear from Hannah in her own words.
“As a child, you have a unique ability to look someone in a position of power in the eye and ask them, ‘Why is the world like this? How can we make it better?’ Be relentless in asking those questions; realize that in and of itself is a kind of power,” offers Adora Svitak, a Gallant Kid featured in the December 2008 issue of Highlights for channeling her love of writing and traveling to schools across the country to talk to kids about reading and writing. Currently a student at the University of California, Berkeley, Adora is a published author, internationally acclaimed speaker, and advocate for causes including literacy, youth empowerment, and feminism. In the decade since she was featured, Adora has used her powerful voice to inspire kids (and adults) all over the world. Hear from Adora directly.
We are encouraged that we are raising a generation of upstanders who believe adults and the world at large care about what they have to say, and who take action when they see the need for justice.
It was heartening to learn that 93 percent of kids who responded to the 2018 Highlights State of the Kid™ survey say they’d take action if they saw someone doing or saying something mean, and that nearly all respondents—90 percent, in fact—feel that the grown-ups in their lives care about what they have to say. These findings are great news, representing an age of positive parenting, a shift from parents being focused on wanting kids to get “good grades/good jobs” to parents focused on nurturing the inner lives of their children too.
Such a shift begins with empowering our kids, helping them gain a sense of inner confidence, courage, and strength to successfully surmount whatever life presents! It is guiding them to persevere when obstacles arise as they always do, such as bullies, failed tests, mistakes, disappointments, and bruises. Having such inner strength will also move them toward pursuing their dreams.
The act of empowering children is a process of guiding them to feel and believe that they are powerful now, and creating optimum conditions that mirror these concepts back to them. Owen, age five, lit up when his father told him he was “so creative” and “talented” in his painting class. You could see Owen looking more confident and stronger. It is a great example of a child beginning to feel like a powerful creator.
Unfortunately, well-intentioned parents sometimes do the opposite as well. Olive, age eight, was dancing with friends and playing with her Hula-Hoop in the park. It was just good ole summer fun. Her mom told Olive that she looked as if she had “two left feet” when she was dancing. Olive cried. Instead of fueling Olive’s sense of power, her mom’s words diminished it.
Learning to empower children doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but the good news is that we each can become better. It really takes the same effort that you apply to any goal—enthusiasm, dedication, and a willingness to “set aside” any preconceived ideas, projections, and personal baggage. A child so wholeheartedly wants to believe his dreams can come true. So it is up to us, the adults, to support this notion (whether it makes sense to us or not!). For example, little Joey, age three, told me he wants to be a spaceship repairman. I replied, “Go for it!”
As you gather your emotional and mental forces to focus on empowering your children, there are three techniques that can help you consciously empower them. They are:
Mirroring. It is the process of serving as the reflection of children’s abilities, skills, and qualities so they begin to “see” themselves as they really are: highly valuable, talented, and capable right now. Owen’s father, from the example cited earlier, mirrored to Owen his creative strengths. The effect was nearly immediate because you could see Owen feeling more positive and confident.
Encouragement. Such support--“putting in” courage or belief in your children—enables them to see themselves as they are: highly competent now. Madeline, age six, had her training wheels taken off her bike recently. She was excited and terrified. Her mom came to her side and said, “You can do it! I believe in you,” and with a little push, Madeline did it! Her mom’s words of encouragement made all the difference.
Partnering. Let your child know that he can count on you for support, but negotiate so he’ll be willing to try new experiences. If he is hesitant to, say, attend a birthday party with second-grade classmates he doesn’t know very well, give him an out. “If you go for an hour and are miserable, I’ll come pick you up.”
Encouragement, mirroring, and partnering may seem like simple ideas—and they are. I believe that many things are simple but they’re not always easy. It’s like riding 100 miles on your bicycle—conceptually it is easy, but actually doing it is much harder. What I know for sure is that by making small changes in our everyday strategies, we can impact big changes in our children, which help them feel and ultimately do their best.
Maureen Healy is an award-winning author, educator, and leader in the field of children’s emotional health. Her new book The Emotionally Healthy Child helps adults raise emotionally healthy and ultimately happier children. She’s written for Psychology Today and contributed to the PBS series This Emotional Life. Learn more: www.growinghappykids.com
Do kids value kindness? According to the Highlights 2017 State of the Kid survey, they do!
We polled 2,000 kids ages 6–12 to get their views on kindness and empathy. When we asked, “What would you change in the world if you could change one thing?” more than half of the responses related to kindness.
But when we asked, “What do you think is most important to your parents—that you’re happy, do well in school, or are kind?” only 23 percent of the kids said that it matters most to parents that they are kind. Almost half responded that their happiness matters most, and about one-third said that it’s most important that they do well in school. But, when Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, surveyed parents and asked the same question, the majority of parents said that what matters most is that their children are kind. The dissonance is concerning.
Is the message that kindness matters getting lost in the swirl of other messages kids are receiving about achievement and personal fulfillment? Is the importance of having concern for others getting buried in the noise of our me-first culture? So it seems.
If you want to be clear with your kids that kindness truly matters—and that, indeed, they can make the world a better place with acts of caring and kindness—try teaching more intentionally. Here are five suggestions for activities that will raise your family’s kindness quotient:
- Foster gratitude, a key ingredient in kindness. Gratitude cultivates positivity. It brings into focus the things in life that truly matter, and primes us to be kinder. One good way to practice gratitude is to keep a family gratitude journal. Once a week (whatever cadence works for you, but it shouldn’t feel like a chore), invite family members to make an entry—a note about something for which they are thankful. Young kids can dictate their entry to you, draw a picture instead of writing, or paste in a photo. Try to keep the focus on people or events rather than on things. For example, rather than “I’m thankful for my toy truck,” try for “I’m thankful for Grandpa who knew I’d love the truck he gave me.” Or take an occasional Gratitude Walk, observing your surroundings and naming things for which you are grateful (your helpful neighbors, the friendly dog next door, or playmates down the street).
- Mix up the dinner-table conversation. Instead of asking your kids “How was your day?” invite them to tell you something they did that day that was kind or describe a kind thing someone did for them. This can lead to some great conversation that will give you a chance to reinforce the value you place on kindness, compassion, and empathy.
- Give kids practice being kind. Before leaving on an errand or outing, decide as a family to look for opportunities for random acts of kindness. Encourage your kids to hold a door open for someone or return someone’s shopping cart to the store. Leave a quarter in the gum ball machine, or pay for another customer’s coffee at the coffee shop and see how pleased and excited that makes your kids!
- Read good children’s books and magazines together. They can throw open windows to the world, introducing us to unfamiliar places and new ideas. Choose stories with characters who are kind, who exhibit moral courage, and who are sensitive to the needs of others. According to research, fiction is great for helping readers see a situation through the eyes of someone else, and that’s how we learn empathy. Here’s a list of books to get you started.
- Schedule Family Game Night, with a twist. Leave the old stand-bys on the shelf and instead choose games that help foster empathy and caring. You can find countless suggestions online for both making and playing kindness-themed games. Try “Kindness Bingo,” a game you can play all week. Create a “Bingo” card to hang on the refrigerator. In each square, briefly describe an act of kindness that would be meaningful to your family: Call Grandma to see how she’s feeling. Help the neighbor rake his leaves. Make a thank-you card for the school crossing guard. Bake cookies to take to the neighborhood fire station. When your family completes enough kind acts to call “Bingo!” offer a small, fun reward. The reward should be simple—think “extended bedtime” or a favorite dessert. Emphasize the intrinsic reward—the happiness that comes from knowing you’ve made someone’s day.
The more opportunities we give kids to show caring and concern for others, the greater the likelihood they will become the change agents they want to be, helping to create a kinder world.
Christine French Cully is Chief Purpose Officer and Editor in Chief at Highlights for Children. As Chief Purpose Officer, Cully’s focus is on growing awareness and implementation of the Highlights purpose, core beliefs, and values—to help actualize the organization’s vision for a world where all children can become people who can change the world for the better....
In school, our children are focused on learning facts, how to do math, and how to write. This type of intelligence helps propel them forward in school, earning high grades and college acceptances. But…what if IQ alone isn’t enough to make your child successful in life?
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the awareness of one’s feelings and the feelings of others. It is the ability to understand and manage one’s emotions and utilize this knowledge to connect with others. Empathy is a central element in EQ.
In the 2017 Highlights State of the Kid™ survey, Highlights asked 2,000 kids ages 6 to 12 what it means to “put yourself in another person’s shoes,” and 67 percent of responders understood the idea of empathy (with only 14 percent, higher among younger kids, responding that they did not know). This is promising news! So, as adults, how do we continue to encourage empathy in our children?
Parents and other trusted adults are the main sources of information in a child’s life. We are the role models, and as such we can start the empathy conversation by displaying an awareness of our own feelings. Children are not born with an innate ability to name a feeling and connect that to an action or experience. But we can help teach them. When rushing to work in the morning, let your child know, “I am worried about getting to work on time, and I am sad that we don’t have time to play a little longer.” When we make a mistake, like forgetting something at the store, we can tell our child, “I am mad at myself for forgetting the milk at the store, and I am frustrated that we will have to go back.” This allows your child to recognize feelings and the situations that cause them, the first step in building empathy.
You can also start a dialogue when you see your child having a feeling. For example, “It seems that you are feeling sad/mad/frustrated. Am I right?” Starting the conversation about your child’s feelings provides an opportunity to validate his experience and can lead to brainstorming possible solutions and/or coping skills. Identify. Validate. Implement skills. Let your child know that a feeling is never wrong. Though once we are able to identify it, we can then choose how to move forward. Do we need to take an action? Do we need a distraction? Helping your child identify what he may need in response to his feelings can make a situation seem more manageable.
We don’t always have to be focused on the less favorable emotions either. We can ask our children how it felt when they earned a special award in class or when a friend asked them for a playdate. Encourage recognition of feelings such as pride, happiness, and contentment.
The next step is connecting this knowledge with respect of feelings toward others. A great way to start is by sitting with your child as she watches a movie or a television show. Talk to her about how a character may be feeling, why she might be feeling that way, and what might help her in the moment. Using real-life examples is also a perfect way to teach children how to observe others in a nonjudgmental and open way.
Creating a loving and safe environment for your children will allow them the space to explore their emotional process and in the end, be better equipped to connect and respond emotionally with others.
Sasha L. Ribic, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in Columbus, Ohio. She provides psychotherapy for children, adolescents, and adults, and provides varied psychoeducational programs and parenting seminars within Central Ohio....