In an exclusive excerpt from her new book — “Confident Parents, Confident Kids” — author Jennifer Miller shares a poignant example of how parents can nurture and coach their children when faced with various social and emotional obstacles.
“I hope you’ll become a brave, confident boy, mi corazón.” Mateo’s Mom would whisper to him when he was a newborn. And every day of those first months, his Mom would tell him the many dreams she had for him.
“I hope you are responsible like your Uncle Jose.”
“I hope you are generous like your Father.”
“I hope you can play guitar like your Cousin Sofia.”
His mother never stopped hoping for Mateo as he grew, though their lives continued to get busier with two older sisters and a baby brother on the way.
At the age of twelve-years-old, Mateo came home visibly upset, clearly feeling neither confident nor brave.
“This girl in my class,” relayed Mateo to his Mom over his after school snack, “she stares and whispers to her friends about me. She’s pretty and popular and she must be saying how stupid I am. I never raise my hand in class. Now all of her friends think I’m stupid too!”
Mateo had been struggling to adjust to his middle school and neighborhood since they moved over the summer for his Dad’s promising new job. Mariachi was the sound of his old city neighborhood, with the Mexican Restaurant that catered to tourists an earshot from his doorstep. This suburban neighborhood soundtrack of Pop and Hip Hop felt foreign and cold.
“Mama, he’s wrong,” chimed in his slightly older sister as she breezed through the room. “She likes him.”
Mateo’s Mom then realized her son was gaining an ability to see from others’ perspectives but his newly acquired social awareness — paired with his intense feelings of discomfort in his new school setting — were contributing to his misinterpretation of his classmates’ actions. With this conversation, Mateo’s Mom made sure she was there to listen each day after school lending a supportive ear and also, questioning his thinking if he was worrying about what others’ thought of him. “How do you know that’s true?” she wanted to know. They kept exploring that question until he realized he had less to worry about than he thought.
“Mateo’s Mom then realized her son was gaining an ability to see from others’ perspectives but his newly acquired social awareness — paired with his intense feelings of discomfort in his new school setting — were contributing to his misinterpretation of his classmates’ actions.”
Parents across the United States and indeed the world recognize the need for the development of social and emotional skills for our children’s success. Mateo’s Mom offers a simple example of her recognition of a social and emotional developmental milestone in social awareness and how Mateo was struggling needing extra support. She coached him through his challenges by listening with an open mind and heart. She asked open-ended questions, challenged his thinking to help reframe his perspective when needed but also, showed empathy and compassion for his struggles. But it all began with her hopes and dreams.
[Excerpt from Chapter Three, Instrument Lessons: Methods for Building Social and Emotional Skills At Home]
Jennifer S. Miller, MEd, is the founder of the website Confident Parents, Confident Kids and has twenty years of experience working with parents, educators, and other adults to help them become more effective with children through social and emotional learning. She is a regular expert contributor to the NBC Education Nation’s Parent Toolkit and has contributed articles or interviews to popular publications such as The Washington Post, Parent Magazine, The Huffington Post, and more. Jennifer earned her master’s degree in education with a focus on social and emotional development from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She lives with her husband and son in Columbus, Ohio.