September 2, 2014

This month’s Emotional Smarts conversation came on the heels of my daughter’s first ever back to school related melt down. Because she faces a lot of changes and uncertainty, this new school year feels overwhelming to her. I imagine many of us deal with the same anxiety or reluctance in our kids – or even ourselves – which is why I welcomed advice from “happiness experts” on making a happy school year. As always, there is no way to sum up all of the wonderful insight discussed. I highly encourage you to watch the video to hear it all.

Moderator and Great School’s Executive editor, Carol Lloyd speaks with Bruce Feiler, author of The Secret of Happy Families and writer of the “This Life” column in the Sunday New York Times, as well as Dr. Christine Carter director of UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center’s Parenting Programs and author of Raising Happiness. Here are the major topics they covered:


– As a family, decide on two or three problems to focus on for the new year, things like getting bag packed, brushing teeth, or making beds. Then figure out how to fix these issues as a group. The key this approach is to work it out as a team to “disperses control to the entire family.”

– Create specific step by step routines with the goal of making them habits. Have each child decide on their own routine. After several weeks of doing them exactly the same every day, they won’t have to think about them! The process will be automated.

– Use “best future self” as an individual or a family. This is a method of visualizing yourself, or your family, at some point in the future, in this case the end of the school year, and imagining how you want to be.

Helping Kids with Self-Doubt

– Focus on self-compassion rather than self-esteem. Teach kids to give themselves room to feel all of these intense emotions by naming and validating their painful feelings rather than blowing them off. “We tend to get into trouble by rejecting the emotion because we don’t want our kids to feel pain.”

– Use storytelling. When kids face a fear, doubt, or problem, share a story about how you or someone else related to them overcame a similar obstacle. Research shows that children learn from these stories that they can impact the world.

Family Dinner

– Family time is important and positive. Even if it can’t be over food, find those ten minutes of quality time to be together.

Balancing Homework and Sleep

– Sleep is more important than homework. Kids need to learn to “work smarter rather than more.”

– Don’t let the clock- or the TV or the neighbors schedule- do the parenting. You decide what happens and when your kids need to sleep.

School has probably already started for your kids and you might feel like it’s too late for any new approach. Rest assured, both experts encouraged overwhelmed parents to just DO something. Start ridiculously small and choose one or two things you want to fix. Then make a change. Your habits will change gradually. And so will your happiness levels!