Creating Connnection

Meaningful connections and the feeling of belonging can mean the world to children and adolescents.  Let’s think about ourselves.  When we feel we are wanted, we want to be there.  When we feel we are needed, we want to contribute.  When we feel cared for by others, we want to care for others.  Research shows that students who feel connected at school or activities are more likely to stay in school, finish school, feel safe at school and help school feel safe.

How do we help our children feel connected to others?

Some ideas:

Ask your child for help and give them chores: As parents we definitely need help.  When we ask for help, our child knows his or her contribution to the family is important and needed.  Yes, we will hear complaints, but easing your child into chores and helping promotes responsibility as well as feeling needed and wanted in the family.

Help them find positive environments: When you try out different activities, search out the activities that match your child’s interests and personality.  Check in with the adults supervising the program to know what your child is doing if you are not there.  Check in with your child to gather their feelings about the activities.  Finding a good match with the right activities can help foster that feeling of belonging.  Talking with you about how activities feel can help your child learn when something is comfortable and when something does not feel like a fit (a lifelong skill).

Talk to others who see your child: Connect with your child’s teachers to see if your child is connected at school.  Ask what your child does in work groups.  Find out if your child feels comfortable contributing to groups.  Ask if your child finds company during free time.  Ask what your child chooses during recess.  These questions will shed light on your child’s connection with peers and daily events.  They will also give you ideas about possible interest areas for your child, which can help you choose meaningful activities.

Talk to your child about their daily activities:  Taking time to connect with your child about his or her day builds connection at home and checks in on his or her perceptions of connection to peers and teachers.  Remember to make eye contact and put away any distractions, so they know you are really listening.  Once you get a response to your first question, ask a follow-up question to get a little more information.  You can ask:

  • What was one funny thing that happened?
  • What was for lunch?
  • What did you play at recess?
  • What did you do at choice time?
  • Tell me how band (or a class that is fun or a favorite) went.
  • What was one interesting thing that you learned today?

We all want to feel needed and wanted.  When we have a connection to others, we have reason to be there and to care.  Let’s create a connection with our children to show them how wanted, needed, and cared for they are.  Let’s give them the tools to create those connections themselves.


Phonemic what? How to Support Your Child’s Reading

I work frequently with families who have questions about their children’s reading development and how they can support their child with reading.  It is important to me to help give answers to parents whether I am just providing general information or working with individual families to examine their children’s reading development.  Two questions I hear often are:

  1. What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic awareness is hearing and identifying sounds in our language and knowing that words are made of sounds and syllables.  While phonemic awareness is not letter-knowledge, it helps us know and hear sound similarities and differences that are represented in written words.  It helps us get ready for reading and mapping sounds to letters and visual symbols.  If we can hear and discriminate similarities and differences between language sounds and hear the individual sounds in spoken language, then we have an easier time learning that letters represent certain sounds in our written word.

Examples of phonemic awareness:

  • hearing that SUN starts with a similar sound as SAND
  • hearing the three separate sounds in SUN: S-U-N
  • hearing that FUN and SUN rhyme or end with the same sounds

All of these examples have to do with hearing sounds, not reading the words.

2. How do I help my child develop this skill?

Research indicates that phonemic awareness can be taught and that learning these skills (at any age) helps with learning to read (and reading also helps these skills develop).  Here are three fun and easy games that you can play to help your child hear sounds in our language.  Just play them for a few minutes each time.  Keep them fun and easy.  You can do these games anywhere – at the dinner table, in the car, or walking over to a friend’s house.

A. Rhyming:

Have fun playing rhyming games.  Ask your child to rhyme with words you give them (make it easy when you start).  Your child can even make up words to rhyme.  “What rhymes with SKY? Fly! My! Ty! Zy! Ny!”  Don’t forget to demonstrate first.  Have your child give you a word and you provide a rhyme.  You can support hearing rhymes by reading rhyming books to your child and commenting about the rhymes you hear when you read.

B. Sound detective:

Ask your child if two words sound the same at the start of the words.  “Let’s play detective.  Do SUN and SAND start with the same sound? SSSSSun, SSSSSand?  What about SUN and MAPSSSSSun, MMMMMap?”  Don’t forget to demonstrate first!  After your child is hearing sound similarities and differences at the beginning of words, you can ask them about the end of the words like TOP and DROP, or TOP and TIP.  You can even move to sound blends like DROP and DRIVE or FREEZE and FRAME.  Point out any sound similarities when reading together or even just in conversation.

C. Guess my word:

You can play a word game where you say individual sounds in words and your child has to guess what the word is.  Your child may need time to learn this skill.  An example is: “Guess my word – S – U – N.  SUN!”  Say the isolated sounds, not the letters.  Keep the words small and pause just slightly between saying each sound.


You can find children’s books that support phonemic awareness at:





Flip-flopping Negative to Positive

Recently, I found myself overwhelmed with negativity just by listening to a half hour of TV.  I found that no matter what I was listening to, there were overwhelming negative messages and predictions, hurtful behaviors, and feelings of helplessness.  I paused and thought how widespread these thoughts and words are currently for all of us, our children included.  If it is bringing me down, what is all this negativity doing to our children?  I started to think, I need to flip-flop the negative into the positive.  Now seems like a good time, too, with Thanksgiving coming.  So, it’s time to take action.

Research on Positive Psychology shows that highlighting moments of gratitude can alleviate the focus on negative emotions and experiences.  So I set a goal for myself, making it small and do-able so I did not feel overwhelmed.

My goal: focus on gratitude for myself and with my children.  Each day I reflect on something I appreciate.  Today I appreciated visiting with my friend and her family, watching my kids toss the football with their grandfather, sharing a humorous moment with my teenager.  I take a moment to reflect on these events and visualize or repeat the events in my mind.  Today, I quickly wrote these moments in a notebook I have next to the bed.  Some people prefer to journal, some to voice-record on their smartphone.  Any recording method for tracking these moments works, but having a record to look back at helps us know that there is much to be grateful for every day.  The record helps me to fully feel the positive emotions that I associated with the events now and in the future and I can use the record to brighten my mood when I feel down.

Then I ask my children to focus on moments they are grateful for during their day.  Just thinking about these moments shifts focus from the negative to the positive.  Here are some easy ideas to help with finding gratitude:

  • Give each person a chance at the family dinner table to say something they are grateful for and have one person make a list for all to see
  • Have children write what they are thankful for on a slip of paper and place the papers in a jar (see how full the jar gets at the end of the week and celebrate that)
  • Keep a weekly list on a dry erase board for each person and at the end of the week revisit those moments
  • Make a paper chain with a moment we are grateful for on each link and make a goal to stretch that chain around the family gathering place
  • Make a video diary of the moments and film children talking about the moments and watch them at another family time

Remember to make it fun and easy – children can dictate to you so you can write it down, they can draw a picture, they can write one word (spelling doesn’t count), or they can write a full sentence.  Ask your children to come up with ways to track their gratitude.  Sometimes they come up with the most creative and fun ways!

Another side effect of talking to my children about gratitude is that I am spending time with them, listening to them, reflecting with them, laughing with them.  In other words, I am building my relationship with them.  Relationships are a cornerstone for building inner strength and feeling happy.  When I spend the time with my children with no distractions, I know they feel connected to and needed in the family and their community.  I want that relationship now because it will help them know they can come to me when they need help or comfort in the future.  I also know that if they have a positive relationship with me, they are more likely to have a positive relationship with others.

I will continue to focus on gratitude to flip that negative into the positive.  I have a feeling that I and my children will feel happier for it!



Relationship Lessons from my Cats

I know it is hard to believe that I learned something about relationships from my cats.  You may be saying to yourself, “They are solitary and aloof animals and not very interested in relationships.  Why is a psychologist who works with children talking about these animals that prefer to be alone?”  But the more I think about these two creatures and their interactions in our house, the more I feel I need to share what I learned.  

The Backstory

We have an older cat, named Malcolm who has always been cuddly and personable.  He loves his people.  He was rescued from injury and starvation when he was itty bitty and we have had the pleasure of loving him since.  As a family, we decided he (and we) needed an additional cat.  We adopted a young kitty, named Martina, labeled “feral” by the humane society and who was scared of everything including her own shadow.  We were told the best way for her to feel comfortable is to have her in a room with everything she needs and to sit and visit her quietly and give her time to acclimate.  We were told to keep the older cat away until she seemed more confident.  After a little while, we introduced the two cats with hesitation and a watchful eye, since we were unsure how each of them would react.  They walked cautiously toward each other, gently but thoroughly sniffed each other and then began to rub noses.  We were amazed!  It was like they were old friends reuniting after years apart.  Malcolm took her on tours of the house, showed her the cat tree, and shared his eating area with her.  Now, four years later, Martina is still hesitant and shy, but she has gained confidence and comfort in our house.  She and Malcolm are best buddies and are often found curling beside each other in the sunlight.  Martina needs us to walk slowly toward her and to talk softly and gently.  She needs both her quiet attention and moments of space from us.  Their story makes me think of our relationships with our children and with others.

The Lessons I Have Learned

  1. Kindness:  Watching Malcolm help Martina feel safe and comfortable in our house reminds me of the importance of kindness in our relationships with others.  He offered help and guidance in her new environment.  He was often seen checking on her when she slept or when she felt like she had to hide.  As people, kindness in our relationships is just as important.  It fosters safety and feelings of comfort and belonging.  When we extend kindness toward others and toward our children, our children learn how to extend it too.  They carry on that kindness in their future interactions.
  2. Patience and Individual Differences:  It has been four years of caring for Martina, and she is still shy.  We have been patient in our relationship with her, knowing she needs us to wait until she feels comfortable.  We need to honor her view on the world.  She is different than Malcolm.  He always wants attention, and she lets us know when she is comfortable with getting attention.  In our relationships with others, we need to extend patience to each other by honoring our differences, understanding opposing points of view, and having perspective about the needs of others.  With our children, we need to know that their timelines for trying new things and being ready for certain experiences are their own and we have to understand that sometimes we need to show patience and understanding of their views of new situations or activities.  We model how to take the next steps or try the new things, but we have to be patient for them to feel comfortable and confident in trying them.  Showing this patience in our interactions with others and in our connection with our children will enhance our children’s ability to relate to other people and honor differences in their relationships.
  3. And lastly, Trust:  Trust is something that was not a given in our interactions with Martina, and her trust is still hard-won.  Malcolm built trust by showing her kindness and being patient with her hesitation to do something new, like sit on a lap or come out of hiding to play.  Her early experiences, before we had her, helped define how she felt she could trust people.  Only with kindness and patience were we able to begin to build trust with Martina.  Only by honoring her individual needs could we show we were trustworthy.  It is the same way when we relate to people.  We need kindness and patience to build a trusting relationship.  When we know someone will treat us with kindness and be patient with our thoughts and needs, we begin to trust them.  Trust is not easy to come by, but something we need to work on with others.  When we show our children how to build trust in how we interact with them, then they can extend those skills to people they meet and build solid foundations for friendships and relationships.

Malcolm and Martina have taught me a lot about relationships through their interactions with each other and with us.  I think with kindness, patience, and honoring individual differences, we as parents and people can build strong, trusting relationships with our children and other individuals we meet.  In addition, the more we extend kindness and patience, the more likely our children learn these relationship skills and build trusting relationships in their lives – now and in the future.  


Parenting to build safe and caring communities

The news across the country has been full of grief, sadness, and loss.  As a national community, we want compassion and respect for all.  We have to work together to achieve this goal.  As adults, we have to focus on how we teach our children to treat others and view the world.  By communicating with our youth, we can build community, caring, compassion and fairness now and in the future.  I look to us as parents and educators to lead our children in learning these characteristics.

As adults, we have the responsibility to model caring, compassion and fairness in everything we do in our community and in our reactions to personal events and world events.

We model empathy.  Empathy helps us understand others’ emotions, thoughts and experiences – positive and negative.  It helps us engage meaningfully with another person and for the benefit of another person.  It helps us promote the wellness of another when they are feeling disconnected, uncared for or lost.  Empathy gives us the ability to build connection and share compassion with others.  We have to extend empathy to our children so they learn what empathy is and how it feels to receive it.  We have to extend empathy to others so our children learn how to share in the experiences of others too.

We model respectful and compassionate language and behavior.  We carefully consider our language and actions to ensure no prejudice or negative stereotypes are implied in relation to a group or individual.  We use respectful and compassionate language about others who are experiencing difficulty or unfairness and we honor their perspectives.  We also discuss and show how we can come together as a community to engage instead of pulling ourselves away and disengaging.

We model open discussion.  When our children ask questions about situations, rhetoric, or world events, we can answer them with words and information we feel our children are ready for.  We have to remember our children’s perspectives and demonstrate respect and caring toward them as we hold discussions.  We must also remember the perspectives of those in our community, nation or world when we talk about how we would extend respect and compassion to them.

We model seeing the good in others and the world.  While we hear so many negative events and we are grief stricken when tragedies occur—and occur so frequently—we must pause and celebrate the good we hear and see in our children and in others.  We must share praise when we see our children extending kindness, empathy, and caring for others or ourselves.  We must show our emotions when we are touched by acts of connection and aide in our communities.  We must focus on the care and love that we all extend to others daily and that we see given when our communities are hurting and struggling.

We must act to model empathy, respect, and compassion with our children and with our words and behaviors.  These actions foster children’s ability to treat others kindly, provide meaningful help, and solve problems throughout their lifetimes.  When we help our children know they matter and teach them respect, compassion and caring toward others, our children will share that human connection and build safe and caring communities now and in the future.


Comforting Children After an Act of Terror

As a national community, we grieve for the individuals lost and injured in the recent attack in Orlando, and our hearts extend to the individuals, families and communities most affected.  When events such as these occur, we search for ways to support our children, students, and ourselves.  Resources from organizations such as National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and American Psychological Association (APA) help to guide us as professionals, parents and community members.  Several ideas for helping to reassure our children of their safety are:

  • Reduce exposure to television and news for the near future to lessen anxiety and intense emotional responses.
  • Be honest and truthful while keeping your emotions calm as you talk with your children. They will look to you to learn how to cope with the events and handle emotions.  They also take their emotional cues from you and may increase their emotions if they observe more elevated emotional responses.
  • Relate that safety is the priority of parents, educators and first responders. Calmly discuss with your children that the event occurred but reinforce their safety by telling them that many people at home, in the school and in the community help to keep them safe.
  • Discuss the roles of people who did so much to provide medical attention and to keep others safe.
  • Focus on describing the compassion that comes from the community and nation in your discussions with your children to reinforce the caring that people so often share with each other.
  • Reinforce that everyone deserves respect and dignity and that diversity is a gift that promotes learning, understanding, problem solving and strength.
  • Avoid stereotypes when discussing events.
  • Truthfully clarify and answer questions your children may have. Follow the answers with statements that calmly relate that they are safe and that they have many adults who focus on their safety.
  • Reinforce that any emotions are acceptable and provide the support and comfort they need.
  • Keep your schedule normal to continue comfortable routines, but allow for emotional expression and flexibility in activities as needed.
  • Make a communication and safety plan for your home and family members to communicate in an emergency if needed. Also make sure you are linked to the emergency communication system in your community.
  • Get to know the safety plan at your children’s school and ensure that you are linked to the communication notification system that your school or district provides.
  • Identify who are safe people children can call or talk to when help is needed.
  • Take time as a family to engage in a compassionate action within your community (ideas might be: volunteer at an organization, help collect funds, food or other necessities for others in your community). This action may not necessarily be related to the current event, but may promote your children’s perceptions of contributing to the community and helping in a positive and compassionate way.

(Gathered from NASP and APA)

There are extremely helpful resources available for parents and educators on the Internet.  Please take time to read them and utilize the suggestions and ideas as needed.  As a community we can support our needs and the needs of our children.  These helpful resources can guide our discussions to allow us comfort and extend that comfort to our children, helping them know we strive to keep them safe at home, school and in our community.







Welcome to Reaching Higher Educational Center’s blog page. At Reaching Higher Educational Center, my goal is to boost children to academic, emotional, and behavioral success. I focus on empowering parents and supporting children to help them find the confidence they need to accomplish their goals. This blog is designed to share information that will help your family reach higher to new heights.

I’m glad you’re here!