Custom Class: post-landing-hero

PrinciPALS Podcast Transcript: 4.03: Ask the PrinciPALS, Part II

By Emma Wellman, Brittney Hansen, and Conor Bentley =

Listen above or on Apple Podcasts.


It’s part two of our "Ask the PrinciPALS" series. Join Emma, Brittney, and Conor as they discuss even more of listeners’ top questions: how to teach kids about finance, how adults can help children understand that their actions impact others, how much support adults should provide when it comes to school assignments and projects, and how much families should really worry about summer slide.

The transcript of this episode appears below.


Conor Bentley (00:01):
From Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City, Utah...

Emma Wellman (00:04):
I’m Emma Wellman.

Brittney Hansen (00:05):
And I’m Brittney Hansen.

Conor (00:07):
And they’re the princiPALS.

I'm Conor Bentley. On today's episode of princiPALS, it's part two of our special edition, where Emma and Brittney will answer questions submitted by you, our listeners.

Emma (00:25):
On The PrinciPALS Podcast, we tackle big questions and share big ideas about how to raise excellent humans.

Conor (00:33):
Welcome back to the princiPALS' office.

Brittney (00:36):
Good to be back.

Conor (00:37):
I am here with Emma and Brittney, and this is part two of our "Ask the PrinciPALS" series. So, we had so many listener questions that we had to do two episodes' worth of questions. And so we're just going to get right to the questions because our listeners are eager to know what the pals think about a variety of topics related to young childhood development.

So let's go to the first question that comes from one of our listeners, and it's: How can adults help teach kids about finance at a young age so that they have a better understanding of money-related issues later in life?

Emma (01:15):
I love this question. First, I just appreciate the thoughtfulness around it, but also it's not a thing that we often talk about at school these days, so I'm excited to have an opportunity to share some of what I have learned about it and what I think might be helpful for a family. So in general, I recommend using the same approach for this that we use to teach kids about any tools they'll need, right? Money is a tool. We want to give them practice and lots of explicit coaching. We want to allow them to have an increasing amount of responsibility and independence in using that tool, to make mistakes, and then reflect on those mistakes and get better and better over time, rather than what we might be inclined to do, which is withhold access to that tool, you know, like a sharp knife or a checking account for a really long time. And then, actually, they don't learn to use it safely until it's really important that they do so.

One resource I really can recommend is a book called The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber. And there are a ton of practical questions in there, including things about the tooth fairy and how to think about chores and allowance. But there are also a lot of bits in there about, like, a general framework for how to have these kinds of conversations, how to help you decide how much to spend on clothes, for example, for your child. There's a lot of great stuff in there and you don't have to read it cover to cover. You can just cherry-pick the chapters that are helpful for you.

And in the event that this question—it could be a little bit also about how to talk to your kids about socioeconomic status, which is another really important conversation. And there is some stuff in that book about how to approach it with your kids. But in general, again, I just think honestly acknowledging differences is always something worthwhile. Kids notice differences and we always want to affirm that they have noticed things that are real in the world. So, for example, if your family has more resources than others around you, name that and talk about the ways you want to use your resources, and maybe that you've got some responsibilities because of those extra resources. If your family has fewer resources than other families around you, be honest about that. Talk about how your life is no less valuable or wonderful or rich than the lives of other folks who maybe have more money to spend on different kinds of things.

Conor (03:30):
I know that was a conversation that we had in my home when I was a student at Rowland Hall because there are always going to be people above you and below you. And I think that was something that we talked about a lot in my house just because I know I had questions about that as a kid, and I think that, you know, it is important to do that, because I definitely felt better about things once we had those conversations.

Emma (03:52):
Yeah, I think just equipping kids, both affirming what they're observing and then equipping them with some language and some ways of talking about and understanding where they fit in the world currently, and approaching that in a positive way, always looking for that positive identity development.

Conor (04:11):
Great. Well, we have another question that will address another topic here, and this question is: At what age do children start understanding that their actions impact others, positively or negatively, and how can adults help them understand this?

Brittney (04:27):
Well, this is a really great question, too, Conor. And when we're talking about child development, it often is easiest to break things up into sort of manageable chunks, based predominantly on age level, but knowing that every kid is different. So these age ranges that we'll talk about are talking about most children, but there'll be children that fall into these different categories a little bit earlier or a little bit later, and that's okay too. But if we're thinking about early childhood—that's when kids are, you know, two to four-ish—children are still largely egocentric, in the sense that their brains just aren't equipped yet to really understand that others around them have a different perspective on what's happening than they do. They're the center of their world and that's how their brains function. And so it can be a tall order to ask a young child who's two, three, four years old, even five sometimes, to understand the feelings of others. And this is work that we do quite a lot in preschool, and that parents can assist with quite a bit at home, too, in helping kids notice what's happening with others around them. Maybe it's a friend, maybe it's a classmate. And we notice things like: What does their face look like? What does their voice sound like? Are they crying? Are there tears? And what does that mean about how they're feeling? And we name it really explicitly, which can sound a little silly to us as adults, but it's really helpful for children to begin to be able to put words to the feelings that their friends are having.

Conor (05:48):
I think that would be good for me, to practice that, honestly.

Brittney (05:51):
Yeah, right, all of us could use a little work in that capacity, for sure. So that helps from around two to four. And we do that work, you know, if a child maybe pushes over another child's block structure and they see another child crying because of what just happened in the classroom. It's our job to then follow up with that child and notice what's happening on the other child's face. Notice them crying, and then name explicitly, "Why do you think they feel that way? What do you think they're feeling?" And to give those feelings a name: they might be feeling sad, they might be feeling disappointed or angry, and what do all those different things mean? And learning each of those words and the meaning behind them is a really important part of early childhood.

Emma (06:29):
That's why so much music and so many books for preschool-aged children focus on developing this skill in a way that I think to grown-ups, who maybe don't have the context, seems a little ham-handed, but it's actually really developmentally appropriate. And we start to see the focus shift a bit as kids get older. So from four to seven, it's really a great time for kids to start to practice and develop empathy skills because of what's happening in their brains. So they're having lots of growth in the prefrontal cortex—like maybe the most famous part of the brain for humans—but also they have lots more language development. They have a better sense of time and when things have happened in time. They get more accurate from four to seven in understanding: "This stuff happened yesterday. These things happened today. These things generally happen in my life. These were things that happened when I was three and now I'm six." All that kind of narrative self-concept starts coming into play across these ages. And mirror neurons, which you've maybe also heard about, are definitely doing a lot of helpful work for kids during these ages. So that is to say, when children see another person who's having a strong feeling, the brains of those two people become more like one another to help kids, like, physically connect to that experience of the other.

But I also want to stress that sometimes empathy is a thing that folks think is just innate to people and it can't be taught or grown or it doesn't change over time, and that's actually really not true. We've learned a lot about it. Empathy skills can be built and you can go through periods when you are more and less empathetic—probably we've all experienced that viscerally. And so that's really true for children. And so if you have a child, you know, a five- or six-year-old child, and you feel like they seem less empathetic than you would hope, or than other kids—don't fret. You can help them develop those skills. And one great strategy is to model it for them. Lots of kids learn by watching their most trusted adults modeling. So if, you know, you're able to consistently recognize the impact of your own actions [and] name the impact and then apologize when applicable in an authentic and earnest way, kids learn that this is appropriate and expected. They see, like, a script for how to make that work happen and how to behave in a community. And so that includes modeling that kind of thing when something's gone wrong at home, or telling about the way you repaired a situation at work or with a friend or with a family member. It's really rich learning for kids. And it also helps it feel more normal that everybody makes mistakes and does things that hurt other people and you can fix it and make it better.

Brittney (09:19):
Yeah, I think that modeling is a really important piece to stress because it allows children to feel a little bit less vulnerable when it's their turn to maybe need to make something right or to speak with [someone] about something that they've done that's hurt a friend or someone in their family. If they've seen it done before, it's a lot less hard to try it out yourself. So it's a really sort of easy thing that grown-ups can do, but oftentimes we think that maybe we have to hide those things from kids, but allowing them to see us be vulnerable can help them do the same.

Emma (09:45):
Yeah. And I want to tack on a little piece here, which, at least from my own childhood days, lots of kids were often required to give an apology, like, "Say sorry you hit your sister." And I was not feeling sorry in that moment. I was still feeling, like, righteous indignation and, like, she definitely deserved to be hit. And so, in fact, that was not a helpful practice for me in being empathetic or learning how to initiate and navigate repair and to understanding the impact. So it's really important not to require kids [to] make an apology in a moment when they're not available for it, when they don't actually feel connected to being sorry. But rather you could point out the impact, as Brittney was saying before, with the younger ones. Point out the impact and the feelings of others, and then help the child work through the next steps. And they may need to regulate first, right? They may need to cope [with] and manage their own feelings of anger or frustration or disappointment or sadness, or shame and guilt even, before they're really ready to do that really important repair piece.

Brittney (10:50):
That's right. In the school setting, actually, we oftentimes see the apology come even several days later, after an incident has taken place, when a child has time to fully reflect on what happened, to think about how to make it right, and then to make a plan and actually do it. It's not often in the moment that a sincere apology is given, but rather, you know, an hour or two later, or even a couple days [later].

Conor (11:12):
Well, yeah, and I think that's true for adults, too, right? I mean, we don't necessarily just apologize right away. And, you know, sometimes, yeah, you have to think about it, you have to come up with why you're actually apologizing, because I think an apology that doesn't have anything behind it is not really an apology.

Emma (11:28):
It reminds me of that image of a kid whacking another kid on the playground and skipping away saying, "Sorry!" Like, that apology has done no good work in the community at all.

Brittney (11:38):
So thinking about modeling and about understanding what an apology really means is really important for those years around four to seven. But as we approach middle childhood—which is closer to eight to 13; maybe third grade on through middle school—kids tend to be much more aware of social norms and expectations. And with that awareness comes a heightened expectation on them to be able to manage and handle some of these things on their own. That is, of course, with the help of grown-ups around them, but we want them to be empowered to really think through what's happened and use problem-solving skills on their own to come up with a plan to make things right. Trusted adults can encourage open communication when a conflict arises and they can explicitly name opportunities for kids to take responsibility for something that happened that maybe shouldn't have happened, or maybe that they wish didn't happen.

Emma (12:26):
Yeah, one way this might show up on the parenting side is: something happens at school and your child comes home and says, "So-and-so did this to me." And you could ask questions about what happened before that and how they want to navigate it, but if they have expressed that the other child was upset with them, that's a great opportunity to check in and kind of model curiosity and say, "Why do you think they were upset at you?" Because that's the place sometimes where the growth edge is for kids this age. They get so, kind of, focused on the harm or the negative behavior that they may have experienced that they can sometimes gloss right over the precipitating event or interaction. And obviously both things are really important to learn from.

Conor (13:11):
Great. Well, that's some really good information on that topic. Now we have another question, and this one is: How much should I help my kid with school projects and assignments? And this one, I know a lot of people, you know, probably want to know about this because I know that there were definitely times where I probably got help on some things that, you know, I probably should have just been left to my own devices and, you know, yeah. My cutting skills were never very good on posters, and you could always tell when I had done the cutting versus when my mom had helped me with it.

Emma (13:41):
Yeah. I have memories of my own dad helping me. Like, he had gotten a little too invested in projects that I had for school in elementary school, and totally well-meaning, but it really did take away some of the learning and the experience that I would've gotten out of that, had I been given space to navigate it more independently. So the goal of school projects and assignments, we can all agree, is that kids are getting a chance to learn from them. That's the point of them from the teacher's perspective, from the kid, and from the parent and caregiver. So, kids won't learn to do their own homework, they won't learn to navigate, you know, deadlines and all those kinds of things if we don't let them do it. And obviously we want to give them support and scaffold it, but we can't take it over for them. And that can be really hard. It's like watching someone who's not very good at using a computer, sitting over their shoulder and watching them fumble through something that would be really easy for you to do. And it takes a lot of patience and self-management. So I don't want to say that it's easy because you can see your kid is not getting their book report done on time, or you can see that there are oodles of grammatical errors in the writing assignment.

Conor (14:56):
Or that they suck at cutting stuff.

Emma (14:58):
Yeah, or that they're terrible at cutting stuff. Exactly. But you just have to remind yourself that you're playing the long game and your future self and future child will thank you for getting out of the way.

Conor (15:09):
Maybe I'd be better at cutting if my mom had let me do it, right?

Emma (15:12):
Yeah.

Conor (15:12):
And now, see, and those small motor skills, I never developed them. And now look at me. I'm still going to be asking someone to help me cut things out.

Emma (15:20):
Well, I can set you up with some tweezer tasks, if you want. There's still hope.

Conor (15:23):
Okay, good.

Brittney (15:24):
But Emma, on the flip side of this, don't you think there is some value for a child to feel really viscerally that their parents are engaged in and excited about the work that they're doing at home? And can't that come from a parent wanting to take part in the project or help build the board for the science fair?

Emma (15:42):
Absolutely. And I think that's a place where there's a lot of balance, and way-finding to happen, for any given parent because it depends on your kid and the moment that they're in with respect to their schoolwork. So giving kids the clear message that you care about what they're doing and you see value in it and you're proud of them for it is always really wonderful. But also expressing confidence that they've got it, I think. There's a real unintended message that sometimes comes along [with] too much parental help, which is that you're not sure your kid can actually manage to do this assignment independently. And, you know, parents don't usually mean to convey that to their kids, but they sometimes do accidentally. So I would say helping around the edge is always being a cheerleader—you know, letting kids know that what they're doing is awesome and important and you really appreciate their hard work and effort, in particular, and the struggle—is great. Taking over and doing things for [them], I would draw the line there, if that makes sense.

Brittney (16:42):
Sure. It's definitely a balance, I think.

Emma (16:44):
But it's tricky, yeah. And I think, you know, inevitably sometimes kids will get assignments at school that they are just not equipped to accomplish independently with, like, a high level of success. And so that's a tricky thing to navigate as a parent too. You gotta figure out, "Okay, how much failure is productive for my child? Do I really want to let them totally flub this thing? Or do I need to, you know, reach out to the teacher to say, like, 'This is just beyond my kid's level; what should I do?'" And that can be hard. And certainly, you know, reaching out to teachers if you're seeing multiple projects like that is [a] worthwhile strategy.

For a lot of folks, though, I think, homework and projects, school assignments that are, like, coming home for part of the work and then going back to school, I think there's a really good opportunity to support your child in developing executive functioning skills. And I would argue that developing those skills is at least as important as them developing content knowledge, especially in elementary school. So, executive functioning skills are things, like, you know, getting yourself organized, using a to-do list, staying on task, prioritizing tasks, taking the breaks that you know you need, keeping track of the materials, meeting deadlines, all those kinds of super important life and school skills. And I think, you know, there's a lot of literature currently about executive functioning and I would just direct you, if you're interested in learning more about what they are, how they tend to develop, and how to support kids in developing them, I would direct you to a book called Smart But Scattered, which just has lots of really helpful flat-footed, practical advice.

Brittney (18:18):
It's actually similar when we're talking about executive functioning to what we were talking about with empathy earlier, right? You might assume that these things just come naturally for kids, but they really take a whole lot of practice and intentionality from the adults around them.

Emma (18:30):
And some kids do seem to be built for greater executive functioning skills inherently—like, that's just a talent that they have. So, like, you know, if you've got one of these in your house, they, like, line up the shoes for you. And then if you've got one who's not like that, then—who knows where the other shoe is, right? And they don't even realize that they're without a sock, and of course they can never find their backpack, and they're losing sweaters all the time. So it's just, there's a range of, like, human presentations of these skills, but they're coachable and trainable and everybody can get better at them. And modeling or cajoling are not the only two ways to help kids learn.

Brittney (19:09):
Absolutely. And it doesn't always run in the family, right?

Emma (19:11):
Right.

Brittney (19:11):
Like, if you have a household like mine, you have one or two of each of those.

Emma (19:15):
Yes, that's right.

Conor (19:16):
Well, this next question is very good because we're coming into the end of the school year and the summer, and, you know, obviously summer is a time where, you know, people are off doing their own things and, you know, people might be doing camps and fun vacations and things. And so this question obviously comes from somebody who's thinking about what the summer means for them and their family. And this one is: How important is it for me to worry about summer slide? (And maybe define that as part of the answer.) Should I be thinking about this or should I be really letting my child spend time playing outside?

Brittney (19:50):
Yeah, well, this definitely is a timely question, Conor, as we're jumping into summer, and oftentimes we hear that term summer slide, and it's really a way that adults sometimes describe the worry around children and academic loss over the summer, or coming back in the fall with fewer skills in hand ready to go because they've lost, somehow, information over the summer because they haven't been practicing quite as much. And the short answer to this question is: it really depends. It depends on the child whether or not this is something you should be concerned about and thinking about or something that you should just not worry about at all.

And in most schools, certainly in a school like ours, educators are going to be sending signals home in a variety of ways throughout the spring that should allow parents to really understand what they should be thinking about over the summer with their child. And for many children, it is just as good for them to spend their entire summer playing outside, being bored, joining a sports team, getting a lot of gross motor movement in there—doing all those more open-ended activities that allow kids to be kids in a way that they don't have as much time for during the academic year.

On the flip side of that, though, there are some kids for whom a little bit of extra academic practice, maybe in literacy or math, could be really helpful and could really set them up for a strong start in the fall. And educators, teachers, support staff will be letting parents know for sure in the springtime when kids fall into that category. And that support might look like some one-on-one tutoring or a small group that they could meet with a couple times during the summer or a few times a week even, depending on the child. And so it really just depends on what your child needs. There's not a one-size-fits-all answer here, I think.

The other thing really to think about, though, is also there's a bit here around the child's own disposition and their own inclination with regards to how they'd like to spend their summer. While we might assume that every kid would rather play outside with the friends in their neighborhood, there are some kids who really do like spending time learning a little bit more math, right, or doing that next harder challenge in the workbook. And for those kids, it's absolutely fine to follow their lead and to lean into that as parents and those adults supporting them. But for those that aren't interested in those activities, it's absolutely okay to take a break, knowing that when the kids all arrive in the fall, teachers are well equipped to help get kids back on board with those academic tasks in a timely way. They understand that kids have spent some time away and might need a little bit of review and they've worked that into their curriculum and into their schedules for the first month of school, and that's all part of the game of being in elementary school, right? So parents don't need to worry about sort of guarding against that during the summer.

Conor (22:27):
Well, I know I'm going to be getting some construction paper and practicing my cutting this summer. That's my activity that I'm going to do so I'm good at it when we come back in the fall with more princiPALS.

So, we usually have homework here on The PrinciPALS Podcast, but because we just talked about that summer's coming up and school's going be out, we are not going to have any homework for this episode. But for those of you who enjoyed this format of the princiPALS answering some of your questions, we have the first part of the "Ask the PrinciPALS" podcast that you can go back and listen to, and that is on the website at rowlandhall.org/podcast. And you can catch all of the back episodes of the podcast there as well. We really enjoyed hearing from our listeners in these two episodes where we answered your questions, and hopefully we'll be able to do this more in the future as we look ahead to next year. But we just want you to go out there and hopefully apply some of these lessons that we've learned. And pals, thank you so much for a fantastic year.

Emma (23:30):
Thank you.

Brittney (23:30):
Thanks, Conor.

Conor (23:31):
All right, well, that's all the time we have for this episode of the princiPALS. Until next time, I'm Conor Bentley.

Emma (23:35):
I'm Emma Wellman.

Brittney (23:37):
And I'm Brittney Hansen.

Conor (23:38):
And they're the princiPALS.


About Emma Wellman
Emma Wellman is the Beginning School and Lower School principal at Rowland Hall, an independent private school in Salt Lake City, Utah. Emma joined Rowland Hall in July 2018 and spent three years as the Beginning School (preschool) principal before also joining the Lower School (elementary) team. Prior to Rowland Hall, Emma was a teacher and administrator at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, an adjunct instructor at the City Colleges of Chicago, and the owner of a childcare business, Banana Mashers. Emma holds a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from the University of Michigan and a master’s in child development from the Erikson Institute.

About Brittney Hansen ’02
Brittney Hansen is a graduate of Rowland Hall’s class of 2002. She has been a Beginning School and Lower School assistant principal at Rowland Hall since 2022, and was a member of the Beginning School faculty from 2019 to 2022. Prior to Rowland Hall, Brittney interned briefly at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and subsequently worked for six years at Washington University in various roles, including assistant director of residential life. Brittney holds a bachelor’s in social thought and analysis from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s in education from Harvard University.

About Conor Bentley ’01
Conor Bentley is a graduate of Rowland Hall’s class of 2001. He holds a master’s degree in education, works in higher education, and has produced several podcasts, including the public-radio parody
Consider Our Knowledge.

Podcast

PrinciPALS Podcast Transcript: 4.03: Ask the PrinciPALS, Part II

By Emma Wellman, Brittney Hansen, and Conor Bentley =

Listen above or on Apple Podcasts.


It’s part two of our "Ask the PrinciPALS" series. Join Emma, Brittney, and Conor as they discuss even more of listeners’ top questions: how to teach kids about finance, how adults can help children understand that their actions impact others, how much support adults should provide when it comes to school assignments and projects, and how much families should really worry about summer slide.

The transcript of this episode appears below.


Conor Bentley (00:01):
From Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City, Utah...

Emma Wellman (00:04):
I’m Emma Wellman.

Brittney Hansen (00:05):
And I’m Brittney Hansen.

Conor (00:07):
And they’re the princiPALS.

I'm Conor Bentley. On today's episode of princiPALS, it's part two of our special edition, where Emma and Brittney will answer questions submitted by you, our listeners.

Emma (00:25):
On The PrinciPALS Podcast, we tackle big questions and share big ideas about how to raise excellent humans.

Conor (00:33):
Welcome back to the princiPALS' office.

Brittney (00:36):
Good to be back.

Conor (00:37):
I am here with Emma and Brittney, and this is part two of our "Ask the PrinciPALS" series. So, we had so many listener questions that we had to do two episodes' worth of questions. And so we're just going to get right to the questions because our listeners are eager to know what the pals think about a variety of topics related to young childhood development.

So let's go to the first question that comes from one of our listeners, and it's: How can adults help teach kids about finance at a young age so that they have a better understanding of money-related issues later in life?

Emma (01:15):
I love this question. First, I just appreciate the thoughtfulness around it, but also it's not a thing that we often talk about at school these days, so I'm excited to have an opportunity to share some of what I have learned about it and what I think might be helpful for a family. So in general, I recommend using the same approach for this that we use to teach kids about any tools they'll need, right? Money is a tool. We want to give them practice and lots of explicit coaching. We want to allow them to have an increasing amount of responsibility and independence in using that tool, to make mistakes, and then reflect on those mistakes and get better and better over time, rather than what we might be inclined to do, which is withhold access to that tool, you know, like a sharp knife or a checking account for a really long time. And then, actually, they don't learn to use it safely until it's really important that they do so.

One resource I really can recommend is a book called The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber. And there are a ton of practical questions in there, including things about the tooth fairy and how to think about chores and allowance. But there are also a lot of bits in there about, like, a general framework for how to have these kinds of conversations, how to help you decide how much to spend on clothes, for example, for your child. There's a lot of great stuff in there and you don't have to read it cover to cover. You can just cherry-pick the chapters that are helpful for you.

And in the event that this question—it could be a little bit also about how to talk to your kids about socioeconomic status, which is another really important conversation. And there is some stuff in that book about how to approach it with your kids. But in general, again, I just think honestly acknowledging differences is always something worthwhile. Kids notice differences and we always want to affirm that they have noticed things that are real in the world. So, for example, if your family has more resources than others around you, name that and talk about the ways you want to use your resources, and maybe that you've got some responsibilities because of those extra resources. If your family has fewer resources than other families around you, be honest about that. Talk about how your life is no less valuable or wonderful or rich than the lives of other folks who maybe have more money to spend on different kinds of things.

Conor (03:30):
I know that was a conversation that we had in my home when I was a student at Rowland Hall because there are always going to be people above you and below you. And I think that was something that we talked about a lot in my house just because I know I had questions about that as a kid, and I think that, you know, it is important to do that, because I definitely felt better about things once we had those conversations.

Emma (03:52):
Yeah, I think just equipping kids, both affirming what they're observing and then equipping them with some language and some ways of talking about and understanding where they fit in the world currently, and approaching that in a positive way, always looking for that positive identity development.

Conor (04:11):
Great. Well, we have another question that will address another topic here, and this question is: At what age do children start understanding that their actions impact others, positively or negatively, and how can adults help them understand this?

Brittney (04:27):
Well, this is a really great question, too, Conor. And when we're talking about child development, it often is easiest to break things up into sort of manageable chunks, based predominantly on age level, but knowing that every kid is different. So these age ranges that we'll talk about are talking about most children, but there'll be children that fall into these different categories a little bit earlier or a little bit later, and that's okay too. But if we're thinking about early childhood—that's when kids are, you know, two to four-ish—children are still largely egocentric, in the sense that their brains just aren't equipped yet to really understand that others around them have a different perspective on what's happening than they do. They're the center of their world and that's how their brains function. And so it can be a tall order to ask a young child who's two, three, four years old, even five sometimes, to understand the feelings of others. And this is work that we do quite a lot in preschool, and that parents can assist with quite a bit at home, too, in helping kids notice what's happening with others around them. Maybe it's a friend, maybe it's a classmate. And we notice things like: What does their face look like? What does their voice sound like? Are they crying? Are there tears? And what does that mean about how they're feeling? And we name it really explicitly, which can sound a little silly to us as adults, but it's really helpful for children to begin to be able to put words to the feelings that their friends are having.

Conor (05:48):
I think that would be good for me, to practice that, honestly.

Brittney (05:51):
Yeah, right, all of us could use a little work in that capacity, for sure. So that helps from around two to four. And we do that work, you know, if a child maybe pushes over another child's block structure and they see another child crying because of what just happened in the classroom. It's our job to then follow up with that child and notice what's happening on the other child's face. Notice them crying, and then name explicitly, "Why do you think they feel that way? What do you think they're feeling?" And to give those feelings a name: they might be feeling sad, they might be feeling disappointed or angry, and what do all those different things mean? And learning each of those words and the meaning behind them is a really important part of early childhood.

Emma (06:29):
That's why so much music and so many books for preschool-aged children focus on developing this skill in a way that I think to grown-ups, who maybe don't have the context, seems a little ham-handed, but it's actually really developmentally appropriate. And we start to see the focus shift a bit as kids get older. So from four to seven, it's really a great time for kids to start to practice and develop empathy skills because of what's happening in their brains. So they're having lots of growth in the prefrontal cortex—like maybe the most famous part of the brain for humans—but also they have lots more language development. They have a better sense of time and when things have happened in time. They get more accurate from four to seven in understanding: "This stuff happened yesterday. These things happened today. These things generally happen in my life. These were things that happened when I was three and now I'm six." All that kind of narrative self-concept starts coming into play across these ages. And mirror neurons, which you've maybe also heard about, are definitely doing a lot of helpful work for kids during these ages. So that is to say, when children see another person who's having a strong feeling, the brains of those two people become more like one another to help kids, like, physically connect to that experience of the other.

But I also want to stress that sometimes empathy is a thing that folks think is just innate to people and it can't be taught or grown or it doesn't change over time, and that's actually really not true. We've learned a lot about it. Empathy skills can be built and you can go through periods when you are more and less empathetic—probably we've all experienced that viscerally. And so that's really true for children. And so if you have a child, you know, a five- or six-year-old child, and you feel like they seem less empathetic than you would hope, or than other kids—don't fret. You can help them develop those skills. And one great strategy is to model it for them. Lots of kids learn by watching their most trusted adults modeling. So if, you know, you're able to consistently recognize the impact of your own actions [and] name the impact and then apologize when applicable in an authentic and earnest way, kids learn that this is appropriate and expected. They see, like, a script for how to make that work happen and how to behave in a community. And so that includes modeling that kind of thing when something's gone wrong at home, or telling about the way you repaired a situation at work or with a friend or with a family member. It's really rich learning for kids. And it also helps it feel more normal that everybody makes mistakes and does things that hurt other people and you can fix it and make it better.

Brittney (09:19):
Yeah, I think that modeling is a really important piece to stress because it allows children to feel a little bit less vulnerable when it's their turn to maybe need to make something right or to speak with [someone] about something that they've done that's hurt a friend or someone in their family. If they've seen it done before, it's a lot less hard to try it out yourself. So it's a really sort of easy thing that grown-ups can do, but oftentimes we think that maybe we have to hide those things from kids, but allowing them to see us be vulnerable can help them do the same.

Emma (09:45):
Yeah. And I want to tack on a little piece here, which, at least from my own childhood days, lots of kids were often required to give an apology, like, "Say sorry you hit your sister." And I was not feeling sorry in that moment. I was still feeling, like, righteous indignation and, like, she definitely deserved to be hit. And so, in fact, that was not a helpful practice for me in being empathetic or learning how to initiate and navigate repair and to understanding the impact. So it's really important not to require kids [to] make an apology in a moment when they're not available for it, when they don't actually feel connected to being sorry. But rather you could point out the impact, as Brittney was saying before, with the younger ones. Point out the impact and the feelings of others, and then help the child work through the next steps. And they may need to regulate first, right? They may need to cope [with] and manage their own feelings of anger or frustration or disappointment or sadness, or shame and guilt even, before they're really ready to do that really important repair piece.

Brittney (10:50):
That's right. In the school setting, actually, we oftentimes see the apology come even several days later, after an incident has taken place, when a child has time to fully reflect on what happened, to think about how to make it right, and then to make a plan and actually do it. It's not often in the moment that a sincere apology is given, but rather, you know, an hour or two later, or even a couple days [later].

Conor (11:12):
Well, yeah, and I think that's true for adults, too, right? I mean, we don't necessarily just apologize right away. And, you know, sometimes, yeah, you have to think about it, you have to come up with why you're actually apologizing, because I think an apology that doesn't have anything behind it is not really an apology.

Emma (11:28):
It reminds me of that image of a kid whacking another kid on the playground and skipping away saying, "Sorry!" Like, that apology has done no good work in the community at all.

Brittney (11:38):
So thinking about modeling and about understanding what an apology really means is really important for those years around four to seven. But as we approach middle childhood—which is closer to eight to 13; maybe third grade on through middle school—kids tend to be much more aware of social norms and expectations. And with that awareness comes a heightened expectation on them to be able to manage and handle some of these things on their own. That is, of course, with the help of grown-ups around them, but we want them to be empowered to really think through what's happened and use problem-solving skills on their own to come up with a plan to make things right. Trusted adults can encourage open communication when a conflict arises and they can explicitly name opportunities for kids to take responsibility for something that happened that maybe shouldn't have happened, or maybe that they wish didn't happen.

Emma (12:26):
Yeah, one way this might show up on the parenting side is: something happens at school and your child comes home and says, "So-and-so did this to me." And you could ask questions about what happened before that and how they want to navigate it, but if they have expressed that the other child was upset with them, that's a great opportunity to check in and kind of model curiosity and say, "Why do you think they were upset at you?" Because that's the place sometimes where the growth edge is for kids this age. They get so, kind of, focused on the harm or the negative behavior that they may have experienced that they can sometimes gloss right over the precipitating event or interaction. And obviously both things are really important to learn from.

Conor (13:11):
Great. Well, that's some really good information on that topic. Now we have another question, and this one is: How much should I help my kid with school projects and assignments? And this one, I know a lot of people, you know, probably want to know about this because I know that there were definitely times where I probably got help on some things that, you know, I probably should have just been left to my own devices and, you know, yeah. My cutting skills were never very good on posters, and you could always tell when I had done the cutting versus when my mom had helped me with it.

Emma (13:41):
Yeah. I have memories of my own dad helping me. Like, he had gotten a little too invested in projects that I had for school in elementary school, and totally well-meaning, but it really did take away some of the learning and the experience that I would've gotten out of that, had I been given space to navigate it more independently. So the goal of school projects and assignments, we can all agree, is that kids are getting a chance to learn from them. That's the point of them from the teacher's perspective, from the kid, and from the parent and caregiver. So, kids won't learn to do their own homework, they won't learn to navigate, you know, deadlines and all those kinds of things if we don't let them do it. And obviously we want to give them support and scaffold it, but we can't take it over for them. And that can be really hard. It's like watching someone who's not very good at using a computer, sitting over their shoulder and watching them fumble through something that would be really easy for you to do. And it takes a lot of patience and self-management. So I don't want to say that it's easy because you can see your kid is not getting their book report done on time, or you can see that there are oodles of grammatical errors in the writing assignment.

Conor (14:56):
Or that they suck at cutting stuff.

Emma (14:58):
Yeah, or that they're terrible at cutting stuff. Exactly. But you just have to remind yourself that you're playing the long game and your future self and future child will thank you for getting out of the way.

Conor (15:09):
Maybe I'd be better at cutting if my mom had let me do it, right?

Emma (15:12):
Yeah.

Conor (15:12):
And now, see, and those small motor skills, I never developed them. And now look at me. I'm still going to be asking someone to help me cut things out.

Emma (15:20):
Well, I can set you up with some tweezer tasks, if you want. There's still hope.

Conor (15:23):
Okay, good.

Brittney (15:24):
But Emma, on the flip side of this, don't you think there is some value for a child to feel really viscerally that their parents are engaged in and excited about the work that they're doing at home? And can't that come from a parent wanting to take part in the project or help build the board for the science fair?

Emma (15:42):
Absolutely. And I think that's a place where there's a lot of balance, and way-finding to happen, for any given parent because it depends on your kid and the moment that they're in with respect to their schoolwork. So giving kids the clear message that you care about what they're doing and you see value in it and you're proud of them for it is always really wonderful. But also expressing confidence that they've got it, I think. There's a real unintended message that sometimes comes along [with] too much parental help, which is that you're not sure your kid can actually manage to do this assignment independently. And, you know, parents don't usually mean to convey that to their kids, but they sometimes do accidentally. So I would say helping around the edge is always being a cheerleader—you know, letting kids know that what they're doing is awesome and important and you really appreciate their hard work and effort, in particular, and the struggle—is great. Taking over and doing things for [them], I would draw the line there, if that makes sense.

Brittney (16:42):
Sure. It's definitely a balance, I think.

Emma (16:44):
But it's tricky, yeah. And I think, you know, inevitably sometimes kids will get assignments at school that they are just not equipped to accomplish independently with, like, a high level of success. And so that's a tricky thing to navigate as a parent too. You gotta figure out, "Okay, how much failure is productive for my child? Do I really want to let them totally flub this thing? Or do I need to, you know, reach out to the teacher to say, like, 'This is just beyond my kid's level; what should I do?'" And that can be hard. And certainly, you know, reaching out to teachers if you're seeing multiple projects like that is [a] worthwhile strategy.

For a lot of folks, though, I think, homework and projects, school assignments that are, like, coming home for part of the work and then going back to school, I think there's a really good opportunity to support your child in developing executive functioning skills. And I would argue that developing those skills is at least as important as them developing content knowledge, especially in elementary school. So, executive functioning skills are things, like, you know, getting yourself organized, using a to-do list, staying on task, prioritizing tasks, taking the breaks that you know you need, keeping track of the materials, meeting deadlines, all those kinds of super important life and school skills. And I think, you know, there's a lot of literature currently about executive functioning and I would just direct you, if you're interested in learning more about what they are, how they tend to develop, and how to support kids in developing them, I would direct you to a book called Smart But Scattered, which just has lots of really helpful flat-footed, practical advice.

Brittney (18:18):
It's actually similar when we're talking about executive functioning to what we were talking about with empathy earlier, right? You might assume that these things just come naturally for kids, but they really take a whole lot of practice and intentionality from the adults around them.

Emma (18:30):
And some kids do seem to be built for greater executive functioning skills inherently—like, that's just a talent that they have. So, like, you know, if you've got one of these in your house, they, like, line up the shoes for you. And then if you've got one who's not like that, then—who knows where the other shoe is, right? And they don't even realize that they're without a sock, and of course they can never find their backpack, and they're losing sweaters all the time. So it's just, there's a range of, like, human presentations of these skills, but they're coachable and trainable and everybody can get better at them. And modeling or cajoling are not the only two ways to help kids learn.

Brittney (19:09):
Absolutely. And it doesn't always run in the family, right?

Emma (19:11):
Right.

Brittney (19:11):
Like, if you have a household like mine, you have one or two of each of those.

Emma (19:15):
Yes, that's right.

Conor (19:16):
Well, this next question is very good because we're coming into the end of the school year and the summer, and, you know, obviously summer is a time where, you know, people are off doing their own things and, you know, people might be doing camps and fun vacations and things. And so this question obviously comes from somebody who's thinking about what the summer means for them and their family. And this one is: How important is it for me to worry about summer slide? (And maybe define that as part of the answer.) Should I be thinking about this or should I be really letting my child spend time playing outside?

Brittney (19:50):
Yeah, well, this definitely is a timely question, Conor, as we're jumping into summer, and oftentimes we hear that term summer slide, and it's really a way that adults sometimes describe the worry around children and academic loss over the summer, or coming back in the fall with fewer skills in hand ready to go because they've lost, somehow, information over the summer because they haven't been practicing quite as much. And the short answer to this question is: it really depends. It depends on the child whether or not this is something you should be concerned about and thinking about or something that you should just not worry about at all.

And in most schools, certainly in a school like ours, educators are going to be sending signals home in a variety of ways throughout the spring that should allow parents to really understand what they should be thinking about over the summer with their child. And for many children, it is just as good for them to spend their entire summer playing outside, being bored, joining a sports team, getting a lot of gross motor movement in there—doing all those more open-ended activities that allow kids to be kids in a way that they don't have as much time for during the academic year.

On the flip side of that, though, there are some kids for whom a little bit of extra academic practice, maybe in literacy or math, could be really helpful and could really set them up for a strong start in the fall. And educators, teachers, support staff will be letting parents know for sure in the springtime when kids fall into that category. And that support might look like some one-on-one tutoring or a small group that they could meet with a couple times during the summer or a few times a week even, depending on the child. And so it really just depends on what your child needs. There's not a one-size-fits-all answer here, I think.

The other thing really to think about, though, is also there's a bit here around the child's own disposition and their own inclination with regards to how they'd like to spend their summer. While we might assume that every kid would rather play outside with the friends in their neighborhood, there are some kids who really do like spending time learning a little bit more math, right, or doing that next harder challenge in the workbook. And for those kids, it's absolutely fine to follow their lead and to lean into that as parents and those adults supporting them. But for those that aren't interested in those activities, it's absolutely okay to take a break, knowing that when the kids all arrive in the fall, teachers are well equipped to help get kids back on board with those academic tasks in a timely way. They understand that kids have spent some time away and might need a little bit of review and they've worked that into their curriculum and into their schedules for the first month of school, and that's all part of the game of being in elementary school, right? So parents don't need to worry about sort of guarding against that during the summer.

Conor (22:27):
Well, I know I'm going to be getting some construction paper and practicing my cutting this summer. That's my activity that I'm going to do so I'm good at it when we come back in the fall with more princiPALS.

So, we usually have homework here on The PrinciPALS Podcast, but because we just talked about that summer's coming up and school's going be out, we are not going to have any homework for this episode. But for those of you who enjoyed this format of the princiPALS answering some of your questions, we have the first part of the "Ask the PrinciPALS" podcast that you can go back and listen to, and that is on the website at rowlandhall.org/podcast. And you can catch all of the back episodes of the podcast there as well. We really enjoyed hearing from our listeners in these two episodes where we answered your questions, and hopefully we'll be able to do this more in the future as we look ahead to next year. But we just want you to go out there and hopefully apply some of these lessons that we've learned. And pals, thank you so much for a fantastic year.

Emma (23:30):
Thank you.

Brittney (23:30):
Thanks, Conor.

Conor (23:31):
All right, well, that's all the time we have for this episode of the princiPALS. Until next time, I'm Conor Bentley.

Emma (23:35):
I'm Emma Wellman.

Brittney (23:37):
And I'm Brittney Hansen.

Conor (23:38):
And they're the princiPALS.


About Emma Wellman
Emma Wellman is the Beginning School and Lower School principal at Rowland Hall, an independent private school in Salt Lake City, Utah. Emma joined Rowland Hall in July 2018 and spent three years as the Beginning School (preschool) principal before also joining the Lower School (elementary) team. Prior to Rowland Hall, Emma was a teacher and administrator at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, an adjunct instructor at the City Colleges of Chicago, and the owner of a childcare business, Banana Mashers. Emma holds a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from the University of Michigan and a master’s in child development from the Erikson Institute.

About Brittney Hansen ’02
Brittney Hansen is a graduate of Rowland Hall’s class of 2002. She has been a Beginning School and Lower School assistant principal at Rowland Hall since 2022, and was a member of the Beginning School faculty from 2019 to 2022. Prior to Rowland Hall, Brittney interned briefly at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and subsequently worked for six years at Washington University in various roles, including assistant director of residential life. Brittney holds a bachelor’s in social thought and analysis from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s in education from Harvard University.

About Conor Bentley ’01
Conor Bentley is a graduate of Rowland Hall’s class of 2001. He holds a master’s degree in education, works in higher education, and has produced several podcasts, including the public-radio parody
Consider Our Knowledge.

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