We Stand for Inclusion, Respect and Love

Justice is what love looks like in public.” – Cornel West

At HFP, we actively teach appreciations for differences. We work to combat prejudice and stereotypes. And we stand up to injustice.

Many in our community are outraged that a person who publicly insults and threatens marginalized groups has been appointed to the country’s highest leadership position. We feel protective of the children, families and people across the country who are even more vulnerable due to the hateful rhetoric and promises of policy changes that would further erode people’s rights and safety.

Earlier this year, Teaching Tolerance produced a video, called “The Lie” in which 4th graders call out the painful prejudices they’ve heard about their own identities. These bold young people speak out against the racist, xenophobic and sexist messages they’ve received. They are not buying it and neither should we.

What can we do to counteract these messages? The following excerpts may help answer that question. Both of them speak loudly to how we, as caregivers, can talk to children about acts of hate and how we, as humans, can take action to combat prejudice.

From Patty Wipfler, Hand In Hand Parenting –

We know that racism, hatred, disrespect, and intimidation are not pro-human behaviors. The majority of voters in the US on November 8th did not endorse those behaviors, but power in this country will be passed to the leaders who did. No matter where we stand on the political spectrum, no matter what policies we advocate, we know that every child deserves respect and love, no matter what their skin color, place of birth, gender, language, or religion.

We need an infusion of respect and caring in our communities to offset the erosion of both in the public forum over the past year or more. So it’s time for us parents to take the power we have, and use it to promote unity, understanding, and compassion in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities.

Explain the election to your children. Basically, many good people on all sides of the political spectrum haven’t been feeling safe. So now it is clear that we need to spend more time building bridges between people. Listening. Making sure there’s a path forward for everyone. It is now clear that this is what we adults must do. And everybody can help. Every family can make a difference.

From What do We Tell the Children? By Ali Michael, Ph.D. –

Tell them bigotry is not a democratic value, and that it will not be tolerated…. Tell them you stand by your Muslim families. Your same-sex parent families. Your gay students. Your Black families. Your female students. Your Mexican families. Your disabled students. Your immigrant families. Your trans students. Your Native students. Tell them you won’t let anyone hurt them or deport them or threaten them without having to contend with you first.

Since an anti-bias curriculum is the heart of the HFP philosophy, here is our commitment to our children and community.

At  HFP we teach kindness, compassion, caring, interconnection and inclusion. 

We Will Continue To:

  • Be gentle, kind and considerate to everyone in our classroom community.
  • Show openness to sharing and hearing perspectives.
  • Support social problem solving.
  • Interrupt hurtful behaviors such as teasing or exclusion.
  • Teach children to stand up for themselves and for others.
  • Boost emotional literacy and self-awareness of our needs and those of our friends.
  • Build appreciations for ways we are similar and different from one another.
  • Welcome curiosity and honest conversations even with “touchy” topics.
  • Read books honoring experiences that are both similar and different from our own.
  • Sing songs about friendship, peace, feelings and love.
  • Nurture critical thinking  and engaged inquiry.
  • Teach affirmations, acceptance and love.
  • Embrace an anti-bias curriculum

Join us in using our power, privilege and spheres of influence to fight against prejudice, bigotry and intolerance. Our impact of striving for social injustice can span generations. Our children and the future beyond are depending on us.


Four Steps to Boost Your Child’s Emotional Agility

A child I led to the play yard door refused to wear or carry his jacket. I gently reminded him again to go and get it. He protested and began to cry loudly. We’ve all been there: a distraught child stands before us and we, as caretakers, need to help. What do we do?

My thoughts flashed, “How can I turn this situation around? I need to help this child get outside with his jacket as quickly as possible. Should I not acknowledge his whining and repeat the direction? Do I go get his jacket for him? Do I invest the time to try to calm him down so he’s able to get it himself?”

If it were my son and we were at home, I’d have scooped him up without a  blink, plucked his jacket from the hook myself, then carried him outside on one arm, his jacket on the other.

Before I could act on any of these thoughts, however, Teacher Susan swept in and helped the child move through his feelings with ease in just a few seconds.

Promoting our kids’ emotional agility

We all want healthy, emotionally balanced kids. But sometimes we don’t have the tools to help our kids through these tough moments. Little did I know the article Teacher Susan sent me two days before outlined  the exact tools we’re featuring on this post.  I thought, “Yes! Bingo! This is exactly what Susan did with this child.”

Here are four steps outlined by Dr. Susan David, an expert in emotional agility, to build emotional intelligence in our children.

  1. FEEL the feeling fully.

Instead of trying to reassure, “It’s okay, don’t cry,” try acknowledging the emotion and your child for having his/her own very real feelings.

Teacher Susan knelt eye-level in front of the boy and said calm and low, “You’re upset, you don’t want to get your coat.”

2. SHOW the feeling.

Often we’d prefer our child not cry in a restaurant. Instead of having “display rules” as Dr. David calls them, try as much as possible to allow your child their feelings when and where they are processing them.

Susan acknowledged the situation as she assessed it. The child was eager to join his playmates in the play yard. He didn’t want to slow down and he wasn’t thinking about needing access to a coat to warm him up.  She talked with him then and there, in the midst of the busy transition outside.

3. LABEL the feeling.

When we identify and name the feeling ourselves, it helps us to see it in other people. We begin to distinguish between anxiety, frustration, or stress.

Susan empathized, “Honey, I think you’re feeling anxious as your friends head out to play.  And it’s frustrating to stop to gather your coat.”  Then she calmly reiterated the daily agreement about jacket-wearing or carrying. Predictable, consistent practices help children feel safe and sets them up for success. “You can wear it or carry it,” she smiled.

4. WATCH the feeling leave.

Feelings are transitory. Helping kids see the passing of hard feelings often helps ground them and make them understand that these tough moments pass, and most importantly, ties our positive interaction to the passing of these feelings.

Teacher Susan not only acknowledged his feelings, she also avoided a power struggle by empathizing with his resistance and then lovingly holding firm to the expectation. The child scooped up his jacket and handed it to her to help him put it on.

Dr. David reflects,

We can also help children to remember that we don’t necessarily feel the same emotion every time we have a similar experience. The high dive is scariest the first time. We might feel a lot of anxiety at one party, or in one science class, but have a different experience the next time.”

When I asked Susan  her perspective on nurturing children’s emotional intelligence, she shared:

Feelings give us  important information. We can support emotional literacy by listening to, naming, and validating children’s feelings as they arise. When children are in conflict with one another, we can coach them to notice their own anger, disappointment or frustration. We can help children notice the tightness in their chest or their friend’s furrowed brow. When children invite each other to play or lend a hand to another, we can mirror back their  excitement, joy and satisfaction.  We can help them notice a child’s twinkly eyes or wide open smile.  The problem is not in having the feelings, it’s in stuffing, denying or belittling the feelings when they arise.

When we feel rushed or uncomfortable with a child’s feelings, we sometimes we distract children from their feelings, or plow over their feelings, telling them they’re fine. The irony is that children usually dig in deeper or get stuck if they’re not given the space to actually have their feelings. Adults can play an essential role in helping children move through charged feelings simply by staying connected to children and acknowledging the presence of those feelings. We can teach children self-awareness and compassion by slowing down to honor their feelings. As we do, the feelings will move on, paving the way for the next experience.

The full article in the New York Times by 

For more information about supporting children with a range of emotions, check out Hand in Hand Parenting.

Photo from Flickr user Jessica Lucia.


Five Ways Parents Can Challenge Gender Stereotypes



Does anyone have ideas for how to challenge gender expectations with their kids?” 

A mom asked.  Other parents were eager to give examples on the meeting’s icebreaker question.

I recorded their answers for this post and asked HFP’s director and teacher, Susan Eisman, to share her thoughts on challenging societal gender constraints. She relayed five ways we can challenge stereotypes and adds –

I would like children  to express the full range of what it is to be human, in the ways that are most satisfying to each of them. But the restrictive gender scripts that we have learned, and the social messaging that has taught us that girls should be one way and boys should be another can interfere with that goal.

In many settings, the basics of clothing and toys have been assigned to one gender or “the other.” Behaviors are often tidily divided up so half the population is supposed to get access to certain ways of being, while the other half gets access to other ways of being.  Our children are at risk of internalizing these restrictive messages.

“Behaviors are often tidily divided up so half the population is supposed to get access to certain ways of being, while the other half gets access to other ways of being.”

We’ve learned the term “opposite sex” as though males and females are completely different. We’ve been taught a gender binary that truly hinders everyone. Institutional oppression works to keep these boundaries rigid. Sexism and male domination threaten to limit both women and men, and homophobia and transphobia work to keep us pinned into rigid options of behaving and living.

At HFP, we acknowledge that gender stereotyping hurts all developing children. As adults, we can be curious about the messages we have learned in our own lives, homes, books and movies, that informs ways to be female “or” male.  We can counteract narrow gender scripting so we pass on less bias and fewer hurts to our children. Below are five ways we can counteract this script along with examples parents shared from their own experiences.

  • Reflect on what values we’ve learned and want to keep, while considering those we have learned and opt to reject.

I think it’s so important that boys get affection, including physical affection. Ideally from a lot of adults and other kids, and hopefully get to see men showing physical affection to each other. And more than the one-arm hug that can be common.

“It‘s okay to cry, to be vulnerable and to be compassionate…  it doesn’t make someone less masculine, which is what ‘s typically taught in our culture.”

  • Talk openly about stereotypes.homevisits

A**** threw his ball over the gate at me while I was working in the office. He asked, “Can you throw that back to be? Do you have that skill?…Do girls have that skill?” LOL So I surprised him when he wasn’t looking by throwing the ball at him and asked, “What do you think? Do girls have that skill?” He answered, “Yes,” while laughing.

With movies, we’ll stop and talk about what’s a realistic depiction. For example, if there’s a bunch of boy heroes with one token girl, then we’ll say that’s not the way things typically balance out – that there should be the same number of girls and boys, and of course girls can be superheroes, too.

  • Expose children to people who have pushed against gender stereotypes, claiming an activity or outfit that is deemed outside what is delegated as their proper realm.

I want to show how strong women can be…by being that badass woman …by being the one in the household who is going to grab that hammer and build a shelf – not from daddy’s toolbox, but from Mom’s toolbox.  Some book I bought was about a toolbox and at the end it said something like “I found all of these tools in my dad’s toolbox.” To which I commented ‘The toolbox we have is Mom’s toolbox.'”

  • Use inclusive language.

It’s good to talk not only about the fact that boys and girls can both (hammer, bake, hug, whatever), but also that not everyone fits the boy/ girl binary. I liked the suggestion by one of the other parents who suggested using the pronoun “they.” I try not to stress or even say that “A**** is a girl. I do say it, because it is hard to avoid, but she has said things before about being a boy and I don’t contradict her. I just say, yeah, sometimes you’re a boy.”

  • Challenge assumptions to pave the way for more expansive parenting. 

When we’re playing with legos and if he says, ‘he’ for a lego person, I’ll ask him if the lego could be he/she or non-binary. If he’s asking me if someone’s a boy or girl on the playground, instead of asking (because it can be intrusive), we say, ‘whatever they identify as’. We also say that the ways people look outside don’t always match the way they feel inside.”

 We  play powerful roles in shaping our children’s experiences of gender. As parents, caregivers and advocates, we can help our children access a broader range of human expression.


Gun Play In Early Childhood

Excerpt from ExchangeEveryDay Supporting early childhood education professionals worldwide in their efforts to craft thriving environments for children and adults.

In a 2014 newsletter of the Children’s Community School in Philadelphia, founder Merryl Gladstone talked about her struggles with gun play in early childhood programs.  She shared some insights from Elizabeth Criswell:

“She explored zero-tolerance gun play policies and shared how and why she tried to create space in her early childhood classroom for gun/weapon play.  It was eye opening and a relief to hear her ideas and experiences.  Elizabeth shared that she decided to change the zero-tolerance policy in her classroom because she felt first and foremost, it wasn’t working.  It was fostering a culture of dishonesty in her classroom.  In having a zero-tolerance policy, Elizabeth wondered what message she was sending to children about their imagination and what message she was sending about the difference between real and pretend.

“She turned to research and learned that gun or weapon play is a universal truth in early childhood.  Studies where gun play is permitted show a short spike in aggressive behavior, but then this behavior notably recedes as the games are allowed to progress.  Lastly, her research affirmed that ‘aggressive,’ rough and tumble play, play fighting have been consistently linked to increased social competencies.  In the end, Elizabeth found that as it was in the studies she read, when gun play is allowed and is treated like any other type of play, it eventually moves from high interest to the periphery.

“Play is a tool that children use to explore and know their world.  When children are given the chance to explore and play with weapon play, it eventually gets played out.  They have explored it and they are not as driven to explore it.  It seems to me a better outcome then if we are to deny them the chance to explore an issue they are curious about and as a consequence they feel they have to hide their interest or curiosity.”

Contributed by Kirsten Haugen


Erika Christakis’s book names PLAY at the heart of true learning.

“A bold challenge to the conventional wisdom about early childhood, with a pragmatic program to encourage parents and teachers to rethink how and where young children learn best by taking the child’s eye view of the learning environment…

To a four-year-old watching bulldozers at a construction site or chasing butterflies in flight, the world is awash with promise. Little children come into the world hardwired to learn in virtually any setting and about any matter. Yet in today’s preschool and kindergarten classrooms, learning has been reduced to scripted lessons and suspect metrics that too often undervalue a child’s intelligence while overtaxing the child’s growing brain. These mismatched expectations wreak havoc on the family: parents fear that if they choose the “wrong” program, their child won’t get into the “right” college. But Yale early childhood expert Erika Christakis says our fears are wildly misplaced. Our anxiety about preparing and safeguarding our children’s future seems to have reached a fever pitch at a time when, ironically, science gives us more certainty than ever before that young children are exceptionally strong thinkers.

In her pathbreaking book, Christakis explains what it’s like to be a young child in America today, in a world designed by and for adults, where we have confused schooling with learning. She offers real-life solutions to real-life issues, with nuance and direction that takes us far beyond the usual prescriptions for fewer tests, more play. She looks at children’s use of language, their artistic expressions, the way their imaginations grow, and how they build deep emotional bonds to stretch the boundaries of their small worlds. Rather than clutter their worlds with more and more stuff, sometimes the wisest course for us is to learn how to get out of their way.

Christakis’s message is energizing and reassuring: young children are inherently powerful, and they (and their parents) will flourish when we learn new ways of restoring the vital early learning environment to one that is best suited to the littlest learners. This bold and pragmatic challenge to the conventional wisdom peels back the mystery of childhood, revealing a place that’s rich with possibility.”

From NPR ed: What Kids Need From Grown-Ups (But Aren’t Getting)

“Erika Christakis’ new book, The Importance of Being Little, is an impassioned plea for educators and parents to put down the worksheets and flash cards, ditch the tired craft projects (yes, you, Thanksgiving Handprint Turkey) and exotic vocabulary lessons, and double-down on one, simple word: Play”

Student playing with paper and pencil instead of sitting in box like other childrenCheck out this 50 minute interview where PLAY is valued as the key building block for learning and caregivers’ RELATIONSHIPS with children is credited as the key component to children’s success.  Play advocates and families at HFP know and live by this!

We need more play, less testing.  This broadcast is worth your time– even if you listen to it in chunks. It’s a huge affirmation of the work of parents and teachers who value children’s inherent curiosity and their need for sophisticated interactions embedded in play.