Would you mind introducing yourself and how you got connected with HAPPÉ Life?
Hi, I’m Jodie Eckenrod. I have an undergraduate degree in pharmacy and a graduate degree in clinical psychology. I focused on my family for the past 20 years and I have two teenage daughters who I homeschooled for several years. And now they’re getting ready to leave the nest!
I got involved with HAPPÉ Life through John Beiter, HAPPÉ Life founder. John and I went to graduate school together — we both have a PhD in clinical psychology. He remembered an act of kindness that I had done for him many years ago and found me on LinkedIn and invited me to join in this work at HAPPÉ Life. So now I’m working with HAPPÉ as Executive Director and trying to share what I’ve learned from my education, and from my experience, and from my experience with homeschooling, and share that with other parents and families, and hope that it will be helpful.
What traits lead to resilience?
I think the most important trait of being resilient is self awareness. I think that if you can develop that sense in your child and in yourself, of checking in with yourself, your feelings, what’s happening with you, that is going to lead to a lot of resilience. They’re going to be able to name when they’re not feeling great, how they can change that, what they can do about that, and how to better relate to other people.
What is your favorite Mission I’m Possible challenge?
My favorite challenge is the random acts of kindness. I used to do this with my kids all the time, we would intentionally look for people who were in need, and do age-appropriate activities. So when they were little, we would go to the grocery store and they might hold the door for someone or they might just say hello, or be friendly to the cashier and it changed as they got older. I really value that it shows kids that you need to also be looking towards other people, not just about your own needs and your own wants at any given time. It is important to examine that, but it’s also really crucial to look for other ways to connect with people and to know that other people have needs and that you can meet those needs. And that can have a really positive impact on their day and on you as well.
Once they started doing those random acts of kindness, what was the outcome for them? Did they notice a change?
The outcome for my kids is that over the course of time, just like any other habit, it just became ingrained in their DNA. And so now, if anyone asks them to do anything, well, you know, they are teenage girls, and you know, there’s sort of some stereotypes with that in terms of sighing and eye rolling or whatever. But when people ask them to do something, they immediately say, “yes” — it’s just ingrained in who they are. We have a next door neighbor who’s over 80. A couple years ago, she asked my older daughter to help her bring the garbage can around. We live in a townhouse; you have to bring it around the building. And she’s like, oh, I’ll pay you and my daughter was like, “No, I’ll just do it.” I mean, it just wasn’t a question for her. If anybody asks my kids to do anything, they’re willing to help. They don’t see it as a burden, they see it as an opportunity and I attribute that to years of ingraining that idea that, “look for other people, look for people who need help.” It’s become a habit in their life, and it’s really great to see.
Well, I think it’s interesting here because a lot of people here [in Italy] feel honored to help other people. There’s this mentality of like, Oh, I’m honored to help you. Yes, but it’s not a burden. It becomes like an elevated energy. I don’t know for me, I think it’s beautiful.
Yeah, I totally, totally agree with you. I know for myself, I love when people come to me and ask for help, because they know that they can count on me. They know that I’m going to be happy to do it. It took time to develop that in my kids, obviously. But I think that they’re really the same. The way my younger daughter talks about her friends, they come to her with problems because she’s a really good listener. She doesn’t tell them what to do necessarily, doesn’t give them advice unless they ask for it. Really, it’s just that she’s present to them. And that’s meaningful to her, because she knows that her friends trust her with something that they might not tell other people, and she takes them into their confidence. And it’s really important to her that she does that, and it is an honor for her — she does view it that way. So I think that’s, like, a really cool way to think about it.
How do you gently say no to your child?
I think the most important thing is to set out the expectations ahead of time. So for example, if you’re going to the park, then before you even go, you say, “Okay, we’re going to stay at the park for X amount of time.” They are in on the planning that they understand the boundaries and understand the expectation, so it’s not a surprise for them. When you say, “Okay, it’s two o’clock. We have to leave now.” I think that there’s less resistance to putting that boundary out there. But I do think, too, that it’s important to give a little bit of a warning. I always did that with my kids saying, “Okay, in five minutes, we’re gonna go,” and maybe they need a second warning, maybe they don’t. And then we move on to, “Okay, now it’s time to go,” and if there’s resistance, just name the fact that, “Well, remember, we talked about, we’re going to leave at two o’clock and I gave you the warning. So you know it’s time to go.” I think that just the entire process, that they feel included in it instead of being taken off guard feeling like, “’m in the middle of playing a game, and now you’re dragging me away.” So I think that if you explain ahead of time and include them in the process, that’s really, really helpful.
What are some daily things you should do with your children every day, like daily rituals?
I think one of the most important rituals to do with your kids every day and try to make it at the same time is to just check in with them to just have a conversation with them. Help them process their day in an age-appropriate manner. With each of my kids, after the ages of reading storytimes and bath time and all of that, they got to be a little bit more independent. Then I would go into each of their rooms and just talk with them for a while. Sometimes it’s 30 seconds, sometimes it’s 30 minutes to just sort of have that time available that you can just ask, “How was your day?” and just talk a little bit about what was going on.
I also think that sharing a meal is really important, too. I understand that people do have busy schedules. I know we experienced that a lot. But to set aside a meal time at least a couple of times a week when there’s no distractions — we still have a rule, no phones at the table — if you just turn everything off and just have a conversation, I think that allowing that space is going to be really powerful in helping you guys connect with your kids. Your kids as teenagers respond to your attention. And that way you feel they still do.
I mean, literally, there was an issue that happened yesterday. I worked late shifts, and then I came home for work, so it wasn’t quite bedtime, but it was evening time when everyone was sort of in their bedrooms. And still, my daughter talked to me for a good 15 or 20 minutes about her day. And we talked about some things and processed things and then the energy shifted. Then I kind of went on my merry way but she had her chance and opportunity to talk to me about what was happening that day. Sometimes you might not feel like doing that. But, you know, she really, I think, did appreciate me checking in with her. Because it was this kind of long, complicated issue that she just needed to process with someone. Other nights I go in and check in and nobody’s in the mood to talk or they’re busy with homework or whatever and I honor that, too, now that they’re older. But when they were younger, it was more consistent, that they talked longer, but now it’s more like fits and spurts. I kind of cherish those opportunities to connect, too, because they’re gonna grow up and move away.
What are some mantras parents can use to feel grounded and in control throughout the day?
I think for me, a mantra that I often used and still do use actually is “I’m a good enough parent, I’m a good enough parent.” That “good enough” is an important concept because it shows that you don’t have to be perfect because you’re not going to be perfect. The kind of parent that you might need to be for one child is a different kind of parent you might need to be for another child, because they all come into the world equipped with their own set of strengths and gifts and personalities, and then they start making their own choices. So you’re never going to hit 100% of all the marks and that’s okay. For me it has been difficult over the years; I’m kind of an overachiever kind of personality. But to understand that if your intentions are there, that you are going to connect with your child, you’re going to listen to your child, that you’re going to care for your child — yes, there’s going to be some missteps, but you will have already laid all those foundations to a strong relationship. That foundation is built brick by brick by brick. You are a good enough parent, even by engaging in this material at HAPPÉ Life it’s showing that you’re interested, you’re engaged, and you’re concerned about giving your kids a good experience and a good start in life. I think that that is a really good mantra for all of us parents to remember.
What is the most powerful way to instill generosity or sharing in children?
I think the most important way to instill those values is for you to live out those values yourself. It’s important to talk about them, it’s important to teach about them. But really, the kids are watching you. They’re like sponges, and they’re listening to what you’re saying. When you’re making an effort to explicitly talk about, “Oh, we should give to this charity,” or, “We should volunteer at the animal shelter,” that’s important. But they’re also listening and reading between the lines about how you live your life and what your values are, and what you’re actually doing. Are you a generous person? Do you make that a priority in your life? The most important thing is for them to see you in action, doing things for others, helping others, caring for others, donating, whatever is important to you, whatever your values are. I think that’s the real key because they’re watching you.
How do you explain to children that you are too busy right now? Or that you wish you could play or spend time with them, but right now you just can’t?
I think again, setting up the expectations are really important, especially in this kind of strange time where a lot of us are doing work from home or doing school from home, those lines are getting a little bit blurred. In the business world, they call it scope creep, right? If you’re on a project and it just kind of keeps going and going and going, I think to set some pretty decent boundaries in terms of space, time, and expertise. So if you have space in your home that is your working area or office, I think that that’s a good indicator that you can use that physical space to say, “When I’m in this room, that means that I have to work on stuff for my job.” Also set that expectation in terms of time, especially if your kids are a little bit older and they can tell time or have a sense of time. But even if they’re younger, say. “I need to work for another 20 minutes and when the timer goes off or this TV show ends, I’ll be done.” And then stick to it! Of course, things come up that we can’t control with our work. But definitely communicate to your kids and then stick with that. If they’re upset about that, tell them, “I do wish that I could spend some more time with you, but I also have these other things that I have to get done as well,” so that they know that they’re important, but that you have other elements of your life that you’re also responsible for.
If it were up to you what would a kindergartener school schedule look like with outdoor play, portions of the day devoted to emotional development, etc.?
I think for me, a kindergartener school schedule and really a lot of the school schedule should incorporate learning in all aspects. It’s not that you would necessarily have to have to say, “We’re learning X at this time,” because there should be opportunities to learn at all parts of the day. I’d also be explicit in the curriculum about not just learning how to write your name, or how to read your words, whatever, which is all important. For the teachers and adults in the classroom, be explicitly aware that you’re also fostering social and emotional development, that relationships are important, and kind of promote kindness and sharing and generosity and so forth in the classroom as an explicit goal as part of the curriculum. So it’s kind of how the approach would be for the whole child, and not just segmenting the day into pieces that are a little bit unnatural. Because typically, for human beings, we’re learning new things all the time, even as adults. I think it’s important to capitalize on the excitement that young kids have for school and learning and to see that there are opportunities to learn and grow everywhere.
When you were homeschooling, did you have a structure or a routine? Did you use specific resources to help you plan out your day and do you have any advice for people who are interested in it or maybe have been thrown into it?
Yeah, some people are homeschooling, some people are learning online. When my kids were homeschooling, they each went to a cyber charter school from kindergarten to seventh grade. So what that meant is that there was a curriculum, which made me feel better, because I wasn’t very confident that I was going to be able to check all those boxes. I have grown as a person and as a parent, and I realized that that’s maybe not quite as important, but it also gave us a built-in kind of community. The school that my kids went to was the largest one in the state of Pennsylvania so they had lots of resources in terms of field trips and opportunities to meet people.
The other thing that we did that was sort of “off the grid” from homeschooling was a concept that is called unschooling. This is when you learn what your kid is interested in. So I kind of took the best of both worlds because, to me, the problem with unschooling is you don’t know what you don’t know. So if you’re interested in flowers, okay, so that’s great! But you might also be interested in how to build a bridge, but you’ve just never been exposed to that. So how would you know, as a 10-year-old, “I might want to be an engineer when I grow up.” So, the curriculum kind of covered lots of different areas, and then we would do unit studies. The girls and I would pick a topic that the three of us were interested in, and then we would do a unit study on that. Naturally, reading is going to be involved, science is going to be involved, math is going to be involved, Social Studies is going to be involved, all those kinds of main areas that are split up into subjects in school, are all going to be touched on some more than others. So for example, we did one on the Silk Road where we read books about the Silk Road, drew maps about the Silk Road, and then we got a couple other kids in the neighborhood and created our own “Silk Road.” Throughout different parts of the trail, I put different foods that Marco Polo would encounter along the Silk Road on his travel from China to Italy. We started at one end of the trail, and then we would stop and then we would talk about what country it was from, and we went all the way to the end of the Silk Road. My kids still talk about that, they thought that was the greatest thing. It was really fun! So they’re learning about stuff all the time.
We once did a unit study on eggs because for whatever reason, my younger daughter loved eggs. But it’s interesting, because there’s science components to it. So we did science experiments with eggs where we put the eggs and vinegar and dissolved the shell and exposed the membrane underneath so the egg still holds together. We did a scavenger hunt around Easter time, so I got the plastic eggs and then I had little plastic animals in each of the eggs. And then I’d ask, “Okay, what’s in common with all these animals?” Well, they were birds, they were insects, all animals that laid eggs. So we talked about that and did an art project with it and painted the eggs. Then we did the thing where you blow out the inside of the egg, it’s a Ukrainian tradition. We’re not Ukrainian, but it was fun to then explore that cultural aspect.
So, I mean, I just love the idea that young kids love to learn and be engaged in things. If you pick a topic, you’re going to hit all those different subjects in school, some more so than others. For instance, with the Silk Road, you’re learning more about culture and history, not as much about math, but then your kids might have an interest in something else! And you can incorporate math into that or whatever recipes you are cooking. That’s chemistry, that’s math, that’s planning ahead, that’s budgeting. The possibilities are really endless. I think that’s what’s really cool about homeschooling. I love that.
What are your favorite ways to express that it’s okay to make mistakes?
I think exploring with your kids how they’re feeling about a certain situation and acknowledging you know that they made a mistake without immediately racing into punishment and yelling is the best; a calm exploration of what happened is really the best avenue. But I don’t think that’s always possible. I know that for myself when there’s a mistake being made, like somebody hurting somebody else, you have to go flying in there and break up the fight. But then it’s important to process that and talk about that later too. And talk with your child about how you think that person felt when you were XYZ? And I think the idea of not pigeonholing your child into, “Oh, she’s the one who’s always the troublemaker,” because then that becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. So say, “Okay, my child was wanting this toy from somebody else,” and then envision your child then using that as a strength. For instance, “She’s like a go-getter, and she’s going to get what she wants. But she has to learn how to do that in an appropriate way so that she’s not hurting other people.” So again, all of our kids come into this world with their own personalities and sets of strengths. I always say it’s up to us parents to form them into superheroes and not super-villains. It’s not that any personality trait or characteristic or thing that your kid does is bad, it’s just asking, “How do we bend that trait or characteristic into a strength?” and, “How can we see that as something that they can use for good?”
How do you catch yourself before you let negative emotions get the best of you?
I think for me, it’s about kind of keeping that emotional tank at least half full, if not full, and really doing some preventative maintenance on that. So before you get to the point where the glass of juice that gets spilled at the table causes you to just kind of have a meltdown, check in with yourself. Check in with yourself every day and carve out time in your schedule, even if it’s one time a week to do something that’s for you. If it’s possible, kind of share the load of all those things that need to be done on a daily or weekly basis. If you have a partner, kind of try to divide and conquer. For me, it was always helpful to make some lists and some checklists of day-to-day things, so that it didn’t become so overwhelming that it’s like, “Oh my gosh, I have no time!” For me, it’s more about preventing that space, but then sometimes that’s going to happen too. I think that we all need to work on our own self-awareness. Asking, “What is getting me worked up? What am I feeling? What is happening in my body? Is my heart rate faster, is my blood pressure right?” Just remind yourself, even if there is crying, you’re a human being and you’re still a good enough parent, and you’re the only parent that your kids are going to have. It’s important to kind of give yourself a little bit of margin and forgiveness sometimes.
Thank you, Jodie, for sharing your expertise with us!
You can sign up for any of our FREE HAPPÉ programs to work on any of the skills Jodie mentioned, sharpen their (and your) emotional awareness, learn stress and anxiety management techniques, and more to achieve your parenting goals.