Roadblocks and Freeways: Parenting & SEL

Roadblocks and Freeways: Parenting & SEL


I have two VERY different children when it comes to getting up in the morning. One wakes up without an alarm minutes before we do, heads to the kitchen, prepares his breakfast and lunch, and packs his backpack. Eager to be on time – early, really – to school, he also packs his brother’s lunch and backpack. My other son would sleep well past 8:00 and then lay in bed daydreaming and playing far longer. 

Given that both his parents have to be at school on time – and can’t blame the commute for being late (we live across the street) – our sleeper must be woken each morning. My longtime strategy was the one that I learned from my dad, who woke me at 4:30 AM to get to hockey practice – turn on the lights, take off the covers, and say “feet on the floor!” Oh how quickly we become our parents. My “feet on the floor” strategy never went well. Moans and whimpers during the wake-up were followed by 45 minutes of grumpy breakfast eating and painfully slow sock drama. Who knew socks could be so hard to put on!

“Connect before you direct.” My colleague and friend Nancy Kehoe shared this phrase with me. As the phrase suggests, it is important to connect with someone – learn and meaningfully acknowledge where they are emotionally – before asking them to do something. I am good at directing. I am working on connecting! On a whim, I learned how to connect with my sleeper before directing him to get out of bed. Since then – including this morning – I lay down on his bed with him and snuggle for a good 45 seconds to a minute. I often whisper something along the lines of, “It is so hard to wake up and leave this warm bed, right?” I then rise from the bed and in that way – no words needed – direct. We were out of the house on time, and no sock drama. 

I recently reviewed the “IFSEL Resouce Packet for Parents and Caregivers.” My “feet on the floor” strategy is a great example of a “roadblock to communication.” In acknowledging just how hard it is to get up – connecting – I used a “freeway to communication.” Reviewing these roadblocks and freeways on page seven, I noticed a few other roadblocks that I regularly erect. Aside from “Solving - Just do this…” I also regularly distract when difficult feelings arise. “Something good must have happened today. Tell me about that!” rather than, “I can tell this has upset you.”

If you want to learn more about these roadblocks and freeways to healthy communication, check out pages 5-7 of the IFSEL Resouce Packet. As for me, while certainly not the master of “connect before you direct,” I am trying to add “linger in the hard stuff” to my parenting mantras. And, if you catch us late to school, it is likely because I directed before connecting!


Mount Tamalpais School has partnered with the Institute for Social Emotional Learning (IFSEL). The organization is working with our professional community, as well as providing workshops to our parents and families.

Andrew Davis is the Head of School at Mount Tamalpais School in Mill Valley. He served as a Head of Middle School and Director of Admissions at Crystal Springs Uplands School before assuming his present responsibilities. Andrew taught middle school at both the Town School for Boys and Hamlin School while also founding a wilderness education program in Colorado. He holds an MBA and MA in Education from Stanford University. He regularly writes posts for the blog: TGIAM - Thank Goodness It's Almost Monday

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